Guilty As Charged!!!

The ultimate betrayal …

Donald Trump is now, in my book, if not officially, guilty of genocide.  He was already guilty of treason, having conspired with a foreign nation not one, but twice, in order to influence a U.S. election and to benefit himself, thereby putting our nation in grave danger.  And now he is guilty of the likely murders of potentially thousands of Kurds … Kurds who have long been our allies!  There are estimated to be between 1.4 million and 2.7 million Kurdish people — human beings — in Syria whose lives, thanks to Donald F. Trump, are now in jeopardy, as Turkey begins to implement its plan for a ground invasion of northern Syria.

What happened?  Trump had a phone call with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the president of Turkey.  We all know these days about Trump’s phone calls to foreign leaders, right?  Whether or not he asked Erdoğan to help dig up dirt on his political opponents is not known, but what is known is what he promised Erdoğan.  Very soon after the Monday morning phone call, the United States began withdrawing American troops from Syria’s border with Turkey.  Erdoğan has made no secret of the fact that he wishes to kill the Kurds, and the only thing standing in his way were U.S. troops in northern Syria.  Trump promised to step aside and let Erdoğan have at it.  The Kurds are … were … our allies, people!!!  Great friends we have proven to be, yes?  What next, Donnie?  You gonna bomb the UK?  Perhaps you’d like to send troops to overthrow the government of Germany?

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Not only did he betray an ally in the most horrific of ways, but he proved to the world, as if they didn’t already know, just how utterly stupid he is.  Take, for example, this tweet …

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).”

First … what sort of bloomin’ eejit claims to have “great and unmatched wisdom”???  I really, really had to hold onto my hands to keep from throwing something when I read that.  And second, he has never obliterated the “Economy of Turkey”, unless he’s talking of the kind that make their way to the dining table on Thanksgiving!

One journalist, Richard Engel of NBC News, commented …

“’I, in my great and unmatched wisdom …?’  Who talks or writes like this?  The closest I can come up with was Qaddafi. Not Mubarak. Or Ben Ali. Or Assad, let alone any European leader.  Really can’t remember a current or recent example.”

Qaddafi.  Trump.  Two peas in a pod?

Surprisingly, even his republican cronies were aghast at his decision to stab our allies in the back.  EVEN MITCH MCCONNELL split with Trump on this issue, saying …

“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup.”

Republican Senator Patrick Toomey from Pennsylvania rang in with …

“This betrayal of the Kurds will also severely harm our credibility as an ally the world over. President Trump should rethink this decision immediately.”

The bottom line is that Trump has made a disastrous decision on an issue of which he has zero understanding.  He does not have great and unmatched wisdom – he has the wisdom of a five-year-old.  He does not understand the Middle East at all.  And worst of all, he is once again pandering to an autocrat, just as he has in the past to Putin, Kim, Bolsonaro and others.  His actions yesterday will have dire consequences, at the very least for our allies, the Kurds, and quite possibly for the entire globe.

And speaking of betrayal …

Now, transitioning to another story here, Lindsey Graham, that ignoble Senator from South Carolina, also spoke against Trump’s foolhardiness in pulling our troops out of Syria at this moment, saying …

“By abandoning the Kurds we have sent the most dangerous signal possible — America is an unreliable ally and it’s just a matter of time before China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea act out in dangerous ways. No matter what President Trump is saying about his decision. It is EXACTLY what President Obama did in Iraq with even more disastrous consequences for our national security.”

Strong words for a republican senator, eh?  Taking the right side for once in his life, yes?  But wait … Senator Graham had something else to say on another topic …

Lindsey-Graham-2“Here’s what’s going to happen: if the whistleblowers’ allegations are turned into an impeachment article it’s imperative that the whistleblower be interviewed in public, under oath, and cross-examined. If that doesn’t happen in the House, I’ll make sure it happens in the Senate.”

This … this essentially amounts to signing a death warrant for the whistleblowers and would ensure that nobody … nobody … would ever again come forward with the sort of information that our government officials may be attempting to bury to suit their own purposes.

There are laws that protect those people who come forward with information that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within a private or public organization.  Is Lindsey Graham planning to break those laws?  Does he see himself, as Trump sees himself, as being above the law?  And, is this a threat that he hopes will keep the House from following through with the impeachment proceedings?  Impeachment proceedings that, I might add, are long overdue.

It seems to me that there are a heck of a lot of people within the Republican Party who wish to break down the very foundations of our government, and they don’t care how they do it.  Now, admittedly there are some less-than-stellar people in the Democratic Party as well, but … today, the republicans win the honour of being the biggest jackasses in the nation.


Note to readers:  Stay tuned for the next installment of ‘The Brexit Conundrum’ where we will hear Colette’s views at 3:00 p.m. EDT, 8:00 p.m. BST.

Good People Doing Good Things — Scott Macauley

Today I am focusing solely on one good person, for his deeds deserve the spotlight.Scott MacauleyIt began 33 years ago in 1985, when Scott Macaulay’s parents divorced, and he found himself all alone for the Thanksgiving holiday.  He was divorced also, and he really didn’t want to spend the day alone watching football with a tv dinner, or grab a burger from McDonald’s for his Thanksgiving dinner, so he placed an ad in the local paper, asking 12 strangers to join him for Thanksgiving dinner.McCauley-at-storeWell, he got twelve strangers to join him that year, and he enjoyed it so much that he has continued the tradition of a free Thanksgiving feast every year since.  He has hosted widows, the homeless, and college kids who can’t go home for the holiday.  Today, he estimates that he has about 70 people each year, and sometimes as many as 100, and he has no intention of stopping.  About a week before the day, he goes grocery shopping, and while he won’t say exactly how much he spends on the food to feed the crowd, he did say that it’s over $1,000! And apart from an occasional small donation from someone who has attended one of his dinners, Macauley fully funds this all himself.  He says he begins saving for next year right after the meal is finished.

Macauley lived just north of Boston in the town of Melrose, Massachusetts. Obviously, he cannot do all that cooking, nor fit all those people, in his house, so he prepares and serves the meal at a local church that donates the space each year.  The menu includes: Four large turkeys, five kinds of pie (pumpkin, apple, mince, cherry and the ever-popular Hershey’s frozen sundae pie), sweet potatoes, stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, butternut squash, cranberries, fruit cups and rolls with butter.  I typically cook for 8-10 people on Thanksgiving, and that is exhausting!  I cannot imagine how many hours this man must spend on his feet, in the kitchen, and all to do something good for others.Macauley-fireplaceHe goes all out, too … no skimping here!  A few days before, he hauls in sofas, recliners, oriental rugs, even a couple of fake fireplaces, and decorates the church’s rec hall to resemble a cozy living room. Candlesticks and cloth napkins are placed on the tables, curtains are hung in the windows, and adjoining rooms are set up for guests to relax and get to know each other over appetizers: chips and dip in one room and cheese and crackers in the next.

“This isn’t about the food, though. It’s about having a place to go. Silence is unbearable, especially on Thanksgiving. My goal is always to replicate the feeling of having a nice dinner in somebody’s home.”

And he has memories …

“There was a guy one year who’d just lost his wife. And after dinner, he put on her old apron and helped me to do the dishes.”

One year, he said, an elderly woman paid $200 for an ambulance to drive her to the church from her nursing home. She arrived decked out in fancy clothes and told Macaulay she hadn’t been out in seven years. She cried when dinner was over.

Another year, Macaulay took a plate out to a woman who was living in her car and was too ashamed of her plight to come inside until almost everyone had gone home.

Then there was the time his parents both showed up. Macaulay’s mother was dying of breast cancer and wanted to be with family. So did his dad. “There they were, sitting on the couch together, holding each other’s hand, years after their divorce. I can still see them sitting there. That’s a happy memory.”

Macaulay also has a son, Walter, 22, who pitches in to help serve and clean up. He’s the designated turkey carver. Neither father nor son batted an eye a few years ago when Macaulay’s ex-wife strolled in with her new husband and offered to play the piano while everyone ate!

Imagine if just a few people in every city did what Scott Macauley is doing?  He is a true humanitarian, something we need many more of today.  Thank you, Scott Macauley, for your contribution to the people in your town, and for giving the rest of us just a wee bit of hope for the future of humanity.

Saturday Surprise — Thanksgiving!

Last Sunday I was at the grocery store doing my usual weekly food shopping when I noticed at the back of the store where the butcher shop and meat reside, a coffin filled with turkeys.  Hmmm … my thoughts were that they were jumping the gun a bit, that it was too early for turkeys to start appearing.  Then on Wednesday I had an email from Betty Crocker, the subject of which read “Only 8 more sleeps ‘til Thanksgiving”.  Say WHAT???  No way!  It can’t already be … I looked at my calendar … FORNACAZONI!!!

Where did summer go?  Where has the year gone?  How did this happen?

Well, the reality is that Thanksgiving is only 5 days now, and I, who am usually well-prepared, with menus planned, supplies and groceries bought, am wondering if the local pizza place delivers on Thanksgiving.  Sigh.

Well, knowing that I wasn’t going to make it go away by ignoring it (I tried that once – it didn’t work), yesterday morning I bounced out of bed, cleaned out the fridge to make room for a 24-pound turkey, spent a few minutes with our friend & neighbor, Maha, discussing the arrangements, and then trotted out after Chris got home to buy the turkey.  I haven’t named him yet, so feel free to offer suggestions.  Last year’s was either Ralph or Rusty … I forget which.  What?  Of course I always name our turkeys!  How else would I distinguish this one from another one?  He died just to grace our table and fill our bellies … the least we can do is give him a name!

So anyway, in honour of the fact that next week is Thanksgiving, I thought I would make today’s post a bit of Thanksgiving humour!

I really loved this one … especially the punch line …

The Turkey Popped Out of the Oven

🦃

The Turkey popped out of the oven

and rocketed in to the air;

It knocked every plate off the table

and partly demolished a chair.

It ricocheted into a corner

and burst with a deafening boom,

Then splattered all over the kitchen,

completely obscuring the room.

It stuck to the walls and the windows,

it totally coated the floor,

There was turkey attached to the ceiling,

where there had never been turkey before..

It blanketed every appliance,

it smeared every saucer and bowl;

There wasn’t a way I could stop it;

that turkey was out of control.

I scraped and I scraped with displeasure

and thought with chagrin as I mopped,

That I would never again stuff a turkey

with popcorn that hadn’t been popped.

written by Jack Prelutsky


No Turkey Died – But….

When I was a kid in Indiana, we thought it would be fun to get a turkey a year ahead of time and feed it and so on for the following Thanksgiving. But by the time Thanksgiving came around, we sort of thought of the turkey as a pet, so we ate the dog.  Only kidding.  It was the cat. – David Letterman

jon stewart

From the Butterball hotline …

butterballThanksgiving Dinner on the run. A woman called 1-800-323-4848 to find out how long it would take to roast her turkey. To answer the question, the Talk-Line home economist asked how much the bird weighed. The woman responded, “I don’t know, it’s still running around outside.”


Then there’s the time a lady was picking through the frozen turkeys at the grocery store, but couldn’t find one big enough for her family. She asked a stock boy, “Do these turkeys get any bigger?” The stock boy replied, “No ma’am, they’re dead.”


And how about a few Thanksgiving ‘toons …

toon-1toon-2toon-3toon-4toon-5toon-6toon-8toon-Maxine

toon-yHave a fun ‘n tasty holiday, my friends, and if you travel for the holiday, do so safely!

Jamal Khashoggi — The Better Man

Jamal-KhashoggiJamal Khashoggi was a resident of the United States and a journalist for The Washington Post.  I am sure you all know at least some of the story of Mr. Khashoggi and his recent disappearance and likely murder, and some may have wondered why Filosofa had not yet written about Mr. Khashoggi.  I have not, to date, even touched upon this story, for there were too many unknowns and too many conflicting bits of information.  I try to ensure that what I write is fact-based, and frankly I could not discern what was fact in this story, for the story changed almost hourly it seemed.  Tonight, I am breaking my silence, for I think I know at least enough to make a start.  I am appalled and horrified at some of the responses from members of our government, including Donald Trump, and I will not remain silent.

Jamal Khashoggi was a citizen of Saudi Arabia and a journalist and author who had for years written for both Arabic and English-language newspapers.  He was among the first to cover the war in Afghanistan and had also covered the first Gulf war.  During the 1980s he had contact with Usama bin Ladin (aka Osama bin Laden) as he covered the battle of Jaji.

Always a defender of human dignity, freedom and reform in Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi came under fire in 2016 for remarks he made about his own government, as well as Donald Trump after his election.  The government of Saudi Arabia shut him down … he was no longer allowed to write or even tweet, and he knew the time had come for him to leave.  In early 2017, he self-exiled to the U.S. where he was provided temporary asylum, and later permanent resident status.

On September 28th, Khashoggi visited the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, to obtain the necessary paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, but he was told he would need to return four days later on the afternoon of October 2nd.  Long story short, he did return while his fiancée waited outside for him, but he never left the embassy.  He must have sensed something was off, for he told Ms. Cengiz to get help if he did not return.  After a few hours, she called the police and the search began.

A few pertinent facts of the matter:

  • Turkish staff at the consulate had been told to stay home that day
  • Two charter planes carrying nine Saudi officials and intelligence officers had arrived in Istanbul from Riyadh and the passengers had gone to the embassy
  • At around 4:00 p.m., six vehicles left the consulate carrying the nine Saudis. Two other vehicles with unidentified passengers drove to the Saudi consul’s residence and remained there for the next four hours
  • On the night of October 15th, Turkish officials searched the Saudi consulate and reported that it had recently received a coat of fresh paint throughout the interior

Those are the only absolute, verifiable facts in the case to the best of my knowledge.  The Saudi government has changed their story enough times to arouse suspicion. A Turkish official claims to have an audio tape of Mr. Khashoggi’s brutal murder, dismemberment and beheading, and the Turkish government claims that senior figures in the Saudi royal court had ordered his killing.  As yet, this is not verifiable, and I offer it at face value.  U.S. Intelligence agencies are reportedly convinced that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia is culpable in the killing, although they have not yet been able to collect direct evidence.  The Turkish government has reiterated what they say happened and with great detail, but they have declined to share such evidence as they have with the U.S., and so I cannot speak to the veracity of their claims.

Mohammed bin Salman.jpg

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

What I will address, however, is the U.S. official response to the disappearance and likely murder of Jamal Khashoggi which is, in a word, shameful.  Abominable.  Sickening.  Disgusting.

Donald Trump, first of all, came out in support of Prince bin Salman and said he would not cut off arms sales to the Saudi government because Saudi Arabia would spend their money elsewhere, and for Trump, it’s more about money than human lives.  He also at that time stated that while it should be looked into, Mr. Khashoggi was not an American citizen and since the disappearance had taken place in Turkey, it was not a great concern, although, “We don’t like it”.  We don’t like it, but oh well, not my monkeys, not my circus is basically what he is saying.

Justice for JamalThis, as much as anything, exemplifies why the U.S. pulled out of the United Nations Human Rights Council in June.  The U.S. is, itself, in violation of human rights by the detention of children we separated illegally from their parents on our southern border, and Trump has no desire to be constrained by rules that dictate human rights or his response to violations.

Next week is the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, an event Trump swore he would not pull out of, even as other nations, horrified by the Khashoggi disappearance and the likely scenario, had dropped out of the conference.  Finally, yesterday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that we, too, would withdraw from the conference, only because of the bipartisan backlash over his intent to attend.

And let’s not leave out the evangelicals.  None other than Pat Robertson said …

“You’ve got a $100-billion worth of arm sales which is, you know, that’s one of those things, but more than that we’ve got to have some Arab allies. I know it’s bad, but I mean we’ve had all kinds of stuff, but you don’t blow up an international alliance over one person. I mean, I’m sorry.”

I side with Stephen Colbert on this one when he responded, “Thank you, Reverend, for capturing the core message of Christianity. How important can one man’s death be?”

And now for the real kicker.  A ‘whisper campaign’, for those who may be unfamiliar with the term, is an unethical attempt to spread lies and venom about a person to discredit them.  Another term is ‘smear campaign’.  Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that …

“Hard-line Republicans and conservative commentators are mounting a dark whisper campaign against Jamal Khashoggi that is designed to protect President Trump from criticism of his handling of the dissident journalist’s alleged murder by Saudi Arabian operatives — and support Trump’s continued aversion to a forceful response to the oil-rich desert kingdom.”

The right-wing media, starting with none other than Trump’s state-run media Fox News, has indeed launched a smear campaign to attempt to convince the public that Jamal Khashoggi was a ‘bad guy’.  And why?  To cover Donald Trump’s fat, white arse.  If you cannot convince Trump to act as a human being, then make the rest of the world look like they are donkeys too!  Angry?  Moi?  You betcha!

Conservative House republicans, read members of the House Freedom Caucus, have assisted in the effort, attempting to begin conspiracy theories about the time that Khashoggi covered bin Laden some 14 years before 11 September 2001.  It has even spilled over onto the campaign trail.  In Virginia, republican Corey Stewart who is running against Tim Kaine for his seat in the Senate, claimed with no facts or knowledge that, “Khashoggi was not a good guy himself.”

A Tuesday broadcast of CR-TV, a conservative online outlet founded by popular talk-radio host Mark Levin, labeled Khashoggi a “longtime friend” of terrorists and claimed without evidence that Trump was the victim of an “insane” media conspiracy to tarnish him. The broadcast has been viewed more than 12,000 times. A story in far-right FrontPage magazine casts Khashoggi as a “cynical and manipulative apologist for Islamic terrorism”.

None of these stories are true.  Remember, Khashoggi was a journalist.  Journalists often have contact in the course of their reporting with unsavory people.  It doesn’t mean they are affiliated or share their beliefs … it simply means they are doing their job.

I am sickened by this entire thing, starting with the murder of a good man, Donald Trump’s inhumane response, and ending with the attempts by Donald Trump’s boot-lickers to cover his utter inhumanity.  Thankfully, I am still able to believe that the vast majority of people in this nation are better than this, but unfortunately those in our government are naught but low-lifes.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here in the U.S., today is Thanksgiving.  Different people in the U.S. see this holiday in different ways.  Some see it as an excuse to cram as much food as they possibly can into their bodies, then spend the evening hours moaning about how miserable they are.  Others genuinely delight in a day to spend with family and friends.  Still others find it a great opportunity for a drunk-fest.  For some, it is almost a religious holiday, for others it is more about planning for black Friday shopping.

As I pondered what to write about this Thanksgiving, thinking it would be right and proper to keep my post free of politics, I tossed a number of ideas out the window after brief consideration.  I went back and looked at the post I wrote last Thanksgiving … here’s a link if you wish to re-read it, for it was a far nicer post than this one is likely to be and … it has cartoons!.  I put fingers to keyboard and tried a post about the happy things in life … yes, there are many … but it sounded canned, scripted.  I threw that one out and put fingers to keyboard again, trying this time for humour, but it was dry and brittle.  Delete.  And after several false starts, I concluded that I will just settle for wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving … but before I go …

I would, however, like to take this opportunity to say something to those of you who read this blog.  Three years ago, if anybody had told me that some of the best friends I would have would be those I had never met, I would have said they were nuts.  Today, I must say that you guys are among my most treasured friends.  Each and every one of you have become such an important part of my day.  I look forward to your comments, and to reading your blogs, though I don’t get to them as often as I would like. Some of you always make me laugh, others reel me back in when I go too deep into the rabbit hole.  Still others always give me a reason to think about things from another angle, or ponder that which I have never pondered.  And all of you have contributed to keeping this blog afloat, for you will never know how many times I have thought it was just a dumb blog, that I was preaching to the choir, or as Hugh says, ‘spitting in the wind’, and asked myself why I bother.  But the encouragement and many hugs I get from everybody here on WordPress has kept me going.  I just want to thank you all for your support, let you know that you are at the top of my “List of Things to be Thankful For”, and I love you all.

And now, I shall settle for wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving!!!

And I shall go chop some …onions-celery… to make …

stuffing … to put in the turkey

Turks Beat Up On Kurdish Protestors Outside Of Washington DC Turkish Embassy

Earlier this week, outside the Turkish embassy, protesters were viscously attacked and beaten by Turkish security forces. In Washington D.C. In the United States, not in Turkey. I tried for two hours to write about this, but was far too angry and my words simply would not flow, so I gave it up. Blogger-friend Gronda was able to write the post that I could not, and she did an excellent job of it, so please take a minute to read and ponder her post. What happened was beyond unconscionable, yet Trump did not condemn the actions. This says much. Thank you, Gronda!

Gronda Morin

Image result for photos of erdogan at white house WITH TRUMP ERDOGAN/ TRUMP

This past Tuesday, 5/16/17, the republican President Donald Trump had hosted the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Esrdogan at the White House. Unfortunately, the Turkish president forgot which country he was visiting. Later, as he was observing the exterior of the Turkish embassy in Washington DC where Kurds with supporters were conducting a peaceful protest, his security forces launched a full fledged assault against them.

The Turkish security guards left the US territory shortly after this incident but they were also probably protected by diplomatic immunity. The problem is that this was not the first incident where President Erdogan’s guards had incited a confrontation. And of course, the current White House was mum on the subject.

Image result for photos of erdogan at white house Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R)

Here’s the rest of the story…

On 5/17/17, Nicholas Fandos and Christoper Mele of the New York Times penned the following report, “Erdogan Security Forces Launch ‘Brutal Attack’ on Washington…

View original post 1,014 more words

Two Blows Against Freedom of Press/Speech Today

We are all familiar with this image

connection-timed-out-2Technically, what it means is that a server is taking too long to reply to a data request made from another device, typically your computer, cell phone or tablet. The reasons can vary from the wrong IP address being typed in to a hardware problem to a problem with WiFi services.  Typically, if the IP address is valid, it is a temporary problem easily solved by clicking the refresh button or resetting a router.  But today, Turkish people throughout the country are seeing this message and it is not going to be a simple fix.  For today, the Turkish government, i.e. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has blocked Wikipedia from Turkish internet users.

“After technical analysis and legal consideration … an administrative measure has been taken for this website,” the BTK telecoms authority said in a statement on its website. It cited a law that allows it to block access to individual web pages or entire sites for the ‘protection of public order, national security or the wellbeing of the public’.  We are talking about Wikipedia, folks, not a subversive website, not a porn site … an educational, informational site.  Such is the state of freedom of speech and freedom of press in Turkey today.

Meanwhile, across the pond here in our own backyard, there is this:

epa-website.png

“EPA wipes its climate change site day before march on Washington. Visitors to the website on Saturday found it was ‘undergoing changes’ to reflect the agency’s ‘new direction’, as thousands protest climate inaction.”

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s main climate change website is “undergoing changes” to better reflect “the agency’s new direction” under Donald Trump. The announcement, made late Friday evening, left empty what was previously the “official government site” providing “comprehensive information on the issue of climate change and global warming”.

“As EPA renews its commitment to human health and clean air, land and water, our website needs to reflect the views of the leadership of the agency.  We want to eliminate confusion, by removing outdated language first and making room to discuss how we’re protecting the environment and human health by partnering with states and working within the law.” – JP Freire, an associate administrator for public affairs

Previously, the website housed data on greenhouse gas emissions from large polluters and reports on the effects of climate change and its impact on human health.

While I could go on for thousands of words about my outrage over the EPA and it’s anything-but-protecting-the-environment approach, this post it about freedom of speech and press, so I shall save the EPA commentary for another post.

Yesterday, in the wake of the European Press Prize awards, Peter Preston of The Guardian, wrote a very short piece:

“A final word on the European Press Prize as, awards delivered, a new season begins. The winners were all terrific. Congratulations to your Serbian investigators, young Romanian reporters, digital wizards from Bellingcat. Congratulations to three sensational writers from Stern and Spiegel. (Gosh! the Germans still invest mightily in good journalism). And more than a tip of the cap to Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times (and Guardian and Observer) for his scintillating takes on Brexit.

But one thing that sets these awards apart for me is a sense of danger – for Yavuz Baydar and his Turkish colleagues as democracy closes down, of a Warsaw government running amok and of Hungary’s Orbán defying the whole European idea. The dangers the Serbian winners raised as many marched in Belgrade, fighting for press freedoms lost.

Who can be complacent about Europe, its struggles, its future? When journalists meet, they hear a knocking at the gates.”

Even in the UK, freedom of the press is not what it once was.  There are new laws permitting generalized surveillance, as well as a proposal for a new espionage act that could criminalize journalists and whistleblowers as spies.  Both the UK and the U.S. dropped two points in the past year on the Reporters Without Borders (RWB) World Press Freedom Index in the past year. Even so, I do not see Prime Minister Theresa May approaching dictatorship, as I do in the cases of Erdoğan and Trump.

Earlier this month, Turkey held a vote on a referendum that consolidated significantly more power under Erdoğan.  At the time, Donald Trump called President Erdoğan to offer congratulations. Today, Trump himself is talking about consolidating his own power. In an interview with Fox News that aired Friday night, Trump dismissed the “archaic” rules of the House and Senate — using that word four times — and suggested they needed to be streamlined “for the good of the country.”  A few excerpts:

“We don’t have a lot of closers in politics, and I understand why: It’s a very rough system. It’s an archaic system.”

“You look at the rules of the Senate, even the rules of the House — but the rules of the Senate and some of the things you have to go through — it’s really a bad thing for the country, in my opinion. They’re archaic rules. And maybe at some point we’re going to have to take those rules on, because, for the good of the nation, things are going to have to be different.”

“You can’t go through a process like this. It’s not fair. It forces you to make bad decisions. I mean, you’re really forced into doing things that you would normally not do except for these archaic rules.”

“I think, you know, the filibuster concept is not a good concept to start off with.”

Trump is frustrated with the pace of legislation after 100 days, and his answer is that he wants to change the rules … the very rules that were designed to safeguard against any one individual in government amassing too much power and shifting the foundation of a democracy into one of an autocracy. And it all starts with stifling the voices of the press and of the people.  Today, Trump effectively stifled the voice of what is arguably one of the most important agencies in the federal government, the EPA.  Today Erdoğan stifled the voice of knowledge in his country.  What is the future for these two nations under these authoritarian leaders?  Think about it.

Schoolyard Bullies Leading Nations …

Lest we here in the U.S. think we have a monopoly on spoiled brats in the upper echelons of government, let us look across the pond for a brief moment.  Specifically, at Turkey.  I have written much about Turkey and President Erdoğan and his grab for additional power at some length, the most relevant to this post being From Turkey To The United States.

erdoganAs mentioned in that post, Erdoğan has recently proposed certain constitutional changes that would transform the government into a near dictatorship.  The changes would enable Erdoğan to make all government appointments, take back the leadership of the ruling party, and stay in power until 2029, pending presidential and general elections in 2019, with a maximum of two five-year terms. The proposed amendments would entirely abolish the Office of the Prime Minister.  One that threw up red flags for me is Article 84: The powers of Parliament to scrutinize ministers and hold the government to account are abolished.  And Article 98: The obligation of ministers to answer questions orally in Parliament is abolished. These amendments are to be voted on Sunday, 16 April 2017, which is the source of the current escalating tensions between Turkey and, of all places, the Netherlands.

tulips-hollandIn the EU, expats from Turkey who are currently living in another EU country, say the Netherlands or Germany, will be allowed to vote in the Turkish referendum next month.  So, the Turkish government has been sending foreign ministers to each country that has a large population of Turkish nationals to rally support for the referendum.  The trouble started on Friday when Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was in-flight, bound for the Dutch city of Rotterdam to attend a rally, as there are some 300,000 Turkish expats living in the Netherlands. The rally was cancelled amid concerns that, with the Dutch national elections being held next Wednesday, it could lead to public disruption.  Still, Çavuşoğlu was determined to go to the Netherlands, at which point Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, issued an order disallowing Çavuşoğlu’s plane from landing.  Çavuşoğlu said he planned to fly to Rotterdam anyway, and warned that if the Netherlands blocked his arrival, Turkey would respond with harsh economic and political sanctions. Last week, the German city of Hamburg banned him from speaking at a rally, after which Erdoğan accused Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German government of Nazi practices, then soon thereafter he had a German reporter arrested, saying he was a German spy and a terrorist.

So what happened next?  Erdoğan, speaking at a rally in Istanbul, made a statement that ranks right up there in terms of maturity with what Donald Trump might have said in similar circumstances:

“You can stop our foreign minister’s plane all you want, let’s see how your planes will come to Turkey from now on. They are Nazi remnants, they are fascists.”

And then … Turkish authorities sealed off the Dutch embassy and consulate, and also closed off the residences of the Dutch ambassador, charge d’affaires and consul general.

And then … Dutch authorities detained Turkish family affairs minister, Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, to keep her from addressing another rally in Rotterdam to garner support for Erdoğan’s referendum.

bully-2.jpgAs of this writing on Saturday night, that is where things stand, however I’m fairly certain we have not heard the last of it.  So why did I choose to write about this?  On the surface, there is some humour here, as it is reminiscent of a playground shouting match, and I could almost expect Erdoğan to start saying “nyah-nyah-na-nyah-nyah” at any minute.  But delve a bit beneath the surface, and it is both ludicrous and dangerous.  These are not 10-year-old children on a schoolyard, but full-grown adults, people who had enough education and qualifications to be placed in the top positions of their nations.  The tit-for-tat behaviour that is pretty much normal for a child, is abominable when practiced by men in positions of power and trust.  We have Donald Trump in the U.S. who has acted quite similarly, barring reporters who he did not like, calling for violence at his campaign rallies last year, and seeking redress and reparation against any who cross him.  North Korea has Kim Jong-un who has long been known for childish, temperamental displays.  These are the traits of men like Hitler, Stalin, and others who sought complete control and tolerated no discord.  It does not bode well for the future of the globe to see leaders who would use threats and even violence to resolve problems rather than diplomacy.

Erdoğan’s referendum is destined to increase his power and lead Turkey into a dictatorship. One excellent article, if you have an interest in the politics of Turkey, was published in a January edition of Aljazeera.  Even if you aren’t particularly interested in Turkey and its problems, with a man like Trump in the U.S., and other potential ‘populist’ leaders on the horizon in the Netherlands, France, and Germany, we must consider the effects these ‘leaders’ may have on global affairs.  Just look at the ways in which Trump has already, in just six weeks, offended many of our allies, cast shadow on the honesty and integrity of his entire administration, devalued the education system, healthcare system, and environmental protection agency, to name only a few.  Think what the world would look like if every leader around the globe lacked the ability to negotiate with others in a rational manner, to make decisions based on intellect rather than emotion. This is why it is important to put Erdoğan in the spotlight, or under the microscope.  For much the same reason, Europeans who will be holding elections in the coming weeks/months, need to look toward the U.S., see what chaos is being wrought by the new administration, and proceed with caution.  I spoke not long ago about our seeming inability to learn lessons from history … today I hope that we are able to learn lessons from the present.

From Turkey To The United States

Just as I had put the finishing touches on my post Trump’s Press Conference – Part II discussing his dissing of the media, along comes another news story from International Business Times (IBT), informing me that Turkey’s President Erdoğan was praising Trump for putting CNN reporter Jim Acosta “in his place”.  I can never complete a story anymore, as once I have written, edited, cleaned and scheduled it, something else hits the fan!

As I have reported on numerous occasions, President Erdoğan is steadily diminishing many of the freedoms that once made Turkey a democratic nation, including freedom of the press. Erdoğan has jailed at least 144 journalists and shuttered or seized control of more than 150 media companies, according to Human Rights Watch.

Turkey is currently a parliamentary democracy, with much of the executive power in the hands of the prime minister, and the role of the president (Erdoğan) being largely ceremonial, at least according to the Constitution.  However, President Erdoğan has recently proposed certain constitutional changes that would transform the government into an executive democracy.  The changes would enable Erdoğan to make all government appointments, take back the leadership of the ruling party, and stay in power until 2029, pending presidential and general elections in 2019, with a maximum of two five-year terms. The proposed amendments would entirely abolish the Office of the Prime Minister.  One that threw up red flags for me is Article 84: The powers of Parliament to scrutinize ministers and hold the government to account are abolished.  And Article 98: The obligation of ministers to answer questions orally in Parliament is abolished.

It is not my intent to give a lesson here on Turkish government, but rather to show what power and the desire for more power can lead to.  Erdoğan, though more intelligent and polished than Trump, shares certain characteristics.  Both are narcissistic, thin-skinned, and have controlling personalities.  In the aftermath of the failed military coup last July, Erdoğan declared a state of emergency and temporarily expanded his powers.  I, and others, still believe, though it has not been proven, that he played a role in staging the coup for this very reason.  Since he cannot keep extending the state of emergency forever, the constitutional changes he proposes will expand the powers and control of his office on a permanent basis.

Under the state of emergency, as mentioned above, he has severely cut into the freedoms of the press, but also freedom of speech in general. In the last six months of the year, the government carried out mass arrests of journalists, closed multiple media outlets, and jailed elected opposition politicians. It dismissed or detained without due process over 100,000 civil servants including teachers, judges and prosecutors, suspended hundreds of nongovernmental groups, and consolidated government control over the courts.

“Instead of building on the cross-party unity opposed to the coup to strengthen democracy, Turkey’s government has opted for a ruthless crackdown on critics and opponents. With hundreds of thousands of people dismissed or detained without due process, an independent media silenced and Kurdish opposition members of parliament in jail, Turkey has been plunged into its worst crisis in a generation,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

How likely are the proposed constitutional changes to be passed?  There is heavy criticism from opposition parties, and constitutional legal experts claim that the changes would result in the Parliament becoming effectively powerless, while the executive president would have controls over the executive, legislative and judiciary branches.  Still, I predict that Erdoğan will have his way sometime this year.

erdogan-trumpSo how does this relate to Trump’s election and our situation in the U.S.?  As I mentioned, Trump and Erdoğan have similar personalities, and view their positions of power much the same.  Trump is playing to a House and Senate with Republican majorities in both.  Currently there is a vacant seat on the Supreme Court, the current composition of which is equally divided with 4 conservative and 4 liberal justices.  There is no doubt that his nominee for that seat will be someone he trusts to share and support his views.  Trump has continually denigrated and threatened all mainstream media outlets.  He has nominated cabinet members whose positions are diametrically opposed to the ongoing commitments of their respective offices.  And the list goes on ….

Does Trump have the power to follow in the path of Erdoğan?  Alone, no.  But supported by a ‘yes-man’ Congress and a Supreme Court whose balance is tipped in favour of his policies, perhaps.  While I think it is highly unlikely that he would, or even could, stage a coup, in a sense he has already manufactured the crisis that he might be able to use to increase the power of his office.  He has divided the people, the citizens of this nation, in a way that has never been done before.  He has told his followers that there are boogey men behind every tree just waiting to make their lives miserable.  He has told them that their lives are already miserable, and that policies such as environmental regulation, equality for LGBT, land and wildlife preservation, will make their lives even more miserable.  Many believe … many hang on his every word and would support his every proposal, as long as he keeps patting them on the head and saying, “there, there … don’t worry … Uncle Donnie will take care of you”.

Thus far, the Republican-dominated Congress has shown no inclination to go against anything Trump desires.  Russia’s involvement in our election, their joy over seeing Trump elected, says much.  If Trump’s brainwashing techniques fail to allow him to increase his own power, I think Putin would be more than willing to help Trump up the ante by staging some sort of an ‘event’ that would convince the public and also the legislators that we need to place a greater degree of control in the hands of the president for the safety of our nation and its citizens.

The first step would be to remove some of the power of the press, and that is what we must all fight against.  We must stay informed, we must make our collective voices heard to support and defend our mainstream media.  We must fight against faux news, reporting it when we find it, pointing out to the masses that it is wrong.  Fortunately, the biggest difference between Turkey and the U.S. is that the majority of Americans actually do not support Trump, as opposed to Turkey, where Erdoğan enjoys a high degree of popularity.  Some of what I have written here is speculative, based on what I have seen happen in other countries under similar circumstances.  But it appears to me that the foundation is being poured for a subsequent power grab by the next president.  I hope I am wrong.

***Note:  I mentioned in the first paragraph that I can never finish a story … after I finished writing this post, an interesting article was published by The Independent, a British online publication, that draws much the same conclusion I have stated here.  Well worth the read!

Europe’s Worst Fears … and Erdoğan’s ‘State of Emergency’

A few days ago, a friend commented on my blog that, according to Austrian weekly magazine Profil, there are four major areas of immediate concern in the world today:

  • A possible Trump presidency
  • Crisis in the EU as a result of the Brexit vote
  • Erdogan’s increasing autocracy
  • Terrorist attacks

I was surprised, yet not surprised to see that a potential Trump presidency is among the four top global concerns.  The U.S. has long been considered a leader in foreign policy, and now … here we are considering perhaps the most radical madman since the days of Adolph Hitler to lead our nation … into … what?.  History is cyclic, they say.  History repeats itself, they say.  If we in the U.S. are in abject terror of this demagogue and his lemming followers, it stands to reason that the rest of the world cringes to think of this madman with his finger on the proverbial red button.  And I am working on that one … I have written post after post about the escalating danger of one so fanatical, so bigoted, so … what is the word I want?  A man who admires Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin and Saddam Hussein … who can blame the world for being unnerved?

But today, I turn back to the 3rd on the list, President Erdoğan and the ongoing situation in Turkey since the failed coup on 15 July.  It has been almost two weeks since Erdoğan declared a three-month state of emergency on 20 July, giving almost unlimited power to the president and his cabinet.  What has happened in those two weeks?

Turkey-1.jpg

One of Erdoğan’s first moves, predictably, was to further limit the power of the press. A decree published in Turkey’s official gazette demanded the closure of more than 100 broadcasters, newspapers, magazines, publishing houses and distribution companies, including three news agencies, 16 television channels, 23 radio channels, 45 newspapers and 15 magazines.  Just this weekend, 17 prominent journalists were arrested (see photo above), and warrants have been issued for some 70 more.  The journalists are charged with membership in a terrorist group.

Lest you begin to think that Erdoğan has no heart, in a surprising move on Thursday, he announced that he was withdrawing, as a one-time-only gesture, all lawsuits filed against people for insulting him, a move he said was triggered by “feelings of unity against the coup attempt”. “I forgive them,” he said.  And yet … I see this move not as a true conciliatory gesture, but as the crumb of bread thrown out to keep the dogs at bay.  Please pardon my cynicism, Mr. Erdoğan.  Earlier the same day, he called for the west to “mind your own business” and harshly criticized western nations for failing to show solidarity with Ankara.

“When five-10 people die in a terror attack, you [Western countries] set the world on fire. But when there is a coup attempt against the president of the Turkish Republic, who always protects the democratic parliamentary system and who was elected with 52 percent of the general vote, instead of siding with the government, you side with the perpetrators.” 

I would question the statement “always protects the democratic parliamentary system”, as we have seen evidence over the past two years that the notion of ‘democracy’ in Turkey has been diminished by Erdoğan’s policies, rather than protected.  Now it would appear that Erdoğan has thrown all caution to the wind, and Turkey’s chances of joining the EU have gone from slim to none, at least for the foreseeable future.

Turkey continues to claim that the coup was a plot by exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen who currently resides Pennsylvania in the U.S., and the Turkish government demands his extradition.  The Turkish government claims to have evidence to support the theory that Gulen and his followers within Turkey were responsible for the coup, while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says that he has not seen credible evidence.  I have read what information I could find, and admittedly I can understand the Turkish claim, but there are too many unknowns, too many unanswered questions.  An excellent article about this can be found in a  weblog written by Dani Rodrik   who was born and raised in Turkey, and is now a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.

My initial take after the failed coup, was that Erdoğan himself may have had a hand in staging the coup as a justification to further strengthen his power and to further reduce certain democratic freedoms, most notably freedom of the press.  I still consider this a distinct possibility, though I admit there may be compelling reasons to think otherwise.  In a nutshell, I do not know, and am not certain whether we will ever know all the details.

Regardless of who was actually behind the coup, the results of the last two weeks have furthered President Erdoğan’s goals of weeding out many of those he saw as a threat, those who offended him.  Unfortunately for the citizens of Turkey, the result has ensured that they are now more in the dark than ever and are destined to hear only that which Erdoğan chooses for them to hear.  Three leading press freedom organizations have condemned the Turkish government’s crackdown on the media following the failed coup, including the UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression, David Kaye. However, beyond issuing protests, these groups have little power.

I began writing this post a few days ago, but other things cropped up that I deemed more “time sensitive”, so I put it aside for a few days.  In the interim, when I thought Erdoğan had given up on EU privileges, the Turkish government has said that it would have to abandon the March 18th Turkey-EU migrant deal reached with the European Union to stem the flow of migrants into the bloc if the EU did not grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens.  European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said recently he did not see the EU granting Turks visa-free travel this year due to Ankara’s crackdown after the failed military coup in mid-July. “It is up to Turkey if there is or there isn’t visa liberalization,” Gabriel said during a trip to northern Germany, according to Reuters. “Germany and Europe should under no circumstances be blackmailed.”

Stay tuned, as I have a feeling this ball of yarn has only begun to unravel.  To my U.S. readers, I just want to make the point that during the time I have been studying and writing about Erdoğan and his power-hungry tactics, I have seen remarkable similarities between his personality and that of republican candidate Donald Trump.  It might behoove us all to pay closer attention to the tactics being used in Turkey, because they are not dissimilar from those that I believe Trump intends if he should win the election in November.