Best of luck to Kenyans for a violence-free election today. Here are live updates from a Ugandan website. Here is some very thumbnail background on the issues. For a much richer portrait read Michela Wrong’s book It’s Our Turn to Eat.
“… the choice between Mrs May and Mr Corbyn is between the unpalatable and the unacceptable.” – Alex Massie in The Spectator.
Happy U.K. election day.
This is a fateful week for the beleaguered Turks. Next weekend Turkey will vote in a referendum on whether to extend significant new powers to President Erdogan. With war on its borders, terror in its biggest cities, a tourism industry in collapse, a tenuous agreement with the rest of Europe over refugees, spats with individual EU governments ginned up for electoral advantage, an astounding 40,000 jailed after the attempted coup last year, well, Turkey has no shortage of challenges.
In spite of it all, Istanbul remains one of the world’s five greatest cities (In no particular order, mine are Istanbul, Hong Kong, Paris, Sydney, San Fransisco. Yours?) So I’d like to reprise a few fan photos of Istanbul in the good old days. Click them to make them bigger. And there are hundreds more photos from Turkey here, in the Turkey Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.
Outside the Grand Bazaar. Through that gate and down in the bazaar, march in and get yourself thoroughly lost. Wander for half a day. I once asked around for the Afghan section and came away with three fine pakols, tailored to my head size, from a milliner from Kandahar.
Again, the Galata Tower in the center back. Ferries like these ply the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus over to Asia, carrying commuters to work at dawn.
The fabled Haydarpasha Train Station in Kadaköy, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. On arrival from London via the Orient Express, from here well heeled tourists could travel on to Ankara, then Kars, then Baghdad and Teheran.
Day labor at the break of dawn. Happening every day in the Grand Bazaar.
The Blue Mosque.
This is seven photos stitched into a 180 degree panorama. Each photo consists in turn of seven exposures combined into an HDR image. We are looking west into the Golden Horn at dawn, the Bosphorus Strait at our backs. See each end of the Galata Bridge on the far left and right.
Here is the Ortakoy Mosque in a trendy part of town some way up the Bosphorus on the European shore, the bridge behind leading to Asia, on the far side.
And Taksim Square, foreground. Gezi Park, a green space and the focus of the protests a couple of years ago, is just below and behind this vantage point. From here you can see past the Golden Horn and out into the Sea of Marmara. From this vantage point the Bosphorus, to the east, is just off to the left.
Here is the fabled Golden Horn, with the Galata Tower across the way. The Bosphorus is out of the frame on the right, the Sea of Marmara behind the photo and the Black Sea at the end of the Bosphorus at two o’clock from here.
“Democratic capitalism no longer works well enough to keep together a country of 325 million people and to guarantee domestic peace,” the German journalist Holger Stark declared in the news weekly Der Spiegel, trying to explain Donald Trump’s America to his German readers. I think Mr. Stark is right; our way of governance is under deep systemic stress from both sides of the money/power equation.
The disrobing of the financial Emperors began with the financial collapse of 2008. As the elite who run the financial world stood naked amid their misdeeds, we glimpsed how, among many other things, they had packaged and sold bad real estate loans under false pretenses, for profit, with the complicity of the ratings agencies. (Iceland suffered mightily. See deeper coverage in my book Out in the Cold.)
The moment lasted no longer than it took their Maitre d’s to sweep the crumbs from the Emperors’ Michelin-rated dinner tables. The systems of financial governance they support patched things up, bailed them out and dispatched that nasty little business, and fast.
But the markets were left in turmoil. The elite’s solution was austerity, which resulted in rising unemployment. This led to mass protests and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Occupy seized on rising inequality as a rallying device, calling themselves “the 99 percent,” pointing out that the top one percent of income earners, who are less affected by austerity measures, are generally the decision makers who caused the problem in the first place.
I think to watch the nascent Obama administration repair the Emperors’ balance sheets was a revelation for middle America. The former party of the working man, made up of all those out-of-work cadres to whom Donald Trump would later appeal, showed flyover country that whichever flag of political leadership flies over the land, the infestation of money has rotted the system clear through.
It’s ALWAYS About the Money
In a Maslow’s hierarchy, the Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf ranks capitalism as more fundamental than democracy. He writes, “Democracy cannot function without a market economy.”
“In today’s world, it is not capitalism that is in imminent danger, but rather democracy. A predatory form of post-democratic capitalism, not the end of capitalism, is the threat.” By this Mr. Wolf means we should fear authoritarianism.
Mr. Wolf works for a newspaper whose focus is money, so it is not surprising that he might overlook flaws in the workings of the money part of the money/power question. But there are glaring flaws, and they give rise to alienation.
An alienated center’s loss of faith in institutions invites the rise of the fringes, the peripheral haters and dividers that always rise at times when the disillusioned are too crestfallen to keep up their guard. Opportunist would-be leaders are always ready to exploit such an electoral mood, and this is what we call the rise of populism, an affliction from which we currently suffer.
The post-post-Cold War world is well and truly in flux. Conflicting signals are everywhere. Vladimir Putin’s unapologetic Russian nationalism has brought along bits of east Europe, notably Victor Orban’s Hungary and a grudge-wielding conspiracy theorist whose destructive policies seem driven by personal vendetta, the power behind the throne in Poland, PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński.
Brexit deflated proponents of the European project. Donald Trump has NATO rightly alarmed. Mr. Putin’s loans to Marine Le Pen’s Front Nationale seek and may attain influence over a Europe teetering on terminal division.
We all see the challenges facing the German chancellor, who looks more tired by the day, after her fateful acceptance of 1.1 million refugees (or was that 890,000?) in the summer of 2015. A narrative is emerging that she “represents what many voters consider the failings of the past.” Her painful audience with the U.S. president could scarcely have bucked her up before the September electoral challenge from the SDP head Martin Schulz, who has the clear and canny benefit of having been away in Brussels and untainted by the immigration wars.
Still, for every Orban in Hungary there is an Austria, where 73-year old Alexander Van der Bellen ultimately won the presidency last December with 53.8 percent over Norbert Hofer, heir to Jörg Haider’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigration Freedom Party. In Bulgaria the center-right has held, with the pro-E.U.-integration (and corruption-plagued) Boyko Borissov likely to retain his premiership after elections at the end of March. Then too there is the Dutch rejection of the nasty, isolated Geert Wilders. It appears the power side of the money/power question could go either way.
An epic, scene-setting battle is being fought right now, before our eyes, and it is historic. After the 25 year lull we called the “post-Cold War,” this is the world-defining struggle for what comes next. It is history on fast-forward. For now, it is hard to see the emerging landscape for the early spring fog. The 7 May runoff in France and September elections in Germany will help to illuminate the path forward.
The potentially good news on this side of the Atlantic is that Donald Trump’s act wears thin as fast a Wal-Mart t-shirt. We have fast come to know him as a slight-of-hand president, a purveyor of diversion, and there is every chance that his dissipation of the common trust will in time bring the country to a crisis that will not end well. In the context of the times we live in, if there could be a worse time for my country to have installed an ignorant, self-involved unsteady hand on the presidential tiller, I can not think of when it would be.
His rank dissimulation may – just may – prevent our president from being trusted long enough to cause physical harm. How we get from here to there is plenty fraught. But surviving the Trump threat won’t be the end of our woes, for they are systemic. We will still be left to repair our system’s corrupted relationship between money and government. A subject for future consideration.
Note: Less than an hour after publication of this post the U.S. Senate did its part in the institutional disassembly process by changing its rules so that sixty votes are no longer needed to confirm a Supreme Court Justice.
This article also appears on Medium.
Two and a half months into the Trump administration this was the National Security Council’s welcome page this morning, 9:23 a.m. eastern U.S. time, 6 April, 2017.
Um, I mean, no hurry. Cuz it’s just national security.
Check here whether it’s still the same now.
Russia is back on the blog after I posted a few photos of vintage Moscow last week. This time, it’s a bit of an explanation for the protests over the weekend, the biggest since the ones Hillary Clinton signaled in 2011.
Ten thousand or more young people took to the streets of the capital on Sunday, along with other protests across the country. I hadn’t been paying enough attention and all those people seemed to pop up out of nowhere. Not so, as an article by Julia Ioffe in The Atlantic explains. She puts the protests down to this video, from opposition figure Alexey Navalny:
As Ioffe says,
It showed, in great detail and using drone footage, what he said were the vast real-estate holdings of prime minister and former president Dmitry Medvedev, a man who talked of fighting corruption during his presidency and who in May told the residents of recently annexed Crimea, who are suffering from electricity and fuel shortages, “We don’t have the money now. … But you hang in there!”
Navalny says he will challenge Putin for the Presidency next time. It remains to be seen, of course, whether he will instead watch the presidential campaign from jail or perhaps house arrest instead. For his participation over the weekend, he is spending fifteen days in jail.
Any politician who utters the words “We will continue our fight” on election night has lost, and so Geert Wilders is invited to scurry off back to his armed guard while the Dutch center holds, delivering a bracing, if temporary, rebuff of Europopulism, and now, eyes on France. But as the reporting horde scurries from Amsterdam to Paris, there remain coalition politics to resolve back in Den Haag.
GreenLeft looks to end up with something like 15 or 16 parliamentary seats in today’s elections, a huge increase from its previous four, on the same night the Dutch Labour Party has been just about eviscerated, apparently for previously joining in a coalition with the center-right government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Despite Labour’s travails, given the current state of the European left, GreenLeft’s 30 year old leader Jesse Klaver should court Rutte’s VVD for inclusion in the coming Dutch governing coalition as a way to put down a marker, to claim legitimacy for his party after its remarkable quadrupling of its parliamentary presence, and to cement GreenLeft’s arrival on the Dutch political scene.
I’m just sayin’.