April 17, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


How Erdogan Made Turkey Authoritarian Again : It wasn't so long ago that the Turkish leader was seen as a model democrat in the Islamic world. What happened? (STEVEN A. COOK  JUL 21, 2016, The Atlantic)

Turkey's leaders for their part were frustrated with what they perceived to be European double standards when dealing with a Muslim society.

In 1996, there was a breakthrough when a Customs Union agreement provided an important link between Turkey's economy and that of Europe; and, in 2001, the two sides agreed to the Accession Partnership for Turkey, which laid out a cooperative framework for Turkey's eventual EU membership. The following year, the Turkish parliament passed three "harmonization" packages that made important changes to the penal code, the codes of criminal procedure, and the anti-terror law. The legislation also abolished the death penalty in peacetime--Erdogan's supporters are now demanding its reinstatement--strengthened freedom of expression, and permitted broadcasts in Kurdish. (Kurds had previously been banned from speaking their own language because the Turkish state did not recognize them as an ethnic group. For years, Turkish officials referred to Kurds as "mountain Turks.")

The liberalizing trend looked set to continue when Erdogan's party first came to government in 2003. The AKP-dominated parliament passed an additional five reform packages--concerning, among other things, minority rights and the judiciary--in its first year and a half. This was a significant shift from past Islamist parties that regarded Turkish efforts to integrate with predominantly Christian Europe as a form of cultural abnegation. The reformists who founded the AKP, Erdogan among them, rejected this idea and, at the time of their election, claimed that membership in Europe was consistent with their own values. The practical effect of all these reform packages was substantial. The European Commission recommended that Ankara begin membership negotiations, though its endorsement was hedged. By Europe's own metrics Turkey had taken important steps toward fulfilling the EU requirements for negotiations, but had not fulfilled them in their totality. Rather, the commission argued that the negotiation process itself would spur further reforms. Negotiations began in March 2005, but slowed down almost immediately as some European countries balked at the prospect that Turkey might actually become a member of the EU.

Ankara's reforms began to slow down after that, but Turkey's transition really began to go downhill in the spring of 2007 when the Turkish military's General Staff made it clear, via a statement on its website, that the military did not want the AKP's favored candidate for president, then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, to assume the office because he was an Islamist. This was a critical moment in Turkish politics and one in which previous Turkish leaders would have folded almost immediately. Erdogan, sensing his party's popularity and how much Turkish society had changed in the nearly five years since the AKP had come to power, refused to be intimidated. He called for new elections, which the party won with a broad coalition of pious and average Turks, Kurds, liberals, and big business that gave the AKP 47 percent of the vote. With his party's renewed popular mandate, Erdogan nominated Gul to be Turkey's 11th president.

In the midst of this showdown, the Istanbul police uncovered an alleged plot to overthrow the government. This was what came to be known as the Ergenekon case, which captivated Turkey from 2007 until verdicts were rendered in 2013. Initially, the investigation promised to root out Turkey's "deep state"--an alleged network of military, intelligence, and civilian officials along with policemen, journalists, academics, business people, and mafia figures. Working in the shadows and beyond the law, the group's goal was, Turks believed, to subvert the government and any centers of power that would challenge "the system" and this coalition's interests in it. A few years after the Ergenekon case began, prosecutors pursued what was called the Sledgehammer investigation, which ensnared large numbers of senior military commanders in a suspected effort to bring down the government.

Given Turkey's history of coups, the alleged schemes seemed entirely plausible. In time, however, it came to light that significant portions of the evidence in both Ergenekon and Sledgehammer were flimsy or fabricated, allegedly at the hands of prosecutors who were followers of the self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. (Until 2013, the Gulenist movement--which Erdogan blames for last Friday's attempted coup--and the AKP were partners.)

After that, Turkey's democratic reversal expanded and accelerated. Erdogan was emboldened by the decapitation of the military and imprisonment of other opponents, at the same time that he was unrestrained by the now-dim prospect of EU membership. He moved to consolidate his personal power and in the process transform Turkish society. In addition to the trials, during which large numbers of officers were detained and civilian prosecutors armed with search warrants entered military bases searching for incriminating evidence, the government arrested journalists, often on specious charges of supporting terrorism; sued critics of Erdogan; imposed massive fines on businesses whose owners failed to support the AKP; and intimidated social-media companies like Twitter and Facebook to share data on their users. Through the pressure the AKP brought to bear on companies wanting to do business with the government, firms were encouraged to purchase media properties that could be counted on to faithfully report what the prime ministry wanted. The Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, Turkey's national public broadcaster, and the Anadolu Agency, the state-run wire service, also became part of the AKP's political operation. The result was a virtual ministry of information in the service of Erdogan and his party.

Then there were the courts. Less than a year after the military's failed effort to prevent a Gul presidency, Turkey's chief prosecutor brought a case to the country's Constitutional Court in March 2008, alleging that the AKP had become a center of anti-secular activity and thus should be closed. When it rendered its verdict, the high court found evidence supporting the charge, but fell just one vote short of the seven (out of 11) needed to close the party. Instead, it was forced to pay a fine of $20 million. This was too close a call for Erdogan. The AKP's genealogy included four parties that had been closed as a result of either a coup or a court order, and Erdogan was determined never to allow his party to meet the same fate.

The result was a constitutional amendment that Erdogan brought before the Turkish people in a September 2010 referendum that gave the AKP greater ability to pack the courts with sympathetic judges. The amendment, which was combined with other constitutional changes including protection of children's rights, freedom of residence, and the right to appeal, passed by a wide margin. A little more than a month before last Friday's failed coup d'├ętat, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim sent legislation to the parliament that would give the government a freer hand in placing AKP supporters on the bench, further compromising the independence of the judiciary.

This authoritarian turn has made it relatively easy for critics to charge that the AKP was never and could never be a genuine force for democratic change. In hindsight, that is likely true. Erdogan is, after all, the man who declared when he was mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s that democracy was "a vehicle, not a goal," implying that one could disembark whenever it suited one's purposes. At the same time, it would be disingenuous to overlook the AKP's first term from 2002 to 2007, when pragmatism and consensus marked Turkish politics. There were controversies, of course, but the five constitutional reform packages that Erdogan oversaw seemed to augur a more open, and even democratic, Turkey.

In time, however, confronted with challenges real and perceived from the military, the judiciary, and Gulenists, Erdogan and the AKP pursued a political strategy based on polarization. 

Palestine and Egypt are, likewise, reminders that democrats in the Middle East can't trust militaries or the West.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Susan Rice Did Nothing Wrong, Say Both Dems and Republicans (KEN DILANIAN, 4/17/17, NBC News)

A review of the surveillance material flagged by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes shows no inappropriate action by Susan Rice or any other Obama administration official, Republican and Democratic Congressional aides who have been briefed on the matter told NBC News. [...]

Members of the House and Senate intelligence committees from both parties have traveled to NSA headquarters to review the relevant intelligence reports.

"I saw no evidence of any wrongdoing," said one U.S. official who reviewed the documents, who would not agree to be identified further. "It was all completely normal."

His assessment was shared by a senior Republican aide who had been briefed on the matter but declined to speak on the record.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


For Profit, Anti-Poverty : No institution or agency has done more to help the poor than Walmart. (John Tierney, April 16, 2017, City Journal)

If budget-cutters in Washington decided to eliminate food-stamp benefits to New Yorkers, the city's politicians would be denouncing the cruelty of the "Republican war on the poor." Yet Mayor Bill De Blasio and the city council are already inflicting the same sort of pain on low-income New Yorkers by denying them access to one of the nation's most effective anti-poverty programs: Walmart.

When he was mayor, Michael Bloomberg supported Walmart's efforts to open a store in New York, but the company faced unremitting resistance from unions and elected officials, and it gave up the fight once de Blasio moved into Gracie Mansion. "I have been adamant that I don't think Walmart--the company, the stores--belong in New York City," de Blasio said.

Walmart's benefits are obvious to shoppers and to economists like Jason Furman, who served in the Clinton administration and was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama. In a paper, "Walmart: A Progressive Success Story," Furman cited estimates that Walmart, by driving down prices, saved the typical American family more than $2,300 annually. That was about the same amount that a family on food stamps then received from the federal government.

Posted by orrinj at 2:53 PM


Hiring Anti-Trump Conservative Is Part Of New York Times' Effort To Expand Opinion (Michael Calderone ,  Nick Baumann, 4/14/17, Huffington Post)

The New York Times' decision to hire Bret Stephens, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal columnist, is part of a larger effort to "further widen" the range of views the paper presents to readers, James Bennet, the paper's editorial page editor, told The Huffington Post Friday.

Long a conventional conservative columnist, Stephens emerged during the 2016 campaign as liberals' favorite writer on the right. As other conservatives lined up behind Donald Trump, Stephens wrote blistering columns in the opinion pages of Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal lambasting the Republican presidential nominee. He feuded with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Twitter. And unlike some NeverTrumpers, he still hasn't come around to the president. That won him praise to his left -- including from Bennet, who said Stephens "demonstrated his guts," as some other conservative writers were dropping "their principles to accommodate the radically unorthodox politics of Donald Trump."

But liberal Times readers who enthusiastically tweeted Stephens' anti-Trump broadsides may find his other views less palatable. Stephens has dismissed climate change an "imaginary enemy." He's referred to the "disease of the Arab mind," a characterization he defended as a "figure of speech not biology." And he's called former President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran worse than appeasing Hitler.

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


More young Americans want moms to stay home. What's behind that? (Schuyler Velasco, APRIL 17, 2017 , CS Monitor)

Ms. Hoffman, now a senior at Syracuse University in New York, thinks her family's arrangement, with one parent working and one wrangling childcare and household duties, is ideal. "I don't think it matters which parent stays home, but it was better to have someone there," she says. And her views on the matter are increasingly common among people her age.

In fact, among young adults, support for this type of traditional family structure has been on the rise for the past 20 years, while a preference for two working parents is falling out of favor, according to a batch of reports released in March by the Council on Contemporary Families.

In one survey, which has tracked the attitudes of a cross-section of the country's high school seniors for the past four decades, only 42 percent of respondents in 1994 thought a family in which the father worked and the mother stayed at home was the "best" possible arrangement. By 2014, that was the majority view, with 58 percent support.

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


How the alt-right brought #SyriaHoax to America : Tracing the "false flag" claim back to a pro-Assad website (AtlanticCouncil's Digital Forensic Research Lab, 4/07/17)

The most influential pickup came on April 5, when US-based conspiracy site Infowars ran its version of the story. Infowars is a highly influential site among the "alt-right" movement in the US; its leading light, Alex Jones, has over 600,000 Twitter followers.

Infowars was one of the main outlets to publicize the fake "Pizzagate" story which claimed that figures close to Hillary Clinton were running a pedophile ring from a pizzeria in Washington, DC, a falsehood for which Jones was eventually forced to apologize. Throughout the US presidential election campaign of 2016, Infowars supported Trump.

On April 5, however, Infowars ran a long article claiming that the White Helmets -- which it presented as funded by billionaire George Soros -- were in fact behind the attack and saying that the attack had "all the hallmarks of a false flag".

Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


Melania Trump Appears to Remind President to Place His Hand Over His Heart During National Anthem (Nick Bolger , April 17, 2017, Daily Beacon)

First Lady Melania Trump appeared to remind President Trump to place his hand over his heart during the National Anthem at the White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday.

The first lady and Barron, the youngest Trump son, both placed their hands over their heart as the Marine Corps Band began playing, while President Trump stood next to them.

After a quick glance, Melania bumped the president's arm, seemingly reminding him to raise his hand, which he then did.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


A Tale of Two Nations and Economic Freedom (JOHN O. MCGINNIS, 4/17/17, Library of Law & Liberty)

The New York Times ran two stories within two days about two very different nations.  One story noted that France was an unhappy place in danger of electing an extremist, Marie Le Pen, as President.  But the author found the plight of the country puzzling, noting that France has wonderful infrastructure compared to the United States and continued to have a culture second to none. He puts its misery down to the French fixation on the losses of past glories.

Another story focuses on the very different mood in New Zealand. People are happy there and many foreigners want to immigrate. The prime reasons given are its isolation from the rest of the troubled world and its social tolerance, as demonstrated by its legalization of  same-sex marriage and acceptance of refugees. The photo accompanying the story shows Sikh men in colorful turbans against some pleasant New Zealand scenery.

The two stories show the weaknesses of the analytic powers of our elite media and its indifference to economic freedom.  The best explanation of France's stagnant misery and New Zealand dynamic happiness can be found in the The Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom. New Zealand ranks No. 3 and France No. 72 of the 160 nations surveyed in the economic liberty they permits citizens.  Given that most nations ranked below France are developing nations, New Zealand and France inhabit pretty different economic universes among developed nations.

France is not backwards because it is less free; it is less free because it is French.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Why We Are on Hunger Strike in Israel's Prisons (MARWAN BARGHOUTI, APRIL 16, 2017, NY Times)

Having spent the last 15 years in an Israeli prison, I have been both a witness to and a victim of Israel's illegal system of mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners. After exhausting all other options, I decided there was no choice but to resist these abuses by going on a hunger strike.

Some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have decided to take part in this hunger strike, which begins today, the day we observe here as Prisoners' Day. Hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available. It inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells.

Decades of experience have proved that Israel's inhumane system of colonial and military occupation aims to break the spirit of prisoners and the nation to which they belong, by inflicting suffering on their bodies, separating them from their families and communities, using humiliating measures to compel subjugation. In spite of such treatment, we will not surrender to it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Iran Boosts Production From Massive South Pars Gas Field (Radio Liberty, 4/17/17)

Iranian President Hassan Rohani says production has doubled at a massive underwater gas field over the past four years.

Rohani, who is running for reelection in next month's presidential election, said daily Iranian production at the South Pars Gas Field has reached 540 million cubic meters, up from just 240 million when he was elected in 2013.

He said growing production illustrated the success of the "resistance economy," which Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has emphasized is needed for the country to become self-sufficient and confront threats.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Hank Azaria opens up about speaking Ladino and his latest TV role : Now in a popular cable series, the man of many voices says he feels 'most at home with Jewish characters' (CURT SCHLEIER April 17, 2017, Times of Israel)

"One of my favorite [of the voices in my head] was the generic baseball announcer voice I heard in the '70s growing up," he said. "It wasn't distinctive like Phil Rizzuto. It was this generic announcer voice you associate more with hacks or how they sold Ginsu knives or Ronco products."

"I found that voice fascinating. I wondered if that guy talks like that all the time, and that was the comic basis for the character." [...]

The show begins with a flashback. Ten years earlier, Jim Brockmire handled play-by-play duties for the Kansas City Royals. He was the youngest announcer ever in Major League Baseball and had the admiration of his peers.

Then he returned home unexpectedly and found his wife in, well, a very delicate situation with several neighbors. What made it worse -- as Brockmire describes in a drunken, obscenity-laden and very funny on-air meltdown -- the group included his next-door-neighbor, Bob Greenwald, and "I was just at his son's bar mitzvah."

Unable to find work in the States post-freakout, Brockmire has spent the past decade roaming the globe, finding announcing assignments where he can, notably calling cockfights in Manila. He's been lured back to the US by Jules (Amanda Peet), who owns the failing Morristown (Pennsylvania) Frackers, a minor league team named for the energy extraction method that gives the town its pungent aroma.

Jules feels if she can save the team, she can save the town. Meanwhile, computer illiterate Brockmire is unaware that his meltdown went viral -- that "keeping it Brockmire" had become a synonym for "keeping it real."

Azaria inhabits Brockmire like a second skin. While the character might not be Jewish, he does get some Jewish-themed quips: After a long home run, for example, he notes, "That ball can't be buried at a Jewish cemetery because it just got tattooed."

'That ball can't be buried at a Jewish cemetery because it just got tattooed'
While the show is frequently raunchy, it resonates emotionally and intellectually. The fracking company that lent Jules money to buy the club wants her to fail so it can use the stadium as a wastewater pit. And when Jules discovers she's pregnant, the topic of abortion also is addressed. For sports fans, there's also the surprise pleasure of cameos by play-by-play announcers like Joe Buck and ESPN commentators.

At its core, though, Brockmire is a story about relationships: There is Brockmire's growing bond with the team's young African-American social media intern Charlie (Tyrel Jackson Williams), who knows nothing about baseball or life, as well as Brockmire's inevitable romance with Jules -- two people who have made relationship mistakes in life, but may be on the verge of getting something right.

Amid the laughs, it's hard not to get vested in the three characters -- and apparently IFC agrees.