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The World's Most Visited City Is Again Marred by Violent Protest: Here's Why
Since Jan. 13, antigovernment protesters have besieged several key intersections in Bangkok — the world’s most visited city in 2013 — in a bid to shut down the sprawling Thai capital. They want Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down and aim to make the country ungovernable by surrounding government buildings. So far, Thailand’s first female Premier has refused to resign but instead called snap elections for Feb. 2 to reassert her popular mandate. But for those on the street, the ballot box has lost its luster.
Why are they protesting?
Protesters accuse Yingluck, 46, of being a puppet of her elder brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin came into power in 2001 and won support among the rural poor for populist policies such as microfinance schemes, subsidized fuel and universal health care. However, the veneration he received chaffed traditional elites, and he was accused of overshadowing revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thaksin was eventually ousted in a military coup in 2006 and convicted of corruption in absentia, charges he insists were politically motivated. The current demonstrations began early November as opposition to a now shelved amnesty bill that would have allowed the billionaire telecoms mogul to return home a free man and united with some $1.2 billion in seized cash and assets.
What do the protesters want?
Thaksin is idolized in Thailand’s populace north and northeast — where his supporters are known as Red Shirts — and parties he backs have won the past five elections, the most recent incarnation being the Yingluck-led Pheu Thai Party. Protesters fear it is only a matter of time before a new amnesty bill is passed to facilitate his return, and so have seized upon this chance to permanently rid Thailand of his influence, claiming that it is based upon flagrant vote buying. (This accusation is dismissed by academics.) To achieve its goal, the opposition wants democracy suspended and an unelected “people’s council” to enact murky reforms, possibly taking up to two years, to permanently purge Thailand of Thaksin’s influence.
So, they’re protesting for less democracy?
Depends on whom you speak to. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban claims that democratic principles have been subverted by Thaksin’s huge wealth and close network of patronage, and Thailand must be “reset” and started afresh. Conversely, progovernment supporters claim that royalists and urban upper classes are simply bitter that political power has shifted from the city to the provinces. Some of the rhetoric employed by protesters — that rural people are not educated enough or pay sufficient tax to warrant a say in governing the country — does little to promote their cause.
So, is this simply about rich vs. poor?
Certainly that plays a role, but so does regionalism. The rice-farming Isaan people of the rural northeast culturally share more with Laos than the central Thais, and speak a very similar language to Lao. Thaksin principally courted this region — boasting a third of the national population — and helped raise it from an impoverished backwater to a booming manufacturing hub, also installing hospitals and universities. Bangkok’s middle classes, and southern Thais, remain resentful of their waning influence, and the Isaan refuse to let their political gains be snatched away.
Will the elections happen?
Hard to say. The opposition Democrat Party has refused to take part, and protesters have disrupted voter registration in southern provinces, as well as picketed the factory where the ballot papers are printed. Thailand’s constitution says that an election must be held within two months of the dissolution of Parliament, which occurred on Dec. 9, so any delay would be problematic. But similarly, efforts to restrict candidate registration mean that less than 95% of electoral districts will be able to return a legislator, another prerequisite to reopen Parliament. Yingluck reportedly offered to delay the ballot until May 4 if protesters went home, but Suthep has refused to negotiate or settle for anything less than her unconditional resignation.
What’s the alternative?
Protesters apparently aim to create such disorder that either Thailand’s powerful armed forces or judiciary intervenes. Thailand has seen 18 actual or attempted military coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, with Yingluck’s notorious brother ousted in the last. However, public perception of the military suffered greatly after that putsch, and army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has played down the prospect of a repeat (even if he has stopped short of ruling it out altogether). Both the army and courts are understood to be anti-Thaksin institutions, and by extension favor the protesters. The judiciary has been quietly gnawing away at Yingluck’s legitimacy with a raft of legal challenges to her administration.
Thaksin: Messiah or Lucifer?
A little of both. Thaksin’s popular policies undoubtedly did a colossal amount for the rural poor, whereas previous governments had largely ignored their plight. However, that he feathered his own nest in the process is undeniable, and his 2003 war on drugs involved some 2,800 extrajudicial killings, according to Human Rights Watch, of which half the victims were allegedly innocent of any crime. The image of him urging supporters into potentially deadly confrontations with security forces while he relaxes in his Dubai mansion is hardly inspiring.
Suthep: insurrectionist or hero?
A wily character who has spent his entire career in politics — from village headman to MP for southern Surat Thani province to Deputy Prime Minister — Suthep is now enjoying a coda as self-styled anticorruption crusader. However, his credentials are far from squeaky clean. In 1995, he was accused of giving wealthy cronies property under a land-reform initiative designed to help the poor. Although Suthep was never convicted of wrongdoing, he resigned and the scandal led then Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai to dissolve Parliament. So seeing the 64-year-old touring Bangkok collecting thousands of dollars from protesters has naturally raised eyebrows. Having quit the opposition Democrat Party to lead the protests, Suthep has been charged with rebellion for the ongoing unrest, and also faces murder charges for ordering the 2010 crackdown on pro-Thaksin demonstrators.
How bad could things get?
In 2010, a largely peaceful Red Shirt demonstration in central Bangkok was brutally crushed by Thai security forces with around 90 killed and 2,000 injured. Tanks rolled into the Thai capital’s busy shopping district, usually teeming with throngs of tourists, and the CentralWorld mall was gutted by fire. (The military accused protesters of torching it deliberately, while protesters say a soldier’s smoke grenade sparked the blaze.) By comparison, nine people have been killed and 500 injured in the latest unrest. But if Yingluck is removed by a military or judicial coup, the Red Shirts will once again march on Bangkok and history could very well repeat itself.
What are the economic consequences?
Thailand is a tourist mecca that receives over 20 million foreign visitors annually, and Bangkok became the world’s most visited city in 2013, with 15.98 million international overnight visitors. At least 45 nations, including the U.S., have issued travel warnings because of the protests, and hotel occupancy is currently around 50% compared with a seasonal norm of up to 90%. The stock market has taken a tumble and baht dropped against the dollar since protests began in November, although both have recovered somewhat in recent days. On Monday, Japanese auto giant Toyota warned that the crisis was jeopardizing a planned $609 million expansion in the country’s crucial exports sector. As a regional commercial hub that is home to around 5 million economic migrants, Thailand’s woes are acutely felt around Southeast Asia, no matter how resilient it might have proved in the past.
Whom to Watch at the World Economic Forum in Davos
As the World Economic Forum (WEF) kicks off Tuesday in the snowbound Swiss town of Davos, more than 40 heads of state and government will be competing to make a lasting impression, for themselves and their countries, among the 2,500 participants. Here are five who will have a head start:
Depending on how things are progressing in another part of Switzerland — Montreaux, scene of the Syria peace talks — Iran’s president may be just a little distracted during his Davos debut. But the purpose of his trip is to take advantage of the momentum from the Jan. 20 start of the six-month nuclear freeze agreement between Iran and the six world powers. Rouhani’s message: As the negotiating parties begin work on a long-term deal, Iran is open for business. It isn’t really: most of the economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe remain in place. But Rouhani’s trip is mostly about optics. Iran, he will be saying, is no longer an international pariah. He delivers a special address on Thursday.
Israel’s prime minister follows Rouhani (a few hours later) with a discussion on Israel’s economic and political outlook. Netanyahu will keep up his rhetoric about Tehran being an unreliable negotiator. Don’t buy the peace deal, he will say, it’s just a smokescreen that allows Iran to build nuclear weapons. But that message didn’t get much traction at the U.N. General Assembly in New York City last fall, where Rouhani’s charm offensive won the day. Netanyahu is unlikely to find many takers in Davos.
Enrique Pena Nieto
Mexico’s president is one of the WEF’s Young Global Leaders, and his country is making a splash at Davos this year. He will be seeking to capitalize on Mexico’s growing economy, which has recently become the country’s dominant narrative, overtaking the usual stories about drug cartels and kidnappings. If potential investors are impressed by energy, Pena Nieto will display plenty of it: he will deliver a special address and participate in two panel discussions, all on a single day, Thursday.
The president of Brazil makes her first appearance in Davos just as tough questions are being asked about her country’s economic prospects. Three years of lackluster growth have some wondering if Brazil should lose its place among the BRICS. There are doubts, too, about the country’ ability to host soccer’s World Cup this summer. Top all that off with lingering fears of political unrest, after last year’s massive street demonstrations. Rousseff delivers a special address on Friday.
Japan’s prime minister has stirred things up in Asia over the past couple of years. His country’s economy has been doing remarkably well, but Abe’s aggressive rhetoric and military muscle-flexing has annoyed China and South Korea, while winning some praise from other Asian nations that see Japan as a bulwark against an increasingly militaristic China. The Chinese president and prime minister won’t be at Davos, but perhaps South Korea’s President Park Geun-Hye will have a cautionary word or two? Abe and Park both speak on Wednesday.
NFL May Eliminate Extra Point
The extra point could be on its way to extinction if the National Football League goes through with a proposal to eliminate the age-old method of supplementing touchdowns in football games with a conversion.
The kicks have had a 99.1% percent rate in the NFL since 2004 and have become almost a foregone conclusion, Commissioner Roger Goodell told NFL.com.
“The extra point is almost automatic,” he said. “I believe we had five missed extra points this year out of 1,200 some-odd. So it’s a very small fraction of the play.”
Under the current rules, teams that have scored a touchdown may attempt an extra point by kicking the football through the goal posts, or they may try for a two-point conversion by running the ball. Goodell said a possible change (among several proposals) would involve giving a scoring team seven points for touchdowns, but also an option to attempt an eighth point through a run or pass — but going back to six if the attempt fails.
Goddell would not say if or when a decision would be made on any changes in the scoring system. “We’ll make some focus on this in the [NFL Competition] Committee and we’ll see where they come out.”
But change can happen. After decades of resistance, for example, the NFL adopted the two-point conversion in 1994.
Ex-Halliburton Manager May Face Prison Time for Destroying Evidence After BP Oil Spill
A former Halliburton manager will be sentenced in federal court Tuesday for destroying evidence after the massive 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Anthony Badalamenti pleaded guilty in October to one misdemeanor count of destruction of evidence for instructing his employees to delete data of a post-spill review of the cement used in the Macondo well that burst, the Associated Press reports. The former cementing technology director could face a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. was the cement contractor on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig that spilled over 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over an 87 day period, making it the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.
Tope Fadiran Charlton
The Impossibility of The Good Black Mother
I could tell you that I don’t want to be burdened by the expectation that I should be a (never quite) Good (enough) Mother. That I don’t want to be defined by my relationship to my child, perpetually obligated to all-encompassing, self-denying nurture and devotion. As best as I can tell from professional feminists supposedly in the know, this seems to be the Proper Feminist thing to do.
I could tell you that. It wouldn’t be entirely true.
I am a dark-skinned Black mother, relatively young, raising my daughter in predominantly white spaces. I’m not infrequently mistaken for a high school student, despite being thirty. Most days I look the part of the harried graduate student I once was, rocking a jeans and t-shirt look with the occasional oversized sweatshirt. I have long abandoned my half-hearted attempts to conform to the wardrobe expected of women of my age and class.
I know how this looks to many people.
I could never be the Good Mother; I knew this long before I had a child. Had I not, the experience of parenting my daughter under the appraising eye of whiteness would quickly have disabused me of any illusions that I could be one. From the pediatrician’s office, to the grocery store, to the streets I call my own, it is not the myth of the Good Mother, but that of the Bad Black Mother, that renders my motherhood at turns invisible and suspect.
Often the questions come from other people of color. One Ethiopian store clerk, after asking if I’m Anu’s mother, marvels at how light she is, tells me her (white) father’s genes must have “won out” over mine.
The Bangladeshi convenience store owner around the corner has forgotten at least three times that he’s already asked if I am married. He regales me with a tale of a Black friend who has six children with multiple women. “I think this is not good,” he says. I wonder what this has to do with me.
Across from the convenience store, I’m dropped off by a mom from my daughter’s daycare, a white woman. She’s seen me walking Anu to school from time to time, and generously offers me a ride. We make small talk. As I’m about to step out of the car, she asks about Anu’s dad: “And is your husband, um, partner, uh, boyfriend . . . is he in the picture?”
I want to appreciate that multiple possibilities for family are being acknowledged. But I’m keenly aware that my race is likely the reason such possibilities even occur to her. And of course, my family situation is hardly the concern of someone I’ve only just met.
The curiosity that strangers are so often eager to satisfy when they see me with my daughter is profoundly shaped by stereotypes of Black womanhood. Am I the babysitter? The nanny? Or that perennial bogeywoman of white “family values”—the teen mother—whose sexuality and reproduction flout the bounds of heteronormative marriage? People dearly love to know.
Patriarchy tells more than one misogynist tale about mothers. The myth of the Good Mother is built on the back of scorn for mothers like me. There’s no reckoning with this myth, no challenging it, without recognizing this. Being expected to embody “traditional” femininity, it turns out, is its own strange sort of privilege.
When I respond to questions about my motherhood, am I simply challenging notions that I cannot be a Good Mother, or falling for the siren song of “proper” Black motherhood made in the image of polite, white-washed femininity? The lines are blurry. Respectability may be resistance, but it is neither solidarity with my sisters, nor liberation for any of us.
Liberation is confronting my own internalized shame and anxieties about justifying myself to whiteness. It’s disrupting the very notion of “illegitimate” motherhood and the harm it does.
If I’m honest with myself, I have to confront my own shame and defensiveness in response to racist, misogynist stereotypes. I have to resist the pressures society places on Black mothers like me, who appear to conform to classed and raced heteronormative expectations, to shun solidarity with Black women whose motherhood is less “respectable.”
I could tell you that I don’t want to be seen as the Good Mother. This would be a lie, and an unnecessary one. Part of my struggle is to challenge the notion that good motherhood cannot exist in bodies like mine.
But I can tell you something I want even more: a world where respect is seen as inherent in humanity itself and therefore the rights of all mothers, and all people, are universally respected. A world where no litmus test is required for us to see worth and dignity in the beautiful mess of singularities and complexities that we are.
This is better than being acknowledged as a Good Mother: to be seen as a mother and fully human at once. This is liberation.
*Excerpted from The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality, edited by Avital Norman Nathman. Available from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2014.