Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

April 17, 2015

May the force be with ANA’s awesome new ‘Star Wars’ airplane – CNN Philippines

May the force be with ANA’s awesome new ‘Star Wars’ airplane – CNN Philippines.

Related: New ‘Star Wars’ teaser trailer released

A rendering of All Nippon Airways' planned 'Star Wars'-themed

The icing on the geek cake?

To coincide with the release, Japan carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA) has launched a five-year “Star Wars Project” that includes a new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner painted with an R2-D2 livery, proving yet again that the astromech droid does indeed have the ability to take flight.

The Star Wars-themed plane is due to start flying international routes this fall, says the airline.

The “Star Wars Project” includes a special ANA website that plays the iconic theme song and features videos and photos of the plane.

The promotional tie-in comes ahead of the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Due to hit theaters December 18, it’s likely to be one of the biggest box office hits of the year.

It’s the first film in the franchise to be released under Disney’s ownership.

The studio paid $4 billion for Lucasfilm Ltd. in 2012.

World’s largest 787 fleet

ANA was the launch customer for the 787, which entered service in 2011.

With 34 Dreamliners, it currently operates the world’s largest 787 fleet.

The airline has an additional 49 787s on order, says manufacturer Boeing.

Late last month, Boeing announced ANA had finalized an order for three 787-10 Dreamliners, valued at approximately $900 million at list prices.

The order makes ANA the first airline in Asia to operate the entire family of 787 Dreamliners.

This was first published on CNN.com, “May the force be with ANA’s awesome new “Star Wars” airplane.”

April 3, 2015

Thailand – Known as the “dictator law”, article 44 of the interim constitution

Don’t let lifting of martial law fool you: junta’s slide towards dictatorship warrants stronger stances from the US, EU and Japan whose business and tourism it craves

| Thursday 2 April 2015

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/02/thailand-west-get-tough-prayuth-chan-ocha-junta-bangkok

Prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha attends a Buddhist ceremony on Thursday.

Prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha attends a Buddhist ceremony on Thursday. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

This week’s lifting of martial law by Thailand’s military ruler, Prayuth Chan-ocha, looks like a brazen attempt to dupe key overseas allies, notably the US, the EU and Japan, into believing the country is on a return path to democracy. The Bangkok junta, which seized power from an elected government last May, plainly hopes to persuade international investors, trading partners and foreign tourists that it is business as usual in Thailand.

The reality is very different. Within minutes of Wednesday’s announcement, the regime invoked article 44 of the interim constitution that was arbitrarily imposed last year. Known as the “dictator law”, it gives Prayuth the power to override any branch of government in the name of national security, and absolves him of any legal responsibility. In key respects, the scope for abuse is more threatening than martial law.

“General Prayuth’s activation of constitution section 44 will mark Thailand’s deepening descent into dictatorship,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “Thailand’s friends abroad should not be fooled by this obvious sleight of hand … that effectively provides unlimited and unaccountable powers.” In particular, unlawful detentions of civilian opponents looked set to increase, he suggested.

The junta had detained hundreds of politicians, activists, journalists and others whom they accuse of supporting the deposed government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, disrespecting the monarchy or backing anti-coup protests, Human Rights Watch said. Military personnel have interrogated many of the detainees in secret military facilities without ensuring safeguards against mistreatment. Yingluck, meanwhile, has been banned from politics and faces criminal prosecution.

The junta has detained hundreds of people accused of supporting deposed prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, pictured.

The junta has detained hundreds of people accused of supporting deposed prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, pictured. Photograph: Wasawat Lukharang/NurPhoto/Rex

Prayuth is as much twerp as tyrant. His insistence on the incomparable virtues of “Thai-ness” and traditional core values, and his self-proclaimed mission to restore “happiness to the people”, have invited open ridicule, even though the media and institutions are closely controlled. After political gatherings of more than five people were banned last year, university students organised “sandwich parties” – in effect, lunchtime sit-ins. When the idea spread, Prayuth’s military detained the subversive snackers for “eating sandwiches with political intent”.

The former general, who now styles himself prime minister, heads the Orwellian-sounding National Council for Peace and Order. He claims he did not want the job of national overseer, and took it out of a sense of duty. But he is quick to threaten those who question his powers or conduct. Journalists who failed to report “the truth” could be executed, he warned this month. He was not joking.

Like tinpot dictators the world over, Prayuth’s timetable for holding elections keeps slipping. Polls were supposed to be held this year. Now they may happen next year, or later. Meanwhile, the junta, helped by an appointed advisory panel and legislature, is preparing a permanent constitution whose main purpose appears to be to permanently curtail parliamentary democracy and prevent the return of the Shinawatra clan, which has won every poll since 2001.

“The charter includes provision allowing a non-elected official to assume the role of prime minister in times of crisis. The dangers posed to freedom do not need to be spelled out when autocrats brush aside the fundamental principles of democracy in the name of ‘national emergency,’ ‘public order’ and ‘crisis measures’,” said commentator Aron Shaviv.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha after the army declared martial law in May 2014.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha after the army declared martial law in May 2014. Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

“The charter also suggests the 200-member senate should be nominated, and not subject to any electoral process whatsoever. And to help promote this thoroughly anti-democratic measure, the junta has enlisted the judiciary, sullying the very bedrock of democracy.”

The prospect of Prayuth’s dictatorial rule being extended indefinitely is not one that is welcomed in Washington. A public row blew up in January when Daniel Russel, US assistant secretary of state, criticised the lack of democracy. But the Obama administration is conflicted. Thailand is an old and valued ally dating back to the Vietnam war era, which has cooperated on security and military issues, drug interdiction and people trafficking.

More to the point, the US does not want to leave the strategic field open to China in its expanding tussle with Beijing for advantage and influence in south-east Asia. Japan shares Washington’s concern. Its prime minister, Shinzō Abe, recently hosted Prayuth in Tokyo. Abe urged the restoration of civilian rule, but his focus was also on maintaining a strong bilateral business and trade relationship.

China has fewer scruples. “A month after the coup, China assured Bangkok that it would continue to support Thailand’s development and hosted a delegation of senior Thai military officials in Beijing,” said Felix Chang, a Foreign Policy Research Institute analyst.

“More importantly, China won approval for a new railway that will connect Kunming and Bangkok through north-eastern Thailand. Once completed, that railway will tie Thailand’s economy (and interests) more closely to China … In February, Prayuth agreed to strengthen military ties with China,” Chang said.

The EU also has considerable leverage with Bangkok but, like Washington, has failed so far to exert behaviour-changing pressure. EU foreign ministers condemned the coup last June, suspended some official visits, and promised to keep the situation under review.

Prayuth’s regime badly needs European business and tourism, hence this week’s cosmetic and misleading announcement on martial law. As Bangkok’s third-largest trading partner and second biggest investor, the EU, acting with Washington and Tokyo, must quickly decide whether Thailand’s dismaying slide towards institutionalised dictatorship warrants a tougher stance. The answer is fairly obvious.

March 31, 2015

The Royal Lao Government never uses Ho Chi Minh Trail for transport weaponry

Boonton woman looking for MIAs, unexploded bombs in Laos

Lorraine Ash, @LorraineVAsh 5:55 p.m. EDT March 30, 2015

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.dailyrecord.com/story/news/local/2015/03/29/boonton-woman-looking-mias-unexploded-bombs-laos/70559216/

Gutbrod_2_hi-res.jpg (Photo: Photo courtesy of Eric Gutbrod).  U.S. Army Spc. Laura Gutbrod of Boonton is on a 35-day mission to southern Laos, part of a 20-person team looking for unexploded ordinance and any evidence of MIAs from the Vietnam War.

Her Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) recovery team is going over the same terrain U.S. forces bombed or traversed 50 years ago.

“Even finding one piece of tiny bone means something,” Gutbrod said in a telephone interview with the Daily Record.

American remains are transferred to an official laboratory in Hawaii for identification by forensic anthropologists, according to the DPAA, which was activated Jan. 30 and dispatches 23 such teams at sites all over the world where Americans have fought and fallen.

“They run a DNA test,” Gutbrod explained. “Once they find a match, they’re able to cross that person’s name off an MIA list, and call the family, because that person is considered found. That way, the family knows their family member passed away.”

She called the work rewarding and an example of the military pledge to leave no soldier behind.

“It’s something that I never expected I’d be able to do in a place I never expected to be,” said Gutbrod, who is stationed with the 25th Infantry Division at the Schofield Barracks in Honolulu.

Until April 9, however, her team, and two others, are sharing a makeshift 60-tent base camp at 9,000 feet, some two hours outside the city of Pakse and 17 miles away from the recovery site they’re working. Each day, she said, they fly by helicopter into the mountains and land at about 18,000 feet, after which they hike down 3,000 feet to the site.

The hiking is intense, she said, especially since the real-feel temperature in Laos is about 105 degrees this time of year.

“It is hot as can be here. There are mountains everywhere,” said Gutbrod, who is digging and working the team’s radio communications.

Presently, Laos is not in its rainy season, which runs, according to travelfish.org, from May to October.

At this time, the 23 American recovery teams, which use standard archaeology methods, include one underwater and one mountaineering team, according to Maj. Natasha Waggoner of the DPAA. Personnel on each team can include a forensic anthropologist, team leader and sergeant, linguist, medic, life support technician, communications technician, forensic photographer, explosive ordnance disposal technician, and mortuary affairs specialists.

Accounting missions began in January 1973, long before the accounting agency came into being, Waggoner said. Over the years, they’ve identified 1,983 MIAs. Currently, Gutbrod’s team is one of 16 teams conducting operations in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, South Korea as well as Vanuatu and Palau, the latter two being island nations in the Pacific Ocean.

As of now, there are 302 missing Americans in Laos, 1,269 in Vietnam, and 51 in Cambodia, according to the DPAA. An American POW/MIA investigator, stationed full time in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, pursues leads. The investigator has interviewed some 80 Vietnamese witnesses with helpful information, and, for 10 years, combed through pictures, videos, and other documents concerning U.S. POWs and aircraft wreckages in Lao archives.

“We offer a special thanks to all the governments whose efforts and dedication have enabled DPAA to further progress in achieving the fullest possible accounting of our missing,” Waggoner said. “We rely heavily on those cooperative relationships.”

According to Gutbrod, Lao government representatives are with her team whenever it goes to its recovery site.

“They’re there to survey,” she said, “just to make sure that we’re not doing something we’re not supposed to be doing here.”

When her team found a live 500-pound, cylinder-shaped American cluster bomb, partially above the surface of the ground, its explosive ordnance technicians roped off the area.

“A couple of days later, Lao officials came and took care of it,” she said.

Several search accounts of the Laos landscape reveal a 250- or 500-pound UXO (unexploded ordinance) can be destroyed onsite, but anything larger must be moved before detonation so it does not impact any nearby villages.

From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions, according to Legacies of War, a U.S.-based educational and advocacy organization devoted to addressing the impact of the Vietnam War-era on Laos.

At the time, the Americans were trying to cut off traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, used by both sides during the war to transport weaponry, and support the Royal Lao Government against the ultimately triumphant Communist Pathet Lao.

Legacies of War reports 270 million cluster bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War. Up to 80 million never detonated, leaving the country even today with a dangerous landscape that makes the cultivation of farmland nigh on impossible. Since the war, some 20,000 people have been killed or hurt by unexploded ordnance.

For nine years, the U.S. spent $13.3 million per day (in 2013 dollars) bombing Laos, according to Legacies of War. Between 1995 and 2013, it spent $3.2 million per year clearing unexploded ordinance.

The mission in Laos is the first for Gutbrod, who joined the military for practical and inspirational reasons. Joining provides steady work in an economy where that’s hard to come by, she said, but she also feels like she’s carrying on a family tradition.

Her cousin served in the Navy, she said, and an uncle recently retired from the Air Force. But she joined the Army because of her grandfather—John Gutbrod, 93, of Surf City, an Army veteran.

“My grandfather actually jumped on D-Day,” she said. “He spent most of his time in World War II throughout France and parts of Italy. After hearing all the stories he told me throughout the years, going into the Army seemed like something worthwhile to me.”

This summer, Gutbrod said, she’ll visit her family in Boonton for the first time in three years. She hasn’t seen a family member in a year.

My grandfather taught me that you can go through hell and back again,” she said, “but family is always there.”

Lorraine Ash: 973-428-6660; lash@njpressmedia.com

 

March 31, 2015

Searching for ‘The Last Unicorn’ in the Wildness of Laos

Searching for ‘The Last Unicorn’ in the Wildness of Laos

March 22, 2015

The two faces of Thai authoritarianism

The two faces of Thai authoritarianism

29 September 2014

Author:ThitinanPongsudhirakAuthor:Phuong Nguyen,CSIS, Washington
Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/09/29/the-two-faces-of-thai-authoritarianism/Thai politics has completed a dramatic turn from electoral authoritarianism under deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra in 2001–2006 to a virtual military government under General Prayuth Chan-ocha. These two sides of the authoritarian coin, electoral and military, represent Thailand’s painful learning curve. The most daunting challenge for the country is not to choose one or the other but to create a hybrid that combines electoral sources of legitimacy for democratic rule and some measure of moral authority and integrity often lacked by elected officials.

A decade ago, Thaksin was practically unchallenged in Thailand. He had earlier squeaked through an assets concealment trial on a narrow and questionable vote after nearly winning a majority in the January 2001 election. A consummate politician and former police officer, Thaksin benefited from extensive networks in business and the bureaucracy, including the police and army.

In politics, his Thai Rak Thai party became a juggernaut. It devised a popular policy platform, featuring affordable universal healthcare, debt relief and microcredit schemes. It won over most of the rural electorate and even the majority of Bangkok. Absorbing smaller parties, Thai Rak Thai virtually monopolised party politics in view of a weak opposition.

Thaksin penetrated and controlled supposedly independent agencies aimed at promoting accountability, particularly the Constitutional Court, the Election Commission and the Anti-Corruption Commission. His confidants and loyalists steered these agencies. His cousin became the army’s Commander-in-Chief. His police cohorts were fast-tracked to senior positions, including his brother-in-law, who became national police chief. Similarly, Thaksin’s business allies and associated partners secured plum concessions and choice government procurement projects.

After his landslide victory in February 2005, Thaksin became the first prime minister to be re-elected and to preside over a government composed only of one party. But his virtual monopoly on Thai politics and accompanying hubris inevitably got the better of him. Making a lucrative business out of politics led to his demise in the September 2006 military coup. Thaksin’s rule was democratic on paper but authoritarian in practice.

Yet Thaksin’s legacy is already strong. His subsequent proxy governments in 2008 and 2011–2014, under his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, were politically paralysed by anti-Thaksin street protests. When Yingluck looked poised to complete her term, Thaksin’s Pheu Thai party came up with a blanket amnesty bill that upended her government, assisted by the independent agencies that had turned against Thaksin in the 2006 coup. The putsch on 22 May 2014 was merely the knock-out blow on an ineffectual administration that was not allowed to govern.

Now the pendulum has swung to the other, authoritarian end. General Prayuth now heads a regime with no democratic pretences, ruling with absolute power. His is a military government both on paper and in practice. The tone of the 22 May coup clearly signalled that the military would dominate politics, epitomised by the general himself becoming prime minister.

Prayuth’s allies under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have now taken key portfolios relating to the Thai economy and society, foreign affairs and internal security. The structure of power under the NCPO is clear.

Two months after seizing power, the NCPO rolled out an interim constitution and appointed a National Legislative Assembly (NLA). Today the NLA is filled not with business cronies and spouses of politicians but with military classmates and siblings, who in turn chose Prayuth as prime minister. The caretaker prime minister then selected his cabinet, more than one third of which is military. The National Reform Council (NRC) will soon be formed, leading to a constitution-drafting committee, which will be nominated by the NRC, NLA, cabinet and NCPO.

Like a politburo, the NCPO is thus the nexus of this interim governing structure, comprising the NLA, cabinet, and NRC. This monopoly of power is reminiscent of the Thaksin juggernaut a decade ago. It was a parliamentary dictatorship then as it is now. But the fundamental difference is that the current authoritarian period completely bypassed the electorate.

Prayuth enjoys the same immense personal popularity as Thaksin did. His no-nonsense state of the nation speeches have been to the point and delivered in appealing tones. The NCPO’s anti-corruption campaign is popular and would certainly score more points if it dared to aim at higher-up corruption schemes and concessions, not just low-hanging fruits like extortion rackets that run motorcycle taxis and the state lottery.

Prayuth and the NCPO also benefit from the fact that public expectations started from a low base. After six months of anti-government street protests and policy paralysis, the coup was a relief. Everyone had to make do with the coup because there was no initial alternative in the face of continuing martial law. But reality will start to bite as the military-dominated government starts its day-to-day work. The next 14 months of the NCPO’s timetable to return to democratic rule may be long and hard.

The military-backed government faces a tall order dealing with the grievances and expectations of a neglected electorate. Those who spoke out against the political monster that the Thaksin regime eventually became must now be wary of the potential for the military-backed government setting on a similar path. Unaccountable power with absolute authority and direct rule is inadvisable in Thailand. Past experiences in the 1960s, early 1970s and 1991–1992 have shown that such governments eventually end in tears.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak teaches International Political Economy and is Director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

A version of this article was earlier published here in The Straits Times.

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