That volcano in Iceland (the one evidently named by someone who types with mittens on) isn't the only thing wrecking our travel plans.
The vacation dreams of countless American hipsters and trustafarians heading to Asia are all Phuk'd up now that Thailand's political crisis has gotten mean and violent.
It wasn't always thus. Until recently, the battle to control Thailand's government has been polite – at times comically so.
For example, in 2006, Thailand's military overthrew the freely elected government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was in the United States at the time (at the U.N. conference remembered, if at all, for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's idiotic "joke" about President Bush leaving behind the smell of sulphur at the General Assembly podium).
The coup was the result of long-standing tensions between Thailand's rural poor and the kingdom's urban muckety mucks. The urban/rural division has grown in recent decades as Thailand's booming economy widened the gap between the country's rich and poor. Though Thaksin himself is a billionaire telecom magnate, his political base is Thailand's rural poor and working classes. Thaksin earned their political loyalty by doing outrageous things as prime minister, such as directing more government spending to rural infrastructure, education and health care spending.
Thailand's citified rich people, old-school monarchists and military high command were less impressed by Thaksin. They thought he was corrupt, inept at battling the Muslim insurgency simmering in southern Thailand, and responsible for an organized vigilante killing spree targeting drug dealers. Wearing yellow shirts, their backers protested Thaksin with relentless street protests.
When the military finally tossed Thaksin aside, though, they did it as gently as they possibly could. They not only waited until he was out of the country, but the general who led the coup actually went on TV and said, "We ask for the cooperation of the public and ask your pardon for the inconvenience." You can't put it on a bumper sticker, but it's a hell of a slogan.
The problem was that, even with Thaksin in exile, Thai voters kept replacing him with Thaksinistas. In January 2008, a new party formed from the members of Thaksin's banned party won an even bigger share in the parliament than they had before the coup. The country's new Thaksin stand-in, Samak Sundaravej, was a TV star – host of a food show called "Tasting and Complaining."
Instead of coup-ing him, though, Thailand forced him out by ruling he illegally took $2,400 from his food show.
Samak was followed by Somchai Wongsawat, who, despite his election by a large parliamentary majority, never stood a chance with Thailand's elite. His fatal flaw: He's Thaksin's brother-in-law. Doh! He was ousted in two months.
The current prime minister is a fellow named Abhisit Vejjajiva. He was born in Newcastle, England, and, like Brit Tory Party leader David Cameron, attended snootier-than-thou Eton before going to Oxford. It may not surprise to know he's liked by Thailand's urban elite and disliked by the rural poor who love Thaksin. Abhisit is only in power because Thai courts kept dissolving the political parties of his opponents.
Fast-forward to 2010. Red-shirted Thaksinistas keep filling Bangkok's streets demanding, you know, a government that actually reflects the will of voters. On March 16, they tossed buckets of blood on the prime minister's office (take that, Tea Partiers!). Their sit-ins have disrupted daily life in Bangkok for weeks.
The circumstances aren't clear, but demonstration turned deadly April 10 when shots were fired over the barriers separating the demonstrators from government security forces. Despite that spark, it still hasn't blown up into an all-out bloodbath. There's even rumors that Abhisit may be willing to cave to red shirt/Thaksinista demand that the government be dissolved and new elections held.
Let's hope that whatever happens, it's peaceful and democratic – and that America's wayfaring hipsters can come and go with no fear.
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