Tuesday, January 31, 2006

All shall have prizes

Sometimes things are so cosy on the Rolodex where George VII picks his ambassadors that the diplomacy is just a continuation of private business by other means:

President George W. Bush today announced the designation of a Presidential Delegation to the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.

Mrs. Laura Bush will lead the delegation.

Members of the Presidential Delegation are:

The Honorable Ronald P. Spogli, U.S. Ambassador to Italy

Miss Barbara Bush

Mr. Roland Betts, Founder and Chairman of Chelsea Piers, L.P.

Mr. Brad Freeman, Founder Freeman Spogli & Co.

Yes, the founders of the private equity firm Freeman Spogli will be in Turin -- one as the Ambassador to Italy, and one sent along on a junket, and probably updating Ambassador Spogli on the high-jinks around water cooler at his old firm when he gets there. The firm's press release does note that Ron Spolgi had one qualification that many of Bush's diplomatic nominees have not:

"All of us at Freeman Spogli are extremely happy for Ron," said Brad Freeman, co-founder of Freeman Spogli. "With his fluency in Italian, he is extremely qualified for the position and he will serve our country well as Ambassador to Italy.

Dare we predict a future ambassador to Italy, Carlyle Group founder Frank Carlucci?

UPDATE 13 FEB: New etiquette for the corresponding announcement for the closing ceremony?

President George W. Bush today announced the designation of a Presidential Delegation to attend the Closing Ceremonies of the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.

The Honorable Rudolph W. Giuliani, Former Mayor of New York City, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Giuliani Partners LLC, and Name Partner of Bracewell & Giuliani LLP will lead the delegation

So Brad Freeman is not a 'Name Partner'?

UPDATE 5 JULY: Freeman in turn is sufficiently close to Bush to be heavily involved in his 60th birthday celebrations.

FINAL UPDATE 4 APRIL 2007: Brad Freeman pops up again, this time as the host of a private Republican party fundraiser in Los Angeles to be attended by George Bush -- after he sticks the taxpayer with the cost of his cross-country trip via a propaganda speech to a captive military audience in Fort Irwin.
The Crow's Egg

Via Dan Froomkin in the Washington Post, criticism of the meaningless ritual of the State of the Union address:

"More like an acceptance speech at a national convention than a candid review of the nation's situation at the outset of a new year, the State of the Union has evolved into a semi-imperial speech from the throne."

What else to expect from an event that is a clear adaptation of the State Opening of Parliament in the UK, with the President the increasingly apt replacement for the monarch?

With friends like these

Iran-Contra playa and general Greater Middle East Co-Prosperity Sphere agitator Michael Ledeen is supporting the pro Denmark non-boycott (the boycott is in response to controversial cartoons that ran in Danish newspapers), and provides a list:

Carlberg (sic) and Tuborg Beers

Michael -- it's spelled properly on Steven Gerrard's jersey.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Real CIA

Sunday's New York Times has a long story on events surrounding US policy towards Haiti in the final days of President Aristide's government. The main revelation is strong circumstantial evidence that a coup was plotted in a hotel in the Dominican Republic (a hotel owned by exiled Cuban sugar barons) and facilitated by the International Republican Institute -- an organisation with a nominal goal of democracy promotion, but stacked with Republican party operatives and tightly linked to the White House. This led to a situation of two US policies towards Iraq -- an official one from the State Department urging peaceful reconciliation, and a nod-and-wink one run from the White House, via the IRI, pushing for a showdown.

Haiti is in a bigger shambles than ever now, so the level of competence exhibited by this particular policy is at the average for this White House generally. Note also that the IRI's fingerprints are all over the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine. Is it really surprising then that the Russians get a bit nervous about what exactly foreign NGOs are up to in their country?
Hawker Stalker: Recreational edition

Seen emerging from Georgetown's Montrose Park, wearing a fishing vest and walking past the tennis courts in a cloud of cigar smoke: Congressman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Which makes us wonder: Was this a celebratory stogie because he thinks he has the majority spot well in hand? And does his wife know he's not smoking Marlboros?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

An UnGreat War

While George VII loves analogies of the GWOT with World War II, there are more than a few parallels with World War I. Consider for instance the rising tension with Iran. Despite attempts to paint the dispute as part an inevitable geopolitical clash, there are considerable elements of clumsy rhetoric and strategic miscalculation in the dispute. This article in Spiked Online looks especially at the "axis of evil" designation -- a phrase written on the fly for the King's Speech, but which has been a straitjacket for US policy towards Iran ever since [thanks to reader KH for the link].

And then there's the matter of the proximate cause of the current nuclear crisis -- the fact that it was the US call for a boycott of last year's presidential election in Iran that brought the current radical to power (in Iran). This point is reiterated in an excellent NYT op-ed piece today by Hossein Derakhshan:

That's right: with what appeared to be the endorsement of President Bush and dozens of American-backed satellite television channels that broadcast in Farsi, the disillusioned young people of Iran effectively took one of the world's most closely watched nuclear programs out of the hands of a reformer and placed it into the hands of a hard-line reactionary.

Can anyone now doubt that Iranian elections, however flawed, really do matter? ... But the real problem here is that boycotting semi-democratic elections ultimately will not make such a system more democratic.

The rise of Mr. Ahmadinejad, and the threat he poses to the stability of a volatile region, demonstrates that promoting apathy in a semi-democratic system can only strengthen the radical anti-democracy forces. And it raises a question as to whether that is what hawks in Washington actually wanted.

It's hard to be optimistic when the choices for interpreting the administration's behaviour towards Iran come down to carelessness, miscalculation, or lust for confrontation. Not to mention the grand unified theory of US-Iran relations: that Republican Presidents always, always, seem to do what Iran wants.

UPDATE: Powerline doesn't see the contradition in their analysis of Iran:

The election in Iran was a sham, conducted by the mullahs and largely boycotted by reformist forces. The election didn't cause the "rise of Islamic parties;" the mullahs have controlled Iran since 1979.

So what's their scenario if reformist forces had not boycotted the election?
Breaking the Law is Settled Law

Saturday's Wall Street Journal carries an interview with Dick Cheney, written up by James Taranto (subs. req'd, free link). The article is mostly an excuse for Taranto to recycle daily spin from his OpinionJournal column, but there are a couple of interesting exchanges with Cheney. One turns on the question of whether the President is bound by legislation in the conduct of war or foreign policy; Cheney leans in the negative:

That lesson was reinforced for then-Rep. Cheney in 1987, when he was the ranking Republican on the congressional committee investigating the Iran-Contra scandal. Democrats accused President Reagan of violating the Boland amendment, intended to prevent aid from reaching Nicaragua's anticommunist guerrillas. "If you go back and look at the minority views that were filed with the Iran-Contra report, you'll see a strong statement about the president's prerogatives and responsibilities in the foreign policy/national security area in particular."

Several things to note. First, it's clear that in Cheney's view, the arguments justifying the National Security Agency domestic spying program in terms of the 9/11 War Resolution passed by Congress are moot, because he believes that the President has those powers within his national security and foreign policy prerogatives anyway, and not just when war has been formally declared.

Second, Cheney believes that the Iran-Contra scandal was not a scandal, which is something that ace TV pundits might want to ask him about in his next TV appearance -- in particular as the abject failure of the plan (it was supposed to get hostages in Lebanon released) should be a caution about the problem of unconstrained executive branch scheming.

Finally, while analysts have corrected focused on the resilience of the careers of the people implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal, Cheney's quote makes clear that it was a formative experience for him as well, from the outside looking in. One wonders if he thought less of George H.W. Bush for having claimed to be out of the loop on such a fine enterprise?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Noted Without (Much) Comment

Is Bono branching from fronting U2 and all his other activities to motivational speaking? We're sure not sure how to interpret this event:

Nation's Capital Distinguished Speakers Series

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2006 - Bono

The Future in Front of Us: Living a More Involved Life

Award-winning lead singer and front man for U2, one of the most successful and highly regarded rock bands in history, Bono uses his immense popularity and influence to draw attention to the crises of poverty worldwide and HIV/AIDS in Africa. Gaining access to the world’s most powerful politicians he has almost single handedly drawn public attention to debt burdens in the poorest of countries, helping to get wealthier nations to forgive billions of dollars of debt. He also works tirelessly to build greater worldwide response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic facing Africa. Join this legendary rocker and extraordinary activist for a powerful evening focused on the impact one can have by choosing to live a more purposeful life.

We hope the last few words in the promo don't indicate that Bono is getting into this.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hawker Stalker: Gentleman's edition

Seen today grabbing an early lunch at the rather downscale Georgetown eatery Furin's: pretty boy George Will, who apparently doesn't deem it necessary to help a woman with a stroller get through an awkward doorway. Because his business is his business, of course.

[first entry in this series]

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The straw man in the mirror

George VII today at the National Security Agency in Maryland:

Now, I understand there's some in America who say, well, this can't be true there are still people willing to attack. All I would ask them to do is listen to the words of Osama bin Laden and take him seriously. When he says he's going to hurt the American people again, or try to, he means it. I take it seriously, and the people of NSA take it seriously.

His then National Security Advisor, Condi Rice, in 2002 explaining the White House reaction to the memo "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US":

... it was not a warning. There was no specific time, place or method mentioned .. I would say that most of it was actually historical. It was not a catalogue of, they might use this, they might use this, they might use this, they might use that. That was not the character. But it was mostly historical, going back to things that happened in '97, things that happened in '98, kind of methods of operation in the embassy bombings, might they return to some of those methods. It was that kind of thing.
Birds of a feather

Slightly short of blogging steam (and time) these days so just a pointer to some unusual associations. We learn via Slugger O'Toole that Brokeback Mountain won't be showing in Ian Paisley's hometown, Ballymena, meaning that the War on Brokeback as chroncicled by James Wolcott has gone trans-Atlantic.

Also, the extensive biographies for Michael Wharton, for years the scribe behind the Peter Simple column in the Daily Telegraph, make reference to his interest in Irish affairs, in which his outlook helped him to see links that others would have more trouble with:

[Times of London]
Among the causes he championed were the Welsh and Irish languages, and particularly those peoples that left-liberals found it fashionable to ridicule and despise: white Rhodesians, Ulster Protestants and the Serbs — whom he regarded as the guardians of civilisation (against the Turk).

[Telegraph] Wharton supported the white Rhodesians, and had some sympathy for the aims of the Irish Republic; but he knew that the former were doomed, and felt that the latter was bent on turning itself into a uniformly socialist state no different from any other member state of the United Nations. He had no answers, no hope.

There is an obscure link to present day events in another bit of the Telegraph obit:

Particularly after anthologies of the columns started appearing in book form, he attracted a few distinctly sinister "fan" letters. These welcomed, at last, somebody who could "understand" their conspiracy theories about Social Credit, international Jewry or Satan's Second Coming.

Social Credit is a theory linking the printing of money with growth and income distribution and had its main political life in Canada; the party is now gone but its latent support base is still around, particularly in Western Canada -- not least with the strength of the Conservatives in the recent election.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The War on Scotland

One of the weirder diversions of the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy these days is Scotland-bashing. It's looking like Niall Ferguson will father nearly as many op-ed pieces as his mythical Irish namesake fathered children, because Mark Steyn is at it in Tuesday's Telegraph:

And it means the Scottish National Party is going through the motions: nobody needs a Scottish nation if there are no more Scottish nationals ... Scottish nationalism [] has achieved all the features of a failed nation state without achieving the status of a nation state ... Scotland has become a minor member of the axis of extinction: Germany, Japan, Russia - once great nations now recording net population loss...

This directly takes the baton from Fergie on Sunday:

Scotland, which in certain respects really is - as I remarked here a few weeks ago - the Belarus of the West. So whatever became of Progress with a capital P? Why, after around a century of sustained improvements, is public health in some developed countries deteriorating?

The obvious answer is, of course, that Russians and Scots alike lead unhealthy lives. They smoke too much tobacco. They drink too much alcohol. They eat too much high-cholesterol food. (Do they have deep-fried Mars bars in Moscow? An enterprising Scot could make, er, a killing by exporting that particular delicacy.)

But while Fergie at least writes of a place he grew up in, Steyn -- the Canadian who lives in New Hampshire -- is projecting other concerns onto the Scots:

The Scottish Executive would like Scotland to have control of its own immigration, as the province of Quebec does. Quebec's collapsed birth rate has also cost it its dreams of nationhood and, like Scotland, it looked to immigration to save it, since when it has attracted a lively range of jihadist cells for whom Montreal offers the advantage of being a terrorist-indulgent neighbourhood only a stone's throw - or a bomb's - from the Great Satan's border. As the estate agents say, it is location, location, location. Glasgow has no such unique selling point.

Something we thought might happen -- those awful Quebeckers have kept Canada's Conservatives from forming a majority government, so work them into the slam, and better still, imply that Quebec's pursuit of Francophone immigrants around the world is the inverse of the US harbouring all those Fenians in the 19th century. On the other hand Steyn is fine with the present day Fenians:

Scotland is the canary in the United Kingdom's coal mine, but, given that three of the four component parts of the realm are mired in the same bloated, dead-end dependency culture, it would be foolish for the English to assume they won't get stuck with the bill for a Celtic fringe decaying into a long-term geriatric hospice. I doubt any Scot with an eye to electoral viability would want to run on anything that smacked of American conservatism, but surely they could at least learn something from Ireland, where, you will recall, Braveheart was filmed.

That sentence, with its implication that 1/4 of the UK = Republic of Ireland shows that Steyn is nowhere near ready for this Venn Diagram, let alone an entry in United Irelander's Rename the British Isles competition. But aside from the buffoonery, one thing going on here is the adoption of Scotland as a case study for the Eurabia shite of the right. They tried that on France, but the messy facts -- namely France's healthy population growth -- got in the way. Then again

If that you will France win,
Then with Scotland first begin

UPDATE: On 2nd reading it's not clear what the above Steyn passage means regarding the constituent parts of the UK, but the sweeping statements therein contribute to that problem. But he does seem to know that the Republic of Ireland is a separate country.
Cheeseheads and Cheesebrains

George VII likes to talk about how great people are outside of that awful place, Washington DC. Alas!

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Is that a Washington National [baseball] hat?

Q Wisconsin, actually.


Q W is for Wisconsin. You're a rancher. A lot of us here in Kansas are ranchers. I was just wanting to get your opinion on "Brokeback Mountain," if you've seen it yet? (Laughter.) You would love it. You should check it out.

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't seen it. I'll be glad to talk about ranching, but I haven't seen the movie. (Laughter.) I've heard about it. I hope you go -- you know -- (laughter) -- I hope you go back to the ranch and the farm is what I'm about to say. I haven't seen it. (Laughter and applause.)

And we have no idea what his comment about Brokeback means.
Out to pasture

Amidst the dodgy assertions great and small in George VII's speech in Kansas on Monday, contemplate for a moment the central role of the USA in global energy policy when it's run by someone who says this:

When we were driving through the beautiful country coming here, I told the Governor and I told the two senators [from Kansas] I firmly believe a day is coming when we're going to be able to grow saw [sic] grass and convert that into energy
The Company of Wolves

Today, on National Review's group blog, The Corner:

In the matter of Iran: I've been reading the recent Iran-war speculations by Clayton Cramer, Niall Ferguson, et al. Are things as bad as all that?

I think they are. The week after 9/11 the excellent and prescient Irish columnist Kevin Myers (cont'd p 94)

[Old post about Myers here]

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Flaubert Report

Could it be that Christopher Hitchens is slyly using his book reviews to express his doubts about the neocon Middle Eastern project to which he has so eagerly attached himself? Because in his NYT review of Bouvard and Pécuchet, an unfinished novel by Flaubert, he says:

This novel was plainly intended to show its author's deep contempt, however comedically expressed, for all grand schemes, most especially the Rousseauean ones, to improve the human lot. Such schemes founder because the human material is simply too base to be transmuted.

Or is it that the grand schemes shouldn't be left in the hands of fools?

True bathos requires a slight interval between the sublime and the ridiculous, but no sooner have our clowns embarked on a project than we see the bucket of whitewash or the banana skin.

Or is it just a bid for Pseuds Corner?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Actionable intelligence indeed

Confirmation today via an Associated Press report of what Pakistani newspapers hinted a week ago: that a key lead in the identification of a specific house as a target for the CIA Predator drone attack that killed civilians came from one of the USA's off-the-books detainees:

Two Pakistani intelligence officials said Libyan-born Abu Farraj al-Libbi, who was captured in Pakistan in May 2005, told interrogators that had met al-Zawahri last year at one of the homes that was hit.

The two are believed to have met at the house of Bakhtpur Khan, who is listed among the 13 civilians believed to have died in the airstrike.

One of the intelligence officials said al-Libbi's statement was later verified and it was confirmed that he met al-Zawahri in Damadola. The intelligence officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic.

Al-Libbi is accused of masterminding two attempts to assassinate Musharraf over Pakistan's alliance with the United States. After his arrest, he was turned over to Washington for further investigation.

U.S. and Pakistani intelligence — helped by tribesmen and Afghans — began monitoring Khan's home after al-Libbi's confession, the intelligence officials said.
Asked and answered

Since various people including Christopher Hitchens want to know whether it's true that King George VII wanted to bomb al Jazeera headquarters in Qatar, consider the present state of mind of Vice President Dick Cheney, who wasn't even directly asked about al Jazeera today, but couldn't help himself:

Q [from Hugh Hewitt] All right. Yesterday on CNN, Jack Cafferty suggested that the administration may be timing the release of the Osama tape whenever bad news rears its head. A little bit crazy, but what do you react -- what's Dick Cheney's reaction when commentary like that comes out of a major network?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We don't control the release of the Osama bin Laden tapes, Al Jazeera does, or seems to. And they were the source of this most recent tape. I think they've been the source of virtually all of these tapes. When the al Qaeda organization has something to say, they tend to say it through or release it through Al Jazeera primarily in Doha, in Qatar. And that's where we get out information, as well, is when it goes public from Al Jazeera.

Note especially that whereas most people would think of Osama Bin Laden as the source of tape of Osama bin Laden, Cheney went out of his way to say that al Jazeera was the source. A guilty mind, or a conspiratorial one?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Pajamas Media comedy hour

The finding that an Iron Age Meathman used hair gel has set the blogosphere alight to such an extent that it even penetrated the fact deflector shield of Pajamas Media, in the form of charter member Tammy Bruce ("her name was Bruce, but her manner was Frank"). Bruce makes the leap from Clonycavan Man using the gel to him being a metrosexual, and riffs:

I sense Hollywood is now putting together a "Gay Ancient Irish Bogmen" movie. You know, a classic, poignant tragic love story just like "Titantic." An American classic as a matter of fact. Except it's Irish. The only real difference is that the water where the tragedy occurs will be more shallow, like a, well, like a bog instead of the ocean. George Clooney and Liam Neeson will star, along with Natascha McElhone (excuse me I just got distracted there for a moment ;) playing the confused and frustrated tribal "girlfrend." Or at least that what she thinks she is...

Can you say "Brokeback Peatbog"?

[... pin drop ...]

Apart from anything else, she botched the link to Natascha McElhone, though that may have been a deliberate part of the ogling shtick. We're not sure what film she has in mind when she ascribes that role to Natascha, but for us the only one that matters is her performance in the brilliant Ronin. Which actually contains a very usable line of dialogue for Tammy's screenplay" "You stupid shite ... you're a dead man."
Probably unrelated events

Canadian media company CanWest has this week announced its intention to sell its 45 percent stake in the Irish independent broadcaster TV3 while buying a partnership in the Crimson New Republic magazine. It's odd that the rationale for selling the TV3 stake is disposal of assets 'no longer strategic to the company', yet the company does not seem to have much of a specialty in opinion magazines either. It also means swapping having to deal with U2's personable manager, Paul McGuinness, another TV3 investor, for dealing with New Republic supremo, Martin Peretz. It remains to be seen whether they know what they're getting into.
Asked and answered

Dick Cheney, in a puff-piece interview with Fox News numbskull Neil Cavuto:

Q And what do you think of the administration dragging its feet on Iran?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't think that's true at all. I think we're there dealing with these issues and have been now for five years.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Attention time.com newbies

Readers of Time magazine's website are getting used to their new web logger, or "blogger", if you will, in the form of Andrew Sullivan's blog, recently moved over to their site in Time's biggest acquisition since the purchase of AOL, and we all know how well that turned out.

Anyway, in a well-timed promotional appearance, Sully was on the The Colbert Report on Tuesday night, and turned in a pretty feisty performance, including the announcement to the TV audience that he is engaged (the BF is from Michigan). But there were a couple of weird moments, one when Sully seemed to go on much longer than Colbert had intended -- which turned into the engagement announcement -- but also right at the end of the show, when Colbert said (working from memory)

"See you tonight in your dreams, America, I'll be the shirtless one riding bareback on a white stallion"

Which is an interesting choice of word having just had Sully on the show; go to Sullywatch to see why.

One other thing time.com readers should know. When Andrew provides a link to the video of William Shatner doing a spoken word performance of Elton John's Rocket Man, the beagles must have stepped on the delete key at the part where he provides the customary hat-tip to Gawker, where like everyone else, he saw that link.

UPDATE: Colbert quote slightly adjusted following 2nd viewing of the segment.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Niall of the Nine Zeroes

Today's New York Times reports on the genealogical research at Trinity College Dublin which hypothesizes the actual existence of an Irish King, Niall of the Nine Hostages, who was previously seen as mythical. The NYT report is in the Metro section, playing on the implication that a significant number of New Yorkers would also be descended from Niall.

This is interesting research, but it's useful to be clear that it has two parts: a scientific part finding that a large number of Irish people have a common paternal ancestor, with especially high clusters of such people in Derry and Mayo -- and then speculation that to have such a common ancestor from so far back (5th century) would require that the ancestor have been a powerful person with a reputation for having been able to look around the room and say, like Karim Bey in From Russia With Love -- "He too is my son." Niall fits the bill.

But we feel that the media tend to overemphasize the significance of these common ancestral findings, much as these occasional reports that appear about King George VII being related to Queen Elizabeth, Che Guevara to Jack Lynch (yes, we're that old) and so on. Look at it this way. This P O'Neill has two parents, 4 grandparents, 8 greatgrandparents. Or, if we go n generations back, 2n ancestors. Go back 1500 years, which is the time horizon for this research, and assume a new generation every 30 years. That's 50 generations back, meaning 250 = 1,125,899,906,842,620 ancestors.

So pick any Irish person, go back 1500 years and try to fit that pretty large number into the actual population of Ireland at the time -- think there's some chance of overlap between any two of us? [As it happens, the calculation is not quite as tight for P O'Neill, due to a family tree detour in Ipswich, but we're saving that detail for our truthy memoir]. It's good fun and good science, but we don't want Ireland's new royalty getting anxious about a resurgence of claims from an old one.
The Commander-in-Chief didn't do it

As Fi Fie Foe Fum points out in the context of pro-GWOT Irish blog commentary on the botched missile strike on Ayman al-Zawahiri in Pakistan, there's not much need for snark because the commentary speaks for itself. In that tradition, Wednesday's Wall Street Journal editorialises (subs. req'd):

It's still unclear if the operation killed any prominent Al Qaeda leaders, but the mission did reportedly kill Pakistani civilians. Of course, in this kind of war it's hard to know who is and isn't a non-combatant. General Musharraf has warned Pakistani citizens not to shelter terrorists, but then it's not easy to deny shelter to men with guns. If Islamabad stepped up its own efforts to root out militants along the Afghani border, the U.S. military might find it less necessary to enter Pakistani air space to seek them out.

Note by the way the upside of the assertion that al Qaeda fails to distinguish itself from civilians -- you get to dodge the Geneva Conventions on detainees and bomb the civilians! But cheer up Pakistan:

General Musharraf's government is working to give Pakistanis better opportunities through economic reform -- a trend noticed by stock market investors, who pushed the Karachi benchmark bourse up over 50% last year.

Miracalously, there is no claim that tax-cuts contributed to the stock market boom.

Brussels get muscled

King George takes Belgium seriously:

PRESIDENT BUSH: You're probably wondering what the [Belgian] Prime Minister is sharing with me. First of all, welcome. We're talking mountain biking -- actually, he's talking about the Tour de France. He's a huge advocate and a follower of the bike scene around the world. He's also an avid mountain biker. And one of these days he and I are going to ride; he's going to give me a lesson on how to ride a mountain bike.

Seriously enough to decisively deal with the long-stalled nomination of C. Boyden Gray -- one of his favourite judicial nomination fixers, but with no obvious credentials to be Ambassador to Belgium the European Union, based in Brussels:

The President recess appointed C. Boyden Gray, of the District of Columbia, to be the Representative of the United States of America to the European Union, with the Rank and Status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.

As a recess appointment, Gray can only serve for one Tour de France. Aside from the slight to BelgiumBrussels, could it be that Dubya knows he really needs Gray for something special in 2007?

UPDATE: Note that Gray's previous and presumably future job is being a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr, which has offices in Brussels.

FINAL UPDATE: Bush seeks to get Gray's recess appointment extended in the new Democratic Senate. It's unlikely that ill-will towards his management of Bush's judicial nominees has faded sufficiently for it to go through.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Howard Stern in reverse

When Andrew Sullivan was yet again, successfully, baiting National Review's The Corner by describing Fred Barnes' book about King George as "fellatial," was he thinking, inter alia, that he only has a few hours left to use words like that before he moves inside the PG-13 umbrella of time.com?

UPDATE: Sullywatch assesses Sully's new home at Time.
All the other stuff was fine

Glenn Reynolds does one of his above-the-fray sighs about Iran:

I think our big error was in not preempting Iran in 1979. Everything since has been an effort to rectify that dreadful mistake.

Note the trick of passing off partisan shite as world-weary "analysis." Somehow, it's all Jimmy Carter's fault -- installing the Shah, sticking with him too long, not invading in 1979 to overthrow a popular revolution, cutting arms deals with the Ayatollahs in the 1980s, supporting Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war, getting rid of Iran's two biggest regional enemies (the Taliban and Saddam), and in so doing, exhausting any ground-based option for dealing with Iran now. Jimmy Carter is a very bad man.
The rights of small nations

It's a sign of the cynicism induced by an expectation that King George needs some warmongering in 2006 that we can't take a seemingly good article in Monday's Wall Street Journal at face value. The article (subs. req'd) by Frederic Grare and Georges Perkovich discusses the unhappy state of the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, the least well-known of the country's four provinces and the one which has the strongest case that it is exploited by the central government:

The government replies that Baluchistan's resources are national property and has made only nominal concessions. The conflict, it says, is the fault of a few greedy obscurantist tribal leaders opposed to the development of the province.

This argument resembles that which the Punjabi-dominated central government made in the early 1970s toward East Pakistanis before massive violence and war with India erupted, leading to the creation of Bangladesh.

Now while the authors argue that this means that the US should push for democratization in Pakistan, one complication with agitating for Baluchi rights in Pakistan is that they are also across the border in Iran. And aside from ethnic differences with Persians, there are also religious differences since most Baluchi are Sunni.

And what does a war, or at least lots of talking about war, need more than the adoption of a minority group as part of the cause? It doesn't help that sitting on the opposite page is the American Enterprise Institute's Michael Rubin, Lincoln PR cash-recipient, arguing explicitly for action against Iran. Sometimes bad causes drive out good ones.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Fruit of the poison tree

The Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, in its report on the botched CIA strike against Ayman al-Zawahiri, says:

A senior security official said foreign militants had frequently been visiting Bajaur and even Abu Faraj al-Libbi, said to have been No. 3 in Al-Qaeda hierarchy, had told interrogators that he had lived in Bajaur.

Note: Abu Faraj al-Libbi is one of the seemingly endless supply of al Qaeda #3s, now one of the CIA detainees who is being held at an undisclosed location somewhere around the world. It seems that his conditions of detention lead him to tell interrogators what they want to hear.

UPDATE 9 SEPTEMBER: Abu Faraj al-Libbi is one of the 14 secret CIA detainees now moved to Gitmo. [He should not be confused with Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, whose whereabouts are unknown; see also here]. And the Washington Post reports that al-Libbi's interrogation was a key source for the bombing.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

SIM City

Our daily tour around the loony end of the blogosphere brings word of a new threat to America: pay-as-you-go cellphones. Powerline propagates a story from internment advocate Michelle Malkin (no links please, we're sane):

suspected terrorists have begun buying disposable cell phones in bulk. I take it that such phones are difficult if not impossible to trace. What makes the story potentially explosive is that the current buying spree seems to have begun suddenly, in various locations around the country, possibly as a reaction to the New York Times' blowing the secrecy of the NSA's cell phone intercept program.

To be fair to Hindrocket (yes, he really uses that moniker), he does provide some updates noting the dubious nature of the document on which Malkin's claim is based, but there is no exploration of the basic preposterousness of the claim itself. Consider for instance the impreciseness of the terminology: All cellphones are "disposable", it's the SIM card that gives them a number and makes them unique. So what they can only mean is that there's a surge in phones using SIM cards that have been paid for in cash, and thus can't traced back to a specific person.

Which presents several additional issues. First, it's not that easy to find cash-only pre-paid phones; most outlets in the USA (where Malkin's report originated) want to see some plastic. But more importantly, even when the name on a cellphone can't be traced, the phone can. Which is kind of obvious, since the phone achieves its functionality by having at least one radio tower know where it is.

So you'd think al Qaeda might have figured this out? Indeed. Because the previous, more truthy version of this scare story is that al Qaeda was using anyonymous SIM cards from Swisscom to escape detection. But:

[New York Times] For two years [as of March 2004], investigators now say, they were able to track the conversations and movements of several Qaeda leaders and dozens of operatives after determining that the suspects favored a particular brand of cellphone chip. The chips carry prepaid minutes and allow phone use around the world.

Investigators said they believed that the chips, made by Swisscom of Switzerland, were popular with terrorists because they could buy the chips without giving their names.

"They thought these phones protected their anonymity, but they didn't," said a senior intelligence official based in Europe. Even without personal information, the authorities were able to conduct routine monitoring of phone conversations.


They also said they had strong indications that terror suspects, alert to the phones' vulnerability, had largely abandoned them for important communications and instead were using e-mail, Internet phone calls and hand-delivered messages.

Apparently the word to stop using pre-paid phones must be arriving to US operatives by carrier pigeon. There's another interesting incidental point in the NYT article:

During the American bombing of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in December 2001, American authorities reported hearing Osama bin Laden speaking to his associates on a satellite phone. Since then, Mr. bin Laden has communicated with handwritten messages delivered by trusted couriers, officials said.

This timing conflicts both with King George's claim that Osama stopped using his satellite phone in 1998 following a media leak, and the supposed debunking thereof on the grounds that he had already stopped using it by then. Of course it also conflicts with Republican General Tommy Franks' claim that Osama was not at Tora Bora in 2001, but that story is for another day.

Anyway, back to "disposable phones":

Last year, Switzerland's legislature passed a law making it illegal to purchase cellphone chips without providing personal information, following testimony from a Swiss federal prosecutor, Claude Nicati, that the Swisscom cards had become popular with Qaeda operatives. The law goes into effect on July 1 [2004].

One senior official said the authorities were grateful that Qaeda members were so loyal to Swisscom.

Another official agreed: "They'd switch phones but use the same cards. The people were stupid enough to use the same cards all of the time. It was a very good thing for us."

Almost two years later, would the terrorists be stupid enough to do the same thing again -- or would rightwing bloggers be stupid enough to believe that they would?

UPDATE: More from Mike Power and Tbogg, both of whom are much better with photos than us. Also Crooks and Liars.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Long War

It's a new rule of Wall Street Journal editorials (subs. req'd, alt. free link) on Iraq: there must be a reference to Sinn Fein or the IRA:

These Saddamists can't be coaxed into surrender by political blandishments because their goal isn't to share power but is to dominate Iraq once again. Or if they do play in the political process, it will only be in the Sinn Fein sense of doing so as cover for their real terror strategy.

This is just another pointer to how far the WSJ has shifted even from the Pentagon strategy in Iraq; in the same week that they see evidence of Saddam's master plan -- a long-planned alliance with foreign terrorists to maintain an extended insurgency after he had fallen -- we learn that the US is (again) having negotiations with "moderate" terrorists groups, and the latter (the most obvious descendants of Saddam's regime) are themselves fighting with al Qaeda in Iraq.

Indeed, the strategy of negotiation -- which sends Christopher Hitchens and Dan Senor to the nearest keyboard to fulminate -- mirrors one British strategy in Northern Ireland. As it happens, mid-1970s NI Secretary Merlyn Rees died recently, and his obituary was a reminder that the British saw two gains to negotiation with the IRA. They might actually agree to something, but at least their capacity would degrade or could be monitored while negotiations were going on. But the WSJ can only see some monstrous conspiracy between Osama, Saddam, and Jacques Chirac that must be crushed before it destroys all of Western civilization. Just as well these people aren't running anything besides a newspaper.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Secret treaties between Republic of Ireland and USA?

In the Dail today, Michael D. Higgins referred to two treaties between the USA and the Irish Republic that are listed on the US State Department's website but were never presented before the Dail. Given the sensitivity of the Shannon airport issue and the general erosion of the republic's neutrality, this is a source of concern. The line from the government is that these are administratively focused and don't tie the country in any hitherto unknown GWOT fashion.

But one of them sounds dodgy. Here are the relevant pages from the State Department's website, which list the name of the treaties, but not their text.

2003 Treaty Actions (Updated March 2004)
Agreement concerning security measures for the protection of classified military information. Signed at Dublin January 31, 2003. Entered into force January 31, 2003.

2004 Treaty Actions (Updated October 2005)
Acquisition and cross-servicing agreement, with annexes. Signed at Stuttgart­Vaihingen and Dublin February 26 and 27, 2004. Entered into force February 27, 2004.

The former looks especially suspicious. Everyone knows that it's only 300,000 troops, but nothing else, passing through Shannon, right?

UPDATE: Labour's website has similar information (although our links are clickable, unlike theirs!). And there is no sign of these treaties on the US side that we can find, so we're not sure what exact status they had in terms of needing ratification by the Senate.
The CEO Vice-President

In one of two fawning interviews on the radio shows of Fox News goons Sean Hannity and Tony Snow, Dick Cheney had this exchange with Hannity:

Q We're almost out of time. You had this incident with your health the other day. You want to comment on that? And have you totally ruled out a run for the presidency in '08?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: .... And with respect to my intentions, once I finish this tour as George Bush's Vice President, I plan to hang it up, Sean. I've spent the better part of the last 40 years in public service, and I think that's probably about enough.

Cheney's official bio says:

His career in public service began in 1969 when he joined the Nixon Administration, serving in a number of positions at the Cost of Living Council, at the Office of Economic Opportunity, and within the White House.

Since 1969 + 40 = 2009, Cheney's statement to Hannity only makes sense if his spell (1995-2000) as CEO of Halliburton corporation is counted as "public service."

Indeed, Cheney once understood the distinction, as revealed in the 2000 debate with Joe Lieberman:

LIEBERMAN: Dick Cheney must be one of the few people who think nothing has been accomplished in the last eight years ... I think if you asked most people in America today that famous question that Ronald Reagan asked, "Are you better off today than you were eight years ago?" Most people would say yes. I'm pleased to see, Dick, from the newspapers that you're better off than you were eight years ago, too.

CHENEY: I can tell you, Joe, the government had absolutely nothing to do with it. (LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE)

But 9/11 changed everything.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Highway to Heaven

In case you thought we were joking a couple of days ago about the Irish government being willing to pave over the Pyramids if it had the chance, consider the news today from Laois:

The National Roads Authority has been accused of desecrating an ancient burial site in Co Laois after the discovery of more than 500 skeletons on the route of the proposed new M7 motorway.

Archaeologists discovered the remains near a previously unknown 7th century settlement at Parknahown near Cullahill. Locals have called for the work to be stopped and the route of the new road to be diverted.

Just out of curiousity, we went to see what the NRA's website says about archeological issues. There is an impressive sounding "code of practice" but the actual document is just a bad PDF scan of a booklet that almost entirely focuses on the relationships between different government entities and says almost nothing about what they do when it looks like they're paving over dead people. Then again, given their antics in the vicinity of the world headquarters of the GUBU blog, we should be thankful that their contractors aren't busy paving over live people as well.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The irony deflector shield is quite operational

King George today:

Dictatorships seem orderly -- when one man makes all the decisions, there is no need for negotiation or compromise.

or no-one to question whether it's really a good idea to simultaneously trivialise violence in Iraq and insult Philadelphia:

The training of the Iraqi police is an enormous task and, frankly, it hasn't always gone smoothly. Yet we're making progress -- and our soldiers see the transformation up close. Army Staff Sergeant Dan MacDonald is a Philadelphia cop who helped train Iraqi police officers in Baghdad. He says this of his Iraqi comrades: "From where they were when we got here to where they are now, it's like two different groups of peoplea. They're hyped-up, they look sharp, they're a lot better with their weapons . I'd take these guys out with me back home." If he's going to take them back home in Philadelphia, they must be improving. (Laughter and applause.)
A la recherche du temps perdu

After all his spinning for King George over the last three years (example), Christopher Hitchens finally sees a problem:

If it becomes widely believed that it has been or is being targeted, the consequences in the region will be rather more than Karen Hughes' "public diplomacy" can handle.

But much as his eagerness for the War on Christmas, the apparent indication of dissent has a rather obscure cause -- namely the unresolved issue of whether King George was thinking about bombing al Jazeera headquarters in 2004. Now this is a serious issue, but rather than believe what his own eyes are telling him -- that it's true -- he wants to see the actual secret documents that underlie the claim:

It is high time that this question was ventilated by people other than British editors and journalists who labor under the repressive conditions of the Official Secrets Act.

So what Hitch wants is not the truth, but a cause celebre -- the frisson of illicit documents, and the hyperventilating prose that would follow the assumed crackdown. So not for the first time, Hitch gets dragged out of his reactionary present by the ghosts of Hitch past -- specifically his peripheral role in the 1978 ABC secrets case, when he publicly revealed confidential details about the jury in an Official Secrets Act prosecution, and so became part of the history of the case.

[It's surprisingly difficult to track down information about the case on the Web; here are very selected excerpts from an old Hitch piece in the Nation about his role in it; here's a Guardian article that mentioned it obliquely and then had to run 2 corrections; finally here's a recent Radio 4 program about it, which covers Hitch's role]

As of yet, the investigation of the leak about National Security Agency spying within the USA has not drawn the same response from him, despite the eagerness of his friends at the Wall Street Journal editorial page to defend it.

UPDATE: Useful links on the underlying controversy from Free Stater, the New York Times, and the Guardian. One key detail from the Guardian:

[John] Latham [US contact of the two accused] was appalled. "I thought that President Bush must be in the early stages of paranoia." But it was decided not to write to US newspapers at the time [2004]. It is understood Democrats feared Mr Bush's behaviour, if exposed, might win him votes, rather than lose them.
How we knew JT Leroy was a fraud ages ago

"He" contributed this Pseuds Corner-worthy blurb to godboy Billy Corgan's book of "poetry," Blinking with Fists:

Corgan steps to the plate at the first scent of menace, prepared, as one who is born into the language of battle. His hands might be balled tight, but his soul absorbs what his fists cannot truly deflect. Never just the spectator, Corgan transforms his world into the palpable, lyrical beauty of the heartbreak of one who cannot turn away, allowing us to get as close as we dare without blinking.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Double Minorities

As if responding to complaints reported at Fi Fie Foe Fum that Irish bloggers haven't had much to say about the Ariel Sharon health crisis, Niall Ferguson in the Sunday Telegraph provides some nice bait:

the Israeli predicament is strongly reminiscent of the Ulster Protestants'. Both Israel and Northern Ireland are, after all, legacies of British imperialism, the former descended from the Jewish "national home" proclaimed in 1917, and the latter descended from the partition of Ireland four years later. In both cases, those whose ancestors were settlers face relative demographic decline today. In both cases, those who question the legitimacy of the original colonisation - the descendants of the indigenous peoples - have turned to terrorism. In both cases, their more moderate representatives claim to embrace the ballot box, while the extremists hang on to their bombs. The difference, of course, is that the Ulster Protestants have scarcely any friends abroad, whereas the Israelis can still regard America as the principal guarantor of their continued existence. And that is, perhaps, the most important point of all.

Now this is a recurring analogy and there is a cottage industry of arguing about which group in Northen Ireland is more like which group in Israel (and things can get farcical in that regard). But we're not sure if Niall is the best person to be analyzing the nationalist impulse, having written in the same slot the previous week:

The Scots can keep their accents, just as Yorkshiremen keep theirs. They can keep their lawyers, too; I would hate to send any more business the way of those fat London barristers. But the idea that Scotland might one day "be a nation again" should simply be dropped. We had our chance, when everyone else in Europe had it, in the 19th and 20th centuries. But we calculated that the Union and the Empire were a better bet than independence. Well, live with it.

More specifically, we take issue with this clause from his Israel article:

the Ulster Protestants have scarcely any friends abroad

Not abroad, no -- but across the sea, Britain provides a much more practical and nearby guarantee than the US provides to Israel. Of course there's a demographic trend "favouring" Catholics and Palestinians, but just to make one of many possible objections, the total number of Irish Catholics on the island is much smaller than the total number of Arabs around Israel. But anyway, one cheer for Ferguson (which is probably more than he'd get in Glasgow) for providing grist for the mill.
Time to reshuffle editors at the Washington Post

When Washington Post editors understand that they have to combat spin:

The [Washington] Redskins argue that what they put up on their site is “unfiltered” and accurate, but Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, the sports editor of The Post, finds that view to be nonsense. “Of course their message is not unfiltered,” he said. “It’s from the point of view of the team. It’s going to be good news. They’re not going to put up negative stories. It’s simply an attempt to control the message.”

When Washington Post editors don't understand that they have to combat spin

[Questions from Brad DeLong] Yesterday, I read you [John Harris, Washington Post national editor] telling Jay Rosen [media columnist] that Dan Froomkin [Washington Post columnist] critic Patrick Ruffini was a grassroots conservative weblogger. And my jaw dropped because he is eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee. A matter not of conservative grassroots complaints about liberal bias but rather Bush-can-do-no-wrong paid Republican operatives working the ref. So why did you characterize Ruffini in this way?

A: He wasn't at the time working for the Republicans, he wasn't when he wrote that piece [about Froomkin last March]...

Q: So you knew [Ruffini] had been a Republican operative in 2004, and didn't tell that to Jay Rosen?
Q: Can you give any examples--other than Republican National Committee eCampaign Director Patrick Ruffini --of people who are seriously confused about Dan Froomkin's role at WPNI?

A: I cannot comment for the record because I've promised I won't comment on this.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Does Neil Jordan do director's cuts?

In the exception that proves the rule, when Martin Mansergh writes in Saturday's Irish Times (subs. req'd) --

The film Amadeus is a less reliable guide to Mozart's life even than the Michael Collins film was of his.

what he surely wants to say is --

The film Amadeus is a less reliable guide to Salieri's life even than the Michael Collins film was of de Valera's.

But maybe he knows how bad that comparison would look for Dev.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Wrong Question

While it's sort of entertaining to watch Andrew Sullivan needle the Pharisees at the National Review on the chemistry of conception and its relation to pro-life politics, they'd both be better employed discussing why it is that the view of life beginning at conception -- and thus that all abortion is wrong -- is essentially a late 19th century construct, not representative of 1800 years of Church teaching on abortion. While Sully & the NR phone their biology friends to sort out the distinction between zygotes and embryos, consider that the law used to reflect Church teaching that the soul enters the fetus at the quickening -- variously determined to be early in the 2nd trimester or the first time that the mother feels some movement in the womb, and so abortion before that time was permissible. Wasn't it conservatives who used to understand that science and "progress" doesn't necessarily mean more answers?

UPDATE: Via the very welcome return of Sullywatch, we learn of TBogg's hilarious depiction of the duc de Sully--NR science spat.
The Boyne and the Nile

Allowing that it's probably a mistake to have the New York Times in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, our thought process on the following clauses of an overly long sentence from a very positive NYT article about Irish design --

This year a major arts center by Grafton Architects in Dublin, featuring a luminous marble mosaic facade, will open in County Meath, and at the foot of the Great Pyramids in Egypt,

was: wait a minute, the arts center (sic) is in Meath and Egypt? Or the Pyramids are in Meath? Of course Meath already has Newgrange, and if the Pyramids really were in Meath, the government would have paved them over to build a motorway, so we realized that our thought process couldn't be right.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Magna Carta gets a visa

One strange manifestation of King George's interpretation of the Land of the Free is a circumstance in which a foreign citizen has more rights in the USA than an American citizen. Consider for instance the conditions attached to the extradition of UK citizen Haroon Rashid Aswat, wanted in the USA on charges of running a terrorist training camp in Oregon:

[Judge] Workman said the court [Bow Street Magistrates] had received a diplomatic note from the US Embassy in London last month.

The note gave assurances that Mr Aswat would be "prosecuted before a federal court in accordance with the full panoply of rights and protections that would otherwise be provided to a defendant facing similar charges".

And it said that the Briton would not be prosecuted by a military commission or treated as an enemy combatant.

Mr Workman said: "Whilst the note does not provide any personal protection to this defendant I am satisfied that it does bind the government of the United States of America which in these terms includes the president."

On its face, Aswat is thus better off than American citizen Jose Padilla, detained without charge for 3.5 years as an enemy combatant before being charged on unrelated criminal charges. But there remain risks for Mr Aswat, as his legal team argues. First, given how out-of-the-loop the London embassy has been recently, it's not clear how much any statement from them binds the government in Washington. And since Dubya has argued that the GWOT exempts him from, like, actual laws passed by Congress, a diplomatic note may not stand much chance at all.
Shaming us all

At National Review's The Corner, John Derbyshire pins an ethnicity on Fox's Bill O'Reilly (whose ancestry is in Cavan):

O'Reilly was a gent [in David Letterman show appearance]. I have my problems with the Big Mick, with his pomposity and populism

All of a sudden, those Guinness "Brilliant!" ads don't seem quite so embarrassing.
Out with the old, in with the new

Thursday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd, but alternative free link) editorialises about Iraq. Of Irish interest:

The U.S., Britain, the Arab League and other outside powers will also have to tread carefully lest they encourage Iraq's Sunni parties to become thinly veiled front groups for terror -- like Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland or the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Of course, given recent events in Ireland, it could be that having front groups for terror, albeit ones stacked with intelligence agents, is part of the plan.

The editorial also assigns lots of blame for what's gone wrong in Iraq, although one person escapes blame. But not interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi:

On the lessons-learned side, the election was final and definitive evidence of what a mistake it was for U.S. and British intelligence to bet all their chips on Mr. Allawi as the standard bearer for secularism in Iraq. We warned for a long time that the ex-Baathist would probably have a hard time winning the trust of many Iraqis traumatized by Saddam Hussein. The CIA's role here -- and in simultaneously undermining Mr. Chalabi -- is yet another of its Iraq intelligence failures.

Note the inversion: the dude who supplied the bogus WMD intelligence is a victim of the CIA. And their stand-offish attitude to Allawi was not in evidence when he made his Bush-Cheney '04 campaign appearance (remember, the speech written by Dan Senor):

WSJ editorial, September 24, 2004 ... it's been more than a little refreshing to hear the message of hope, resolve and gratitude delivered by Ayad Allawi during his U.S. visit this week ... He noted the recent success of Iraqi forces in re-establishing control of the troublesome Sunni town of Samarra, as well as the Shiite holy city of Najaf. He added a well-deserved jab at our friends in the media, who reported the fighting there but have since "lost interest and left." ... At an editorial board meeting with us on Wednesday, Mr. Allawi politely suggested that the Secretary General "probably is misinformed" about the real situation on the ground ...

Mr. Kerry, for one, must not have been listening too carefully to those remarks, given his ungracious reaction to Mr. Allawi's speech. The Senator accused the Prime Minister of "contradicting his own statement[s]" and of putting the "best face" on the situation ... Mr. Kerry now insults the Iraqis he'd be working with if he becomes President ...

But overall the Prime Minister had the right message ... We'd add from firsthand experience that Mr. Allawi's positive attitude is shared by the vast majority of Iraqis themselves

Back then, it was John Kerry who had doubts about Allawi, not the WSJ. Now, the doubts are displayed in an op-ed piece on their pages a few weeks ago:

On June 28, 2004, Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul Bremer appointed Iyad Allawi as interim prime minister. Mr. Allawi, a former Baathist, was a favorite of the U.S., British and Jordanian intelligence services. He projected an image of strong leadership to an Iraqi audience craving security. He promised to jumpstart reconstruction. But he failed. Corruption exploded. Iraqis blamed his empowerment of senior Baathists for the spread of insurgency and decline in security. Furthermore, he treated U.S. diplomats, not Iraqis, as his most important constituency

Note first that this indictment covers the period when Allawi was criticised by John Kerry -- to the then consternation of the Wall Street Journal. But it's also interesting that the new line on Allawi was written by Michael Rubin, whose name came up in another context recently:

[New York Times] Lincoln [PR firm] has also turned to American scholars and political consultants for advice on the content of the propaganda campaign in Iraq, records indicate. Michael Rubin, a Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington research organization, said he had reviewed materials produced by the company during two trips to Iraq within the past two years.

"I visited Camp Victory and looked over some of their proposals or products and commented on their ideas," Mr. Rubin said in an e-mailed response to questions about his links to Lincoln. "I am not nor have I been an employee of the Lincoln Group. I do not receive a salary from them."

He added: "Normally, when I travel, I receive reimbursement of expenses including a per diem and/or honorarium." But Mr. Rubin would not comment further on how much in such payments he may have received from Lincoln.

So the WSJ editorial line on Iraq exactly mimics that of a guy who is indirectly getting Pentagon cash via their PR contract with Lincoln. The WSJ should at least be upfront about whether they're a part of score-settling between the Pentagon and the CIA.

UPDATE 5 JAN: According the reliable news section of the WSJ, Chalabi is indeed back in the White House good books:

ADMINISTRATION WANTS Chalabi in new Iraqi government.

The former exile leader, a Cheney favorite before falling from grace, was recently named acting oil minister with Washington's blessing; though his party won no seats in elections, Bush aides hope he'll get the post permanently.
Freedom's just another word for useless government

There are 2 seemingly unrelated stories in Thurday's Irish Times (subs req'd): the 2005 budget deficit was overestimated by $3bn and the tracks on Dublin's light rail, the Luas, have not settled properly in their foundation. The best that be said about the government that presides over such occurrences is that their incompetence averages out. Note also that this incompetence occurs in what the Heritage Foundation & the Wall Street Journal rate as the most free non city-state economy in the world. Good economy = bad government? Maybe that's just what the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy wants us to think.

UPDATE: The Dublin Port Tunnel, near completion but not yet open, is already leaking.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Operation Cupholder

Today's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) reports on the attempts of Volkswagen to get in touch with the needs of its American customers (although, from our own conversations with VW owners, they'd go a long way simply by building more reliable cars). But is the name of the project intended to say something about VW's view of the American market?

For years, Volker Jagodzinski, brought up in the no-nonsense cockpits of German cars, couldn't understand why Americans treat their automobiles like rolling extensions of their living rooms.

Then the Volkswagen AG engineer spent 3½ grueling hours on a Greyhound bus from Seattle to Portland, Ore., and saw the vast distances Americans journey in their cars -- and why so few resort to trains or buses.

"If you lose your car here, you're done," Mr. Jagodzinski says. "I was surprised by the amount of time people spent in their cars."

His road trip was a part of a Volkswagen project dubbed "Moonraker," a year-and-a-half-long effort to gain a deeper understanding of American culture in hopes of making cars more appealing to U.S. consumers.

Yes, Moonraker. Maybe it's just a clever misdirection to hide the project from competitors. Names for other countries don't provide much guidance:

The car maker started a similar cultural immersion project in China dubbed "Swan Lake" and another as-yet-named team will begin in India in January.
Don't mention the drinking

The first Churchill-Bush comparison of 2006 shows up in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal (subs req'd):

... newly declassified records of ... War Cabinet meetings ...
In 1942, the Cabinet discussed the options were Hitler to fall into British hands ... Churchill favored swifter means of dealing with Hitler. "This man is the mainspring of evil. Instrument -- electric chair, for gangsters." ... There is no record of his views on water-boarding ... At another Cabinet meeting, he advocated shooting German POWs if the Nazis were to kill British prisoners (the U.K., for the record, never did). After the Germans massacred the people of Lidice, Czechoslovakia, Churchill proposed, perhaps again half seriously, "wiping out German villages by air attack on a three-for-one basis." The Cabinet overruled him.

So they give 3 examples of Bush'sChurchill's wartime leadership, where in each case Churchill's ideas were either moot or overruled! If it is true, as the VRC argues, that Bush is the reincarnation of Churchill (when he's not the reincarnation of George III), then it would be nice if the current Cabinet had a little of Winston's War Cabinet good sense and overruled him every so often.

UPDATE: Freestater also reads the coverage of the Churchill papers, and without the Bush cult-of-personality blinkers on, finds lots of interesting stuff.
You can play it all on TV

While it's easy to cast George Bush's off-the-cuff remarks as free-form poetry, we didn't expect that one contribution could sound like the instructions to a video game, like Sky's Beehive Bedlam:

connect the dots to protect the people

Monday, January 02, 2006

Jack teaches a Journalism 101 lesson

New Year's Eve socializing allowed us a little more insight into the Jack Abramoff situation. We were already familiar, of course, with the payoffs to members of Congress and their aides, the "free" fundraising events, golf games, and skybox seats. We knew that reporters had jumped on the skybox bandwagon. But it turns out that his wooing of journalists went further, with offers of meals at his favorite (wildly expensive) sushi restaurant as well as at his own place, Signatures.

Then there's his work for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. It's been reported that he wined and dined a posse of earnest conservative opinion journalists on lavish trips to the Marianas. (The Commonwealth has a special status as a U.S. territory where labor laws don't apply, resulting, reportedly, in horrific human rights abuses. But readers of conservative media will know the territory better as an idyllic capitalist success story.) Now our source says he also tried to persuade mainstream reporters to join these free "fact-finding" missions. As this Washington-based reporter with a major news organization described it to us, Abramoff appealed to these journalists' professional standards: How can you write about a place if you haven't actually walked its streets?

Touché, Mr. Abramoff!

Still, this all leaves us wondering whether any reporters learned from Jack's interpretation of "journalistic ethics", too, and took him up on the offers. Anyone have any ideas?
For you, special price

National Review's The Corner on Russia's decision to charge market price for gas delivered to Ukraine:

CRACKING THE WHIP [Andrew Stuttaford]

Moscow is looking to increase the price it charges Ukraine for natural gas by far more than the rate it charges more amenable parts of the former USSR. If there’s no deal, Gazprom (the Russian gas monopoly) is threatening to cut off Ukrainian customers (and may have done so by now), bad news at any time of the year, but terrible in freezing, icy January.

[a similar line on the Russian price increase from Pajamas Media]

National Review's The Corner on the Iraqi government's (=Ahmad Chalabi) decision to charge market prices for petrol to consumers:

RE: NORMALCY? [Andy McCarthy]
An astute reader notes about gas lines in Iraq: "Baghdad has been stripping retail gasoline of subsidies, all the better for what will soon be the least fettered economy in the region. Mainstream journalists, unfortunately, neither understand nor welcome this."

One is reminded of a scene from You Only Live Twice:

[Chinese financier]: But this is extortion!
Blofeld: Extortion... is my business.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

With de Valera in the grave

The run-in to the New Year saw the standard release of previously confidential government papers in Britain and Ireland under the thirty year rule. As usual the main point of common interest between them is the Northern Ireland crisis. However there are no major revelations in this year's papers; none would have been expected anyway since the papers cover 1975 when the situation had stabilised. The decision to abolish internment had already been made, and Unionist militancy had peaked with the collapse of the power-sharing Sunningdale agreement. Hence accounts of Northern Ireland in 1975 that don't differ that much from today, with the exception of course of still potent terrorist campaigns 30 years ago.

Of some interest however is the two governments' impressions of events during the funeral of Eamon de Valera (for our readers less familiar with Irish history, think of the Alan Rickman character in Michael Collins). De Valera's death was awkwardly timed, because the founder of the Republic's Natural Party of Government, Fianna Fail, had died while the usual opposition was in power. Against this backdrop, consider first the droll diplomatic description of his funeral offered by a British embassy staffer in his account to the UK Foreign Office (this & next link from Irish Times, subs. req'd):

"Irish memories are long," wrote John Hickman to the Republic of Ireland department of the foreign and commonwealth in London, "but even they must now begin to put Eamon de Valera aside as a political mentor for the 1970s and consign him to the pantheon of Founding Fathers."

At the event, the level of foreign representation "was probably not as high as the Irish people might have hoped". Confident predictions of a gathering of heads of state were "not realised". Even the "anticipated crew of Irish American vote-seeking politicians did not materialise", which was "probably as much a relief to the Irish government" as it was to the British representatives ...

While the ceremony was "conducted with due decorum", this only lasted so far as the gates of Glasnevin Cemetery. At that point, enthusiastic but unofficial mourners pushed through police cordons and elbowed visiting dignitaries from the graveside, adding "an Irish touch to the proceedings".

Now what looked to the British Embassy like "an Irish touch" looked to the Irish government like a Fianna Fail touch. Here's their version of what happened:

"Having broken ranks at the gate of the cemetery, the leading group of the opposition [Fianna Fail] made their way to the rear of the graveside area. The barrier was moved alongside by the gardaí and a large group... proceeded to take up positions at the area reserved for council of state, diplomatic corps and members of the government."

A further departmental report stated that a "large group of members of the opposition" entered the reserved spaces in the graveyard. "As a result, only the relatives, president, taoiseach and (some) members of the council of state could be accommodated at, or near, these spaces that had been earmarked for them. Other members of the government, visiting dignitaries and others took up whatever space was available when they reached the graveside area."

A newspaper report in the files told of chaotic scenes at the graveside, noting Princess Grace of Monaco "looked anxious at one stage" as she was jostled by the crowd.

The note also is also symbolic of mid-1970s geopolitics, when the allure of post-colonial leaders had not yet faded:

The then president of Uganda Idi Amin sent a telegram from Kampala describing the former taoiseach as "a great son and a statesman who had worked untiringly for the progress of his country. We pray to the almighty god to rest his soul in peace".

Ferdinand Marcos, president of the Philippines, wrote of de Valera: "He was a great man and will always be remembered for his unflinching devotion to the cause of freedom and for his far-seeing statesmanship and dynamic leadership."

Among the others who sent personal messages of condolence were Pope Paul VI; the Shah of Iran Mohammed Reza Pahlavi; the French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing; Queen Elizabeth and the British prime minister Harold Wilson; Spanish head of state Gen Francisco Franco; US president Gerald Ford; the Dalai Lama; and Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister of Israel.

A large number of messages came from the leaders of developing countries or former colonies, including Brig Murtala Mohammed, head of the Nigerian military government, who described de Valera as "in every respect, a great man".

Gen Mohamed Naguib, former president of Egypt, described the former taoiseach as "one of the greatest men of the present century", while Indira Gandhi wrote: "During our own freedom struggle, we drew inspiration from de Valera. My father regarded him as a friend and it was a privilege to receive him in India."

Returning to the British note now, it manages to offer a fairly incisive analysis of Dev's legacy:

... even de Valera's most notable achievement, the 1937 Constitution, was "coming increasingly under attack because it reflects so obviously the authoritarian Catholic and nationalist atmosphere of the Thirties and is no longer fitted to the needs of the modern state". In particular, the resentment that Articles 2 and 3 caused among the majority in Northern Ireland was "matched only by the obduracy" with which Fianna Fáil politicians still held on to them.

Indeed, while the Constitution had served as an inspiration to independence movement leaders elsewhere as a signpost for a sharper break with Empire than the Free State's dominion status had allowed, the document became outdated very quickly and has needed frequent amendment to deal with changing times; thus it has in many respects become a quasi-legislative vehicle rather than a relatively fixed statement of the state's governing principles. And it's not like all the problematic bits are gone. Consider for instance the article on press freedom, cited recently by Justice Minister Michael McDowell:

The education of public opinion being, however, a matter of such grave import to the common good, the State shall endeavour to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as the radio, the press, the cinema, while preserving their rightful liberty of expression, including criticism of Government policy, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State.

-- a very qualified assertion of freedom of the press. Finally of course, his political party has changed considerably since he was at the helm. What for instance would he make of a likely spectacle in 2006 -- his successor receiving a visit from one of his telegrammatic mourners, Queen Elizabeth II?
Eats, shoots & misses

Powerline bids farewell to 2005 with an account of the Premiership prospects of their house team, Everton FC, relative to the other likely relegation candidates:

Sunderland is virtually sure to be relegated (today, it's fans were singing "you're going down with Sunderland" at the Everton faithful).

If it's fan punctuation ability that determines which team goes down, Everton are screwed.

You've gotten enough good wishes from friends already so we'll just post one for the world: may 2006 suck even a bit less than 2005. Which is more or less what we said for 2005 relative to 2004. Oh well.