Diplomacy and Democracy in the Western Alliance – Do as I say, not as I do!

Last Friday two high profile Turkish journalists appeared in an Istanbul court to answer charges of procuring information vital to state security, political and military espionage, publishing state secrets and disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization. Serious charges indeed, which relate to an incident where trucks allegedly carrying weapons were seen crossing the border from Turkey into Syria.

Selfie

Pretty undignified for high-ranking diplomats, if you ask me

What was particularly surprising about the court hearing was that Consuls-General from ten European countries accompanied by their colleagues from Canada and the USA, plus the German Ambassador from Ankara, turned up to observe proceedings. Not content with quiet observation, the diplomatic ladies and gentlemen snapped a selfie of their group which the French Consul-General apparently uploaded to his Facebook page.

Needless to say, Turkey’s President, Tayyip Erdoğan, was not pleased. ‘Who do you think you are?’ he is reported to have demanded, apostrophizing the group in characteristic fashion. ‘This is Turkey. You can do what you like in your consular buildings and compounds, but elsewhere you need permission!’

Well, whatever the rights and wrongs of the charges against Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, Mr Erdoğan is absolutely right here. Foreign ambassadors and consular staff have diplomatic immunity to go about the business of representing their countries’ interests wherever they are posted; and that even includes the right to be whisked out of harm’s way in the event of being caught out doing something they shouldn’t. A blind eye is generally turned to what may or may not be going on behind the walls of embassies and consulates.

whistleblowers

Champions of press freedom in the West – and where are they now?

It is, however, generally agreed, I believe, that diplomatic rights stop short of allowing privileged foreign personnel to participate in direct political activity, especially when the issue involves national security. If the governments of Western nations believe Turkey (or any other country) is using its courts to stifle dissent, and imprisoning its citizens without due process of law, there are acceptable channels through which to express their disapproval.

Obviously foreign politicians can and do say what they like in the safety of their own countries. Diplomats can seek an audience with the host country’s leadership to make their official views clear. But do they have the right to congregate with others of their species at a high profile trial in an attempt to intimidate, or influence proceedings by their presence? I don’t think so.

Let’s take a hypothetical example. Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for three years, knowing that, as soon as he sets foot outside the premises, he will be arrested by the local police and extradited to Sweden to face what he claims are trumped-up charges of rape; and he believes he will thence be shipped to the United States to face more serious charges that could see him imprisoned for life.

London-police-Ecuadore-embassy-guard-Julian-Assange-shutterstock_110655800

London bobbies standing guard outside the Ecuadorean Embassy, London

Now there are quite a few people who believe that Assange and Wikileaks did us all a great service by bringing out into the open, amongst other things, shocking documents and videos showing how the United States military had been conducting its occupation of Iraq. How would it be, I wonder, if the Turkish Ambassador rounded up a dozen or so like-minded embassy staff from, say, Middle Eastern and South American countries, and hung around outside in a demonstration of solidarity with Assange and his Ecuadorean protectors, while conducting photo ops, and publishing selfies etc on social media? Or if governments of the same nations instructed their diplomats in Washington DC to stage a similar event in support of Chelsea/Bradley Manning, currently serving a 35-year jail sentence for supplying the actual leaks to Assange?

bradley-manning.si_

Freedom of speech American-style

Maybe the US government would laugh. Maybe they wouldn’t – but the fact is, whatever they may think about the state of democracy and freedom of speech in the USA, foreign governments would know better than to interfere in that country’s internal politics. So why do those Western countries think Turkey does not deserve the same respect? Unfortunately, ‘respect’ is the key word here. Those countries are so used to criticizing and belittling Turkey, they seem to feel they are absolved from normal standards of diplomatic behavior.

Moreover, whatever Western governments think about the state of democracy in Turkey, these foreign diplomats were permitted to sit in on a highly sensitive trial. They were not prevented from gathering in a group demonstration clearly intended to express support for the defendants and, by implication, criticism of the legal system and the government of Turkey. I suspect there are not many countries in the world, including some that claim the democratic moral high ground, that would permit such obvious and public meddling in their internal affairs.

And then there is the question of whether these two defendants are merely professional journalists doing their job of keeping the public informed – or whether they had some ulterior motive. Well, surely that is a matter for Turkey’s courts to decide. The story behind the criminal charges does beg some questions that foreign media and governments seem to be avoiding.

A couple of trucks were apparently stopped by police on Turkey’s southeast border, and alleged to have been carrying weapons. The government denied this, claiming the trucks were carrying humanitarian aid. The opposition CHP Party suggested that the government was supplying weapons to forces of ISIS/Daesh and Al Qaeda, and accused them of high treason. Can Dündar, a well-known opponent of Turkey’s AK Party government, and recipient of an award from Reporters Without Borders, published a piece referring to video evidence supporting the claim that the trucks had been carrying arms and munitions.

My questions are: If those were military vehicles crossing the border on official government business, who authorized the search? And who carried it out? And who filmed the trucks’ cargo? And how did the film get into the hands of a journalist in Istanbul? Given that anti-government militants in Syria have been waging a civil war for five years, who has been supplying them with weapons for the fight?

6-19-13c-syria_

Who’s really supplying the military hardware?

And of course I have some opinions of my own. First of all, assuming the government of Turkey had in fact dispatched those truckloads of weapons to Syria, who would be the most likely recipients? It is outrageous to suggest that Turkey’s government is actively supporting ISIS or Al Qaeda. It is far more likely that, given Ankara’s clearly stated desire for Bashar Al Assad to step down as President of Syria, military support would be directed to the anti-Assad rebels. Second, even if they have been providing some assistance, it is not possible that Turkey alone could have supplied sufficient weaponry to keep this war going for five years. It is well known that military hardware has been channeled through Saudi Arabia and Qatar – and America has made no secret of its desire to see the back of Assad. Finally, it must be true that a person or persons high up within Turkey’s military leaked information about those vehicles to news media, and organized the border search, with the aim of embarrassing Turkey’s government. What’s your definition of high treason?

I would be interested to hear from those Western diplomats what action they think their own governments would take in a similar situation? It has come to light that Turkish police had detained and extradited a Belgian national who went on to carry out one of the recent bombings in Brussels. It seems that Belgian security forces failed to act on the warning received, and they are placing the blame on their Ambassador in Ankara. If their communication channels are really so dysfunctional, and their envoys in foreign countries are acting on their own initiative, it seems to me Western governments need to get their diplomatic personnel under control.

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Hollywood and the FBI in the Struggle For/Against democracy (delete one)

Dotcom and team in the dock

Dotcom and team in the dock

I haven’t seen much news about Kim Dotcom lately. You may remember he is the larger-than-life German entrepreneur who made headlines four years ago when he was arrested in New Zealand in a local police operation instigated at the request of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The Americans wanted Kim and his partners extradited to the Land of the Free to face charges of copyright infringement, money laundering and criminal conspiracy.

The charges relate to a file sharing company Megaupload these guys set up in 2005 in Hong Kong. If the New Zealand Government decides to send them to the USA (which seems pretty likely), and they are convicted, they face prison sentences that will run into decades. You’ll remember Chelsea (Bradley) Manning got 35 years for blowing the whistle on US shenanigans in Iraq, but at least he’s an American citizen, which the Dotcom team are not. Doesn’t worry the Yanks though. Julian Assange (an Australian citizen) is still under Ecuadorean protection in their London embassy to avoid a similar fate.

Well, the extradition hearing has begun in New Zealand, and I read an interesting article published in The New Zealand Herald focusing on the plight of one Finn Batato, Megaupload’s advertising manager who is one of the defendants. If you’re interested, you can read the article for yourself, but for me the most interesting snippets came near the end, where the writer, David Fisher, asks some interesting questions: ‘Was the case motivated by Hollywood?’ and ‘How is it the US’s business?’ – given that they accused are not US citizens and the company was set up in Hong Kong.

John Banks in the dock

John Banks in the dock

In answer to the first question, Fisher says, ‘Hollywood certainly pushed Washington to go hard on filesharing websites, including Megaupload. In 2010, the White House made intellectual property – and copyright – an issue of national security. The movie and music industry was described as a cornerstone of the US economy and in need for protection from rogue Internet businesses.’

To the second, he says, ‘The original prosecutor, Neil McBride, the US attorney for East Virginia, said in 2012: “I’m convinced that most emails in the world at some point transit through servers that sit somewhere in the Eastern District of Virginia, so that gives us venue.” By venue, he means jurisdiction, and that means US law travels with the Internet.’

That’s why the trial, if it comes to a trial, will be held in the state of Virginia. And I have to tell you, I don’t have a lot of confidence in the current government of New Zealand to stand up to the US of A. Dotcom was granted residency in NZ despite his known criminal record in Germany, on the strength of his considerable wealth – New Zealand’s tiny economy is subsidized by a fast track process granting generous privileges to mega-rich foreigners.

Kim who?

Kim who?

At the time of his arrest he was living in a leased mansion in the electorate of New Zealand’s multi-millionaire, free marketeering former banker Prime Minister, John Key. Mr Key subsequently switched loyalties after discovering that Dotcom was targeted by the FBI. A former member of Mr Key’s National Party, former cabinet minister, one-time mayor of NZ’s largest city and self-professed creationist, John Banks, was recently cleared of accepting a pay-off from Dotcom to help with his 2010 mayoral campaign. Originally convicted by NZ’s High Court and obliged to leave parliament, Banks’ conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal on the basis of sworn (but questionable) evidence by two American businessmen.

Barefoot and Pregnant British Journalists Arrested in Turkey

So, did I get your attention? Well, I may as well tell you right now, it’s not true – at least not all of it. Those two ‘journalists’ are not pregnant, as far as I know, and have perfectly serviceable footwear. Nevertheless, news media are informing us that Vice News correspondent Jake Hanrahan, cameraman Philip Pendlebury and an unnamed Turkish colleague were arrested while filming in Diyarbakır in the southeast of Turkey. Their boss, of course, cried injustice, and Amnesty International howled for their release.

Rupert Murdoch bringing truth to the 'connected' generation

Rupert Murdoch bringing truth to the ‘connected’ generation

Turkish authorities, on the other hand, claimed the three men were working on behalf of a terrorist organisation, namely ISIS, Daesh, the Islamic State, or whatever it’s currently being called in your neck of the woods.

Kevin Sutcliffe, Vice head of news programming in Europe, called the charges ‘baseless, alarming and false’. He suggested that the arrests were an ‘attempt to intimidate and censor’ these guys who were ‘providing vital coverage from the region’. Just harmlessly going about the job they were being paid to do, in other words.

So who’s right, I wonder? One thing I am reasonably sure of – whatever we read or watch in the mainstream media is only a part of the whole story. What is Vice News, for example? Wikipedia informs me it started life as a punk magazine run by three guys in Montreal back in 1994, and has subsequently grown into a youth media company and digital content creation studio operating in 36 countries’. Vice themselves claim to be ‘an international news organization created by and for a connected generation’ – so possibly that’s why I hadn’t heard of them. Despite my connections, I may just be in the wrong generation.

But what about Rupert Murdoch? He’s definitely older than I am, and he’s apparently bought a toehold in Vice, as has A&E Networks, a joint venture of Hearst Corporation and The Walt Disney Company. As far as I’m aware, Walt is a Dead White Male – but still, it’s good to see him and Rupe joining the punk generation or whatever the sociologists are calling those ‘connected’ ones. No doubt they have a purely altruistic interest in seeing that today’s young people learn the truth about what’s really going on in the world.

Silencing dissent - where?

Silencing dissent – where?

Some sources have taken the opportunity to raise again the claim that Turkey has more imprisoned ‘journalists’ than all the rest of the world put together – but at least recognise that none of them are foreigners. The opposition press in Turkey is currently full of banner headlines shouting ‘We will not be silenced’, echoing the courageous words of opposition CHP Party leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. The cry does strike me, however, as somehow superfluous, given that no one seems to be trying to silence them – they, their newspapers and their TV channels seem free to say pretty much what they like, as does Mr KK.

Now I have to tell you that I’m a big proponent of freedom of speech, and I don’t take it kindly when anyone tries to shut me up – so to that extent I’m right with Mr KK. Nevertheless, it also strikes me that even the world’s most freedom-loving countries draw lines demarking areas of freedom and some of social or political undesirability. Child pornography, quite rightly, is a big no-no, and publishing film of people being killed or suffering physical harm is generally frowned upon. Chelsea (Bradley) Manning was sentenced in the United States to 35 years in prison for espionage and theft, among other charges, though many people consider she/he was providing ‘vital’ information about what America was up to in the region of Iraq. Julian Assange may get something similar if US authorities can ever lay their hands on him – and he’s not even an American citizen. I’m sure there are places on the US mainland where journalists are not welcome, and others they may visit only under close supervision. Try sneaking with or without your camera into the high-security federal government facility in Mt Weather, Virginia, for example.

Anyway, it looks as though Turkish authorities have released the two Brits, as I expected they would. Charges against them haven’t been dropped, but they’re being told to leave the country. Their ‘Turkish’ off-sider, whose name looks distinctly Arabic, is apparently still in custody, but also expected to be released soon.

Police detain a man after a march to City Hall for Freddie Gray, Saturday, April 25, 2015 in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

US police working for democracy in Baltimore

Do the Turks have a right to do that? Well, it’s a controversial matter, the extent to which international law can force sovereign governments to do, or refrain from doing, something they do or do not want to do. Once again, the USA is a prime example: consider the way they flout international agreements on carbon emissions, or violently invade other countries with apparent impunity. I might like to be present when President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry sit down to discuss the situation in the Middle East – but I suspect they wouldn’t let me.

Turkey is currently reluctantly participating in a US-led war against a mysterious coalition of interests known variously as ISIS, IS, Daesh etc, a remarkably highly motivated, well-organised and well-supplied military force with no official ties to any country in the region, but active in Syria, just across Turkey’s southeastern border. At the same time, Turkey is struggling with a rejuvenated uprising of Kurdish separatists carrying out ambushes on military targets and terrorist attacks on civilians – who nevertheless are sworn enemies of aforesaid ISIS. While all this is going on, refugees from Syria’s seemingly unrelated four-year civil war are continuing to flood into Turkey, creating a humanitarian problem far exceeding the country’s ability to cope. Western nations, turning a deaf ear to appeals from United Nations agencies, have steadfastly ignored the growing crisis for years – insisting that the government of Turkey should deal with the problem in its own backyard, policing its 8,000 km of sea coast and 2,600 km of land borders to prevent desperate asylum-seekers from escaping to richer EU countries and dissident Europeans from going the other way to help ISIS.

In the real world it’s not always easy to deal with non-uniform-wearing freedom fighters intent on destroying a police station with a rocket-propelled grenade, or setting fire to a village primary school – and it is possible that security forces may sometimes be a little heavy-handed. It’s also possible that they prefer not to be filmed by foreign ‘journalists’ who may not always be interested in presenting both sides of the story. According to Wikipedia, 350 United States citizens have been killed by non-military law-enforcement personnel in the first eight months of 2015, yet most of the photographs I can find online about events in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mississippi show black youths carrying out violent acts without a police officer in sight. Maybe a Turkish camera crew could have filmed a different story, who knows?

Asylum-seekers from Syria wait in Bodrum, Turkey

Asylum-seekers from Syria wait in Bodrum, Turkey, for a boat going to Greece

But what about those Vice journalists, you’ll be asking. What about the ‘connected’ generation and their right to know? The Vice people pride themselves on ‘exploring uncomfortable truths and going to places we don’t belong’ – but what if the locals don’t want you there? What if they feel your presence may exacerbate an already delicate situation? How many Turkish TV camera crews were filming in Ferguson or Baltimore? Apart from that, if you don’t speak the local languages, how can you be sure you’re getting the whole truth anyway? As for the ‘connected’ generation, from my observations many of them are more interested in broadcasting their own current location and activities to the world than in doing much for the displaced millions from Middle East conflict zones.

What made me think those Vice journalists might be barefoot and pregnant? Well, around the same time as that story broke, a touching tale emerged in Australia of a young French traveller who fell in love at first sight with a handsome Queensland surfer. Only when she returned to her native France did the young lady discover she was with child. Desperate to find the love of her life and the father of her baby, Natalie Amyot posted a video on YouTube and Facebook appealing for help to find the ‘really cute’ man whose name, unfortunately, she hadn’t taken the trouble to find out.

Well, Australians are generally not known as a gullible nation. Much scepticism was apparently expressed online about the truth of the story – and in fact it turned out that the whole pathetic tale was a publicity stunt fabricated by a Sunshine Coast (Queensland) social media company. The connected generation, it seems, are not easy to con, for which we must be grateful. Nevertheless, Rupert Murdoch, the Walt Disney Corporation and Time-Warner clearly feel it’s worth their while to spend millions buying into the new media. In the interests of truth, I suppose?

Dark Clouds over America – Democritic hypocracy

Dark clouds over America - But still they're in denial about climate change

Dark clouds over America – But still they’re in denial about climate change

I keep reading in US and other foreign news media that Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world. Most recently, I read an editorial in the New York Times asserting that the president of Turkey, Tayyip Erdoğan ‘has a long history of intimidating and co-opting the Turkish media.’ I confess I don’t know what the NYT editor means by ‘co-opting’ here – but I assume ‘intimidating’ implies that there is a threat of being sent to prison with the hundreds of other Turkish journalists who dared to criticize Mr Erdoğan and Turkey’s AK Party government.

Now I have to tell you, as one who has lived in this country for most of the last 20 years, who exercises no vote and has no political party affiliation, that the level of democracy in Turkey seems to me to have risen exponentially since I first arrived in 1995. I don’t know why those ‘journalists’ are in prison – if they actually are journalists, and if they are actually in prison – but I can confidently say it was not for simply criticizing Mr Erdoğan or his party’s government. Since the day the AK Party was elected to govern Turkey at the end of 2002 its representatives (and their spouses) have been subjected to torrents of criticism and personal abuse, much of it outrageously distorted if not outright lies.

Bradley/Chelsea Manning - shut away for life for telling the truth

Bradley/Chelsea Manning – shut away for life for telling the truth

The United States government, on the other hand, has shut away Wikileaks whistle-blower Chelsea (Bradley) Manning for 35 years for telling the truth about what the US military was doing in Iraq. If they can get Edward Snowden out of Russia, his fate will be pretty similar. As for Australian citizen Julian Assange, the brains behind the whole business, you can be pretty sure that Swedish rape stuff is a ruse for the Yanks to get hold of him too. So far the Ecuador government is keeping him safe, but it can’t be much of a life, holed up in their London embassy for three years and no end in sight. So, public-spirited truth-tellers, or treacherous enemies of the state? Depends on your point-of-view, I guess.

Four times from 1960 to 1997, elected governments in Turkey were ousted by military intervention – and there is little doubt in my mind that, had Mr Erdoğan’s government not succeeded in pre-emptively pulling the teeth of the generals, he and his team would have gone the same way. That NYT editor further states that ‘some critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan fear a new crackdown is starting to ensure that his Justice and Development Party wins’ the upcoming general election. Again, the meaning is not crystal clear, but the implication, I guess, is that the ‘crackdown’ will involve some electoral jiggery-pokery, if not outright violence. Well, I can inform the Times editor and his readership that many of Mr Erdoğan’s supporters have good reasons for believing that the United States had a hand in activating those military coups d’état. Does he know anything about that?

Turkish democracy in the good old days

Turkish democracy in the good old days

The first military takeover, in 1960, resulted in the overthrow of one of the country’s most popular and long-serving prime ministers, Adnan Menderes. The poor man was peremptorily hanged along with two of his ministers – though later posthumously pardoned and his reputation restored. The third, in 1980, precipitated a bloody reign of terror and produced a rewritten constitution aimed at ensuring that Kurdish people and other undesirable left wing elements would not be represented in the country’s legislature. The leader of that 1980 coup, praised by Time Magazine at the time as the man who was ‘holding Turkey together’, General Kenan Evren, died last week of natural causes at the age of 97 – and there are many in Turkey who would have preferred a different end for him. In fact he died as Private Evren, having been demoted and sentenced to life imprisonment for his political activities. As far as I know, no United States representatives attended his funeral, which is sad, perhaps, given that most local politicians stayed away too.

Sad end of a democratically elected Prime Minister, Adnan Menderes  1960

Sad end of a democratically elected Prime Minister, Adnan Menderes 1960

But getting back to the New York Times and its prestigious fellow ‘newspapers of record’, can anyone tell me why they are so concerned that Turkey’s AK Party government should not be returned on 7 June? Wikipedia informs me that the United Nations has 193 member states. A record 206 countries participated in the 2012 London Olympic Games; and the CIA World Factbook recognizes 267 world ‘entities’. I can’t tell you, off the top of my head, how many of those states, countries or ‘entities’ hold regular elections whose results in any way reflect the wishes of their people – but I am reasonably confident that Turkey does. I am equally optimistic that the June 7 election will be a fair reflection of public opinion. Can the same be said of presidential elections in the USA?

I do know that an Arab Spring revolt in 2011 led to the removal of Egypt’s US puppet-president Hosni Mubarak; and the subsequent election, whose fairness no one (as far as I know) disputes, brought Muhammed Morsi to power. Within a year Mr Morsi had been ousted in turn and replaced by a military regime that has now condemned him to death – with not a peep of protest, to my knowledge, from the US government or the New York Times. The ‘entity’ of Palestine, whose people had been living in that location for millennia before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, has no official representation at the United Nations – yet the United States government and the editor of the NY Times seem quite comfortable with that.

On the other hand, that anonymous editor is also quite comfortable ending his piece with a call to action: ‘The United States and Turkey’s other NATO allies should be urging [Mr Erdoğan] to turn away from [his] destructive path.’ Destructive of who, or what? The country’s economy and the living standards of most of its people have improved enormously in the last 12 years. Small wonder that Turkey’s president is accusing the New York Times of making provocative attacks on his country’s government, and unacceptable meddling in its internal affairs two weeks prior to an important parliamentary election. And in my opinion, President Erdoğan is absolutely right on this one. At the very least, if US business and political leaders won’t adopt consistent standards in their judgment of the political situation in other countries, they might work on getting their own house in order before presuming to interfere in the affairs of other sovereign states.

Trusting in God - since 1956

Trusting in God – since 1956

The NY Times did publish in March a piece written by the author of a book “Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.” Kevin M Kruse argues that, from the 1930s to the 1950s, big business leaders countered the anger caused by their complicity in two world wars and a Great Depression by enlisting corporate evangelists like Billy Graham. ‘During these years, Americans were told, time and time again, not just that the country should be a Christian nation, but that it always had been one. They soon came to think of the United States as “one nation under God”. They’ve believed it ever since.’

Another NYT piece, A Pacific Isle, Radioactive and Forgotten, dated 4 December last year reports a visit to a Pacific Island where the US military tested 67 nuclear weapons between 1946 and 1958. The island, Enewetak in the Marshall group is still dangerously radioactive, although the former inhabitants were allowed to return and the United States has no interest in cleaning up the mess it left behind.

'I did not have sex with that woman' pales into trivial insignificance!

‘I did not have sex with that woman’ pales into trivial insignificance!

Late last year the US senate released a report which found that ‘the CIA misled the White House and used practices that could be classified as torture on detainees.’ Former vice-president Dick Cheney defended his government’s actions, arguing that ‘We did exactly what needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty on 9/11 and prevent a further attack. We were successful on both parts.’

In spite of Mr Cheney’s assertion, however, a widely circulated AP article earlier this month reported ‘Iraq war judged a mistake by today’s White House hopefuls.’ And not just the Democrat hopefuls. ‘All these Republicans said last week that, in hindsight, they would not have invaded Iraq with what’s known now about the faulty intelligence that wrongly indicated Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.’

Some might feel ‘hindsight’ to be a weasel word implying ‘If we knew then what we know now . . .’ when, in fact, United Nations observers and the US’s own intelligence had provided adequate information about the true situation. In spite of that, GW Bush’s administration, for whatever reasons of their own, had decided they would invade Iraq. And they were self-righteously angry with France and Turkey for not supporting their war on truth and innocent Iraqis. Now there are many who believe that ill-advised invasion created an environment in the Middle East which led directly to the current chaos in the region, including the rise of ISIS – these days coming to be known as Daesh.

Adding to the tension, according to a recent Time Magazine article, relations between the United States and the Arab GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) nations are at a low ebb. Their oil dependent economies are being hurt by US determination to produce expensive and environmentally disastrous shale oil in the interests of self-sufficiency. The Arabs are responding by driving down the price of oil to thwart the American plans. The extremely undemocratic Saudis and UAE states are also nervous about which way the USA will jump if popular uprisings occur. Their anxiety is further increased by America’s sudden interest in cosying up to Iran.

Nevertheless, rather than admitting the dreadful error made by his predecessor, President Obama last November authorised sending a further 1,500 US troops to Iraq, and requested an extra $5.6 billion in funding to fight ISIS/Daesh. Where will the money go? you may ask. Well, according to another article I read recently, The Fraud of War, a good chunk of it will disappear into ‘theft, bribery and contract-rigging crimes’ run by US military personnel. As far as I am aware, this report did not appear in the pages of the New York Times.

At present, the GCC Muslim brotherhood have been doing America’s dirty work in Yemen, supposedly dealing to al-Qaeda’s breeding ground in that failed state. Iran, on the other hand, is opposed to outside interference in Yemen; and if US-Saudi relations deteriorate, who knows what will happen? According to Robert D Kaplan, writing for Foreign Policy, ‘It’s Time to Bring Imperialism back to the Middle East.’ His thesis is that the collapse or decline of the Ottoman, British and American empires, which hitherto ‘bestowed order, however retrograde it may have been’ is the reason for the current chaotic situation. No fan of democracy, Kaplan’s family is Jewish, and he actually served in the Israeli army before resettling in the United States and becoming a senior adviser to the US Department of Defense. And those guys are criticizing the state of democracy in Turkey!!

'We don't like you - but thanks for letting us use your bay'

‘We don’t like you – but thanks for letting us use your bay’

Closer to home, another former bête noir that the White House has been attempting to build bridges with is the nearby island of Cuba. A stumbling block in the ‘normalisation’ process, however, is the United States’ refusal to consider handing back control of Guantanamo Bay to its rightful owners. The Bay was commandeered by the US in 1902 after their victory in the Spanish-American War. It became the site of a US naval base and, in 2002, of the infamous Guantanamo Prison – which presidential candidate Barack Obama promised to close down, but has so far been unable to do.

As if the Middle East were not providing enough problems for America, the US government has recently decided to apply sanctions to Venezuela which it claims poses an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”. Possibly Robert D Kaplan will be encouraged at these signs of rejuvenated US imperialism – but I suspect he would prefer to see them concentrate on looking after Israel’s interests.

I could go on to mention the disastrous drought in California, exacerbated by the thirst for water of the oil-fracking industry. Our friends at the New York Times published an opinion piece earlier this month entitled ‘The End of California?’ Also in the Sunshine State, a ‘war zone’ has apparently erupted in the Mission District of San Francisco where gentrification is resulting in the displacement of the poor Mexican and Central American migrant families who have traditionally lived there. So Ferguson, Missouri, where police used rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse crowds protesting the killing of 18 year-old Michael Brown, is not the only war zone in the Land of the Free.

Well, an 18 year-old these days is pretty much considered an adult, I guess – but a Human Rights Watch report last year revealed that, on farms in North Carolina, ‘Children as young as 7 years old are suffering serious health problems from toiling long hours in tobacco fields to harvest pesticide-laced leaves for major cigarette brands.’ On a more microcosmic scale, I read the other day about a driver in Fredericksburg, Virginia who was driving erratically as a result of suffering a stroke – and was sympathetically tasered and pepper-sprayed by an over-enthusiastic police officer. And then there’s the woman in West Palm Beach, Florida, who was arrested for contempt of court after fleeing with her four-year-old son because the child’s father was determined to have the little fellow’s foreskin sliced off.

Ah well, at least cases like that may win America some support among the more extreme Muslim groups. I’m not sure it’s something to be particularly proud of, though.

Who is Supporting the Terrorists?

I’m passing on this article by Ralph Lopez
 from Global Research that was published on February 24, 2015

Bush Family Ties to Terror Suspects Re-opened by the 9/11 Classified “28 Pages”

As pressure builds to make public 28 pages of a joint congressional inquiry on 9/11 which was classified by President George W. Bush, the Bush family’s well-documented relationships to Saudi and other foreign terror suspects are again coming to the fore.

bush_war_criminalNorth Carolina Republican Congressman Walter Jones told the New Yorker last September, of what is now commonly known as the “28 Pages”:

““There’s nothing in it about national security…It’s about the Bush Administration and its relationship with the Saudis.””

Prominent in the rise of the political fortunes of both the 41st and 43rd presidents is the support of figures listed by the US government as terrorist financiers, as well as some connected to the now closed, Saudi-controlled criminal enterprise known as BCCI.

Two major investors in the 43rd president’s early business ventures, Arbusto Energy and Harken Energy, were Salem bin Laden, Osama’s older brother, and Khalid bin Mahfouz, a 20% stakeholder in BCCI, who was himself accused and investigated for financing terrorism. Mahfouz, who died in 2009, was known as the personal banker of the Saudi royal family.

The Saudi-controlled BCCI played a central role in acting as a conduit for renegade CIA operations run by Lt. Col. Oliver North and General Richard Secord, with the elder Bush overseeing the operations from his position as vice president to Ronald Reagan and as a former director of the CIA. Known as the Iran-Contra Scandal in the Eighties, the renegade operation illegally sold thousands of Stinger missiles to the new Revolutionary Government of Iran, in exchange for Iran hurting President Jimmy Carter’s prospects for re-election by holding onto American hostages in the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis. (Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report)

pc_8488f8a3328d56b827a6b4eff8b1718aThe Kerry-Brown Committee also reported on international groups, in particular Israeli, assisting in gunrunning and other illegal operations in league with BCCI. The report stated:

““In April 1989, a network of Israeli arms traffickers, operating out of Miami, made a shipment of 500 Israeli manufactured machine guns through the Caribbean island of Antigua for the use of members of the Medellin cartel. Later, one of these weapons was used in the assassination of Colombian presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan, and several other of the weapons were found in the possession of cartel kingpin Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha after his death in a gunfight with Colombian drug agents.””

At the center of the Israeli gun-running operation which provided weapons to the Medellin cartel was Israeli national and BCCI banker Bruce Rappaport.

Read the whole article

YouTube’s back in Turkey!

Well, I’m not a big YouTube user – to my shame I have never actually uploaded any video content – but I did miss it while it was unavailable. It had happened once before, some years ago, and a younger, more technologically savvy colleague gave me directions to a site that was able to bypass the blockage. As one might have expected, the government was on to that this time around, so the bypass no longer worked. Still, I’m guessing the younger generation in Turkey weren’t unduly disturbed by the ban, except as a matter of democratic principle.
Anyway, I’m delighted to see YouTube up and running again. It’s a marvellous resource, and a further indication of how the Internet and social media have changed our lives in ways that we could scarcely have imagined in that distant 20th century.
The blocking of YouTube (and, I understand, Twitter, though to my greater shame, I haven’t got into that at all) did, however, get me thinking about larger issues to do with social media, the Internet and the big question of censorship.
Much was made in Western news media of the role played by social media in events collectively referred to as The Arab Spring that began in Tunisia in December 2010 and spread rapidly to Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and other Islamic states. The anarchy of the Internet was credited with empowering a switched-on younger generation to achieve greater political awareness and organize themselves in numbers sufficient to overthrow despotic regimes.
Sad to say, a return to military rule in Egypt and the disastrous ongoing civil war in Syria have taken the gloss somewhat off that brave new vernal world of ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’ – and as for ‘brotherhood’, that seems to have become a dirty word rendering further analysis unnecessary. Those much-vaunted social media, it seems, have their limitations when it comes to producing meaningful long-term political change.
Nevertheless, it’s disturbing when governments use their powers to censor our activities. We have come to depend on the Internet and social media so much in our daily lives that it’s hard to imagine a time when people lived in relative contentment without them. It was natural for people in Turkey to feel angry when their government blocked access to YouTube and Twitter. Some are also complaining that the same government is taking measures to control the sale and consumption of alcohol in public places, and to limit the display of naked female flesh on roadside advertising.
Now I have to tell you, I have mixed feelings about these issues. I confess I enjoy the occasional tipple of fermented and even spirituous liquors for relaxation and social purposes. I can appreciate the sight of a well-turned ankle as much as the next red-blooded male. On the other hand, I am well aware that my own homeland, New Zealand, and our near neighbor, Australia, not renowned either of them for alcoholic moderation, impose quite tight restrictions on the sale and consumption of such beverages. As an example, in Melbourne a couple of years ago, I went to Federation Square with my daughter and her partner to watch Australian Open tennis on the giant screen. One would expect a typical Aussie to enjoy a frosty VB or Fosters on such an occasion – but eagle-eyed private security boys were circulating to ensure that they did not.
I can also say that, despite the importance given to eye-catching advertising in subways and other public places in Auckland, Sydney, London and New York, I don’t recall seeing large-size posters of fetching young lasses clad in skimpy underwear or bikinis, of the kind that are commonplace on the streets of Istanbul. Not sure if there’s a law against it – it just doesn’t seem to be the done thing.
Which brings me to the question of censorship – and I have to tell you, I’m against it, as a matter of principle, as, I suspect, are most modern, broad-minded, right-thinking adults in Western societies. At the same time, I can understand why some people feel there should be some control over the dissemination of child pornography, and material depicting actual physical abuse. I have some sympathy for the argument that says children under a certain age should not be exposed to visual material deemed to be ‘adult’ in nature. Google and YouTube actually include such restrictions as part of company policy.
So we have a paradoxical situation here: a conflict between theory and practice which is not easy to resolve. If we accept that some measure of censorship is socially desirable, the question shifts to one of where we will draw the line – and who will have authority to draw it. Again, few of us have confidence in the willingness of private enterprise to regulate its own activities, so in the end, most of us would reluctantly accept that governments have a necessary role to play.
But now, of course, we have given a dangerous power to politicians who, as we suspect, are not always driven by an altruistic concern for the welfare of their people. In the end, those of us fortunate enough to live in democracies have the power of the ballot box where we can call elected governments to account. Between elections, we have the responsibility of participating in the democratic process by joining pressure groups, working for social change though NGOs, even taking to the streets in protest.
I have written elsewhere on the complex nature of democracy. Most writers on the subject agree that there is a continuum from one extreme of absolute slavery to the other of absolute individual freedom – and most countries lie somewhere on the line between. In fact there may even be several components of democracy, such as press freedom, representative electoral systems, separation of church and state, limitations on corporate power, for example, and countries may be ahead in some while lagging behind in others.
The United States and Europe, for example, place, as far as I am aware, no restrictions on the use of social media such as Twitter and YouTube, and some of their political leaders have been outspoken in their criticism of the Turkish Government for doing so.
On the other hand, they seem to see no contradiction between their position on this matter, and what some might see as a greater danger – their willingness to persecute individuals who use the power of the Internet to question the activities of governments and corporations. I’m thinking here of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange – still, as far as I know, holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, threatened with deportation if he emerges; Edward Snowden, epic whistleblower stripped of his US passport and similarly unable to leave Russia; Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking information many of us think we had a right, even a need, to know. I wouldn’t put New Zealand’s very own Kim Dotcom in the same league as those guys, but nevertheless, I appreciate the light he is shining on the shenanigans of politicians downunder.
What is important, in my opinion, is the responsibility we all have to speak out against corruption and injustice wherever we see it, although doing so will not necessarily win us friends and public acclaim. Our voice of protest, however, will possess greater credibility if we nail our colours to the mast, rather than maintain a safe electronic distance via social media on the Internet. For me, the greatest figures of history are those who were willing to sacrifice personal comfort, even life itself, to achieve a greater social goal:
Not everyone will thank you
for wanting to change the world
Mahatma Gandhi in India, whose 32-year struggle brought no personal wealth, ending in his own assassination – but resulted in independence for his people.
Jesus of Nazareth, who challenged the establishment of his time in unacceptable ways, knowing that they would kill him for it in a most unpleasant way.
Even Turkey’s own Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Despite widespread public adulation, he assuredly faced opposition from vested interests in his own lifetime – and denied himself the important Turkish dreams of family and dynastic succession for the greater goal of building a nation.
And to be fair, that’s why I don’t rank Mr ‘Megaupload’ Dotcom with that other triumvirate of Internet heroes. I’m not convinced there is quite the same spirit of self-sacrifice underlying his actions.

Well, YouTube is back, and I’m happy. I would, however, make a plea to armchair political activists wishing to bring down the Turkish Government. By all means express your views, but at the same time show a little consideration for your fellow citizens who enjoy using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for less controversial purposes.

Read This Book! ‘The Brothers’ by Stephen Kinzer

“Anyone wanting to know why the United States is hated across much of the world need look no farther than this book.”[1]
“A secret history, enriched and calmly retold; a shocking account of the misuse of American corporate, political and media power; a shaming reflection on the moral manners of post-imperial Europe; and an essential allegory for our own times.”  John Le Carré.
Some of you may remember a duo of Irishmen who delighted listeners of an olde worlde sentimental disposition in the 1970s and 80s with tear-jerking ballads such as, “When You and I Were Young, Maggie.” Mick Foster and Tony Allen continued to pluck the heartstrings of loyal fans into the new century – but “Maggie” probably remains their signature tune.
The song was written in the 1860s by a Canadian schoolteacher with the illustrious name of George Washington Johnson. Maggie, apparently, was a student of George’s whom he married – but lost to illness within a year of their wedding. One-hit-wonder George may have been, but “Maggie” earned him a place in the Canadian Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. Wikipediaassures me that you can visit the schoolhouse in Hamilton, Ontario where teacher wooed student, and examine a plaque commemorating their enduring love.
For the love of George and Maggie
Click to hear the song
Stephen Kinzer, on the other hand, has written a book about a relationship of hate. “During the 1950s,” goes the cover blurb, “when the Cold War was at its peak, two immensely powerful brothers led the United States into a series of foreign adventures whose effects are still shaking the world. John Foster Dulles was secretary of state while his brother, Allen Dulles, was director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In this book, Stephen Kinzer places their extraordinary lives against the background of American culture and history. He uses the framework of biography to ask: Why does the United States behave as it does in the world? ‘The Brothers’ explores hidden forces that shape the national psyche, from religious piety to Western movies, many of which are about a noble gunman who cleans up a lawless town by killing bad guys. This is how the Dulles brothers saw themselves, and how many Americans still see their country’s role in the world. Propelled by a quintessentially American set of fears and delusions, the Dulles brothers launched violent campaigns against foreign leaders they saw as threats to the United States. These campaigns helped push countries from Guatemala to the Congo into long spirals of violence, led the United States into the Vietnam War, and laid the foundation for decades of hostility between the United States and countries from Cuba to Iran.”
 “The Brothers” is not a humorous book. For many readers, in fact, it may be deeply disturbing, even frightening. Kinzer does not undermine the seriousness of his subject by making jokes. Nevertheless, it is difficult to believe that his references to “Foster and Allen” throughout the book were unconscious. There is an irony here that is inescapable:
The green growth is gone from the hills, Maggie
Where first the daisies spring
The creaking old mill is still, Maggie
Since you and I were young.
The dynamic self-belief of 1950s United States has been replaced by doubt and uncertainty. The naive patriotism that allowed post-war America to internalise the anti-communist scare-mongering of the Dulles brothers and their allies has gone like the green growth from the hills of Maggie’s youthful memories. The economic and industrial mill that was once the wonder of the world may not be completely still, but it is certainly creaking.
In his introduction, Kinzer mentions a controversy that surrounded the opening of a state-of-the-art airport in Chantilly, Virginia in 1962 – controversial because the naming of the facility after recently deceased Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was only achieved after some high level lobbying by influential people including Foster’s brother, CIA head, Allen Dulles. “Half a century after [John Foster] Dulles’s death stunned Americans,” Kinzer says,“few remember him. Many associate his name with an airport and nothing more.” The larger-than-life bust of Dulles that was once centre-piece of the Virginia airport vanished into storage when renovations were carried out in the 1990s.
George Washington Johnson, in his much-loved song, was able to sing . . .
Oh they say we have outlived our time, Maggie
As dated as songs that we’ve sung
But to me, you’re as fair as you were, Maggie
When you and I were young,
but the fair reputation of the Dulles brothers, that made them two of the most powerful individuals in the world from the last years of the Truman administration to the first years of JFK, hardly survived their own lifetimes. Nevertheless, as that cover blurb goes on to say, “The story of the Dulles brothers is the story of America. It illuminates and helps explain the modern history of the United States and the world.”
In his dedication, Kinzer quotes Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab: “That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him.” For Melville’s legendary Captain Ahab, the white whale represented all the evil of the world. “He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.”[2]For the Dulles brothers, the evil was international communism and the threat that national independence struggles posed to the supply of raw materials on which the US economy depended. For them the welfare of Wall St and corporate America was synonymous with the good of the world as a whole, and anything that threatened them was self-evidently endangering the very existence of the free world.
Kinzer’s book examines six case studies of leaders in emergent nations whose attempts to assert national sovereignty were seen as manifesting the malignant aims of Soviet Russia to achieve world domination. They were perceived or portrayed as puppets of Moscow, evidence of the domino theory, which held that freedom and democracy were in danger of being overwhelmed, step-by-step, by the forces of totalitarianism. That being so, they were hated, and any means taken to remove them were justified.
Part II of “The Brothers” is entitled “Six Monsters”. Its six chapters are devoted to accounts of six leaders of emergent sovereign states, each of whom was identified by the Dulles team as inimical to American interests and hence an enemy of the free world: Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran, Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, Ho Chi Minh in Viet Nam, President Sukarno in Indonesia, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, and Fidel Castro in Cuba. Kinzer describes, in well researched, persuasive and horrifying detail how “Foster and Allen” used the industrial, economic and military might of the United States in overt and covert ways to effect the downfall of these undesirable leaders.
Not all of the brothers’ machinations were successful, of course – neither in the short term, in getting rid of the leader in question, nor more importantly, in the long term, in spreading the ideals of freedom, democracy and respect for human rights. Ho Chi Minh, Sukarno and Castro survived CIA moves to oust or assassinate them. Mossadegh, Arbenz and Lumumba were removed from office – though few would argue that those countries and their people derived much benefit from the US puppet leaders who replaced them.
In the end, probably the most frightening aspect of this book is what it does not say. John Le Carré suggests that it is “an essential allegory of our times.” If it is indeed true that those few men were able to persuade the people of America and that nation’s allies that this course of action was in the best interests of the world as a whole, why should we think that process stopped with the deaths of Foster and Allen Dulles?
We now know that the US, under the Reagan administration, supported and armed the mujahidin (among them, a young Saudi Arab by the name of Osama bin Ladin) in Afghanistan against Soviet Russia. We know that in the same years the US sold arms to the Islamic government of Iran to fund its support of anti-communist guerrillas in Nicaragua. We know that the US suppled arms and intelligence to Saddam Hussein’s government when Iraq was at war with Iran. We also know that the present US government is going to great lengths to suppress and discredit Julian Assange’s Wikileaks, and silence its sources, Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning.
I am sometimes taken to task by readers who suggest I am anti-American. I don’t think that is true. This book was gifted to me by a patriotic citizen of the United States – although interestingly, Amazon refused to ship it to Turkey. I have, in fact, like many within America and beyond its shores, ambivalent feelings towards the world’s one remaining super-power. I grew up with the products of its music and film industries, and they are a part of my very being. I admire and benefit from the results of its technological ingenuity and expertise. I know and respect many of its citizens for their energy, warmth, intelligence and achievements.
On the other hand, I suspect the motives of that nation’s ruling class. I question their commitment to the ideals set out in their exemplary constitution by their founding fathers. I fear the results in the wider world of their foreign policies. Nevertheless, as long as such a book can be written and published, there is hope for democracy. It is your democratic duty to read it!
The Brothers – John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, Stephen Kinzer (Times Books, 2013)


[1] From a review by Adam LeBor in The New York Times.
[2] Moby-Dick, Chapter 41