Six years in Ankara: why I love the Turkish capital | Big Indy News
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Six years in Ankara: why I love the Turkish capital



“What’s the best thing about Ankara?” goes a well-worn joke in Turkey about the nation’s capital. “The journey back to Istanbul.”

I have been told this roughly once a day since moving here six years ago, almost exclusively by people from Istanbul who like to sneer at what they think is a boring, artificial, bureaucratic city. But as I prepare to leave Turkey after seven years in the country, it is Ankara that I will miss the most.

My husband and I moved here in 2016 after a year in Istanbul. Straight away, I fell in love with the city centre neighbourhoods that people lovingly refer to as “old Ankara”: places such as Kavaklıdere, Ayrancı and our own neighbourhood of Gaziosmanpaşa that date back to the 1950s and 1960s.

Strolling through the quiet residential streets, I enjoy spotting Modernist metalwork balconies and the Battenberg effect of lines of houses daubed in pastel colours — especially the salmony hue that I have come to think of as “Ankara pink”.

The climate is perfect: cold and crisp in winter, hot and dry in summer. But the most beautiful time of year is May, when pungent lilac fills the air and the local “aunties” — as the older women of the neighbourhood are affectionately known — emerge from hibernation to begin a summer of taking their afternoon tea in their front gardens.

There is a real sense of community. I have accrued much joy over the years from being called Abla (big sister) by the young people here, or being told hoş geldin (welcome home) from neighbours who have noticed I’ve been away.

Ankara’s old city: the collectivism and solidarity of Turkish society is ‘eye-opening and beguiling for someone like me who grew up in the individualistic west,’ says PItel

This might all sound absurdly quaint. But it speaks of the paradoxes of my time in Turkey. The past seven years have been a time of profound political and economic turmoil and, at times, even violence. But, despite everything, I have had a deeply enriching time here, and have found it a wonderful place to live.

Part of that is, I think, thanks to Ankara, and our treasured neighbourhood, which has served as a refuge from the unforgiving news agenda. This city of around 5mn had a population in the tens of thousands when it was made the nation’s capital in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the military commander who founded the modern Turkish republic out of the ashes of the Ottoman empire. Although it has expanded massively over the past 99 years, it has managed to remain friendly, down-to-earth and liveable.

It is a cliché to say that Turkish people are warm. Hospitality towards visitors does not always translate into acceptance of foreigners. But the collectivism of Turkish society — and all the love and solidarity, questions and obligations that come with it — is eye-opening and beguiling for someone like me who grew up in the individualistic west.

Our connections deepened after our daughter was born in March last year. She became a local celebrity and, thanks to her, we built new networks of friends. People in Turkey are so kind to children — and their tired parents. Rather than being made to feel like an imposition for taking a baby to a café or restaurant, it is more likely that a waiter will take your child from your arms and whisk them off to meet the entire staff.

Pitel’s favourite ‘esnaf lokantası’, or tradesman’s canteen
Pitel’s favourite ‘esnaf lokantası’, or tradesman’s canteen

It would be remiss not to mention the food. Over the years, I have slowly built up a mental map of Ankara’s best esnaf lokantaları: tradesman’s canteens serving up homestyle stews and casseroles.

At weekends, it is a point of principle to have at least one full Turkish breakfast of olives, cucumber, cheeses and menemen: eggs scrambled together with tomato and pepper. A favourite Sunday activity is to walk up to a small café near Ankara’s old kale (fortress) and then work off a large breakfast with a browse through the antique shops or a trip to the nearby art gallery Cer Modern.

In the city’s wealthier districts, there is also a vibrant scene of independent and alternative coffee shops. For a night out with friends, few places beat Afitap, a buzzing meyhane where I have spent many happy hours eating creative renditions of Turkish meze and washing it down with plenty of rakı: Turkey’s aniseed-flavoured national drink.

For all I love about Ankara, I cannot sugarcoat the political backdrop of the past seven years. When we first arrived in Turkey, in 2015, suicide bombings were so frequent that people would seek circuitous routes through the city to avoid busy areas where they might be blown up. An attack that killed six people two weeks ago in the heart of Istanbul was an alarming echo of that era.

‘Pitel describes the colour of some buildings as ‘Ankara pink’
Pitel describes the colour of some buildings as ‘Ankara pink’

In 2016, a violent coup attempt left 250 people dead, some mown down by tanks on Ankara’s streets. In its aftermath, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan embarked on a ruthless crackdown that cast a dark cloud over the whole country.

Today, as well as facing restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, millions of people are struggling to get by due to a collapse in the lira and annual inflation of more than 85 per cent.

I am acutely aware that, as someone paid in foreign currency, I have been largely sheltered from these savage economic conditions. My middle-class Turkish friends, meanwhile, have seen their purchasing power dramatically curtailed. The country’s poorest are increasingly facing poverty and hunger.

And yet, I find it remarkable how little the economic hardship is publicly visible. There is still almost no homelessness and little street begging — something that I think can be attributed to the strong family support networks that continue to prop up society even as it is pushed to breaking point. I continue to feel safe travelling not just around Ankara but across Turkey, often alone.

The view from the city’s old fortress
The view from Ankara’s old fortress

That is not to say that the capital is without its gritty or more edgy sides. There is a strong streak of leftwing and anti-establishment politics. A night in the stands at Ankaragücü, the city’s fiercely supported Super Lig football team, is not for the faint-hearted. In winter, in some of the most deprived districts, the air catches in your throat due to the coal still widely used by the poor to heat their homes.

Ezhel, the 31-year-old Ankaralı who has become Turkey’s most famous rapper, sums up his hometown in his 2017 song “Taste of My City” as “soot, rust, dirt, coal, plastic, garbage, tire, fumes, weed”.

While I would choose different desc­riptors, it is hard to describe Ankara as a whole as beautiful. Thoughtless development is rife. The elegant Art Deco train station, built in 1937, now sits in the shadow of a high-speed rail station that looks like a cross between a spaceship and a cruise ship. It is impossible to find aesthetic value in the Eskişehir Road, the main artery of the modern-day city lined with endless shopping malls.

This is the unattractive side of Ankara seen by daytrippers who are whisked in and out for a programme of meetings before rushing back to Istanbul, London, Berlin or Washington. They miss all the charm and verve of life here.

I love the ingenious taxi system. With thousands of push-buttons mounted on trees and lampposts across the city linked to taxi ranks, there is no need for Uber in Ankara: simply press the button and a taxi will be with you in minutes.

No Uber needed: just press the button and a taxi will arrive
No Uber needed: just press the button and a taxi will arrive

There is a vigorous trade in gossip thanks to the droves of politicians, diplomats, lobbyists and journalists living here. And the city embraces the Turkish spirit of spontaneity that allows you to set up a meeting, for business or pleasure, as little as an hour in advance. In Ankara, you can make it there on time. That is not something that can be said for Istanbul. With its population of 16mn and its unbearable traffic, the city has become increasingly unliveable.

I have long believed that it’s unnecessary to come down in favour of one or the other of Turkey’s two big cities. Each has its virtues and its flaws. I will forever love visiting Istanbul for work, tourism or fun. But it is always a joy and a relief to return to my adopted hometown. Let the Istanbullular enjoy the journey back to their sprawling megacity after coming to visit the capital. We Ankaralılar are happy to have the place to ourselves.

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Sister Patricia Daly, 66, Dies; Took On Corporate Giants on Social Justice



For years, Sister Pat and other environmentalists had urged ExxonMobil to take significant steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from its operations and products. In 2007, she proposed a resolution that called on that energy giant to set a firm date to report on its progress.

“We’re the most profitable company in the history of the planet,” she told Rex Tillerson, then the company’s chief executive (and later secretary of state in the Trump administration), at the company’s annual meeting, “but what will be our long-term health when we are really faced with the regulatory and other challenges around global warming?”

She added: “We are now, this company and every single one of us, challenged by one of the most profound moral concerns. And we have the wherewithal to respond to that.”

The proposal won 31 percent of the ballots, or about 1.4 billion shares, the largest tally for an ExxonMobil climate-change resolution. If not an outright victory, it was a page in a decades-long narrative that led ExxonMobil to put a climate scientist on its board in 2017. Three executives who recognized the urgency to address climate change joined the company’s board in 2021, nominated by a tiny activist hedge fund, Engine No. 1.

“The arc of her work led us to those victories by working from the inside and the outside,” John Passacantando, the founder of Ozone Action, an anti-global warming group, and a former executive director of Greenpeace, said in a phone interview.

In 1999, Vanity Fair named her to its Hall of Fame, applauding her as one who “translates belief into commitment and never backs down from a fight.”

Mary Beth Gallagher, who replaced Sister Pat as executive director of the Tri-State Coalition in 2017, said Sister Pat had not become frustrated when her resolutions were routinely voted down.

“She lived in hope,” Ms. Gallagher said. “We never talked about winning or losing. It was about raising consciousness and educating. If we’re not asking these questions, who will?”

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Families can make a tax-free rollover from 529 plans to Roth individual retirement accounts starting in 2024



Maskot | Maskot | Getty Images

Americans who save for college in 529 plans will soon have a way to rescue unused funds while keeping their tax benefits intact.

A $1.7 trillion government funding package has a provision that lets savers roll money from 529 plans to Roth individual retirement accounts free of income tax or tax penalties.

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The House passed the measure Friday and the Senate did so Thursday. The bill heads to President Biden, who’s expected to sign it into law.

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The rollover measure — which takes effect in 2024 — has some limitations. Among the largest: There’s a $35,000 lifetime cap on transfers.

“It’s a good provision for people who have [529 accounts] and the money hasn’t been used,” said Ed Slott, a certified public accountant and IRA expert based in Rockville Centre, New York.

That might happen if a beneficiary — such as a child or grandchild — doesn’t attend a college, university, vocational or private K-12 school, or other qualifying institution, for example. Or, a student may receive scholarships that mean some 529 funds are left over.

Millions of 529 accounts hold billions in savings

There were nearly 15 million 529 accounts at the end of last year, holding a total $480 billion, according to the Investment Company Institute. That’s an average of about $30,600 per account.

529 plans carry tax advantages for college savers. Namely, investment earnings on account contributions grow tax-free and aren’t taxable if used for qualifying education expenses like tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

Retirement plan changes in the omnibus spending bill

However, that investment growth is generally subject to income tax and a 10% tax penalty if used for an ineligible expense.

This is where rollovers to a Roth IRA can benefit savers with stranded 529 money. A transfer would skirt income tax and penalties; investments would keep growing tax-free in a Roth account, and future retirement withdrawals would also be tax-free.  

Some think it’s a handout for the rich

However, some critics think the rollover policy largely amounts to a tax handout to wealthier families.

“You’re giving savings incentives to those who can save and leaving behind those who cannot save,” said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

A 2012 analysis conducted by the Government Accountability Office found the typical American with a 529 account had “much more wealth” than someone without: $413,500 in total wealth for the median person, about 25 times the amount of a non-accountholder.

You’re giving savings incentives to those who can save and leaving behind those who cannot save.

Steve Rosenthal

senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

Further, the typical owner had a roughly $142,000 annual income versus $45,000 for other families, the GAO report said. Almost half, 47%, had incomes over $150,000.

The new 529-to-Roth IRA transfer provision doesn’t carry income limits.

Limitations on 529-to-IRA transfers

While the new tax break primarily benefits wealthier families, there are “pretty significant” limitations on the rollovers that reduce the financial benefit, Jeffrey Levine, a certified financial planner and certified public accountant based in St. Louis, said in a tweet.

The restrictions include:

  • A $35,000 lifetime cap on transfers.
  • Rollovers are subject to the annual Roth IRA contribution limit. (The limit is $6,500 in 2023.)
  • The rollover can only be made to the beneficiary’s Roth IRA — not that of the account owner. (In other words, a 529 owned by a parent with the child as beneficiary would need to be rolled into the child’s IRA, not the parent’s.)
  • The 529 account must have been open for at least 15 years. (It seems changing account beneficiaries may restart that 15-year clock, Levine said.)
  • Accountholders can’t roll over contributions, or earnings on those contributions, made in the last five years.

In a summary document, the Senate Finance Committee said current 529 tax rules have “led to hesitating, delaying, or declining to fund 529s to levels needed to pay for the rising costs of education.”

“Families who sacrifice and save in 529 accounts should not be punished with tax and penalty years later if the beneficiary has found an alternative way to pay for their education,” it said.

Are 529 plans already flexible enough?

Some education savings experts think 529 accounts have adequate flexibility so as not to deter families from using them.

For example, owners with leftover account funds can change beneficiaries to another qualifying family member — thereby helping avoid a tax penalty for non-qualified withdrawals. Aside from a kid or grandkid, that family member might be you; a spouse; a son, daughter, brother, sister, father or mother-in-law; sibling or step-sibling; first cousin or their spouse; a niece, nephew or their spouse; or aunt and uncle, among others.

Owners can also keep funds in an account for a beneficiary’s graduate schooling or the education of a future grandchild, according to Funds can also be used to make up to $10,000 of student loan payments.

The tax penalty may also not be quite as bad as some think, according to education expert Mark Kantrowitz. For example, taxes are assessed at the beneficiary’s income-tax rate, which is generally lower than the parent’s tax rate by at least 10 percentage points.

In that case, the parent “is no worse off than they would have been had they saved in a taxable account,” depending on their tax rates on long-term capital gains, he said.

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Goldman grumbling grows for banking giant to sack CEO David Solomon



The knives are out for Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, and this time the people brandishing them aren’t the usual suspects — his junior staffers annoyed that they have to work late or come into the office several times a week.

Solomon’s problems are more serious and existential, I am told, and how he handles what can best be described as a revolt in some quarters of Goldman’s middle and upper management ranks could determine how much longer he stays in his job.

Solomon, 60, took the job in 2018 and was always somewhat of an odd choice to run the white-shoe investment bank that usually cultivated its leaders from within. He cut his teeth at a decidedly un-Goldman-like venue: the scrappy investment bank Bear Stearns (ultimately one of the causalities of the 2008 financial crisis).

He joined Goldman in 1999, as a partner, no less, because his deal-making chops allowed him to skip layers of management.

In other words, Solomon is an outsider at a firm with a wickedly insular culture. He has a quirky side gig as a DJ in the summer Hamptons party circuit. He’s also not one for small talk, and doesn’t consult with a lot of people before handing down his edicts. 

“He doesn’t breed a lot of love,” said one former Goldman executive who knows Solomon well.

Lots of people at Goldman don’t like him, and they’re letting their views be heard both internally and with pals at rival firms.

Solomon as a DJ
Solomon is an outsider at a firm with a wickedly insular culture.
David Solomon/Instagram

For the record: I’ve met Solomon and like him for his no-BS style. And until pretty recently, the numbers show him doing a great job. Goldman was running on all cylinders in deals and trading. Even as the market corrects, shares are up about 60% since Solomon took over as CEO in 2018 compared to around a 44% rise in the S&P during that time.

Goldman is still the top M&A shop, even widening its market share over rivals in that important business line. Solomon was the first among his fellow CEOs to see the downturn and enact significant layoffs to cut costs.

Still, the grumbling about Solomon is spreading to the managing director and partner class. High-priced Wall Street talent don’t call all the shots at any firm, of course. But Goldman’s MDs and partners have historically been a powerful force when the board decides the fate of current management, which makes Solomon’s hold on his job increasingly precarious as more and more of them defect from his camp.

David Solomon as a DJ
Solomon was the first among his fellow CEOs to see the downturn and enact significant layoffs to cut costs.
David Solomon/Instagram

Here’s how they’re building a case against him: Goldman’s longtime archrival investment bank Morgan Stanley now easily dwarfs Goldman in market value, $144 billion to $116 billion, continuing a trend that predates Solomon. That comes amid a slowdown in banking deals, Goldman’s bread-and-butter business, and Solomon’s home turf.

Morgan’s CEO James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues. Solomon’s effort to diversify was an overindulgence in something called Marcus, a digital retail bank launched by his predecessor Lloyd Bankfein that Solomon made his baby. So far, it’s been a disaster, so much so that Solomon has been forced to scale back, possibly on the way to winding it down.

Goldman, meanwhile, has missed targets in its recent earnings announcements, and more downward surprises could be in store as markets continue to wobble. Bonuses are down, in some places cut in half, albeit from the nosebleed levels of 2021.

Goldman Sachs headquarters
The grumbling about Solomon is spreading to the managing director and partner class.
AFP via Getty Images

Traders did well in 2022 because Goldman’s are particularly adept in profiting off turbulence, but part of their pool is being diverted to bankers to keep them in-house until the deal slowdown ends.

Since Solomon is a banker, he’s also being accused of favoritism, which in truth is a pretty lame charge, since bankers often subsidize trader bonuses when the markets aren’t profitable. Still, the Goldman trading department is powerful and can spark management change, as it has done in the past.

There’s also a question about Solomon’s allegiance to Goldman’s stand-alone culture. In its 153-year existence, Goldman has operated on the assumption that it would be the acquirer in any major strategic acquisition. Solomon’s experience at Bear, then one of the most transactional places on Wall Street, means he could be looking for a deal and not one that keeps Goldman in charge.

Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues.
Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues.
AFP via Getty Images

At a time when most Goldman insiders believe he needs to do a “transformational deal,” i.e., something big that allows it to better compete against Morgan Stanley and super banks like JP Morgan, there is speculation that Solomon might allow Goldman to be swallowed whole by, say, a big asset manager or bank if the price was right.

As best I can tell, this grumbling, though real, doesn’t immediately threaten Solomon’s job. Then again, there is something to be said for keeping your producers happy.

Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, was a notorious screamer and demanding beyond belief. Yet Welch knew how to nurture his people.

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch
Jack Welch was a notorious screamer and demanding beyond belief. Yet Welch knew how to nurture his people.
Getty Images

“Jack could chew your ass, then put his arm around you and make you feel great,” one of his longtime executives, Bob Nardelli, once told me.

It’s why so many other talented execs chose to stay around under Welch, abuse and all, and left when his successor took over, watching GE implode from the outside.

Maybe it’s a good time for Solomon to take a page from Welch and start hugging it out.

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