Saturday, December 30, 2006

Those mysterious Iranians

Days of assiduous New York Times reporting on the case of two Iranians arrested at the compound of the pro-Iranian yet Bush-coddled Abdul Aziz al-Hakim have failed to establish what they were up to or why they arrested. It is worth noting however that one piece of allegedly incriminating evidence found on them, a sectarian map of Baghdad, was already in the public domain, as it was published by the Times (UK) a couple of weeks ago.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The policing game

Since one never wants to underestimate the astute public relations skills of Sinn Fein, the key sentence in their press release announcing that the Ard Comhairle accepted Gerry Adams' motion to have an Ard Fheis on policing is likely the last one --

Gerry Adams will be speaking at the 50th anniversary commemoration of Seán Sabhat and Feargal Ó hAnnluain which begins in Moanes Cross, near Brookborough (sic), Co Fermanagh at 1.00pm on Monday 1st January 2007.

In other words, were the dates being carefully managed to ensure that Gerry would have access to the pulpit at a signature IRA event immediately after the motion was passed? Incidentally, the background reading on the huge cultural influence of the two subjects of the Fermanagh event, Sean South and Fergal O'Hanlon, is quite interesting.

UPDATE: Gerry referred to the coincidence of the two events as an "irony."

1976 in the Republic

The Irish government's secret papers from 1976 are also released today and in terms of Northern Ireland issues, function as companions to the newly released British papers. As with the British papers, there are no major revelations but a few points of interest nonetheless; the Irish Times (subs. req'd) goes into some detail.

One little row arose when the UK Foreign Office refused to write the letter of accreditation of their new ambassador to "The President of Ireland"; their policy then was to avoid any usages which would imply that the Dublin government had jurisdiction over the entire island. Since then, it's the Dublin government that has gotten increasingly sloppy in this regard, allowing "Ireland" to be used with reference to the 26 counties. A door that was opened by Eamon DeValera in 1937, squeezed back a bit in 1949 ("Republic of Ireland"), but then the horse decisively bolted with the Good Friday Agreement.

Anyway, the British needed to appoint a new ambassador in the first place because the previous holder of the position, Christopher Ewart Biggs, was assassinated a few weeks earlier. The civil servant taking notes for then Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave on the grim news managed a sardonic note --

Bomb weighed 200 lbs - placed in a culvert 317 yards from the embassy gate - probably placed in position on morning of the murder. Culvert bombs are S. Armagh specialities.

Finally, it's worth mentioning another sore point in Dublin-London relations from that period -- a case brought to the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg by the Republic contesting the treatment of detainees in Northern Ireland. The case had dragged on for several years and came up in one of the Wilson-Cosgrave summits of that year. Some Irish civil servants wanted Dublin to drop the case given British annoyance with it, and PM Harold Wilson felt that the issues had already been dealt with --

At the summit, Wilson duly asked the Irish ministers how far they were committed to pushing the Strasbourg issue. He said that he himself felt strongly about the matter because as the leader of the opposition he had condemned the "methods of barbarism" used against detainees at the time.

He also complained that this "had made him the subject of the dirtiest cartoon he had ever experienced in his life. It had shown a British soldier going by in a coffin with Mr Wilson going in the opposite direction - saying that he could not go to the funeral because he had to go to speak to the murderers".

However the case continued and its 1978 verdict, although moot in the Northern Ireland case since the practices had ceased, set the stage for the disastrous White House "torture memo" 25 years later, with its distinction between "torture" and "inhuman and degrading treatment". Unintended consequences indeed.


As if to affirm that George Bush's view that a war is won once you want to win, where others would have viewed New Year's Resolutions as involving weight loss, career goals, and self-improvement, he offers this --

People always ask me about a New Year's resolution -- my resolution is, is that they'll [the troops] be safe and that we'll come closer to our objective, that we'll be able to help this young democracy survive and thrive and, therefore, we'll be writing a chapter of peace.

It must be the case that with no personal failings to address, his resolutions involve the rest of the world rising to his level.

Ford to Britain: Drop Dead

The UK Cabinet papers from 1976 are now public under the 30 year rule. The papers confirm what was evident from the papers 2 years ago -- that the most unhinged views about Northern Ireland's prospects were held by the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. Also of interest are the attempts of Wilson's successor, James Callaghan, to deal with the exchange rate crisis and in particular meet the demands of the IMF in return for an emergency loan.

Callaghan tried to soften the IMF conditions by conjuring up for the benefit of the key diplomatic allies -- the US and West Germany -- a nightmare vision of a future Britain with someone like Maggie Thatcher in charge, and when that didn't work, he worked some more on President Gerald Ford with the implications for Britain's NATO commitments if overly severe budget cuts were imposed:

In one telephone conversation with the American President, the Prime Minister gave warning that imposing spending cuts on the scale that the IMF was demanding would play into the hands of the Labour Left, who had vowed to resist them. That could alter Britain’s “whole attitude as a Western partner”, jeopardising the British Army of the Rhine. “They will say, why should we go on paying £600 million in this way?” In a further attempt to alarm Ford into action, the Prime Minister sent a follow-up letter giving warning of severe domestic unrest caused by economic meltdown. “I do not think you would want to see us either as irresolute as an ally or turning to political extremes of either Left or Right.”

In private, both Ford and Schmidt [German chancellor] offered their support.

Of course, Callaghan should have known what he was in for from the previous year's financial crisis in New York City:

But neither [Ford or Schmidt] was prepared to put their warm words into action. Callaghan was left to fight both the Labour Left and his military chiefs, who were eventually able to save both Polaris [nuclear subs] and the Rhine presence by cutting back on equipment programmes.

To the extent that Ford could have induced the IMF to go a little easier on Callaghan and did not do so, he therefore might have indirectly contributed to the rise of Maggie -- although Callaghan's decision to wait too long to hold the election didn't help either. We might find out more in a few years about the internal calculations behind that decision.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

That John Kerry photo

America's Fighting Keyboarders are having much fun with this photo, which purports to show Senator John Kerry sitting alone at a dining hall table in a US facility in Baghdad. One strange thing is that the people circulating and bravely captioning this photo are the same people whose detective work on photographs from the Israeli invasion of south Lebanon helped prove that the death toll from that invasion was in fact zero, yet they don't wonder why there's a Union Jack on the wall behind Kerry.

Nor do they compare the photo with others from Kerry's visit, where he clearly did interact with troops. And before anyone starts talking about the facial expressions on the troops in the photos, compare them to these photos of troops meeting their Commander-in-Chief.

UPDATE: 2 days in a row we've been thinking along the same lines as TPM Muckraker. Here's their sustained detective work on the Kerry "photo" in which the Union Jack is apparently only one of several problems. And here's their update on the Cliff May post from yesterday. And in the small world department, the original distributor of the Kerry photograph, and therefore the person who can say conclusively where it came from, is Scott Hennen, who inadvertently got Dick Cheney to admit that the US uses waterboarding.

FINAL UPDATE: Powerline's "Hindrocket" establishes in some detail that the room in question is indeed in the US Embassy in Baghdad and that the photo is probably genuine -- and therefore cannot be a picture of Kerry dining with troops. Remember, diplomats aren't soldiers, at least not yet.

REALLY FINAL UPDATE: The photo isn't bogus, but the interpretation is.

Disco beats rock

Should Bono be insulted that even his "honorary" knighthood only comes with a message from Tony Blair that he's a "huge fan", whereas his current sojourn at Robin Gibb's Miami Beach pad has led the Times (UK) to recall when Tony described Gibb as "one of my heroes"?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Too many Irish

It doesn't seem to have occurred to fired Murdoch World publisher Judith Regan that when she claims her new plan is to move to Dublin --

where they do have a sense of humor because they drink too much. I'm Irish, so I can say that.

that the person she had just criticised for spreading "hate and incivility", Bill O'Reilly, lays equal claim to being Irish, perhaps undercutting her "sense of humor" case for moving there.

Comedy that writes itself

Amid disguising the Iraq troop surge in the Gerald Ford death, the White House finds time to suggest new occupations for Tom DeLay, Mark Foley, Duke Cunningham, Rick Santorum, and all the other departing and/or incarcerated Republican Congressmen --

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 2007 as National Mentoring Month. I call upon the people of the United States to recognize the importance of mentoring, to look for opportunities to serve as mentors in their communities, and to observe this month with appropriate activities and programs.

The Escalation begins

The Pentagon has decided to take advantage of the winter silly season to begin the "surge" of troops in Iraq --

The 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team received orders today to deploy to Kuwait in early January to become the theater command’s “call forward” force, Defense Department officials announced today.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates approved the request from Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, yesterday, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told Pentagon reporters.

About 3,500 members of the “Falcon Brigade” headquarters will replace the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit as CENTCOM’s forward-deployed on-call force, ready to respond quickly to a full range of contingencies, he said.

Despite attempts to deny the obvious --

Officials emphasized that the deployment announcement does not indicate a surge and is not tied to any particular event.

the tell-tale sign of a change of plans --

The troops were recalled to Fort Bragg today, cutting their holiday leave short to prepare for the deployment. “Everybody left with the understanding that something like this could happen,” Earnhardt [public affairs officer] said.

It therefore seems that when Condi Rice sneered at nation building efforts under Bill Clinton by saying "we don't need the 82nd Airborne escorting kids to kindergarten", that included those troops getting to escort their own kids back to school in January.

Old News From Iraq

At National Review's The Corner, lead neo-con Cliff May quotes excitedly from a "Marine's Notes" -- supposedly an on-the-ground account of day to day battle tactics in Iraq, from the perspective of the troops. But from the first read, it all sounds suspicously canned, and only gets more so as the dodgy talking point-read material piles up:

Fact: Most of the ready made IED's are supplied by Iran, who is also providing terrorists (Hezbollah types) to train the insurgents in their use and tactics ... Bad guy technology: Simple yet effective. Most communication is by cell and satellite phones, and also by email on laptops. They use handheld GPS units for navigation and "Googleearth" for overhead views of our positions ... Most of the carnage is caused by the Zarqawi [sic -- he's dead] Al Qaeda group... The Chechens (many of whom are Caucasian), are supposedly the most ruthless and the best fighters (they have been fighting the Russians for years) ... When engaged, they have a tendency to flee to the same building, probably for what they think will be a glorious last stand. Instead, we call in air and that's the end of that more often than not. These hole-ups are referred to as Alpha Whiskey Romeo's (Allah's Waiting Room). ... [US troops] are stunned and dismayed by what they see in the American press, whom they almost universally view as against them. The embedded reporters are despised and distrusted

There are enough distinctive phrases in there that the whole passage easily Googles to establish its source: this shite has been circulating for at least a year. Apparently the new phase of demanding good news from Iraq is to recycle the old good news.

UPDATE: Also caught by TPM Muckraker.

Lucky Rats

In what is apparently intended as the light-hearted war story for Christmas readers, the Pentagon's website has an article about a US medical team which dealt with a rat infestation at Saddam's former bunker. Notwithstanding its potential to distract from the daily mayhem, the story functions as a perfect metaphor for the Bush-Blair occupation of Iraq. From how the rats got there --

The rats had moved in to take over the bunker when the American soldiers left and the limited access hindered the entry of predators. The rats had a secure nesting area with a high-calorie, high-protein food source and water.

thus replicating the rise of the Shiite militias when Tommy Franks had no plan to secure Baghdad in the summer of 2003, and the repeated rise of al-Qaeda in towns abandoned by American soldiers once a sweep had been completed ahead of the latest George Bush speech.

And then there's the declaration of a solution to the rat problem --

Sherwood [military rat specialist] decided to place poison near the now-empty pallets, which still contained ample food for the thriving rodent population, to rid the area of the problem. He said after placing the poison, his team returned and picked up dead adult rats by the hundreds and estimated many more may have died in their nests or in underground burrows.

The body count of the dead rats did lead Sherwood to believe the problem had been solved and shouldn’t happen again.

i.e. if we kill enough of them, the problem must have been solved.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The other Hitch

For those of you whose republican instincts are uncomfortable with a "knighthood" for Irish citizens, even a "honorary" one, the unlikely destination of the Mail on Sunday is your one stop shop for bashing of the announcement that Bono is to get one. A news article supplies the background details to the odd manner of the announcement, made a week ahead of schedule and first revealed by the British Embassy in Dublin before a press release from Downing Street -- all part of what the Mail suspects was a stunt by Labour to grab some cheap news coverage before the meeja go to sleep for a week.

Completing the slam is Christopher's brother Peter Hitchens, with a contribution that reads like he was given a quick look at the news article and told to fire off something in half an hour, so he goes for the tried and trusted digs like --

It is hard to see why Mr Paul Hewson, a right-on citizen of a Republic that rejected the British Crown and stormed out of the British Empire, should even want to belong to the Order of the British Empire, let alone be a Knight Commander of it.

But it is easy to see why that increasingly pitiful and comic figure, Anthony Blair, should want to be a Knight Commander of the Order of Rock Music.

His slurping, toadying message to the new knight ("I am a huge fan"), the matey press release from Her Britannic Majesty's Embassy in Dublin, are all signs of a man utterly devoted to stealing the fame and popularity of other people, having squandered or besmirched his own with stupid warmongering and fishy fundraising.

So he remains to the right of Christopher on the Empire and yet to the left of him on the Iraq war. And he closes --

It wouldn't have been much more ludicrous if the [lawsuit] trousers had been given the KBE and, come to think of it, perhaps Mr Biscuit's [Bono] surgically-attached sunglasses should qualify for a knighthood of their own, since they've played such a large part in his rise to the ranks of chivalry.

Incidentally, the news story part of the package also notes Bono's connections to this set.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Rights of small nations

There's been an interesting progression to one of Bertie Ahern's achievements as president of the European Council of Ministers in 2004. His key EU deals from that era were the selection of compromise candidate Jose Manuel Barroso as head of the Commission, and the easing out of his own finance minister, and potential rival, Charlie McCreevy, into the internal markets slot at the Commission in Brussels. The moves always contained potential for trouble, because Barroso was very much the Atlanticist candidate, and McCreevy was likely to push on market liberalisation -- both of which could be expected to draw cool receptions in Paris and Berlin.

Step forward an apparently well-sourced article in the Financial Times, complete with insider accounts of meetings and quotes, describing the current state of affairs: to cut a long story short, Barroso has recognised that he has less leverage, let alone hope of a 2nd term, if France and Germany are annoyed at him, and so he has been quietly dumping the more aggressive parts of McCreevy's agenda. This seems to have contributed to a heated meeting last week, with the issue brought to a head by, yes, deregulation of the market for chimney sweeps in Germany --

Mr Barroso had asked Mr McCreevy to treat the two cases [incl. chimney sweeps] separately from other infringement procedures and to hold further talks with German officials. In an exchange described as "very tough", the president was eventually persuaded that these cases should not be given special treatment.

Several of Mr Barroso's colleagues suspect he is trying to curry favour in Berlin and Paris to bolster his chances of winning a second mandate in 2009. The president last week, in effect, terminated a proposal by Mr McCreevy to reform the EU's copyright levies regime after intense lobbying from the French government.

"A lot of what he does can be explained by the fact he is looking to a second term," a senior EU official said. Mr Barroso enjoys British support, but France and Germany opposed his appointment and he is trying to build relations with new politicians in those countries.

Barroso of course also realizes that a 27 member union has more countries than commission slots, so one traditional means of brokering a deal -- promising a cushy job to a recalcitrant government -- is gone. Hence the gravitation towards countries with more weight.

Inaugural present

Jeb Bush did not run for re-election as governor of Florida this year. His successor, Charlie Crist, revealed his survival instincts by not showing up for a scheduled election rally with George Bush on the 6th November -- recognizing that the latter Bush had become a liability on the campaign trail even in Republican states. [Of the candidates that Bush did campaign appearances for who were not already certain of election, they nearly all lost]. While lesser spinners tried to portray the incident as minor, someone important was not letting it go -

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove expressed frustration Monday over Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist's decision not to appear with President Bush at a rally in Pensacola."Let's see how many people show up in Palm Beach on 24 hrs notice versus 8 or 9,000 people in Pensacola," Rove told CNN referring to a Crist rally quickly organized by the campaign after the GOP gubernatorial candidate canceled his appearance with the President.

Well, the chance for revenge came soon enough (WSJ) --

Army leaders privately tell White House they could back more soldiers if Bush provides latitude to sustain the effort through reserve call-ups. One of the first units called back to Iraq could be the Florida National Guard brigade that served in restive Ramadi in 2003.

That would be the Florida National Guard whose use would normally be determined by the state's incoming governor, Charlie Crist.

Past the shortest day

As the world prepares to celebrate the miracle of Jesus being born just a few days after the winter solstice, and before everyone's blog reading time gets consumed by more important matters, we'd like to wish our readers a Happy Christmas and New Year -- and for those not observing or caring about one or both, the best of luck in taking advantage of the side benefits (extra sport on television, less work etc). Posting might be a little light but we expect that the news is not going to take a holiday, and therefore there will be excuses to post next week.

Probitys Wake

How the modern Joycean industry works in Ireland, via Friday's Irish Times (subs. req'd) --

1. Consultant with handsome 6 figure income from Department of Arts buys Joycean manuscript (partial Finnegans Wake) for 400,000 euro in 2004

2. Consultant sells said manuscript to Allied Irish Banks -- banker to Charlie Haughey, inter alia -- for 1.17 million euros in 2005

3. AIB out of the goodness of its heart transfers said manuscript to public museum under the jurisdiction of the Department of Arts, and receives a tax credit for the entire 1.17 million

4. In other words, the government purchased the manuscript out of general revenue, with a 717,000 euro capital gain accruing to the consultant. And AIB got a free public relations coup, while any other use of the 1.17 million would have counted at most as a cost deductible against taxable income, but not a credit against taxes.

Truly a trebles all round moment. The sequence has only come to light because the consultant in question directly contacted an opposition TD who had submitted a written parliamentary question about the deal -- the unusual contact outside the Dail perhaps being a ruse to trick the TD into making a "defamatory" statement without parliamentary privilege.

UPDATE 16 JANUARY: The story has apparently blown up again, but cease-and-desist letters are inhibiting how much of it can show up on the web. One additional detail: the consultant in question shuffles surnames like a deck of cards.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The pink eye on Charlie

In a sign that the Moriarty tribunal revelations about Charlie Haughey may have raised more eyebrows abroad than at home, the Financial Times' Quentin Peel offers some thoughts on the implications of the findings, particularly for the Republic's international reputation for corruption. The article is free, and concludes --

Enda Kenny, leader of the opposition Fine Gael party, says the report confirms "a culture of corruption, self-enrichment and the abuse of public and private monies" in the ruling party. That was certainly true in Mr Haughey's day. No one can be confident it has been rooted out.

Mr Ahern needs to do far more to repair the damage done by his predecessor and mentor to restore faith in public life. Ireland has become a model of economic success for many new European Union member states. It would be a tragedy if it were also to be a byword for corruption.


Readers of this blog who also like Atrios should note that pending the conclusion of his exceptionally long transfer to New Blogger, his blog is here.

UPDATE: The issue is now moot.

Parish pump infrastructure

Among the evolving issues in the operation of Dublin's showpiece infrastructure project, the Port Tunnel, since its opening yesterday --

[Day 1] Operators of the new route had promised to open it 'after lunch' but there were delays because of the large number of people attending the opening ceremony.

Up to 1,000 people attended the opening of the €751 million project including Santa Claus and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern who were among the first special guests to drive through.
But operators admitted the opening of the tunnel to traffic had to be delayed until after 3pm because of the time it had taken to clear the large volume of people from the plaza at the port end of the tunnel. The delay left many hauliers backed-up for several hours.

The opening of the new €725 million Dublin Port Tunnel was delayed for several hours yesterday to allow its new operator Transroute to place traffic cones along the 4.5km length of both the north and southbound lanes

[Day 2] Dublin City Council has denied claims that the traffic lights at the exit of Dublin Port were adjusted this morning, causing heavy congestion in the area.

The Chief Executive of Dublin Port, Enda Connellan, said the traffic was 'an absolute mess' early this morning because of the traffic light adjustment and the overnight closure of the tunnel.
Jimmy Quinn of the Irish Road Hauliers' Association said drivers were stuck in the port because traffic lights were set incorrectly for vehicles entering the tunnel. "It seems they got this wrong this morning. This should have shown up straight away," he said. "They couldn't get out of the port".

[links here, here, here, and here]

Buried in the silly season

With us having recently mentioned the US Espionage Act, a mysterious case involving its British counterpart is reported on in the Times (UK), which likely knows more than it can say --

A British soldier has been charged with passing secret information linked to the military campaign in Afghanistan to Iran, The Times has learnt. Corporal Daniel James, 44, appeared at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London yesterday, charged under Section 1 of the Official Secrets Act with communicating information “useful to the enemy”. The case was considered so sensitive that after the charge had been read out, reporters were told to leave and the remainder of the hearing was held in camera.

No biographical details were given — not even that he is a soldier in the Army — and there was no hint in the charge or in the brief part of the hearing held in public to indicate who “the enemy” was. However, The Times has learnt that the soldier was charged in relation to the passing of confidential information about British activities in Afghanistan to Iran, which shares a border with western Afghanistan, and has a strategic interest and influence in the region.

Corporal James speaks fluent Pashtun, the language of most Afghans, and acts as an interpreter for Lieutenant-General (sic --he's a general) David Richards, the commander of the British contingent of Nato forces in Afghanistan.

Among the points of mystery is why Iran is considered "the enemy" in Afghanistan, since they were glad to be rid of the Taliban. But further speculation is pointless without knowing a little more about the charges.

UPDATE: Predictably, Michael Ledeen offers the perfidious Iran interpretation, assuming that Blair's tougher line on Iran recently was connected to his knowledge of this case. But in terms of the specific case and deciding that Iran is the enemy, which is the cause and which is the effect? For one thing, as far as Afghan President Hamid Karzai is concerned, his country's number 1 enemy is Pakistan.

Busy in the bunker

On a day which had included a nod to "bipartisanship," George Bush had a few early Christmas presents for the opposition: through 2 more signing statements, he indicated which sections he won't be obeying of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act and the Tax Relief and Health Care Act bills that he had just signed, and he recess appointed (i.e. without Senate approval) conservative writer Warren Bell to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Republican strategist Mark McKinnon to the board of the (Public) Broadcasting Board of Governors (update January: Bush is now seeking to regularise these nominations in the Democratic Senate).

UPDATE: Another signing statement on Thursday, explaining which parts of the National Transportation Safety Board Reauthorization Act of 2006 that he won't be obeying. In particular --

The executive branch shall construe section 11(c) of the Act, relating to executive branch reports to the Congress concerning investigations of alleged criminal and fraudulent activities in connection with a specified project, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authorities of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information the disclosure of which could impair the performance of the Executive's constitutional duties, including the conduct of investigations and prosecutions to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

The text of said Act requires investigations and reporting related to "Central Artery tunnel project in Boston, Massachusetts" i.e. the Big Dig. In other words, Congress, a co-equal branch of government, is told that it has no interest in figuring out what went wrong with the project.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Searching for the real leaker

The most remarkable bit of amnesia from George Bush's pre-Christmas news conference was this --

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Mr. President, did you or your chief of staff order an investigation of the leak of the Hadley memo before your meeting with Prime Minister al-Maliki? And if the leak wasn't authorized, do you suspect someone in your administration is trying to undermine your Iraq policy or sabotage your meeting with Prime Minister al-Maliki a few weeks back?

BUSH: I'm trying to think back if I ordered an investigation. I don't recall ordering an investigation. I do recall expressing some angst about ongoing leaks. You all work hard to find information and, of course, put it out for public consumption, and I understand that.

But I don't appreciate those who leak classified documents. And it's an ongoing problem here. ... And we've had a lot of leaks. As you know, some of them -- I don't know where they're from. Therefore, I'm not going to speculate. Turns out you never can find the leaker. It's an advantage you have in doing your job. We can moan about it, but it's hard to find them ... You know, there may be an ongoing investigation of this. I just don't know if there is. If I knew about it, it's not fresh in my mind. But I do think that at some point in time it'd be helpful, if we can find somebody inside our government who is leaking materials -- clearly against the law -- that they be held to account. Perhaps the best way to make sure people don't leak classified documents is that there be, you know, a consequence for doing so.

In addition to his admission that he doesn't know what his own Administration is doing, he displays the passive voice about all the previous leaks -- the authorised leaks to the media about WMD, the Karl Rove-Scooter Libby leaks about Valerie Plame. And he forgets that there is an actual law against leaks, the Espionage Act, which has been enforced in some cases. Of course one problem he faces that a leak investigation in the case of the Hadley memo would lead back to Dick Cheney's office, exactly where the trail of previous leaks ends as well.

Flat tax fever

In a C-Span TV interview just now, supposed smart conservative Max Boot claimed that because Iraq has no effective government, tax rates and customs duties are effectively zero, and so the economy is booming.

*alternative video link.

9/11 changed everything

Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) --

Morgan Stanley used 9/11 as an excuse for failing to produce millions of emails in hundreds of arbitration claims, even though it turned out not to be the case, the National Association of Securities Dealers charged yesterday ...

In its complaint, the NASD alleges that the brokerage arm of Morgan Stanley falsely claimed millions of its emails were destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, where Morgan Stanley had a large brokerage operation. The complaint alleges that the firm recovered most of those emails within days of the attacks ...

Morgan Stanley's brokerage-unit email servers were kept in its World Trade Center offices at the time of the terrorist attacks on lower Manhattan. Although the servers were destroyed, the NASD's complaint says, the firm was able to restore millions of emails by using backup tapes ...

According to the NASD's complaint, many arbitration proceedings were concluded between October 2001 and March 2005 "without the benefit of potentially valuable evidence that [the firm] possessed but falsely denied having." ....

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Morgan Stanley has been involved in scores of arbitration cases, regulatory settlements and legal judgments in which it said it couldn't produce email evidence. Morgan Stanley told one Kansas City investor her files were destroyed even though there were no trades in her account until October 2001. The firm blamed a "simple and honest mistake," apologized and agreed to settle.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

He's learned nothing

One of George Bush's presidential habits is to append "signing statements" to his signature on bills. These statements explain which parts of the law he intends not to obey. He'd been quiet for a few weeks with these but he tacked one on to the nuclear deal with India -- it's buried on a list of White House news releases for yesterday.

While much of the statement is arcane, and can only be understood with reference to the text of the bill (the complexity being part of the point), the main thing he's declaring he won't obey is this --

It shall be the policy of the United States with respect to any peaceful atomic energy cooperation between the United States and India--
(1) to achieve as quickly as possible a cessation of the production by India and Pakistan of fissile materials for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices;
(2) to achieve as quickly as possible the Government of India's adherence to, and cooperation in, the full range of international non-proliferation regimes and activities, including India's--
(A) full participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative;
(B) formal commitment to the Statement of Interdiction Principles; ....

(3) to ensure that India remains in full compliance with its non-proliferation, arms control, and disarmament agreements, obligations, and commitments;

(to see all the details, go here and search HR 5682; this Washington Post article also took note of what he's up to, as, relatedly, did Dan Froomkin)

This is all important because the India deal allows India to operate outside the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and keep its military nuclear facilities away from international inspectors. Thus the South Asian arms race is fed -- all to the benefit of American nuclear contractors (who will end up selling the stuff to Pakistan anyway, via China).

Double entry lies

Of all the lies identified by the Moriarty report into the corrupt dealings of Charles Haughey, this might be the most laughable --

Evidence that he never heard of the Cayman Islands before the tribunal is unbelievable given his meetings with Mr Des Traynor who was a regular visitor to the islands.

Indeed, people forget that Haughey's training was as an accountant, making his knowledge of a tax haven especially unbelievable. Note also that he shares his accountant background with the current occupant of his job, and signer of his blank cheques, Bertie Ahern.

Briefly noted

At least 2 interesting bits of reading in today's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd). First, Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond writes a letter to the editor taking issue with the tone and substance of an op-ed last week by Quentin Letts which made light of the quest for Scottish independence. Salmond blends bits of boosterism with a few digs at Letts --

It is a certain type of critic who takes issue with the basic principal of self-governance, and I am pleased to say that they are in the minority in the United Kingdom. The 20th century saw several new independent countries in Europe, including Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland, to name just a few. For now, Scotland remains an anomaly -- a stateless nation ...

The independence question is one that Americans intuitively understand. More than half the signatories to the Declaration of Independence were of Scots descent, and thanks primarily to the work of American scholars we know that that document was largely based on the 14th-century Scottish Declaration of Arbroath. (Though the Scots did miss out on the bit about "pursuit of happiness" -- a good Jeffersonian addition.)

Make no mistake, if Mr. Letts had been around in the 18th century, he probably would have been a cheerleader of King George while Scots-American ministers and thinkers were providing the intellectual backbone of the American independence movement.

An independent Scotland would be one of the world's wealthiest countries, complete with one of Europe's strongest financial services centers, the largest energy sector in the EU, and a spirit of innovation that introduced the world to penicillin and television.

And speaking of Scotland, sitting across the page from Salmond's letter is an op-ed by Niall Ferguson. Fergie discusses the view that races for commodities can lead to war; he mostly comes down against it except in the case of WW2, where the quest for land and raw materials was of course one element of insane Nazi economic thought. He also doubts that there's an ingredient for war in the current commodity price surge, and notes that a crash in commodity prices could be more destabilising than a rise --

At the same time, falling commodity prices may be as disruptive of international order as rising commodity prices. The fall of the Soviet Union, after all, can be plausibly explained as consequence of cheap oil in the 1980s.

A somewhat different perspective to the Ronnie and Maggie interpretation of the fall of the USSR that one usually hears.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Seeking credit

If Detectives Benson and Stabler Meloni from Law and Order: SVU had been investigating the Ipswich murders, they would been especially interested in anyone who had come forward to speak to the media about their knowledge of the victims in the case. It seems that the actual police investigation proceeded in the same way. Here's a sound file of the arrested suspect speaking to the BBC last week.

Think before hitting 'send'

As a service to our readers who lack a Wall Street Journal subscription, just a brief post noting the juicy bits in their story about the expulsion from Murdoch World of Harper Collins publishing magnate Judith Regan. The Bush scandals have piled up so quickly that bit players in old scandals are long forgotten, so cast your mind back to George Bush's nomination of former NYPD Commish Bernie Kerik as his secretary of homeland security -- whereupon the legal problems around Mr Kerik accumulated, including the use of an apartment near Ground Zero, which he was given for 9/11 related use only, for meetings of a romantic nature with Ms Regan.

Anyway, it was believed that Murdoch had given her a reprieve over the most recent imbroglio, a book detailing a "hypothetical" confession by O.J. Simpson, until --

... Ms. Regan stirred up resentment inside HarperCollins a week earlier, on Dec.8, when she sent an internal email to the publisher's staff. It read: "Congratulations to the amazing and talented staff of ReganBooks. 'Century Girl' has been chosen by several organizations including Slate as the book of the year. We are also the proud recipients of a National Book Award finalist award for 'The Zero' a novel by Jess Walter. Both of these books were acquired by Judith Regan."

Some viewed the email as not only ill-timed but self-congratulatory. "It was viewed as a poke in the eye, a reminder of how important she was," says one HarperCollins executive. "Nobody was happy with it because everybody was already offended by the O.J. matter."

Part of the email was also inaccurate. The online publication Slate cited "Century Girl," a book built around Ziegfeld Follies star Doris Eaton Travis and written by Lauren Redniss, as one of the year's best books -- not the book of the year. "It was a total exaggeration," says this HarperCollins executive.

It is some kind of benchmark that Slate has enough visibility to figure in a high profile firing.

UPDATE: A self-aggrandising e-mail might be a more favourable story for getting fired than allegations of an anti-Semitic outburst. And Atrios reminds us of the extent to which Regan had been running with the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy from its Lewinsky days, which even extended to the standard disclaimer of many of its participants --

I come from a big Italian Irish Catholic family and I have to say that for the most part, they have not cheated on each other.

It's also important not to forget that the patron of Ms Regan's former paramour, Rudy Giuliani, has presidential ambitions.

FINAP UPDATE: The now disputed phone conversation (WSJ, subs. req'd), even in Ms Regan's version, does involve a self-aggrandising victimisation --

[lawyer] "What she said was that she was being destroyed in the press for something that wasn't her fault, and that the Jewish people should understand more than anybody else what it is to be the victim of a big lie."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The next Private Eye cover

Tony Blair in Iraq.

It also makes for a nice accompaniment to this.

Selective mystification

Irish Member of the European Parliament, Eoin Ryan --

Thirty-odd million [pounds] was stolen [in the Northern Bank robbery] and practically none of it has been recouped and practically nobody has been charged with it - and it's gone ...
It does seem extraordinary that 30 million can be robbed out of a bank in Northern Ireland and nobody knows where it has gone - and the IRA doesn't know where it has gone ... The idea that it can suddenly disappear... where is it going? Where is that 30 million. Is it going to be put into use in electoral purposes for political parties or where is it gone?

First, if he thinks Sinn Fein have benefitted from the proceeds of the robbery, he should say so. But second, this Eoin Ryan who is puzzled about how about 45 million euro might disappear into a 200 billion euro economy (combined NI & Republic) is the same Eoin Ryan who thinks there's nothing odd about nearly 150 CIA flights having stopped at Shannon Airport.

UPDATE: It turns out, as reported in Monday's Irish Times, that Eoin Ryan's attitude to the CIA flights at Shannon is to pretend that they don't exist --

The Government is seeking to delete key parts of a European Parliament report that criticises Ireland for allowing its airports to be used by CIA aircraft linked to rendition. In a series of amendments to be submitted to the parliamentary committee set up to investigate the illegal transfer of terrorist suspects today, Fianna Fáil MEP Eoin Ryan will try to delete references to the 147 CIA flights that stopped over at Irish airports.
He will also table an amendment that applauds Ireland for its "proactive policy in relation to extraordinary rendition, in particular its early engagement with the US authorities on the subject" and "congratulates the Government of Ireland for the timely measures it took directly after the first allegations were made" about rendition.

At some point the European Parliament needs to ask itself how its credibility is affected by letting operatives for national spin machines work within its confines.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Editorial control

In case you're wondering how Time Magazine picks its Person of the Year -- a selection given much over-weighted coverage in the media world, George Bush explained today how the 2003 selection was made --

In every decision Don Rumsfeld made over the past six years, he always put the troops first, and the troops in the field knew it. A few years ago, the editors at Time Magazine came to his Pentagon office, and Don correctly suspected they were thinking of naming him "Person of the Year." Without hesitation, Don Rumsfeld told them, don't give it to me. Give it to our men and women in uniform -- and that's exactly what Time Magazine did. (Applause.)

UPDATE: For tonight's shameless cross-promotion of the selection on CNN, Powerline's "Hindrocket" was amongst those consulted for a suggestion.

FINAL UPDATE: "Hindrocket's" post above is worth a look in light of the actual selection, "You", which seems to have been motivated by his suggestion of You Tube for the honour ("I offered the guys who invented YouTube as candidates; they are not exactly household names, but the impact of their innovation was one of the interesting stories of 2006 and had immediate impact"). As he notes in a postscript --

The idea is that the big phenomenon of 2006 was user-generated content, i.e., blogs, YouTube and MySpace. I think that's probably right; in fact, I'm slightly gratified that my nomination of the YouTube founders turned out to be the winning choice, sort of. I do think, though, that if they're going to do a Phenomenon of the Year award, they should stop calling it Person of the Year.

That new Iraq plan in full

It's hidden in George Bush's Hanukkah holiday message -- even when resources seem to be about to run out, there's always more --

Judah Maccabee and his followers courageously set out to reclaim Jerusalem from foreign rule. Though their numbers were small, the Maccabees' dedication to their faith was strong, and they emerged victorious. When they returned to their Holy Temple for its rededication, the Maccabees discovered enough oil to burn for only one day. Yet the oil lit the Holy Temple for eight days,

Change days to years, Jerusalem to Iraq, and it sounds like a plan!

Scared straight

A Wall Street Journal poll finds a new index of the extent of George Bush's incompetence --

More Americans express doubts about a [2008 presidential] candidate who served in Bush’s cabinet (59%) than one who is gay or lesbian (53%).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Peace lines

The Times (UK) has obtained access, it's not clear how, to the US military's sectarian map of Baghdad. It's here. Of particular interest is that the areas mapped "turning Shia" are mostly east of the Tigris, and those "turning Sunni" are west of the river. Coupled with a possible plan to declare that quelling "sectarian" violence is an Iraqi and not a US responsibility, the lines of a partitioned city are being drawn.

Constant of nature

He just won't go away. Ahmad Chalabi, that is. From today's White House Press Briefing --

Q Over the weekend, Ahmed Chalabi met with the Syrian Foreign Minister. And according to an American diplomat, he's currently gauging the interest of the Assad regime in some kind of limited rapprochement with the United States. What role is Ahmed Chalabi playing for the Bush administration with regards to Syria?
MR. SNOW: I'm aware of none.
Q Could you find out if there's some role?
MR. SNOW: You know what, my guess is, no. But I will try.
Q Would you try, because if he is playing a role, that would say that we are making some kind of effort to have --
MR. SNOW: I understand that, that's why -- but there are also -- there are also times when people will make claims about what they are doing, and the auspices under which they're doing it. And sometimes they're right and sometimes they're wrong.

The new flypaper

The old one was the Iraq war rationale which claimed that a war there would concentrate all the world's evildoers in one place. It was a crock. Andrew Sullivan is developing a new one --

So: one last face-saving effort [in Iraq], hoping for a miracle. Then: get the hell out. Perhaps six months redeployment to Kurdistan to protect the only secure haven left, before complete disengagement. Then use the Sunni-Shia regional war to divert Islamist terror away from the West and toward the Arab states that have enabled it.

Actually it's somewhere between flypaper and a Lord of the Rings analogy. But it's equally hubristic in its claim that a bloodbath can be effectively managed from a distance.

The Bishop and the nightcap

We hadn't been paying proper attention to the strange tale of Anglican bishop Tom Butler and an apparent drunken escapade in central London of which he has no memory until a little detail was mentioned in last evening's Radio 4 report on it -- that it began at the Irish Embassy. Hence one of the theories in his defence:

An insider at Lambeth Palace [C of E HQ] supplied what might be the real answer of what really happened last Tuesday night.

“We are wondering if he was slipped a glass of poteen [an Irish whiskey]. It does have that effect on you, especially if you don’t normally drink a lot.”

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Persia on his mind

George Bush today at the Pentagon, in the course of explaining his preposterously long-drawn out "review" of Iraq policy --

I'm pleased when Iraqi leaders go to Saudi Arabia and talk to my friend, the King of Saudi Arabia, and talk about how they can work together to achieve stability. It's in Saudi's interest, it's in Jordan's interest, it's in the Gulf Coast countries' interest that there be a stable Iran [sic], an Iran [sic] that is capable of rejecting Iranian influence -- I mean, Iraq that is capable of rejecting Iranian influence.

Note also the confusion of the Persian and Mexican gulfs.

From one corner to another

At National Review's The Corner, Victor Davis Hanson makes a bid for Pseuds Corner --

War is like water, its recent manifestation like a pump that delivers more of it more quickly but does not change its essence, which is entirely human—and human nature is fixed. So what Lincoln felt in 1864 or Truman in 1950 is not unlike Bush must feel now (which does not necessarily imply that Bush is, for example, a Lincoln), as the pulse of the battlefield has shorn away erstwhile supporters and prompted calls for talking rather than sacrificing more for victory. That wartime fickleness in a democracy, mutatis mutandis, is a universal phenomenon and goes back to the Greeks, as Thucydides saw in his brilliant epilogue/epitaph about Pericles in book II.

No election, no plot

Remember the Heathrow liquid bomb plot? The suspicion has lingered that the plot was hyped up by the electoral needs of George Bush -- specifically his desire to "own" the terrorism issue in the run-up to to the 9/11 anniversary and the November elections. It's already known that the triggering event in shutting the plot down was an arrest in Pakistan, with the only issue being whether the US forced the arrest to bring the rest of the "plot" to boiling point.

Now comes news that a Pakistan anti-terrorism court has thrown out the terrorism charges against the suspect, Rashid Rauf. He will be tried on lesser charges (possession of hydrogen peroxide?) in a regular court.

There's not much hope of ever getting the White House to tell the truth about what really happened. But with UK Home Secretary John Reid having used the plot to boost his own stature, a point of leverage might exist should he have any ambitions for higher office in the Labour Party.

UPDATE: The New York Times report lays out the confusion regarding the timeline --

Accounts differed over just when Mr. Rauf was arrested. The Pakistani police said he was taken innto custody Aug. 10, the day of the British raids, in Chohan Chowk near the Islamabad airport. But Mr. Habib [lawyer] said his client was actually arrested the day before while traveling between Multan and Bahawalpur in Punjab province ... Details of Mr. Rauf”s alleged involvement in the terror plot remained sketchy. Mr. Habib said the charges were trumped up. “All the story about the plans of hijacking airplanes was an imaginary allegation, just to boost the graph of Bush and Blair,” Mr. Habib said.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

It was 20 years in Ireland

Today's Financial Times, columnist Gideon Rachman --

The European Union's financial services action plan is not the ideal topic for an after-dinner speech. So it was perhaps unsurprising that an audience of City of London financiers gave Charlie McCreevy, the EU's internal market commissioner, a rough ride when he attempted to address them on that subject at a dinner last month. When the comedienne Ruby Wax, who followed Mr McCreevy to the podium, remarked: "He spoke for 20 minutes; it seemed like 20 years", she was reportedly greeted with riotous applause.

This Charlie McCreevy.

Amateur Sleuthing

If Detectives Briscoe and Logan from Law and Order were investigating this morning's double-murder in Finglas, they would be intrigued by the timing in which one of two plumbers working at the house happened to be away at the exact time interval that the murder of the 2nd plumber and intended target Marlo Hyland occurred. In cases like this, suspicious minds are usually trumped by the simpler explanation of someone having blundered, which in this case would mean that the hitmen who had the house under surveillance assumed that both workmen left when in fact only one did.

UPDATE: There is at least one important question flowing from this: Was Hyland under Garda surveillance when he was killed, as Taoiseach Bertie Ahern clumsily seemed to imply?


The Vatican stops fussing about when, exactly, life begins, and starts to focus on the welfare of people already here --

Pope Benedict said on Tuesday states had to set ethical limits to what can be done to protect their people from terrorism and that some countries have flouted international humanitarian law in recent wars. .... In the message, which is traditionally sent to governments and international organizations, he also repeated his often stated belief that war in God's name is never justified...

"...the new shape of conflicts, especially since the terrorist threat unleashed completely new forms of violence, demands that the international community reaffirm international humanitarian law, and apply it to all present-day situations of armed conflict, including those not currently provided for by international law," .. he called for a review of what states could ethically do to protect their citizens while still trying to respect international humanitarian law, "which has not been consistently implemented in certain recent situations of war." "

...the scourge of terrorism demands a profound reflection on the ethical limits restricting the use of modern methods of guaranteeing internal security," he wrote.

The message will pose obvious problems for the White House and those pundits who have sought to interpret Catholicism as an obligation to vote Republican. And lest anyone doubt the target, consider this Bush statement, a formulation that he has used hundreds of times --

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

UPDATE 19 DECEMBER: It's very rare that the media take notice of the implications of Bush's bizarre freedom philosophy but Orlando Patterson does in today's New York Times (subs. req'd), albeit not the theological implications.

Monday, December 11, 2006


With the partition of Iraq ever more a de facto if not a de jure possibility, there is much interest in analogies. Here's a paper that looks at a few of them, including of course the Irish case. The thesis is that on balance partition leaves more stable entities in its wake and thus that despite the high costs, it might be worth it. In the Irish case, the paper recommends that Britain should have forced Northern Ireland to be smaller and induced some Catholics to relocate to the larger Free State.

It all sounds a bit antiseptic. And as usual with such claims, the question has to be "relative to what?" For one thing, partition rarely brings finality. As we've noted before, Michael Collins had a plan to maintain an insurgency in Northern Ireland, involving loyal lieutenants like UK Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly's grandfather. Kashmir has never been solved. So the contrast should be relative to civil war that eventually comes to resolution in the un-partitioned or reunified entity. Examples like Vietnam, Mozambique, and, er, the United States of America!

With Miltie in the grave

On a day that is likely to see accusations of speaking ill of the dead, with the late and mostly unlamented Pinochet, the Wall Street Journal op-ed page strikes with indecent haste at Milton Friedman. This comes via a piece (subs. req'd) by 2004 Nobel in Economics prize winner Edward Prescott. Most of it is taken up with data-intensive justifications of economics policies that are remarkably similar to those of a certain George W. Bush (e.g. the US should be piling up even more public debt), but there's also --

Myth No. 1: Monetary policy causes booms and busts. ... Let's begin with the assumption that tight monetary policy caused the recession of 1978-1982. This myth is so firmly entrenched that I could have called this downturn the "Volcker recession" and readers would have understood my reference. To accept the myth, you have to accept a consistent relationship between monetary policy and economic activity -- and as we've just seen, this relationship is simply not evident in the data ... Our obsession with monetary policy in the conduct of the real economy is misplaced.

And thus exits monetarism from the apparently acceptable elements of conservative thought.

Times have changed

On this Pentagon photo of outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signing a whiteboard at Balad Air Base in Iraq ("you fellows are superstars"), an adjacent signature is clearly visible, a relic of a previous visit: that of Bill Frist, styling himself "M.D., Senate Majority Leader." Sadly, he probably was not a "M.D." when he signed, having let his license lapse, and the last election saw off the latter title as well.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Comedy that writes itself

White House --

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim December 10, 2006, as Human Rights Day; December 15, 2006, as Bill of Rights Day; and the week beginning December 10, 2006, as Human Rights Week. I call upon the people of the United States to mark these observances with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

Friday, December 08, 2006

When conflict diamonds were cool

The decorum of Wise Washington will require that the death of Jeane Kirkpatrick be appropriately mourned. As a counterweight, let us instead recall one infamous rhetorical episode from her career, nicely recounted by an article in one of those issues of the New Republic where their good side showed up. The context -- in what was both a current and leading indicator of the reactionary right's overseas activities -- was their infatuation with Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, a civil war entrepreneur if ever there was one:

But, by mouthing the right words, Savimbi cemented the [conservative] movement's undying loyalty. The relationship culminated at a 1986 black-tie dinner for the Conservative Political Action Committee. Kirkpatrick delivered a passionate introduction for Savimbi: a "linguist, philosopher, poet, politician, warrior, ... one of the few authentic heroes of our time." As she worked herself toward the climactic moment when she would call Savimbi forward to receive an award for his dedicated anticommunism, she intoned, "Real assistance means real weapons! ... Real helicopters, ... real ground-to-air missiles." It was then that Savimbi, a burly man who conformed perfectly to Hollywood's image of the guerrilla leader, ambled to the lectern. The room broke into a chant, "U-NI-TA, U-NI-TA." At this euphoric moment, Howard Phillips, chairman of the Conservative Caucus, told a reporter, "If Jonas Savimbi were an American citizen, he would be the presidential candidate of the conservative movement in 1988."

Angola survived this lunacy, although at dreadful cost to its citizens. Sensible US foreign policy did not.


We've updated to the beta version of Blogger which has caused little bits of weirdness, including the entire blog disappearing for a few hours and the irishblogs aggregator digging up a random selection of old posts. Hopefully things will settle down soon.

UPDATE: The switchover looks fairly smooth. It will take a while to get the labels to provide comprehensive coverage of nearly 2000 posts.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

About that visit to Maynooth

Former Russian PM Yegor Gaidar provides a first-person account of his apparent poisoning in Ireland a few weeks ago; it's in the Financial Times (free link, so far). Amongst other things, and in fairness to James Connolly hospital, he says that they wanted to keep him in hospital and it was his decision alone to check out before returning to Moscow for further treatment.

Logo wars

As background to understanding one particular high profile legal dispute, compare the logos for FIFA and Mastercard. One of soccer's biggest problems is the suits that run the game.

One for the base

Amongst this year's Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients (which, had Iraq gone better, would have been renamed the Bremer-Franks-Tenet medal), is Anglosphere anchor historian Paul Johnson.

Winning = Wanting

Not that George Bush has many new lines these days, but sometimes the context highlights the old ones. Hence what is perhaps the most alarming claim from his news conference with Tony Blair -- that winning in Iraq is just a matter of sufficiently wanting to win, and therefore that having wanted to win, his job is done and it gets dumped onto the next President -- who also just has to want to win:

I like to remind people it's akin to the Cold War, in many ways. There's an ideological clash going on. And the question is: Will we have the resolve and the confidence in liberty to prevail?

That's really the fundamental question facing -- it's not going to face this government or this government, because we made up our mind. We've made that part clear.

But it'll face future governments. There will be future opportunities for people to say, "Well, it's not worth it. Let's just retreat." I would strongly advise a government not to accept that position because of the dangers inherent with isolationism and retreat.

UPDATE: A couple of entries for most bizarre utterance:

I appreciate the Prime Minister's answer to this lad -- we call them lads, in Great Britain -- lad's question, is that --(laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: You've made a friend, I think, there. (Laughter.) It's a long time since anyone's called him that. (Laughter.)

which seemed to be a reference to Nic Robertson Nick Robinson, who had earlier triggered this bit of petulance --

Q Mr. President, the Iraq Study Group described the situation in Iraq as grave and deteriorating. You said that the increase in attacks is unsettling. That won't convince many people that you're still in denial about how bad things are in Iraq, and question your sincerity about changing course.

PRESIDENT BUSH: It's bad in Iraq. Does that help? (Laughter.)

Also -- We've got special operators, we've got better intelligence

Add to the list of "good coups"

One bit of business from the White House this morning before the chat with Blair --

President Bush today announced the designation of a Presidential Delegation on December 11, 2006 to Bangkok, Kingdom of Thailand on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej's Accession to the Throne.

The Honorable George H. W. Bush, Former President of the United States, will lead the delegation.

Members of the Presidential Delegation are:
Mrs. Barbara Bush, Former First Lady of the United States
The Honorable Ralph Boyce, United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand

Would he really send the most high-powered delegation of all -- his parents -- if he disapproved of Thailand still being run by a military government, one that acts with the approval of the King?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Help not wanted

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow --

MR. SNOW: That is part of a section [in the Iraq Study Group report] that talks about the fact that there -- it recommends more Arabic speakers. It suggests the need for better and more robust intelligence. And that's something that --

Q So that's fairly critical of the administration.

MR. SNOW: Well, I don't know -- Bret, as you know, as a former Pentagon correspondent, the Pentagon has been trying to address these. But you don't snap your fingers and have the Arabic speakers you need overnight.

No, but you do snap your fingers and fire some of the Arabic speakers that you previously had, for being gay. And anyway, "overnight" doesn't really match a need that's been glaring for 5 years.

Irish budget

Two bits of fine print. In a move that sees the George Bush commitment to switchgrass as an alternative fuel and raises it, Minister Cowen announced --

First, establishment grants will be introduced for willow and miscanthus where costs of establishment are very high and there is a wait of several years before harvesting can begin.

Note that the latter crop in particular seems to need warmer weather than Ireland currently has, so is the Minister betting on global warming as well as grants?

Second -- In recent years, hotel and tourism bodies have made a strong case to introduce a VAT measure specifically for conferences, which will allow deductibility of accommodation expenses on a ring-fenced basis. I am now bringing in such a measure which should greatly help that sector promote growth in the important conference business and benefit the entire country.

This concession to special-interest pleading is ripe for abuse. How long before someone's wedding is recast as a "conference"?

9/11 changed everything

The American right used to weave a tapestry of conspiracy, accusation, and innuendo around this picture -- federal agents taking action to return Elian Gonzales to his father in Cuba, Elian having been hijacked both as a person and a cause by anti-Castro militants in Miami. Note that in the picture, the gun is not pointed at anyone, and everyone can see everyone else. Now compare that to George Bush's latest photographed disgrace -- a US citizen, Jose Padilla, made mentally ill by his treatment in military custody, which included extreme sensory deprivation.

If this is how citizens are treated, any country thinking about extraditing non US nationals to the US for terrorism offences might want to consider the Russian rule that any trials for alleged offences overseas have to take place in the home country. Indeed, any country that facilitated prisoner renditions might want to consider whether inducing mental illness is in their definition of torture.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


James Baker will have 2 books on the shelves this Christmas -- the Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq (for which the bookstores will be competing with the free boxes outside the White House) and his own memoirs, the latter currently being serialised in the Times (UK). While for the most part the memoirs are the cagey-partisan blend that one expects from Baker, he has a few revealing asides, particularly with regard to the 2000 non-recount in Florida. Baker discusses how he ensured that the Bush-Cheney campaign was able to frame sub-components of the dispute in their favour --

Florida is largely remembered as a legal battle, but in my opinion it was every bit as much a political battle, and we may have understood this point better than the other side ... It was vital to our success that we controlled both the messengers and the message on what was happening in Florida.

One surrogate we didn’t get was Colin Powell. After the Democrats tried to throw out some overseas military ballots, we asked him to speak up for the right of our troops to have their votes counted, but he demurred. He was in line to be George W.’s Secretary of State, and I think he wanted to stay above the fray. I regret that he did not come to Florida. Coming might well have strengthened Colin’s relationship with George W. Bush, which in turn might have helped him in the first-term battles for influence and power in administration.

He seems to be up to a couple of things here -- getting in a dig at Powell, but more importantly providing a good insight into the mind of George W. Bush. Florida 2000 remains the Original Sin of the last 6 years, the period when the supposed moderate conservatives had their first Bilbo Baggins moment (a transformation not, as often later claimed, due to 9/11). But for Bush it was also a hazing ritual: Colin Powell was expected to show he could play dirty even when he didn't want to.

Powell failed that test, and so at some level earned the contempt of his boss even when he got the Secretary of State job. Bush needed him, of course, because he needed the Washington pundit class who had hitched their wagon to Powell. And he did give Powell a 2nd chance at truly being one of the boys -- by delivering a pack of lies at the UN about WMD, but for the true believers, Powell was always going to be the one who hadn't chugged all those beers the first time around. Anyway, Powell turned out to have just enought shame to get out, although not enough to force any change from within.

Baker's little aside reveals that Powell's entire tenure at the State Department was a charade: Bush had no respect for him from the start, and the expectation of the pundits, and Tony Blair, that Powell could control Bush was doomed to fail. All because of Florida.

That may actually be "ironic"

One pillar of George Bush's plan to avoid dealing with global warming is the claim that there is massive scope for expansion of nuclear power to reduce reliance on carbon fuels. Sadly, reports the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd), step forward the market --

The Bush administration's plan for a "renaissance" in nuclear power may be crimped by tightening world-wide supplies of uranium and a lack of enrichment facilities to turn the uranium into fuel for power plants ...enrichment facilities, which turn uranium into fuel for nuclear power plants, have already pledged their services because of growing interest in nuclear fuel by other countries. The result is that the U.S. is relying more than before on Russia, which provides about half the enriched nuclear fuel used in this country.

Uranium is extracted from mines and processed into a form called "yellowcake." The yellowcake, in turn, is processed at enrichment plants, into fuel for nuclear-power plants. A far more time-consuming process is required to turn yellowcake into fuel for nuclear weapons ... The Russians say they could supply more enriched uranium to the U.S., but they are blocked by an agreement with the Commerce Department that restricts their imports to the current levels managed by USEC [single US agent].

So, the administration that spent 2002 and early 2003 arguing that access to a uranium mine in Niger was equivalent to having a nuclear weapon is now begging the Russians to enrich more uranium for them -- which the Russians can't currently do because there is a single monopoly purchaser of their enriched uranium under a deal agreed with the US. Saddam must have been even cleverer than we thought!

The case for progressive taxation

Tuesday's Irish Times (subs. req'd) carries details on how one particular donor to George Bush's Republican party, Robert Greifeld, the chief executive of the Nasdaq stock exchange, spends the cash that Bush's tax cuts let him keep -- even if later refuses to settle the bill --

[he] brought 16 adults and seven children to stay for a week at Luttrellstown Castle in Dublin. He claims that he was overcharged by $70,000 and is refusing the pay the money for the trip, which included 32 actors in medieval dress, banquets of wild boar, helicopter rides, a marquee for Irish dancing and lessons in falconry, archery and jousting.

The August 2004 trip also included four butlers who led guests to horse-drawn carriages, goose hunts and Dublin masseuses on hand to attend for guests ... Other expenses included €28,000 for Mr Greifeld snr's transatlantic voyage on the Queen Mary II and even €100 for a leprechaun costume for an actor performing at the castle.

He has already spent more in legal fees that his creditor says he owes, which makes one wonder what exactly his qualifications are to be in charge of a stock exchange.

UPDATE: Reader KH alerts us to coverage of the same case in the Times (UK); one story notes a key point of dispute relating to the difference between "markup" and "gross margin" while another story has further details on the extravagance, some of which has a Spinal Tap quality to it.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The standard for grief

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow --

MR. SNOW: Okay, well, let me back up. The President is somebody, as I've said many times, and you've seen it, who grieves the loss of anybody over there [Iraq], and this is not something where, as Commander-in-Chief, he wants anything other than success and to bring everybody home safely.

a few questions later --

MR. SNOW: We think John Bolton -- John Bolton had more -- look, there were more Democrats who were going to vote for John Bolton than Republicans who were going to vote against -- there were 58 announced votes in his favor. That's bipartisan. And John Bolton was a successful U.N. Ambassador, and we grieve the fact that he was not rewarded for his success and honored for it.

UPDATE: Bolton's run-of-the-mill resignation even gets a White House photo-op -- this from the White House with a policy of making no case-by-case mentions of military deaths in Iraq.

They're up to something

In slightly breaking news, though it was apparently known to the British media over the weekend, Tony Blair is coming to Washington on Thursday, the day after "Jimmy" Baker's report on Iraq is published. It's a sign of how far things have gone that Blair gets to meet Bush later in a week that begins with Bush meeting the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

That makes it all right then

In a Guantanamo whitewash article that appears on the Pentagon website, the following nugget of information is offered --

Maggie, the chief librarian, said that books in the Harry Potter series translated into Arabic are among the most-requested items.

Which is somehow meant to excuse the fact that the detentions are indefinite and that the detainees have no habeas corpus rights: no external oversight of the Combatant Status Review tribunals which declare them to be enemy combatants, and the ever-receding prospect of trials that would be rigged against them anyway, the earlier tribunals having already judged them to be terrorists.

Friday, December 01, 2006

He'll be Brother Sullivan by Christmas

We used to think Andrew Sullivan was signalling that his disillusionment with Catholicism would end in conversion to the Anglican faith. There is a new possibility, however --

The first time I walked into a gay disco, with all those lights, music, ritual and smoke, my immediate thought was: church! Madonna gets this, whatever Jonah says. Because she's a born-and-bred Catholic, which Jonah [Goldberg] isn't. It's theater, sweetie, theater. And the Church once understood that - which was part of its beautiful Catholicity. Gone, now, alas. But Benedict is helping nudge it back. And although I tease him about it [the Prada outfits], it's a wonderful thing. More incense, please. And lace.

Aside from the fact disco has nothing on Black Sabbath, for example, when it comes to High Church antics, if one is seeking incense and lace within the Christian tradition, isn't it time to look a tad further east than Rome?

How many more times?

In the spirit of this post from Backword, note this little item from the Wall Street Journal politics blog --

Organizers expect about 150 attendees and 15 exhibitors at next week’s “Sixth Rebuilding Iraq Conference & Expo” outside Washington. Iraq-reconstruction conferences in 2003 drew packed houses.

Clearing the desk

In a statement that looks like it was written before last week's events at Stormont but got buried under the NATO and Jordan briefings, the White House has issued a statement of support for the progress (sic) in implementation of the St Andrews Agreement --

The United States welcomes the recent progress made by the Northern Ireland parties and the British and Irish Governments to implement the agreement reached at St. Andrews, and I recognize the leadership shown by the political party leaders. The United States fully supports the agreed way forward for Northern Ireland: a power-sharing government by the end of March next year, based on support for the rule of law and policing.

The one bit of leverage that the White House still has is the St Patrick's Day invitations and visas, but right now it looks like Ian Paisley is the one herding cats and it's not clear how much leverage those perks have with him.

If renditions were actually radioactive

then they might get more attention. UK Home Secretary John Reid, speaking in the House of Commons, suddenly seems to have a stronger interest in finding out what exactly might be on board planes, even if it means trodding on diplomatic niceties -- a willingness that has been missing in Britain and Ireland for George Bush's rendition flights --

As for co-operation with the Russians, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to them and we have been assured of their co-operation. We understand that that assurance goes up to the highest level in the Russian authorities. Of course, if it is necessary to use the powers that are conferred on the police to obtain access, for instance, to aeroplanes in this country, they will be prepared to exercise that power on their own judgment. There will be no political prohibition on the police following where the evidence leads them.

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