Bullets and Blueberries

Where Gritty Politics And Sweet News Mix

Friday, October 23, 2009

Guess Who's Back

Sorry about the two year hiatus, but I have since left the Capitol Hill to finish my education. I decided to respect my Chief of Staff and not write about my political views while working for the congressman. Now that I'm out of DC finishing, my MA and applying to Ph.D programs I have some more time to do what I love, write.

Friday, August 31, 2007

US and Musharraf Friends With Benefits

If reports about the ongoing discussions between President Musharraf and the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto are accurate, then Musharraf may soon cease to be a general and Bhutto may take up her old job: this is one step forward and two steps back for constitutional government in Pakistan.

No doubt there's a strong argument that the president of a country should not also be the commander in chief (though the framers of the US constitution disagreed). So the deal will fix that anomaly. But, in return, to allow Bhutto to have a third term as prime minister, the constitution will be amended and all corruption charges against her will be dropped.

It is difficult to see how this is a positive development for the rule of law in Pakistan. However, constitutional exception-making, frankly, is commonplace in Pakistan's history. And this is not the worst element of the deal. The practical consequences for democracy, economic growth, peace with India and the struggle against extremism will be much more serious.

It may seem odd to say that ending military leadership is bad for democracy. However, the advantage of having the general-as-president is that he is less dependent on traditional party politics. That model of politics is tribal and feudal, whereby power is transmitted from the people to political leaders through major landowners, industrialists and imams. The great hope that Musharraf manifested for a while, when he first came to power, was that he was going to wreck this structure. His move to create councils at a local level, guaranteeing representation for women and minorities, empowering a new generation of grassroots leaders, was a critical first step in doing so. His deal with Bhutto, if concluded, will signal that this new politics has failed and it is difficult to see Bhutto, whose base of major supporters is relishing the prospect of returning to power, having the political chutzpah to resurrect it.

Equally, Bhutto's return to power is a risk to the economy. As Musharraf documented in his recent book, In the Line of Fire, Pakistan's economy stagnated under Bhutto during the 1990s, levels of poverty rose and massive sums of money mysteriously disappeared from public accounts. Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan's current prime minister, a technocrat, who formerly was a high-ranking executive at Citibank, has overseen a remarkable turnaround in the economy that has delivered a double-digit growth rate and a large boost in Pakistan's foreign currency reserves.

Finally, there are the security issues. Throughout Pakistan's history, the relationship with India has been tense. But Musharraf has handled it with care, and has outlined a possible settlement over Kashmir. He has been able to do this because he is the army chief. A civilian leader like Bhutto will find it much more difficult to continue or accelerate the development of friendly relations with India. This is partly because the bellicose elements in the military and intelligence services will be released from the yoke of their commanding officer but also because hostility towards India is popular in Pakistani politics - this isn't Bhutto's fault but she may not be able to resist the temptation to play to the gallery.

She will face a similar political logic over combating extremism. Pakistan is not a militantly religious country - there are strong streams of heterodox religious practice and a powerful drift is underway towards western cultural values. But, even though most people do not agree with the extremists, they are intensely uncomfortable with seeing the police or armed forces attack religious schools or mosques, where extremists may be based. Musharraf has been able to pursue this cause, to a limited extent, because of the uniform; Bhutto will not be able to continue it with even the same vigour, let alone enhance it.

In the end, this deal is not only crooked, it is a setback for anyone who wants a liberal and democratic future for Pakistan.

By Kamran Nazeer

Will Turkey Be On the Table For The EU in Time for Thanksgiving?

In its 17 December 2004 decision, the European Council recognised Turkey’s “significant legislative progress in many areas” but added that “these need to be further consolidated and broadened”. Furthermore, the report also took note of the improvements in the country’s economic stability and predictability and the strengthened independence and efficiency of the judiciary. Regarding the respect for human rights and the exercise of fundamental freedoms, “Turkey has acceded to most relevant international and European conventions”.

Most importantly for Ankara, Turkey got a fixed date (3 October 2005) for starting membership negotiations. The Turkish side had originally hoped for an earlier date, in view of the Copenhagen summit commitment that the EU would open talks "without delay" once Turkey is deemed to have made sufficient progress in its reforms.

Under the Council’s decision, a framework for Turkey’s EU membership negotiations was established by the Commission. This document was released on 29 June. The negotiating framework, which has been described by Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn as "rigorous", rests on the following elements:

  • The underlying and shared objective of the talks will be Turkey’s accession. However, the negotiations will be “open-ended”, which means that their outcome cannot be guaranteed beforehand.

  • At the end of the talks, should Turkey fail to qualify in full for all obligations of EU membership as specified in the Copenhagen criteria, EU member states would still ensure that Ankara is “fully anchored in the European structures through the strongest possible bond”.

  • The accession negotiations will be conducted in the framework of an Intergovernmental Conference with the participation of Turkey and all EU member states. The policy issues will be broken down into 35 policy areas (chapters) - more than ever before - and the decisions will require unanimity.

  • The EU may consider the inclusion of long transition periods, derogations, specific arrangements or permanent safeguard clauses in its proposals for each framework.

  • Membership talks with candidates “whose accession could have substantial financial consequences” (such as Turkey) can only be concluded after 2014, the scheduled date for the establishment of the EU’s new financial framework.

  • Accession negotiations can be suspended in case of a “serious and persistent breach […] of the principles of democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law on which the Union is founded”. Suspension would require a Commission initiative or a request to that effect by one third of the member states. The final decision would be made by the Council by qualified majority, and the European Parliament would be informed.

  • Under a compromise formula agreed at the December 2004 EU Council, before 3 October 2005 Turkey would have to sign a protocol that will adapt the 1963 Ankara Treaty to the ten new member states of the EU, including the Greek Cypriot government. For practical purposes this would amount to an implicit recognition of this government for the first time since the island’s division in 1974. “The adoption of this protocol is in no way recognition, and I’ve put this on the record,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said. The deal did not include a commitment from Ankara that the protocol would be ratified by the Turkish parliament before October 2005. As for the other key condition: Turkey on 1 June 2005 enacted the country's revised penal code.

Throughout Europe, the arguments that surround Turkey's projected accession revolve around a series of issues, ranging from demographic through geographic to political. One commonly raised point is that, if and when it were to join the EU, Turkey would become the EU's most populated member state. Turkey's current population is 71 million, and demographers project it to increase to 80-85 million in the next 20 years. This compares with the largest current EU member state Germany, which has 83 million people today, but whose population is projected to decrease to around 80 million by 2020.

Another argument is rooted in the age-old debate on whether it is possible to establish geographic borders for Europe, and whether Turkey 'fits' within these borders. This is seen by many as a dispute that rests on philosophical and intellectual prejudgements, especially since the Treaty of Rome is widely accepted to aim for the construction of a union of European states based on shared common values.

Perhaps the most sensitive of all arguments centre on the cultural and religious differences. Since the EU identifies itself as a cultural and religious mosaic that recognises and respects diversity, the supporters of Turkey's EU bid believe that, as long as both Turkey and the EU member states maintain this common vision, cultural and religious differences should be irrelevant.

The EU member states' concerns over Turkey's human rights record as well as global and regional security-related issues have also been key factors behind Turkey's prolonged application process.

The future of the divided island of Cyprus has also been a major sticking point. The Council's December 2004 decision entailed a compromise formula on the Cyprus issue, under which the affected sides were expected to work towards a solution to the conflict before the scheduled 3 October 2005 launch of membership talks with Ankara, however conflict still remains unresolved. Cyprus is a decisive factor in the negotiation process. Cyprus demands official recognition by Turkey and access to Turkish harbours and airports. Turkey demands putting and end to the isolation of Northern Cyprus and emphasises that it was the Greek side of the island that rejected the UN’s plan in 2004.

The results of the referenda on the EU Constitution during the first half of 2005 - especially the No votes in France and the Netherlands - have been detrimental to Turkey's EU bid. Although subsequent research and surveys have failed to prove that enlargement in general, and Turkey's candidancy in particular, were key factors behind the public's rejection of the Constitution, the summer of 2005 still witnessed an increase Europe-wide of scepticism towards Turkey's European prospects.

Turkey needs to make further progress in the area of freedom of speech. More specifically the EU would like to see a reform of Turkey's penal code and the controversial article 301, which serves as a basis for the so-called "Turkishness-cases" against writers and journalists.

With Turkish parliamentary elections this August and domestic support for an EU membership in decline, the issues seem to be increasingly difficult to resolve. Turkey’s public is more and more tired of the negotiation process. A recent Eurobarometer showed that only 44% of Turks thought EU membership would be a good thing, compared to 66% in spring 2005. A survey by the German Marshall Fund of the US, published in June, confirmed this tendency. Turkish politicians are increasingly making use of this sentiment, especially with a view to the upcoming elections. An expression of this is the criticism expressed by Turkey's public concerning Pope Benedict's comments on Islam on 15 September 2006.

The Council of Europe (CoE) also welcomed the election of Abdullah Gül, with CoE Parliamentary Assembly President René van der Linden describing him as "a modern reformer". He also counts on the new president "to spread the European spirit in Turkey".

The What's What in (former) Secular Turkey

A former Islamist was voted in as the new president of Turkey on Tuesday, breaking an 84-year grip on power by the secular establishment, and ushering a new Islamic middle class from Turkey's heartland into the center of the staunchly secular state.

Lawmakers approved Abdullah Gul, a 56-year-old economist, with 339 votes, far above the simple majority required in the 550-member Parliament. Two other candidates garnered another 83 votes. The party of the secular establishment boycotted the voting.

The vote ended months of political standoff that began when Turkey's secular establishment and military, virulently opposed to his candidacy, blocked it in May, forcing a national election last month.

But Gul's party, Justice and Development, refused to back down, and his success Tuesday marked a rare occasion in Turkish history in which a party prevailed against the powerful military.

There was no immediate statement from the military, which has ousted four elected governments since 1960, but its unspoken reaction was frosty: None of Turkey's military commanders attended Gul's appointment ceremony, a highly unusual departure from protocol, considering that he is now their commander-in-chief.

"This is definitely a day when we are turning a page, an important page, in the political history of the country," said Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations at Bilgi University in Istanbul. "The boundaries have been expanded in favor of civilian democracy."

The appointment upsets the power hierarchy in Turkey, a secular democracy whose citizens are predominantly Muslims, by opening up the presidency - an elite secular post first occupied by this country's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk - to a new class of leaders from Turkey's provinces, for decades considered backward by the elite.

A decade ago, Gul's nomination would have been unthinkable: The elite and the military had kept the merchant class he comes from away from the center of power on the grounds that they were the protectors of Ataturk's legacy.

Ali Murat Yel, chairman of the sociology department at Fatih University in Istanbul, said the selection of Gul was comparable in significance to an African-American being elected president in the United States.

"It's a very important turning point," said Yel. "Those people who are the peasants and farmers and petty bourgeoisie always had republican values imposed on them. Now they are rising against it. They are saying, 'Hey, we are here, and we want our own way.' "

Though Turkey's secular establishment has taken pains to portray Gul and his close ally, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, as inseparable from their Islamic pasts, their supporters argue they have changed dramatically since the early 1990s, when they were members of the overtly Islamic Welfare Party.

Yel said they had left radicalism and moved into the center. "They can sit on the same table as some people who drink alcohol and they drink their Coke, and they would be able to talk to them. They have come to terms with the reality of this country."

Most Turks strongly oppose the idea of a religiously oriented government, and the overwhelming portion of Gul's constituency voted for his party because it had done well running the country, not because its leaders were pious men. Their policies over the past four years in power have reflected a careful respect for secular principles, many say.

In his acceptance speech in Parliament on Tuesday, Gul emphasized his commitment to Turkish secular values. He renewed his pledge to push for Turkish membership in the European Union, an effort he has led in four years as foreign minister.

"Secularism - one of the basic principles of our republic," he said, wearing a dark suit and a red tie. "My door will be open to everyone."

His hometown, Kayseri, was decorated with Turkish flags, and a sound system was built in the city center to broadcast the ceremony and celebration, Turkish television said.

"Still, he will have to work to persuade skeptical Turks."

He has on his shoulders a very heavy burden - an Islamist past," said Baskin Oran, a political science professor. "He has to be twice as careful as a secular statesman."

The election of Gul reopens the debate over where Islam fits in the building of an equitable society, a question that is also of central interest to Western democracies now.

"We are in uncharted waters," said Ozel, the professor of international relations. "We don't know how they will run the country. This is not a party that has articulated its world view very clearly."

By Sebnem Arsu and Sabrina Tavernise

Turks Elect Fomer Islamist

Turkish former foreign minister Abdullah Gül was elected president on 28 August 2007 with 339 votes of the 550-member Turkish parliament.

The candidacy of Gül, a moderate-Islamist politician, plunged Turkey into a major political crisis in April, when the first round of votes was boycotted by the opposition and millions of protesters took to the streets in defence of the state's secular principles. The army, which sees itself as the defender of the country's secularism, also announced its opposition to the prospect of having a moderate-Islamist party ruling both the government and the presidency.

As Abdullah Gül swore in on 28 August as the first Turkish president with islamist roots since 1923, he emphasised his commitment to Turkish secular values. The Turkish military generals were absent from the ceremony.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso welcomed the overall Turkish electoral process as "a considerable achievement for Turkey and the Turkish people" as both the legislative and presidential elections took place with a high level of participation.

Barroso added he was confident that the future government will "give fresh, immediate and positive impetus to the accession process to the European Union through progress in a number of key areas".

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Racial Injustice in Jena Six

Jena is a small town nestled deep in the heart of Central Louisiana. Until recently, you may well have never heard of it. But this rural town of less than 4,000 people has become a focal point in the debate around issues of race and justice in this country.

Last December, six black students at Jena High School were arrested after a school fight in which a white student was beaten and suffered a concussion and multiple bruises. The six black students were charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy. They face up to 100 years in prison without parole. The Jena Six, as they have come to be known, range in age from 15 to 17 years old.

Just over a week ago, an all-white jury took less than two days to convict 17 year-old Mychal Bell, the first of the Jena Six to go on trial. He was convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy charges and now faces up to 22 years in prison. Black residents say that race has always been an issue in Jena, which is 85 percent white, and that the charges against the Jena Six are no exception.

The origins of the story can be traced back to September 2006, a group of African American high school students in Jena, Louisiana, asked the school for permission to sit beneath a "whites only" shade tree. There was an unwritten rule that blacks couldn't sit beneath the tree. The school said they didn't care where students sat. The next day, students arrived at school to see three nooses (in school colors) hanging from the tree.The boys who hung the nooses were suspended from school for a few days. The school administration chalked it up as a harmless prank, but Jena's black population didn't take it so lightly. Fights and unrest started breaking out at school. The District Attorney, Reed Walters, was called in to directly address black students at the school and told them all he could "end their life with a stroke of the pen." Black students were assaulted at white parties. A white man drew a loaded rifle on three black teens at a local convenience store. (They wrestled it from him and ran away.) Someone tried to burn down the school, and on December 4th, a fight broke out that led to six black students being charged with attempted murder. To his word, the D.A. pushed for maximum charges, which carry sentences of eighty years. Four of the six are being tried as adults (ages 17 & 18) and two are juveniles.

Racism and racial injustice are still alive. We need to come together as communities, bridge across cultures and unite all ethnicities to demand equally. While, I am the last person to preach racial victimization (I think that’s bull), but clearly here there is an injustice that must be made right and everyone must share in that burden. Like Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Best Ever Blueberry Pie

Crust Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cold butter or margarine
4 to 5 tablespoons cold water

Filling Ingredients:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 cups fresh blueberries


  1. Heat oven to 400°F.
  2. Combine 2 cups flour and salt in large bowl; cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in enough water with fork just until flour is moistened.
  3. Divide dough in half; shape each half into ball. Flatten slightly. Wrap 1 ball of dough in plastic food wrap; refrigerate. Roll out remaining ball of dough on lightly floured surface into 12-inch circle. Fold into quarters. Place dough into 9-inch pie pan; unfold, pressing firmly against bottom and sides. Trim crust to 1/2 inch from edge of pan.
  4. Combine sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, nutmeg and cinnamon; mix well. Stir in blueberries. Spoon blueberry mixture into prepared pie crust.
  5. Roll out remaining ball of dough on lightly floured surface into 12-inch circle. Cut out decorative shapes in dough using small cookie cutter. Place dough over filling. Seal, trim and crimp or flute edge. Cover edge of crust with 2-inch strip of aluminum foil.
  6. Bake for 35 minutes; remove aluminum foil. Continue baking for 10 to 20 minutes or until crust is lightly browned and juice begins to bubble through cut-outs in crust.
  7. Cool pie 30 minutes; serve warm. Store refrigerated.
Did you know? Anytime you bake a pie for more than 30 minutes, you should cover the edges of the crust with foil until about 10 minutes before the pie is done to prevent the edges of the crust from getting too brown, or burning.