Thailand: Crushing Localism Threatens National, Regional Stability

April 22, 2017 (Tony Cartalucci - NEO) - Street vendors of all kinds are facing a complete ban of their livelihood across Bangkok, the capital of Southeast Asia's Thailand. While it may appear to be a minor move falling in line with many other nations within the "developed world," the significance of it both to Bangkok, Thailand, and the rest of Asia in socioeconomic terms is indeed, major.

Just like the "developed" nations the new ban seeks to emulate, it is driven not by a genuine desire to clear sidewalks, beautify the city, or enhance consumer health and safety.

Cui Bono? Not for Safety or Health

Instead, it is driven by larger corporations both foreign and domestic, and in particular, agricultural giant Charoen Pokphand Group (CP) which is connected to the massive and ever-expanding network of 7-Eleven convenience stores and Lotus retailers dotting every corner and crevice in both Bangkok and beyond.

The ban is in fact another salvo fired by special interests at Thailand's considerable "informal economy." Bloomberg in its article, "Thailand's Unemployment Rate is a Ridiculously Low 0.6%. Here's Why," would report that:
The informal sector of the Thai economy, comprising anyone who's not covered by formal work arrangements, accounted for more than 64 percent of the total workforce in 2013. It includes street vendors and taxi-motorbike drivers, the self-employed and those operating in gray areas of the economy. They are largely counted as employed.
And as technology further empowers the self-employed and is already disrupting economic monopolies in the "developed world,"  such trends in a nation like Thailand with a sizable informal economy already stand to transform Bangkok into a regional, even global "grey market capital" and model for economic alternatives, start-ups, and other disruptive economic models springing up elsewhere around the world.

While rational leaders within Thailand's government have seen this as an immense opportunity, investing in start-ups, small businesses, the leveraging of technology to empower independent entrepreneurs, other interests appear threatened by the prospect of an economy shifting decisively in favor of independent business owners who are increasingly able to compete against established monopolies across multiple industries.

While the actual number of users employing disruptive technology to compete against established business monopolies is small at the moment, as solutions are employed into markets, Thailand's substantial informal economy is likely to adopt them as well.

CP Group's Vision for the Future

For CP executives and investors, they envision a monopoly over Thai agriculture, food, beverages, retail, telecom, and other sectors. With the prospect of street vendors being swept from Bangkok's roads, CP's network of convenience stores would remain one of the remaining competitors, open 24 hours a day, and providing all the amenities currently provided for by street vendors.

Afghanistan: Why Did the US Deploy its Largest Non-Nuclear Ordnance?

April 19, 2017 (Ulson Gunnar - NEO) - Sixteen years onward and the US is no closer to its alleged goal of creating a stable Afghanistan free of terrorist organizations using its territory to stage attacks  regionally and globally. Thousands of US troops still remain in Afghanistan, attempting to prop up the disorganized, immensely corrupt regime Washington installed and maintains in the nation's capital of Kabul. Entire provinces of the nation remain under the control of groups opposed to both the regime in Kabul and its American sponsors.  

Furthermore, Afghanistan's neighbors, including Russia, China and Iran, have attempted to broker a peace between Afghanistan's various factions, undermining America's divide and conquer strategy.

More recently, the US announced that it had deployed its largest non-nuclear ordnance in an operation it claims was targeting terrorists of the Islamic State organization.

The New York Times in an article titled, "U.S. Drops ‘Mother of All Bombs’ on ISIS Caves in Afghanistan," claims that:
The United States dropped the “mother of all bombs” — the most powerful conventional bomb in the American arsenal — on an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan on Thursday, the Pentagon said, unleashing a weapon so massive that it had to be dropped from the rear of a cargo plane. 

The strike was the first combat use of what is formally named the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast. President Trump has bestowed additional authority on the Pentagon in his first months in office, which the military has argued will help it defeat the Islamic State more speedily. Mr. Trump did not say whether he had personally approved Thursday’s mission.
However, the narrative propagated by both the US media and the government that the US is attempting to "defeat the Islamic State more speedily" is fundamentally flawed.

It was the US, by its own admission, that sought the creation of a "Salafist principality" in eastern Syria, precisely where the Islamic State now resides. It was also admitted by the United States that its closest allies in the Persian Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, constitute state sponsors of the Islamic State.

A genuine effort to defeat the Islamic State would require then, to first identify and eliminate the source of the terrorist organization's funding and fighting capacity. The US has demonstrably failed to do either, and instead continues using the terrorist organization as a pretext to maintain a global military presence to "fight" the group perpetually. Its military presence also coincidentally allows the US to continue confronting and undermining competitors seeking to establish an alternative, multipolar world order.

What Does the use of MOAB Mean for US Foreign Policy? 

At face value, the use of such an immense ordnance by the US so many years after it began its military operations in Afghanistan in 2001, would appear to be a sign of desperation. That sixteen years onward, the US is still mired in combat operations fighting against multiplying terrorist threats including the Islamic State which previously did not exist in Afghanistan, indicates an absolute and total failure of US foreign policy in Central Asia.

US Didn't "Change Priorities" in Syria, It Lost

April 18, 2017 (Tony Cartalucci - NEO) - The United States - according to Western media sources - has shifted priorities in Syria, no longer focusing on regime change aimed at Damascus. 

However, in reality, it is not a shift in priorities, it is recognition that US ambitions in the Middle East have been thoroughly disrupted by Syrian, Russian, and Iranian resolve.

The US must now resort to pursuing secondary courses of action - no less malicious in intent or ultimate outcome than its original plan which has left a region at war since 2011, killed tens of thousands, and displace or otherwise disrupted the lives of millions more.

A Reuters report titled, "U.S. priority on Syria no longer focused on 'getting Assad out': Haley," would claim:
The United States' diplomatic policy on Syria for now is no longer focused on making the war-torn country's president, Bashar al-Assad, leave power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said on Thursday, in a departure from the Obama administration's initial and public stance on Assad's fate. 

The view of the Trump administration is also at odds with European powers, who insist Assad must step down. The shift drew a strong rebuke from at least two Republican senators.
And while some have taken this recent announcement as "proof" that the White House has made good on its promise to withdraw from American adventurism abroad,  US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley would go on to claim:
Do we think he's a hindrance? Yes. Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No. What we are going to focus on is putting the pressure in there so that we can start to make a change in Syria.
That "change in Syria," however is verbatim the partitioning of the nation that began under the previous administration of former US President Barack Obama. It is essentially the secondary objective laid out by corporate-financier funded US policymakers as early as 2012 when initial attempts at lightning-fast regime change failed and the Syrian conflict transformed into a protracted, highly destructive war.

A 2012 Brookings Institution document titled, "Middle East Memo #21: Saving Syria: Assessing Options for Regime Change" (PDF), revealed US policymakers openly declaring their intentions to create "safe havens" stating (emphasis added):
An alternative is for diplomatic efforts to focus first on how to end the violence and how to gain humanitarian access, as is being done under Annan’s leadership. This may lead to the creation of safe-havens and humanitarian corridors, which would have to be backed by limited military power. This would, of course, fall short of U.S. goals for Syria and could preserve Asad in power. From that starting point, however, it is possible that a broad coalition with the appropriate international mandate could add further coercive action to its efforts.

The document would then openly admit that - failing to overthrow the Syrian government - bleeding the nation would be an acceptable alternative, claiming (emphasis added):
The United States might still arm the opposition even knowing they will probably never have sufficient power, on their own, to dislodge the Asad network. Washington might choose to do so simply in the belief that at least providing an oppressed people with some ability to resist their oppressors is better than doing nothing at all, even if the support provided has little chance of turning defeat into victory. Alternatively, the United States might calculate that it is still worthwhile to pin down the Asad regime and bleed it, keeping a regional adversary weak, while avoiding the costs of direct intervention.

Reaffirming US commitment to this 2012 policy is US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. The Guardian's article, "Rex Tillerson says US will set up safe zones for refugees from Isis," notes:
Rex Tillerson has said the United States would set up “interim zones of stability” to help refugees return home in the next phase of the fight against Islamic State and al-Qaida in Syria and Iraq. The US secretary of state did not make clear where these zones were to be set up. He was addressing a meeting of 68 countries and organizations gathered in Washington to discuss accelerating the battle against Isis.
The notion that the US is in Syria to "fight the Islamic State" is a documented absurdity. It was the US and its allies, by their own admission, who sought the creation of a "Salafist principality" in eastern Syria precisely where the Islamic State now exists. The militant proxy maintains an immense fighting capacity possible only through equally immense, multinational state sponsorship - provided by the US and Europe and laundered through their regional allies in the Persian Gulf - primarily Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Syria: Watching the Jordanian Border

April 14, 2017 (Tony Cartalucci - NEO) - While focus regarding the Syrian conflict has shifted almost exclusively to recent US cruise missile strikes, what the strikes are designed to lay the groundwork for holds much larger implications. Particular attention should be focused on US forces operating both within Syrian territory and along Syria's borders.

Normalizing the use of stand-off weapons like cruise missiles makes it easier and more likely that similar attacks will unfold in the near future - particularly if Syria and its allies fail to demonstrate a significant deterrence against future attacks.

The use of stand-off weapons by the United States and the routine use of airstrikes by US allies including Israel within Syrian territory will likely open the door to wider and more direct military intervention against the Syrian government.

Punitive strikes will shift incrementally to a concerted effort to dismantle Syria's fighting capacity, inviting either US proxies to overthrow the Syrian government, or for US forces to do so directly - or likely a combination of both.

Preparing for just such an escalation are not only US forces continuously expanding the scale and scope of their presence in eastern Syria and NATO-member Turkey's forces in northern Syria, but also a US-led proxy army being staged in and operated from, for years now, in Jordan.

Jordan: The Other "Turkey" 

It was from Jordan that a rumored column of US armored vehicles recently entered Syrian territory. CNN, in an article titled, "Coalition and Syrian opposition forces repel ISIS attack," would report that:
Anti-ISIS coalition troops and allied Syrian opposition forces have repelled an attack by the terrorist group on a joint base in southern Syria, according to the coalition. 

The US-led coalition said ISIS initiated a complex attack on Saturday at the At Tanf Garrison on the Syrian-Jordanian border using a vehicle-borne IED, and 20-30 fighters followed with a ground assault and suicide vests.
CNN would also report that:
Some American forces were at the base at the time of the assault, the official said.
Additionally, for years, US policymakers and media platforms have discussed both potential plans for staging an invading force in Jordan, as well as ongoing efforts to stand up a proxy force in Jordan before moving it into Syrian territory.

In 2015, the Guardian in an article titled, "US begins training Syrian rebels in Jordan to become anti-Isis force," would report:
Jordanian officials told reporters on Thursday that coalition forces have begun training prescreened rebels at a site inside the Middle Eastern kingdom. Training locations are also expected to begin operation in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
A 2016 article by the Washington Post titled, "Revamped U.S. training program, with new goals, has trained fewer than 100 Syrians so far," would report:
U.S. military officials are considering ways to ramp up training of Syrian fighters against the Islamic State as the Pentagon moves cautiously forward with a revamped program to create an effective local ground force.

The series of setbacks hindering the creation of an "opposition army" from scratch, and even setbacks in training and effectively utilizing existing militant and terrorist groups may be why the US has also sought to create its own large and growing military presence in Jordan.

In 2013, the Heritage Foundation would publish an article titled, "Hagel Announces Deployment of U.S. Troops to Jordan in Response to Worsening Syria Crisis," claiming:

Although initially tasked with playing a support role in assisting Jordan in developing contingency plans for mitigating the destabilizing spillover effects of Syria’s civil war, the troops could “potentially form a joint task force for military operations, if ordered.” The headquarters staff will lay the foundation for a formal U.S. military presence that could grow to 20,000 troops or more, if the Obama Administration activates contingency plans for a major U.S. military intervention.
According to most estimates from across the Western media, approximately 1,000-2,000 US service members are currently stationed in Jordan. Expanding that number to 20,000 or more would surely be noticed by Syrian, Russian, and Iranian intelligence agencies. Likewise, the creation and deployment of a full-scale invasion force created by America's Persian Gulf allies or NATO-member Turkey would likewise be noticed long before having a chance to storm Syrian territory.

Invasion or Further Balkanization? 

Instead of a full-scale invasion, what is more likely is the incremental Balkanization of Syria, with Turkey already holding significant territory in the north, Israel maintaining its long-term occupation of the Golan Heights in the west, US troops occupying Syrian territory in east, alongside Persian Gulf sponsored terrorists holding both the eastern city of Raqqa and the northern city of Idlib.

Abuse of "Rights Advocacy" Continues in Thailand

March 29, 2017 (Joseph Thomas - NEO) - Recently, Thailand-based media platform, Voice TV, faced a seven day ban after violating licencing agreements and multiple counts of misconduct. Various articles, including those published by local English-language newspaper, The Nation, would portray the incident as a crackdown on "freedom of expression" and "media freedom." 

In its article, "Voice TV ban ‘an attack on media freedom’," The Nation would claim:
In a joint statement signed by the Thai Journalists Association and Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, they said the order violated media freedom and could harm all media outlets.

It was unfair to ban the whole station as only some programmes and anchors violated the junta’s orders, they said in a statement. Many other staff were not involved but had been affected by the decision, it said.

While Voice TV has had programmes banned several times since the military coup in 2014, suspension of a station’s operating licence is very rare.
Omitted from this, and other reports, however, is the fact that both Voice TV and organisations like the Thai Journalists Association serve foreign interests, with Voice TV being owned and operated by the family of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, currently a convicted criminal and fugitive hiding abroad and enjoying political and material support from both the United States and European governments.

The Thai Journalists Association is openly associated with the US State Department, EU, and corporate foundation funded IFEX and the similarly foreign-funded Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), the latter of which also receives funding from convicted financial criminal George Soros' Open Society foundation.

Across their pages are a myriad of politically-motivated, one-sided and intentionally skewed stories drafted in support of various opposition fronts across Southeast Asia attempting to undermine or overthrow political orders targeted by US and European special interests. IFEX, for example, also published a passionate defence of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a pro-Shianwatra propagandist who published a magazine titled, "The Voice of Taksin," in which regular calls for violence and threats of terrorism were made and even a list of judges who ruled against Shinawatra was posted along with their addresses and family members' names.

Somyot Prueksakasemsuk is clearly a criminal who abused and hid behind "free speech" to call for criminal acts that, in 2009 and 2010, were demonstrably carried out at the cost of human lives and millions of dollars worth of property damage. IFEX, instead of mentioning this, portrays him as an activist wrongly imprisoned for simply exercising "free speech."

These very same organisations decrying alleged crackdowns on media freedom remained silent, for instance, during the 2013-2014 street protests organised against Shinawatra's government in which Shinawatra's supporters regularly targeted, maimed and killed unarmed protesters in the streets with assault rifles, hand grenades and 40mm grenade launchers. Twenty would die and many more would be injured, while these supposed "rights advocates" either ignored the escalating violence, or even attempted to justify it.

Also omitted from recent reports regarding Voice TV is the fact that the media platform's owners are the Shinawatras, and Thaksin Shinawatra himself.

Shinawatra while in power between 2001 and 2006 carried out a brutal campaign of violence and intimidation against the media in Thailand. He also oversaw a politically motivated "war on drugs" that left nearly 3,000 people extrajudicially executed in the streets. After being ousted from power in 2006, Shinawatra resorted to street protests, terrorism and targeted assassinations in his bid to seize back power. In 2009 and again in 2010, he would place large mobs in the streets resulting in arson and mass murder.

In 2008, he was accused and sentenced to prison for abuse of power, and has since fled the country and has remained abroad as a fugitive.

In 2013-2014, he would again employ terrorism in an attempt to remove protesters from the streets, this time in an attempt to preserve the government of his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who openly held office as his proxy.

Despite holding a long record of despotism and deplorable corruption and violence, Shinawatra enjoys political support from the United States and Europe where he is allowed to freely travel, give talks and associate with the special interests supporting both him directly, and his political proxies, including disingenuous "rights advocacy" groups lobbying for him under the cover of defending human rights, free speech and media freedom.

The abuse of rights advocacy in Thailand is just one of many examples of how legitimate concerns over media freedom are abused politically in one-sided campaigns organised by well funded players seeking to hide behind such advocacy rather than upholding it. In particular, it illustrates how US and European special interests abuse rights advocacy as a means of targeting, undermining and even overthrowing governments impeding their regional ambitions. 

In the end, such tactics undermine legitimate rights advocacy and endanger legitimate activists seeking nonpartisan protection for objective journalism and journalists, as well as for genuine activists seeking to expose and address real corruption and abuse of power.

Joseph Thomas is chief editor of Thailand-based geopolitical journal, The New Atlas and contributor to the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.