Are We There Yet? Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton SNL Video

UNITED STATES - It has been a hellish and interminable 2016 presidential election cycle, best described by the immortal words of Charles Dickens from the opening salvo of his historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,

Written over 150-years-ago, the themes of the elite versus the populace, the concentration of immense wealth in the hands of a few while the common people suffer could not have been more prescient of the class struggles we face today as a nation. Donald Trump emerged from this miasmic discontent as an extremely flawed leader of America's version of the French Revolution.

On the converse, Hillary Clinton can be compared to Madame Defarge, the central female antagonist in the novel. Though she too was on the side of the revolutionaries, Defarge was reluctantly embraced by them as a necessary agent for change. Like Clinton she is viewed as "cold," "dreadful," and "frightfully grand," her inscrutable machinations belying her hidden past. She is smart, but ruthless, and accomplishes her dark deeds in support of the revolution through a veil of secrecy and deceit.

Though the revolution was justified neither side emerged from the war unsoiled. So, it is with the two opponents of this presidential battle. Some have suggested reforming the election process to shorten its duration, something many welcome in light of this particularly onerous season. Thus, the most enduring and perhaps memorable moments of the past 18-months will have been the political sketches presented by the cast of the Saturday Night Live (SNL) comedy show.

Every four years the SNL writers pens sketches in a trademark style pillorying politician and presidential hopefuls alike. Well known actors and comedians portray with uncanny accuracy and sardonic humor the foibles and idiosyncrasies of wannabe senators, congressmen, and most notably White House aspirants. In the words of Wally Schirra, "Levity is the lubricant of a crisis. We resort to jokes, pranks and good natured kidding to relieve tension, stress and boredom," and in this contentious competition SNL has more than delivered.

With less than two weeks left early voting has commenced. News outlets are reporting that 5 million Americans across 35 states have already voted, including 3 million people who have voted in 'Battle Ground' states. These states are must wins in order for either candidate to secure the 270 electoral votes necessary to become the next president of the United States. Hillary is well on her way to breaking the highest glass ceiling in the nation, to become the first female to occupy the Oval Office, and once this happens, "it will be the end of the world as we know it."

Credit: DonkeyHoyte created this caricature of Hillary Clinton was adapted from a photo in the public domain from the East Asia and Pacific Media's Flickr photostream. The body was adapted from a photo in the public domain from the U.S. Department of State's Flickr photostream. This caricature of Donald Trump was adapted from Creative Commons licensed images from Max Goldberg's flickr photostream.

U.S. Mandatory Prison Sentences, For Everyone Except Rapists

Former U.S. Senator Todd Akin, Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Chris

Former U.S. Senator Todd Akin, Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Chris

UNITED STATES - Americans tend to view the social deficits of other countries from a position of superiority. This precedence of acting as a moral arbiter sitting in judgment of rest of the world has become so prevalent as to seem deflective. A means to hide the necessity of dealing with systemic racism, sexism, and pedophilia which are a scourge upon our nation. However, these ills are not as obvious as abuses like China’s One Child Policy which officially ended earlier this year, but has not changed entrenched cultural norms which encouraged the killing of female children to make room for a possible male birth.

Or the practice of Leblouh (force feeding girls to make them obese) in Mauritania because men will not marry a skinny woman. Then, perhaps the greatest assault against a woman’s control of her body and sexuality, female genital mutilation (FGM). Because each of these practices are heinous it is easy to point to these abuses when judging those societies. In essence, the obvious barbarism of these practices overshadows the more pervasive, but pernicious abuse of women and girls in America through what has come to be known as 'rape culture.'

The 2016 presidential election has brought the systemic violation of women and girls to the nation’s and world’s attention. The sexism and misogyny of Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate was unequivocally exposed in an Access Hollywood show in which he was captured on tape vulgarly describing how he grabbed women by their genitals. He also described forcibly kissing women, trying to seduce a married woman, and lauding his ability to assault women because of his celebrity status.

On August 19, 2012, then Missouri U.S. Rep. Todd Akin who is a Republican, expressed an erroneous but entrenched belief about rape during an interview in which he was discussing abortion. He claimed among other things that doctors told him if a rape is 'legitimate' then the woman will rarely become pregnant. His comments revealed a deep well of victim blaming and shaming, while casting aspersions on the truthfulness of some rape accusers.

"Well, you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. It it's legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child." (KTVI)

In addition to being victimized by her attacker, in Akin's world a woman would be forced to bear the child of her rapist should she conceive. In essence, she will be victimized numerous times while trying to seek justice -- first by the rapists, then the justice system, the media, the medical community, and politicians.

This kind of ignorance and anti-feminist sentiment has manifested in repeated attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade as well as defund programs like Planned Parenthood which provides free or reduced services to millions of women who would not otherwise have access to HIV testing, mammograms, contraceptives, and other types of preventative screenings. This inherent sexism and bias has permeated our national awareness and elevated the discussion of women's rights, but in practical terms, has not resulted in any real change.

Trumps insult - “nasty woman” - hurled at Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate during a debate best sums up what American women and girls have been increasingly subjected to these past few years. Increased levels and frequency of being verbally abused, sexually harassed and assaulted. Even Mrs. Clinton is delegitimatized on a daily basis by both the media and her opponent's surrogates by stating that if she had been running against anyone except Trump, she would have been soundly defeated.

On a macrocosmic level the attacks against Mrs. Clinton's stamina, looks, capabilities, sexuality, and domestic troubles, are equivalent to the treacherous waters through which average American women try to navigate on a daily basis. Women walk the delicate balance of trying not to appear aggressive despite being competent, of dressing down to avoid being perceived as provocative, and sometimes sublimating their intelligence in order to spare the ego of an insecure coworker or manager. 

At a microcosmic level, the rise of prosecutors refusing to bring charges against rapists, male judges belittling women and girls, casting aspersions on their testimony, and eventually dismissing the charges is alarming. In some of the more egregious cases women and the families of young girls who have been raped watch in horror as their rapists were not sentenced to prison terms as prescribed by the U.S.’s ‘mandatory minimum sentencing’ laws.

In fact, these violators, rapist, and pedophiles receive less time if any, than the mandatory minimum sentencing of Black and Latino men who have committed petty offenses such as selling minuscule amounts of drugs, or have been convicted of other non-violent crimes, but receive life-sentences.  Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13TH” brilliantly illuminates the injustice of mass incarceration within the context of race and poverty, and the economic incentive the enforcement of mandatory minimums on this demographic group has created.

The disparity between the prison sentences handed down against the aforementioned group, versus those given to sexual predators, many of whom are white and male, is inequitable in the extreme. Trump, is the most high-profile sexual predatory, who despite being captured on tape discussing how he sexually assaulted women, has largely been exonerated by his supporters, while the women who have accused him of assault have been excoriated.

The double standard is the primary reason why so few sexual assaults are reported. Women who know that their lives will be examined with a fine-toothed comb, and that their lifestyles, mode of dress, career choice, and sexual history will be used to discredit them.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), referenced the Criminal Justice Systems Statistics, which determined that out of the 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free.  The American Prosecutors Research Institute, created a comprehensive document which listed the minimum and maximum sentences for all classes of rape. To understand the gravity of the human rights abuses females in America are facing, three cases are presented below, but they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Delaware state statute requires a sentence of “Life in prison [without] probation or parole if: the victim under 16 and is seriously injured.” This sentencing however, was not applied in the case of the wealthy du Pont heir.

"Robert H. Richards IV was convicted of rape, the wealthy heir to the du Pont family fortune was spared prison by a Delaware court in 2009. [.....] Richards is a great-grandson of the chemical magnate Irenee du Pont. He received an eight-year prison sentence [...] for raping his toddler daughter, but the sentencing order signed by a Delaware judge said "defendant will not fare well" in prison and the eight years were suspended." (Source: CNN)

Texas state statute requires a sentence for “Aggravated Sexual Assault in the 1st degree to serve from 5-99 years; $10,000 fine.” That you can violently rape someone and spend less than 5 years in jail or pay a $10,000 fine is reprehensible, but the latitude of the interpretation of this sentencing structure by the prosecutor worked in favor of the man who raped a 2-year-old girl.

"Thomas Boden, 29 raped his then girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter in front of her 4-year-old sister in 2015. The crime was discovered when the mother came home to discover her baby crying and screaming that he had cut her private parts, and when she examined her diaper it was full of blood. Despite Boden confessing to the rape, the hospital confirmation that the child had been violently raped, and the DNA evidence supporting the assault, the prosecutor offered Boden, and “he accepted a plea deal of 10 years probation.”

Which meant that he did not have to spend any time in jail,” and was ordered not to have contact with the victim. As part of the deal, Boden will not be required to register as a sex offender.”  (Raw Story)

Montana state statute sentencing requirements for perpetrators who have raped a “victim [who] is less than 16 and actor is 3+ years older or bodily injury results, then 2-100 years and fine of up to $50,000”

On 4 October 2016 "Prosecutors recommended that a 40-year-old unnamed Glasgow, Montana man who confessed to repeatedly raping his 12-year-old daughter be sentenced to 25-years imprisonment.

Instead, it was reported that Judge John McKeon sentenced the perpetrator to 60-days in prison, “plus a 30-year suspended prison term […] as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. The man also was ordered to complete community-based sex-offender treatment and register as a sex offender.

Amidst severe criticism and a Change.org petition signed by 14,000 people demanding McKeon’s impeachment, he defended his decision by asserting that a psychosexual evaluation finds that psychiatric treatment “affords a better opportunity for rehabilitation of the offender and for the ultimate protection of the victim and society.” (CBS News)

A discussion about the efficacy of treatment options for pedophiles has been demonstrated to be ineffective. According to Harvard Medical School, “Pedophilia, the sexual attraction to children who have not yet reached puberty, remains a vexing challenge for clinicians and public officials. Classified as a paraphilia, an abnormal sexual behavior, researchers have found no effective treatment. Like other sexual orientations, pedophilia is unlikely to change.”

In all three cases, the justification given to support the ridiculously lenient sentences were in some fashion related to the judges' belief that they knew what was best for these victims, and this did not include punishing their attackers. These paternalistic rulings have become a major contributing factor in the larger problem of the ‘rape culture’ assailing our nation today.

A mother or father deserves justice when their child has been raped and they should not have to fight with the courts to have the perpetrator sentenced as prescribed by the law. A single-mother should not be judged as somehow complicit in her child’s sexual abuse simply because she finds herself in the unfortunate position of having to work outside of the home to support her family.

A woman who is raped should not have to justify her life choices, her sexual history, her mode of dress, or anything else that lawyers of the defendants use to discredit them. We cannot expect that the election of Hillary Clinton to the presidency will result in a reduction in sexism, misogyny, gender bias, sexual assault or abuse, but her elevation will help to keep the issues of women's rights front and center.

A problem unrevealed will fester, but a problem uncovered is well on its way to potential resolution.

How an Olympic Race Became Political: Feyisa Lilesa's Homage to the Oromo Nationalist Movement

Feyisa Lilesa, Ethiopian Olympian, Oromo Activist, Rio 2016 Olympics, Photo by Jeso Carneiro

Feyisa Lilesa, Ethiopian Olympian, Oromo Activist, Rio 2016 Olympics, Photo by Jeso Carneiro

ETHIOPIA -  While many Olympic runners raise their arms as they approach the finish line, few do so as a demonstration of political protest. Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa joined this elite group of politically charged Olympic athletes such as Tommie Smith and John Carlos when he crossed his arms at the end of the Men’s Marathon during the Rio Olympics. While Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute during the awards ceremony, Feyisa Lilesa crossed his arms at the end of the race to demonstrate his allegiance with the Oromo people as they continue a centuries long clash with the Ethiopian government. What looked like a stretch to many Olympic observers was really a powerful demonstration that resulted from many years of unrest and political strife.

Thousands of miles from where Lilesa made his protest in August, Oromo dissenters had been actively demonstrating against the Ethiopian government since 2014 when a plan was unveiled for the expansion of Addis Ababa. The plan, arguably excellent for the capitals image and perhaps even reminiscent of the rapid improvements made under Haile Selassie in the mid 20th century, also proved reminiscent to the Oromo of how they were kicked off their land when the capital was moved from the north of the country to Addis Ababa in the first place. The new plan involved permeating the capital city into the Oromo occupied outskirts of its current blueprint, displacing members of the already marginalized group in the process. Without previous knowledge of the maltreatment of the Oromo, one might think that protests involving more than one hundred thousand people across Oromia might be drastic, but the government’s plan to expand the city into heavily Oromo occupied territory was perhaps the last straw after centuries of government action taken to improve Ethiopia at the expense of the Oromo.

In 1941 at the end of the Italian occupation the imperial system made strides towards assimilating the Oromo in order to build Ethiopian nationalism at a time when the country was lacking a strong national identity. This assimilation process entailed making Amharic the national language and banning the use of the Oromo language in schools, churches, and public offices. While some Oromo’s ‘Amharised’ in order to achieve upward mobility, it was not long before campaigns such as Macha Tulama and Ethiopian Student Movement formed in opposition to the current political environment and poor treatment of the Oromo identity. While some of the more extreme followers of these movements wanted independence from Ethiopia all together, they at the very least desired equal treatment of the Oromo language, culture, and religion to that of the Amhara. [1]

Unfortunately, not all that much has changed since Oromo nationalist movements began. The Oromo remain the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia (and the Horn of Africa for that matter), yet groups such as the Amhara and the Tigray are favored in government just like they have been for decades. Interestingly though, Ethiopia is a country in which a strong sense of fraternity is felt amongst its citizens, which can perhaps be attributed to the historical bond that it is the only country to have fought off colonization. However, it must be noted that fraternity and national identity cannot be confused here because if you ask an Oromo about their national identity it is likely that they will respond “I am Oromo,” not, “I am Ethiopian

With this in mind, it is not surprising that when Oromo athlete Feyisa Lilesa ran for the Ethiopian Olympic team he also took a stand that demonstrated his allegiance to his Oromo identity during a crucial time in their history and relationship with the Ethiopian government. Even though Lilesa won silver in the race, he won gold in the hearts of many Oromo nationalists through his bold demonstration of solidarity and civil disobedience towards a government that has historically mistreated his people.

1. Bulcha, Mekuria. "African Sociological Review/Revue Africaine De Sociologie."African Studies Companion Online 1.1 (1997): 30-65. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

Failed Military Coup Against President Erdoğan Leaves Dozens Dead in Turkey

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, (r) & Gen. Necdet Ozel (l), Source (AP Photo)

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, (r) & Gen. Necdet Ozel (l), Source (AP Photo)

TURKEY - A military coup in Turkey was announced by Turkey’s government broadcasting agency, TRT, Turkish Radio and Television, July 15th before midnight, local time. The note read by TRT’s Tijen Karas said “Control of the government is completely seized.” The note was also published in office of commander of chief, which later was removed after the situation was taken largely under control.

Chief of Turkish Military staff, Hulusi Akar was taken hostage by a group of military personnel attempting the coup, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported. His whereabouts is still unknown.

The coup simultaneously took over the control over Ataturk International Airport, and both bridges, Fatih Sultan Mehmet and Boğazici, over Bosphorus. Military tanks were stationed riot police headquarters Istanbul. An email sent to press members from Turkish Military Forces said the control of the government was seized.

President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan initially addressed the nation on CNN Turk via Facetime, where he called people to meet in squares in cities to protest to coup attempt and protect the democracy. The call received a quick reply and and large crowds started their march toward squares despite the martial law, and curfew declared by the coup.

Several of the tanks were taken over by the people and were handed to police. Many civilians were killed during the protests since the coup attacked protesters with tanks and military aircraft. At least 42 was killed in Ankara’s Golbasi district during the attacks by the coup, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported. Though the death toll of the civilians, military, and security forces is unclear, at least 60 people were reported dead in the country.

Following TRT, CNN Turk and Kanal D were raided by the military coup, which had to stop its broadcast coverage of the coup temporarily. Both outlets were liberated by the people protesting and taking over district from the military coup members, and continued their broadcast.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said the situation is largely under control and necessary actions were taken to end the coup attempt. He characterized the Coup attempt 'greatest insult' towards Turkish Republic, Anadolu Agency reported.

Though largely under control according to the government agencies, military attacks which earlier targeted Riot Police Headquarters, General Directorate of Security, as well and the parliament building in Ankara, continues to target civilians who are still on the streets protesting the coup.

President Erdoğan has returned to Istanbul where he talked to press at Atatürk International Airport. Erdoğan wowed to bring the coup plotters to justice Anadolu Agency reported.

''This is a movement of treason and an insurgency. Let me tell you that they will pay a heavy price for this treason,'' Erdoğan told TV networks during a live broadcast from Istanbul's Ataturk Airport.

''There is a government in power and a president in power elected by the people. We are on duty and we will continue to conduct our duty until the very end,'' Erdoğan said, assuring the country that ''the outcome of this will be good.''

The president also warned soldiers participating in the overthrow. ''You are our soldiers. It is impossible for us to accept you pointing your gun at the people, your parents, your brothers and sisters. These weapons have been given to you by the people. If you point these to the people, you will pay a hefty price.''

Arrests in the military would go higher up the ranks, he said.

Contributing Journalist: @ElvanKatmer
LinkedIn: Elvan Katmer

Taking Back America is About Personal Responsibility

Statue of Liberty, New York, Photo by Alex Be.

Statue of Liberty, New York, Photo by Alex Be.

UNITED STATES - No one should have to pay for the crimes of others, or be condemned simply because they share skin tone, profession, or religious affiliation. America isn’t that far removed from a time when Blacks, Native Americans, Jews, Catholics, Mormons and others had no legal recourse for being discriminated against. But we as a country and society have made great strides. However, in the last few days, much to the dismay and horror of the majority of Americans, the disenfranchised have chosen to discard reason and rational discourse to engage in ex-judicial violence. They have advocated for “race wars.” They are more vociferous and aggressive in their condemnation of foreigners. They are blinded by emotionalism and have conflated their desire to return to a past that made sense to them with the right to threaten a sitting President Barack Obama with death.

They are advocating for undemocratic policies, and seek to elect leaders willing to discard the sacrosanct ideals embodied in the U.S. Constitution. Within the last three days we have witnessed the death of two black men shot dead by officers, and a reported retaliatory shooting, murder, and wounding of several policemen in Dallas, Texas. Yet, in the midst of this mayhem and climate of blame and hate, cooler heads are prevailing and calling upon us to act with dignity, restraint, love, and civility in the face of the deeper undercurrent of distrust, fear, and intolerance which currently besets our nation.

On July 4th the Washington Post featured a post in which Fernando Herboso, 58, and his brother Carlos, who are Hispanic and own their own real-estate company, recount the difficulties they are encountering when trying to sell homes to Muslims wearing traditional clothing in the supposedly progressive suburbs of Washington, DC. They report an incident which occurred when they were showing a U.S. military veteran and his wife a home in Frederick, MD.  When they entered the community clubhouse and went out to the pool area a patron verbally assaulted them.

According to the article, the “woman lounging at the pool took one look at his client’s hijab and said it loud and clear: “We don’t want Muslims in our clubhouse. Take off that robe over [sic] your head!” she boomed.”

In another incident a child of one of his clients needed to use the restroom and the house they were touring had no running water. So he took her across the street where a woman was in the front yard watering her grass. He politely asked her if the little girl could use her restroom and without a word the woman shut off her hose, walked into her house, slammed and locked the door behind her.

This is the America we live in today, a sad reminder of days we thought were long behind us. Practices which we believed eradicated through the enactment of Civil Rights Laws and in this instant, the Fair Housing Act.  U.S. citizens are succumbing to baser natures and vilification of the other in lieu of examining their own role in why they are unable to keep pace with the demands of the new world. With bravado they proclaim that they are no longer holding back and are going to ‘tell it how it is,” but it would seem, to everyone but themselves. People who once privately embraced racism, misogyny, xenophobia, antiSemitism, anti-Muslim, and isolationism, now publicly defend these reprehensible characteristics and when confronted claim they have been misinterpreted.

But White Nationalists are unapologetic in their incitement of violence, or their exhilaration that their agenda has been elevated to the national stage. Sites like The White Genocide Project, promote the myth that racism against whites is a fact and that white people are the only ones who have to give up the country they built. They believe that Asians get to keep Asia, Muslims and Arabs get to keep the Middle East, Jews should be exterminated, and Black people get to keep Africa. Because, according to them all across Europe and in America white people are being forced out of their countries.  But, here is the problem.....America was stolen from the Native Americans, built on the backs of African slaves, and expanded westward through the construction of Central Pacific Railroad at the hands of Chinese-Americans. This is not to say that many other immigrants also didn’t contribute, however, in the early decades of its establishment, the blood, sweat, and tears of these three groups built this nation.

Thus, there are no halcyon days when this was a 'white' country to 'take it back to' or even to make great again. There is only the historical evidence of the dark days of violence, openly legislated systemic racism and intolerance, which resulted in the murder of millions of black slaves, the near annihilation of the Native Americans, and the abject treatment and exploitation of many other immigrants.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the passage of the Brexit referendum is the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for Americans being swayed by nationalism, seduced by nativism, and ensnared by nostalgia. The referendum presented British citizens with the choice to leave or remain as member country of the European Union. Overwhelmingly, the country voted in favor of leaving, though many regretted the decision upon review in the cold light of the morning after, leading to over 4 million people signing a petition to hold a second referendum.

The measure passed in large part because of cunning pandering to fear and xenophobia wrapped in the illusion of restoration of days of yore, and the charlatan promises to rob from the rich and give to the poor. For those who voted in favor of leaving or simply to make a political statement of their dislike of the status quo, they were shocked to discover that the passing of the referendum would not lead to greater freedom, opportunity, and affluence. Instead, it ushered the country into a Charles Lutwidge Dodgsonian universe, in which the young people and immigrants are Alice in anything but ‘Wonderland.’ The minute it approved the referendum Britain had to confront the impending reality of diminished presence and participation in the global market space, as well as being excluded from the privileges and ease of mobility that came with being citizen of the EU.

For young people like Sarah Abbasi, there is a great deal of anger toward the older generation holding the future of her generation captive. In her op-ed in The Guardian she wrote that “The future of the younger generation in the UK has been decided against their wishes. A nostalgic older generation has shaken my identity and I no longer fully understand what it means to be British. The number of students wanting to pursue opportunities in another EU country is likely to decline; it remains unclear whether or not future generations will even have the opportunities that were made available to me, which moulded me into an outward-looking, inquisitive and ambitious British.”

In numerous interviews and polls of Brits over 60, they revealed that they wholeheartedly supported leaving the EU so that they could take back their country or return to the way things used to be. In essence they voted to leave so that they could return to the idyllic days of a bygone era. One is tempted to ask if these elderly British citizens also longed for the loss of wealth that occurred immediately after World War II? Or perhaps they wanted to return to the 1970’s when Britain suffered a long running period of relative economic malaise, dogged by severe inflation, strikes, and citizens being regularly targeted in deadly terrorist’s attacks perpetrated by Irish Republican Army (IRA). Maybe they yearned for the times when “Unemployment exceeded 1 million by 1972 and had risen even higher by the time the end of the decade was in sight, passing the 1.5 million mark in 1978? (Source: West Sussex County Times)

It was reported by The Telegraph that the pound has crashed below $1.30 and bond yields hit record lows as Brexit aftershocks rattle global markets.  With the pound trading at its lowest levels in thirty years, inflation is predicted to hit the country hard. This means that older citizens who voted for the measure, were so wedded to the past they failed to take into account the realities of living as a pensioner on fixed income. Now these pensioners must look at their unvarnished history, no longer obfuscated by hazy memories, to accurately recall the difficulties they faced in that ‘better past.’ They must grapple with the present reality of decreased purchasing power of their pensions forcing many to make hard choices, even to the point of forgoing basic necessities.

When British citizens voted on behalf of xenophobia, racism, and isolationism, they deceived themselves and willingly bought into an irrational assertion that it is possible to resurrect the past. These older citizens who live predominantly in areas of the country which suffer from high unemployment as a consequence of the loss of industrial and mill jobs, became willing participants in what can only be described as mass psychosis. They chose to believe in the absurdity that the anachronistic industries that no longer meet the needs of our technology driven world would magically reappear. They longed for and fervently hoped to return to the ‘glory’ days of the Industrial Era. An era as outmoded and inefficient as slavery, the horse and buggy, and gas lights, etc.

Similarly, during each U.S. election cycles, candidates up and down ballot promise the return of factory jobs that supported families and communities in areas of the United States known as the Rust Belt. Politicians count on these constituents looking backwards, resisting progress, acquiescing to complacency and apathy, instead of aggressively retooling their skill-sets to prepare them to compete and grow with technology advancements. They count on their refusal to work in other market sectors despite the evidence that manufacturing has been in rapid decline for decades. Particularly in the steel mills and coal mines 'pink slipped’ workers refuse to acknowledge that these jobs will never come back.

With regard to the fossil fuel industry, many countries, including Saudi Arabia, are planning for future decreases in demand for oil and gas. According to Bloomberg News, the Kingdom plans to invest $109 billion in technologies to harness renewable clean energy sources from solar panels, wind, geothermal and nuclear reactors. Here in the States, coal companies are shuttering their doors and moving their base of operations overseas where regulative oversight is less stringent, and occupational health and safety rules non-existent. Robert Murray, owner of one of America’s largest private coal company, mendaciously informed employees that his company plans to lay off as many as 4,400 workers, or 80 percent of his workforce, and that their only hope to keep their jobs is to vote for a coal-friendly political candidates.

The fact of the matter is the industry is obsolete, and cannot compete against natural gas and other renewable energy producers. But, this didn’t stop Murray or politicians from stoking fears, peddling false hope, and persuaded the workers to blame others for their inability to compete in the new economies. Instead of inspiring confidence in the future, or offering educational opportunities to enable these workers to become more competitive, they appealed to their resentment. They urged them to wallow in self-pity, play the blame game, and adjured them to eschew personal responsibility.

When politicians cynically display and profess empathy for the plight of manufacturing workers and miners, cajoling them into giving them their votes with the patently false and empty promises of bringing back their jobs, they too are guilty of avoiding personal responsibility. They know that they will not be held accountable for the things they promise, so they can say anything with impunity in this culture of irresponsibility. Yet, these jobs will never come back because America no longer has a need for, nor the appetite to, pay for the high costs of these materials when manufactured domestically.

Additionally, our economy is much more complex and driven by domestic and international market forces. We now trade across borders intangible assets, resources, goods and services that are sold at greater profit to emerging countries. Though the economy is not as robust as we would like, we are not in a Great Depression, and the huge infrastructure building programs which were implemented as part of a strategy to kick start our economic engines, are no longer integral to our continued economic stability. Thus, to posit that we are going to turn back the clock, reinvigorate the Rust Belt and put people to work on large infrastructure projects is simplistic a best and deceptive at worst because we live in a world governed by technology.

The past is irrevocably complete and there is something profoundly pathetic and inimical about trying to steer a present into yesteryear and selling it as the future. The time of isolationism is past, we live in a global economy in which working poor and middle class people, especially in America, couldn’t survive without access to the low-costs products produced in China and elsewhere and sold in mega-stores like Walmart and Target. The very idea that the U.S. can pull back from its role as a global leader, ignoring the positive impact of international politics, policies, and trade is absurd. We have become and are becoming an increasing pluralistic and culturally diverse country and this cannot be reversed. So the preposterous idea of expelling all Mexican immigrants, building a wall, or otherwise seeking to once again homogenize the power structure, is not only xenophobic, but would also economically devastate the country and set a dangerous precedent that is antithetical to the democratic ideals of our nation.  

According to the New York Times, if unauthorized farm workers are expelled from the U.S. it would result “not just [in] more expensive produce, but the collapse of American labor-intensive agriculture. Instead of milk from a nearby dairy, the only kind available would come from abroad, and it would be irradiated or powdered. Meat would come from Brazil, shellfish from Thailand, fruits and vegetables from New Zealand — and that's the good, expensive stuff. There would be plenty of inferior products too, and much much less of anything would be fresh.

But worst of all would be the jobs lost for Americans. According to economists, every farm job supports three to four others up and downstream in the local economy: from the people who make and sell fertilizer and farm machinery to those who work in trucking, food processing, grocery stores and restaurants. Do we really want to lose those jobs too? No one in America is going to benefit from expelling immigrant farm workers. And the cost won't be pennies: it will run to billions of dollars.”  

And then there are the technological advances that skilled and highly trained immigrants bring to the economy. Already a challenging process, further restricting or outright closing our borders to immigrants will negatively affect our quality of life and access to innovations which streamline our daily interactions.

The Hill recently reported that “More than 100 chief executives of major tech companies and trade associations — including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer — urged President Obama and Congress on Thursday to reform the existing immigration rules for highly-skilled workers. In recent years, tech giants have argued that the U.S. isn't producing enough graduates with the advanced technical skills needed to fill the several open engineering and research positions they have. In their letter, the tech executives note that IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Oracle combined have 10,000 job openings in the U.S.  

“We call on you to address the need for more qualified, highly-skilled professionals, domestic and foreign, and to enact immigration reform this year."

Once again, it comes down to personal responsibility. There are jobs in the country which Americans are unwilling to do – field workers, domestics, cleaning people, manual day labor, fast food employees, etc. Yet, we blame the immigrants who are willing to do what every other immigrant group has done who came to this country. You start at the bottom, you work hard, you save, poured your hard work and sacrifice into the futures of your children. These people were and are not afraid of responsibility. They did and do not shrink from the challenges of becoming captains of their destiny. They did and do appreciate the gift of democracy and freedom, and we would do well to return to this.

We shall fall as a nation if we chose to circle our wagons to the exclusion of the majority of people who do not look like us, pray like us, or talk like us. Emma Lazarus inspired us to enlarge our tents in the second and most famous stanza of her sonnet “The New Colossus,” in honor of The Statue of Liberty.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

If we chose to turn our backs on this path and shutter our borders, we shall dim that light of that beacon that will guide us through these uncertain times. If we start to single out groups of people and accuse them of being un-American, we risk reviving the “practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence.” In so doing, the U.S. shall lose its moral authority, and become no better than other countries where differences are not tolerated and often violently eradicated.

It is up to us to bury the carcasses of mythos, inhumanity, and the shamefulness of a past that didn’t serve us well as a nation. We must at every opportunity disabuse those who extol a time when people could abuse, subjugate, and kill others with impunity simply because they believed it was an inalienable right. We must resist all attempts to force us into suspicion and distrust, and reporting on our neighbors. We must remember our recent past, when tactics disguised as policy were implemented to disenfranchise American citizens.

We must stand firm and denounce all efforts to implement a national registration system for law-abiding Muslim Americans. We must remember our history so we don’t repeat it. We need look no further than January 14, 1942 following the attack on Pearl Harbor to see the ruinous and un-American conclusion of this type of thinking and rhetoric.

Today, it is the Muslim Americans, but in 1942 it was Japanese Americans. First, was the War Department’s blanket Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt which authorized the physical removal and detention of all Japanese Americans into internment camps in the interest of national security, after having classified them as enemy aliens. 127,000 Japanese American citizens, some of whom were veterans, became subject to racism, violence, and had their houses, businesses, and other property stolen. Not just because of the executive order, but by being labeled as such, they were distrusted as potential sleeper agents who could turn upon their communities and country even unto future generations.

Let us not ‘Regrexit’ because we have blithely succumbed to fear mongering and hatred, or apathetically acquiesced to the belief that there isn’t much we can do. We are responsible for this American experience, and we are the people, who are for the people, and governed by the people who protect the best of this democratic experiment. We should not let a vociferous minority define us as the majority. We should continue to enlarge our capacity for tolerance predicated upon an innate desire to be compassionate toward ourselves and each other. We must continue to push ourselves and our Constitution to embody the best in us, because it is only in this way that we will continue to evolve individually and as a nation. We must take to heart and heed the timeless warning that all evil needs to prevail is for good people to remain silent.

Today, America is at a cross-road, we face a choice between two paths and the future lies on the one less traveled. It is within the boundless possibilities of the unknowable that we can reaffirm our commitment to protecting the ideals of democracy, diversity, pluralism, and freedom. However, it will require bravery, it will require honesty, and it will be difficult. People have grown accustomed to blaming others and outside circumstances for their personal failings. We must take responsibility and face reality - a man is born, he lives, and he dies. If we are unhappy with our life and desire for change, we should as Ghandi recommended, ‘be the change we wish to see in the world,” and this starts and ends with personal responsibility.

Editor-in-Chief: @AyannaNahmias
LinkedIn: Ayanna Nahmias

The History of American Aid for Jordan

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on January 18, 2012. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on January 18, 2012. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

JORDAN, Amman - The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, one of the Unite States' key ally in the troubled Middle East. It is also one of more than 200 other countries and territories across the globe that consistently receive annual U.S. aid to help face their political and economic hardships. However, despite all this financial support Jordan has received from the second half of the last century up to today, the country has incurred heavy debt of almost $24 billion or around 90 percent of its GDP.  

Based on USAID’s data, this article sheds the light on the extent to which America financed the support Jordan for over the past 16 years, in effect bolstering the reign King Abdulla who ascended the throne in 1999 and continues to rule.

Money received

Jordan has received almost $13 billion during Abdulla's reign, which accounts for 46 percent of the total amount of aid given by America since 1951. When Abdulla inherited the throne of Father King Hussain, as the new ruler he took a more aggressive approach to broadening the country's relationship with the U.S. It appears that the relationship was quid pro quo, giving the appearance that America purchased the country to strengthen its presence in the Middle East. This in effect was how Jordan became a key alley to the U.S, during its invasion of Iraq in 2003, and established the foundation of a joint venture in the war against terrorism in the Middle East.

U.S giving aid to Jordan in 1951, resulting in the cumulative amount of aid given to the country at an astounding $28 billion. The data also shows that Jordan has received approximately $700 million per annum. In 2003, the year of the U.S invasion of Iraq, Jordan received its highest amount in aid which topped out at $1.5 billion.

Another notable fact was that during the intervening years of the civil war in Syria, the U.S. has exponentially increased both its presence in the region and aid to Jordan. Between 2012-2014, the country was given around 4 billion dollars, more than one billion each year in aid or roughly 14% of the total amount of aid the U.S. has given to the country since 1951.

During those three years, Jordan has also tried to absorb more than half a million refugees from neighboring Syria, while actively participating and supporting its allies in the war against ISIS.

In general, the data shows that the amount of aid has tripled over the examined period, increasing from almost $300 million in 1999 to more than $800 million in 2015.


Aid by category

Analyzing the data based on the category of the type of aid received, both economic or military, shows that economic aids was consistetly higher than that allocated to the military.

Aid by sector

Over the past 16 years, the lion share of the aid, around $3 billion or 26%, was channeled into Security System Management and Reform. Second on the list was General Budget Support, around $2 billion (18%) of the aids.Other sectors of the government have also been allocated aid during the examined period totaling five billion dollars. Second, came the category called “Other” which totaled around $3.5 billion. Of this number, the lowest awards were earmarked for education and economic growth and totaled around $300 million each. Despite the billions of dollars in aid to ostensibly improve governance, the country has failed to date to make any significant political reform.

Though initially seen as migrating toward a democracy, the government was actually more akin to a plutocracy. Now, King Abdullah rules as an autocratic monarch, a role which was codified by recent constitutional amendments which increased his powers to appoint and dismiss senior government employees. Most recently these included the president of the judiciary council, the president and the members of the constitutional court. Taken in tandem with his power to both handpick an appoint the prime minister, the chief of the staff and the president of the intelligence department, he has become the rule of law. A king who actually controls both the judiciary and executive branches of government giving him absolute power. This is in addition to his control of the army and security forces.

Transparency International, an organization with "chapters in more than 100 countries and an international secretariat in Berlin, is leading the fight against corruption to turn this vision into reality." A database of Corruption by Countries/Region, which includes a number of data points, including a "Corruption Perception Index” which assesses the amount of corruption perceived or actual which exists in any given countries' public sector. In 2015, on a scale of 168, the Kingdom scored 45, which is counter-intuitive to the fact that so much aid has been awarded to the country with a particular emphasis on political reform. The organization had another revealing indicator which measured the “control of corruption,” which reflects how much public power is exercised for private gain. The index includes both petty and grand forms of corruption, as well as "capture" of the state by elites and private interests. Jordan also scored quite low at 0.040 where the highest rank is 2.5 and lowest -2.5. (Source: World Bank)

Thus, the question remains, what has been gained by the magnanimous support of $38 billion given by America? Since it hasn't resulted in economic stability, as the country is poised on the precipice of insolvency, the priority is evidently focused on military efforts to maintain stability in the region. Hopefully in the future, once the eradication of the shared enemy, ISIS, has been accomplished and the war is won, additional aid will be tied to specific goals and milestones. One requirement may be to pay down the debt, as well as a shift toward more equitable and balanced governance, with a return to the separation of important branches of the government. But for now, Jordan like many other countries around the world has entered into a quid-pro-quo relationship with the U.S. It isn't all bad, nor as nefarious as some could make it, but what has been bought and paid for is a location from which to wage war against one of the most dangerous terrorist organization that threatens the West and the Middle East. It also provides direct on the ground access to the region which vastly improves intelligence gathering efforts. This is all good.

However, in these days and times when enemies form partnerships to achieve shared goals, governments need to take note of the potential price which may ultimately be exacted. Allies purchased through economic aid should be cautious and cognizant of the fate of many leaders in the Middle East and around the world who have benefited from Western largess, military arsenal, and technologies. The infusion of capital and assets often remains at the top and is purchased at the price of the ordinary citizens. People who end up suffering under the whims of dictators and authoritarian regimes supported by the U.S. for political expediency. In the Middle East alone this included Ruhollah Khomeini who governed Iran from 1979 - 1989, Hosni Mubarak who governed Egypt from 1981 - 2011, and Saddam Hussein who governed Iraq from 1979 - 2003 when he was executed. Of course there are many other oppressive regimes around the world that are supported by America, most notably in Africa, but the challenges and questions remain the same.

Does the need of the U.S. for political, military, or economic gain far outweigh the potential abuse of human rights? This is a question we all need to ask, and perhaps even pose to our government.

Contributing Journalist: @ImadSulieman
LinkedIn: Imad Alrawashdeh

America's Reluctant Racists: Are the Media & Donald Trump to Blame?

Donald Trump, Photo by Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump, Photo by Gage Skidmore

UNITED STATES - In my heart I’ve always wanted to believe that racists are simply radicals who comprise a very small percentage of the population back in my native U.S.A. Sadly, that hope has been increasingly hard to hold onto over the years and it looks like 2015 might just be the year I have to admit that I've been wrong. Sure, there are radicals (and extremists and supremacists) who out-crazy even the most fanatical racists but it looks like lies and IGNORANCE are breeding a brand new army of Americans who may not even self-identify as being racist yet.

The Reluctant Racist

When I say reluctant, I really do mean it. First, because someone very special to me back home in California believes a whole lotta wrong at the moment that is turning them into a racist.

Secondly, because I still want to believe that people are fundamentally good and they just don't have enough information to know better at the moment. The right-wing media in the U.S., coupled with the insanely racist (and completely unqualified to be a politician) Donald Trump, are spouting some crazy things that some Americans are buying into because they believe the media and influencers without doing their own homework.

Instead of digging into topics that really matter and sharing facts and data with the American people, most mainstream media seems content to mislead them. In fact, it’s mostly the liberal news channels and journalists who look beyond the superficial story. The liberals also choose NOT to take rare or isolated or extreme cases and turn those into ‘the new trend’ or ‘the direction America is headed’ when reporting, which is how the media and Trump and recruiting their new racist army.

The topic is too broad to attack on all fronts so I’m going to crack into just two issues:

  1. The so-called confederate flag
  2. The negativity surrounding immigrants and the idea of abolishing the 14th amendment

The Confederate Flag

After the race-fuelled mass shooting in a South Carolina church, the U.S. finally rallied to remove the country’s #1 symbol of racism. This important person in my life believes that it is simply a symbol of the South with a rich history dating back to the 1800s.   They listened to what the news said without looking into the facts and decided that they are pro-flag. I’m sorry but the only people who should blindly be pro-confederate flag are white supremacists and current or legacy KKK members. But not the people I care about in my life, and certainly not the people in yours.

THE FACTS

  1. The flag everyone is all riled up about is NOT the Confederate Flag
  2. In the 1800s, the real Confederate Flag went through 3 designs. The first design looked too much like the real American flag and soldiers were confused at times who to shoot at so it was scrapped. The second one included the design people believe to be the confederate flag up where the stars are on the real American flag and replaced the red and white stripes with a symbolic field of pure white. The third rendition added a red band on the right side of the field of white. Again, the real Confederate Flag of the rebels is NOT the one Americans are being shown today.
  3. The perceived current confederate flag (which in the 1800s was only used by the army in Tennessee on the battlefield towards the end of the war I believe) went away for the most part and was only resurrected in the early 1940s by the race-driven Dixiecrats, the political party dedicated to maintaining segregation between whites and blacks in the South.
  4. In 1948, the University of Mississippi flew it for the 1st time when white students protested Truman’s civil rights proposals. They hated the thought of being educated alongside black students so this flag became the brand image for racism in Mississippi.
  5. In 1963, it was raised over the state Capitol of Alabama for the 1st time in history. Alabama Gov. George Wallace raised it in protest against desegregation. He wanted to keep whites and blacks apart, definitively turning it into the #1 symbol of racism in modern-day America.
  6. It remains the unofficial symbol of the Ku Klux Klan.

My German friend Rando commented, 'Would it be okay for us to fly the swastika over German town halls on special days as it is certainly part of our history, and under Mr. H pre-WW2 the country boomed economically, the VW Beetle was created etc? The confederate flag stands for slavery.'

Mainstream media doesn’t share the facts above, though. Sadly turning more intelligent and generally caring people into reluctant racists. EVERY SINGLE EXAMPLE of the current ‘confederate flag’ being flown in the south has 100% direct ties to racism and oppression. It is NOT a symbol of our fallen brothers in war but that is the bullshit being told by influencers and the media. It doesn’t represent Southern heritage, well at least not one that any American should be proud of. It represents racism and hate, plain and simple. There is no other truth.

Immigration & Foreigners

I was born in Los Angeles, the daughter of a 5th generation immigrant. Our ancestors left their friends, family and possessions behind and came over from Europe in hopes of a better life in the 1860s. Some of our family hails from Ireland and in those times the Irish were despised as the worst sort of immigrants arriving to American shores.   During the famous Potato Famine years, close to one million Irish arrived by boat to America. ONE MILLION!

If they washed up in Boston, well that was probably the roughest place to be welcomed to America. English Puritans could trace their lineage back to the Mayflower some 230 years earlier and the city underwent what was described as a ‘social revolution’ because they did not want ‘those Irish people’ in their country.

The Irish didn’t look like them. They wore clothes that were night and day different to the English settlers. They sounded different. They often came over poor and would have to settle into unsanitary conditions. And heaven help them if they only spoke Gaeilge or a Celtic language! All they wanted was a chance to live a better life than was possible in Ireland.

My Mom tells me that our family came over because they ‘wanted to be American.’ To me that means they had hope and ambition and wanted to give their children a better life. They wanted to work hard and live the American Dream. Well, I’ll bet their American Dream didn’t originally include the extra gift-on-arrival of hated and discrimination by Americans who viewed them as outsiders and who wanted that nationality OUT OF AMERICA. Yet they endured, for which I'm thankful because I wouldn't be alive otherwise.

Flash Forward to 2015

Donald Trump and the media tell Americans that today’s generation of immigrants – the new ‘Irish’ if you will – are the worst kind of people. They brainwash Americans to think that ‘those people’ don’t want to be true Americans. The media reports that ‘they’ only want to live for free in America, sucking up hard working taxpayers money, without wanting to embrace the American dream. The media insists that ‘they’ retain their cultural heritage from their homeland, which bugs the hell out of Americans. In fact, the same way it did in the 1800s:

According to one report I read >> 'Wherever they settled, the Irish kept to themselves to the exclusion of everyone else, and thus were slow to assimilate. Americans were thus slow to accept the Irish as equals, preferring instead to judge them by the stereotypes published in newspapers of the day.'

The same way the English Puritans persecuted my own ancestors, today’s cry of ‘go home immigrant’ feels like a 360° loop back around to the 1800s – and again it is turning former immigrants (or the children of immigrants) into a potentially scary breed of reluctant racists. Unless someone is an American Indian, they aren’t natives of the country.   U.S. citizens have families who fled their country of origin in hopes of a better life, just like mine did, and just like everyone arriving to our shores today. Why can’t some Americans see that the rhetoric they are espousing is as cruel and unnecessary in 2015 as it was in the 1850s, back when U.S. immigration records indicate that the Irish made up 43% of the foreign-born population?

I’ve lived in Mexico, Spain, India, China and I’ve been living in Hong Kong now for about to a year. I know that the news I read as an expat is different to what Americans back home consume but it’s shocking how many people are jumping on this ‘us versus them’ bandwagon. In fact, the special person in my life who inspired this post has very strong ideas about just how ‘they’ are ruining America, for all the reasons I mentioned the English had (and strangely almost verbatim every single thing in that 'report quote' above!).

Yet the funny thing is that when I asked, the only personal experience with immigrants they've had is beautiful and not hateful or negative. They have Mexican neighbours who emigrated some years back with two sweet children. They applied for and gained their American citizenship and are trying hard to learn English, have just bought their first home, and for all intents and purposes ARE living the American dream, just like my Irish relatives who emigrated in the 1860s.

I just don’t understand why the hearts of some Americans can’t see that these real-life examples right in front of their face are the TRUTH of immigration, instead of blindly supporting the negative view that is never witnessed first-hand but believed because extreme examples are the battle cry of influencers like Donald Trump and the right-wing U.S. media.

Contributing Journalist: @angelacarson
LinkedIn: Angela Carson

Two Months Past the Elections, Turkey Still Does Not Have a New Government

Anti-Government Protest, Ankara, Turkey: Photo by Kerem

Anti-Government Protest, Ankara, Turkey: Photo by Kerem

ANKARA, Turkey - On June 7, 2015 Turkey went through general elections for a new government. The ruling party, Justice and Development Party (AKP), main opposition party Republican People’s Party (CHP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and People’s Democratic Party (HDP) passed the10 percent electoral threshold, and got into the parliament, The Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM).

Despite receiving the highest percentage of vote, unlike the previous elections, AKP was not able to reach the number of parliament members to form a government alone and forced to form a coalition with one of the opposing parties.

“‘No parties can form a government alone’ means political parties will come together and form a coalition. If no parties were authorized [by the people] to form a government alone, there is nothing more proper than having negotiations with other parties,” said Ahmet Davutoglu, chairman of AKP at the press conference following his final meeting with Kemal Kilicdaroglu, chairman of CHP on August 13, 2015.

Following the elections, prime minister and chairman of AKP, Ahmet Davutoglu was appointed to form the coalition on July 9, 2015 by the president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Ahmet Davutoglu and his government would also continue to hold a temporary government until a new coalition is formed. Having 40 business days to form a government, Davutoglu and his team met leaders of all three parties at TBMM to start negotiations for a coalition government. Initially turned down by both MHP and HDP, AKP focused on negotiations with CHP. Both parties formed commissions to discuss main expectations from a new government that could be formed by both parties.

After the commissions met several times, a total hours of almost 35, to come to an agreement, the leaders of both parties Ahmet Davutoglu and Kemal Kilicdaroglu met on August 10, 2015 to finalize the negotiations. Not having come to terms, the two leaders scheduled to meet again on August 13, 2015.

The two leaders met in the afternoon of August 13, at Ankara Palas, a historical building used as an official state guest house in the capital to finalize the negotiations. Following long, tedious and cautiously crafted negotiations, most people were expecting an agreement and the announcement of the new government with the coalition of AKP and CHP, two distinct voices in the parliament.

Contrary to expectations, the final meeting did not end with an agreement. Both leaders expressed in separate press conferences that the parties were not able to some to terms to set a coalition government.

Mr. Davutoglu said despite both parties had very hopeful approach to form the government, and everyone did what they were supposed to do, each party’s expectations for the country’s future did not come to a consensus to work together.

“In my speech at AKP headquarters’ balcony on June 7th night, I had expressed that we will not let this country not have a government, we will not give a chance to those who want create a chaos or crisis, and we will take any necessary measures as a party that has the strength to govern the country any time. I am sure anyone who voted for us or not can see that we have been doing whatever is necessary for the responsibility we have taken on this issue for the past two months,” Mr. Davutoglu said.

“Within the frame of this work, I met the leaders of all the parties in the parliamentary. As a result of those meetings, in the initial phase, we decided to continue negotiations with CHP while MHP only expressed their willingness for latter meetings. I was very happy to find out we had more terms that we agreed than we had discuss. However, we also had great divergence on some issues especially foreign policy and education,” he continued. “We came to a conclusion that we should continue our dialogs within a mutual understanding, but we did not have the basis to form a coalition.”

Following Mr. Davutoglu, Mr. Kilictaroglu said CHP has prepared its basic principles to form a coalition with 14 items on June 15, 2015 and shared them with public following the elections. He said, he expressed Mr. Davutoglu that CHP thinks a well grounded and powerful coalition formed for a long term would be best for country’s need. On the contrary, Davutoglu offered a short term government or asked for support for a minority government as a second option.

“We have not received a suggestion for a coalition so far,” he said. “We were offered to form a government for a new election within three months. This did not match our central executive board’s decision of long term government. Personally, when we talk about national will, we need to understand what our people expected us.”

“If the national will has divided the votes among the political parties, and did not allow one party form a government alone, it is the leaders’ responsibility to form a coalition government as a response to national will of the country. If you say, I cannot form a coalition; I will go for a re-election, how can you talk about respecting the national will? We should have given a chance to this. I think, Turkey has missed a historical opportunity.”

Both leaders expressed there was no option for pessimism for Turkey. Davutoglu said there were still options such as forming a coalition with MHP, although an early election was prominently standing out. Kilicdaroglu said Turkey has the capacity to get over its problems.

Over two months after the elections, a government not being formed, Turkey’s people are again at the edge of making a choice of who should govern the country.

Contributing Journalist: @ElvanKatmer
LinkedIn: Elvan Katmer

Turkey: Top 5 Reasons for the AK PARTİ Failure

akp lawmakers fight in parliament, photo ap burhan ozbilliicj

akp lawmakers fight in parliament, photo ap burhan ozbilliicj

ANKARA, Turkey - In the previous analysis of the recent elections in Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s was largely to blame for the failure of the AK PARTİ or AKP party to maintain its majority control of parliament.  There have been many elements affecting Turkey's populace deciding to vote along alternate party lines, but here are five that most heavily shaped the parliament in the Great National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM).

1. Erdoğan Factor

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is unarguably one of the most charismatic and authoritarian figures in all of Turkish political history. Being in politics since his youth, Erdoğan was able to win the hearts and minds of millions in the 2002 elections, although he was originally politically banned as a result of his conviction within the scope of what was known in Turkey as “Thought Crimes.” In reality, his conviction sparked off more support for Erdoğan as people thought he was banned unjustly. In addition to his outstanding political charisma, Erdoğan’s powerful speeches and rigid attitude also won general approval. This general approval continued to increase as the government, under Erdoğan’s rule, ran successful economical policies which increased people’s level of welfare.

After being elected as a president in August 2014, Erdoğan’s position had become the most highly ranked - above all political parties. He was neither a prime minister nor a chairperson of AKP anymore. Erdoğan resigned from his positions in the AKP as well as the government, and handed over his reins to one of his closest allies in his party, Ahmet Davutoglu, to take over his previous position. Consequently, public’s support of AKP decreased in the June 7th elections without Erdoğan’s leadership.

2. The 2013 Corruption Scandal and Graft Probe Allegations

On December 17, 2013, Istanbul Security Directory’s Financial Crimes and Battle against Criminal Incomes Department detained 47 people within a criminal investigation of bribery with the government officials. The investigation involved several key people in Turkish Government for an investigation on a millions of dollars of corruption. An arrest warrant was issued for 30 people by the public prosecutor on December 25, 2015, but the Istanbul Directorate of Security refused to make the arrests. Most people involved in the list of detainees and arrest warrant had connections with AKP or government officials, including the sons of three ministers. The investigation blamed several ministers for being involved in the bribery scandal.

Simultaneously, phone tapes of Mr. Erdoğan, cabinet members and several businessman related to investigation were leaked through YouTube. It turned out the investigation was top secret in a way that none of the officials in the government were not informed, including the prime minister of the time, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, minister of interior, other cabinet members and president the time, Abdullah Gul.

Four of the ministers resigned from their positions following the allegations; however, none of them appeared on court thanks to their parliamentary immunity.

Erdoğan and other government officials claimed the allegations were conspiracy against Turkish government to stop it from performing its duties, and overthrow the government. Erdoğan blamed Fetullah Gulen, a cleric, who used to be a close ally to Mr. Erdoğan, residing in the U.S.A. for forming a parallel state within Turkey. The fact that all the officers involved in the investigation were members of Hizmet movement lead by Fetullah Gulen strengthened Erdoğan’s claims. All of the police officers, prosecutors, and other officials involved in the investigation were suspended or relocated by the government following the detaining. Government officials claimed all the phone tapes and other proofs of the investigation were built-up recordings and paperwork and did not reflect reality and did not match with the other parts of the investigation itself.

Turkey went through local authority general elections following those investigations on March 30, 2014, only about three months after the graft probe. Also, Mr. Erdoğan ran for presidential elections on August 2014. AKP received 42 percent of the vote in local elections and Erdoğan received 52 percent of the vote in presidential elections, which also showed people supported the government and Mr. Erdoğan in the graft probe allegations.

Although AKP declared a victory at the local elections, and Mr. Erdoğan won the presidential elections in the first round, people were still not convinced about the case being closed. Turkey’s people wanted transparency in graft probe investigations as well as the following parallel state investigations. People expected clear proofs about the allegations’ being fabrications and attempts to dysfunction the government. Since the local elections in 2014, AKP government was expected to answer the questions raised in people’s minds. It has been over a year since the local elections, yet government’s accomplishments were limited in relocations and suspensions of the officials involved in the graft probe.

3. People’s Democratic Party (HDP)’s raise

AKP government has attempted many reforms to increase the level of welfare in south eastern part of Turkey where most of the Kurdish population resided. The government also passed laws entitling new rights for the people of the region as well as other ethnic groups living in Turkey. Those included TRT (Turkish Radio and Television, by government) started broadcasting in Kurdish in one of its channels; the national oath, which praised being Turkish, was removed from school system. All these reforms aimed to dysfunction Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist organization in the region since 1984, blamed for over 40,000 Turkish citizens’ killings in its terrorist attacks. The Turkish government led by AKP organized these reforms under a package called democratic initiative process.

Since the last general elections, PKK ceased its activities in Turkey, and moved its armed forces to north of Syria and Iraq. In Turkey, a new party, Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), was established in 2008 as a part of democratic initiative process, and contested in elections in 2011 independently to bypass the 10 percent electoral threshold. Following the elections HDP was established in August 2012 following the People’s Democratic Congress. After the congress, BDP joined HDP prior to June 7, 2015 elections. HDP contested in June 7th elections as a party and contrary to several polls prior to election date, received 13 percent of the vote passing the 10 percent electoral threshold and won 80 seats in the parliament. Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s support for HDP against AKP in the areas where CHP does not have much support as well as HDP’s peaceful and democratic campaign received people’s approval, and it lead to a swift increase in HDP’s vote. Consequently, a historically high percentage of votes found representation in the parliament, and AKP could not reach the number of the seats required to form a government alone.

4. AKP’s Presidential System Promise and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

AKP’s electoral agenda included many promises for what it wanted to do if it can form the government alone; however, it also included a revolutionary item that would change the Turkey’s democracy remarkably. AKP promised to amend the constitution, and change the parliamentary system into presidential system. It claimed that the current system did not allow the government to function efficiently, and suggested amendment of constitution and presidential system as the solution.

Although many people agree that the Turkish constitution needs to be revolutionized, and are not fundamentally against the presidential system, both the tone of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s increasingly strong language, and his power expectancy deterred people from supporting AKP, in terms of reforms, towards presidential system.

In his initial years of rule, Erdoğan’s rowdy style was somehow sympathetic to Turkish people. His authoritative attitude has been accepted and praised by his fellows as well as the public, as Turkey had been going through severe turbulence due to the lack of authority in government. However, Erdoğan’s tone increasingly became harsher and harsher both towards Turkey’s people (who criticizes him) as well as the international community.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition party- Republican People’s Party- called Erdoğan a dictator on several different occasions.

According to Today’s Zaman, a newspaper published in English in Turkey, in one of those occasions Mr. Kilicdaroglu said Erdoğan fits the scholarly description of a dictator referring to the book “The Psychology of Dictatorship” by Fathali Moghaddam, a Georgetown University academic in his speech at the CHP group meeting.

“Four criteria are used to describe a dictatorship: whether citizens can speak their minds or protest freely in city squares, whether there are fair elections in a country, whether minority rights are protected and whether there is judicial independence. Kılıçdaroğlu said Turkey fails on all four counts,” he said.

Many international media outlets associated Erdoğan with becoming “the new Sultan of Turkey” in their headlines. Since he first came to power in 2002, Mr. Erdoğan’s attitude has always been somewhat harsh to any of his opponents, yet Turkey’s people did not want to take his increasingly heavy language anymore. A presidential system could potentially fulfill the titles Mr. Kilicdaroglu and international media outlets placed upon Erdoğan, even if this has not been his intention.

5. Erdoğan’s Presidential Role

After being elected as a president in 2014, Mr. Erdoğan’s new position required him to keep the same distance to all political parties as well as bureaucracy. Yet, soon after he took over the president’s office, he said he will continue to be in politics actively, unlike his predecessors in this position.

“I have never been away from the fields. I have come to the presidency from the field. Where am I supposed to be if I am not going to be in the field? If anyone is expecting me to seclude myself in Ankara, they will have to wait a lot more,” he said. “I will not be a president sitting in his office, signing documents.”

Although legally Erdoğan was not supposed to be a part of AKP anymore, he continued to make propaganda on behalf of AKP during the election campaign process. He was giving speeches, and talking to the public on air almost every day through mass opening ceremonies, TV programs, meetings and various events using the presidential budget. Erdoğan asked for support for AKP by referring to the key items in its agenda: amendment of the constitution, and presidential system, which make him look like he was desperately looking to take over all the power to himself.

As a president, Mr. Erdoğan was expected to keep the same distance to all political parties; yet his misuse of his authority on behalf of AKP was not appreciated by Turkey’s people. As a consequence, AKP did not receive enough votes and seats in the national assembly to form the government alone and turn its words into action, although Ahmet Davutoglu and his team won the elections.

Contributing Journalist: @ElvanKatmer
LinkedIn: Elvan Katmer

Citizens of Turkey Put a Halt to Erdoğan’s Ascent

president-recep-tayyip-erdogan-turkey-photo-reuters_stringer.jpg

ANKARA, Turkey - For the past 13 years, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party, also known as "JDP or AK in English and AK PARTİ or AKP" party had always won a majority in every Turkish election.

Erdoğan initially won a historical victory in the 2002 elections and became the AKP’s chairperson.

The key elements that contributed to the AKP’s victory were the economic depression which plagued Turkey, the failures of predecessor coalition governments, as well as a necessary 10 percent electoral threshold which Turkish political parties have to pass to have the floor at The Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM).

Erdoğan’s AKP won 363 of 550 seats in the National Assembly where 45 percent of the popular vote was not reflected in the National Assembly because of the electoral threshold.

However, in the most recent elections held on 7 June 2015 the AKP’s iron clad reign of power seems to have faltered despite the fact that they won 40 percent of the votes, the AKP was unable to reach the number of Parliament Members (MP) required to form the ruling government which has forced them to form a coalition with one of its rivals.

Since its establishment, and its first victory in 2002, AKP earned the trust of many people from varying backgrounds who had previously either supported AKP or another party such as the People's Democratic Party (HDP). Erdoğan’s first speech after his first victory also won a general approval from almost everyone in the country as well as his speech after the second general election he won.

“You voted for the democracy to function more efficiently. You voted for a transition into a democracy from a democracy which could not govern. It is your decision. You carried out the principle, like Ataturk said, ‘Sovereignty unconditionally belongs to the nation’,” he said on his speech after November 3, 2002 general election.

Erdoğan emphasized unity of Turkey’s people in his speech after the general election on 23 July 2007 election which continued to receive approval from all parties.

“I am calling out to the people who did not vote for my party. I understand the message you gave us in your votes. Please feel comfortable. Your vote is important to us no matter who you voted for. Please be at ease; we will continue to protect our nation’s consignment up to the end like we always did,” he said.

In the years following the 3 November 2002 election, AKP and Erdoğan have won all parliamentary elections and formed the government singly, in addition to general local elections and his presidential run until this past 7 June 2015 election cycle.

Compared to prior elections, the June 7th parliamentary elections turned out to be more democratic as more than 95 percent of the votes were reflected to the Great National Assembly of Turkey. A new party, People’s Democratic Party (HDP) contested in the election as a party unlike its predecessor, Peace and Democracy party (BDP) did in the previous elections in where it participated independently to bypass the 10 percent electoral threshold. Contrary to several pro-government polls, HDP fared way better than expected and won 80 seats with 13 percent of the vote, which also collapsed AKP’s plans for continuing to form and run the government alone.

An image showing the pool results from 4 different poll companies prior to June 7th election. Only one of those polls showed HDP passing the electoral threshold.

AKP Table
AKP Table

AKP lost the support it had constantly received from Turkey’s people for 13 years in June 7th election. In addition to HDP’s swift popularity in Turkey, AKP also lost support because Mr. Erdoğan was no longer the chairman of the party since being elected as president. Additionally, the corruption investigations that were launched in December of 2013, which implicated many government officials as well as businessman with close ties to AKP which many citizens felt were improperly concluded by government. Mr. Erdoğan and his team blamed Fetullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric leading the Hizmet Movement, for forming a parallel state within Turkish government.

He also blamed Mr. Gulen for an attempt to overthrow the government by fomenting conspiracies which included in their opinion false allegations of corruption by close supporters and allies of the AKP. Mr. Erdoğan’s unusual political stand after being elected as a president is another key factor in AKP’s marginal victory. Although, as president he was mandated to remain impartial regarding the political parties that comprise the parliament, it has been problematic because he hascontinued to covertly and sometimes overtly support AKP.

Critics claim that Erdoğan support for AKP has come to a point where he has begun to act more like a member of AKP than the president of Turkey. Voters indicated that the AKP’s post-electoral agenda and Mr. Erdoğan’s desire to amass a power base that would effectively make him impervious to usurpation were the primary reasons why they switched their support to other parties.

The parliamentary system in Turkey requires political parties to form a single government with majority, or in coalition with another party within 45 days after any election. Following the June election neither the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), or Democratic People’s Party (HDP) wanted to form a coalition with the AKP.

Ideologically, none of the parties share an affinity for each other; however the leader of the MHPmade it clear that in addition to the AKP, they will not be involved in a coalition with HDP as well. Without AKP, the only option is a minority government, which could not last long in Turkey’s dynamics government. Despite their initial position, in the intervening days following their pronouncement, party leaders have softened their language and started preparing protocols for possible coalitions.

Mr. Erdoğan expressed in an earlier meeting that he would meet the leaders of all political parties prior to designating one for the Prime Minister position.

“First, I will assign the chairman of the party which received the highest vote. If he cannot form the coalition, I will assign the chairman of the party which received the second highest vote,” he said. With only days left to form a government, little has been accomplished in TBMM. An early election, or in Mr. Erdoğan’s words, a re-election is a close option, not a surprise.

CONTRIBUTING JOURNALIST: @ElvanKatmer
LINKEDIN: Elvan Katmer