Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

December 6, 2014

Thailand’s Royal Succession Battle Comes Into (Slightly) More Open View

Thailand’s Royal Succession Battle Comes Into (Slightly) More Open View

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The past ten years of political turmoil in Thailand have revolved around several contentious challenges. A growing, politically empowered, and vocal working class in Thailand’s provinces has clashed with traditional Bangkok elites. Shifts in Thailand’s constitutions have led to a two-party system, rather than the old multi-party politics, but the two-party system has struggled to effectively represent the interests of a majority of Thais. The Thai military, once thought to be under civilian control, has reasserted its power throughout the past decade, while other institutions have failed to control the military’s resurgence. Violent street protests have emerged as a weapon to bring down governments, with no consequences for the violent demonstrators, a development that only fosters more violent protests.

But the past decade of crisis also has stemmed from a struggle among Thai elites to control the royal succession, after the  passing of King Bhumibhol, who will be eighty-seven on Friday. The king has been on the throne since 1946, making him the longest-reigning monarch (or any head of state) in the world. Bhumibhol today is physically incapacitated – some rumors suggest he has Parkinson’s disease, while others suggest he has had a series of strokes – and rarely appears in public, and it is unclear whether he remains mentally lucid. Although Thailand is technically a constitutional monarchy, like the Netherlands or Great Britain, in reality the palace in Thailand wields enormous political power behind the scenes, and also controls vast amounts of land, stakes in blue-chip Thai companies, and other wealth. Forbes estimates that the Thai monarch is the richest royal in the world, worth some $30 billion.

In a new book A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century, former longtime Reuters journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall effectively summarizes this royal clash. Drawing upon his sources within the palace and leaked diplomatic cables discussing the royal family, Marshall writes that the impetus for a decade-long struggle by Bangkok’s traditional royal elites, who have supported two coups since 2006, is to make sure that traditional royalists, and the military, are running the country when the king dies. In addition, Marshall suggests that traditional elites harbor hopes that, in the succession, they will be able to maneuver the king’s daughter, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, into power as the ruling monarch. By putting the princess into power elites would bypass the heir anointed decades ago by Bhumibhol, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. Marshall suggests that Thaksin, meanwhile, long ago formed an alliance with the crown prince, and if the crown prince becomes king he could rehabilitate Thaksin and allow pro-Thaksin populist parties to dominate politics.

Marshall’s book is a short but provocative and entertaining examination behind the palace curtain, though his use of unnamed sources and the inability to check his claims makes it hard to evaluate his theses. He offers only modest evidence for his theory that royalist elites want to maneuver the princess into power. In addition, he tends to underplay the conflict between the rural working class and Bangkok elites as a driving factor in Thai politics, as compared to the succession struggle. Still, the book’s reportage and analysis are unique.

The fear of the crown prince’s future reign stems from several factors. Elites fear a return of Thaksin in part because Thaksin’s effective politics have left the Democrat Party in shambles. More genuinely democratic elites also have opposed Thaksin because, as prime minister, he worked to undermine the country’s liberal institutions and to concentrate power in his hands. (Of course, tossing out Thaksin and replacing him with a junta is an even worse remedy for strengthening the rule of law.) Beyond the elites, most Thais also have never known another king, and the palace and Thai elites have created such a cult of personality around Bhumibhol that they have fostered an existential sense of panic among Thais about a post-Bhumibhol world. In addition, the crown prince has for decades acquired a reputation as an alleged hothead, womanizer, and poor decision-maker, in contrast to Bhumibhol, who despite flaws has generally been a moderating influence on the kingdom. Among other foibles, the crown prince allegedly used his own planes to blocked the plane of a visiting Japanese prime minister on the tarmac in Bangkok in a fit of pique, threw a lavish birthday party for his pet dog at which his wife appeared topless in a leaked video, and stormed home early from a visit to Japan after he felt subjected to a series of minor protocol slights by Thailand’s most important investor.

Now, in recent weeks, this succession struggle appears to be coming into public view. Of course, Thais are prohibited from publicly talking or writing about the monarchy by the harshest lese majeste laws in the world. But this past week’s news that the military junta has arrested a group of senior policemen linked to the crown prince’s wife, Princess Srirasmi, and the crown prince’s public announcement that his wife’s family may no longer use their royally-given name (a kind of title) have shaken the country. Although all Thai-language and English-language newspapers have reported on the arrests and the crown prince’s order, believed to be the first step toward divorcing his third wife, they have studiously avoided mentioning the link between the policemen and Princess Srirasmi, or even the fact that the family banned from using their royal title is actually Srirasmi’s family. Still, every Thai understands that these events impact Srirasmi and the succession as well.

Further, the dramatic turn of events seems to suggest that the crown prince is not only going to divorce his wife – he allegedly has a fourth wife waiting in Germany – but also abandon his alliance with Thaksin and throw in with the junta and traditional royalists. In my next post, I will examine why these events suggest a shift in royal politics and what this shift will mean for Thai politics in general in the near term.

Joshua Kurlantzick is a fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. This post appears courtesy of

December 6, 2014

New U.S. Embassy in Vientiane, Laos

Media Note

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
December 5, 2014
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In an important symbol of our commitment and enduring relationship with Laos, Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, U.S. Ambassador to Laos Daniel A. Clune, and the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ Managing Director for Construction, Facility, and Security Management Eric Rumpf, alongside local officials dedicated the new U.S. Embassy in Vientiane today.

The new multi-building complex provides employees with a safe, secure, and modern workplace. The campus is situated on a 7.4-acre site in a neighborhood south of downtown Vientiane, on the road leading to the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River.

With a project budget of $145 million, it includes a Chancery, a U.S. Marine Security Guard residence, a parking structure, and a utility building.

The project incorporates numerous sustainable features to conserve resources and reduce operating costs, including energy-efficient appliances, photovoltaic panels, solar hot water heaters, and drought-resistant landscaping. All wastewater generated on-site is treated and used for site irrigation.

Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects LLP of Portland, Oregon, is the design architect and PAGE of Washington, D.C., is the architect of record. B.L. Harbert International of Birmingham, Alabama constructed the multi-building campus.

A new American Center, scheduled for completion in late 2015, will be constructed on the current compound in the downtown area, which will be renovated and continue to support the Embassy.

Since 1999, as part of the Department’s Capital Security Construction Program, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) has completed 119 new diplomatic facilities and has an additional 41 projects in design or under construction.

OBO’s mission is to provide safe, secure, and functional facilities that represent the U.S. Government to the host nation and support our staff in the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives. These facilities should represent American values and the best in American architecture, engineering, technology, sustainability, art, culture, and construction execution.

For more information on the project, please visit, or contact Christine Foushee at or (703) 875-4131.

November 22, 2014

Immigration – Inmigración

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Taking Action on Immigration

President Obama is taking new steps to fix America’s broken immigration system.



America’s immigration system is broken. Too many employers game the system by hiring undocumented workers and there are 11 million people living in the shadows. Neither is good for the economy or the country.

Together we can build a fair, effective and common sense immigration system that lives up to our heritage as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

The President’s plan builds a smart, effective immigration system that continues efforts to secure our borders and cracks down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants. It’s a plan that requires anyone who’s undocumented to get right with the law by paying their taxes and a penalty, learning English, and undergoing background checks before they can be eligible to earn citizenship. It requires every business and every worker to play by the same set of rules.

Vea esta sección en Español.


El sistema de inmigración de los Estados Unidos está dañado. Existen muchos empleadores que hacen trampa con el sistema al contratar a trabajadores indocumentados y existen 11 millones de personas viviendo en las sombras. Ninguna de estas opciones es buena para la economía o para el país.

Juntos, podemos componer nuestro sistema migratorio descompuesto de manera que le haga honor a nuestra herencia tanto como nación de leyes que como nación de inmigrantes.

El plan del Presidente crea un sistema de inmigración sensato y eficaz que continúa los esfuerzos por proteger nuestras fronteras y que toma medidas más enérgicas con los empleadores que contraten a inmigrantes indocumentados. Es un plan que requiere que todo el que sea indocumentado corrija su situación legal al pagar sus impuestos y una multa, aprender inglés, y someterse a verificación de sus antecedentes antes de que sea elegible para obtener la ciudadanía.


November 8, 2014

Laos’ Shrinking Bear Population Threatened by Booming Bile Business

Laos’ Shrinking Bear Population Threatened by Booming Bile Business

Wild bears are trapped and kept in small cages where their gallbladders are drained to make products for the Asian market.

November 07, 2014

John R. Platt covers the environment, technology, philanthropy, and more for Scientific American, Conservation, Lion, and other publications.

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(Photo: Reuters)

The number of bears being trapped and then tapped for the bile in their gallbladders has tripled in Laos in recent years, according to a new study published in the journal Oryx.

Like operators of similar “farms” in China, Vietnam, and South Korea, the Laotians lock bears in small, rusty cages where their gallbladders are repeatedly tapped—sometimes up to three times a day—and drained of their bile. The bile is then sold as a component of traditional Asian medicine or even as an ingredient in products as wide-ranging as wine and shampoo.

The bears in these facilities are kept in horrendous conditions, according to one of the study’s authors, Chris Shepherd, the regional director for Southeast Asia for TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. “Many are malnourished, dehydrated, and in extremely poor health,” he said.

The study—conducted by undercover operatives posing as tourists—found that the number of bears in Laotian bile-extraction facilities increased from 40 in 2008 to 122 in 2012. Most if not all of them appear to have been illegally trapped in the wild, where their populations are in decline. Shepherd said bears in extraction facilities suffer high mortality rates, meaning even more wild bears need to be captured to replace those that die.

Ownership of wild bears is illegal in Laos, as is bear hunting and capture, but the facilities operate without any apparent fear of prosecution. In fact, government sources and official registration documents pointed the investigators toward the facilities they visited. “Some of the farms allow tourists in to see the operations, further illustrating the lack of fear of enforcement efforts and the law,” Shepherd said.

Many of the facilities apparently try to skirt the law against wild bear ownership by saying their animals are captive-bred.

Freedom! 130 Bears to Be Rescued From Chinese Bile Farm

Shepherd discounted that claim. “In any of the farms I have visited—and in any others I have heard of, for that matter—the bears are kept separately in cages, with no opportunity to breed,” he said, noting that even if the animals could interact with one another, they are probably too ill to mate and reproduce. Trapping wild bears, meanwhile, is cheap and “pretty much risk-free,” Shepherd said.

The scale of Laotian bile farms pales in comparison with those in other countries—China alone keeps up to 10,000 bears in extraction facilities—but the study found that they still have an impact. The authors wrote that bear bile products are advertised in Laos on posters, on the radio, and in newspaper articles that promote consumer demand. That has led to rising bile product prices.

There’s a further potential consequence for wild bears. According to the study, some consumers prefer bile that has been extracted from bears killed in the wild, believing it is either more potent or more valuable. During the two-year investigation, the authors observed an increase in the price for wild bile corresponding with the rising availability of farmed bile.

The study calls for these Laotian extraction facilities to be closed and for increased efforts to stop the illegal cross-border bile trade, which is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

“Only when conservation organizations and enforcement agencies start taking this issue seriously, and jointly tackle the illegal trade, will we see the decline in wild bear populations come to an end,” Shepherd said.

Related Stories on TakePart

November 1, 2014

From the streets of Thailand to a living room in Ireland: One dog’s story

From the streets of Thailand to a living room in Ireland: One dog’s story

Chaya escaped abduction into the dog-meat market when she was adopted by Deirdre McDonnell

November 01 2014

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chaya dog - sans leg

Source: Deirdre McDonnell

FOR PEOPLE LIVING in Ireland – the thought of eating dog meat is unthinkable.

In Vietnam however, this is not the case. Each year an estimated 5 million dogs a year are eaten in restaurants around country.

The process of supply sees the animals abducted from the streets of Thailand and transported across the border into Vietnam for consumption. Among the canines taken are often a large number of family pets.

Seeing the suffering

For Deirdre McDonnell, seeing the suffering of animals in Thailand was too much – and she was compelled to do something about it. This has seen her adopt her dog, Chaya, a three legged 10-year-old.

Speaking to, McDonnell said, “they find it really difficult to re-home dogs in Thailand – they want designer dogs, not street dogs.”

She is getting on great. She was a street dog and we think she had a car accident – so she only has three legs, but she’s such a great dog.

You have to give them time to settle in -but it is going really well. She has certainly taken to the couch.

dog picture 3

Source: Deirdre Mcdonnell

Vietnamese meat market

The demand for dogs from the Vietnamese meat market means that the animals are at constant threat of abduction. Deirdre, who also has two Irish dogs she adopted from Irish rescues, adopted the dog through Thai-based charity ‘Soi Dog‘.

In 2012 the organisation housed more than 350 dogs in Thailand and abroad. Overall it is thought they have saved around 1,500 animals.

Much of the time – the worse thing is what happens to the animals after they are sold into the meat industry. McDonnell explains the appeal that eating dog has:

It is supposed to improve men’s sex lives – there is also a myth that if you abuse the dog before they die the more tenderised the meat is. Some of the stuff is just horrific. Often the dogs are skinned alive.

More to come?

On the prospect of more dogs coming into Ireland – there is another dog, called Naomi, who was rescued directly out of the meat industry, and is planned to arrive in Ireland later this year.

Despite being told that adopting a dog from abroad would be difficult – with the extra measures involved in gaining entry into Ireland – it seems Deirdre couldn’t be happier with her three-legged canine companion Chaya.


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