Sunday, January 25, 2015

If you liked King Abdullah being called a reformer

You will love this quote from German politician Philipp Roesler who interviewed Egyptian president Abdelfattah Al Sisi at a Davos session:

The Davos community counts on your leadership. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

ISIS uses deflated soccer balls

Friday, January 23, 2015

Ronnie and Maggie under a tree

Peggy Noonan in her Friday Wall Street Journal column (in the context of the Netanyahu invitation) --

Should a foreign leader be on the phone jawboning with members of the American Congress about what they should or should not do? Um, no. It’s a breaching of diplomatic form and tradition. You go run your country, we’ll run ours, and then, because we’re friends and allies and love each other, we’ll meet and talk and see if we can’t get into agreement.

Maggie Thatcher, in a speech to a Joint Session of Congress, 20 February 1985 --

No-one understood the importance of deterrence more clearly than Winston Churchill , when in his last speech to you he said: "Be careful above all things not to let go of the atomic weapon until you are sure and more than sure that other means of preserving peace are in your hands!" Thirty-three years on, those weapons are still keeping the peace, but since then technology has moved on and if we are to maintain deterrence—as we must—it is essential that our research and capacity do not fall behind the work being done by the Soviet Union (applause). That is why I firmly support President Reagan 's decision to pursue research into defence against ballistic nuclear missiles—the Strategic Defence Initiative (applause). Indeed, I hope that our own scientists will share in this research. United States and the Soviet Union are both signatories to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a treaty without any terminal date. Nothing in that treaty precludes research, but should that research—on either side—lead to the possible deployment of new defence systems, that would be a matter for negotiation under the treaty. 

That was clearly, and widely understood so at the time, as support for Reagan's Star Wars initiative, which was highly controversial in the USA.

Noonan was Reagan's speechwriter.

Arabia reverts to form

With the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz,  Saudi Arabia is into its first uncertain succession since the 1980s. But historically,  abrupt change at the top, including by assassination, happened frequently in the Gulf. The longevity of the current cohort of rulers disguised that fact. Today, the Arabian Peninsula had two changes in head of state (Yemen also) without AQAP having to lift a finger. That is before all the regional chaos has even played out directly in the Gulf. 2015 will be a long year.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Risky Date

One puzzle about the Bibi speech stunt -- why did Speaker John Boehner pick 11 February for the speech:

Boehner said Thursday on his Twitter feed that the speech was moved from Feb. 11 to March 3 so that Netanyahu could attend the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that week in Washington.

As the same news article (Bloomberg) points out, that pushes the speech even closer to the Israeli election, to the point where it may break Israeli election law, even if it means Congress and AIPAC can split the airfare. Could it be that 11 February is Iran's Revolution Day and that Iran had talked about launching a satellite by that date? What better backdrop for a scaremongering speech?

Correctly identifying the enemy

Even taking US House Speaker John Boehner's invitation to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress next month at face value (as opposed to a geopolitical stunt), it's preposterous --

I am asking the Prime Minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life. 

One issue being: what expertise does Netanyahu have on radical Islam? Whatever threat is coming from Gaza and the West Bank, it's as much to do with Palestinian nationalism as Islam. Hezbollah emerged as a response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and al Qaeda-linked terrorism has afflicted Arab countries orders of magnitude more than it has Israel. Even the al Qaeda terrorists on Israel's doorstep in the Golan Heights have conspicuously avoided attacking Israel. Since all these facts reflect long-standing features of Israel's position in the Middle East, it's not clear what PM Netanyahu can add to a discussion of them.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Groundhog Decade

In Baghdad, the Iraqi Prime Minister meets Ken Pollack, Fred Kagan, and Kim Kagan. Official statement --

The American delegation in turn recognized the positive developments taking place in Iraq under Prime Minister Al-Abadi's leadership and welcomed the recent military successes achieved by the Iraqi Security Forces as part of the war against Daesh (sic).

Not a hint of the outcomes of the previous Iraq adventure supported by the same delegation.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Squid suckers

From another excellent installment by the Wall Street Journal (free link) on the Goldman Sachs Banco Espirito Santo loan imbroglio --

Goldman says it managed to sell some of its exposure to the Oak Finance loan to investors, including pension funds. ... On Dec. 23, Novo Banco made a surprise announcement: The Bank of Portugal had informed it that Oak Finance would remain in the “bad bank” that the central bank is winding down, virtually guaranteeing the loan won’t be fully repaid. The reason: A Portuguese law passed in August said that anyone owning more than 2% of a bailed-out bank’s shares must go to the back of the queue for any debt repayments. Goldman’s 2.27% shareholding in July triggered that provision, the Bank of Portugal concluded. The decision stunned Goldman executives, who only learned of it when they read it in the Portuguese media on Christmas Eve. Goldman disputed the Bank of Portugal’s legal interpretation, noting that it was buying the shares for clients, not for the bank’s own account. 

So Goldman Sachs clients in this period were being sold pieces in a dodgy loan, or shares in a dodgy bank. The Irish Department of Finance might want to reflect carefully on its recent boasting that Goldman is doing the advisory on the AIB disposal pro bono.

She has one point

It's strange to see Marine Le Pen with an op-ed in the New York Times. She gets her opening salvo -- mirroring a Fox News talking point -- that there's a reluctance among politicians to refer to the religious nature of the Islamist terrorist threat. She correctly notes the emergence of the term "Daesh" among European policy elites and indeed it's ridiculous, like the cricket bat in Spinal Tap, minus the irony. Here's a good New York Times analysis from a few months ago on how the term came into vogue.

FIFA has more than World Cups to ponder

Flicking through the soccer on television yesterday, one witnessed West Ham prominently featuring (on shirts and on sideline advertising) the insolvent foreign exchange trading company Alpari, while Deportivo La Coruna (versus Barcelona) were advertising Nairabet, a Lagos-based betting outfit. Meanwhile, Paddy Power is bankrolling a candidate for FIFA president. But the general attitude to the entanglement of speculative and sports betting operations to soccer seems to be, move along folks.

Greasing the wheels

Excellent New York Times article on how the Charlie Hebdo + Kosher Supermarket attackers were radicalized -- not in no-go zones -- has this interesting detail:

He [Amedy Coulibaly] also apparently used a bank loan to help finance his operation. On Dec. 4, Mr. Coulibaly was approved for a loan of 6,000 euros from the credit agency Cofidis, after providing a telephone bill, pay slips and an identification card, according to the daily La Voix du Nord newspaper. In a posthumously released video, Mr. Coulibaly said he lent money to one of the Kouachi brothers to help pay for “what he had to buy.” 

Note that by the logic of American lawsuits against Middle East banks, Cofidis could be liable in this atrocity.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


AFP via Yahoo News --

Beirut (AFP) - Syrian regime forces battled Kurdish fighters in the eastern city of Hasakeh for the first time Saturday, leaving at least six people dead, a monitoring group said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting broke out at around 2 am at several points in the city, control of which is split between the two sides.  ...  The clashes began after Kurdish fighters detained around 10 regime forces they accused of seizing part of a demilitarised zone. Under a deal agreed last year, Kurdish forces control around 30 percent of the city's Kurdish and mixed Kurdish-Arab districts, with regime forces controlling most of the city's majority-Arab districts. 

Now why would the Assad forces suddenly have more time and inclination to attack the Kurds, whom they'd been previously ignoring? It's as if someone else is relieving some of the pressure in their struggle against the rebels!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Straight Talk Express needs oil

Senator John McCain in Riyadh today meeting Crown Prince Salman. Doubtless he'll claim he raised the issue of imprisoned and flogged blogger Raif Badawi but given the uselessness of such sternly worded démarches, wouldn't it have been better to cancel all his meetings with the government in a show of protest?

It's on this kind of warmish plateau

The post title is from John Christy, an atmospheric scientist, quoted in the New York Times minimizing the seriousness of a string of global temperature records. Maybe Frodo needed to think about Mount Doom (above) the same way.

Image via Wikipedia.

The Broken Windows theory of Islamist terrorism

Fox News has been peddling the police no-go zone view of large of European cities since the Charlie Hebdo atrocity occurred and it's good to see the well-deserved deluge of mockery, even if it was late arriving.

But why would Fox News keep peddling the no-go zone view of the world when the evidence for the existence of such zones, let alone their links to terrorism, was flimsy from the start? Beyond of course the usual imperveriousness to evidence?

Well, one reason is the Fox News demographic. It's a New York City-based "news" station that recruits heavily from local TV news and chases an audience that swung conservative partly as a reaction to urban crime waves of the 1970s and 1980s. So it's an audience with a paradigm that if you let the minorities run wild in urban areas, eventually they'll run wild everywhere. But if they vote Republican, they can stop it.

Their audience is being offered a narrative of Islamist terrorism in terms they'll understand.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Burnt Squid

Reuters on some of the Swiss Franc fallout --

Goldman Sachs, meanwhile, on Thursday closed its 'top trade' recommendation of a short position on the Swiss franc against the Swedish crown, with a potential loss of around 16.5 percent. It added that its current forecast for the euro against the Swiss franc is under review.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Market signals

The Swiss economy is a strange thing. The people seem to want less immigration but today's 30 percent appreciation of the Swiss Franc just made it a lot more attractive for migrants to work there.

It's Qaeda all the way down

Newt Gingrich, writing in the Wall Street Journal, has a list of things he wants the US Congress to study --

5. The Arab countries—including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria—that have successfully contained and minimized radical Islamists. We must learn how this was accomplished and what aspects should be replicated. 

This would indeed be a good topic for investigation, but it wouldn't go the way Newt suggests. It was Egyptian repression of Islamist opposition that led to the birth of Al Qaeda. And France's 1990s terrorism problem suddenly worsens when Algeria launches a brutal assault on its own Islamists. When the Arab countries lean on their own Islamist opposition -- with their grudging support of their middle classes -- the world ends up with more virulent forms of radical Islam. Ask Syria.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How can the same thing happen to same guy 10 times?

French philosopher Ruwen Ogien with a succinct explanation (in an interview with France 2) of why exactly the latest Dieudonné outburst is problematic --

Comme à son habitude, en disant cela, il désigne une certaine partie de la population, à savoir les juifs, qui ont été la cible d'Amedy Coulibaly [il n'a pas dit "je suis Charlie Kouachi].

[As is his habit, it's aimed at a certain portion of the population -- the Jews -- who were the target of Amedy Coulibaly. He didn't say "I am Charlie Kouachi."]

It's always some weird misunderstanding with him and Jewish stuff, isn't it?

Monday, January 12, 2015

VIPs gone wild

Great photo montage in Le Monde working off a report in Paris Match showing how Nicolas Sarkozy moved himself to the front of the dignitaries section of the rally. Also fascinating, via Reuters, the combined antics of Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu.


Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hops on a plane to Riyadh to check on the health of King Abdullah, who has pneumonia.

The fact that oil prices have crashed and could well send Venezuela into default has nothing to do with it at all!

Photo: Saudi Press Agency

Maghreb Legacy

There's an extraordinary confluence of Tunisia connections running through the three days of terrorism in Paris beginning with the Charlie Hebdo atrocity. As this Wall Street Journal article (free link) well lays out (and mirroring similar reporting in French media), the three Paris killers, despite initially broadcasting their Yemen connections, have deep links to Islamists in Tunisia who in turn are connected to significant killings in that country. Tunisians are in turn one of the biggest sources of foreign fighters -- and apparently held in high regard as such -- for ISIS which seems to have its most active affiliate in Libya. And finally, three of the 4 victims in the kosher supermarket killings had strong Tunisian origins. The dispersal of French North Africa in the 1950s and 1960s looms large a generation later.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Nous sommes Yoav, Philippe, Yohan et François-Michel

The 4 people murdered for their religion at the kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes, Paris.

All shall have prizes

Der Spiegel Interview with Sabine Lautenschläger, German member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank (ECB) -- 

I do not expect that the ECB purchasing government bonds on a large scale would change that [corporate lending] in a sustained manner. Instead, banks must again be in a position to see that their borrowers have decent economic prospects. 

Q: How could that be brought about? 

Above all, national governments could contribute to this goal by implementing effective structural reforms to improve the competitiveness of industry. If a company is competitive, it has a future, the risk of default is lower and banks extend loans with lower risk margins.

Alien vs Predator

It's difficult to know how to authenticate the alleged AQAP statement sent to The Intercept and claiming credit for the Paris attacks. But it has one revealing sentence --

The policy of hitting the snake’s head followed by the Al-Qaeda organization under the leadership of Adhawahiri is still achieving its goals; until the West retreats. 

Besides the odd spelling of Ayman Al-Zawahiri's name (doubtless being analyzed by intelligence specialists), the point is that this claim is setting up a contrast with ISIS, with which core Al-Qaeda has disagreed on the policy of setting up an Islamic state. Core al-Qaeda believes it's too soon to establish an Islamic state, and that more "spectaculars" are needed to force a western disengagement from Islamic lands and mobilize Muslims before the state can be declared.

In other words, the Paris attack was to signal that the strategy is still operative, or at least the TED talk-type Al Qaeda types want to read it that way. This will be a feud with a lot of collateral damage.

The 2020s are going to be fun

What the world really needs now is an Egyptian President who used to be a general and for a while gained from an alliance with Islamists but now is willing to clamp down hard on them and help avert a nascent terrorist threat to Egypt, the region, and the world.

The problem is that while for the media, that person is Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi, history has seen this act before. Mapping it back to Nasser and Sayyed Qutb, we're therefore at 1954: the Muslim Brotherhood is being driven underground, and over the decades metastasizing into Egyptian Islamic Jihad and eventually Al Qaeda, with figures like Ayman Al-Zawahiri still to come on the scene.

Good luck American conservatives with your new Egyptian Deep State friends!

Friday, January 09, 2015

Hate's anchor

From the alleged AQAP statement on the Charlie Hebdo massacre send to The Intercept --

So, why is France so thick in learning from its past mistakes? Is it leaving Paris undefended once again? Woe upon you from tens of Muhammad Merah!

Muhammad Merah being the person who killed French soldiers and people at a Jewish school in southern France in 2012. Somewhat similar to Amedy Coulibaly who killed a policewoman and 4 people at a kosher supermarket today.

The Charlie Hebdo staff and the police were targeted because of their occupations. The Jewish civilians were targeted because of who they were.

Not trending on Twitter: #jesuisjuif

UPDATE: The names of the Jewish victims.

In actual good news

Sri Lanka, constantly being bashed -- with justification -- for its troubled civil war reconciliation process and corruption -- accomplished what very few countries can say they did: an electoral change of power from an entrenched President --

(Reuters) - Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa lost his bid for a third term on Friday, ending a decade of rule that critics say had become increasingly authoritarian and marred by nepotism and corruption. Opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena, a one-time ally of Rajapaksa who defected in November and derailed what the president thought would be an easy win, took 51.3 percent of the votes polled in Thursday's election. Rajapaksa got 47.6 percent, according to the Election Department.

Je suis juif

So if Je Suis Charlie is the logical response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and now the same cell is attacking a kosher supermarket, then ... ?

Lost in the chaos

Clarissa Jean-Philippe, the 26 year old municipal policewoman who was murdered in Paris (Montrouge) earlier this week in a separate incident from the Charlie Hebdo massacre but one that appears now connected to the second hostage siege in France today.