Thursday, December 08, 2016

It's not always Wagner

Financial Times on the rise of Breitbart News --

Breitbart, who died unexpectedly in 2012 aged 43, was not a typical conservative — he once told the FT he enjoyed late 1980s dance music culture ...

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Word games

Statement from leaders of all G7 countries except Japan, via White House --

... strongly condemn the Syrian regime's attacks that have devastated civilians and medical facilities and use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons.

From President Obama's speech in Tampa yesterday defending his counterterrorism policies --

We’ve eliminated Syria’s declared chemical weapons program.

The truth of that sentence hinges on the word "declared" and its substance is undermined by the accurate description of the situation in today's "G6" statement.

Incidentally, this Reuters story explains how the Iraqi government assault on Mosul was reworked on Iranian advice to use the same tactics as Aleppo, i.e, a complete cutoff of all escape routes from the city. The US government is supporting the Mosul assault.


Wall Street Journal --

A U.S. Weather Tradition Takes the British Isles By Storm

... Storms have been named for centuries, but it wasn’t until 1953, when the National Hurricane Center in the U.S. started officially naming Atlantic tropical storms, that they were christened before making landfall. In the U.K. and Ireland, storms were named on an ad hoc basis until last year. A realization that something needed to change occurred in the 2013-14 season, when one particularly bad tempest was given upward of five names by various meteorological and media outlets across Europe, going by the aliases Simone, Carmen, Allan, the St. Jude Storm and Cyclone Christian. The incident pushed the Met Office and Met Éireann to take ownership of the naming of storms that passed over their territories. They based their system on the U.S. National Hurricane Center’s conventions as well as their own national weather warning services. Rules include avoiding names that start with the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z (there aren’t enough of them), and those that were used for particularly destructive storms in the recent past, such as Andrew or Katrina ...

To say that a US weather "tradition" underpins this trend is a stretch. In fact, it was the clearly untraditional Weather Channel practice of naming winter storms that led to the practice -- the met offices were reacting to would-be Brick Tamlands coming up with their own names for storms in the age of clickbait. As quotes in the WSJ article well reflect, there's a general dubiousness about naming storms when wind is so frequent, but that's the time horizon of the social media beast. As we've documented before, the concession on naming storms has done nothing to stop the continued import of Weather Channel clowning, including the use of their names for storms that the met offices don't name, and screaming into a TV camera in gale force conditions.

The difference in weather conditions between the US exposure to infrequent but highly dangerous tropical storms and the recurrence of wind in the north Atlantic is reflected in the fact that the most resonant weather tradition in the UK and Ireland is the shipping forecast, i.e. the names are used for the sea areas affected by the storms rather than the storms themselves, 

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The populist front

Two slightly connected observations.

1. It looks like an oversight that Donald Trump's seemingly abrupt outreach to Taiwan has not yet been linked to deep Republican lore, specifically the 1950s demands to "Unleash Chiang" so as to open up a reverse takeover of Red China by Taiwan, It was of course a preposterous vision, carried on in mocking fashion in a Bush family in-joke to nearly the present day. But someone in Trump's circle, or maybe Trump himself, doesn't get the joke.

2. For the last few weeks, pundits have been rushing to their keyboards to type up "Merkel is the liberal West's last hope" articles. Sceptics have therefore, rightly, been quick to draw attention to Merkel's promise in her CDU party speech today to ban wearing the burqa during public administrative transactions.

Anyway the point is that if Merkel wins next year's election -- which at this point she is likely to do -- it won't be because she fits some New Pundit definition of liberal, but because she knows how to maintain a moderate conservative electoral coalition large enough to give her space to implement moderate conservative policies.

Part of how she does this is being tactically astute. It's forgotten now, but Merkel saw the dangers of Davos attendance last January, an insight that still seems lost on the Thought-Leading Ted-Talking fools headed there again this year. Even her burqa ban might be more aimed at detaching herself from the Intellectual-Yet-Idiot choir than any substantive imposition on observant Muslim lifestyle in Germany.

In that same speech from which the burqa ban grapped all the attention, she also said --

Ehrlich gesagt: Wenn ein Freihandelsabkommen mit den Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika Hunderttausende in Deutschland auf die Straße bringt, aber die so grausamen Bombardierungen auf Aleppo so gut wie keinen öffentlichen Protest auslösen, dann stimmt irgendetwas mit den politischen Maßstäben nicht mehr

Loosely: if a trade agreement with the USA can bring hundreds of thousands onto the streets in protest, but the cruel bombing of Aleppo brings almost no public protest, then something has changed in political standards.

That's an effective dig at the very selective nature of "outrage" as the currency of populism, just as Aleppo has been displaced from the news by whatever is the latest Trump tweet.

A seed of populism

The current political context in Europe calls to mind a missed sign of divergence between the general public and technocrats that occurred with the introduction of the Euro single currency in 1999. There was a widespread public perception that businesses used the conversion from national currencies to the Euro to round up prices, resulting in generally higher prices than prevailed prior to the switchover.

Economists patted simple hoi polloi on the head and told them that they'd made the same mistake as Nigel Tufnel in Spinal Tap, namely confusing numbers ("well it's one louder, isn't it?") with the reality that whether prices went up or down was a purely arithmetic exercise based on the currency conversion factors.

Subsequent research found scattered but tantalizing evidence that some prices really did increase but at the same time indicated that perceptions were the dominant influence in whether people thought this happened or not.

Yet that sense that the Euro had done strange things to national economies despite what experts said looks like a prophecy of what was to come in 2008 -- and part of the explanation for why credibility has been so difficult to restore.

Nigel's amp, By Source, Fair use, Link

Photo of the Day

Great Wall Street Journal reporting from northern Iraq about the town of Qaraqosh, a historically Iraqi Christian town much of whose population has fled; after ISIS was cleared out, it's now defended by a local Christian militia commanded by a retired Iraqi Army officer. The above is part of the scene of destruction inside the town's Mar Gorgis church. Photo by Juan Carlos for the WSJ.

Trump in new U-turn outrage

RTE --

Clare County Council has confirmed that the application for the coastal protection works near Trump International Golf Links and Hotel in Doonbeg, Co Clare, has been withdrawn. The hotel, owned by US President-elect Mr Trump, had proposed building a 2.8km sea wall along a public beach to protect the golf resort. The wall would have been 4.5 metres in height and built from rock. Last night at the opening of the public consultation on revised plans for coastal defences at Doonbeg new plans were displayed that did not include the previously proposed wall.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Make Switzerland awkward again

With Donald Trump's Cincinnati speech renewing his commitment to his anti-globalization campaign position, it's worth noting that the next World Economic Forum in Davos -- where the Davoisie assemble -- will be taking place in the week leading up to his inauguration on 20 January.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Trump in new religion outrage

Irish Times article on the extensive connections of Trump's Treasury Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross to Ireland --

Around the time he was pumping money into Bank of Ireland, he once inquired of an Irish official whether Irish people would be more inclined to repay their mortgages because they were Catholic.


With the US apparently hoping that the Assad-Putin flattening of eastern Aleppo will at least remove the issue of what to do about it, the Financial Times reports on more permanent effects of its inaction, in the form of the opposition deciding to deal with Russia --

One opposition figure, when asked why he thought Russia would seek a deal with the rebels just as Mr Assad appeared to be winning, said Moscow was “essentially saying: ‘Screw you, Americans’.”

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


President Ronald Reagan greeting Donald and Ivana Trump at a dinner for King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, 31 years ago.

Photo: US National Archives.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Obama finally proven right on Syria

In that April 2016 "Obama Doctrine" interview with Jeffrey Goldberg --

“When you have a professional army,” he once told me, “that is well armed and sponsored by two large states”—Iran and Russia—“who have huge stakes in this, and they are fighting against a farmer, a carpenter, an engineer who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict …”

Wait long enough, isolate the rebels, and that's what the war has become, in Aleppo.

Just tidying up

Fascinating New York Times article on how in the last days of the Obama Administration, they are planning to bring the Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab (whose origins go back to the Bush-era Operation Prester John) under the 9/11 use of force authorization --

But as American partners have been going after the Shabab in general more often without any particular focus on individuals linked to Al Qaeda, it has been harder to point to any congressional authorization for such airstrikes that would satisfy the War Powers Resolution. As the election neared, the administration decided it would be irresponsible to hand off Somali counterterrorism operations to Mr. Obama’s successor with that growing tension unresolved.

It's a bit odd that of all the things that might have cluttered the desk of the Trump Administration, one thing that rose from that pile was the legal basis for the al-Shabaab strikes. Which suggests a rationale: in the general tradition of restrictive legal interpretations, bringing al-Shabaab under the 9/11 resolution might be seen as expansionary. But since Trump is not obviously concerned with legal principles, is the rationale to ensure that he has to continue the current policy against al-Shabaab, because now they've been linked by a Presidential decision to 9/11?

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Above, a telegram from Fidel Castro to Pablo Picasso in 1962, congratulating him on winning the USSR's International Lenin Peace Prize.

It's one indication of how long Fidel was around, that telegraph was a regular communications medium in his early days of power, while now his death will be marked by Tweets of Commemoration and/or Tweets of Outrage at the earlier Tweets of Commemoration.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Where the stories were

Important analysis from Lynn Vavreck for New York Times The Upshot --

The content of the [presidential campaign] ads is revealing. Both candidates spent most of their television advertising time attacking the other person’s character. In fact, the losing candidate’s ads did little else. More than three-quarters of the appeals in Mrs. Clinton’s advertisements (and nearly half of Mr. Trump’s) were about traits, characteristics or dispositions. Only 9 percent of Mrs. Clinton’s appeals in her ads were about jobs or the economy. By contrast, 34 percent of Mr. Trump’s appeals focused on the economy, jobs, taxes and trade.

Her point: blaming "the media" for not devoting sufficient coverage to "policy" -- the archetypal Vox critique --  is beside the point when the candidates weren't devoting their own resources to it.

Pulled out of the bubble

Paul Krugman in the New York Times today --

For let’s be serious here: You can’t explain the votes of places like Clay County [Kentucky] as a response to disagreements about trade policy. The only way to make sense of what happened is to see the vote as an expression of, well, identity politics — some combination of white resentment at what voters see as favoritism toward nonwhites (even though it isn’t) and anger on the part of the less educated at liberal elites whom they imagine look down on them.

Paul Krugman on his New York Times blog in August --

If you want to feel good about the state of America, you could do a lot worse than what I did this morning: take a run in Riverside Park.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Dirty deeds not dirt cheap

Among the details in the Washington Post's latest fascinating dive into Trump Foundation activities --

Also, as he entered the presidential race, he gave to several nonprofits connected with conservative causes. One of them was Project Veritas, the group run by conservative provocateur James O’Keefe, which has used hidden-camera stings to target liberal groups. Stephen Gordon, of Project Veritas, said that its point of contact had been Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s one-time campaign manager. He said they had a brief meeting with Trump in 2015, at Trump Tower. Trump gave $10,000 from his foundation to the group, which is an IRS-certified nonprofit. “We showed him a couple of videos. He thought that was really cool. And we walked out with a check. It was a typical donor meeting,” Gordon recalled.

Note: O'Keefe's level of provocation is appropriately captured by an early stunt from his college days at Rutgers University claiming that Lucky Charms breakfast cereal offends his Irish heritage.

Boris Johnson in new Trump - Hamilton outrage

Questions to the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons today --

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab) 
As regards ambassadors for either country, may I make a suggestion? An excellent choice for the unofficial ambassador from the United States to Britain—I emphasise the word unofficial—would be Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor who spoke out to the Vice-President-elect about American values and was criticised by the future President. Mr Dixon is the sort of person who is associated with all that is best about the United States. 

Boris Johnson 
Of course, Mr Brandon Dixon, of whom, I am afraid, I was hitherto unaware is perfectly at liberty to come to this country, assuming that all visa requirements are met, and to spread his message. We look forward to having a new American ambassador in due course to follow in the footsteps, if I may say so, of one of the most distinguished US ambassadors we have seen in this country in recent years, Matthew Barzun.

With friends like these

Vox on the French centre-right primary outcome --

Whether this is true of enough French voters to stop the surging Le Pen from winning the presidency — a victory that would leave Germany's Angela Merkel as the only cosmopolitan in the UN Security Council — is yet to be seen.

It's not clear what about Angela Merkel merits the description of "cosmopolitan" and Germany is not a UN Security Council member!

Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times --

Of all 2016’s weird spectacles, nothing beats middle-class envy of the poor for being spared the ordeal of tolerable affluence.

Monday, November 21, 2016


President Obama at yesterday's news conference in Lima --

With respect to Syria, as I said I think even on this trip in a previous press conference, I am not optimistic about the short-term prospects in Syria. Once Russia and Iran made a decision to back Assad in a brutal air campaign and essentially a pacification of Aleppo, regardless of the potential for civilian casualties, children being killed or wounded, schools or hospitals being destroyed, then it was very hard to see a way in which even a trained and committed moderate opposition could hold its ground for long periods of time.

White House National Security official Ben Rhodes selling the Iran deal 15 months ago --

And this (Gulf) visit will be an opportunity for the President to follow up on the progress we’re making on the Camp David agenda, to discuss the Iran deal, and also our efforts to push back against malign Iranian activities in the region, but also, of course, to discuss a full range of regional issues.

A key sales pitch for the Iran nuclear deal was that the other bad stuff that Iran was doing was irrelevant to the case for the deal, because there would be other ways to counter that other bad stuff.

Now the President is saying on the way out that it's kind of a shame that Iran is assisting Bashar al-Assad to flatten Aleppo. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

On the website you had to scroll more to see the Trump scandals

Some day we'll find those voters in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina who based their decision on the New York Times print edition layout of political campaign stories. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Twenty year rebound

Wall Street Journal editorial ruminating on the Trump conflict of interest problem --

The alternatives are fraught, perhaps even for the Trump Organization’s bottom line: Thanks to a Clinton Administration precedent, Presidents can face litigation in private matters—so the company will become a supermagnet for lawsuits.

That's great passive voice stuff, making it sound like it was something that the "Clinton Administration" did which exposed the President to private lawsuits.

In fact, it was the endless litigation originating in the Paul Jones case against Bill Clinton, and championed by the original Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (charter member: WSJ editorial page) which created the precedent. The threads of that case eventually led to Bill Clinton's impeachment!

How it looked from the inside

Steve Bannon quotes probably should be taken with a pinch of salt but here is explaining to the Wall Street Journal's Kimberly Strassel the Trump campaign strategy --

Mr. Bannon’s role in the Trump campaign was never made clear, though fellow adviser Kellyanne Conway called him the campaign’s “general” and a “brilliant tactician.” Mr. Bannon describes a close alliance of himself, Ms. Conway and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who developed a very “tight strategy” that relied on targeted speeches, rallies and social media. They envisioned two possible paths to the White House: one that hinged on Nevada and New Hampshire; the other that “leveraged Ohio” and rolled up Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin. By the last week they saw the latter plan coming together.

There's very little in that obviously connected to editorial decisions at the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN -- which is where bewildered New Pundits seem to think that the election was lost. 

Once upon a time

Paul Krugman,  New York Times, 11 February 2008 --

And the latest prominent example came when David Shuster of MSNBC, after pointing out that Chelsea Clinton was working for her mother’s campaign — as adult children of presidential aspirants often do — asked, “doesn’t it seem like Chelsea’s sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?” Mr. Shuster has been suspended, but as the Clinton campaign rightly points out, his remark was part of a broader pattern at the network.

Friday, November 18, 2016

History eraser button

President Obama at his news conference yesterday with Angela Merkel --

With respect to Russia, my principal approach to Russia has been constant since I first came into office.

Photo: US State Dept.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Message multiplier

With the US Presidential election lost, Vox is in full Gegenpressing mode and whereas much of its focus during the election was on complaints about the way political stories were presented in the New York Times and CNN, now it's all about Facebook. Leave aside the inconsistency of all the past Vox complaints about the New York Times, which it now understands to be at the mercy of how its coverage gets filtered by Facebook algorithms and users. Here's today's addition to the indictment --

fake news is more viral than real news ... Caulfield found that at least one article from a fake news site was shared far more widely and thus reached a far greater number of people than some concurrently “trending” articles from respected news sources like the Boston Globe and the Washington Post. Ultimately, the fake article garnered thousands more shares than several of the real news stories he looked at.

There's a methodological issue around making the general statement fake news being more viral than "real" news based on one example. But there's even a conceptual problem. Fake news attracts attention precisely because of its uniqueness: "real" news will never be viral because by definition, it's being reported by lots of outlets and no one will see any value to sharing it. Fake news can be constructed to a context with the purpose of being surprising and getting attention -- the originality and targeting gives it a platform that real news does not have.

Another way to say this is that fake news is trolling -- it's designed to provoke and draw a reaction. That failure to understand how trolling could be a political strategy has put a troll in the White House. 

Trump in new Kremlin outrage

... in order to defend refugees and to stop terrorism, the war in Syria and in the wider region must end. This is the common objective and this requires harmonious cooperation of the U.S., the EU, and Russia.

Trump? Er, no. It's Greek President Pavlopoulos during the state dinner toast for visiting President Barack Obama yesterday in Athens!

New Trump foreign policy acclaim

Above, via Sudanese news outlet Radio Tamazuj, an announcement of a rally tomorrow in the South Sudanese capital Juba to celebrate the Trump victory and signal the unity of purpose with President Salva Kiir (wearing his ubiquitous cowboy hat given to him by George W. Bush). Insh'allah, Trump won't be doing to America what Kiir has done to South Sudan.