Friday, September 30, 2005

Fianna Fáil loses the Wall Street Journal

It's perhaps just a coincidence that as corruption and cronyism finally go out of style in American politics, the Wall Street Journal editorial page decisively dumps one of its foreign darlings -- the Republic of Ireland's natural party of government, Fianna Fáil, and its ideological tail that wags the populist dog, the Progressive (sic) Democrats (sic).

The WSJ uncorks this move in an editorial in the European edition today, and we immodestly claim credit for having been a year ahead of them, because they are specifically disillusioned with two of Bertie Ahern's strokes from his stint as EU Council of Ministers head last year, about which we have posted frequently -- the insertion of Azores Summit chump Jose Manuel Barroso as EU Commission President, and his own finance minister Charlie McCreevy as EU Commissioner for Internal Markets. And so here's what the Journal (subs. req'd) has to say:

José Manuel Barroso ... the other day unveiled his long-advertised fight against red tape. By trashing 68 proposed EU laws, the Portuguese politician is doing nothing less than trying to salvage his presidency. Mr. Barroso must start somewhere after his annus horribilis ...

Mr. Barroso's second handicap is his Commissioners. The "dream team" included prominent European politicians with strong free market credentials. Early on, President Barroso was tripped up by the European Parliament, which blocked the nomination of Rocco Buttiglione to the justice post because the Italian admitted to practicing Catholicism, a heresy in modern Europe.

Many of his heavy hitters have turned out to be great disappointments in office -- none more so than Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, who was an outstanding Irish finance minister. The Brussels air must not suit him. He has shunned any confrontations with the EU's entrenched interests. During last spring's showdown with France over the liberalization of services, the most important step toward making a single market reality, the Irishman was conspicuous by his silence. In one of its worst moments, the Commission caved. It could redeem itself by reviving this directive.

Mr. Barroso could soon find relief for his third headache. He was the first Commission President who got the job without the full support of France and Germany. Recall that Tony Blair and the "New Europeans" nixed their candidate, the mini-me Prime Minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, and got the pro-American Mr. Barroso in. Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac have never forgiven the Portuguese prime minister. Mr. Chirac treats him almost like his valet. He calls him an "ultra-liberal" -- the highest insult in France


Not much of a verdict on Bertie's stitch-up, then. But the WSJ is not quite ready to count Barroso out:

As long as Mr. Barroso annoys the French, he must be doing something right.

With Bertie on a new populist push and perhaps still getting advice about the advantages of keeping the the influential Yanks onside, could there be a little francophobic stew being cooked in Drumcondra this weekend?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Separation of (Mental) Powers

The new Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts, today:

My nomination was announced some 10 weeks ago here in the White House, the home of the executive branch. This morning, further up Pennsylvania Avenue, it was approved in the Capitol, the home of the executive [sic] branch.
The Ferry forecast

If your travel plans in the next few weeks involve taking ferries between Ireland, Britain, and France, now might be a good time to reconsider them. Several companies on the key routes are embarking upon big rationalisation programs, resulting in a militant reaction from the affected workers. The basic outline is the same in all cases -- the long-time operators are under pressure from low-cost airlines, and flag-of-convenience rules mean that the operators, or their potential competitors, can avoid "home country" labour market regulations, so the temptation to fire en masse and recruit from scratch is extremely high.

The most spectacular manifestation of worker displeasure so far has come with a strike on French carrier SNCM, which runs ferries between the mainland and Corsica and North Africa. A couple of days ago, union workers stormed a ferry, the Pascal Paoli, in the dock at Marseilles, and sailed it to Bastia in Corsica. The strikers are in principle now subject to prosecution for piracy, creating an additional complication for the government already trying to decide how to resolve the original dispute. It doesn't help that the strike has fused with Corsican separatism to become a broad vehicle of protest against the government in Paris.

Things in Ireland are in some ways more fraught. The most obvious sign of panic is a bizarre outburst from Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who normally has little to say about corporate shenanigans, but the Irish Times (subs. req'd) notes his extensive quotes on the cost-cutting plan of Irish Ferries:

"The manner in which this matter has been conducted by the company in recent days is deplorable. I would not defend for one second the manner in which the company has acted. It has told a staff of over 500 the terms and if they do not get out, they will lose their benefits and God knows what will happen to them and that when they are out the door in a few days the jobs will be filled by non-nationals from God knows where and on conditions that nobody knows," he said.

"That is what it is at. It is sharp practice, is totally unacceptable in the Irish labour context and is used on the basis of the flag of convenience.


This from a government that didn't seem overly troubled with Turkish workers on abusive contracts on Irish infrastructure projects. And based on the French experience, Bertie's "God knows where" is probably just Poland -- a country admitted to the EU, with much fanfare, under Bertie Ahern's watch last year. But Bertie's spinners have clearly decided that it was time for a populist stance on something, and Irish Ferries drew the short straw. The unions have likewise decided to make a stand, and dropped a fairly broad hint of disruptive action if they don't get their way:

SIPTU [trade union], which was also invited to the Labour Court talks, has warned that if the workers are displaced there will be industrial action both in Ireland and abroad. They have warned that they will use all their firepower to uphold the rights of workers at the company.

One possibility: port blockades in Ireland, Britain, and France, manned by sympathetic seamen's unions facing the same redundancy as the Irish sailors. Predicted ultimate resolution: given Bertie's preferred path of least resistance to every problem, expect massive state-funded buyouts for redundant workers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

How the Irish became good-looking

The Irish Echo has an interview with the giant-headed Chris Matthews of NBC in which he is keen to tell the world of his Irish heritage, much like his colleague, the giant-headed Tim Russert. We have posted about this crew in the past and in particular their habit of using their Irish background for street cred, notwithstanding their millionaire lifestyles -- which is not far hidden even in this piece:

The manic verbal delivery slowed down to normal speed off-air -- perhaps a testimony to the calming qualities of Nantucket, where he was weekending with his family

But the really weird comment is about yet another of the Oirish-Americans at NBC, Norah O'Donnell:

"Ohhhh, Norah O'Donnell!" Matthews erupted in a paroxysm of delight. "Inn't she somethin'? She's somethin' else. She's the pride of the island. She's 100 percent Irish. Both parents are immigrants, I think. The parents look nothing like her, I must say."

Besides trying not to think about the state of Matthews' phone after that ... er ... outburst -- how about that slam of Norah's parents? While the old Irish proverb says "what can you expect from a crow's egg, but another crow?" Chris seems to feel that the product of this particular egg is way too much of a looker to have come from the parent crows. But as this P O'Neill (as opposed to that one) once said in a disastrously misunderstood domestic context remark, "it's amazing what make-up can do."

On a slightly more serious note, the Echo article seems to take at face value Matthew's self-image as a liberal. With a few spare hours to read the huge Daily Howler hits for Matthews, one might think differently.
There's always a booze angle

US House of Representatives Majority Leader Tom DeLay was indicted today for laundering illegal corporate campaign contributions into the races for Texas legislature seats, so that he could gerrymander the state's congressional districts.

Amongst the laundered donations is $20,000 from Bacardi, and so in the spirit of keyboarding activism, we strongly encourage our vast readership to boycott Bacardi products. We have in the past criticised Diageo for their stewardship of the Guinness "brand" (as they would say), but their "brand portfolio" (as they would say) includes several fine rum products -- Bundaberg, Cacique, Captain Morgan, Myers's, and Pampero -- which we strongly recommend for all your rum consumption needs.

Of course in this day and age, what was once a single product is now itself a conglomerate, so Bacardi has a brand portfolio of its own. For instance, Bacardi now owns the French vodka producer Grey Goose, amongst whose competitors is Belvedere -- thus putting Missy Elliot on the right side of our new endorsement:

Don't I look like a Halle Berry poster
See the Belvedere playin' tricks on ya


as opposed to the honourary member of the Wayne Rooney posse, 50 Cent:

We gon' party like it's yo birthday
We gon' sip Bacardi like it's your birthday


Begin planning now to sip non-Bacardi products like it's your birthday when Bill Frist, Tom DeLay, and Karl Rove are all under indictment or in jail at the same time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Global War on News

Even by the usual standards of James Taranto, there's an especially stupid contribution on Opinion Journal's Best of the Web today. One of the many inside jokes that he pursues is mockery of the reality-based Reuters, and today it's the phrasing of their report on the killing of yet another non-top insurgent in Iraq:

"U.S. and Iraqi forces have shot dead the second-in-command of al Qaeda in Iraq, dealing what a U.S. commander called on Tuesday a serious blow to the militant group at the heart of Iraq's insurgency," Reuters "reports" from Baghdad ... Holy cow, Reuters has fallen for a hoax! Everyone knows that the war in Iraq has nothing to do with terrorism (or "militancy," as Reuters calls it)--zero, zip zilch. BUSH LIED!!!! when he said Iraq was connected to al Qaeda.

Geddit? Bush said in 2002 and early 2003 that there was a link between al Qaeda and Saddam, and now in 2005 some dude linked to al Qaeda in Iraq is dead, so Bush was right. At least two problems.

1. al Qaeda in Iraq is a name adopted by Abu Musab al Zarqawi's insurgent group long after the fall of Saddam

2. The distinction between insurgents operating under that name and the global al Qaeda group is observed not just by news agencies but by that noted traitor, General Richard Myers (or "Uncle Richard" as he is to Dubya's nominee to head the Immigration and Naturalization Service):

"They're going to have to go to the bench and find somebody that is probably less knowledgeable and less qualified," Myers said. "It's like fighting the al-Qaida network. It will have some impact, but over time they will replace people."

Just to spell it out -- Myers compared the killing of #2 in Iraq to fighting al Qaeda, he didn't say it was fighting al Qaeda. But maybe he gets all his news from Reuters.

UPDATE 28 SEP: This new VRC talking point, based on a name change of Zarqawi's group from last year, is now whizzing around; Cliff May in National Review's The Corner:

NEWS FLASH: AL-QAEDA “SEEN AS MAIN THREAT” IN IRAQ
What year is this?

The lead teaser items from the Wall Street Journal Online Political Diary today:

Kerry campaign caught on film and it's not good; George Soros licks his wounds; Bill Clinton talks taxes;

And they want you to pay extra for this shite even when one has a WSJ subscription. The Right's War on the People Not in Power gets ever more pathetic.

Monday, September 26, 2005

He told you so

Dubya, today, on poverty in America:

THE PRESIDENT: ... I think that what a lot of Americans saw [with Katrina] was a -- some poverty that they had never imagined before ... But this is an issue that this country must continue to address. Poverty is an issue that's an important issue. And poverty exists in New Orleans, Louisiana, and it exists in rural Texas, and it needs to be addressed in a significant way.

Dick Cheney, the point-man for ridiculing VP candidate John Edwards' Two Americas theme from the campaign last year:

Q Good morning, Mr. Vice President. It's an honor to speak with you. Your opponent talks about two Americas. And I was just kind of wondering what your vision of America was.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: My opponent talks about -- oh, you're talking about John Edwards?

Q Yes. (Laughter.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay. Well, I've always had a problem with this notion that you should try to build a political career or an election victory trying to peddle the notion of class warfare, or that there were two different Americas. I fundamentally don't believe it. (Applause.)

You can -- you go look at history, or at least the history I learned about the United States, and I think it's true, I think it's the way it's worked for a lot of us. Some of us are more fortunate than others, obviously. But the fact is that we all start, I believe, in the United States, at least to a greater extent than any other society on the face of the Earth with the opportunity to achieve whatever you're capable of achieving, that is; for the most part, a meritocracy ...


Note also that Bush has also adopted another stance previously ridiculed by Cheney, on energy conservation. Dubya might have more than one reason to finally level with the country about, if nothing else, Cheney's chronic heart problems.
IRA decommissioning

So far the only White House comment is a brilliantly subtle reference by Dubya to the IRA's favourite fund-raising activity:

The Treasury and IRS announced that dyed diesel fuel for off-road use would be allowed on on-road use without penalty.

Gentlemen of Louth -- start your engines!

UPDATE: Now a more explicit White House reaction, perhaps surprisingly adoptive of recent Sinn Fein terminology:

President Bush commends the efforts of General John de Chastelain and his fellow IICD commissioners, and applauds the efforts of Sinn Fein in bringing the republican community to this moment.
Don't cry for me Argentina

Pint-sized conservative pundit Mickey Kaus prepares the ground for the inevitable conclusion of Bush-nomics:

Hmm. If you lend a trillion dollars to someone, does that give you leverage over them or them leverage over you? I'd always thought it was the latter, especially when the debtor is a sovereign nation. What's China going to do, repossess the United States? ...

[More on the wisdom of Kaus from Roger Ailes]

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Maybe they should appoint Adam Smith as manager

To be filed under The Deeper Meaning of Typos, from Powerline, Time Magazine's Blog of the Year:

Long-time readers know about the annual struggle of Everton, my favorite English soccer team, to avoid "regulation". (sic -- since fixed)

He meant this.

[Previous post about Powerline, TMBotY, referring to Everton]

Friday, September 23, 2005

Bless me Dubya for I have sinned

Andrew Sullivan is unhappy with gay people who keep their identity secret and in so doing empower those who would seek to persecute them:

I am actually tired of hearing from all these gay priests who refuse to use their names and give blind quotes to the press. Memo to them: your silence is empowering Benedict and the forces of bigotry ... If you cannot speak truth to unprincipled power, why are you priests in the first place?

Andrew Sullivan is unhappy with gay people who are unhappy with gay people who keep their identity secret and in so doing empower those who would seek to persecute them:

GAY PATRIOT SILENCED: I don't buy everything that GayPatriot writes; and his rhetoric can be a little much at times. But it's a shame he has been intimidated by the gay far-left into ending his blogging. A shame but unsurprising. If the gay "outers" spent a fraction of the time they spend attacking other gay people actually making the case for equality to straight people, the world would be a better place.

What's the difference? In the first case, the Supreme Authority is the Pope. In the second, it's the Holy Texan Emperor. For complete background on the Gay Patriot case and the role of fealty to George Bush in driving it, see Sullywatch.

UPDATE 14 OCT: The duc de Sully returns to this issue, in the context of closeted gay senior Republicans:

As readers know, I don't believe in forcibly outing other gay men and women. But I do strongly believe that those gay men and women now in powerful positions in the Republican party have a pressing moral responsibility to be out to their bosses and colleagues and public. The head of the Log Cabin Republicans, Patrick Guerrerio, has just written a stirring call for these people to realize that they have a unique responsibility at this point in history ...

Sacrifice for something more important than your own comfort level. No one should be forced into a decision he or she feels uncomfortable with. But that doesn't mean and shouldn't mean that the Republican gay closet is morally defensible. It is increasingly a failure to do what is simply right at a time when so many in the GOP are intent on doing wrong.


Having just pitched it as a powerful moral issue, is his position really that far removed from the outers? And note his carefully stated requirement that senior gay Republicans should be out not just to their bosses, but also the public. Just who does he have in mind? Could be it that his own reading habits have become similar to those Sun readers who take it only for the sports pages?
One World Conservatives

A little while back, we began a post with the claim that Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of the Tories, was "intelligent." Having looked at today's Wall Street Journal, we're off to say ten Hail Marys and one Our Father ... because Smith makes the unwise decision to put his name to an opinion piece co-written with Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, an inept reactionary facing a very tight re-election race.

The purpose of the article is to market a supposed new movement of social justice conservatives, which seems to be just a recognition that Dubya's compassionate conservatism has collapsed under the weight of its own cynicism. From Smith's perspective, it should be called on-yer-bike conservatism, because that's all it is:

That means helping the poor discover the dignity of work, rather than making them wards of the state. It means locking up violent criminals, but offering nonviolent offenders lots of help to become responsible citizens. It endorses a policy of "zero tolerance" toward drug use and sexual trafficking, yet insists that those struggling with all manner of addictions can start their lives afresh.

In America, this vision emerged a decade ago with bold conservative initiatives aimed at empowering individuals and grassroots groups helping the nation's neediest ... Likewise, the Bush administration's plan to create a Gulf Opportunity Zone after Hurricane Katrina would offer tax relief and small-business loans to support a culture of entrepreneurship.


Note by the way the definition of "entrepreneurship" that now circulates on the Right -- someone who needs a government leg-up to get started.

Smith is clearly bringing one thing to the writing -- the requisite references to Edmund Burke:

Policy must also deliberately foster the growth of what Edmund Burke called "the little platoons" of civil society: families, neighborhood associations, private enterprises, charities and churches ... "The most important of all revolutions," Burke wrote, is "a revolution in sentiments, manners and moral opinions." Yet we believe that social-justice conservatism can produce societies that are more humane than anything liberalism could accomplish.

What Smith is not bringing is any memory of his contribution to the same WSJ pages a few months ago, where (see the sensible part of our linked post above) he was preaching the virtues of parliamentary restraint on the executive and avoidance of hot-headed TV-driven legislation -- the same weekend that Rick Santorum was at the vanugard of passing a law to deal specifically with the case of the already-dead Terri Schiavo.

And his impeccable sense of bad timing strikes again:

Compared to the U.S., most European economies are struggling with inflation, unemployment, low growth and a declining tax base; nearly all European societies are burdened with increased crime and family breakdown; and there is a draining away of hope and opportunity.

This, three weeks after the gaping social fissures of New Orleans, and on the day that America discovers that having a million people get into their SUVs and head north is not a good evacuation plan. One can only hope that there aren't any more embarrassments between now and "the first international conference of social-justice conservatives ... next week in Washington."
Back in the USSR

There's a not entirely insane Peggy Noonan column in Thursday's Wall Street Journal online, although with the baseline being her longstanding claim that God and the dolphins brought Cuban non-defector Elian Gonzalez to Florida, maybe our standards are too low for this contribution. It meanders over several different themes but at its core is Peggy's recent discovery, along with other conservatives, that George Bush is a Big Spender. Now such insight makes Peggy another nominee in the crowded field of candidates for the Claude Raines Gambling Awareness award, but she goes on at sufficient length to indicate that she's actually worried about it, and that it's not just a convenient bit of non-election year posturing.

Anyway, to what she says. First and foremost, she's upset at the trend towards implied criticism of her real hero, Ronald Reagan:

This week it was the e-mail of a high White House aide informing us that Ronald Reagan spent tons of money bailing out the banks in the savings-and-loan scandal. This was startling information to Reaganites who remembered it was a fellow named George H.W. Bush who did that. Last month it was the president who blandly seemed to suggest that Reagan cut and ran after the attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon.

Now Bush and Cheney have been using that line about Reagan and the Marine barracks for years*, which certainly puts in a different light in the hysterical declarations of Powerline, Time Magazine's blog of the year, that:

In recent years, the Democrats have violated many of the tacit conventions of civility that have enabled our political system to work for more than two centuries.

Back to Peggy -- right after the above clip, there's a weird segue:

Before that, Mr. Mehlman was knocking previous generations of Republican leaders who just weren't as progressive as George W. Bush on race relations.

Wait a minute, who had previously said anything about Mr. Mehlman? The standard writing style would be mention Ken Mehlman and his position as chairman of the Republican National Committee, and then later refer to Mr Mehlman. So in her mind, Peggy had referred to him before -- perhaps in that e-mail from the unnamed White House aide that had slammed Reagan over the S&L crisis. This e-mail was widely cited, without sourcing, in the conservative blogs, but Peggy in effect names the source with that slip. Interesting to go back and see who gets their talking points from the Republican National Commitee.

Peggy opened her article with what we thought was her strongest point -- a description of the thought process of Republicans as they justify to themselves Dubya's spending spree:

In his Katrina policy the president is telling Democrats, "You can't possibly outspend me. Go ahead, try. By the time this is over Dennis Kucinich will be crying uncle, Bernie Sanders will be screaming about pork."

And once again, the ghost of the Gipper lurks, in the rationale that OK, we're going overboard, but in doing so we'll strain the other guys to the point of collapse. Because what is this but a replay of Reagan's defence build-up? Remember the original basis for this was a bunch of conservatives generating their own intelligence on Soviet weapons, declaring that it was much more extensive than the CIA thought, rationalising a huge response by the USA. Except that it eventually became clear that there were no such Soviet weapons, and a new rationale was needed for the previous action -- that the US would spend the USSR into oblivion.

[As a side note, one benefit of this experience was the White House would never again let itself be misled by politicised intelligence into taking radical military action that would later turn out to be unfounded]

Overall, the message is that the Reagan and Bush II legacies might not play quite so well together. Could it be that the Republicans new found interest in spending restraint allows for only one extra head on Mount Rushmore?

*UPDATE 4 OCT -- the Beirut line is alive and well despite Peggy's tirade; Dick Cheney in Camp Lejeune, NC, on 3 Oct:

In Beirut in 1983, terrorists killed 241 Americans -- and you're well aware of that attack because most of those men were Marines from Camp Lejeune, members of the First Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment.

Following that attack, the United States forces were withdrawn from Beirut.


And again, on the 5th, in Washington: And they grew bolder in their belief that if they killed enough Americans, they could change American policy. In Beirut in 1983, terrorists killed 241 Americans. Following the attack, the United States forces were withdrawn from Beirut.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Read the whole thing, for God's sake

Unintentional insight today in the Washington Post online into how Howard "Mistah" Kurtz puts together his media notes column. Here's an excerpt discussing the strangely synchronized disenchantment of conservatives with George Bush:

Daniel Drezner , a disenchanted Bush supporter, cites some recent criticism of the prez by other conservatives and declares:

"Funny, these are the same guys who idolized him for the first five years of his presidency. What changed, all of a sudden? Certainly not Bush, he is still acting the same way he has his entire career.

"What's changed is that after five years of presidency, the elections are finally over. It is now safe to criticise Bush, because such criticism can't possibly matter any more - it can't affect his reelection chances.

... What we're seeing now isn't just too little, too late --- it's *intentionally* too little, too late. The criticism was intentionally postponed until it no longer mattered."


Here's the problem. Drezner never said that. It was said in an excellent contribution in the comment section to his post -- Drezner himself had taken the disenchantment at face value.

So how did Kurtz get it wrong? He cut and paste from the Washington Post's Blog of the Week Andrew Sullivan (.com) (not to be confused with Time Magazine's Blog of the Year, Powerline):

CONSERVATIVE BLOGS AND BUSH: A sea-change? Dan Drezner, who actually criticized this administration when it could have made a difference (yes, he even endorsed Kerry in frustration at the incompetence of it all), notices a change in right-wing blogs. Check out the comment section. Money quote there: [quote above appears]

Notice: Sully got it right -- but Kurtz just took a quick look at Sully's slot on the Washington Post op-ed homepage, and slotted it in. Now that's some quality journalism.

UPDATE: Dan notes Kurtz's error. Which remains uncorrected.
Dubya's Dodgers

Here's a new angle on Dubya's well-known habit of stuffing the plum diplomatic slots with cronies -- the crony who did a 15 month stint as Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland is in a dispute with the Internal Revenue Service over a huge tax shelter that he set up just before taking the Dublin job. Thursday's Irish Times (subs. maybe req'd) has the details:

President Bush's last Irish ambassador, Richard Egan, set up a $62 million illegal tax shelter as soon as he became ambassador, the [IRS] has said.

Following an investigation, the IRS claims that Mr Egan set up an "economic sham" whose principal use was to reduce his tax payments.

The IRS said that Mr Egan, the billionaire co-founder of Massachusetts' most valuable technology company, EMC Corp, used two companies to set up the scheme using a European-style options scheme as soon as he resigned as the head of EMC to become ambassador.


In typical noise machine fashion, Egan's stated rationale for the deal has nothing to do with the allegation of tax dodging. He says that it was done to provide management over the time that the sale of his shares in the tech company took place -- and it just so happened that the structure happened to contain huge tax benefits as well. Now on the timing question, he should have consulted US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who sold a bunch of shares in the family company 2 weeks before the price crashed -- without needing a dodgy tax shelter to do it.

There is one issue left unclear from the Irish Times description of events -- whether the shelter sought to use Egan's non-resident status during his Ambassadorship. His brief 15 month stint, while justified in terms of his need to return to serve in Dubya's fund-raising machine back home, sounds suspiciously like a time interval that keeps one out of the country for the tax year. Not being accountants, we nevertheless suspect that that's a pretty good time to realise a capital gain. Could it be that Dubya sells Ambassadorships not just to his best fund-raisers, but to the ones who need them for tax planning purposes?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Planet Mars Isn't Blue

More from Powerline, Time Magazine's Blog of the Year. We agree with Sullywatch that one of the dynamics in the feuding between Andrew Sullivan and other conservatives is his displacement by Powerline as the rabid defender of Dubya. And to the extent that one can rank these things, they are worse. But they're worse because they're stupid. Consider this installment today:

Glenn Reynolds highlighted this item from the Mars Global Surveyor project -- [F]or three Mars summers in a row, deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near Mars' south pole have shrunk from the previous year's size, suggesting a climate change in progress --

While it is theoretically possible for human and animal activities to affect the climate on Earth, the main factor causing fluctuations in temperatures on this planet, as on Mars, is variability in energy output from the Sun. The Mars Global Surveyor data suggest what I think would be a relatively simple experiment: Why not place thermometers in a few locations on Mars, equipped with radio transmitters that would send temperature data to Earth or to a spacecraft? You'd have to take into account the two planets' different atmospheres, of course; the atmosphere on Mars is thin, but consists almost entirely of carbon dioxide. In time--it would take more than a few years' observations, obviously--such an experiment would settle once and for all the question whether human activities are making a significant contribution to climate variations on Earth.


Claims such as this recur occasionally from the boys, and amidst the problems great and small with the "analysis," here's the most glaring: If your theory is that variation in planetary climates is caused by variation in the Sun's energy, then you don't need to send a thermometer to Mars to confirm it.

The Sun's energy is, like, everywhere, so you just take your measurements from a fixed position relative to the sun and chart them over time. And if you don't want measurements distorted by the Earth's atmosphere, then you put the thermometer in some place with no atmosphere -- what we here on Earth call space -- and take your readings from there. We're sure that the International Space Station could handle this job for us, although we'd have to check with the Russians, since they're the only ones who can get stuff there and back right now.

In the meantime, as the Gulf of Mexico cooks, the Powerline boys would wait while we fly a thermometer to Mars and track a few centuries of readings. They might want to consider putting it instead where the Sun don't shine.

UPDATE: Related content from backword, who does a better job of catching the atmosphere hokum in the Powerline post than we did.
They will gather good company around them

Powerline, Time Magazine's Blog of the Year, yesterday, on the nomination of the niece of General Richard Myers and wife of Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff's Chief of Staff to head the Immigration and Naturalization Service:

Ms. Myers is no doubt intelligent and charming, but this is an important position. And Myers' own testimony before a Congressional committee to the effect that she intends to "work with those who are knowledgeable in this area, who know more than I do," is disqualifying.

Powerline, Time Magazine's Blog of the Year, a couple of weeks ago, on the performance of horse show expert Michael Brown as Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency:

Brown is, apparently, a political appointee with few qualifications for the job beyond general competence and management skill. This is hardly unusual in Washington; the conventional assumption is that staff who report to the head of an agency furnish the necessary expertise. As seems to have happened ...

If we assume for the sake of argument that their more recently stated position is their current position, then how far up the government hierarchy does the principle that it's not enough to say you'll have experts around you extend?

[Previous Powerline self-contradiction here]

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Fergie disses Lil' Wayne

You might never have thought it would be possible to construct the trivia question "What do Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson and loony Canadian hack Mark Steyn have in common?" -- but it is, and the answer is that they both bizarrely slammed the character of the people of Liverpool.

By coincidence we had mentioned Man Utd's talented but immature striker Wayne Rooney just a couple of posts ago -- sent off last week for mocking the referee, but then appearing, unchastened, on stage as a honourary member of 50 Cent's G-Unit posse on Thursday. So Ferguson apparently offered a supporters' club meeting (valet parking available) his interpretation of Wayne's erratic behavior:

in Tuesday's Daily Mirror [Ferguson was reported] to have told a supporters' club meeting: "Rooney is from Liverpool and everyone from that city has a chip on their shoulder, so if an injustice is done to him on the pitch, of course he is going to react."

which weirdly fits with our selection of 50 cent lyrics describing the feelings of the urban lad who quickly achieves stardom but still has people sniping at him. But anyway -- Steyn. This was his bag too, after the killing of hostage Ken Bigley in Iraq:

THE QUALITY OF MERSEY... the entire city of Liverpool going into a week of Dianysian emotional masturbation over some deceased prodigal son with no inclination to return whom none of the massed ranks of weeping Scousers ...

There've been various bizarre 'Wars On X' over the last few years, but the War on Liverpool is surely the strangest.
Look who's on the other side of the pillow, Hitch

Christopher Hitchens outlines the "it was broken when we found it" theory of post-war chaos in Iraq:

Unprevented looting in the early days, water and power all on a knife edge, religious fanaticism, corruption … you know how it goes. Even as I grit my teeth and whisper, "Tell me something I don't know, sweetie," I try politely to point out that this is a non sequitur. The messed-up-ness of the country is part of the original justification for taking action,

But that's not quite what the post-war planners in the White House said at the time:

Two months before the war began, USAID began drafting a work order, to be handed out to a private company, to oversee Iraq’s "transition to a sustainable market-driven economic system." The document states that the winning company (which turned out to be the KPMG offshoot Bearing Point) will take "appropriate advantage of the unique opportunity for rapid progress in this area presented by the current configuration of political circumstances." ... L. Paul Bremer [US pro-consul in Iraq] .. unleashed his shock therapy ... he fired 500,000 state workers, most of them soldiers, but also doctors, nurses, teachers, publishers, and printers. Next, he flung open the country’s borders to absolutely unrestricted imports: no tariffs, no duties, no inspections, no taxes. Iraq, Bremer declared two weeks after he arrived, was "open for business." ... There was Order 37, which lowered Iraq’s corporate tax rate from roughly 40 percent to a flat 15 percent. There was Order 39, which allowed foreign companies to own 100 percent of Iraqi assets outside of the natural-resource sector. Even better, investors could take 100 percent of the profits they made in Iraq out of the country; they would not be required to reinvest and they would not be taxed. Under Order 39, they could sign leases and contracts that would last for forty years.

So, a place that was completely messed up and hopelessly corrupt and divided, according to Hitch, was still fit to be a laboratory for unbridled corporate economics. Is that a development recipe he'd recommend for every poor country in the world?

Monday, September 19, 2005

Do-It-Yourself Blogging

Now that blogging has reached even higher exposure with the Google search engine specifically devoted to it, many people out there may be wondering how they too can get into the biggest thing since CB radio. We'd like to use this post to make clear how easy it is. Step 1 is to spend the entire day surfing the web and reading whatever newspaper you can get your hands on, in search of items that can simply be cut and pasted into this window. Step 2 is selection of a witty aperçu to follow the output of the preceding step -- and we'll get you started with the latter.

Example 1. An item from Saturday's Washington Post:

Without leaving the familiar environs of a strip mall, suburbanites in Northern Virginia will soon be able to fancy themselves dancing all night in one of Europe's most famous entertainment districts.

At Ned Devine's Irish Village, scheduled to open this fall, an old movie theater in Sterling is being transformed into the image of the trendy Temple Bar neighborhood in Dublin. The club features faux cobblestone streets, painted reproductions of popular Irish bar fronts and "intelligent lighting" designed to make people feel as if they really are standing in a courtyard under streetlamps and leafy trees.


There's your Step 1. Now for the comment. The missing item from this excellent reproduction of the Temple Bar is
(a) puke
(b) a fight
(c) the queue for taxis.


Any of the above are acceptable. OK, now that we're getting the hang of things, here's another one. Sunday's New York Times Magazine profile of Bono and his work for debt relief:

One night I [the reporter] went out to dinner with Bono and the gang ... Bono had started with a glass of white wine, but when I said I was drinking red, he switched over and ordered a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino ... I was raving about the Brunello, which was many stations above the norm for me. Bono was less impressed, but he didn't want to dampen my enthusiasm. "It is," he said, after some consideration, "a not immodestly great wine."

Appropriate followup comment to this is

(a) it's far from Brunello di Montalcino he was reared
(b) ah, so he's too good for Guinness now
(c) do they have that one at the Harvey-Nichols in Dundrum?


If you picked (c), congratulations, because it also functions as comment on Celtic Tiger Ireland.

With your niche as an Irish blogger now established, you need to broaden the appeal a bit. And what better subject than the World's Favourite Football Team (as long as they are winning) Manchester United. Consider then the revelation in Friday's Times of London that the team's young striker, spud-faced nipper Wayne Rooney, made use of his delayed curfew (due to their match versus Liverpool being on Sunday rather than Saturday) to attend a 50 Cent concert, and not only that:

appeared on stage 24 hours later [after being sent off] with 50 Cent, the controversial American rapper ... [and became] an honorary member of 50 Cent’s notorious "G-Unit" posse

Now while the more ambitious blogger might dispute the Times' description of G-Unit as "notorious," for simplicity let's stick with the method of the previous posts and simply offer an appropriate lyric from a 50 Cent song that might be relevant for young Wayne:

(a) I'm feelin' focused man, my money on my mind
I got a mill out the deal and I'm still on the grind

(b) Hate it or love it the underdog's on top
And I'm gonna shine homie until my heart stop

(c) You said you a gangsta
But you neva pop nuttin
You said you a wanksta
And you need to stop frontin'


Any of these are fine, but we like (c) both because the term wanksta sounds like it means something different in Liverpool and Manchester than it actually means to 50 Cent, and indeed this term was mentioned in one of our earliest posts on this blog. Which brings us to the final lesson about blogging: shamelessly link to your previous posts -- at least until you can get others to do the linking for you.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Autumn of Discontent

Like Sullywatch, we've had less to say recently about Andrew Sullivan's commentary because his disembarking from the Dubya bandwagon seems genuine, notwithstanding the evidence that the old Bell Curve*/Fifth Column Sully is capable of popping up now and again. And he's certainly a better read than his (former?) pals Mickey Kaus and Glenn Reynolds, both of whom generate their daily text quotas by sniping at the political opposition rather than any substantive analysis of the failings of the people who've been in charge for five years now.

Anyway, in the extensive list of comparisons of Dubya with British leaders, we'd like to see Sully expand on the comparison implicit in today's post explaining his disillusionment:

I became a conservative because I saw in my native country [the UK] what a terrible, incompetent, soul-destroying thing big government socialism is. It breaks my heart to see much of it now being implemented in America - by Republicans.

Thus he inches towards a comparison of Dubya with some ungodly hybrid of Ted Heath, Jim Callaghan, and Harold Wilson [we have relevant posts about these three horsemen of the 1970s apocalypse here and here]. One risk that this creates is that from this political wildnerness, he'll be looking to latch on to an unexpected prophet who can lead conservatism and the country to salvation. Better still if the new quest could have echoes of the glory days of the early 1980s -- with a tough woman leading the charge. And he's got an old Sunday Times piece he can fall back on to refute charges of being inconstant -- when he endorses Hillary '08.

*UPDATE: Indeed, could Dubya's embrace of a very non-Bell Curve theory of poverty be part of the estrangement? -- "So the president spells out his post-Katrina policy: borrowing $200 billion to "clear away the legacy of inequality" ... So we have the federal government engaging in a massive program of social engineering to reverse racial inequality in one state. But if we can do it in one state, why not all of them?"

And one more update, before we elevate this issue to a new theme: of all the flaws that one might identify in Dubya, it's clearly his newly stated philosophy that economic inequality is both attributable to, and amenable to, government policy that is stuck in Sully's craw:

And getting smaller helps government focus on what it really should do, not on all the illusory goals that some liberals believe in, like, er, ending human inequality.
Now there's a grown-up debating tactic!

Kimberley Strassel reviews the Hitchens-Galloway debate for the Wall Street Journal:

Nor is Mr. Galloway in any way a debater. His talent--if that's what you'd call it--is in whipping mindless crowds into furious hysteria over perceived bogeymen. There are historical precedents here, and let's just say that as the waves of Galloway outrage and anger ripped across the auditorium I half-expected his acolytes to break into a "Heil!" or two.
Bush's New Orleans address, summarised

He just saw Live and Let Die.

[see final paragraph of speech]

Thursday, September 15, 2005

He's the guitar man

Remember this picture of George Bush playing guitar while New Orleans sank? Well, perhaps not intentionally, it looks like there's already a memorial across the river in Algiers -- this photo, from this New York Times story.
Snark attack

At National Review Online's The Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru has a complaint:

THE ECONOMIST has a snotty comment about National Review in its latest issue. I will repeat the offer I made to Adrian Wooldridge, The Economist's Washington editor, the last time this happened: I'm sorry my review of your last book hurt your feelings, and I promise to write a rave of your next one if it's any good.

But he doesn't tell us what the comment is, and it's behind subscription. So as a service to our readers, here it is, within the context of an article of praise for the Weekly Standard (which raises other issues, but anyway):

Why has [Weekly Standard] succeeded? One reason is Mr Murdoch, who continues to support a loss-making publication for ideological reasons ... Another reason is a relative decline in the intellectual feistiness of the main conservative organ, the National Review, some of whose articles read as if they were dictated by Tom DeLay's office.

If they'd said "dictated by Karl Rove's office" it would be more accurate, but who cares -- it stung, so it's a good line.
Perhaps this Explains the Dire State of the Newspaper Industry?

From today's New York Times:

Britney Spears, who is pregnant, and her husband, Kevin Federline - a twosome who must have kick-me-baby-one-more-time stickers taped to their backs - also took a beating.

From yesterday's US Weekly online:

WORLDWIDE EXCLUSIVE: BRITNEY SPEARS GIVES BIRTH!!!
It's a boy! Us Weekly is the first media outlet in the world to report that Britney Spears gave birth shortly before 1 p.m. Wednesday at Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center, according to hospital sources.
Bonnie Prince Jally

New York Times correction: Because of a transcription error, a front-page article on Aug. 29 about the drafting of Iraq's constitution misstated the name of an Iraqi ethnic group in a comment by the president, Jalal Talabani, on who would benefit from its final approval. He called it a "constitution for Arabs, Sunni and Shiites, for Kurds, for Chaldeans, Assyrians, Christians and Muslims" - not "Caledonians."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The place that kept getting robbed

Another of our occasional dips into the Times of London obits, this one for Clementine Beit, longtime resident of County Wicklow's Russborough House and the superb art collection therein, accumulated with her husband, Alfred Beit. Most Irish people will know the collection mainly from the spectacular robberies recounted in the article, although most of it is now safely in the National Gallery in Dublin. A couple of other things worthy of note:

Clementine Mabell Kitty Mitford

Yes, another Mitford (first cousin).

Sir Alfred lost his seat [as a Tory MP] in the Labour landslide of 1945 and the Beits moved to South Africa, where Sir Alfred had inherited substantial business interests. It was not long before politics there took an uncongenial turn with the defeat of Jan Christiaan Smuts in 1948 and his replacement by a government committed to apartheid. It made South Africa a country to which the Beits were disinclined to commit themselves totally, although they retained a residence in the Cape to which they went each year to escape the northern winter.

Nice delicate phrasing there.

In 1952, leafing through Country Life, the Beits spotted an advertisement for a colonnaded Georgian mansion of exceptional elegance in Co Wicklow, Ireland, called Russborough, that had been the seat of the extinct Earls of Milltown. Beit put in a bid that was accepted on the spot. It was a time when many well-to-do British were attracted to Ireland by its benign taxation, ready supply of stately homes and inexpensive servants; it was also a peaceful land with hardly any violent crime.

Indeed, why wouldn't it have been like that, being the expressed goal of the Republic's dominant political figure of the time, Eamon De Valera?

"Let us turn aside for a moment to the ideal Ireland that we would have. That Ireland which we dreamed of would be the home of people who valued material wealth only as the basis of right living, of a people who were satisfied with frugal comfort and devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit - a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contests of athletic youths and the laughter of comely maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age."

Yes -- the Republic's natural party of government, Fianna Fail, made the country an ideal place for the well-to-do British. There's the strange irony of another upper class English woman, Rose Dugdale, taking part in one of the robberies, motivated by her Irish Republican politics. And the later robberies lacked any Republican veneer, just the plain and simple motivation of money.

One jarring note at the end:

In 1993, some six years after their generous benefaction to the National Gallery, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit were honoured with Irish citizenship. The Government of Charles Haughey, deterred by the Beits’ continuing connections with South Africa, had hesitated on the issue until the apartheid regime was replaced.

Our Irish readers will have difficulty containing their laughter as they read about Charlie's scruples over who should get Irish citizenship; at the same time that he was dithering on it for the Beits, he was selling it to dodgy Saudis.

Anyway, surely some credit to the woman for having, relatively speaking, toughed things out in Wicklow, and we'll close by noting that her husband managed to avoid the standard Irish marriage proposition line of "do you want to be buried with my father's people?"

Appropriately, her husband proposed to her under Goya’s portrait of Doña Antonia de Zarate in his residence at Kensington Palace Gardens where he housed his great collection.

Come to think of it, though, we know the setting, but we don't know what he actually said.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

God's bankers

New details on the Italian banking shenanigans that we posted about a while back. An unsurprising element -- for all its concerns of moral philosophy, the Vatican still keeps its eye on the suits (WSJ, subs. req'd):

In any case, Mr. Fiorani [suspended CEO of Banca Popolare Italiana] continued to talk, and prosecutors continued to listen. In another conversation with Mrs. Fazio [central bank governor's wife], he discussed several wire transfers he was making. One, BPI later explained, was a $6,200 donation to the Legion of Christ. That is a favorite Catholic charity of the Fazios and a group through which a daughter of theirs has just begun the process of becoming a nun ...

At the central bank, Mr. Fazio is unbowed, brushing off calls for him to quit ... Some of Mr. Berlusconi's cabinet ministers remain supporters of the central banker, as does the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, which has said Mr. Fazio is being attacked unfairly.
Things that make you go Mmmm

[BBC, a fortnight ago] The foreign ministers of Pakistan and Israel have for the first time held publicly acknowledged talks.
After the talks Pakistan's foreign minister said that his country had decided to "engage" with Israel after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza.



[BBC, today] Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri says his country has proposed building a fence along the border with Afghanistan to curb the movements of militants and drug smugglers.

Mr Kasuri told reporters in New York that the idea was put forward by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf during talks with the American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.
A headline no Irish editor could get away with

Times of London: Orangemen: why they suck

Punchline: If the Orange Order parades were really Christian, their organisers would meekly route them to avoid offending neighbours; if the "Catholic" side were Christians, they would refuse such chivalry and welcome their Protestant brothers, drums and all ... A plague on all their wicked houses: militant mullahs and self-righteous Orangemen, video braggarts on al-Jazeera and Gerry Adams flattering mass-murderers.

Related thoughts from Mike Power.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Who's ducking the most?

The Fearless One.
The pretzel is in the hands of the King

An interesting but unfortunately subscriber-only article about Berkeley law professor John Yoo in today's Wall Street Journal; architect of the infamous torture memos, advocate of supreme Presidential authority -- and following from both, someone who probably has to check with lawyers about his exposure to liability anytime he travels to another country:

Mr. Yoo challenges an academic consensus that for decades has promoted international law and other legal restraints on U.S. war making. This thinking grew out of the post-World War II goals of resolving conflict at the United Nations and checking executive-branch excesses during the long nuclear standoff with the Soviets.

The majority view relies heavily on constitutional provisions, such as the one stating that Congress, not the president, has the power "to declare war" and "raise and support armies."

Years before he joined the Bush administration, Mr. Yoo was writing law-review articles arguing that this consensus is at once outdated and -- despite the Constitution's language -- in conflict with the intentions of the founding fathers.

Seeking to play down the seemingly clear wording of the declare-war clause, for example, he argues that Alexander Hamilton and his colleagues adapted the British idea that Parliament could declare the existence of an all-out war, but such a statement wasn't necessary before the king could launch hostilities. Congress, Mr. Yoo contends, was given only two ways to counter the commander-in-chief: impeaching him or cutting off funds for the military. In James Madison's words: "The sword is in the hands of the British king; the purse in the hands of the Parliament. It is so in America, as far as any analogy can exist."


At least he's just one professor, though, right?

In June 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that federal courts can review the grounds for detaining foreign enemy combatants held outside the U.S. The justices separately ruled that American citizens held as terrorism suspects must have access to lawyers and fair hearings.

But beyond providing for the barest sort of judicial oversight, the court seemed to accept the idea that the country is at war and that the president and his subordinates have exceedingly broad latitude to run it. If confirmed, Supreme Court [Chief Justice] nominee John Roberts is expected to be a strong proponent of this view.
Noted for future reference

As Dubya's approval rating plunges, the anti-Syrian rhetoric seems to be heating up on the Right. Monday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd):

Meanwhile, yesterday Iraqi Defense Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi accused Syria of "exporting destruction" by allowing safe haven and transit for insurgents across its border with Iraq. "The regions of Al-Qaim, Hussayba, Rutbah and Rommana and others have been held hostage by terrorists coming from all countries and who have found no point of entry to Iraq other than Syria," Mr. Dulaimi said. Those are the same enemies that U.S. and Iraqi troops have been fighting in the terrorist-controlled town of Tal Afar over the past week.

And Syria continues to cast a menacing shadow over what should by now be a free Lebanon.


and David Trimble biographer, Dean Godson, in Saturday's Times of London:

There was a second, connected reason for Assad’s unwillingness to travel [to a UN summit] at this time: fear of a coup. Some Baathist old stagers are desperately unhappy with his ineptitude. First, overplaying his hand in Lebanon and effectively getting caught — in political terms if not in policing terms — and then being forced to overcompensate by agreeing belatedly to admit UN investigators into Syria.

Some regime figures even worry that a single cruise missile attack — say, on the secret police headquarters — could topple the regime by proving its inability to protect Syrian sovereignty ...

Following US pressure, the Turks declined to give Assad and his family permission to holiday there. And Jacques Chirac, who took the killing of his friend Hariri so personally, still behaves, in the words of a senior diplomat, “as though he is desk officer for Lebanon at the Quai d’Orsay”.
.

Remember, it was the inability to keep the French and the Turks onside that complicated the Iraq invasion. If they're on the same page as Dubya on Syria, who knows what could happen?

Friday, September 09, 2005

Balls from Ballsbridge

We've noted before Dubya's preference to appoint cronies to ambassador positions. Leaving aside the fundraising advantages, it helps out when you need an overseas op-ed piece in the face of withering local media coverage. Step forward James Kenny, US Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, in Friday's Irish Times (subs. req'd). We didn't know that it was in the brief of Ambassadors to engage in political spin, but then again you learn something new every day. So here are Kenny's talking points, with response:

[Headline] We will learn the lessons of this natural disaster

Keyword: natural.

an area the size of Great Britain; three times the size of the Republic of Ireland.

Saturday's area comparison from Dubya, which Kenny belatedly realises needs to be tailored for the country he's in.

We are very grateful for this show of solidarity and friendship and thank you for coming to our aid.

"I heartily endorse this event or product."

Could we have done better? Of course. We could have and should have done better, but then that is always true of disasters. Whatever has happened has happened and we cannot turn back the clock.

Culture of life, indeed.

But in doing so, let's be honest with ourselves in casting blame. New Orleans is only one of many cities in America threatened by natural disasters. Miami, Houston, Jacksonville, Charleston, and many other cities are also directly in the paths of hurricanes. Earthquakes threaten Los Angeles and San Francisco. Volcanoes threaten Portland and Seattle. Tornadoes can rip through St Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, and many other midwestern cities in any given year. New York, Chicago, Boston, and all other major cities must confront the threat of terrorism, something to reflect on this coming Sunday, September 11th.

Yes, many cites with many threats. Only one of them below sea level, though. Any chance it might have gotten some extra priority? And how nice to wait 2/3 way through the article for the first 9/11 reference.

Strong leader that he is, President Bush knows where the buck stops, and he is not blaming others for the shortcomings of our disaster response.

So we shouldn't read anything into his repeated use of the phrase "state and local" over the last few days?

Planners in New Orleans did plan for Hurricane Katrina and the city weathered the hurricane itself fairly well. But when the levees burst, it was hardly possible to deal with what was effectively two simultaneous disasters.

Question: would there have been a levee breach without a hurricane?

Could we have responded better had we not been supporting the democratically-elected government of Iraq against extremist violence? Probably not - after all, disaster response is mainly the provenance of the National Guard and they were on the ground within 24 hours once state authorities activated them.

Wrong on two counts. Once an emergency had been declared, as it was on the weekend before the hurricane, disaster response became a federal responsibility. And the state response has to take account of the significant fraction of the National Guard, and their equipment, that is in Iraq.

Was the disaster response slow because the victims were mainly poor African-Americans and Hispanics? Absolutely not.

Racism is simply not a factor as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, herself an African-American native of Alabama, noted when she visited the disaster-stricken areas.


So did we just have the brightness maladjusted on our TV when we saw all those black people in the Superdome and the Convention Center (which, by the way, are two separate places)?

Americans, with the help of their international friends, need to focus 100 per cent on the victims and save the blame game for later.

"Blame game." The central talking point phrase, used by White House Spokesman Scott McClellan eight times on Wednesday.

Mr Ambassador, in your nice Phoenix Park residence: a job well done.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Unfortunate usage of the day

New York Times columnist David Brooks sees a mighty wind:

We can't win a grandiose war on poverty. But after the tragedy comes the opportunity. This is the post-Katrina moment. Let's not blow it.

Behind this bad choice of words is the Epiphany meme that we warned you about a few days ago. Also interesting is Brooks' belief that we're just a few hurricanes away from his column of a few weeks ago, speaking of a general social revival, being actually true. Recall also that Andrew Sullivan borrowed the optimistic Brooks for a Sunday Times column. We'll watch now to see if Sully draws out the Bell Curve hints in the new Brooks thesis: Katrina ... disrupted the patterns that have led one generation to follow another into poverty.

[Previous entry in this series]

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Not Katrina

Glenn Reynolds is unhappy when the top guy tries to dodge accountability:

EVERYONE IS RESPONSIBLE BUT NO ONE IS TO BLAME:

A trenchant analysis of Federal Government failure in Louisiana, shurely? No.

The Volcker [Oil for food] Report is out.
An old Britpopper reflects on New Orleans

A downbeat but loving assessment of the city's past and prospects in the Times of London today from Kinks frontman Ray Davies, who was shot in the city last year. A couple of quick highlights:

During my initial week-long stay in hospital and lengthy recuperation, I observed first-hand the bankruptcy of the New Orleans health system. Several doctors who treated me actually apologised for the low standard of healthcare in Louisiana. Even so, they gave me the best of what they did have, for which I am grateful ... When I was last in New Orleans, I was driven around the city by a friend who pointed out the pump houses that seemed antiquated to me even then ... But the reality is that without its music New Orleans would have been a forgotten city long ago. The music of the American South inspired me and helped to shape me as a musician ...

I owe as much to music of the Southern states as I do to the British music that inspired me. If New Orleans is allowed to die, a crucial part of the world’s musical heritage will disappear ...

Whatever we think of George W. Bush we cannot take it out on the poor and needy in Louisiana and Mississippi. (He won’t be there in four years — they will.)

When I left last year I forgot to put the padlock on my bike. Whoever took it, I pray that they get to ride it around the French Quarter again soon.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Neocon Cost-Benefit Analysis

[New York Times] William Kristol, the conservative publisher of The Weekly Standard, said ... "I think the Clinton administration would have done a better job in handling Hurricane Katrina, but I'm also glad Bush is president and not a Democrat."
Sunk costs

A normal person's observations on the lessons of Hurricane Katrina might note (a) insufficient public expenditure on New Orleans' levee system and (b) the failure of the city's poor to have gained much from 4 years of Dubya's tax-cuts. Such normalcy would thus disqualify you from working the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, whose insane lead editorial in Tuesday's paper (subs. req'd, but here's a free link) speaks for itself. Two basic messages -- forget about rebuilding the city, put the people who brought us the Iraq fiasco in charge of more stuff, but certainly use the opportunity for more tax cuts:

If FEMA can't now handle the diaspora out of New Orleans to Houston, Baton Rouge and other cities, the political retribution will be fierce ... Though the military is normally barred from domestic law enforcement by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, Defense officials have been doing a lot of creative thinking about what they can do and what the public now expects post-September 11 ... If he ever fires anyone, Mr. Bush could do worse than find a few more Donald Rumsfelds as replacements ...

... clearly there is an issue of how much federal money to pour into a city that is below sea-level and would still be vulnerable to another Category Four or Five storm.

... Economic leadership also means instructing Americans on the link between tax cutting and the economic vitality needed to fund both Katrina relief and the war on terror ... Republicans have been far too defensive on tax cuts, and Katrina is an opening to explain their necessity and to push for making them permanent.


The deaths were not for nothing, then.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Rat heads for sinking ship

How stupid does a politician have to be to recycle George Bush speechwriter drivel in the week after Katrina removed the last thin veneer of competence from his administration? Step forward Dermot Ahern, Irish foreign minister and stupid enough to be in-bred with Bertie, although he is apparently no relation:

[ireland.com., subs. req'd] The Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern described the Fine Gael/Labour [lead opposition parties] pre-election pact as an "axis of taxes".

His Fianna Fail party thus still have "Mission Accomplished," "Bring 'em on," WMDs, and "heck of a job, brownie" ahead of them.
The big picture people

Katrina:

"We wanted soldiers, helicopters, food and water," said Denise Bottcher, press secretary for [Louisiana] Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana. "They [White House] wanted to negotiate an organizational chart."

Al Qaeda:

[Richard] Clarke asked on several occasions for early principals meetings on these issues, and was frustrated that no early meeting was scheduled. No principals committee meetings on Al Qaida were held until September 4th, 2001. [Condi] Rice and [Stephen] Hadley said this was because the deputies committee needed to work through many issues relating to the new policy on Al Qaida ... Rice and Hadley told us that, although the Clinton administration had worked very hard on the Al Qaida program, its policies on Al Qaida, quote, "had run out of gas," and they therefore set about developing a new presidential directive and a new, comprehensive policy on terrorism.
Of Irish Interest

Having nothing useful to say about New Orleans, we'd like to take note of a couple of newspaper items. Saturday's Times of London ran a nice obituary for Wicklow actress Geraldine Fitzgerald, who had an odd American career -- bookended by high profile film roles in Wuthering Heights and Arthur (as his mother), but otherwise, seemingly by choice, content with pursuing roles on Broadway. The one question left dangling in the obit is the wisdom of this choice:

She argued with the studio [Warner Brs] over the direction of her career and refused to play roles she considered to be beneath her, such as in The Maltese Falcon.

Which cries out for elaboration, such as Which Role? The IMDB summary of the film says that she was offered the lead female role, but turned it down because of a schedule conflict. Two versions of the story being out there maybe suggesting two rationalisations of the original decision. But anyway, RIP.

Over in the Sunday New York Times, Colm Tóibín has a review of an Edmund Morris biography. There's no real Irish content to this one, but Colm nicely notes one anecdote from which we learn that in terms of opinionated owners driving the editorial line at The New Republic, it's plus ca change:

Neither Wilson nor The New Republic favored American intervention in World War II. The editorial board changed course when the British husband of the effective owner of the magazine insisted on reversing the policy in the autumn of 1940, removing members of the staff.

Finally, the NYT also takes a run at the controversy over the renaming of the Kerry town of Dingle as An Daingean, complying with its location in the Gaeltacht and therefore a requirement that its official name be in Irish. The article notes that opposition to the move cuts across linguistic lines in the town, reflecting resentment of a decision imposed from Dublin and a fear that the town's brand as Dingle is being lost. However, potential confusion with a similarly named town in County Offaly does not seem to be an issue.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Fools seldom differ

Desperate situations call for desperate measures, and in response to Hurricane Katrina, Andrew Sullivan uses his Sunday Times column to reiterate his blog's endorsement of the Giuliani '08 Presidential bid:

What people want now is someone who can make the federal government work again. They want an executive who can fight a war and keep them safe. Nobody represents that kind of need better than Giuliani. His social liberalism — which makes him anathema to the religious fundamentalists who control the Republican party — would be overwhelmed by his appeal to law-and-order Republicans.

But there's a problem. Giuliani probably did do better than simply doing his job in the days and weeks after 9-11, but he's spent much of the time since then enriching himself on the cachet, and sank to the lowest sycophantic low at the Republican National Convention last year, when he had these words, inter alia, to say about that same George W. Bush who Sullivan now judges such a failure:

Spontaneously [on 9-11], I grabbed the arm of then Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and said to Bernie, "Thank God George Bush is our President."

And I say it again tonight, "Thank God George Bush is our President." ... . Let us write our own history. We need George Bush now more than ever ... They ridiculed Winston Churchill. They belittled Ronald Reagan. But like President Bush, they were optimists; leaders must be optimists ... President Bush is the leader we need for the next four years because he can see beyond just today and tomorrow. He can see in the future.


Perhaps the Sullivan endorsement is restricted to candidates who were once as infatuated as Bush as he was.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Not going back to Cali

In a sign of his application to the project of getting Trent Lott's house rebuilt, Dubya changed his weekend routine and did his radio address live this morning. Carefully phrased to assign blame everywhere except himself, he acted as the expeditionary force for what will doubtless be a key spin point on the Sunday talk shows:

Yet, despite their best efforts, the magnitude of responding to a crisis over a disaster area that is larger than the size of Great Britain has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities.

This is excellent news for the State of California, which has been the ingredient for every lame-ass excuse/comparison of Dubya's incompetent operation in Iraq. Why they can't find WMDs --

"We've only been there seven weeks," [Rumsfeld] exclaimed. "It's a country the size of California—it's not as though we've managed to look everywhere," he added,

and why they can't secure the place properly --

Rumsfeld said, "We need to provide security where it's possible, but it's not possible to provide it on every street corner and every portion of a country the size of California."

Now perhaps California being off the hook at the expense of Britain is due to the difference in area -- the former is about twice the size of the latter. But such orders of magnitude never stopped these chumps before. More likely is that the spinners saw the trap in recycling the rhetoric from one fiasco to explain another, and someone looked up an area chart for some handy furrin comparison. Indeed, there are good odds that the comparison was used to explain the scale of the problem to Dubya before he turned it around for the rest of the benighted folk. Since the original California comparison probably was designed to play well in red states (bad stuff = Left Coast), this might be a bad sign for British-American relations.

UPDATE 7 SEP: In a sign that there's always a bigger fool, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens took Dubya's Britain comparison, and made it continental:

"This is the largest disaster in the history of the United States, over an area twice the size of Europe," Stevens said. "People have to understand this is a big, big problem."

This from a buffoon who prided himself on grabbing spending money for "bridges to nowhere" while New Orleans' levee system went underfunded.

Friday, September 02, 2005

An Uisce Mor

Ah. We wondered when this would happen. There are only so many ways to run a War on Refugees without resorting to past tropes, and so it is that the New Orleans refugees have now achieved the status of the Famine Irish. A disengenuous post from Jonah Goldberg (having previously mocked the Superdome refugees) -- an e-mail from a reader, printed without comment, and therefore as far as we are concerned, endorsed:

FROM THE SCENE [Jonah Goldberg]

A reader:

I just got back from helping out at the [Houston] Astrodome. Most of the refugees look fine (energetic even) except for the ones in sick bay. A lot of those are old people who were probably sick before the hurricane. There is good order with lots of cops (some on horses). Everybody is lining up in an orderly fashion. A lot of the refugees look pretty hardened. My 25 year old daughter went with me and she said she felt a little afraid of the refugees.


Victims, but big and burly, even scary ones. Check out this list of Irish Famine cartoons. And check each one off as the Right works through them again.
The Commander-in-Chief takes action

Dubya's now in Mississippi: "... I'm going to delegate ... "
Katrina metaphor watch

If one good thing comes out Katrina, besides a new home for Trent Lott, it will surely be the supply of new metaphors for tired hacks everywhere -- jazzing up their column inches with a New Orleans reference. Here we are so far:

Wall Street Journal:

A Descent Into Indecency
In New Orleans, moral levees are inundated too.
BY TUNKU VARADARAJAN


Times of London:

After the Katrina tragedy, the looters come with their lies and half-truths
Gerard Baker

CATASTROPHE, as is the natural order of things, brings out the best in most humans, and the worst in some. When Katrina struck the US Gulf Coast this week, the first images reflected man’s instinctive compassion, heartening tableaux of daring rescues and selfless giving.

Then, of course, came the looting ... In Katrina’s case, the intellectual looters have busied themselves with plundering half-truths and false analyses to advance one of their most precious agendas: global warming.


(to be updated)

UPDATE 4 SEP: Dubya's speechwriters join in the hackery: I told some folks back there that the world saw this tidal wave of disaster ascend upon the Gulf Coast, and now they're going to see a tidal wave of compassion.
Read Headlines With Care

The Wall Street Journal story (subs. req'd) headlined:

Did Bayou Bet With Con Artists?

is not a discussion of whether Bayou residents made a mistake voting Republican (it's actually about this). But maybe it should be.

[Previous entry in this series]
Bush tends to his base

In Alabama today:

The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of [Senator] Trent Lott's [2nd] house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch. (Laughter.)

There is a recurring element to Dubya's remarks on the Hurricane -- that the nation ends up better off as a result. It's like the Right's Epiphany model of 9/11.

Dubya finished as follows:

I got a feel for it when I flew over before. It -- for those who have not -- trying to conceive what we're talking about, it's as if the entire Gulf Coast were obliterated by a -- the worst kind of weapon you can imagine.

The smoking gun was a really really big cloud.
To the New York Times editors

Nice content in Friday's editorials. But the titles could have been better. Baghdad and Philadelphia to deal with Dubya's preposterous historical comparisons is good. But how about Baghdad and New Orleans for the first one?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Darwin back in fashion

The theory of Evolution was looking endangered after Dubya's preposterous "both sides" remarks on creationism, but at least so far as it pertains to the survival of the rich people fittest, the Right is fully on board. Opinionjournal (James Taranto) today:

City Journal's Nicole Gelinas, a onetime resident of New Orleans, asks the question that's been on our mind the past few days. She isn't optimistic:

"No American city has ever gone through what New Orleans must go through: the complete (if temporary) flight of its most affluent and capable citizens, followed by social breakdown among those left behind, after which must come the total reconstruction of economic and physical infrastructure by a devastated populace..."


They're not hiding the subtext very much, are they?

Condi then and now

Perhaps Condi Rice went four-digit shoe shopping when the Cabinet was supposed to be working on Katrina relief because she knows that once again, her past shite statement about what functions the US military should perform will be inoperative:

[Reuters] The Army has put on alert roughly 3,000 active-duty ground troops from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to be prepared to deploy to New Orleans to help bring security to the flooded city amid looting and lawlessness, said an Army official, who asked not to be named.

The brigade-sized force, likely to be from the 82nd Airborne Division, would engage in crowd control and site-protection activities, the official said.


Condi in October, 2000: "Carrying out civil administration and police functions is simply going to degrade the American capability to do the things America has to do. We don't need to have the 82nd Airborne escorting kids to kindergarten."