World

A world of strongmen, &c.

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament in Ankara, July 7, 2018. (Umit Bektas / Reuters)
Erdogan, Maduro, Xi, and more

The Turkish strongman, Erdogan, was sworn in again as leader. Three other leaders — Medvedev (Russia), Orbán (Hungary), and Maduro (Venezuela) — were in attendance. That is instructive. Also instructive are these words from Maduro: Erdogan is a “leader of the new multi-polar world.”

• A headline from Newsweek: “Turkish President Appoints Son-in-Law to Lead Economy, Fueling Investors’ Fears.” (Article here.) This son-in-law may have more power than Jared . . .

(Shameless plug: I wrote a book about sons and daughters of dictators, but it contains a number of sons-in-law, too.)

• An American pastor, Andrew Brunson, is a prisoner of the Turkish regime. He has been imprisoned for almost two years. He worked as a pastor in Turkey for 23 years. Today, he is accused of all manner of offenses — but his true offense is apparently his work, his ministry.

To read news about him, go here.

• Liu Xiaobo was the foremost democracy leader in China. He was, of course, a political prisoner of the regime. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 (in absentia). A year ago, he died as he had long lived: surrounded by state agents. What the Chinese Communist Party did to him was unspeakable.

They have brutalized Liu Xia as well. She is the widow of Liu Xiaobo. For eight years — from the time of the Nobel announcement — they kept her under a harsh form of house arrest. She was isolated. It was very hard for her to hang on to her health, mental and physical.

She has at last been released. She is in Germany. Here is an excerpt from a New York Times report:

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany raised Ms. Liu’s case directly with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, during a visit to Beijing earlier this year, a gesture that underscored her opposition to China’s treatment of Ms. Liu and her husband, European diplomats said.

Germany’s efforts in Liu Xia’s behalf have been “aggressive,” said the Times. That is to the country’s, and the chancellor’s, credit.

It is unlikely that Liu Xia will be speaking out, now that she is in the West. The Party has her brother, back in China, as a hostage. This is what they do. What such regimes do.

• I am a broken record, but at least I’m consistent: Advocates of NATO must make their case, energetically, persistently, and well. (Same with advocates of U.S. leadership generally, and of liberal democracy.) The case won’t make itself. Don’t merely wait for another U.S. president. Don’t assume that the case is too obvious to state. Millions need it, and that is especially true for the young.

Every day, millions of people hear that NATO is essentially a protection racket, in which the United States is getting screwed. Who will counter this line?

I commend an op-ed piece by Nicholas Burns (Bush 43’s ambassador to NATO); a Twitter “thread” by Claire Berlinski; and a post by Noah Rothman.

• Speaking of Twitter, I submitted a limerick the other day, encapsulating a worldview (or part of one):

I’m all in favor of NATO.
And trade policies backed by Cato.
When it comes to ed,
I like ’em dead:
Homer, Euclid, and Plato.

• I keep hearing that journalists need to “represent” people. That they really ought to have constituencies, like politicians. More and more, journalists are behaving like politicians, and the public is treating journalists like politicians.

On platforms, journalists deliver applause lines. I sometimes say to them, “Are you running for office?” Journalists cultivate constituencies, and appeal to them, and appease them. The line between journalism and politics is blurry-blurry.

A sorry pass, in need of correction.

• Speaking of sorry passes in need of correction: Mexico. It is a country groaning under problems: pervasive corruption; constant crime, including murder. Consider something shocking: In the most recent campaign season, which lasted from September till this month, 132 politicians were murdered. That gives you a taste of the whole, national situation.

On July 1, Mexicans elected AMLO as their president, overwhelmingly. It was a historic landslide. “AMLO” stands for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a veteran politician and a leftist. He is a populist and nationalist. If I were a Mexican voter, I doubt I would have turned to him. Leftism, nationalism, and populism are not for me.

But, you know? I can understand Mexicans who turned to AMLO in desperation. I wish him, and them, nothing but the best.

• Give a thought to Poland. It is in the grip of a constitutional crisis. The ruling party, Law and Justice (!), is enacting structural changes to the judiciary. Among other moves, they have forced the retirement of up to 27 Supreme Court justices, at a stroke. (There are 72 justices altogether.) The chief justice was forced out; she showed up for work anyway. It is all very messy, even wild.

Law and Justice says they are merely weeding out old Communists and responding to the popular will; their opponents say that the party is engaging in a bald power-grab, undermining the constitution, which guarantees judicial independence.

For the first time, the European Union has invoked Article 7 of the Maastricht Treaty, the so-called nuclear option. In theory, Poland could lose its voting rights in the EU. That is unlikely to happen, however, because every other EU nation needs to agree on this, and Orbán’s Hungary will side with his counterparts in Poland.

The EU’s action is good for the Polish party, in this sense: It allows them to say they are proud Poles, standing up to the European behemoth, which seeks to bully an independent nation.

Leading the protests against the government is Lech Walesa, the Solidarity hero, and the first president of a free Poland. Crowds are chanting “Solidarnosc,” as of yore. Among the protesters is Adam Strzembosz, another Solidarity hero, who helped draft the constitution and was the first chief justice.

I don’t know what the outcome will be, or should be. I simply hope it is democratic and constitutional.

• These paragraphs from the New York Times, about politics in Poland, are illuminating:

When Law and Justice came to power, it campaigned against what it saw as a corrupt bureaucracy, calling for Poland to “get up from its knees.”

The message found widespread appeal in villages and towns, especially in eastern Poland, where many people felt left behind as the country moved rapidly to embrace Western values and capitalism.

Many of the safety nets that were part of the old, Soviet-style system had disappeared, and rapid economic growth mainly helped better-educated city dwellers.

While Law and Justice’s emotional appeal lay in its nationalist rhetoric and frequent reminders of historic betrayals of Poland, it has also been bolstered by generous social policies, including the establishment of a monthly stipend for new mothers.

I quote Radek Sikorski, in paraphrase: The combination of right-wing cultural politics and big, paternalistic government is one of the most potent political forces on earth. (Sikorski is the veteran Polish politician and onetime National Review writer.)

• Shall we pause for some music? I have a post on Liszt, here. And let’s talk about names for a moment.

In that post, I wrote about Gábor Farkas, a Hungarian pianist. In Hungary, he would be known as “Farkas Gábor.” That’s the way they do it there: “last” name first, as in Japan.

For a while, I didn’t know whether “Gábor” was the pianist’s first name or last name. I had to ask a Hungarian friend. What makes me especially confused is that I’m used to “Gabor” as a last name.

Why? Because of Magda, Eva, and Zsa Zsa, of course! (Plus Mama Jolie.)

This was a fascinating article: “Stateless and Poor, Some Boys in Thai Cave Had Already Beaten Long Odds.” Let me paste two excerpts, please.

At the Ban Wiang Phan School, where 20 percent of students are stateless and half are ethnic minorities, the principal, Punnawit Thepsurin, said the boy’s uncertain status — he has no citizenship papers from any country — had helped hone his strength. “Stateless children have a fighting spirit that makes them want to excel,” he said. “Adul is the best of the best.”

The boy in question is Adul Sam-on, 14. He started life in Burma.

As for Adul’s parents, they counseled the only one of their five children lucky enough to study in Thailand to be on his best behavior, even during the most traumatic of times.

“After you come out of the cave,” they instructed their son in a note, “you have to say thank you to every single officer.”

If the whole world had such parents, what a world that might be . . .

• Here in America, some Democrats are calling for the abolition of ICE (the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency). In my view, this is the Democratic equivalent of Republican calls for the abolition of the IRS. Okay, then — but something with a different name will have to do the same things.

• Watching the Brexit mess in Britain, I have this thought: Brexit is a bit like the repeal of ObamaCare — easier to campaign on than to carry out.

• Back to the subject of names? Okay: I saw a recording by Kim Kashkashian, a violist. I blinked at her name a couple of times. Do you know what I mean? (If not, here is a hint.)

• Robert D. Ray, the longtime governor of Iowa, has died. How longtime? He was governor from 1969 to 1983. (But his successor, Terry Branstad, was governor for a lot longer.) I noted something in the New York Times’s obituary of Ray.

Beginning in 1975, Mr. Ray volunteered to accept several thousand refugees from Southeast Asia, people from different backgrounds who were displaced by the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Many were concerned that the refugees would take jobs from Americans and fail to assimilate, and the move was unpopular in some circles. But Mr. Ray argued that a compassionate, humanitarian response was required.

“I decided we couldn’t sit here in the middle of Iowa, in the land of plenty, and let them die,” he told The Iowa City Press-Citizen in 2003. “They had to risk everything, their homes and members of their family.”

For a write-up on the history of refugees in Iowa, go here.

• One more obit — of Frank Ramsey, sixth man for the legendary Boston Celtics. These paragraphs made my heart race:

Ramsey was adept at getting an edge, as he told Sports Illustrated in a December 1963 article, “Smart Moves by a Master of Deception.”

“Drawing fouls chiefly requires the ability to provide good, heartwarming drama and to direct it to the right audience,” he explained. “I never forget where the referees are when I go into an act. The most reliable eye-catcher is still the pratfall. Particularly on defense, when everything else fails, I fall down.”

The N.B.A. commissioner, Walter Kennedy, seemed shocked.

Speaking at a basketball writers’ luncheon in Manhattan a few days after the article appeared, he was quoted by The New York Times as complaining that Ramsey’s revelations of how “he draws fouls by hoodwinking the officials” was “not the best kind of reading for our fans — most particularly for youngsters who look up to prominent athletes.”

Ramsey was not fined, but he felt the effect of going public. “For a couple months after that,” he told Sports Illustrated many years later, “the officials let people beat the hell out of me.”

I sympathize with Commissioner Kennedy entirely. I despise the evolution of sports, in this regard. I wish I could shake the commissioner’s hand even now. (Wikipedia tells me that he died in 1977.)

Later, y’all, and thank you.

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