Monday, February 20, 2017

Before Sweden there was Birmingham

The only new thing about the Donald Trump invocation of Fox News expertise on migrant terrorism in Sweden is that the holder of such beliefs is the President.  It is not so long ago that Steve Emerson was peddling the notion of no go zones and Sharia law in various European cities,  most notoriously Birmingham.  If Trump ever does visit Europe,  could he be invited to one of these areas to demystify them?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Generation Gap

It's impossible to pick out one aspect of the bizarre Trump news conference yesterday, but here goes an attempt at identifying the essence of the Trump phenomenon. At one point, he said --

If you [the media] were straight and really told it like it is, as Howard Cosell used to say, right?  Of course, he had some questions also.

Howard Cosell did his last sports broadcast in 1985 and died in 1995. Thus, Trump is making a reference that generously dates at 22 years old and in reality goes back 40 years or more. That's a really long time ago. Above, Cosell's brilliant parody of himself in Woody Allen's Bananas, from 1971.

No room east of the river

Influential Israeli ultra-conservative viewpoint that's now emboldened by President Trump's rejection of a two-state solution. The fact that the population movements implicit in this view would destroy Jordan is apparently beside the point.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Peace on the River

Of the many strange aspects of the Trump visa ban, one worth considering is that it applies to Sudan. Sudan has many problems, but being a source of terrorism is not one of them. There is the matter of Osama bin Laden's sojourn there, but of course bin Laden was not a Sudanese citizen, and anyway, there is an argument that it would have been better for everyone if bin Laden had stayed in a country where it was easier to keep an eye on him.

The immediate question is why Sudan is on the Trump list. For one thing, the CIA appears to have had ample cooperation with the Sudanese government. In addition, for a supposed terrorist haven, Sudan has very little terrorism. The Sudan Tribune explains, in the context of the discovery of a possible terrorist cell in Khartoum --

The last terrorist attack in Khartoum was in 1993 when the Palestinian Black September Organization carried out an attack on the Saudi embassy in the Sudanese capital.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Trump electoral risk spreads

A corporate tax reform (USR III) in Switzerland looks set to be defeated in a referendum today. The reform's opponents have been quick to attach the Trump label to the reform, promoted by conservative parties such as the SVP. Trump might take it as a compliment that he's inspired parody tweets in German cantons like Aargau, as above, but he doesn't have that sense of humour. 

Most influential Australian export since AC/DC

New York Times on the Middle East diplomacy assignment given to Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner --

Mr. Kushner, on something of a crash course in diplomacy, has been speaking with Arab leaders in recent weeks. But he is a mystery to most Middle Eastern officials. He has no experience in government or international affairs. His up-close exposure to the Arab world amounts to little more than trips to a handful of Persian Gulf countries and a star-studded jaunt to Jordan.

That star-studded trip to Jordan was a celebrity entourage that followed in the footsteps of the Biblical Jesus as part of the 2010 baptism of Rupert Murdoch's daughters with then wife Wendi Deng. The group was hosted by the Queen Rania for a tour of the country.

Two things to note. First, yet again, a Trump-Murdoch connection. And the Ivanka link to the Jordanian royal family puts an additional complexion on King Abdullah's supposedly semi-coincidental chat with Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast,

Saturday Evening Trivia Question

Can you name a film in which songs by two different artists, who both competed in the same Eurovision Song Contest, are featured?

Answer: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. All Kinds of Everything by Dana, winner of the 1970 contest, is playing on the radio when George and Peter arrive at the Operation Witchcraft secret house, and the film ends with a recording of a live performance by Julio Iglesias (La Mer), who had finished 4th in the 1970 contest with Gwendolyne.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Alienating allies

Selecting among the multiple Trump Administration stunts of the week is never easy, but they hit a particular low point with the decision to block the appointment of Salam Fayyad as head of the UN mission in Libya, which they're not even trying to disguise is solely because he is Palestinian.

Above, Salam Fayyad, then Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, meeting with Dick Cheney in Ramallah in March, 2008.

White House photo by David Bohrer.

Friday, February 10, 2017

British migrants displaced by austerity

Financial Times --

Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s top oil producer and the wealthiest of its seven emirates, has long epitomised the petrodollar wealth of the Gulf — Adia manages assets estimated at $800bn. But government austerity measures now illustrate how the region’s leaders are being forced to take radical action in response to prolonged low oil prices and implement politically sensitive policies that were once considered a taboo in societies where government largesse has been the norm. ...  The result is the flight of expatriates who had descended on Abu Dhabi during the oil boom of the 2000s as the emirate embarked on an ambitious programme to transform itself into a luxurious business and tourism destination.

Notice again the terminology trick that Europeans in Abu Dhabi are "expats" but in the Brexit debate, Europeans in Britain are "migrants." Unstated in the FT article is that the Gulf economy is one that the Brexiteers thought provided them with an alternative to the case for integration with Europe. Now the Gulf has less money.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Invisible Hand

Financial Times --

It was the journalistic coup of the moment, the first British newspaper interview with Donald Trump since his victory. But there was one thing The Times did not reveal: that its proprietor Rupert Murdoch was sitting in on the conversation. The chairman of News Corp did not feature in photographs of the encounter last month at the top of Trump Tower in Manhattan but two people have confirmed he was in the room. The interview was conducted by Michael Gove, a former British cabinet minister and proponent of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Incidentally, this was the interview where Trump was presented with a brick from the Berlin Wall.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

President of Somalia not subject to Trump visa ban

Reuters --

Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a dual U.S.-Somali citizen and former prime minister, was sworn in as Somalia's new president on Wednesday after lawmakers voted behind the secure blast walls of the capital's airport.

Since the President, nicknamed Farmajo, is a US citizen, he does not need a visa to return to the USA. But hundreds of thousands of other Somalis who followed a path similar to his, except to country besides the USA for refuge, are subject to the ban. In terms of keeping lines of communication open, the USA simply got lucky that he emerged from their part of the diaspora.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Women's Lib

During points of order in the House of Commons --

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab) On a point of order, Mr Speaker. First, is it in order for the Prime Minister to refer to a Member of this House not by her own name, but by the name of her husband? Secondly, for the record, I have never been a lady, and it will take a great deal more than being married to a knight of the realm to make me one. 

The Prime Minister (Mrs Theresa May) Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not in any way intend to be disorderly in this House, and if the hon. Lady is concerned about the reference that I made to her, then of course I will apologise for that. I have to say to her, though, that for the last 36 years I have been referred to by my husband’s name. [Interruption.]

The context is that May had bizarrely referred to Emily Thornberry as Lady Nugee, based on her husband's title, but not a name she has ever used. That her defence for the slip went to offering herself  as an example of giving up her family name is revealing about her concept of tradition.

The issue then got lost when the Speaker dropped his subsequent bombshell that he was blocking a Donald Trump visit to Westminster. 

Friday, February 03, 2017

From Prussia With Love

National Review in the Trump era, channeled by Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry --

Nationalism is a lot like self-interest. A political philosophy that denies its claims is utopian at best and tyrannical at worst, but it has to be enlightened. The first step to conservatives’ advancing such an enlightened nationalism is to acknowledge how important it is to our worldview to begin with.

The book of that title.

Leprechaun Economics

International Monetary Fund report on its latest assessment of Ireland (page 29) --

Although computed strictly in line with international best practices and statistical standards, Ireland’s headline GDP and GNP figures no longer provide an effective measure of economic activity that physically takes place in the national territory, as a very significant amount of activity carried out in other countries is now recorded in Ireland’s national accounts. In 2015, foreign-owned multinational enterprises accounted for almost 40 percent of Ireland’s gross value added at constant 2014 basic prices.

Garbage of mass destruction

One of the nuggets in the new US Treasury sanctions announced today based on investigation of links to various Iranian weapons programs and related activities --

Reem Pharmaceutical, Mirage for Engineering and Trading, and Mirage for Waste Management and Environmental Services are being designated today for being owned or controlled by Muhammad Abd-al-Amir Farhat.  Since 2011, Farhat has been the Chairman of the Board of Reem, a Lebanese pharmaceutical company that also does business in Iraq and Kuwait.  In addition, he is the general manager of Mirage for Engineering and Trading, a Lebanon-based construction company that also manages projects in Iraq worth millions of dollars.  Since 1999, Farhat has also been the general manager of Mirage for Waste Management and Environmental Services, a Lebanese environmental services company specializing in the cleaning, collection, recovery, disposal, and treatment of waste.

Lebanese people would probably enjoy the irony of a waste management company being called Mirage given the ongoing garbage crisis. But the fact this network of companies had contracts in waste management and Iraqi construction shows the dysfunctional economic connections throughout the Middle East -- enabled by the US war in Iraq.

Ethiopia endorses Trump economic policies as consistent with Chinese communism

Wall Street Journal --

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia—The prime minister said in a rare interview that President Donald Trump’s “America first” message is following the lead of key Ethiopian ally China in looking to stimulate domestic job growth. “China has become a model not only for Ethiopia but now even for the new administration of the United States,” Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, in an interview in which he urged President Trump to maintain a key trade deal and bolster cooperation against terrorism.

You'll never beat the Irish

Donald Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast --

I also want to thank my great friends, though, Roma.  Where’s Roma?  Beautiful Roma Downey.  The voice of an angel.  She’s got the voice -- every time I hear it, that voice is so beautiful.  Everything is so beautiful about Roma, including her husband because he’s a special, special friend, Mark Burnett -- for the wonderful introduction.

That's right. Trump's bizarre extended digression into The Apprentice at an ostensibly religious event started with a thought triggered by Derry's own Roma Downey.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

If you've lost Australia

George W. Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard at a ceremony at the Washington DC Navy Yard where Howard was presented with the bell from the US Navy ship Canberra, which is named after the Australian ship that was sunk during the Guadalcanal Campaign in 1942.

The above ceremony took place on 10 September, 2001. 

Arabia Felix

From USA National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's "Iran on notice" statement --

Recent Iranian actions, including a provocative ballistic missile launch and an attack against a Saudi naval vessel conducted by Iran-supported Houthi militants ...

Thus we seem to be back to the "so sophisticated only Iran could have done it" school of detective work. Here's the official Saudi description via Saudi Press Agency of the attack on the naval vessel. It doesn't sound like it needed much Iranian support -- it was 3 small boats, probably packed with explosives, one of which got lucky (by its standards) and hit a Saudi frigate. Two crewmen were killed, but the ship was able to carry on. The method of attack actually owes more to the Al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole -- an assault whose significance (in terms of signaling a new and more dangerous Al Qaeda) was missed at the time. 

Yes, Iran is doing a lot of damage in Syria under the cover of progress within the nuclear deal. But it's not doing every bad thing in the Arab World.

Four of Us

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

His man in Dublin

Irish Times --

Three paintings hang on the wall behind the desk of Brian Burns, the business executive, attorney, philanthropist and, he hopes, President Donald Trump’s soon-to-be-appointed ambassador to Ireland. ... It was in his capacity as negotiator that Burns first met Trump about “eight or 10 years ago”. He does not want to divulge details of a dispute involving the Manhattan billionaire. He would only say Trump had a legal problem in Florida where he owned his luxury Mar-A-Lago Club not far from Burns’s office in Palm Beach, and that he was asked to play peacemaker. Burns helped the problem go away and the two men have remained friends ever since, meeting regularly at the club.

The timeline and context suggests that the specific legal problem (among many) was a row that Trump had with the length of the flagpole at the Mar-a-Lago estate, which Trump resolved by donating the size of a fine he had incurred to the West Palm Beach Fisher House veteran's charity -- a donation that turns out was made from the Trump Foundation rather than Trump's own funds. 

Our men in Khartoum

From the Sudan Tribune, in the context of the dismayed reaction of the Sudanese government to the Trump visa ban --

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) office in Khartoum is the largest one in the Middle East, said the Sudanese intelligence General Hanafi Abdallah, to give an idea about the importance of intelligence cooperation between the two countries. "There is communication between the two bodies and regular meetings. The CIA office in Khartoum is the largest office in the Middle East. Because the United States is aware of the Sudan strategic importance in the region, it has established one of the largest diplomatic missions in the region, even they had to expand their buildings," said Hanafi in an interview with the Khartoum based Al-Sudani newspaper published on Tuesday.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Quote of the Day

From a later (see below) House of Commons special debate sought by Ed Miliband on the Trump visa ban --

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar [Western Isles/Outer Hebrides]) (SNP) 

 Has the right hon. Gentleman noted that Donald Trump’s mother was a migrant? She was not just from Scotland but from my constituency. Donald Trump’s first cousin’s wife was my English high school teacher, but we can leave that to one side. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned shame. As a Hebridean, I feel utter shame at how Donald Trump, the son of Hebridean woman, is behaving on the world stage. It is absolutely disgraceful and shameful. I hope he rescinds and changes the measure—not recasts, but rescinds it.

They'll need the Irish one for everywhere else

During questions to Boris Johnson in the House of Commons today about the Trump visa ban --

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP) ... Could he also advise Northern Ireland citizens who hold Irish passports but who are entitled to full British passports on whether they should apply for British passports for ease of travel to the United States?

It's not bad quality attempted trolling but it's nonsensical. It now turns out that Boris's "exclusive" deal exempting UK passport holders had already been obtained by Canada, and seems also imminent for Australia, New Zealand and perhaps given that trend,, Ireland. It's also not clear what the description of the deal given by the Foreign Office means, since, for example, no is flying directly from Mogadishu to the USA anyway. But finally, note Big Ian Jnr's inability to see beyond the opportunism of a preferential exemption to the principle that all nationals should expect the same treatment. That's the DUP in a nutshell.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Said but not understood

Donald Trump today made phone calls to King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed. The official statements from the respective news agencies (SPA, WAM) are stilted but interesting, especially this from Sheikh Mohamed --

Sheikh Mohamed affirmed that extremism and terrorism have no religion or identity and the groups that preach false slogans and ideologies seek to disguise their criminal intention in spreading chaos and destruction.

That's of course central to the debate about whether describing these groups as Islamic terrorism is useful.

Detail of history

... everyone's suffering in the Holocaust including obviously all of the Jewish people affected and the miserable genocide that occurred is something that we consider to be extraordinarily sad and something that can never be forgotten and something that if we could wipe it off of the history books we could. But we can't. And it's terrible.

If that statement was made by Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen would be under pressure to disown it.

It was made by White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on NBC's Meet the Press today.

Something old, something new

Washington Post --

A U.S. service member died of injuries suffered during a weekend raid against al-Qaeda militants in Yemen, the military said on Sunday. Three other American troops were wounded in the operation on Saturday against members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the militant organization that has remained a potent threat amid an extended civil conflict in Yemen, U.S. Central Command (Centcom) said in a statement.

This latest of many attacks highlights the shambles of US counter-terrorism policy in the Arab world. Donald Trump and those around him are obsessed with ISIS, to the point of announcing work on a new Plan to defeat them, with the indicated components of the plan consisting of things that the Obama Administration was already doing. But lost in the ISIS obsession is a group like AQAP, which in its strategy is a different kind of danger to Americans (for one, they've displayed continual ingenuity in developing ways to get bombs on planes).

Another thing about AQAP is that it's the joint Saudi - Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda, and unlike ISIS, has remained loyal to the AQ leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Of these aforementioned countries, only Yemen is included in Trump's visa ban.

Finally, AQAP says that the raid killed a daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki -- he being American, she was also born a US citizen. The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki was arguably a major blunder by Barack Obama, given his role from beyond the grave in inspiring terrorist recruits. It's not much defence of Trump, but he inherited a lot of incoherence.

The recurring figure in Donald Trump's nightmares

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Who is a minority?

The New York Times has helpfully printed the actual text of the Trump Administration executive order on the refugee program and visas. It's demented and there are about 20 different things that could be unconstitutional, illegal and just plain immoral, but among the lowlights is this --

Upon the resumption of USRAP [refugee] admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.

Thus the wheeze to avoid mentioning religion directly is to say that if religious-based discrimination could be occurring, it has to be for a minority religion. The gamble is that therefore that the order would have its practical impact for Muslim-majority countries. As the order is tested, at least two problems will emerge. The first is defining religion, as opposed to sect, whereas for example Shia could claim discrimination in Sunni majority countries and vice versa. The second is Muslim minorities such as Rohingya in Burma/Myanmar and Kashmiris in India. Will they be beneficiaries of the priority under the new framework?

Incidentally, countries that host USA pre-clearance facilities for US Customs and Immigration, such as Canada and Ireland, are now in a somewhat awkward position, as a policy with which they likely disagree is now being directly enforced on their soil.

We lose another Great

John Hurt. One could have picked 20 superb roles, but he was just fantastic as Control in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Maybe, inspired by that, La Mer is the right elegy music for him.