Friday, October 31, 2014

More winds of change

Le Monde quotes one of the protesters who helped drive Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré from power yesterday --

« Quand je suis né, Blaise Compaoré était déjà président, expliquait l’un d’eux. Je viens d’obtenir ma maîtrise en droit, je ne trouve pas de travail, mais lui est toujours là. C’est normal ? »

"When I was born, he was already President ... I just got my law degree, I can't find a job, but he's still there, this is normal?"

Not the only country where that excellent question could be asked, not least for cases where the strongman has handed off to the son.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

High maintenance

Kuwait Times --

Kuwait’s most wanted thief allegedly involved in numerous vehicle robberies was arrested in Salwa, security sources said. The citizen, who was earlier in police custody for car robberies and was released by mistake, was nabbed following a widespread manhunt launched by the police. Case papers indicate that a citizen had been arrested in Mubrak Al-Kabeer for stealing a luxury car in order to present it to his girlfriend as he had been used to giving her a new vehicle every month.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Putin was in awe

Sepp Blatter doing an incredible job of insulting people in one sequence during opening remarks of the Russia FIFA 2018 World Cup organising committee. For reference note that the recent and prospective list of World Cup hosts is South Africa, Brazil, Russia, and Qatar, and that the calls for a boycott of 2018 are based on the Russian incursion and continued subversion of Ukraine --

I am honoured specifically also because of the presence of your head of state, the President of the Russian Federation, Mr Putin, because he was the architect on the paper to bring the World Cup to Russia. This is very important to underline, because there was a very big competition to have this 2018 World Cup back in Europe. They want to have everything. Generally, when in the compound of Europe, they are speaking about the big European countries, not politically, but those that have a stand in football. And so, we had the candidature of England, we had the candidature of Spain and Portugal, we had the candidature of Belgium and Holland, and then finally, it was Russia the winner.
You could say it’s normal. It was not normal, because if you know the way the Europeans – and here, I speak with the European Union – they try to get all the assets, and when it comes to football, they wanted to have this World Cup. And I’ll tell you, one of the losers of this World Cup, they are still unhappy and they are still saying that it is a mistake of FIFA and a mistake of this Blatter that we didn’t get the World Cup. And it was the country that has invented not only the game, but fair play – they have invented fair play. And you know what that means? Fair play means that you learn to win – that’s easy – but you also learn to lose, and this is not so easy.
But I’m very happy to be here because it is time to say thanks to you for the organisation committee here. It’s now a big task. It is a big task, but it goes on the rotation of the World Cup. The last big event – okay, you have had a lot of events here in Russia – the last, biggest, event you have had were the Olympic Games in 1980. And then the Olympic Games, you know, you have been a little bit bothered because there was a boycott. And just to close these parentheses, they speak again about the boycott of the World Cup. But the World Cup is not the Olympic Games. The World Cup is football, and football cannot be boycotted. Football cannot be boycotted in any country, and it will not in Russia – definitely not. And FIFA stands strong behind this organisation in Russia. That’s one thing.

Just to pick out one thing, Sepp Blatter has told Russia that there is nothing, nothing, they could do which would result in a boycott of the 2018 World Cup.

New neighbours

At Vox, Zach Beauchamp finds a number of reasons (plus one to be sure) to declare victory over ISIS --

For months, ISIS has been trying and failing to take Kobane. Its recent push, beginning on around September 16, looked likely to succeed. But Kurdish fighters, with heavy American support, have pushed ISIS back. Kobane could still fall, but the Kurdish resistance has shattered the perception of ISIS invincibility — a crucial element of its recruiting pitch. "The [loss of] prestige in the jihadi movement could do a lot of damage to them," Garteinstein-Ross suggests. "ISIS can draw so many recruits because they're seen as the strong horse, because they're winning. [Kobane] shifts that perception."

The red flag here is the analysis of ISIS in terms of the strong horse metaphor -- an old expression of Osama bin Laden's, whose greatest trick may have been to get the Bush White House to think about the Middle East in those terms.

The FT's David Gardner has an alternative explanation of Kobane/Ain al-Arab --

The siege of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, for example, on the border with Turkey, is often described as strategic or symbolic. Yet there is no especial imperative why the warriors of the Isis caliphate should expend the lives of about 500 of their number to seize this particular stretch of Turkey’s 1,300km frontier with Syria and Iraq. They have turned Kobani into a symbol, but by attacking it they have driven a wedge between the neo-Islamist rulers of Turkey and their Kurdish minority.

Looking at maps and declaring that they've lost this town or that town is not going to cut it. ISIS is moving along the rivers and showing they can slowly tighten the stranglehold around cities without ever having to mount a direct assault. As someone else quoted in the FT article says, they've been reading up. Especially on East Asian insurgencies.

If your humble blogger was advising the White House, the advice would be that it's time to talk some Viet Cong veterans out of retirement and ask them what the US should have done against them in the 1960s. Because that's where we are now in Iraq/Syria.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

They might find it in time for Hanukkah

Stuff you can't make up (via Reuters): a company backed by Rupert Murdoch and Dick Cheney wants to drill for oil ... near Jerusalem. The end-times -- for parody -- may be upon us:

U.S.-based Genie Energy could turn to the courts or even Mongolia in its effort to challenge a local government decision that has blocked its hunt for oil just over 40 kilometers from Jerusalem, a senior official at the group said. Genie, backed by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, says it aims to secure energy independence for Israel, a country that has never had a serious oil find despite years of exploration.... Genie Energy was spun off from telecoms group IDT Corp in 2011. As well as Murdoch, it has attracted investment from financier Jacob Rothschild. Together they own a 5.5 percent stake worth $11 million. Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is on the advisory board.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Just make sure England doesn't get into a world war before the deal is implemented

The FT's Philip Stephens note that the Scottish Nationalists may be finding, as Kincade says in Skyfall "Sometimes the old ways are the best" --

Scotland’s nationalists have not given up and could yet win enough Westminster seats to hold the balance of power.

Risky business

Wise words from Amanda Taub at Vox --

The only way to find out what happened is to wait for evidence — no matter how desperate we are for answers in the meantime. 

A worthy plea for people to wait and see who might have contracted Ebola from the New York City patient rather than speculate about it?

Er, No, Because in that case she says--

Mayor Bill di Blasio said on Thursday that "our understanding is that very few people were in direct contact with him," which would lessen the likelihood that he could have transmitted the virus to anyone in New York.

The earlier quote is an injunction against assigning probabilities to the Ottawa shooter being an ISIS-radicalized Muslim (as it turns out, he was).

Apparently, some low frequency but high profile events are more worthy of estimates than others. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Our non-obsession with the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu attack

An article in Vox by Amanda Taub proclaims:

Our obsession with the Ottawa shooter's religion reveals more about us than about him

It then argues  that since we don't yet know the shooter's religion, let alone his motivations (which is true), we shouldn't be talking about potential jihadi motives.

Leaving side the general temptation to discuss everything about every high profile shooting before the facts are known, it is a bit odd for Vox -- data-driven journalism! -- to be arguing that people have no basis to be connecting dots when Canada was still trying to interpret the events barely 2 days beforehand when an alleged Islamic convert rammed his car into two soldiers in a town 30 miles south of Montreal. Of course there could be no connection at all. But data-driven journalism! is all about living with interpretations based on probabilities. And since terrorism in North America is very, very rare, some of those empirical probabilities are going to be based on small sample sizes.

So the Ottawa incident is not just about Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. It's about that incident seen in the light of the earlier incident where a gun was not used -- and therefore already inclined to be ignored -- even though the ramming soldier technique bears strong resemblance to the Woolwich murder of Lee Rigby ... which was motivated by the killers' interpretation of their religion.

Boys with toys

So if Russia can't supervise the snow plough drivers at its own airport in Moscow, what's the chance they had any control of any anti-aircraft weapons systems that they gave to the Ukrainian rebels?

It's months later, Crimea is still annexed and MH17 is still shot down.

Pop culture is memory

Max Boot in the Wall Street Journal --

Today, no one except some veterans and military historians remembers Khe Sanh because in the end it had scant strategic significance: Even though the U.S. won the battle, it lost the war. Not long after having “liberated” Khe Sanh, the U.S. dismantled the base because it served little purpose. This history is worth mentioning because of the parallels, limited and inexact to be sure, between Khe Sanh and Kobani, a Kurdish town in northern Syria. 

Bruce Springsteen, lyrics to Born in the USA --

Had a brother at Khe Sahn fighting off the Viet Cong
They're still there he's all gone

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Remember, it's only those awful Americans who back Israel to the hilt

Kremlin press release --

Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, during which the Russian President congratulated Mr Netanyahu on his 65th birthday and wished him success in his important state activity.
Vladimir Putin also sent Mr Netanyahu a message of greetings on his 65th anniversary, where he noted that during his years as Prime Minister and in other government positions, Mr Netanyahu has won the respect of his compatriots and great authority in the world. Mr Putin highly assessed Mr Netanyahu’s significant contribution to the development of friendly relations between Russia and Israel.



Friday, October 17, 2014

He's not the one writing it off

Financial Times --

Alexis Tsipras, the Syriza leader, has toned town his anti-German rhetoric but still wants to negotiate a massive write-down of Greek debt, set to peak this year at 174 percent of national output, a level he considers unsustainable.

Who are those non-crazy leftie economists who think that debt to GDP of 174 per cent is sustainable?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

They could "improvise," if you will

The New York Times has a superb in-depth piece -- the kind that lesser media outlets would never finance -- on how Saddam's 1980s-era chemical weapons (back when Baathist dictators with chemical weapons were cool) bedeviled the US military post-2003. The story's final hook is that Saddam's main chemical weapons site, which is believed to still contain numerous dangerous munitions, is now controlled by ISIS. The story also notes that their capture of the site was referenced in a Move Along Folks sort of way when it first happened. This Reuters story from July well captures the official indifference:


U.S. Defense Department spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said last month that the United States' best understanding was that "whatever material was kept there is pretty old and not likely to be able to be accessed or used against anyone right now."
"We aren't viewing this particular site and their holding it as a major issue at this point," Kirby said. "Should they even be able to access the materials, frankly, it would likely be more of a threat to them than anyone else."

It was an ISIS predecessor group, Al Qaeda in Iraq, which was using these same munitions in roadside bombs.

How the Irish saved civilization

Outgoing European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, presenting what he sees as his ultimate vindication (via Wall Street Journal) --

“We were very close to the abyss at certain moments,” he said. “Now, when we see some of our countries, including the spectacular growth of Ireland, it’s the great, unequivocal demonstration that the policies designed were the right ones.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bashar's man in Baghdad


The White House says that its military action against ISIS is to help Iraq, but it's absolutely not helping Syria. The above is the Assad regime ambassador to Iraq meeting the new Iraqi Prime Minister yesterday, where they amiably discussed their joint struggle against ISIS.

[previous post on this topic]

Monday, October 13, 2014

Our man in Damascus

Reuters --


The United States says it does not want to help Assad's government despite bombing Islamic State, the most powerful group fighting against Damascus in a three-year-old civil war. Washington aims to help arm moderates to fight against both Assad and Islamic State. But within days of the start of U.S. air strikes in Syria last month, Assad's government stepped up the tempo of its own air campaign against rebels closer to the capital Damascus. The Observatory said the Syrian air force had struck 40 times on Monday in areas in Idlib and Hama provinces, including dropping oil drums packed with explosives and shrapnel. Typically Damascus has carried out no more than 12-20 raids a day.

Those indiscriminate Syrian regime attacks -- including but not limited to the barrel bombs -- are almost certainly war crimes. So if they're being facilitated by US military action ...

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Cranky map-driven post

Kevin Drum surveys the Islamic world and concludes: We have a Saudi Arabia problem, not an Islam problem.

Elaborating in a deep dive on the same issue, he adds: But generally speaking, Saudi Arabia is the epicenter of Islam's problems.

Leave aside the fact that his Vox-style map proof barely shows Pakistan, and omits most of Africa including Algeria and Nigeria and let's say it's true that Islam's problems appear centered on Saudi Arabia. It's such a tight correlation that it's almost as if Islam itself might come from Saudi Arabia, and that the Ruler of Saudi Arabia could be considered the "Custodian," if you will, of Islam's holiest sites!

Cranky sports couch potato post

What is the thinking behind sports highlight shows where the format is guys in the studio yelling at the highlights of a game that they've already watched? {here's looking at you, MLB Network)

Also:
WHY?

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The region ate my homework

Barack Obama at an election fundraiser in Connecticut --

With respect to ISIL, it's American leadership that has galvanized the international community to take on what is really the logical conclusion of the sort of violent extremism that's been building up in the Middle East for far too long.

So ISIS/ISIL -- which you might think is what emerged from the brutalization of the Syrian population by Bashar al-Assad -- is actually a pre-ordained culmination of trends in a regional hotbed of extremism!

Pot, meet kettle

The New York Times lamely gives a White House official anonymity to bash Turkey over the Kobani/Ain-al-Arab crisis --

“This isn’t how a NATO ally acts while hell is unfolding a stone’s throw from their border,” said the official, who spoke anonymously to avoid publicly criticizing an ally.

Where were Turkey's NATO allies during the last 3 years of hell across the border in Syria?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Flattening and rebuilding city in "not solution to terrorism" shock

Reuters --


A suicide bomber killed at least five police officers and wounded 12 others on Sunday during festivities for a local holiday in Grozny, the capital of Russia's troubled North Caucasus region of Chechnya, Russian news agencies reported. The site of two separatist wars and a festering Islamic insurgency, Chechnya has seen a period of relative calm under the strong-arm rule of Moscow-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov, and suicide bombings have been a rare occurrence in recent years.

Important to keep this in mind as Russia tries to build support for its "realist" position of Bashar al-Assad being the only solution to Islamist terrorism in Syria and Iraq.

Monday, October 06, 2014

It would be pronounced Ooh Eeh

By the same logic under which we're all supposed to be referring to ISIS as Da'ash, the IRA should have been called OE (Óglaigh na hÉireann).

Friday, October 03, 2014

White House in WB Yeats Paganism allusion outrage!

Vice President Joe Biden --

Folks, “all’s changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty has been born.” Those are the words written by an Irish poet William Butler Yeats about the Easter Rising in 1916 in Ireland. They were meant to describe the status of the circumstance in Ireland at that time. But I would argue that in recent years, they better describe the world as we see it today because all has changed. The world has changed.

Leave aside the minor misquotation. Yeats used to describe ISIS. There are no coincidences!

UPDATE: The White House transcript does not include the Q&A where Biden made the controversial remarks about Turkey and the UAE. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Immaculate taxes

From the European Commission's critical letter regarding Ireland's tax treatment of Apple --

According to the excerpt at recital (37), the reduction of the margin after a certain level above USD [60-70] million would have been motivated by employment considerations, which is not a reasoning based on the arm’s length principle. 

Tax decisions that may have involved thinking about job creation -- Eeek!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Gilligan's Peninsula

It's Sunday, so you've a bit more time on your hands.

First read Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph -- those awful Qataris!

Then read some superb Glenn Greenwald journalism in The Intercept noting how, in the USA, there's a lucrative and well-funded UAE operation to make everyone say -- those awful Qataris!

Gilligan's article follows the template precisely -- citing chapter and verse US Treasury designations that seem damning for Qatar, even though if you know the Syria fundraising beat, it's all being run from Kuwait and the only evidence is that some known Syrian rebel fundraisers from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia visited Qatar to conduct some of their activities there.

Even Gilligan's headline -- Qatar as Club Med for terrorists -- is lifted from an op-ed in the New York Times by the Israeli ambassador to the US, only obliquely acknowledged at the end of the article.

Very important question therefore for Andrew Gilligan: did he rely in any way, in terms of packaged information or financing, on the Camstoll Group* for this article?

*Added: Or other consulting/lobbying firms with contracts from a government entity in the UAE?

UPDATE: Very interesting piece from last year by Alastair Sloan noting some pro-UAE undercurrents to another Gilligan article.

How click bait happens

UAE's female pilot Mariam Al Mansouri 'disowned by her family' screams the Daily Mail headline [no link].  The source turns out to be a Palestinian news site -- funny how they had the scoop on a UAE story -- which in turn is simply a cut and paste from an unvalidated statement issued by people with the same surname. There are a lot of Al Mansouris in the UAE. There's not a shred of evidence in the story that the quotes come from anyone linked Mariam al-Mansouri's family. But that's the speed of the news cycle now. She hasn't even had time to get into a Tom Friedman column and already the media pack want a new narrative.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fog in Channel

The Heritage Foundation has opinions on quite a few things, and one issue that is getting another run around the block is whether the UK should join the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In the old days of the 1990s, this was seen as a stalking horse for getting the UK out of the EU, but with the latter issue now out in the open, it has returned as the solution to what a post-EU UK would do in terms of trade relations. Theodore Bromund and Nile "Churchill bust outrage" Gardiner provide a discussion of the options, and come down in favour of a UK-UK free trade agreement instead of NAFTA membership.

There are various debatable points in the discussion. For example, they note the much higher number of trade agreements that the small European countries outside the EU have been able to negotiate relative to the EU. But that's because small country free trade agreements are relatively easy to negotiate: there's a standard template and not too many vested interests. The world wasn't rocked by the recent Iceland-China free trade agreement -- and neither were Iceland or China.

Perhaps a deeper problem is lurking in one curious omission from the Bromund-Gardiner paper. It never mentions the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA is an agreement that those aforementioned small European countries, except Switzerland, have signed with the EU. Essentially they agree to take on all of the EU regulations and standards, but without any associated political process. By doing so, they can tap into the free movement principles of the EU.

One major question for a post-EU UK is whether it would join the EEA. Given that the UK is, er, in Europe and is highly integrated with it, it would almost certainly have to. Once it does that, the path to a US-UK free trade agreement is much less obvious: the EEA is fairly intrusive, but at the same time not much of a problem for the UK in terms of adjustment, since it currently complies with all EEA requirements by being in the EU. So which of those intrusive EEA elements would have to go to meet the obligations of a US-UK trade agreement? That's messy, difficult -- and a major part of the reason why the EU decided a long time to handle trade policy at the EU level. Any gains from a US-UK agreement would have to be offset against losses from EEA unwinding -- something that those aforementioned small European nations have not been willing to contemplate.

Friday, September 26, 2014

That new wiser US middle east policy

1980s: Tacitly support the Baathist dictator (Saddam) on the ground that the Islamo-crazies that he's fighting (Iran) are worse

2010s: Tacitly support the Baathist dictator (Assad) on the ground that the Islamo-crazies that he's fighting (ISIS) are worse.

And the current policy really is tacit support for Assad.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

That makes it better

A Wall Street Journal processology on how the Arab monarchies were gotten onside for the attack on ISIS in Syria concludes as follows --

The UAE, which some defense officials refer to as "Little Sparta" because of its outsized military strength, had the most robust role. One of the UAE's pilots was a woman. Two of the F-15 pilots were members of the Saudi royal family, including Prince Khaled bin Salman, son of the crown prince. In the third wave of the initial attack, half of the attack airplanes in the sky were from Arab countries.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

From beyond the grave

Wall Street Journal editorial --

Now that he has attacked ISIS, Mr. Obama must show that America is the strong horse.

The strong horse is back!  Two questions, with answers from our Iraq warblogging days.

Q. Whose phrase was "strong horse?"
A. Osama bin Laden.

Q. How did its underlying premise of the need for "strength" become pivotal to US policy in the Middle East?
A. Bernard Lewis validated Dick Cheney's already emerging views on that topic.