Quick Guide: Current Events
Quick Guide: Current Events
Who is Erdogan?
He is the current President of Turkey and has been in that position since 2014. Before that, he was the Prime Minister (from 2003-2014). His Party is called the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
How was Turkey before Erdogan?
Turkey was a secular country. That is, there was a divide between religion and politics. Erdogan, however, has more Islamist views, which he has tried to implement. In other words, he believes that religion and politics should be intertwined and perhaps even that religious law should be applied.
Turkey as we know it is a fairly new Republic – only almost 100 years old. The Ottoman Empire was in place before the creation of Turkey and the Empire ruled over the region for a huge amount of time, about 700 years. In 1922, right after World War I, the Ottoman Empire was dissolved and Turkey, as we know it, was created.
Since then, Turkey became secularized and the monarchic system was eliminated. In particular, a secular – instead of religious – Constitution was implemented in the country. Soon thereafter, Turkey became very westernized: they quickly joined the United Nations, as well as the Council of Europe.
Even then, a few coups happened in the 1960s and 1970s, some of which ended with a dictator in power. In the 1980s, a violent conflict started between the Kurdish liberation movement and the government. The Kurds are one of the biggest minority groups in Turkey. They are a different ethnicity than the Turkish people, speak another language, and many of them want to have their own country. This conflict is still ongoing.
Nonetheless, Turkey’s Constitution established a democratic Republic. The Constitution says that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are vested with the executive power and the President’s role (Erdogan) is supposed to be more ceremonial.
How has Turkey changed with Erdogan?
Erdogan has slowly become an authoritarian leader. In fact, the European Union offered Turkey in 2004 consideration for a membership in the Union, as long as the country met certain conditions, e.g. complying with democracy and European values. A few years later, Erdogan has implemented policies that are against the European Union’s views, which means that Turkey’s chance to become a part of the European Union are basically gone.
Turkey was a model of democracy and liberty in the Middle East. Not as much now with Erdogan. Ataturk (meaning “the father of the Turks”), the founder of modern Turkey, dreamed of secularizing and democratizing Turkey and the epitome of that dream would be belonging in the European Union. Ataturk’s dream seemed tangible and achievable – you could almost touch it then.
So how was Erdogan been able to dissolve the imminence such a weighty dream? He has slowly centralized power around him. In 2010, for example, Erdogan advocated for and implemented a Constitutional amendment that allowed adding to the Constitutional Court more judges who are friendly with his party. The executive branch controlling the judicial branch is one of the typical first moves of an authoritarian regime. Not only has Erdogan tried to control the judicial branch, but also the legislative.
Erdogan has a strong base of supporters, however. This is mostly due to the fact that the rise in Turkey’s economy has been exponential under Erdogan. Whether this is due to his administration, or to other factors, is a well-debated matter. Others who believe that religion should be implemented as law are also devout supporters of Erdogan.
There was a failed coup d’état last year, in which the military tried to oust Erdogan. Erdogan found out about the coup before it happened and he declared all the people involved as terrorists. Repressions, torture, and other human rights violations followed. More than 100,000 people were arrested or fired from their jobs.
So what was the referendum about?
The Constitutional Referendum that Erdogan allegedly won this week shifts Turkey from a parliamentary republic to a presidential centered government, in which Erdogan will have more authority under the Constitution to take executive action.
Three legislative bodies will now be consolidated under the President’s command and the President will have the authority to appoint judges without Parliament’s approval. The President also now has the authority to dissolve Parliament. In other words, Erdogan is completely centralizing the power around him by eliminating the independence (or even existence) of the legislative and judicial branches.
No checks and balances are left.
How does this affect Turkey’s relationship with the West?
Erdogan’s actions and recent statements have alienated European countries and seriously compromised their relationship with Turkey. We still have to wait to see how the United States will react but it is unfortunate that President Trump called Erdogan to congratulate him right after he allegedly won the referendum, completely ignoring the legitimate concerns and complaints from part of the Turkish opposition that there had been irregularities in the voting process.
Erdogan had a taste of power and he couldn’t let go. He got addicted. He needed more... even if at the expense of his own people’s rights and liberties... even when democracy and freedom were peeking their heads and whispering, “don’t let me go.”
1. It was unconstitutional. The United States was not attacked by Syria. Hence, the United States attacked Syria, not in self-defense, which means it was an act of war. The Constitution grants Congress, and NOT the President, the authority to start a war. President Trump did not consult with Congress first. There was no excuse not to do so, since there was no imminent threat against the United States, requiring such immediate action. And, in any case, the Constitution does not grant “emergency powers” to the President.
2. This was also a violation of international law. The UN Charter, to which the United States is a signatory, clearly prohibits any particular state from using force. Article 2(4) states:
“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
The only exception to the prohibition of force is found in Article 51 of the Charter, which allows a member state to use force only for self-defense. Self-defense, furthermore, is construed in a very narrow manner... force can only be used by the state if the state has already been directly attacked.
It is true, however, that many governments have justified unilateral use of force in the name of a so-called “humanitarian intervention.” Nonetheless, it is far from clear (or settled) whether such an exception exists. Arguments can be made on both sides. Yet, even if one could make a sound legal argument in favor of a “humanitarian intervention,” the fact that it is such a murky concept would at the very least require some planning in advance. This attack was not well organized or planned and the future consequences of it were not properly weighed in advance.
3. Iran and Russia have been loyal supporters of the Assad regime in Syria. United States unilaterally attacking Syria, or waging war, means risking a potential conflict or military escalation with these two nations.
4. This one is pretty obvious, although many keep forgetting it. Even President Trump knows this, as he kept repeating it over and over again during the presidential debates against Hillary Clinton: Ousting Assad from Syria will leave a vacuum that will be filled by ISIS. ISIS owes most of its power and growth to the war in Syria.
Right now, and for the past six years, ISIS has been fighting against the Assad regime in Syria. They are present there. They are sometimes confused with more “moderate” rebels in Syria (whom are supported by Gulf countries that provide arms to them, among other help). With the chaos going on in Syria right now, it is almost impossible to accurately tell which group of rebels is part of ISIS or other extremist group and which group of rebels is Western-friendly.
There is a bigger threat than Assad right now: ousting him in an uncoordinated and unwise manner, as we’ve done time and time again in the Middle East, would allow ISIS to takeover the country. It could happen. It has happened (e.g. Libya and Iraq). And it will happen if we don’t learn from past mistakes.
Even our President knew all of this in 2012:
Why does the Senate even have to do so?
The Constitution requires so. Article II of the Constitution says that the President has the power to appoint judges of the Supreme Court “with the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” The reason for this requirement is to have the legislative branch “check” on the executive branch, and make sure that we have an independent Supreme Court. Brilliant, right?
Step-by-step process of confirmation:
What is going on with Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation process?
On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance Judge Gorsuch’s nomination. That means that the full Senate can now vote to confirm him or not. Senators then started debating about Judge Gorsuch and Democrats are trying to spend as much time as possible debating about the candidate.
By doing this, Democrats are “filibustering.” Democrats needed 41 votes to keep the debates going and they already secured those votes. This means that Republicans cannot successfully vote to end the debates. And voting cannot take place until the debating is over, which means that Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation might remain in the air.
What does filibustering mean?
Filibustering happens when legislators extend the debate time in order to delay voting for a particular piece of legislation. Senate Rules allow senators to speak all the time they want, until three-fifths (usually 60 senators) vote to end the debate. Because Democrats secured 41 votes, Republicans cannot reach the required 60 votes to stop the filibustering.
Republicans really want to confirm Judge Gorsuch and they can probably do that, since there are 54 Republicans in the Senate and only 51 votes are needed for his confirmation. However, voting cannot take place until the filibustering is over and, as of right now, the Senate rules state that 60 votes are needed in order to end a filibuster. Republicans, however, might use the “nuclear option.”
What is the “nuclear option”?
Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed a “cloture” motion. Cloture is a motion to end the filibuster. Tomorrow, Senators will vote but, as explained, this motion will probably fail because Democrats secured 41 votes against it (thus, Republicans can’t get to 60 votes, since there are only 100 Senators).
After the cloture motion fails, McConnell will have to decide whether he wants to exercise the “nuclear option.” In other words, whether he wants to try to change the filibuster rules so that only 51 votes are required, instead of 60, to stop the filibuster. If McConnell uses the “nuclear option,” 51 Republicans will vote in favor of ending the debate and then they will be able to vote and confirm Judge Gorsuch. Only 51 votes are required to confirm a nominee.
Hence, it is possible that by Friday the Senate will end up confirming Judge Gorsuch.
Do you think the Senate will end up voting? Is this what Republicans in the Senate deserve after they refused to even consider President Obama’s nominee, Judge Garland?
What do you think?
The White House recently announced that Ivanka Trump will become an official federal employee, serving as adviser to her father. She joins her husband, Jared Kushner, who is a White House senior adviser to the President. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Ivanka already had an office in the West Wing and has been attending important meetings (as well as sharing what are arguably inappropriate pictures, like one picture of her sitting in the President’s chair while meeting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau).
What is nepotism?
Nepotism is favoritism based on family relationships – for example, when someone in power gives another person a job just because that person is a relative or a friend.
Are there laws against this?
Yes. Congress passed a law against nepotism in 1967. The law says that a public official cannot appoint relatives (including sons-in-law, like Kushner) to their office. When so many people are qualified to serve in Ivanka’s and Jared’s positions, hiring both of them merely because they are related to the President is a clear violation of the nepotism laws.
Is Ivanka’s appointment legal?
Not really. Since 1967, this practice has been illegal. After President John F. Kennedy appointed his brother as Attorney General, Congress decided to put an end to nepotism.
President Trump’s administration claims that the White House is exempted from this law. However, nowhere in the statute we see such an exception. In fact, the law directly mentions the President and says that the law applies to the President.
Let’s not forget that nepotism is a common trait of despots and tyrants. Tyrants put their relatives in positions of power because they can’t trust anyone else to protect them and allow them to commit the atrocities they want to commit.
What will happen next?
If a lawsuit is brought in federal court, we can hope a judge will rule that the appointment of Jared and Ivanka are violations of federal law. In that case, both of them would have to resign.
Otherwise, our government will keep being run by one single family... along with their conflicts of interest.
With all the never-ending distracting news and scandals, have you stopped to think what is going on in Congress? After all, they are the ones who enact our laws.
Here are some thought-provoking bills that have recently been introduced in Congress. Regardless of whether you love or hate them, don’t forget to call and write to your representatives and senators and voice your opinion. As we have recently seen, this is a powerful tool we, the People, have.
1. H.R. 1430: HONEST Act
This bill seeks to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from “proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible.” Is this yet another attack on global warming and science?
The House Majority Leader indicated on Mar 24, 2017 that this bill may be considered in the House as early as next week. So, if you are worried about global warming and our planet in general (as we all should?), let your representatives and senators know how you feel.
2. H.R. 899: To terminate the Department of Education
During his presidential campaign, President Trump said: “A lot of people believe the Department of Education should just be eliminated. Get rid of it. If we don’t eliminate it completely, we certainly need to cut its power and reach.”
This bill is just a single sentence: “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.”
What would happen if we get rid of the Department of Education? It would save taxpayers money, although it is one of the lowest-spending Cabinet agencies. Thousands of employees would be laid off. Most importantly, however, states would gain more control over education (as opposed to federal control).
Supporters of this legislation claim that the Department of Education is an expensive bureaucracy and that it takes away power that belongs to the states (since the Department is part of the federal government). However, the Department of Education serves an important purpose: it ensures equality in education for children throughout the whole country.
3. S. 65: Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act of 2017
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA5) introduced this bill. This law would require the President and the Vice-President to reveal and divest from potential conflicts of interest. Both major party presidential nominees would also be required to publicly release their tax returns from the preceding three years.
4. H.R. 861: To terminate the Environmental Protection Agency
The title speaks for itself. Pretty upsetting for anyone who cares about the environment…
5. Repeal of hunting restrictions on national wildlife refuges in Alaska
The Senate, unfortunately, already approved this last week. Now President Trump just needs to sign it, which he probably will do. This bill gets rid of restrictions that protected predator species in Alaska from hunters. Now hunting, live trapping or baiting of predators such as bears and wolves is allowed — as well as killing them while near their dens or their cubs.
Lesson of the week?
We need to pay more attention to what Congress is doing and what bills are being introduced... we don’t want to wake up one day and suddenly realize how much the world has changed (perhaps for the worse).
What is Obamacare (ACA)?
Passed by Congress in 2010, it is a federal statute that regulates health care. Obamacare is the “nickname” for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Unfortunately, not many people know that ACA and Obamacare are the same thing. It began going into full effect in 2014. That is the year when people started having access to private health insurance plans purchased on government-run marketplaces (“exchanges”) and the year when all Americans were obligated to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty if not (“individual mandate”).
What are the main components of Obamacare?
What are the two most hated parts of Obamacare?
What’s up with the new bill?
“Trumpcare,” or the American Health Care Act (AHCA), is a bill that came out this week aiming to repeal Obamacare and replace it with Trumpcare. Most of the changes to the ACA are financial and this bill is still not finalized. Changes will most definitely be made in the near future.
What are some of the big Trumpcare modifications?
This bill will continue to be changed, as it’s unlikely that it will pass in Congress as it currently stands. Some more conservative Republicans have said they oppose it because it’s basically another version of Obamacare and some more liberal Republicans have said they oppose it because it will not cover enough people (particularly current Medicaid enrollees). This new bill doesn’t expand coverage and will hurt women, older and poor people the most. Middle-class workers taxes will also increase (by allowing the value of employer insurance to be taxable income).
On Friday, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), President Trump claimed that the media should not be allowed to cite anonymous sources because newspapers often “make up” such sources. He then said, “I love the First Amendment — nobody loves it more than me.”
Well, since the President loves the First Amendment, why don’t we talk about it?
What does the First Amendment say?
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
What does it mean?
In a previous post, we touched upon the freedom of religion included in the First Amendment. But the First Amendment also contains other rights, like freedom of speech. Freedom of speech means that we have the right to voice our opinions without censorship or fear of governmental retaliation.
However, there are limits to our freedom of speech. The Supreme Court has ruled that our freedom of speech does not include a right to incite actions that would harm others, like jokingly screaming “fire” in a public space. Obscene speech is also not protected by the First Amendment (like child pornography).
To Mr. Trump’s dismay, one should note that the Supreme Court has recognized that the freedom of speech includes freedom of the press. His comments at the CPAC on Friday show that he either does not know that or does not “love” the First Amendment as much as he says.
Can Trump forbid newspapers from citing anonymous sources?
No, he can’t. There are two important cases decided by the Supreme Court on this topic. The first one, Talley v. California, was decided in 1960 and dealt with a Los Angeles city ordinance which prohibited the distribution of flyers if the flyers did not include the name of the person who printed or manufactured the flyer. In other words, the city of LA was forbidding “anonymous” flyers.
The Court held that this law was illegal and the Court made sure to explain the importance of anonymous speech. The Court said that anonymous books and pamphlets have “played an important role in the progress of mankind” and that “persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all.”
In another case in 1995, McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that a statute that prohibited anonymous political literature was unconstitutional. That law violated the First Amendment, the Court said: “Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent; anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.”
Even more on point, in New York Times Co. v. United States, President Nixon tried to prohibit newspapers from publishing classified information. The Supreme Court disagreed with Nixon and ruled that the First Amendment protected the right of the New York Times to publish the classified information it had obtained through leaks.
Lesson of the week?
On Friday, President Trump promised to “do something” about newspapers publishing information based on anonymous sources. We understand President Trump’s concerns: he doesn’t want to feel threatened and he might be scared of what these anonymous sources could reveal to the people. After all, he hasn’t been the most transparent President... but his lawyers should warn him that our courts protect anonymous speech and particularly in relation to the freedom of the press. Thus, if he is really going to “do something” to censor this and infringe on the First Amendment, then a court will most likely overturn that... just like they did with the travel ban executive order.
On Tuesday morning, the Department of Homeland Security released new documents revealing more details about President Trump’s immigration plans. Trump is counting on state and local police officers to help him enforce his harsh deportation policies. If states and cities agree to help him, that’s fine. But there are many others –including sanctuary cities– that will refuse to help him out. He cannot force those states to comply.
Why not? It’s unconstitutional, as simple as that. Remember that our government is based on something called federalism. What federalism means is that there are two sovereign governments – federal and state. There are some areas in which the federal government will have all the power and other areas in which only states have power. There are middle ground, hazier, zones as well, in which federal and state power will overlap. In case of a conflict, federal law will most likely trump.
The Supreme Court has made it clear that the federal government is in charge of immigration laws and states have to yield to that federal power. This, however, doesn’t mean that the federal government can force state police officers to help them carry out federal laws. Federalism keeps state and federal governments separated. If the federal government were allowed to compel state officers to enforce federal regulations, the separation between state and federal governments would start to disappear. This is a legal doctrine called “commandeering.”
There is a democracy value at stake. If the federal government could force state officers to carry out federal law, two things could happen. First, if the federal program succeeds, members of Congress (instead of state officers) would take all the credit for that success and without asking their constituents to pay taxes to fund the program. And no one likes to pay more taxes, so congressmen would be taking even more credit when, in reality, the success of the program was at the expense of state constituents’ taxes. The second thing that could happen is the opposite. If the federal program fails, state politicians will suffer those consequences in the next election. Constituents would blame state officials for failing, without realizing that this was a federal plan in the first place.
These two possible results would threaten our democracy because one of the core democratic values is that people are able to elect politicians based on their plans and actions. If federal and state governments get mixed up, we can get easily confused and not know whom to credit or blame for what.
The President’s threat to withdraw federal funds if states refuse to comply is also unconstitutional. The federal government is not allowed to suddenly impose new conditions on federal grants to states. When the federal government gives grants to states, there are generally some conditions attached. Many of the existing conditions have little to do with enforcement of federal immigration policies. Therefore, the President cannot simply come up with new conditions and threaten to withdraw the funds if these new conditions are not met.