Tuesday, October 31, 2006

One state, one vote

Another instance in a trail of electoral college ignorance on the right, this one from Powerline's "Deacon" --

John Kerry is now outdoing Al Gore when it comes to loser derangement syndrome. And Kerry doesn't even have the excuse of having almost won the presidency.

He's confusing the 2004 popular vote, which Bush did win decisively, with the 2004 electoral college vote, which Bush only won because he narrowly won Ohio -- by a margin of 118,599 votes. As people said at the time, if a football stadium's worth of people had switched their votes, John Kerry would be president.

UPDATE: This Brad DeLong post offers calculations that illuminate the distinction apparently lost on the right.

Americans and Americants

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, in addition to generously allowing that Democrats aren't "running around with 'I love bin Laden' t-shirts", offers a theory of victory on Iraq: that the only thing necessary is to want it badly enough --

To stay, with victory as your determination, ensures that you're going to have the ability over time to do what you want to achieve.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The J Street Project

George Bush today in Georgia --

... there's too many philosophers in Washington ...

UPDATE: He's developing the thought, again in Georgia --

But you know, sometimes philosophers don't act.

ONE MORE UPDATE: People of Elko, Nevada want more than philosophers in Washington, D.C. You want doers. (Applause.)

Worst vice president ever

A few snippets from a Dick Cheney interview with Fox News (Neil Cavuto) today.

1. Iraqi terrorists and militias are following the US election coverage --

Q Do you suspect that these insurgent attacks are timed to influence our midterm elections?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's my belief. I think they are, very, very cognizant of our schedule, if you will ...

Q Do you think, though, that the insurgents are better at these polls than even we are, that they are reading them and seeing frustration growing with the war, and regardless of the good economy, saying, let's keep up the attacks, let's keep up the pressure?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's my belief that they're very sensitive of the fact that we've got an election scheduled, and they can get on the websites like anybody else. There isn't anything that's on the Internet that's not accessible to them. They're on it all the time. They're very sophisticated users of it. And I do believe that that's a part of it.

2. Americans don't perceive a good economy because it's been so good for so long --

Q So why aren't they whooping it up? Why aren't they partying? Why aren't they saying, hey, another record, let's go for it?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't know -- maybe they've gotten used to it.

3. Not quite the scale of the gaffe regarding waterboarding from last week, but he left the door open again --

Q So there would be never a moment or a time when you think it is appropriate to go above and beyond traditional ways we treat detainees in order to get information?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I am a strong supporter of having the CIA have authorization to run a special program, which we have done, and which the House has now passed legislation to continue, as has the Senate, that gives them the authority to operate a program that allows us to interrogate people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, for example, the man who put together the attack on 9/11. I think we need to be able to do that. I think we can do it appropriately. I think we can do it without resorting to torture. But at the same time, it's one of the most valuable sources of information and intelligence we have on the enemy, finding out who they are, where they train, what their plans are.

UPDATE 31 OCTOBER: As bad as Cheney is, he gets topped by his boss --

However they put it, the Democrat approach comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses.

FINAL UPDATE 2 NOVEMBER -- the line is gone from Bush's rally speech in Montana, indicating perhaps some sensitivity to the criticism it received.

Not over here


Torygraph: Irish police ’foil Republican bomb plot’. If it had happened in London Ian Blair and Ruth Kelly would be ordering the interment of all Muslims NOW. Fortunately, it didn’t.

Indeed. And if Bush was Taoiseach instead of Bertie, we'd be getting the "Carlow is a central front on the War on Terror" speech.

Left Behind

Monday's Wall Street Journal editorial page (subs. req'd) made the unwise decision to ridicule Al Gore for having been cited as a key influence on global warming policy in Belgium --

Al Gore may have failed to carry his home state of Tennessee as a Presidential candidate, but the former Vice President is all the rage in . . . Belgium. The country has even named a tax after him ... Evidently the government figures that dressing the new tax package in Al Gore green will make it go down easier. If the former veep decides he can't beat Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Democratic nomination, he can always try Europe.

Europe indeed, because they clearly wrote up this standard issue mockery not knowing that Gore would also be unveiled as special adviser on the environment to the UK Treasury, an announcement that will come the same day as Nick Stern's damning report on the huge costs of global warming. But apart from the general problem that ridiculing Britain would have posed for the Anglophile Journal, it's hard for them to question Gordon Brown's choice of advisers, since Alan Greenspan is another.

The non-secret impartiality policeman's ball

Blogger Bruce Bawer, writing yesterday, via an approving link from Andrew Sullivan:

... a story from LifeSiteNews.com reporting that the BBC "has admitted to a marked bias against Christianity and a strong inclination to pro-Muslim reporting among the network's executives and key anchors." It has also admitted that "the corporation is dominated by homosexuals." These admissions came at a secret "impartiality summit" that the Daily Mail reported on last Sunday. The Telegraph ran an opinion column about this summit, but otherwise I can't find any reference to it on the websites of other major UK papers.

So the canard about the "secret summit" is still circulating. Here's the BBC explanation from, yes, their website --

Well I was one of the people who was at the "secret" meeting and I have to say the reality was somewhat different to the way the press are reporting it. For a start, this wasn’t a secret meeting... it was streamed live on the web. The meeting was made up of executives, governors and lots of non-BBC people like John Lloyd from the FT and Janet Daley from the Daily Telegraph. It was planned as a serious seminar to investigate and understand better the BBC’s commitment to impartiality in an age in which spin and opinion riddle much of the world’s journalism.

Many of the supposed revelations from the live online secret summit spring from freewheeling discussion groups and are far short of final analysis of bias, real or imagined, at the BBC. Do like Bawer or Sullivan did not do and read the whole thing.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

2nd most oppressed people ever

Question: in what context might one justify the more pessimistic of 2 positions by saying -- "But then I'm Irish, not Polish"?

Answer: if you're Andrew Sullivan, explaining that unlike the former "Good News from Iraq" blogger (on which more in a second), you think that Iraq is already down the tubes.

Here's the context. Sullivan notes the resurfacing of Arthur Chrenkoff, who had blogged from Australia with the goal of showing that there was much unreported good news from Iraq (and Afghanistan) that the mainstream media was choosing to ignore. The blog evolved into a remunerated, edited item for the Wall Street Journal online, a fact that both Chrenkoff and the WSJ Online initially tried to conceal from readers, and Chrenkoff soon stopped blogging on the topic anyway.

He's now back with a novel, whose plot is suggestive of ex post recognition of mistakes, so Sullivan asked him whether he regretted the crowd he'd gotten in with via the Good News from Iraq blogging:

[Chrenkoff] Re Iraq - it's funny, because I'm not by nature an optimistic person (I think that the stereotypically romantic but melancholic and fatalistic Polish psyche has been too strongly beaten into us over the centuries between the hammer of Germany and the anvil of Russia), but I remain cautiously optimistic, even if for the sake of all the decent people in Iraq ...

[Sullivan] On that last point, I am in complete agreement. My only motive in exposing the lies and incompetence of the Bush administration is precisely because I want Iraqis to have a decent future, and my heart breaks for those brave souls facing down murder and blackmail each day to protect themselves in the face of our arrogant incompetence. I fear it's too late now. But then I'm Irish, not Polish.

Normally we Irish have enough famine and oppression to win the right-for-pessimism stakes, but the Poles give us a good run for the money so that's an odd ranking of the two histories. But it confirms yet again the Iron Law of Sully -- his self-identification as Irish when he's feuding with American conservatives. In fact as we look back an old post where we set this out, we see something that's missing from his current feud, which he attributes to divergent views about religion and politics. In British politics, the cost of tax cuts is much more internalised in domestic politics, and it's hard to see what that has to do with religion.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Asked and Answered

It hasn't got as much attention as it should have, but Dick Cheney had his guard down the other day in front of a sycophantic interviewer and (1) confirmed that the US uses waterboarding on terrorism suspects, and (2) that he supports it. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow tried to undo the admission today --

"You know as a matter of common sense that the vice president of the United States is not going to be talking about water boarding. Never would, never does, never will," presidential spokesman Tony Snow said. "You think Dick Cheney's going to slip up on something like this?

Big Time. Last Throes. Pretty Well Confirmed. No Doubt. Greeted as Liberators. Shoots Friend in Face. Indeed.

UPDATE: The waterboarding question did come up at a brief Q&A with Bush after meeting the NATO Secretary-General, but it was not directly answered.

Caption suggestions welcome

The photo shows General Peter Pace, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, signing the guestbook at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London. Our suggestion: "So that's why Bush is now signing things George R rather than George W."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A nation once again

Today's exclusive BoBW Internet editing game in 4 easy steps:

1. Go to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs website and click on the executive summary of the "Comprehensive study on the all-island economy".

2. Copy and paste the text of the summary into your favourite text editing program.

3. Using the text editor's "Find-Replace" feature, set up and implement a Find: "l-is" -- Replace "l-ire" command. [that's lower case L before the hyphen, and don't include the quotes]

4. Inspect results, laugh, and ponder whether the document was finalised using the reverse procedure.

What are the odds?

Two quick notes from Andrew Sullivan's blog today. First, he's been running an excellent series of reader-submitted pictures taken from their windows; they're intended to be vrai portrayals of the vista from where the computer screen is. Today's submission* is from Drumkeeran, County Leitrim and does capture the everyday beauty of that part of Ireland; remarkable in particular is the absence of some godawful McMansion springing up on the hill opposite, so his reader is lucky in that regard.

Second, in a later post Sullivan endorses a fellow blogger's suggestion as to how the Democratic candidate for Senate from Tennessee, Harold Ford, should respond to a Republican ad that clearly plays on his race (black) --

It would seem that today's Republican Party is more comfortable with elected officials - male elected officials - who take an interest in teenage boys. Mark Foley is acceptable to Ken Mehlman's GOP. Heterosexual men, it seems, are not.

We'll just leave it here for future reference that, of all the people one might name as being representative of the Republicans (George Bush, Karl Rove etc) he goes with Ken Mehlman.

UPDATE NOV 10: The implicit issue here just got more explicit via a comment by Bill Maher on the Larry King show. And did Sullivan now out Maher, or re-out Mehlman? --

I have no idea what my friend Bill Maher is going to say tomorrow night, and I don't believe in "outing" people. But I do think that closeted gay people who attack other gay people should take Jon Stewart's advice.

*FINAL UPDATE: It's a busted link but he reposted the photo.

In the long run we're all Churchill

It's no secret that George W. Bush fancies himself as the 21st century's Randolph Winston Churchill and further hints were dropped in his response to inevitable "what books are you reading?" questions in interviews recently; remember that Bush is in a race with Karl Rove to see who can read the most books this year.

He told both ABC News and a group of conservative commentators that he's reading A History of the English-Speaking Peoples since 1900, which as John Derbyshire pointed out at The Corner is (1) not the Churchill book of almost the same name (2) not on sale in the US yet but (3) clearly intended as a sequel to Churchill's book. One of the aforementioned commentators who got the sit-down with Bush, Michael Barone, piles on the flattery:

[Andrew] Roberts's English-Speaking Peoples is an extension of Churchill's multicentury history that ends around 1900, and I expect that it will take Churchill's view: that the English-speaking peoples have over the centuries taken up the responsibility of expanding freedom and spreading democracy and the rule of law around the world.

That is Bush's view as well, as I was reminded when I noticed the bust of Churchill as I was leaving the Oval Office.

Note the combination of Barone's gloss over the history of colonialism with Bush's much more alarming view that a hypothetical perspective of him 50 years down the road exempts him from thinking about the costs of his policies today.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The new meaning of "contingency"

Adding to George Bush's collection of descriptions of what his job is came a new one in today's press conference --

Q What if there is a civil war [in Iraq]?

THE PRESIDENT: You're asking me hypotheticals. Our job is to make sure there's not one, see.

i.e. contingencies are irrelevant because if you do your job, they won't happen. Indeed one might extend that logic to say if contingencies can't happen, then they never have happened, and everything that has transpired has done so according to Bush's design.

Yes, General

The latest of a line of hasty clarifications issued after an attention-getting statement from someone who didn't check with the handlers beforehand --

(NYT) BAGHDAD, Oct. 25 — The top American military commander in Iraq issued a statement today saying that while “all options are on the table” he has made no request “to date” for more American troops to protect Baghdad.

The statement came in the form of a “clarification” issued to news organizations in Baghdad of remarks made by Gen. George W. Casey Jr. at a press conference in Baghdad on Tuesday. The general told reporters then that troop increases in Baghdad were among the options as American commanders make adjustments to an 11-week-old operation in Baghdad that has aimed at recapturing the capital’s streets from insurgents and death squads.

“There is no intent to bring more U.S. troops into Iraq at this time. The general was merely saying, as he has said consistently since taking command of the Multi-National Force Iraq that all options are on the table. He will ask for what is needed. He has made no such request to date,” the statement said. The statement from Gen. Casey’s office on today said that news reports of the Tuesday press conference “inferred General Casey as saying more troops might be needed. Quite frankly, that is the wrong impression”.

Time to hand over the keys

Whatever the election outcome in 2 weeks, the endgame of neoconservatism as an intellectual doctrine is well underway. Today's Wall Street Journal editorial page is a case in point. First, an editorial (subs. req'd) whose title says it all --

Pakistan's Sovereignty

In case you haven't guessed, they're against it:

We don't know what General Musharraf promised President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai during their recent conclave in the White House. But we hope it was more tangible cooperation than we have been seeing of late. Sovereignty has responsibilities, and General Musharraf is not exercising them.

The implied sanction is not spelt out. One benefit of the editorial is that it makes Max Boot (subs. req'd), across the page, seem more reasonable in his argument that the Darfur peacekeeping be outsourced to mercenaries --

In 1995-96, Executive Outcomes, a South African firm working for the government of Sierra Leone, made short work of a savage rebel movement known as the Revolutionary United Front that was notorious for chopping off the limbs of its victims. As a result, Sierra Leone was able to hold its first free election in decades. The now-defunct Executive Outcomes also helped the Angolan government quell a long-running insurgency by Jonas Savimbi's Unita, leading to the signing of a peace accord in 1994. Another private firm, MPRI, helped to bring peace to the former Yugoslavia in 1995 by organizing the Croatian military offensive that stopped Serbian aggression.

Hired guns could be equally effective in stopping the campaign of rape, murder and ethnic cleansing carried out by the Sudanese government and the janjaweed militia in Darfur. In fact, several firms have already offered their services. They could be employed by an international organization like the U.N. or NATO, by an ad hoc group of concerned nations, or even by philanthropists like Bill Gates or George Soros.

Only mentioned in passing is that peace wasn't restored to Sierra Leone until a regular contingent of British troops did the job, and the political scandals that have marked previous mercenary ventures (it's not clear that Boot ever Googled Sandline, for example). And left unsaid is who would pay them, what flag they would fight under (which matters for pesky little details like the Geneva conventions, for example), and how any truce would be maintained.

Behind Boot's proposal is a contradiction that goes to the heart of the neocon conundrum: remaking the world requires troops on the ground, but the American public won't stand for that level of mobilisation. As Niall Ferguson put it in Sunday's Telegraph --

Writing in the 1920s, the German historian Eckart Kehr argued that the foreign policy of the Kaiser's Germany was the defective product of the "primacy of domestic politics". Decisions about diplomacy and strategy, he argued, were determined not by rational international calculation but by short-sighted political machination: whether a bigger navy would satisfy the heavy industrial lobby, whether a higher tariff would square the Prussian landowners.

I have come to see that American foreign policy suffers from a similar pathology. The primacy of domestic politics, in the form of bureaucratic in-fighting and electoral manipulation, explains why the Iraq enterprise has, from the outset, been so chronically undermanned.

Not a particularly encouraging analogy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hall of mirrors

Could it be that George Bush's recent admission of potential Vietnam-Iraq parallels was an attempt to head off a likely field day for the commentators with his just announced trip to Vietnam in November, a trip that will include a visit to Ho Chi Minh City (sic)?

UPDATE 16 NOVEMBER: It seems that the previous government of "Ho Chi Minh City" is not forgotten after all.

Read no evil

In a remark open to multiple interpretations, George Bush, during the same interview in which he claimed to use "the Google", was asked whether he used email:

“I tend not to email or — not only tend not to email, I don’t email, because of the different record requests that can happen to a president. I don’t want to receive emails because, you know, there’s no telling what somebody’s email may — it would show up as, you know, a part of some kind of a story, and I wouldn’t be able to say, `Well, I didn’t read the email.’ `But I sent it to your address, how can you say you didn’t?’ So, in other words, I’m very cautious about emailing.”

He didn't want to sound like he was saying that his legal experts have told him to avoid email so as to keep deniability intact (and to sidestep the fishing expeditions that his allies used against Bill Clinton) but he comes pretty close to doing it anyway. Note also his transparent fear of the technology, springing from ignorance, as corporations have long since found ways to deal with the concerns that he expresses. Do his oft-expressed denunciations of Osama bin Laden spring not from Osama's body count, but from awe at his mastery of the Internet?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Tonight I'm gonna (Rock you tonight)

It would be funny if it didn't involve about 3,000 people a month dying in Iraq, but here was White House Press Secretary Tony Snow deflecting a question about the failed mission to pacify Baghdad --

Q Tony, I remember a few months ago, we were in the East Room, and Maliki was there, we were talking about the plan to secure Baghdad. And maybe this is a kind of more specific version of what we've been asking. That plan, is it going to be changed drastically? Is the President satisfied? Is it what was expected when the plan was put out?

MR. SNOW: Are you talking about Operation Forward Together -- or Together Forward?

In fact, the current name for this operation is, apparently, "Together Forward II", a name which wouldn't lose much in terms of credibility if you added "Electric Boogaloo" after it.

UPDATE 2 FEBRUARY: The Operation has now been relegated to one that dare not speak its name; Stephen Hadley in a briefing about the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) --

But what we found was, while the initial response [after Samarrah mosque bombing] was good, we began to see the kind of mobilization in the Shia community and the beginnings of retaliation of Shia on Sunni, and Sunni on Shia. And that is talked about very clearly in the NIE.

Q And that wasn't anticipated by the administration?

MR. HADLEY: We did, and we had two security plans, efforts -- because, of course, as you know, most of this is focused in Baghdad; about 80 percent of sectarian violence is within 30 miles of Baghdad. And we took two bites at that apple in terms of Iraq security plans, phase one, phase two. And the truth is, as we've said very clearly, they did not work. And it did not bring down the violence.

FINAL UPDATE: Naming follies with the successor operation.

Reflections on the revolution in America

It's not easy to pick sides in a dispute between Andrew Sullivan and David Brooks (perhaps the right analogy is to a Liverpool fan needing a preference in a Man Utd v Chelsea match). The context is Sullivan's review of the reviews of his book, not least the extended review by Brooks in the New York Times yesterday. Brooks recounts the extent to which Sullivan draws his worldview from Michael Oakeshott (which hasn't stopped him straying from the path before), which causes Brooks to note:

Politics is not an effort to find solutions and realize ideals, in [an Oakeshottian] view. It is merely an effort to find practical ways to preserve one's balance in a complicated world. An Oakeshottian conservative will reject great crusades. He will not try to impose morality or base policy decisions on so-called eternal truths. Of course neither would this kind of conservative write the Declaration of Independence.

Faced with the claim that he's pushing a conservative philosophy that misses something essential about America, Sullivan falls back on the Burkean view that the American revolution was actually conservative in nature, but then tries to retake his original ground and claim that, therefore, Oakeshott would have been fine with it too --

The entire mechanism of American government was designed to ensure that as little as possible is ever done by government, that doubt is welded into the core system, that certainty is always checked by other powers, and that the great Certainty of Divine Truth is always, always, always kept at bay. That's one reason Oakeshott loved America - and why increasing numbers of American thinkers are coming to admire his thought, especially in these absolutist, fundamentalist times.

There's just one problem. You wouldn't guess it from Sullivan going back to Burke to find out what Oakeshott would have thought of the Declaration of Independence, because the man directly addressed the question himself, in Rationalism in Politics (1947) --

The early history of the United States of America is an instructive chapter in the history of the politics of Rationalism. .... the independence of the society concerned begins with an admitted illegality, a specific and express rejection of a tradition. which consequently can be defended only by an appeal to something which is itself thought not to depend upon tradition ... The Declaration of Independence is a characteristic product of the saeculum rationalisticum [the age of rationalism]. It represents the politics of the felt need interpreted with the aid of an ideology. And it is not surprising that it should have become one of the sacred documents of the politics of Rationalism, and, together with the similar documents of the French Revolution, the inspiration and pattern of many later adventures in the rationalist reconstruction of society.

Remember that rationalist is always a pejorative for Oakeshott. Tossed by the wayside, inter alia, is any distinction between the French and American revolutions that Sullivan would seek to make. Brooks 1, Sullivan 0.

UPDATE: In a later post, Sullivan hints at, while not explicity acknowledging, the degree to which his support for the Iraq war would never have passed an Oakeshott test --

But looking back, I think I didn't fully realize the radical utopianism of some of the people I was backing.

One final note: John Podhoretz manages a funny comment on Sullivan's response to Brooks --

Andrew Sullivan's response to David Brooks's review of his book has now surpassed Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in length.

In primo, veritas

The fact that the job of a spinner is never the search for truth, but damage control, finds its logical conclusion in this statement, posted on the US State Department website on a Sunday --

In response to questions about his recent interview with Al-Jazeera, the following is a comment attributable to Mr. Alberto Fernandez:

"Upon reading the transcript of my appearance on Al-Jazeera, I realized that I seriously misspoke by using the phrase 'there has been arrogance and stupidity' by the U.S. in Iraq. This represents neither my views nor those of the State Department. I apologize."

This followed a day when the State Department had tried to claim that he was misquoted. He thus follows Generals Richard Dannett and William Caldwell in having blurted out the truth before the spinners could get to them.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Next to Vlad

Something essential about European Union politics is captured in a funny piece of video that aired on French TV last night. It shows the setting up of the group photo of the 25 leaders at their Finland summit, along with Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the Commission, and star guest, Vladimir Putin, fresh off a live microphone fiasco with the Israeli PM. Anyway, as the sequence unfolds, one can see that Jacques Chirac was unhappy with his position on back steps, and far away from Putin. So he muscles his way to front into what was Barroso's position, who then has to step behind him to an obstructed position. Putin looks slightly puzzled by all the shuffling, but Chirac made his point.

To watch the video, go here to the pull down menu for previous editions, and select Edition du vendredi 20 octobre 2006; the segment is linked as Le sommet UE-Russie en Finlande 20h11m33s.

Just for show?

It would be nice if the many official delegations heading to Budapest for the 50th anniversary commemorations on Monday would clarify whether they are attending the official official commemoration, laid on by the Socialist government -- the successor to the pro-Soviet forces in 1956 -- or the other official commemoration, laid on by actual veterans of 1956 who understandably don't want to be on the same stage with the ex-Communists. With Hungary 1956 having been adopted by George Bush as an example of western weakness in the face of tyranny, it would be especially revealing if he, without a USSR to worry about, only sent his delegation to the "real" 1956 event.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Well, they're both insurance

George Bush, apparently in an especially bizarre mood today judging by his later speech, did one of his dreaded "pop-ins" at a local pharmacy --

And one of the interesting things that happens at this counter is that these decent folks are constantly reminding seniors that there is a cost-saving benefit, Plan D [sic]* in Medicare, available to them.

The transcribers catch the mistake (*Medicare Part D Plan), likely indicating that he mixed up Plan B emergency contraception, which he would like to ban, with his botched prescription drug insurance plan.

UPDATE: There are now 2 transcripts for the same pop-in on the White House website, and the second refers to "Plan B" only, confirming that Bush had the two mixed up.

Separation of powers, indeed

George Bush, speaking today to his own Senators:

And so, right after September the 11th, we worked with Congress, in some cases -- and in some cases, we felt like we didn't need to -- to put tools in the hands of professionals.

Unanswered FAQ

It's odd that the Wall Street Journal, of all newspapers, can publish an article about the joys of online gambling, relying mostly on odds and quotes from Dublin company Tradesports, without discussing whether such gambling is legal for their US readers. Our totally amateur lawyering suggests that it is legal, because Tradesports is dealing in securities rather than taking bets, but such a distinction will seem a bit capricious to Sportingbet, for example, essentially run out of doing business in the US.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

"Central Front" gets re-tooled

White House Press Briefing --

MR. SNOW: That's because, I hate to tell you, but Iraq is not a standalone issue. As bin Laden has said, it's the semper fi in the war on terror.

Does that include the World Series?

In the spirit of The Friedman (the unit of time in which a member of the great and the good says things will turn around in Iraq), Don Rumsfeld has offered a lower bound on his definition --

The Afghan government has been in power for about three years, he pointed out, and the Iraqi government has been in office for around 150 days. "That’s less than a baseball season," the secretary said. "Think of that. And yet we’re impatient. I’m impatient. Everyone’s impatient."

Spring chicken

It's important to note that George Bush's tentative embrace of a Vietnam analogy for the Iraq war (which, as Backword explains, is going to create an interesting pickle for Hitch) is likely just an opening salvo of a new campaign to blame the media for the debacle in Iraq and by extension the Republican electoral debacle in 3 weeks time. For consider the source material for the analogy -- Tom Friedman (subs. req'd) , the epitome of acceptable opinion in Washington --

Although the Vietcong and Hanoi were badly mauled during Tet, they delivered, through the media, such a psychological blow to U.S. hopes of ''winning'' in Vietnam that Tet is widely credited with eroding support for President Johnson and driving him to withdraw as a candidate for re-election ... But while there may be no single hand coordinating the upsurge in violence in Iraq, enough people seem to be deliberately stoking the fires there before our election that the parallel with Tet is not inappropriate. The jihadists want to sow so much havoc that Bush supporters will be defeated in the midterms and the president will face a revolt from his own party, as well as from Democrats, if he does not begin a pullout from Iraq.

The jihadists follow our politics much more closely than people realize. A friend at the Pentagon just sent me a post by the ''Global Islamic Media Front'' carried by the jihadist Web site Ana al-Muslim on Aug. 11. It begins: ''The people of jihad need to carry out a media war that is parallel to the military war and exert all possible efforts to wage it successfully. This is because we can observe the effect that the media have on nations to make them either support or reject an issue.''

Finally, the Web site suggests that jihadists flood e-mail and video of their operations to ''chat rooms,'' ''television channels,'' and to ''famous U.S. authors who have public e-mail addresses such as Friedman, Chomsky, Fukuyama, Huntington and others.'' This is the first time I've ever been on the same mailing list with Noam Chomsky.

It would be depressing to see the jihadists influence our politics with a Tet-like media/war frenzy.

This analysis mirrors to a remarkable extent a standard right-wing blog talking point, e.g. Glenn Reynolds:

Terrorism is an information war disguised as a military operation. The press plays a symbiotic role, and isn't willing to address that.

And is there something a tad fishy about that list of US opinion-formers who were going to get the jihadi e-mails? Who knows, maybe those are the authors of books one sees on the shelf at the Tal Afar Barnes and Noble.

[UPDATE: the blame-the-media angle is quite clear in Tony Snow's briefing today, and is seized up by, inter alia, James Taranto; George Bush essentially cited Friedman's column without naming him here]

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Self image

When Bono told a Dublin court (subs. req'd) today that

"he looked like singer Nana Mouskouri before Lola Cashman, the stylist at the centre of a High Court battle with the band, joined the U2 team"

it's not clear what in particular he has in mind, though one may attempt to draw conclusions from here and here compared to here.

Even more briefly noted

There's a debate at National Review's The Corner about Oliver Cromwell. As far as we are concerned, the definitive assessment of Cromwell was made by the noted historian, Morrissey. But anyway, readers looking to be provoked may enjoy John Derbyshire's contributions here and especially for Drogheda readers, here.

[UPDATE] Some e-mailers take on Derb, including one who notes the important point that the 1640s Catholic Irish were (Stuart) Loyalists, as the term then would have been understood.

Briefly noted

As this post was being composed in our mind, it said the following --

It seems to have escaped attention that with the focus on the evolving views of what the St Andrews Agreement actually meant, the chances of getting a conviction for the Omagh atrocity were seriously receding, both north and south of the border.

And there was going to be a link for that "south of the border" clause, to a story we know we had seen on Monday's RTE website, about the perjury trial of two gardai accused of forging notes relating to the interviews with Colm Murphy. But the story is gone -- the only Omagh story on RTE's website from Monday is similar to the BBC story above. But there is Google cache. So here, for the record, is the full story, as it appeared on the RTE website.

Two detective gardaí will go on trial this afternoon at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, charged with perjury and forgery relating to evidence they gave at a trial five years ago.

Det Garda John Fahy, 53, from Glaslough, Co Monaghan, and Det Garda Liam Donnelly, 50, from Cavan town, gave evidence in 2001 at the trial of Colm Murphy who was accused of involvement in the 1998 Omagh bombing.

The two gardaí are accused of forging notes of an interview conducted by them with Mr Murphy in February 1999.

The are also accused of perjuring themselves by swearing that notes of the interview had not been re-written and that they were an accurate account of the interview.

The trial is expected to take two weeks. Almost 30 witnesses are due to be called, including more than a dozen members of An Garda Síochána.

We'd speculate that the trial suddenly got pulled in camera, except that the Irish Times is still reporting on it as normal, from Tuesday and Wednesday's paper. It is possible that RTE and the Irish Times are receiving different legal advice about the chance that the reporting on this trial could prejudice future Omagh prosecutions. And [update], Tuesday's Indo reported the expected opening of the trial, but does not have a followup story today.

UPDATE 23 OCTOBER: The case seemed to have disappeared into a reporting black hole until today's surprising news that the 2 have been acquitted before the trial got fully underway --

After three days of legal argument, Judge Desmond Hogan ruled the interview notes at the centre of the case and the technical analysis of them were inadmissible. He found the prosecution had been unable to establish a chain of custody in relation to the notes or the analysis of the notes.

Which doesn't say much about Garda procedures, or the prospects of using the notes in a future Omagh prosecution. Note also that the RTE story does not provide a "related stories" link, indicating that the previous story has indeed been disappeared. And [final update] Tuesday's Irish Times is a little clearer about what happened; the legal arguments took place in the absence of the jury, suggesting that the media stopped reporting on the case to avoid prejudicing the jury if the case resumed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The slow train to Zagreb

As explained at A Fistful of Euros recently, the most immediate loser from the European Union's disillusionment with enlargement is Croatia -- held up while there was still some goodwill by unresolved issues from the Balkan wars, but now stuck at the end of a very open-ended agenda which includes getting a new EU Constitution ratified. But either someone didn't tell George Bush this, or the Croatian PM Sanader made a very strong case in his meeting with him today --

[Bush] We talked about foreign policy issues, issues of peace. I thank the people of Croatia for their support in Afghanistan of a young democracy. I also believe it's in the world's interest that Croatia join NATO, as well as the European Union. To that end, when I go to Riga, I will make the case that Croatia should be admitted. It seems like a reasonable date would be 2008.

Since the Republicans have been playing nicely with Serbia recently too, this suggests that speedy admission for Serbia will also be on the US agenda in dialogue with the EU.

Shred of Decency

The Wall Street Journal's politics blog notes one key absentee from this morning's ceremony at the White House where George Bush signed the bill that repeals habeas corpus rights for terrorism suspects and introduces a category of "non-grave" violations of the Geneva Conventions --

Bush went out of his way to thank Republican Sens. John Warner of Virginia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, two-thirds of the trio of Republican mavericks who initially refused to support the bill and changed their position only after forcing the White House to make modest changes to the legislation. But the president didn’t mention the leader of the trio, Arizona Republican John McCain, who was notably absent from the White House ceremony.

McCain, as one would expect, merely cited other engagements as the reason for not showing up. And he did, after all, vote for the bill. But since the White House signing was carefully scheduled weeks in advance, it could easily have accommodated McCain's schedule had he wanted to show up. It looks like McCain is smart enough to be preparing a "I wasn't there when it happened" defence for a law that history will not look upon kindly.

UPDATE: A careful reading of Tony Snow's press briefing today suggests one reason for McCain's annoyance; it sounds like the White House does not intend to comply with the law's requirement that the menu of non-grave breaches and associated punishments be published. Snow specifically stated that the law "authorizes" the President to do this, implying that it is not required.

The death multiplier

In what deserves to be a classic of its kind, Christopher Hitchens in Slate comes up with an argument against the 655,000 excess deaths estimate in Iraq since 2003: that the study forgot to deduct the number of people who would otherwise have been killed by dead insurgents among those 655,000:

Make the assumption that some percentage of those killed by the coalition are the sort of people who have been blowing up mosques, beheading captives on video, detonating rush-hour car bombs, destroying pipelines, murdering aid workers, bombing the headquarters of the United Nations, and inciting ethnic and sectarian warfare. Make the allowance for the number of bystanders and innocents who lost their lives in the combat against these fanatics (one or two, alas, in the single case of the precision bombing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, just to take one instance). But who is to say how many people were saved from being murdered by the fact that the murderers were killed first?

Who indeed? Because if one is willing to assume a sufficiently high proportion of insurgents among the dead, and a sufficiently high efficiency rate among those insurgents, then it's conceivable that the true death toll is negative i.e. the war saved lives! It's a wonder Norm Geras didn't think of this before he bailed on supporting the war -- but not into opposing it.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Iraq two-step

Part of George W. Bush's strategy-by-catchphrase in Iraq has been "As Iraqis stand up, the American military will stand down", which everyone thought meant that as Iraqi security forces become more capable, American troops will withdraw. But White House Press Secretary Tony Snow tried to reinterpret that one today --

Q That's the proposition that the White House put out there, that as they stood up, violence would come down, and we'd stand down.

MR. SNOW: As part of our constant adjustment, let me just add that apparently, the terrorists have also decided not to stand down. They've got to stand down.

So in fact the "stand down" referred first and foremost to the terrorists, and not to the US military. As they say in the Guinness ads, Brilliant! -- as long as the insurgents stay active, the US stays in Iraq.

UPDATE 1 NOVEMBER: Dan Froomkin chronicles the demise of the initial understanding of Stand Up/Stand Down.


Could the so-called "decent left" have come up with a more preposterous pivot out of their support for the Iraq war than their prophet, Norm Geras has managed, quoted approvingly by Andrew Sullivan? --

[Geras] Measured, in other words, against the hopes of what it might lead to and the likelihoods as I assessed them, the war has failed. Had I foreseen a failure of this magnitude, I would have withheld my support. Even then, I would not have been able to bring myself to oppose the war. As I have said two or three times before, nothing on earth could have induced me to march or otherwise campaign for a course of action that would have saved the Baathist regime. But I would have stood aside.

[Sullivan] That's where I am too.

So in addition to bravely keyboarding young British and American men and women to victory in Iraq, and now declaring this approach a disaster, they now declare that they don't even have the bravery, with hindsight, to have taken the opposite position. And in fact it's the war opponents who were making the more difficult moral choice -- to weigh the evil of Saddam against the horrors of a new war, to make an affirmative decision to be against the war, and get painted as objectively pro-Saddam by the 2003 incarnations of Geras and Sullivan. If anyone really wants the sobriquet "decent left", doesn't an honest weighing of moral consequences sound like what it should mean?


It's one of George W. Bush's achievements to make Saddam Hussein's Iraq seem like not such a bad option anymore, helped in that regard by the way that Bush loyalists have managed to devalue accounts and measurements of the killing in Iraq. So perhaps it was going to take an indirect but evocative photograph to be reminded of the evil of Saddam's regime.

He might need a Mac

Today's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) reports on a highly topical case of blogger ethics, the online detective work by "Wild Bill" that led to the naming of one of the Congressional pages on the other end of the salacious instant messages with former House member Mark Foley. Will Bill's post is a case study in how one leaves a trail on the Internet, but it did turn on one lucky break: that ABC News had left up a web page without a link but with a url easily guessable from pages that were linked. Then there's the comedy in how Wild Bill's post went public before he gotten a reaction from the person he named --

After connecting the dots, Mr. Kerr ["Wild Bill"] began emailing newspapers and prominent political bloggers on Oct. 3, hoping to make a big splash. He invited them to check out important news he promised to post the next day on Passionate America at 4 p.m.

He had not, however, contacted Mr. Edmund. Mr. Kerr says he called the Istook campaign [Republican for whom Edmund was working], asked to speak to Mr. Edmund but didn't leave a message. He says he was getting ready to leave his apartment around noon on Oct. 4 to drive his rusty, gray Ford Tempo to Mr. Istook's campaign headquarters in downtown Oklahoma City when his laptop PC froze. When he rebooted, he discovered his investigation had been inadvertently published on his blog four hours ahead of time.

Mr. Kerr said it had been his intention to fix spelling errors, try to get comment from Mr. Edmund and add a last paragraph. But there's no taking things back in Internet publishing. Other bloggers had already seen his posting. Soon, other sites, including the widely viewed Drudge Report, linked to his investigation.

To his credit, the spelling errors are still there. Anyway we're not sure of the chain of events by which a PC crash results in an accidental publish of a post but stranger things have happened. For now, it seems that Will Bill didn't use any insider information and, other than having a lot of time on his hands, didn't do anything that another amateur or professional investigator couldn't have done once ABC had made the original mistake. But perhaps those who followed his scoop were disappointed that the unearthed former page seems to be a loyal Republican.

In the No camp

Monday's Wall Street Journal Europe (subs. req'd) joins the slowly emerging ranks (see the evolving links on Slugger O'Toole) of those striking a discordant note about Friday's update of the Good Friday Agreement, the St Andrews Agreement (sic). The WSJ was never a fan of the GFA, and its opinions on Northern Ireland have in recent years been coloured by an attempted bracketing of the IRA in the Global War on Terror. Anyway, the WSJ has 2 complaints about the new proposals: that they reward the hard men, and they dodge the issue of IRA decommissioning while cementing Sinn Fein control over policing --

Giving a former terrorist [Martin McGuinness] such a prominent post would cement the legacy of the Good Friday agreement as one that bolstered extremists at the expense of moderates ... It's difficult to foresee a long, happy future for a government headed by two bitter enemies [Paisley]. The practical aspects of how this odd couple would work together have yet to be explained, or perhaps even explored. What's worse, the continued ascendancy of the extremists could snuff out support for the moderates. This is supposed to be the basis for a lasting peace?

... Sinn Fein is demanding the immediate transfer of oversight of the [police] force to Belfast from London. And here's the kicker: When that happens, the minister in charge of the police could be a member of Sinn Fein ... Though the IRA claims to have forsworn violence, it still has not given up its arms in a way that can be verified. The people of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Britain can hardly rest easy without a proper decommissioning of IRA weapons. Until that happens, Sinn Fein can't be considered an honest political broker.

The latter complaint seems poorly grounded given the effort that has gone into verified decommissioning and in light of the transfer of key police intelligence functions to MI5, away from any ministerial influence in Belfast. But the agreement does leave a sense that intransigence has been rewarded, and one wonders how Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is planning on containing any spillover effects in the Republic from what will clearly be played as a victory by Sinn Fein north of the border.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

So that's whose fault it was

Former US Attorney-General John Ashcroft, who spent the summer of 2001 worrying about brothels in New Orleans, in a Q&A with the Sunday New York Times --

Q: Your new book about the aftermath of 9/11 is titled “Never Again,” but isn’t that an inappropriate use of a phrase that has traditionally referred to the Holocaust?

John Ashcroft: I used it because President Bush turned and looked in my direction and said, "Don’t ever let this happen again."

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Zagreb comedy minute

There's really not much to add to the replay of the Paul Robinson fiasco, which is still funny each time, but the Times (UK) does get a quote from the star of the show Borat that's worth noting --

"I am very embarrass that advert for my moviefilm appeared behind this retard," Borat said. "I have requested British Government that my movieposter not also appear behind his gallows when they execute him."

Bono shows Bush ...

... the business end of the V-sign.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Extradition Watch

First, the NatWest 3, waiting for nearly another year for their trial to begin in Houston. Former Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow recently had 4 years knocked off his expected 10 year sentence, in view of his actual and anticipated cooperation with civil lawsuits by Enron shareholders against various banks that dealt with Enron. One of those banks is Royal Bank of Scotland, the owner of NatWest for whom the three worked.

So consider the problem now faced by the three. Fastow will doubtless be called as a prosecution witness in their case, because he was the Enron counterpart in the allegedly fraudulent deal that they did. So Fastow is going to claim that the three individuals were part of a scheme to defraud RBS -- and then go into civil court as a plaintiff witness to claim that RBS was one of Enron's "go-to" banks when it wanted a dodgy deal done. So he has to walk a fine line between claiming that RBS was willfully turning a blind eye to tricky deals -- to bolster the case of the civil plaintiffs -- while also claiming that RBS was a victim of turning a blind eye to what its three employees were up to.

This raises a theory regarding one lingering mystery about the NatWest 3 -- why RBS, the victim of their alleged fraud, never pursued a criminal case for it. If RBS had done so, the three likely would have claimed that NatWest RBS management had given them wide latitude in how to deal with Enron -- and the resulting evidence might well have exposed RBS to massive civil liability in the US civil cases.

Hence the dilemma of the three. A severely compromised prosecution witness, with strong incentive to cooperate with the prosecution and a potentially contradictory story in two different courtrooms, and a potential defence witness -- their former bosses -- with every incentive to clam up because of the parallel civil litigation. This is the kind of capriciousness that should have figured in the Clarke-Reid-Blair decision to extradite them.

While we're at it, an update on a case we've blogged about before, that of Ian Norris, aka the Morgan Crucible One. The US extradition request for him is arguably even more egregious than for the three, because it comes close to failing the "dual criminality" principle of extradition cases -- that the alleged crime must have been a crime in both countries when it was committed. Norris is accused of price fixing, which was not a crime in the UK until 2003 (after it occurred), so Al Gonzales' boys simply redefined price fixing as "conspiracy to defraud" and resubmitted the request. So far, the UK government is going along, but Norris has another appeal next week. Interest in the case is apparently growing, as there is some concern that the US stunt would retroactively make other instances of cartel behaviour in the UK into criminal acts.

UPDATE 9 MAY 2007: The latest update on the NatWest 3; trial now in October. Whenever the trial gets going it will be covered intensively here.

St Andrews watch

While Slugger O'Toole is the place to go for updates on whether the alleged final run at getting power-sharing going in Northern Ireland will succeed, here's an interesting piece from today's Financial Times (free link, thankfully) on the possible future economic strategies of London and Dublin towards Northern Ireland -- which may proceed whether or not there is a deal. One possibility mooted is that Northern Ireland might be given low-tax zone status within the UK, which would allow it to compete more effectively with the Republic in attracting footloose multinationals. Perhaps to the relief of Dublin, various factors work against this option, not least that it doesn't seem like a Gordon Brown thing to do (apart from anything else, how would he explain it to his fellow Scots?).

A somewhat related track being pushed by Peter Hain is to raise more local tax revenue, which would fit nicely with his plan for beefed up local government. Northern Ireland is also bringing in water charges from next year, something that the Republic does not do, although a looming water crisis in the thirsty Dublin suburbs may change that. Anyway, the article concludes with the perhaps inevitable acknowledgment that things in Northern Ireland are never "simply British" -

"[Margaret] Thatcher said we were as British as Finchley but, in this respect, we are actually worse off," complained one Belfast home owner. "At least in Finchley council tax is capped."

UPDATE 13th October (which is an interesting anniversary, by the way) -- it turns out that local revenue is indeed one of the chips on the table if the St Andrews Agreement (sic) is accepted:

A financial package is also included in the draft agreement. One of the proposals is a cap on domestic rates under the new capital value system if the governments' plans are accepted by the parties. It also suggests the possibility of further rates relief for pensioners on lower incomes.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Albert Reynolds precedent

Today's Wall Street Journal online reports (subs. req'd) that the House of Lords has affirmed the so-called "Reynolds defence" in libel cases and allowed the WSJ to successfully use it in a libel case brought by a UK-based Saudi businessman. The Reynolds defence arose from one in a series of ill-advised legal actions brought by Fianna Fail politicians against Irish and British media outlets; the Reynolds case has echoes of current events in Ireland as it concerned whether he, as Taoiseach, had misled the Dail in events leading to the collapse of his government in 1994, and whether he had corrupt dealings with the lobbyist Frank Dunlop.

The background is that UK libel law has been steadily evolving from the bankruptcy-threat outcomes that, for example, might imperil Private Eye, towards a "public interest" defence closer to what is allowed in the USA. So --

... the Reynolds defence of "qualified privilege", so called after a case brought by the former Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds against the Sunday Times in 1999.

In that case, the Law Lords ruled that the media could publish information, even if it turned out to be untrue and defamatory, provided the public had the right to know it and it was the product of responsible journalism.

Lord Nicolls, who gave the leading judgement, laid down 10 points which courts might take into account when deciding whether to admit a plea of qualified privilege.

They included the seriousness of the allegation, the source, the steps taken to verify it, the urgency of the matter, whether the claimant was asked to comment and give his side of the story, and the tone of the article.

However, the defence had seemed to weaken when George Galloway won a libel case against the Conrad Black-era Daily Telegraph. But it looks like the House of Lords now thinks that the Galloway verdict was over-interpreted -- as should be clear given the apparent recklessness of the Telegraph at the time: there was always the mystery of why the paper was able to find such convenient documents in Baghdad, often already in English, and ready to be deployed against various betes noirs.

Anyway, Galloway or not, the defence is alive and well. The WSJ had published a story in its US and European editions about intelligence monitoring of Saudi businesses in the wake of 9/11, and one named businessman, Mohammed Jameel, sued for defamation. The Journal couldn't produce any sources to confirm its story, because Saudi sources refused to appear and a US source was confidential. But --

The purpose of the story, the Journal argued in Britain's High Court, was to show that Saudi Arabia was cooperating in the international effort to combat terrorism. The paper argued that its inclusion of several prominent Saudi companies was designed to show how serious the Saudi authorities were ...A jury in the original case ruled against the newspaper and damages of £40,000 ($74,000) were awarded to Mr. Jameel and a Saudi company controlled by his family.

In Wednesday's ruling, the Law Lords found that the trial judge had misdirected the jury and applied the wrong legal standard, and entered judgment in favor of The Wall Street Journal Europe. The decision was unanimous.

The Lords' decision recast a 2001 libel decision known as Reynolds vs. Times Newspapers Ltd. that was intended to protect serious investigative journalism on matters of public concern. Their opinion suggested that the previous decision had to date had little impact on the way libel law was applied and therefore needed to be restated.

The Law Lords also said it didn't matter that a judge, with "leisure and hindsight," might have made different editorial decisions than those made quickly in newsrooms. Rather, "the question in each case is whether the defendant behaved fairly and responsibly in gathering and publishing the information," the decision read. If journalists and editors behave fairly and responsibly, and the information is of public importance, the fact that it contains relevant but defamatory allegations against prominent people won't permit them to recover libel damages, they ruled.

One final note: even as UK libel law now leans a little more towards freedom to publish, there is an evolving focus on privacy rights of public figures that might undo some of the gains. A related problem is that Internet access or even modest circulation of the printed matter have made legislators and courts more willing to assert jurisdiction over media outlets in another country. Relevant example: the Republic of Ireland, where a proposed privacy law seems to extend beyond celebrities wanting a little peace and quiet, to politicians who don't want pesky journalists looking at how their personal and professional lives might be mingling. As noted in this International Herald Tribune/New York Times story --

Michael Kealey, a media lawyer at William Fry in Dublin, said an example of that conflict was on display in Dublin on Friday, when the editor of The Irish Times, Geraldine Kennedy, and the newspaper's public affairs correspondent, Colm Keena, refused to identify a confidential source to a tribunal investigating allegations concerning the prime minister, Bertie Ahern.

"Had the privacy bill been law, the prime minister could have gone to court," Kealey said. "The biggest political story of the last 10 days, which involved private loans during his separation from his wife, would never have seen the light of day"

One difference between the Republic and the UK is that so far, the UK has been more willing to leave the definitional issues to courts. But Michael McDowell, control freak Justice Minister, wants a law. He thus becomes a potentially major headache for UK newspapers.

UPDATE 12 OCTOBER: The Times, not surprisingly, editorialises in favour of the WSJ decision. As, even less surprisingly, does the WSJ itself (subs. req'd).

FINAL UPDATE 7 DECEMBER: The Irish government's proposed Privacy Bill has disappeared.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Anger Management

There was a school safety conference in Bethesda Maryland today -- a supposed response to the rash of school shootings, although gun control was off the agenda. But one participant offered his analysis of the problem in verse --

Your laws ignore our deepest needs
Your words are empty air.
You've stripped away our heritage
You've outlawed simple prayer.
Now gunshots fill our classrooms
and precious children die.
You seek for answers everywhere
and ask the question why.
You regulate restrictive law
through legislative creed,
and yet you failed to understand
that God is what we need.

The contribution was heartily endorsed by conference attendee, President George Bush.

All too believable

One wonders why White House Press Secretary Tony Snow sought to convey George Bush being on top of the North Korean nuclear crisis in this fashion --

Q Tony, what is the President doing? Is he working the phones to try to keep China and South Korea in the corral, so to speak? .... For now he's -- today he's just settling back and letting Condi and others [?]--

MR. SNOW: I don't think "settling back" -- it's not like you kick back, grab your pretzels and ask what's going on.

Perpetual Motion

It's great to be Goldman Sachs. As underwriter of the Aer Lingus public share offering, and having advised a share price at the low end of the expected range, it made things very handy for Ryanair to start buying up the shares to launch their takeover bid. Not only does the Ryanair bid effectively put a floor on the price for those investors who got to buy in at the public offering price, but now Aer Lingus needs a legal and financial adviser to repel the Ryanair bid -- which will be Goldman Sachs! Luckily for Aer Lingus, Goldman Sachs will have "consultants" to help their fight in Brussels to block the bid on competition grounds -- 2 former competition commissioners of the same European Commission that will adjudicate the matter. As they say in Private Eye, trebles all round!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Calendar Man

In what maybe is a coincidence, may something more, North Korea did its latest round of missile tests on the 4th of July, Independence Day, and its (alleged) nuclear test on the 9th of October, Columbus Day: both public holidays in the USA only, and both, this year, resulting in long holiday weekends. Does Kim Jong-Il enjoy the extra disarray he causes in what is clearly a business hours presidency in Washington?


When George Bush puts on his grave jumpy-eye face as he discusses the North Korean nuclear test, one thing on his mind as he makes the statement is to be sure to deliberately mispronounce nuclear ("nucular") to show his regular guy credentials -- since in private conversation, he pronounces it correctly. And we know this because one of his media allies, Michael Medved, says so --

And one more thing: twice during his meandering conversation, the President deployed the word "nuclear." Both times, he pronounced it flawlessly --- as "new- clee-ar," not "nuke-cule-ar." Considering the huge press attention on the mis-pronounciation of this single word, nothing shocked me more about meeting the president than hearing him, in private conservation, avoid a mistake for which he's become celebrated in public.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

If only someone would tell Comrade Bush what is going on

The most remarkable thing about Christopher Hitchens' out-of-cycle contribution for Slate on the news that Henry Kissinger is advising the White House about Iraq is its refusal to acknowledge who ultimately make the decisions. Various disasters are attributed to Kissinger's influence, including those of his supposed protege Paul Bremer. This reaches its epitome in his closing paragraphs where he resists -- as he has to -- the Vietnam comparison:

For the analogy to hold, we should have to find that while this militant rhetoric [against withdrawal] was being deployed in public a sellout, and a scuttle was being prepared behind the scenes. We are not fighting the Viet Cong in Iraq but the Khmer Rouge. A bungled withdrawal would lead to another Cambodia, not another Vietnam. It would be too horrible for Kissinger to live to see two such triumphs.

So Hitch closes the circle by defining the above strategy as what Kissinger would do when in fact it's what circumstances and innate cynicism and dishonesty will make George W. Bush do. As it did Kissinger's old boss, Richard Nixon. If this was Lord of the Rings, Hitch would be, till the end, obsessing about Wormtongue as the key to the whole thing.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

In the bubble

One wonders if anyone at the White House is capable of stepping back and contemplating the spectacle of George W. Bush Christening (sic) an aircraft carrier named after his father. Most likely not.

Hamlet without the prince

While the following story pretty much writes its own punchlines --

Boston's mayor kissed it. Fans lined up for a glimpse of it. Some paid $5 for a picture with it. But the World Cup soccer trophy that toured Boston this week turned out to be an imposter -- and fans are fuming.

The gold-plated World Cup trophy that arrived in Boston's soccer-mad Italian north end amid a buzz of publicity on Wednesday as part of a tour by brewer Anheuser-Busch was a replica of the actual 18-carat, 14-inch trophy.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said that he had understood the trophy was the real World Cup awarded to the Italian team and would be deeply disappointed if it was anything else.

The object is making its way across the United States, under heavy security, on a tour sponsored by Anheuser-Busch Cos., a key sponsor of the 2006 and 2010 World Cup matches ... the trophy would be awarded to the winners of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and was not the trophy awarded to Italy in July.

there is one problem. Did it not occur to the Boston "fans" that it was a bit strange that the trophy was touring without any members of the victorious team?

Friday, October 06, 2006

And what will Damien Hirst do?

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article (subs. req'd) about a recurring example of what's often viewed as European Union directives gone mad -- the likelihood of a ban on the use of formaldehyde, used to preserve corpses for Irish wakes. Irish undertakers certainly have a massive reservoir of cultural reference points that they can deploy:

A 1998 EU law called the Biocides Directive requires the funeral industry to pay for expensive health and safety studies to prove that formaldehyde doesn't cause cancer among embalmers. "We are fighting the thing tooth and nail," says Adrian Haler, managing director of the U.K. subsidiary of the Dodge Company, the leading supplier of embalming fluids to funeral homes in the U.S.

Thus, a few months ago, the company's Mr. Haler, Mr. Nichols and other Irish funeral directors traveled to EU headquarters in Brussels to lobby for their cultural heritage exemption. Mr. Nichols is no ordinary arbiter of Irishness: His 192-year-old family business makes an appearance in the novel "Ulysses," when James Joyce's protagonist, Leopold Bloom, walks past the red-brick funeral home.

The EU has until 2010 to decide on any ban. The "EU directive will put embalmers out of business and cause decaying corpses to go to funerals," Neil Parish, a British conservative member of the European Parliament, says on his Web site. Britain's Daily Telegraph recently picked up the torch, exhorting: "Don't Bury Our Wake: The EU Is Picking a Fight It Cannot Hope to Win If It Tries to End the Irish Way of Death."

The Brussels-bashing exasperates EU officials, who say they're just trying to force industries generally to switch to less-toxic chemicals when possible. "We are not trying to sound the death knell for the Irish wake," says Barbara Helfferich, a spokeswoman for the European Commission's environmental directorate. "It certainly doesn't mean that caskets must be slammed shut."

Embalmers are skeptical about the less toxic alternatives but one is left with the impression that Brussels is up against a well organised lobby that has skillfully exploited a public sense of an overweening European Commission to be able to keep doing things the way it's always done them, progress be damned.

UPDATE: Here's what's involved in working with formaldehyde, courtesy of the aforementioned Hirst.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

On location

One standard rhetorical device in a George Bush speech is to complain about people in "Washington D.C." who claim to know what's best for everybody. That would be the George Bush who's lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC, for the last 6 years. Here's a version of the line today:

And so the No Child Left Behind says, look, we trust the local folks. I don't want Washington, D.C. running the schools. That's up to the people in the states and the local community.

And where was this remark made? --

Woodridge Elementary and Middle Campus Washington, D.C.

i.e. a school in, funded by, and answerable to, Washington D.C.

Theatre of Schemes

Having just used his being a fan of Manchester United as an excuse for his Manchester nixer, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has no excuse for not anticipating the sequence of events (in which the roars of laughter in Mullingar compete with blanched faces in Dublin) resulting in Ryanair announcing what is likely to be a successful takeover bid for Aer Lingus.

Because Ryanair simply exploited the fact that Aer Lingus now has publicly traded shares to accumulate a big stake in the company and use it as a platform for a takeover bid -- exactly how Bertie's beloved MU ended up in the hands of American Malcolm Glazer when he augmented his shares with those held by Bertie's pals John Magnier and JP McManus.

New to you

Yesterday, the Republican party had a problem. A man named Kirk Fordham, just-resigned chief of staff to Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, was completely messing up the narrative about who knew what and when in the leadership about the Internet sex farce antics of Rep. Mark Foley. So it was time to turn up the heat, one element of the strategy being to get into wider circulation that Fordham is gay, which would contribute the broader goal of conflating being gay with having an unhealthy interest in teenagers. But how do it while maintaining a claimed moral high ground?

Enter conservative blogger Gay Patriot in this long post to complain that (a) a liberal blogger has hold of "The List" of top-level Republican staffers who are gay, (b) even though liberal blogger has made clear he has no intention of using "The List" (which had been passed on to him), it's still an outrage, and (c)

The first casualty of the Gay GOP Witchhunt has occurred. Forced out by Democrats politicizing the Foley Affair. Statement by Kirk Fordham ...

Except that nothing in the post or indeed in Fordham's statement had made the slightest mention of him being gay. So in his claimed outrage at an alleged campaign of outing, Gay Patriot had "outed" him. To expand the circulation, the convenient link to the post from Glenn Reynolds --

GAY PATRIOT says that Democrats are descending into "sexual McCarthyism" in the wake of Foleygate, circulating lists of Republican Hill staffers who are presumed to be gay.

and soon the news is all over the place. With one last twist: it's not like Fordham personally cares very much, at least if Andrew Sullivan is to be believed:

But Fordham insists someone very high up was [told about Foley]. I guess we'll find out more soon. I also note that Fordham is openly gay. And like every openly gay man I know, is creeped out by Foley's conduct.

But of course this prosaic mention wouldn't help create the impression of a cabal of senior gay staffers creating all these problems for the party, which is why Sullivan is nearing (or has sought) excommunication from the Church of Bush.

A couple of final notes. Glenn Reynolds tried a related trick before, regarding Kos. And Gay Patriot, aka Bruce Carroll, triggered some long memories in Sullywatch a little while back (also here).

UPDATE: More evidence that there is an outing strategy on the right. The Corner also linked to the GP post. And Josh Marshall had noted the Republican strategy of pinning the whole mess on a gay cabal, which of course requires that the gay bit be made to sound like a secret. Finally, if Andrew Sullivan is going to condemn the tactic, he should note the role of some of his blogging allies in playing along with it.

FINAL UPDATE: Howard Kurtz, speaking on Washington Post radio on Friday late afternoon, seemed to imply that Fordham was "not totally out" in which case Gay Patriot -- and Sullivan -- pushed things farther than he would have wanted. Yet Gay Patriot continues to claim that any outing is being done by liberals.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

We are all Serbians now

In the brief interludes between Mark Foley posts at National Review's The Corner, Mark Steyn and John Derbyshire offer historical sweeps:

Derb, [quoting past Derb]: "Half-consciously we know that the great wars of the future, if there are to be any, will be civilizational and racial. That white, European, Christian Germans made ferocious total war against white, European, Christian Russians will seem as preposterous to my children as it seems to me that English people once fought English people, that Britons fought Americans, that Americans fought each other. What on earth were they thinking of?"

Well, tell me I'm wrong, if you can, when even the Irish have stopped fighting each other!

Those late-90s spasms—Irish vs. Irish, Kosovars vs. Serbs—will be seen by our descendants as the last twitches of intra-communal conflict among white Europeans.

Mark Steyn: Derb ... is wrong to lump in Serbs vs Kosovars with the Irish vs Irish as part of the fag end of Euro-warmongering As I point out in my soon to be forthcoming book whose title escapes me, the Balkan collapse of the Nineties was a warm-up for the civilizational showdown:

"Why did Bosnia collapse into the worst slaughter in Europe since World War Two? In the 30 years before the meltdown, Bosnian Serbs had declined from 43 per cent to 31 per cent of the population, while Bosnian Muslims had increased from 26 per cent to 44 per cent. In a democratic age, you can’t buck demography - except through civil war. The Serbs figured that out – as other Continentals will in the years ahead: If you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ’em. The problem Europe faces is that Bosnia’s demographic profile is now the model for the entire continent."

So there'll still be plenty of war in Europe, just not between ethnic Europeans.

Leaving aside Derb's perhaps unintended post-dating of intra-Irish conflict, Steyn -- chomping at the bit to get the Serbian snipers and tanks back at work -- offers the more bizarre contribution, not least because missing from it is any role for nationalism. If Serbians simply had a problem with the loss of the demographic race to Muslims, they chose a strange way to show it: by picking fights with Croatians, Slovenians, and Macedonians as well. Each of whom decided that they wanted their own country and got out. Note also the equation of Bosnia's centuries-old Muslim community with North African immigrants and their descendents elsewhere in Europe.

In fact, the Balkans in general and Bosnia in particular was unusual in European terms precisely because three religions and even more nationalities intersect there. But it's not typical of what's dominating European geopolitical news these days (check out any day's Fistful of Euros to see): regional and ethnic squabbles and seemingly chronic political instability stretching from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary to Ukraine. And one example in the news today -- Austria, where politicians have tried playing the Eurabia card, and it hasn't worked very well. In short, anyone expecting an outbreak of peace from the Mourne to the Ural mountains as Europe unites to confront the Mohammedan Menace is in for a long wait.

UPDATE 5 OCTOBER: More evidence that the Serbs are now in with the US rightwing --

Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, outspoken and influential televangelists in the US, are joining forces with Serbia's Christian Orthodox church to campaign against independence for the mainly Muslim province of Kosovo, according to the spiritual leader of the Serb minority there.

Bishop Artemije, the most senior Orthodox cleric in Kosovo, said the two Christian broadcasters had promised to alert their followers and exert their influence.

"They point out that they have friends at the highest level of government and will urge them to help us so that Kosovo remains in the borders of Serbia," he said.

UPDATE 14 OCTOBER: On a parallel track, evidence of ties between right-wingers and Serbian nationalists on the financial side as well. See also here.

What Bertie should have said

The always tricksy overlap between "friends" and "lobbyists", which has tripped up Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in the public's mind, if not his own, was nicely dealt with by Tony Snow in the context of Karl Rove's similar problems (via Dan Froomkin) --

"Q Did Karl Rove run afoul of any White House ethics policies when he went to a basketball game with Jack Abramoff?

"MR. SNOW: According to Karl -- and, again, we're still looking through all this -- he paid for any and all tickets. If you pay for a ticket, and you have a pre-existing social relationship, as everybody in this room knows, the pre-existing social relationship rules. But as I said on Friday, we are looking very carefully through all of it. . . .

"Q But even if he paid for it, he was using one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington like a valet service -- here, I'll go get you some tickets. I mean, is that permissible?

"MR. SNOW: Again, what the characterization -- he was using it as a 'valet service' -- that's colorful, that's good, that's really good."

Who's Bertie's "valet service" for his Man Utd tickets?

Ticking over

Yes, we've hit a rut in terms of inspiration but (perhaps a sign of said rut) we'd just like to note that one's confidence in the latest report of the Northern Ireland Independent Monitoring Commission would be a tad higher if their website referred to a "press conference" and not a "press confidence" today, unless they really do plan on telling the hacks something they're not going to tell the rest of us.

Monday, October 02, 2006

That man again

The precedents for whether the Stevens inquiry into football transfer "bungs" (off-the-books side payments) will go anywhere are not good, since Stevens already has to his name the report into collusion between police and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland and the inquiry into the Diana car crash; in both cases years of process have been slow to generate specific actions. Is no one else ever available for these assignments?

Accidental truth

Condi Rice to reporters on her plane to Shannon yesterday:

QUESTION: A bit off topic, but in the Bob Woodward book there is a meeting detailed in July of 2001 at which you and then CIA chief Tenet were present. Did that meeting happen the way he describes it? Did Tenet at that point express to you a real feeling that there was an attack coming, and if so what did you do about it?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'll have to -- we'll have to go back to the records to see if there was a meeting on July 10th. I met with George Tenet repeatedly, including every morning during that period of time. What I am quite certain of, however, is that I would remember if I was told, as this account apparently says, that there was about to be an attack in the United States; and the idea that I would somehow have ignored that I find incomprehensible, especially given that in July when we were getting a very steady stream of quite alarmist reports of potential attacks -- by the way, all of the information was about potential attacks abroad. There was supposed to be -- the countries that were assumed to be targets -- Saudi Arabia, Yemen, I think there was one about Israel, maybe Jordan. Nothing about the United States.

Besides sticking to her line that this information about attacks was at once imprecise yet precise enough to exclude the US, note her presumably unintended but revealing use of "alarmist":

a person who tends to raise alarms, esp. without sufficient reason, as by exaggerating dangers or prophesying calamities.