Wednesday, September 30, 2009

All Oppressed People Ever

U2 did their Bonosaurus Rex 360 concert just outside Washington DC last night. Apparently the traffic delays were monumental, which calls into question how the Capital of the Free World would ever be evacuated in a real emergency.

But anyway, National Review's John Miller has a complaint: the politics was awful. And such small portions. Yes, he sounds annoyed both that Bono espoused any political causes, and then having picked some, didn't espouse all political causes. Or at least the ones that Miller would agree with --

The strangest moment came during "Sunday Bloody Sunday" — dedicated to the Iranian democracy protestors. The stage was awash in green lights, a nice tribute to the Green Revolutionaries. Bono invited a man on stage. He was a Sikh, judging from the turban. He carried an American flag, which he waved as he lip-synched the words of the song. During the final verse, Bono put the microphone in his face and they sang, duet-style: "The real battle yet begun/To claim the victory Jesus won." As they say, only in America.

"Walk On" was basically a public-service announcement for Burma's Aun San Suu Kyi. Bono encouraged the audience to help Amnesty International's campaign for her.

... Yes, the Iranian democracy protestors are important and deserve our support. But what about the voters in Afghanistan, who will either keep the vote or lose it based on decisions that world leaders (especially just a few miles from FedEx Field) are making right now? If Bono said a single word about them, I didn't hear it. But then public support of that would have been a little more controversial, no? The same with Aun San Suu Kyi. What a brave lady. She also deserves our support. But how about some words for jailed dissidents in Cuba? Unfortunately, as causes go, theirs is not as politically safe.

One more thing: When you're getting all preachy about freedom and democracy around the world, how about a word of thanks for American soldiers, especially the ones who have died trying to spread it?

Really. Bono is supposed to have a position on respective merits of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. An Irish band is supposed to thank American soldiers. And if you're going to do Cuba, why stop there. There are lots of jailed dissidents in "our sonofabitch" countries.

Incidentally, and speaking of rebel songs, there was another band in the stadium with U2 whose lyrics include

Rise up and take the power back, it's time that
The fat cats had a heart attack, you know that
Their time is coming to an end
We have to unify and watch our flag ascend

Shouldn't the Right's daily quest for "outrage" be focused on Muse?

UPDATE: Here's an actual musical review of the concert.

FINAL UPDATE: The populist right in the form of Glenn Beck embraced Muse until the band demanded a retraction!

Shrinking Violet

Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Michael Ledeen --

The Reagan administration—driven by a desire to gain the release of the American hostages—famously sought a modus vivendi with Iran in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War during the mid-1980s. To that end, the U.S. sold weapons to Iran and provided military intelligence about Iraqi forces. High-level American officials such as Robert McFarlane met secretly with Iranian government representatives to discuss the future of the relationship. This effort ended when the Iran-Contra scandal erupted in late 1986.

Question: Who was the crucial intermediary between the US, the Iranians, and the Israelis (who actually supplied the weapons to Iran)?

Answer: Michael Ledeen!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Who was the source?

Statement from Saudi Press Agency --

Jeddah, September 29, SPA -- An official source denied a report published in the British Sunday Express on September 27, 2009 corresponding to 8/10/1430 H. alleging that the Head of British External Security Agency accompanied by the Chief of the Israeli Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (Mossad) held a meeting with Saudi officials in London and that, during the meeting, they agreed that should Israel attack the new Iranian nuclear facility, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would overlook the Israeli fighters flying over the Kingdom's territories, according to the British newspaper.

The source described the report as categorically false and untrue, demanding that the editors of the British newspaper deny the baseless news in compliance with press credibility.

Besides the assumption that the Express would care about "credibility", one question is whether this story was planted to smoke out such a denial. There's probably a lot about the latest Iran crisis where things don't mean what they appear to mean. Note that there is a vague attribution in the Express story -- to John Bolton.

Not for lack of effort

The USA's shadow national security advisers Frederick W. & Kimberly Kagan writing in the Weekly Standard --

Above all, al Qaeda does not see itself as a terrorist organization. It defines itself as the vanguard in the Leninist sense: a revolutionary movement whose aim is to take power throughout the Muslim world. It is an insurgent organization with global aims ... In this respect, al Qaeda is very different from terrorist groups like the IRA, ETA, and even Hamas. Those groups used or use terrorism in pursuit of political objectives confined to a specific region--expelling the British from Northern Ireland, creating an independent or autonomous Basque land, expelling Israel from Palestine. The Ulstermen (sic) did not seek to destroy Britain or march on London; the Basques are not in mortal combat with Spaniards (sic); and even Hamas seeks only to drive the Jews out of Israel, not to exterminate them throughout the world.

It's very hard to fit the Brighton Bomb into that narrative.

Note by the way that the Brighton Bomb unintentionally spawned one of George Bush's favourite War on Terror catchphrases.

Monday, September 28, 2009

She would, wouldn't she

Washington Post's Anne Applebaum --

But [Roman] Polanski is 76. To put him on trial or keep him in jail does not serve society in general or his victim in particular. Nor does it prove the doggedness and earnestness of the American legal system. If he weren't famous, I bet no one would bother with him at all.

AP* -- Meanwhile, Poland and France intend to make a joint appeal to Switzerland and the United States to have Polanski released from his detention, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski told the Polish news agency PAP. Sikorski said he and French counterpart Bernard Kouchner also plan to ask Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to offer Polanski clemency.

The Polish foreign minister is Mr Anne Applebaum.

[post prompted by thread at Crooked Timber]

UPDATE: See also Patterico. We're at the point where a Washington Post media issues reporter might be useful. Incidentally, judging from the Patterico thread, the connection is viewed as something that happens in the liberal elite. It's worth checking out Sikorski's pre-ministerial CV before coming to that conclusion.

*A similar quote appears in the Washington Post.

FINAL UPDATE: Applebaum responds --

"I have disclosed that [husband is Polish minister] before, more than once. Also, when I wrote the blog I had no idea that my husband, who is in Africa, would, or could do anything about it, as Polanski is not a Polish citizen. I am not responsible for his decisions and he is not responsible for mine."

Would a reader consider knowing about the connection to be potentially useful information in evaluating the opinion expressed? Probably.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Needs better talking points

National Review's Stephen Spruiell tries to play conservative backstop on the circumstances leading to the death of Kimberly Young in Oxford, Ohio. The death has gotten attention because she initially delayed seeing a doctor due to lack of health insurance. So --

The median starting salary for Miami University (Ohio) graduates is $47,100.

• A healthy 22-year-old female in Oxford, Ohio can purchase serviceable health insurance ($30 co-pay for office visits) for $55 a month, according to

This young woman's death is indeed tragic, but it is not an indictment of the U.S. health-care system, cheap left-wing moralizing to the contrary notwithstanding. Many capable young people forgo stable careers in order to try their hands at starving-artistry. The rest of us are under no obligation to subsidize that choice.

First, his stated data source is from a highly selected sample:

Typical (median) starting graduates were 25 years old and had two years of experience ... All those surveyed were full-time employees of U.S. companies ... combined base annual salary or hourly wage, bonuses, profit sharing, tips, commissions, overtime and other forms of cash earnings, as applicable ...

It's pathetic to have to spell it out, but you can't compare the economic fortunes of a 22 year old just-graduated with a median 25 year old in a sample of people with full time jobs. Especially in 2009, when there's like, a recession and stuff!

So his economics is shite. What about the "starving artist" bit? Apparently this comes from her interest in human rights and photography. She had two part-time jobs. His resentment appears to relate to her interests rather than her income. And those online health insurance policies get more expensive quickly once you get into the specifics of an individual quote and finding a policy with accessible doctors. And the companies selling them have to impose restrictions on when the policies can start because otherwise people would only buy them when they're sick. This isn't difficult stuff. But some people want to make it that way.

The Sarkozy-Obama row

You didn't hear about it? Glenn Reynolds did --

SARKOZY MOCKS OBAMA at U.N. Security Council

Here's the full transcript (see p12) of the meeting along with Sarko's remarks as prepared in French. It's hard to see the mockery. Sarko is of course blunt and both he and Obama by then knew of the Iranian bombshell that would be coming the next day. And French foreign policy is fairly hawkish on Iran; remember it was the Socialist candidate in the last election who thought that Iran shouldn't be allowed even a civilian nuclear program.

Maybe some read it as mockery because the remarks were delivered in French but read in translation by Anglophone newspapers. Not everything said in French is going to be flattery. Sometimes they will be saying actual tough stuff.

It isn't Show and Tell

Jennifer Rubin at the All-Obama-hating-All-the-time blog of Commentary magazine --

Obama concealed whatever information he had about this [Iranian nuclear] facility–information that could have been used to move domestic and international opinion. He could have gone to the UN with some visual aids–like Bibi Netanyahu did with the Holocaust documents–to make the case to the international community.

Perhaps she has in mind Hillary Clinton waving around a vial of uranium or Obama showing a picture of a pipe, such as above, as evidence of Iran's nuclear program. The picture is taken from Colin Powell's Iraq-WMD presentation of 5 February 2003. The Iraq shambles still has consequences, even if the neocons would rather forget.

Getting his ducks in a row

In a meeting that didn't get much attention at the time, Barack Obama met with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi 2 weeks ago. We now know that Obama has known for nearly a year that Iran had a secret nuclear facility and in what looks like a clever bit of multilateral diplomacy, he used his UN Security Council session to get Russia and China to renew the principle of nuclear non-proliferation before springing the news yesterday.

Anyway, that puts the Abu Dhabi meeting in a new light. Since the knee jerk response to the Iranian duplicity is to demand stringent sanctions, the people making such demands are either unaware of or are choosing to ignore the severe implications that sanctions on Iran would have for the United Arab Emirates. As it is, much of Iran's gray economy (and worse) is run through the UAE and a shutdown of international trade with Iran would put the UAE in a very difficult spot. It's not unreasonable to wonder whether Obama decided to "consult", if you will, with the country whose cooperation he'd need for sanctions before doing anything too hasty. For the people yelling "Faster, Please", that's not enough.

White House photo by Pete Souza

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

We'll allow it for "Motörhead"

There's a word that must be in the right-wing talking points for Barack Obama --

More Naiveté (Max Boot)
It was a very naïve, Wilsonian speech (John Bolton)
Staggering Naïveté (Brett D. Schaefer)

The 3rd one is a real classic since he's got both the accent and the diacritical. Some of us plain speaking freedom-fry eaters will settle for naive and even the slightly ugly naivety. But how seriously should we take people whose need to show their seriousness involves fussing over the script for a particular word. Of course, it could be that they're all just cutting and pasting it from the same source.

Maybe the First Dude was an economist

We've noted before that Sarah Palin's ghostwriter shows signs of being an economist. Consider now part of her warm up material for her speech in Hong Kong today --

"Maybe you’re hoping to hear me discuss the derivations of the formula for effective rate of protection, followed by a brief discussion of the monetary approach to the balance of payments,” she said. “If time allows, a quick summary of factor price equalization. Maybe some thoughts on quantitative easing, but that’s for next time. Because I have spent my life closer to Main Street. That’s what I want to talk about is that view from Main Street,” she said.

Whoever is whispering the lines is getting weary of being the behind the scenes player. They want to be caught.

UPDATE: Rich "starbursts" Lowry -- Palin is an authentic, powerful voice of the populist right

His evidence is drawn from a speech given for a rumoured 6 figure sum to a brokerage firm in Hong Kong. Populist, indeed.

FINAL UPDATE: The ghostwriter on the autobiography is Lynn Vincent. Which doesn't explain where Palin is getting her economics material.

Only 11 more years of pointless war to go

John McCain says a lot of stuff. Here's an interesting remark made to an audience at PNAC 2.0 --

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: I have a question about Afghanistan's government. How should we encourage the Karzai Administration or another successor if he is booted out in August, to be more effective, to be less corrupt and to generally improve their the country? What are your thoughts?

SENATOR MC CAIN: I think we all know that right now, anyway, there is not a viable opponent or strong opponent to President Karzai. Now, one may emerge. There is certainly great dissatisfaction in parts of Afghanistan towards the government, and we all know about the corruption situation.

So, I don't envision a scenario right now where President Karzai would be defeated. A lot of things happen in politics.

But if he were, then I think we would obviously forge -- try to forge a new and productive relationship.

I would like to remind you that -- again, going back to the one of my former experiences, if you look at Vietnam, the assassination of Diem was a seminal moment. And it meant really a lack of support for the government, a lack of an effective government. We had a revolving door of generals running Saigon.

So we want to be careful about how we approach the Karzai situation and certainly not, in my view, interfere in what is really a domestic election in Afghanistan.

He's referring to the 1963 assassination that ousted South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in a military coup. McCain seems to read it as saying that the US is stuck with Karzai because any alternative would be more destabilizing. But now Karzai is there as the winner of a dodgy election. Hence a major change in circumstances that has Barack Obama looking again at the overall strategy in Afghanistan. What if the US had pulled out of Vietnam in 1963 on the ground that it had no reliable domestic political partner?

Unfunny Ireland is alive and here

The Celtic Tiger is dead. We had hoped that it would take a particular Irish strand of "comedy" with it, that being the assumption that Irishness was a license to make remarks that would otherwise be offensive. Sure we've never done anything to anybody and all that.

Step forward idiot "comedian" Tommy Tiernan --

But these Jews, these f**king Jew c**ts come up to me. F**king Christ-killing bastards. F**king six million? I would have got 10 or 12 million out of that. No f**king problem! F**k them. Two at a time, they would have gone. Hold hands, get in there. Leave us your teeth and your glasses.

If you're not laughing already, then we proceed to a follow-up Q&A at the same event about a complaint he had received for another anti-Semitic joke (sic) --

Have you ever seen people whose eyes are so aflame with righteousness… The whites of their eyes are so pure and f**king white. They're just one-stream people, they're not people that have gaps for more than one train of thought. This one train of thought f**king purifies them. And these people were just that 'the Israelis are a hounded people'. And God, Olaf might have more to say about that than me, but... You know, whatever, I'm not here to hound anybody, but these people come up to me afterwards…

The audience was laughing.

Tiernan has provided further comedy with his "apology" --

In a statement earlier yesterday Mr Tiernan said he was “greatly upset by the thought that these comments have caused hurt to others as this was never my intention”.

He continued: “the things that I said in front of a live audience were in an attempt to explain my belief that one of the duties of the comic performer is to be reckless and irresponsible and that the things that they say should NEVER [his emphasis] be taken out of context.”

At the event he had prefaced “my rant by saying that it should not be taken seriously and as such, the rant took place as an example of my argument. While it is out of context, which it most definitely is now, it seems callous, cruel and ignorant,” he said.

The obvious flaw in this argument, such as it is, is that the comedian's supposed duty to be reckless and irresponsible actually involves finding a safe zone where both he and the crowd can have a good laugh. In Tiernan's case, it further involves believing that of all the things he could be reckless and irresponsible about, he just happened to pick the Holocaust, an event about which he appears to have read quite a bit. He's not in Harlem telling racist jokes. He's not at Ibrox singing The Fields of Athenry. Instead he found a smug crowd and played to their shallowness. Can't we just use some of that bad bank money to pay these people to shut up?

UPDATE: David Adams has more.

FINAL UPDATE: The editor of the rag that had the interview -- and apparently didn't see how explosive it would be -- outdoes Tiernan in the pathetic excuse department:

Hot Press editor Niall Stokes comments ... "The way I see it, he is satirising anti-Semitism, while making a more general point that we should all be able to laugh at ourselves."

Note: Tiernan has gigs in California and Canada in October.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's the Friday work crew

White House -- President Obama will welcome President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain to the White House on Tuesday, October 13 ... The President looks forward to consulting with President Zapatero

Now, we're still further along than last year, when John McCain seemed confused about whether Zapatero might be a Zapatista. But he's Prime Minister of Spain. Above, the coat of arms of Spain's head of state,, "the only good Bourbon", King Juan Carlos.

UPDATE: A full week later and it's still there. The mistake appears to be due to the title that Zapatero (and e.g. Silvio Berlusconi and the Irish PM in the pre-1937 days) have: they are president of the council (i.e. the Cabinet).

FINAL UPDATE: The title persisted into Zapatero's Q&A with Obama. Note that the Spanish reporters correctly referred to him as president of the government.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In power but not in office

There's a little row over the UK Equalities Office list of milestones for women in power. For every milestone involving the participation of a particular woman in politics, the person is named -- except for Maggie Thatcher. There is a 2nd issue. Consider this milestone --

1918 Parliamentary Qualification of Women Act passed - enabling women to stand as a Members of Parliament

1919 First woman to take a seat in Parliament - Nancy Astor

It's thus carefully written the exclude the obvious milestone of the first woman elected to the House of Commons, Constance Markiewicz (née Gore-Booth), elected for a Dublin constituency as a Sinn Fein candidate in 1918. One wonders what the calculation was in leaving out the Irish nationalist.

We'll make this as simple as possible

Suppose that there are 10 boys. Suppose that their names are Jack, Sean, Conor, Daniel, James, Ryan, Adam, Dylan, and 2 named Mohammed.

"Mohammed is the most popular boys' name."


Note: The first 8 names are the top 8 registered boy names in Ireland in 2008

The War on Chickens

One might think that the fact that the UN and NGOs on the one hand and the Israeli government on the other are arguing about whether it was 1100 people or 1400 people who died in Gaza last December-January is proof enough that whatever went on there is very troubling. But since the Israeli government and its supporters have highly rehearsed and impervious-to-evidence positions where human fatalities are involved, how about this one from the deeply depressing Goldstone/UN report into the impact on civilians of "Operation Cast Lead" --

The chicken farms of Mr. Sameh Sawafeary in the Zeitoun neighbourhood south of Gaza City reportedly supplied over 10 per cent of the Gaza egg market. Armoured bulldozers of the Israeli forces systematically flattened the chicken coops, killing all 31,000 chickens inside, and destroyed the plant and material necessary for the business. The Mission concludes that this was a deliberate act of wanton destruction not justified by any military necessity and draws the same legal conclusions as in the case of the destruction of the flour mill.

This should be a simple one, right? Either 31,000 chickens were bulldozed or they were not. Since this is a serious UN report, one assumes that they were. So the only issue should be the Israeli Defence Force justification for bulldozing 31,000 chickens. Don't let the inevitable yelling and screaming about Geneva Conventions technicalities distract from the basic details. If we can sort out what happened to the chickens and why, it might be informative about the broader concerns about that operation.

UPDATE: In a pretty tired set of pseudo-sarcastic talking points, Max Boot includes --

The report’s findings on the actual Gaza conflict are no more convincing. It amounts to one-sided, after-the-fact second-guessing of difficult targeting decisions made in the heat of battle by Israeli soldiers.

What heat of battle decision required bulldozing 31,000 chickens?

FINAL UPDATE 2 JUNE 2010: Chickens apparently remain part of the Iran-Hamas arsenal. They are banned for import to Gaza under the blockade.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fewer chances to blow up stuff

In an announcement that will trigger further criticism of Barack Obama's alleged lack of enthusiasm for reining in rogue states --

The President has asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to lead the U.S. delegation and deliver the U.S. national statement at the Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), to be held on September 24 and 25 in New York City. Since 1999, this conference has been held every other year to provide a forum for discussions on how best to encourage states to sign and ratify this important nonproliferation treaty, especially those states listed in Annex II that are required to ratify the Treaty before it can enter into force.

While the United States sent a delegation to the initial conference in 1999, it has not attended the subsequent four conferences.

Those naughty Annex II states are China, North Korea (DPRK), Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the USA. While 6 have signed but not ratified, North Korea, India and Pakistan still have to sign the Treaty.

It's worth recallling that while George Bush was in a de facto boycott of the ratification efforts, he was cutting a side deal -- mangos for nukes -- with India in which they got access to American nuclear technology without having to regularize their nuclear program. So they need nukes because Pakistan has nukes and then we worry about Islamo-nukes so one would have thought a test ban treaty might actually be a good thing but that's the crazy world of "serious" foreign policy thinkers in which it's much better to yell and scream about Iran and North Korea having nukes than actually trying to push forward processes that would encourage them to see that it's in their best interest to get rid of them. Not to mention Israel's nukes which of course we can't mention.

So anyway, Obama is trying to cut the knot both with this and his closely related UN Security Council summit. Let the neocon rage begin.

The last year of life can be deadly

The Wall Street Journal is busy today campaigning against Barack Obama's healthcare reform. Rupert Darwall ("a London-based strategist ... currently writing a book on the history of global warming") argues that the NHS is essentially a scheme to divert the national healthcare budget away from old people. Among the allegations --

a group of senior doctors and health-care experts wrote to a national newspaper expressing their concern about the Liverpool Care Pathway, a palliative program being rolled out across the NHS involving the withdrawal of fluids and nourishment for patients thought to be dying. Noting that in 2007-08, 16.5% of deaths in the U.K. came after "terminal sedation," their letter concluded with the chilling observation that experienced doctors know that sometimes "when all but essential drugs are stopped, 'dying' patients get better" if they are allowed to.

The letter was to The Telegraph. The problem is that he's devoting one paragraph to the issue of "end-of-life" care, the critical issue being the judgment of doctors (not politicians) about whether a patient is so close to death that the medical regimen should be changed accordingly (e.g. by not giving food that the body can't handle). But it seems that the Republicans have decided that the death panel talking point works for them.

On then to an editorial which says Barack Obama is mixed up about the virtues of the Dutch healthcare model because he just praised it even though it doesn't have a public health insurer like he has called for in the US. What the Dutch system does have is compulsory insurance (everyone must buy), no screening (everyone gets the same price), tight regulation, free insurance for children, and a specific payroll tax to cover the excess costs of insurance companies with a lot of bad risk patients. It's good to know that the Journal would be OK with those things.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The government shield

Once Barack Obama was through with the name-checks at his Wall Street speech, the applause lines were few and far between. In fact, there was just one --

First, we're proposing new rules to protect consumers and a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to enforce those rules. (Applause.)

So why, despite occasional noises to the contrary, would the financial industry support a consumer financial protection agency? There are simple, but cynical, explanations. For one thing, they may be confident that they can capture it once it's set up. But let's suppose that's not the case and there really is an agency can issue stark rulings on financial products. Then we're into the analogy with the greatest legal gift from governments to tobacco companies: the health warning on a pack of cigarettes. Because once that's there, the consumer excuse about not realizing the costs of smoking is gone.

When there's a consumer agency certifying financial products, the companies are off the hook for selling them.

The War on Acronyms

With conservatives having declared that non-government organizations like ACORN are the latest threat to the Republic, one must scrutinize the attendance list for Barack Obama's financial sector speech in Manhattan very closely. In addition to noting that there seem to be no Congressional Republicans in attendance (presumably not for lack of invitations), one sees down the list a bit --

James H. Lewis, Director of Policy and Organizing, Communities Homeowners and Neighbors Gaining Economic Rights Inc. (C.H.A.N.G.E.R.)

This of course will be a red rag to the Glenn Beck bull. Hopefully the CHANGER people are ready for the onslaught.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Last Conquest of Ireland

For some reason, right-wingers are taking the death of Norman Borlaug, Green Revolution pioneer, badly. Or rather, they're taking it as usual -- an event which can be used to be drive home a talking point. The talking point apparently being that technology removes any obligation to think about constraints on growth. Kinda handy when the evidence on climate change gets more overwhelming by the day.

But anyway, here's the Wall Street Journal paying tribute to the Green Revolution --

Today, famines—whether in Zimbabwe, Darfur or North Korea—are politically induced events, not true natural disasters.

There's a technical issue here about whether African soil is as suited to high-yielding varieties as that of India but leave that aside. Note the implied view of the Wall Street Journal editorial page that pre-1950s famines were natural disasters.

Maybe such an outlandish claim will provoke Amartya Sen into a more authoritative rebuke, but consider that two of history's most notorious pre-Green Revolution famines, those in Bengal (1943) and Ireland (1847-49) occurred in food exporters and were characterized by an extremely sluggish policy response. Maybe market economy failures and governments asleep at the wheel are things that the Journal includes as part of the "natural disaster" definition. After all, Katrina was a "natural disaster".

We haven't heard the last of this

Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif meets Saudi King Abdullah in Mecca. Also at the meeting was Prince Miqren bin Abdulaziz, Chief of General Intelligence. This is the latest in a string of meetings between anyone who's anyone in Pakistan and King Abdullah. And follows claims in the Pakistani media via a possibly unreliable source that Osama bin Laden was the first introducer of Nawaz Sharif to the Saudi royal family. Something is cooking. Let's hope it's good.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It reads better in an English paper

Note: this post has evolved a little from its original topic so we lay out the sequence for clarity: On DC Tea Party "9/12" Eve, conservative bloggers rubbish 2 million crowd prediction as liberal mindgames. But then lazy editors at Daily Mail (UK) use the 2 million estimate in a wire service compilation report; the Mail story is sent to National Review and Glenn Reynolds as a "why is this only in the British media" talking point, and it becomes an actual crowd estimate. Read on.

National Review Online's Mark Hemingway --

But [tea party] crowd estimates aside, I'm almost incredulous at that Daily Mail report. It's a fairly straight report, and it's fair! What American media outlet would print this:

"Richard Brigle, 57, a Vietnam War veteran and former Teamster, came from Michigan. He said health care needs to be reformed - but not according to President Barack Obama's plan."

Much as with the tea party crowd numbers, one can conservatively estimate that hundreds of American media outlets will print it. It's just the standard AP wire service report picked up by many papers, including the Daily Mail.

For some reason, the Corner people spend a lot of time reading the Daily Mail, or at least reading links that someone sends them from it.

Incidentally, Mark Steyn falls for the trick that he had just been warning us about, lazy foreign newspaper reporting based on unverified American sources. So he presents the Daily Mail's preposterous 2 million attendance figure ("You may be underestimating the numbers ... That's some astroturf") despite warnings from his own side that the 2 million estimate was just liberal prophylactic hype.

And Glenn Reynolds --

and this is priceless: “Many protesters said they paid their own way to the event – an ethic they believe should be applied to the government.” Why is the British press more honest in its reporting on this stuff than the American press?

That sentence comes straight from the AP. So they're all using the same Daily Mail cut-and-paste without checking it against any other source. That FreedomWorks news link service is pretty bad!

UPDATE: This 2 million thing is a media recycling classic. It's sourced to a memo from a US House of Representatives Democratic staffer, but he only presented it as the upper range of predictions that he had seen on the web. In advance of the event, conservatives were warning that the 2 million was hype. But then the Daily Mail sub-editors ("Mail Foreign Service") sitting in London included it in their story, and because Freedom Works (or other organizers) then sent around the Mail link to sympathetic bloggers, they're all now citing it as the actual number --

[Glenn Reynolds] HEADLINE: Up to two million march to US Capitol to protest against Obama’s spending in ‘tea-party’ demonstration.

So maybe I was wrong to be so skeptical. But cut it in half and it’s still a huge number.

Isn't that the same indifference to zeroes that they complain about when it's concerning deficits?

FINAL UPDATE: The first claim of 2 million was from Michelle Malkin. That was the first instance of someone finding yesterday's junk and thinking it was new stuff.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What's the frequency Gordon

It's interesting to compare the Downing Street and White House versions of the Barack Obama -- Gordon Brown phone call. White House --

The President expressed his disappointment over the Scottish Executive’s decision to release convicted Pan Am 103 Bomber al-Megrahi back to Libya.

This is not mentioned in the Downing Street version.

Incidentally, here's the official Libyan account of a visit to al-Megrahi by representatives of the pan-African Parliament. It was pitched as revenge for a visit by Bulgarian nurses to the gallery of the European Parliament on 10 October 2007.


One hopes that the New York Times is aware of the ethical shambles that it has on its hands with the rescue of journalist Stephen Farrell. His translator, a British soldier, and God knows who else are dead as a result of his rescue. Here's Farrell's account of his days in captivity. It's a little oblique in explaining whether or not he was where he was against government advice. Note also that he appears to be using his Irish passport, as the Taliban assumed he was Irish. Other Irish people might want to bear in mind the decreasing utility of an Irish passport in these situations, although the UK one seems helpful in getting a raid on your behalf.

UPDATE: Strong echoes of the Daniele Mastrogiacomo case. Different methods, same outcome.

FINAL UPDATE: The dead soldier is Corporal John Harrison, pictured above. A woman in the house where the hostages were being held was also killed. As Farrell explains, the residents of these shelter houses have little choice in the matter.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Sarah Palin ghostwriter

It seems that Sarah Palin's coherent and wonky Wall Street Journal columns are not fooling anyone. These are not the words of the woman who brought you "Denali, the great one", which does make one wonder about the media ethics of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. But here's a clue --

A new study for Watson Wyatt Worldwide by Steven Nyce and Syl Schieber

Watson Wyatt helpfully has a link up to the paper --

Productivity Rewards and Pay Illusions Caused by Health and Retirement Benefit Cost Increases

Steven A. Nyce and Sylvester J. Schieber

Whoever wrote Palin's column is familiar enough with Sylvester Schieber to call him Syl. So the pool of suspects likely narrows to the list of Republican-leaning labour market experts, probably based in Washington and with stints in the Bush administration. There aren't that many of those people.

UPDATE: Tom Maguire wonders if Sarah has been reading Mickey Kaus, which can be taken as another hint of the reading habits of whoever actually wrote the piece.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Again with the Lucazado-Fascists

So the Times (UK) now has sources willing to go on the record with what was widely assumed and indeed reported at the time that the Heathrow liquid bomb was uncovered -- that the White House in general and Dick Cheney in particular nearly destroyed the investigation by pushing for an overly early arrest of Rashid Rauf, the Scarlet Pimpernel of terrorism, the alleged mastermind of the plot.

It's important to be reminded of the political environment of August 2006 and how convenient the plot was for short-term political objectives. So rather than make you wade through our old posts, go read this New York Times article from the time -- and remember that it standard political correspondent fashion, it will reflect the off-the-record thinking of people mentioned in the article.

We might need to invade Azerbaijan

Christopher Hitchens is trying to come up with reasons that US troops should stay in Afghanistan. One is to deter our old friends the Iranians from invading other countries. But of course he needs to come up with a country that they might invade --

Among the extremists in Tehran, there have already been bellicose noises about Bahrain, for example: a monarchical Arab mini-state with a majority Shiite population that some claim to be rightfully Persian. Given the rapid progress that it has made toward nuclear capability, and the no-less-rapid way that it has alienated its own people, the temptation for the Ahmadinejad regime to "busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels" and to appeal to tribal and religious emotions is already fairly great. Now, try to picture the foregoing equation with the U.S. military presence removed [from Afghanistan], let alone with it having admitted defeat.

There's just one problem.

Keeping a US military presence in Afghanistan to deter an Iranian invasion of Bahrain seems a tad redundant when there already is a huge US military presence in Bahrain.

On the other hand, if there's anything fishy about a Saudi Arabian victory over Bahrain in their World Cup qualifier on Wednesday night, the Iranians might get some quality rhetoric out of it. But militarily, they aren't going anywhere.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The most dangerous man in the world before Obama

Yes, it's John Major. Like Barack Obama, he aspired to be "King of the Universe" and acted as an enabler of rogue states.

How is this possible, you ask? Well, you just need to immerse yourself in the neverending crazy that is the American right. After President Obama's Maoist address to school children about the importance of setting goals and achieving them was found out, National Review's Anne Bayefsky has rumbled the next stage of the plot --

Looking for a quick and easy boost in the polls, President Obama has decided to go to the one place where merit bears no relationship to adulation: the United Nations. On September 24, the president will take the unprecedented step of presiding over a meeting of the UN Security Council.

No American president has ever attempted to acquire the image of King of the Universe by officiating at a meeting of the UN’s highest body. But Obama apparently believes that being flanked by council-member heads of state like Col. Moammar Qaddafi — who is expected to be seated five seats to Obama’s right — will cast a sufficiently blinding spell on the American taxpayer that the perilous state of the nation’s economy, the health-care fiasco, and a summer of “post-racial” scapegoating will pale by comparison.

After all, who among us is not for world peace?

Unfortunately, however, the move represents one of the most dangerous diplomatic ploys this country has ever seen. The president didn’t just decide to chair a rare council summit; he also set the September 24 agenda — as is the prerogative of the state holding the gavel for the month.

It's weird how the UN pivots between so feeble that the US has to invade countries in the face of its inaction to being so powerful that a mere meeting is a threat to the United States. Luckily we have people keeping an eye on them.

So what's the issue? Barack Obama has indeed exercised the prerogative of every chairing country to call a summit meeting of the Security Council. And he is indeed devoting it to nuclear non-proliferation. Apparently he thinks that the fewer nukes in the world, the better, and since the countries in possession of most of them will be sitting around the table this month, it might be a good time to bring it up. But somehow this has all become a plot to ignore Iran and slam Israel -- neither of which are mentioned at all in the meeting agenda.

And what of the apparent stunt of using a UN security council meeting as a summit? The only precedent for it is John Major in January 1992, who called for a summit on the role of the security council in maintaining international peace and security. The Council was coming off a high point in having backed the US-led liberation of Kuwait and Major needed a PR stunt since he was still operating in the shadow of Maggie.

But of course the high minded sentiments in which the security council was from then on going to be a key player in preventing and mitigating conflict soon gave way to the disasters of Rwanda and Yugoslavia. On the other hand, John Major did pull out his miracle election victory and George Bush Snr's speech to the UN summit is still worth a read. He saw no normalization of relations with Iraq until Saddam was gone and none with Libya till Lockerbie was sorted out. Plus ca change and all that.

So anyway, if you can explain how the world was made worse off by John Major chairing a UN summit, then maybe we can worry about Barack Obama doing it in 3 weeks. Otherwise let the blatherfest unfold.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


It's very hard to keep with the American right's daily diet of "outrage" and conspiracy. But apparently a convoluted row involving the decision of Yale University Press not to publish the infamous Mohammed cartoons in a book about the reaction to the cartoons is actually evidence of a secret plot by Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal to push an extreme Islamist agenda at American educational institutions.

But leave aside the lack of evidence for this theory. If Prince al-Waleed is really part of the Islamo-Vanguard, this would seem to pose a major problem. Because his holding company (Kingdom Holdings) owns nearly 6% of News Corp., the parent company of Fox News, and one of its subsidiaries carries Fox News on satellite channels in the Middle East. The links are so close that News Corp wants to buy a bigger stake in its regional carrier Rotana Media from Prince al-Waleed (who could probably use the cash given the hit he took on Citigroup; alt. link).

The conclusion is inescapable. Fox News is part of the Islamist agenda. Although this might seem implausible, the plan is clearly to make the conservative agenda look as clownish as possible, thus boosting support for the Islamist cause.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Because Bush school visits worked out so well

Things are looking up for Barack Obama on his health care plan. How do we know this? Because conservatives have gone back to their diet of daily "outrage", indicating that boredom has set in for them with pesky policy issues. Thus today at the Corner, there is worry about random stuff on the Internets were people say they like Barack Obama, and a planned education speech by the President next week, while at Fox News the concerns include the telephone hold music on Congressional phone lines.

Apparently the President speaking to students about the importance of setting goals and achieving them is putting the country on the slippery slope to Maoism. Really.

Anyway, Jonah Goldberg is helping channel the "are your children safe" crowd vis-a-vis the Obama speech --

A lot of teachers say it's crazy to do this on the first day of school anyway, since it's such a hectic time. It will be interesting to see the coverage of all this and to learn how many schools actually participate.

In fact, he's going to one high school in Arlington Virginia, giving the speech at midday, which schools can choose to watch or not watch on television or the Internet. That's it. But with anxious right, the event becomes a Trojan Horse for communism or something.

One other thing. Presidents tend to schedule education events for the start of the school year. It's when people are paying attention. This President is choosing to stay in Washington to do it while using technology for the national leverage.

His predecessor decided to turn his September 2001 school pop-in into a completely unnecessary visit to Florida, which did allow him to crack jokes with his brother the governor. He went to Emma Booker Elementary School in Sarasota after a 4.5 mile jog, before which his chief of staff had worried whether the smell of fish might impede upon the jog. Afterwards some stuff happened that required him taking a phone call, as seen above, with his communications director Dan Bartlett and political strategist Karl Rove, not national security people, closest to him.

The new guy doesn't go far from his office if he doesn't have to. But somehow he's the bigger problem for the country.

Eastern Civilization is a nice idea

Commentary's Max Boot, trying to shore up the evaporating case for a Fourth Afghan War --

In those days [19th century] it was simply inconceivable that backward tribesmen could pose a threat to London or other centers of civilization.

Lahore is about 300 miles from Afghanistan. Apparently it's not a center of civilization.

Photo: The city's 1673 Badshahi mosque via Wikipedia under Creative Commons licence

Over to you Hillary

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband (DM) on BBC R4 Today this morning; interviewer is Evan Davis (ED) --

DM: Thirdly, was there a public or private dissonance between what we were saying about the administration of justice in Britain to the Libyans or the Americans or to the Scots? No. And that is very, very important. Nothing we said or did was putting pressure; nothing was second-guessing. We’ve been attacked for not second-guessing.

ED: But the question is not about pressure; the question is simply one about expressing a view, and the British Government had said that it didn’t have a view; and actually, these papers, well, they seem to concede that the British Government did have a view that had been expressed to the Libyans.

DM: We were absolutely clear that we were not going to stand in the way of an application by the Libyans under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement. The Prisoner Transfer Agreement couldn’t require his transfer. As it happens, in the end he wasn’t eligible for the Prisoner Transfer Agreement, and so that’s why it was, in the end the Scottish government made a decision under different grounds; under 1993 legislation. So I think it’s very, very important to be clear that at no stage were we willing to say that we could offer the kind of deal that is being alleged, because it was not in our gift to release Megrahi.

ED: But you can see why the words “double dealing” might come up in this situation: that the Libyans have had a meeting with a Foreign Office minister; they’ve taken away – perfectly reasonably, it seems – the view that the British Government has a view on it; and yet the British Government has refused to express that view to the nation, or to the Americans, or to anyone else, primarily because it would be inconvenient to express a view on it because it may not be a terribly popular view.

DM: No, it’s not that…

Some related letters have been published in which the diplomatic discussions with the Americans about al-Megrahi have been redacted. So isn't time for the US State Department and/or Justice Department to tell us what the British told them about their preferences for where al-Megrahi should spend his final days?

UPDATE: Newsweek's Mark Hosenball says that there is some evidence that the US sent a signal that they were not fixated on where al-Megrahi spent his final days. All the more reason to show what the actual advice was!

Ennis outpulls the White House

Barack Obama at the White House Ramadan break-fast meal last night --

Of course, we know that when it comes to athletes who have inspired America, any list would include the man known simply as The Greatest. And while Muhammad Ali could not join us tonight ...

He was in Clare.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Carry On up the Khyber

By the rules of Washington politics, when a conservative pundit calls for pulling US troops out of Afghanistan, it's OK to discuss pulling US troops out of Afghanistan. Enter George Will.

One funny thing about the neocon reaction to Will's column is their discovery that George Will makes factual mistakes. They haven't been reading his global warming material.

But anyway. Taking him to task for making factual errors is Fred Kagan, the shadow Minister for Defence under George Bush. Compare his supposed demolition of Will to what Will actually says:

Kagan -- There are considerably more than 4,000 counter-insurgents in Helmand Province. Will may find the British contribution “risible,” a rather offensive statement considering the number of soldiers Britain has lost in Afghanistan and the size of its military contributions to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Will -- The war already is nearly 50 percent longer than the combined U.S. involvements in two world wars, and NATO assistance is reluctant and often risible ... Just 4,000 Marines are contesting control of Helmand province, which is the size of West Virginia.

Thus, Will never said that British contribution was risible. NATO has other members besides the UK, some of whom impose bizarre rules of engagement on their troops. And the 4000 Marines reference is correct. It was widely reported this summer.

More generally, Kagan never addresses Will's point that Afghanistan is not strategically important. Yes it borders Pakistan. But then if Pakistan is strategically important, concentrate on Pakistan. Which is what Will says --

America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

And it's what experts outside the neocon circle also think. Afghanistan only makes sense if you're looking at the map to the east and not to the west. Iran is "the precious". One disastrous war down, one to go.