The Non-people – Let’s say that they are dead

I wrote this back in 2003. I wasn’t writing a blog in those days, so it didn’t get much circulation. I’m posting it now in response to three items that crossed my screen this morning:

  • A reply to my post about Turkey’s human rights record – expressing deep sadness and frustration at the writer’s powerlessness in the face of US aggression and lies;
  • A clip my sister sent me with a Scottish woman singing/reciting a beautiful song/poem about Donald Trump;
  • Another reply from a woman who lost a child to the injustices of the US health system.

“It doesn’t snow that often in Istanbul, so it’s a novelty, especially for an ex-pat Aucklander. I love looking out of the window at the flying flakes, the trees with their branches laden and bent, the lawn white, and the Bosphorus beyond looking infinite, the Asian shore lost in mist.

When I got up this morning, the world was white, and the house was cold. My heating hadn’t come on. I had to go downstairs and bleed some air out of the heat pump. Now I’m comfortable behind double-glazed windows, radiators warming every room, enjoying the framed pictures on every wall, unreal, like old greeting cards of northern winters celebrating a southern Christmas.

I had to go out. My weekend morning routine is a leisurely breakfast with plenty of freshly brewed coffee, and it’s not complete without a warm-from-the-oven baguette from the bakery in Sarıyer, and a local paper. It’s ok though – once you don overcoat, scarf, gloves, woollen beanie, boots . . . snow adds a new dimension to the short walk to the village. Wish I’d got up earlier, though. It’s less picturesque after a few hours of traffic have churned the virginal white to brown slush.

No sign of my local charities today. There’s an old chap with a set of scales who bases himself all day on the esplanade near the supermarket. Too proud to simply beg, he accepts offerings from passers-by in return for reading their weight with doubtful accuracy. I always make a show of putting down my shopping bags, and getting him to read the kilos, in return for which I slip him one Turkish Lira. He shakes my hand and thanks me effusively. But I haven’t seen him for a few weeks. Wonder where he goes in winter?

Outside the bakery sits a woman in late middle-age. She makes little nest for herself with flattened cardboard cartons. On a good day, she may score a wooden fruit box from the grocer across the road. “Allah razi olsun,” she says, in return for my greeting and my lira; “God bless you.” But she wasn’t there today either. Too cold, I suppose.

So I got home, with my loaf and my ‘Milliyet’. The house felt marvellously warm as the radiators began to do their job. I fiddled around in the kitchen preparing a plate of olives, cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, scrambled egg . . . a glass of fresh orange juice (with coffee to follow), then settled down with newspaper spread out on the table.

Arab childI’d noticed, as soon as I took it from the newsagent that this morning’s paper looked different. Half of the front page was filled with the photograph of a doe-eyed Arab girl, about five years old, hair covered with a black embroidered headscarf, but her face open and innocent. “Ölü çocukların sessiz çığlıkları” read the restrained headline – little more than a caption, in fact: “The silent cries of the dead children.” It’s the title of a brief poem printed beside the photo:

‘Shall it be said of them that they are dead

Their hearts have long since stopped

Shall it be said of them that they are dead

The pupils of their eyes show no sign of life

Then let’s say they are dead

Like mighty ships at anchor

In great harbours

No sign of life in the pupils of their eyes

Shall it be said of them that they are dead?’

‘When the photograph of this little girl arrived at the reporters’ department of ‘Milliyet’ yesterday afternoon we were in a meeting.

It was taken in Baghdad yesterday during Friday prayers by Reuters correspondent Shuayib Salem . . .

The little girl’s name was not attached. Maybe it’s Ayshe, Fatma perhaps, or Emine . . . No one knows her name; in my opinion, no one wants to know.

Because, for the movers and shakers sitting in warm rooms in the great capitals of the world, whose names we read in newspapers, whose faces we see on television, it’s necessary that she should have no name, no identity. It’s necessary that she should remain a statistic . . .

In that way, it’s easier to accept the suffering . . .’

That was the front page. I don’t usually read every word – my Turkish is still a bit slow. I brewed my coffee and savoured the taste and the aroma as I flipped through the rest of the paper: movie reviews, apartments to rent, cartoons, football . . . On page 16, news that eighty thousand Turkish troops will be going to Iraq[1], along with fifty thousand from the US; three hundred US aircraft will be based on Turkish soil.

And it occurred to me that I don’t know the name of the old chap with the scales; nor the woman outside the bakery in her cardboard nest – the man and woman who weren’t there. For sure it’s easier that way.”

_____________________________________________

[1] In the end, those Turkish troops weren’t sent.

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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

Julian Assange, The Unauthorised Autobiography – Review

‘Indian [Native American] history is the antidote to the pious ethnocentrism of American exceptionalism, the notion that Americans are God’s chosen people. Indian history reveals that the United States and its predecessor British colonies have wrought great harm in the world. We must not forget this – not to wallow in our wrongdoing, but to understand and to learn, that we might not wreak harm again.’
That quote comes from a book I picked up on our recent visit to the USA, ‘Lies My Teacher Told Me’, by James W Loewen who, the back cover tells me, is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Vermont. My copy is the updated 2007 edition of a book that was first published in 1995 and claims to have won the American Book Award and the Oliver C Cox Anti-racism Award of the American Sociological Association.
The words can be found in the last paragraph of the 4th chapter, which is as far as I have got so far. The chapter is entitled ‘Red Eyes’, and discusses what Loewen refers to as ‘the most lied-about subset of our population,’ Native Americans. The learned professor’s thesis is that textbooks used in US high school history courses have presented, and mostly continue to present, an idealised programme of White American-centred myth-making and patriotic indoctrination that bores and frustrates students, and bears little relation to the reality of their nation’s past.
Earlier chapters deal with the process of hero-making, the true importance of Christopher Columbus, and the truth about Thanksgiving. In discussing that sacred event on the all-American calendar, Professor Loewen points out that the traditional ingredients of a Thanksgiving meal, pumpkins, turkey, corn and squash, were all indigenous to the Americas, and that the pilgrims, in reality, were indebted to their Indian neighbours more than to their God for survival in the new colony. He further informs us that celebration of the famous feast dates only from 1863 when President Lincoln, looking for ways to stir up patriotic fervour, declared the date a national holiday.
Well, as you will expect from my title, I am not here to review the Professor’s book. Loewen is discussing history, though he does include the warning that the present cannot be properly understood without a realistic appraisal of past events. My aim was to set the scene for a discussion of contemporary events that demonstrate the same processes at work: tailoring the story to suit a desired end result, overlooking inconvenient facts, and creating scapegoats and villains to justify a particular course of action.
When it comes to studying history, the problem is not so much that the true stories are not available – rather that they are generally only available to researchers and serious students. The rest of us are lulled into soporific acquiescence by the barrage of ‘facts’ served up by the weighty textbooks we lugged around at school. When it comes to contemporary issues, we are at the mercy of the mainstream news media, for the most part controlled by business and political interests whose purpose is rarely to present an unbiased account.
I am greatly indebted to my experiences in Turkey for opening my eyes to how much my own worldview had been shaped by those factors. One of my earliest such experiences was attending a celebration where Turks were commemorating 18 March 1915 as their day of victory in the First World War theatre we know as the Gallipoli Campaign – in defiance of New Zealanders and Australians who know our boys didn’t even get there till 25 April! Of course if you search you can find details of the Royal Navy’s earlier disastrous attempt to force a passage through the Dardanelle Straits – but that didn’t feature in any accounts I heard or read in my school years.
I guess life was easier in those days for government, military and status quo propagandists when the general public’s sources of information were fewer in number, narrower in scope and more easily controlled. I learnt, many years after the event, and from a very unofficial source, that the British military had been testing its atomic weapons in the trackless wastes of Australia’s central desert – and I was shocked. Surprisingly, many people still don’t know about the Brits’ nuclear testing programme, although I guess it’s no longer classified information.
Another historical fact I learnt recently is that the United States had five military bases in Turkey during the Cold War, with nuclear weapons, missiles and artillery aimed at targets in the Soviet Union. The thing is, I can’t help feeling that the Australian public, and maybe the public in Britain and in other NATO countries too, for all I know, would have liked access to that information at the time, in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s when it was extremely relevant to events on the international stage, and they might have exercised their parliamentary vote according to whether a political party supported or opposed the business. American citizens also might have been less starry-eyed and gung-ho about President JF Kennedy’s threat to start World War III if the Russians didn’t pull their missiles out of Cuba.
It’s a fantasy, I know, but what if British and United States voters had had been able to eavesdrop on conversations between George Dubya Bush and Tony (the Poodle) Blah prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq? What if the Queen (bless her heart) had heard Tony promising Cherie that he’d convert to Roman Catholicism just as soon as he stopped being Prime Minister?
Sadly, in those pre-Wikileaks days, they weren’t, and Her Majesty didn’t. Then, almost overnight, thanks to a white-haired computer geek from Townsville, Australia, the world changed – and I suspect, hope, pray, it will never be the same again. Wikileaks was the website that brought us memorable video footage from a US Apache helicopter gunship where we heard the crew chattering excitedly like 13 year-old war-gaming kids, heard the tak-tak-tak of the cannon as the gunner got the ok to ‘Light ‘em up!’, saw the mostly unarmed civilians, including two Reuters Agency photographers, dying in a hail of 30 mm shells, saw the small van with its occupants, including two children, trying to pick up the wounded, and  suffering the same fate. War photography too will never be the same.
It was Wikileaks again that allowed us to overhear US diplomats expressing their refreshingly undiplomatic feelings about world leaders most of us have serious doubts about: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah pressing the U.S. to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ by taking action against Iran’s nuclear program. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi described as ‘feckless’ and ‘vain.’ German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismissed as ‘risk averse and rarely creative.’
Of course, I understand that President Obama and his Secretaries of State past and present, Hilary Clinton and John Kerry are seriously p—d off with Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange. I can totally understand how they would be happy to lock him up in some federal penitentiary until they felt he was suitably penitent – which might be a while. On the other hand, I know there are some Americans, and even a few Australians, in spite of the reluctance of their government to stand up for the guy, who believe he did the world a favour by making that stuff available, and are secretly hoping the Ecuadoreans will find a way to spirit Assange out of their embassy, past those London bobbies, and off to the sanctuary of Quito where he can keep giving us insights into events and information our leaders would prefer us not to know.
So I want to tell you a little about the book I read before starting on the one dealing with the lies I learnt at school. It’s called ‘Julian Assange, the Unauthorised Autobiography’, and it may be even more important than the one about Steve Jobs.
One detail that needs explaining early on (and the publisher, Canongate Books does so) is how an autobiography can be unauthorised. Apparently Assange signed a contract and worked with a chosen writer, but later tried to pull out of the deal. By that time, according to Canongate, money had already changed hands (and been used by Assange to pay legal bills) and 38 publishing houses were committed to releasing the book. So here we have it – unauthorised but apparently straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
The book begins with Assange in a cell in Wandsworth Prison in London, comparing himself to Oscar Wilde, who, at about the same age, but in an earlier century, had spent time there after being convicted of ‘gross indecency’ – Victorian-speak for male homosexuality. Assange’s sexuality seems to be more mainstream, but it’s not until the penultimate chapter that we get his side of the business with the Swedish lasses. At first he is more concerned with giving details of his court appearances and time in prison, despite not having been charged with any crime – and explaining why he believes it’s not actually about the ladies.
From Wandsworth Gaol we flashback to Australia, mostly northern Queensland, where Assange was born into a hippy alternative lifestyle in an idyllic tropical paradise tinged with reality by the difficulties of being raised by a 19 year-old politically active solo mum. I’ll skip the details, but those were interesting times – and young Julian seems to have grown up in an environment of healthy anti-establishment scepticism.
The 1980s decade brought the personal computer into middle class homes, and for Assange, the world-changing technology came in the shape of a Commodore 64, produced by a now defunct company that, for a time there, actually outsold IBM PC compatibles, Apple machines and Atari. The C64 became his ‘consciousness’. Assange and his computer geek peers ‘always knew that the world was more modern than [the old guard] realised. Cairo was waiting. Tunisia was waiting. We were all waiting for the day when our technology would allow an increasing universality of freedom. In the future, power would not come from the barrel of a gun but from communications, and people would know themselves not by the imprimatur of a small and powerful coterie, but by the way they could disappear into a social network with huge political potential.’
Assange tells of his hacking exploits, under the code-name Mendax, starting in the late 1980s, as he rose to the challenge of ‘getting past a barrier that has been erected to keep you out’. One of his better efforts, apparently, was hacking his way into the computer system of the Pentagon’s 8thCommand Group. He compares his circle of like-minded freedom fighters to the 17thcentury Levellers in England – a political movement which, according to Wikipedia, ’emphasised popular sovereignty, extended suffrage, equality before the law, and religious tolerance’, expressing their ideas in a manifesto they called ‘Agreement of the People’. Perhaps, in a premonition of what was to come, Assange writes that ‘Governments were much more scared [of the power of the internet] than they were of people demonstrating in the street or throwing petrol bombs over barricades.’ In a chapter headed ‘Cypherpunks’,he speaks of a movement ‘engaged in establishing a system for the information age . . . that would allow individuals rather than merely corporations, to protect their privacy.’
What this movement produced in 2006 was Wikileaks, ‘the most secure platform for whistle-blowers the world had ever known.’ The essential principles were: so-called human rights are only rightsif they are enforceable; ordinary citizens are often in possession of information the rest of us should know for true democracy to operate; if they want to share it they should be able to do so in privacy and anonymity; once they decide to share the information, it needs to be published by the mainstream media.
The 70-page Appendix to Assange’s autobiography contains details of the most noteworthy leaks made available via the Wikileakswebsite, many of which were picked up by major news media, to the benefit of their circulation, no doubt, and to the extreme embarrassment of many governments: the Standard Operating Procedure Manual for Guantanamo detention centre, for example, and information provided by a former employee of Julius Baer Bank (HQ in Zurich) detailing how the bank assisted wealthy clients to move taxable funds to tax-havens in the Cayman Islands.
The book is a fascinating read, essential for anyone wishing to access an alternative view to that presented by those ‘outed’ governments and their lapdog news media. As Assange notes, the Information Age has rendered obsolete, or at least highly debatable, many legal concepts laid down in simpler times, not least of which is the question of who ‘owns’ information. Of course, as those 17th century Levellers discovered to their cost, the establishment elite in any society will fight tooth and nail to preserve their power and privileges. Sad to say, Assange may have been unduly optimistic about the democratic freedoms new communications technology would bring to Egypt. Possibly we will never know the extent to which the governments of the United States and Saudi Arabia influenced the military coup in Cairo. As for Wikileaks, we watch in stunned disbelief as the debate is switched from shocking revelations about events actually taking place behind the scenes on the world stage, to the romantic escapades of an Australian citizen and two sexually liberated Scandinavian women – with the active connivance of news media that were previously so keen to publish the leaked material.
Back in England in the 1640s, leaders of the Levellers were tried and hanged, or hunted down and shot by Oliver Cromwell’s men– thereby collapsing one of history’s early movements advocating popular democratic freedoms. We are currently waiting to hear how many lifetimes Private Bradley Manning will spend in prison; and Russian President Putin has seriously upset the US Government by granting asylum to Edward Snowden, who would otherwise very likely share Manning’s fate. How long Julian Assange can hang out in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London remains to be seen. The important thing for supporters of true democracy is not to lose sight of the real issue.
‘It is not Wikileaks the United States government is afraid of, and it is not Julian Assange that they are afraid of. What does it matter what I know? What does it matter what Wikileaks knows? It matters not at all. What matters is what you know. This is all about you.’

Julian Assange The Unauthorised Autobiography(Canongate Books, 2011) 339 pages 


He Who Pays the Piper Eats the Turkey

Great news! I’ve found a new journalist to dislike! Now I don’t have anything personal with journalists, you must understand. It’s just that, as a group their job requires them to sensationalise situations, look for the negatives in an issue, employ emotive language when short of facts, and toe the party line of whichever media magnate is paying their salary. In that last respect, they are much like economists.
Journalistic wit – example of
I came across an article about Turkey the other day. That’s Turkey with a capital ‘T’ – though it wasn’t immediately obvious from the headline, ‘Overdone Turkey’, and the accompanying photograph, a close-up shot of a mouth-watering, golden roasted, juicy fowl straight from the oven. Well, we all enjoy a little joke, of course, but you might have expected something slightly more creative, or at least less trite, from a professional writer with a PhD in Political Science and several books to his name, as this gentleman, Steven A Cook seemingly is. Anyone who has googled the name of this blog site will be aware that the simple brain of the world’s most popular search engine is incapable of distinguishing between the bird that adorns American tables on the fourth Thursday of November, and the nation of 75 million people on the eastern fringe of Europe that has been a loyal ally and key figure in United States strategic planning in the region since at least the beginning of the Cold War. That’s an unfortunate semantic fact of life for Turks, in whose own language the two words have no similarity whatsoever. They don’t get your joke, Steve – they just think you have a puerile, sub-adolescent sense of humour.
OK, admittedly, that article was published in November last year, and I don’t want to be too hard on the guy. Situations can change pretty rapidly in world affairs. Still, you’d think that a trained academic setting himself up as some kind of guru on US foreign policy would have a tad more objectivity, and an ability to make more accurate predictions than are evident in this piece. To save you the trouble of laughing your way through an article with more opinionated fluff than substance, here’s a brief summary:
The Turkish Prime Minister and his insignificant little country had been getting ideas above their station. They were starting to think of themselves as some kind of regional power with the clout to solve the problems of the Middle East – and some Americans (less intelligent and perceptive than Dr Steven A Cook) had been starting to believe the hype. The truth, we are told, is that the Turkish government had blown its relations with Israel in order to curry favour with neighbouring Muslim states and its own Islamist electorate, with the result that it was now relegated to the sidelines of Middle East diplomacy, its place taken by the new Egypt of Mohammed Morsi.
Wow! Steve, I hope you are enjoying eating those words. Afiyet olsun, as the Turks say, before a meal. May the dish prove beneficial to your health and well-being. Without the advantages conferred by a doctorate in pol. studs, I can nevertheless assure US readers that Turkey has no aspirations to return to the glory days of imperial Ottoman power. They may perhaps, with some justification, see themselves as a moderately successful secular democratic republic with a healthily diverse economy, serving as an example to neighbouring Muslim nations in the Middle East and Central Asia. On the whole, however, they adhere to the doctrine of their founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, one of whose goals, often quoted, was ‘Peace at home, peace in the world’. He is also reputed to have said that the only justifiable war was one fought to defend your own home turf.
Certainly, Turkish-Israeli relations were somewhat strained there for a time, for reasons Dr Steve itemises, and certainly not all of Turkey’s making. However, recently, there has been a reconciliation of sorts, instituted, we believe, by the mediation of US President Obama. ‘Why would he bother?’ you may ask. Undoubtedly because he and his advisors have a better grasp of regional affairs than Dr Steve. The simple fact is that Turkey and Israel are two of the saner, more balanced, moderate, democratic states in that part of the world – and if push comes to shove, I’m not so sure about Israel. I am, however, pretty sure about Egypt. If Steve still believes that Egypt is stable and secular enough to perform the role of credible mediator between Israel and Palestine when it can’t govern itself without the army and martial law . . . well, I suspect he may now be having second thoughts.
The thing is, though, Steven A Cook is not alone. Time magazine on May 16, published an article by one Ishaan Tharoor mocking Turkish PM Erdoğan over his recent visit to the USA, where he met and had dinner and discussions with President Obama – an honour, I suspect, not granted to every visiting head of a tin-pot state. I’ve never been a big believer in conspiracy theories, but it does seem to me that a good deal of ink is being expended in influential media in the West aimed at belittling and discrediting Turkey, and I can’t help wondering why. So I did a little digging, and came up with some interesting stuff.
The article referred to above, by Steven A Cook, appeared in a publication called Foreign Policy Magazine. FPM was founded by a certain Samuel P Huntington, author of the 1993 book ‘Clash of Civilisations’ which, rightly or wrongly, seemed to inspire much of the focus on the Muslim world as a substitute for the Soviet evil Empire in the post-Cold War age. Samuel P’s business partner was Warren Demian Manshel, an investment banker, director and Chief Administrative Officer of the CIA-backed Council for Cultural Freedom. Foreign Policy Mag’s editor-in-chief for fourteen years until 2010 was a guy called Moises Naim, who (despite the name), prior to taking up the reins at FPM, was Minister of Trade and Industry of Venezuela, and Executive Director of the World Bank. Naim served in the government of Carlos Andres Perez who was forced out of office and subsequently convicted of large-scale embezzlement of government money, which he is said to have stashed in secret bank accounts in the USA, held jointly with his ‘mistress’. Perez fled to the US where he lived in exile in Florida until his death in 2010. You might think the new Venezuelan government would have wanted to bring him back for trial, as the US does with Julian Assange and Kim Dotcom. What stopped them, I wonder? Incidentally, the CIA is suspected of involvement in an unsuccessful 2002 coup to overturn that new democratically elected Venezuelan government headed by Hugo Chavez.
Moises Naim, the while, was editing Foreign Policy Magazine, which, incidentally is owned by the Washington Post, whose principal shareholders are apparently, the family of Eugene Isaac Meyer and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Eugene Isaac Meyer (despite the name, no Venezuelan connection, as far as I can discover) was Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank in the early days of the Great Depression, going on to become first president of the World Bank Group. Berkshire Hathaway is a ginormous multinational corporate behemoth that, according to Wikipedia, ‘wholly owns GEICO, BNSF, Lubrizol, Dairy Queen, Fruit of the Loom, Helzberg Diamonds and NetJets, owns half of Heinz, owns an undisclosed percentage of Mars, Incorporated and has significant minority holdings in American Express, The Coca-Cola Company, Wells Fargo, and IBM’  – controlled by chairman, president and CEO, Warren Buffett, consistently ranked in the top three on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest human beings.
Now I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty that Mr Buffett calls Foreign Policy Magazine writers into his office of a Monday morning to give specific instructions on what they are going to write this week. I do suspect, however, that there are some men in the United States (and women too, for all I know) who feel they are entitled to a major say in shaping the nations domestic and foreign policy. Presidents come and go, but the Buffetts and the Meyers are in this for the long haul. If all those starry-eyed US citizens who, full of hope for a better future, voted for Barack Obama in 2008, wonder what went wrong, they just need to take a look at the policy movers and shakers who weren’t actually up for election.
But why pick on Turkey? With its 75 million people and economy ranked 17th in the world, it’s never going to be a major global power again. It seems to have minimal fossil fuel resources, treats its people relatively well, welcomes tourists from wealthier nations to its bars, beaches and historical sites, and has no aggressive territorial aims. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, Turkey’s location gives it huge geo-political significance. Situated on the back-doorstep of Europe, buffering Christendom against the Islamic tide of the Middle East and straddling the narrow sea-lane that gives warm water access for shipping to and from Russia and the land-locked republics of Central Asia, Turkey inevitably looms large in the strategic planning of the world’s big players. It has always been so, since time immemorial.
If you want a military base from which to bomb Baghdad, or site nuclear missiles within easy reach of Moscow, Turkey’s a good location. If you want to run a pipeline bringing oil from Kazakhstan to Europe, you might want to run it through Turkey. If you want diplomatically immune and reasonably secure  consulates and embassies from which to manage intelligence-gathering operations in Russia, the Middle East and beyond, hard to find a better place. Turkey, as noted above, has a stable democracy, a relatively satisfied population, fairly reliable and efficient internal security, and, despite the doom-sayers, little likelihood of being taken over by Al Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood. Plus, it’s a nice place to live, if you’re a big wheel in business or the diplomatic corps, and you have to be posted abroad.
The downside, from the perspective of those big world players, is that Turkey is a bit of a free spirit in the world of international affairs. The Ottoman Empire it may not be, but there is a strong residual memory of a time when Istanbul was capital of an empire wielding considerable power in early modern Europe. Apart from a brief spell of five years after the First World War when the city was occupied by British and French military, the heartland of modern Turkey was never subsumed into, nor colonised by any foreign empire. In the early years of the Republic, Turkey managed to maintain neutrality during the Second World War and avoid invasion by the Nazi war machine.
They did send troops to Korea in the early 1950s, and put their lives on the line for NATO as a bulwark against Soviet expansion during the Cold War years. Nevertheless, they have always reserved the right to make their own decisions, as George Dubya found out when he invaded Iraq in 2003. Bush and his team would have dearly loved to include Turkey in their ‘Coalition of the Willing’ to show that they were not just a coalition of willing Christians against the Muslims. It was said the US Government offered a substantial financial incentive to secure Turkey’s participation. Unfortunately some indiscreet aide let slip the opinion that the Turks could be bought, and the Turks, whose sense of pride and honour sometimes gets them into trouble, not only pulled out, but also refused to allow their İncirlik base to be used for launching US bombers.
So, democracy, despite the hype, is probably less popular in their corridors of power than Western leaders would have us believe.  When Egyptians rose in Tahrir Square against 30-year President Hosni Mubarak, their protest led to the ousting of a ruler much loved by US leaders but not awfully popular in his own country. It has been suggested that he at least had prior knowledge of the assassination of predecessor Anwar Sadat. At no time did Egyptian citizens elect him in a free and democratic election. He was widely regarded at home as an American puppet, and there is no doubt that his huge military machine was supplied by the generosity of successive United States Governments.
The big question is, who makes these things happen? And who controls the news media so that ordinary citizens in the United States and elsewhere are kept in the dark about what is actually going on? Clearly Barack Obama is not the only one calling the tune of American foreign and domestic policy. And Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has a hard job to maintain his country’s independence in the face of a slanderous campaign by Western media. And I will refrain from adolescent speculation on what the ‘A’ in Steven A Cook stands for.

Czechs and Chechens, Christians and Muslims

I read an article in a recent Time magazine by a gentleman who had apparently spent some time in Turkey and Israel. The gist of his thesis (as far as I could understand) was that he had found living in those countries strange because of the level of security evident in daily life. His main evidence for this in Turkey seemed to be a shortage of rubbish bins in public places.
Well, I will admit I have found this frustrating myself, but alongside the other difficulties one must surmount to live in a country without a tradition of British colonialism, it ranks as a relatively minor inconvenience. I have also got used to metal detectors and cursory security checks on entering the large modern shopping complexes mushrooming in every corner of the country. More surprising to me was the presence of a guard with an automatic weapon outside every police station, and small troops of armed uniformed soldiers jogging around the streets of my local neighbourhood. At least the latter phenomenon seems less in evidence these days since the justice system started calling top military brass to account for their roles in past military coups and planning of the next one.
I haven’t been to Israel, so I can’t speak for conditions there, but I suspect that, if anything, security will be more visible. Why wouldn’t it be? This is a dangerous region. Grievances go back a long way in a part of the world where Turks, in Asia Minor for a thousand years, are regarded by many as Johnny-come-latelies, and Islam, which took hold in the 7th century, as an uninvited guest who has outstayed his welcome.
Getting back to Turkey, it’s a question of give and take, don’t you think? I accept a certain level of visible security in return for feeling relatively safe on the streets and in public places. And I do, I really do! I feel safer in Istanbul than in my own home town of Auckland, for example. I may have mentioned before that I am a keen cyclist. Turkish friends are surprised when I tell them I feel less threatened cycling in the frenetic traffic of megalopolitan Istanbul than in underpopulated New Zealand. My anecdotal evidence was supported recently by a news item suggesting that motorists in NZ deliberately target people on bicycles. I can’t speak with authority about the United States, since my one brief visit doesn’t entitle me to make generalisations. However, I can say I would prefer to see the automatic weapon in the hands of a uniformed accountable servant of the state than freely available to any adolescent with bipolar disorder and a grudge against society.
We have friends in Boston, so we have been following with interest and concern news about the bombing at the annual marathon race. It was mightily impressive to see how the general public and law enforcement agencies united to catch the perpetrators within a matter of days. Still, I can’t help having some misgivings about the business. One question that comes to mind is how many security cameras operating 24/7 there must be in that city for authorities to see those two guys with their backpacks prior to what we must assume was a totally unexpected event. Do you prefer your security visible or invisible? Is it better to catch the lunatic fringe after the event or deter them beforehand? Of course, terrorist bombers are by definition dangerous characters, and you wouldn’t expect police officers to mess around with kid gloves – but it is surely unfortunate that one of the supects was shot dead and the other is fighting for his life in hospital, the gunshot wound in his throat making it difficult for him to tell his side of the story.
European geography clarified
My major concern, however, is the xenophobia that clearly lurks very close to the surface in the psyche of many US citizens. Much of it stems from ignorance, and America certainly has no monopoly on that human failing. I read that diplomatic staff representing the Czech Republic found it necessary to expain to denizens of the social media netherworld that Chechnya is in fact an entirely separate country, about as far from their borders as Cheyenne, Wyoming is from the White House – though Cheyenne is at least still in mainland USA. Forty percent of Czechs are reportedly Christian, with most of the rest preferring not to label themselves, which, apart from geographic location, differentiates them from the people of Chechnya who are, according to my source, overwhelmingly Muslim. In fact it’s a pity the bombing suspects weren’t of Czech origin since in that case we would probably have heard less about their religious affiliations.
Sadly, however, the Muslim connection seems to have been established, no doubt further cementing hatred in the minds of US and West European citizens all too ready to blame followers of the Prophet Muhammed for most of the world’s current problems. At least, then, we must be grateful that the two young men were not Iranian, otherwise Operation “Smash Iran Back to Paleolithic Oblivion” would probably already be under way. The Chechen connection is actually surprising. You might have expected the Moscow or St Petersburg marathon to be a preferred target, given that Russians have been suppressing, persecuting and displacing Muslim people of the Caucasus region for more than two centuries. But once guys get it into their minds to kill and maim ordinary citizens going about their lawful business, they’ve probably ceased thinking in ways that you and I can understand.
Another big question in my mind, though, is to what extent do these two sad Chechen lads represent the worldwide Islamic community of faith? And following from that, should we consider their Muslim affiliation the key rationale for their actions rather than their twisted personal psychological state? According to Wikipedia, approximately 1.6 billion people, or nearly twenty-five percent of the world’s population is Muslim. They are  the majority demographic in fifty countries, and speak sixty native languages. In addition, there are 178 million Muslims in India (roughly equivalent to the population of Pakistan), and around twenty million each in China, Russia and Ethiopia. By the law of averages, you’re going to expect a few nut cases amongst that lot.
Apparently it is less easy to get an accurate estimate of the number of Christians in the world. Most sources agree that Jesus leads the world’s largest religious congregation with numbers ranging from 1.5 to 2.2 billion. The same source tells me there are 125 countries with majority Christian populations, although that total includes a good number of international minnows, Greenland, the British Virgin Islands and the Falklands, for example. Somewhat to my surprise, my own homeland, New Zealand, only just scraped into the list of Christian nations with 55.6 percent, not, as you might suspect, because of vast inflows of Taoists, Shintos and Buddhists, but because, like the Czechs, most of you guys claim to be atheists or just want the pollsters to bugger off and mind their own business.
Speaking of Christians, it was George Bush the Son and his Holy Spiritual offsider, Tony Blah, professed Believers both, who led that ‘coalition of the willing’ back in 2003 – convinced, against all the evidence, that Saddam Hussein was manufacturing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. But then, weight of evidence to the contrary tends not to be a major factor in the belief system of the more dedicated follower of Christ. The USA is the most ‘Christian’ nation on Earth, with almost 250 million faithful, and around half of them are apparently convinced that Jesus Christ will return to Earth and Rapture them some time before the year 2050, though there is disagreement about the exact date.
Nevertheless, both Bush and Blah would have dearly loved to see Muslim Turkey join their band of willing helpers when they invaded Iraq, if only to show the world that it wasn’t just a latter-day Christian Crusade. Maybe Turkey missed a good opportunity there to join the Christian club as an honorary member – but sometimes you just have to stand up for what you believe is right – or against what you believe is wrong, would perhaps be more accurate.
These days it seems that the tide of opinion, even amongst previously willing supporters, has turned against the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The number of Iraqi deaths is open to considerable debate – estimates range from one hundred thousand to more than a million. Even if you look at the lower end figures, the Iraq Body Count Project, generally accepted to be conservatively reliable, gives the  total as over 170,000 including 120,000 civilians.  The number of US military personnel killed is more precise – 4,409, with other ‘coalition’ deaths bringing the total to 4,799.
I certainly don’t want to make light of that awful day in Boston last month, especially since we know that one of the three killed was an eight-year-old child – and many of the injured will be maimed for life. Perhaps the bright spot in an otherwise tragic event is that those weapons of mass destruction surfaced after all, having made their way across the Middle East, Europe and the Atlantic Ocean to east coast USA. 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will apparently be charged with using them, and if convicted will, quite rightly, face the death penalty. I have to confess, however, to some disappointment that the WMDs turn out to have been relatively small bombs made in his big brother’s kitchen from domestic pressure cookers, rather than the more impressive chemical, biological and nuclear arsenal we were encouraged to believe in at the time.

Ding Dong. Who’s There? A Witch and a Wizard

A Facebook group had, it seems, been planning for several years to make ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’, from the 1939 film ‘The Wizard of Oz’, No 1 song in the UK when Margaret Thatcher died. I have no idea what’s topping the charts in Venezuela these days, because I’ve been busy marking student essays at the university where I work. Maybe that’s what did it. An essay topic insinuated itself into my brain, and like the Ancient Mariner’s woeful agony, wouldn’t leave me alone until I’d buttonholed you and shared my tale, so here it is:
‘Compare and contrast the lives and political careers of Hugo Chavez and Margaret Thatcher’
The world lost two colourful and controversial political figures in 2013. Both had served long terms as leader of their countries: Hugo Chavez as President of Venezuela for fourteen years; Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister of Britain for almost twelve.
Both leaders divided their nations into dramatically polarised groups – those who loved them and those who hated and detested them. Both achieved considerable international recognition during their lifetime. Time ranked Chavez among the world’s ‘100 Most Influential People’ in 2005 and 2006. The same weekly had Thatcher in its ‘100 Most Important People of the 20th Century’. The British magazine New Statesman (admittedly leftist) placed Chavez eleventh on their list of ‘Heroes of Our Time’. A BBC poll to find the ‘100 Greatest Britons’ had Dame Maggie at number sixteen on the list – a ranking somewhat devalued, I fear, by its having Princess Diana in third place.
Pouring cold water in Northern Ireland
Thatcher is said to be the only post-war Oxford-educated PM not to have been awarded an honorary doctorate by her alma mater. Chavez on the other hand received several such awards, from universities as far away as South Korea, Russia and Beijing.
Both were ideologues, committed to particular, somewhat extreme political doctrines which they single-mindedly applied in the face of strong opposition: Thatcher to the monetarism of Milton Friedman, and Chavez to socialism and populism, and his revolutionary heroes, Simon Bolivar and Che Guevara.
Both formed strong bonds with like-minded leaders on the international stage: Thatcher with US presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush the Father, Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet and the Prime Minister of apartheid-era South Africa, PW Botha; Chavez with South American neighbours Fidel Castro and Rafael Correa, and Iranian president Mahmud Ahmedinejad.
Thatcher crushed the unions, broke down the traditions of collective workplace bargaining, championed an individualistic, free-market privatised economy where financiers were given free reign, and paved the way for a new society with summers of content for the wealthy and an underclass tucked away out of sight, occasionally rising in disorganised protest and ruthlessly suppressed. British Labour MP Glenda Jackson, speaking in a parliamentary debate after Thatcher’s death, described that lady’s achievement as ‘the most heinous social, economic and spiritual damage upon this country.’
Chavez took on the problems of poverty and slums associated with uncontrolled urbanisation, addressed the evils of inadequate food production and profiteering, and reduced poverty in Venezuela from 59 to 24 percent of the population. He was the leader of a South American nation struggling with the legacy of colonialism, corruption, large-scale poverty and huge inequalities of wealth distribution.
Thatcher, on the other hand, headed a West European country with a history of imperialist and colonial exploitation, and the sixth largest economy in the world, who went to war with a much poorer and technologically inferior South American state to preserve her nation’s right to own a tiny island in the South Atlantic Ocean 12,500 km from its own shores. Cynics have suggested that, if not for the wave of jingoistic patriotism and media frenzy generated by this ten-week mini-war, Thatcher might have been a one-term rather than a three-term Prime Minster. Even her first election victory, in 1979, was achieved with the support of former National Front voters, who deserted their far right nationalist whites-only party to side with the ‘Iron Lady’.
Both premiers came from relatively humble origins – Thatcher, daughter of a Grantham grocer, who did, though, own two stores; Chavez born to small-town working class parents. Margaret Hilda Roberts, however was able to marry a millionaire businessman, Denis Thatcher, who financed her through law school (after her first career as a chemist foundered), supported her in her early political career, and purchased their two comfortable homes, in Chelsea and rural Kent. In an interview in 1970, Hubby Thatcher is quoted as saying, ‘I don’t pretend that I’m anything but an honest-to-God right-winger – those are my views and I don’t care who knows ’em’. Funny how those right-wing loonies always seem to find a way to bring God in on their side. Maggie’s father-in-law, incidentally, was apparently born in New Zealand, so I and my fellow Kiwis can claim some interest in the Baroness’s rise to power.
The Venezuelan leader died in office after a battle with cancer, still popular enough in his own country to have been re-elected to a fourth term as president in 2012. The dear departed Briton was more or less obliged to resign as PM in 1990, shortly before the first Gulf War, which she had egged on – and in the face of serious opposition to her iniquitous poll tax. She lived to see Britain plunged into an economic crisis from which it still has not recovered, brought about in large part by her policies of deregulating the finance sector and fostering greed-driven capitalism. According to reports, she went slowly insane, afflicted with dementia for the last thirteen years of her life.
Perhaps Thatcher’s most shameful legacy was facilitating the destruction of an alternative political voice representing the viewpoint of ordinary people. Her long-term political crony, Lord Howe of Aberavon put it differently: ‘Her real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible.’ Indeed, the subsequent Labour Government under Tony Blah was ‘labour’ in nothing but name.
Whatever you may think of Hugo Chavez, he kept alive the belief in other possibilities – at considerable personal risk. He was actually ousted in 2002 by a coup (said by some, himself included, to have been supported by the United States and the CIA). This belief is lent strength by the fact that the coup leaders had so little local support they were forced to hand back the reigns of power to Chavez after a mere forty-seven hours, making it possibly the shortest military takeover in history. Well, to be fair to Dame Maragaret, she did survive an assassination attempt by the Irish Republican Army in 1984, and no one would deny that she had the courage of her dubious convictions. According to one source, she was turned down for a job in 1948 as a research chemist for ICI on the grounds that she was ‘headstrong, obstinate and dangerously self-opinionated’. Violence in Northern Ireland increased considerably in her first term of office, and nine IRA members died on hunger strikes in English prisons. After the assassination attempt, however, she did seem to moderate her stance on Ireland, so perhaps she was not entirely unresponsive to the alternative point-of-view.
Thatcher’s economic policies have sometimes been credited with putting the ‘Great’ back in Great Britain – though the gloss seems to have gone off the ‘Great’-ness again in the last year or two. Even at the time, however, it depended very much on where you were looking from. Her first term as Prime Minister saw a decline of thirty percent in manufacturing output, and unemployment reaching an all-time high of three million plus. Much of her apparent success could be attributed to the huge sell-off of state assets, and increased profits for the companies that survived.
After her resignation from active politics, Thatcher was employed by tobacco giant Philip Morris as a ‘geopolitical consultant’, in a role similar to that played by Aaron Eckhart in the 2005 movie ‘Thank You For Smoking’ – only Thatcher was for real.
As for Hugo Chavez, it would be hard to find a national leader with more starkly contrasting economic and social policies. Undoubtedly, he had the major advantage of heading a country said to have the world’s largest reserves of crude oil. Nevertheless, that doesn’t seem necessarily to oblige a government to show concern for its people.  Chavez’s so-called ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ nationalised several key industries, increased spending on health and education, and aimed to develop systems facilitating participatory democracy. His ‘Mission Zamora’ was a reform programme aimed at redistributing land to the landless. Needless to say it was vehemently opposed by vested interests who hired assassins to terminate supporters and beneficiaries of the reforms. In 2009, Chavez and other like-minded South American leaders established the Bank of the South as an alternative to the International Monetary Fund, which they perceived as pursuing an unsympathetic political agenda. Former World Bank chief economist, Nobel Laureate and Columbia University professor Joseph Stiglitz is on record as expressing approval of this project.
Of course, Chavez had his critics abroad as well as at home. He did not endear himself to the Younger Bush’s administration with his criticism of the US invasion of Iraq. The organisation Human Rights Watch issued a report in 2008 claiming that government action in Venezuela was eroding the independence of the judiciary and ‘undercutting journalists’ freedom of expression’. To put that in perspective, HRW’s headquarters is in the Empire State Building in New York City, and its principal source of funding is George Soros – of whom I have written before.
One example of the independence of the judiciary in Venezuela is a case involving a judge Maria Afiuni, who was arrested on charges of corruption. Apparently she had released on bail a banker charged with large-scale fraud and illegal currency trading. HRW and other groups including the US Department of State felt that the learned judge was being unfairly treated. Chavez’s government was of the opinion that she might have been unduly influenced by under-the-table incentives. Who’s to know?
Well, no doubt debate over the legacies of these two late lamented will go on, with little agreement possible between entrenched positions. Baroness Thatcher was seen off at a state funeral on Wednesday with much British pomp and ceremony. Sadly, some might feel, US President Obama was otherwise engaged, and Hilary Clinton declined her invitation. In their stead the US was represented by George Schultz, Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney – relics, one might think, of a more clearly defined political age.  Former apartheid South African President FW de Clerk was there – but not Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, current president of Argentina, who, I understand, was not invited.
Chavez’s funeral was apparently a less formal, more musical affair. Ms de Kirchner was in attendance, as were Cuba’s Raul Castro, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko as well as Brazil’s Dilma Vana Rousseff. Actor Sean Penn and Hollywood director Oliver Stone had kind words to say, as did maverick film-maker Michael Moore, who quoted Chavez as saying, on their meeting in 2009, ‘He was happy to finally meet someone Bush hated more than him.’ A man could have worse things inscribed on his tombstone.

Hugo Chavez RIP

No minute of silence in USA for Venezuelan baseball fan
Hugo Chavez died on Wednesday after 14 years as President of Venezuela. He didn’t love everyone, and not everyone loved him – but he had strong opinions, and wasn’t afraid to express them. Here’s a brief sample, and a site you can check out for more:

The Devil at the UN
Chavez infamously referred to US President George W. Bush as the devil in a 2006 address to the UN: “And the Devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the Devil came here. Right here. [crosses himself] And it smells of sulphur still today. Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the Devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world.”
Tony Blair as an imperial pawn
After UK Prime Minister Tony Blair advised Chavez to abide by international law and avoid close relations with Cuba, the Venezuelan president hit back with this: “Don’t be shameless, Mr Blair. Don’t be immoral, Mr Blair. You are one of those who have no morals. You are not one who has the right to criticise anyone about the rules of the international community.  You are an imperialist pawn who attempts to curry favour with Danger Bush-Hitler, the number one mass murderer and assassin there is on the planet.  Go straight to hell, Mr Blair.”
Capitalism destroyed life on Mars
On World Water Day in 2011, Chavez marked the occasion by noting the destructive potential of capitalism: “I have always said, heard, that it would not be strange that there had been civilization on Mars, but maybe capitalism arrived there, imperialism arrived and finished off the planet. Careful! Here on planet Earth where hundreds of years ago or less there were great forests, now there are deserts. Where there were rivers, there are deserts.”