Reasonable people have long believed that the first person in a conversation to mention Adolf Hitler or the Nazis loses the argument. Turkish President Recep Tayib Erdogan does not subscribe to this view, and he has no intention of losing the argument.
The argument — the referendum, more precisely — is about whether Erdogan should be given absolute power in Turkey for the indefinite future. He was seriously annoyed when various German municipalities dared to doubt his rendezvous with destiny.
Their crime was to withhold permission for Erdogan’s government to hold referendum rallies in German cities. Germany is home to 1.4 million Turkish citizens, and in a tight referendum their votes matter, so Erdogan was quite put out.… Seguir leyendo »
Only 39 light-years away, astronomers have found seven planets circling a very small “red dwarf” star called Trappist-1. All seven are in or near what we call the “Goldilocks zone”: not too hot, not too cold, but just right for water to remain liquid on the planet. So we all speculate once again, but a little more bravely this time, about whether some of these planets might be home to life.
Not only are three of Trappist-1’s planets dead center in the Goldilocks zone; the other four are on the fringes of the habitable zone. And they are all big enough — from half Earth’s size to slightly bigger than our home planet — to retain an atmosphere for billions of years.… Seguir leyendo »
“We will win the biggest landslide this country has ever seen,” said Gambia’s president, Yahya Jammeh, before the small West African country’s recent election, and he had every reason to be confident. Jammeh had been in power for 22 years, and he knew how to run an election.
There was not the slightest indication that Jammeh was ready to surrender power. He said he was “proud to be a dictator,” promised to bury the “evil vermin called opposition 9 feet deep,” and once declared that he would rule “for 1 billion years if Allah wills it.” But when the marbles spoke last Friday morning, he had lost the election.… Seguir leyendo »
Eastern Aleppo, the rebel-held half of what was once Syria’s biggest city, is falling. Once the resistance there collapses, things may move very fast in Syria, and the biggest question will be do the outside powers that have intervened in the war accept Bashar Assad’s victory, or do they keep the war going?
Even one year ago, it seemed completely unrealistic to talk about an Assad victory. The Syrian government’s army was decimated, demoralized and on the verge of collapse: Every time the rebels attacked, it retreated.
There was even a serious possibility that Islamic State and the Nusra Front, the extreme Islamist groups that dominated the rebel forces, would sweep to victory in all of Syria.… Seguir leyendo »
“In Turkey, we are progressively putting behind bars all people who take the liberty of voicing even the slightest criticism of the government,” wrote author Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s first Nobel Prize winner. “Freedom of thought no longer exists. We are distancing ourselves at high speed from a state of law and heading towards a regime of terror” that is driven by “the most ferocious hatred.”
Pamuk wrote those words in Istanbul, but they were not published in Turkey. He sent them to Italy’s leading liberal daily, “Repubblica”, because no Turkish paper would dare to publish them. Indeed, almost the entire senior editorial staff of Turkey’s oldest mainstream daily, “Cumhuriyet”, was arrested recently, allegedly for supporting both Kurdish rebels and the Islamic secret society controlled by exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.… Seguir leyendo »
I have never advocated that people who routinely feed low doses of antibiotics to livestock should be executed without trial. That would be too harsh, too irrevocable. There should be fair trials, and fines for a first offense, and prison for a second. Only habitual offenders should face the death penalty.
But first, there has to be a law. At the moment, it isn’t even illegal in most countries.
At the United Nations on Sept. 21, every single member country signed a declaration that recognizes the rise in antibiotic resistance as a threat to the entire enterprise of modern medicine. It’s a start, but that’s all it is — and time is running out.… Seguir leyendo »
It’s not an election, it’s a selection. And although all the countries in the United Nations General Assembly have equal rights, some are more equal than others.
Ban Ki-moon retires at the end of this year, and it’s time for the United Nations to choose a new secretary-general. By the end of this year’s session of the General Assembly in early October, we will know who it is. Which raises two questions: how do they make the choice, and why should anybody care?
The secretary-general of the United Nations is, in some senses, the highest official on the planet, but the selection process is hardly democratic.… Seguir leyendo »
“Hungary is not far away from issuing orders to open fire on refugees,” said one of the European Union’s foreign ministers on Tuesday, and called for the country to be suspended or even expelled from the EU because of its “massive violation” of the EU’s fundamental values.
And it’s true that Hungary has built a 175-km razor-wire fence along its southern border to keep migrants out. It has deployed 10,000 police and soldiers along that border, and is recruiting 3,000 “border-hunters” equipped with pepper spray and loaded pistols to help them in their task. And on Oct. 2 it will hold a special referendum asking Hungarians: “Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?”… Seguir leyendo »
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
— Karl Marx, 1852
We would all prefer a farce to a tragedy, so let us hope that Marx was right. But he has been wrong a few times in the past, so we must entertain the possibility that what awaits us is tragedy.
The “first time,” in this instance, was the 1930s, when the painfully slow recovery from a global financial crash led to political polarization, beggar-my neighbor trade wars, and the rise to power of anti-democratic, ultra-nationalist leaders in a number of countries.… Seguir leyendo »
“Suppose that … the Iraqis feel ambivalent about being invaded and real Iraqis, not (just) Saddam’s special guard, decide to offer resistance,” wrote British Prime Minister Tony Blair to U.S. President George W. Bush in December 2001, two years before the U.S. and the U.K. invaded Iraq. At least Blair had some doubts, but neither man could really imagine that the Iraqis would see them as conquerors, not liberators.
Another 13 years have now passed, and at last we have the Chilcot report, an impartial official investigation into why Britain joined the United States in that invasion. (There is no equivalent American document.)… Seguir leyendo »
A recent headline on the leading French newspaper Le Monde said it all: “Migrants, the Euro, Brexit: The European Union is mortal.” And it’s true. The EU could actually collapse over these three threats.
The most immediate threat is “Brexit” (British+exit), the possible result of the yes/no referendum on British membership in the EU that is scheduled for June 23. Prime Minister David Cameron promised this referendum three years ago mainly to placate the anti-EU faction in his own Conservative Party, but it is coming at a particularly bad time.
Cameron doubtless calculated that the referendum would produce a large majority for staying in, which seemed a safe bet at the time.… Seguir leyendo »
After the Syrian Army recaptured the city of Palmyra from the Islamic State group at the end of last month, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby admitted that the liberation of the ancient city was a “good thing”. But he could not resist adding: “We’re also mindful, of course, that the best hope for Syria and the Syrian people is not an expansion of [President] Bashar Assad’s ability to tyrannize the Syrian people.”
This was entirely in line with the long-standing U.S. policy of seeking to destroy both Islamic State and the Syrian government (i.e. the Assad regime) at the same time.… Seguir leyendo »
Early next week, on April 4, the deal made between the European Union and Turkey to stem the flood of refugees into the EU goes into effect. It will promptly blow up in everybody’s face, for three reasons.
First problem: the EU won’t be able to “process” the arriving migrants as fast as new ones arrive. Migrants are arriving on the Greek islands of Chios and Lesbos at the rate of almost 2,000 per day, and as the weather improves even larger numbers will attempt the short sea crossing from Turkey.
Up to now the migrants have quickly been moved on to the mainland of Greece, but the Turkish-EU deal means that new arrivals will now pile up on the islands in detention camps while awaiting a decision on their asylum claims.… Seguir leyendo »
Belgium may be a boring country, but it still seems extreme for a Belgian politician to say that the country is now living through its darkest days since the end of World War II. Can any country really be so lucky that the worst thing that has happened to it in the past 70 years is a couple of bombs that killed 34 people?
That may sound a bit uncharitable, but respect for the innocent people killed by terrorists does not require us to take leave of our senses. What is happening now is the media feeding frenzy that has become almost a statutory requirement after every terrorist attack in the West.… Seguir leyendo »
South Africa is now verging on the status of economic basket case. GDP growth last year was around half of one percent, the country’s currency has been in free fall for the past year, and its bonds face an imminent downgrade to “junk” status. So is the South African economy doomed to a long period of low or no growth no matter who is in charge — or is President Jacob Zuma to blame?
“Zuma is no longer a president that deserves respect from anyone,” said Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, in South Africa’s parliament last month.… Seguir leyendo »
What would you call a country that called for “a structure under which (Europe) can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom … a kind of United States of Europe” at the end of World War II (Winston Churchill, 1946), but refused to join that structure when its European neighbors actually began building it (European Economic Community, 1957)?
What would you call that country if it changed its mind and asked to join the EEC in 1961, a goal it finally achieved in 1973 under Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath — only to demand a renegotiation of its terms of membership and hold an in/out referendum on EEC membership under a Labour government two years later?… Seguir leyendo »
“The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent,” said John Maynard Keynes (or maybe it wasn’t him, but no matter). At any rate, that was the eternal verity the Saudi Arabians were counting on when they decided to let oil production rip — and the oil price collapse — in late 2014.
The Saudi objective was to keep the oil price low enough, long enough, to drive American shale oil producers out of business and preserve the OPEC cartel’s market share. (The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries controls only 30 percent of world oil production, which is already very low for what was meant to be a price-fixing cartel.)… Seguir leyendo »
Zika, the mosquito-borne virus spreading through the Americas that has been linked to thousands of babies born with underdeveloped brains (microcephaly), is just the latest disease to spread panic around the world. And wait! News just in that it can be sexually transmitted too!
There is real cause for concern here. The virus is almost bound to spread to the rest of the world, except those parts with winters severe enough to kill off the two species of mosquito that bear it, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopicti. And these mosquitoes are active during the day (unlike the Anopheles mosquitoes that spread the malaria parasite), so insecticide-treated bed nets don’t offer much protection.… Seguir leyendo »
Five years ago this month, the “Arab Spring” got underway with the non-violent overthrow of Tunisia’s long-ruling dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. He dared not order the army to open fire on the demonstrators (because it might not obey), he was running out of money, and eventually he flew off to Saudi Arabia to seek asylum.
In an Arab world where satellite television broadcasts and social media had effectively destroyed the power of the censors, practically everybody else spent the four weeks of civil protest in Tunisa tensely watching what the Tunisians were doing. When the Tunisian revolutionaries won, similar non-violent demonstrations demanding democracy immediately broke out in half a dozen other Arab countries.… Seguir leyendo »
Chancellor Angela Merkel opened Germany’s doors to a million refugees and migrants last year — three times as many as the rest of the European Union put together. Critics in Germany predicted a popular backlash, and warned that even her own Christian Democratic Party (CDU) would turn against her.
In the case of the CDU, at least, they were dead wrong. At the party’s annual congress on Dec. 15, Merkel’s speech — in which she did not retreat one inch from her frequent assertion that “we can do it” (accept and integrate the refugees) — got a 10-minute standing ovation that brought tears to her eyes.… Seguir leyendo »