Friday, December 19, 2014

U Amadan would have been fine

The Wall Street Journal helpfully reports on an outrage concerning vehicle registration vanity plates --

Take, for example, the term U EJIT. A DMV [dept of motor vehicles] reviewer in California recently rejected it saying it sounds too much like the word that an Irish driver might blurt out to a motorist who cut him off (“You eejit,” meaning, “you idiot”).

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tom Friedman takes over this blog

If only there had been a market-traded Soviet ruble to crash in 1979 when the USSR invaded Afghanistan and perhaps thus dissuade them from doing so, the world in general and Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular could have been saved a lot of trouble since then.

Why Windows still sucks

What Windows just did when asked to "troubleshoot" a seemingly working Internet connection that wasn't working.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It's all relative

Washington Post --

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Taliban gunmen stormed an elite army high school Tuesday  [in Peshawar] in a killing spree that claimed at least 141 lives — nearly all students — and brought defiant calls from Pakistan’s leaders to strike back harder against militants.

It's not clear what "elite" means in a context where the army couldn't protect its own facilities and children, and the attackers apparently wore army uniforms.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Less informed, but it's the same Cheney

Dick Cheney on Meet the Press with Chuck Todd, 14 December 2014 --

Now when you're dealing with terrorists, the likes of Al Qaeda or the ISIS, I haven't seen them water board anybody. What they did is cut their heads off.

Fact: ISIS waterboards hostages, and indeed the orange jumpsuits that it forces them to wear are themselves a Guantanamo reference.

Anyway, the broader point is that the Dick "I'd do it again in a minute" Cheney is the same one that was Vice President for 8 years, even if he's not getting as many news sources as he used to. Here he is with Chuck Todd's predecessor, Tim Russert, on September 16, 2001 --

[Cheney] We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful. That's the world these folks operate in, and so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective. 

 MR. RUSSERT: There have been restrictions placed on the United States intelligence gathering, reluctance to use unsavory characters, those who violated human rights, to assist in intelligence gathering. Will we lift some of those restrictions? 

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Oh, I think so. I think the--one of the by-products, if you will, of this tragic set of circumstances is that we'll see a very thorough sort of reassessment of how we operate and the kinds of people we deal with. There's--if you're going to deal only with sort of officially approved, certified good guys, you're not going to find out what the bad guys are doing. You need to be able to penetrate these organizations. You need to have on the payroll some very unsavory characters if, in fact, you're going to be able to learn all that needs to be learned in order to forestall these kinds of activities. It is a mean, nasty, dangerous dirty business out there, and we have to operate in that arena. I'm convinced we can do it; we can do it successfully. But we need to make certain that we have not tied the hands, if you will, of our intelligence communities in terms of accomplishing their mission. 

MR. RUSSERT: These terrorists play by a whole set of different rules. It's going to force us, in your words, to get mean, dirty and nasty in order to take them on, right? And they should realize there will be more than simply a pinprick bombing.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Yeah, the--I think it's--the thing that I sense--and, of course, that's only been a few days, but I have never seen such determination on the part of--well, my colleagues in government, on the part of the American people, on the part of our friends and allies overseas, and even on the part of some who are not ordinarily deemed friends of the United States, determined in this particular instance to shift and not be tolerant any longer of these kinds of actions or activities.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Iraq amnesia

Vox has a map showing "the 54 countries that helped the CIA with its torture-linked rendition program."

Inexplicably, Iraq is not on it.

Iraq is not only a documented rendition of at least one tortured detainee (Hassan Ghul), it also of itself became a raison d'être for the torture program, even though the war there bore no resemblance to the ticking bomb/attack on US scenarios that were being used to justify it.

The moral poison of the 2003 invasion of Iraq

From the sickening Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA detainee program --

The CIA's response to Committee questions then asserted that "[i]t was not until Abu Jaf'ar was subjected to EITS [enhanced interrogation] that he provided detailed information [about] his personal meetings with Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and Zarqawi's advisors," and that "[i]n addition, Abu Jaf'ar provided information on al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI) finances, travel, and associated facilitation activities."The provided information was inaccurate.CIA records indicate that, while still in U.S. military custody, Abu Ja'far described multiple meetings with al-Zarqawi, other members of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, and individuals who were to serve as al-Zarqawi's connection to senior al-Qa'ida leadership. Abu Ja'far also provided insights into al-Zarqawi's beliefs and plans.  (page 450)

Remember that this was all about getting intelligence on who was then the latest designated super bad guy in an overseas war that was going badly. Having let torture out of the box to prevent another 9/11, it was being used as part of the unnecessary war in Iraq. The futility is brought into even starker relief by recalling that ISIS -- the new designated super bad guys -- are the descendents of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi's group.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The first thing we do, let's stop listening to the lawyers

Ireland 2008-2010: Official legal advice says we can't put the banks into bankruptcy because there might not be enough money left in liquidation to pay all the depositors who rank equally with senior creditors.

Ireland 2014: Official legal advice says that bankruptcy may be so effective in recovering value that even after all senior creditors are made whole, some speculative subordinated debt holders may see profits, especially if they bought in when values were depressed by the previous legal advice.

Incidental observation: the junior bondholders who might make money on the bankruptcy recovery are the ones who successfully challenged Ireland's legally-advised attempts to restructure its banks outside of bankruptcy. The latest development shows that Ireland always had a credible threat to put the banks into bankruptcy, and therefore extract better terms from its bondholders than it actually got with one hand tied behind its back -- by its own lawyers.

Monday, December 08, 2014

They face it on TV

Joe Biden in a weekend speech to the Saban forum --

We can only -- I’ll speak for myself, I can only imagine how Luke’s [Somers] parents feel today.  Murdered in the second attempt, came so close.  This is a despicable crime.  And we mean what we say when we say from -- speaking for the intelligence community, the military, the government as a whole, we will be relentless in our efforts to bring to justice those who have caused -- some already have been brought to justice in the raid.  But there’s much more to do.  It’s a tragic reminder of the violence we face in the Middle East and a potent reminder of what Israelis face every day.

Israelis face al Qaeda hostage taking every day?

Anything for liquidity

Apparently it's a point of controversy in Ireland whether the original bailout deal required water charges. According to the IMF-government document (page 30)

Memorandum of Understanding on SPECIFIC ECONOMIC POLICY CONDITIONALITY November 28, 2010 ..

In advance of the introduction of water charges The government will have undertaken an independent assessment of transfer of responsibility for water services provision from local authorities to a water utility, and prepare proposals for implementation, as appropriate with a view to start charging in 2012/2013.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The grand unified theory of global foreign policy disasters

Glenn Greenwald on Thursday's brazen terrorist attack in Chechnya, the same day that Vladimir Putin was giving a big state of the nation speech --

That’s the nature of war. A country doesn’t get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading, rendering and bombing others, without the risk of having violence brought back to it. Rather than being baffling or shocking, that reaction is completely natural and predictable. The only surprising thing about any of it is that it doesn’t happen more often.

Er, actually that's Greenwald on what was an apparent lone-wolf terrorist attack a couple of months in Quebec. He hasn't said anything about the latest Chechen spectacular.

Which is sort of interesting, because for all the analysis of Islamist terrorism which says that it's all just US foreign policy coming home to roost, the same theory applies ten times over to Russia. It was Russia as USSR which invaded Afghanistan, spawning the original Al Qaeda. And it was Putin's Russia which flattened Grozny -- twice! -- which sustained Chechen extremism, and it's not incidental that Chechens form an important element of ISIS. And who knows that fun is emerging from the petri dishes that Russia has created in eastern Ukraine and Syria now.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

It's gold up north

From UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's Autumn Statement --

And we’re announcing a new Sovereign Wealth Fund for the North of England so that the shale gas resources of the North are used to invest in the future of the North.

Just like how Scotland got a Sovereign Wealth Fund so that oil resources of Scotland were used to invest in the future of Scotland!

Also, is the North of England sovereign now?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The world's worst judges

A couple of days after Egypt's Supreme Court struggled with the question of who was in charge of the country when former president Hosni Mubarak was president, their lower court colleagues have found that 185 people are collectively responsible, and subject to the death penalty, for the death of 12 policemen.

Birds of a feather

Wall Street Journal news report on Venezuela's economic problems --

Venezuela Finance Minister Rodolfo Marco is in China this week seeking loans from the Asian country, which has already extended the South American nation nearly $50 billion in credit since 2007. Mr. Marco will next head to allied Iran and Russia also in search of financing, Mr. Maduro [President] added.

So the country's big plan to deal with economic mismanagement and falling oil prices is to look for loans from countries with ... economic mismanagement and falling oil prices.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Truth in advertizing

It's revealing that GM has dropped any pretense that large SUVs such as their Sierra Denali are for rugged individualist Joe the Plumber working class types and are actually for super-rich Americans who need a vehicle that can tow their luxury speedboat while providing the same sense of interior luxury as that speedboat.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Man in "scheduling conflict" shock

Having a Freedom of Information Act is all the rage these days, but is filling space on news websites really the intended use thereof? --

Now new documents released to RTE confirm that U2 have worked closely with the IDA [Industrial Development Authority] throughout the recession to help attract in foreign direct investment. In an email from Bono to the IDA CEO Barry O'Leary on 13 December 2013, the singer explains how he had "been bending over backwards" to try to attend the authority’s annual conference on 7 January last in Dublin Castle. Details of email correspondence, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show that Bono was unable to attend the conference as he was filming in New York as it was "the only time a director we want to use is free."

Rebels on the couch

Washington Post --

The U.S. military will subject Syrian rebels taking part in a new training program to psychological evaluations, biometrics checks and stress tests under a screening plan that goes well beyond the steps the United States normally takes to vet foreign soldiers, a sign of the risks the Obama administration faces as it expands support for armed groups in Syria.

Hopefully whatever rebels they can round up for this screening before the training won't be suffering from psychological trauma due to 3 years of being shot, gassed, and barrel-bombed by Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Also, via the New York Times, we learn that it only seems to be controversial among non-Syrians that the US intervention against ISIS is helping Bashar al-Assad.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Convergence is the new cricket

From David Cameron's big migration speech --

So we will insist that when new countries are admitted to the EU in the future, free movement will not apply to those new members until their economies have converged much more closely with existing Member States.

Among the reasons this is tricky is that migration is itself one of the ways that poorer European countries converge to the existing member states.  It also means that the UK will have a convergence test for EU accession migration just as it has the (vindicated) Five Tests for euro membership. Can the EU retain its core objective if the big countries start putting more and more tests on the mechanisms which are meant to make the countries more like each other?

UPDATE: Very good UK immigration background from Kenan Malik in the New York Times; interestingly, Cameron's speech (not directly referenced by Malik) seems tailored precisely to the kind of polling evidence that Malik discusses.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Pot, meet kettle

Reuters quotes an outraged oil minister of large oil producer Venezuela leaving the OPEC meeting in Vienna after a failed attempt to cut production --

"The U.S. is producing in a very, very bad manner. The shale oil, I mean it is a disaster from the point of view of climate change...," Ramirez told reporters.

Note: Venezuela has been importing oil from Algeria, imagine the carbon footprint on that trade!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Guns and money

From a New York Times report showing the link between corruption  in the Iraqi military and its collapse in June --

The Iraqi military and police forces had been so thoroughly pillaged by their own corrupt leadership that they all but collapsed this spring in the face of the advancing militants of the Islamic State — despite roughly $25 billion worth of American training and equipment over the past 10 years and far more from the Iraqi treasury.


Friday, November 21, 2014


Not sure for how long Le Monde will leave this excellent feature unpaywalled but clicking through it shows the totality of the Assad regime's use of barrel bombs to wreak destruction in the rebel-held parts of the city, which is about 2/3 of it over all. No red lines crossed, no controversy about whether the US should intervene to protect the city. Just a lot of TNT and shrapnel in Russian helicopters.

The centre moved

Revealing description from a Wall Street Journal news article of the current mood in Israeli politics --

Many centrists in Israel back demolitions, arguing they were effective in preventing past terrorist attacks and will work again as a crisis widens in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pleb means not liking rugby?

One strand of the latest in the plebgate trial --

In one of a series of written statements produced by Mr Mitchell's legal team, [Bob] Geldof described the MP as an "advocate for the less fortunate" and a "good man". "I came from a poor Irish, not particularly well educated background and he does not," he said. "I am in fact 'a pleb' and he is not. Never once in all our time did he patronise me, talk down to me, behave in a superior manner to me, deride, insult or dismiss me or my opinions." Geldof said he had never heard the Conservative MP "use the ridiculous and archaic expression 'pleb'".

Bob Geldof went to Blackrock College.

World outraged at military destruction of homes and agricultural land near Gaza City*

Paid to Google

The Washington Post has a plausible discussion of what ties together the bizarre list of Islamic organizations designated as terrorist groups by the United Arab Emirates. The Council on American Islamic Relations designation is attracting particular attention.

One possibility that is complementary to the Post's emphasis on Muslim Brotherhood connections: the government may have hired a consulting firm to assemble the list for them, and whether through the incompetence of the consultants or them not being told what the purpose of the list was, they did a search engine sweep of groups that get mentioned -- by anyone! -- in the context of Islamic extremism. They got the cheque, and Abu Dhabi got the list. This is the government that has an American consulting firm -- the Camstoll Group -- on a specific assignment to bash Qatar.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Speech by Benoît Cœuré, Member of the Executive Board of the ECB:

... the Maastricht Treaty enshrines the principle of monetary dominance. Indeed, price stability in the region as a whole is the single most important coordination device for other economic policies, reaching out into various policy domains across the member states of the euro area.

When Ireland, France, and Denmark voted by referendum on ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, did anyone explain at the time that it was embedding monetary dominance in the European Union?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fupla Cocal

RTE --

A spokesperson for the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has confirmed that Google Translate was used to translate English into Irish on a Government website promoting the 1916 commemorations.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

New islands every 6 months

The New York Times' Tom Friedman's ever-fluctuating list of Middle East "islands of decency" -- does the composition of the list depend on his imminent travel plans?

12 November 2014 --

We need to protect the islands of decency out here — Jordan, Kurdistan, Lebanon, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Oman — from ISIS, in hopes that their best examples might one day spread. 

15 June 2014

And the reason that both Tunisia and Kurdistan have built islands of decency, still frail to be sure, is because the major contending political forces in each place eventually opted for the principle of “no victor, no vanquished.”

September 14, 2014

It’s a combination of a legitimate geostrategic concern — if ISIS jihadists consolidate their power in the heart of Iraq and Syria, it could threaten some real islands of decency, like Kurdistan, Jordan and Lebanon, and might one day generate enough capacity to harm the West more directly — and the polls.

October 29, 2014

ISIS needs to be contained before it destabilizes islands of decency like Jordan, Kurdistan and Lebanon.

19 June, 2014

Meanwhile, let’s strengthen the islands of decency — Tunisia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Kurdistan — and strengthen our own democracy to insulate ourselves as best we can.

June 25, 2014

The situation is not totally bleak. You have two emergent models, both frail and neither perfect, where Muslim Middle East nations have built decent, democratizing governance, based on society and with some political, cultural and religious pluralism: Tunisia and Kurdistan. Again both are works in progress, but what is important is that they did emerge from the societies themselves. You also have the relatively soft monarchies — like Jordan and Morocco — that are at least experimenting at the margins with more participatory governance, allow for some opposition and do not rule with the brutality of the secular autocrats.

Monday, November 10, 2014

And such small portions

For all the grief that Barack Obama is taking about the decision to send military trainers to Iraq, you'd think the Iraqi government would sound a tad more enthusiastic, but a statement from the Prime Minister's office comes across otherwise --

Despite the fact that this step is a bit late, but we welcome it as it comes in the right context.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

An uncommon thief

On the Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, Brian Carney (free link) has a correct-in-spirit diatribe about the injustice of the Irish bank bailout. However, in his eagerness to lay all the blame at the door of the ECB, there is an important error in his logic:

Specifically, Mr. Trichet threatened in a letter dated Nov. 19, 2010, to revoke the credit lines of Ireland’s banks unless the government agreed to (1) request a bailout; (2) impose stringent budget cuts; (3) recapitalize its banks; and (4) fully guarantee the Irish banks’ outstanding liabilities to the ECB ....Mr. Trichet’s final condition—an Irish sovereign guarantee of the ECB’s own lending to Irish banks—is especially telling about his motives. 

Here's the aforementioned letter. Clause (4):

The repayment of funds granted in the form of ELA shall be fully guaranteed by the Irish government, which would ensure the payment of immediate compensation to the Central Bank of Ireland in the event of missed payments on the side of the recipient institutions.

As that final part makes clear, the loans in question were Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA), which is not ECB lending. It's lending by the national central bank when ECB facilities can't be used. The Irish bailout was indeed a heist, as Carney calls it. But the heist was in motion long before those 2010 ECB letters.