Cyprus ‘selling’ EU citizenship to super rich

Here’s something I spotted on the pages of The Guardian. It made me wonder if the gnomes of Brussels are having second thoughts about their politically motivated expansion of the European Union. It goes without saying that we’re talking about “Greek” Cyprus here – not the other part of the island unrecognised by anyone except Turkey.

“The government of Cyprus has raised more than €4bn since 2013 by providing citizenship to the super rich, granting them the right to live and work throughout Europe in exchange for cash investment. More than 400 passports are understood to have been issued through this scheme last year alone.

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And look! The Brits still have military bases there. OK for them, but not for Turkey.

“A leaked list of the names of hundreds of those who have benefited from these schemes, seen by the Guardian, includes prominent business people and individuals with considerable political influence.

“The leak marks the first time a list of the super rich granted Cypriot citizenship has been revealed. A former member of Russia’s parliament, the founders of Ukraine’s largest commercial bank and a gambling billionaire are among the new names.

“The list sheds light on the little-known but highly profitable industry and raises questions about the security checks carried out on applicants by Cyprus.

“Beneficiaries of the pre-2013 schemes include an oligarch and art collector who bought a Palm Beach mansion from Donald Trump, and a Syrian businessman with close links to the country’s president, described in a leaked US diplomatic cable as a “poster boy for corruption” in war-torn Syria.

“European politicians have been watching the sector’s growth with alarm, with some saying the schemes undermine the concept of citizenship. Ana Gomes, a Portuguese MEP, described “golden visas” as ‘absolutely immoral and perverse’.”

Read more

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Trump thanks Turkey for hosting Syrian refugees

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If they don’t do as they’re told . . .

My beloved NZ Herald reported it under this headline: “Never heard a more courageous speech”. It was referring to US President Trump’s address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. The report went on to TRUMPET: “Trump vows to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea over weapons threats”.

The New York Times picked up on the President’s threats to other sovereign states his government is currently not happy with:

“In his speech, Mr. Trump vowed to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea if it threatened the United States or its allies. ‘If the righteous many don’t confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph,’ he said.

He also called Iran a ‘rogue nation’ and said the United States was ‘prepared to take further action’ on Venezuela.”

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Local governments in Istanbul and elsewhere provided free evening meals during the month of Ramadan – made some refugees happy for a time.

Our local English language newspaper in Turkey chose instead to focus on a brief mention Mr Trump gave to neighbouring countries that have been quietly getting on with the mammoth task of catering for millions of impoverished refugees from the six-year civil war in Syria.

“U.S. President Donald Trump has thanked Turkey for hosting Syrians who escaped from their war-torn country, while grilling North Korea and Iran during his first address to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 19. 

‘We appreciate the efforts of the United Nations agencies that are providing vital humanitarian assistance in areas liberated from ISIS, and we especially thank Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon for their role in hosting refugees from the Syrian conflict,’ Trump said.”

“Canım benim”, as Turks might say. Thanks for those crumbs of appreciation from the rich man’s table!

I’m not sure who is qualified to award the title of “The Righteous” to any human being on Earth – but I’m suspicious of anyone who applies the label to him or herself, and I’m 100% sure that precious few US Presidents would qualify.

 

Balancing fee speech and censorship

Twitter suspends 300,000 accounts tied to terrorism in 2017

“Twitter, under pressure from governments around the world to combat online extremism, said that improving automation tools are helping block accounts that promote terrorism and violence.

Twitter-Ban“In the first half of the year, Twitter said it suspended nearly 300,000 accounts globally linked to terrorism. Of those, roughly 95 per cent were identified by the company’s spam-fighting automation tools. Meanwhile, the social network said government data requests continued to increase, and that it provided authorities with data on roughly 3,900 accounts from January to June.

“Twitter, along with Facebook and YouTube, are instead building automation tools that quickly spot troublesome content. Facebook has roughly 7,500 people who screen for troublesome videos and posts.

“It’s also funded groups that produce anti-extremism content that’s circulated on the social network.

“American authorities made 2,111 requests from Twitter from January to June, the most of the 83 countries tracked by the company.

“Twitter supplied information on users in 77 per cent of the inquiries. Japan made 1,384 requests and the UK issued 606 requests. Turkish authorities continued a trend of aggressively policing Twitter, making 554 requests for account data and issuing court orders to remove 715 pieces of content. Other governments made only 38 total content-removal requests.”

Seems the word “aggressive” only applies to Turkey. Wonder what those other governments are doing with the information supplied by Twitter?

What to know about Press Freedom in Denmark

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Kim Wall and Peter Madsen – It’s actually the non-Muslim murderers you have to watch out for. They’re not to easy to identify.

I’m sure you saw the news that the body of a 30 year-old woman journalist had been found in the sea near the Danish capital Copenhagen. Actually it took some time before police were able to identify the body because its head, arms and legs had been cut off. News items I have read don’t say whether the amputated body parts have been found. Apparently identification was carried out using DNA samples from her hairbrush and toothbrush.

Kim Wall was a real journalist, a freelancer who wrote for The New York Times, Vice and Time, among other publications.

She wasn’t murdered by a crazed Islamic fundamentalist. The most likely suspect seems to be a Danish engineer inventor, Peter Madsen.

A spokesperson for Reporters without Borders issued a statement noting that no journalists in Turkey have yet been slain, mutilated, dismembered and thrown into the Bosporus or any other sea to the best of their knowledge. She went on to say that as a result of this attack on press freedom, Denmark has been moved up to second place on their latest list of dangerous places for journalists, threatening to overtake Syria, where reporters tend to be dressed up in orange overalls before having their throats cut.

Well, actually I have to confess it’s not true. The last time I wrote something like that some people believed me. Denmark is ranked 4th on that Press Freedom Index,  and Turkey 155th, but I’m watching out with interest for an update.

Remembering and revising history – Smash that statue!

It seems to have become a worldwide phenomenon recently, almost an epidemic – statue-smashing. It used to be just Islamic fundamentalists – the Taliban in Afghanistan, for example – but suddenly everyone seems to be doing it, and I have to tell you, I’m confused.

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Diogenes the Cynic

Of course, religious fanatics are still at it. In Turkey there’s been a spate of attacks on statues of Atatürk, the revered founder of the Republic. And in Sinop on the Black Sea coast, members of a local conservative religious foundation have taken exception to the effigy of an ancient Greek philosopher that stands on the outskirts of town, demanding its removal.

Well it’s easy to dismiss religious fundamentalists as cranks and nutcases, but clearly there are political motives at work too. We’ve been following with interest events in the USA, where violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia over some controversial statuary, and the trouble has apparently spread further afield. Hundreds of protestors gathered at the campus of North Carolina University insisting that a statue of a Confederate soldier be torn down. Adding fuel to the fire, a prominent businessman, politician and diplomat, Ray Mabus, called such images “monuments to treason” and insisted that they “must be removed now and forever”.

Meanwhile, a news item from Australia informed me that “there is fury” over a statue of Captain Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park. In this case, it’s not so much the figurine itself raising hackles, but the inscription on the pedestal claiming that the 18th century British explorer “discovered this territory”. Spokespersons for the indigenous aboriginal community are pointing out that the country wasn’t actually in need of discovering since there had been people living there for 60,000 years or so.

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Carrot adventures

So who’s right, and who’s at fault? Clearly human beings love making graven images – have done since time immemorial – to remember a famous person, to commemorate an event, to show off their wealth or prestige, to worship in place of an invisible deity . . . Most of the time they sit discreetly on their plinths quietly collecting verdigris and bird droppings. Some people think having an enormous model of a carrot (yes, a carrot!) in the New Zealand town of Ohakune is a great idea. Others think it’s pretty stupid, but no one seems to get overcome with blind destructive hatred. Same goes for the giant lobster in Kingston, South Australia. Some local authority in Paris, France, had a 12-metre, 18-tonne bronze thumb erected in their neighbourhood, and I haven’t heard of any complaints. Akşehir in Turkey, birthplace of Nasrddin Hodja, contains several sculptures of the legendary folk philosopher, of which citizens are rather proud.

On the other hand, America’s one-time allies in Afghanistan, the Taliban, attracted much international ire when, a few years ago, they dynamited several large statues of Buddha at the ancient site of Bamiyan. It seems the heresies implicit in the Buddhas overrode any historical value they may have had – at least in the opinion of the dynamiters.

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One of the Buddhas – before the dynamiting

This, then, seems to be the nub of the problem. Carrots, lobsters and thumbs are relatively neutral when it comes to arousing emotional response, either positive or negative. Representations of religion, politics (and sex), however, stir strong feelings. In the years after the Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity, zealots of the new faith journeyed around the temples of earlier ages chiselling off female breasts and male appendages from carvings they considered immoral.

We in the post-modern world like to think of ourselves as more enlightened, but many of us have sympathy for the indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, who may not have felt the same way about colonial invaders using superior technological might to steal their land and birthright. So what to do about Captain Cook? Remove the statue? Edit the inscription? Is this, as one politician asserted, “Stalinist revision”, or belated sensitive recognition that the ancestors of the aboriginal inhabitants have a valid point?

What about that statue in the Black Sea town? Diogenes the Cynic is believed to have been born there in the early 5th century BCE when it was an Ionian colony, Sinope. Cynical he may have been, but the poor man can hardly be blamed for the tragic events that unfolded a century ago after the Greek military invasion of Anatolia. Feelings still run high in some circles, on both sides of the Aegean, but I suspect current objections to Diogenes represent a small minority of opinion. Attitudes to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, however, are a far more controversial issue in Turkey. For decades a small elite backed by a powerful military controlled the country, fostering a cult-like adoration of the national hero to suppress religious and political opposition to their rule. I read an interesting article the other day in a Turkish newspaper entitled, “Let’s just stop abusing Atatürk.” The writer, Nazlan Ertan, was finding fault with the pseudo-faithful, who decorate their car rear windows with his signature, prefix their Facebook accounts with the initials TC, and claim to know how the great man would vote in elections and referenda if he were around today. And she has a point.

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Robert E Lee in Charlottesville

All of which brings me to the most recent controversy over symbolic statuary – the one currently raging in the United States over the question of whether representations of Confederate heroes or their cause should be permitted in public places. Personally, I don’t care one way of the other, but it seems to me that the issue has become a focus for the lovers and haters of President Donald Trump to vent their hyperactive spleens. And the man does seem to have polarised opinion in the USA in a way that few of his predecessors were able to do. What is clear is that there is still some feeling in Southern states of the old Confederacy that their cause was just, and they were unfairly treated. It seems also certain that the victors, as is generally the case, wrote the history books with their version of the story. Was slavery the only, or even the main issue over which the Civil war was fought? Were those soldiers of the Union really fighting for the rights of black Americans to be treated equally? I have read suggestions that Abe Lincoln himself wasn’t 100% certain about that. Were their opponents in the Confederate army all slave-owners or believers in the system?

More and more of American history is being shown up as mythology and politically motivated censorship. Books such as James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me, Oliver Stone’s The Untold History of the United States (and its associated TV documentary series) and Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow, are highlighting serious cracks in the foundations of the American ideal. Maybe we should just pull down all the statues everywhere until we sort the whole business out.

Champions of Democracy – Sweden, Turkey and Ecuador

It seems as long as I can remember, Scandinavian countries, Sweden and Norway, and their neighbours, Finland and Denmark, have been held up as models of civilised behaviour and individual freedom, as paragons of democracy, excellence in education and pretty much everything else that’s good and true. Check out any list you like, you’ll find them right up there near the top:

  • Transparency? Denmark 1st, Finland 3rd, Sweden 4th, Norway 6th.
  • Standard of living? Norway 1st, Denmark 3rd, Sweden 6th, Finland 8th.
  • Press freedom? Norway 1st, Sweden 2nd, Finland 3rd, Denmark 4th.
  • Women’s rights? Finland 2nd, Norway 3rd, Sweden 4th.
  • LGBT rights? Sweden 4th, Norway 6th, Denmark 7th.
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Swedish women standing up for their rights

So I suppose they may feel justified in adopting a “holier-than-thou” attitude towards us less enlightened mortals lower down the scale. Look at Turkey! 75th place on the transparency list (well, at least that’s over half way!); 130th for women’s’ rights; 36th out of 38 OECD countries for standard of living; 46th out of 49 in Europe for LGBT rights! And that’s before we get started on freedom of the press! 162 journalists in prison! Or 81, or more than 200, depending on which source you believe. You’d wonder if there was anyone left to report the news.

Then I decided to check one or two statistics. I found that, according to official figures, there 2,459 published newspapers in Turkey, including 55 broad circulations dailies, 23 regional and 2,381 local rags! So I guess there must be a few journalists still scribbling. And then there are the television channels: 27 national, 16 regional and 215 local! Magazines? 2,522. Radio stations? 87. Furthermore, around the country there are 33 tertiary communications faculties catering for 5,000 students each year. So it seems the government has its work cut out if its going to be successful in stifling dissent.

Another aspect of the problem lies in defining exactly what a “journalist” is? Am I a journalist when I write this blog? Is Julian Assange a journalist? Possibly that accounts for the difficulty in counting how many of us are in prison.

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Rule One: Don’t blink or you’ll miss the daylight

Don’t you love statistics? I switched tack and researched a few more. I found that per capita consumption of alcohol is more than five times higher in Denmark and Finland than in Turkey; four times higher in Sweden and 3.5 times higher in Norway. I learned that, among 37 OECD countries, Turkey has the second-lowest suicide rate – with far fewer people topping themselves than in those self-righteous north European paradises. Maybe it has something to do with the climate, I thought. Average annual temperatures in Helsinki (high, low) are 9° C and 1° C; in Oslo, 10° and 2°; in Stockholm, 10° and 4°, and Copenhagen, 11° and 5°. From November to February, Stockholm averages 7.5 hours of daylight per day. So nowhere’s perfect, right?

Still, I was a little disappointed to read the other day that Sweden is obstructing the government of Turkey in its attempts to extradite from Spain a “journalist” they accuse of spreading terrorist propaganda. Hamza Yalçın apparently took refuge in Sweden in 1984, after spending some time in prison for political activities at a time when Turkey was roiling in violence from the extreme left and right. He was involved with an anarchist organisation that openly advocated violence to overthrow whichever government was in. Street violence ended when a military junta seized power in 1980, the third such takeover in twenty years.

It seems Sweden granted citizenship to Mr Yalçın, but he chose to retain his Turkish status – which is why that government feels it has the right to call him to account. You would think Yalçın might have been happy with the current government of Turkey since they have managed to pull the teeth of the country’s formerly all-powerful military – and it has been twenty years since they were last able to overthrow an elected government. Since he has been in Sweden, however, Hamza has continued his involvement in the political situation back home – criticising the government in a Turkish language magazine Odak (Focus). Turkish authorities issued an international warrant for his arrest. He was picked up by local police at Barcelona Airport and is being held in custody while a Spanish court decides whether or not to extradite him to Turkey. Enter the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, who is reportedly working to ensure the poor man gets his rights.

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Vikings enjoying a few drinks

On the plus side for Sweden, I hear they have decided to drop their rape investigation against Julian Assange. The Wikileaks founder was granted sanctuary in the Ecuador Embassy in London after British courts had agreed to extradite him to Sweden, despite the fact that no actual charges had been laid. While he admits having sex with the two women concerned, Assange maintains that relations were mutually consensual. And you have to admit, the guy doesn’t fit your picture of a typical rapist. The women concerned are aged 27 and 31 respectively, not underage schoolgirls – and Sweden does have a long-standing reputation for moral flexibility in the field of sexual relations. Still, it’s a woman’s right to say “No” – though on the whole it’s probably better to say it loudly and clearly before taking a guy you don’t know very well back to your flat, getting naked and climbing into bed with him.

Assange, for his part, is certain that the rape accusations were fabricated to get him to Sweden whence he could then be extradited to the United States, where authorities would very much like to try him for spying, treason, conspiracy or whatever, lock him up in a penitentiary somewhere and throw away the key. And it wouldn’t surprise me at all.

So let’s take a look at our trio of democracies:

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Didn’t get quite as much coverage in the West as that iconic pic from Tiananmen Square

  • Turkey, the world’s second-highest provider of international aid; whose head of state is the first democratically elected president in the 94-year history of the republic; governed by a political party that has gained majority popular support in 7 elections since 2002; currently struggling to feed, house and employ three million refugees from the civil war in Syria; whose people last year faced down guns and tanks to thwart an attempted military coup.
  • Ecuador, Latin America’s largest recipient of refugees, with net annual immigration; whose government has, for five years, courageously stood up to pressure from powerful governments to protect the right of press freedom; whose president for ten years, Rafael Correa, worked tirelessly to ameliorate high poverty and inequality and improve health and education services (even the CIA World Factbook website admits this!) in the face of powerful opposition.
  • Sweden, cooperating with the world’s number one imperialist super-power to help them silence brave voices working to reveal the extent of their lies and evil actions; and siding with other hypocritical European “democracies” (Greece and Germany) to harbour traitors and terrorists lawfully sought for trial by the government of Turkey.

Who gets your vote?