Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rhetorical hijacking

What seems like the single innovation in the latest round of George Bush speech cycles on the GWOT was the attempt to link the War on Terror to the civil rights movement, with a sequence of "We see a day when ...." sentences, doubtless designed to echo Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.

UPDATE 5 SEPTEMBER: An identical usage occurs in the 2nd last paragraph of the 2nd speech in the cycle.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Wallets on the frontlines

From George Bush's astonishing interview with Brian Williams of NBC News in New Orleans:

WILLIAMS: The folks who say you should have asked for some sort of sacrifice from all of us after 9/11, do they have a case looking back on it?

BUSH: Americans are sacrificing. I mean, we are. You know, we pay a lot of taxes. America sacrificed when they, you know, when the economy went into the tank. Americans sacrificed when, you know, air travel was disrupted. American taxpayers have paid a lot to help this nation recover. I think Americans have sacrificed.

It's not quite on a par with the equation of progressive taxation and suicide bombing, but it's getting there. And among other things, every dime of war costs has been borrowed.


In keeping with the redefinition of their jobs as mainly involving making speeches, the Bush White House is rolling out a new marketing campaign to definitively label all Islamic threats as "fascist." The poll-tested strategy is explained as follows --

Fascism, in fact, seems to be the new buzz word for Republicans in an election season dominated by an unpopular war in Iraq ... And Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday took it a step further in a speech to an American Legion convention in Salt Lake City, accusing critics of the administration's Iraq and anti-terrorism policies of trying to appease "a new type of fascism."

White House aides and outside Republican strategists said the new description is an attempt to more clearly identify the ideology that motivates many organized terrorist groups, representing a shift in emphasis from the general to the specific.

"I think it's an appropriate definition of the war that we're in," said GOP pollster Ed Goeas. "I think it's effective in that it definitively defines the enemy in a way that we can't because they're not in uniforms."

Apart from the higher level idiocy, note that complete non sequitur of fascist=not-in-uniform, since one classic characteristic of 1930s fascist movements was the wearing of commonly-coloured shirts.

The Heathrow timeline, again

It's a topic that won't go away: who knew what and when about the status of the Heathrow liquid bomb plot investigation. As we've argued before, the conventional Reid-Bush timeline doesn't hold up i.e. the claim that there was a slow-moving investigation which only became pressing on the 8th of August, necessitating a sudden move on the alleged plotters. It's already clear that Tony Blair and George Bush had discussed the plot the prior weekend, and its denouement came rather conveniently for the Republican strategy regarding Joe Lieberman's Democratic primary defeat in Connecticut.

But now via Powerline comes news that the Washington knowledge of the plot was even wider, and even earlier. The revelation was in an interview given by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to Minnesota bloggers, and in a typed version of hushed tones, "Hindrocket" explains:

Frist is deadly serious about the war on terror, the pre-eminent issue of our era. He tells a chilling story of receiving a call from President Bush a week before the recent British airline bomb plot was disrupted. The message at that time, communicated to less than a handful of top federal officials, was that a terrorist plan was known to be in progress which could kill several thousand Americans, but there was no assurance that it could be stopped. It was stopped, thankfully, and news accounts suggest that the very terrorist surveillance programs now under attack by the Democrats were instrumental in saving thousands of American lives.

Likewise, "Trunk" --

Senator Frist's comments about the foiled British Muslim plot to take down passenger planes were perhaps the most intriguing. He clearly implied what a near-run thing the foiling of the plot was.

Something's fishy. Backword has a roundup of what's now known about the plot from the semi-squelched New York Times article on Monday, from which its clear that the threat was far less imminent and out of control than Frist says. Either he's exaggerating, or there was already some notion that the plot was going to have to be shut down quite soon in the week prior to the 9th. In particular, the possibility that the decision was precipitated by a different sense of urgency on the two sides of the Atlantic remains wide open.

Time spent on diagnoses from the Senate floor doesn't count

New York Times --

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 (AP) — The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, did not meet all the requirements needed to keep his medical license active even though he gave paperwork to Tennessee officials indicating that he had, his office acknowledged Tuesday.

Tennessee requires its licensed physicians to complete 40 hours of continuing medical education every two years. Mr. Frist, a heart-lung surgeon, submitted a license renewal with the Tennessee Health Department stating he had fulfilled that requirement ... "As a result of a change in Tennessee’s regulations several years after Dr. Frist came to the Senate, he may be required to complete additional continuing medical education hours," the spokesman, Matt Lehigh, said in a statement. "A representative of the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners has been contacted, and Dr. Frist will meet every requirement of the board."

Stereotypes held by whom?

White House statement this morning:

President Bush was saddened to learn of the passing of Egypt's Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature, Naguib Mahfouz. The writings of this extraordinary author of novels, short stories, and film scripts transcend all stereotypes and show the deepest insight into the lives of Egyptians and of all mankind.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

If you don't want people to say it's about oil

Then don't bring it up. George Bush in New Orleans today identifying a key constraint in protection against future hurricanes:

I strongly urge the United States Congress to pass energy legislation that will give the state of Louisiana more revenues from off-shore leases so they can restore the wetlands. (Applause.)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Worst Katrina Excuse Ever

Bush apologist, the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto, blames the Plame-Wilson investigation:

Of course, much as this [investigation] seemed like a sitcom, it had consequences in real life. Because Armitage [source of leak] did not come clean right away, many people suffered:

... Innocent White House officials were distracted from serving the country in order to participate in the investigation, which was in full swing a year ago when Hurricane Katrina struck.

UPDATE: The excuse is seconded by the National Review's Cliff May.


The silly season apparently extends to coming up with silly names to make Iran sound really, really evil --

"Iran is like the elephant in the room if you will ... they are the central banker of terror. It is a country that has terrorism as a line-item in its budget," said Stuart Levey, the [US Treasury] department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Loose lips sink court cases

One recurring aspect of UK terrorism investigations is that more details seem to show up in US media outlets, suggesting blabbing by top US security officials. Therefore it's not surprising that the New York Times was sufficiently concerned about potential legal implications of its well-sourced story about the Heathrow liquid bomb plot in today's print edition to block it from its website. One conundrum though is that the NYT sourced its information to British officials, who surely must have known that they were leaking potentially prejudicial material. Could it be that the NYT is not being entirely upfront about who its sources actually are?

UPDATE: Having read the article again, there is no single highly sensitive revelation, but it was clearly based on interviews with people who had access to the inner workings of the investigation, including the text from alleged martyrdom videos, the seized evidence (including Lucozade bottles), and the Pakistan angle, in which the Pakistanis are said to have moved on Rashid Rauf (possibly in connection with a different investigation*) before the British wanted. In addition, the unnamed officials now seem keen to backtrack from John Reid's more hysterical declarations when the news first broke.

*It's unclear whether the Pakistanis were originally pursuing Rauf for the earlier crime, or whether it's been used a vehicle for a quicker extradition than the current plot details would allow.

FINAL UPDATE: The NYT story is now posted, but blocked in the UK. Backword summarises.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Feeble and unserious, indeed

Since Mark Steyn suddenly seems to be flavour of the month again on the right, an issue comes to mind. Today brings news that the Fox News reporter and cameraman (Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig) freed in Gaza recorded videos at gunpoint claiming that they had converted to Islam before they were released. Does Steyn's advice, offered in mockery to deceased hostage Ken Bigley, still apply in such situations --

If you're kidnapped, accept you're unlikely to survive, say "I'll show you how an Englishman dies", and wreck the video. If they want you to confess you're a spy, make a little mischief: there are jihadi from Britain, Italy, France, Canada and other western nations all over Iraq – so say yes, you're an MI6 agent, and so are those Muslims from Tipton and Luton who recently joined the al-Qaeda cells in Samarra and Ramadi. As Churchill recommended in a less timorous Britain: You can always take one with you. If Mr Blair and other government officials were to make that plain, it would be, to use Mr Bigley's word, “enough”. A war cannot be subordinate to the fate of any individual caught up in it.

And, if you don't want to wind up in that situation, you need to pack heat and be prepared to resist at the point of abduction. I didn't give much thought to decapitation when I was mooching round the Sunni Triangle last year, but my one rule was that I was determined not to get into a car with any of the locals and I was willing to shoot anyone who tried to force me. If you're not, you shouldn't be there.

None of the above would have guaranteed Mr Bigley's life, but it would have given him, as it did Signor Quattrocchi, a less pitiful death, and it would have spared the world a glimpse of the feeble and unserious Britain of the last few weeks.

UPDATE: As Dave Weeden reminds us in an e-mail, Steyn has in fact embraced his former position regarding the Gaza hostages. Sidenote: the David Warren that also features in that Glenn Greenwald link is a pioneer of the flypaper justification for the invasion of Iraq. By which logic, the two Foxmen should have been completely safe in Gaza, with all the bad guys attracted to Iraq.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The waiting game

This Sunday's New York Times Magazine has an article by James Traub which considers IRA decommissioning as a potential precedent for how Hezbollah might be disarmed; indeed this difference in words is an important part of how the process was sold to the more hardline IRA members as not a surrender. Worth a read; here's the key paragraph:

Certainly the I.R.A. precedent shows that even brutal paramilitary groups can ultimately be persuaded to lay down their arms. But it will prove relevant only if Hezbollah has demands that can be satisfied by a political process, so that over time its fighting force will dwindle into “the paramilitary branch” of its political wing, and former soldiers will accept reintegration into civilian life. Hezbollah does, in fact, aspire to gain “adequate representation” for Shiites inside Lebanon, as the I.R.A. did for Catholics in Northern Ireland. But this is scarcely its raison d’être. Hezbollah has used its weapons on Israel, not on the government of Lebanon; and it fights Israel with the professed goal of destroying it. If we take Hezbollah at its word, disarmament can come only in the wake of apocalyptic triumph.

That claim about the IRA is open to dispute; its goal is in fact a united Irish Republic and not just adequate representation for Catholics within NI's political structures -- but it did settle for something far less than unification as part of the Good Friday Agreement. So professed goals can be malleable if conditions are right, which is one positive aspect of the comparison for the Lebanon crisis.

The last defender

When Slate's Mickey Kaus chooses to emphasize this clause from Michael Hirsh's review of Peter Galbraith's book advocating the partition of Iraq --

If [breakup] was inevitable anyway, then how can you blame this outcome on the incompetence of the American occupation [?]

he should be clear that this is a critique of Galbraith's premise about inevitable breakup, and not, as he seems to be pitching it, a defence of George W. Bush. As Hirsh says,

the disastrous errors made in invading and occupying Iraq are already confirmed historical fact. They are disputed by no responsible or knowledgeable person, outside of a small circle of Kool-Aid sippers in the White House --

and coyly, by one Kool-Aid sipper on a beach in Santa Monica.

UPDATE 29 AUGUST: More evidence of spinning for Bush on Iraq --

One wonders if the Washington players are now so locked into the hell-in-a-handbasket Iraq story line--in large part because the polls support it--that they are incapable of grokking a promising trend in the news --

written in this context.

A global solution to an Irish problem

In this week's New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell has an interesting article with the hook --

What’s behind Ireland’s economic miracle—and G.M.’s financial crisis?

The answer? The dependency ratio, the ratio of dependents (children and retirees) to the working-age population. In the Irish context, he's relying on recent economic research findings, as he explains:

.. as the Harvard economists David Bloom and David Canning suggest in their study of the "Celtic Tiger," of greater importance may have been a singular demographic fact. In 1979, restrictions on contraception that had been in place since Ireland’s founding were lifted, and the birth rate began to fall. In 1970, the average Irishwoman had 3.9 children. By the mid-nineteen-nineties, that number was less than two. As a result, when the Irish children born in the nineteen-sixties hit the workforce, there weren’t a lot of children in the generation just behind them. Ireland was suddenly free of the enormous social cost of supporting and educating and caring for a large dependent population. It was like a family of four in which, all of a sudden, the elder child is old enough to take care of her little brother and the mother can rejoin the workforce. Overnight, that family doubles its number of breadwinners and becomes much better off.

For General Motors, the corresponding issue is that of laid-off and retired workers who must still be supported by the firm's cash flow, a consequence of American reliance on corporate safety nets.

While it's doubtless that something as basic as the number of people who must be supported by others can explain quite a bit about the world, it's less clear that the contraception-induced transition in Ireland is quite as dominant as the Harvard researchers argue. For one thing, what was this big reform in 1979? It was availability of condoms with a doctor's prescription. Now perhaps it was always intended that this was a law to be more honoured in the breach than in the observance, but such a half-hearted law could not itself be the ingredient of a big societal reform. Furthermore, the law itself could have reflected an emerging preference for smaller family size -- a bunch of different things were going on at the same time.

More seriously, there's one thing missing from the reliance on dependency ratios, and it's also one thing that makes the Ireland-GM analogy a bit strained: unemployment. Of course it's good for a country to have an age distribution that results in plenty of working-age people relative to children and retirees. But working-age is not the same as working. If all these young people can't find jobs, then they're effectively part of the dependent population too. And in 1980s Ireland, they could not, for well-known reasons: a fiscal crisis, a paralysed political system, and deeply unfavourable global economic developments.

Instead, the country was forced into a 3 part strategy for dealing with its bulging working-age population: emigration, college education, and unemployment benefits. The last in particular being very costly and contributing the budget crisis that was the source of problems in the first place. Only in the late 1980s, when a political consensus emerged for retrenchment, world interest rates had fallen, and long-standing corporate tax policies and EU membership finally kicked in, did the boom begin. Helped along of course by the ready-supply of working-age people at home and abroad, who now had something to do.

UPDATE: The actual Bloom and Canning paper does make similar qualifications, which don't appear in Gladwell's account. And more Gladwell blogging via Deal Breaker here and here.

FINAL UPDATE: More analysis on this Slugger O'Toole thread, and Gladwell responds to critics (and adds caveats) on his own blog.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A moment of reflection

The oddly titled Minister for Communities, Ruth Kelly, launching the oddly titled Commission on Integration and Cohesion today:

Second and third generation immigrants can face a struggle. Not to adapt to life in the UK - but to reconcile their own values and beliefs with those of their parents and grandparents.

Ruth Kelly's grandfather was in the IRA.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Freedom of speech meets fussy corporate PR

It's a shame this article from Ireland's Sunday Tribune is behind subscription because it's an excellent roundup of an underreported (for reasons that will be explained) controversy afflicting the Irish Internet: namely the zeal with which MCD, the dominant concert promoter in Ireland, has squelched discussions of goings-on in the campsite at their Oxegen festival in Kildare a few weeks ago. As various Irish bloggers have chronicled, any forum that hosts criticism of security at the event becomes the target of the dreaded solicitor's letter i.e. an unfriendly cease-and-desist upon threat of legal action from MCD's lawyers. As Irish blog pioneer John Breslin discovered, the letter arrives without any previous communication, leaving him with little choice to bar any related discussions from the site that he manages.

In addition to details that you can find elsewhere, one damning little section in the Trib article is a compare-and-contrast on statements issued by Garda superintendents in Naas and Mullingar following separate MCD-promoted events: in each case, the post-event press release is a bland move-along-folks-just-a-few-drug-arrests thing, almost identically structured and worded. One would hate to think that the Garda are simply issuing press releases provided for them by MCD, so let's hope that's not the case.

The Trib concludes by noting that MCD had asked them for the contact details of concert-goers who had complained to the Trib about concert security -- so that, as MCD says, they could follow up the complaints. It'll be interesting to see whether, if MCD found no evidence for such a complaint (and what evidence would there be at this point?), that these people would not themselves receive the dreaded solicitor's letter. Incidentally, this plague has been popping up elsewhere in the Irish blogging world, although we were pleased to hear that Free Stater has had no unpleasant surprises in the post recently.

UPDATE 3 SEPTEMBER: Adam Maguire notes that MCD can dish it out but can't take it.

He forgot a couple of capital letters

Powerline's "Hindrocket" --

[Bush] was by turns instructive, persuasive, and funny. His persona is very much that of the big brother.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bait and switch

Consider the following excerpt from a post from Powerline's "Deacon" with a few minor word alternations:

[newspaper] reports that some American reservists, having just returned from fighting in Iraq, are demanding that President Bush resign because of his handling of the war. The reservists are complaining about insufficient provisions ... shortages of combat equipment, and indecisive orders.

Reservists constitute the core of the American armed forces and, as such, command the utmost respect of the society that depends on them for survival ... Bush's defense is that previous governments are to blame for not taking the Islamist threat seriously and preparing accordingly ... In any case, Bush cannot shift the blame for the indecisive start-again, stop-again approach he took once the shooting started.

So what did we change? The Israel-Olmert-Hezbollah references in the original post were changed to Iraq-Bush-Islamist references. So why is that for the right-wingers, protests by the Israeli military against the politicians who send them to war are legitimate and even welcome, while in the US case they are treasonous?

Global War on Price Gouging

The extent of Ryder Cup hype in Ireland is at levels that should embarrass any self-respecting country and the already-underway backlash has even drawn in the US Ambassador, James Kenny (incidentally, the Irish media finally seem to have caught up to a BOBW exclusive from 2 months ago, that he's leaving the job). Kenny, not hiding his devotion to one of a diplomat's most important jobs -- golf --, has drawn attention to the practice of courses throughout the island increasing the price on Ryder Cup weekend for a round of golf:

"Some of the courses are doubling their fees for the Ryder Cup or for the summer, just because it's Ryder Cup year," U.S. Ambassador to Ireland James Kenny said. "That isn't real welcoming for Americans who might want to come back" ... While clubs such as Ballybunion in Kerry aren't raising greens fees, others are applying weekend rates for the Ryder Cup week. The Royal County Down course, ranked the world's ninth-best by Golf Magazine, is raising prices by as much as 27 percent; Dublin Bay's Royal Dublin club by 13 percent.

"We are charging a little extra, but there's extra costs involved," said Paul Muldowney, Royal Dublin's chief executive. "There will be a lot of people who will have to be in work earlier and obviously they will have to be paid for that."

Now who knows: maybe the visiting golf fans that weekend really are suckers who'll pay a high price to be able to say that they played a round of golf in Ireland, but it's looking like the hype may have gotten ahead of market demand. The government is a willing participant in the boosterism, so bleatings of concern from ministers are simply laughable.

Maybe it's the jet lag

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is in Sligo to unveil a memorial to a New York National Guard regiment with ties to the region. He also tantalised reporters with hints about a (highly unlikely) run for President as a 3rd party candidate -- with the discussion tied to his current locale:

To the best of my knowledge, we've never had an independent candidate who was Irish ... or, for that matter, not Irish

Which is a rather confusing sentence, especially in light of the well-documented serious runs for President of Ross Perot and John Anderson, both of whom are either Irish or not Irish.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Silly Season post

Noticed while channel surfing: (1) The background music for RTE's promo for the Rose of Tralee competition next week is Beck's Girl -- an overlap in audiences being hard to imagine, and (2) is anyone else embarrassed that Robbie Williams is now a rapper ("Rudebox")?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Any chance of a sequel?

As the New York Times notes, Peter Lennon's caustic 1968 documentary about life in a then-supposedly-more-liberal Dublin, Rocky Road to Dublin, is getting a showing in Manhattan. The film had a bizarre life; undergoing a de facto boycott in Ireland and then the Cannes festival at which it earned some acclaim was derailed by the student revolts. Lennon recalled a few years (subs. req'd) ago his interactions with the Irish establishment in trying to get it released:

Could I get this work past the censor? Observing no procedures, I arrived at the censor's office with the film under my arm and insisted on sitting in while he, a journalist I knew, did his job. After the viewing he said, memorably: "Since there is no sex in the film, Peter, there is nothing I can do against you." But there was something they could do: they could stop it being screened in cinemas or on RTÉ.

Sometimes the strategy to make sure the film was ignored was more subtle:

So Cork [Film Festival] gave us a screening. It was at lunchtime, on the day they had invited all the media out of town to a free oyster-and-Guinness lunch in Kenmore, 70 miles away. So we hired a hall the next day, causing more scandal. With the financial potential a scandal offers, one Dublin cinema took the film and ran it for seven weeks to gleeful audiences.

But other than this brief flurry, the film lay out of sight for 3 decades.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Except tearing up the Constitution

George Bush, July 2005

We're working tirelessly to protect the American people and to prevent new terrorists attacks. In an age of new dangers, we're doing everything in our power to do our jobs.

[Many other examples]

Al Gonzales' US Department of Justice, yesterday:

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales on Monday ordered a side-by-side review of American and British counterterrorism laws as a first step toward determining whether further changes in American law are warranted ... "The attorney general has committed to a review to evaluate and compare the terrorism laws in the United Kingdom with those in the United States," said Brian Roehrkasse, a department spokesman. "Any changes to our existing terrorism laws would only be considered after extensive review and discussion to ensure that such a change would be necessary, appropriate and constitutional."

To state the obvious, the previous claim that the government was doing everything within its power to combat terrorism was not based on an elementary comparison with laws in other countries? Incidentally, from the same New York Times article linked above comes more evidence against last week's supposed timeline whereby the Republicans decided to make the week about terrorism and only found out late on Wednesday about the Heathrow liquid bomb blot:

In the days leading up to the announcement last week that Britain had foiled such a plot, the F.B.I. deployed several hundred agents to run down any American connections, and the Justice Department sought double or triple the usual rate of court-approved wiretaps to monitor the communications of American suspects, the officials said.

So they had enough advance notice of the plot that they had time to work through those pesky court approved surveillance procedures that they hate so much.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Just another country

In Monday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt free link), David Rivkin and Lee Casey join the parade of pre-1776 pundits arguing that the US needs to dump its pesky constitution and take the British approach to fighting terrorism:

There is, of course, no substitute for experience and there is no doubt that Britain benefits (if that is the right word) from its experience in fighting IRA terror. Although the IRA was arguably a less dangerous threat than al Qaeda and its allies -- if only because the IRA eventually concluded that minimizing civilian casualties was in its political interests -- it was nevertheless well-organized, ideologically committed and vicious. For 30 years, Britain's military and law-enforcement forces investigated, infiltrated, surveilled and openly fought the IRA and won, deriving two important advantages in the process ...

The U.S. cannot, of course, adopt all aspects of the British system; our constitutional systems are really quite different. Nevertheless, there are clear lessons that can be drawn from the British experience -- especially in affording the police greater investigative latitude and in accepting some compromise of privacy in exchange for greater security.

Could this be the same David Rivkin and Lee Casey who on the same page a few months ago did not have the same assessment of the British approach? --

For his part, Lord Goldsmith [Attorney General] might note that U.S. military commissions are at least as protective of the accused as were the British military tribunals operating in Germany after World War II, and in some respects more so than the special "Diplock Courts" the U.K. created in the 1970s for Northern Ireland. Unlike the Diplock Courts, where a single judge may try the accused, U.S. military commissions will guarantee a panel of at least three judges. As we all know by now, there have been abuses in U.S. detention operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. But America's efforts to investigate and prosecute the offenders have been far more vigorous and prompt than were London's inquiries into abuses by British military, intelligence and police during "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland.

So what happened? Well, in the latter case, the need was to defend George W. Bush's right to have some charade of a trial process to keep people in Gitmo forever, in which case Diplock courts were a useful negative point of comparison. But in the former case, the need is to defend George W. Bush's desired right to implement surveillance on whoever he wants, in which case the Home Secretary's related powers look a tad better. If in the transition, the IRA needs to change from being victims of non-jury courts and other abuses to being vicious (if "arguably a less dangerous threat than al Qaeda"), well it's all in a good cause.

On the broader point, Glenn Greenwald is doing the patient work of sorting through the differences in warrant requirements between the two countries, but there's one fundamental point: the systems of government are different. In the Presidential system, the executive branch is one person -- everyone else, including the Cabinet, works for him. In the parliamentary system, notwithstanding Tony Blair's best efforts, the Prime Minister ultimately works for his parliamentary majority. Even with the UK electoral system converting 36% of the vote into supermajorities, the latter is a much tighter leash.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Insider trading, national security style

At the risk of beating a dead horse, there is further need to point out that the Sunday New York Times continues to peddle the line that the news about the Heathrow liquid bomb plot was merely a serendipitous addition to an already agreed upon Republican stategy to make last week about getting the focus back on their supposed strength in the GWOT in the run-in to the November elections:

In Wake of News, a Plan: Uniting Party and President

... That picture of Republican disunity eased dramatically this week with the defeat on Tuesday of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman in the Democratic primary in Connecticut and the news on Thursday that Britain had foiled a potentially large-scale terrorist plot.

The White House and Congressional Republicans used those events to unleash a one-two punch, first portraying the Democrats as vacillating when it came to national security, and then using the alleged terror plot to hammer home the continuing threat faced by the United States ...

The entire effort was swiftly coordinated by the Republican National Committee and the White House, using the same political machinery that carried them to victory in 2004 ... The effort continued with the news of the British intelligence breakthrough, with the message that the plot had highlighted the stakes of a fight that the Democrats, according to Republicans, were not equipped to face.

As we now know, this sequence is false: the two pillars of the strategy were simultaneous. Bush and Cheney knew as early as the previous Friday that there was a major UK investigation underway, and recurrence of the topic in last Sunday's teleconference with Tony Blair was as clear as a signal as needed that big news was coming. By Monday, Bush was eagerly discussing terrorist plots in a Q&A ostensibly about Hezbollah, and by Wednesday Cheney had specifically set up a teleconference with reporters, hooked supposedly to one single outcome of another party's primary.

There is a token denial way down in the story ["For people to suggest there was somehow a larger, coordinated effort between the Lieberman loss and the disruption of the terror plot is just absurd," said Brian Jones, a spokesman for the Republican Party] but the timeline speaks for itself. Are John Reid and Tony Blair aware that their sharing of terrorism information with the White House is being fed directly to political operatives in Washington? Even if they don't care, their security services, trying to keep an informational advantage, might.

Note also that there's a tell-tale " ... in Washington contributed to this story" at the end of the story, in addition to the Jim Rutenberg byline. "..." is the topic of this post.

UPDATE: This NBC News report that the British only moved in on the alleged plotters after pressure from the US is consistent with the idea that the White House knew much more sooner than they have acknowledged about the investigation. And Dan Froomkin assembles a wide array of links on the Republican strategy, in particular the role of Dick Cheney. Also, it's not the first time that White House blabbing may have compromised an investigation.

FINAL UPDATE 25 NOVEMBER: The Independent (UK) is reporting that the investigation was compromised by an arrest in Pakistan undertaken at the urging of the US. So the only question remains -- what was the rush?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The unquiet Americans

With George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Peter King all potentially providing valuable information to terrorists in the last couple of days, this little segment from an article in Saturday's Wall Street Journal comes as no surprise:

The divergent views of al Qaeda's possible involvement, as well as a host of leaks about the British takedown operation, led British officials to call their American counterparts on Thursday night insisting that U.S. officials refrain from saying anything more about the plot and linking it to al Qaeda, according to a British diplomat.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The opiate of the masses

One gets the distinct sense that a bunch of the usual suspect conservatives maintain a text file somewhere on their computers with a bunch of tirades ready to go at the time of the next big terrorist attack in the West -- and by God, even with the latest attack foiled, they're going to go ahead and use the material anyway. Step forward Andrew Sullivan, lacking even the excuse of being hot-headed following 9/11 that he used to explain the notorious "fifth column" post:

But what does it say about the state of Islam that one of its young believers believes that the best way of "standing up for his community" is not to make arguments, or proselytize, or campaign - but to murder innocent civilians he has never met. There is something terribly sick within the Muslim mind at this moment in history. It is Nietzsche's ressentiment, but with God re-attached. We should indeed fear these people for the hideous carnage they can wreak for the sake of their God. But we should never let our fear overwhelm our contempt for them - their sickness, their evil, their petty insecurities, their inability to live meaningful lives and their attempt to assuage this by murdering others in God's name. Yes, they evil. But they are also pathetic, miserable excuses for human beings.

And given a chance to back down:

But something is sick within the Muslim mind at this moment in time, and it is not Islamophobic to say so. The major source of the mass murder and threat of mass murder in the world right now is rooted in Islam. It is waged in the name of Islam; it is justified by reference to Islam; it is a fundamentally religious movement.

... I could equally say that at this moment there is something sick in the Catholic mind - and, in my view, there is ... Ditto the Christianist temptation among evangelicals ... And the sad truth is: no religion in the world right now has as many internal problems as Islam ... But I'm not interested in writing lies. If more Muslims were as "emotionally devastated" by the carnage wrought in their name as the words on a blog, Islam would have a much healthier future.

Amongst the things missing in all this is any kind of nuance; in particular the cocktail of repressive regimes in Muslim countries, alienated Muslim minorities in the West, and a ready supply of additional things to be alienated about via the policies of George W. Bush. But as Sully's Nietzsche reference shows, along with the pivoting of the rhetorical guns on the Catholic Church, he might have reached the point where part of his problem is with any organised religion. Which is fine -- our own preference would be for a religion that displays approximately the coherence and life-guidance that's on display in the Vicar of Dibley. But we don't have the platform to turn this unmet need into an attack on one billion people.

UPDATE: An effective riposte, though not intended as such, to Sully's philosophical warmongering from his friend, Matthew Parris in the Times (UK):

More dangerous are the constellation-makers among our presidents, prime ministers and newspaper leader writers: it does lie within their power to breathe life into the monsters they think they see. If they keep shouting that we face a clash of civilisations, a war of the worlds, they may drive bigger numbers on both sides into the arms of the smaller numbers who do want to rally volunteers for a battle.

UPDATE 22 AUGUST: When we were working on the original post, we thought that Sully's quip about Islam sounded like something he had heard somewhere, and a little Googling at the time led us to suspect Roger Scruton as the original source. This recent WSJ piece from him increases the suspicion.

FINAL UPDATE 21 SEPTEMBER: He returns to the reference in a brief comment on George Carey's endorsement of Pope Benedict's controversial speech: Ressentiment under Allah: a toxic brew indeed.

Asked and answered

Friday's Wall Street Journal editorial page features rants by the usual suspects arguing that the interruption of the Heathrow liquid bomb plot demonstrates the greater glory of George W. Bush. The worst performance is put in by Daniel Henninger (subs. req'd; alt. free link), who tell us

... it is becoming increasingly fantastic to argue that in Iraq, with its apparently limitless supply of suicide bombers, hasn't much to do with the terror threats manifest elsewhere.

but later lists those other threats:

Yesterday brought an Islamic plot to blow up people on airliners. The news cycle before that brought Hezbollah's Katyusha rockets into Israel and a war in Lebanon. Before that, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would give the West its reply to demands to halt nuclear bomb-making on Aug. 22, the anniversary of Muhammad's flight to heaven on a winged horse. Before that, in July, North Korea fired ballistic missiles toward the Sea of Japan (a little-noticed assessment by U.S. and Japanese technicians concluded this week that six of the seven missiles fell within their targets).

Note the obvious: that Iraq, tying up 160,000 UK and US troops, hundreds of billions of dollars, and the rapidly diminishing stock of Western goodwill in the Muslim world, features nowhere in the latter list.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Compromising an ongoing investigation

Tonight's midnight news on BBC Radio 4 cited an unnamed "Capitol Hill source" for the claim that there are still 5 liquid bomb plotters at large, who may have activated a Plan B. Since Republican House member Peter King was using exactly the same language today on US news programs, King is almost certainly the source for the BBC claim as well. Clearly the BBC could not find any British source willing to go on record about the claim, which suggests that King has revealed information that the police and MI5 did not want exposed. This is the same Peter King who was calling for prosecutions of newspapers for disclosing details of anti-terrorism investigation a few weeks ago.

A hole in the timeline

Past experience should generate extra scrutiny of the latest (8/11?) terror plot; consider for example the concerns raised in this Crooked Timber post. There's already a "what did they know and when did they know it" aspect. Here's what White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said today:

Bush talked at length to British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the plot on Sunday and again on Wednesday

but the Times (UK) says:

[Blair] was told late last night, Barbados time, that moves to disrupt the biggest terrorist plot against British citizens were about to be launched. He took the opportunity of his talk with Mr Bush to brief him on the operation about to take place in London and elsewhere.

Not directly contradictory, but raises a flag. The Times account is more plausible, given the political costs to Blair of being on holidays while his ministers take charge during the alert; if he'd known something was up earlier, he might have cancelled the holiday outright. One wonders then what that Sunday chat was actually about.

UPDATE: Tony Snow is denying that there was an "overnight" briefing on Wednesday as the Times report might imply, but time zone differences and Bush's early bedtime make that statement difficult to interpret. Snow also indicated that some information about the plot was discussed at this videoconference on Sunday.

While the apparent political opportunism of the White House is par for the course (note their decision to talk up the GWOT angle of the Connecticut primary, knowing this was coming*), Blair's judgement in proceeding with his holidays is looking ever more questionable.

FINAL UPDATE: Apparently the move against the Listerino-fascists was made not because action was imminent, but because the investigation was about to compromised. Did someone blab too much? Note that John Reid, Dick Cheney, and George Bush all chose to make substantive comments about terrorism in the last few days, likely with significant knowledge of the ongoing investigation. Maybe that was enough to tip someone's hand.

*The strategery linking the talking-up of the terrorist threat and the Connecticut primary seems lost on the New York Times' Adam Nagourney:

The [UK] developments played neatly into the White House-led effort, after Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, lost on Tuesday to an antiwar primary challenger, to remind voters of the threats facing the nation and to cast Democrats as timid on national defense

ONE MORE UPDATE (since the story is progressing): White House reporters asked Tony Snow yesterday (Friday 11th) about the timeline --

But we do feel comfortable in saying that there have been detailed briefings of the President about an impending operation in Great Britain, and those began Friday, continued through the weekend and continued on through the day before yesterday, when, in sort of mid- to late afternoon, the President was advised that the operation was going to move forward.

Note the first briefing, presumably from Blair, is now last Friday. And as for Cheney's pretty transparent insider trading on Wednesday:

Q How much detail did the Vice President have about the timing of what was going to happen in Britain on Wednesday, when he did that conference call with reporters?
MR. SNOW: He did not know.
Q He didn't know anything? Or he didn't --
MR. SNOW: He did not know that there was an operation that was to take place. There was no anticipation of an operation that day. It's important to recognize that the comments that were made after the Connecticut primary were in response to the Connecticut primary, and they were not in anticipation of a British action. I can say that with absolute assurance not only with regard to me, but also the Vice President. That's why I mentioned the notifications took place after he had done his phone conference.
Q -- did say that he had been part of the briefings over the weekend.
MR. SNOW: Yes, but the briefings gave nothing about timing. They were general discussions of threat.

It's simply implausible that Blair would have briefed Bush on an ongoing investigation unless there was a sense that things were nearing a critical point.

Baby on Board

This anecdote from the Times (UK) gives a flavour of just how complicated air travel has become today:

1.25pm: Boots says its airport stores will be open for 24 hours where necessary. "We will be giving away any essential items that passengers need while they wait such as nappies, wipes, baby formula and food as well as essential healthcare items. Our pharmacists are also working across stores to make sure we can supply passengers with any emergency supplies of prescription-only medicines that are needed, and our healthcare teams will be on hand to give healthcare advice or help to anyone waiting for their flights.”

It's not clear how long a model of relying on corporate goodwill to run such a system is sustainable.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Unattended delivery

Another epistle from Karl Rove surrogate Peter Wehner in the Wall Street Journal today, with a couple of things to note. First the subheading:

Birth pangs of freedom in the Middle East

thus repeating Condi Rice's disastrous usage from 4 weeks ago that has gone down like a lead balloon in that same Middle East. Second, the repeated capitalisation of the phrase "Freedom Agenda". And third, in an article supposedly about how that FA is tackling the scourge of "Bin Ladenism", zero mentions of Bin Laden's native country, and that of 15 of the 9/11 hijackers.

UPDATE: Here's more on the "birth pangs" reaction: Ms. Rice’s carefully scripted talking points have sometimes fallen flat. Her comment that the Israel-Lebanon war represented the “birth pangs of a new Middle East”— coming at a time when television stations were showing images of dead Lebanese children — sparked ridicule and even racist cartoons. A Palestinian newspaper, Al Qud, depicted Ms. Rice as pregnant with an armed monkey, and a caption that read, “Rice speaks about the birth of a new Middle East.”

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

End of the world: date now available

Or so Bernard Lewis is trying to hint at in the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link) with his headline: August 22 --

What is the significance of Aug. 22? This year, Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to "the farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world. It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind.

No dogs, no smokers

It looks like the Bank Holiday weekend in Ireland has resulted in many people missing a big European Union fuss about potential job discrimination against smokers. The issue arose from a query to the European Commission about the legality of an Irish job ad that barred smokers from consideration:

European Labour and Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla told Stihler [MEP] that an EU anti-discrimination law only targeted sex, sexual orientation, age, handicap, race or ethnic origin and religion or beliefs, and that therefore smoking was not included.

At the very least, the answer has triggered considerable confusion, and French and Italian unions have already reacted angrily to possible implications, especially regarding health status discrimination. There was a story about it on Monday evening's 8pm news in France, and one didn't need the subtitles to translate the disdainful look of persons-in-the-street asked what they thought about smoking as something that could be a bar to a job. [you can watch the segment for a few days here, go to the editions precedentes drop-down menu, select 7th August and then the story "Recrutement des fumeurs en entreprises"]

It's hard to tell whether this is a classic silly season story or if it does involve a new front in the War on Smokers.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Tony Blair's Best Friend Forever

In today's Washington Post White House Briefing (which is essential reading every day), there are a few remarkable George Bush anecotes:

1. Presidential biking: "Bush does not ride quietly, constantly shouting out in his Texas twang the names of trees and geographic features and yelling at himself to pedal faster.

"'Air assault!' he yelled as he started one of two major climbs, up Calichi Hill, which he named for the white limestone rock from which it is formed."

Yes, he actually yelled out "air assault."

2. A gaze into the middle distance as a problem-solver, no experts required: "Bush said he spent the previous evening thinking about the Middle East while sitting on the porch of his ranchhouse waiting on first lady Laura Bush to arrive.

"'I was thinking about the right strategy for the United States in the Middle East. I spent a long time thinking about it, went in and wrote some notes, I then shared my thoughts this morning with some of my inner circle,' Bush said."

3. The cult of personality of the others who accept the above, such as National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley: "[Bush is] in the process, obviously, of developing an overall strategy for the Middle East as to sort of what comes next -- which is something that the President is good at and encourages us to do: How does this fit into an overall strategy? We had an opportunity to talk about that at lunch. "We then went off and did a number of things, in part carrying out what the President had directed us to do and then to get some additional information."

4. And finally a word from Jack Straw's former Best Friend Forever, Condi Rice: "But as the President said, this last three weeks has been .... time that's been well spent"

First the ballot box, then the Armalite

Guest blogging at Atrios, Attaturk has much deserved fun with George Bush's latest addition to his long pile of bizarre statements:

Today at a press conference, President Bush dismissed these concerns out of hand. Bush said, "You know, I hear people say, Well, civil war this, civil war that. The Iraqi people decided against civil war when they went to the ballot box."

Aside from this being a complete non-sequitur, perhaps Mr. Bush should talk to Cheney. For we know that the latter has watched "Ken Burns' 'The Civil War'" enough to realize that secession in the good ol' U.S. of A started in the wake of Mr. Lincoln being elected at the ballot box.

One can add to the observation. The Irish Civil War started after a trip to the ballot box:

... the pro and anti treaty factions, who went into the Irish general election on June 18th, 1922 as hostile parties, both calling themselves Sinn Féin. The Pro Treaty Sinn Féin party won the election with 239,193 votes to 133,864 for anti-Treaty Sinn Féin. A further 247,226 people voted for other parties, all of whom supported the Treaty. The election showed that the Irish electorate supported the Treaty and the foundation of the Irish Free State but De Valera, his political followers and most of the IRA continued to oppose it. De Valera is quoted as saying, "the majority have no right to do wrong".

Meanwhile under the leadership of Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, the pro-treaty Provisional Government set about establishing the Irish Free State, an organised national army to replace the IRA and a new police force. However, since it was envisaged that the new army would be built around the IRA, anti-treaty IRA units were allowed to take over British barracks and take their arms. In practice, this meant that by the summer of 1922, the Provisional government of the Free State controlled only Dublin and some other areas like Longford where the IRA units supported the Treaty.

Fighting would ultimately break out when the Provisional government tried to assert its authority over well armed and intransigent anti-treaty IRA units around the country -particularly a hardline group in Dublin.

It's an elementary point that George Bush doesn't seem to understand; elections express differences, they don't sublimate them.

It's far from this he was reared

Today's New York Times has a story on a high profile investment by the private equity fund in which Bono is a partner; the Elevation Partners group is buying a large stake in Forbes, which includes the eponymous magazine and the associated website. On the PR side, the group seems to be struggling to make it sound like Bono was closely involved with the decision:

"It says that we are in the business of helping content creators in the traditional media world manage the transition imposed by the Internet," [Roger McNamee, Elevation partner] said. Bono was not directly involved in the Forbes meetings, but Mr. McNamee said that the singer was attracted to the magazine because it "has a point of view," adding that Bono "drove this part of the discussion and likes the fact that there has been a consistent philosophy throughout its history."

A subtext to the story seems to be that Steve Forbes' continual dabbling in Republican politics is proving very expensive, and may have generated a need for cash. One hopes that Bono's group is not somehow funding yet another run at pulling the Republican party to the right.

Pot calls kettle noir

With the Connecticut Senate primary on Tuesday, New Republic co-owner (not owner) Marty Peretz unleashes one last broadside in favour of the now underdog, Joe Lieberman. One quirk: it's in the Wall Street Journal and not the home publication. Anyway, his opening accusation: that the front runner, Ned Lamont, is from the elite:

It's really quite remarkable how someone like Ned Lamont, from the stock of Morgan partner Thomas Lamont and that most high-born American Stalinist, Corliss Lamont, still sends a chill of "having arrived" up the spines of his suburban supporters simply by asking them to support him.

Now when Marty Peretz accuses other people of being from the elite, we already know what to expect, but if we'd forgotten, here's some of the phrasing from the rest of the tirade:

seeking office de haut en bas ... someone, with no public record to speak of but with perhaps a quarter of a billion dollars to his name, who wants to be a senator. Mr. Lamont has almost no experience in public life. He was a cable television entrepreneur, a run-of-the-mill contemporary commercant with unusually easy access to capital ... I was there, a partisan, as a graduate student at the beginning, in 1962, when the eminent Harvard historian H. Stuart Hughes (grandson of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes) ran for the U.S. Senate as an independent against George Cabot Lodge and the victor, Ted Kennedy, a trio of what in the Ivies is, somewhat derisively, called "legacies" ... Would Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be more agreeable if he thought that we had disposed of the military option in favor of more country club behavior?

Peretz also makes repeated insinuations linking opposition to the war in Iraq with Communism, but since the campaign he supports already has a sense of a doom about it, they're not worth dwelling on.

UPDATE 11 AUGUST: The man who writes a column called Cambridge Diarist adds another critique of Lamont --

This episode shows that Islamofascism is a real threat to civilized life and that it must be fought severely and wholeheartedly. I don't know if Ned Lamont has thought seriously about this. It seems so remote from life in Greenwich. But, if he plays true to form, he might suggest taking the whole issue before the United Nations. That would be a gracious setting. After all, Lamont can no longer avail himself of the country club he quit on the eve of his primary campaign.

NatWest 3

With their sojourn in Houston now a fact of life, just a quick note that things are not going well for the prosecutors in related Enron fraud cases. A federal appeals court has thrown out convictions of several Merrill Lynch bankers for defrauding Enron; the bankers had arranged a complex transaction involving Nigerian barges to keep Enron's income statement looking good (WSJ, subs. req'd).

Since there was no actual material loss to Enron, the prosecutors had relied heavily on a theory that the bankers had deprived Enron of "honest services" -- a phrase that features repeatedly in the NatWest 3 indictment. The appeals court ruled that the prosecutors can't invoke some supposed services not provided when everyone agrees that the actions undertaken were intended to benefit Enron.

At one level, this is not directly relevant to the NatWest 3, who are accused of defrauding NatWest, not Enron. But it's consistent with the theme of prosecutors alleging fraud where it's not so obvious fraud occurred; in particular, if NatWest felt defrauded, it always could have pursued the case in the UK, but chose not to do so. Further appeals are pending in the Merrill Lynch case, but so far it looks like a small sign of optimism for the three.

UPDATE 9 AUGUST: The Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) brings out its sensible side and editorialises against the arrest of David Carruthers in the BetOnSports indictment; does this part of the argument sound familiar? --

No doubt there is potential for online gambling abuse. But BetOnSports and Mr. Carruthers are not charged with dishonest behavior toward their customers. They are being told that a business they believed was legal was a criminal enterprise even if it was being run in the open. That suggests that prosecutors believe they have the right to enforce compliance with even ambiguous U.S. laws on any business, wherever based, solely because some of the people accessing their site happen to be Americans. As a legal theory, this is a stretch. But as an excuse to incarcerate a foreign national just passing through, it smacks of a politically opportunistic prosecution.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Partition here we come

With Bosnia now emerging as the dinner-party centrist preferred solution to Iraq (i.e. from Tom Friedman), it's worth briefly noting the structure of Bosnia:

2 first-order administrative divisions and 1 internationally supervised district* - Brcko district (Brcko Distrikt)*, the Bosniak/Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Federacija Bosna i Hercegovina) and the Bosnian Serb-led Republika Srpska; note - Brcko district is in northeastern Bosnia and is an administrative unit under the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina; the district remains under international supervision

Think of Kurdistan as Slovenia, the northern and western areas of remaining Iraq as the Sunni state, and the southern areas as the Shia state. Iraq becomes the confederation at the top, and Baghdad becomes the jointly supervised "district" and there you have it.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

YouTube gets astroturfed

It had to happen: our old friends at Tech Central Station have found a new way to slip partisan propaganda into the discursive bloodstream -- a supposedly amateur parody of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, which they're inconveniently flogging during a heatwave. The Wall Street Journal has the scoop; part on their free blog:

The [YouTube] video’s maker is listed as “Toutsmith,” a 29-year-old who identifies himself as being from Beverly Hills in an Internet profile. In an email exchange with The Wall Street Journal, Toutsmith didn’t answer when asked who he was or why he made the video, which has just over 59,000 views on YouTube. However, computer routing information contained in an email sent from Toutsmith’s Yahoo account indicate it didn’t come from an amateur working out of his basement.

Instead, the email originated from a computer registered to DCI Group, a Washington, D.C., public relations and lobbying firm whose clients include oil company Exxon Mobil Corp

Follow to the pay article and the DCI trail is elaborated:

A DCI Group spokesman declines to say whether or not DCI made the anti-Gore penguin video, or to explain why Toutsmith appeared to be sending email from DCI's computers. "DCI Group does not disclose the names of its clients, nor do we discuss the work that we do on our clients' behalf," says Matt Triaca, who heads DCI's media relations shop ... DCI is no stranger to the debate over global warming. Partly through Tech Central Station, an opinion Web site it operates, DCI has sought to raise doubts about the science of global warming and about Mr. Gore's film, placing skeptical scientists on talk-radio shows and paying them to write editorials.

A couple of days after YouTube was used to disseminate a doctored clip of Michigan Congressman John Dingell seeming to support Hezbollah, another patch of Internet is, not unexpectedly, not always what it seems.

UPDATE: The Times (UK) covers the story.

It's not your imagination

Yes, when you make the menu more complicated, all that dithering and preparing really does make it more difficult to retain your core business:

[WSJ] In a rare stumble, Starbucks Corp. said unexpectedly heavy demand for new juice and banana Frappuccinos during the morning rush hurt its sales growth in July.

"We are losing some espresso business due to longer-than-normal wait times" at stores, Chief Executive James Donald said. Frappuccinos are more complicated to prepare than some of Starbucks's other beverages.

He's not from Brighton

There was a darkly funny report on the BBC World Service about half an hour ago (13.50 GMT) when reporter Michael Buchanan had the tape running while he was visiting a Palestinian refugee camp (which has now become a Lebanese refugee camp as well) in Beirut. He encountered some deeply suspicious men who wanted to know if he was American, and one could then hear him tell the interpreter "No, Scottish, Scottish." Then everything was fine. This might have to be Gordon Brown's sales pitch as well, when he finally gets around to pulling UK foreign policy out of the Bush ditch (see Mr Power for description of said ditch).

Sometimes the reasonable one shows up

For some strange reason, Christopher Hitchens is hiding his quite cogent opinions on the Israel-Lebanon crisis behind subscription at the Wall Street Journal, while he feeds trivialities to the freeloading readers at Slate (two columns on Joe Wilson and one on Mel Gibson have spanned the crisis so far at the crimson-hued outfit). Here's his closing paragraph at the WSJ, one which features an interesting if blinkered disillusionment with George W. Bush:

Opinion is curdling, in many instances, into a simple revulsion against the incompetence and cruelty of Israel's highly visible actions. Has Karen Hughes been heard from lately, or at all? Who decided that the president should ignore the eccentric recent letter from Ahmadinejad, and thus miss the chance of addressing the Iranian people over the heads of their self-selected leaders? Whose job is it to consider the whole intricate web of which Tehran constitutes the center? John Wayne, a hero to many "stand tall" conservatives, used to say modestly that he didn't really "act," he just "reacted." That seems a regrettably apt description of the administration over the past three weeks, as it appears to find absolutely everything coming to it as a surprise.

Past surprises have included 9/11, Katrina, the collapse of law and order in Baghdad, the resiliency of the Taliban, and so on -- all of which have drawn rather less scrutiny from Hitch than this particular lapse in judgement. One of his questions we can answer: "Has Karen Hughes been heard from lately?" Indeed she has -- last spotted at the Shannon airport bar.

No shame

Last evening's Hannity and Colmes on the Fox News channel will merit close scrutiny for contemporary historians still interested in the Iran-Contra scandal. The guests in the early part of the show were Oliver North and David Jacobsen (sometimes spelled Jacobson), the latter was a Hezbollah hostage freed in 1986 as part of the arms-for-hostages deal that nearly brought down the Reagan administration.

The amazing part of the "interviews" with North and Jacobson was the brazenness with which the swap was presented as official US government policy. For Jacobson, the missiles to Iran were necessary to offset the advantage that Saddam then had in the Iran-Iraq war; in his view, if the Iranians were not helped equalise things, Saddam would have scored a decisive victory and the USSR would have invaded Iran soon afterwards, presumably to offset increased US presence on its "Green Belt" southern border. North didn't disagree with any of this, and added that Reagan had told him to "use any means necessary" to free the hostages. Any claims of Reagan and his vice-president, George H.W. Bush, to be "out of the loop" on the implementation of this policy thus seem rather strained.

Is it all ancient history? First, it's still just 20 years ago. But more importantly, many of the major players are still around -- not least Iran and Hezbollah, for whom the assumption became warranted that Republican administrations would always have a back door open when the front door seemed closed. Not so strange then that the current incarnations of the two don't seem particularly intimidated by American denunciations. Finally, it was from this scandal that then Congressman Dick Cheney says everyone should have learned that there were too many restrictions on the power of the President. The rest is his history.

One other thing: it was mentioned during a news break on Fox News that the persons seized in the mysterious Israeli raid on Baalbek had turned out not to be the "tasty fishes" of initial accounts, but nonetheless people who would be useful later in a prisoner swap with Hezbollah. The message would seem to be that hostages remain a key currency of Middle East policy.

UPDATE 23 AUGUST: The Baalbek raid is quietly unwound -- symbolic of the incompetence that marked many Israeli operations, the seized persons were taken from Hassan Nasrallah's house; that would be Hassan Nasrallah, the local plasterer, and not Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader. A month later, they were quietly released.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Lies get so complicated

Five years after 9/11 and key events from that morning are still not well understood. There's a major Vanity Fair story that includes the revelation:

There was no command given to shoot down United Flight 93, despite implications to the contrary made by Vice President Cheney. Cheney was not notified about the possibility that United 93 had been hijacked until 10:02 a.m.—only one minute before the airliner impacted the ground. And United 93 had crashed before anyone in the military chain of command even knew it had been hijacked. President Bush did not grant commanders the authority to give a shoot-down order until 10:18 a.m., which—though no one knew it at the time—was 15 minutes after the attack was over.

This is even more bizarre than it first seems, because Cheney created big trouble for himself by implying that there was a shoot-down order before 10.18 a.m. -- precisely because there was no record of a presidential authorisation for such an order. So he had to falsely claim that there was: the first lie needed a supporting lie (Newsweek):

The president had left Florida aboard Air Force One at 9:55 a.m. on 9/11 "with no destination at take-off," as last week's 9-11 Commission report noted. Nor had Bush given any known instructions on how to respond to the attacks. Now Cheney faced another huge decision on a morning in which every minute seemed monumental. .... Combat air patrols were aloft, and a military aide was asking for shoot-down authority, telling Cheney that a fourth plane was "80 miles out" from Washington. Cheney didn't flinch, the report said. "In about the time it takes a batter to decide to swing," he gave the order to shoot it down, telling others the president had "signed off on the concept" during a brief phone chat. When the plane was 60 miles out, Cheney was again informed and again he ordered: take it out.

Then Joshua Bolten, after what he described in testimony as "a quiet moment," spoke up. Bolten, the White House deputy chief of staff [now chief of staff], asked the veep to get back in touch with the president to "confirm the engage order." Bolten was clearly subordinate to Cheney, but "he had not heard any prior conversation on the subject with the president," the 9/11 report notes. Nor did the real-time notes taken by two others in the room, Cheney's chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby—who is known for his meticulous record-keeping—or Cheney's wife, Lynne, reflect that such a phone call between Bush and Cheney occurred or that such a major decision as shooting down a U.S. airliner was discussed. Bush and Cheney later testified the president gave the order. And national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice and a military aide said they remembered a call, but gave few specifics. The report concluded "there is no documentary evidence for this call."

Now while Scooter Libby will be objecting to the description of meticulous record-keeping, since the lack thereof is his defence in his perjury case, note the extensive list of people drawn into a supporting lie for an incident that never happened.

UPDATE: Related revelations in the Washington Post, though not directly relating to the White House role. Here's an earlier post where had noted the problem with Cheney's version of events around 10am on 9/11.

Don't mention the war

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about Tony Blair's Los Angeles speech is that, given its devotion to the problem of Islamist terrorism, it never once mentions Saudi Arabia.

Bestest Friends

In the New York Times today:

"Bush the father was from a certain generation of political leaders and foreign policy establishment types," said William Kristol, the neo-conservative thinker who worked for the first Bush administration and is now editor of The Weekly Standard. "He had many years of dealings with leading Arab governments; he was close to the Saudi royal family. The son is less so. He’s got much more affection for Israel, less affection for the House of Saud."

Oh really?

Yes it's soccer season again

It seems odd that the scribes who were so eager to see politics and culture in every angle of the World Cup have gone into hibernation, because the imminent club season has no shortage of intrigue. Perhaps it's not the right kind of intrigue. First let's note UEFA's bizarre attitude to Team Silvio (AC Milan) and their participation in this year's Champions League. Whereas UEFA was determined to use every rule at its disposal to keep Liverpool as low down in the draw as possible last year, after they, like, won the competition, this year it's scandal-plagued AC Milan being meekly allowed into a competition that they were initially barred from:

Uefa said it "had no choice but to admit" Milan, who play Crvena Zvezda or Cork to qualify for the group stage. The governing body was worried about a legal challenge from AC Milan.

Uefa said the Italian club took advantage of the fact that the Swiss-based body lacks legal grounds to refuse the club's admission - and said it would change its regulations as a result.

The emergency panel said it was "deeply concerned that AC Milan has created the impression of being involved in the improper influencing of the regular course of matches in the Italian football championship." ... Milan were initially deducted 15 points and thrown out of the competition by the Italian Football Association (FIGC).

But on appeal they had the deficit cut to eight points and were included in last Friday's Champions League draw

By the way, that unglamorous sounding Crvena Zvezda is in fact the quite well-known Red Star Belgrade who are indeed just a Cork City miracle away from a big qualifier next week against AC Milan. Events are certainly conspiring nicely to maintain the value of Silvio's extensive TV rights to Italian soccer.

And speaking of Liverpool, they have an interestinq qualifier next week too:

Liverpool v Maccabi Haifa

Yes, that Haifa.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Good for the tuna

Back to an occasional theme -- Osama bin Laden as guru to the Bush Administration. Really. We've noted before the influence of his famous weak horse/strong horse parable, and in particular the apparent melding of the parable with a related line of analysis from Bernard Lewis via Dick Cheney into the rationale for the Iraq war. Anyway, Michael Hirsh in Newsweek has more:

... the view that Arabs respond to force. Some Bush officials also liked to quote Osama bin Laden himself when he said, "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like a strong horse."

For Bush and Rumsfeld, the key to a successful anti-terror policy lay in being seen as the "strong horse." As Rumsfeld said at his confirmation hearings in 2001: “We don’t want to fight wars. We want to prevent them. We want to be so powerful and so forward looking that it is clear to others that they ought not to be damaging their neighbors when it affects our interests, and they ought not to be doing things that are imposing threats and dangers to us."

The possibility that Osama might have wanted to goad the US into a display of strength that would reveal weakness never seems to have occurred to them.

UPDATE: Right on cue, the National Review's Cliff May trots out the Osama quote as an explanation of Hezbollah's surge in suppport throughout the Middle East:

Or as Osama has put it: "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse."

An important aspect of what is going on here is that the Iranian mullahs are attempting to demonstrate that they deserve to lead the international jihadi movement

It would be nice if he acknowledged the role the philosophy has played in US foreign policy as well.

There's only one Philistine here

If, as now seems likely, the US radical right has gone into outright denial about the Qana attack, the argument has to be better than the National Review's Mona Charen can come up with:

If this were staged by Hezbollah it would not be the first time the Palestinians have faked footage.