If you left the market, don’t wait to get back in #SootinClaimon.Com

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If you left the market, don’t wait to get back in (nationthailand.com)

If you left the market, don’t wait to get back in

ColumnsDec 01. 2020

By Bloomberg Opinion
Nir Kaissar

There are only a few basic rules of investing: diversify, keep your costs low and probably most important, hang on when markets tumble occasionally. The last one is the trickiest. It’s not easy watching money vanish as the market plunges, particularly when many people, some of them highly respected, are carping about the end of the world, which invariably accompanies a market collapse.

So it was when covid-19 sent U.S. stocks into a tailspin in late February. The S&P 500 Index shed a third of its value in just more than four weeks, one of the steepest retreats on record, amid widespread chatter that the pandemic would plunge the U.S. into a long depression, wiping out whole industries and permanently damaging broad swaths of the economy.

Hanging on to stocks through that chaos was no small feat, and amazingly, most investors managed to do it. Research firm Dalbar, which attempts to track investors’ moves into and out of mutual funds, concluded in a recent report that “the average investor’s appetite for equities has remained unchanged throughout the covid crisis.” Vanguard Group, which oversees more than $6 trillion in assets, found that less than 0.5% of its retail clients and self-directed investors in its retirement plans panicked and moved to all cash between Feb.19, the market’s pre-coronavirus peak, and May 31.

That’s a big change from previous meltdowns, most recently the 2008 financial crisis, when investors dumped stocks in droves. It seems to have finally sunk in that all crises pass and that the stock market eventually recovers, no matter how desperate things seem at the time.

And true to form, the market recovered sooner than anyone expected. It shot higher in late March and surpassed its pre-covid high in August, even as the coronavirus showed few signs of slowing. As it turned out, the recovery began roughly eight months before news arrived that a highly effective vaccine is in hand and will start to be distributed soon. That sounds about right.

Those who dumped their stocks along the way, gambling that the market is poised for a long slump and would give them an opening to reenter at even lower prices, now face a hard choice. The market is up roughly 60% from its March low, so getting back in means coming to terms with a costly mistake. Say you had $100,000 in the market at the pre-coronavirus peak and sold roughly halfway down, recovering about $83,000. If you had stayed in the market, you would have roughly $107,000 today, or close to 30% more money than when you exited. That’s tough to swallow.

But the alternative is worse. The temptation is to wait stubbornly for the market to revisit its lows, a day that may never come. During the financial crisis, the market turned sharply higher in March 2009, even though it was not yet evident that a collapse of the financial system would be averted. When the all-clear came several months later, the market had risen roughly 60% through October.

Sound familiar? Investors who dumped their stocks during the financial crisis faced the same choice modern-day deserters do now. Those who jumped back in after the crisis eased in 2009 have more than tripled their money despite buying back at what must have seemed like an outrageous price at the time, while those who waited for the elusive ideal reentry are still waiting.

There are countless other examples. With rare exception, when the market surges from the depths of a crisis, it’s a signal that it has moved on, even if some investors have not. Chances are, the market has moved on from covid-19, and investors should, too.

The next time – and yes, there will be a next time – investors are tempted to dump their stocks during a crisis, they should focus not on getting out but getting back in. That should clarify the wisdom of staying put. No one can anticipate the bottom in advance, which means that the reentry will either be too early or too late. And too early is unrealistic. If you’re tempted to run for the exit when the market is down 20%, you probably won’t be in the mood to buy when it’s down 30% or more. That leaves one alternative: buying late, which is the pickle some investors are in now. It’s best to avoid that quandary altogether by remaining invested.

For now, those who got out should recognize that there will never be a better time to get back in, at least one that can be known in advance.

– – –

Kaissar is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the markets. He is the founder of Unison Advisors, an asset management firm. He has worked as a lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell and a consultant at Ernst & Young.

Light at the end of the tunnel, for everyone #SootinClaimon.Com

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Light at the end of the tunnel, for everyone (nationthailand.com)

Light at the end of the tunnel, for everyone

ColumnsNov 29. 2020

By Kim Hoo-ran
Korea Herald

Putting up the Christmas tree over the weekend, I was reminded once again of all the plans that came to naught this year, including long-planned trips.

Among the ornaments that hang on the tree are baubles and trinkets bought on trips abroad — a rough, handmade snowman bought at an Amish village in Pennsylvania, a Tiffany-style glass ball picked up on a rushed weekend trip to New York. Collected over the years, they remind us of our times there. It goes without saying that there were no new ornaments this year — except for the red felt cloth cross that my daughter bought at Ely Cathedral in England just before the pandemic forced her to return early from her junior semester abroad. Looking for just the right spot on the tree for the cross, I was nevertheless grateful that the family was together and that we were all safe.

It has been a year like no other for everyone around the world. The news of a cluster of pneumonia cases in the Chinese city of Wuhan came to our attention at the end of last year and within a few weeks, the world learned about the emergence of a new respiratory illness, one that is highly contagious and sometimes fatal. Nearly a year later, the world is in the throes of yet another surge of the novel coronavirus.

Without sure means of preventing the spread of the disease, many countries have gone into various forms of lockdown. With its roots going back to the medieval practice of sealing off villages to prevent the spread of the bubonic plague, the word “lockdown” has an air of fatality about it. In the 21st century, with all its technological and medical advances, humans find themselves hapless against an invisible virus that has sickened more than 60.1 million people around the world and killed more than 1.4 million. No country has been spared the virus.

Around this time of the year, Christmas lights light up the streets, carols blare out from shops and merrymakers fill restaurants and bars, celebrating the year-end. But not so this year.

Any social plans for the rest of the year were canceled overnight as the government announced stricter social distancing measures. On Monday, the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced an “emergency pause for 10 million citizens,” urging Seoulites to stay put until the end of the year.

This week came the news of yet another successful COVID-19 vaccine trial, meaning that three vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford University will be made available as soon as they receive regulatory approval.

The vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University is reported to be 90 percent effective depending on the dosage, and the other two vaccines report 95 percent effectiveness. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, after all.

Not all countries will have quick access to the vaccines, however. While vaccinations could start as early as mid-December in the US, vaccine rollout in South Korea is expected in March or April next year.

How we ensure that the vaccines are distributed fairly and that the poorest and the most vulnerable are not left out is perhaps the next big challenge for the world. How do we make sure that it is not just the wealthy nations that have access to the vaccines, that the poorer countries will have equal access?

The recent virtual G-20 summit concluded without any concrete action plan for equitable distribution of lifesaving vaccines, leading German leader Angela Merkel to express concerns that poorer countries would not benefit from the vaccines, leaving billions of people unimmunized.

Speaking at a meeting hosted at the Moroccan ambassador’s residence in Seoul earlier this week, International Vaccine Institute Director General Jerome Kim echoed the same concerns. Noting that wealthy countries have secured the first 2 billion doses through preorder, Kim warned that without equitable distribution, we could see a doubling of global deaths.

As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said, “None of us is safe until all of us are safe.” No effort should be spared in getting COVID-19 treatments and vaccines to everyone who needs them.

Kim Hoo-ran is the culture desk editor at The Korea Herald. — Ed.

Blinken first #SootinClaimon.Com

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Blinken first (nationthailand.com)

Blinken first

ColumnsNov 29. 2020

By The Statesman

A foreign policy veteran despite his relatively young age, he has held key positions over three decades and helped lead US diplomatic efforts in the fight against ISIS, the re-balance in Asia, and the global refugee crisis. Already, recent interviews of Blinken ~ considered to be “Biden’s alter-ego” ~ are being dissected by the Indian foreign policy establishment and his utterances seen as positive for bilateral ties.

India’s handling of its relationship with US President elect Joe Biden’s choice for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, will prove crucial in mitigating stresses that seem certain to appear in IndoUS ties going forward.

Blinken, 58, served as Deputy Secretary of State in the second Barack Obama Administration and as National Security Advisor to Biden when he was the Vice-President.

A foreign policy veteran despite his relatively young age, he has held key positions over three decades and helped lead US diplomatic efforts in the fight against ISIS, the re-balance in Asia, and the global refugee crisis. Already, recent interviews of Blinken ~ considered to be “Biden’s alter-ego” ~ are being dissected by the Indian foreign policy establishment and his utterances seen as positive for bilateral ties.

But perhaps too much is being read into Blinken’s no-blinking stance when it comes to pushing back against an aggressive China. It is also perhaps mistakenly being assumed that his talking up of India, in an oft-quoted interview on the occasion of a community outreach event organised by the Biden campaign on 15 August, as the great democratic bulwark against an increasingly assertive, totalitarian China in the Asia-Pacific is necessarily in the Indian interest. Especially as the likelihood of there being any follow-up action on this aggressive position is bleak given Blinken’s priority will be to dial down the rhetoric and prevent an escalation of the trade war Donald Trump and Xi Jinping were engaged in. Global economic inter-dependence is the Biden playbook.

South Block mandarins have described Blinken variously as a “known quantity” and a “pragmatist” but New Delhi must guard against underestimating the strength of the Democrats’ left-wing which has an ideological commitment to promoting and exporting its version of democracy where group rights trump the core liberal values of individual rights.

The sooner realisation dawns that it’s on repairing the US’ relationships with its European allies ~ which Trump’s approach had ruptured to a significant extent ~ where Blinken’s initial focus is likely to be, the better.

It may also help focus New Delhi’s mind on how to deal with the Biden Administration’s priorities if it examines the delineation of Blinken’s worldview in an interview he gave to the Hudson Institute in which he spoke on the Kashmir issue and the Muslim community in India. “We obviously have challenges now and real concerns, for example, about some of the actions that the (Indian) government has taken particularly in cracking down on freedom of movement and freedom of speech in Kashmir and some of the laws on citizenship,” he said.

He did, of course, offer the palliative: “It’s always better engaging with an important partner like India when you can speak frankly and directly about areas where you have differences even as you’re working to strengthen the relationship”. Doesn’t leave much room for doubt, does it?

The UNDP-Sweden partnership in Thailand’s path to sustainable development #SootinClaimon.Com

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The UNDP-Sweden partnership in Thailand’s path to sustainable development (nationthailand.com)

The UNDP-Sweden partnership in Thailand’s path to sustainable development

ColumnsNov 27. 2020Renaud Meyer and Jon Åström Gröndahl Renaud Meyer and Jon Åström Gröndahl 

By Renaud Meyer, Jon Åström Gröndahl
Special to The Nation

Covid-19 has been a powerful reminder of how swiftly a crisis of global proportions can change our lives. This year, global human development is on course to decline for the first time in decades, and over 100 million people could slide back into poverty from the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Thailand has shown foresight and resolve in keeping Covid-19 transmission in check, but the economic slowdown has still resulted in widespread job losses, affecting middle-class households and the poor alike, and could offset years of progress.

A global crisis requires international cooperation. Our hopes are now pinned on a potential vaccine and a belief that – once approved – the global community will come together to deploy it fairly and equally around the world. No one is safe until everyone is safe.

This belief in collective action to meet global crises embodies the multilateralism that is at the core of the United Nations. Now, more than ever, all countries must come together, not only to solve this crisis, but also to prevent that progress in other areas will be wiped out.

If not for the pandemic, December would have seen world leaders gather in Glasgow to address the climate crisis, another global and inter-generational challenge that requires urgent and collective action.

In the next century, we could see global temperatures rise over 1.5 degrees Celsius, triggering deadly heatwaves and affecting every inhabited region on the planet. In Thailand, changing weather patterns and rising sea levels are likely to cause more frequent floods, tropical storms and droughts, threatening the prosperity and the self-reliance the country has attained.

With Sweden, UNDP’s work in Thailand over the past few years has focused on building resilience to these impacts of climate change, whilst also supporting the government to meet its national commitments to reduce emissions as agreed in the Paris Agreement of 2015. Women generally face a greater burden of the impacts of climate change, as well as the effects of Covid-19. UNDP is supporting Thailand’s government to integrate climate and gender considerations into national budgetary processes. One element of this work is to enable parliamentarians to play a significant role in the journey to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Thailand was also, with support from UNDP and Sweden, the first country in Asia to adopt a national action plan for business and human rights, an important step in the right direction to build a more sustainable society. We are looking forward to the imminent implementation of this plan and are pleased to see other countries line up to learn from Thailand’s experience.

Efforts in response to the pandemic may have serious and far-reaching repercussions on the enjoyment of human rights. Emergency responses and restrictions must be strictly in line with international law.

Sweden, together with many other countries, is proud to partner with UNDP – it is a strategic investment in our future. Together, we have a positive impact on the lives of millions of people while protecting the planet. This investment will pay dividends for generations to come.

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the world severely, but let’s not lose this opportunity to build back better and greener. Strengthen international cooperation. Continue to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. Achieve the sustainable development goals, leaving no one left behind.

We are committed to make concrete actions out of these words.

To do any less, would be a grave injustice to future generations.

Renaud Meyer is UNDP resident representative in Thailand, and Jon Astrom Grondahl is Sweden’s ambassador-designate to Thailand.

Further violent crackdowns by authorities would put monarchy’s reputation at risk #SootinClaimon.Com

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Further violent crackdowns by authorities would put monarchy’s reputation at risk (nationthailand.com)

Further violent crackdowns by authorities would put monarchy’s reputation at risk

ColumnsNov 24. 2020The Bad Student group rallies at BTS Siam Square on Saturday, ahead of the planned demonstration outside the Crown Property Bureau on Wednesday (November 25).The Bad Student group rallies at BTS Siam Square on Saturday, ahead of the planned demonstration outside the Crown Property Bureau on Wednesday (November 25). 

By The Nation Editorial
The Nation

Authorities’ response to pro-democracy protests has been out of proportion and has done severe damage to the reputation of both the government and the monarchy it vows to protect.

 The first major mistake was to impose a “severe emergency” in Bangkok on October 15 following a mass rally on October 14 and an incident involving the royal motorcade.

The second was to fire water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters in Siam Square on October 16, at a rally attended by many schoolchildren.

The third was to use water cannon and tear gas and failing to prevent clashes between protesters and royalists outside Parliament on November 17. The government was accused of showing bias towards royalist protesters, while some government MPs and politicians were accused of recruiting yellow shirts to show support for the government and monarchy. Pro-democracy protesters also suspected that government MPs were seeking to initiate violence in order to justify cracking down on the pro-democracy movement.

The November 17 clashes left dozens injured and several people had to be hospitalised with gunshot wounds. Protesters retaliated by splashing paint on police headquarters during a mass rally at Ratchaprasong Intersection on November 18. They also graffitied the road to express their anger at the government and police and their critical views of the monarchy.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, instead of learning from the mistakes, vowed to use “all laws and articles” to deal with the protesters. Police now say they are ready to charge protesters with lese majeste under Section 112 of the penal code, which carries jail terms of between three and 15 years.

On the eve of Wednesday (November 25)’s rally outside the Crown Property Bureau, police arrested protest leader Piyarat Chongthep and charged him with sedition, which carries a jail term of up to 7 years.

Protesters plan to meet at Democracy Monument at 3pm on Wednesday before marching to the Crown Property Bureau nearby.

Further harsh action by the government and police will put Thailand’s reputation at greater risk, given that Thai authorities already face calls from the international community to drop serious charges against peaceful protesters who are exercising their political rights. The UN Human Rights Commission has long objected to the use of the lese-majeste law to silence political voices. International pressure may have played a role in halting the use of Section 112 by the Prayut administration, but now Section 116 (on sedition) appears to be operating as its surrogate.

Protesters’ push for full restoration of democracy via Prayut’s resignation, a new Constitution and reform of the monarchy is making headlines around the world. The ongoing global coverage is having an impact on the credibility of the government and the reputation of the monarchy.

Any escalation of the crackdown by the government, police and judiciary risks damaging the reputation of the government and monarchy beyond repair.

In recent years, Western powers have unified against various human rights abuses around the world. Following political conflict in Hong Kong last year, we witnessed the United State and its Western allies pressure Beijing by imposing sanctions against Chinese authorities deemed to be violating human rights.

From January, the new US administration under Joe Biden is expected to place even more emphasis on human rights and democratic values when dealing with trading partners such as Thailand. This could lead to trade restrictions or sanctions against high ranking officials accused of violating human rights, as we witnessed when the US and European Union suspended trade agreements with Thailand following the military coup in 2014.

But more importantly, a brutal crackdown would trigger even deeper divisions in Thai society, given that large numbers of the younger generation and pro-democracy citizens are unlikely to bow to what they consider unjust laws and inhumane government actions.

Therefore, embracing reform of key institutions is the safer path that will ensure that everyone benefits. In contrast, imposing harsh actions and draconian laws on citizens will only drag the country closer to the abyss.

Suu Kyi’s capabilities tested amid numerous issues plaguing Myanmar #SootinClaimon.Com

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Suu Kyi’s capabilities tested amid numerous issues plaguing Myanmar (nationthailand.com)

Suu Kyi’s capabilities tested amid numerous issues plaguing Myanmar

ColumnsNov 23. 2020Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi delivering a speech on State Television in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Nov 9, 2020. (PHOTO: EPA-EFE)Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi delivering a speech on State Television in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Nov 9, 2020. (PHOTO: EPA-EFE) 

By The Japan News

Efforts to weaken the military’s involvement in politics are essential if Myanmar is to promote democratization and achieve domestic stability. Aung San Suu Kyi’s ability to take action is being called into question.

In the Myanmar general election, the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), led by State Counsellor Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of the government, won more than 80% of the seats up for grabs, maintaining its sole majority. Suu Kyi’s popularity has been demonstrated, but the future will be difficult.

The NLD won a landslide in the previous election in 2015, marking a shift from the military-centered political rule that lasted more than half a century. However, the Constitution that was established under the military regime allocates one-fourth of the seats to military personnel, and the military still has a certain amount of influence.

The ruling party’s victory over the main opposition party, which developed from the military regime, may reflect public wariness regarding a return to military-led politics.

There has been little progress on revising the Constitution and ending the civil war between the military and ethnic minorities, issues that Suu Kyi included in her campaign pledges. Under these circumstances, she cannot avoid being criticized for a poor track record.

Ethnic minority parties dissatisfied with the government split with the ruling party and won seats independently. This should be interpreted as disappointment over the excessive consideration for the military. If Suu Kyi fails to achieve results in the future, her power to unify is certain to decline.

The economy has also failed to grow. Problems including delays in infrastructure development and the corrupt nature of bureaucrats and others have hampered investment from abroad. The administration bears a heavy responsibility for failing to solve problems that have long been pointed out.

Suu Kyi, who led the pro-democracy movement under military rule, faced oppression through such means as house arrest. Despite this, criticism of the government has become the target of crackdowns, even under the current administration. It betrays the expectations of the international community that supports Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi also has shown no presence regarding the issue of the persecuted Islamic minority Rohingya, about 700,000 of whom have become refugees and fled to neighboring Bangladesh. The United States and European countries are increasingly criticizing Myanmar, calling the situation a grave humanitarian crisis.

In Myanmar, where 90% of the people are Buddhists, feelings of discrimination against the Rohingya are so strong that the issue did not surface as a point of contention in the election. However, the problem must not be allowed to be left unaddressed. Suu Kyi must accelerate such measures as granting nationality to the Rohingya that will lead to the return of refugees.

Stability in Myanmar is extremely important for Japan, which advocates a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” A large number of Japanese companies are also operating in Myanmar. The Japanese government needs to step up its assistance to promote national reconciliation and economic development.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 22, 2020.

Draconian internet rules #SootinClaimon.Com

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Draconian internet rules (nationthailand.com)

Draconian internet rules

ColumnsNov 23. 2020The writer is director of Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum for digital rights.The writer is director of Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum for digital rights. 

By Usama Khilji

SET of rules to censor content on the internet have been notified by the government and are likely to fundamentally alter the internet as we know it in Pakistan.

Titled ‘Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020’, these are meant to guide the implementation of Section 37 (unlawful online content) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) 2016. It is important to note that these rules presumably replace the ‘Citizen Protection Against Online Harm Rules 2020’ which were notified in February by the federal cabinet but never denotified after promises to change them were announced in the face of local and international criticism against their draconian nature. There has been no clarification regarding their status by the government.

The lack of meaningful consultation with stakeholders has been pointed out several times, and the change in the name of the rules and content make the mala fide intent of the state clear: they are nothing but yet another attempt to control narratives and silence citizens in a way that is unconstitutional, disproportionate, impractical, and detrimental to Pakistan’s development.

On a macro level, there have been a few fundamental changes in the Rules as compared to the earlier version. For one, they quote definitions of crimes in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) sections, and empower the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to interpret these and decide what content it deems unlawful, without any due process or trial. Second, the new Rules also apply to internet service providers — which include telecom operators and broadband operators — apart from social media companies. Third, they flout due process and accountability again as the PTA is empowered to complain, investigate, adjudicate, execute, and review appeals all on its own before a website owner or social media platform can appeal the restriction or blocking of online content in the high court.

The new Rules undermine the citizens’ right to privacy and enhance the state’s surveillance powers.

Going into the specifics of the Rules, they stipulate content regulation guidelines and expect all internet companies to implement them above their own globally applicable community guidelines, outlining types of content that will be deemed unlawful and should be removed within a day at the PTA’s request. It is important to note that companies do not do this as it contravenes international human rights principles relating to speech and privacy, by way of empowering a government to control what its citizens can say. This is why none of the international social media platforms are functional in China.

As it is, Section 37 of Peca — for which these Rules stipulate detailed procedure — borrows language from Article 19 of the Constitution, interpreting which is a function of the superior judiciary and not the job of a PTA official. In the exceptions to the freedom of speech rule, these Rules go one step further by defining the “glory of Islam” as per the blasphemy laws of Pakistan under Chapter XV of the PPC. This can especially threaten the already persecuted religious minorities, as well as become controversial considering disagreements over interpretations among followers of different sects of Islam.

Most controversially, there is an addition to the definition of “integrity, security and defence of Pakistan” — the Rules include the “dissemination of an information which intimidates or harms the reputation of Federal or Provincial Government or any person holding public office … brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Federal or provincial Government”. Yet again, the PTA is empowered to interpret the constitutional language of Article 260 for definition of government officials.

This effectively renders any criticism of the government or its officials liable to be labelled as ‘unlawful’, especially in the absence of the mention of malicious intent, which is a test used in legislation to mitigate prosecution of good faith acts.

The Rules require all social media companies and internet service providers with more than half a million subscribers to open an office in Pakistan, appoint a local representative, and establish database servers, in addition to handing any data to the Federal Investigation Agency in a decrypted and readable form. This gravely undermines the right to privacy of citizens, and further opens the surveillance powers of the state that already has in place measures such as the Web Monitoring System which inspects all internet data packets in the country.

Intermediary liability is also extended, whereby social media companies and internet service providers are bound to comply with orders to censor content by the PTA and provide data related to users; in case of failure to do so, they face complete blocking of their platform or company in the country, as well as a fine of Rs500 million. In effect, the state is trying to privatise its censorship apparatus. It is important to note that this clause is in clear disagreement with the parent law — Peca — which limits intermediary liability under Section 38.

More suspect is the lack of transparency in the complaints mechanism: the Rules empower government agencies and departments to request blocking or restriction of content, and seek to keep the identity of complainant secret, which means that citizens and companies will never know who lodged a complaint against their content, especially when these powers are abused.

This will impact critics of the government, dissidents, opposition parties, human rights defenders, and journalists if the precedent of cases under Peca, transparency reports of internet companies, and disappearances and arrests of activists are kept in mind.

It is also detrimental to the economy where existing internet service providers that have invested billions in Pakistan, foreign companies that could potentially invest here, local start-ups that could create employment, and content creators would all be impacted by the unbridled powers.

The government must revoke these Rules, parliament should exercise oversight and amend the draconian Peca, and the courts must step in to stop the violation of fundamental freedoms.

If not, we should expect a showdown between internet companies and the government in the coming year, with the risk of platforms shutting down operations and cutting off Pakistan from the rest of the world.

The writer is director of Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum for digital rights.

Twitter: @UsamaKhilji

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2020

Pfizer vaccine’s safety milestone is just the beginning #SootinClaimon.Com

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Pfizer vaccine’s safety milestone is just the beginning (nationthailand.com)

Pfizer vaccine’s safety milestone is just the beginning

ColumnsNov 22. 2020

By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg Opinion · Therese Raphael · OPINION 

Regulatory authorities are gearing up for a deluge in people reporting side effects when the new covid-19 vaccines go into use.

Even as vaccines like the one from Pfizer and BioNTech reach safety milestones and look set for regulatory approval, managing the reporting and follow-up of what are known as adverse drug reactions will be critical to keeping to the high levels of public participation needed for a vaccination program to be successful.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to send daily texts to those who are vaccinated for the first week and then weekly texts for six weeks, while the Food and Drug Administration will also be monitoring side effects in real time. 

It’s not clear if the U.K.’s monitoring system will have similar capabilities by the time the vaccine is rolled out. The country’s Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency issued an urgent tender notice (recorded last month in a European Union public procurement journal) for an artificial-intelligence software tool to help deal with the expected high volume of reported effects. (The roughly $2 million contract went to outsourcing firm Genpact.)

The agency didn’t mince words in explaining the reasons for the urgency: Its legacy system would be overwhelmed by the volume of reports and could not be retrofitted to cope with the new vaccine. The absence of a new tool would “hinder its ability to rapidly identify any potential safety issues within the covid-19 vaccine.” That in turn would represent a “direct threat to patient life and public health.”

Even if the language may have been partly crafted to exempt it from normal E.U. tender requirements, it underscores what’s at stake for governments around the world as these brand new vaccines are rolled out with unprecedented speed to a far wider public than ever before. As with any new drug, the range of these adverse drug reactions – unintended, harmful events linked to the medication – will only be known when a very large number of people have been vaccinated.

A reported adverse effect doesn’t mean a vaccine isn’t safe, and in some cases it may not be related to the inoculation at all. But ADRs help doctors, pharmaceutical companies and regulators monitor the impact of licensed drugs. They can identify misuse of a drug, compromised batches or simply side effects that need to be disclosed even if it doesn’t change the safety profile. 

Effective monitoring is especially important given these vaccines will be released with less safety follow-up than is typical for widely used shots. Having a robust system to log, analyze and allow for prompt feedback from reported side effects is essential to ensuring public safety. Combined with clear communication, it will also be central to building confidence in the new vaccines.

In general, most side effects appear soon after an injection and remain only for a short period. A small percentage of people will experience them from any well-established vaccine, or even your typical pain relief medication. Most people are willing to accept that small level of risk for massive benefit – to their children and public health generally – from vaccination programs. 

The U.K.’s Yellow Card system might receive one report per 1,000 immunizations. But if you dramatically increase the number of people being vaccinated, the amount of reported effects can be expected to increase proportionately. With covid vaccines likely to go to the oldest and most vulnerable first, there may be even more ADRs reported than usual. Even if they aren’t related to the vaccine, they can spook the public.

The side-effect reports have the potential to be a gold mine for anti-vaxxers. Vaccine skepticism is higher in the U.S., but the U.K. bears the scars of the now thoroughly debunked linking of the MMR vaccine to autism. In a survey last week by the London Assembly Health Committee, only three in five respondents said they are likely to or will definitely get vaccinated; almost half of those who said they wouldn’t or might not do so cited lack of trust in government guidance or drug companies.

Such concerns aren’t entirely irrational. If vaccines have traditionally taken up to a decade to win approval, people wonder how can we trust the safety of one produced in a small fraction of the time.

One answer is that in the battle against covid, no effort, brainpower or resource was spared. That intense, global competition has borne impressive fruit. The technology has also advanced so rapidly that past timetables aren’t a very good guide. The so-called messenger RNA technology used by the two leading inoculation candidates from Moderna Inc. and the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership is already revolutionizing vaccine development, as my colleague Max Nisen explains.

With all of this in mind, it’s vital governments educate the public about what they might expect. The side-effect profiles so far seem nothing to be concerned about. Still, they may be a bit harsher than a typical flu shot, which is the only reference point most of us have. If people know what to expect, they’ll be less likely to worry or flood hotlines. 

These may well be modern day miracles, but as the saying goes, vaccines don’t save lives, vaccinations do. With vaccines expected to cover as much as a third of the population by the first part of next year, effective monitoring and total transparency will be essential if we are to defeat not just this pandemic, but the next one too.

– – – 

Raphael is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. She was editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe.

Obama, Biden and India #SootinClaimon.Com

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Obama, Biden and India (nationthailand.com)

Obama, Biden and India

ColumnsNov 22. 2020

By The Statesman

Every reader ought to notice that Barack Obama has gone out of his way in his biography to say how much of his childhood years he spent listening to the episodes in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. This of course, implies his appetite for spiritualism as well as his interest.

There are deeper messages in former American President Barack Obama’s autobiography than would come across in a casual reading. The name of his book, A Promised Land, although smacking of Abrahamic origins, actually implies that for the lesser well-off folk, the United States is yet to fulfil its promise. There is no doubt that Indian culture has charmed Obama for the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to have found noticeable space in his life story, which is significant.

That he was influenced by India was evidenced in his first visit to New Delhi, when he addressed the political elite in the Central Hall of Parliament. His speech was predominantly all about ancient India; the path-breaking achievements, various inventions and some of the human traditions set then. Initially, I wondered why Obama was telling India to Indians, but as his speech progressed, it occurred to me that Obama was telling the Indian political elite how well he knows their country, arguably, a shade better than most from India’s political class.

Presumably, as a sensitive and thinking mind, he was missing spirituality whether in his brush with Islam through his father or his practice of Christianity. Evidently, Obama had understood Gandhi and grasped his most original innovation, namely the satyagraha. President Obama’s rueful concern for India’s future, especially because of our communal divide, in my opinion should be a cause of worry to us Indians, due to its intractability for centuries.

Gandhi tried his hand at solving this problem but failed, and gave us Partition as his dying present. His favourite bhajan “Ishwar Allah Tero Naam” left Muslims cold, for in their eyes, no one can be higher than or even equal to Allah, the Merciful. Jawaharlal Nehru also opened his laboratory at Aligarh University in 1948, by telling its students: “Both our communities share a common history, similar traditions and face an identical future”.

He was speaking straight from the shoulder but met only a cool reaction from the audience. Thereafter, Nehru served the community what they wanted, namely identity. He became the most trusted leader in India as far as the Muslims were concerned. This Nehruvian laboratory functioned with vigour until 2014 until the advent of Narendra Modi, who has inaugurated a new experimental station and whose motto is integration. In other words, you and I must come together on the same terms. In the recently concluded US Presidential elections ~ even as the jury is still out ~ Barack Obama did campaign, more as a senior than anyone else for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

This gives me the feeling that the super rudder of the Biden administration could be subtly handled by him. Obama proved by the visit of the US Marines to Abbottabad that Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda were a menace to the rest of the world. He would now fully realize that President Xi Jinping is an even bigger menace. Xi’s misadventures could well result in a military clash. In such an eventually, India would be better placed to take the field with America providing as much wherewithal as necessary, thus saving itself the pain of body bags.

In any case, Obama’s experience and insights would guide a Biden administration and tell it that Asia rather than Europe is the central theatre of world politics. One mustn’t forget that it was under Obama that the US policy of a ‘pivot’ to Asia, i.e., refocusing on the Asia-Pacific theatre, began. India has plenty of trained soldiers, sailors and airmen, but in an extended war, could well need advanced weapons and equipment. The US and India are therefore ideal partners.

Neither Joe Biden nor Kamala Harris may be familiar with the complications of Afghanistan or the sea change in Pakistan that has taken place over the last decade – from an American ally to a running dog of China. To the extent that for the sake of foreign money, Islamabad has had to give up some of its rights over its own territory to its Chinese masters. This is a situation more pathetic than a defeat. A quick refresher of subcontinental history of the last century should provide a clear clue as to why Kashmir belongs to India and not to Pakistan.

A majority or otherwise of a province supporting Islamabad in this cause, in the context of India despite Partition having as many Muslim citizens as Pakistan, would be a wild goose chase. Every reader ought to notice that Barack Obama has gone out of his way in his biography to say how much of his childhood years he spent listening to the episodes in the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

This of course, implies his appetite for spiritualism as well as his interest in India. This is further evidenced by what he says about Gandhi, his interest in Eastern religions, etc., not to forget the compliments he gives to Dr. Manmohan Singh. The Pakistan story has nothing comparable to offer. All this of course, would soon be noted by the Biden-Harris team. They may or may not remember that President Obama had visited India twice and had been the honoured guest to be present throughout the Republic Day parade at Rajpath. In comparison, Obama hardly looked at Pakistan.

There is of course, that crowd of eternal hopers, particularly so in the charmed circle of Lutyens who might be salivating at the prospects of a Biden presidency in the fond hope that it would be softer on Pakistan, and harsher on their nemesis Narendra Modi. But for these dreamers, what Barack Obama has stated in his autobiography would be a sobering realization.

Describing the events that firmed up his resolve to take out the world’s number one jihadi terrorist Osama bin Laden, Obama has revealed that he mulled over three options: taking the Pakistani establishment into confidence, which was a nonstarter, given the Pakistani army’s and ISI’s close ties to the Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists, a fact Obama himself states, air strikes to obliterate the Laden hideout, or a commando raid on his compound without letting the Pakistanis know and thus openly violating Pakistan’s sovereignty.

In a way, Obama has already tied a chain around Biden’s legs by revealing that his then Vice-President was against an operation to eliminate Laden, in sum, saying that Biden has been somewhat sympathetic to various jihadi outfits like those which operate in Kashmir and Pakistan. Joe Biden therefore will have very limited choices; in effect, liberal hopes for a major American policy turnaround have been washed away even before a Biden administration moves into office ~ assuming that happens.

One can speculate as to the political significance of Obama’s disclosure of his fondness for India, Ramayana, Mahabharata and other things Hindu. India is now a pivotal power, not to neglect mention of being a major one as well. The USA cannot see a future without India and for that to materialize, Indian civilizational polarization and support to Biden is a must. In fact, this is so irrespective of who eventually sits in the White House. Let us not be surprised if the coming American dream will have to traverse via India. Needless to add, all this is the result of the efforts of one man over the last six years.

(The writer is an author, thinker and former Member of Parliament)

Phuket can reap huge rewards from world’s biggest free-trade agreement #SootinClaimon.Com

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Phuket can reap huge rewards from world’s biggest free-trade agreement (nationthailand.com)

Phuket can reap huge rewards from world’s biggest free-trade agreement

ColumnsNov 20. 2020Royal Phuket Marina, Royal Phuket Marina ChairmanRoyal Phuket Marina, Royal Phuket Marina Chairman 

By Gulu Lalvani
Special to The Nation

On November 15, the heads of 15 Asia-Pacific nations – including China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia – signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Representing a total population of 2.2 billion, the world’s biggest free trade agreement marked the emergence of the Asian era.

Bigger than either the European Union or the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the deal embraces practically one third of the global population and accounts for almost 30 per cent of worldwide GDP. With India scheduled to join within the first year, the total population covered by the agreement will climb to 3.5 billion and its proportion of global GDP will rise to 40 per cent.

Half the population of the world will trade under this new umbrella, in the region that enjoys the fastest GDP growth in the world. The potential is staggering: estimates are that the deal could add almost US$190 billion to global national income by 2030.

And the tropical paradise island, Phuket, sits like a tiny geographic bull’s eye dead-centre of the most exciting Asian advance in recent memory.

Phuket stands to reap massive gains if it recognises, and then seizes, the opportunity presented by this historic pact.

Long positioned as a potential regional IT hub, the realisation of that ambition has remained frustratingly elusive – but the time is now ripe, as an RCEP member, for Phuket and Thailand to get over the finish line.

Phuket has an abundance of international-standard accommodation, good internet connectivity, some of the cleanest air on the planet and a world-class beach lifestyle to die for. And now it has the opportunity to gain colossal increases in tourism as well as to reposition itself as a magnet for individuals and businesses eager to capitalise on its strategic location slap-bang in the centre of the world’s largest trading block.

Imagine the potential of being positioned no more than six or seven hours flying time from 50 per cent of the world’s population in the world’s fastest-growing economies. Imagine how easy it would be to attract the cream of the world’s workforce to your business. Imagine Phuket as a commercial powerhouse in Asia.

As one of Thailand’s busiest airports in terms of both freight and passengers, Phuket Airport has a capacity of 20 million passengers per year, handling more than 18 million on 115,000 flights during 2019.

Phuket’s infrastructure is there. The island’s appeal is undisputed; witness the number of ultra-high net worth families who have already been attracted to relocate here – from much further away than the countries in this new economic block. The future is bright. The potential is real. All we need is the vision to drive results.

Gulu Lalvani is founder and chairman of Royal Phuket Marina.