A No-Snark (Mostly) Sunday

After my last couple of rather rant-y posts, I felt like giving some thumbs-up and kudos tonight, proving that there are some things to be thankful for.

Christmas was over more than a week ago, but I thought I’d like to highlight a special Santa …Santa-1

That’s right, folks, it’s former President Barack Obama decked out in a fluffy red cap to surprise patients and pass out a few gifts on Christmas Day at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.  The facility is the same one his wife, Michelle Obama, visited every holiday season during her time as first lady to read stories to patients. She sometimes came with one of the couple’s two daughters.santa-2.pngThis year, it was the 44th president’s turn. He walked the hospital halls with a giant red bag of goodies slung over his shoulder. He visited a hospital playroom and stepped inside patient rooms, to the delight of the children and teens inside.  Dressed casually in a sweater and pair of jeans, Obama posed for selfies while handing out jigsaw puzzles, race cars and other gifts he and his staff collected recently.

santa-3.pngHe also recorded a video message that could be relayed for the people he couldn’t meet during his visit.  Before he left, hospital staff members greeted the president with a rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Obama responded by thanking the crowd for their work during the holidays.

“At a time that obviously is tough for folks, and as the dad of two girls, I can only imagine, in that situation, to have nurses, staff and doctors and people who are caring for them, and looking after them, and listening to them and just there for them and holding their hands. That’s the most important thing there is. What a great reminder of what the holiday spirit is supposed to be all about.”


santa-5One could make a comparison to another who spent the day in a luxury resort and on a golf course, but I won’t go there.

Two thumbs up to Germany who will close all 84 of its coal power plants. The nation — one of the world’s largest consumers of coal — will rely on renewable energy instead.  The announcement came earlier this year as Germany revealed its struggle to meet its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions targets. Coal accounted for 40% of Germany’s electricity at the start of the year.coal-vs-windCoal is the EU’s biggest economy. Germany accounts for the lion’s share, responsible for around one-third of electricity-related CO2 emissions, according to Carbon Brief. It generates roughly half of the EU’s electricity from brown coal (lignite), which emits higher levels of CO2.

More than halfway into 2019, German coal production had fallen by a fifth, largely replaced by renewables such as wind farms and solar. Wind is on track to become the country’s largest source of electricity, surpassing environmentally-unfriendly lignite. Germany also pledged to close its 19 nuclear power plants since the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Renewables will account for 65 to 80 percent of Germany’s electricity by 2040, officials say.

And more good news on the environmental front comes from Australia, where bans introduced by two major retailers, Coles and Woolworths last summer, resulted in an 80 percent reduction in the country’s overall use of single-use plastic bags.

Initially, some customers felt “bag rage” about having to BYO-bag or fork over 15 Australian cents (11 cents) to buy a reusable one. Woolworths execs blamed slumping sales on “customers adjusting” to the plastic bag ban. Coles even briefly backed down on the bag ban and caught a lot of flak from environmentally conscious shoppers for giving away reusable plastic bags.

But the good news is that it seems most Aussies haven’t found it too hard to adjust to the change—and that’s fantastic for our landfills, oceans and the greater environment, which have become dumping grounds for our plastic waste.

There has been a growing movement to ban or tax these bags. Around the world, at least 32 countries have bans in place, according to reusable bag company ReuseThisBag.   The U.S. is obviously NOT one of the nations to ban single use plastic anything.  Only two states, California and Hawaii, have bans on single-use plastic bags.  A handful of others have either a tax or mandatory recycling, but on the federal level there is … nothing.plastic-bagsA personal note here … thanks to the initiative of my environmentally conscientious granddaughter Miss Goose, I now use my own re-usable canvas bags to bring groceries home, and re-usable mesh bags for my produce rather than the store’s plastic bags.  Most of the cashiers and baggers are upbeat about it, but on occasion I have had a surly clerk who acted as if I were intentionally making her life hard by bringing my own bags.  Twice in the past few months, I have written to the management of my local Kroger store, asking what their plans are for replacing plastic bags with paper or some other biodegradable material, but have yet to receive any response.  The U.S., it would seem, is far behine Australia and at least 31 other countries.

Well, that’s your good news for the month, and now I’m going back to my usual fare, complete with snarking, ranting, growling and grumbling.  Have a happy Sunday!

🇬🇧 The Brexit Conundrum — Bee’s View

I was thrilled with the guest posts on Brexit from Roger, Colette, Frank and Gary, and thought that project had likely run its course for the moment, when my friend Bee asked if she could contribute a post.  I immediately jumped on that opportunity, for Bee’s perspective will, no doubt, be significantly different than the previous four.  You see, Bee is a German national who has been living in the UK for quite some time … not sure how long … and she fears being forced to leave and return to Germany when Brexit, deal or no-deal, is complete.  Bee’s post is heartfelt, and I think presents a side we haven’t seen before, so please take a few minutes to read her tale.  Thank you so much, dear Bee!

GoodreadsBeeYesterday, I read the views on Brexit from several of my fellow bloggers here on Jill’s blog. Thanks very much, Jill, for giving us the platform to express our experiences and views. All of their posts and many of the comments taught me a lot. But it felt that the view from an EU immigrant to the UK on Brexit was missing. So, I decided to give my pound’s worth of opinion too.

I am sorry, but this will be a bit messy because my mind is a jungle, and Brexit is very personal for me. For me, Brexit is not a theoretical mind game that might or might not bring me advantages of any sort. Brexit means in a worst-case scenario, the existence I have built here is going to be destroyed.

The worst-case scenario would be, I apply for “Settled Status” which allows EU citizens to stay in the UK with mostly the same rights as before, but were rejected. Currently, that means I would have to leave the UK within four weeks. We have a house with a mortgage and jobs here. How do you create a new life within four weeks?

Let’s assume we would go to my home country, Germany. Many think that because I am German I would get help from there but nope: for the last 12 years I have paid my taxes and social contributions here in Britain, so why should they give me anything? I am not sure if we could get any help from the UK, but chances are we would not.

Germany is, like the UK, interested in “useful” immigrants who can work, pay taxes and bring in skills that are needed. My husband has a back problem and at nearly 60 wants to settle down and not to start all over again. It is unlikely he would easily find a job in Germany or elsewhere. We also do not have a big bank account to cushion any decision we would have to make. He would go with me despite all, but he would leave his children and all security behind but what for? Because some people don’t believe the EU gives Britain any benefits?  So please bear with me if I am sarcastic, angry and very scared.

I read in some of the previous posts about Brexit that immigration isn’t the main reason for voting to leave. However, to me, this looks differently maybe because of where we live. Our home is Norfolk which is a rather rural county in the East of England. Most jobs are in agriculture and tourism unless you are in Norwich, the only city in Norfolk. Norwich has a university, a thriving tech industry and it probably doesn’t surprise you that Norwich mainly voted to remain while the rest of Norfolk mainly voted to leave.

Both tourism and agriculture are heavily dependent on seasonal EU workers. To those Norfolk residents, who do not have a job, it appears that EU workers “steal” the jobs they feel are theirs. Since the referendum, the influx of seasonal EU workers seems to have decreased though. But it doesn’t look like the vacancies are taken by jobless leave voters. They are simply not filled while farmers and restaurant owners say that they just can’t find staff that is qualified enough and/or is willing to work the necessary hours. The same goes for care staff, nurses and doctors by the way.

Leave voters I know, do say that immigration was a huge reason why they voted to leave. They mention how EU immigrants come with filled-in forms to get benefits while British people can’t get any. I have not researched how much any of this is true. However, I have tried to get benefits this August after nearly 1 1/2 years without a job. Imagine my surprise when I was told that I only qualified for 6 months of job seekers allowance. To get this my husband had to sign up as well even though he had a job. The British benefits system is complicated and has changed a lot in recent years that’s why it would go too far to explain that as well.

On top, I had to prove that I had the right to get any benefit in the UK. This entailed an interview with someone from the jobcentre where I had to bring all the proof I had that I didn’t spend all my time in Germany or elsewhere. I also needed to prove that I work and live here. I was told, I would need to tell them every time I moved within the UK, how often and when exactly I left to go on holiday and whatever else that person felt they needed to know to grant me the benefit. At that point, I gave up because I can hardly remember what I did last week, let alone remember when I went on holiday ten years ago. Also, my husband would not have to prove all this. Both of us were rather appalled that I would need to be investigated like this, especially as they have my social security number. They know what I earned and where I worked.

20190218_120157I also think they probably know better than I when I was abroad: There are only three ways to come and go from the UK: you fly, you use a ferry, or you use the channel train. In all occasions, you have to show your passport because Britain did not sign the Schengen agreement. You can travel without your passport being checked in European countries that have signed the Schengen agreement. Even when we went to Switzerland which isn’t in the European Union but has an agreement on travel and trade with the EU, we didn’t show our passports once at the Swiss border. However, we had to show them when we left and came back to Britain. So surely they know how often I left the UK?

What surprises me about the Brexit debate, in general, is the view most people seem to have about the EU. For most people, not only in the UK but also all over Europe, membership in the EU mainly seems to be a question of business and economy. However, one of the main reasons why the EU was founded after the second world war was Peace. Europe had seen wars between its countries for centuries, and it culminated in WWII. The founding fathers and mothers of the European Union had experienced the destruction and human cost this war had brought, so their aim was firstly peace, and secondly a thriving economy for all of us. In all this struggle of a changing world, we do forget how important peace is for our countries wellbeing.

Peace is what the European Union mainly symbolises for me. To me, it is the guarantee that Europeans work together for peaceful and prosperous countries.  Yes, this Union of now 27 countries is far from perfect. But maybe it would be a good idea for European voters not to practice protest votes which result in getting people into the European parliament who are against everything EU? Surely if you vote for someone like Nigel Farage (who, by the way, had a German wife, and now has a French girl-friend, but campaigned against the EU for ages) to be your Member of European Parliament (MEP) you can’t be surprised that there are bad decisions made for your country on EU level?

Many European voters use the EU elections to vent frustration about many topics. But the EU-critical MEP’s they vote in, of course, do not do a fully constructive job. Most won’t make anything done in the EU look positive. So much of the anti-EU sentiment in any European country today might be non-existent if we only had MEP’s who are devoted European Unionists.  This is not a particularly British problem either. All European countries face anti-European tendencies, and I often said after the referendum: “If Germany had this referendum it would have gone the same way. German politicians are just not so stupid to do such a referendum.”

The EU certainly needs improvement, and most EU politicians are fully aware of it. However, they can’t get on with that job because the whole union is currently occupied with getting Brexit done. And the stakes are high on both sides. I recently read that Germany would lose about 100,000 jobs if the EU and Britain would not be able to strike a deal. That is a lot of jobs and can get any politician in trouble. But as far as I can see, most Germans think: “No matter the cost and no matter how flawed, the European Union is worth it!” And that seems to be the opinion of most Europeans outside of the UK.

I am fully aware that my points are just a tiny little part of the whole complex problem of Brexit and not very well researched or explained. To me, it is not only disenfranchised jobless voters who want to get rid of any immigrant, or lazy politicians who follow their agenda and not the good for the people who voted for them. Brexit is the expression of humans who feel that their life and their society does not offer them the possibility to live the best possible life. The reasons for this are many, and no one quite understands them, so many look for easy answers. In this case: “If only we could leave the EU all will be well”.

Unfortunately, easy answers never solve complex problems, and it hurts me to see the country I chose as my home and which I love, in this unholy mess, that might never be solved. It hurts me to see families, friends and communities so divided, so angry and so lost. But maybe this pain and division are necessary for us to become open for previously unthought solutions that let us live our best possible lives. I so very much hope for this!

*** Note to Readers:  Bee asked me to add the following information to her post:

I have lived in the UK since 2007 and have worked at the same company from the beginning until March 2018 when my mental health took a turn to the worst partly because of the insecurity of Brexit. Since September I am working in a new job.

Trade War Without Ammo

Donald Trump has started a full-blown trade war with his tariffs on both allies and others. He claims that “a trade war is easy to win”, but nothing could be further from the truth, and frankly Trump’s simplistic view is tiresome and dangerous. I have a good grasp of what the short-term effects of this trade war are likely to have here in the U.S., but beyond that, my understanding of macro-economics is sketchy. Fellow blogger Erik Hare, on the other hand, is an economist and therefore understands far better than I what is likely to happen on the global scene. Please take a few minutes to read Erik’s assessment of the current situation. Thank you, Erik, for your keen insight and for allowing me to share this post.

Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

The trade war is definitely on, no matter how Wall Street wants to deny it. Serious investors have downplayed recent events as part of a grand strategy, a negotiating tool that will all work out in the end. The reality, that there isn’t really a good strategy in place here but simply petty tactics, has not sunk in yet, at least in America. But the rest of the world knows better.

For the purposes of this discussion, the European Union will be diminished to Germany. After all, this is the economic engine that powers the continent right now, and Merkel’s leadership is critical. Where is Germany going? The long and short of it, the strategic and the tactical, is to the east. This response is proof enough that there is no US strategy which makes any sense.

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The World Is Not Impressed With Us …

Yesterday I came across an article in the German publication, der Spiegel,  about Donald Trump:

A Danger to the World … It’s Time to Get Rid of Donald Trump

Donald Trump has transformed the United States into a laughing stock and he is a danger to the world. He must be removed from the White House before things get even worse.

Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States. He does not possess the requisite intellect and does not understand the significance of the office he holds nor the tasks associated with it. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t bother to peruse important files and intelligence reports and knows little about the issues that he has identified as his priorities. His decisions are capricious and they are delivered in the form of tyrannical decrees.

He is a man free of morals. As has been demonstrated hundreds of times, he is a liar, a racist and a cheat. I feel ashamed to use these words, as sharp and loud as they are. But if they apply to anyone, they apply to Trump. And one of the media’s tasks is to continue telling things as they are: Trump has to be removed from the White House. Quickly. He is a danger to the world.

Trump is a miserable politician. He fired the FBI director simply because he could. James Comey had gotten under his skin with his investigation into Trump’s confidants. Comey had also refused to swear loyalty and fealty to Trump and to abandon the investigation. He had to go.

Witnessing an American Tragedy

Trump is also a miserable boss. His people invent excuses for him and lie on his behalf because they have to, but then Trump wakes up and posts tweets that contradict what they have said. He doesn’t care that his spokesman, his secretary of state and his national security adviser had just denied that the president had handed Russia (of all countries) sensitive intelligence gleaned from Israel (of all countries). Trump tweeted: Yes, yes, I did, because I can. I’m president after all.

After reading this, I wondered what other countries thought, so I went in search of information, and here is what I found:

From El País (Spain) on 19 May 2017:

el pais

Trump Investigated

Although he hopes to, Trump cannot insulate himself from a political climate which grows ever more precarious with every passing day.

Once again, the incumbent in the White House has shown signs of a total and reckless failure to understand the responsibilities of the position he holds. His opaque relationship, and that of a large number of his team, with Russia, a rival great power to the U.S., is a topic of extreme gravity. As much as Trump tries to deflect the controversy and give the appearance of normalcy to the intimate relationship he has with Putin, neither his campaign team’s contacts with the Kremlin nor his intelligence leaks on terrorism to Moscow are acceptable. Even less so is his response, thuggish and raucous, to accusations over his relations with Russia and the pressure he piled on FBI Director James Comey, in order to protect himself and his subordinates from the investigation.

It is also worth mentioning the president’s ridiculous claim that “no politician in history has been treated more unfairly.” The list of people who stand above him in this regard is endless. Rather than spouting nonsense on Twitter, Trump ought to cooperate fully with the authorities, adhere to the law and clear up exactly what has happened with regard to some of these serious incidents.

From Life.ru (Russia) on 3 May 2017

Life.ruThe Middle East Is Not Letting Trump Go

Trump repeatedly said that he does not need the Middle East … But he has underestimated its importance.

It’s already been 100 days since the eccentric Donald Trump became president of the United States. And thus, it’s already been three months since the global community began trying to guess and predict the next step of the billionaire who is now in charge of the Oval Office.

There is no doubt that the U.S. president’s policy will be transformed. Those things that Trump said during the election campaign and things that he will make come true will not be the same things. This was early Trump. Some 100 days later, he was replaced by an average Trump.

The Middle East will not let the U.S. go, but how Trump and his team will react to it is unclear. It is hoped that the region will not return to the old and still not forgotten state, the way it was under President Bush.

From Excélsior (Mexico) on 14 May 2017


Trump’s Visit To The East

Trump has … failed with domestic politics, and … his problematic character, lack of experience, and tendency to lie and cheat will be … similarly revealed in … international relations.

Trump has categorically failed with domestic politics, and soon his problematic character, lack of experience, and tendency to lie and cheat will be known and similarly revealed in the field of international relations.

From Huanqiu (China) on 1 May 2017


The Trump Administration’s First 100 Days – Has the US Changed?

Trump’s aspiration to fundamentally change American politics is separated from reality, the thwarted implementation of his policies inevitable.

Trump’s aspiration to fundamentally change American politics is separated from reality, the thwarted implementation of his policies inevitable. First of all, giving power back to the people is not an empty political slogan. To achieve a change of power of this kind would first require a fundamental systematic change to a form of government which serves the people. As a very rich man, Trump clearly has no intention of overthrowing the current capitalist system which serves the rich.

The claims Trump made during his election campaign regarding rapidly improving relations with Russia, calling NATO outdated, and claims of putting China under pressure have proved inopportune and not beneficial to the U.S.

Significantly reducing taxes for businesses and citizens to raise the economic competitiveness of the American economy, to promote economic growth and to increase citizens’ income will no doubt make a bad situation worse considering the $20 trillion deficit. Hoping for rapid economic growth to increase household incomes by cutting taxes is very likely to fail. During the first 100 days of the Trump administration, the federal budget deadlock has once again caused problems for the White House, with both parties playing games which threaten the regular functioning of government. This just demonstrates Trump’s inability to overcome the restrictions of the capitalist system’s market dominance to implement real change. Fundamentally closing the widening gap between the rich and poor, racial discrimination, increase in violent crime, and fierce political battles are problems that are so hard to solve they feel unachievable.

‘Twould seem that the Trump regime is indeed the laughingstock of the global community, though the laughter is tongue-in-cheek, as other nations realize, even when Trump does not, that we are all inter-connected and what Trump does has the potential to send shock waves round the world.  We laugh at the antics of a clown, but somewhere deep inside, we are frightened.

Zero Credibility

The title of this post by my fellow-blogger and friend, Keith, says it all. Zero Credibility. Credibility, like trust and respect, must be earned. Our current president has earned none of these, and the cost is likely to be our standing among our allies. Please take a moment to read and think about Keith’s post … it sums our current standing in the international community quite accurately. Thank you Keith, for your very good, concise summary and for permission to re-blog!


If you were a foreign leader, let me ask you a simple question. Would you trust the current President of the United States? Unfortunately, the answer is an obvious no. The sad part is the leaders have less trust in America.

With the continuation of his lying and insufficient knowledge of the issues, he has offended several leaders in so little time. His mistakes are unforced, so he has brought them on himself.

His worst mistake which weighs him down as investigations continue are his continuing insistence that his predecessor had his offices wire tapped. He greatly complicated this false accusation by indicting the British in the wire tapping. He damaged a relationship with our best ally, so that he would not be caught in a lie. So, his solution was to lie again.

Adding to these lies are the Russian conspiracy investigation, the incompetently handled travel bans and various…

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Can The People Be Silenced?

Today, at least for this post, I refuse to write about he-who-shall-remain-nameless-and-silent, for the noise is too much and there are far more interesting things going on in the world about which to write.

yigitYiğit Bulut, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s chief economic adviser, said: “There is already a leader in this country and he is engaging in politics. There is no need for anyone else to engage in politics. He is engaging in politics both at home and abroad. Our duty is to support the leader in this country.”  Sounds a bit autocratic, don’t you think?  Rather like telling everybody to go play with your toys and leave the important stuff to us.  Don’t worry your pretty little heads.

Although historically, the role of president is largely ceremonial in Turkey, Mr. Erdogan has become increasingly aggressive since becoming president two years ago.  In recent weeks, the government put forward a draft bill to be debated in parliament which, if passed, would enable  Erdoğan’s government to remove  all 711 judges at two of the highest courts — the Council of State, which hears cases lodged by citizens against the government, and the Supreme Court of Appeals.  Rather like saying, “Here, Mr. Erdoğan, let me clear this mess up for you and then you can pick and choose your own judges!  Won’t that be fun?”  Mr Erdoğan is already accused of using the courts to intimidate opponents. Since he became president in 2014 around 2,000 cases have been opened against people, including journalists, cartoonists and teenagers, who have apparently insulted him.


Take THAT, Recep!

Once again Erdoğan appealed to Germany to shut down someone who he felt insulted him.  This time, it was Mathias Doepfner, the Chief Executive Officer of German media group Axel Springer SE.  A German court rejected the appeal last week, but lawyers for Erdoğan say they are still considering a separate lawsuit.  This all traces back to the poem by German comic Jan Böhmermann, which I was finally able to read, but … well, I will not be copying it here.  Böhmermann is facing defamation charges from Erdogan, which are not likely to amount to much, but Doepfner came out in support of Böhmermann, saying “For me your poem worked. I laughed out loud,” he wrote, adding that he backed the comedian. And that, folks, is why Erdoğan requested disciplinary action against Doepfner, because he laughed.  At least 1,845 cases have been opened against those accused of insulting Erdogan since he came to office in 2014.

Now, if we put two and two together here, what we come up with is a recipe for a dictatorship, or something very nearly so.  Think about it.  Erdoğan has a very thin skin and absolutely cannot stand to be mocked.  When you expose your thin skin, more and more people will jump on the band wagon of mockery, so there is no doubt in my mind that we have seen only the tip of the iceberg in jokes, poems, videos and other Erdoğan-jests.  Outside of Turkey, his power to control the would-be teasers is waning as Erdoğan has begun to lose the power of the Turkey-EU immigrant deal as leverage.  Within the borders of Turkey, however, his power and control are growing at an alarming rate.  Now, the only recourse the people of Turkey have, really, is through the power of the judicial system, the courts.  If all judges are replaced with ones friendly to and hand-picked by Erdoğan himself, the people have lost their voice.  Peaceful protest?  Almost a guaranteed death or prison sentence.  Erdoğan and his minions know well how to quell an angry mob.  No, it would seem that the people will no longer have any voice.  But then, after all, remember what Yiğit Bulut said: “There is no need for anyone else to engage in politics. Our duty is to support the leader.” Now think of all you have read about Nazi Germany in the 1920s-1930s.  Some today say, “well why didn’t the German people stop Hitler?”  WITH WHAT, pray tell?  Turkey today is hardly Nazi Germany of the 1930s, but …. look at it a year from now.  I see far too many parallels and too few solutions.  I rest here, and will leave you with one final thought.  He-who-shall-remain-nameless-and-silent today is very much like Erdoğan, and has even been ‘endorsed’ by Erdoğan.  Think about it.

Erdo-how, Erdo-where, Erdoğun – Continued

You mean to tell me that Erdoğan is still mad about the video?  Let us re-hash … first there was the song/video “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdoğan” that aired on Germany’s NDR, a regional television channel, as I reported in my  post of 9 April 2016.

Left there, it might have been well and fine, as although Erdoğan complained to the German Ambassador and “demanded” it be removed, the German government stood firm in their country’s freedom of speech laws, thus it might have died there.   But no, along came German comedian Jan Böhmermann with a poem on ZDF, a German public-service television broadcaster (I had hoped to provide the text of this poem, but I have been thus far unsuccessful in finding it). The poem contained numerous sexual innuendos, accusing Erdoğan of repressing minorities, including Kurds and Christians.  The opening scene was particularly witty. Jan Böhmermann introduced the poem with a warning: What he was about to do, he said, actually wasn’t allowed and that such slanderous statements could be punished and removed from the TV program. And that’s exactly what happened. ZDF did indeed remove the controversial portion of the show from its online media center.

Thereafter, Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a telephone call  with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, agreed that Böhmermann had recited a “deliberately abusive text.”  She also reiterated the “high value” the German government placed on freedoms of the press and public opinion, however ZDF ultimately removed the video.  Böhmermann admitted that the earlier video was protected under German free speech laws but that the new one, which purposely mocked the foreign leader, would not be. Under German law, “whosoever insults a foreign head of state … shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine.” At Turkey’s request, German prosecutors have launched a preliminary inquiry into Böhmermann’s work.

But the story doesn’t even end there.  A Turkish doctor, Bilgin Ciftci, is looking at two years in prison for daring to suggest that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan looks like Gollum, the ruined hobbit-like character from The Lord of the Rings.  erdogan-gollum

A court in the Aydin province took the matter seriously enough to bring in a group of experts – “two academics, two psychologists, and one movie expert” – to testify about whether the comparison was an insult. The judge admitted he had not seen Peter Jackson’s blockbuster films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy classic, which would seem to be a problem easily rectified when two years of a man’s life are on the line, but instead they brought in a crew of Tolkienologists and gave them until February to “analyze Gollum.” Dr. Ciftci has already been fired from his job at a hospital over the image he posted online, and was briefly detained in October.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the court’s challenge is not to rule on the physical resemblance between President Erdoğan and the creature formerly known as Smeagol, but rather to determine if the comparison is insulting. The defendant is arguing that Gollum is a tragic figure ultimately redeemed by his fate in the story. This is not really funny, because it is a grim example of repression in a country whose membership in NATO could pull the Western world into a conflict with Russia, but it is virtually impossible to read any report about the case without laughing.

Unfortunately for Erdoğan, he has unwittingly exposed his Achilles Heel and the masses are standing in line waiting for a chance to help bring about his downfall.  Former Miss Turkey, Merve Buyuksarac, became the subject of scrutiny for posting a satirical poem on Instagram. Two teenage boys were charged with a crime for tearing down posters of Erdoğan earlier this year, freed when they admitted they did not know whose posters they had vandalized. In March, police arrested a 13-year-old in erdogan selfiethe middle of class for having posted something deemed “insulting” of Erdoğan on Facebook. Nor are publications immune; the magazine Nokta faced a legal probe after publishing a cartoon depicting Erdoğan taking a selfie next to the coffin of a Turkish soldier.

And then there was the case I mentioned in my post of 24 February 2016  of the Polish truck driver who sued his wife for insulting Erdoğan.  “Even if it is my father who swears against or insults the president, I would not forgive and I would complain,” he said.  Filosofa has no comment.  Filosofa is speechless.

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has much on his plate, as president of Turkey, at the moment.  He is trying to figure out what to do with the thousands of migrants it will be taking back from Europe, thwart terrorist attacks in major tourist hubs like Istanbul and Ankara, and stem the flow of refugees from Syria.  Yet, it would appear that he is most concerned with those who would mock him, even those who do not live under, and are not subject to his rule.  Mr. Erdoğan has no sense of humour, at least when the joke is on him.  Though he has left himself open to this type of criticism and mockery, he lacks the ability to laugh at himself.  Where does this end?  Does this whole ordeal compromise Turkey’s much-desired membership in the EU?  How will this affect the Turkey-EU immigration deal?  I do not know the answers to these questions, but I do know that I expect better things from a leader of a nation than the pettiness shown by Mr. Erdoğan.  And closer to home, it reminds me very much of at least one presidential wanna-be who has already threatened to change the landscape of our constitution, starting with freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and who also lacks the ability to laugh at himself, or to tolerate those who do.

You may wonder why I am making a big deal of this in my post(s).  My initial post was because I heard about the song from a friend/fellow-blogger, and I thought it was funny!  But now, my purpose has evolved into a statement on freedom of speech.  We in the U.S. have been blessed with a foundation for government, the U.S. Constitution, that provides and protects our rights to freely criticize our leaders.  Granted, many have abused the privilege, but it has not been taken away from us.  Think about this as you head to the primaries in the coming two months, and to the polls in November.  Remember Erdoğan and ask yourself if that is the world you want to be living in a year from now.

Erdo-how, Erdo-where, Erdoğun

U.S. politics is sometimes funny, sometimes maddening, almost always pathetic. However, lest we think we have a monopoly on funny, ridiculous political stories, this one is even funnier, in a sad sort of way, than anything we have seen here lately. What makes it particularly funny is the aftermath.  Of course, that is easy for me to say, since it took place halfway around the globe, but still, I think you will get a kick out of it.

In Germany, there is a political satire show called extra 3, which has been around on German network NDR since 1976, some forty years.  It is obviously a popular program.  Last month, 17 March, to be exact, the program presented a satirical music video titled “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdoğan”. The song was a spoof, adapted from a German pop song. I’m certain it loses something in the translation, but here are the lyrics translated into English:

  • He’s living in grand style,
  • Big Boss from Bosporus.
  • (“A showy construction with a thousand rooms,
  • built without permit in a nature reserve”)
  • Press freedom gives him a swollen neck
  • That’s why he needs all those scarves
  • (Erdogan talking with a hoarse voice)
  • When a journalist writes an article
  • Erdoğan dislikes
  • He’ll be in jail by the next day and the
  • Newspaper’s editorial office gets closed down
  • He doesn’t think twice
  • And rides through the night
  • With tear gas and water cannons
  • Be nice to him,
  • Since he’s holding all the cards,
  • Erdo-how, Erdo-where, Erdoğun
  • The time is ripe
  • For his great Ottoman empire,
  • Erdo-how, Erdo-where, Erdoğun
  • Equal rights for women
  • Means they are beaten up equally
  • (“Istanbul police has dispersed an
  • International Women’s Day demonstration by force.”)
  • If the election results don’t suite his face
  • He’ll shake them into place
  • (I like to move it, move it)
  • He loathes the Kurds
  • And would much rather bomb them,
  • Than his brothers in faith over at ISIL.
  • Hand him over your money
  • He’ll built you a refugee tent
  • Erdo-how, Erdo-where, Erdoğun
  • His country is ripe
  • For EU-membership
  • He doensn’t give a shit about democracy
  • Erdoğan says “Hi and goodbye”
  • And rides off into the sunset. 

To get the full effect, you should really watch the video, which has had more than 4 million hits … it is available with English subtitles here.

A brief bit of backstory:

Limited Freedom of the Press – Erdoğan, the president of Turkey, is cracking down on journalists who offend him. His renewed ambitions to install an authoritarian presidential system in Turkey make it appear that he might further restrict freedom of the press and open a path for a dictatorship. When Erdoğan was first elected Prime Minister, in 2003, many hoped that he would serve as a democratic model for the rest of the Islamic world. Turkish voters have refused to give him the blank check he desired, and last year turned down his effort to rewrite the Constitution to give himself vast new powers.  Since becoming President, Erdoğan has made a further turn toward dictatorship, crushing the remnants of a free press. In December, 2014, Turkish police arrested the editor of Zaman, the country’s largest newspaper, which had not only been a critic of Erdoğan but also written extensively about the corruption that pervades his government and family. The editor, Ekrem Dumanlı, was accused of trying to mount a coup d’état. Earlier this month, the government seized Zaman and began printing pro-government articles. More than 1,800 cases have been opened against people accused of insulting Erdogan since he came to office in 2014, under a previously seldom-used law against insulting the president. Those who have gone on trial include celebrities, journalists and even schoolchildren. He is also cracking down on other groups such as women’s rights advocates and Kurds.

Refugee Crisis – While Turkey was the first country to receive Syrian refugees some four years ago, Erdoğan’s motives were not necessarily humanitarian. He was hoping to convince NATO to take action against Syria’s al Assad, but when that did not play as Erdoğan hoped, he began funding Daesh in their fight against al Assad.  Erdoğan believed that the larger the number of displaced Syrians, the better his chances of convincing the international community of the need to enforce a no-fly zone across northern Syria, where the refugees could ostensibly be settled. Turkish authorities made it difficult for refugees, now numbering close to 2 million, to leave for third countries. As their numbers in Turkey reached a critical mass, NATO member states would be more likely to act, Erdoğan had hoped. His plans backfired, however, NATO did not act as he had hoped and Daesh was not successful in unseating al Assad.

So, given that condensed bit of history, as you can imagine, Erdoğan was not happy with the song and video blatantly mocking him!  In fact, from all accounts he was furious!  Erdoğan summoned German ambassador Martin Erdmann over the song, asking the German government to intervene and delete the video. Instead, the ambassador reminded Erdoğan that Germany is a nation with freedom of speech and freedom of press rights. Although the press in Germany does not enjoy as high a degree of freedom as in the U.S. and Canada and the press must follow some standards, political speech, including criticism of the government, is allowed. Representatives of the German government declined to intervene, and extra 3 followed up with English- and Turkish-subtitled versions of the video and republished a number of earlier videos criticizing the Turkish government! Erdoğan’s overreaction to a satirical video produced an outcry by the German public with representatives of all German parties criticizing the situation of lack of press freedom in Turkey.

At the same time, Erdoğan is seeking membership for Turkey in the European Union (EU). There are arguments both for and against, but that is a whole separate post. A spokesperson for the EU said he “does not appreciate” Turkey’s decision to call in the ambassador because of a satirical song, and “believes this moves Turkey further from the EU rather than closer to us.”  The EU has been hesitant in admitting Turkey as a member.  Wouldn’t it be something if Erdoğan, by throwing his little temper tantrum, closed the door on those negotiations?


Either you extinguish this video, or I’ll extinguish the internet!

Meanwhile, Across the Big Pond …

While we here in the U.S. are intently focused on the drama and chicanery of the upcoming election, believe it or not, there are other important things going on in other parts of the world that may have even more dramatic, long-lasting global effects than the selection of our next president.  Nothing of importance will happen regarding the election circus until at least “Super Tuesday”, March 1st.  There will be another GOP debate tonight, which I will not even bother with because every single GOP debate thus far has covered the exact same ground, none of which was enlightening in the least, but rather a babble of bullying, arguing and mud-slinging.  Too bad, as Wolf Blitzer is one of the narrators on this one and I rather enjoy him.  At any rate, for now and probably the next several days, I turn my attention to what is happening in other parts of the world, starting with …

The European refugee crisis has escalated to the point that nobody seems quite sure what the answer is.  Here in the U.S., we claim to have a refugee crisis, but in fact ours is more of a manageable situation that has not begun to reach the crisis stage that is happening on the other side of the globe.  Picture, if you can, a long corridor similar to that of a high-rise hotel, with rooms every few yards on either side.  Now imagine what happens if thousands of people, seeking safety from a storm perhaps, enter the corridor and start filling the rooms.  A few of the smaller rooms fill rapidly and can no longer hold any more people, and some other rooms begin to slam the door, not wishing to be overwhelmed as the smaller rooms have been.  What happens next?  The corridor, obviously, cannot hold all these people who just keep coming.  Before long, the corridor is completely saturated, can hold no more people and yet … they keep coming.  That is the situation in Europe today.  Add to the mix, the politics of each separate nation, for Europe, despite the creation of the European Union (EU), is not one nation under a single political system, but a compilation of some 50 nations, only 28 belonging to the EU, each with its own political system, culture, and problems.  One of the best articles I have found that helps to explain the situation using visual aids is in the BBC News …   http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34131911.

The question of how the nations of Europe will handle the refugee crisis is of the utmost importance, as it is causing turmoil and conflict among those nations and threatening to damage the EU.  It boils down to whether the EU should assign each nation to accept a certain number of refugees based on proportional population, or should it be left up to each country to decide for itself how many to accept?  This is not an easy question with a single simple answer.  It could quite easily result in a breakup of the EU. Just as we play the petty politics game here, so do the European nations, only they have more playmates to share the joy.  Just a few of the disputes:

  • Viktor Orban, Hungary’s xenophobic, Trump-like Prime Minister wants to build a wall (an awful lot of wall-building going on … perhaps I should invest in concrete) and is garnering a great deal of support from several other European nations.
  • Orban told Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, that by accepting refugees she is directly responsible for those who have died along the way. To date, Germany has agreed to accept the highest number of refugee applications.
  • Yesterday, Austria and its southern neighbors along the route traversed by refugees coming north from Greece, held a meeting to decide how many refugees would be allowed to enter from Greece. Somehow, they “forgot” to include Greece in the meeting, so now Greece’s Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, understandably piqued, says he will not agree to anything less than a proportional sharing of all incoming refugees directed by the EU.

Meanwhile, refugees who fled for their lives are risking their lives traveling mainly by sea, only to live in horrible conditions while waiting for the politics to play out, and are dying daily.  An estimated 41%-51% are children under the age of 18.

There are some 22 nations on the European continent that are not a part of the EU, Russia being the largest.  However, Russia has accepted a minimal number of refugees relative to their total population and, by their bombing raids in Syria in support of al Assad, they have actually contributed to the growing number of misplaced and homeless refugees seeking asylum.  To put it in perspective, Russia has taken in less than 0.3% of their total population in refugees, whereas Turkey has taken in 10.2%, and the U.S. has also accepted less than 0.3% (data source: UNHCR – United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).

This crisis is arguably the most significant and potentially disastrous for Europe since the end of WWII.  It is not only a matter of political squabbles between nations that should concern us all, but the economic toll caused by sheltering the refugees, border closings, and other issues that are much more complex than what I am able to address here.  What is the answer?  I certainly do not know, and I suspect that nobody does, but let us hope that some consensus can be reached among the powers that be in the EU.  Those of us who have been obsessed with the U.S. immigrant situation … make no mistake, Europe’s problems are, at least for now, far greater and the ripple effect of those problems will soon cross the big pond. The statistics are conflicting, depending on source, and again, it is well beyond the scope of this article to address the situation with any depth.  My point is merely to become more aware that the refugee crisis goes far beyond our own borders and will not likely be solved easily nor painlessly for any humanitarian nation.

Are We Doomed to Repeat the Past?

History is indeed cyclical and history does sometimes repeat itself, despite our best efforts to learn from the past. There are a number of not-so-shining examples around the globe today that may ultimately prove this point.

  1. With anti-Semitism seemingly on the rise in much of Europe, Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf is being re-published (the new version is 2,000 pages compared to the 800 page original) and it is reported that the German Teachers Union is in support of the new, annotated edition being used in German schools.  I am conflicted about the re-publication of the book, as I certainly do not advocate the banning of books, however I am not eager to see this book on shelves at my local bookseller.  I don’t think there is any danger of your average citizen grabbing it up and adopting the ideology of Hitler.  However, I do not see a reason to re-publish the book in the first place … it is nothing more than a treatise on anti-Semitism … and I am thoroughly against using it as a teaching tool or as required reading in schools.  When I hear the phrase “we will not forget”, whether in reference to the Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, 9/11, or any other historic episode, I wonder whether that is true.  Certainly those of us who lived through any of those events will never forget, but what about future generations?  Has enough time passed that we have actually forgotten the lessons of Hitler’s domination and of the Holocaust?  Very few Holocaust survivors are still alive today, and those are 70+ years old.  In another twenty years, there will be none left to remind us.  Certainly there are enough books and films, but is that enough?  Is it possible that we might forget the lessons and be lured once again into the mentality of bigotry, narcissism and racism that was Hitler’s dark legacy?  I hope not, but I am not sure.  To use Mein Kampf in teaching school children seems a recipe for disaster.  Despite an overall decrease in the number of members of “official” neo-Nazi groups in Europe, neo-Nazi propaganda and activities have nearly doubled in the last three years. (Felicity Capon, Newsweek, 24 March 2015)
  2. It is becoming increasingly obvious that Vladimir Putin, President of Russia and a former KGB officer, is working toward a goal of resurrecting an empire similar to the USSR of yore.  In an address to the nation in April 2005, he is quoted as saying “ …we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” In March 2014, Putin annexed Crimea, then a part of the Ukraine, saying that “Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia”. He has also made statements that Ukraine and Russia are “one nation” on more than one occasion.  More recently, in September 2015, Putin lent military aid to support the crumbling al Assad regime in Syria.  (Colum Lynch, Foreign Policy, 7 October 2015).  Due to falling oil prices, the Russian economy is already crumbling, and yet Putin has somehow seen fit to involve his country in the war in Syria.  One must ask the question:  WHY?  It is a situation that bears watching.
  3. At here in the U.S., racism is yet again on the front lines.  A 2015 poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in conjunction with CNN found that 49% see racism as a big problem, as compared to just 28% four years ago.  Another 33% see it as “somewhat” of a problem, while only 12% think it is either a small problem, not a problem at all, or don’t know/don’t care.  Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s rhetoric in his bid for president seems to have given a boost to white supremacist groups such as Stormfront, a white supremacist group referring to themselves as “white nationalists”.  Much of today’s racism against African-Americans can be seen in events such as the murder of Trayvon Martin and the exoneration of his killer under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody in Baltimore, Maryland as well as numerous others. The question becomes, are these events a cause of increased racism, or the effect?  I do not know the answer to that question, but before it goes any further, lawmakers, police departments and courts need to analyze and, in the words of Donald Trump, “figure out what’s going on”.  We cannot tolerate a return to the racist environment of the Civil Rights era, and that appears to be precisely where we are heading.

None of the above examples, taken at face value, indicate a return to the past.  There is still a long way to go until a neo-Nazi party comes to power in a European nation, or the Soviet empire returns to power in Eastern Europe, or the United States returns to the Civil Rights era of the 1950’s-1960’s.  But these are indicators that the winds may be blowing in that direction and I think it is prudent to realize this, be ever-vigilant and carefully elect leaders who will use their power to stop any further progression toward a return to a past that holds nothing but shame … a past that is made of “we will never forget” moments.