Saturday, March 31, 2007


Anglo-American warbloggers have decisively given up on Tony Blair because of his failure to declare war on Iran over the 15 sailors. A representative sample from National Review --

[Iain Murray] So, even if Tony Blair had the resolve, he couldn't do anything (except perhaps nuke Tehran, which might be seen as a bit of an overreaction).

And he can't even get his beloved U.N. to say tut-tut while wagging its finger.
Blair has made me ashamed to be British this week.

[Mark Steyn] Look at the timeline 25 years ago: On April 2nd, the Argies seized the Falklands, which were all but undefended.

On April 5th a British task force of over 100 ships and 28,000 men sailed from England for the South Atlantic. In three days! Talk about a rush to war, eh?

Furthermore, because the British were known to be contemplating a credible response, the UN – instead of twittering about “grave concern” – passed a resolution on April 3rd ordering Argentina to withdraw from the islands.

As it happens, Blair had unintentionally set out his criteria for military action (removal of Saddam excepted) in an interview with Simon Schama one day before the sailors were captured. Here's the audio file and here's the transcript (which mislabels the comment we're about to discuss as being from Schama when it was from Blair). The topic was the aforementioned Falklands and Maggie's decision to recapture the islands by force --

Prime Minister:
That is for sure. When you look back on it and you talk to the people who were there at the time, and as I say I wasn't even in Parliament at the time, but I think it took a lot of political courage actually to do that.

Simon Schama:
But you wouldn't claim, by way of collateral, that the end of the military regime ... it clearly wasn't an aim but it was obviously ...

Prime Minister:
No, but it is interesting, if you wanted to see it, there may be some parallels in what happened in Kosovo later, although it is a different set of circumstances, but also in the end the military intervention in Kosovo brought down Milosevic. And the interesting thing is that when you stand up to that type of dictatorship, and Galtieri as it was at the time, the consequences then are severe for that dictatorship.

Simon Schama:
Especially in a Latin American Republic really ... masses of muscle flexing

Prime Minister:
Yes absolutely.
And it is a very, it is interesting because although it is always looked at as if it was simply to do with the question of British sovereignty, and obviously that was the principal reason because it was British territory, but nonetheless even if you take it apart from that, it was perfectly obvious there was only one way you were going to get it back, and that was by military action, and it was perfectly obvious also that irrespective of the debate about the Falklands it was completely the wrong thing of General Galtieri to do and it was right to make it be reversed.

Thus Blair essentially states two criteria for going to war: a primary one of a direct challenge to sovereignty, and a secondary one of the likelihood that military reaction could precipitate a change in leadership in the rival power.

The Iran crisis likely fails both. As brazen and willfully provocative as the capture and subsequent treatment of the sailors is, it's not an annexation of British territory. And an attack would likely strengthen, not weaken, the Iranian leadership. The Falklands comparison is tempting, especially for those who want a war with Iran anyway. But for better or worse, Blair's approach is consistent with a philosophy that he set out before the incident happened.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The John Howard gag rule

Part of the plea deal that gets David Hicks out of Gitmo (and into an Australian jail to serve a 7 year sentence, some of which will be suspended) --

He also is barred from communicating with the media about his experiences, detention and capture for one year after sentencing and cannot receive profits from any publications detailing his experiences.

In the agreement, Hicks affirmed that he has never been illegally treated by anyone while in U.S. custody, from the time of his capture in Afghanistan in December 2001 through his time at Guantanamo.

So Hicks can't say anything that might (further) adversely impact PM John Howard's re-election bid later this year. Of course he could say something and challenge Howard's government ability to enforce the deal. Though it's understandable, if convenient for Howard, that he probably wants a quiet life for a while.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Notional Health Service

Here's a weird sentence from Andrew Sullivan, in the context of his disputing elements of David Brooks' NYT column today --

I'm a small government Goldwater conservative, but I think compulsory high school education is worth the trade-off of freedom. I think universal healthcare insurance is an infringement of liberty, but since we have committed to providing emergency healthcare for all, it's a trade-off worth making for fiscal and moral reasons.

Which sounds like he's saying: since the government is paying for emergency room care anyway, it makes more sense to provide full health insurance for everyone.

Now somehere in there is a valid point, but more prominently in there is an old canard that circulated back around the time that Hillary Clinton was proposing universal health insurance. In 1993, current Fox News all-star Fred Barnes wrote

Federal law (Sec. 9121 of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985) requires medical screening of everyone requesting care at a hospital emergency room. If treatment is needed, it must be provided. What this adds up to is 'universal access' to health care in America.

This faux chapter-and-verse statement quickly entered the discourse and helped undercut the case for Hillary's plan. The problem is that it's wrong. Emergency rooms are only required to stabilize anyone presenting, not cure them, and even more, the emergency room still charges. They send a bill. A very large bill, even if they only sent you back on the street with painkillers when you actually might have cancer. And the bill doesn't get paid. And then some combination of the hospital, other patients, charities, and taxpayers end up paying the bill -- while the uncured patient retains all the uncertainty of wondering how they'll manage the next time they get sick.

Now that is one good argument amongst many for universal health insurance, but read Sully's sentence and it's not clear that's what he means. In particular, his use of the word "provide" puts him in Fred Barnes territory, territory that in 1993 Barnes shared, in helping bring down the Clinton plan, with the New Republic -- edited by Andrew Sullivan.

UPDATE 3 APRIL: Not clear from this new post by Sully which version of "we already have universal health insurance" he means --

Yes, I'm fine with universal health insurance - but mainly because we currently effectively have it anyway, in the most inefficient manner possible, and only if the health system remains in private hands.

FINAL UPDATE 11 JULY: Joining the club of those who believe that emergency rooms already provide universal health care -- George W. Bush (caught by Dan Froomkin):

The immediate goal is to make sure there are more people on private insurance plans. I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.

Cards on the table

On balance it probably reflects well on the British political blogosphere that a discussion of the inherent biases and compromises of source-based political reporting versus the liberation of blogging made its way onto Newsnight last night. The centerpiece was an interview with Guardian reporter Michael White and Guido Fawkes, appearing as himself. In an ill-advised move, Guido insisted on appearing only in the dark and on being referred to by his pseudonym. Mr Power has the video clip and Tim Ireland has an invaluable transcript.

One must acknowledge a core of truth to Guido's critique that reporting based on behind the scences contacts with insiders can be corrupting. This makes for an interesting compare and contrast with the US experience. On the one hand, such reporting is equally endemic in the US, and this style was one of the other things on trial along with Scooter Libby a few weeks ago: Bogus WMD intelligence fed in morsels to favoured sources, grabbing the headlines when the war fever was at its highest, with the debunking following only in lower profile later. We could note many examples of media-political pillowtalk that surely have an effect on what the public is allowed to see; consider for example Dan Senor and Campbell Brown.

But anyway, it's still possible that the culture has been less damaging in the UK than in the US and thus that Guido's isolation of it as the problem is misplaced. We'd suggest 2 mitigating factors in the UK context.

First, less slavishness to the "objective reporter" model in political coverage. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has joked, barely, that if the Republican National Committee put out a press release claiming that the Earth was flat, the next days headline would be "Opinions differ on shape of Earth." One of the many successes of the Republican party has been to direct many policy questions, upon which there is a settled respectable expert consensus, into the realm of "Some say, others say."

The leading example used to be regarding tax cuts, which are now subject to "controversy" in terms of whether tax revenue goes down when you cut tax rates. But the method has long since been expanded to such diverse areas as global warming and the situation in Iraq. We'd venture that the UK media are less vulnerable to this problem, because they're less beholden to the objective model in the first place. Different outlets come with known biases, but the space for genuine experts to provide authoritative statements has not been squeezed as badly as in the US. Nevertheless, the proliferation of rent-a-quote think-tanks with thinly-veiled political affiliations is a worrying development. Be especially afraid as soon as an inevitable "British Enterprise Institute" sudddenly pops up on more TV screens.

Second, less dominance of pundits. The issue here is not so much the number of pundits, but the proportion thereof who are considered to be above the fray and therefore allowed to become facilitators of broad political narratives. The cases in point here are the likes of David Broder and Tim Russert; the former who accused Bill Clinton of "trashing this place" (Washington DC) and thus acted as a barometer for the pundits' personal dislike of a superb president, and the latter who acted as the willing forum for Dick Cheney's most egregious lies about the Iraq war. But they're still there today as the wise men, the Guardians of our Discourse as Atrios calls them.

It's hard to think of counterparts in the UK context. Even the grand old men of punditry are usually wearing their political biases on their sleeves (e.g. William Rees-Mogg), while the key BBC anchors seem to try to keep their their epistles within a relatively narrow range. In addition, the newspapers and the BBC seem to view it as part of the game to monitor each other, whereas in the US there's much more of an inner sanctum structure linking the key Sunday morning talk shows, the political desks at a small number of national newspapers, and the political insiders. Much closer to a cartel in the US -- and therefore maybe a more promising environment for bloggers?

One blemish at a time

There appears to a move to clear the Guantanamo Bay detention facility of its most media-centric embarrassments. After the David Hicks plea bargain (with a sentence that will apparently take account of time already served due soon), comes news that the UK has apparently agreed to accept Bisher al-Rawi out of the camp; the Iraqi citizen was a British resident. One important thing about Bisher al-Rawi is that he is the refutation of the claim that Gitmo detainees are only those detained "on the battlefield." He was arrested on a business trip to The Gambia.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Prisoner of talking points

The full name of the "Geneva Conventions" is the "Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War". Thus for the conventions to apply, there has to be a war, or as the opening statement of the convention says --

In addition to the provisions which shall be implemented in peace time, the present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.

Thus since the UK and Iran are not at war, and there was no armed conflict in the incident where the sailors were seized, the Convention does not apply. Hence the irrelevance of complaints from the likes of Hindrocket at Powerline and Jonah Goldberg at National Review that there is no world outrage over the treatment of the sailors relative to the complaints about Gitmo -- a complaint that in any event implicitly holds the US to the same standard as Iran. Leader of the Free World, indeed.

While we're at it, a few sentences down in the same passage, the Convention says --

Although one of the Powers in conflict may not be a party to the present Convention, the Powers who are parties thereto shall remain bound by it in their mutual relations.

Which is applicable to the resurfaced talking point that the US doesn't have to follow the convention with respect to al Qaeda, since the latter is not a signatory to the convention.

UPDATE: Even National Review's specialist war blog, The Tank, can't get it straight -- while quoting the full name of the Convention! And it seems that a news story pointing out that Iran and the UK are not at war is evidence of media bias.

FINAL UPDATE: Instapundit has become a clearing house for these irrelevant Geneva Convention references, except here's one where Glenn didn't read before linking; it's not a critique of a suppposed double standard (as Glenn's text indicates) but of the behaviour of the woman sailor, Faye Turney.

And there's one more legal expert, Marty Peretz --

My guess is that the humiliating treatment of these prisoners--not by some rogue sergeants, but by the highest authorities in Tehran--is truly a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

And, [sorry for repeated updates], Instapundit is now citing this legal analysis from the Telegraph which never explains how the Conventions could apply in the absence of an actual conflict between Iran and the UK. The only argument that can be made is that the Convention sets out principles that should be applied in spirit and not just the letter of a declared war. But that's such pre 9/11 thinking, as the White House would say.

Instapundit concludes with a sigh --

we're likely heading toward a regime of strict reciprocity, as that's all that can work in such a degraded environment.

which as explained above, is a breach of the Geneva Conventions. He even has the nerve to complain about "anti-American and anti-Bush writers who often don't even know, or care, what the Conventions say" when he has clearly not read the relevant sections regarding their application in case of a declared war (which does not exist between the UK and Iran) or regarding reciprocity (which is explicitly ruled out by the Conventions: signatories are bound to obey them even if the other side doesn't). His sudden interest in the Conventions is noted by Andrew Sullivan.

6 APRIL: This BBC R4 interview (audio file) with the head of the Royal Navy, Jonathan Band, should settle it -- he states that the captives were not PoWs, in the context of criticism that they should only have provided name, rank, and serial number. He views them as having been "illegally arrested".

The Cheney hunting curse strikes again

Dick Cheney, speaking last week to one the few true-believer audiences still considered safe for him, the Republican Jewish Coalition Leadership --

Tonight you're paying special tribute to Sam Fox. (Applause.) I've known Sam for many years. He's an entrepreneur, a leader in education and the arts, a patriot, a gentleman -- and also a very courageous man, because he hunts with me. (Laughter.) As a matter of fact, he's even got a nickname in the White House. Before I came here today, the President said, be sure to say hi to "Foxy." (Laughter.)

Well, "Foxy" just got the rug pulled from under him --


Sam Fox, of Missouri, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Belgium, which was sent to the Senate on January 9, 2007.

While within the range of Bush's previous crony nominees to European Ambassadorships, Fox's role in Karl Rove's Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against John Kerry in 2004 made it a crony too far for Senate Democrats. Although not for Senator Joe Lieberman --

Marshall Wittmann, Lieberman's spokesman, said his boss "continues to support Sam Fox's nomination and believes that he would be an excellent ambassador."

It's not clear whether Bush consulted Joe before pulling the plug.

UPDATE 4 APRIL: The Cheney hunting curse followed by the Bush-Cheney pigheadedness -- Fox is appointed to the position during the Easter recess.

It's not Little Britain either

The above is the map of Northern Ireland that accompanies this New York Times story. Note the label placed in the area about where County Down would be. The NYT could usefully be informed that the name of the political entity of which Northern Ireland is a part is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

He means politically, not the other way

Ian Paisley, speaking during the House of Commons debate on the emergency legislation to extend the deadline for the restoration of the Northern Ireland executive --

4.18 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): ... I was accused of not shaking hands with the leader of the Sinn Feiners and I said, “Why should I?” All the people who shook hands with him are gone—do you want me to go through them? I have no intention of so doing.

[permanent link ]

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Points on a compass

Tony Blair's spokesman claims that when Tony said that things with Iran would move to a new"different phase" if the sailors weren't released soon, he only meant that Britain would then make public the GPS coordinates of where the sailors were when they were captured.

UPDATE: With that phase now complete, what's the next one?

The truth comes first

This morning FBI Director Robert Mueller was testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the Bureau's abuse of "National Security Letters", a form of warrantless snooping that escalated after the passage of the USA Patriot Act, predictably resulting in overreach and now backlash.

One often wonders about the size of the gulf between what senior Bush administration officials (at least the more sane ones) realise behind the scenes and what actually emerges when they brief the public on their activities, so a perhaps relevant observation occurs just after the 25 minute mark in this C-Span video of his testimony. Following an interruption by Senator Pat Leahy (doubtless reflecting his impatience with Mueller simply reading a bland prepared statement), Mueller describes the use of the letters as "indefensible" before hastily correcting himself and saying, twice, indispensable.

We're told that the transcript of his remarks only reflects the latter double utterance and not his original mistake, and no one around the table seems to react. You'd think that the mask slipping for just one second might get more of a reaction.

Monday, March 26, 2007

That man again

National Review's Iain Murray is really on a tear today. This post brings him back to his day job of arguing against the science of global warming by mentioning that awful man, Al Gore, because, as Jonathan Chait says --

Your average conservative may not know anything about climate science, but conservatives do know they hate Al Gore.

So here's Murray --

There's been a lot of talk the past few days about Iran's "oil weapon." Luckily, the Wall Street Journal energy blog reminds us of an inconvenient truth [geddit?] for that theory:

"Stephen Bailey, senior vice president at Frontier Strategy Group, countered in the CNBC debate that Iran might have a good reason to keep oil prices under control: Because it lacks refining capacity, it must import about 40% of its gasoline.

So prices might soar at the pump in Iran, as well, in the event of a confrontation. That could further weaken the political power of President Ahmadinejad, whose popularity is already diminishing at home, Bailey said. He didn’t mention it, but one reason for his falling popularity is Iran’s recent decision to ration and raise prices of gasoline."

Ration and raise prices of gasoline? Where have I heard that policy advanced recently? [geddit?]

Brilliant logic. Iran wants to raise the price of petrol. Al Gore wants to raise the price of petrol. Hence Al Gore = Iran! But seriously: everything that Murray got from the WSJ blog is right: Iran has a loony policy of massive subsidies on petrol but it doesn't have enough refining capacity. So it blows a huge chunk of its oil revenue on paying Indian refineries for petrol, and Tehran stinks because of all of the pollution since so many people have cars running on that cheap petrol. The only long-term remedy is to move towards a market price for petrol, but this apparently is now something that only a bad man like Al Gore could advocate.

Incidentally, Iain also botches the html in his post, as it currently looks like his last sentence, the 2nd dig at Gore, was included in the WSJ post.

The Internet's Captain Renault

One of National Review's contingent of English bloggers, Iain Murray, is shocked, shocked --

After what seems like an age, the British bloggers have started commenting on the Iranian abduction of British sailors. Here are a few of the best:

Dan Hannan MEP
Tim Montgomerie
Iain Dale
Harry's Place

... What's also interesting is that the Blame Britain First comment trolls seem to be out in force, arguing either that the Iranians are clearly in the right, that Britain had it coming to it, it's all because of the Transatlantic Alliance or/and that anyone who suggests that some response other than diplomacy is warranted is an evil fascist warmonger who should join up immediately.

Aside from the discovery that blog comment threads will sometimes see the appearance of those awful trolls who steal the nation's precious bodily fluids, Iain should also note that at least in the case of Iain Dale, these trolls are facilitated by such practices as allowing anonymous posting, sock-puppetry, and highly selective comment moderation [see also here]. Incidentally, Iain Murray did all the technical initial set up for Iain Dale's blog.1

UPDATE: In a followup post elaborating on his thesis that the Bob Woolmer story had sucked some of the air of the coverage of the Iran incident, Murray does a lot of nudge-nudge/wink-wink pairing of the Woolmer murder with the religious practices of the Pakistan team (what one correspondent calls a "holier than thou religiosity" that has prevaded Pakistani cricket). No mention of the fact that Woolmer had coached another team that featured a fundamentalist revival: South Africa under Hanse Cronje as captain.

FINAL UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan also seems to think that fundamentalism in cricket is an exclusively Islamic phenomenon.

1. See comment at 2.37pm.

That's why he's being replaced

Ashley Gilbertson, New York Times

Outgoing US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, wearing what is clearly George W. Bush's flak jacket.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A new victory for the Surge

Multinational Forces Iraq press release --

BAGHDAD – In a third day of clearing operations in the Iraqi capital’s Al Mansour
Security District, Iraqi security forces and coalition Soldiers discovered seven weapons,
explosive and contraband caches; detained three suspected terrorists; and found two
improvised explosive devices March 23.

One cache included 100 cases of Smirnoff Vodka, 50 cases of Johnny Walker
Bourbon, three hand grenades and several passports.

Insert applicable joke here. But seriously, does smuggled booze rate anywhere on the list of Iraq's problems?

Green Card Enemy Combatants

This is a bit confusing so stay with us. There are signs that George W. Bush made another blunder, by his standards anyway: he may have appointed a competent sensible person to replace Don Rumsfeld i.e. Bob Gates. Gates has already brought unprecedent levels of accountability by firing people over the veterans' healthcare scandals, and yesterday brought word that, in one of his earliest actions on the job, he had argued for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on the ground that it was so tainted that had lost all credibility. According to the New York Times, Gates was supported by Condi Rice but lost the battle against (who else) Dick Cheney and the (soon-to-be) outgoing Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales.

Anyway, the thought that Gates had mounted an attempt to close Gitmo sent National Review's Andy McCarthy into a rage --

Do Gates and Rice know the state of the evidence against each of these guys? Do they know whether, with respect to each one, we have sufficient evidence we can use in American civilian courts if the U.S. courts end up holding that, because the combatants are within their jurisdiction, proceedings against them must accord with the evidentiary rules that apply in our civilian courts?

How could we possibly think about bringing these guys here without knowing such things? Given how much we have bashed AG Gonzales over the last couple of weeks, it is worth noting that the report indicates that he, in conjunction with Vice President Cheney, beat back this foolish idea.

This morning an abject McCarthy returns to the topic --

I owe an apology to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for the inaccuracies and the strident tone of last night's post regarding their reported support for the closure of Guantanamo Bay's detention facility for alien enemy combatants ... The bottom line is that, thanks to the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA), there is every reason to be confident that the legal rights of the detainees would not be expanded by the happenstance of their being held inside, rather than outside, the United States (which is to say, inside rather than outside the territorial jurisdiction of the federal courts).

... Instead, it emphatically amended the federal habeas corpus statute (28 USC 2241) so that it now says the following:

"Except as provided for in this subsection, and notwithstanding any other law, no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any claim or cause of action, including an application for a writ of habeas corpus, pending on or filed after the date of enactment of this Act, against the United States or its agents, brought by or on behalf of any alien detained by the United States as an unlawful enemy combatant, relating to any aspect of the alien’s detention, transfer, treatment, or conditions of confinement."

.... Consequently, from the standpoint of the jurisdiction of the United States courts, it should not matter whether the combatants are held in Cuba, the continental United States, or anyplace else. If they are detained based on a determination by the Defense Department that they are unlawful enemy combatants, they get military proceedings and then limited civilian judicial review in the D.C. Circuit. They do not get to ask the federal district courts to freelance.

As McCarthy explains, the previous legislation governing enemy combatants had explicitly assumed that they were being held at Gitmo; now they could brought to the US for detention and the new Act would still apply.

Here's the problem. When the new act was being debated late last year, many critics claimed that it suspended habeas corpus for a potentially wide class of detainees, including non-citizen US residents. But here is one confident authority, cited in Wikipedia, assuring us otherwise --

First, Congress cannot “suspend” habeas corpus by denying it to people who have no right to it in the first place. The right against suspension of habeas corpus is found in the Constitution (art. I, 9). Constitutional rights belong only to Americans — that is, according to the Supreme Court, U.S. citizens and those aliens who, by lawfully weaving themselves into the fabric of our society, have become part of our national community (which is to say, lawful permanent resident aliens).

i.e. there is no way that long-term non-citizen residents of the US could find themselves in detention without any habeas corpus rights.

And who is this confident authority? Andy McCarthy -- who now tells us that any alien could be detained on US territory with no habeas corpus rights.

Friday, March 23, 2007

An hour less to argue

Tony Blair's spokesman was today trying to squelch any incentive for further brinksmanship in the deadline to re-establish Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive by Monday --

Asked to clarify exactly when the deadline was, the PMS [spokesman] replied that the deadline would be at 00:01 on Tuesday morning. Put that there could therefore be further negotiations on Monday that the Prime Minister could be involved in, the PMS replied that it was not impossible.

No word yet on whether Ian Paisley has argued that the deadline really should be 01:01 on Tuesday morning, to account for the lost hour due to the switch to British Summer Time.

Political poster you wouldn't see today

Collection Fondation Charles de Gaulle via Le Monde

This 1965 poster shows the iconic de Gaulle sleeve leading a 7 year old girl off on a journey of growth with France. Clearly an age before tabloid screaming about "pedos" where child journeys with older men would have a different connotation.

[associated story (€€€) and picture gallery]

The real central front in the war on terror

Responding to yet more reports of Pakistan-linked terrorism --

Glenn Reynolds:
Pakistan. It just keeps coming up.

National Review's Stanley Kurtz:
Pakistan Keeps Coming Up

Indeed it does. An issue that both of them might want to take up with George W. Bush and his project in Iraq.

Kurtz also asks, in the context of flows of people between the UK and Pakistan --

Imagine that the great immigrations to the United States from Europe in the early twentieth century had been followed up by regular yearly visits of a month or two in length back to Italy, Poland, Ireland, by most American immigrants. Then imagine that a big part of the purpose of these visits was to arrange marriages between relatives in the home country and American immigrants. And imagine the whole system going on for decades. Obviously, under these circumstances, the entire project of American assimilation would have been cut off from the start.

While the focus on home country marriage in the UK-Pakistan linkage does seem high, Kurtz seems unaware that there was two-way traffic even in the days of the great migration from Europe. Consider for example the life of Eamon DeValera.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Release the usual suspects

AP Photo/AP Television News; caption

One of the advantages of George Bush's escalation in Iraq was supposed to be that it would limit Iraqi government discretion to release insurgent suspects that the US military wished to detain. Hence the puzzlement with this bit of news: the release, over the heads of the US military, of Mahdi Army senior official Ahmed Shibani. Today brings the Pentagon spin on the matter --

Coalition Forces released into the custody of the Prime Minster of Iraq, Sheik Ahmed Abady al-Shaibani, who was detained 2 ½ years ago in Najaf. In consultation with the Prime Minister, and following his request, Coalition Leaders determined that Sheik Shaybani, who was detained since 2004, could play a potentially important role in helping to moderate extremism and foster reconciliation in Iraq.

You see, he wasn't sprung back on the streets, but "into the custody of the PM." This would be the same PM who can't even guarantee the security of the visiting UN Secretary General, seeing above ducking as a rocket dislodged material from a Green Zone building. That being said, the PM is probably right that at least some "bad guys" are going to have to be co-opted if there's any hope of a settlement in Iraq. It's a long way from Bush's faux-Churchillian good versus evil rhetoric though.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

He was a better man than you are

In what is on its face a completely crass and tasteless gesture, the above is Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo's first action upon arriving in Rome after being freed following two weeks in Taliban captivity. Crass and tasteless because his triumphalism gives no sign that his driver, an Afghan, was beheaded during that period. In addition, several Taliban prisoners were freed in exchange for his release, leaving a few more senior Taliban figures free to resume the activities that once got the world united against them in the first place. The victims will of course be mostly anonymous Afghans, about whom this particular reporter, as regards his driver anyway, shows no sign of giving a damn. How about his government?

UPDATE: Controversy is building over the terms of his release and for once we're in complete agreement with the US and UK governments, which have condemned the deal. Not only is Mastrogiacomo's driver dead, but his translator is still missing -- perhaps being held for even more Taliban prisoners. Despite our feeling when drafting this post initially that it was too harsh, even readers of Mastrogiacomo's newspaper, La Repubblica, are apparently closely divided on whether the prisoner exchange was a good deal.

FINAL UPDATE: The translator, Ajmal Nashqbandi, himself a journalist, is reported dead. The price for his release -- set by the ransom for the apparently more important Mastrogiacomo -- was one that the Afghan government could not meet.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

All light and no substance

White House/Eric Draper; caption

It's interesting that George Bush thinks that "klieg lights" are a key accessory in a meaningless spectacle -- in this case, Congressional attempts to find out what his political hacks were up to in firing prosecutors -- because the last time that "Bush" and "klieg lights" came in the same context was when his staging team set up such lights for his post-Katrina speech from New Orleans, bathed him and the background cathedral in light, and then shut down the power right afterwards as he left the floods behind him.

Monday, March 19, 2007

An anniversary of lies

Christopher Hitchens in Slate, answering his own questions --

Wasn't Colin Powell's performance at the United Nations a bit of a disgrace?

Yes, it was, as was the supporting role played by George Tenet and the CIA (which has been reliably wrong on Iraq since 1963). Some good legal experts—Ruth Wedgwood most notably—have argued that the previous resolutions were self-enforcing and that there was no need for a second resolution or for Powell's dog-and-pony show. Some say that the whole thing was done in order to save Tony Blair's political skin. A few points of interest did emerge from Powell's presentation: ... the presence in Iraq of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a very dangerous al-Qaida refugee from newly liberated Afghanistan, was established. The full significance of this was only to become evident later on.

Was the terror connection not exaggerated?

Not by much. The Bush administration never claimed that Iraq had any hand in the events of Sept. 11, 2001. But it did point out, at different times, that Saddam had acted as a host and patron to every other terrorist gang in the region, most recently including the most militant Islamist ones. And this has never been contested by anybody.

His answer to his 2nd quasi-rhetorical contradicts his answer to the first. One of the many complaints about Powell's speech was indeed the reference to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, because he was only in a part of Iraq not under Saddam's control; he was in the Northern no-fly zone with the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam, the one that Bush decided not to bomb prior to March 2003 to preserve his larger rationale for the Iraq war.

Hitch also seems to think that it's interesting but only esoteric whether the previous UN resolutions were self-enforcing. But that in fact is the formal UK position on the legality of the war.

[Note: the legal basis for the war in previous UN resolutions still doesn't stop Tony Blair from using the regime change justification in public; see also this excellent reader e-mail to Andrew Sullivan]

One sentence says it all

George Bush today, marking the 4th anniversary of the Iraq War --

The terrorists could emerge from the chaos with a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they had in Afghanistan, which they used to plan the attacks of September the 11th, 2001.

It's all there: the refusal to acknowledge that it was his invasion which created the potential for a terrorist safe haven and pulled resources away from permanently securing the former safe haven in Afghanistan, and all topped off with the rhetorical linking of Saddam Hussein with the 9/11 attacks.

Good news in the war on terror from Pakistan

REUTERS/Ali Imam; caption

It's not an effigy of George Bush.

Thanks for clarifying

National Review's Jonah Goldberg --

From a reader:

"What's the difference between pharmacists not wanting to dispense the "day after" pill (and taking heat for that) vs. muslims not wanting to touch pork-related products. None that I can see."

Here's one answer [from another reader]:


Um, let's see. I know !

Touching pork isn't instrumental to the act of murder?"

Me: While I hear where the reader's coming from, it's obviously more complicated than that since the law doesn't reflect that interpretation, otherwise the drug would be illegal. I have my own answer to the question, but I need to noodle it some more.

In which Jonah thus clearly believes that the morning after pill is murder; otherwise he would have not attributed his answer to the law's, as opposed to his own, reflection.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A more promising foreign game

AP Photo/B.K.Bangash; caption

No help from the Scots in the rugby, but Ireland's cricket team is in danger of exceeding the heroics of earlier in the week -- this time vs Pakistan. Very tight match though.


[captions for photos left and right]

Friday, March 16, 2007

He really said that?

George Bush today following Taoiseach Bertie Ahern at the White House shamrock presentation --

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Taoiseach, good morning --or should I say, "top o' the morning."

And here's what the photoshoppers were waiting for --

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais; caption

[more such photos here]

The truth is biased

Gerard Baker's column in Friday's Times (UK) is very strange. It begins in praise of London as a world city. It then diverts to a rant about a supposed metropolitan elite that lords their superiority over everyone else in that city. It then turns out that elite is the BBC. From there it's on to a few paragraphs that he could have cut and paste from a thousand right-wing blogs --

This [BBC] is the mindset that sees the effortless superiority, at every turn, of benign collectivism over selfish individualism, exploited worker over unscrupulous capitalist, enlightened European over brutish American, thoughtful atheist over dumb believer, persecuted Arab over callous Israeli; and that believes the West is the perpetrator of just about every ill that has ever befallen the world — from colonialism to global warming.

And that's just the news programs, he says. It's amazing that they can fit all that stuff into 30 minutes and still report the actual news. But seriously -- for one thing, the US could benefit from an interview style a little bit more John Humphrys and a little bit less Tim "Control Message" Russert.

But Baker veers into outright hackery at the end --

Fortunately, in the US this week, I was struck by an article on the oped pages of The New York Times, the very citadel of leftish political correctness. Written by an apparently completely sane professor at a prestigious US university and entitled “Biased Broadcasting Corporation”, it assailed the BBC’s Middle Eastern services for their consistently antiWestern tone and content.

When the editorial pages of The New York Times accuse the BBC of anti-Western bias it is worth taking notice. It is a little like Osama bin Laden accusing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of being a bit harsh on the Jews. It suggests that in other, even pretty unlikely, parts of the world, people are waking up to the menace to our values represented by the BBC. The British sadly, seem curiously content to remain in thrall to it.

Since he provides no specifics on the article or author, here it is, and Baker is playing fast and loose with its positioning, since it's an opinion piece, not an editorial, and therefore does not represent any official view of the co-plotter New York Times in that Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy. Furthermore, the article only deals with the BBC's Arabic service, and is therefore irrelevant to those secret "Hate the West" messages allegedly coming from Radio 4 every morning.

The most likely explanation is that Baker had the earlier stuff written but needed a few extra paragraphs before deadline, when like manna from heaven, Thursday's New York Times landed on his doorstep and he had the close -- relationship to previous material be damned. Finally, neither he or Frank Stewart (the NYT writer) bothered to pursue one germane point mentioned in the Stewart piece -- that the American-backed al Hurra (for everything) has flopped in the Middle East, while the BBC Arabic service has millions of listeners. If everything that Stewart says about the bias of the Arabic language BBC is true, the worst they can be accused of is knowing their audience.

UPDATE: Related material from Mr Power (who also, unlike the first draft of this post, knows how to spell Baker's first name).

FINAL UPDATE: The complaints about BBC's Arabic service relative to al-Hurra now seem dated as a similar controversy is in fact whirling around the latter; here's a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Joel Mowbray (subs. req'd, alt. free link), with substantial excerpts here from Powerline. The problem is, as our post's title indicates, is the main accusation against the channels is their accurate reflection of Arab sentiment about the war in Iraq and the unresolved Israel-Palestine question.

ABSOLUTE FINAl UPDATE: The controversy generates a couple of letters to the WSJ editor (Friday 23 March); one from the Broadcasting Board of Governors defending al-Hurra's coverage and noting its increased attention to US policy towards the Middle East, but then a bizarre accompanying letter --

I respectfully dissent from the letter my BBG colleagues sent to The Wall Street Journal because they fail to deal with the charges raised in Joel Mowbray's commentary on Al-Hurra television broadcasts to the Middle East. I believe there should be a thorough investigation of these issues.

Kenneth Y. Tomlinson
Chairman, Broadcasting Board of Governors

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The new meaning of witness for the prosecution

The Pentagon has released a transcript for the Combatant Status Review Tribunal of Abu Faraj al-Libi (who is btw an important figure regarding the reliability of information obtained by torture). He didn't appear at his hearing, perhaps because there were no specific crimes left to confess to, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed having already confessed to them all. But here's a couple of lines from his provided statement that show the Orwellian/Catch-22 situation he's in --

If I am classified as an Enemy Combatant, it is possible that the United States will deem that my witnesses are enemy combatants and judicial or administrative action may be taken against them

and later, his "Personal Representative" (who is not his lawyer, since he doesn't have one at the proceeding) said --

He [al-Libi] did speak about calling his wife [as a witness] but he doesn't want to put her any undue stress as well as the possibility of her being detained by the US government for supporting her husband.

Far from the crisis

In what seems a tad surreal in view of the rapidly deteriorating events back home, the Zimbabwe cricket team is playing Ireland in Jamaica today. Apparently it's an exciting match.

UPDATE: We had little idea when drafting that post about the subsequent drama that would unfold.

AP Photo/Andres Leighton; caption

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


With the week that's in it there's a predictable surge in Irish ancestry blogging. If we were to identify one fact that this subject area needs to keep in mind, it's that the number 2 raised to even a relatively small power gets to be a big number pretty fast. As we've noted before.

But anyway, Megan McArdle is guest blogging for Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds this week and links to a Tim Worstall post that deals with the question of Barack O'Bama's black and/or Irish ancestry (thanks to reader LR for the hint on how to spell O'Bama), and Tim notes --

Obama is also, from his mother's side, descended from an Irish immigrant, one who came over to flee the potato famine ... Which leads me, at least in the argot of this particular Anglo-Irish family, to be able to prove that Barack Obama is indeed black. For, you see, he is a Protestant, and that makes him Black Irish.

To which Megan adds --

my family ... We say we're Black Irish because we have dark hair and light eyes ... Mr Worstall, being a Limey, uses it incorrectly to mean an Irish person who is also a Protestant, when the correct term for that is "[Censored] Orange bastard".

To which we say that it's curate's eggs all round. The term "Black Irish" is surrounded by much mythology, the version we've heard most often relating to alleged descent from Spanish sailors stranded in southern Ireland when the Armada was blown astray by one of those "Protestant winds." Now of course while many people can be descended from one person a long time ago (see our opening observation), it's less clear that those few people's DNA among many could explain the continued prevalence of the physical features that the term "Black Irish" seeks to explain (the features correctly identified by McArdle). And since we're all Basque anyway, the presence of what are now considered Spanish features in the population is not much of a surprise.

So where does that leave us with the terminology? Well, we are familiar with the term "Black Protestant" but that's used a stand-alone damnation, not as a substitute for "Black Irish". And there are plenty of other historically laden terms for Irish protestant such as "left footer". Incidentally, Tim also claims (via the Instapundit post) to be a dual UK-Republic of Ireland citizen, in apparent response to being tagged as a Limey. It's all so confusing.

UPDATE: Some followup discussion with Tim leads to this observation.

Another global warming expert

Powerline's "Trunk"

Thanks to Joe Malchow, who has loaded the BBC special "The Great Global Warming Swindle" over at Power Line Video.

But having just read on Mr Power about

The Great Global Warming Swindle, which caused a sensation when it was broadcast on Channel 4 last week

it must be that "Trunk" does not know or does not care that there is more than TV corporation in the UK. A similar nonchalance governs the right's attitude to global warming. One also hopes that C4 is looking into the copyright issues associated with the conservative linking frenzy to copies of the show.

UPDATE: "Trunk" botched his correction as well, as the show is now said to have run on "UK 4". And see the blog Dublin Opinion for some good links on debunking the documentary (sic) along with one specific line of inquiry springing from it.

The politeness of Hugo Chavez

For full context on this post, first read this one from Backword, where Dave concludes --

Isn’t it great that so many diverse people are reclaiming the offensive langauge of yesteryear?

Now National Review's The Corner seems to have a niche monitoring the utterances of Hugo "Islamo" Chavez, so Mario Loyola reports this one --

CHAVEZ: And ... in the height of ridiculousness ... [Bush] said that today we are all children of George Washington and Simon Bolivar. In other words, he considers himself a son of Bolivar. What he is, is a son of a ...

AUDIENCE: ... B!@%h! (*)

CHAVEZ: That word, I can't say it here.

For those who are accustomed to hearing Chavez in his colorful Spanish, this display of vulgarity is nothing but ordinary. What is remarkable about his style is how authentically populist it is in the worst way—how he sugar-coats his political extremism with the slapstick vulgarity of a Chris Rock or Andrew Dice Clay.

Besides dating himself with that Andrew Dice Clay reference (what year was Ford Fairlane anyway?), the delicate Mario can't resist telling us what Hugo wouldn't:

* Hijo de puta: literally, "son of a whore."

Amateur scholars of the Iberian languages can note that the insult is nearly the same in Spanish as in Jose Mourinho's Portuguese.

The last refuge of the hack

Is the "...". Last Thursday's Wall Street Journal contained an op-ed piece by Debra Burlingame, whose brother was one of those murdered in the 9/11 attacks. She was taking the relay baton from the failed Pentagon-WSJ assault on the already flimsy rights of Guantanamo detainees, in arguing that their US lawyers are helping the terrorists (since we already know that they are terrorists) achieve their broader goals. This was part of the evidence --

How we deal with alien enemy combatants goes to the essence of the debate between those who see terrorism as a series of criminal acts that should be litigated in the justice system, one attack at a time, and those who see it as a global war where the "criminal paradigm" is no more effective against militant Islamists whose chief tactic is mass murder than indictments would have been in stopping Hitler's march across Europe. Michael Ratner and the lawyers in the Gitmo bar have expressly stated that the habeas corpus lawsuits are a tactic to prevent the U.S. military from doing its job. He has bragged that "The litigation is brutal [for the United States] . . . You can't run an interrogation . . . with attorneys." No, you can't. Lawyers can literally get us killed.

Ratner is the President of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. He has a letter in today's paper setting the record straight, except that no one will see it because unlike Burlingame's rant, the Journal leaves letters to the editor behind subscription. So here's the key bit --

I am quoted by Ms. Burlingame as stating: "The litigation is brutal . . . You can't run an interrogation . . . with attorneys." This heavily edited version of my quote is often cited in speeches and articles that attempt to stir up antipathy toward the attorneys who have taken on the cases of the Guantanamo detainees. Their aim is to suggest that we are seeking to keep the government from doing its job. The truth is that we are seeking to keep the government from breaking the law. The repeated selective use of ellipses, particularly the omission of the word "torture," fails to convey the true meaning of my words.

The full quote, which appeared in an article by Onnesha Roychoudhuri in a March 2005 piece for Mother Jones reads: "The litigation is brutal for them. It's huge. We have over one hundred lawyers now from big and small firms working to represent these detainees. Every time an attorney goes down there, it makes it that much harder to do what they're doing. You can't run an interrogation and torture camp with attorneys. What are they going to do now that we're getting court orders to get more lawyers down there? Lawyers are down there to interview their clients, and statements that are coming out on a weekly basis referring to sexual abuse, religious abuse, the use of dogs."

Apparently when you've already decided that giving George W. Bush the right to torture people is OK, butchering quotes is small potatoes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

White House reveals new vision for Iraq

White House/Paul Morse; caption

Actually, with this gang of jokers, one can't rule out a fake backdrop photo of Iraq.

Media notes

A complex and interesting article by Richard English in the Financial Times today on the overlapping but often conflicting literary traditions in Ireland; worth a full read and not easily summarised, but an one essential point argued here --

Of course, no amount of auto-biography or poetry can simply solve the problems faced by nationalist communities in struggle. Nowhere is this clearer than in Ireland, where the paradoxes of national identity have been painfully demonstrated again and again. Yes, literary and other artistic output helped Irish nationalists to achieve independence from Britain in the 1920s, but once that independence had been won, the new Irish nationalist state soon banned much of the best of Irish writing.

As one of the IRA man Ernie O'Malley's friends - the American academic John V. Kelleher - crisply described the situation in independent Ireland by the mid-20th century: "Every Irish author of any standing is represented on the list of banned books. Since the [1929 Censorship] Act went into effect, about 1,500 books have been proscribed, including just about every Irish novel worth reading." The author and nationalist Sean O'Faolain pungently noted that in 1948, Ireland had been turned into "the worst country in the world for intellectuals".


From an article in today's New York Times about Shane McGowan, currently on The Pogues' US St Patrick's Day tour --

When, during one tangent, the term "British Isles" arose, Mr. Cashman [Shane's assistant] was quick to correct it. "Don’t use the phrase British Isles," he said. "It’s England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland." He added, "If you say it any other way, he’d probably throw his glass at you."

Another usage that avoids rows is the label for this post.

Long memories

From the opener of the Guardian's excellent three part series on the Northern Ireland peace process --

Officials waited nervously to greet the first Sinn Féin delegation to visit 10 Downing Street in 76 years [in December 1997]. Both sides felt what Mr Blair later famously called the "hand of history" when Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness walked into the cabinet room which came close to being blown up in the IRA's 1991 mortar attack.

"Everyone was a bit nervous and hadn't really got a relationship," recalls one senior British official present for the talks. "Before they sat down they said: 'So this is where all the trouble happened.' We on our side were thinking they meant the mortars that came over and landed in the garden [in 1991]. They meant Michael Collins coming in and negotiating the [1921 Anglo-Irish] treaty."

Allowing the freedom that a blog gives for rash generalizations, is there any Irish person out there who wouldn't have thought that the Shinners were referring to 1921?

UPDATE 9 JULY: According to Alastair Campbell's book, the line came from Martin McGuinness and Campbell sounds like the source for the British interpretation of it.

Monday, March 12, 2007


The On This Day selection from The Times (UK) is particularly aposite today. It refers to the British seizure of Baghdad from allied Ottoman-German forces during World War I. The last bit --

One very great and immediate consequence of the British occupation is that it will have a steadying influence in the Middle East. Our repeated misfortunes a year or more ago in Mesopotamia very seriously diminished British prestige in Asia, but the fall of Baghdad restores the balance. In Oriental eyes the capture of Baghdad will count for much more than the rout of a Turkish Army, for, though the city has been shorn of much of its former greatness, it is venerated because of its “dead past” which “cannot die”. Its fall will bring more renown to British arms in the East than many battles.

He really sounds hurt

National Review's Cliff May --

I was on a radio show in Ireland early this [Sunday] morning. The setup, by some professor, was the entire left-wing narrative, e.g. Bush lied about WMD to get America into a war with Iraq; ... What could I say after that? All I could think to say was: “That’s simply not what happened. It’s a fable. It’s wrong in just about every particular. If you told that story to a grand jury you’d be committing perjury.” I doubt one listener in thousand believed me.

We're guessing Cliff's opponent was Harry Browne. Sounds like Cliff is about to give up his occasional attempts to convert Ireland to the GWOT.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Fresh face

AP Photo/PA, Niall Carson; caption

The above is Anna Lo, subject of one of the quirkier results in yesterday's Assembly elections in Northern Ireland. Running for the non-aligned (in the nationalist/unionist sense) Alliance Party, the Hong Kong native won relatively easily a seat in the South Belfast constituency -- her years of community work in the area being enough to survive what overall was a squeeze on the smaller parties by the DUP and Sinn Fein. In fact, her constituency is unusual in that the main victims of that squeeze, the UUP and the SDLP, held on relatively well in it. So the result may say more about South Belfast than Northern Ireland as a whole.

UPDATE: Reader DF points out that it is not correct to describe Alliance as "non-aligned", at least in the context of the designations in the Northern Ireland Assembly. For convoluted reasons explained here, Alliance had reluctantly designated "Unionist" in the earlier assembly, but have decided to join a non-aligned group -- United Community -- in the new one.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bizarre anecdote of the day

In the course of his address to an audience (including Dick Cheney), marking his receipt of the 2007 Irving Kristol Award from the American Enterprise Institute, Bernard Lewis (as this sentence now reaches neocon saturation point) told this tale (via The Corner) --

when the Barbary Corsairs raided an Irish town called Baltimore in the 17th century, abducting its inhabitants and enslaving them in Algiers, they took away a family named Cheney

This was apparently part of a broader thesis that the West has been at war with Islamism for centuries -- not that Dick Cheney needed the surname similarity for an excuse to ignore what people here and now think of his policies, as opposed to some imagined legacy hundreds of years down the road.

UPDATE: Another account of the broader themes in Lewis's speech. The rapturous reception among this influential audience for what is quite a radical or even reactionary view of Europe's relationship to Islam is salutory.

FINAL UPDATE: With the FT's Gideon Rachman (subs. req'd) justifiably calling attention again to Lewis's bizarre speech, here's the transcript.

Media Notes

In what is clearly intended as their light entertainment story of the day, Thursday's Wall Street Journal has a long story (subs. req'd) about the disputes over fishing rights on the River Blackwater in Waterford and Cork. It presents the tangled history of land and water rights in the area, going back to Walter Raleigh's period in Lismore and up to the present when Chazza's pal Perry Cavendish (the Duke of Devonshire) runs a very successful tourist operation on the land -- but relying in part on the extensive ownership rights to the river that it allegedly comes with.

On the other side, local anglers and their so far unsuccessful attempts to legally fish the river, notwithstanding an appeal to one of the more arcane provisions of the Magna Carta (granting public fishing rights to the tidal portion of rivers). The story also notes the Free State's decision not to disposess the landed aristocracy, so despite the seemingly minor nature of the row, it does manage to straddle key bits of the history of Ireland since about, say, 1169 and counting. Since the story is behind subscription, if anyone would like a copy, just drop us a line and we'll see if this supposed ability of the WSJ website to e-mail stories to non-subscribers actually works.

UPDATE 26 JULY: The angler, Michael O'Shea, lost on his day in court (subs. req'd)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Being and nothingness

George W. Bush, discussing his daughter Jenna's book deal --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, she is -- first of all, I'm very proud of her. She is an accomplished woman. She came back -- I haven't seen a lot of her because she's been spending a lot of time in Central America as a UNICEF volunteer -- but she came back and talked to me about this young girl that she has befriended. And she's deeply concerned about alienationists in our world, and is going to try to raise some money to help the education programs there.

Irresponsible one line summary of complex and technical issue

Vatican diplomats get to park for free in Manhattan like all other diplomats.

9/11 changed everything

More revelations about the financial opportunism that arose after the 9/11 attacks, from the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) --

Amid the stock-market swoon that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, dozens of companies granted stock options to top executives or other employees. Now, some of those companies are saying the grants were in fact made weeks later -- and backdated.

The disclosures are the latest wrinkle in a backdating scandal that involves more than 140 companies and has resulted in more than 70 firings or resignations of corporate officials. The new information suggests some executives profited from the market's plunge following Sept. 11 by manipulating options grant dates.

An apparent surge in stock options issued to executives had been noticed for the October 2001 period, which at the time was maybe justified as way to motivate the suits with potentially tough times for corporations ahead. But it's now evident that the options were in fact granted later and backdated to the trough of the crash to maximize their value. Amongst the companies offering excuses --

A spokesman for Take-Two [the video game maker] says the company recently repriced the Oct. 1 [2001] grants along with a number of others as it corrected its books due to the widespread backdating. The spokesman says the company doesn't have sufficient information to know whether the wrongly dated Oct. 1 options were related to the Sept. 11 attacks, but he notes that Take-Two in October 2001 released a major new product, Grand Theft Auto III, the type of event for which it typically awards extra compensation.

Grand Theft Auto, indeed.

Hot coals

Detainees at Guantanamo Bay are subject to Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) to determine whether they are enemy combatants i.e. non PoWs who have engaged in hostile action against the United States on "the battlefield", where the battlefield is defined as anywhere in the world. Having thus been determined to be terrorists, they are later put on trial for specific terrorism offences. For example, Australian David Hicks is already in general terms "a terrorist", since a CSRT said so, but he remains to be convicted of specific terrorist offences in his forthcoming executive branch "trial".

In this context, the Pentagon today announced that it will have CSRTs for the 14 high value detainees, the 14 moved from other overseas locations in a pre-election stunt by George W. Bush (which, despite its billing, did not close the overseas detention program). Consider the logic for not allowing media coverage of the CSRTs and editing the transcripts that will be made available --

"The goal of the department and the United States government here is to be as transparent as possible,” Whitman [Pentagon spokesman] said, addressing the same issue. “But I think everybody recognizes that these individuals are unique for the role that they have played in terrorist operations and in combat operations against U.S. forces. So obviously, we’re going to have to look at information that’s presented by them in their combatant status review tribunals to ensure that we’re protecting information that’s important to national security.”

i.e. we can't release information about the tribunals to determine whether the 14 are terrorists because they are terrorists.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

One missing link

With the Scooter Libby trial having revealed, inter alia, that the White House thought that excessive scrutiny of the uranium-from-Niger claim was a threat, isn't it time for the British government to state what, exactly, is their supporting evidence for the claim -- supporting evidence that did not meet the White House's standards for sticking with the claim? This Wikipedia entry on the tantalisingly incomplete Butler Review summarises the current state of knowledge on this confusing issue.

UPDATE: For once, we agree with Mark Steyn. See the middle of his post.

On a roll

Poor Conrad Black. Just has his trial gets going, the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, gets a huge win in the Scooter Libby trial.

UPDATE: George W. Bush unwittingly provides an appropriate comment on the media-political ethics revealed by the Libby trial --

What happens in Washington stays in Washington. (Laughter.)

Happy Independence Day Ghana

AFP/Kambou Sia; caption

Sure, portions of the last 50 years sucked. But a dream isn't a lie just because it didn't come true.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Irresponsible one line summary of complex and emotive issue

We're all Basque.

[alt. link]

Briefly Noted

There are, according to this fairly sound Times (UK) article, persistent unanswered questions about the reliability of the so-called Lancet study finding of 650,000 excess deaths due to the war in Iraq.

UPDATE: Daniel Davies at Crooked Timber did the hard and thankless work of going through the article in some detail.

FINAL UPDATE: The UK government's experts thought that the study was methodologically reliable.

Don't let the facts get in the way of a good riff

National Review's Mark Steyn is having a great laugh today --

I love this headline in Pakistan’s Daily Times:

[Pakistan International Airlines] To Buy Airbuses To Appease EU, UK

Do you remember the A380 Airbus? It was launched to much fanfare in 2005 as the symbol of the coming Euro-imperium. Giant double-decker QE2s of the air would be looming over cities around the world ... It doesn’t seem to be working out quite like that: these days the headlines are mostly about delays in delivery and lost customers –

So it’s grand news for Euro-investors that at least Pakistan’s national carrier has been successfully strongarmed into buying the White Euro-elephant of the skies, after pressure to deny landing rights to the existing PIA fleet on "safety grounds". Now twice as many jihadists will be able to fly from Waziristan to Heathrow in one go! (The Airbus can carry 800 passengers, or a thousand if your child bride goes in the hold.)

The A380 is indeed a poignant symbol of the European Union: far too big and never actually taking flight. However, it may well prove useful for large-scale population evacuations circa 2015.

Let's begin with the most basic problem: the actual story to which he links says nothing about Pakistan buying A380s. Airbus is a company that makes more than one type of plane. PIA has indeed been told that some planes in its ageing fleet are unsafe, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the fate of the A380 (which we have indeed bashed ourselves in the past)

So pretty much every "joke" in his post collapses at that point, but he still can't resist linking it to his longer-term thesis that Christian Europe is headed for doom and will need a Dunkirk style operation (perhaps directed by President Jenna Bush) sometime in the future. At least he resisted the opportunity to claim that crashes of PIA's existing fleet would take out a few jihadists, and so that the demand of safety regulators for a fleet upgrade is counterproductive.

Dictators like whiskey

While one salutes the bravery of Mohammed and Omar Fadhil who have maintained their blog from Baghdad during several years of increasing chaos, they are ill-served by the teaser line that the Wall Street Journal puts with their op-ed in Monday's paper (subs. req'd; alt. free link) -- a line that will probably become the soundbite of choice as reactionary bloggers hype the success of Operation Imposing Law --

Stocked liquor stores are a sign of the surge's progress.

Baghdad had thriving liquor stores under Saddam Hussein.

UPDATE 28 MARCH: These are the bloggers cited by George Bush (presumably via the WSJ article) in his speech to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Let the conflicts of interest soar

Patrick G. Ryan/The Hill Newspaper, via the New York Times

The two providers of satellite digital radio in the US, Sirius and XM, want to merge. Like all mergers, those for and against have their lobbyists. But the credibility of the lobbyists surely depends on some sign that they actually believe what they are saying, which is kind of awkward when you've attempted to shill for both sides. Enter George W. Bush's former Attorney-General, John Ashcroft (Wall Street Journal, subs. req'd) --

... who sent a letter this week to his successor Alberto Gonzales blasting the proposed merger of Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. and XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc., approached XM in the days after the merger was announced offering the firm his consulting services, a spokesman for XM said Saturday.

... Mr. Ashcroft was subsequently hired by the National Association of Broadcasters, which is fiercely opposed to the merger. On its behalf he conducted a review of the effects on competition if the two satellite radio companies were allowed to merge.

In a letter sent to Mr. Gonzales Feb. 27, Mr. Ashcroft concluded the merger would have a significant negative impact on competition in the market and urged the current attorney general to withhold approval for the merger.

"After the merger was announced, Mr. Ashcroft's firm contacted us about hiring him to assist us," said Nathaniel Brown, a spokesman for XM. "We declined. Apparently the National Association of Broadcasters opted to pay him to parrot their views."

... A revelation that Mr. Ashcroft was shopping his services to both sides of the debate over the merger may raise doubts in the eyes of some as to the rigor of his review conducted on behalf of the NAB.

"We are often in contact with opposing interests on almost every major antitrust issue when the news first breaks," said Juleanna Glover Weiss, a spokeswoman for Mr. Ashcroft. "Working for the National Association of Broadcasters was a clear call for Ashcroft -- there are simply no substitutes in the marketplace for the product XM and Sirius sell."

In this case, the spokesperson is as revealing of the Washington lobbying network as her boss. The above picture, easily obtainable via "The Google", shows her with another legendary lobbyist who has shopped his services on the same cause to multiple clients in recent years.

Friday, March 02, 2007

There he goes again

Well, well, well. Just when one might have thought that Jean-Marie Le Pen had carefully retooled his political strategy -- less ranting about Arab immigrants, with said ranting redirected towards the Chinese, a robust anti-Iraq war position, and the not unreasonable claim that the US was attaching a strange weight to 9/11 versus the chaos in Iraq -- out pops the old Le Pen with some classic innuendo.

Making the obligatory stop of all presidential candidates before the hunters' convention (a ritual that will come as news to American right-wingers), Le Pen said --

Dans le Marais de Paris, on peut chasser le chapon sans date d'ouverture ou de fermeture, mais dans le marais de Picardie, on ne peut chasser le canard en février

which to our pretty bad franglais, translates as

In the Marais in Paris, you can hunt capon year round, but in the Picardy marsh, you can't hunt duck in February.

Le Pen is universally assumed to be playing on the image of the Marais as having a concentration of young gay men, in which context his carefully venomous choice of word to describe the urban prey makes extra sense. Of course the Marais is also known as a historically Jewish area, so in his mind he got even more points for that one.

[Note: the statement was made on 20th February but only seems to have broken as a story yesterday, 2nd March]

Round up the usual suspects

RTE -- Dublin's Fire Service now says the report of a fire in the kitchen of a restaurant on St Stephen's Green overnight was a false alarm. Three units had been sent to the scene but they did not discover a fire. The restaurant, Thorntons, says it believes it was the victim of a hoax.

What's one common source of fires in kitchens? The implement used to cook the subject of this row.

He doesn't feel pain

Reuters/South Korean military; caption

There's no point in analyzing another idiotic Dick Cheney speech to an idiotic audience -- in this case the Conservative Political Action Conference. We'll just note instead that in his first public appearance since the bomb attack on Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan while he was there, he made no expression of condolence to any of the bereaved, such as the South Korean troops mourning their sergeant Yoon Jang-ho, the first South Korean military fatality in an overseas operation since the Vietnam War. Apparently yukking it up with the reactionary elite was a higher priority.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

An economics lecture from El Presidente

In the listing of symbolic milestones in the collapse of American conservatism, add this one to the list: Fidel Castro showing a better command of neoclassical economics than the supposed free market conservatives at National Review. Mario Loyola thinks he is mocking Hugo Chavez and Fidel by discussing a section of a transcript of one of their recent phone conversations, where the topic turned to ethanol, which Fidel and Hugo decided to bash. First off from Loyola --

Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't all Americans who love Castro and Chavez also love ethanol...?

Well he's wrong. Even the Castro and Hugo lovers, whoever they are, probably know that there's a large amount of policy stupidity attached to ethanol, a fuel source that is only viable in the US with massive government subsidies, and a fuel source that requires considerable energy to produce. But then Fidel goes on to explain what the fundamental problem is --

also reveals how confused Castro is ....

Castro: Well, and of course, the idea of using food to produce fuel is a tragic one; it is dramatic, no one can be sure how high food prices will get when the soy is turned into fuel, especially because it is needed in the world, to produce eggs, to produce milk, to produce meat, and it is another tragedy, in addition to the many tragedies existing in the world today. I am glad that you have decided to stand up for the species, because it is hard to fight for the salvation of the species, because there are new and tough problems, and you have turned into a preacher, a real great preacher, a defender of the cause, even a defender of the life of the species. For that, I congratulate you.

[Loyola] I don't know much about the environment, but I do know one thing: What most countries need in order to produce sufficient quantities of eggs, milk, and meat, is not more soybeans, but rather a president who is as different from Fidel Castro as humanly possible.

But Castro is completely right. If more crops are switched into fuel production, than the price of foodstuffs has to rise. He's even right on the soybeans, because soybeans are used for cattle and chicken food and thus are part of the chain of production for milk, meat, and eggs; less land allocated to soybeans or more soybeans allocated to fuel production = lower supply of animal feed. Facts of economics that would be true whether or not Fidel was President.

Would Loyola prefer it if Fidel had phrased the argument like this? --

The problem is we got a lot of hog growers around the United States and a lot of them here in North Carolina who are beginning to feel the pinch as a result of high corn prices. A lot of the cattle people around the United States -- I have got a few of them in my home state of Texas -- they're worried about high corn prices affecting their making a livelihood. In other words, the demand for corn, because of agricultural use, and now energy use, is causing corn prices to go up. I bet you the Agriculture Commissioner is hearing from folks.

And so how do -- the question then is, how do you achieve your goal of less dependence on oil without breaking your farmers -- without breaking your hog raisers -- corn farmers happen to like it, but I'm talking about the -- (laughter) -- people dependent on corn.

Presumably he would, those being the words of the Environmental Messiah, George W. Bush.