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[The Devil's Advocate] Richard W. Hughes


#1

Orchid - Welcome to the wicked world of Richard W. Hughes

Ladies and gentlemen, sit down, strap yourself in, make the sign
of the cross, for we are about to enter the wicked world of the
Devil’s Advocate himself, Richard W. Hughes. Richard is famous
around the world for his irreverent writings on gems and jewelry.
He is currently constructing a web site in cooperation with
Orchid and the attached article is a teaser, a small taste of the
content soon to come at www.ruby-sapphire.com.

We should warn you in advance: Hughes is one of the more
controversial writers in our field. Not for him a dainty stroll
down Sweet Street. Instead he takes readers through the dark
recesses of an issue, blasting bile out of all orifices. But
while his caustic comments have sent more than one reader round
the bend, no one will question his knowledge of the subject or
the sincerity of his views.

The current article is a standard Devil’s Advocate rant, a
no-holds-barred dismantling of ThailandUs current economic
crisis. While the article does not deal solely with gems or
jewelry, these events very well could impact the world gem and
jewelry trade, given ThailandUs leadership position.

Background:

Hughes resided in Thailand for close to 15 years, a number of
those as executive vice president of the Asian Institute of
Gemological Sciences. Today he lives in Colorado (Fax:
303-530-7975) where he has just published his magnum opus, Ruby &
Sapphire (1997; RWH Publishing; ISBN 0-9645097-6-8), already a
classic. Samples chapters from this book, along with an
extensive archive of his past articles will be found on the site,
which will open in the next two months. Bookmark
www.ruby-sapphire.comQitUs going to be a killer site.

Oh, one more thing. It goes without saying that HughesU views
are his (and probably his alone) and certainly should not be
associated (or confused) with those of the editors or publishers
of Orchid. Reader comments are encouraged and will be published
on the web site. So hang on tight. Here we goI

Devil’s Advocate - Thailand after the fall
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

By
Richard W. Hughes

Scrrekkkkkkk:
AM 100: Hello there. Welcome to AM 100, BangkokUs 24-hour traffic watch. Go
ahead.
Caller: Uh, Sawatdee krup. Sombat here. Right now IUm, uh, sitting on Sukhumvit
Road, Soi 47. Uh, not really going anywhere, just sitting here. Traffic jam.
AM 100: (Enthusiastically): Oh, thank you so much, Khun Sombat. Listen up,
everyone, traffic is jammed on Sukhumvit Road. So letUs all try to avoid it,
okay dearies? Now we go to our Eye-in-the-Sky, Khun Narong. Are you there,
Narong?
Helicopter: Hello, Khun Amporn. We are now directly above Pratunam market,
things are looking pretty grim down there. Suggest that all listeners avoid the
Pratunam areaI

The Three-Shell Game
Readers, please bear with me. This column has little to do with gems. For those
who havenUt yet heard, letUs recap the news. ThailandUs economy is dead. Gone.
Stuffed in a bottle and sent out to sea. Yes, she was good. She was great. But
now sheUs gone and we have woken up with a massive, $200-billion dollar
hangover. The only things left to remind us of what once was are the empty
shells of our Gem Towers, the lipstick on our collars and the scent of cheap
perfume that hangs in the air like a fart at church.

Where shall we start. Why not at the beginning, for in Thailand, the beginning,
middle and end all lead to the same placeQcorruption. Yes, the RCS word. We
thought we could get away with it, we even talked ourselves into it, we
believed our own half-baked notion that the C-word didnUt matter, we believed
that come-one, come-all bullshit lick about how there was enough dough to
satisfy even Pop TN Fresh. But now the Pillsbury Dough Boy’s here,
he’s appeared, Mr. One-liner in the fresh. And he has spokenQweUre
done.

Natty Bread
ThailandUs economic bubble first inflated in the mid-1980s. The yeast came from
three separate sources. First was natural resources. The country was rich in a
number of areas, including timber, precious stones and fisheries. Second was
tourism. Tourists flocked to Thailand to take advantage of some of the worldUs
finest beaches and friendliest people. Finally was Japan. In the mid-1980s,
JapanUs rising trade deficit with the US forced Japan to move production
offshore. Much of JapanUs industrial largesse floated south to Thailand.
Indeed, during the 1985P1995 period, ThailandUs combination of high interest
rates and low labor costs made it a magnet for foreign investment, with the
local economy leading the world in growth. This vast inflow of foreign dough
produced a collective rise in the countryUs LeviUs as cash-rich residents went
on buying spree that would have done Imelda Marcos proud. The bleeding edge of
ThailandUs economic growth was the property sector.

Screkkkkkkk:
AM 100: Hello there. Welcome to AM 100, BangkokUs 24-hour traffic watch. Go
ahead.
Caller: Uh, Sawatdee krup. Boonchu here. Right now IUm, uh, sitting on Sathorn
Road. Things are pretty slow. Traffic jam.
AM 100: (Gushing): Thank you, Khun Boonchu. Listen up, everyone, traffic is
jammed on Sathorn Road. So everybody try to avoid it, right? Now we go to our
Eye-in-the-Sky, Khun Narong. Narong?
Helicopter: Yes, Khun Amporn. We are now above Sanam Luang and itUs bad. Real
baaadddd. Please everybody, get away, stay away from the Sanam Luang areaI
AM 100: Now Narong, thatUs enoughI

Easy come, easy a-go-go
Residents in hyper-inflated economies typically turn to property to safeguard
their money and this happened in Bangkok in a big, big way. Property inflation
coursed through the rest of ThailandUs economy like the drug-rich blood in a
smack-shooting junkie. But rather than pump the money into improving
infrastructure or education, the landed gentry (many of whom pay little tax)
rushed out to buy expensive foreign imports with their new-found wealth.
Two-thousand dollar bottles of French wine, solid-gold Rolex wristwatches,
biscuit-sized diamond baubles, Italian sports cars and, lest we forget, that
icon of Thai wealth, the Mercedes Benz. All these and more became ubiquitous
sights in the Big Mango.

After a decade of hyper-expansion, this failure to make good use of the new
wealth produced the opposite effect. Rising Thai wages priced the country out
of the low-end labor markets for products like textiles and gem cutting, while
the education level of workers meant they didnUt have the training to tackle
more sophisticated work. Once-plentiful natural resources like timber, precious
stones and fish were now long gone. Even tourism suffered, as ThailandUs
pristine beaches succumbed to pollution and over-development. Today many
beaches have been destroyed, with more dead things lying along them than even
next door in CambodiaUs killing fields.While Thai people remain as friendly as
ever, not even ridiculously high local interest rates could now keep the
foreign money in place; as it faded, so did those famous smiles. The outflow
began in 1996 and by 1997 had turned into a torrent of repatriation as
foreigners scrambled to get their money out before the entire place collapsed.

All of this caught the man in the soi by total surprise. ThailandUs dirty
little secret was that most of the tremendous growth of the past decade was
financed with foreign money. Even an imbecile could see that the countryUs
problems were not being tackled in serious fashion, but as long as the foreign
bread stayed in place, it was easy to overlook the gross mismanagement.

Compounding the problem were the countryUs political and business leaders, who
made collective asses of themselves. Take ThailandUs last two prime ministers.
Newly crowned kings of the jungle, they performed like total bozos, anemic
flat-chested Twiggys whose sole goal in life seems to be finding out just how
much public money can be stuffed into their Liz Taylor-sized bras.

IUve got a little secret, boysQthat ainUt no Wonderbra. The cash shows. ItUs
hanging out all over, with a trail from the public trough straight to your
foreign bank accounts. You people make Ferdinand Marcos look like Mother
Teresa.

While the economy was growing in leaps and bounds, corruption was tolerable to
many people. This is no longer the case. Now that the scale of the graft is
clearer, we the people realize we have been hung up to dry by our tits, with
the hanger right through our nipples. Many will lose their jobs. Some may lose
much more.
So long is the bullshit trail that many of us in the country have come full
circle, actually beginning to believe our own blabber. Need a fer instance?
Bangkok has now put up enough Rgem towersS to put every dealer on the planet in
their own luxury suite. WeUve got two diamond bourses in a city with only half
a diamond trade. We put the worldUs tallest building into a rabbit-warren soi
so tiny it makes a Moroccan medina look like a planned community. And all this
in a city that canUt organize two adjacent traffic lights green at the same
time.

If I sound a bit pessimistic, itUs only because I AM PESSIMISTIC!!! I AM VERY
PESSIMISTIC!!! I am sick and tired of watching while every two-bit politician
ever to slink down the soi bleeds the country dry while, at the same time, the
typical businessmanUs only concern is whether or not teal is available for the
trim of his private jet. And to be complete, letUs not forget the military,
who, when not plotting coups, are busy buying multi-billion baht aircraft
carriers whose only use is as floating flood-relief stations.

Scrrekkkkkkk:
AM 100: Hello there. Welcome to AM 100, BangkokUs 24-hour traffic watch. Go
ahead.
Caller: Dudette, this is Jake Watson here, but my friends call me Curl.
Huntington Beach, CaliforniaUs home, but right now IUm, uh, trying to fight my
way out of the Safari Bar on Patpong Road. Getting absolutely nowhere, things
are awful gnarly. Let me tell ya, Betty, this is one major bummer, a bad ride
all the way. IUm supposed to be in Sumatra on Saturday, and Nias in a week.
Word has it that the west coast of Nias is tube cityI
AM 100: (Enthusiastically): Oh, thank you so much, Dude Curl. Listen up,
everyone, traffic is jammed on Patpong Road, all the way down to Nias. So letUs
all try to avoid it, okay dearies? Now we go to our Eye-in-the-Sky, Khun
Narong. Are you there, Narong?
Helicopter: Hello, Khun Amporn. We are now directly above Patpong Road, things
are looking pretty. uh, pretty, uh, nasty down there. Wicked nasty. Suggest
that all listeners get down thereI
AM 100: Okay Narong, I said thatUs enoughI!

Traffic-smaffic
In putting the pieces back together, the first thing we must do is to take a
hatchet to BangkokUs traffic problems. Let me frame the subject in terms that
even a businessman can understand. Money. Big bucks. Mucho moola. BangkokUs
traffic problem is thought to cost the country somewhere around ten billion
dollars a year. Yes, those are genuine Yankee greenbacks, not Burmese kyat. Ten
billion in lost productivity from idling in cars, hospital expenses from
pollution, etc. This is enough to feed all the chicks from Bangkok to Bejing
and still have money left over for a massage.

Now let me explain why we will not take a hatchet to BangkokUs traffic
problems. Corruption. Graft. The C-word again, rearing itUs ugly mug like a
cheap whore at your brotherUs wedding.
We wonUt tackle this thing that is killing us all because we and our public
servants play with the traffic problem like a cat batting around an injured
mouse. Instead of developing a single rail-based mass transit system, we will
come up with three different, mutually incompatible systems, because the
squeeze from three contractors is greater than one.

Instead of limiting the number of automobiles by increasing taxation, we will
lower the tax on cars because we own the dealerships. Instead of reducing
pollution by removing two-stroke motorcycles (who produce the majority of
Bangkok smog) from the roads, we will continue their manufacture, again because
we own the dealerships. Instead of building skyscrapers along the main roads,
we put them deep in the sois where the land is cheaper, regardless of whether
or not the roads or infrastructure can support them. And instead of supporting
mass transit, we will protest when the government decides to build a subway
station in front of our home, supposedly because it might produce dust.

HELLLLOOOOO, IS ANYBODY HOMMMEEEEE??? Are we all so collectively brain dead
that we cannot see that we are steadily being poisoned? Every goddamned one of
us in this city has the equivalent of a pack-a-day nicotine habit. We are that
mouse. How much more of this are we going to take? Whack! Do we have to wait
until our children can only communicate in emphysemic bleats before we take
action? Until even the sun canUt cut through the smoke? Whack! DO WE?? Whack!
Huh? Whack! DOO WWWEEEE???

Scrrekkkkkkk:
AM 100: Hi! And a big welcome from AM 100, BangkokUs 24-hour traffic watch! Go
ahead.
Caller: Er, Sawatdee krup. Appichart here. Right now IUm, er, uh, at the
intersection of Wireless and Sathorn Roads. The cop hasnUt changed the light in
three hours, but heUs workinU real hard, wavinU his hands around like some
kinda magician. Sure wish heUd change the light, thoughI
AM 100: (Gushing): Thank you, Khun Appichart! Listen up, everyone, traffic is
jammed at the Wireless-Sathorn intersection. So letUs take an alternative
route, okay? Now we go to our Eye-in-the-Sky, Khun Narong. Narong?
Helicopter: Uh, yes, Khun Amporn. We are now above the Bang Na-Trat highway. I
donUt have words for what I see. Please everybody, get away, stay awaI
AM 100: Thanks, Narong! WeUll get right back to youI

Start press!
Part of ThailandUs problem is the endemic censorship of the press. Often this
is self-censorship, particularly in the trade press. Big businessmen run
hand-in-blissful-hand with the military, who collectively own virtually all of
the media and see to it that nary a discouraging word is heard. The watchdog
role of the press is thus curtailed, since a dog will hardly bark at its own
master, even if that very same master is robbing the house.

We in the press must share the blame. Where has the leadership role been? It
certainly hasnUt come from the press, which is too busy editorializing on stuff
like Australian bigots to worry about whatUs happening at home. BangkokUs
newspapers must stand up and be counted. If they spent half the effort worrying
about the traffic and pollution problems that they do preaching about the
dangers of drugs, the problem would have been history long ago.

We donUt just need articles and editorials about abuse of power and the steady
poisoning of BangkokUs population, we need them every damned day. Try this: Put
at least three articles about pollution and traffic problems on the front page
every single day. Plus a front-page editorial. Send your reporters to ask the
powers-that-be what they are doing to combat the problem every single day. Make
it clear that you will continue this campaign until some serious action is
taken. We are dying!!! CanUt you get that through your thick skulls?

I am so mad I want to scream. IUve had enough of this chickenshit behavior. Now
itUs time to pay the piper. We can no longer pretend that corruption is okay
because everyone is collectively being raised up to prosperity. The dream is
over, the bubble has burst. Everyone is wet.

Scrrekkkkkkk:
AM 100: Hi! And a big welcome from AM 100, BangkokUs 24-hour traffic watch! Go
ahead.
Caller: Er, Sawatdee krup. Park here. Right now IUm, er, uh, parked on Silom
Road, in front of one of those empty sky-scrapers. HavenUt moved in thirty
minutes. Whole street is one big parking lot.
AM 100: (Gushing): Thank you, Khun Park! Listen up, everyone, Park is parked on
Silom Road, which is all jammed up. So letUs take an alternative route, okay?
Now we go to our Eye-in-the-Sky, Khun Narong. Narong?
Helicopter: Amporn, baby, this charadeUs gotta end. It doesnUt matter where we
are, who we are or how rich we are. The whole bloody city is the same. ItUs a
disaster area, a toxic waste dump, a vast open-air sewer. God, somebody,
anybody, please hit the delete key. Bangkok doesnUt need a 24-hour-a-day
traffic station, it needs cleaning, cleansing, ethnic cleansing, political
cleansing, total clean-up, a clean sweep. The whole place is one big human
rights violationQwhat we really need is a goddamned UN war crimes tribunal!!!
String up the whole bunch.
Ha! But I donUt care. You think we care? Ha! My crew and I donUt fly around
checking the traffic, a foolUs errand if ever there was. No, we are doing like
everybody else in this town, getting ours for ourselves. We sold the helicopter
to the Cambodians several months ago and with that money, and our fuel stipend
weUve been living the high life in Tahiti.
AM 100: Narong, you dog, ya! I sold all the office furniture and computers and
now IUm in Bora Bora. LetUs do lunchI

EditorUs Note: This is part one of a two-part article on the current state of
Thailand.

DevilUs Advocate
ThailandQI Had A Dream

By
Richard W. Hughes

EditorUs Note: This is part one of a two-part article on the current state of
ThailandUs economic crisis.
What to do

I told you in the start that I was going to mention gems in this article, and
here it is:
We in the gem trade must get rid of the jewelry shop rip-offs. What goes
around, comes aground, and ThailandUs boat has arrived at the other side.
Rip-off Roulette goes something like this:

  1. Guide haunts tourist hangout such as Wat Pra Kaew.
  2. Guide starts conversation with tourists. Says he is a teacher or policeman
    on his day off.
  3. After gaining trust, guide takes tourists to jewelry store.
  4. Store tells the tourists it is special day. Only on this day do tourists
    wearing blue shirts with white stripes buy gems tax free.
  5. Our tourists wear blue shirts with white stripes and thus swallow bait hook,
    line and fishermanUs elbow. They emerge with half a yearUs production of
    Australian sapphire, for which they have forked over their entire life savings.
  6. Tourists later have doubts and take stones to be tested. Gemologists explain
    that the touristsU stones are worth little more than a wooden elephant.
  7. Tourists return to the shop to seek a refund. Shop offers them one small
    wooden elephant in trade.
  8. Tourists leave Thailand never to return.

While I may have embellished the story a bit, this game has been going on for
decades. Like a cancer, such horror stories steadily eat away at ThailandUs
reputation and no amount of Amazing Thailand promo spots can remove them.

ThailandUs residents are now talking like a drunk whoUs just hopped on the
wagon. The conditions attached to the IMF loans are the twelve-step program.
But the country doesnUt need a twelve-step program. They need only one stepQcut
the corruption. The rest is easy.

Dealing with the dirt
How do we deal with corruption? First, by declaring that there will be no witch
hunts. Pass a general amnesty for all but capital offences. The past is the
past. However, explain to the people in a nationwide broadcast that beginning
on the first of the month, corruption will not be tolerated. No tolerance.
Zero. Zip. Nada.

Our leaders must explain that when corruption is eliminated, we should be able
to increase tax collection, which will give us the money to increase the wages
of government workers to a reasonable level. Thus low wages are no excuse. If
you donUt make enough money in your government job, then find a new job.
What happens if someone is caught on the take after the deadline? You throw the
bloody book at them. You treat them as if they had committed treasonQas if they
had committed murder, which in effect they haveQbecause corruption kills the
nation.

IUm sure that many readers are now shaking their heads in wonder and mumbling
about how talk is so cheap, but action is so difficult. So what should we do?
Roll over and die? Continue to be corrupt? That is madness. We must change.

Change is not impossible. Many nations have done complete about-faces.
Singapore after independence was extremely corrupt, but the graft was
eliminated by just the sort of zero-tolerance policy I am advocating. Today
that nation probably has the lowest levels of graft of any country in the
entire world.

Daydream believer
What are some of the benefits of eliminating corruption? Daydream for a momentI
The purge of the payoff will be felt across every spectrum of life, in every
nook and cranny of your existence. For starters, much of the carnage on the
nationUs highways will be eliminated since the drivers that haunt the roads
like rabid scum will either slow down or go to jail. Today, over 30,000 people
die on the roads of the Kingdom every year, an astoundingly high number for a
Third World nation with so few vehicles. By comparison, the United States, with
many times the population and number of vehicles, has only 50,000 road deaths
per year.

What else? No longer will the rich and powerful be able to continue with
illegal logging. Thus, the countryUs farmers will gain as crops improve, since
deforestation will be halted and reforestation made a national priority.
Instead of cutting, we will actively work towards increasing forest coverage,
both in Thailand and around the world.

The countryUs youth will look forward to good schools staffed by skilled
teachers. Places in the top schools be determined by brain, not bribe, size.
This will level the playing field for students.

Firestopper
Imagine this: if your house catches fire, you will no longer have to bribe the
firemen to put the fire out. Not only will firemen be paid decent wages, but
the actual number of fires will decrease, due to better (i.e., non-corrupt)
safety checks.

Blackjack & broads
While we are at it, letUs fantasize a bit further. Victimless crimes such as
gambling, prostitution and drug use will be legalized, or at least
decriminalized. Prostitution will be legalized, meaning that these ladies can
come in from the dark night. No longer will they be subject to police
shakedowns or abusive clients. And for the customers, the chances of catching
AIDS will diminish, as condoms will become de rigeur.

Defusing drugs
Scarce resources will no longer go towards enforcement of draconian drug laws.
These silly statutes, which around the world have been strongly influenced by
American puritanism, bear more than a little resemblance to that countryUs
anti-communism laws of the 1950s, in that today, the subject of changing them
cannot even be discussed without being labelled either a drug dealer or an
addict.

A fundamental plank of our brave new world will be that the government cannot
legislate against what an adult chooses to put into his/her own body. The US
government will be politely told to stick their disastrous drug decrees in
their own pipe and smoke Uem. Instead, the trade in drugs will be controlled
and taxed, la the current legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Since junkies and
crackheads no longer have to steal to support their habits, crime will be
reduced. Also, since the drugs are now cheap, users no longer need to inject
them, thus reducing the spread of disease like AIDS and dramatically reducing
the chances of overdose.

The fact is that the single most dangerous aspect of todayUs illegal drug is
that they are illegal. This must change. Instead of locking up an
ever-increasing percentage of the populace, we will bring it above ground.
Think of the revenues this will generate for the state. Not just direct
taxation, but also in legitimizing the businesses of illegal traders. Now,
black money becomes legal, in itself subject to taxes. The taxes will go
towards education on the dangers of drug use, including alcohol and tobacco
(which are by far the most dangerous drugs known to man). And for those who are
scared to death of the prospects of speed-pill popping truck drivers and
teenage addicts, we will not legalize driving under the influence of drugs of
any type, nor will we legalize drug use by those under 18. How will we enforce
this? With the same policemen who are now chasing illegal drugs.

Close your eyes and think about this. Suddenly, society no longer needs so many
police and border guards. These people will instead take positions in and for,
rather than against, society and their self-image will be transformed
overnight. Those police who remain will concentrate on real crimes like
violence, robbery, corruption and traffic violations. Now that police have
climbed out of the drawers and no longer have to spy on ordinary citizens, they
will gain new respect and cooperation from society as a whole.

Foreign affairs
Since our foreign policy will concentrate on being friends with all other
countries, our military will be drastically scaled back. Those that remain will
spend part of their time doing constructive activities like reforestation. In
other words, they will prepare for peace, rather than war.

The military will be 100% voluntary, even during wartime. To go to war, a
national referendum will be required. Sounds tough, right? Yes, it should be
tough to go to war, which will occur only after all other options have been
exhausted.

Towards this aim, we will never break off diplomatic relations with any
country. Our passports will always be valid for all countries and will be as
easy to obtain as bank accounts. The right to travel abroad whenever and
wherever you like will be guaranteed by the constitution.

Need some more wild ideas? Customs and immigration departments will be
eliminated, since there will be no restrictions on what or who comes into the
country. As for illegal substances (like nuclear weapons), the country already
has laws controlling them, doesnUt it? Why do we need redundant laws. Crossing
our border will be no different than crossing the street in front of your home.

Since the size of government has been drastically cut back, high taxes will no
longer be needed, thus many people will have less objection to paying them.
Personal income tax will be eliminated, replaced by a flat sales tax which