A note on the three Californias and arbitrary borders

As many of you may know, there is a proposal to split up California into three parts: north, south and ‘ye olde’ California. This proposal is idiotic on several fronts. For starters the best university in LA, the University of Southern California, would find itself in ye olde California. Meanwhile my university, UC Riverside, would overnight become USC Riverside. Now, I wouldn’t be against the Trojan football team relocating to Riverside, especially since Riverside doesn’t have a team of it’s own. However the proposed split would cut off the Inland Empire and Orange County from Los Angeles county.

This despite the fact that the greater LA area is composed of LA-Ventura-Riverside-San Bernardino-Orange counties. These counties are deeply interwoven with one another, and dividing them is bizarre. Imagine the poor “Los Angeles Angels at Anaheim”. What horrendous name will they have to take on next? The “San Diego Angeles at Anaheim”?

Beyond it’s idiocy the proposal makes a larger point: government borders are, for the most part, arbitrary and plain stupid. The proposal to split up California ignores the regions socio-cultural ties to one another, but there are countless other examples of senseless borders.

For example, who was the bright guy that decided to split up Kansas City between Missouri and Kansas? And let’s not even get started on the absurd borders of the old world.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Post in the comments.

Eye Candy: the Arab world’s administrative divisions

NOL map Arab world admin divisions
Click here to zoom

Imagine if these divisions were all states in a federal republic. Myself, I think some of them,maybe even half of them, could be combined, but if that ever happened, and the resulting combined administrative divisions of the Arab world federated, the region would be in much better shape. (The federation of Arabia would need a Senate, of course.)

What if the OECD did the same? Or simply the US and it’s closest allies?

Turkey elections: Elections, Rappers, Media, Micro-Party, Rigging, Iraq

The Turkish State’s War On Rap

The election campaign has not slowed down the Erdoğanist state in its efforts to punish anyone who deviates from Erdoğan’s ideal of obedient, socially conservative, and conformist citizens. One of the best known Turkish rappers, Ezhel, with very leftist and counter culture lyrics, has been arrested recently for ‘encouraging drug use’. A prosecutor ordered his detention, which was implemented after he voluntarily went to the police station to answer a ‘complaint’, with no warning about detention. Onur Dinç (known as Khontkar), and Young Bego have also been detained. They can all be found on Spotify and YouTube. Listening on Spotify generates a little income for people who deserve a bit of solidarity at the moment.

İnce’s Presidential Campaign

An interview on HaberTürk TV with the leading opposition candidate for President of Turkey, Muharrem İnce (from the secularist, centre-left Republican People’s Party), has gone down very well. The interviewers let İnce express his views and had a selfie with him afterwards. HaberTürk TV is a private channel but, like all commercial private channels, accepts (and has no real choice) the biases and silences imposed by the Erdoğanist-AKP regime.

It is normal for Erdoğan himself to phone media groups and complain about coverage, demanding firings of journalists, where the bias is not as complete as he requires. So how long are these journalists, and the responsible manager, going to survive? A manager on another private channel was fired (officially ‘left for personal reasons’, ha ha ha) after allowing a very brief segment on the second most popular opposition, and more right wing, candidate, Meral Akşener. Will these HaberTürk people survive until the election? Are they more willing to push the limits because the opposition is doing better than expected?

On recent polls (leaving aside companies who enjoy close relations with the Erdoğanists) only rigging (or some extreme situation) can now stop 1. the opposition winning a majority in the National Assembly (could be stopped on current polling by stealing/losing about 2/3% points from HDP, a Kurdish rights-leftist party which appears to be between 1 and 3% points above the 10% election threshold). The main left-right opposition list seems to be about 3 points behind the right wing government list 2. the presidential election going to a second round, i.e. Erdoğan cannot get 50%+ of the vote in a several-candidate field (except by rigging at least 7% points of votes cast) and might lose in the run off.

I can only presume the interviewers of İnce will be out of a job if Erdoğan and the AKP-dominated electoral list do win by some means, and HaberTürk will suffer other penalties. Yes, polls can be wrong and they don’t all show the same thing, but those most favourable to the government tend to be run by cronies and there is widespread suspicion that in the current atmosphere in Turkey, some voters would prefer not to tell a stranger they are voting for an opposition party, particularly HDP. This is confirmed by the relation between opinion polls and the final result in last year’s referendum on moving to a presidential system (in which the final result itself may have been affected by losing and faking ballots, and by the difficulty that many voters in the Kurdish southeast had with getting to polling stations, a tactic the regime is setting up for this time as well).

The AKP-Erdoğanist Media Strategy: Why Turkish Media promotes an ex-terrorist micro-party.

Presenting the Opposition

Following on from the above, though İnce gets a lot less coverage on all media, including state media which is legally required to provide balanced coverage, than Erdoğan for the Presidential campaign, he gets far more than the more nationalist-conservative opposition candidate Meral Akşener (who would be the first female President of the Republic). She is polling behind İnce, but mostly by a moderate margin. She receives almost no coverage, her campaign is in fact a completely banned subject in the Erdoğan-controlled media (that is all state media and all the major private media groups).

Clearly the Erdoğan strategy (and we can be sure that he dictates it, without any delegation of overall strategy to campaign organisers) is to promote İnce as the only opposition candidate, in the belief that Akşener is a more of a threat to conservative support for himself. I used to believe this, but as far as we can tell from polls, İnce is leading in the first round and would do as well as Akşener in a second round play-off, both going down to very narrow defeat. This strategy has a high chance of backfiring by enabling someone further from Erdoğan in politics to become President.

The media manipulations may not make much difference since people open to voting for the opposition are going to treat the Erdoğanist media with scepticism and seek other news sources, but it is at least worth noting what the strategy is. It might be that the main aim is to make electors forget that Akşener’s party İYİ (Good) exists, on a common list with İnce’s party, but voters for the list can choose between them. It is unlikely that many voters are unaware of Akşener, the İYİ party, and the common list, and those that are unaware must be hardcore Erdoğanists who will not switch support to anyone in this election for any reason.

Promoting a Micro-Party

The most bizarre aspect of Erdoğanist coverage of the elections is that Hür Dava Partisi receives a great deal more coverage than İYİ. Hür Dava Partisi means Free Cause Party and the Turkish name is usually contracted to Hürda Partisi or Hüda Par. It was founded by people who had supported the Kurdish religious terrorist group Hizbollah. This is nothing to do with Hizbollah in Lebanon, which is a Shi’a group. Hizbollah in Turkey is defunct and was Sunni Muslim, as is Hüda Par.

It advocates religious law in Turkey and operates only in southeastern provinces where ethnic Kurds are in a majority, and has no more than 5% support in any individual province, giving it overall less than 5% in the whole region and less than 1% in the whole country. For it to receive much election coverage is of course absurd. The reason this happens is in the hope that the more religious Kurdish voters who are dissatisfied with the AKP after voting for it in the past (AKP is the second party in the region) will vote for Hüda Par instead of the secular-leftist HDP, which is the leading party in the region. The aim is to keep the HDP vote below 10% nationally, the electoral threshold for the National Assembly.

I don’t think it is possible that Hüda Par can soak up those votes sufficiently, but from the Erdoğanist point of view, it is worth trying and might just keep HDP below 10% in conjunction with electoral trickery such as moving polling stations away from HDP areas to make it less easy for them to vote and the possibility of outright electoral fraud, particularly in those polling stations where opposition observers may not turn up, in remote very pro-AKP areas. Electoral law has been changed recently to make removal of ballot boxes by the police easier and to legalise the illegal decision of the Supreme Election Council to count unstamped ballot papers in last year’s referendum.

On current polling, the opposition electoral list is a few percentage points behind the Erdoğanist list, so keeping the HDP out of the National Assembly would give his list an overall majority. This is why a micro-party of extreme religious conservative Kurds gets a high level of coverage in the Turkish media compared with conservative nationalists in İYİ who oppose Erdoğan and have created the third largest party in Turkey in terms of opinion polling.

Resisting Electoral Fraud

The possibility of electoral fraud and the use of fraud to keep HDP out of the National Assembly to the advantage of the Erdoğanists has of course been noted by the opposition and they are co-operating to work against this. The electoral list which comprises the second, third, and fourth parties in Turkey (secular centre-left CHP, nationalist conservative İP, and religious conservative SP) is cooperating with the HDP in a platform to ensure a fair and accurate count of votes. That the more nationalist parts of the opposition list and the Kurdish autonomy leftist people are able to work together on this is itself a good sign. There are no guarantees that the platform can prevent decisive fraud, but at least it will make fraud more difficult and shows there is unity in a very diverse opposition against the AKP-Erdoğan abuse of power.

Iraq Surprise?

I’ve seen a report that Turkish army units in the Kurdistan Regional Government of Northern Iraq, which have been stationed in a mountainous border part of the region for some years by ‘invitation’ (or possibly in reality extreme pressure), are moving closer to the PKK (Kurdish separatist and extreme left terrorists of Turkey) base in Kandil. Kandil is in the mountains and provides obvious difficulties for an army aiming to destroy the PKK. It is inherently difficult to observe, fire on, occupy, and completely control a mountainous region. It is a certainty that the PKK has contingency plans to move its base through the mountain, dispersing it if necessary.

I cannot predict if the Turkish Armed Forces will attack the Kandil base soon, or if it can succeed in a mixture of eradication and control. The PKK is a dangerous terrorist organisation and should be eliminated, but whether it can be eliminated in practice, without lessening the reasons some Turkish Kurds want to fight for it (very misguided people in my view) is another matter.

What I can say at the moment is I won’t be surprised if there is an offensive against Kandil before the election on June 24th, particularly if polling shifts against Erdoğan and his electoral list, or if the Turkish lira resumes its decline against foreign currencies. The consequences, militarily and political, are not matters I can think through at present.

More on the Turkish Elections

This is a sequel to my recent post Turkish Elections: Some Hope, so is best read after reading its predecessor.

In the last post, I covered the National Assembly elections on the 24th June. The first round of the presidential elections will take place on the same day and there will be a run-off between the two main candidates on the 8th July, if no candidate gets more than 50% on the first round.

As by far the strongest personality in Turkish politics over the last 15 years, Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan was no doubt expecting to win in the first round easily. He did so in 2014 when he was first elected to the presidency at a time when the president’s powers were much smaller. The two largest opposition parties of the time (CHP and MHP) put up a joint presidential candidate little known to the public and who did become much better known during the campaign. The campaign was in fact a surrender to Erdoğan who went on to ignore the constitutional limits on the presidency and push through plans for a presidential republic with little of the checks and balances known in other presidential republics, at least those in established democracies.

This presidential campaign has been an unpleasant surprise for Erdoğan. He has turned the MHP into a satellite party which supports him for the presidency. The cost of that, however, is that he has tied himself to a declining party in an attempt to compensate for a weakening of AKP (Erdoğan’s party) support since the days when it got 50% and over of the electorate.

The opposition has now found an energy unprecedented during the Erdoğan-AKP years (since 2002). It has turned the first round of the presidential election into a run-off to decide who will face Erdoğan in the second round, maximising opposition strength as its candidates enthuse different sectors of Turkish society against the current regime. It now looks impossible for Erdoğan to win the first round (without the help of rigging which is a real danger).

Some thought the opposition had already failed the presidential election when Abdullah Gül, who was President before Erdoğan, declined to run as a candidate of the small opposition religious conservative party SP. The idea around was that the two main opposition parties would accept him as a joint candidate. It is not clear this would have ever happened, and anyway Gül declined to run. He had been a founder of the AKP, but has not re-joined since leaving the office of President in 2014. At that time the President was required to resign from any political party. Gül has made indirect criticisms of the AKP under Erdoğan, but is a non-confrontational politician who has not put himself in clear opposition to Erdoğan and few expected he ever would. Some had the attitude that Gül was the only chance of the opposition winning the presidential election. I was never convinced myself. Adopting an AKP politician central to the AKP’s colonisation of the state and parts of civil society, particularly the main media companies, would have been a defeatist gesture, particularly given Gül’s own lack of energy in very stark contrast with Erdoğan.

The four largest opposition parties will all run presidential candidates, though three of these parties have formed a joint list for the National Assembly elections. Two of these candidates have a real chance to win. That is Meral Akşener and Muharrem İnce. Akşener is the leader of the second opposition party, İYİ, which broke away from the MHP. It has overtaken the MHP as the largest nationalist party. Though it has a clearly nationalist orientation, mixing Atatürk republicanism with nostalgia for the Ottomans and pre-Ottoman Turkish leaders, it has a a milder version of this than the MHP. İnce is a centre-left secularist CHP politician who previously tried to replace Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as leader of the CHP.

Kılıçdaroğlu is not a strong public personality and has often been dismissed even by CHP sympathisers. However, he did a good job of keeping the CHP relevant in the period after the coup attempt of July 2016, when Erdoğan seemed to be achieving even more complete domination of Turkish public life. Kılıçdaroglu most famously led a Justice March from Ankara to Istanbul last summer, usefully turning his anti-charisma reputation into an image of quiet decency and endurance, marching for many days under a hot Turkish sun, though he is in his late 60s and there were constant fears of state promoted violence against the march.

Kılıçdaroğlu was again dismissed as too passive at the time Gül declined to run, and Kılicdaroğlu ruled himself out of the Presidential contest. It has turned out that he has maximised his strengths and weaknesses, by showing the inner self-confidence to allow his rival İnce to run for the most powerful office in Turkey. İnce has been a great campaigner so far and is doing better than I expected.

I thought Akşener would easily be the strongest opposition candidate, and she is doing well, but is very close to İnce, both for getting through to the second round and defeating Erdoğan. The latest opinion polls suggest Erdoğan would beat both but by a very small margin, meaning that a strong campaign by İnce or Akşener could win in the end, particularly if supporters of rival parties turn out in a spirit of unity for change.

The general thinking in Turkey now is that the opposition is likely to win the National Assembly but not the Presidency. Nevertheless the presidential contest is going far better than expected for the opposition and Erdoğan could look very diminished running in the second round after the AKP-MHP electoral list loses the National Assembly (where it currently has a two-thirds majority). İnce represents the most leftist and most nationalist element of the CHP. This combination is not unusual in Turkey, though left-nationalists prefer to identify themselves through the Turkish word for patriot rather than nationalist. I thought this would be a problem for İnce, in that he might be a negative both for Kurdish and centrist voters, but he has shown a capacity to reach out and make gestures to these sectors. Since the CHP National Assembly list has reduced the number of left-nationalists, his presidency would not be the unconstrained triumph of that particular point of view.

Turkish Elections: Some Hope

What with being rather exhausted by an accumulation of projects in recent months, I have been extremely absent from Notes On Liberty. Teaching is over for the summer and I hope to make up for lost ground across a few areas, but first I must address the current situation in Turkey.

There will be early elections on 24th June for the National Assembly and the Presidency. If no candidates win an overall majority for the presidency, there will be a run off between the two leading candidates on 8th July. The National Assembly is elected through proportional representation (d’Hondt system, if you’re interested in the details). The elections were scheduled for November next year, so they are very early. The reason offered by the government is the need to complete the transition to a strongly presidential system in view of supposed administrative uncertainty interfering with government until the last stage of the constitutional change, which is triggered by the next election after last year’s constitutional referendum, and the supposed need for ‘strong’ presidential government to deal with the present situation in Syria and Iraq.

However, anyone who is not a hopelessly naive follower of regime publicity knows that the real reasons are the decline in the economy and the rise of a right-wing party opposed to the current regime, which could erode the regime’s electoral base. I use the term ‘regime’ deliberately to refer to the fusion of the AKP (dominant political power), the personalised power of President Erdoğan and the state apparatus, including the judiciary. There is no state independent of a party power which itself has become subordinate to the will of one man. The police, judiciary, and prosecution service are quite obviously biased towards the government. Civil society has not escaped the hegemonising pressure. All the main media companies are controlled by cronies of Erdoğan and the AKP. Both state media and the main commercial media present a government point of view with little coverage of the opposition. Private media companies are of course entitled to push their own opinions, but these opinions are in reality dictated by Erdoğan, with the calculated intention of excluding opposition points of view except in highly parodic and manipulated terms. The construction industry is forced to support Erdoğan in order to obtain contracts for the endless pubic projects and projects officially or de facto guaranteed by the tax payer. This instrument of political control is enhanced through endless, often grandiose projects regardless of the state of public and private debt. In this politics, interest rates are artificially low with the consequence that inflation is rising and the currency is constantly devalued in international markets.

A lot of the above will be already understood by readers, but particularly after a long break in writing I think it is important to set the scene for the elections. Whatever the AKP says in public about economic performance, officials have admitted in private that they are worried about an economic crisis before the regular date for the elections. It is also clear that the AKP hoped to keep the new right-wing party IYI (Good) out of the elections because of the complex registration process to participate in elections, amongst other things requiring registration of a minimum number of provincial branches. IYI is a break away from the well established Nationalist Action Party (MHP), and is already larger in members with more opinion poll support, so its exclusion would be particularly absurd.

The IYI Party’s problems with registration were resolved in ways that are part of the hope that does exist in this election. The main opposition party (and oldest party in Turkey), the leadership of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which has a left-wing and secularist identity, allowed (or maybe insisted) that enough of its deputies in the National Assembly join the small group of IYI defectors from the MHP to guarantee an automatic right to electoral participation.

President Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan was only able to change the constitution to make it a very strongly presidential system, rather than a parliamentary system as it had been, because the MHP changed its position after years of critcising Erdoğan. The pretext was ‘unity’ after the attempted coup of 2016, though it was clear the whole country was against it anyway. The real reason was that the MHP has been losing support under a leader who has become unpopular and the only hope of staying in the National Assembly, given a 10% threshold, was an electoral deal with the AKP (which stands for Justice and Development Party). The election law was changed so that parties can form joint electoral lists in which voters can choose between parties in the list when voting, and the party concerned can have deputies so long as the votes within the list allow at least one to get into the National Assembly. In effect, the percentage threshold to enter the National Assembly has been reduced to less than 1%. This seemed to the AKP to be a great achievement allowing them to compensate for declining support of both AKP and MHP by joining them in one list and bringing in another small nationalist party.

However, the opposition has moved to make more use of the new rules. The CHP and IYI have formed a joint list, which also include SP (Felicity Party), a religious conservative party which has common roots with the AKP and is the sixth party in Turkey in support (about 2.5 % in recent polls). A small centre right party has candidates on the IYI list within the joint list. The Liberal Democrat Party, which is classical liberal and libertarian in orientation, but is very small, has a candidate who used to be LDP leader on the CHP list within the list. This is a bit complicated, but the success of putting this complex alliance together shows there is hope of various forces opposed to the authoritarian slide for various reasons uniting around common goals of a more restrained state, rule of law, less personalisation of power and a more consensual institutionally constrained style of government.

The other important force is HDP (People’s Democratic party), itself an alliance of small leftist groups with a Kurdish identity and leftist party which has strong support in the southeast. The HDP promotes peace in the southeast through negotiation between the state and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ party) armed insurgent/terrorist group. There is no organic link I can see between the HDP and the PKK, but the overlapping aims of the PKK and HDP for Kurdish autonomy and political recognition of the PKK has always made it easy to label the HDP as terrorist. It is simply not possible in these circumstances to include it in a broad opposition list, particularly given the attempts of the regime to block the HDP from any political activity: labeling it “terrorist,” arresting its leaders and many mayors leading to central government take over of HDP municipalities in the southeast. However, the opposition on current poll ratings needs the HDP to get past the 10% threshold to deprive the AKP-MHP list of a majority in the National Assembly. The main list might do it on its own, but this is less than certain. There is a risk of electoral rigging influencing the result, particularly in the southeast which is under even more authoritarian security state conditions than the rest of the country. It is therefore important for the HDP to get clearly more than 10% and to get votes from people who might otherwise vote CHP, outside the southeast to get pass any dirty tricks.

This is already long so I will stop and return to the Turkish elections soon. I hope readers have got to the end of this and have a reasonable background now for future posts.

What is the proper role of government?

Former Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff publicly lied by saying that she had a M.A. and a Ph.D. in Economics. The lie was discovered in 2009, when she still wasn’t Brazil’s president. Maybe that’s the problem with Dilma: she would even lie to say she was highly competent in economics.

Nobody in the 19th century believed that the role of government was to control the economy. This notion only became strong in the 20th century and to a great degree thanks to Keynesianism. It was Keynes who popularized the notion that the free market is inherently unstable, and that government should exercise some oversight on it.

Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian presidential candidate ahead in the opinion polls, has no problem admitting he doesn’t know enough about economics. For me, this is one of his main strengths. In the past, Bolsonaro was more statist. Today he shows signs of becoming more inclined towards free markets. He is clearly willing to delegate the economic policy of his government to people who are strongly favorable to the free market. In other words, Bolsonaro doesn’t know a lot about economics and he is not ashamed of admitting it. But he knows that too much government control ruins a country’s economy.

Dilma is arrogant. Part of her arrogance is to believe that she would be able to control the economy politically. Bolsonaro seems to be humble enough to admit that’s impossible. Keynes believed that the economy is inherently unstable. Contradictorily he advised governments to try to control it. Hayek’s answer to Keynes was that economics is not a science you can master in college. There are simply way too many variables for any human to control.

Bolsonaro’s focus is on public security. Criminality is on the rise in Brazil. People are afraid of walking on the streets, especially in big cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. That should be the role of government: to guarantee we can go out for work, come back, and not get killed or robbed on the way. If the government is doing that, it is already doing a lot. People freely and willingly interacting with one another can do the rest. Guarantee that evildoers will be punished, and watch the economy fly. And before I forget: contrary to cultural Marxism (and Rousseau), criminals are not victims of the society. Society is the victim of criminals.

What is Cultural Marxism, anyway?

I remember many years ago when Sarah Palin was in the spotlight and she accused Obama of socialism. Back then, I thought this was nonsense and I couldn’t see why conservatives in the US hated Obama so much. However, coming from my academic and cultural background I should know better.

This year we have presidential elections in Brazil. After many years we have presidential candidates who unapologetically call themselves right-wing. Until not many years ago, people in Brazil were simply ashamed of describing themselves in this way. Maybe it has to do with the military dictatorship Brazil was under from 1964 to 1985. Back then, to be “right-wing” was to be in favor of the dictatorship. To be left-wing was to oppose it. The armed forces took power in Brazil to avoid the communists of doing so. I am every day more convinced that this backfired. Because they were fought by the military, communists posed as victims who were simply fighting for democracy. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth: they were terrorists who wanted to transform Brazil into a South American USSR. But the communists-as-democrats is the narrative I and many Brazilians learned in school.

Brazil has a long history of communist influence. Since the 1920s the USSR tried to influence politics in my country, including a failed coup in the 1930s, the Brazilian uprising of 1935. However, communists eventually learned that Brazilians were socially too conservative to accept communist rule. That’s about when they discovered cultural Marxism, especially Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt School. Brazil’s strongest socialist party, the Worker’s Party (PT) is much more influenced by Gramsci than by Lenin or even Marx. Marx is more like a shadow, a mythical figure that very few people actually read.

Cultural Marxism is not a well defined academic paradigm. It is a political program. For some years the main leaders of PT were not even secretive about this. They accepted in their economic policy many of the basics of the Washington Consensus. In their cultural agenda, however, they took in anything that would help overturn conservative values (I mean here Judeo-Christian). But even here, they would not fight it openly. Jesus was not entirely overthrown. Instead, he turned into a revolutionary, a 1st century Che Guevara,  by Liberation Theology. In the political program of winning culture, any help is welcome. That’s how Foucault, Derrida, the Frankfurt School, anything that questions modern liberal capitalist society, is used to question “everything that is.”

Cultural Marxism, in sum, is nihilism. They don’t really have anything to substitute the culture they want to overturn. That is why it sounds so abstract. Academically, that’s exactly what it is. Politically, however, it serves a very specific purpose: power.