Wednesday, November 26, 2008

PAD Thai

Over the years, I've had half an eye focused on political and economic news from SE Asia, in particular Thailand---a country with a long and proud history and a fave travel destination of mine for the last eight or so years.  Trouble is brewing there, my friends----guess I might have to reconsider going to Bangkok on my December/January trip this year.....

What interests me is the cast of characters involved in the latest drama.  As it turns out, a senior leader in the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD)---Sondhi Limthongkul--is a former client of mine, having had the ambition, about 10 years ago, to launch a business media company here in the US. The irony of him, one of Thailand's richest men, leading the throng of upper middle class protesters occupying Bangkok's airport is delicious.

This will give you an idea of how PAD is a classic misnomer, kind of like the People's Republic of China.  Nothing particularly democratic there, or there.  PAD supports the idea, for example, that Parliament should consist of 30% of members elected by the people and the remaining 70% appointed from the professional and business classes.  Now, there's a notion that appeals to my elitist heart!

With the hope that the factions can come to terms and resume ruling a wonderful country and its people, I wonder whether these kinds of revolutions---which embody the transfer of power from one elite to another---have much impact on the fundamental directions of government.  One ruling class abdicates for another, and, several years later, foments its own revolution and comes back again.  Revolving door democracy?  Or something more pernicious?  And is it foolish to root for one side or the other when the net effect is a nameplate change on the prime minister's door?  Hmm.

Which, of course, brings me closer to home and the news emanating from Chicago, especially today's expected reappointment of defense secretary Gates, and Volcker.  OK, we're impressed with the firepower that Barack is assembling around him on most every level.   Have heard mixed reviews of some of the Chicago cronies that are coming east for the ride, but the rest---wow !  Yet, is it reasonable to speculate that these experienced, powerful, intelligent individuals, mostly shaped by the same set of schools, ideas, and experiences--are going to stop us somwehere short of the fundamental changes we thought we were voting for less than a month ago?  Are we shuffling the deck or are these people going to bring about the change we need?   Rescue, yes, that they can handle---best fire brigade we've had since Kennedy.  But, after we get thru the present moment, what then?

Case in point from the Catastrophe.  As reported in an excellent piece in the Wash Post in October, many of the senior financial players (notably Rubin, who also played a starring role in the Citigroup fiasco) about to get back in the saddle are members of the same hierarchies that actively discouraged the whistleblowers calling attention to the house of cards of the mortgage backed derivatives business.

I'm hearing this more and more around NYC in the last few days---hey, aren't these the same people that got us into this mess?  Well...not quite, but, ya know, not far off the mark, either.....

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