Monday, January 16, 2017

Dissonance at Davos

New York Times Dealbook column by Andrew Ross Sorkin today --

And yet missing from these high-minded conversations have been meaningful challengers or critics of the underlying theme that was seemingly stipulated from the birth of this event 46 years ago: Globalization has the potential to benefit everyone ... Dissenting voices like those of Mr. Trump and Mr. Farage have rarely been part of the discussion — though perhaps that will change. Theresa May, Britain’s new prime minister, will attend this year, as will some of Mr. Trump’s advisers.

The same column, this time last year --

If the World Economic Forum isn’t an opportunity to have an “international, global dialogue” about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, especially with its foreign minister in attendance, then what’s the point? After all, the forum’s stated purpose is to “improve the state of the world.” ... For several years at Davos, WikiLeaks dominated talk among policy experts and business leaders. Was Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, ever asked to address the forum? No. Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked millions of documents about electronic surveillance by the United States government, has taken part in several events by video from Russia, where he is exiled. But he has never been invited, either ... Certain subjects have been avoided. Until last year, for example, discussions that focused on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were not on the agenda, in part, because certain delegations from the Middle East and Eastern Europe objected to the topic. As for North Korea, the situation was perhaps untenable. The country’s participation at Davos would have made it difficult for someone like Mr. Biden and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain to attend without being criticized.

There's a subtle but revealing difference between the two diagnoses. Last year the complaint was that diplomacy was too dominant in determining who doesn't get invited, hence no North Korea or Julian Assange. This year it's that populists and globalization sceptics were absent for too long (but now Assange is not on the unvite list, despite being at the intersection of both trends).

Let's suppose this year's wave of populists attend for a couple of years and even that something like the Trade Deal Job Loss Simulator is added to this year's gimmick, the Refugee Flight Simulator. Will the Davos sphere be any closer to an understanding of the broader cultural and social dynamics within the middle class (as opposed to between the "middle class" and the 1 percent) that has driven political developments over the last year?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Berlin brick, Mexican wall

A deviously chosen gift from Bild editor Kai Diekmann to Donald Trump in the joint Bild/Times (Gove) interview that Trump gave to the two newspapers today. It's a souvenir of the Berlin Wall, signed by Michail Gorbachev, George HW Bush, and Helmut Kohl.

Civis Germanus Sum

From UK Chancellor of Exchequer Philip Hammond's interview with Welt am Sonntag --

Welt am Sonntag: Chancellor, will we be able to travel freely to post-Brexit Britain?
Philip Hammond: Assuming you hold a German passport  you can travel to the U.K. ...

Note the Brexit mindset: for British people, it's all about reassertion of Britishness, but for Germans, the usage is not "assuming you are a German citizen" but "assuming you hold a German passport." It's about having the right piece of paper. And they're the ones who mock citizens of nowhere!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Logan's Run Economics

Descendant of Kilkenny horse thieves and Speaker of the US House of Representatives Paul Ryan explains to a CNN townhall his plan to replace "Obamacare" --

So we, obviously, want to have a system where they can get affordable coverage without going bankrupt because they get sick. But, we can do that without destroying the rest of the healthcare system for everybody else.

Note the logic: people with pre-existing conditions are destroying the healthcare system "for everyone else" by needing to have their care financed from it!

When Conor met Egon

The risk with the decision of European met offices to get sucked into the ridiculous TV-oriented practice of naming winter storms: for the UK and Ireland, nothing has happened with named storms since Conor, but continental Europe, dealing with exactly the same north Atlantic low pressure system as the UK and Ireland did without naming it, is calling it Egon.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Diplomatic Bag

The earlier attention on potential ambassadorial roles for Nigel Farage had focused on Donald Trump's scattered suggestion that he would be a good UK Ambassador the US.

The strange amount of time that Farage apparently spent in communication with the US Ambassador to the EU, Anthony Gardner, raises the possibility that he wants that job -- which Trump could actually appoint him to (they'd find a way to sort out the citizenship issue).

For all his mockery of ambassador functions (left), his name keeps coming up in that context.

Photo: Reuters, from the Brexit celebration at the Ritz.

Friday evening music

To end a week which has seen indications of faded British spooks being manipulated by the Russians and the Americans.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Real news, fake outrage

Wesley Smith at National Review's The Corner --

a committee of the European Parliament has voted in favor of robot rights. From story: 

That's the US right wing and Russian noise machine alliance in a nutshell: National Review sourcing about the EU giving rights to robots to Russia Today. The only surprise is that the Tory press is not also cited.

And as usual, it takes a bit more digging than the Outrage-Industrial Complex is willing to tolerate to find out what is going on. Yes, there is a European Parliament committee that looked at rights and liabilities related to robots. These issues become very real in an accident involving such machines and in this respect the Outrage over Robot Rights mirrors Boris Johnson's recent Outrage over liability insurance for lawnmowers.

But all the committee did was ask the European Commission to consider drafting legislation in this area, and the committee's recommendation was accompanied by a sceptical legal analysis casting doubt on much of what the committee was asking for.

Yet by the time the situation has been clarified, the talking point about EU rights for robots is already off on its own momentum. Will Trump bring it up at his next news conference?

Image: the Krab Borg episode. 

Brexit Boom

Reuters --

The German economy expanded at the fastest pace in five years in 2016 and the growth momentum is expected to continue this year as rising private and state spending help Germany cement its position as the locomotive of the euro zone. Europe's largest economy expanded by 1.9 percent last year, a preliminary estimate from the Federal Statistics Office showed on Thursday, as an environment of low interest rates and a record influx of refugees fuel household and state spending.

The World is Circular

Thomas Friedman in yesterday's New York Times --

And so it came to pass that in the winter of 2016 the world hit a tipping point that was revealed by the most unlikely collection of actors: Vladimir Putin, Jeff Bezos, Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg and the Macy’s department store. Who’d have thunk it? And what was this tipping point? It was the moment when we realized that a critical mass of our lives and work had shifted away from the terrestrial world to a realm known as “cyberspace.” That is to say, a critical mass of our interactions had moved to a realm where we’re all connected but no one’s in charge.

Thomas Friedman, in his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree --

In the Cold War we reached for the “hotline," which was a symbol that we were all divided but at least two people were in charge—the United States and the Soviet Union—and in the globalization system we reach for the Internet, which is a symbol that we are all increasingly connected and nobody is quite in charge.

That book was published in 1999.

Controversial politician aims tweet at large American company

Reuters -- (AMZN.O) removed doormats resembling the Indian tri-colour flag from its Canadian website on Wednesday, after an Indian government threat to rescind visas of the U.S. company's employees if they did not stop selling the product. "Amazon must tender unconditional apology," external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said on Twitter. "They must withdraw all products insulting our national flag immediately." "If this is not done forthwith, we will not grant Indian Visa to any Amazon official," she added. "We will also rescind the Visas issued earlier."

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The 2040s called, they're returning that foreign policy

National Security Advisor Susan Rice in what was in effect her valedictory speech today --

Against this backdrop, as we’ve seen in the horrific tragedy in Syria, the Arab world will likely continue to struggle for stability—perhaps for a generation or more.

And that's her verdict on the Arab world after 8 years of what she proclaimed as a successful foreign policy. Catastrophic Success!

Controversial President makes nepotistic appointment

Reuters --

KAMPALA - Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has appointed his son as his senior adviser, officials said on Tuesday, a move analysts said was part of a plan to groom him to take over the top job. The president's son, Major General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, was moved from his position at the head of the army's special forces, the military said, in what it called a normal change in command.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Anecdote of the Day

With the UK again in "Crisis, What Crisis?" mode on Sterling, this detail from Prof. Diane Coyle's FT review of Richard Roberts' When Britain Went Bust is apt -- it concerns Chancellor Denis Healey's efforts to change the economic trajectory in 1976 --

In his speech to [Labour] conference, [PM] Callaghan said: “We used to think you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour, that option no longer exists.” Delegates sat stony-faced, Roberts tells us. Peter Jay, economics editor of The Times (and the PM’s son-in-law) acclaimed it as “the most breathtakingly frank public pronouncement since St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians” — without informing readers that he had drafted the speech.

Pan Korean Airlines

The seemingly unintentionally retro 2017 Calendar front page for Air Koryo (national airline of the DPRK aka "North Korea.")

Saturday, January 07, 2017

There goes the Pivot to Asia

That's the Malaysian Navy tweeting about a Chinese military submarine making a port call. The premise of the Obama Administration Pivot to Asia was that East Asian countries could be won over to a US-influenced bloc to counter China. The Wall Street Journal notes the significance of the Malaysia visit.

Bloody red line

John Kerry's defence of the Kerry-Lavrov Pact which removed some of Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons as an alternative to a military attack in the wake of the Ghouta atrocity --

And the President decided – I got a call Friday night, we met Saturday morning, and the President decided that he needed to go to Congress because of what had happened in Great Britain and because he needed the approval, and that was the way we do something like that. It wasn’t forthcoming very rapidly, number one. But number two, in the – the President never said, “I don’t want to bomb.” He never said, “I’m not going to.” He went to Congress to get permission to. And in the meantime, at a press conference in London – you may have been there – I was asked the question, “Is there anything that Assad could do in order to avoid being bombed?” And I said, “Yes. He could agree to get rid of his weapons.” And within an hour, an hour and a half, I got a phone call from Sergey Lavrov of Russia suggesting that was a really good idea, why don’t we work on whether or not we could do that? And President Obama and President Putin had actually talked about it a few weeks earlier in St. Petersburg, and I’d already talked to Lavrov – I’d actually talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu about it, who thought it was a good idea. And so all of a sudden, Lavrov and I were thrown together by our presidents in an effort to try to achieve that. And guess what? We did achieve it before Congress voted. The President never said, “I won’t drop a bomb.” What happened was people interpreted it. The perception was that he was trying to find a different road. And I will acknowledge to you, absolutely, I heard it all over the place. The perception hurt, yes. The perception hurt, but the perception came about despite the fact that we actually got a far better result of getting all of the weapons of mass destruction of Syria without dropping a bomb. And if we had dropped a bomb, there is no guarantee we would have gotten any of them out.

QUESTION: Is Syria today a better result, sir?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, obviously Syria is – it has nothing to do with that. What is happening today in Syria has nothing to do with the dropping or not dropping. It has everything to do with whether or not Assad was ready and willing to be held accountable by Russia and Iran to actually live by the agreements that they offered, and also whether or not the opposition was able to act in a way that could create enough leverage for Assad to have to come to the table and negotiate. And obviously, when Putin went in and put his troops on the ground to support – and his airplanes in the air to support Assad, that whole ballgame changed. We acknowledge that.

He never connects that it's the same actor in the two stages of his argument i.e. that it was Russia which seized on his London remark about the possibility of removing the weapons to stave off an attack, and it was Russia that did not push Assad to follow up with deescalating the war.

Bashar al-Assad learned one thing from the chemical weapons episode: that he could kill as many people as he wanted, as long it wasn't done too overtly using banned weapons.

Gentlemen prefer hacking

Vladimir Putin regarding negative Hillary Clinton remarks about him, in an interview with French television and radio 3 June 2014 --

QUESTION: Perhaps, it would be worse if you were meeting with Hillary Clinton. Only a few days ago, she said that what Russia is doing in Eastern Europe resembles what Hitler was doing in the 1930s.
PUTIN: It's better not to argue with women. But Ms. Clinton has never been too graceful in her statements. Still, we always met afterwards and had cordial conversations at various international events. I think even in this case we could reach an agreement. When people push boundaries too far, it's not because they are strong but because they are weak. But maybe weakness is not the worst quality for a woman.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Smoke on the water

With the latest Russian announcement that they are reducing their military presence associated with Syria, the only thing we know for sure that the eastern Mediterranean will at least be less polluted by the black exhaust of the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. Whether things get any better for the people in northern Syria is another question.

Photo: Screengrab from Russian Defence Ministry propaganda video.

Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times gets in touch with his inner David Brooks --

Either way, he [the Bobo Dad] is as rooted and pinned down as any Shire Tory. However cosmopolitan their sensibilities, he and his wife are paragons of convention in the actual choices they make. They chose family, chose a home, chose dental insurance and most of the other items in the prose poem that Renton recites in Trainspotting. They are not cyborgs. Their educations did not — to their mild affront sometimes, I detect — conquer the human nesting instinct. And if these people are not citizens of nowhere, with their bohemian jobs and chic politics, their passports as thumbed as a theologian’s bible, then almost nobody is.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Dog bites man

There's not enough time to keep track of all occurrences, but since we've come across one particular case: this Breitbart News story about a mob of Arabs burning a church in Dortmund is simply false

Alternative headlines

BBC -- Expat farm workers may stay after Brexit but red tape goes

That's not the actual headline on the story. The actual headline refers "migrant farm workers." There are a lot of assumptions packed into that word choice.

The schizophrenia of Davos Man

Controversial President threatens to reveal tax return

It's Iran, not the USA, the pressure for disclosure of financial accounts of politicians being more intense in Iran! --

[Iranian President] Rowhani announced through his Twitter account his willingness to reveal the presidency accounts, calling Larijani, who is close to Supreme Leader Khamenei to show details of all accounts of the judiciary. Rowhani wrote last night on his Twitter account that “his government is ready to reveal all income and expense accounts, provided that the judicial authority does the same thing.”

Obama in shock new Israel-Palestine Initiative

From White House readout of a President Obama phone call yesterday --

Finally, the leaders discussed [] and expressed hope that upcoming diplomatic engagements will result in an agreement to reunify [] as a bizonal, bicommunal federation.

The trick here is what's inside the square brackets. In fact this is a phone call from President Obama Turkish President Erdogan, and the topic, inter alia, was Cyprus.

Which brings up a question: why in one part of the eastern Mediterranean is the consensus that what is needed to resolve partition resulting from invasion and conflict is a bizonal bicommunal federation but just 260 miles southeast, it's a "two-state solution?"

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Vox explainer mashup

From Vox today*

How “collective narcissism” helps explain the election of Trump

“Collective narcissists do not have a sense of humor when their group is concerned,” a psychologist says.

... These places appeal to our social desires, too. According to Meredith Poppler, a spokesperson for IHRSA, “[Boutique gyms and studios] cater to a very specific, specialized, and passionate segment who are very willing to pay more for being part of a 'tribe.’” She added: “It’s the sense of belonging where everyone is like them versus a traditional club which caters to many different types of exercisers.” Acolytes like the specialization, she said, and enjoy working out alongside other dedicated spinning/yoga/Pilates/fill-in-the-blank fanatics like themselves. But let’s be clear: A defining characteristic of the tribe using these workout spaces is affluence. It’s people with a good deal of disposable income — and an interest in fitness — who can pay to use these facilities. According to Vogue, they’ve even been relegated to the sphere of status symbol. “It’s become very much a brand in itself, the kind of sport and exercise you do,” Candice Fragis, senior buyer at Net-a-Sporter, told the magazine. Another spinning enthusiast said, “It’s like the only acceptable lifestyle brag.” ...

*Now the revelation.

We've played a trick on you. We've taken the headline from one Vox article about how "collective narcissism" (which seems to be another word for ressentiment) relates to Trump and Brexit but mingled it with the text of an adjacent but unrelated Vox article about metropolitan boutique gyms.

The irony is that the case for narcissism is much clearer in the gyms article than it is the one about Trump. Now there is a deeper analysis to be written about how the class-based narcissism which the latter article well describes was in fact itself a contributor to the election of Trump, whose deplorables were most definitely not in boutique gyms. But that would open up the whole question of cultural class determinants of Trump and Brexit, a topic with which the New Pundits are not comfortable.

Winter in "more flu" shock

The chart is German data, percentages of outpatients seeking treatment in accident and emergency (red) compared to the on-call doctor (blue), 2009-2014. It's from an article in Der Spiegel which discusses the phenomenon of emergency room overcrowding in dispassionate terms, whereas in Ireland, emergency room overcrowding is Something Else Uniquely to Ireland That Must Be The Government's Fault.

Two takeaways from the German case and the finding that overuse of A and E is a worsening issue.

First, up to half the people in A and E as outpatients should not be there. For example, they've self-diagnosed (often through Google) that whatever ails them is the worst possible thing and head to the hospital.

Second, the media-attracting phenomenon of long waits and stacked up patients is just the standard medical triage at work -- you assess and then prioritize treatment by the seriousness of conditions. With seasonal bugs, it's going to look worse, but if that's predictable for the hospitals, it's also predictable for the patients.

Get a flu shot and don't socialize when you're coming down with something or you know that others are. Save the Tweets of Outrage for other issues (e.g. pylons or wind turbines).

Monday, January 02, 2017

That's why she's still in power

Reuters --

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is steering clear of the World Economic Forum in Davos, a meeting expected to be dominated by debate over the looming presidency of Donald Trump and rising public anger with elites and globalisation. Merkel has been a regular at the annual gathering of political leaders, CEOs and celebrities, travelling to the snowy resort in the Swiss Alps seven times since becoming chancellor in 2005. But her spokesman told Reuters she had decided not to attend for a second straight year. This year's conference runs from Jan. 17-20 under the banner "Responsive and Responsible Leadership". Trump's inauguration coincides with the last day of the conference. "It's true that a Davos trip was being considered, but we never confirmed it, so this is not a cancellation," the spokesman said. It is the first time Merkel has missed Davos two years in a row since taking office over 11 years ago and her absence may come as a disappointment to the organisers because her reputation as a steady, principled leader fits well with the theme of this year's conference.

Her decision to back out last year should have been the first signal to everyone that attributes of the New Class had become a liability. But others chose not to see it.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Meet the New Year, Same as the Old Year

It's like Boris never stopped being the Brussels correspondent for the Telegraph. The underlying issue arises from the so-called Vnuk Judgement which does indeed some create some confusion about what type of vehicles and events need motor vehicle insurance. But (1) the confusion is being worked on (example), (2) the vehicles in question have real potential for accidents -- people forget that a quad bike is actually a little car without the pesky seatbelts or cab frame, (3) some of the hysteria revolves around a willful confusion of general liability insurance with the specifics of liability insurance on a vehicle used on a public road.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Peace through trade

That was once the Obama Administration theory about how to get Russia onside. From Foreign Policy, May 2011; the context is that Russia was seeking to join the World Trade Organisation, but since admission of new members is by consensus, Georgia, which has territory occupied by Russia, could have blocked it --

... Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met on the sidelines of the G-8 summit in France. A senior White House official told ABC News after the meeting that Obama has "personally been engaged in" the issue for months, and actually set up the Swiss negotiations and convinced both the Russian and Georgian leaders to attend. The senior official also compared the Georgians to the Palestinians, saying that, with regard to Georgia’s desire to end the Russian occupation, "[T]he WTO is not the forum in which to resolve this… like the Palestinians pursuing the vote at the U.N." "We think that Russian accession to the WTO will be good for the Russian economy, will be good for the U.S. economy, it will be good for the world economy," Obama said today. "And we are confident that we can get this done." There are also signs that senior administration officials have placed pressure on Georgia to make a deal ...

Bonus points for the Administration's then analogy between the Georgians and the Palestinians regarding how to resolve occupied territory!