Thursday, February 28, 2008

Loose lips

It's time for America's "aid and comfort to the enemy" patrol to censure Matt Drudge for leaking the news of Prince Harry's deployment in Afghanistan. Note that Drudge seems to be especially implicated because the previous leak, via Australia, never got any traction.

Less than 5 years would be good

One hopes that US Defence Secretary Bob Gates is aware of the irony even if George Bush is not --

"I think they got our message," Gates told reporters after his talks with Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other leaders, including the president and the minister of defense.

Still, Gates said Turkish officials did not discuss any deadline and he said he did not know if they will end the operation in a week as he's asked.

"I stand by where I've been on this. And that is that they should wrap this thing up as soon as they can," Gates said, noting his meetings with Turkish officials did not change his mind.

President Bush, asked about the situation at a White House news conference Thursday, made a similar point.

"It should not be long-lasting," Bush said. "The Turks need to move, move quickly, achieve their objective and get out."

Because of course in the US political context, a timetable for leaving Iraq is surrender to the terrorists, and "the objective" is so open ended as to facilitate that 100 year presence that John McCain says he wants.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A pressing engagement?

Bill Clinton is coming to Ireland for the 10th anniversary observance of the Good Friday Agreement. That will be around 10 April (the religious calendar is very early this year). One wonders if Hillary will come. If she's still in the race, the last big primary will be in Pennsylvania on the 22nd. Conversely, will Bill want to risk being away too long in the heat of a race in a state in which he is popular?

On the other hand, it just might be that April 2008 will be the swansong of those who are still around from the 1998 deal, and very much in love with their collective involvement in it. Even by the personality cult standards of Fianna Fail, Bertie Ahern may finally have worn out his welcome, notwithstanding his ambition to be around as Taoiseach till 2012, unless he's already vaulted into the EU Council Presidency by then. His planned address to the US Congress on 30 April could be a valedictory speech.

By then, it will also likely be clear whether Bill is back in the White House from January 2009 -- with signs increasingly indicating not. So what might have looked like an interregnum in the era of Bertie/Bill backslapping may in fact be a farewell for both of them.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Partial truth

Dick "The Snarl" Cheney, in Texas --

And in the struggle against terror, no country has more battlefield deaths, or lost more civilians, than Iraq itself.

While being rare for Cheney -- a true statement -- it only highlights that the main victims of the war on terror were never consulted on the decision to designate their country as the central front in the war on terror. It's strange to be talking about the great benefits that democracy will bring to Iraq when that most important choice is off-limits.

The real World Series

It's understandable that people in Hollywood might be doing a little headscratching at furriners making off with all the Oscars. But it's actually a sign of the centrality of the USA to the global film market. Once is an interesting example. It couldn't have succceeded without the American market. Lest people in America think that there's a rich undiscovered film culture in Ireland -- there isn't [Irish Times, subs. req'd]:

Despite winning the prestigious audience prize at the Sundance film festival and enjoying critical and commercial success in the United States, Once only received a limited distribution when it was released here last March and it did not feature in the top 100 box-office films in Ireland in 2007.

Thus the Irish film market is not like the French film market, where people do flock to see the home-grown product that also does well internationally. People flock to see the same international shite as everyone else.

And even if they did support the occasional local gem, the size of the Irish market would be too small to justify the expense of a big home-grown industry. Ireland had 2 Oscars and a 3rd nominee (Saoirse Ronan) the other night. It did it by having talented actors get roles in a global business and by having talented people string together a film with not much in the way of budget or equipment. But it worked because enough Americans saw and liked the films. And gave them awards. The system works.

He sure loves the number 5

Straight Talking MaverickTM John McCain has a new index of progress in Iraq --

He said Monday that his close friend and supporter Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, had just returned from Iraq, where he flew over Baghdad and counted “50 soccer games going on.”

A previous Lindsey Graham trip had seen him exult over getting "5 rugs for 5 bucks". But surely all the military sleuths out there have some work to do on this one. Having time to count 50 soccer matches means helicopter, not airplane transport. Is Baghdad airspace safe enough for a helicopter to hang around long enough to count to 50? Or was he in one of those Blackwater helicopters that every so often likes to rake the traffic below with machine gun fire just to keep everyone in line? It's time for some straight talk, my friends.

Monday, February 25, 2008

In the same way that Bond villain explains evil plan

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino --

There is an old rhetorical tactic in Washington: you repeat something often enough, regardless of whether it's true, and hope people will start to believe it.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Rise of the Machines

With Cindy McCain proving that T-X survived that run-in with Arnie, we're in bigger trouble than we thought.

More McCain photo captioning here

More gruel

Perhaps this is the reason that Jonah Goldberg never gets around to classifying George W. Bush as a fascist despite seeing fascism just about everywhere else in America: that Bush's government is so incompetent that he's helped make the argument for less government, and thus, by Goldberg's definition, less fascism. It was actually Glenn Beck making the running with this argument but Goldberg showed no sign of disagreeing it when he was on the show hoping to move some copies of his book --

BECK: Well, just last week they were talking about -- what was it? -- the trailers for Katrina victims.
GOLDBERG: Right, right.
BECK: They have them all in -- and they`re trying to get them out because the air has formaldehyde in it and, you know, people are getting sick, and they said the government is not telling us the truth. They`re telling us it`s no big deal. They`ve been -- they`ve been passing this off.
And I thought to myself, this is a government program. Here it is. This is the way it works. And yet, people still want that nanny state.
BECK: It`s only going to get worse when they control everything.
GOLDBERG: Right, right. And it`s -- you know, what is the old proverb about, you know, if you`re digging -- the sign of insanity is you`re digging a hole and you keep digging to get out of it, you know?

It's interesting that neither of them have any real understanding of why downtrodden people want the government's help. It's also interesting that they ever trusted the government to run a complicated war in Iraq.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Occasional RTE Eurosong liveblogging

Will the Serbian people in their current mood vote for a song called "Double Cross My Heart"?

"Give us another chance/We're sorry for Riverdance". Brilliant. [added: Link to Dustin's performance of Irelande (sic) douze points]

An Irish entry from a Slovenian? The Serbs will love that. Song is too much "My heart will go on" anyway.

4th song has a little of that white soul about it. Amy/Joss etc. Her mother hemmed the dress.

Act 5. Best quality on backing instruments. But not much else going on.

Act 6. Is that the Hill Street Blues soundtrack? And he can't hit the high notes. God -- how bad was it in rehearsal?

We'll be back later with the result. Prediction: Assuming that the Dustin vote doesn't swamp the others, Act 1 has the best chance of being a decent competitor in Belgrade -- it has the right amount of eurotrash quotient.

UPDATE: We got pulled away from liveblogging the result show but Maman Poulet had it covered. So it's Dustin. Prediction (and so much for our previous prediction): Eurovision will disqualify him on the grounds that he is not a person.

[link to event; squid is also liveblogging with pictures; see also Maman Poulet]

Presidential Undies

From a New York Times account of Bob Geldof's journey with George Bush on his recent African trip --

There was, for instance, the flight on Air Force One. Not in the crowded press cabin in the back, mind you, but up front in presidential splendor. There, by Mr. Geldof’s account, he and the president swapped stories about life on the road (Mr. Geldof was particularly interested in how the White House handles presidential laundry) and talked policy.

Unfortunately, Bob was probably sworn to secrecy on the answer.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A popinjay writes

Of all the sages who've noted that Balkan wars can get very messy, Chistopher Hitchens approvingly cites ... Leon Trotsky.

Friday lookalikes

Add more of a moustache, and it's a bit odd how embattled Prince Alois of Liechtenstein (reeling from the exposure of large scale German tax evasion in his principality) resembles his fellow hereditary ruler, Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

AP Photo/Keystone, Arno Balzarini

The 2004 road not taken

AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici

So the man who didn't get elected President in 2004 manages to be in Pakistan for a crucial election, survives an emergency helicopter landing in Afghanistan while checking up on the very fragile central front in the war on al-Qaeda, and gets a meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister on the day that Turkey launches a full-scale ground invasion of northern Iraq. Senator John Kerry above, with his colleagues Joe Biden and Chuck Hagel. Not many George Bush fans there.

Meanwhile, George Bush, where is he? Sleeping off the jet lag after the flight from Liberia. The Swiftboaters must be so happy.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gamekeeper turned poacher

One topic in Straight Talking MaverickTM John McCain's news conference this morning besides the links to lobbyists was his apparent dodge around the public campaign finance law, in which he gave himself a "heads I win, tails the public loses" method of financing his primary campaign. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is saying that the tails part of that strategy locked him into the public financing system even if the coin showed heads.

As part of his proof that the FEC was wrong, McCain cited the fact that a former FEC official helped him design the strategy. Which is just one example of what appears to be a general philosophy that "good people" like him by definition can't do anything wrong. Which sounds a lot like George Bush.

Nobody could have foreseen ...

... that the Blarney Stone might be a load of blarney.

Shannon Stopover

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said that "the great George Bush" assured him that no rendition flights had used or would use Shannon airport for the extra-judicial transfer of prisoners. Tony Blair's government had claimed similar assurances and only cited evidence of pre 9/11 transfers that might have used British facilities.

The claim about British facilities now turns out to be false --

CIA Director Michael Hayden told agency employees in a message Thursday that information previously provided to the British "turned out to be wrong."

The spy agency reviewed rendition records late last year and discovered that in 2002 the CIA had in fact refueled two separate planes carrying two alleged terrorists on Diego Garcia, a British island territory in the Indian Ocean.

Diego Garcia is a disgrace all of its own, since the natives were kicked off the island to make room for the base. But anyway, if a plane needed to refuel in Diego Garcia en route to or from the USA, it had to have needed to refuel somewhere else as well. So the Shannon question comes back.

It's St Patrick's Day in less than a month. Bertie will be in America. It will be during Holy Week. If ever there was a time for confession and atonement, this might be it.

UPDATE: In a press briefing, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack comes very close to implying that the US has something more than an informal arrangement but less than a treaty with the UK about the use of military bases for rendition flights. How much less than a treaty? Is George Bush again entering into quasi-treaties without Senate advice and consent?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The highest form of praise

At some point, charges of plagiarism get silly. Rare is a direct lifting of one person's paragraphs, word for word, and presentation as one's own, although there are politicians who'll try that. But when ideas travel as swiftly as they do now, there's a much vaguer line as to when borrowing gets a bit too liberal. So maybe Barack Obama was a tad proprietorial about stuff that belongs to Deval Patrick. But here's Hillary, having levied the charge against Obama, speaking to her own supporters today --

Others might be joining a movement, but I’m joining you on the night shift.

Nicolas Sarkozy had a clever slogan when he was running for President last year: that he was the candidate for "the France that gets up early". Clever because it cut into the perception of the Socialists as the presumed candidate of the working class. Indeed, Sarkozy's whole campaign is a case study in how to get elected when the voters aren't even sure they like you that much, although if the voters knew then what they know now, maybe that feat would have been impossible.

Of course, Hillary's catchphrase differs quite a bit from Sarko's, and there's no evidence that she or her campaign team knew of his before coming up with hers. But ideas get around -- especially ideas for a candidate whom the voters may not especially like when up against a more glamorous alternative. If there are going to be plagiarism hunts, someone should ask Hillary's team where that sentence came from.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Somewhere, a man leans back and laughs

Not that the ref needed reminding, but Liverpool's Fernando Torres notes that it was Marco Materazzi's second bookable offence, and so he was off.

Materazzi's aggrieved look doesn't quite reach the feats of his stellar acting job following the Zidane head-butt.

And, unlike that earlier game, Materazzi's team lost this time.

AP Photo/Paul Thomas

Monday, February 18, 2008

We are all war-Keynesians now

George Bush on NBC's Today --

I think actually the spending on the war might help with jobs. Because we're buying equipment and people are working. I think this economy is down because we built too many houses.

Among the ironies of this analysis is that it never appears when he is attributing the strength of the economy to his deficit-financed tax-cuts.

Note: the quote is in the video, not in NBC's reporting of the interview. Hopefully there will be a transcript soon.

When good writers turn cranky

William Kristol says "Democrats Should Read Kipling".

From the same essay which Kristol draws Orwell's praise of Kipling, at least in terms of one virtue, he sets up his analogy --

If I may vulgarize the implications of Orwell’s argument a bit: substitute Republicans for Kipling and Democrats for the opposition, and you have a good synopsis of the current state of American politics.

OK, let's substitute Republicans for Kipling and read the whole thing --

It is no use pretending that Kipling's view of life, as a whole, can be accepted or even forgiven by any civilized person. It is no use claiming, for instance, that when Kipling describes a British soldier beating a "nigger" with a cleaning rod in order to get money out of him, he is acting merely as a reporter and does not necessarily approve what he describes. There is not the slightest sign anywhere in Kipling's work that he disapproves of that kind of conduct — on the contrary, there is a definite strain of sadism in him, over and above the brutality which a writer of that type has to have. Kipling is a jingo imperialist, he is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting. It is better to start by admitting that, and then to try to find out why it is that he survives while the refined people who have sniggered at him seem to wear so badly.

Indeed. Kristol's real attraction is probably not based on the above quote, which he selectively excerpts, but Orwell's later reference to "pansy-left circles", because this was the increasingly curmudgeonly and, yes, reactionary, Orwell.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Intimations of political mortality

One more note about George Bush in Tanzania. One of those moments where things that he's in denial about briefly break through. Such as how his time is passing --

[reporter] And then to President Kikwete, I'd like to ask you about American politics. There seems to be a lot of excitement here in Africa, and in your country about Barack Obama. And I wonder what you think it says about America, that we might elect a black President with roots in Africa?

PRESIDENT BUSH: It seemed like there was a lot of excitement for me, wait a minute. (Laughter.) Maybe you missed it.

Safe Distance

With Air Force 1 doing its one day stints in various African countries, a rare music video plug (for this blog): John Legend's "Show Me". One perspective on what flashy jet planes mean to poverty-stricken Africans.

Of that ilk

An interesting surname of the person who will have a fair bit of the responsibility for salvaging something out of Northern Rock --

[statement from Alistair Darling] I will also appoint Ann Godbehere, former Financial Officer at Swiss Re, as Chief Financial Officer.

Small nations

One of the schizophrenic elements of Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia today is evident above. The popular perception, signalled by the flags in the streets, is that the US is their main patron -- which also made Albania one the few places outside of sub-Saharan Africa that George Bush can visit.

Leave aside that Kosovo was Bill Clinton's operation, which Republicans at the time opposed. The new official Kosovo flag, shown in parliament above, is an obvious nod at the European Union. Because the country will in effect be a protectorate of the EU -- not the USA -- for a long time. The flag thus represents a greater realism than the streets.

Photos: AFP and AP

Big in Dar es Salaam

Dimly aware of how negatively his legacy will be viewed, George Bush and his supporters are emphasizing his achievements in Africa. Sometimes this requires attributing to him initiatives that were undertaken by others. Here's Powerline's Deacon --

The Bush Administration also expanded trade with Africa by opening the U.S. market through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Under this Act, many African goods receive zero-tariff access to the U.S. market.

His source is a Heritage Foundation issues brief --

Seizing on another powerful anti-poverty tool, the Bush Administration has expanded trade with Africa by opening the U.S. market through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

Now for a fact --

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was signed into law on May 18, 2000 as Title 1 of The Trade and Development Act of 2000.

When Bill Clinton was President. The miracle is that Bush didn't take his usual "anything but Clinton" approach (as with e.g. Israel-Palestine, al-Qaeda) and did in fact expand AGOA through subsequent legislation.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

That new Iraq policy in full

George Bush --

"You've got resources -- we want them, we'll exploit them and leave behind"

Actually it's Bush explaining what he says is not his policy in sub-Saharan Africa.

He also has what he says is a national security motivation for his aid policies in Africa --

Secondly, there are two reasons why. Now, one, conditions of life overseas matters to the security of the United States. In other words, if there's hopelessness, then it's liable that extremists who are recruiting people to create havoc not only in their respective countries or neighborhoods, but also in our country -- if there's hopelessness, they have a better chance to recruit. So it's in our national security interest, Edwin, that we deal with the conditions that enable ideologues -- the ideologues of hate to recruit.

But in fact this is the logic (poverty=terrorism) that enrages right-wingers when it's someone other than Bush outlining it. It also doesn't explain why Africa is not a global exporter of terrorism. Nor why post-invasion Iraq could be.

Good luck with that

George Bush departs for his visit to Africa, despite having warned earlier in the day --

And this bill comes to the House of Representatives and it was blocked. And by blocking this piece of legislation our country is more in danger of an attack.

Hopefully, My Pet Goat is included in the Air Force 1 reading material.

Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Friday, February 15, 2008

Working theory

Powerline's "Trunk", in the course of trying to tar Hillary Clinton with the Syrian brush, notes this Israeli news item about the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh; note that the Israeli report is itself sourced to newspapers in Kuwait, but let's do what "Trunk" is trying to do and take it at face value --

A Kuwaiti newspaper reports that Hizbullah terrorist chief Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in a car-bomb attack in Damascus on Tuesday, was in the midst of planning major terrorist attacks in moderate Arab countries when he was killed.

Al-Watan reports that American intelligence had learned that Mughniyeh arrived in Damascus three days earlier with instructions from, and in coordination with, the Iranians. His objective was to meet with Hizbullah leaders and coordinate a mass attack, for which he was to receive help from Syrian intelligence.

Another Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Siasa, reports that Mughniyeh took part, shortly before he was killed, in a secret meeting in the Iranian School in Damascus. Also participating in the meeting were Syrian Intelligence Chief Gen. Aisaf Shwackath, Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, and an Islamic Jihad representative.

So he was in a "secret" meeting that it seems only Syrian and Iranian intelligence knew about, and right afterwards he was dead. If this incident was being investigated by actual police, it's obvious where their suspect list would start. The last people who saw the deceased alive.

Pope Benedict in new "war criminal" association shock

White House --

President and Mrs. Bush will welcome His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the White House on April 16, 2008, during his first visit to the United States as Pope. The President and the Holy Father will continue discussions, which they began during the President's visit to the Vatican in June 2007, on their common commitment to the importance of faith and reason in reaching shared goals. These goals include advancing peace throughout the Middle East and other troubled regions, promoting inter-faith understanding, and strengthening human rights and freedom, especially religious liberty, around the world.

Hopefully the Pope's staff have been track of the recent revelations regarding waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques".

Olympic boycotts

George Bush to BBC's Matt Frei today

Frei: Yesterday, Steven Spielberg - the Hollywood director - pulled out of the Beijing Olympics over Darfur. He said the Chinese aren't doing enough to stop the killing in Darfur. Do you applaud his move?

Mr Bush: That's up to him. I'm going to the Olympics. I view the Olympics as a sporting event. On the other hand, I have a little different platform than Steven Spielberg so, I get to talk to President Hu Jintao. And I do remind him that he can do more to relieve the suffering in Darfur. There's a lot of issues that I suspect people are gonna, you know, opine, about during the Olympics. I mean, you got the Dali Lama crowd. You've got global warming folks. You've got, you know, Darfur and... I am not gonna you know, go and use the Olympics as an opportunity to express my opinions to the Chinese people in a public way 'cause I do it all the time with the president. I mean. So, people are gonna be able to choose - pick and choose how they view the Olympics.

Which, besides sounding like the easy way out, is not in that Reagan tradition that every Republican always says they're a part of. Reagan supported Jimmy Carter's boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

UPDATE: Here's more on Reagan's rationale (and note the plus ça change aspect in the questioner) --

May 14, 1984, Q&A with reporters --

Andrea [Andrea Mitchell, NBC News]? And then I'll come across -- --

Q. Mr. President, you have said in the past -- in 1980 you said that you supported the boycott. This year, you're saying that politics have no place in an Olympic boycott. Why have you changed your position?

The President. Well, let's remember the different situation. The Soviets have now announced that they are not going to come because they don't believe that we can offer protection to their athletes. And, as I say, we have been given -- we've given them chapter and verse on what we have done, and there had never been anything like it.

Now, in 1980, the reason for the boycott that was given by the then administration was because the Soviets had invaded -- openly invaded with their own forces -- a neighboring country, Afghanistan, that hadn't done any thing to them or lifted a finger against them.

I think this was a completely different situation. It is true, however, that I went through several stages of thinking then. It wasn't just an automatic accepting of the politicizing of that. I was as angry as anyone, I'm sure, as we all were, and as disapproving of the invasion of Afghanistan -- and still am. But at the time, I did voice a question as to -- I questioned our government setting a precedent of denying the right of our own citizens to leave our borders and go someplace else.

I then thought in terms of shouldn't this decision be made by the free American citizens, the Olympic Committee, the athletes themselves? I went through a stage of thinking in which I said it wasn't so much of their not participating as, I said, shouldn't we -- since the Olympics traditionally were born in and exist on the basis of trying to provide peace between nations -- they, the host nation, having done what they did, should we not consider removing the Olympics from that country and staging them someplace else? And from that I went to exploring what so many have and are exploring now: possibly having the Olympics from now on be in the home of their origin, Greece, and not have them move around the world.

Of course, this exchange caught Reagan when the 1980 boycott had come back to bite the USA, in the boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

[Text above found in the Reagan speech archive at the University of Texas; photo showing Bush when he was one of the "Dali Lama" crowd]

Thursday, February 14, 2008

If I call them terrorists, anything is legal

George Bush gave an interview to the BBC. Only his second during his Presidency, and probably his last. Matt Frei didn't quite go the Carole Coleman route but he did some catch Bush off-guard a few times, since Bush seems less well-prepared than usual. Particularly incoherent is Bush's rationale for why he'll veto the bill that restricts the CIA to interrogation techniques that the military can use:

Frei: The Senate yesterday passed a bill outlawing water-boarding. You, I believe, have said that you will veto that bill.

Mr Bush: That's not -

Frei: Does that not send the wrong signal...

Mr Bush: No, look... that's not the reason I'm vetoing the bill. The reason I'm vetoing the bill - first of all, we have said that whatever we do... will be legal. Secondly, they are imposing a set of standards on our intelligence communities in terms of interrogating prisoners that our people will think will be ineffective. And, you know, to the critics, I ask them this: when we, within the law, interrogate and get information that protects ourselves and possibly others in other nations to prevent attacks, which attack would they have hoped that we wouldn't have prevented? And so, the United States will act within the law. We'll make sure professionals have the tools necessary to do their job within the law. Now, I recognise some say that these - terrorists - really aren't that big a threat to the United States anymore. I fully disagree. And I think the president must give his professionals within the law the necessary tools to protect us. So, we're not having a debate not only how you interrogate people. We're having a debate in America on whether or not we ought to be listening' to terrorists making' phone calls in the United States. And the answer is darn right we ought to be.

Noteworthy is not just his internally inconsistent arguments (he claims the bill would be both ineffective and binding) but his willful mischaracterization of his critics and the dishonest pseudo-challenge to them: he won't say what the techniques are, beyond the military ones, that he used to prevent specific attacks on the US.

Pushing the right button

The government of Chad knows how to appeal for western backing in what is by most accounts an intra-clan feud --

On Wednesday, the Chadian government paraded 135 alleged rebel prisoners, some said to be as young as 15, charging they were Sudanese mercenaries paid by neighboring Sudan and al-Qaida fighters. The government produced little evidence to bolster its charges.

The prisoners "were sent by (Sudan's President) Omar al-Bashir, by al-Qaida, to destabilize not only Chad but all of Africa," Interior Minister Mahamat Ahmat Bachir told reporters.

Sudan has repeatedly denied charges that it supported the rebels.

As the linked news story explains, France provided more assistance to the government in fending off the rebels (so far) than hitherto disclosed. This only heightens questions about what exactly Ireland is doing in getting involved in a peace-keeping operation under the French umbrella.


Isn't it ironic that after all the fussing about whether India and Saudi Arabia were ready for Carla Bruni to be seen with Nicolas Sarkozy, it's back in France where she's most likely going to have to keep a low profile?

International harmony

One fascinating detail about the major drug gang bust in southern England yesterday is the range of nationalities apparently working well together in it --

Among the 22 people arrested are suspects with British, Israeli, Iraqi, Egyptian and Irish backgrounds.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cold war not cold for much longer

Remember those Iranian speedboats of mass destruction and ensuing competition among current and aspiring future Republican presidents to say how close the incident had come to war, and indeed how close it would be to war the next time the same thing happened?

The chief of US naval operations today downplayed the low flight of a Russian Tu-95 over the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the western Pacific Ocean.

The Tu-95 flew over the Nimitz at about 2,000 feet while another bomber flew nearby Feb. 9, but both were escorted by U.S. aircraft and the event did not even warrant a call to “general quarters” or for crews to man battle stations, Navy Adm. Gary Roughead said.

In fact if one reads further down in the story, there were actually 4 Russian bombers in the vicinity of the carrier. But as the Pentagon says --

“It is free and international airspace,” he said, “and we're just trying to now go back and look what message was intended by this overflight.”

The scariest speedboats ever were also in international waters. Perhaps the difference is that they Philippino Monkey's radio doesn't broadcast that far.

A more serious Rowan Williams post

His only mistake was sequencing the BBC interview before the full speech. The former was a highly condensed version of the latter, which then got condensed even more in the summarising and became the narrative through which the subsequent uproar was mediated.

The line in the interview about aspects of Sharia being "inevitable" made sense in the broader context of the speech but was a gift to the haters. Responsible people are of course reading the transcript of the speech but it's even better to listen to it (54 Mb MP3 file, about 55 minutes long), because that captures the understated and cautious tone of what he was saying -- as does the lack of reaction from the crowd, many of whom must be surprised at how what they heard had turned into such a caricature within 24 hours.

The over-the-top reaction from the American right is something to keep in mind for the next controversy about a pharmacist who won't sell birth control pills or the next time that George Bush says he needs an exemption from federal law to allow some faith-based initiative to receive government funding.

A less serious Rowan Williams post

What Rowan Williams didn't say

For centuries if not millennia, a pernicious institution has arisen in our midst. This institution seeks to place loyalty to it above loyalty to the law, or religion or community. This institution has special exemptions from normal rules of evidence in courts of law. Police have been known to encounter individuals in severe mental or physical distress within one of these institutions but have determined that the institution itself is best-placed to sort out what happened and what should be done about it. Even when people are placed are great risk as a result. This institution often promotes arranged marriages, compulsory choices about education, career path, friendships, and its demand for new concessions only grows as other ones are allowed.

We refer of course to the "family", or, for it is a menace that too few are willing to so label: Familo-Fascism. It is time to end the scourge of spousal privileges, unanswered knocks at the door, "she fell down the stairs", "the dingo took her", "you're going to [insert school here]", "you want to marry him/her!!!?" -- and acknowledge the true bedrock of Western Civilization: that we are all just atomistic individuals with identical rights and responsibilities before the law.

And if you think we're implicitly advocating the Saudi legal system for everyone, we refer you to the last sentence this Mike Power post.

A more serious Rowan Williams post

Monday, February 11, 2008

War is like, cool, and stuff

Photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Erica R. Gardner.

Above, Kim Kagan, Michelle Flournoy (from the Center for Strategic and International Studies) and National Review's Rich Lowry getting the full court PR press from Multi-National Force Iraq in Baghdad. Mr Kim Kagan aka Fred Kagan, designer of The Surge, is not pictured but was also on the trip.

Among the highlights of their trip, a visit to the bizarrely named "Camp Dublin" and --

Dr. Kim Kagan participated in the BMP-1 Driver Instruction Course and learned how to start the engine of the BMP-1.

“The opportunity to participate in the training is very cool,” said Kagan.

Rich Lowry's red baseball cap doesn't make for good "camo".

These are the people who helped bring this now 5 years and counting war to the rest of us. The one bit of serious business on the trip was that the Kagans were apparently told before Defence Secretary Gates that there would be no troop reductions beyond the 15 brigades as of June.

The Bush-McCain show trials

White House photo by Paul Morse

Later today, George W. Bush will announce that he wants to kill Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and 5 other people being held at the pleasure of George W. Bush.

Of course, this will be described as a "trial" but as George W. Bush likes to remind everyone, he is the Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces, meaning that everyone involved in every aspect of these trials works for George W. Bush. That's why most countries decided a long time ago that executive branch trials are not a good idea.

The only good news is that the announcement of a trial does not mean that the guilty verdict will be reached anytime soon. This is because what Bush has in mind is more likely a pre-election stunt to help John McCain by keeping terrorism in the news as much as possible between now and November. Because it was in the last election season that George W. Bush gathered 9/11 families into the White House to inform them --

Today I can tell them something else: With the bill I'm about to sign, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the murder of nearly 3,000 innocent people will face justice.

Right after the election, the whole process stalled, only to be resurrected again now that another election approaches. A few things have changed: from the photo above, when the Military Commissions Act which allows these trials was signed, it's been a rough period for those present. The dude on the left got promoted. But Pace, Rumsfeld, and Gonzales are long gone and Bush and Cheney lost control of Congress.

One person was strangely absent from the bill signing: the man who had brokered the compromises that led to the bill, John McCain. But he has never registered any public objection to it. Pundits might want to ask him whether he actually suppports the bill he helped write, the bill that will now be used to set up these death penalty trials.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

"The Economist" reviews Liberal Fascism

JONAH GOLDBERG'S “Liberal Fascism” enjoyed four postponements, a change of subtitle and a lorry load of advance hate-mail before it was finally published a month ago. But the wait was worth it; in January it became America's biggest-selling political book.

For anyone willing to give Mr Goldberg a chance, his (odd) central thesis is that American liberalism, more than conservatism, has roots in the fascism of pre-war Europe. Fascism was an international movement that took different forms in different countries. In Germany it turned rapidly into a genocidal racist nationalism; in America, he says, it took on a more friendly, liberal form.

Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian and Heinrich Himmler an animal-rights activist. Does that mean all Democrats are Nazis? No, probably not, though the Hillary-haters love Mr Goldberg's book anyway. After all, back when she still seemed a shoo-in to the White House, his subtitle for “Liberal Fascism” was “The Secret History of the American left, From Mussolini to Hillary Clinton”.

[link, which takes 2 seconds to find]

Heh Indeed.

UPDATE: Someone finally sent Jonah the link.

FINAL UPDATE 15 MARCH: He won't like the Financial Times review either.

Is Colin Farrell trying to look like Steven Gerrard?

Forget the beer and the gun. That's the same look.

Safe on His gentle breast

The White House has provided National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez with the resignation letter of George Bush's chief speechwriter, William McGurn.

When historians are trying to figure out whether the personality cult around George Bush was something that only manifested itself in the distant masses who voted for him, this letter will be the definitive proof that the cult extended all the way inside the cocoon. Maybe that's how one gets to be in the cocoon. The key excerpts --

When it became clear that our country was under attack [on 9/11], I returned home. My wife came out to meet me as I pulled into our driveway. I remember looking up at the sky and wondering what kind of world our girls would inherit. And i remember saying to Julie, "Let's be thankful George W. Bush is President". ...

The day will come when my girls are no longer children -- and look out on a world where people from Baghdad to Beijing enjoy the liberty that Providence intended for them. And each will tell her children, "When I was a girl, I knew the man who believed in this future when so few others did - George W. Bush

Avian Porcines

In which we defend Powerline. Andrew Sullivan --

Loony Right Watch

When reality begins to intrude, they just seal it off. So Norman "What's A Kurd Anyway?" Podhoretz gets a small fortune from Powerline.

Norman Podhoretz doesn't get a dime from Powerline. He gets a George Costanza-style donation in his name of $25,000 to an organization that sends packages to soldiers serving in Iraq. Unless you count the free dinner.

Sullivan has also never responded to a previous Powerline post pointing out that he had egregiously misquoted Podhoretz on the subject of a hypothetical Iran-Israel war.

You'd think his research assistant and 4 interns would have freed up enough time for him to be more careful about this stuff.

UPDATE: "Trunk" notes the same issues.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Says who?

In a crack of dawn appearance, on a Friday, before the Conservative Politcal Action Conference (CPAC) pirahnas (and with his two appearances before them coming when he was furthest removed from an election i.e. 2001 and 2008), George W. Bush had this interaction with the audience --

We believe people should be held responsible for their actions and we know that people can change their behavior. Sometimes all it takes is the help of a loving soul -- somebody who puts their arm around a troubled person and says, I love you, can I help you. We also know that --

AUDIENCE MEMBER: ([I love you]) (Laughter and applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: My soul is not that troubled, but thank you. (Laughter and applause.)

Read the whole thing

In what was perhaps intended as a tasteful cheese course amid the flesh that Straight Talking MaverickTM John McCain was tossing to the pirahnas at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) yesterday, he decided to quote Edmund Burke --

I know in this country our liberty will not be seized in a political revolution or by a totalitarian government. But, rather, as Burke warned, it can be "nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts." I am alert to that risk and will defend against it, and ta ke comfort from the knowledge that I will be encouraged in that defense by my fellow conservatives.

Leave aside that McCain's view of the world seems to be that American freedom could be seized by a few thousand terrorists. Consider instead the following quote --

If we should be expelled from Iraq, the delusion of the partisans of military government might still continue. They might still feed their imaginations with the possible good consequences which might have attended success. Nobody could prove the contrary by facts. But in case the missile should do all that the missile can do, the success of their arms and the defeat of their policy will be one and the same thing. You will never see any revenue from Iraq. Some increase of the means of corruption, without ease of the public burdens, is the very best that can happen. Is it for this that we are at war,—and in such a war?

Who said that? No one. But Edmund Burke said it, with America substituted for Iraq (and missile for sword), in the same essay that forms the source for McCain's quote (Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, 1777).

He was outlining how a pointless war waged against people thousands of miles away on their home turf undermines the liberties of everyone back home. It's brilliant stuff. If you do read it (it begins at page 158 in that pdf download), change his references to "pirates" to "enemy combatant" and see what happens.

UPDATE: One real straight talking maverick did brave the boos and outline a Burkean position on the impact of foreign wars to the CPAC crowd. His name is Ron Paul. We're hoping to find a transcript of his speech but this gives the general idea.

FINAL UPDATE: Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic discusses McCain as a Burkean conservative. He never mentions Burke's negative views of foreign wars.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Leave the gun, take the cannoli

In what will quickly be cited as the speech he should have given on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney offered a unique rationale to the Conservative Political Action Conference for suspending his bid for the Republican presidential nomination: that if he continued to campaign, it could help the Islamist terrorists by distracting John McCain from a national campaign against Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, since they want to surrender to the terrorists.

The fact that suspending the campaign will save Mitt's dwindling fortune from further futile depletion was not mentioned.

Cult of objectivity

A couple of days ago the New York Times had an excellent but depressing story about the first death from natural causes at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp -- a milestone in someone dying before getting to see an independent judge. Abdul Razzaq Hekmati was an Afghan war hero from the struggle against the Taliban and got landed in Gitmo almost solely on the world of people who had a grudge against him. No serious effort was made to get supporting witnesses for him, and there he stayed.

Today the New York Times has an editor's note for the story. Such a note is usually reserved for some major error or oversight in the story. So what is it? --

Andy Worthington, a freelance journalist who worked on the article under contract with The New York Times and was listed as its co-author, did some of the initial reporting but was not involved in all of it, and The Times verified the information he provided ... Mr. Worthington has written a book, “The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison,” in which he takes the position that Guantánamo is part of what he describes as a cruel and misguided response by the Bush administration to the Sept. 11 attacks. He has also expressed strong criticism of Guantánamo in articles published elsewhere.

The editors were not aware of Mr. Worthington’s outspoken position on Guantánamo. They should have described his contribution to the reporting instead of listing him as co-author, and noted that he had a point of view.

So someone with an expertise and, God forbid, a "point of view" is disqualified from the byline even when they supply verified facts?

There can be only one

Powerline's Hindrocket yesterday --

John McCain will not be a perfect Presidential nominee. Then again, we didn't have any perfect candidates this year. (Funny how often that seems to happen.) How odd, though, for conservatives, of all people, to be the ones to hold out for perfection in human affairs.

Powerline's Hindrocket two and a half years ago --

It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.

Hyperbolic? Well, maybe.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Barack Obama is naive

At a news conference in Chicago today he was asked about his vulnerability to "Swiftboating" attacks if he was the Democratic nominee in November. His reply amounted to the claim that the Clinton campaign has done intensive research on him for the last year and so they've already found and used whatever there is to be found.

He therefore assumes that Republican attacks on him will be based on "research" as its commonly understood. But of course the point of the Swiftboat attacks on John Kerry was that that they were either grotesque extrapolations from seemingly incidental facts or just made up completely.

What Obama needs to be ready for is not some new version of Hillary Clinton's criticisms of his voting record, but a Jakarta Madrassah Students for Truth, which will peddle claims that he was at an extremist Madrassah during his days in Indonesia. Of course, John McCain will "denounce" such tactics, in that same sanctimonious way he praised Mitt Romney last night while having lied about Romney's position on the Iraqi surge just a couple of weeks ago.

Thankfully there's still plenty of time for Obama to prepare. But first he needs to see the need to prepare.

UPDATE: Not that Democrats should be so rude, but John McCain's military record, minus the POW experience, is far from glorious.


Another day of death announcements in the McCain-Bush Iraq war --

The Department of Defense announced today the death of two sailors who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Chief Petty Officer Michael E. Koch, 29,of State College, Pa., and Chief Petty Officer Nathan H. Hardy, 29, of Durham, N.H., died Feb. 4, from wounds suffered from small arms fire during combat operations in Iraq.

Both were assigned to East Coast-based SEAL teams.

So they're using Navy special forces, whose specialty is sea operations, in land combat in Iraq.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

He's going to the U2 film

AP Photo/Fars News Agency, Hassan Ghaedi


So it's official. CIA Director General Michael Hayden has told the US Senate Intelligence Committee that waterboarding (also known as partial drowning interrogation, or, to Dick Cheney "dunking in water") was used on 3 detainees. Waterboarding is torture. Or else it's not, in which case the global understanding of what constitutes torture is officially in tatters.

It's not too late to impeach George Bush. Remember, he gets nearly 3 months in power after the election in November. That's a lot of pardoning and shredding time.

UPDATE: To its credit, National Public Radio news has developed the usage "controlled drowning, better known as waterboarding".

Been there, done that

One thing that the dropping of eaves on Sadiq Khan MP as he spoke to his detained constituent Babar Ahmad shows is that if the term securocrat did not already exist from activities in Northern Ireland, it would have to be invented. In fact the new situation is tailor-made for the expression, as it now appears that no elected official had any say in the decision to snoop on the conversation.

Some deaths are more equal than others

The White House doesn't issue special statements condemning terrorist attacks very often. It's usually left to daily briefings of press secretaries in the White House or State Department. But yesterday there was a special statement for the double suicide bombing attack in Dimona, Israel, which killed a single Israeli in addition to the suicide bomber (the 2nd was shot dead by police as he tried to detonate his bomb). But no statement for example on the Baghdad market attacks last week that killed nearly 100.

In addition --

We also condemn those terrorist groups, including Hamas, which condone these horrific actions.

Of course the attack was condoned by Hamas with their usual bluster. But its actual implementation seems to have fallen to the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, which is affiliated with George Bush's new friends in Ramallah, the Fatah faction.

Monday, February 04, 2008


The latest twist in the Société générale "rogue trader" scandal is an investigation by US authorities of insider dealing in the bank's shares prior to the public revelation of the bank's losses from the trading and the subprime mortgage mess.

Being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) --

... board member and American investor Robert A. Day and two foundations associated with him, people familiar with the matter say. The U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y., has opened a criminal probe related to the bank, according to one person familiar with the matter, although its precise focus wasn't immediately clear.

Mr. Day, investment manager with U.S.-based Trust Company of the West, and the foundations sold about $140 million of Societe Generale stock approximately two weeks before the bank notified its board about the billions of trading losses.

That would be Robert Day, massive donor the Republican party both in California and nationally ($700K in the 2004 cycle) -- including to finance an electoral stunt that would have changed California's electoral college delegation from winner-take-all to proportional representation, which would have tilted the scales towards a Republican candidate in 2008 (almost no other state allocates delegates this way).

Incidentally, Day is also a McCain donor, although he hedged his bets with small donations to Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd. The pundits love that "both sides" stuff.

Curse of Opportunism

The unbeaten and untied 1972 Miami Dolphins

Straight talking Maverick John McCain, who is from Arizona, where the Superbowl was held, decided to watch it in Boston. A clear ploy to hitch his wagon to the expected champion New England Patriots and to taunt Mitt Romney by being in the state where Mitt was governor to celebrate with the locals.

The New York Giants had another plan. The "Maverick" New York Giants, if you will.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

That's his move

Regarding the Sarkozy-Bruni ("l'ex-mannequin") wedding --

"It lasted the usual 20 minutes or so," said François Lebel, mayor of the eighth arrondissement of Paris. "The bride wore white. She was ravishing, as usual."

One wonders if Sarko should be concerned that the mayor conducting the ceremony thought the bride was hot. Because how did Sarko first meet his previous wife, Cecilia? --

A law student and parliamentary aide as well as a model, she was first married at the age of 27 to 51-year-old children's TV presenter Jacques Martin at the town hall of the chic Paris suburb of Neuilly in 1984.

The man who performed their marriage ceremony was a certain Nicolas Sarkozy, then the 29-year old mayor of the suburb.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


Who's messing with the fuse box in Croke Park?

UPDATE: Maybe it's a disgusted Irish fan. Incidentally, the decision of the match official to award Italy a try on "the benefit of the doubt" is the same principle that might have changed the course of the World Cup final, since it would have given England a try against South Africa.

League of Evil

Powerline's "Hindrocket" --

As I've said before, I think the Islamic terrorists are the most purely evil force in world history.

So all those arguments about whether Hitler, Stalin, or Mao are the most evil turn out to be over who's in 2nd place.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Fools, again

George Bush, in Las Vegas yesterday (which by the way was a public event to make his trip official and therefore stick the taxpayer with the cost of what was actually a party fundraising trip) --

And so we -- you know, we chart business startups and markets. And all I can tell you is I talk to our ambassador and General Petraeus on a weekly basis, and they report that markets that were once shut down in dismal places as a result of attacks are beginning to come back and flourish, and life is improving dramatically. Baghdad -- the capital of Baghdad is -- which was once subject to unbelievable sectarian violence, is improving, and life is returning -- and that's positive.

And Dick Cheney, sticking to safe audience of suits in Charlotte --

Only a year ago, Iraq was considered by many to be in danger of falling into chaos. Having liberated that country from Saddam Hussein, we have no intention of permitting killers and thugs to destroy the world's newest democracy. So the President sent General Petraeus to carry out a new offensive strategy, backed up by a surge in American forces, to secure that country and to set the conditions for political reconciliation. Now we can see the effects. The new strategy clearly is succeeding. The surge is working. The forces of freedom are winning.

The current toll in the Baghdad market blasts is 68.

Photo: REUTERS/Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud