When Krasnik and other towns adopted “free of L.G.B.T.” resolutions in early 2019, few people paid attention to what was widely seen as a political stunt by a governing party that delights in offending its foes’ “political correctness.”

But that changed early last year when Bartosz Staszewski, an L.G.B.T. activist from Warsaw began visiting towns that had vowed to banish “L.G.B.T. ideology.” Mr. Staszewski, a documentary filmmaker, took with him an official-looking yellow sign on which was written in four languages: “L.G.B.T.-FREE ZONE.” He put the fake sign next to each town’s real sign, taking photographs that he posted on social media.

The action, which he called “performance art,” provoked outrage across Europe as it put a spotlight on what Mr. Staszewski described in an interview in Warsaw as a push by conservatives to “turn basic human rights into an ideology.”

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has accused Mr. Staszewski of generating a fake scandal over “no-go zones” that don’t exist. Several towns, supported by a right-wing outfit partly funded by the government, have filed defamation suits against the activist over his representation of bans on “ideology” as barring L.G.B.T. people.

But even those who support the measures often seem confused about what it is that they want excluded.

Asked on television whether the region surrounding Krasnik would become Poland’s first L.G.B.T.-free zone, Elzbieta Kruk, a prominent Law and Justice politician, said, “I think Poland is going to be the first area free of L.G.B.T.” She later reversed herself and said the target was “L.G.B.T. ideology.”

For Mr. Wilk, Krasnik’s mayor, the semantic squabbling is a sign that it is time to drop attempts to make the town “free” of anyone or anything.

But Mr. Albiniak, the initiator of the resolution, vowed to resist what he denounced as blackmail by foreigners threatening to withhold funds.

“If I vote to repeal,” he said, “I vote against myself.”

Anatol Magdziarz contributed reporting.

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The Wall Street Journal’s Internal Audit

For over a year, a special team of editors within The Wall Street Journal analyzed the state of the newsroom and produced a detailed, lengthy report on what the paper is doing right, and, more important, what the paper is doing wrong.

The stakes are high. Subscriptions to The Journal are growing — but not fast enough. News Corp, the company that owns The Journal, wants the broadsheet to double its readership. The study, called The Content Review, concluded that that goal would be difficult without sweeping changes.

The Journal, it said, needs to rethink how it gathers news, what kinds of topics it covers and who its audience is. The report was intended to serve as a blueprint for how the paper should remake itself for the digital age and insure its future.

But the company has effectively shelved the report, which was completed last summer; most people in the newsroom have not seen it.

What The Content Review is about.

The Journal needs to find better ways to connect with its audiences instead of relying on what the report calls its “heavy readers,” the hard-nosed executives, intense Wall Street traders and retirees who make up a bulk of its audience.

Subsisting on this group alone has created a traffic ceiling. The paper can’t seem to break the barrier of 50 million readers a month when it needs twice that amount.

Who is The Journal’s audience?

The Journal needs new readers — specifically, women, people of color and younger professionals.

What The Journal should do, and what it shouldn’t.

The report laid out in stark terms how much more traffic and engagement each department will have to deliver to hit The Journal’s target of 100 million monthly readers. The report added that the paper needed to reach 55 million readers a month over the next year. Spread over its six main coverage areas — corporate, Washington, arts, finance, national, international — each department, it said, will “need to bring in about 1.9 million more nonsubscribers above where we were last Fall.”

What editors at The Journal need to know.

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Ramsey Clark, Attorney General and Rebel With a Cause, Dies at 93

Ramsey Clark, who championed civil rights and liberties as attorney general in the Johnson administration, then devoted much of the rest of his life to defending unpopular causes and infamous people, including Saddam Hussein and others accused of war crimes, died on Friday at his home in Manhattan He was 93.

His niece Sharon Welch announced the death.

In becoming the nation’s top law enforcement official, Mr. Clark was part of an extraordinary father-and-son trade-off in the federal halls of power. His appointment prompted his father, Justice Tom C. Clark, to resign from the United States Supreme Court to avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest involving cases in which the federal government might come before that bench.

To fill Justice Clark’s seat, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court.

Mr. Clark, a tall, rangy man who shunned a government limousine in favor of his own beat-up Oldsmobile, set an ambitiously liberal course as attorney general. Days after taking office, he filed the first lawsuit to force a school district — Dale County, Ala. — to desegregate or else lose its federal school aid. He went on to file the first voting rights and school desegregation suits in the North.

Lyndon LaRouche, the perennial presidential candidate and conspiracy theorist.

He went beyond lawyering. In 1972, with the war in Vietnam dragging on, Mr. Clark met with Communist officials in Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam, and publicly criticized American conduct of the war. That began a pattern: In 1980, months after Iranian revolutionaries had attacked the United States Embassy in Tehran and taken Americans hostage, he went to that city with nine other Americans, in violation of a travel ban, to help resolve the crisis and participate in a conference in which he criticized the United States for having supported Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi before he was deposed.

Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya and denounced United States airstrikes against that country.

In November 1990, as the United States prepared for the Persian Gulf war, Mr. Clark, who had criticized the American deployment of forces in the gulf, consulted with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The next year he filed a complaint with the International War Crimes Tribunal accusing President George Bush of war crimes.

In 2011, he condemned NATO’s bombing campaign against Qaddafi’s government. In 2013, he said Iran had no intention of building a nuclear bomb and denounced sanctions against that country. Later, he protested lethal attacks by unmanned American drone aircraft on other nations.

Mr. Clark defended these trips and these statements, saying that a citizen’s “highest obligation” was to speak up when his government had violated its own principles and “not point the finger at someone else.”

Mary (Ramsey) Clark, whose father was a justice on the Texas Supreme Court and head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. (She lived to 100, dying in 2002.) Ramsey spent his early years in Los Angeles and later remembered becoming fiercely opposed to capital punishment in the fifth or sixth grade.

Mr. Clark served in the Marines as a courier in Europe in World War II and graduated from the University of Texas. He earned a law degree and a master’s in history from the University of Chicago.

In 1949, he married Georgia Welch, a classmate at Texas. (She also earned a master’s, in political science, at Chicago.) They had two children, Ronda Kathleen Clark and Thomas Campbell Clark I. Mrs. Clark died in 2010. Their son died in 2014.

Nicholas deB. Katzenbach. In that post, Mr. Clark was the chief federal government officer present at the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march in 1965. That same year he was appointed chairman of a task force that investigated urban unrest after the Watts riots in Los Angeles. He helped draft the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

He was named acting attorney general in October 1966, after Mr. Katzenbach left the Justice Department to be an under secretary of state. He was officially named attorney general the following March.

Melvin Wulf, Mr. Clark’s former law partner, said in an interview with The New York Observer in 2005. He wondered aloud if Mr. Clark’s more recent, controversial actions represented “atonement.”

In 2003, in the magazine Legal Affairs, David McReynolds, a longtime member of the War Resisters League, said he believed that Mr. Clark had been “haunted” by the prosecution of the Boston Five.

Three years after that prosecution, Mr. Clark defended the Harrisburg Seven, antiwar activists led by the Rev. Philip Berrigan, the radical Roman Catholic priest. They were charged with 23 counts of conspiracy, including plotting to kidnap Henry A. Kissinger, then the national security adviser.

The prosecution took five weeks to present its case. Mr. Clark, arguing for the defense this time, took just minutes to make his.

“Your honor, the defendants shall always seek peace,” he said. “They continue to proclaim their innocence. The defense rests.”

The jury deliberated for 59 hours before declaring itself hung. The entire case was later thrown out by a federal appeals court.

Mr. Clark became an office seeker in 1974, when, as a Democrat, he tried to unseat Senator Jacob K. Javits of New York, a Republican. Holding to his principled positions, Mr. Clark often told voters what they did not want to hear. He advocated gun control legislation in speeches to hunters and told defense industry workers that their plants should be closed. He lost convincingly. He ran again for the Senate in 1976 but came in third in the Democratic primary behind Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the nominee, and Representative Bella Abzug.

Mr. Clark was the author or co-author of several books, including “The Fire This Time: U.S. War Crimes in the Gulf” (1992) and “The Torturer in the Mirror” (2010), with Thomas Ehrlich Reifer and Haifa Zangana.

He was also one of the most quotable public figures of his generation, many of his pronouncements tending toward aphorism:

  • “The measure of your quality as a public person, as a citizen, is the gap between what you do and what you say.”

  • “There are few better measures of the concern a society has for its individual members and its own well being than the way it handles criminals.”

  • “A great many people in this country are worried about law-and-order. And a great many people are worried about justice. But one thing is certain: You cannot have either until you have both.”

  • “A right is not what someone gives you; it’s what no one can take from you.”

Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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Saudi Aramco Sells Oil Pipeline Stake for $12.4 Billion

BJ’s Wholesale Club, died unexpectedly on Thursday of “presumed natural causes,” according to a statement released Friday by the company. He was 49.

“We are shocked and profoundly saddened by the passing of Lee Delaney,” said Christopher J. Baldwin, the company’s executive chairman, said in a statement. “Lee was a brilliant and humble leader who cared deeply for his colleagues, his family and his community.”

Mr. Delaney joined BJ’s in 2016 as executive vice president and chief growth officer. He was promoted to president in 2019 and became chief executive last year. Before joining BJ’s, he was a partner in the Boston office of Bain & Company from 1996 to 2016. Mr. Delaney earned a master’s in business administration from Carnegie Mellon University, and attended the University of Massachusetts, where he pursued a double major in computer science and mathematics.

Mr. Delaney led the company through the unexpected changes in consumer demand spurred by the pandemic, with many customers stockpiling wholesale goods as they hunkered down at home. “2020 was a remarkable, transformative and challenging year that structurally changed our business for the better,” Mr. Delaney said in the company’s last quarterly earnings report.

The BJ’s board appointed Bob Eddy, the chief administrative and financial officer, to serve as the company’s interim chief executive. Mr. Eddy joined the company in 2007 and became the chief financial officer in 2011, adding the job of chief administrative officer in 2018.

“Bob partnered closely with Lee and has played an integral role in transforming and growing BJ’s Wholesale Club,” Mr. Baldwin said. He said that the company would announce decisions about its permanent executive leadership in a “reasonably short timeframe.”

BJ’s, based in Westborough, Mass., operates 221 clubs and 151 BJ’s Gas locations in 17 states.

Revolut’s office in London in 2018. The banking start-up is offering its workers the opportunity to work abroad for up to two months a year.
Credit…Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

Before the pandemic, companies used to lure top talent with lavish perks like subsidized massages, Pilates classes and free gourmet meals. Now, the hottest enticement is permission to work not just from home, but from anywhere — even, say, from the French Alps or a Caribbean island.

Revolut, a banking start-up based in London, said Thursday that it would allow its more than 2,000 employees to work abroad for up to two months a year in response to requests to visit overseas family for longer periods.

“Our employees asked for flexibility, and that’s what we’re giving them as part of our ongoing focus on employee experience and choice,” said Jim MacDougall, Revolut’s vice president of human resources.

Georgia Pacquette-Bramble, a communications manager for Revolut, said she was planning to trade the winter in London for Spain or somewhere in the Caribbean. Other colleagues have talked about spending time with family abroad.

Revolut has been valued at $5.5 billion, making it one of Europe’s most valuable financial technology firms. It joins a number of companies that will allow more flexible working arrangements to continue after the pandemic ends. JPMorgan Chase, Salesforce, Ford Motor and Target have said they are giving up office space as they expect workers to spend less time in the office, and Spotify has told employees they can work from anywhere.

Not all companies, however, are shifting away from the office. Tech companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, have added office space in New York over the last year. Amazon told employees it would “return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.”

Dr. Dan Wang, an associate professor at Columbia Business School, said he did not expect office-centric companies to lose top talent to companies that allow flexible working, in part because many employees prefer to work from the office.

Furthermore, when employees are not in the same space, there are fewer spontaneous interactions, and spontaneity is critical for developing ideas and collaborating, Dr. Wang said.

“There is a cost,” he said. “Yes, we can interact via email, via Slack, via Zoom — we’ve all gotten used to that. But part of it is that we’ve lowered our expectations for what social interaction actually entails.”

Revolut said it studied tax laws and regulations before introducing its policy, and that each request to work from abroad was subject to an internal review and approval process. But for some companies looking to put a similar policy in place, a hefty tax bill, or at least a complicated tax return, could be a drawback.

After its initial public offering imploded, WeWork went public through a SPAC deal.
Credit…Kate Munsch/Reuters

After weeks of wading into the debate over how to regulate SPACS, the popular blank-check deals that provide companies a back door to public markets, the Securities and Exchange Commission is sending its first shot across the bow.

John Coates, the acting director of the corporate finance division at the S.E.C., issued a lengthy statement on Thursday about how securities laws apply to blank-check firms, the DealBook newsletter reports.

“With the unprecedented surge has come unprecedented scrutiny,” Mr. Coates wrote of the recent boom in blank-check deals.

In particular, he is interested in a crucial (and controversial) difference between SPACs and traditional initial public offerings: blank-check firms are allowed to publish often-rosy financial forecasts when merging with an acquisition target, while companies going public in an I.P.O. are not. Regulators consider such forecasts too risky for firms as yet untested by the public markets.

Investors raise money for SPACs via an I.P.O. of a shell company, and those funds are used within two years to merge with an unspecified company, which then also becomes a publicly traded company. Because the deal is technically a merger, it’s given the same “safe harbor” legal protections for its financial forecasts as a typical M.& A. deal. And that’s why there are flying-taxi companies with little revenue going public via a SPAC while promising billions in sales far in the future.

The S.E.C. thinks allowing financial forecasts for these deals might be a problem. They can be “untested, speculative, misleading or even fraudulent,” Mr. Coates wrote. And he concludes his statement by suggesting a major rethink of how the “full panoply” of securities laws applies to SPACs, which could upend the blank-check business model.

If the S.E.C. does not treat SPAC deals as the I.P.Os they effectively are, he writes, “potentially problematic forward-looking information may be disseminated without appropriate safeguards.”

The letter serves as a warning, but perhaps not much else — yet. Unless the S.E.C. issues new rules (as it did for penny stocks) or Congress passes legislation, SPAC projections will continue. But this strongly worded statement could moderate or even mute them.

“The S.E.C. has now put them on notice,” Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant of the agency, said.


Amazon Warehouse Unionization Votes

Either side needed 1,521 votes to win.

A total of 505 ballots were challenged; 76 were void.·Source: National Labor Relations Board

Amazon beat back the unionization drive at its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., the counting of ballots in the closely watched effort showed on Friday.

A total of 738 workers voted “Yes” to unionize and 1,798 voted “No.” There were 76 ballots marked as void and 505 votes were challenged, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The union leading the drive to organize, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said most of the challenges were from Amazon.

About 50 percent of the 5,805 eligible voters at the warehouse cast ballots in the election. Either side needed to receive more than 50 percent of all cast ballots to prevail.

The ballots were counted in random order in the National Labor Relations Board’s office in Birmingham, Ala., and the process was broadcast via Zoom to more than 200 journalists, lawyers and other observers.

The voting was conducted by mail from early February until the end of last month. A handful of workers from the labor board called out the results of each vote — “Yes” for a union or “No” — for nearly four hours on Thursday.

Sophia June and Miles McKinley contributed to this report.

A screenshot of a “vax cards” page on Facebook. 

Online stores offering counterfeit or stolen vaccine cards have mushroomed in recent weeks, according to Saoud Khalifah, the founder of FakeSpot, which offers tools to detect fake listings and reviews online.

The efforts are far from hidden, with Facebook pages named “vax-cards” and eBay listings with “blank vaccine cards” openly hawking the items, Sheera Frenkel reports for The New York Times.

Last week, 45 state attorneys general banded together to call on Twitter, Shopify and eBay to stop the sale of false and stolen vaccine cards.

Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Shopify and Etsy said that the sale of fake vaccine cards violated their rules and that they were removing posts that advertised the items.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced the vaccination cards in December, describing them as the “simplest” way to keep track of Covid-19 shots. By January, sales of false vaccine cards started picking up, Mr. Khalifah said. Many people found the cards were easy to forge from samples available online. Authentic cards were also stolen by pharmacists from their workplaces and put up for sale, he said.

Many people who bought the cards were opposed to the Covid-19 vaccines, Mr. Khalifah said. In some anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, people have publicly boasted about getting the cards.

Other buyers want to use the cards to trick pharmacists into giving them a vaccine, Mr. Khalifah said. Because some of the vaccines are two-shot regimens, people can enter a false date for a first inoculation on the card, which makes it appear as if they need a second dose soon. Some pharmacies and state vaccination sites have prioritized people due for their second shots.

An empty conference room in New York, which is among the cities with the lowest rate of workers returning to offices.
Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

In only a year, the market value of office towers in Manhattan has plummeted 25 percent, according to city projections released on Wednesday.

Across the country, the vacancy rate for office buildings in city centers has steadily climbed over the past year to reach 16.4 percent, according to Cushman & Wakefield, the highest in about a decade. That number could climb further if companies keep giving up office space because of hybrid or fully remote work, Peter Eavis and Matthew Haag report for The New York Times.

So far, landlords like Boston Properties and SL Green have not suffered huge financial losses, having survived the past year by collecting rent from tenants locked into long leases — the average contract for office space runs about seven years.

But as leases come up for renewal, property owners could be left with scores of empty floors. At the same time, many new office buildings are under construction — 124 million square feet nationwide, or enough for roughly 700,000 workers. Those changes could drive down rents, which were touching new highs before the pandemic. And rents help determine assessments that are the basis for property tax bills.

Many big employers have already given notice to the owners of some prestigious buildings that they are leaving when their leases end. JPMorgan Chase, Ford Motor, Salesforce, Target and more are giving up expensive office space and others are considering doing so.

The stock prices of the big landlords, which are often structured as real estate investment trusts that pass almost all of their profit to investors, trade well below their previous highs. Shares of Boston Properties, one of the largest office landlords, are down 29 percent from the prepandemic high. SL Green, a major New York landlord, is 26 percent lower.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris during a White House appearance on Thursday.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

President Biden proposed a vast expansion of federal spending on Friday, calling for a 16 percent increase in domestic programs as he tries to harness the government’s power to reverse what officials called a decade of underinvestment in the nation’s most pressing issues.

The proposed $1.52 trillion in spending on discretionary programs would significantly bolster education, health research and fighting climate change. It comes on top of Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package and a separate plan to spend $2.3 trillion on the nation’s infrastructure.

Mr. Biden’s first spending request to Congress showcases his belief that expanding, not shrinking, the federal government is crucial to economic growth and prosperity. It would direct billions of dollars toward reducing inequities in housing and education, as well as making sure every government agency puts climate change at the front of its agenda.

It does not include tax proposals, economic projections or so-called mandatory programs like Social Security, which will all be included in a formal budget request the White House will release this spring.

Among its major new spending initiatives, the plan would dedicate an additional $20 billion to help schools that serve low-income children and provide more money to students who have experienced racial or economic barriers to higher education. It would create a multi-billion-dollar program for researching diseases like cancer and add $14 billion to fight and adapt to the damages of climate change.

It would also seek to lift the economies of Central American countries, where rampant poverty, corruption and devastating hurricanes have fueled migration toward the southwestern border and a variety of initiatives to address homelessness and housing affordability, including on tribal lands. And it asks for an increase of about 2 percent in spending on national defense.

The request represents a sharp break with the policies of President Donald J. Trump, whose budget proposals prioritized military spending and border security, while seeking to cut funding in areas like environmental protection.

All told, the proposal calls for a $118 billion increase in discretionary spending in the 2022 fiscal year, when compared with the base spending allocations this year. It seeks to capitalize on the expiration of a decade of caps on spending growth, which lawmakers agreed to in 2010 but frequently breached in subsequent years.

Administration officials would not specify on Friday whether that increase would result in higher federal deficits in their coming budget proposal, but promised its full budget would “address the overlapping challenges we face in a fiscally and economically responsible way.”

As part of that effort, the request seeks $1 billion in new funding for the Internal Revenue Service to enforce tax laws, including “increased oversight of high-income and corporate tax returns.” That is clearly aimed at raising tax receipts by cracking down on tax avoidance by companies and the wealthy.

Officials said the proposals did not reflect the spending called for in Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan, which he introduced last week, or for a second plan he has yet to roll out, which will focus on what officials call “human infrastructure” like education and child care.

Congress, which is responsible for approving government spending, is under no requirement to adhere to White House requests. In recent years, lawmakers rejected many of the Trump administration’s efforts to gut domestic programs.

But Mr. Biden’s plan, while incomplete as a budget, could provide a blueprint for Democrats who narrowly control the House and Senate and are anxious to reassert their spending priorities after four years of a Republican White House.

Part of Saudi Aramco’s giant Ras Tanura oil terminal. The company said it would raise $12.4 billion from selling a minority stake in its oil pipeline business.
Credit…Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

Saudi Aramco, the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, has reached a deal to raise $12.4 billion from the sale of a 49 percent stake in a pipeline-rights company.

The money will come from a consortium led by EIG Global Energy Partners, a Washington-based investor in pipelines and other energy infrastructure.

Under the arrangement announced on Friday, the investor group will buy 49 percent of a new company called Aramco Oil Pipelines, which will have the rights to 25 years of payments from Aramco for transporting oil through Saudi Arabia’s pipeline networks.

Aramco is under pressure from its main owner, the Saudi government, to generate cash to finance state operations as well as investments like new cities to diversify the economy away from oil.

The company has pledged to pay $75 billion in annual dividends, nearly all to the government, as well as other taxes.

Last year, the dividends came to well in excess of the company’s net income of $49 billion. Recently, Aramco was tapped by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s main policymaker, to lead a new domestic investment drive to build up the Saudi economy.

The pipeline sale “reinforces Aramco’s role as a catalyst for attracting significant foreign investment into the Kingdom,” Aramco said in a statement.

From Saudi Arabia’s perspective, the deal has the virtue of raising money up front without giving up control. Aramco will own a 51 percent majority share in the pipeline company and “retain full ownership and operational control” of the pipes the company said.

Aramco said Saudi Arabia would retain control over how much oil the company produces.

Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich neighbor, has struck similar oil and gas deals with outside investors.

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AstraZeneca Vaccine and Blood Clots: What Is Known So Far

Still, German researchers have said those clots were appearing more frequently in recipients of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine than would be expected in people who had never received the shot.

European regulators had recommended that recipients of the vaccine seek medical assistance for a number of possible symptoms, including swelling in the leg, persistent abdominal pain, severe and persistent headaches or blurred vision, and tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the area where the injection was given.

But that set of symptoms was so vague that almost immediately, British emergency rooms experienced a surge in patients who were worried that they fit the description. As a result, some emergency room doctors have asked for more central guidance about how to handle what they described as largely unnecessary hospital visits.

German researchers have described specialized blood tests that can be used to diagnose the disorder, and suggested treatment with a blood product called intravenous immune globulin, which is used to treat various immune disorders.

Drugs called anti-coagulants, or blood thinners, can also be administered, but not a commonly used one — heparin — because the vaccine-related condition is very similar to one that occurs, rarely, in people given heparin.

Other vaccines, particularly the one given to children for measles, mumps and rubella, have been linked to temporarily lowered levels of platelets, a blood component essential for clotting.

Lowered platelet levels have been reported in small numbers of patients receiving the Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines. One recipient, a physician in Florida, died from a brain hemorrhage when his platelet levels could not be restored, and others have been hospitalized. U.S. health officials have said that the cases are being investigated, but they have not reported the findings of those reviews and have yet to indicate that there is any link to the vaccines.

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Sliding in the Polls, Erdogan Kicks Up a New Storm Over the Bosporus

ISTANBUL — The unpredictable roller coaster that has become Turkish politics was on full display this past week after 104 retired admirals publicly challenged President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an open letter — and 10 of them ended up in jail, accused of plotting a coup.

It was no accident that the episode came as Mr. Erdogan finds himself in the midst one of the most intense political passages of his career, as the worsening pandemic and economy have left the president sliding in the opinion polls even as he amasses more powers.

To inspire the party faithful, Mr. Erdogan has returned again to herald one of his favorite grand ideas: to carve a canal, through Istanbul, from the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea to open a new shipping route parallel to the narrow Bosporus.

For now, the use of those natural waterwaysis governed by the Montreux Convention, an international treaty forged in 1936, between the two World Wars, in an attempt to eliminate volatile tensions over one of the world’s most vital maritime choke points.

blog, the Yetkinreport, “shifts the current agenda from the pandemic and the economy to fields that the A.K.P. likes.”

The pandemic’s toll is now worse than ever in Turkey, with more than 50,000 new cases recorded daily. An increasingly sharp economic crunch looms, too, as the government’s pandemic support for businesses is scheduled to end and inflation and unemployment remain alarmingly high.

In the midst of the troubles, Mr. Erdogan’s party has slipped to below 30 percent in a recent opinion poll, and his political ally, the Nationalist Movement Party, has fallen as low as 6 percent, making his re-election to the presidency in 2023 seem increasingly difficult.

Even his own supporters recognize that a bruising fight lies ahead. “We have entered the long two-year election process leading to the 2023 elections,” Burhanettin Duran, the director of SETA, a pro-government research organization, wrote in a column in the Daily Sabah newspaper this past week.

“Due to the recent declaration,” he said, referring to the admirals’ letter, “now there is a possibility that the process will be painful.” He predicted a combined domestic and international campaign against Mr. Erdogan’s government.

Mr. Erdogan has promised that his multibillion-dollar canal plan would create a construction and real estate boom and bring in revenue from an increase in shipping traffic.

Investigative journalists have exposed real estate deals in which prospectors from the Middle East have bought up much of the land along where the canal will be built.

Yet Mr. Erdogan said at a regional party congress in Istanbul in February that the project would go ahead, despite opposition.

“They don’t like it, do they? They are trying to prevent it, aren’t they?” he said in his keynote speech. “Despite them, we will build the Istanbul Canal.’’

The admirals are far from the only opponents of the canal. Others include the popular mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, along with environmentalists, ecologists and urban planners.

But the admirals raised particular ire from Mr. Erdogan and his fellow Islamists by including in their letter criticism of a currently serving admiral who was caught on video attending prayers with a religious sect.

The retired admirals made a point of reaffirming their adherence to the secular ideals of the Turkish republic’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The government machinery pounced swiftly.

Ten of the signatories were detained on Monday, and another four were ordered to report to the police but were not jailed in view of their advanced years. Mr. Erdogan accused them of plotting a coup, a toxic allegation after four years of thousands of detentions and purges since the last failed coup. Some saw that as a warning to serving officers who might have similar thoughts.

Mr. Erdogan had “got his groove back” Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, wrote in an analysis.

The admirals’ letter did not come out of the blue. A year earlier, 126 retired Turkish diplomats had penned an open letter warning against withdrawing from the convention. The debate reveals the deep divisions between secularists and Islamists that have been tearing Turkey apart since Mr. Erdogan’s rise to power in 2002.

Caught up in their own dislike of the secular republic that replaced the Ottoman Empire, the Islamists distrust the Montreux Convention, said Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations. That was an erroneous reading of history, she added, but Mr. Erdogan feels that the convention needs “to be modernized to meet Turkey’s new coveted role as a regional heavyweight.”

Secularists, as well as most Turkish diplomats and foreign policy experts, see the Montreux Convention as a win for Turkey and fundamental to Turkish independence and to stability in the region.

Russia would have most to lose from a change in the treaty, said Serhat Guvenc, a professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, although any alteration or break up of the convention seems inconceivable, since it would demand consensus from the multiple signatories.

“Russia would resent it and be provoked,” he said. The United States and China would gain, since neither currently is allowed to move large warships or aircraft carriers into the Black Sea.

Most analysts said that Mr. Erdogan and his advisers knew the impossibility of changing the Montreux Convention, but that the veteran politician is using the issue to kick up a storm.

“It is the government’s way of lobbying for the canal,” Ms. Aydintasbas said. “Erdogan is adamant about building a channel parallel to the Bosporus, and one of the government’s arguments will likely be that this new strait allows Turkey to have full sovereignty — as opposed to the free passage of Montreux.”

That interpretation is both inaccurate and dangerous, she said. “Inaccurate because as long as Montreux is there, no vessel is obliged to use the new canal. Dangerous because it could aggravate the Russians and the international community.”

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Man Charged in Bomb Plot Targeting Amazon Data Center

A Texas man who boasted that he was at the United States Capitol when a pro-Trump mob stormed the building in January has been charged with plotting to blow up an Amazon data center in Virginia, the Justice Department said on Friday.

The man, Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, of Wichita Falls, was arrested on Thursday after he took what he believed were explosive devices from a bomb supplier but were in fact inert objects provided by an undercover F.B.I. agent in Fort Worth, prosecutors said.

He was charged with a malicious attempt to destroy a building with an explosive, Prerak Shah, the acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said in a statement. If convicted, Mr. Pendley faces 20 years in prison.

Federal officials said they had begun investigating the plot after a concerned citizen contacted the F.B.I. on Jan. 8 about alarming statements posted on MyMilitia.com, a forum dedicated to organizing militia groups.

the statement. “In flagging his posts to the F.B.I., this individual may have saved the lives of a number of tech workers. We are also incredibly proud of our F.B.I. partners, who ensured that the defendant was apprehended with an inert explosive device before he could inflict real harm.”

It was not immediately clear on Friday night if Mr. Pendley had a lawyer.

Prosecutors said a search of Mr. Pendley’s Facebook account had shown that he had told an associate that he was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, when swarms of Trump supporters attacked police officers and disrupted Congress as it was certifying the results of the presidential election.

Mr. Pendley told the associate that he had not entered the building but that he had taken a piece of glass from a Capitol window. Mr. Pendley later told an undercover agent that he had taken a sawed-off rifle to Washington but had left it in his car that day.

In late January, Mr. Pendley began using Signal, an encrypted messaging app, to communicate with another confidential source, prosecutors said. That source told the F.B.I. that Mr. Pendley had said he planned to use plastic explosives to bomb Amazon Web Services data centers, an attack that he hoped would “kill off about 70 percent of the internet.”

On March 31, the confidential source introduced Mr. Pendley to a person he claimed was his explosives supplier. In fact, the man was an undercover F.B.I. agent.

In recorded conversations, Mr. Pendley told the undercover agent that he believed the attack would destroy the web servers used by the F.B.I., the C.I.A. and other federal agencies, prosecutors said. Mr. Pendley said he hoped the bombing would anger “the oligarchy.”

On April 8, Mr. Pendley met with the undercover F.B.I. agent to pick up what he believed to be explosive devices but were in fact inert objects, prosecutors said. After the agent showed Mr. Pendley how to arm and detonate the devices, Mr. Pendley loaded them into his car, prosecutors said. He was then arrested by F.B.I. agents, prosecutors said.

The Justice Department said that investigators who had searched Mr. Pendley’s house had found hand-drawn maps, notes and flashcards relating to the planned attack as well as masks and wigs, a pistol that had been painted to look like a toy gun and a machete with “Dionysus” on the blade.

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Quake Strikes Java in Indonesia, Killing at Least 6 People

MALANG, Indonesia — A strong earthquake killed at least six people and damaged buildings on Indonesia’s main island, Java, on Saturday and shook the tourist hot spot of Bali, officials said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake, of magnitude-6.0, had struck off the island’s southern coast at 2 p.m. local time. It was centered in waters south of the Malang District in East Java Province and had a depth of 51 miles.

Falling rocks killed a woman on a motorcycle and badly injured her husband in East Java’s Lumajang district, said Raditya Jati, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

He said dozens of homes had been damaged across the district, and rescuers had retrieved two bodies from the rubble of collapsed homes in the district’s Kali Uling village. Two people were also confirmed to have been killed in an area bordering Lumajang and Malang districts, and one person was found dead under rubble in Malang.

Television reports showed people running in panic from malls and buildings in several cities in East Java Province.

Indonesia’s search and rescue agency released videos and photos of damaged houses and buildings, including a ceiling at a hospital in Blitar, a city neighboring Malang. The authorities were still collecting information about the extent of casualties and damage in the affected areas.

The quake was the second deadly disaster to hit Indonesia this past week. Last Sunday, a downpour resulting from Tropical Cyclone Seroja killed at least 165 people and damaged thousands of houses. Some were buried in either mudslides or solidified lava from a volcanic eruption in November, while others were swept away by flash flooding.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 270 million people, is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

In January, a magnitude-6.2 earthquake killed at least 105 people and injured nearly 6,500, while more than 92,000 were displaced, after striking Mamuju and Majene districts in West Sulawesi Province.

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Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s President, Has Little Sway Over Its Future

KABUL, Afghanistan — He attends international conferences, meets with diplomats, recently inaugurated a dam and delivers patriotic speeches vowing to defend his country against the Taliban.

But how much control President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan has over his imperiled country’s future and his own has become a matter of debate among politicians, analysts and citizens. Or rather, the question has been largely resolved: not much.

From most vantage points, Mr. Ghani — well qualified for his job and deeply credentialed, with Johns Hopkins, Berkeley, Columbia, the World Bank and the United Nations in his background — is thoroughly isolated. A serious author with a first-class intellect, he is dependent on the counsel of a handful, unwilling to even watch television news, those who know him say, and losing allies fast.

That spells trouble for a country where a hard-line Islamist insurgency has the upper hand militarily, where nearly half the population faces hunger at crisis levels, according to the United Nations, where the overwhelming balance of government money comes from abroad and where weak governance and widespread corruption are endemic.

recent letter to him from Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken was so harsh that even Afghans critical of Mr. Ghani found it insulting.

In language more likely to be used with an unruly schoolboy than a head of state, the letter repeated the phrase “I urge you” three times. “I must also make clear to you, Mr. President,” Mr. Blinken continued, “that as our policy process continues in Washington, the United States has not ruled out any option.” The unspoken subtext was clear: Your influence is minimal.

“As an Afghan, a sense of humiliation comes over you,” said Hekmat Khalil Karzai, the head of an Afghan think tank and a cousin of the former president, Hamid Karzai. “But I also feel Ghani deserves it,” Mr. Karzai said. “He’s dealing with the kiss of death from his own closest partner.”

The Biden administration is banking on multinational talks, tentatively set for later this month in Istanbul, to establish a plan for moving forward. At the heart of the U.S. proposal is a temporary government to hold power until elections can be held.

In this interim body, the Taliban and the current government would share power, according to a leaked draft. Such a setup could require Mr. Ghani to step down, a move he has repeatedly refused to consider.

Mr. Ghani has come up with a counterproposal that he plans to release soon, which calls for a cease-fire, a temporary “government of peace” whose potential makeup remains unclear, and then early elections in which he promises not to run.

Both the American plan and Mr. Ghani’s could be non-starters, as the Taliban have never said they would agree to elections, nor have they indicated that they would go along with any sort of government plan or be content with power-sharing.

“From what we’re seeing, they want absolute power, and they are waiting to take power by force,” Mr. Ghani’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, said in an interview.

While Mr. Ghani is steadily losing political capital in Kabul and with international partners, the country’s military position is deteriorating. Each day brings news of security force members blown up or gunned down.

“They can’t keep doing that,” said a senior Western diplomat in Kabul, commenting on the steady attrition. “The toll on the government, and the credibility and legitimacy it has, it’s not sustainable.”

Visions of September 1996, when the Taliban rolled into Kabul virtually unopposed and proceeded to establish their harsh regime, haunt the capital.

Deep inside the presidential palace compound, an 83-acre parklike campus protected by seven layers of security, Mr. Ghani’s inner circle of close aides is small and shrinking. He fired his respected interior minister, an army general, after a military helicopter was shot down by one of the country’s numerous militias last month. His attorney general, who had a rare reputation for integrity, stepped down. He pushed out his short-tenured finance minister.

One senior former official argued that he was cut off from reality and what is going on on the ground.

Mr. Mohib, however, pushed back on this assessment. “This criticism comes from a political elite which thinks it has been marginalized,” he said.

Some former officials characterized Mr. Ghani as being compelled to micromanage, including involving himself in the details of military matters and personnel decisions even down to the local police chief level. “He likes that, because he feels he’s the only one,” said Mr. Karzai, meaning the only one competent to make serious decisions.

Mr. Mohib called the micromanagement accusation “a huge exaggeration,” saying that the president had not attended a security meeting “in weeks,” adding that “he is aware of the strategic picture.”

Mr. Ghani’s communications office did not agree to a request for an interview with the president. A senior aide did not respond to an interview request.

The consequences of Mr. Ghani’s isolation appear to be unfolding in real time. The president has a potent vision for the country, but selling it and making it work politically is not his strong suit, and it shows up in the nation’s divisions, said the senior Western diplomat in Kabul. That’s not good for Afghan unity, the diplomat argued.

These divisions echo out from Kabul into the country’s fractious regions, where independent militias and other longstanding power-brokers have either rearmed themselves or are preparing to do so.

In the center of the country, a low-intensity fight between government forces and the militia of a minority Shiite warlord has been smoldering for months, fueled by the downing of an Afghan forces helicopter in March. Mr. Ghani and his aides have taken an active role in managing the conflict, to the dismay of the Afghan military.

“This is what we wanted to avoid. We are already stretched,” said a senior Afghan security official. “And here, you want to start another war?”

The upcoming talks in Turkey could well end up like the recent ones in Moscow and Dushanbe, Tajikistan — with bland communiqués deploring violence and hoping for peace. The American idea — to substitute new talks in a new locale for the old talks in Qatar that have gone nowhere — is not necessarily a winning bet. Indeed, the early signs are not promising, with Mr. Ghani once again rejecting preliminary American proposals, and the Taliban aggressively noncommittal about the ideas currently on the table.

“If the U.S. pulls out, and there is no political agreement, then we are in deep trouble,” said the senior Afghan security official.

“Militarily, we don’t have much hope,” he said. “If we don’t get something, the Taliban are going to march. It’s going to be a severe battle.”

Fahim Abed contributed reporting.

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A Love Letter to Black Women

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For many, art provides a voice for the unheard. It can capture moments of positivity that might otherwise be unrepresented.

The first solo exhibition by the Bahamian multimedia textile artist Gio Swaby, entitled “Both Sides of the Sun,” does exactly that. A love letter to Black women, Ms. Swaby’s work — which will be on view at the Claire Oliver Gallery in Harlem, N.Y., from April 10 to June 5 — aims to redefine the often politicized Black body.

A major aspect of Ms. Swaby’s practice is using her work as a celebration. For her, being joyful as a Black woman, as well as connecting and sharing in that joy with other Black women, is a form of resistance. “What I’m trying to achieve, over all, is to have that moment of joy with the viewer, and understanding that Black joy can actually be a form of resistance to white supremacy,” she said.

I spoke with Ms. Swaby about her inspirations as an artist and why it is important for her to celebrate the Black body. Our conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Why is it important for you to highlight the theme of Blackness and womanhood?

A lot of what I do starts from me as a person, from my identity. I’m thinking about looking at everything through the lens of healing. I’m trying to address these very often traumatic subject matters in my work, but I want to think about healing and pain. My work is addressing that reciprocity of love in the Black community and especially with what I’ve experienced with other Black women in my life who have really been so pivotal in forming my identity and the person that I am today. My work is like a love letter to all of those women and just creating space for us to be us.

Walk us through your exhibition at the Claire Oliver Gallery. What will viewers be seeing?

The pieces that I made for the exhibition are three different series. I have five from a series called “Love Letter” and these works are large, more silhouetted pieces with a lot of pattern and color. The “Love Letter” is expressing my love toward my friends and my family in my life and other Black women. Through the pandemic and also just throughout my life, I’ve just felt an overwhelming amount of support from my family and my friends. I wanted to create this work to extend my gratitude and thanks to them. For me, I’m thinking through my work as an idea of visiting. So the work itself mainly is not necessarily the pieces that I’m making, but that act of thinking about how we’ve cultivated love and care between one another, and these pieces are a tribute to that.

The next set of pieces are called “Pretty Pretty.” That’s also five larger pieces and those works for me are the highlight of personal style and thinking about personal style as a form of resistance. Some people feel so good when they put on an outfit, and I wanted to capture that moment of empowerment. I asked some of the women in my life to choose their favorite outfits to wear or something that makes them feel amazing, and to catalog and document that moment in time and then be able to have the energy be shared with the viewer.

Finally, the last group of pieces are called “New Growth” — thinking about and focusing on the idea of hair care in the Black community. Hair care as love and just celebrating the beauty and uniqueness of Black hair and the way that we have made it into art.

Who do you hope this exhibition reaches?

I would say that, of course, the work is about Black women and is for Black women. That moment of seeing people see themselves in the work is such a beautiful moment of connection for me. That’s why I really like attending openings and going to see people see the work; it’s like another layer of something happening. Another layer of conversation being added on to the works. Even though they’re already considered finished, I think that connection with the viewer is another life for the work. But I think that this work can be for everyone. I would hope that people see the work and just connect with it on a level of perhaps sometimes the surface level of recognizing the beauty, or they can go into it an even deeper and start to generate some empathy around the subject of blackness. Little Black girls as well. I have five nieces, and when I’m making the work I’m thinking about them and want them to be able to see themselves represented in spaces that Black bodies are not necessarily always included or are historically excluded.

What is something someone viewing your work for the first time should know?

What I struggle a lot with — as being Black and exploring that and wanting to think about activism and how I can make an impact — was that idea of joy and rest. I just felt consumed by anger a lot. I approached the work from the lens of feeling angry about everything that happens. But after reading a lot of Roxane Gay and bell hooks, I started thinking through the idea that actually rest and joy can be a form of resistance, because in a system that wants us not to find joy, wants us to not be happy, finding that is a moment of coming into yourself and it’s a moment of power. Sometimes it can feel like the opposite, it’s a moment of reclaiming your own space and reclaiming your own path in life. I want my work to continuously feel celebratory.

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