Friday, May 30, 2008

Tied in knots

Funny stuff from the Wall Street Journal editorial page as they get with the McClellan-bashing program --

As for the "propaganda" claim, any U.S. President has no choice but to make his case for going to war. It is an obligation of democracy. In Iraq, the long march to the 2003 invasion included months of debate at the U.N. and in Congress. Far from rushing to war, Mr. Bush heeded Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Prime Minister Tony Blair and sought U.N. approval. That required longer debate and a heavy reliance on WMD claims because the U.N.'s Iraq resolutions were mainly concerned with WMD after the first Gulf War. That too was a mistake, but it wasn't a lie.

The reason Powell and Blair pushed the UN line is because they wanted the war to have at least a fig leaf of legality -- which a war based on a goal of "remaking the Middle East" would not. So the WSJ essentially accepts the point that WMDs was only there for convenience. Note also further evidence of an emerging right-wing talking point to blame the UN for the current mess in Iraq.

One other bit of comedy --

As we read it, the real critical lesson in Mr. McClellan's book concerns personnel and management. Despite his MBA pedigree, Mr. Bush often failed to mediate his Administration's many internal disputes – not least on Iraq.

Since the possibilities for sarcasm are just too easy, we'll note instead one defence of Bush: the job of mediating such disputes is exactly that of the national security adviser, then Condi Rice. Only yesterday, she said

I’m sure there are many things we could have done differently. I will go back to Stanford and I will probably oversee dissertations about mistakes of the Bush Administration. I’ll happily do it from my academic perch.

Can you oversee dissertations when you're the subject?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

It was either/or

Condi Rice, clearly armed with some new abysmal talking points in Stockholm today --

So the threat from Saddam Hussein was well understood. You can agree or disagree about the decision to liberate Iraq in 2003. But I would really ask: Do people really believe that he was not a threat to the international community? And if you believe that he was not a threat to the international community, then why in the world were you allowing the Iraqi people to suffer under the terms of Oil-for-Food?

The purpose of UN Oil-for-Food was to prevent Saddam from getting WMDs. And it worked! The people opposed to Oil-for-Food were Saddam Hussein, George Galloway -- and the neocons, who used tales of corruption and leakage from oil-for-food to discredit it, even when it was achieving its main objective while delivering food to the Iraqi people (and oil to the rest of the world). But Condi now turns things around and uses the existence of Oil-for-Food as part of the case for war. Or, does she merge this theory with her new Versailles analogy for the sanctions and say that Oil-for-Food made the second war inevitable?

The military consequences of the peace

Condi Rice has a new Iraq war theory --

QUESTION: Do you (inaudible) when people come and say, well, you guys created this problem [Iraq rebuilding] in the first place. You can go back to them and say, well, oil for food, everyone signed off for it well before the war.

SECRETARY RICE: The situation with Iraq has not been normal. Before that, they were just a huge threat. Then, there was a war in 1990, 1991. The invasion and then the war. And there were certain sanctions put on Iraq that I think are unparalleled in international – probably in international history. I don’t know. Maybe the ones that were put on Germany at Versailles.

So the post-Kuwait sanctions were in the same league as Versailles and are part of the current problem. That's quite an assessment of the diplomacy of George Bush Senior, although it does serve the purpose of the endless need for Saddam-Hitler comparisons.

It also implies that Condi always knew that a second war with Iraq was coming, even before 9/11.

UPDATE: An interesting post from John Quiggin at Crooked Timber about the highly selective memory in the USA of World War I. Which of course makes it ripe for the picking by the likes of Condi.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The messenger is the message

It's remarkable watching the intellectual acrobatics of conservatives who on one day will accept as a premise (from Douglas Feith's book) that George Bush changed his Iraq war rationale ex post from WMDs to remaking the Middle East while excoriating Scott McClellan for suggesting that George Bush changed his Iraq war rationale from remaking the Middle East to WMDs (because he knew the former wouldn't sell a war on its own) and then back to remaking the Middle East (once he had his war but not his WMDs).

It's especially remarkable to see conservatives proclaim bewilderment at why Bush uses the remaking the Middle East rationale when he could still argue his WMD case, while bashing McClellan -- who has the obvious explanation for why Bush clings to the former rationale: that it was his real motivation for war all along.

The local war on terror

The Wall Street Journal (which is an excellent read today, albeit subs. req'd) has an in-depth look at the success of the Colombian government's war against the FARC. One gap in the article is the relative lack of attention given to kidnapping in undermining public support for the FARC. When you've kidnapped popular and even sympathetic politicians like Ingrid Betancourt and have had people grow up or grow old and die in captivity, you've sunk pretty low. Or, if your defence is that George Bush does stuff like that too, then again you've sunk pretty low.

Among the many details of the scale and intensity of the government's counterterrorist operations, is this --

Mr. Pastrana's failed attempt to negotiate with the guerrillas left Colombians angry, paving the way for the election of Mr. Uribe in 2002 on a get-tough platform. During his first week in office, he declared a 90-day state of emergency and pushed through a one-time $800 million tax on the nation's wealthy to help pay for the war.

Don't tell George Bush.

Can't catch a break

From the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) series on the collapse of Bear Stearns --

Bear Stearns executives believed another public statement was needed. Arrangements were made for Mr. Schwartz [CEO] to appear from Florida on business network CNBC.

Minutes after 9 a.m. on Wednesday [12 March], Mr. Schwartz told the cable-TV audience, "Some people could speculate that Bear Stearns might have some problems...since we're a significant player in the mortgage business. None of those speculations are true."

But before he could get through his talking points -- which included mentioning the firm's strong cash reserves and indicating to investors that Bear Stearns would have a profitable first quarter -- Mr. Schwartz was interrupted by breaking news from New York: Gov. Eliot Spitzer, having been linked to patronizing prostitutes, was resigning. Mr. Schwartz was dismayed, but got a chance to make his points after the news break.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Details, details

If, like Instapundit, you put up a post with today's Republican talking point -- that Barack Obama got mixed up about which Nazi death camp his relative had seen -- aren't you at least obligated to spell the camp's name correctly? --

OBAMA: Not Aushwitz, but Buchenwald.

UPDATE: He corrects the one mistake and makes another --

Not Auschwitz, but Buchenwald. And not his unce, but his great-uncle.

Easy target

The White House has a formal statement condemning the extension of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest.

There is no statement condemning Egypt's extension of its state of emergency, which has been place since Anwar Sadat was assassinated. That's a generation ago.

Is Ireland expensive?

It sometimes seems that Irish people judge whether the Republic is an expensive place by reference to the UK, or more specifically London. A comparison guaranteed* to make the Republic look cheap. But one interesting side effect of the wider travel horizons of the last 15 years -- and the Eurozone -- has been to make clear the relatively high prices in the Republic compared to the rest of the Europe.

One problem with living on an island though is that it's not easy to take advantage of price differentials. Hence an interesting case like petrol and diesel prices where, in what must have Gordon Brown fuming, there is a huge cross-border trade (Northern Irish consumers buying in the Republic), because fuel is cheaper in the Republic.

But on a Europe-wide comparison, the Republic is not that cheap. Those angry lorry drivers should be filling up in Luxembourg, if they could.

*UPDATE 23 JANUARY 2009: The Sterling crash is changing the assumption that a UK comparison makes Ireland look cheap. And for anyone wanting real in-depth data on relative prices across countries, go here. As of their November data, only Denmark and Switzerland among OECD countries were more expensive than Ireland.

Caught red-handed -- or not

Multinational Force Iraq press release --

Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a mid-level Special Groups leader in the al-Shuala area of Baghdad, May 25.

The ISOF conducted a successful operation to capture the suspected leader of a 300-member criminal group who is accused of kidnapping and murdering Iraqi citizens and is affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The suspect is an employee for the Ministry of Interior.

All so tantalising -- Special Groups (the Pentagon phrase for Iran-linked rogue militias), affiliation to IRGC.

Just one problem revealed at the end. He was an Iraqi government employee. Note also the link to the Ministry of Interior, which is indeed an Iran-linked ministry -- via its control by the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, the favoured Shiite grouping of the US government.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Not even trying

White House statement, on a day when George Bush wore his biggest ever flag pin and tried not to sound too elitist ("We just choppered in") --

I congratulate Michel Sleiman on his election as President of Lebanon. I am confident that Lebanon has chosen a leader committed to protecting its sovereignty, extending the government's authority over all of Lebanon, and upholding Lebanon's international obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions, including 1559, 1701, and 1757. I am hopeful that the Doha Agreement, which paved the way for this election, will usher in an era of political reconciliation to the benefit of all Lebanese.

They've mis-spelled his name. It's Suleiman. And that Doha agreement hailed by the statement is the one that gave Hezbollah veto power in the government.

UPDATE: It appears to be a French spelling. We're a long way from Freedom Fries.

Radio note

The opening interview in "The Ticket" (BBC World Service) is with James Kelman. It's very interesting. Kelman reads a bit from his latest novel. It's especially worth listening to if, like us, you've heard Kelman bracketed with Irvine Welsh and a younger generation of Scottish writers. When in fact he sees himself -- and Scotland -- more in the global sweep of Empire and post-Empire. His comments about sectarianism seem relevant in a year when Bertie Ahern confidently proclaimed to the US Congress that "Ireland is at peace".

Saturday, May 24, 2008

It would save money, too

George Bush --

This Memorial Day, I ask all Americans to honor the sacrifices of those who have served you and our country. One way to do so is by joining in a moment of remembrance that will be marked across our country at 3:00 p.m. local time. At that moment, Major League Baseball games will pause, the National Memorial Day parade will halt, Amtrak trains will blow their whistles, and buglers in military cemeteries will play Taps. You can participate by placing a flag at a veteran's grave, taking your family to the battlefields where freedom was defended, or saying a silent prayer for all the Americans who were delivered out of the agony of war to meet their Creator.

There he goes again co-opting God for his war. If war is bad but you get to meet God at at the end of it, how bad can it be? Incidentally, the only battlefields that most Americans could visit on Memorial Day would be Civil War era, so which side is he taking in that?

One other thing: How about having the 3pm moment include no one driving?

Friday, May 23, 2008

It's all ours

Michael Novak, whose usual gig is neocon outreach to the Vatican, takes up the job of justifying the USA's energy intensity --

But if we mean by “energy” only the modern sources of energy – electricity, the Franklin stove, the steam engine, the piston engine propelled by gasoline (and now by electric and/or hydrogen batteries), the processing of crude oil into gasoline, nuclear energy, the jet engine, the development of ethanol and other fuels derived from plants, and other devices – all of these except one were invented by the people of the United States, as their gift to the world. (The exception was the steam engine, invented by our cousins in Britain, and further developed here as well as there.)

In other words, the United States has invented nearly 100% of what the modern world means by “energy.” And it has helped the rest of the world to use 75%.

It's too tiresome to go through his entire list but he's just plain wrong about engines (German), oil refining (eastern Europe), and even the nuclear power one is a stretch since the intellectual work was done in Europe. And remember, Novak is, relatively speaking, one of the intelligent ones.

Crises lying down

From the John McCain Memorial Day weekend medical record document dump --

Also revealed: He has occasional momentary episodes of dizziness, when he gets up suddenly. McCain first told a doctor about them in 2000 — a visit that also uncovered the melanoma — and intense testing concluded they were harmless vertigo. He didn't report any episodes at his most recent exam.

So if he sits up in bed to take the fabled 3am phone call, he faints.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

All hat and no sail

Dick Cheney speaking yesterday at the US Coast Guard Academy and wearing ... a cowboy hat.

Note: The US Coast Guard Academy is in Connecticut. You head out in a coast guard cutter in one of these things and it's gone with the wind. So maybe it's a nod to his "home state" of Wyoming -- the one where he wasn't living prior to the 2000 election, and where he doesn't intend to live after leaving Washington. Maybe more than anything else he and Bush have bonded as styling themselves from the Old West.

UPDATE: Dan Froomkin has more discussion of the hat.

Same as it ever was, again

George Bush did a speech before his favourite audience today -- troops in uniform (who usually have to attend these events under orders from superior officers). It was the 82nd Airborne in Fort Bragg Georgia. Condi Rice once sneered that the 82nd Airborne had no role in nation-building activities. Afghanistan and Iraq later, they have the body count to show for it. Anyway, here's part of Bush's speech --

Withdrawal from Iraq before we have achieved success would embolden al Qaeda and give them new safe havens from which to plot attacks on the American homeland. Withdrawal before success would embolden Iran in its nuclear weapons ambitions and its efforts to dominate the region. Withdrawal before success would send a signal to terrorists and extremists across the world that America is weak, and does not have the stomach for a long fight.

Note that his three reasons -- the only three that he gave -- would all be inapplicable if he had never invaded Iraq in the first place: al-Qaeda wouldn't be there, Iran wouldn't be stronger, and America wouldn't be stuck in a long fight.

Same as it ever was

Selection of the George Bush diplomatic corps: a case study --

Announcement today:

The President intends to nominate David F. Girard-diCarlo, of Pennsylvania, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Austria. Mr. Girard-diCarlo currently serves as Chairman of Blank Rome, LLP.

From that law firm bio --

In 1994, he was treasurer of the Ridge for Governor Committee and, after the election, was chairman of the Governor-Elect’s Transition Team. He also served as Pennsylvania State Chairman of the Bush-Cheney 2000 Campaign and co-chairman of the Host Committee for the 2000 Republican National Convention held in Philadelphia. He was the Pennsylvania State Finance Chairman for the Bush-Cheney '04 Campaign and co-chairman of the overall Pennsylvania Bush-Cheney '04 Campaign. He has also served as chairman of Senator Rick Santorum's Federal Judicial Nominating Commission in 2005 and 2006.

That last gig -- putting him in charge of ensuring loony judges got appointed to federal positions -- forms a little bit of evidence that Bush has reserved some European ambassador slots for people who help get him activist conservative judges onto the bench; witness the career of C. Boyden Gray who played a similar role (at the Supreme Court level) for Bush.

Slippery when wet

Not since William III's horse tripped on a molehill, resulting in his death, has an event of such transcendental global significance turned on a tuft of grass. But so it was that Chelsea's John Terry was unable to close to deal with a penalty kick last night (or was it early this morning?) in Moscow.

Conspiracy theorists should note that the pitch was laid by an Irish company -- a place where Man Utd are the preferred team of the great and the good.

Photo: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach (RUSSIA)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

That program was already running

Joe Lieberman, in today's Wall Street Journal --

Today, less than a decade later, the parties have completely switched positions. The reversal began, like so much else in our time, on September 11, 2001. The attack on America by Islamist terrorists shook President Bush from the foreign policy course he was on.

George Bush and Tony Blair, February 23, 2001 --

We reaffirm our determination to oppose the development or use of WMD and ballistic missiles by Saddam Hussein and the threat his regime poses to its neighbors, while seeking to protect the Iraqi people from the brutality of Saddam Hussein and his indifference to their humanitarian needs. We call on Iraq to comply with relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A global solution to the Irish problem

So George Bush's latest Eurotrip will take him to the UK, including Belfast. Hopefully someone will get around to pointing out that the Northern Ireland peace process began with a process that meets Bush's definition of appeasement, since negotiations were conducted with the IRA before any preconditions had been met. Indeed, the NI government now functions with one long-standing precondition still not met, the disbandment of the IRA Council. And the person behind all this appeasing -- Tony Blair. Is George absolutely sure that Tony is not talking to Hamas as part of his Quartet Envoy role?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Returning to the scene of the crime

Was George Bush's Knesset speech the biggest rhetorical disaster of his presidency? It may well be. The clear attempt to play domestic politics with the comparison of Obama to Neville Chamberlain. The scant attention to the Palestinians -- mentioned only as one of the fantasy outcomes of his 60-years-from-now dream. And the hailing of Israel as such a perfect country that actual Israelis would have wondered what he was talking about. Finally, its pairing with his lecture to Arab leaders in Sharm al-Sheikh -- the same Arab leaders who he needs to be a part of his Israel-Palestine peace process.

Anyway, revealing who wrote the political parts of the speech, Bush's chief political operative (and archetypal Irish-American "regular guy" phony) Ed Gillespie has written an intemperate letter to NBC News which airs not just a difficult-to-follow dispute about the editing of a Bush interview discussing the Knesset speech but two other grudges that the White House has been nursing (over whether Iraq is in a civil war and the economy is in recession). Note, in the latter disputes, the attention to semantics as opposed to actual conditions.

Gillespie's counterclaim over the "appeasement" issue boils down the claim that NBC News made it seem that Bush equated "negotiating with Iran" with appeasement when "appeasement" should have been --

in the proper context of taking the words of leaders seriously, not "negotiating with Iran" ...

Bush needs this definition because his government negotiates with Iran all the time over things, such as Iraq and (via the EU and Russia) uranium.

But note the preposterous definition of appeasement that he has been led into, albeit the one that was already clear from his Knesset speech. Here is Bush's view of the run-up to World War 2, as implied by his definition:

July 1925: Hitler publishes Mein Kampf. Only Winston Churchill reads it.
September 1939: Shocking the entire world, except Winston Churchill, Hitler invades Poland.

Because everyone else "appeased" Hitler by not taking his book seriously.

Honour the living

It's impossible to grasp from a distance what sounds like another day from hell in central China. Sometimes the oblique pictures do a better job. In this one (from Reuters/China Daily), a Japanese rescue worker bows before one of the bereaved from a collapsed school.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

He never watched Fiddler on the Roof

Whatever is George Bush's obsession with Israel, it certainly doesn't spring from the remotest understanding of Jewish popular culture. The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg notes this incident --

Interview of the President by Jacob Eilon and Gil Tamari, Channel 10 TV, Israel
Map Room

Q Mr. President, thank you for speaking with Channel 10.


Q First of all, congratulations on your daughter's wedding this weekend.

THE PRESIDENT: (Laughter.) Thank you. It was -- as my Jewish friends tell me, there was "Mazel tov."

An answer and a question

Dan Barry asks, in the New York Times Travel section --

Does the ‘Real’ Ireland Still Exist?

His answer: Yes.

The follow-up question, not asked: he only looked for it in Galway and Mayo. What does that tell us about the existence of a real Ireland in the rest of the country? After all, even 100 years ago, Synge had to go to Galway and Mayo to find it.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

No wonder the Saudis won't pump more oil

It looks like Bush's gift to King Abdullah was a hedge clippers. Or maybe an ornamental spanner.

Photo: Saudi Press Agency

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rise of the Straw Men

It's tempting to think that George Bush has already plumbed the rhetorical depths in his 7+ years on the job, but he managed to hit a new low in the Knesset today. Two things. First, in a faux "I have a dream" touch, he envisaged a Middle East 60 years from now --

From Cairo to Riyadh to Baghdad and Beirut, people will live in free and independent societies, where a desire for peace is reinforced by ties of diplomacy and tourism and trade. Iran and Syria will be peaceful nations, with today's oppression a distant memory and where people are free to speak their minds and develop their God-given talents.

It's not clear whether he'll be mentioning this dream to King Abdullah and President Mubarak -- the next stops on his trip. Or, if he is planning on mentioning it to King Abdullah, it's not clear whether he will do that before or after asking the King to pump more oil. The good news: is it a prediction that US troops will be out of Iraq by 2068?

But anyway, that was the only sideshow to the most incendiary part of the speech --

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history. (Applause.)

This followed the typical equation of Iran with al-Qaeda and is clearly aimed at Barack Obama (despite the expert mischaracterization of his position in the guise of "some"), who has suggested contacts, not negotiations, with Iran. And while there's nothing new in Bush's equation of Iran/al Qaeda with the Nazis, it's worth pointing out that "appeasement" was not a decision to ignore Hitler's words, but his actions -- the Versailles treaty violations, the annexations of Austria and part of Czechoslovakia, and the repression of Germany's Jewish population.

The depressing thing is that this segment of the speech mirrors a line of attack that Straight Talking MaverickTM John McCain has used against Obama, and thus indicates a key platform of the Bush-Cheney-McCain campaign in the run-up to November.

Why does Lizzie hate America?

Queen Elizabeth wears a scarf during a visit to a mosque in Bursa, Turkey.

Photo: REUTERS/ Riza Ozel /Pool

The Lucky Companies

New Australian PM Kevin Rudd had his first budget yesterday. It stands to reason that the Wall Street Journal would be complaining regardless of what was in it, since Rudd is in that job instead of their beloved John Howard. In fact, the content of their complaint is an interesting example of how they twist their doctrinaire economic positions to match the circumstances. Here is part of their context-setting --

On revenues, Mr. Rudd and his treasurer, Wayne Swan, are lucky fellows. Since 2003, corporate tax revenues have doubled as Australia's resource sector profited from the global commodities boom.

Could this be the same Wall Street Journal which constantly argues that the only way to increase corporate tax revenues is to lower corporate tax rates -- with Ireland as their favourite example? Sure enough, it turns out that they need the point about booming resource revenues to rescue their advocacy of lower corporate tax rates from redundancy --

The government also did little to make its corporate sector more competitive – something that may come back to bite when the commodity boom deflates, and along with it tax revenues. The budget doesn't touch Australia's 30% corporate tax rate – one of the highest in the developed world.

It's tough always believing that lower taxes bring in more revenue for a case like Australia, so they have to make the resource exception and claim that lower tax rates would still be better. But if Australian companies are raking in the A$ simply by virtue of sitting over a big pile of natural resources, that's just as easily a case for leaving taxes exactly as they are -- or even increasing them. Those resources aren't going anywhere. Needless to say, the Journal doesn't much like the resource windfall logic, in another context --

Cue that old Labor standby: raising taxes. Tuesday's biggest revenue items included a A$640 million hike on alcoholic drinks and A$564 million windfall tax on a form of crude oil.

But as their own facts show, you get more revenue with more taxation of resource-based companies. The WSJ may be looking past January 20, 2009, and realizing what a parallel agenda might look like in the USA.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

We'd all like to forget her

Israeli President Shimon Peres is various things. One of them is ... a tad absent-minded --

Your eight years were very moving years, for all of us --


PRESIDENT PERES: -- (inaudible), that you can really watch a friendship without any bad mood. And I know that you are not a simple messenger. (Laughter.) But you never interrupted your understanding, your support --


PRESIDENT PERES: -- and really trying to do whatever you, your administration and the lady who is on the State Department really did then to help us negotiate a difficult time.

Hopefully the actual implementation is clearer

Is the new Iraqi military operation called Operation Lion's Roar or Operation Mother of the Two Springs? Given the glorious lineage encompassing operations such as Together Forward (Forward Together), Together Forward (Forward Together) II, Imposing Law, and Del Boca VistaCharge of the Knights (Phases I-III) -- among others -- it's important to get these details straight.

A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man

George Bush, in an interview with Yahoo News/Politico --

Q Mr. President, we know you're a man of intense faith. And I wonder, what was a moment in this room over the past eight years when you needed that most?

THE PRESIDENT: Michael, I'd say daily. I mean, part of the faith walk is to understand your weaknesses and is to constantly try to embetter yourself and get closer to the Lord. And that's a daily occurrence. Obviously there's been some tough moments in here. When you know that somebody lost their loved one as a result of a decision that I made, that's a tough moment. If you're a faithful person you try to empathize with the suffering that that person is going through. On the other hand, there is a knowledge that the good Lord can comfort during these moments of grief. And that's what I ask for in my prayer.

Besides his unusual usage (embetter), note that his application of faith is feeling sorry for other people but not questioning himself. It's faith in himself.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

9/11 changed everything

If by "changed", you mean stepped up tax evasion activities allowing billionaire US property developers to park assets with Swiss banks, shielding them from the Internal Revenue Service. From an American indictment of a former Union Bank of Switzerland private banker and a Liechtenstein tax consultant --

On or about September 13, 2001, defendant MARIO STAGGL caused to be sent from Vaduz, Liechtenstein to I.0. (Igor Olenicoff) at an address in the United States promotional materials that marketed the use of Liechtenstein trusts, foundations and other entities to evade United States and Swiss tax.

Next he'll be on the "peace train"

George Bush, during an interview with al-Arabiya --

I'm a peace man.

Also --

Look, the Palestinians are very entrepreneurial people.

At least he didn't propose unleashing their entrepreneurial spirit with a flat tax.

Monday, May 12, 2008

China isn't Burma

In China, after a disaster, the army tries to save people.

Photo (soldiers assembling before a rescue operation): Reuters stringer.

The good news is, it's not about oil

William Kristol in Monday's New York Times --

Americans grasp that Israel’s very existence to some degree embodies the defeat and repudiation of the genocidal totalitarianism of the 20th century. They understand that its defense today is the front line of resistance to the jihadist terror, and the suicidal nihilism, that threaten to deform the 21st.

So now Israel, and not Afghanistan or Iraq, is the central front on the war on terror. But no explanation of how al-Qaeda, an entity with no state attached to it, could mount a threat similar to Hitler. Unless he doesn't mean al-Qaeda at all, but Iran. Which is how he started the article. Interestingly, the one presidential candidate who's equally fuzzy on the distinction between al-Qaeda and Iran is John McCain.

UPDATE: Kristol apparently was continuing the roll-out of Iran as the number 1 threat --

JERUSALEM (AFP) - US President George W. Bush on Monday called Iran the "single biggest threat" to peace in the Middle East ahead of a visit to the region centered on celebrations of Israel's 60th anniversary.

"To me it's the single biggest threat to peace in the Middle East, the Iranian regime," because of its nuclear programme and its support of groups like the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, Bush told Israel's Channel 10.

It's like al-Qaeda never happened.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Finally, she'll see Bush economics in action

The Jenna Bush wedding --

After the wedding, the couple is rumored to be honeymooning in Europe, although the White House would not comment.

The dollar will be getting about 50p or 65 euro cents.

Friday, May 09, 2008

"The Economist" discovers Photoshop

This week's UK edition. Aside from the fact that one doesn't want to think too much about Gordon's body, the image of himself as a saint (Sebastian) and martyr might be comforting to him. Albeit an allegedly gay saint.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

They feel our pain

The Guinness Park Royal brewery in Brent, closed by Diageo in 2005. A tribute to the building (and photo source). Here's another photo documentary, focused on the workers.

UPDATE: Diageo was too aware of the PR disaster of closing St James's Gate. But it will be a much reduced operation.

Finally, a reason to use that Darth Vader clip

The only appropriate reaction to --

[RTE] Diageo says it will make an announcement tomorrow on the future of its brewing operations in Ireland including the historic Guinness brewery at St James's Gate.

It has been anticipated for some time that the company plans to consolidate its operations in Ireland into a new green-field site.

Diageo Chief Executive Paul Walsh is to fly to Dublin for a news conference at St James's Gate tomorrow morning

We've been warning about Diageo's ownership of Guinness for years.

UPDATE: Diageo was too aware of the PR disaster of closing St James's Gate. But it will be a much reduced operation.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

National profiling

Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi did 3.5 years in Guantanamo Bay. He was released into the custody of the Kuwaiti government, charged with terrorism there, and acquitted. He showed up last week in Mosul as a suicide bomber, having apparently entered Iraq via Syria, killing himself and several Iraqi army soldiers.

Conclusion: No one should ever be released from Gitmo and everyone who is still there should be detained forever.

That's what the reactionaries will argue. But in fact it shows what happens in the twilight legal world that Gitmo represents. Without any checks or balances on what happens, who gets in or out is determined more by where they are from than what they are alleged to have done. So citizens of favoured Gulf allies are released while people with little or no evidence against them can languish for years.

There's also the possibility that Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi was embittered by his time in Guantanamo Bay, which would form another classic Bush reason for not releasing anyone: by locking them up, you've made them a threat, and so you can't let them go.

A la carte commitments

John McCain thinks that the US is locked into Iraq for a long time as a result of actions already taken by George Bush. He, or at least his foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann has a more flexible view of what counts as a Bush commitment when it comes to Russia -- where Bush and Vladimir Putin set out a positive-sounding framework for US-Russia relations at their farewell summit in Sochi --

Mr Scheunemann added that given what he depicted as the problems of working with Russia in the United Nations Security Council, the US would have to “look beyond the UN” and work with countries and groups of states in imposing sanctions on Tehran.

For several years Mr McCain has also endorsed the idea of expelling Russia from the G8 group of industrialised nations.

Mr Scheunemann went on to describe a framework agreement adop­ted last month by President George W. Bush and Mr Putin as “a legacy document between two outgoing ­presidents.”

So McCain would cobble together a new coalition of the willing to impose sanctions on Iran (and perhaps some other stuff), expel Russia from the G8, and dump the final understanding between Bush and Putin as a "legacy document". Which of course it is. But has McCain thought through the implications of such an aggressive posture towards Russia? In Iraq, everything is predetermined. With Russia, everything can be made up on the fly.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?

What to the three men above have in common? Ask Andrew Sullivan, who has somehow arrived at the view that Boris Johnson and David Cameron represent a similar radical and un-conservative tendency as Barack Obama in politics.

Joint exit

Bertie Ahern and Ian Paisley yuk it up for one last time in their leadership positions before leaving office this week -- at the official opening of the Battle of Boyne site near Drogheda. Apparently all Ireland's history is now done and dusted, and Bertie and Ian can put their feet up and hope that the rest of us don't waste their selfless legacy. By the way, what does Bertie have stuffed under his jacket -- large enough that the jacket no longer fits very well?

Photo: REUTERS/PA Pool/Niall Carson

Monday, May 05, 2008

It's a shout-out to Benedict

Amid tough competition, perhaps the strangest aspect of fin-de-siecle George Bush is the tilt towards his own brand of Catholicism [ABC Good Morning America] --

Q Jenna did not want to get married here at the White House, wants to get married at the ranch in Crawford. So what have you done to make it special there? I know that it's always special at the ranch, but for this wedding?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, one thing we did -- I'll let Laura -- she's been in charge, but my one contribution is to -- we put a giant cross made out of Texas limestone that will serve as the altar, but also serve as a landmark on our place for years to come.

Q That's beautiful. So it's right there -- that's where the altar --

THE PRESIDENT: That's where she's going to get married, right in front of this Texas limestone altar with a cross on it -- by our lake.

Protestants don't do giant crosses. This sounds like one that he wants to be able to see from Air Force 1. One wonders what the Middle East will make of the wedding photos.

UPDATE: Picture added. There seems to be Stonehenge aspect to the cross -- both in terms of the altar and Bush's description of it as "giant" relative to its actual size, suggesting a Spinal Tap-esque mistake over the dimensions.

So he is Barack O'Bama after all

The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan comes up with an interesting analogy for why Barack Obama should get a little slack for having sat through Jeremiah Wright's sermons --

This week I talked to a young man, an Irish-American to whom I said, "Am I wrong not to feel anger about Wright?" He more or less saw it as I do, but for a different reason, or from different experience.

He said he figures Mr. Wright's followers delight in him the same way he delights in the Wolfe Tones, the Irish folk group named for the 18th-century leader condemned to death by the British occupying forces, as they say on their Web site. They sing songs about the Brits and how they subjugated the Irish and we'll rise up and trounce the bastards.

My 20-year-old friend has lived a good life in America and is well aware that he is not an abused farmer in the fields holding secret Mass in defiance of the prohibitions of the English ruling class. His life has not been like that. Yet he enjoys the bitterness. He likes going to Wolfe Tones concerts raising his fist, thinking "Up the Rebels." It is good to feel that old ethnic religious solidarity, and that in part is what he is in search of, solidarity. And it's not so bad to take a little free-floating anger, apply it to politics, and express it in applause.

He knows the dark days are over. He just enjoys remembering them even if he didn't experience them. His people did.

I know exactly what he feels, for I felt the same when I was his age. And so what? It's just a way of saying, "I'm still loyal to our bitterness." Which is another way of saying, "I'm still loyal." I have a nice life, I'm American, I live far away, an Englishman has never hurt me, and yet I am still Irish. I can prove it. I can summon the old anger.

One could extend the thought. It's not just Irish traditional music where this happens. The crowds always seem very into the defiance of "Irish Blood, English Heart" at Morrissey concerts. On the other hand, it's worth asking whether the Wolfe Tones represented a posture or a real political position -- and if it's the latter, then it's a political position long since dumped in Ireland during the time of the Great Helmsman, Bertie Ahern.

But prior to that, were they a harmless outlet for vestigial nationalism, or a ready recourse for sloganeering and cynical opposition to change? The relevance for Barack Obama is whether he might realize that doing things he wants to do might involve turning his back on things that were part of his identity for a long time.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

America, 2008

Tapes 'N Tapes with Hang Them All. Inflation, poverty, and convenience store robbery culture all in one. Brilliant.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Separate Peace

Bertie Ahern --

After so many decades of conflict, I am so proud, Madam Speaker, to be the first Irish leader to inform the United States Congress:

Ireland is at peace.

The picture shows the "interface" between Springmartin Road and Upper Ballygomartin Road in Belfast, dividing the Catholic and Protestant communities. More background here.

Photo: Frankie Quinn for Belfast Interface Project. Here is their map of the 41 interfaces.

The Red Sea crisis zone

Not an original point, but watching John McCain tie himself in knots trying to deny that oil is the reason that the US invaded Iraq brings up the obvious counterpoints: if the reason that the US keeps ground forces in Iraq is to prevent al Qaeda from taking control of what would otherwise be a failed state, then why are US troops not in Somalia and Yemen, where al-Qaeda linked insurgencies do threaten weak or failed states? Or, if it's sufficient to use air attacks to keep al Qaeda in check in Yemen and Somalia, why is that not sufficient in Iraq?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Lost in translation

In Boris Johnson's victory speech at City Hall, he thanked, among others, "the knocker uppers", a somewhat unfortunate usage given its American slang interpretation and that business with Petronella Wyatt.

Praying to whom?

George Bush, finishing up an extended tale, that he has told many times before, about being asked to choose a rug for the Oval Office --

Here's an interesting lesson about the presidency and life in general, if you're delegating. I said to Laura -- I said, I want the rug to say "optimistic person comes to work." I didn't say, here are the colors. In other words, I left the tactics to her, and the strategic thought was mine. The strategic thought is, behind that, is that you can't possibly lead unless you're optimistic that tomorrow is going to be better. And just so you know, I hope at least one thing you come away from this is, I am absolutely optimistic, in my very soul and very core, that in the defense of America, we're laying the foundation for peace.

And so the rug looks like the sun. And you walk in, man, I'm telling you, it is optimistic. (Laughter.) It's a fabulous rug. (Applause.)


Q I just want to start by saying that my mom prays for you every day. (Applause.)

Prayer that he can make a good choice of rug?

Why does George Bush hate western Pennsylvania?

In St Louis --

And they're sophisticated -- you know, 19 kids on three airplanes -- it's a sophisticated operation -- four airplanes, excuse me.

Why did he initially think 3 -- when he prides himself on remembering 9.11 better than other Americans? Probably because his brain misfired over United 93, which was brought down over Shanksville Pa. and didn't hit another building.

America's NHS Trojan Horse

George Bush in St Louis --

I'll tell you an interesting story about that. The Veterans Administration in New Orleans was clobbered during Katrina. And so you had a lot of veterans leaving the New Orleans area -- many of them going to Houston, for example -- but they had electronic medical records. It turns out the Veterans Affairs is generally ahead of the rest of the field. And all they did was take their chip and they plugged it into the computers in Houston, and the whole medical records was available. That's -- not only it's good for the customer, the patient, but what I'm telling you is it'll help wring out the inefficiencies in the system. Health care is an inefficient system right now.

Who runs the Veterans Affairs health system? The government. And without barring people with pre-existing conditions.

The Mexican insurgency

George Bush sends his 5th of May greetings on 2nd of May --

Cinco de Mayo is a joyful day in Mexican history and an important milestone in the history of freedom. On May 5, 1862, an outnumbered band of Mexican soldiers defeated a large European power against overwhelming odds at the Battle of Puebla. Emboldened by victory and yearning for independence, Mexican patriots ultimately won independence in 1867. Today, we remember these heroic accomplishments and all those working to advance peace and liberty around the globe.

A small band of locals takes on an invading power, wins one victory and lays the groundwork for eventual expulsion of the foreign power. Sounds like ... 1776 and somewhere else in the news right now ...

Where are they now?

The Abraham Lincoln, the aircaft carrier upon which George Bush landed on May 1 2003 to deliver his end of major combat operations/Mission Accomplished speech, was recently moved to the Persian Gulf. It's unusual to have two aircraft carriers there at once. One wonders if Bush has more plans for that banner.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Even flow

Andrew Sullivan is future-blogging --

Friday, May 2, 2008
After Wright Week

02 May 2008 10:39 am

He's in Washington, where it was 7.20pm on Thursday 1 May when that post appeared.

UPDATE: He pulled the post. Will it reappear at the indicated time later today?

FINAL UPDATE: The post comes back. The future-blogging only works if you don't post the stuff when you wrote it. More strange practices from Sully documented here.

Let's just call May Day "Irony Day"

Once again it is an overloaded calendar, as May Day must compete with Mission Accomplished Day, Loyalty Day, and Law Day for the American nation's attention. This year's theme for Law Day is The Rule of Law --

Nearly 800 years ago, the Magna Carta placed the authority of government under the rule of law; centuries later, the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution marked tremendous advances in the march of liberty. These documents established enduring principles that guide modern democracies. Today, we are reminded of that past and look toward a hopeful future as we work to secure the liberty that is the natural right of every man, woman, and child.

On Law Day, U.S.A., our Nation celebrates our belief in the equality of each person before God and renews our commitment to strive to bring America ever closer to its founding ideals.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, in accordance with Public Law 87-20, as amended, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2008, as Law Day, U.S.A. I call upon all the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. I also call upon Government officials to display the flag of the United States in support of this national observance.

This would be the same George Bush who believes that domestic laws do not constrain a president in a time of war, and who has denied terrorist suspects the habeas corpus right from the Magna Carta. One other question -- is it a violation of Loyalty Day to mention the Mission Accomplished banner?


The most troublesome aspect of Bertie Ahern's speech to Congress yesterday was this --

So we are profoundly aware of those challenges as we ask you to consider the case of our undocumented Irish immigrant community in the United States today. We hope you will be able to find a solution to their plight that would enable them to regularise their status and open to them a path to permanent residency.

i.e. special pleading for illegal Irish immigrants, right before he went on to quote the famous words from the Statue of Liberty, words which offer the ideal of a welcome to everyone. The real courage would have been to make a parallel with the modern day equivalent of the poor but striving Irish masses arriving at Ellis Island -- the millions of Mexican immigrants who would hope to be part of a general immigration reform next year. Hiving off the relatively small Irish group into a special deal would remove a politically influential group from the broader cause.

White House photo by Chris Greenberg