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As ‘untouchable’ army is forced to ebb, power realigns in Turkey

ISTANBUL — The detention of top military officers in Turkey last week was nothing less than a quiet piece of history. The military, long considered untouchable in Turkey, was pushed from its political pedestal with startling finality.

The moment, years in the making, was more whimper than bang. But now that it is here, it raises an existential question for this NATO member: What sort of country will Turkey be?

The question goes to the very heart of modern Turkey, a Muslim democracy whose military was a potent force in the country’s political life for most of its 86-year history. Its strictly secular ideology permeated all aspects of public life, including the education system, the judiciary and the bureaucracy. The military, long considered the ultimate guardian of that secularism, has overthrown elected governments to protect it.

Not only has the military been politically defanged, but it has proved unable or unwilling to fight back. Dozens of officers were detained last week, and several senior ones were arrested. Top military leaders met and managed to produce only a brief statement, never mind a coup.

“What came out of that?” said Baskin Oran, a professor of international relations at Ankara University. “A big nothing. This is finished. Turkey has crossed the border.”

Now the country is shedding its skin, sloughing off an outdated doctrine, but nervous about what will take its place.

“The old ideology is bankrupt, that much we know,” said Soli Ozel, a professor of political science at Bilgi University.

Supreme Court dismisses case on Guantanamo detainees

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said on Monday that it would not decide a case involving Chinese Muslims detained for eight years at Guantanamo Bay that had been set for argument this month.

The prisoners, captured in Afghanistan in 2001, have been determined to pose no threat to the United States, but the government has opposed their request to be released here.

In October, the court agreed to decide whether a federal judge in Washington had the power to order the men released into the United States. But other countries have recently said they would accept the detainees, and on Monday the justices said that factual developments since it agreed to hear the case “may affect the legal issues presented.” In an unsigned three-paragraph decision, the court erased the appeals court decision in the case and sent it back to the lower courts for re-examination.

The case involves prisoners at Guantanamo from the largely Muslim Uighur region of western China. The prisoners do not want to be returned to China, where they are considered terrorists and where they fear torture or execution.

2,000 Dept. of Transportation furloughs linked to Congress

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Transportation said it furloughed 2,000 workers on Monday as a politically charged impasse over unemployment benefits interrupted spending on a handful of federal programs and escalated tensions in Congress.

With no quick resolution in sight, Democrats characterized the decision by one Republican to block the jobless aid and highway construction financing as an example of the practical consequences of regular opposition by Senate Republicans.

In an effort to end the stalemate, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., who is insisting on a point of parliamentary procedure to block the legislation, offered to lift his objection if an agreement was made to use unspent economic stimulus money to cover the $10 billion cost of the unemployment aid, which would go to those who have already exhausted their benefits.

“We cannot keep adding to the debt,” Bunning said Monday. “It’s over $14 trillion and going up fast.”

But Democrats balked, saying that Republicans had not been concerned about requiring Bush administration initiatives to be paid for and that the unemployment aid amounted to an emergency.

Celebrities fund shows in a new theatrical role: ‘Presenters’

Elton John hasn’t seen the Broadway play “Next Fall,” but he has invested a six-figure sum in the $2 million production. Jay-Z, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, and their business partners have put $3 million into the Broadway musical “Fela!” And Lily Tomlin has just signed on as the lead promoter of a new one-man show off-Broadway.

In earlier eras, when Broadway spawned its own stars, Rodgers and Hammerstein or Andrew Lloyd Webber were imprimaturs of a good show; more recently theater producers have cast movie stars like Hugh Jackman and Jude Law to build an audience. Now the latest idea is tapping marquee names from pop culture as investors and “presenters.”

Such artists, who in general have put money into their shows, tend to have little to no creative involvement in them; instead they hope to use their prestige as tastemakers and trend-setters to help shows stand out at a time of declining theater attendance. With only about 30 percent of all Broadway plays and musicals turning a profit each season, celebrity promoters say that they could become a particular help to shows that lack household-name performers.

“There are no stars in the cast of ‘Next Fall,’ so I’m doing what I can to raise its profile with my profile,” said John, who is presenting “Next Fall” with his life and business partner, David Furnish, and who recently taped promotional material for the show.