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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Return of the Kings

Barack Obama --

We were joined in this action by our friends and partners -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, and Qatar. America is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these nations on behalf of our common security. The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone. Above all, the people and governments in the Middle East are rejecting ISIL and standing up for the peace and security that the people of the region and the world deserve.

Every Arab country in that coalition is a monarchy.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Here's one map that shows how Putin wants to destroy the Middle East

Itar-Tass News Agency --

MOSCOW, September 22. /ITAR-TASS/. Russia will build a nuclear power plant in Jordan, Russian state-run nuclear corporation Rosatom said on Monday, referring to the agreement between the two countries. The plant to be built in Jordan’s Zarza (sic) province will have two units with a combined capacity of 2,000 megawatts.

You can see Zarqa on the map above. It's the home region of the ISIS OG, Abu Musab al Zarqawi. It's also near Amman, Jerusalem, Beirut, and Damascus, and in general near big chunks of Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia as well as Jordan and Israel.

And Vladimir Putin's state companies are cooking up a scheme to put a nuclear power plant in it. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Glasgow always said Yes


Thomas Friedman, in the same column linked in the previous post, finds a lesson about immigration in the Scotland referendum result --

One reaction: I’m glad a majority of Scots rejected independence. Had they not, it would have clipped the wing of America’s most important wingman in the world: Britain. Another reaction: God bless America. We have many sources of strength, but today our greatest asset is our pluralism — our “E pluribus unum” — that out of many we’ve made one nation, with all the benefits that come from mixing cultures and all the strengths that come from being able to act together ... This is why America has such an advantage with its pluralism, and why — if Scots are brave enough to preserve theirs, and Spaniards are struggling to keep theirs and Iraqis are groping to find theirs — we should have the wisdom to pass an immigration reform bill that enriches ours.

Note the equation: Scotland on its own = lack of pluralism.

The above photo (BBC) is Glasgow native Peter Capaldi, the current Doctor Who. He was born in Glasgow. His mother was from Cavan and his father from Lazio. And there are lots of Italian-ancestry Scots and even more Irish-ancestry Scots. Scotland has always had immigration. Nor is their indication that an independent Scotland would have a more restrictive immigration policy than the UK -- in all likelihood, it would be less. There's no obvious link between how a nation treats migration and its willingness or lack thereof to be part of a bigger sovereign state.

You can get there from here, but you may not want to

Thomas Friedman in the New York Times --

It’s no accident that the two democratizing Middle East entities doing best today are Tunisia and Kurdistan. Neither has fully mastered pluralism yet, but they’ve mastered its necessary precursor for self-governance, which was the principle used in 1989 to settle the Lebanese civil war: “No victor, no vanquished” among the major players. Everyone’s interests have to be balanced. Iraq is now struggling to get there; Syria is not even close ... In Syria and Iraq today, you have neither citizens nor states, but rather clans, sects and tribes, which now need to reorganize themselves into voluntary states, as opposed to those imposed by colonial powers, so they can be real citizens.

Is Lebanon the benchmark, or isn't it? In his first segment, how the civil war ended, it is a benchmark. In the second segment, he says Iraq and Syria's problem is that it is organized by clan, sect, and tribe, and not state.

But organization by clan, sect, and tribe is a very accurate description of Lebanon today, 25 years after its civil war formally ended. 

Blind spot

You'd never know it from the amount of media coverage it generates, but the country facing the biggest Syrian hostage crisis now is not the USA, UK, or Turkey. It's Lebanon, the country least able to handle the internal tensions that these crises create.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scotland musical selection



Since everyone seems to have a song in mind for independence referendum day.

They've promised not to tell him the juicy stuff

It's odd that this didn't get more attention. A major plank of the White House strategy on ISIS is that while they'll be giving all sorts of support to Iraq to defeat ISIS, they absolutely will not be doing anything that would help that awful man Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

The above is the Iraqi National Security Adviser in Damascus yesterday explaining to a cheerful Bashar al-Assad all the things that Iraq will be doing to to defeat ISIS -- with the help of the White House strategy.

Photo: Syrian Arab News Agency, via Reuters.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

That's a pretty big matzoh ball hanging out there

From the otherwise unqualified condemnation of terrorism issued by senior religious scholars in Saudi Arabia (via Saudi Press Agency) --

It said that due to acts of terrorism committed by some groups, such as: Daash (ISIS), and al-Qaeda, so-called Ahl Al-Haq groups, Hezbollah and the Houthis, or crimes of terrorism practiced by the Israeli occupation, or criminal acts practiced by some groups affiliated to Islam, they are all forbidden and criminalized, because of their attack on the sanctities of lives, funds, security and stability, noting that it is the biggest crime to frighten Muslims and residents.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Last in first out

In Scottish #indyref week, a quote from the oft-quoted Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations, Book V, Chapter 3) --

By a union with Great Britain, Ireland would gain, besides the freedom of trade, other advantages much more important, and which would much more than compensate any increase of taxes that might accompany that union. By the union with England the middling and inferior ranks of people in Scotland gained a complete deliverance from the power of an aristocracy which had always before oppressed them. By a union with Great Britain the greater part of the people of all ranks in Ireland would gain an equally complete deliverance from a much more oppressive aristocracy; an aristocracy not founded, like that of Scotland, in the natural and respectable distinctions of birth and fortune, but in the most odious of all distinctions, those of religious and political prejudices; distinctions which, more than any other, animate both the insolence of the oppressors and the hatred and indignation of the oppressed, and which commonly render the inhabitants of the same country more hostile to one another than those of different countries ever are. Without a union with Great Britain the inhabitants of Ireland are not likely for many ages to consider themselves as one people.

[Previously in this series]

Monday, September 15, 2014

The winner doesn't take it all

At Vox, Matthew Yglesias hails the Swedish election result as an example of how bad monetary policy can be costly to incumbents --

Both Sweden's early success and its later failure can probably be laid at the feet of monetary policy, rather than anything [PM] Reinfeldt did per se ... But from late 2011 onward, the Riksbank [Swedish central bank] insisted on moving toward tighter money despite high unemployment and low inflation. The stated reason for this, which has also had some influence inside the Fed, was that the bank had to act to prevent "instability" in the financial system. As Lars EO Svensson, a Princeton economist who worked at the Riksbank during the crisis years but lost the argument about post-crisis tightening, explains in this great presentation this has proven to be an extraordinarily costly way of obtaining uncertain benefits. And now it's likely going to cost the governing coalition their jobs.

Here's a Reuters account of the election aftermath in terms of its dynamics --

Under Reinfeldt Sweden lost much of its image as a socialist welfare state. The country's tax burden fell 4 percentage points, to 45 percent of GDP, under France's. Taxes on inheritance and wealth were lowered or abolished. More Michelin star restaurants than ever opened in Stockholm. "These have been fantastic years where the Alliance have taken responsibility for Sweden," Reinfeldt told party supporters on announcing his resignation. "My hope is that the journey will continue, but it will be without my participation." Many Swedes are worried that reforms under Reinfeldt have gone too far, weakening healthcare, allowing business to profit from schools at the expense of results and dividing a nation that has prided itself on equality into haves and have-nots. Voters have been shocked by scandals over privately run state welfare - including one case where carers at a home for the elderly were reportedly weighing diapers to save money - and bankruptcies of privately run schools ... Widely admired for its triple A-rated economy, stable government and liberal attitude to immigration, Sweden nevertheless faces significant challenges, which a weak government will struggle to deal with. Unemployment is high at 8 percent, hitting immigrants and young people especially, and a potential housing bubble threatens economic stability. Widespread riots last year in Stockholm's poor immigrant suburbs highlighted a growing underclass in Sweden, which has had the fastest-growing inequality of any OECD nation. The rise of the far right points to a society starting to question its role as what Reinfeldt calls "a humanitarian superpower". The number of asylum seekers from countries like Syria is expected to reach 80,000 this year. Even Reinfeldt has said government finances would be strained due to the cost of new arrivals. They were figures that played into the hands of the far right.

That list is much more about quality of public services, the perception of tax-cutting zeal, lack of public harmony with migration policy, and the ability of the far right to capitalize on the Syrian refugee influx. Monetary policy surfaces only obliquely (high unemployment among selected groups, but also very high housing prices).  The loss for the centre right is therefore an awkward narrative in which they suffered both from supply side obsession but also humanitarian policies that journalists like Matthew Yglesias would presumably favour (we're all for taking more Syrian refugees than bombing it, right?). In any event, monetary policy looks like an externally imposed narrative looking for one decisive factor that be blended into a broader EU story, even for a country not in the Euro.