Thursday, January 31, 2008

Yes, there are funny conservatives

One anyway. Steve Sailer (via John Derbyshire) --

Will McCain, who finished 894th out of 899 at the Naval Academy and who lost five jets, return competence to the White House?

This is also good.

When will the media stop with the "Maverick" shite?

Batallón de San Patricio

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RTE -- US Border Patrol officials say they have arrested a man who escaped from the Maze prison in 1983. He was arrested at a border checkpoint in southern Texas on Monday night. The US Border Patrol have refused to name him but said he is awaiting deportation.

Border Patrol official Oscar Soldana said the man produced an out-of-date immigration document at the Sarita checkpoint near Brownsville. He said the man was identified through fingerprinting.

Question for straight-talking maverick John McCain: since this shows that the US Border Patrol is doing a good job of catching terrorist suspects at the Mexican border, doesn't that mean that the rest of the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill can now go ahead, in which he case he should answer Anderson Cooper's question* last night about whether he would vote for his own bill if it came up again?

UPDATE: Here's Wikipedia's listing of the 1983 Jailbreak participants. While only two remain unaccounted for, the Border Control might conceivably have stopped any of them given their records.

*It began as Janet Hook's question

FINAL UPDATE: The detained escapee is Paul Brennan, who while technically on-the-run was not one of the never-accounted-for persons, and the British government had stopped pursuing his extradition in 2003.

Legal referral

The Mahon Tribunal has already conclusively established that there were mysterious dollar donations sloshing around the upper reaches of the Fianna Fail party in 1994 and in close proximity to then Minister of Finance Bertie Ahern at the same time that the American firm Ogden was backing a proposal by businessman Norman Turner to build a large casino in the Phoenix Park.

Isn't that enough for the US Department of Justice to start looking at whether there was a breach of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?

Let the men sort it out

Karl Rove, who for some reason is being given space on the Wall Street Journal opinion page --

Both Democrats and Republicans are in spirited and, at times, heated contests. The difference is Democrats are running a nasty race that has as its subtext race and gender. The Republican race, on the other hand, is a serious debate about serious ideas. Over the last several months, we have been seeing men who represent different strands within the GOP battle each other.

The logic appears to be that since the Democrat race features a white woman and a black man, there's a "subtext" of race and gender, while since the Republican race is all white guys in suits, those issues by definition can't arise.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

All war all the time

The event just now where Rudy Giuliani endorsed John McCain for President of the USA was a good illustration of why either of them would be a dreadful President. Rudy --

John McCain is the most qualified candidate to be the next commander in chief of the United States

thus putting above all else the military functions of the position -- functions which in any case George Bush has delegated to his field general in Iraq. Perhaps Rudy should get some credit for his little dig at Bush, "we could use a hero in the White House".

McCain in turn referred to the "transcendent challenge" of the country as being that from Islamic extremism. A threat from a group whose size is measured in thousands and who have no access to weapons of mass destruction. That this group might have millions of "sneaking regarders" (as they used to say in Ireland) is more to do with the use of military bludgeon of state war against them, as George Bush has done.

So Rudy is on to his 3rd wife and McCain is a staight talking maverick. But where it actually matters, they are Bush continued.

How close an escape?

It's emerged that what looked like a standard unscheduled stop at Shannon airport yesterday for a medical emergency on board an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Heathrow was a little more complicated than that. Passengers say that the co-pilot had a mental breakdown and was "asking for God". Echoes of Air Egypt 990. Thankfully only echoes.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Is George Bush an alcoholic?

Which is a different question from whether he currently drinks. The question arises, again, because the impression that Bush "was" an alcoholic is one of the things that he leaves out there, like the impression that he is a born-again Christian (he's not) because it's politically effective. Who doesn't like a story of redemption? Better still if it involves the Lord.

So Bush today was in Baltimore visiting a scheme that helps former prisoners reintegrate in society, and in addition to his public remarks there was a private meeting with group members --

"Addiction is hard to overcome," ... "As you might remember, I drank too much at one time in my life," Bush said. "I understand faith-based programs. I understand that sometimes you can find the inspiration from a higher power to solve an addiction problem."

Increasingly, Bush has reflected in candid terms about his days of drinking. Last month, he told some young recovering addicts to stick with their fight against drugs and cited his own experiences with alcohol years ago. He said then that "addiction competes for your affection ... you fall in love with alcohol."

Unfortunately we've learned from other contexts that Bush's statements have to be parsed indefinitely to see their true meaning. And note that in these meetings, he never says "I was addicted to alcohol" let alone "I am an alcoholic". Those listening are left to draw their own pleasing assumptions about what he meant, reporters included.

That being said, Bush certainly has the personality of someone who could use a drink. But that's got nothing to do with whether God helped him in a struggle with alcoholism.

UPDATE: Later versions of the AP story are more careful about characterising his relationship to the demon drink.

FINAL UPDATE 30 NOVEMBER: He checked the list of ingredients in a pisco sour, right?


There's not much to say about George Bush's final state of the union address. The cognitive dissonance of his Congressional Republican peanut gallery was impressive: a standing ovation for permanent tax cuts, followed quickly by a standing ovation for balanced budgets. But the primary incoherence of Bush policy continues to be the Middle East.

Just one example: Lebanon yet again listed as a country where "the people" and their western-backed government are struggling against terrorists seeking to block their progress towards democracy. You would not know from the speech that 2 days ago, it was the Lebanese government shooting protestors in the streets -- protestors wondering why it is that power cuts always seem to be in Shia areas of Beirut. And then they wonder why Iran has a following in these countries.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sources close to George Bush

White House photo by Eric Draper

Tim Russert (immediately to Bush's right), man of the people (since he's Irish-American and from Buffalo, at least that's how he thinks of it) eagerly scribbles down the presidential utterances. Russert never asks any follow-up questions on his Sunday show (such as letting John McCain away with a ridiculous attack on Mitt Romney yesterday) so no doubt Bush finds him a polite guest.

Gone native

Andrew Sullivan* --

Nitch blogging at its best

It's a link to the photo art/gag site sleeveface.

But wait a minute. Nitch? A word not in the dictionary. So he must mean the American pronunciation of the word niche. But he grew up with the word with its Euro-spelling as well as pronunication, so how could he not know? It's almost as if someone else wrote that post.

UPDATE: At some point, he corrected the spelling and now uses the correct spelling on a later post.

*or at least as appearing under his name.


Press release from Multi-National Force Iraq --

A Concerned Local Citizen leader was killed Jan. 26 in northern Baghdad when his car exploded from explosives planted inside the vehicle.

“This was a cowardly and desperate act executed by terrorists bent on derailing reconciliation efforts and progress in an area that has seen remarkable progress as a result of cooperation and resolve on the part of local Iraqi leaders and citizens,” said Col. Todd B. McCaffrey, commander 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

"Concerned Local Citizens" are the militias that the US has created to provide a parallel security force outside that of the Iraqi government. But the key point is that this "cowardly and desperate" act involved getting a bomb inside this dude's car. Who's in those militias, George?

When Osama was Christian

Terrorist atrocities. A war against all Arab governments. A particular preference for attacks and stunts involving airliners. Extracting money from Saudi Arabia. And actual support for Saddam Hussein, not just the imagined type.

Not Osama bin Laden. George Habash, probably the last remnant of the days when Palestinian extremism had little to do with holy war as it's now thought of.

But Habash died an old man, witnessing the defeat of just about every cause he cared about. Perhaps because there wasn't a George Bush to validate the worst assumptions of his followers and make him an iconic figure.

It seems that he was Marxist-Leninist to the end. It'll be interesting to see if Christopher Hitchens marks his death.

Dynasty a la carte

So Andrew Sullivan goes from ceaselessly attacking Hillary Clinton on the ground that it continues dynastic politics -- and then without batting an eyelid recalls feeling the power of JFK's charisma and approvingly noting JFK's daughter's (Caroline) and brother's (Ted) endorsement of his current hero Barack Obama.

In another post he manages to get in an approving reference to the Clinton-hating Mickey Kaus (despite their past feuds) and a catty Clinton-hating quote from the mysterious Weekly Standard blogger Richelieu. The quote from Richelieu cries out for a South Park-style "That's gay!" which is maybe what Sully is getting at in his response.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Fashion mystery

What sort of scarf is Bono wearing? Hard to tell from the script on it.

AP Photo/Michel Euler

Not enough troops

The Wall Street Journal continues its occasional practice of giving op-ed space to Kimberly Kagan to assess the progress of the surge in Iraq. Her husband Fred designed it. Her main point is that the additional troop deployment has relatively high "overhead" because each brigade needs a substantial headquarters to handle all the extra functions -- escorting kids to kindergarten and the like -- that the brigades have been assigned in addition to their traditional fighting duties. Thus withdrawing any given number of total troops is difficult because you have to decide how to unwind these overhead components as well.

But the deeper message, not said in so many words, is that only suckers should have believed that the deployment was temporary, despite the fact that it sounded like that at time. Indeed, one gets the sense that she has been briefed by the generals in Iraq to lower expectations that even the planned reduction in troop levels can be achieved. What's the problem? Basically, all the surge is doing is shifting around troops from one trouble spot to another, leaving the previously pacified areas in a fragile state --

Coalition and Iraqi forces have not finished clearing Ninevah province, Salah ad-Din and parts of Babil. Major operations continue against al Qaeda remnants in Ninevah, Salah-ad-Din, Diyala, Kirkuk and Wasit provinces. Fighting between Iraqi Security Forces (aided by coalition special forces and our Georgian, Polish and British allies) and Mahdi Army militias continues in the south.

The withdrawal to 15 brigades already assumes that these operations will be successful. It provides no cushion for unexpected developments or unforeseen enemy responses. There is thus no military basis at all at the present time to recommend additional reductions in 2008.

In other words, the only way to ensure that troops can be withdrawn is to send even more troops -- a Surge Squared, if you will. John McCain's estimate of a century-long deployment is looking about right.

UPDATE 29 JANUARY: It's now a little clearer that Kagan's article was indeed a signal of no additional troop reductions beyond the 15 brigades. Did she know because she's involved in the decision or because she's being briefed more than Congress (or indeed some of Petreaus's superiors) are?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Foot. Gun.

Jonah Goldberg --

First I love that even White Nationalist trash recognize that Hitler was a socialist.

Heh Indeed.

UPDATE: Spelling from the intellectual: Keynians, Keynsian.


Guidance to officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland --

Catholics should not be called fenians, taigs, chucks or spongers, while Protestants should not be referred to as huns, black, prods or jaffas, the booklet says.

There is one exception to the use of fenian, but it is probably rarely used. "It may be perfectly acceptable to use it in an appropriate historical context, for example, if referring to the Fenian Brotherhood," it says.

For example, indeed: "He's one of those people whose ancestors might have been in the Fenian Brotherhood".

Tyranny of the tie

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Only Ron Paul shows any willingness to work outside the simple pattern and all red or all blue tie being worn by candidates and panelists this evening.

Presidential primary debates

At some point it might be in the interest of each candidate on the Democratic and Republican side to ask for the French presidential debate rule that there be no cut-away shots of one candidate while another candidate is speaking. Rudy is looking particularly bad in such shots in the Florida debate tonight. The pundits love it because it gives them something to write about, such as with the infamous (in pundit eyes) Al Gore expressions of exasperation while George W. Bush was speaking in 2000. For some reason, the pundits thought that it was Gore making a fool of himself. But anyway. The French rule is a good one. Let the debates be decided on what the person speaking says and does (McCain: "We lost the election because of the bridge to nowhere"), and not the inevitable sighs, grimaces and random twitches of the other candidates.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Someone's not talking

French bank Société générale says that they told Bank of France president Christian Noyer on Sunday that they had huge losses due to a rogue trader and were dumping the assets before publicly announcing it. The US Federal Reserve says that it did not know on Monday night that this was going on when it decided to cut interest rates after overseas markets crashed that day. American markets were closed for MLK. News accounts seem to be ignoring this timeline.

Crash test dummies

Dick Cheney, perhaps feeling that he has some catching up to do having accounted for only 48 of the administration's 935 lies about Saddam Hussein's Iraq, was at the right-wing Heritage Foundation yesterday to argue in favour of the War on Terror in general and George Bush's right to engage in warrantless electronic snooping on Americans in particular. Using his standard "serious" monotone for which the pundits are suckers, this was among his arguments --

In addition, a small number of terrorists, high-value targets held overseas, have gone through a tougher interrogation program run by the CIA. These include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11. The procedures of the CIA program are designed to be safe.

Think about the actual meaning of that last sentence. One only has to design something to be safe if there's a possibility that otherwise it could be fatal. So what are they doing that has to be designed to be safe?

He should try out for the team

Comedian Will Ferrell going to receive the "Joyce Award" for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence from the Lit & Hist at University College Dublin. In a rugby outfit complete with pulled up socks and slip-on shoes.

Among his quips --

"As I perused my leatherbound volumes of Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, standing in my mahogany library, a lot of feelings ran across my head, like, 'damn, I should have read these books'."

Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Freedom to review

The Irish News is appealing the finding of libel against them over their review of the restaurant Goodfellas. The essence of their appeal --

Lord Lester QC insisted the review had been written in good faith and without malice. As he opened a hearing, the barrister claimed issues of great public importance dealing with the right to freedom of expression were at stake. "Although it was about a review by a food critic, it could as well have been a review written by a theatre or film critic." ... He told the court: "It [ the review] did not purport to be a factual report by a food scientist. It was a personal description by a food critic explaining why she formed a poor opinion of the restaurant based on her experience as a customer on the evening in question."

One little bit of information in the reporting of the appeal is that the original verdict had an element of a self-inflicted wound for the Irish News, as they were the ones that pushed for a trial.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Seemingly unrelated events

News item #1 --

European Commission proposals to radically cut greenhouse gas emissions and boost the use of renewable energy among member states raise "very serious economic and social issues for Ireland", the Government has said. The Cabinet Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security said today the climate change strategy, which seeks to cut emissions across the union by one fifth by 2020, must take into account the "national circumstances and competitiveness impacts".

News item #2 --

Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern is expected to pay an official visit to the world's youngest nation, Timor Leste, next month.

The country, which was previously known as East Timor, won independence in 2002 after more than 400 years of occupation by Portugal and Indonesia. Timor Leste will receive five million euro in Irish Aid funding this year.

Leaving aside the environmental cost of getting Dermot Ahern and his hangers-on to East Timor, the actual cost will be pretty significant set against what is a small overall aid budget for that country. And this comes on the heels of junior Minister Michael Ahern (no relation to Dermot or Bertie) junketing for a week in New Zealand on the basis of Edmund Hillary's one-day funeral. Since he's already in the neighhourhood, by Southern Hemisphere standards, why doesn't he go and check on the East Timor program and report back to the foreign minister?

UPDATE 11 FEB: Given recent events in East Timor, one assumes that Dermot Ahern's visit will have to be postponed. It'll be interesting to see whether another bit of southern hemisphere/East Asian business magically appears on his itinerary.

FINAL UPDATE: Ahern's visit, scheduled for Feb 20-22, is "under review".

Owning the P-word

Actual name of Irish tour bus company. One wonders if that's what upset the vandals.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Truer than he knew

In the above Bloggingheads clip, Crooked Timber's Henry Farrell (paired with Daniel Drezner) explains why it's not necessary to have read Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism to criticise it, with the high point being the line that since Jonah pretended to research the book, at most one is obligated to pretend to read it.

As he says, there's a similar tendency of the Lyndon LaRouche supporters to claim that the truth is revealed if only people would read his books, yet one knows that it's only paranoid rantings in there.

Such as

The anti-democratic bureaucratic managerial overclass that liberals seek to install at home and abroad is grotesquely elitist. The divinization of a Supreme Court that is allowed to sift through foreign laws to discover new meanings in our own constitution; the arrogance of the transnational elites at Davos and the Clinton Global initiative, the constant desire to outsource our sovereignty to the UN

Except that's not LaRouche. It's Goldberg defending his book from David Neiwert, in one of the most ADHD-afflicted screeds you'll ever see. But he's a serious intellectual whose editor is Saul Bellow's son. These collapsing financial markets don't know the half of what has happened to the USA.

Not Pro-live

Perhaps it's the pressure of business that made George Bush's usual wheeze of being mysteriously out of town when his pro-life base is in town infeasible. So no phone call to the Roe v Wade marchers from Camp David this year. Instead, a White House press release titled "President Bush Speaks to March for Life Rally Participants" -- which requires a moment's thought to realise that it's not him speaking to the March itself, but to a selected few from those who will march later in the day. The rest of them receive their pro-life message by tape. Maybe Bush uses the freed up time to think of new ways to bomb Iraq into democracy.

Into the void

White House photo by Shealah Craighead

One of US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke's breaks over the last few days was to lead a tour of a modern Turkish art exhibit at the Fed's HQ. Laura Bush was there too. Ben (with his back turned) seems inordinantly focused on the nothingness surrounded by purple/violet to the left. Maybe it provides a mental respite from the stock market gyrations.

They all do it

Andrew Sullivan's Clinton-hating is getting ever more preposterous. The Atlantic pays for this stuff? Here he is building on an item from the thinking man's Drudge Report i.e. the Politico --

The second is that Clinton now automatically uses the second person plural. It's not the Royal "we". It's an empirical "we":

"The facts are that he has said in the last week that he really liked the ideas of the Republicans over the last 10 to 15 years, and we can give you the exact quote etc etc [more 'we' usages]"

Yes, this "we" implies a team behind a candidacy.

A few things. "We" is the first person plural. Second, it's easy to search the transcript (which Sully never bothered doing, since he had his point) --

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN: I'd like to follow-up with Senator Obama. It was just a few days ago that Senator Clinton asserted that she was the strongest candidate when it comes to fiscal responsibility.

She says that the new programs that she proposes she essentially can pay for. She says that you have failed in that regard in the tune of some $50 billion worth of new programs that you cannot account for.

How do you respond to that charge?

OBAMA: What she said wasn't true. We account for every single dollar that we propose.

The fact is that Obama, Clinton, and Edwards all mix Is and Wes, presumably depending on part on whether they wanted to indicate their campaign team, not just spouses, or themselves personally. Clinton derangement is also leading him to get his English history metaphors all mixed up, as he variously refers to a Clinton "Restoration" and Obama as the "Pretender". You'd think a self-styled Irish Tory could keep his Stuarts together.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Operation Monte Cassino

Here's the latest manifestation of the US military strategy in Iraq to keep politically-sensitive American casualties down while trying to make progress against an entrenched insurgency. It comes as a part of Operation Phantom Phoenix (which should be called Operation Together Forward VI: The Undiscovered Country). One component of the operation is taking place in Arab Jabour, which already has had 80,000 lbs of bombs dropped on it since been declared safe a few months ago. More air raids last night:

“The strikes that we conducted (Jan. 20) were focused on IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and caches that we have targeted, that will allow us to get our ground troops further into the zone,” said Col. Terry Ferrell, 2nd BCT, 3rd Inf. Div. commander. “These targets, the IEDs specifically, are designed as part of the defensive belt to prevent our Forces from entering into areas that we have not been before.”

So they're using F-18s and B-1s to bomb anything that looks like a makeshift bomb -- which could include piles of dirt. How this fits with the hearts and minds strategy of building support among the Iraqi population is not explained. Or, how, if IEDs have so multiplied that they have to be bombed out from the air, the US will ever be able to get out of Iraq.

Faraway strip of which we know nothing

AFP/Said Khatib

Amid several candidates for the honour, the most insidious aspect of George Bush's Middle East visit was his clear nod to Israel -- and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank -- that he was dumping the Gaza strip overboard as an object of his peace efforts:

PRESIDENT BUSH: First of all, Gaza is a tough situation. I don't know whether you can solve it in a year, or not ... There is a competing vision taking place in Gaza. And in my judgment, Hamas, which I felt ran on a campaign of, we're going to improve your lives through better education and better health, have delivered nothing but misery ... And there's going to be -- there will be no better difference, a clear difference, than the vision of Hamas in Gaza and the vision of the President and the Prime Minister and his team based here in Ramallah. And to me, that's how you solve the issue in the long-term. And the definition of long-term, I don't know what it means. I'm not a timetable person -- actually, I am on a timetable -- got 12 months. (Laughter.) ...

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (As translated.) Gaza it is considered a coup by us, we consider it a coup d'etat what happened in Gaza. Now -- we consider it a coup d'etat. (Laughter.) And we deal with Gaza at two levels. The first is that we deal with the people as part of us and we take full responsibility that is necessary towards our people. We spend in Gaza 58 percent of our budget. This is not to -- it is our duty towards our people that we provide them with all the need.

Thus Israel and the West Bank authorities were told to keep working on their own track and let Gaza sort itself out, whatever that means.

Among the things it means is the current fuel blockade, which imposes a punishment on civilians. Israel has a two part strategy of noting the problems with rocket fire while claiming that it hasn't cut off its direct electricity supplies to the strip, which is true. But the directly supplied electricity is irrelevant to many in Gaza because they are not connected to the electricity network (which in some cases has been damaged by air raids). If you're relying on your own water pump or diesel generator, the state of power lines to which you're not connected is irrelevant.

Of course Israel's strategy shouldn't be a surprise and they may yet work out some kind of compromise to let monitored fuel supplies back in. The bigger disgraces are Bush's attempt to peddle himself as someone who cares about the Palestinian people -- and the pathetic crew thereof in Ramallah who in effect signed off on this stunt knowing full well what it would mean for Gaza.

UPDATE: Here's a good example from The Corner of the propagation of the Israeli spin which never mentions the key issue of the electricity grid. Meanwhile, Israel has allowed a slight relaxation of the blockade.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


With all the controversy about South Carolina's use of the confederate battle flag on state grounds, shouldn't the rightwingers be more worked up about the classic Islamic imagery that was lurking behind every candidate last night, courtesy of the state's official flag?

Socialist International

It's a little bit odd that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, and so presumably an apolitical bureaucrat, can attend a forum for the renovation of the French Socialist Party.

photo: AFP/Florian Rey

Friday, January 18, 2008


George Bush today specified one of his principles for the economic stimulus package designed to help his post-bubble economy is that the size "should be about 1 percent of GDP". That seemingly harmless little phrase has a history in the Bush administration. For it was the guess as to the full cost of the Iraq war, as of 2002, that got Bush's then economic adviser, Larry Lindsey, hustled out of his job.

Even though it's now far too low, it was much too high for a White House that was pushing the idea of a low cost war, with Iraq's reconstruction to be paid for out of oil money. Perhaps Bush doesn't remember the apoplexy that the phrase caused all those years ago. Perhaps we better hope that he doesn't embrace the number as prescribing that another nice little war might be just what the economy needs.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

All fascism all the time

bonus link to Jonah's appearance on The Daily Show

In today's Liberal Fascism moment, Jonah Goldberg says --

For many socialists and progressives, socialism was racism and racism was socialism. Nazism was socialism for a race. The Nazi view was uglier and more extreme than anyone else's, but it was not philosophically so distinct from the views of many progressives in America and socialists in Britain ... An excerpt from the book:

[quote] Just as socialist economics was a specialization within the larger Progressive avocation, eugenics was a closely related specialty. Eugenic arguments and economic arguments tracked each other, complemented each other, and, at times, melted into each other.

Sidney Webb, the father of Fabian socialism and still among the most revered British intellectuals, laid it out fairly clearly. “No consistent eugenicist,” he explained, “can be a ‘Laissez Faire’ individualist [that is, a conservative] unless he throws up the game in despair. He must interfere, interfere, interfere!” The fact that the “wrong” people were outbreeding the “right” ones would put Britain on the path of “national deterioration” or, “as an alternative,” result “in this country gradually falling to the Irish and the Jews.” [end quote]

Using the miracle of Google, one comes across this post by Duncan Money explaining the context for the Webb quote: widespread concerns about Irish Catholic immigrants in Britain. And yes, such sentiments did merge with "theories" of prominent statisticians of the day (remember the "proof" that we would all end up the same height?) to produce some weird pronouncements.

But -- what do we expect given the circumstances? All of today's concerns about immigrants depressing wages and integration of a different religion magnified many-fold, and all in the context of what was then the UK's "Irish Question". Yet the UK never got to the point of putting all Irish people in concentration camps.

So Goldberg's classification is that any left-wing figure of the day who had concerns about immigration was a fascist, and different only in degree and not type from the Nazis. But because right-wing anti-immigrants aren't socialist, they're not fascist. Got it?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dream a work in progress

Only George Bush could make one of his boilerplate proclamations irritating. The proclamation of the King Holiday --

Our Nation has made progress toward realizing Dr. King's dream, yet the work to achieve liberty and justice for all is never-ending. In July of 2006, I was honored to sign the "Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006," to renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and reaffirm our commitment to securing the voting rights of all Americans.

This would be the dude in office due to uncounted votes in Florida in 2000 and/or Supreme Court intervention to complain about the lack of a uniform standard for counting votes in Florida in 2000 but not about any other aspect of America's patchwork voting system. And this would be the dude whose party yells about "voter fraud" any time an election goes against them, and indeed who yelled themselves into the scandal about the fired US Attorneys, since the fired Attorneys were the ones insufficiently zealous about chasing down those voter fraudsters.

But he'll have his best solemn face on for the King ceremonies. At least Dr King gets more than the phone-in appearance that he'll be doing the next day for the Roe v Wade observance, in keeping with his tradition of being out of town when the pro-lifers are in town.

Did you know that the NHS is fascist?

Jonah Goldberg, explaining some of the material in Liberal Fascism --

nationalism and socialism are almost always synonymous terms. Hugo Chavez is a nationalist who is nationalizing his country's industry. Or you could say he's a socialist who is socializing his country's industry. The two words are interchangeable: socialized medicine is nationalized medicine.

So socializing = nationalizing. National Socialism. Nazi. Geddit?

More seriously, Goldberg still won't explain why he has classified Mussolini as being on the left when Mussolini did such a good job of preserving Italy's institutions -- the monarchy and the Church -- under his rule.

Nations and leaders

Egypt is clearly in the doghouse for the White House on Bush's now concluded Middle East trip, as evidenced by President Mubarak only being given a brief stopover visit in the resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh, as opposed to the cavorting with the Gulf elites that had taken place earlier in the trip. This is what happens when, like Egypt, you're a non-oil exporter that locks up bloggers, as opposed to say, Saudi Arabia, an oil exporter that locks up bloggers.

Anyway, for all its faults, there is a little interesting thing about Egypt in the photograph. Note that the images come from Egypt's classical (and pre-Islamic) period. One fact that was lost in the furore over the Danish cartoons is that, strictly speaking, Islamic thinking has concerns about the making of any human image, not just that of Muhammad. Because there is a risk of idolatry: the images can become a distraction from God. Go into a mosque and look for images of any person -- you won't find one.

The risk of idolatry is particularly severe when one person other than God is being elevated above all others. Now take a look at the reception photographs from nearly every Arab Bush stop during his visit. Ramallah. Kuwait. UAE. Saudi Arabia. There's always a corporeal leader above the dignitaries. The only exceptions are Bahrain and Egypt (where the image is classical and not political) -- the two countries given the least time on the Bush trip.

Not that Bush will put much thought into it, but among the many reasons for the Muslim world's alienation with him is the effort that the US allocates to leaders as opposed to people, all of whom are equally worthy. The countries that have been around long enough to have more secure identities have less time for leadership cults -- and so are less interesting to the American version thereof.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Andrew Sullivan --

I have been and remain an optimist about the ability of Americans to vote for and elect a black politician to the presidency. But as David Brooks points out today, resistance is no longer understandable on old white-black lines. The smorgasbord of racial and identity politics comes into play. And so long-festering black-Hispanic tensions may put Nevada at risk; and the older black establishment prefers to play the old game with the white power-brokers they have learned to deal with than the new black leader they cannot control; and some Jewish-Americans, seeing a black man with real power emerging on the national scene, immediately panic that it's Farrakhan in disguise. All the Clintons need do is sit back and allow this game to proceed.

If you can keep in mind that dizzying jig-saw that forms Sully's own analysis of the Democratic primary, then here we have him a few posts later --

The more I think about it, the more disgraceful that [Richard Cohen] column was. Pure identity politics paranoia. A Jewish columnist sees a black man running for president and the first thing he asks himself is: where is this guy on Farrakhan?

So after offering an analysis that is entirely identity politics (as he did for Hillary's New Hampshire win), he then slams Cohen for using identity politics. An Anglo-American "blogger" sees a black man running for president and the first thing he asks himself is: how can I use this to pursue my hatred of Hillary Clinton?

Monday, January 14, 2008

He doesn't like her either

Christopher Hitchens, near the end of a long list of charges against Hillary Clinton (a list that includes the worst charges of the 1990s Hillary-hating lunatic fringe) --

Well, the main "experience" involved the comprehensive fouling-up of the nation's health-care arrangements, so as to make them considerably worse than they had been before and to create an opening for the worst-of-all-worlds option of the so-called HMO, combining as it did the maximum of capitalist gouging with the maximum of socialistic bureaucracy.

Hitch does not know or does not care that the whole point of "Hillarycare" as its opponents called it is it didn't pass. It was a proposal that got nowhere. She didn't foul up anything. HMOs have been around since the 1970s.

As a wordsmith, Hitch actually has a good description of the current healthcare system in the US. But it's that way because of his rightwing buddies, not because of Hillary Clinton. You'd think an avowed socialist would at least credit her for attempting universal coverage. If he was a socialist.

Pass it on

Courtesy of Paul Krugman, new Alan Greenspan nickname: Mr Bubble.

But shouldn’t we worry about a candidate [McCain] who’s so out of touch that he regards Mr. Bubble, the man who refused to regulate subprime lending and assured us that there was at most some “froth” in the housing market, as a source of sage advice?

Dept. of idle speculation

Is there any chance that George Bush and Nicolas Sarkozy, in the Gulf in eyebrow-raising proximity, are planning a joint "SURPRISE!" visit to Iraq, or more likely, Beirut?

Tough crowd

The White House has made the decision to have members of George Bush's staff use the web to log their impressions of his trip to the Middle East. A "web-log", or "blog", if you will. Here is chief speechwriter, longtime Rupert Murdoch operative Bill McGurn (in between commenting on how big his hotel room is) adding what he views as a necessary detail about Bush's speech in Abu Dhabi --

Like most foreign crowds, people here did not interrupt with applause during the speech but clapped at the end.

Or to put it less politely, the crowd was not the usual rubes at a Bush event who applaud the same red meat that they've been given 10 times over. Those Arabs expect some actual content!

UPDATE: From a press briefing by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley --

Q And what was their -- what was the response in UAE to the President's presentation of the importance of the freedom agenda? Did they say anything? Did they ignore it? What did they say in response?

MR. HADLEY: Heads nod. Heads nod.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Tuned out

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Notwithstanding that George Bush was using his serious speech tone of voice for his address on Arab political reform in Abu Dhabi, there are many, many empty seats in the auditorium (note the area to the right of Condi's head). You can't sell the Freedom AgendaTM when you've no credibility.

UPDATE: Note the empty seats even in the favourably-angled White House photo.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Necessary but not sufficient

AFP/Martin Bureau

There's been speculation in Ireland that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern might be up for the new job of president of the European Union Council, a job that will be created by the constitution treaty reform treaty. The source of the speculation seems to be Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, despite the fact that with his rate of salary increases, that job might involve a pay cut.

But anyway, Nicolas Sarkozy seems to have put an end to any such ambition when it seemed ever clearer that he and Tony Blair have cooked up a scheme to put Blair in the job, with Blair's speech to Sarko's UMP party today looking like the launch of the bid. Sarko explicitly ruled out "lowest common denominator" candidates for the position, which seems to have been Bertie's strategy.

Yet there is one irony with Bertie on the outside looking in as the job is allocated. It will only exist if he successfully shepherds the treaty through a referendum later this year. Hopefully his heart is still in it.

Bush in the Gulf

REUTERS/Larry Downing

Not much to do but make a list --

With his favourite prop -- the troops in uniform, in Kuwait:

I appreciate what this Third Army did in World War II. I hope you do too, as well. After all, you're members of Patton's own. Played a vital role in the destruction of the Nazi war machine. They helped liberate about 12,000 towns; at least that's according to the history of the Third Army. From their noble ranks came soldiers with some of our nation's highest directors*

He meant to say "decorations" but he always has the corporate hierarchy on his mind.

The history will say, it was when you were called upon, you served, and the service you rendered was absolutely necessary to defeat an enemy overseas so we do not have to face them here at home.

Did we mention that he spoke in Kuwait?

When you get to emailing your family, you tell them I check in with you. (Laughter.) And you're looking pretty good. (Applause.) It looks like you haven't missed a meal. (Laughter.)

Just the light-hearted approach that a war which has killed 150,000 Iraqi civilians needs.

In Bahrain --

Your Majesty, I appreciate the fact that you're on the forefront of providing hope for people through democracy. Your nation has held two free elections since 2000 -- and in 2006, your people elected a woman to your parliament.

This is his briefing book talking point that he got mixed up with Kuwait, which has zero women MPs. Bahrain has infinitely (in percentage terms) more.

Back now to a brief session with the travelling press corpse in Kuwait --

Q What about the political benchmarks? Do those no longer matter?

THE PRESIDENT: Of course they matter. They matter to the Iraqis a lot. It's a sign of reconciliation. I just mentioned they passed a pension law, which, of course, got a huge yawn in our press. But that's -- well, that's okay. (Laughter.) We can't pass -- we can't reform our own pension system, like Social Security, but they did.

Social security reform and a civil war: exactly the same.

THE PRESIDENT: I think the only thing I can tell you we're on track for is to follow through on that which he [Petraeus] recommended last September, and that we'll be on track getting down to 15. And that's what we're on track for. My attitude is, if he didn't want to continue the drawdown, that's fine with me, in order to make sure we succeed, see. I said to the General, if you want to slow her down, fine; it's up to you.

Note that the policy decisions about Iraq have been completely delegated to a general -- yet any criticism of that general is declared off-limits. Bush's language is also strangely casual ("slow her down"), as if the general is driving a car. Or playing a video game.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Parallel diplomacy

A now traditional Friday news dump by the White House, this one executed from Kuwait City --

President George W. Bush today announced that C. Boyden Gray will serve as Special Envoy for European Union Affairs. Gray served with distinction as the United States Ambassador to the European Union from January 2006 until his appointment expired on December 31, 2007. In order that the United States may continue to benefit from his experience and expertise at a time of great importance in U.S.-EU relations, the President has asked him to serve in this new role.

Nowhere in there is the word "recess appointment": because the Senate never approved Gray's nomination as Ambassador to the EU, Bush placed him the position without Senate approval which expired with the last Congressional term. Last week saw the wheeze of keeping a recess appointee in the job as "Acting" but this even more brazen, as the "Special Envoy" tag does an end-run around the entire system of ambassadors.

Crises get special envoys, not the EU. Although with his new mandate including "promoting European understanding of the Administration's climate change policies", maybe that is a crisis.

Not for distribution at the Republican debates

AFP/Kuwait Royal Palace

On the right is whichever al-Sabah is currently the Emir of Kuwait.

Permanent government

The only question about an opening passage like this from the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) today (the usually sane, news side of the paper, article by Siobhan Gorman) is whether it'll bother Ron Paul even more than it should bother any other person waiting for January 20, 2009 --

As the presidential campaign accelerates, Homeland Security has begun an unusual -- and potentially controversial -- effort to smooth the transition to a new administration, a time in which the country has traditionally been vulnerable.

The department is already beginning to position career staffers to move into some of the key jobs held by political appointees set to depart with President Bush in January 2009. The change in power will mark the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks that the reins of government will change hands.

So whoever comes in will have people who moved up the system through 8 years of Bush sitting at security desks on the first day. And there until they can get their own people installed, which takes time.

What's the rationale? That elections are a time of vulnerability --

Transitions can be highly partisan, even childish, affairs. In 2001, staffers damaged or removed "w" keys from White House computer keyboards. Frequently, outgoing officials leave little more than empty desks for their successors, particularly when another party comes to power. That period is "an area where traditionally there's a danger," Mr. Chertoff said.

President Clinton faced the 1993 World Trade Center bombing within his first two months in office, and Sept. 11 came within President Bush's first eight months. Mr. Light estimates that half the political appointees relating to terrorism were not in place that day. The 2004 Madrid bombings and the botched car bombings in the United Kingdom last summer occurred within days of national elections.

The facts: The Madrid 11-M bombings occurred with Jose Maria Aznar's PP government still in power, and thus with zero transition in the security apparatus. And there was no election in the UK last summer. There was the transition from Blair to Brown, the only candidate to replace Blair. And the entire apparatus below the Cabinet in the UK remained unchanged (unlike in the USA, where the top civil service spots are political appointments).

But worst of all, note the free pass given to Bush. 8 months is not just after an election. It's a long time. And some of the instability was caused by Bush himself, when he dumped Clinton's anti-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan because it "wasn't part of a strategy". The phrase was ABC -- anything but Clinton.

And now it's the excuse to keep the Bush hacks sitting in homeland security into the next administration. Or else a set up to blame the next administration for "instability" if something bad does happen.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It will take 100 years

From a Multi-National Force Iraq press release reporting the capture of a senior bad guy --

[Mullah] Jasim is believed to have numerous contacts within the Iraqi Security Forces that help facilitate his operations by providing him with information on the presence of Coalition forces in an area.

Those would the same Iraqi security forces who are supposed to be taking up the burden so that US troops can "return on success". The good news is that it doesn't matter that they don't have secure communications equipment, since they're riddled with spies anyway.

First coming

George Bush in Bethlehem --

It's been a -- it's been a moving moment for me and the delegation to be here at the Church of the Nativity. For those of us who practice the Christian faith, there's really no more holy site than the place where our Savior was born.

Elementary theology question: which is the more important festival, Christmas or Easter?

Easter, because that's when Jesus rose from the dead. The miracle of the Resurrection and all that. God became human, suffered as a result, and then defeated death. The essence of the Christian faith.

It didn't happen in Bethlehem.

Wall to the left

AP Photo

In a land with a history of divine intervention, severe fog forced George Bush to change his original plan to treat the West Bank like he did Lousiana when Katrina hit -- as flyover country. Hence his 45 car motorcade en route to Ramallah got to see the road and barrier carve-up of the West Bank up close, albeit without the endless delays at checkpoints. It may actually have made an impression as Bush brought it up several times at his news conference with Mahmoud Abbas.

Don't mention the last war

John McCain and Joe Lieberman (previewing their 2008 presidential campaign stump speech?) in the Wall Street Journal --

The war for Iraq is not over. The gains we have made can be lost. But thanks to the courage of our troops, the skill and intellect of their battlefield commander, and the steadfastness of our commander in chief, we have at last begun to see the contours of what must remain our objective in this long, hard and absolutely necessary war -- victory.

That would the same commander-in-chief in charge of they call "the mismanagement of the Iraq war from 2003 to 2006". The schizophrenia about Bush encapsulates what is going to be the fatal flaw of any McCain presidential run.

Some of us are sole proprietors

Is it still a "blog", not least an eponymous one, if you have a research assistant and 4 interns in addition to oneself, as Andrew Sullivan says he has? And those interns count even if the blog is only part of their job description. One advantage of Glenn Reynolds' trademark phrases of Heh, Indeed, Jeez, and Ouch is that it's at least clear who's written every post.

UPDATE 28 JAN: For future reference, note this claim from Sully --

I write around half a million words a year on this blog. On a pain-per-word basis, books are harder. But at least there is a point at which they are over, at least in the writing. A blog never stops. The deadline is always with you. Yes, even on a Sunday evening.

FINAL UPDATE 1 FEB: Further insights into the editorial system --

The Atlantic has allowed me to have a home with real support, fellow-bloggers and writers to cavort with, wonderful editorial guidance with no editorial veto, a now full-time assistant, and a bevy of interns tracking down and highlighting a variety of new blogs, sources, and sites to mine for bloggy nuggets and insight.

THE CONFESSION: Announcing that Patrick Appel will sub for him for a week --

Patrick knows the Dish as well as anyone apart from myself, reads and catches the emails I miss, and finds some of the weirdest, smartest stuff online there is. If you keep sending him links and emails and photos, he'll keep providing as much campaign crack and other web-goodies as he can. (I'm a little nervous I'll be busted and you won't notice much of a difference, in fact).

Noted in Murdoch land

The Wall Street Journal used to have a stand-alone website,, which made available selected editorials and op-eds for free (perhaps reflecting the willingness to pay). The site is now gone and redirects to a new opinion page that will apparently make all the editorials and op-eds freely available. One wonders if this is the first step of the roll-out of a subscription free WSJ. Sadly, it probably also means that a lot of old links to the opinionjournal pages are busted. Tracking down exactly who said what during the years of Bush lunacy just got more difficult. To the webmaster's credit, it seems that the old links still work.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


In the details of the six HBIED deaths in Iraq and how the insurgents seem to have been prepared for a joint US-Iraqi military sweep --

Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, told reporters in Baghdad ..."Operational security in Iraq is a problem," he said, noting that the Iraqi army uses unsecured cell phones and radios. "I'm sure there is active leaking of communication."

With all the hundreds of billions spent, they can't provide secure communications for the Iraqi army?

The Eleanor Rigby theory of Hillary

On the day after the pundit debacle, Andrew Sullivan tries to figure out why his surfboard fell off the Obama wave --

There may well have been something about Clinton implying that she was an older woman who was being passed over by a less experienced man for a job. That may well have resonated with some women, especially after she seemed actually human in the last two days.

As a bit of amateur pop sociology, fine. But remember who this is coming from. His hero, Mrs T, famously said that "There's no such thing as society". Politics is supposed to be about high Burkean principles of time-tested institutions interacting with a rational populace. We're not supposed to be playing identity politics. Everyone's an individual who can't be slotted into simple group categories.

But all of a sudden, Hillary's base becomes the spinsters (in John Derbyshire's words), seething with resentment about life and work. When in fact it's Sullivan that seethes with resentment ("She is the Bush of the Democrats") about Clinton.

UPDATE 11 JANUARY: A later post provides a nice example of Sully's self-styled philosophy of political analysis --

My libertarian-conservative approach to gay politics was laid out in Virtually Normal. It's one reason I don't fit in with the Human Rights Campaign people either. I'm happy to live my life, and let others live theirs'. I don't want or need the government to love me, make me feel better or tell me how to live. My deep difference with Hillary Clinton is precisely this. In my view, it takes an individual.

"It takes an individual" -- except when he's invented a whole category of voters to explain why the hated Hillary wins elections.

[post title changed to more standard but less Google-ranked Beatles reference]

Seamless transfer

Expecting that George Bush's visit to Israel would feature a dogwhistle "gaffe" in which Jerusalem would be formally treated as the capital city (which no country recognises until the city's final status is resolved), the first press release from his trip is intriguingly titled --

President Bush Arrives in Jerusalem
Ben Gurion International Airport
Tel Aviv, Israel

Which leaves open the possibility that they've up with some trickery whereby when one arrives in Tel Aviv, the officially recognised capital, it's actually an arrival in Jerusalem.

New Hampshire says no

Andrew Sullivan, who like much of the media establishment had written off Hillary Clinton, has a theory for why the polls were so wrong --

They [voters] may have told the pollsters one thing about voting for a black man, but in the privacy of the voting booth, something else happens.

It's amazing how quickly people who were proclaiming the end of identity politics with Obama reach for such unreconstructed explanations when it all goes wrong. If poll responders were picking up any media narrative in the last week, it was not that they had to vote for the black guy, but that it was silly to vote for the harpie Hillary who only got where she was because of Bill and everyone was sick of 1990s anyway.

But when they got their ballot paper, the person with the experience and the ruthlessness to win looked a lot better.

UPDATE: The issue of unreliable polling gets a more balanced consideration from the Washington Post, but one underlying issue -- the media establishment's hatred of Hillary Clinton, shown by Maureen Dowd's column today, is not mentioned.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Talk to Bertie

The New York Times on the tricky issues with Nicolas Sarkozy bringing his apparent fiance but not wife on international visits --

With Mr. Sarkozy set to visit India in two and a half weeks, some of the news media there are predicting a protocol crisis if Ms. Bruni goes along. “The top model cannot receive the same consideration as the president because a girlfriend is not treated like a wife,” the daily newspaper Indian Express quoted an anonymous Foreign Affairs Ministry official as saying.

In fact there is a protocol crisis with Saudi Arabia brewing sooner than that --

The Saudi diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Sarkozy should leave Bruni behind for "religious reasons" when he visits the kingdom on Sunday.

One thing that Sarko should know is that the expert on official visits with a non-spouse companion is Bertie Ahern, from his time with Celia Larkin as his "life partner". Even if Bertie can't provide tips on which countries are OK with it, he could always offer an official visit to Ireland to the happy couple.

The kingdom, the power, and the glory

Taking the cult of Bush to new heights ("Bush of Arabia"), at least for someone who should know better, just one sentence from Fouad Ajami in the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link) --

In his stoic acceptance of the burdens after 9/11, we were offered a reminder of how nations shelter behind leaders willing to take on great challenges.

And yes, that's the actual illustration with the article [UPDATE 16 DEC 2008: it gets reused!].

And yes, we're probably doing too much Wall Street Journal blogging. But the post-Bush political landscape seems to be driving them nuts.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Holy war

Terminology from Multi-National Force Iraq --

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Multi-National Force-Iraq condemns the attacks today by al-Qaeda Iraq (AQI) against the Sunni Endowment and Concerned Local Citizens. The barbaric nature of AQI continues to find new depths of depravity in killing courageous Iraqi citizens who reject the terrorists and their Taliban ideology.

The brave Iraqi martyrs killed today sought to bring security to families and neighborhoods that had been hijacked and tormented by AQI’s indiscriminate violence.

Two things. AQI is being branded as a Taliban organization. Also, the dead Iraqis who worked with the US military are now martyrs. The word which already has religious overtones in English will have them even moreso in Arabic since it will translate as shahid. While it makes sense for the Iraqi government to do this, it's surely a risky move for the US military to get drawn into religious interpretations of casualties.


The following is currently posted at National Review's The Corner --

Katyushas, from guess where [Noah Pollak]

The long-range Katyusha missile that last week was fired from Gaza and landed over 10 miles inside of Israel was made — you'll never guess — in Iran: [text of news story]

One weird thing. He changed the title of the post without acknowledgment. It used to be called "Nukes, from guess where".

Faraway country of which he knows nothing

National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru relates an incident on board the John McCain bus, the Straight Talk (sic) Express (sic) --

I asked whether Middle Easterners might react negatively to his speculation that we could stay in Iraq for 100 years. He got a little testy. “I have never heard of an uprising of Kuwaitis, have you?”

A little Googling of Kuwait --

(CNN) -- Kuwait's parliament has confirmed Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah as its new emir, ending the political crisis that erupted after the parliament removed Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah last week for health reasons.

The 50 members of the parliament, along with the 14 members of the cabinet -- excluding the 77-year-old al-Sabah, who is the prime minister -- voted unanimously on Sunday.

Parliament voted Tuesday to remove the ailing Saad, 75, who came to power briefly after the recent death of the country's long-ruling emir. The cabinet then recommended al-Sabah for the position.

Kuwait (like Bahrain) has real politics in which public unrest bubbles up right to the top. It would be a primary candidate for attitudes towards a long-term American occupation in the region to sour -- which would be another remarkable achievement for George W. Bush, given the esteem with which his father and the 1991 liberation is held in Kuwait. But as Bush discovering, by the end, you've alienated everybody.

One third of a lot is still a lot

Michael O'Hanlon, Iraq surge enthusiast, tells Wall Street Journal readers (subs. req'd) that Barack Obama is being too partisan about Iraq --

Strategically, it makes little sense to rush for the exits in Iraq when violence has declined by two-thirds over the last year -- a remarkable accomplishment that Mr. Obama belittled in Manchester, N.H., during the Democratic debate on Saturday when he claimed that such a development only brought Iraq back to 2006 levels of lethality (which is probably not true).

Above, the most recent charts from Multi-National Force Iraq which clearly show that all the surge has done is reduce violence back to its, er, January 2006 level. That's just under 600 attacks a week, and a lot of dead people. O'Hanlon does allow that Obama has "a melodic message of hope", though.

UPDATE: There's an extra line to O'Hanlon's bio for the article -- Mr. O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He advised Hillary Clinton until last summer, when his support for the surge led to a cutting of ties by mutual consent.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


There's a strange attempt by various people to brand one future path of the Republican party as similar to Christian Democratic parties in continental Europe. Some of the people pushing this, like George Bush's former speechwriter Michael Gerson, embrace the supposed characteristics of Christian Democracy -- a market economy but with a substantial safety net and Christian values as an animating source of policy -- as something that the post-Bush Republican party should embrace. Others, clearly alarmed by the rise of Mike Huckabee in the primaries, use the term as a pejorative for the direction in which he would take the party.

The latest round in the debate comes from the pejorative side, in Saturday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link) by Henry Olsen of the American Enterprise Institute (a set of institutions that nicely captures the nervous custodians of Bush Republicanism). Here's one bit of his context-setting --

While virtually no one on the American right explicitly calls for the adoption of Christian Democracy, others besides Mr. Huckabee admire and advocate similar principles. For example, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's book, "It Takes a Family," echoed the Christian Democratic emphasis on placing the health of the family ahead of the health of the economy as a political principle.

The mention of Santorum is interesting because the European politician with whom Santorum has most eagerly pursued a collaborative enterprise is Iain Duncan-Smith, whose brand of Tory Catholicism is a very different animal from continental Christian Democracy. In particular, it's more conservative economically and socially than what you'd find on the Continent, although also more pragmatic than Santorum-type conservatism (as Margaret Thatcher was) about the laws that 1960s and 1970s social liberalisation had left on the books.

But anyway, the crux of Olsen's analysis is a comparison of the economic and social outcomes of the USA under 4 European predominantly CD-governed countries. This ends up being a strange group, especially when one is trying to attribute the nature of government as the sole determinant of these outcomes --

Every country which has been primarily governed by Christian Democrats since World War II (Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands) is poorer than the United States, with substantially higher unemployment rates and slower economic growth. The differences aren't even close.

The per capita, purchasing-power-adjusted GDP of the richest of these countries--Holland--is 15% lower than that of the U.S. The GDP of every other country is at least 20% lower. The U.S. unemployment rate in 2006 was 4.6%; the average of the Christian Democratic four was over 7%, and it was that low only because the Netherlands diverts many of its unemployed to a disability program that enrolls nearly 10% of the workforce.

Incomes are more equally distributed: America's Gini coefficient, a widely used measure of income inequality, is much higher than in any of these countries. But that is simply the flip side of the other statistics. Christian Democratic countries choose lower incomes and higher unemployment as the price for their commitment to social welfare.

But these countries also fare worse on common measures of family well-being. German and Belgian divorce rates are higher than those in America, and the Netherlands' rate is roughly comparable. The 2005 out-of-wedlock birth rate was slightly lower in Germany (29%) than the U.S. (37%), but it was higher in Belgium (49%) and about the same in the Netherlands (35%). The overall birth rate in the U.S. is about 2.1 children per woman in her lifetime, about the level needed to keep the population stable. None of the Christian Democrat countries come close to that; Italy's is a meager 1.2.

It is not the case that Christian Democrat-led countries fare better at sustaining faith. According to a 2006 Harris poll, 73% of Americans believe in God. Similar polls taken in 2005 and 2006 show only 62% of Italians, 43% of Belgians, 41% of Germans and 34% of Dutch believe. A 2003 Harris poll found that 44% of Americans attend religious services at least once a week. According to the 2004 European Social Survey, fewer than 15% of Dutch and Belgians, and 10% of Germans, attend services that frequently.

But you could just as easily take other European countries outside the 4 and generate similar findings. Parties are as much as a consequence as a cause of social preferences and there is a common European aspect to those preferences. This issue comes to the fore when Olsen is trying to explain the electoral dynamics of CD governments --

Christian Democratic victories, which are largely due to Europe's proportional-representation electoral systems. The most successful parties win between 25% and 40% of the vote and form a government because a majority coalition cannot be formed without them.

But America's first-past-the-post system encourages factions to combine into a single party so that they are likelier to get over 50% of the vote, a level of support that an American Christian Democratic party is unlikely to attain.

So he's trying to have it both ways: attributing the outcomes to the fact of having CD governments, but then saying that we only get CD governments because they have to form coalitions with other parties. It's in those coalition compromises that key policies will be determined, making it much harder to see a distinctive CD component to them. Trying to map that very different process into the US system requires too many strained analogies to be workable. At least as a blog post.

The problem of American politics in microcosm

It's not just the politicians. It's the pundits. ABC's Charlie Gibson (who is almost certainly on an upper 6 figure if not 7 figure salary) -- moderating the Democratic debate on the campus of St Anselm's college -- thinks that professors at a small college in New Hampshire, or public school teachers in New York City, make $100,000 a year and are among the people who gain the most from George Bush's tax cuts.

UPDATE: Commenters at Atrios point out that Gibson went to Princeton and is on its Board of Trustees, which explains, if not justifies, his assumption about the earnings of college professors.

FINAL UPDATE: The exact quote --

SEN. CLINTON: Yeah, but Charlie, the tax cuts on the wealthiest of Americans, not the middle-class tax cuts. One of the problems with George Bush's tax policy has been the way he has tilted it toward the wealthy and the well-connected.
GIBSON: If you take a family of -- if you take a family of two professors here at Saint Anselm, they're going to be in the $200,000 category that you're talking about lifting the taxes on. And -- (laughter).
EDWARDS: I don't think they agree with you.
SEN. OBAMA: I'm not sure that that's -- (laughter) --
SEN. CLINTON: That may be NYU, Charlie.
I don't think it's -- (laughter) -- Saint Anselm.
GIBSON: Two public school teachers in New York? (Laughter.)
But that is -- you're in a situation where you're taking money out of the economy is what I'm saying.

It's important to note that much of the laughter was coming from the audience.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Colonised by wankers

In Saturday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link), the man who got into military history to make excuses for George W. Bush, Max Boot, argues that George W. Bush is wasting his time on the Israel-Palestine crisis because they've only been fighting since 1948 whereas the English and the Scots fought from 1296-1745 so there's still centuries to go in the former struggle.

That's really the argument:

Scotland was too small and poor to defeat England. And English monarchs lacked the resources or the will to pacify the prickly Scots. So the war ground on, century after century, interrupted occasionally by truces and treaties.

The accession of a Scottish monarch to the throne of England in 1603 as King James I might have been expected to end the strife. Yet the two realms clashed again during the English Civil War in the 1640s. The conflict did not truly end until 1745, when a revolt by mainly Scottish supporters of the Stuarts (descendants of James I), was put down -- 449 years after the start of Anglo-Scottish hostilities.

It is instructive to contemplate the virulence and length of the English struggles with the Scots (and also the similar, more recent battles with the Irish), given that their cultural and religious differences are trivial compared to those separating Israelis and Arabs. Attempts to end such conflicts before both sides are thoroughly exhausted are likely to have no more success than the Treaty of Northampton, which was supposed to end the Anglo-Scottish dispute in 1328. The only exception is if outside powers commit massive military force to bring peace, as happened in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. But that's unlikely to happen in the Holy Land.

Put aside minor issues such as the misdating of the battle of Culloden (it was 1746). What kind of historian pulls out one strand of the very complex history of the UK and argues that it's informative about the likely timeline of a current crisis? At the very least, some of the themes have to be gotten right. So for example it will come as news to many Scots that they always shared a common language and religion with their English foes -- especially the notion that kirk Presbyterianism and the Anglican Church had "trivial" differences. It will come as news to the Irish that their conflict with England came after the Scottish wars. Tell that to the people at 1169 and counting. And he somehow manages to tell a quick history of the 17th century without ever mentioning the word "Catholic".

The underlying fact is that the neocons are not at all keen about Bush's peace initiative, as half-hearted and late as it is. So it's useful to portray the conflict as irreconcilable. But there's no reason to think that some combination of security gains already achieved by Israel coupled with mitigation of the some of the major grievances of the Palestinians (e.g. settlement activity and destruction of civilian infrastructure) would get things down well below a level of violence that the neocons are quite willing to accept as par for the course in Iraq.

It's funny that Boot has the headline Of Braveheart and Bush, since Braveheart does about as a good job of actual history as Boot does.

Mashreq over Maghreb

White House photo by David Bohrer

Another George Bush overseas visit beckons, and with it another round of pre-visit interviews for the furrin media. And so we learn --

My friend, King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia doesn't get enough credit for beginning to reform his society.

which presumably means that it's churlish of people to complain that the pardon of the Qatif woman was not enough when the laws under which she was convicted are still on the books. Not to mention all those bloggers whining about that blogger that the Saudis are detaining.

But anyway, it wouldn't be a Bush interview without a comedy portion, so --

Q -- Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Those countries actually played a very important role in the peace process in the past and I think that they are willing to do it again. And my question, Mr. President, if there is any reason for excluding the Maghreb Arab from your visit?

THE PRESIDENT: Only because I ran out of time. It's certainly not as a result of any lack of respect or understanding that the contribution of those -- of that area would be a significant contribution to achieving peace. And I appreciate very much the leadership in the King of Morocco, as well as President Bouteflika. I'd like to go sometime; I just -- I don't want to make excuses, but I will. I've got to prepare the State of the Union address. (Laughter.) And so I'm leaving for a lengthy period of time, and need to get back home.

And having said that, one of my great trips as a civilian -- I guess you'd call me a civilian -- non-President, non-political figure -- was when I went to Morocco. I had the great pleasure of going to Marakesh, for example, and I'll never forget drinking crushed almond milk, and enjoyed the wonders of the desert, and then was able to see snow-capped mountains shortly in the distance, in the short distance. And so it's -- I threw snowballs in Morocco one time in the Atlas mountain range. So I had a wonderful experience there. Not to be kind of nostalgic, looking back, but -- you know, it's interesting -- for example, there are a lot of Moroccan Jews in Israel.
Q And in Morocco also.
Q And in Morocco.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, and in Morocco, which provides the King an interesting opportunity to be a healer and a unifier. And I believe he's committed to that. So I view these three countries as important, and I am -- wish I could have gone, but I was unable to do so.

It's not clear whether he expected the Moroccan reporter to be more impressed with his reprise of the tourist sites in Morocco (and gossipers may wonder what else he did in Marrakesh) or with his Jewish population factoids.

One good thing about all the candidates to be the president after 2009 is that none of them would be so transparently dependent on bullet points from briefing books.