Saturday, April 29, 2006

Ahead of his time, again

Peter Beinart advocating a liberalism based on economic opportunity along with a freedom agenda, Sunday New York Times magazine:

Liberals don't have a script because they don't have a Reagan. Since Vietnam, they've produced two presidents: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Carter's foreign policy is widely considered a failure. Clinton's foreign policy is not widely considered at all, because he governed at a time when foreign policy was for the most part peripheral to American politics. Ask liberals to describe a Carteresque foreign policy, and they tend to wince. Ask them to describe a Clintonesque one, and you'll most likely get a blank stare.

Bill Clinton's State of the Union address in 1997:

Every dollar we devote to preventing conflicts, to promoting democracy, to stopping the spread of disease and starvation brings a sure return in security and savings.

Yet international affairs spending today is just 1 percent of the federal budget -- a small fraction of what America invested in diplomacy to choose leadership over escapism at the start of the Cold War. If America is to continue to lead the world, we here who lead America simply must find the will to pay our way.

A farsighted America moved the world to a better place over these last 50 years. And so it can be for another 50 years. But a shortsighted America will soon find its words falling on deaf ears all around the world.

Almost exactly 50 years ago, in the first winter of the Cold War, President Harry Truman stood before a Republican Congress and called upon our country to meet its responsibilities of leadership. This was his warning.

He said, "If we falter, we may endanger the peace of the world -- and we shall surely endanger the welfare of this nation."

That Congress, led by Republicans like Senator Arthur Vandenberg, answered President Truman's call. Together they made the commitments that strengthened our country for 50 years. Now let us do the same. Let us do what it takes to remain the indispensable nation -- to keep America strong, secure and prosperous for another 50 years.

In the end, more than anything else, our world leadership grows out of the power of our example here at home, out of our ability to remain strong as one America.

Read Beinart's proposals a few times and try to find one thing different from what Bill said nearly 10 years ago.

On the front lines

Powerline's "Hindrocket," who isn't joking:

The terrorists launched another attack against Hosting Matters [their host server] tonight, and for a while a number of conservative sites, including this one, were down. (Have the terrorists ever attacked liberal sites? Just wondering.) We're back for now, but the attack could easily be renewed in the coming days, so please bear with us if the jihadists manage to bring us (and others) down temporarily.

So you think May Day isn't an important day in the USA?

Think again. Possibly to avoid laughter, George W. Bush issued 2 proclamations for the first of May -- posted quietly late on Friday afternoon on the White House website. To be fair, this type of proclamation is frequent and usually reflects a law, but in the current political climate, consider Loyalty Day and Law Day :

on Loyalty Day, we celebrate the gift of liberty and remember our own obligation to this great Nation ... The right to vote is one of our most cherished rights and voting is one of our most fundamental duties. By making a commitment to be good citizens, flying the American flag, or taking the time to learn about our Nation's history, we show our gratitude for the blessings of freedom ... NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2006, as Loyalty Day. I call upon all the people of the United States to join in support of this national observance, and to display the flag of the United States on Loyalty Day.

This year's Law Day theme, "Liberty Under Law: Separate Branches, Balanced Powers," honors the wisdom of the separation of powers that the Framers of our Constitution established for the Federal Government. Delegates to the Constitutional Convention recognized the risks that accompany the concentration of power and devised a system in which the Federal Government's authorities are divided among three independent branches. James Madison highlighted the importance of our Constitution's separation of powers when he wrote, "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands . . . may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

Throughout our Nation's history, we have been reminded repeatedly of the wisdom of the Framers' design. Our system of separation of powers has safeguarded our liberties and helped ensure that we remain a government of laws. Law Day is an occasion for us to celebrate our Constitution and to honor those in the judiciary and legal profession who work to uphold and serve its principles.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, in accordance with Public Law 87-20, as amended, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2006, as Law Day, U.S.A. I call upon all the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. I also call upon Government officials to display the flag of the United States in support of this national observance.

UPDATE: Even National Review's The Corner seems unsure what to make of Law Day. To state the obvious, George W. Bush has used the GWOT to justify ignoring the other branches of government. In fact, as this Boston Globe story explains, Bush has pushed a general theory that he has the power to ignore laws duly passed by Congress that he believes are unconstitutional -- without ever testing their constitutionality in the courts.

Friday, April 28, 2006


George Bush today, on lessons other people need to learn from Katrina:

It's going to be interesting -- let's pray -- first of all, pray there's no hurricanes. That would be, like, step one. Step two, if one is coming, I suspect people are going to take hurricane warnings very seriously and that evacuation orders will be heeded very seriously. And so it's going to be a -- and, therefore, there's a need to make sure that the forecasting is accurate -- and this is pretty much the way it is these days, been very accurate forecasting -- and that the response by all of us is in a timely fashion to give people time to prepare.

[Previous entry in this series]

Jadkie Fisthr- who are bou? Dreadqought

Yes, that's the hidden sentence in the Da Vinci code judgement. The Times of London's Ben Hoyle explains -- note the mistakes in the code. The judge says that they are deliberate. Right.

UPDATE: Alternatively, the final word in the coded sentence could have fallen victim to a "find q, replace n" problem such as now afflicts the White House.

Father Mychal Judge

We're going to run a brief experiment (i.e. for a few hours) with making this blog a snark-free zone and therefere point you to Andrew Sullivan's post about Mychal Judge, the Franciscan priest who was killed while giving the last rites to another 9/11 victim. Just reading about his life and death, and reading the reviews of the United 93 film (by Bloody Sunday and Bourne Supremacy director Paul Greengrass) is a reminder that we're still pissed off about 9/11 itself, the negligence that led up to it, and the misbegotten war in Iraq that it spawned. Anyway, as Sullivan explains, Judge would never have gone it for that kind of anger. There is now a peace garden in his name in Keshcarrigan, County Leitrim, his ancestral home. Sullivan also refers to a long trip to Ireland by Judge, when he accompanied Steven McDonald, a paralysed NYPD veteran, in support of the Northern Ireland peace process.

War in our time

An intriguing little item from the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire blog (subs. maybe req'd):

Bernard Lewis, famed Princeton professor of Islamic history, told a small press luncheon in Washington that the Iraq war hadn’t turned out the way he expected but “is still salvageable.” Seen by many as an intellectual godfather of the Bush administration’s democracy drive in the Middle East, the 89-year-old Lewis was nonetheless gloomy about most of the administration’s policies in the region. The author of such works as “Islam and the West” and “What Went Wrong?” said that the current moment is more reminiscent of Neville Chamberlain in Munich in 1938 than Winston Churchill in London in 1940. “We are showing hesitancy and fear,” he said.

It's not clear whether his Chamberlain reference is to the country or the man at the top.

Foreign Affairs

So this is how the French establishment deals with one of its own -- voluminous leaks to Le Monde. The Times of London, with a hint of glee, notes the entrance of the esteemed French paper to the well-sourced rumour mill around foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy. Word has circulated for months of a blazing row with his wife on New Year's Eve in a Marrakesh hotel room (with a huge bill for damage following), but it seems that it's his atrocious work performance that did him in. The Le Monde story notes one incident when Condi Rice phoned his office on a Friday to be told he was already in his fiefdom of Toulouse -- and was then asked to call back after the weekend. Condi is used to this work ethic from her boss, but not her counterparts.

Douste-Blazy bounced into this job in the post EU referendum reshuffle, but as we noted before, Chirac reshuffles are driven primarily by his manoeuvering of favourites and bêtes-noires, and so qualifications tend to be a 2nd order priority. With Opposition Assembly members now taunting him with chants of the name of the Marrakesh hotel, Mamounia, a reshuffle to extricate the foreign minister from the collapse in confidence around him may be imminent. Chirac may tap yet another protege, Francois Baroin, who at least has some relevant experience, but it's a dreadful time to be switching ministers, just as the Iran crisis lands in the UN lap. The mess also shows, yet again, the resilience of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy -- his marital life is also a shambles, but he's managed to separate it from his job.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


As one unspoken anniversary approaches for the White House, it's a miracle that this picture is still even up on their website. But what is that difficult-to-read banner on the ship's tower? That one.

It averages out Enron

It's a bit strange that Exxon's quarterly profits, announced today, were significantly below analyst expectations:

Net income at Exxon, the world's largest publicly traded oil company, rose to $8.4 billion in the first quarter, compared with $7.86 billion in the year-earlier period. Sales climbed 9 percent to $89 billion. Despite the gains, the company's stock fell as much as 3.3 percent to $61 a share on Thursday morning as the Exxon's earnings fell short of expectations. Exxon's quarterly profit of $1.37 a share, up from $1.15 last year, was 10 cents lower than analysts' expectations, according to an estimate compiled by Thomson Financial.


Instead of $8.4 billion in profits for the first quarter, some analysts had predicted that Exxon Mobil would earn up to $9.27 billion. Total revenues came to $88.98 billion in the first quarter, the company reported, compared to $82.05 billion a year ago.

One assumes that Exxon's accountants report the numbers as they find them, and wouldn't be padding costs or shoving money into reserves just to avoid any political complications.

From the North Circular to the Court Circular

Times of London:


April 26: The Duke of Edinburgh this morning departed from Royal Air Force Northolt for Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, Dublin, and was received by Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Ireland (His Excellency Mr Stewart Eldon).

His Royal Highness, Patron, accompanied by The President of Ireland, later attended a Reception at the National Concert Hall, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin, for Young People who have reached the Gold Standard in The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and The President’s Award.

The Duke of Edinburgh this afternoon attended a Luncheon at Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin.

His Royal Highness afterwards called upon the Taoiseach (Mr Bertie Ahern) at Government Buildings, Upper Merrion Street, Dublin.

The Duke of Edinburgh later arrived at Royal Air Force Northolt from Ireland.

Squadron Leader Paul Sanger-Davies was in attendance.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The GWOT position on the Champions League

With Everton, house team of Powerline, not in contention for anything, "Deacon" follows up a recent reference to Liverpool FC as the "Red Shite" with a similarly exalted reference to Arsenal:

Next up, Barca vs. the Arse for the European Championship.

This post is as good a time as any to note that we won't be surprised if the soccer-following contingent of the Keyboard Kommandos works up a call for Iran to be expelled from the World Cup.

A pint of Guinness and a packet of panelists, please

The New York Times has a detailed story from a night of Leviathan -- the monthly debate at Crawdaddy moderated by "economist and rising media star" David McWilliams. It's worth a read. Incidentally, the reporter (Brian Lavery) doesn't mention that Alan Shatter is Jewish; it's unclear whether that was part of the thinking behind his selection as one of the panelists. Anyway it is clear that his interjection at a fellow panelist -- "Do you believe those who crashed into the twin towers are martyrs?" -- did stir things up nicely which of course is what such events need. The closing statement:

On his way out the door, Mr. McWilliams, with his shock of red hair and impish smile, tries to explain Leviathan's appeal.

"It's about trying to recapture a bit of public space in this town," he says. "People here are educated," he says, but they like getting drunk. "There's nothing worse than a sober group taking itself too seriously."

He's right about one thing

In the coverage of a murder case that has convulsed Belgium, where a teenager was stabbed after refusing to hand his MP3 player to robbers, there was only one aspect that interested Powerline's "Hindrocket" -- the refusal of an AP wire report to say that the suspects in the case were North African:

So that's the rest of the story, which the AP apparently thought you were better off not knowing. We Americans, you know, are liable to get riled up and have our ignorant prejudices reinforced if we know all the facts of a murder case. That's called "editorial judgment."

Indeed it is. Because:

A Polish-born youth, 16, has been taken into custody but police believe a second youth has fled to Poland.

Initial reports that the suspects were of north African origin had threatened to destabilise community relations, with Muslim leaders calling for calm.

When media said CCTV footage had suggested the killers were north African, Muslim religious leaders in Brussels called on people not to shield the suspects if they knew them.

But the news that the suspects were of Polish origin prompted outrage from the Muslim community and criticism from the federal justice minister.

"For some days, some people without knowledge of the results of the investigation had pinpointed a culprit, stigmatised an ethnic community. Now they have to face their own conscience," Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx said.

"Hindrocket" has updated his post with a link to a Little Green Footballs clip of the surveillance video, but not to the news that the suspects are not North African.

They're right about one thing

GWOT defenders have pointed out the hypocrisy of European Union countries tut-tutting American tactics in the GWOT when these same countries cooperate with these tactics. This is a valid point, made even clearer by today's report from the European Parliament:

The CIA has conducted more than 1,000 undeclared flights over European territory since 2001 — a clear violation of an international treaty, European Parliament investigators said Wednesday.

Lawmakers investigating alleged illegal CIA activities in Europe also said incidents when terror suspects were handed over to U.S. agents did not appear to be isolated, and that the suspects often were transported by the same planes and groups of people.

The report began as an inquiry into the CIA's secret prisons in Poland and Romania, whose existence has now been admitted by the US through the firing of CIA agent Mary McCarthy for her involvement with the Washington Post story about them. However investigators seem to have determined that the prisons were just a small part of the more disturbing rendition operation, and anyway the prisons have since been moved, more than likely to Algeria. Indeed one of the most notorious rendition flights -- the kidnapping of a German citizen in Macedonia -- had an intriguing flight path:

the plane transferring suspect Khalid al-Masri, a Kuwaiti-born German national, from Macedonia to Afghanistan in 2004 flew from Algeria to Palma de Mallorca, Spain, on Jan. 22, from Palma de Mallorca to Skopje, Macedonia on Jan. 23, and from Skopje to Kabul via Baghdad overnight the following day.

The current news stories don't elaborate in the Irish connection, but Shannon will inevitably feature in many of these flights. However these investigations will not go anywhere until a groundswell of domestic political uproar makes it an issue. It's not clear what it would take to do that.


A quick check in on the Special Air Service of the Keyboard Kommandos, Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens. Sully came back from Sussex and while continuing the justified War on Rumsfeld, he still can't help himself when it comes to the GWOT rhetoric. Atrios picked up one bizarre segment from a suggestion by us in his comment section, and then there's his inevitable tribute to the Euston Manifesto (see Mike Power here and here):

Equally, we have to make sure that our criticism of Bush and his dreadful, criminal defense secretary does not mean a capitulation to the anti-Americanism, moral relativism and defeatism of the cut-and-run left. We must fight that tendency as relentlessly as we must fight Christianism and Islamism. But a new coalition is forming - against all these isms. For freedom. For the West.

Note the equation of the "fight" against advocates of withdrawal from Iraq with the fight against Islamic extremism. Note also the Theoden-like cadences at the end.

Now to Hitchens, who really is a bigger snake ("George Tenet and other Clinton holdovers who left us under open skies on Sept. 11, 2001"). Roger Ailes has already taken a look at the latest shite but we'd also point out this:

the most reactionary law against disclosure this century: the Intelligence Identities Protection Act

The IIPA is legislation from 1982, so we're not sure what his definition of "century" is. But the real problem for Hitch is that he has tied himself in knots from his past positions -- he opposes the UK Official Secrets Act (link in previous post), and therefore presumably must oppose the Espionage Act, its emerging US equivalent. And the Espionage Act is a much more broad-reaching and reactionary piece of legislation than the narrow IIPA, which as its name suggests specifically targets disclosure of agent identities.

And as we've pointed out repeatedly, Patrick Fitzgerald has indicated that he thinks it's much more likely that the Espionage Act was broken by Scooter Libby and others (Rove?), not the IIPA. But with the former Act now being used against people out to embarrass his hero, George W. Bush, Hitch must deflect his faux-libertarian rage via a phony tirade against an irrelevant law.

UPDATE: A Washington Post article notes the multiple laws regarding leaks, and the apparent revival of the Espionage Act as the primary instrument of government clampdown. As Byron York notes, one strange thing about the article is that it never mentions the most interesting conjunction of the different laws: the Plame case.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The al Jazeera bombing case

Slight progress today in the Official Secrets Act prosecution of two men for allegedly leaking details of the Bush-Blair summit in which Blair is said to have dissuaded Bush from a plan to bomb al Jazeera headquarters in Qatar. Leaving aside the non-denial denials issued by Bush and Blair, it's clear that the Bush administration has displayed ample motive for wanting to bomb al Jazeera. This is also the case that caused Christopher Hitchens to complain about the "repressive" Official Secrets Act, so we await his reaction to the emergence of essentially the same law as the Espionage Act in the US, and indeed the reaction of other advocates of disclosures that serve only to embarrass governments.

Anyway, to the matter at hand

[BBC] A civil servant and a former MP's researcher have denied making "damaging disclosures" by leaking a secret memo.
David Keogh, 49, and Leo O'Connor, 42, denied three charges under the Official Secrets Act and were given conditional bail. They will face trial in October.

The charges relate to a memo allegedly detailing a conversation between Prime Minister Tony Blair and George Bush.

The trick for the prosecution is show damage from a disclosure relating to a conversation whose content was seemingly denied by the principals, and relating to an event that never actually happened. Court date is set for October, so there's still time for something to come out before the US mid-terms.

Maybe the tumble dryer isn't vented properly

You could not make this up. The comical effort to find Iraq's WMDs in Saddam's pile o' documents has made a new breakthrough, as Powerline's "Hindrocket" excitedly reports. Saddam put the nuclear program in a laundry room:

It Might Not Be Smoking, But It's Getting Awfully Warm

And here are the documents, as translated:

In the Name of God the Most Merciful The Most Compassionate The Republic of Iraq The Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission
To: The Respected Mr. Chairman of the Engineering Department

Subject: Simulation Reactor

An inspection was made to the suggested hall to build the Simulation Reactor and that contain recently laundry equipment (Laundry) and the hall was closed and the location abandoned and neglected for a long time and based on this it requires the following:

1. Remove all the laundry equipments and machines.

2. The structural division should inspect the hall and to repair and remodeling and fortify the building after determining the cost of these works ...

And it goes on from there -- a work order to move something called a "simulation reactor" into a former laundry room. Now, "Hindrocket" hastens to add disclaimers:

I don't know what a "simulation reactor" is, and can't vouch for some of Shahda's interpretations of the documents ... It appears that this set of documents proves beyond reasonable debate that Iraq was carrying out prohibited nuclear work in 2001 and 2002. How serious this breach of the U.N. resolutions was, I can't evaluate, since I have no idea what a "simulation reactor" is

How much more evidence could you want?

Read text with care

Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd):

Lawmaker Bought Farm With CEO Who Gained From Appropriations

Rep. Alan B. Mollohan, the West Virginia Democrat whose real-estate holdings and financial disclosures have drawn federal scrutiny, last year bought a 300-acre farm with the head of a small defense contractor that had won a $2.1 million contract from funds that the congressman added to a 2005 spending bill.

The joint purchase of the farm, which sits on the Cheat River in West Virginia ...

Labor isn't working

In a series of posts during the UK general election last year, we noted the infestation of American pollsters in the campaign and the phenomenon of American reporters travelling to Britain to interview American pollsters to provide insights for their election coverage. Spring junkets for pollsters prescribing the Karl Rove tactic of motivating the base, which at least in one case didn't work, which didn't stop the King of All Yankee Pollsters, Mark Penn, saying that the lesson learned was the importance of doing more than just motivating the base.

Well, the bill came in some time ago, but it has now become public:

As both parties were seeking loans from wealthy backers to avoid being outspent, Labour paid £530,372 to Mark Penn, a Washington-based adviser to Hillary Clinton, and the Tories handed £441,146 to Lynton Crosby, their Australian guru. The parties’ spending on the most expensive election in modern times — the Tories spent £17.85 million and Labour £17.94 million — was rewarded with the second-lowest turnout of 61.3 per cent ... Mr Penn was hired to run secret polling of British voters from his company’s call centre in Denver while he stayed at the Waldorf Hotel in London and advised Tony Blair, The Times has learnt ... Mr Penn, 51, who was revealed by The Times this year to be the brains behind Labour’s election slogan “Forward Not Back”, is credited with masterminding Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996. He is retained by Labour for an unknown sum and recently visited London to advise senior figures on tactics for next month’s local elections. His company, Penn Schoen & Berland, recently opened an office in London and recruited Matt Carter, the former Labour general-secretary, to run it.

Mr Penn is considered an expert in the use of “message polling” — calling sample voters in target areas to find out and test the exact campaigning message that will secure their vote. After the election, Mr Blair sent him a signed photograph declaring: “Mark, you were brilliant. Thank you.”

A couple of points. First, there shouldn't be any puzzlement at the link between vast cheques for consultants and low turnout. Low turnout is a key plank in the Rove strategy, for the simple reason that it magnifies the effect of any votes from your own side that you do manage to motivate. But it's a risky strategy in close races, as Florida 2000 showed, and while it may win elections, it's not necessarily a mandate to govern, as George Bush is now finding out. Second, anyone disgusted with what these consultants have wrought needs to look at Kos's book, which explains in detail what these same consultants -- and we mean the exact same people -- have done to the Democratic party.

These effects combined make the case for some kind of spending limitations. The inevitable consultant arms race leads to a campaign characterized by seemingly bland slogans at the national level (nothing that will motivate the other side) coupled with a blizzard of dubious polling tactics in swing constituencies ("how you would feel about candidate X if you knew he ate babies for breakfast?"). And without the suits sitting in Club World and checking in at the Waldorf, you could still have some good fun for modest amounts of money:

Labour’s clothing claims reveal a different emphasis. An invoice from Mad World Ltd charged the party £299.63 for six Star Trek costumes, all complete with ears. They are understood to be half a dozen “Mr Spock” outfits for party volunteers to wear and chase John Redwood, the Conservative MP for Wokingham and former Shadow Secretary for Deregulation, who has earned the nickname “the Vulcan” after the television character.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Leader of the free world

Another of our occasional excerpts from George Bush's utterances, this from a speech followed by Q&A in Orange County California today:

What I thought I would do is share some thoughts with you on some issues that kind of like may be on the TV screen these days ... First, I've had a fabulous trip to your unbelievably beautiful state. It started off in northern California, Cisco; then I went to Stanford; then I went to Napa Valley; then I rode my bicycle on Earth Day in Napa Valley. Then I found out the mountains are a little steep in Napa Valley. (Laughter.) I then went down and spent fantastic time in Palm Springs ...

Congresswoman Mary Bono is with us today. Mary, thank you for being here. (Applause.) I just spent some quality time in her district, and I forgot to tell you that I had the privilege of riding my mountain bike in the desert, as well. The national monument that she helped put together to preserve open spaces -- she's got a lot of humility, she didn't name the national monument after herself. If I were to name it I would say, Really Hard Bike Ride Monument ...

Iraq has -- had weapons of mass destruction and has the knowledge as to how to produce weapons of mass destruction ...

And I told them [troops], I told them they didn't have to worry about me. I believe we're going to win in Iraq. And a victory in Iraq will be a major blow to the totalitarian vision of bin Laden and his lieutenants -- a major blow. One, it will be a tactical blow. We'll deny them that which they want. But secondly, it will be a major blow because, in the long-term, the best way to defeat an ideology of hatred is with an ideology of hope ...

I based a lot of my foreign policy decisions on some things that I think are true. One, I believe there's an Almighty, and secondly, I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody's soul, regardless of what you look like or where you live, to be free ...

The fundamental question on the Iraq theater, though, is did we put enough troops in there in the first place. That's the debate in Washington. I'm sure you've heard about it. Let me just tell you what happened. I called Tommy Franks in with Don Rumsfeld and said, Tommy, if we're going in, you design the plan and you got what you need. I said -- I remember the era when politicians were trying to run wars, people trying to fine-tune this or fine-tune that.

One the lessons of Vietnam, it seemed like to me -- still does -- is that people tried to make decisions on behalf of the military, which I think is a terrible precedent to make if you're the Commander-in-Chief. By the way, you can't run a war, you can't make decisions based upon polls and focus groups, either.

And so I told Tommy, I said, you know you got what you need. And then it's my -- then the fundamental question is, do I think he's comfortable telling the Commander-in-Chief what's real and isn't real. So I spent a lot of time with Tommy, and the first time I'm with him I'm trying to figure out whether or not he has got the ability to walk in the Oval Office -- which can be kind of an intimidating place -- and say, here's what I think, Mr. President.

I was comforted by the fact that Tommy and I were raised in the same part of the world. He went to Midland Lee High School with Laura, by the way. I felt like -- I felt like that there was kind of a kinship to begin with, and I'm confident, sir, that Tommy told me exactly what was on his mind. I believe that. And so, therefore, the troop level that he suggested was the troop level necessary to do the job. And I support it strongly ...

And anyway, my preacher, by the way, at St. John the Divine Church, is a guy who came from Cuba at about the same age you did [speaking to a Cuban-American questioner; we note this because it's one of the rare times that Bush has referred to having a "preacher" or even attending church] ...

It's -- infrastructure is always a difficult issue. It's a federal responsibility and a state and local responsibility. And I, frankly, feel like we've upheld our responsibility at the federal level with the highway bill. There are other infrastructures we got to get built ...

I'd like to stay here all day, but I got to go to Vegas. (Laughter.) Something about what goes on there, stays there -- or something like that. (Applause.)

UPDATE: And when he got to Vegas, we got an illustration of the risks of adapting a speech on the fly:

There was bombings today in Egypt. I strongly condemn the killings that took place, the innocent life lost in Egypt. It was a heinous act against innocent civilians. The United States sends our condolences to the families of those who were killed .... The central front in the war on terror is now Iraq.

When Stephen Colbert does it, he's joking.

Let the eagle soar.

The War on Yale

For some reason Yale University has moved into the sights of the Keyboard Kommandos. We'll skip the back history and jump to Yale's latest alleged outrage, a rumoured move to hire University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, who runs the valuable blog Informed Comment. Monday's Wall Street Journal carries an article by John Fund condemning the move, and his first quote of someone opposed is as follows:

Mr. Cole's appointment would be problematic on several fronts. First, his scholarship is largely on the 19th-century Middle East, not on contemporary issues. "He has since abandoned scholarship in favor of blog commentary," says Michael Rubin, a Yale graduate and editor of the Middle East Quarterly.

Well, if we're going to talk about blogging as a parallel career that might crowd out the original one, let's put other parallel careers on the table as well. For instance, who is Michael Rubin, Yale graduate and editor of MEQ? He's also a recipient of Lincoln Public Relations cash -- the firm that was planting stories in the Iraqi media for the Pentagon. He also has superhuman powers that allow him to move around war-torn Baghdad without security, and to observe Iranian diplomats doing the same thing, as he told Fox News recently. Check out his CV at the American Enterprise Institute where he is a resident scholar and decide for yourself whether he's really qualified to be telling someone else that mere blogging might be diluting a chosen specialty.

One other thing. We see from the CV that one of his books is called Eternal Iran . It's a shame that title is taken, because it would be such a nice description of Republican administrations' foreign policy for the last 26 years.

UPDATE: Via James Wolcott, Justin Raimondo with more, much more, on John Fund's War on Cole.

Un, deux, trois, quatorze

Bono's tribute to Sam Beckett, with link to the actual spoken word performance. We think he could have done more with the Black Bush reference.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Connecting dots

We'll take advantage of a quiet weekend to make note a few things. First, the firing of CIA agent Mary McCarthy for allegedly being the source of the leak to the Washington Post about the illegal GWOT prisons in Poland and Romania. The inevitable right-wing exulting seems oblivious to where all this leads: that the US now has in effect an Official Secrets Act. We noted this possibility at the time that Patrick Fitzgerald indicted Scooter Libby, where there are a couple of sentences from his news conference that deserve very close attention as people speculate about further indictments:

I will confirm that her [Valerie Plame's] association with the CIA was classified at that time through July 2003. ...

And all I'll say is that if national defense information which is involved because her affiliation with the CIA, whether or not she was covert, was classified, if that was intentionally transmitted, that would violate the statute known as Section 793, which is the Espionage Act.

That is a difficult statute to interpret. It's a statute you ought to carefully apply. I think there are people out there who would argue that you would never use that to prosecute the transmission of classified information, because they think that would convert that statute into what is in England the Official Secrets Act ...

So there are people who should argue that you should never use that statute because it would become like the Official Secrets Act. I don't buy that theory, but I do know you should be very careful in applying that law because there are a lot of interests that could be implicated in making sure that you picked the right case to charge that statute.

Note in particular the distinction between "covert" and "classified", missing from much of the analysis of the Plame case. The supposed differences between the Espionage Act and the Official Secrets Act also figure in another case: the prosecution of lobbyists Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman for receiving leaks of classified information:

For more than two decades, Steven J. Rosen sleuthed the tight-lipped government back channels of the United States and Israel for tidbits he could quietly pass to his powerful employer, the pro-Israel lobby called AIPAC. As a result, he would joke over restaurant tables that he was glad the United States did not have an Official Secrets Act that would render his vocation a crime.

But his quip turned out to be prescient. The FBI placed him and a junior colleague under surveillance -- listening to their phone calls and watching their meetings, including those with a Pentagon official who was cooperating with authorities. Last year, Rosen and Keith Weissman were fired by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and then indicted on charges of receiving and transmitting national defense information in violation of the Espionage Act.

Incidentally, Rosen's defence lawyers intend to argue that by the standards of this prosecution, he was receiving classified information for years, including from Condoleezza Rice, a former colleague of his at the RAND Corporation. So in summary, before hailing a crackdown on leaks of classified information, be sure to know where it's headed. [see update]

One other thread. When the bizarre New York Post Page Six extortion scandal blew up a few weeks ago, we suspected that there might be a Republican angle, given the Democratic donor credentials of the target of the alleged extortion, Ron Burkle. De facto pro-Bush blogger Mickey Kaus certainly thinks that Burkle's ties to the Clintons merit some muckracking, and the New York Times helps out with a story that veers into jaded Clinton scandal recounting:

The Clintons have a somewhat checkered history of investing with personal associates. An investment in the failed Arkansas real estate deal known as Whitewater led to a government investigation that nearly brought down Mr. Clinton's presidency and left the couple with millions of dollars in legal bills.

The NYT doesn't try to explain how a failed real estate deal led to impeachment, because it's so convoluted but also involves some inglorious NYT reporting. Much of the rest of the story seems to be implying that there's something untoward about the Clinton-Burkle friendship; leaving aside the apparent assumption that only Texan oilmen get to make big money without questions being asked, one wonders if the seeds of one of many anti-Hillary '08 strategies are being sown.

UPDATE: For example, when the Sunday Times quotes old Iran-Contra hand Micheal Ledeen in the following:

IRAN’S president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, attended a meeting in Syria earlier this year with one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, according to intelligence experts and a former national security official in Washington.
US officials and Israel intelligence sources believe Imad Mugniyeh, the Lebanese commander of Hezbollah’s overseas operations, has taken charge of plotting Iran’s retaliation against western targets should President George W Bush order a strike on Iranian nuclear sites.

Mugniyeh is on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorists” list for his role in a series of high-profile attacks against the West, including the 1985 hijacking of a TWA jet and murder of one of its passengers, a US navy diver.

Now in his mid-forties, Mugniyeh is reported to have travelled with Ahmadinejad in January this year from Tehran to Damascus, where the Iranian president met leaders of Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas ...

Michael Ledeen, a Middle East expert and former Pentagon and National Security Council official who wrote that Mugniyeh had “probably” been there, said last week senior American officials had confirmed it ... “It’s hard to identify Mugniyeh because he is said to have changed his face and his fingerprints,” Ledeen said. “But senior government officials have told me I was right. He was there.”

Is Ledeen citing classified information? Or has he seen too many spy films?

FINAL UPDATE: As we said, the right really needs to be careful about where a crackdown on classified information ends. Tuesday's Washington Post reports that an unusual request by the FBI to see boxes of old documents belonging to investigative journalist Jack Anderson, RIP, has developed a particular focus:

When the FBI interview took place at his home on March 3, Feldstein said, he was surprised that the agents mentioned that they were looking into the Rosen-Weissman case and possible espionage "going back to the early 1980s." They wanted to know whether "we had seen classified documents" in the Anderson files, particularly about Israel and Iran -- areas of leaked information in the lobbyists' case.

At some point during the questioning, Feldstein said, one of the agents, Leslie Martell, "began asking questions about pro-Israel reporters who had worked for Anderson" or "had ties to AIPAC."

Israel, Iran, 1980s? What could that possibly be about?

0.5 litre of Bud and a packet of lawyers, please

Saturday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) reports on the delicate dance that Anheuser-Busch is doing at this summer's World Cup in Germany, marketing a beer to the world from an event where the locals hold it in very low esteem. There are a couple of indications in the story that Anheuser-Busch executives in St Louis were misled by the beer's popularity in Ireland into assuming that it was a viable proposition in Germany; the company has owned the exclusive beer marketing rights for World Cups since 1998:

While only 6.4% of Anheuser's revenue is generated outside the U.S., it's a highly profitable business, generating 22.7% of net income in 2005. Budweiser isn't as popular overseas as it is in the U.S., but Anheuser has about 14% of the market in Ireland and is trying to increase sales in Europe, Latin America and Asia.

But as many beer drinkers know, Germany poses multiple problems for Bud:

In 1895 a group of Czech brewers in the town of Ceske Budejovice (Budweis in German) launched a beer called Budweiser too. The Czech company says it was upholding the tradition of beer brewed in the town since the 13th century. The two companies have been fighting over use of the name almost ever since.

Even the name Bud is out because one of Germany's most popular beers, Bitburger, is called Bit and German courts have ruled that "Bud" is too close to "Bit." As a result, the American company is forced to sell its beer in Germany under the awkward name Anheuser Busch Bud.

And as if that wasn't enough, Germans just don't like Bud, the final insult to the insipid flavour being that it doesn't meet the country's beer purity expectations, as it contains added rice. Anyway the execs quickly saw the PR fiasco that would result from trying to make the locals attending matches buy a beer that they don't like, so they've cut a deal with Bitburger to sell it along side Bud in the stadiums:

Under the agreement, the name Anheuser-Busch -- not Budweiser -- will appear on key chains and hats given away at events. The company has printed a bar guide to direct people to bars that sell its beer. At the stadiums, drinkers who buy the beer will receive commemorative plastic cups with the World Cup logo next to the words: Anheuser-Busch. Bitburger will be sold in unbranded plastic cups.

One approving fan is quoted "The one drink connected to football is beer," although Gordon Brown's budget seem to think that it was Champagne.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Limerick and the census

The overseas media seem tickled by the "controversy" over the Irish census which will take place on Sunday night and in so doing, runs the risk of missing Munster rugby fans who will still be in Dublin celebrating or commiserating the outcome of their Heineken Cup semi-final against Leinster. The angle being played up is that Limerick's city status could be theatened if the population count is too low. The Canadian radio show As It Happens did the story a couple of nights ago and the BBC World Service is going to cover it, apparently with fan interviews, in the next half hour.

UPDATE: The BBC spot was meant to be on World Have Your Say, but it got bumped by blabbing about Bessie's 80th. They had clearly intended to do it, and were soliciting comments on their blog.

Better late than never

Today's anonymously sourced New York Times drafting of White House counsel's Harriet Miers' resignation letter:

Mr. Bolten [chief of staff] is said by a number of Republicans in Washington to feel that Ms. Miers is indecisive, a weak manager and slow in moving vital paperwork through the system. She came to the White House in January 2001 as the staff secretary and then held one of Mr. Bolten's former jobs, deputy chief of staff for policy, before Mr. Bush appointed her as White House counsel in November 2004.

"Vital paperwork" like this?

On the Google couch

While the tendency of the American right to equate dissent with mental illness goes back some time, with Charles Krauthammer being a pioneer, there seems to be a coordinated campaign in the last week to depict liberal blogs and the comment sections thereof as outposts of, literally, insanity. Friday's Wall Street Journal brings another iteration, with a lament by Daniel Henninger about the unhinged, uninhibited nature of discourse in liberal blogs, and the possible mental problems that lie behind it:

But there is one more personality trait common to the blogosphere that, like crabgrass, may be spreading to touch and cover everything. It's called disinhibition. Briefly, disinhibition is what the world would look like if everyone behaved like Jerry Lewis or Paris Hilton or we all lived in South Park.

Example: The Web site currently famous for enabling and aggregating millions of personal blogs is called If you opened its "blogs" page this week, the first thing you saw was a blogger's video of a guy swilling beer and sticking his middle finger through a car window. Right below that were two blogs by women in their underwear.

In our time, it has generally been thought bad and unhealthy to "repress" inhibitions. Spend a few days inside the new world of personal blogs, however, and one might want to revisit the repression issue ...Then there's politics. On the Huffington Post yesterday, there were more than 600 "comments" on Karl Rove and the White House staff shake-up. "Demoted my --- the snake is still in the grass." "He should be demoted to Leavenworth." "Rove is Bush's Brain, and without him, our Decider-in-Chief wouldn't know how to wipe his own ----."

From a primary post on the same subject on the Daily Kos, widely regarded as one of the most influential blogging sites in Democratic politics now: "I don't give a ----. Karl Rove belongs in shackles." "A group of village whores have taken a day off to do laundry."

Intense language like this used to be confined to construction sites and corner bars. Now it is normal discourse on Web sites, the most popular forums for political discussion.

Note the absence of any excerpts from daily discourse on right-wing talk radio, let alone right-wing blogs. In fact the thinness of the message illuminates the real agenda: the sense on the right that the blogging has swung decisively anti-Bush, but since a partisan criticism won't fly, it has to be dressed up as a sociological critique:

The Web is nothing if not "social." But the blogosphere is also the product not of people meeting, but venting alone at a keyboard with all the uninhibited, bat-out-of-hell hyperbole of thinking, suggestion and expression that this new technology seems to release.

It's not clear whether the "venting alone" phrase is an intended echo of Robert Putnam's "bowling alone", but it is likely true that there is a positive correlation between the number of blogs and, for example, wars in the Middle East. Q.E.D.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The un-Shannon

From Reuters:

Canada refused to allow Belarussian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky's plane to land for refueling en route to Cuba on Thursday, a Belarussian diplomat and Canadian officials said. Ottawa, which last month froze most ties with Belarus to protest against the controversial March 19 presidential vote, said it had strong concerns about the country's commitment to democratization and human rights.

"In light of these concerns, we were not prepared to facilitate the entry of senior-level representatives of the Belarussian regime onto Canadian soil," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Pamela Greenwell.

In Havana, Belarussian embassy councilor Victor Kozintsey said the reason Canada gave was that Sidorsky's delegation included officials banned from entering the European Union for their role in the presidential election. The plane refueled in Boston instead, delaying Sidorsky's arrival in Havana, Kozintsey said.

"This is so childish. Does Canada belong to the European Union?" Kozintsey said. "The United States is more friendly than Canada," he commented. The EU imposed a visa ban on top Belarussian officials considered responsible for the elections, which the United States, Canada and the EU condemned as unfair.

What's odd here is two levels of sanctions-busting by the US: allowing Belarus to work around pro-democracy sanctions imposed by the EU and observed by Canada, but also facilitating travel to Cuba. This is something that George and Jeb Bush have worked to make more difficult for ordinary Cubans living in Florida.

Protecting the Leader

When a Falun Gong protestor tried to heckle Chinese President Hu at the White House this morning, one of the first hands over her mouth was that of a Chinese cameraman. An employee of the official news agency (i.e. the Chinese version of Fox News) doing his patriotic duty, or one of Hu's security detail, using media cover?

New kid on the block

Continuing a tendency that's been evident for some time, Thursday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) offers high praise for a small European country:

Baltic Tiger

What's the reward for taking over a devastated ex-Soviet economy at the tender age of 32 and rapidly turning it into one of Europe's dynamos? Some measure of personal satisfaction, no doubt. The gratitude of your countrymen. And, it turns out, a pretty substantial cash prize. The Cato Institute will announce today that former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar is the winner of its biennial Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty. He will receive a $500,000 check at a ceremony next month in Chicago.

Could it be that they want some other small European country to sharpen up a bit? There's a little hint in their title.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

David Cameron does Christy Moore

A David Cameron quip during PM's Questions today, with reference to a hypothetical visit of Tony Blair to his constituency to find a NHS dentist:

"He'd have more luck looking for Lord Lucan riding on Shergar"

Christy Moore, Lisdoonvarna:

A 747 for Jackson Browne,
They had to build a special runway just to get him down.
Before the Chieftains could start to play,
Seven creamy pints came out on a tray.
Shergar was ridden by Lord Lucan,
Seán Cannon did the backstage cookin'.

UPDATE: Was Cameron at the Barbican on Monday night?

Those were the days

The tone of enlightened discourse on conservative blogs continues, with Powerline's "Trunk" printing a humourous (sic) contribution from self-styled gadfly and professor of something or other, Russell Seitz. It's a parody of the Yale acapella group's eponymous song, the Whippenpoof Song, which is itself a parody of an old Kipling ditty. The new parody works with one current source of right-wing fulmination, the presence of a former Taliban spokesman at Yale. A few of the lines:

Our little black Sheikh has come to play
Boo Laa Laah!
He’s totally psyched to blow Yale away
In’ Shaa Laah!
We're Musselman bombers off on a spree
We’ll wage jihad til eternity
Or Yale Law admits Moussaoui
Lord have mercy on such as ye
Boo Laa Laa

When in Osama and Eli’s name
We atomize the Harvard Game
Dick Levin will say
Larry Summers’s to blame
In’ Shaa 'Laah!

Even if our pal Hashemi
Isn’t quite ready for Bones or Key
Our rewards will be heavenly
Six dozen veiled Smithies are waiting, you see
Ooo laa laaah!
We’ll all pile in to a Ryder Van
And vaporize Vassar en route to Iran
Rah! Rah! Rah!

Note in particular the "joke" linking the suicide bomber's 72 virgins to students at Smith College.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Triumph of the Swill

Away from the debased discourse of liberal bloggers, refined material at National Review's The Corner, in the context of the direction of a film about the Beijing Olympics:

OLYMPIA [Andrew Stuttaford]

So a totalitarian regime wants a film-maker to help design an Olympic spectacle. According to this report [Independent], Steven Spielberg is pleased to oblige. Well, I guess that Leni Riefenstahl is no longer around to help out...

He's still got the right-hand drive excuse

LOS ANGELES - A Swedish businessman involved in the high-speed crash of a rare Ferrari on a coastal highway was charged Monday with embezzlement and other counts involving the alleged theft of a collection of exotic cars.

Bo Stefan M. Eriksson, 44, ... a former executive with the European video game company Gizmondo, imported two Enzo Ferraris and a rare Mercedes worth an estimated $3.8 million, prosecutors said.

The cars are owned by British financial institutions and leased to Eriksson, Deputy District Attorney Steven Sowders said in a statement. The lease agreement did not allow Eriksson to take the cars out of Great Britain, Sowders said.

Authorities contend Eriksson, arrested in early April, was behind the wheel of an Enzo Ferrari — one of only 400 made — when it wrecked Feb. 21 on Pacific Coast Highway in west Malibu. The car crashed into a pole at 162 mph, totaling the $1 million vehicle.

Eriksson told police he was only a passenger in the car and that the driver was a German acquaintance he knew only as Dietrich. He said Dietrich ran into the hills, but a search by deputies turned up no one.

Meet the new toadies

George Bush today, responding to a question about likely changes to his Cabinet:

THE PRESIDENT: I understand this is -- you know, this is a matter of high speculation here in Washington. It's the game of musical chairs, I guess you'd say, that people love to follow.

musical chairs
pl.n. (used with a sing. verb)
A game in which players walk to music around a group of chairs containing one chair fewer than the number of players and rush to sit down when the music stops. The player left standing in each round is eliminated.

Informal. A rearrangement, as of the elements of a problem, having little practical influence or significance.

Paths to Independence

There are a couple of Empire-related anniversaries today, as noted in the London Times. The Irish Free State -- clumsily and self-defeatingly acquiring the Eire tag under Dev's 1937 Constitution -- finally made it official in 1949 and became the Republic of Ireland. [Leading to the trivia question: who was the last King of Ireland?]. And on this same day in 1980, Zimbabwe acquired independence as a majority rule African state, succeeding the white majority state minority government under Ian Smith.

Things have worked out rather differently for the two states, although one thing the varying experiences may demonstrate is the advantage of having land reform issues worked out before populist post-independence politics can make a hash of it. At independence, Zimbabwe was a state where 4500 white farmers controlled 70 percent of the land.

By coincidence, the Times also runs an obituary for an only-in-Africa character: Ian Harvey, who served in the air forces of colonial Rhodesia, Ian Smith, and of Zimbabwe, becoming Mugabe's personal helicopter pilot and then living the arc of most Zimbabweans recently, taking a menial job out of retirement to supplement his pension, which was eroded by hyperinflation.

As the weekend showed, the Republic chose to commemorate an uprising and not any of the formal anniversaries of its status, such as today's. Given the current trajectory of the process that began in 1980, a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe may do likewise.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Double secret

Saturday's Washington Post carried an article about the tone of political commentary in liberal blogs and the comment sections thereof. Apparently some people don't like George Bush and say so. The article has led to predictable lamentations from The Right about the decline in civility from the good old days when the first lady would be called Hitlery Clintoon. But instead of focusing on people typing wacky stuff in a comment thread on Kos, the Post could take a look at some of what goes on in the right-wing blogs these days, specifically Project Harmony -- a freelance, decentralized translation effort of thousands of Saddam-era documents dumped into the public domain by the Pentagon.

The agenda is to find proof of the existence of WMDs, although how exactly the invasion in search of actual WMDs would be vindicated by the search for mentions of them in documents still escapes us. Anyway, the translation efforts are being undertaken mostly by contributors to big right-wing blogs, and so there is much exultation today, for example from Powerline's "Hindrocket":

... jveritas at Free Republic ... has come up with what appears to be a highly significant memorandum. This is how he introduces the translation:

Document ISGP-2003-0001498 contains a 9 page TOP SECRET memo (pages 87-96 in the pdf document) dated March 16 2003 that talks about transferring “SPECIAL AMMUNITION” from one ammunition depot in Najaf to other ammunition depots near Baghdad. As we know by now the term SPECIAL AMMUNITION was used by Saddam Regime to designate CHEMICAL WEAPONS as another translated document has already shown.

Now while investigative journalist Con Coughlin had an uncanny ability to find WMD-documents miracalously available in Telegraph-ready English, it's not clear here whether Saddam was equally obliging in capitalising any potential references -- in Arabic -- to his beloved WMDs.

But consider one very obvious problem with this memo. If the memo is already "TOP SECRET," why would Saddam not just explicitly refer to the weapons, instead of the nod-wink SPECIAL AMMUNITION designation?


In addition to the usual posts here, P O'Neill will be commenting over at TPM Cafe on Juliet Eilperin's book, Fight Club Politics. The book describes what happens when gerrymandering is taken to the extreme, as is the case for the US House of Representatives.

UPDATE: Here's a link to our main contribution.

Operation Scapegoat

When today's lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal flails around at the underlings who let down the Commander-in-Chief and notes:

Retired General Tommy Franks, who led and planned the campaign that toppled Saddam Hussein, took a victory lap after the invasion even as the insurgency gathered strength,

does the victory lap include being a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush, and participating in the reelection campaign of George W. Bush?

1916 postscript

Today's New York Times has a story about the 1916 parade. The story includes a signal of yet another quote/incident that clearly is going to follow Willie "Make My Day" O'Dea around:

Defense Minister Willie O'Dea said that Northern Ireland's sectarian conflict was essentially over and that the parade represented "the end of the Troubles."

At the very best, all one can say is that it's all over bar the shouting.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

plus de Beckett

Adding to the voluminous markings of Sam Beckett's centenary -- and wouldn't Beckett have liked being the only competition for the 1916 parade in the Irish news? -- poet Paul Muldoon offers a few lines in Sunday's New York Times. We were hoping for some of his clever placename wordplay (Armagh/Armani; Laois/Laos), but go read it anyway.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Human Fund

The White House today provided summaries of the president and vice president's tax returns. While the return of the Bushes is par for the course for elite Texans who also collect a government salary, the Cheneys' return is presented in a way clearly intended to fend off anticipated criticism about their finances. Much of the summary describes a convoluted transaction arising from the fact that Dick still owns a bunch of assets from his Halliburton days, but has promised the proceeds thereof to charities; because he still owns them there were substantial estimated tax payments which he paid in advance to the charities last December and will collect as a refund now.

Nevertheless, separately from the Halliburton assets, he's still getting a paycheck from them for 2005 (deferred compensation from 1999) that exceeds his VP salary ($211,000 versus $205,000); the summary is at pains to emphasise that this amount was agreed in 1999 and so is not connected to Halliburton's actual performance since then (leaving aside the possibility that in an alternative universe, they might have gone bankrupt in the meantime).

But the main entertainment comes from Lynne's income; she has significant royalty income from books whose titles tell the story:

America: A Patriotic Primer, A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Woman, When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots, A Time for Freedom: What Happened When in America

Strangely enough, there is no mention of her novel, Sisters, described in detail on the valuable website, which the White House has tried in the past to shut down.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Nuovo Con

If one is already a little paranoid about what might happen in Italy in the next few weeks, it doesn't help to see Michael Ledeen pop up in Thursday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) to offer his description and analysis of recent events. Ledeen's usual subjects these days are Iran and Iraq but he has long-standing Italian interests, which is precisely why anyone wondering how those Niger forgeries really got from Rome to Washington should seek his insights. For the most part the article is a pretty even-handed account, although he can't resist the Bush-Berlusconi analogies (in his mind, a compliment). But then there's his breezy conclusion:

Indeed, it is still technically possible for Mr. Berlusconi to remain in office, because the courts are required to check the tallies, which are reported telephonically to the interior ministry. There is normally a difference of 40,000 to 60,000 votes between the original results provided by the interior ministry and the final numbers. In 2001 the number was 57,000. So it is still possible that, when the courts announce the results on April 28, the center-right will have a stable majority in the Chamber. It would only require a shift of about 13,000 votes.

Does he know something we don't?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Easter 2006

In today's New York Times (reg. req'd) John Burnett writes from Crossmaglen about the low intensity unrest that continues in Northern Ireland. In fact you'll see his interest from the brief bio at the end:

John S. Burnett, the author of "Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas," is writing a book about bomb disposal.

Ae he explains, he's getting lots of material.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Gordon and Alan under a Bush

There's no telling where the bizarre Gordon Brown-Alan Greenspan love-in might lead, not least if Ted Hall, writing on the op-ed page of Tuesday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) has his way:

Like competition among computer operating systems, very few [currency] regimes will emerge as successful. Advantages from absolute scale and increasing returns created as additional participants join will define the winners. In this battle for scale, the U.K. has the enviable position of casting the $8-trillion swing vote. The euro needs it desperately. But for the U.K., the dollar may be more attractive, not least because of regulatory, legal, accounting, cultural and linguistic commonalities. The U.K. will likely find it easier to fashion a coordinated monetary policy with one compatible counterparty than with 15 countries with whom it agrees on wine but not on beef or Iraq.

In other words, dollarize the UK. There are various ways to outline the problems with this proposal. One scenario: would the British people really be happy to hold the future dollars with George Bush's visage on them and many zeroes in the denomination -- one likely consequence of Bush's insane fiscal policies? But more prosaically, a dollarized UK would destroy the one fiction that keeps London "affordable" for ordinary Americans: that if you pretend the units are dollars, the prices all seem reasonable. With a dollarized London, everything would be twice the price it is in the US, and a big chunk of the tourist market would collapse. On the other hand, it would be even clearer to British people how cheap Canada is, so one part of North America would be a clear beneficiary. But for the most part, let's consign this proposal to the irrational exhuberance preceeding the implosion of the Bush presidency.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Why does anyone ever believe exit polls?

Italian state TV election site. Freedom House is Silvio, the reported loser of the election.

Yes Please

President Bush today, speaking at the School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, where he strangely never mentioned a former dean of that institution. Anyway:

I am going to spend two-and-a-half years charging as hard as I possibly can -- I want to sprint out of office.

Zero hire contract

We haven't had much to say about the new job law in France, withdrawn today under the weight of massive popular protests. It highlights that in the unlikely scenario of us ever living in France, we'd have to be conservative, by their standards. The law was conceived in the wake of the suburban riots, where chronic youth unemployment was at least a proximate cause of the disturbances. And there's abundant evidence that employment restrictions manifest themselves as reluctance to hire. And while one response of government critics was to claim that there are already are employment contracts quite like the now deceased CPE, that just begs the question of why the union and student reaction was so severe.

A couple of observations. One, as we noted last year, France is still living with the hangover of the last general election, in which the electorate was denied a straight right-left vote when the 2nd round of the Presidential election became a run-off between Chirac and Le Pen. Chirac's continued ineptness since the EU referendum defeat has not helped, and Dominique de Villepin is now merely the latest victim of the curse of being anointed Chirac's favourite. Meanwhile, Nicolas Sarkozy, chaotic marriage and all, has once again landed on his feet. The story of the last few weeks was clear from the sight of him at a Saturday morning crisis meeting a couple of weekends ago, conspicuously not wearing a tie as the panicked ENArques elsewhere around the table choked on theirs.

But enough about the government. The tactics of anti-government students were disgraceful. It wouldn't be France if there weren't street protests, but things extended from there to blockades of schools and universities and occupations of railway lines, bridges, markets, and government offices. In one particularly revealing bit of vandalism, students destroyed the equipment in an unemployment office, showing their attitude to the clients thereof. Schools and universities now face a crisis due to missed classes and employers may legitimately wonder about the quality of the education that will underlie any diplomas received based on the last few months work. The blockaders could never explain what exactly constraining the right to study had to do with their opposition to the job law. And their nod-and-wink supporters in the Socialist party and unions could never offer any alternative solution for chronic unemployment that didn't involve yet more government subsidies in already a highly taxed country.

Rant over. Bring on President Sarkozy!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

It's an ill-wind

Republican party operative Dan Senor has married NBC (Nation's Best Catholics) reporter Campbell Brown. [At some point Google decided to place an old post of ours near the top of searches for information about the happy couple]. Anyway, Sunday's New York Times Style section report on the wedding notes an early mutual eye-catching:

But when he was offered the job as spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, it took him 60 seconds to accept, he said. For his first days on that job, he slept on the floor of a former palace of Saddam Hussein, taking showers with bottles of water. In March 2004, Ms. Brown appeared in the crowd of journalists covering one of his daily news conferences. She was doing a story on Abu Ghraib prison for NBC.

Not that you need another sign of media-political coziness, but there's a curious little note at the end of the NYT piece:

Frank Bruni contributed reporting from Beaver Creek for this article.

So Frank, the paper's restaurant critic, was at the wedding, no doubt a nod to his quality 2000 campaign reporting:

BRUNI (pgh 1): It was not enough for Vice President Al Gore to venture a crisp pronunciation of Milosevic, as in Slobodan, the Yugoslav president who refuses to be pried from power. Mr. Gore had to go a step further, volunteering the name of Mr. Milosevic’s challenger, Vojislav Kostunica. Then he had to go a step beyond that, noting that Serbia plus Montenegro equals Yugoslavia. And as Mr. Gore loped effortlessly through the Balkans, barely able to suppress his self-satisfied grin, it became ever clearer that the point of all the thickets of consonants and proper nouns was not a geopolitical lesson. It was more like oratorical intimidation, an unwavering effort to upstage and unnerve an opponent whose mind and mouth have never behaved in a similarly encyclopedic fashion.

This was Gore's reward -- in the "liberal" New York Times -- for having the wiped the floor with a patently unqualified candidate Bush in a presidential debate. The rest is history. As they say at Private Eye, trebles all round!

Easter 1916

We had been thinking about doing "a defence of the Easter Rising" type post given the week that's in it, and may still, but that niche has already been amply supplied by Free Stater and even Bertie is getting in on the act. Instead therefore we point you to BBC Radio 4's excellent opening installment in their "Poetry of History" series devoted to Yeats' poem; truly a case where a historical event got shaped in our memories by a single brilliant nearly-contemporaneous interpretation. The show visited the key sites in Dublin and had comments from a fine panel.

We'd already been wondering if there is a little outpost of literary Irish nationalists at Radio 4, because we recall tuning in one night to Poetry Please, where Roger McGough introduces a selection of poems selected by listeners -- and they did full justice to Pearse's The Mother [here's a link to that night, which also includes a poem by Patrick Kavanagh]. More recently, Roger decided that he wanted nothing to do with Condi Rice's visit to Liverpool so he may have a soft spot for another rebel.

UPDATE: We're trying to figure out why the audio link to the Easter 1916 programme has disappeared. Also, here's a link to an Irish Times opinion piece by Diarmaid Ferriter (subs. req'd) to his thoughts prompted by the experience of being a commenter on the show.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Ruining it for everyone

The burgeoning Page Six scandal involving Jared Paul Stern is shaking loose lots of interesting stories. While sticking to our hunch that there's going to be Republican angle to it all, there's a blind item, as they say, lurking in this passage from of the Sunday New York Times articles about it:

"I know that people used to be on the take in the old days, but not for money, nothing so vulgar," said Diana McLellan, who wrote "The Ear," a gossip column for The Washington Star and The Washington Post in the 1970's and 1980's. "Caviar and champagne. In Washington I knew some social writer who got a case of champagne and case of caviar from old Iranian ambassador under the Shah."

Who could that be? Of course it could be someone long gone from the trade or indeed from this mortal coil, but then again, search engines can find stuff even back from the 1970s:

Courting Bear Hugs and Invitations

Jun. 2, 1975, TIME
Washington is becoming Gerald Ford's town.

.... The Washington Post played the formal white-tie dinner for the Shah of Iran as if Jackie Kennedy had given it. Even Reporter Sally Quinn, late of CBS and a kind of Catherine the Great of the Post newsroom, took enthusiastic notice in a lengthy and detailed article on the Shah's interlude in Ford's Washington ....

The entire article is worth a read in a plus ca change kind of way (except for the Ford bit), but it certainly does point to one Washington social writer giving our man in Tehran the boldface name treatment.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Who did he know and when did he know them?

The great god Google certainly comes in handy for background research on today's bizarre story that a freelance writer for the Murdoch-owned New York Post Page Six gossip column is being investigated for extortion:

New York Post Page Six writer Jared Paul Stern is accused of demanding a series of payments from Yucaipa chief Ron Burkle in exchange for a year's "protection" against inaccurate and unflattering items in the gossip column. William Sherman reports the deal was monitored on videotape by the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI, who are now investigating the extortion attempt.

Because the writer seems to have had some interesting company for some of his NY Post material [this month last year]:

DISGRACED former White House reporter/male escort Jeff Gannon can't believe no one has invited him to tomorrow's White House Correspondents Dinner. "It seems to me to be odd to exclude the one person who has brought more attention to the White House press corps than anyone else in years," Gannon tells PAGE SIX's Jared Paul Stern.

UPDATE: We're not giving up on the Republican connection; the billionaire Stern is accused of attempting to extort is a Democratic fundraiser. And unrelatedly, there's an aristocrat angle:

Mr. Stern named Harvey Weinstein, the co-founder of Miramax films, and Ronald O. Perelman, the chairman of Revlon Inc., as being among those who have had their coverage on the page finessed. Through a spokesman, Mr. Weinstein flatly denied any improper relationship with the column and its main editor, Richard Johnson.

Mr. Perelman's company once hired Mr. Johnson's fiancée, Sessa von Richthofen, whom he is marrying today, as an administrative assistant.

A Kos diarist expands the wondering a bit. Finally, if two makes a trend, then there is a trend of bizarre media-political overlap in two criminal investigations this week. And (really finally), a whole bunch of new links at Romenesko, including a LA Times story which notes:

For 10 years, Stern has cut a noirish figure in gossip circles, affecting a fedora, pocket watch and a preference for rye whiskey. His writing is racy and caustic, evoking Walter Winchell, whose broadcasts beginning in the 1930s routinely wrecked careers and marriages.

Remind you of anyone?

2nd UPDATE: Still no proven link to Republicans, but the Republican News Channel is certainly acting like there's a link -- no coverage on Fox News.

UPDATE 23 MAY: It's thematically easier to link to a somewhat cluttered other Stern-Burkle-Clinton post here, and to note yet more evidence of a political motive for going after Ron Burkle; today's New York Times has a much pilloried article about Bill and Hillary, which includes the line:

Nights out find him [Bill Clinton] zipping around Los Angeles with his bachelor buddy, Ronald W. Burkle, or hitting parties and fund-raisers in Manhattan

Definitely one angle as to why Republicans might have targeted Burkle. Mickey Kaus certainly sees the potential.

UPDATE 30 JULY: Without Stern to feed him material, Kaus is now reduced to peddling Google searches as the source for Clinton rumours.

FINAL UPDATE: Let's close the book on Kaus's transparent scandal-mongering, as he spends a pointless week speculating about a clearly preposterous report that then President Bill Clinton had bugged Princess Di's phone calls via her alleged dalliance with Republican magnate Ted Forstmann. So with Ron Burkle, the Democrat, the obsession with the snooping is whether there was really something he was hiding. With Forstmann, the Republican, the obsession is what it might say about the alleged snooper, Bill Clinton.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Two-deficit monte

If we devoted this blog to commentary on the daily transcripts of George Bush's utterances, we'd get nothing else done because once you start into one of this speeches, it's difficult to know when to stop. For the sake of brevity then, just one segment of his speech with a Q&A session in Charlotte NC today, although skipping over his comments on Abu Ghraib ("there was a full investigation over why something like that could have happened") is difficult. He was asked about the budget deficit, which is large and shows no signs of returning to the surpluses of the Clinton years:

There are two types of deficits that I want to describe to you. One is the current account deficit. It's the deficit that -- that we're on plan to cut in half by 2009. There's an interesting debate in Washington about how do you deal with a current account deficit? ...

I made the decision to cut taxes, as you know ... And our strategy has, I think, been proven by the numbers ... And no question, however, we've been running a deficit ... One reason we're running a deficit is because I'm going to make sure our troops have what it takes to do their job.

That's background for -- no question we have a current account deficit. I have submitted a budget that says we can cut it in half by 2009 ... And so the size of the pie was what we thought was necessary to achieve an objective. And so therefore, I'm confronted with a choice. I may not like the slices of the pie, but I like the size. And if I vetoed bills because of the slices but it met the size, what would happen during the next budget negotiations? They'd say, well, wait a minute, we hit your number, you vetoed the bills. How can we trust you in good faith?

The job of the President is to set a goal which is to reduce that deficit in half by 2009. And if people want me to be able to deal with slices of the pie, just give me the line-item veto. And I think that will help make sure that -- (Applause.)

Let me talk about another thing. I'm sorry -- this is a long answer to a very important question. I'm sorry I'm blowing on too much here, but the real deficit -- I'll get you in a minute -- the real deficit, another real deficit is the deficit inherent in Social Security and Medicare.

Apart from the bizarre discourse about pie, which he's done before, here's another question: how can any respectable economist attach his name to an Administration in which the budget deficit is described as having two parts: the "current account deficit" and the "real deficit"?

UPDATE 3 MAY: He does it again --

And so when you hear people talking about the budget, the current account deficit is important, it's really important.
Theatre of Schemes

While Manchester United are doing a creditable job on the field of making Chelsea at least think about whether they have the title sown up, it's a sign of their disappointing season that the main news is off the field: specifically their newly agreed sponsorship deal with the American Insurance Group (AIG), which will see the AIG logo on their shirts from next season.

A similar sized deal with online gambling group Mansion fell through over the weekend, apparently because of MU's scruples about a sponsorship deal with a gambling company. But of course it depends what the meaning of "gambling" is, since AIG has had a litany of legal problems relating to, shall we say, aggressive financial transactions, quite of few of which were Oirish in nature. Now in fairness they weren't transactions related to sport, which was probably MU's concern about the Mansion deal. But they have put themselves somewhat at the mercy of any future bad publicity that lands on AIG, and they have set the stage for many seasons of the mocking "USA! USA!" chant of opposing fans.

UPDATE: Saturday's Wall Street Journal report on the deal notes that AIG's English CEO is ... a Spurs fan.

Times of London cartoon.
Beneficiary Impact Statement

The Zacarias Moussaoui trial has already been very odd; if their client would just shut up, his lawyers could save his life. But things could get even stranger as soon as on Thursday, according to CNN:

Rudy Giuliani, who led New York through its darkest days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, will be among the first witnesses when the death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui resumes on Thursday, CNN has learned.

In addition, the lone cockpit voice recorder recovered from the four hijacked planes will be played publicly for the first time, the judge has ruled.

Giuliani, the former mayor of New York who some consider a possible presidential candidate in 2008, will testify about the impact of 9/11 as a witness for the government.

Giuliani is no different from any other bereaved New Yorker from 9/11, and of course by his own dubious testimony, Moussaoui was scheduled to be on a plane flying into the White House, not NYC -- although the standard theory is that he was the missing 2oth hijacker, of which there are two.

But since Rudy will be on the stand, under oath, why don't Moussaoui's lawyers ask him how, amid all the chaos, he found the time for this:

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."

If Moussaoui had told the truth to the FBI, how would we have known how blessed we were?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A decibel of stout and a packet of crisps, please

We warned you three years ago: Guinness Surger is coming (, subs. req'd) ---

Guinness hopes to double its sales in France by July thanks to its "Surger" delivery system that uses a sonic blast to give the beer its trademark foamy head ... Surger, launched in Japan two years ago, was tested at bars in French ski resorts since December ... It is now being launched across continental Europe ... Mr Julliand said the company hoped the product would be a "door opener" to bars which did not want to install the pumps needed to deliver traditional draught Guinness.