Friday, March 06, 2015

Blarney isn't just a rock in Cork

Irish Times on Sinn Fein's struggle with economic policy dissonance --

A Sinn Féin spokesman said the party “keeps in regular communication with our supporters abroad” and that over the past 18 months had engaged in meetings with supporters from North America. “The focus of the meeting was investment, job creation and economic issues,” the spokesman said. A number of businessman had “a classic American approach to economics in that they would prefer lower taxes and lower spending on public services,” said a source with knowledge of what was discussed. “We explained we had a more European approach and believed in funding public services,” added the source, who is close to the party. 

Notice what the Shinners are doing. They're telling their American donors that they're just like other mainstream European political parties that prefer higher spending and taxes. But they're telling Irish voters that they're not at all like those other parties and actually reject the European centrist state completely.

One is a Baathist dictator who had recently used WMDs

Press conference of US Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Arabia Minister of Foreign Affairs Saud al-Faisal --

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-FAISAL: Well, we all agree with the United States that Bashar al-Assad has lost legitimacy. We all agree that the solution – and it must be based on Geneva I. That means that the transition government is going to be established, and that means that Saddam Hussein and those involved -- 

PARTICIPANT: Bashar al-Assad. 

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-FAISAL: -- that Bashar – it’s the same, anyways – (laughter) – that they have to follow the political solution, as is suggested by the Geneva conference.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

A noble spirit emsmallens the biggest mind

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio congratulating himself on adding two Islamic holy days to the public school calendar (via New York Times) --

As he prepared to do so on Wednesday, the mayor paused. “I will now talk about the Eid holidays in Spanish,” he said. “Only in New York, brothers and sisters.”

An announcement from a mosque in Granada, Spain:

Id al Adha 2014 05.10.2014
Por: Mezquita Mayor de Granada 

El Salat del 'Id se celebrará en Granada el domingo 5 de Octubre de 2014, a las 9:30 de la mañana en la musallah del Cerro del Aceituno, in sha Allah. (Si llueve, en la Mezquita Mayor, a la misma hora).

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Thank God we don't let ancient stereotypes preclude rational thinking

Benjamin Netanyahu in Congress --

We're an ancient people. In our nearly 4,000 years of history, many have tried repeatedly to destroy the Jewish people. Tomorrow night, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, we'll read the Book of Esther. We'll read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago. But a courageous Jewish woman, Queen Esther, exposed the plot and gave for the Jewish people the right to defend themselves against their enemies. The plot was foiled. Our people were saved. Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us.

Woman in new Saudi non-scarf non-outrage

Korean President Park Geun-hye meets Saudi King Salman in Riyadh. She's not wearing a scarf and there's no media yelling and screaming about whether or not she wears a scarf (unlike with Nancy Pelosi and Michelle Obama) because without the media politicization of everything, the apparel sometimes does not proclaim the visiting woman.

Photo credit: (the unscandalized) Saudi Press Agency.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Marrakesh Express

Saudi Press Agency --

The Council of Ministers approved an agreement on cooperation in the field of mutual recognition of driving licenses between the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco, signed in the city of Marrakech on 11/05/1435 AH. A royal decree has been prepared to this effect. Among the most prominent features of this agreement: 1- A driver's license holder from one of the two countries shall be given a matching license from the other country without any theoretical or practical test provided that the license be valid in accordance with the regulations applicable in the state in which it was requested. 2- Nationals of the contracting parties - who obtained visit visas - shall be permitted to drive private vehicles, under a valid driving license issued by the competent authorities in both countries. Permission of this license shall continue until its expiry date or the end of authorized stay, whichever is earlier.

Even if item 1 has a clause that could be invoked to prevent Moroccan women from taking advantage of it, doesn't item 2 mean that a Moroccan woman with a valid visa can drive a car in Saudi Arabia?

The enemy of my enemy is my enemy^2?

Bloomberg News --

Iraq is deploying 27,000 troops to retake the city of Tikrit from Islamic State, in a mission that will test the military’s ability to stage major offensives against the group before trying to capture its stronghold in Mosul. The state-sponsored al-Iraqiyah television said that paramilitary forces, a term that usually describes Shiite militias, are backing up police and army soldiers. Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, arrived two days ago to “review and advise” Iraqi field commanders, the Fars news agency reported on Monday.

It's a bit odd that as the AIPAC policy conference builds up to the Bibi Netanyahu (R-IS) Congressional speech tomorrow, the Iranians would busy themselves with hands-on support to an ISIS clearance operation when Bibi is about to tell us that Iran has an apocalyptic vision in which they'd risk everything to be able to undertake a nuclear attack on Israel.

UPDATE: Bibi responds! -- So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Never before have terrorists deliberately maximized spectacle and outrage

Above, the body of Lufthansa pilot Jürgen Schumann being removed from his plane in Mogadishu, 17 October 1977, after he had been shot on board the plane 4 days earlier in Aden. If you think ISIS has been been good at finding new ways to grab attention, such as their relic-destruction antics in Mosul, it would be worth reading about their 1970s predecessors, the Red Army Faction and their Arab allies -- allied over politics, not religion. ISIS may not recognize the precedent, but the mixture of calculated outrage and calibrated callousness looks very familiar now. Imagine what the affair of LH flight 181 would have looked like in today's media world.

AP Photo via Die Welt.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Zone of decency shrinking

Tom Friedman --

Islam has no Vatican to decree whose Islam is authentic, so it emerges differently in different contexts. There is a moderate Islam that emerged in decent political, social and economic contexts — see Indian Islam, Indonesian Islam and Malaysian Islam — and never stood in the way of their progress. And there are puritanical, anti-pluralistic, anti-modern education, anti-women Islams that emerged from the more tribalized corners of the Arab world, Nigeria and Pakistan, helping hold these places back. That’s why ISIS is not just an Islam problem and not just a “root causes” problem. ISIS is a product of decades of failed governance in the Arab world and Pakistan and centuries of a calcification of Arab Islam. They feed off each other. Those who claim it’s just one or the other are dead wrong,

The news here is that previous Friedman usages of "decent" in discussing the Arab world had allowed for selected examples of decency there; the list varied but it tended to include Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates.

Now none of them are mentioned, all Islamic decency is apparently non-Arab. He's heading in a direction very much the opposite of the iconic Muslim Brotherhood slogan Islam is the Solution. For him, Arab Islam is the Problem. Given his role as a marker of the conventional wisdom, that's noteworthy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Let's outsource the training

The Obama administration fixation with "training" as a solution to ISIS needs a reality check based on the experience in Iraq. Excellent Reuters story --

Kadhimi, the senior Badr official, said Iranian advisers in Iraq have helped with everything from tactics to providing paramilitary groups with drone and signals capabilities, including electronic surveillance and radio communications. "The U.S. stayed all these years with the Iraqi army and never taught them to use drones or how to operate a very sophisticated communication network, or how to intercept the enemy's communication," he said. "The Hashid Shaabi, with the help of (Iranian) advisers, now knows how to operate and manufacture drones."... Within two days of Mosul's fall on June 10 last year, Taghavi, a member of Iran's minority Arab population, traveled to Iraq with members of Iran's regular military and the Revolutionary Guard. Soon, he was helping map out a way to outflank Islamic State outside Balad, 50 miles (80 km) north of Baghdad. Taghavi's time with Saraya al-Khorasani proved a boon for the group. Its numbers swelled from 1,500 to 3,000. It now boasts artillery, heavy machine guns, and 23 military Humvees, many of them captured from Islamic State. "Of course, they are good," Yasiri said with a grin. "They are American made."

We found the Khorasan Group, again!

Reuters has done more digging on that murky Khorasan group -- not the one that the Pentagon made up as an excuse to attack al-Nusra Front, but rather an Iraqi Shia Iran-aligned militia that has been doing some of the most effective fighting against ISIS:

One of the Shi'ite militia groups that best shows Iran's influence in Iraq is Saraya al-Khorasani. It was formed in 2013 in response to Khamenei's call to fight Sunni jihadists, initially in Syria and later Iraq. The group is responsible for the Baghdad billboards that feature Iranian General Hamid Taghavi, a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Known to militia members as Abu Mariam, Taghavi was killed in northern Iraq in December. He has become a hero for many of Iraq's Shi'ite fighters. Taghavi "was an expert at guerrilla war," said Ali al-Yasiri, the commander of Saraya al-Khorasani. "People looked at him as magical."

The group's inspirational figure may not have been magical. But unlike the "Khorasan Group," this particular entity with a similar name does exist.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Remember, military action in the Middle East is not a crusade

Reuters -- A deal worth 200 million euros ($228 million) has been signed to equip Eurofighter Typhoon combat jets with the latest Brimstone 2 surface attack missiles, Britain's Ministry of Defence (MoD) said on Sunday. The integration is expected to be delivered into service by Britain's Royal Air Force in late 2018, the MoD said, with each Typhoon able to carry six of the Brimstone missiles, which are designed to hit fast-moving targets and have already been used by Britain's Tornado jets in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq

One of many Biblical quotes we could have picked (Revelations 19:20)  --

And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.

Why can't Greece be more like Belgium?

Text: But in some countries debt and budgets were so far out of line that even serious adjustment where it did take place could not swing the balance. As a result there are now four problem debtor countries in Europe. Table 1.2 shows their situation.

From Public Debt Management: Theory and History, 1990, edited by Rudiger Dornbusch (RIP) and Mario Draghi (Who?), Cambridge University Press.

Thank God that awful former Iraqi Prime Minister isn't around anymore

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- whom all pundits denounce as the source of all Iraq's problems and now really everything will be different -- meets his successor Haider al-Abadi, on Sunday. The two discussed the government's plans, needed legislation, and plans to defeat ISIL. And by the way, that's Vice President Nouri al-Maliki.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Leave off the last S for Syria

At this stage it's hard to find anyone who thinks the Obama administration strategy of avoiding discussing the Islamic nature of ISIS/ISIL is a good idea -- they've even lost Vox! One final note. Yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry was in London and delivered a few remarks at a news conference with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. In keeping with the ridiculous Euro-affectation about ISIS, he referred to the group, multiple times, as Daesh.  Which besides being like the cricket bat in Spinal Tap, is of course another way to avoid discussing their alleged Islamic characteristics.

Image: Ian Faith via Rotten Tomatoes.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Not a fire in a Dubai skyscraper

Reuters --

A tire shop fire in Abu Dhabi late on Friday killed 10 foreign workers and injured eight others who were living in an upstairs apartment, the local Gulf News reported on Saturday. The blaze in the Musaffah district gutted the two-story building, which contained seven shops on the ground floor but was illegally used as workers' accommodation upstairs, the paper reported, citing police sources. "The 10 individuals who died were residing in the upper floor that was actually designed to be used as a warehouse, not a place of residence," the daily newspaper quoted the Interior Ministry as saying. 

Would it help the wider media awareness if an ISIS production crew had been available?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Greece agrees to what it already agreed to

Paul Krugman dissects the Eurogroup-Greece deal --

Greece seemingly gave a lot of ground on the language: the stuff about fiscal adjustment in line with the November 2012 Eurogroup is back in, which Germany will presumably claim represents a commitment to stay with the 4.5 percent primary surplus target.

Note: That November 2012 Eurogroup clause was in the earlier mystery draft agreement that was previously accepted by Greece. It's not where either side perceives the break points in a deal to be.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The roots are in Damascus

Amid all the mostly feigned uproar about US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf's remark to MSNBC's Chris Matthews that taking on ISIS would mean tackling "root causes," what's being lost is that the top of the list of root causes was "jobs" and not that the fact that ISIS burst into prominence from its base in Raqqa, Syria, as part of the rebellion against the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad. No Bashar al-Assad repression, no ISIS.

Greece said No, or Maybe

Paul Krugman is outraged about the proposal that Eurozone finance ministers ("Eurogroup") put in front of Greece --

On my reading, here’s the key sentence: "The Greek authorities committed to ensure appropriate primary fiscal surpluses and financing in order to guarantee debt sustainability in line with the targets agreed in the November 2012 Eurogroup statement. Moreover, any new measures should be funded, and not endanger financial stability."

Translation (if you look back at that Eurogroup statement): no give whatsoever on the primary surplus of 4.5 percent of GDP. There was absolutely no way Tsipras and company could sign on to such a statement, which makes you wonder what the Eurogroup ministers think they’re doing.I guess it’s possible that they’re just fools — that they don’t understand that Greece 2015 is not Ireland 2010, and that this kind of bullying won’t work.

But there are two problems with this interpretation. First, the very next sentence of the quoted draft is:

On this basis the Greek authorities expressed their intention to request a six months technical extension of the current program as an intermediate step. This would bridge the time for the Greek authorities and the Eurogroup to work on a follow-up arrangement.

So the proposal was not that Greece was run large primary surpluses forever. It was that it would say enough along those lines to get a very short extension of the current program while a new one is being put together.

Second, there's the mysterious alternative "Moscovici Plan" which Greece says it was willing to accept all along. And what are the corresponding sentences in that draft? --

Greece will fully respect its commitments to partners to ensure sound and sustainable public finances, by reaching and then sustaining sizeable primary balances. The feasibility of reaching the fiscal target for 2015 will be considered in light of evolving economic circumstances. Measures for reducing the debt burden and achieving a further credible and sustainable reduction of the Greek debt-to-GDP ratio should be considered in line with the commitment of the Eurogroup in November 2012. At the same time, the Greek authorities reiterated their unequivocal commitment to the financial obligations to all their creditors.  

There's nothing that stands out about those sentences as weaker than the version that has Krugman outraged -- both refer to the 2012 Eurogroup statement -- and in some respects they are tougher (note e.g. "sizeable primary balances").  Greece may well be on its way of the Euro. But Monday's meeting was sufficiently confusing that pitching grand theories upon it -- either that Greece is less wimpy than Ireland, or that the Eurozone is trying to kick them out of the Eurozone -- is a risky enterprise.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Less decorum than not wearing a tie

A good Wall Street Journal report captures the dynamic that led to the breakdown of the Greece-Eurogroup debt discussions on Monday --

As ministers were holding talks in Brussels, they received press reports of Greek officials in Athens rejecting a statement that had been prepared by Mr. Dijsselbloem earlier in the day. The statement committed Greece to seeking a six-month extension to its bailout deal, but giving it some leeway on the budget cuts and economic reforms it has to implement in return. Greek officials in Athens called the proposals “absurd and unacceptable,” adding that “there can be no agreement [on new financing] today.” “That contributed to the [already negative] atmosphere,” said the official present at the Brussels talks. Shortly after, ministers decided to end the meeting. 

In other words, the meeting had been called so that the Greeks would agree to issue a statement that had been prepared before the meeting even started!  Advance statements prepared by the Sir Humphreys of the EU are of course business as usual during the entire Euro crisis. That's the problem.

All the middle east is a stage

ISIS, already spanning Syria and Iraq,  takes actions to draw in Jordan.  It has a new Libyan affiliate which commits an atrocity resulting in the Egyptian President promising retaliation.  And the Israeli prime minister keeps telling overseas Jews that they need to return to Israel.  You could not write an end times conflagration better than these players are jointly collaborating upon. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Cabin fevers

The Weather Channel is headlining: Main Event -- Winter Storms Neptune and Octavia. Thus illustrating the idiocy of naming winter storms: they form too quickly for names to be meaningful. You're going to remember which hurricane blew part of your house away. You're not going to remember if you blew out your back digging snow out of Neptune or Octavia.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

J'étais Charlie

It appears that the Copenhagen anti-free speech shooter didn't understand the following context for his actions: he carried out the atrocity on a weekend and not just any weekend but a weekend in which TV rolling news is on Ukraine ceasefire countdown and Official Washington has already decamped from the austerity-wracked city for the ski resorts, cutting out that news amplifier, and it appears that Danish police, perhaps with Charlie Hebdo on their minds did enough -- at some cost to themselves -- to prevent a bigger atrocity. But also, like the Nigerian school girls, the Yazidis, the Syrian refugees, the Rohingya -- everyone else has already been through the healing process and moved on.

Admit a mistake

Statement from Arab Gulf foreign ministers emergency meeting in Riyadh about Yemen (via Saudi Press Agency) --

The Ministerial Council called upon the UN Security Council and international community with the followings: - Urging the UN Security Council (UNSC) members to adopt a resolution under Chapter VII of UN Charter over the Houthis' 'illegitimate' seizure of power. - Taking urgent actions to ensure safety and health of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Prime Minister Khalid Bahah, ministers and officials and release them.

If only one of the Gulf countries had a seat on the UN Security Council so that they could directly raise this issue!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

I wouldn't have tried the poor mouth act with a €400 scarf

As good a guess as any as what Irish finance minister Michael Noonan said to his Greek counterpart Yanis Varoufakis at the Eurogroup meeting last night.

Photo: European Council newsroom

Global policy elites in new sexism outrage

Why is it much more commented upon that the Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis doesn't wear a tie (and also doesn't tuck in his shirt) than when IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde shows up to the same Eurogroup meeting in a multiply-zipped leather jacket?

Photo: European Council Newsroom.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bashar laughs again

In the draft authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against ISIS/ISIL that President Obama has submitted to Congress, the following definition of associated forces who would also be covered is offered --

In this joint resolution, the term "associated persons or forces" means individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL or any closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.

Practical question: if Al Nusra Front -- which the US has already attacked under the guise of the bogus Khorasan Group appellation -- is determined to be fighting Iraqi militias sent to help Bashar al-Assad, does that mean the AUMF would allow US action against Al Nusra Front, since Iraq is a member of the coalition?

Word Play

President Obama is being subject to anti-Semantic attacks over his mangled characterization of the Paris Kosher Hypermarket attack in the "interview" with Vox media. In fairness to Vox, Jack Shafer at Politico rightly slammed the questions, but should have left open the possibility that an unnoticed gaffe would turn out to be real news from the interview.

The first thing we do, let's close all the law schools

Seemingly unrelated items

New York Times --

BANGKOK — Not a single shot has been fired by the military since generals overthrew a democratically elected government here last May. Instead, they have depended on the force of paperwork, reams of it, to bring their opponents under control. Hundreds of people have been summoned and forced to sign documents that allow the junta to seize their assets if they become involved with “any political movement.” Stacks of case files clutter the headquarters of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, which is pursuing at least seven legal cases against the former government and threatening legal action against hundreds of former members of Parliament overthrown in the coup.

National Review's Kevin Williamson --

In my piece today, I mention that five of the nine Supreme Court justices went to the same law school — Harvard — with three of the remaining four having gone to Yale and one — Justice Ginsburg — having gone to Columbia. Ginsburg, I wrote, is always an outlier. Ed Whelan writes in to correct me: Ginsburg spent the first two years of her law-school career at — surprise! — Harvard, before transferring to Columbia. According to Wikipedia, which never lies, she did this for the charmingly old-fashioned purpose of following her husband, who had taken a job in New York. Which is to say, the intellectual homogeneity of our nine-member national super-legislature is slightly worse than I had suggested. 

The common thread is here that what seemed like an open-ended belief in that the rule of law would make societies better is slowly being seen to have created a rule of lawyers -- another self-interested class which can be rented out by the powers that be.

Ireland has been afflicted by this for a while, but hasn't realized it yet.

Monday, February 09, 2015

So a boycott is off the table

President Obama in the opening remarks of his news conference with Angela Merkel --

As we all saw in Rio, Angela is one of her team’s biggest fans. Our U.S. team, however, gets better each World Cup, so watch out in 2018.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is in ... Russia!