Inside the Turkish Government’s Propaganda Machine

By Kate O’Sullivan and Laura Benitez Apr 8 2014

A Turkish protest for internet freedom in February. Photos by Charles Emir Richards

“Journalists wanted for international news agency,” read the Guardian job ad. As an editor in an industry where legitimate opportunities are few and far between, you apply for pretty much any full-time job you see, so apply we did. A couple of months later, we arrived in Ankara, Turkey, ready to “write history” as the first international journalists to be welcomed into the Anadolu Agency (AA) family.

We joined the agency in January, supposedly to edit English-language news, but quickly found ourselves becoming English-language spin doctors. The AA’s editorial line on domestic politics—and Syria—was so intently pro-government that we might as well have been writing press releases. Two months into the job, we listened to Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç talking some shit about press freedom from an event at London’s Chatham House, downplaying the number of imprisoned journalists in Turkey. Soon after that, we got the chance to visit London on business. We grabbed it and resigned as soon as we hit UK soil.

Established in 1920, the AA was once a point of national pride. Today, it’s at the end of one of the many sets of strings in the ruling AK Party’s puppet parade. Most of Turkey’s TV stations are heavily influenced by the state, and the few opposition channels can expect to have their licenses revoked at any time or be banned from broadcasting key events, such as live election footage or anything that might detract from how fantastic the government is doing.

For example, Turkey’s media regulator, RTUK, fined the networks that aired footage of last year’s Gezi Park protests. Funnily enough, the watchdog is made up of nine “elected” members nominated by political parties—and the more seats in parliament a faction has, the more influence it possesses.

Media outlets that aren’t being hounded by RTUK can always look forward to direct intervention from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan himself. In 2009, independent mogul Aydin Dogan’s media group—made up of various newspapers and TV channels, CNN Türk, and a news agency—was fined $2.5 billion for evading taxes. Incidentally, the audit came just after one of the group’s platforms published news on the Lighthouse charity scandal, which saw a German court convict three Turkish businessmen for funnelling $28.3 million into their personal accounts.

In one recent leaked recording, Erdogan is heard asking his former justice minister to ensure that Dogan be punished. Since then, the Dogan empire has been bound and gagged accordingly.

Police crack down on a free speech protest in Istanbul in February.

The international media relies increasingly on local sources when reporting domestic affairs overseas. The Gezi protests aside—which had nearly as many “live blogs” as protesters—much of Turkey’s English-language news came via Today’s Zaman, the largest English-language newspaper in Turkey. The leadership of the Zaman newsgroup is closely linked with the Islamic teacher and international education mogul Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of the AK Party who now lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.

Read more at VICE

Poll: Americans Still Unconcerned About Global Warming

Seagulls stand on an iceberg floating in a fjord in August 2007 near Ilulissat in Greenland. A new poll finds most Americans are not greatly concerned about climate change.

Temperatures may keep rising, yet public opinion has held steady: Most Americans have only low levels of concern about climate change, a new poll by Gallup finds.

Just 34 percent of adults said they worried “a great deal” about “global warming,” about the same as last year. Meanwhile, 35 percent said they felt the same way about “climate change,” just a 2 percentage points more than last year.

“A major challenge facing scientists and organizations that view global warming as a major threat to humanity is that average citizens express so little concern about the issue,” Gallup said.

[READ: U.N. Study: Global Warming Effects to Last ‘Centuries’]

The poll was conducted in early March, yet the results were released Friday – just one week after a comprehensive report by a United Nations climate panel reasserted that not only is climate change a man-made phenomenon, but its effects are already being felt around the world, they’re worse than previously predicted and no matter what actions are taken, they’ll persist for centuries to come.

Read more at U.S. News & World Report

The scientific consensus of the facts concerning global warming: What We Know

Paul Ryan Has a Plan for the Poor. It’s Terrible.

How his 2015 budget could sink America’s neediest deeper into poverty.

Tony Alter/ Flickr

House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has lately rebranded himself as an advocate for the poor, albeit with his own makers-versus-takers, Ayn Randian twist. He recently issued a lengthy study of federal anti-poverty programs and over the past year and a half he has embarked on a “listening tour” to hear from low-income Americans. On Tuesday, Ryan issued the House GOP’s 2015 budget proposal, which would make major changes to two of the federal government’s primary anti-poverty programs, food stamps and Medicaid. Using as his model the supposedly successful welfare reform effort of the 1990s, Ryan envisions turning these programs into block grants that are handed over to the states to administer. But his plan to “help families in need lead lives of dignity” is likely to make matters worse for America’s neediest. Here’s why.

In 1996, Congress reengineered the federal program that provided cash assistance to the poorest families. Along with imposing stiff work requirements, Congress turned the old entitlement program, whose budget rose and fell automatically with need, into a block grant with a fixed budget. The grant was then distributed to the states, with few strings attached, under the premise that they were “laboratories of innovation” that would revolutionize the way the government helped the poor.

But as welfare reform has shown, giving states this sort of flexibility in how they spend federal money can lead to a lot of abuse that Republicans are so keen on rooting out.

According to data crunched by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states have diverted billions of dollars of welfare block grants for uses these funds were not intended to support. In the first year of welfare reform, about 70 percent of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant went to pay for basic cash assistance for poor families. By 2012, that number had fallen to 29 percent and states were spending just 8 percent on providing transportation, job training, and other services intended to help people transition from welfare into the workforce.

The numbers are even more dismal in some individual states. In 2012, Louisiana spent 7 percent of its $261 million in TANF funds on basic assistance, down from 36 percent in 2001. Just 4 percent of the funds went to programs to help welfare recipients get back into the workforce. A mere 2 percent of the funds paid for child care, another critical component of a reform effort that was geared toward nudging women with small children into low-wage jobs.

What happened to the rest of the money? According to CBBP, 71 percent of it went to other services, including “other nonassistance,” a nebulous category used to mask payments for a hodgepodge of programs that the state didn’t want to spend its own tax revenues on.

Read more at Mother Jones

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And if you feel like you need still more Paul Ryan, you can check out Michael Thomasky’s article in the The Daily Beast: Paul Ryan: Still a Total Jerk

NATO Commander Says He Sees Potent Threat From Russia

Gen. Philip M. Breedlove said Wednesday that the Russian troops near Ukraine were poised to attack on 12 hours’ notice.

Credit Armend Nimani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BRUSSELS — NATO’s top commander said on Wednesday that the 40,000 troops Russia has within striking distance of Ukraine are poised to attack on 12 hours’ notice and could accomplish their military objectives within three to five days.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia told Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on Monday that the Kremlin was beginning to withdraw troops from the border area near Ukraine.

But the NATO commander, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, said in an interview with The New York Times that so far only a single battalion, a force of 400 to 500 troops, was on the move and that NATO intelligence could not say whether it was actually being withdrawn.

“What we can say now is that we do see a battalion-size unit moving, but what we can’t confirm is that it is leaving the battlefield,” said General Breedlove, of the United States Air Force. “Whether that movement is aft to a less belligerent configuration or returning to barracks, we do not see that.”

General Breedlove said that the Russian force that remained was a potent mix of warplanes, helicopter units, artillery, infantry, and commandos with field hospitals and sufficient logistics to sustain an incursion into Ukraine.

Read more at The New York Times.

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The Supreme Court’s Ideology: More Money, Less Voting

by Ari Berman

The Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In the past four years, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has made it far easier to buy an election and far harder to vote in one.

First came the Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which brought us the Super PAC era.

Then came the Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act.

Now we have McCutcheon v. FEC, where the Court, in yet another controversial 5-4 opinion written by Roberts, struck down the limits on how much an individual can contribute to candidates, parties and political action committees. So instead of an individual donor being allowed to give $117,000 to campaigns, parties and PACs in an election cycle (the aggregate limit in 2012), they can now give up to $3.5 million, Andy Kroll of Mother Jones reports.

The Court’s conservative majority believes that the First Amendment gives wealthy donors and powerful corporations the carte blanche right to buy an election but that the Fifteenth Amendment does not give Americans the right to vote free of racial discrimination.

These are not unrelated issues—the same people, like the Koch brothers, who favor unlimited secret money in US elections are the ones funding the effort to make it harder for people to vote. The net effect is an attempt to concentrate the power of the top 1 percent in the political process and to drown out the voices and votes of everyone else.

Read more at The Nation

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President Barack Obama looks at Rembrandt’s “Self-portrait as the Apostle Paul”

President Barack Obama looks at Rembrandt’s “Self-portrait as the Apostle Paul” during a tour of the Gallery of Honor at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, March 24, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Image via The White House

Everything you know about the Black Death is wrong, say the bones.

Don Walker, a human osteologist with the Museum of London, poses with the skull of one of the skeletons found by construction workers under central London’s Charterhouse Square on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Twenty-five skeletons were uncovered last year during work on Crossrail, a new rail line that’s boring 13 miles (21 kilometers) of tunnels under the heart of the city. Archaeologists immediately suspected the bones came from a cemetery for victims of the bubonic plague that ravaged Europe in the 14th century. The Black Death, as the plague was called, is thought to have killed at least 75 million people, including more than half of Britain’s population. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

In the autumn of 1348, a central Asian sickness arrived in London and quickly dispatched 60 percent of the city’s population. Within a decade, in what’s believed to be the worst human calamity of all time, something like 25 million Europeans were dead. And when they died, the secrets of their demise disappeared with them.

Until now.

On Sunday, London scientists who’d studied 25 skeletons discovered in a new rail line said everything we’d thought about the bubonic plague — what caused it, what kind of disease it was, its strength — was wrong. Most of the ensuing coverage focused on the finding that the disease wasn’t likely spread by rats’ fleas, as has been taught in every high school in the West, but had actually been airborne.

Read more at the Washington Post

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U.N. Court Orders Japan to Halt Whaling Off Antarctica

A January 2013 image from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society shows three minke whales on the deck of a Japanese boat in the Southern Ocean. Credit Tim Watters/Sea Shepherd Australia, via European Pressphoto Agency

TOKYO — The decision to ban Japan’s annual whaling drive off Antarctica, handed down by the United Nations’ highest court on Monday, was a hard-won victory for conservationists who long argued that Tokyo’s whaling research was a cover for commercial whaling.

The ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague halts a Japanese program that has captured more than 10,000 minke and other whales in the Southern Ocean each year since 1988 in the name of biological research.

Japan may not be ready to lay down its harpoons entirely. Though the ruling is final, it allows the Japanese to continue to hunt whales under a redesigned program, said Nanami Kurasawa, who heads a marine conservation group in Tokyo.

And the court’s decision does not affect smaller hunts that Japan carries out in the northern Pacific, or coastal whaling carried out on a smaller scale by local fishermen.

“It’s an important decision, but it also leaves the Japanese government a lot of leeway,” Ms. Kurasawa said. “The Japanese government could start research whaling again but under a different name, and it would be out of the ruling’s purview.”

In a 12-to-4 judgment, the court found that Japan was in breach of its international obligations by catching and killing minke whales and issuing permits for hunting humpback and fin whales within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, established by the International Whaling Commission.

Reading a summary of the judgment, the presiding judge, Peter Tomka of Slovakia, said that the latest Japanese program, which was expanded in 2005, had involved the killing of thousands of minke whales and a number of fin whales, but that its “scientific output to date appears limited.” The ruling suggested that Japan’s whaling hunt was based on politics and logistics, rather than science.

Lawyers attending the proceedings said there was a gasp among the audience when Judge Tomka ordered Japan to immediately “revoke all whaling permits” and not issue any new ones under the existing program.

“I rarely heard such an unequivocal, strong ruling at this court,” said a lawyer with long experience at the court who asked not to be named because he is working on a case in progress.

Read more at The New York Times.

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