NATO launches naval patrols to return migrants to Turkey


Germany’s ‘Einsatzgruppenversorger’ on a humanitarian mission


The Guardian, the UK’s proudly ‘left wing’ news outlet reports that Europe’s United States-led military alliance NATO has sent three warships, ‘backed by planes’ to ‘intercept migrants trying to reach Greece by sea and send them back to Turkey.’

After an apparently unanimous and unusually speedy decision, the patrol will be led by the flagship of the German navy, and will include a Canadian frigate, I assume to show that Europe has broad international backing for its action.

At the same time, NATO’s Norwegian secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, was quoted as saying, ‘This is not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats.’ I wonder what it is about then. The words of the NATO boss, from his enlightened Scandinavian nation, seem somewhat at odds with the reality of warships rushing to the Aegean Sea backed by air support.

Synod On The Themes Of Family Is Held At Vatican

Cardinal Marx speaking up for Christian values

Well, I guess we are pretty used to the hypocrisy of Western governments. Not so long ago, Angela Merkel was ready to commit Germany to doing its bit for the refugees. Now, however, as her local approval level has taken a battering, sending in the navy to stop the flow seems to have become her preferred option. No doubt she will be comforted to know she has the support of the Catholic Church, whose leading German cardinal, Reinhard Marx, recently called for a reduction in the number of refugees his country accepted.

A Path to ISIS, Through a Porous Turkish Border

Not so long ago, its Western allies were criticising Turkey’s government over its ‘porous border’ with Syria, and accusing it of failing to stem the flow of foreign fighters using Turkey as a route to enter Syria and join ISIS/Daesh. These ‘jihadists’ were not Turkish, mind. In fact several thousand of them originated from Western countries – but Turkey was apparently to blame.

UN urges Turkey to open borders, end to bombing of Syria’s Aleppo

Refugee boat

Send them back to Turkey – that’ll solve the problem

Now it seems, the same border needs to be opened to allow another influx of refugees, this time fleeing from the Syrian city of Aleppo, as Bashar Assad’s military, with Russian support, continue aerial bombardment. The United Nations are urging Turkey, in the name of humanity, to take in thousands of Syrians queuing at the border, to add to the more than 2.5 million that have already entered since civil war broke out in Syria nearly five years ago.

By the way, you might also notice the ambiguity of that headline. If you didn’t already know who was doing the bombing of Aleppo, you would have to read well into the article to learn that it is a Russian air campaign, and nothing to do with Turkey.


The Grass is Always Greener

I get a little tired of hearing middle class Turks complaining about democracy in their country – and reading all the negative stuff published in international media. I came across this little piece in The Guardian over the weekend.

Well, you could argue, I suppose, that the Italian justice system obviates the need for wife-beating . . . but I dunno . . . .



‘An Italian woman could face up to six years in jail after her husband accused her of not doing enough cooking and cleaning.

‘Her husband made a complaint to the paramilitary Carabinieri police, saying his wife was slovenly, failed to put meals on the table and left their home in a dreadful mess.

‘Judicial authorities sent the matter to trial. The 42-year-old wife faces 
up to six years in prison if found guilty of “mistreatment within the

family”. The crime, article 572 in the Italian penal code, “punishes whoever mistreats a person in their family or a person entrusted to them for education, care or custody”.’

Final tally: Police shot and killed 986 people in 2015

No, not in Turkey, as a matter of fact – but in the United States of America. I can’t tell you how many were shot and killed by police in Turkey in the same time period. On a comparative population basis, the number would have to be 232 to equal the US figure, but I don’t think the Turkish boys got anywhere near that.


Demonstration in Milwaukee

I also can’t tell you how many journalists are in prison in the United States. Probably not so many, given that corporate America pretty much has the mainstream media in its pocket. A more interesting figure might be how many whistle-blowers have suffered imprisonment or other persecution – but I couldn’t find statistics for that one.

Anyway, this report is sourced from The Washington Post:

“On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, Las Vegas police officers cornered Keith Childress Jr., who was wanted for a number of violent felonies. They opened fire on the black 23-year-old after he refused to drop the object in his hands, which turned out not to be a gun but a cellphone. 

“And with that, the nation logged what was probably its final police shooting death of 2015, a year in which 986 such killings occurred, well more than double the average number reported annually by the FBI over the past decade.

July 2015

Up to July 2015 

“The shooting is the final one to be counted as part of The Washington Post’s year-long project tracking on-duty police killings by firearm, an issue that has taken on new urgency after a number of high-profile killings of unarmed African American men. The Post sought to document every shooting death at the hands of police in 2015, and it revealed troubling patterns in the circumstances that led to such shootings and the characteristics of the victims.

“The project will continue this year. Federal officials have announced plans to improve their data collection, but the new initiative will not be in place until 2017. Already, The Post has tallied 11 fatal police shootings in 2016.

“Over the past year, The Post found that the vast majority of those shot and killed by police were armed and half of them were white. Still, police killed blacks at three times the rate of whites when adjusted for the populations where these shootings occurred. And although black men represent 6 percent of the U.S. population, they made up nearly 40 percent of those who were killed while unarmed.”

‘The War I Experienced’ – A Palestinian teenager’s vivid memory

My university classes are quite cosmopolitan these days. The Ottoman Empire was characterized by ethnic and religious diversity, but its successor, the modern Republic of Turkey became, at least ostensibly, more homogeneous. In recent years, however, migrants, students and refugees from Middle Eastern neighbours and some African countries have been altering the ethnic mix. My classes include young people from Libya, Jordan, Malta, Syria and Iran.

One young man, Yaser, a recent arrival from Palestine, wrote this short piece when asked to share a vivid memory. I want to share it with you:

palestine-rubble_1‘It was about two years ago. I was living in Gaza when the war came. I was 15 years old and the war started with twenty killings by the Israeli ‘terrorist’ army. I was very angry about that and afraid at the same time – not for myself but for my family and the people I love.  

‘The war lasted three months. One day I was watching a movie with my family to forget the war a little bit. While we were watching the movie outside in the garden, Israeli planes bombed the house of a family near ours. They fired rockets. I remember the sound of it, it was so loud! I couldn’t hear anything else at that time. I ran to help my mom and my little brothers go into the house. There were rocks flying and people crying for their children. There was a lot of dust and flames reaching up to the sky; smoke and the smell of burning people. It was really a terrifying day.  

‘We lived our lives like we would die tomorrow. One day we will free Palestine. I feel so angry about the things that happened in my country. They killed peaceful people, children and old people – and the Israelis say we are the terrorists! Can someone be a terrorist in his own country?  

‘When the war ended after three months there were 2,500 killed by Israel’s army, and more than 10,000 injured.’


The Desperation Driving Young Palestinians to Violence

When an article like this can be published in Time Magazine, maybe the message is starting to get through. What’s the biggest stumbling block to achieving peace in the Middle East?

Explosion from an Israeli rocket strike in Gaza

Explosion from an Israeli rocket strike in Gaza

Last December, 22-year-old Baha Allyan posted a list on Facebook of things to be done after his death. Number one on that list: “I ask that the political parties do not claim responsibility for my attack. My death was for my nation and not for you.”

On Tuesday, Allyan, a graphic designer from the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood Jabel Mukaber, was killed by Israeli security forces after allegedly trying to carry out an attack in Jerusalem.

In a sandwich shop in Jabel Mukaber, men watch footage of clashes on Palestinian television. Youth throw rocks, and Israeli soldiers respond with a barrage of tear gas. “No one is encouraging these youth,” says Hamdan Hadid, a 20-year-old Palestinian who works in the shop. “They are encouraging themselves.”

Mourning Palestinans in Gaza carry the body of a 5 year-old boy killed in an Israeli strike

Mourning Palestinians in Gaza carry the body of a 5 year-old boy killed in an Israeli strike

For Palestinians in Jabel Mukaber, life was tough even before the latest restrictions. Towering blocks of Israeli settlements line the roads into the neighborhood. The Palestinians here pay taxes like Israelis residents, but comparatively few services. The streets are filled with potholes and Palestinian residents are restricted from building new homes or expanding existing ones, even as Israeli settlements rise around them. Frustrations are simply boiling over.

For young Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank this anger and resentment has no political outlet. They are part of what has been called the Oslo Generation—those raised on the promise of peace and an independent Palestinian state laid out in the Oslo Accords signed in 1993 by Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. Instead, two decades later, they have hundreds of thousands of new Israeli settlers on some of the territory promised to them in the Accords, territory that remains under Israeli military control.

“It’s a joke,” says Ismail Shkrat, 23, standing outside his family’s lamp shop. From here he can see the edge of an Israeli settlement a few hundred feet away and the separation wall in the distance that slices through Jerusalem neighborhoods. On the road in front, a line of Palestinian vehicles wait to pass the Israeli checkpoint.

Read the whole article

A ‘Civilised’ Nation’s Willful Ignorance about the Middle East

John Key’s embarrassing performance at seventieth UN General Assembly

I’m reblogging this from The Daily Blog:

With thanks to Malcolm Evans

With thanks to Malcolm Evans

In his address to the seventieth UN General Assembly, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key referred to his own country 15 times – or 16, if you include his expression of pride in “the values and principles that underpin the country I lead.” His opening remarks even informed delegates that, “New Zealand is a small country at the bottom of the world”. Key then went on to boldly criticise the United Nations – in particular the Security Council – referring to suffering in the Middle East that demonstrated, he said, “how far we are from achieving the aspirations of our founders and of today’s members.” He went on to assert that the UN seventieth anniversary meeting was taking place “against the backdrop of the worst refugee crisis since World War Two”, noting that this was the consequence of “the Security Council’s failure to act over the past four years.” The past four years?

Evans 4The appalling Middle East refugee tragedy actually began in 1948 with Israel’s expulsion of the Palestinian people. If John Key didn’t know that fact of history, then his speech-writers certainly let him down badly. Many ethnically-cleansed Palestinians have ended up in Syria’s Marmouk refugee camp; Lyse Doucet, chief international correspondent for the BBC, visited the refugees there last year, and described the plight of Palestinians in the camp and how armed men struggled “to contain a crowd desperate to reach a UN food distribution point” in a “desolate wasteland of utter ruin.” Ever since the catastrophe that dispossessed the native Palestinians, the Security Council’s failure to act has enabled the denial of justice to continue. In his speech, Key made ten references to Syria, speaking of it by name. However, he chose to avoid directly mentioning both Israel and Palestine, even though his speech had devoted more than a third of its length to the Middle East. The closest John Key could bring himself to mentioning Israel and Palestine was a passing reference to what he referred to as the “Middle East Peace Process.”

Read more

Lies, Damned Lies and . . .. What was the other kind?

top-1-percentI don’t often go searching for words of economic wisdom in the pages of The Washington Post, but the headline grabbed my attention, and I wondered if, just maybe, someone over there was starting to get f****** real’, as a young economist eloquently instructed someone on NZ television the other day.

Admittedly the headline was a little equivocal, but wasn’t it at least a step in the right direction? ‘Why some billionaires are bad for growth’, it said, before adding, ‘and others aren’t’. Well, probably the best thing that can be said about economists is that they like to have a dollar each way on most issues – though in this particular case, the writer, according to her Forbes bio, worked as a pajama model in China for a few years, so that could also be considered a plus.

The sad fact about people in that line of work (economics as well as pajama modelling) is that, like most of us, they have to earn a living, and, like the proverbial piper, they tend to play the tune called by whoever is paying them. English economist Tim Harford is on record as saying, ‘People today don’t become economists to make the world a better place’, if they ever did.

Anyway, in this article, Ana Swanson is reporting on a new study by Sutirtha Bagchi of Villanova University and Jan Svejnar of Columbia University that reputedly resolves the debate about whether the mega-rich are beneficial for the world economy, or, as some believe, an unmitigated disaster.

Apparently these two academic pipers found that wealth inequality is actually growing over time – confirming our own empirical observations. They also found that their measure of wealth inequality corresponded with a negative effect on economic growth. However, acknowledging, one imagines, the sensibilities of their paymasters, the pair moved on to examine what they considered a crucial difference in the way the mega-rich acquired their mega-riches, namely, whether as a result of political connections, or their own entrepreneurial talents with a little help from Lady Luck.

inequality crtnWell, at least Ms Swanson recognises the potential difficulty here – and admits that the researchers used a rather narrow definition of ‘political connections’. Nevertheless, building on this flimsy premise, they went on to conclude that “The negative effects of wealth inequality are largely being driven by politically connected wealth inequality.” The researchers suggest that when wealth and power becomes concentrated in the hands of a few, those business and political elites often influence government policy in a way that hurts the broader interest. Amen to that, say I!

As far as I could understand the argument, the two economists were suggesting that extreme wealth acquired as a result of ‘political connections’ exerted an adverse effect on a country’s economy and slowed growth compared with squeaky-clean countries where the rich got rich by their own talent and efforts.

For example, they said, politically connected business elites can charge consumers higher prices for services, control access to bank loans and other funding, and prevent outsiders from starting competing businesses. “One of the things that shocked us is that once the billionaires had a significant amount of wealth, they would often take steps to try to limit the amount of competition,” Bagchi said. But only in corrupt Third World states, you understand.

Well, I’m not an economist, and haven’t been anywhere near Harvard Business School or any other MBA-dispensing institution of higher learning, but it does seem to me that there are several flaws in this case:

Dark_MoneyFirst, political influence comes in many forms, of which nepotism, family connections, such as exist, say, in Saudi Arabia, are only the most obvious and crude. According to, Corporations [in the United States] now spend about $2.6 billion a year on reported lobbying expenditures. Today, the biggest companies have upwards of 100 lobbyists representing them, allowing them to be everywhere, all the time. For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups together, large corporations and their associations now spend $34. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 consistently represent business.”

Then there is so-called “Dark Money”, “a term for funds given to non-profit organizations that can receive unlimited donations from corporations, individuals, and unions, and spend funds to influence elections, but are not required to disclose their donors. . . . According to the Center for Responsive Politics, ‘spending by organizations that do not disclose their donors has increased from less than $5.2 million in 2006 to well over $300 million in the 2012 presidential cycle and more than $174 million in the 2014 midterms.’”

Bagchi and Svejnar produced a table purporting to show the level of ‘political connection’ in the wealth acquisition of billionaires in twenty-three countries. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Columbia came out on top of the list with a rating of 84%, followed by India. Indonesia, Korea, Italy, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Brazil also featured in the top ten. I have to tell you I was a little shocked, though, to see our trans-Tasman cousins Australia highly placed at Number Three! However, shock turned to disbelief when I found the USA and the United Kingdom with a 0% rating for political involvement in wealth creation.

Child poverty protestThe article didn’t append comparative figures for economic growth of the 23 countries, so I checked them myself – and found that, contrary to what the researchers seemed to be arguing, growth in the top (worst) five averaged 4.6% in 2014, while the second five only managed 1.3%. The USA and the UK did achieve growth of 2.4 and 2.6% respectively – but it’s hard to see any clear evidence to support the conclusion that “our” billionaires are good for the economy and “theirs” aren’t.

This would seem to be borne out by the fact that the government of my own beloved homeland, New Zealand is doing its best to encourage wealthy Asians to ‘invest’ in the country by offering fast track residence visas. According to the government website:

“The Investor Visa (Investor 2 Category) is an option if you plan to invest a minimum of NZ$1.5 million over a four year period. If you’re looking to invest $NZ10 million or more then the Investor Plus Visa (Investor 1 Category) could be a better option.”

For foreign billionaires who may not see residence in New Zealand as an attractive option, a new organisation has been established, the New Zealand Super Yacht Group (NZSG) whose stated aim is to provide facilities encouraging the owners of super-yachts to call in and spend big. Additional incentives apparently include tax exemptions and the right to tie up in the marina for up to two years. One that availed itself of the opportunity recently was the 119-metre ‘A’ owned by the Russian couple Andrev and Aleksandra Melnichenko, reportedly purchased in 2008 for $US 300 million.

The mega-yacht 'A'

The mega-yacht ‘A’

Sad to say, the mega-riches of these privileged ‘investors’ and ‘visitors’ don’t seem to be trickling down to the needier levels of New Zealand’s society. According to a recent UNICEF report “as many as 28% of New Zealand children live in poverty.” House prices in the main cities, especially Auckland, are rising astronomically, primarily as a result of speculative ‘investment’ by wealthy Asians. Just this week The New Zealand Herald reported that a house in a very modest Auckland suburb, purchased for $NZ 291,500 in 2012, had been sold in May this year for $475,000, and subsequently flicked over twice with the price reaching $559,000. Last week it was sold again, but the real estate agents coyly declined to disclose the price.

In terms of immigration to New Zealand, there seems to be little sympathy for less affluent would-be migrants seeking refuge from zones of conflict such as the Middle East. A recent article in the same newspaper declared, “New Zealand is a heartless country and a bad global citizen. There’s really no other conclusion to be drawn from the pitifully low number of refugees allowed into this country.”

So, the big question is, can we believe The Washington Post, Ms Ana Swanson, and those two piping economists when they tell us that letting these super-rich hold on to and increase their mega-millions is actually good for you and me? According to Wikipedia, the term ‘trickle-down’ applied to an economic theory of wealth distribution was coined by the American comedian Will Rogers during the Great Depression – and we can assume that Mr Rogers had his tongue firmly in his cheek at the time. US President Ronald Reagan and economist Milton Friedman coined a new phrase, “supply-side” to lend credibility to the theory in the 1980s. JK Galbraith cynically referred to it as the horse-and-sparrow theory: If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.