Friday, December 31, 2010

The end of the affair

One of the strange aspects of the Celtic Tiger was the fact that being a fan of Manchester United was considered an essential part of the modern Oirish personality.  None moreso than the Old Trafford Oirish Fan-in-Chief, Bertie Ahern.  So there can no more hilarious coincidence than on the same night that Bertie Ahern retires from politics, with his financial affairs still unexplained, Alex Ferguson has put the boot into Bertie's political lineage, and indeed the lineage of Ireland's natural party of government, Fianna Fail --

The most successful football manager of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson, has declared himself a Michael Collins fan and given his verdict on Eamon de Valera’s controversial decision not to attend the Treaty talks in London in 1921. “He knew he couldn’t win. I’m not sure he wanted a patsy but I’m certainly sure he knew he couldn’t win. Having not been there gave him an authority when he came back to complain and get his power,” Ferguson told RTÉ’s Colm Murray ... Ferguson had no doubts that political opportunism was a primary motive of de Valera’s sending of Collins to London.  “Why did he not go? Think about it. I’m going to sign Eric Cantona and I send Mick Phelan [Manchester United’s assistant manager] to do the deal?”

Incidentally, the city of Manchester plays a pivotal role in Bertie's mysterious personal finances.   A bit like the role that New York City played for de Valera.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

He never left

The new year brings the Irish and British secret government papers release under the 30 year rule.  The year is 1980, which was not a good year for Northern Ireland.  Like the years around it.

Anyway, here's a question.  30 years is a long time ago and one can feel old reading the mentions of names that consumed so much attention at the time but are now "history", yet one name crops up in the papers of someone who is alive and well and very much actively participating in politics today.  Step forward the future TD for Louth, Mr Gerry Adams.  Here via the UK National Archives is one section of a memo that was written for PM Maggie Thatcher in early November 1980 by staff in the direct rule administration in Northern Ireland.  The topic is the hunger strikes.

Intelligence in the days leading up to the hunger strike demonstrated considerable confusion in the minds of the PIRA leadership as how best to use terrorism in support of the hunger strikers. Their dilemma is obvious: can they cajole and bludgeon at the same time? Most recent reports suggest that cajolery is at least temporarily the order of the day. There is, for example, intelligence that attacks on off-duty UDR, RUC and prison officers are to be suspended; and Gerry Adams is reported to have insisted on a disclaimer of the shooting on the UDR woman in Strabane on 9th October.*  How firm this policy is, or how rigorously it can be held to, remains to be seen: and it seems unlikely that it would be sustained indefinitely if only because it is in such conflict with the leadership's earlier determination to intensify the campaign this winter. As a member of the relatives action committee (concerned about the bad publicity of the Strabane murder) put it, "how can we give up the war when that's what they are in gaol for" . What does seem likely is that Adams is giving the most careful thought to how and when best to use terrorism in support of the prisoners. A turning point could be the first death.

As it happens, this was the 1st hunger strike which ended with apparent concessions the next month.  The real trouble would start when the deal fell through in 1981.   Unfortunately with these phased releases, we only know the state of thought of the government in late 1980, which leans towards the view that the strikers could be waited out (as the memo notes, the IRA leadership itself did not expect concessions).  But that set the stage for a disastrous misreading of nationalist reaction to the deaths in 1981.  It's not clear how much the government's perception of Gerry's role played into their assessment.

*the standard chronologies contain no mention of such an attack, but a list from Donegal County Council contains a possibility on 24 October.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The test of time

The American Enterprise Institute has a new working paper by Andrew Biggs, Kevin  Hassett, and Matthew Jensen which looks for patterns in successful budget deficit reductions (associated WSJ op-ed).  Specifically patterns in terms of whether sustainable cuts in the deficit relied on tax increases or spending cuts.  The conclusion is that successful deficit reduction programs relied on spending cuts.  One of the successful cases identified by their approach is Ireland in the year 2000. 

And so the puzzle-solving must begin.  Ireland 2000, with Charlie "When I have it, I spend it" McCreevy as finance minister?  We've collected together the relevant economic indicators based on IMF data, along incidentally with the same indicators for the Netherlands and Sweden.  Why those two?  Because they have boringly effective economic policies without any of the splashy initiatives that draw more media attention, and they're good to have handy when Irish politicians trot out the "it wasn't just us" excuse when things went wrong. 

Anyway, that's incidental to the main point.  Here's the then European Commissioner for economic and monetary affairs Pedro Solbes speaking about the Irish economy in 2000 --

In this regard, the experience of Ireland is a striking case-study. The growth rate in the Irish economy in 1999 was four times the euro-area average, while the inflation rate is currently twice the average. The small weight of Ireland limits the implications of this growth and inflation divergence for the euro-area economy and for the conduct of ECB monetary policy in particular. 

However, it poses a major dilemma at the national level. The Irish economy is clearly overheating as the supply-side of the economy is increasingly constrained. The Government has responded by proceeding with their well-established tax cutting agenda in the hope of easing supply constraints - particularly in the labour market. Whatever the merits of this approach may be in a medium-term perspective, the short-term risks cannot be ignored. Inflation rates are accelerating - especially in the sheltered sectors of the economy, for instance the housing market. The decision to pre-commit tax reductions in the next three years - as a supplement to an already generous wage agreement - risks to exacerbate the short-term problem of overheating by further stoking demand. 

In other words, this was an overheating economy and the obsession with tax cuts was making things worse, not boosting supply side potential.  By the following year, the Commission was sounding the alarm bells about Ireland's tax-cut driven boom.  

So what looks in the statistics like a successful deficit reduction effort was in fact the stoking of the fire.  Unfortunately for the Commission -- and for Ireland -- its prescient warnings about a housing and spending boom were 7 years too early, their credibility undercut as a result.

But we have the benefit of hindsight.  Do we still want to go back and declare Ireland in the year 2000 as an example of good fiscal policy?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Put that man in charge of a central bank

Gulf News (Dubai) --

A blacksmith denied in court yesterday that he had the magic powers to make $25 million fall from the sky by dealing with genies.  Prosecutors accused the 30-year-old Chadian blacksmith of dealing in sorcery and claiming that he had magical powers that could make $25 million (Dh92 million) fall from the sky.

He was additionally charged with possessing $34,000 in counterfeit currency for trading purposes.  "I am not guilty… I did not possess any counterfeit currency or claim any magical powers," argued I.O. when he defended himself before the Dubai Court of First Instance.

Friday, December 10, 2010

FIFA claims Qatar is only hot country in Gulf

Swiss bureaucrat Sepp Blatter in an interview with L'Equipe --

Le président de la FIFA n'exclut pas que «des rencontres aient lieu dans des pays proches» du Qatar.

Neighbouring countries could host matches, something that was not mentioned in Qatar's bid.  Unfortunately, a cursory look at a weather map shows that all the countries near Qatar share its weather, although you could probably find some cooler parts in Iran or northern Iraq, which is presumably not what anyone who voted for the bid had in mind. 
As the Wikileaks document dump shows in another context, it's important to consider the possibility that there is no deep or hidden explanation for the strange outcomes of international relations.  It's just that there's a lot of stupid and superficial people at the top of these organizations.  Sepp Blatter really thinks that 45C weather is just a minor detail in his credential of the first Arab-Muslim World Cup.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Tom Friedman column

Our taxi driver this evening to an undisclosed airport was a true Ron Paul fan who believes that Sarah Palin, Dick Armey and the Koch Brothers hijacked the movement and that Ireland is getting screwed by unscrupulous puppet masters and the fiat money system.

It is a sign of the times that he was making a good case.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The first South Asian World Cup

Congratulations to Qatar on getting the 2022 World Cup.  Irish people of a certain age may understand why we'd propose calling it the Sally O'Brien World Cup.  It beats contemplating the alternative universe where the Celtic Tiger hadn't crashed and we'd be today seeing a Fianna Fail celebration of having won the 2018 World Cup with the final to be held in Ryanair Field at Ahern Stadium.

Anyway, if Sepp Blatter can claim with a straight face (as we think he did during the announcement) that Zurich is the international capital of world football, then Doha can certainly claim that by 2022 they'll have some outdoor air-conditioning model figured out.  But here's our free advice to Qatar.  As the picture above from the Qatar News Agency shows, the local "celebrations" apparently consisted of government officials heading to the souks with Pakistani and Indian stores (owners and customers) and handing out Qatari flags. 

Since in all likelihood, at least 80 percent of the population will still be expatriate in 2022, it might be worth treating them as part of the target audience for the event and -- even more of a dream for sure -- hope that some country from South Asia actually qualifies for the tournament.  With all the money sloshing around to finance the preparations, how hard could a little investment in a South Asian fan base and a South Asian team be?  The former is already in Qatar

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Political restructuring

DUBLIN, 1 December 2010

The world of Irish politics was rocked to its foundations today when the long-standing but distressed financial institution Fianna Fáil announced that it would undergo self-resolution to deal with a mounting (vote) deficit situation.  Under the resolution scheme, the performing parts of the institution would be moved into a new "Recovery Party" while the legacy debts would remain under the existing "Fianna Fáil" umbrella.  Previously unseen party documents referred to the legacy instition as "B&B" which had been thought as a reference to the similarly restructured UK building society Bradford and Bingley, but sources explain that it is in fact a reference to "Brian and Brian." 

It is understood that the legacy Fianna Fáil will fully recognize all losses in a forthcoming election, at which point the unencumbered assets will move to the new institution.  Generous compensation will be paid to senior officials facing separation under the scheme, and this compensation will not be subject to claims by future creditors of the legacy unit.  Mid-level officials in the current unified structure are optimistic that they will not be tarnished by the legacy debts, and are reported to believe that now disillusioned customers will be ready to deal with the Recovery Party on the previous favourable terms, since the legacy debts may also pose problems for competitor institutions.  Resolution is facilitated because most creditors of the legacy institution (the Irish voters) are unguaranteed and unsecured.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What's the name of that website again?

Saudi Press Agency release --

In response to enquiries about the position towards the contents of the documents published by Weeklex website, an official source of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said 'These documents do not concern the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, nor does the Kingdom has any role in drafting them, nor is it aware of their correctness and authenticity. Therefore, Saudi Arabia cannot comment on them'.

'However, the Kingdom's policies and positions have always been clear and well known', the source added.

Oh yeah, Wikileaks

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I for one welcome our new Swedish overlords

Snippet from the EU finance ministers statement on the Ireland crisis loan --

supplemented by bilateral loans to be negotiated by EU Member  States. The United Kingdom and Sweden have already indicated today that they stand ready to consider a bilateral loan.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Blame the people with funny accents

Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan in interview on RTE this morning (around 9 minute mark) --

Our European Partners (all the eurozone countries) ... agree that every technical step taken by the government to date, not just in relation to guarantees incidentally but also in relation to capitalization and also in relation to what they call asset segregation, which is NAMA, they agree with all of those steps and they say that they are the correct measures and welcome the measures taken to date by Ireland.

Hopefully someone has shown the other finance ministers what they agreed to, which includes pumping money into insolvent banks, overpaying for bad property assets, overpaying for bank shares and in general writing a blank cheque to a collapsing sector of the economy.  But if so many Europeans agree with the policy, how bad can it be?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Too close for comfort

Questions in the UK House of Commons today reveal interesting tensions near the surface on the costs and benefits to the UK of participating in any lending package for the Republic of Ireland.  First, question to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury --

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): Can the Minister confirm that the international counterparts discussed the subject of the Republic of Ireland, its deficit and the possible EU bail-out for it? Will that cost the United Kingdom money?

Justine Greening: At this stage, we cannot speculate about other countries’ finances. Obviously, the Irish are taking very difficult decisions and actions to try to get the situation under control. I do not think that we should pre-empt actions that Ireland or any other country takes and the impact that such actions may ultimately have on the UK taxpayer.

And then from John "Vulcan" Redwood to the Chancellor --

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Given that the Irish Government have said that they neither want nor need a bail-out, will the Chancellor support them at ECOFIN and put off those people in the EU who seem to want to make a crisis out of a problem?

Mr Osborne: There is an enormous amount of speculation about Ireland at the moment to which I do not propose to add. The Irish Government have said clearly that they have not sought assistance and that they are taking difficult steps to deal with their fiscal situation. They will make further announcements about their Budget situation in the next few weeks. I make the general observation that what is going on at the moment highlights the fact that concerns about sovereign debt issues have not disappeared and we should be grateful that, thanks to the actions of this Government, we have moved Britain out of the financial danger zone.

Thus there will be influential factions hostile to an EU lending package on the grounds of one or more of the following: it looks bad for a country that used to be the trailblazer for austerity, it will be yet another European project to rein in a low tax country, and -- for the Northern Irish Unionists -- it could be interpreted as assistance to their cantankerous neighbour.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Don't go against the family

Does anyone know why there's a picture of, er, a "fairy godfather", if you will, behind the photo-op for the meeting of the European Commission's economics supremo Ollie Rehn with Irish opposition leaders?

Photo: Bryan O'Brien, Irish Times.

Small world

The Wall Street Journal editorial page exults at the breadth of consensus against the US Federal Reserve's lax monetary policy --

It would be hard to find two more unlikely intellectual comrades than Robert Zoellick, the World Bank technocrat, and Sarah Palin, the populist conservative politician. But in separate interventions yesterday, the pair roiled the global monetary debate in complementary and timely fashion.

In September 2009, Sarah Palin decided to roll out her new improved foreign policy credentials with a high-profile speech to an investment conference in Hong Kong. Here's a paragraph --

Just four years ago, then-Deputy Secretary of State Bob Zoellick urged China to become a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system. He observed the many benefits to China of a “benign international environment.”

The peaceful regional environment that China has enjoyed was created through the hard work of Americans, Japanese, South Koreans and Australians. Secretary Zoellick urged China to step up and play its role too. We are working with China to de-nuclearize North Korea. But to be a responsible member of the international community China should exert greater pressure on North Korea to denuclearize and undergo the fundamental reforms it needs. Zoellick urged China to play a greater role in stabilizing the international energy market by ceasing its support of dangerous regimes.

She goes to Hong Kong to give 3 name-checks to a former Deputy US Secretary of State? And there are 2 more mentions later.

In a case like this, the simple explanation is usually the right one. In this case, the conclusion is that someone who worked for Zoellick when the original speech was written is now writing her economics material, and the common philosophy is coming through.  Incidentally, the Hong Kong speechwriter seemed to be trying to out himself with other signals in the same address.

A more amusing strand would be if the Wall Street Journal knows who the common factor is, but is choosing to hide it for the sake of an eye-catching opening sentence.

UPDATE: The dance continues.  Palin approvingly quotes Zoellick, even though he's now backing away from what people said he said.  

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Back in the saddle

Still on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, now at the interviews with new Republican Senators, here's the one with veteran political insider Roy Blount who rebranded himself as an outsider from Missouri --

With our half-hour up, Mr. Blunt stands in mid-question, claps me on the back without offering a hand in farewell, and says, "See ya."

And remember, that's with a writer from a newspaper that will support him.  Not much time for the hacks when there's a lobbyist meter running somewhere. 

Original Sin

The Wall Street Journal editorial page is upset. 

Specifically, Connecticut voters deserve a more thorough accounting of the votes in Bridgeport, and of the bizarre behavior of Susan Bysiewicz, the secretary of state. 

It's the race for Connecticut governor, which now features weird stuff about ballot papers and a Secretary of State in a rush to certify one party's candidate as the winner.

Which is a replay of Florida 2000, an outcome that the Wall Street Journal had no problem with.

The only question is which is more bizarre: that the Wall Street Journal editorial page doesn't have the self-awareness to see its Bush v Gore position in the context of current elections, or that 10 years later, states seem to have difficulty running transparent elections.  In the greatest country in the world.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Needs another look

Here's the official statement from the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority on the crash of a UPS plane near Dubai on 3 September.  The investigation was heading towards the conclusion that there is --

focus of an international effort to gain a comprehensive understanding of the risks associated with specific hazardous cargo which under certain conditions could ignite and the resulting fire could self propagate. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the USA are working currently on a draft provision highlighting the risks associated with the carriage of lithium (or lithium derivative) batteries.

It doesn't take much dot-connecting to see a link between computer components being suspected in this crash and the new scare from packages sent from Yemen.  Incidentally, a Lufthansa cargo plane was involved in an unexplained crash in Riyadh over the summer, but as it originated in Frankfurt, it is less clear how a dodgy package would have gotten on board.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The curse of Cheney

In the picture, President Saleh of Yemen meets former Vice President Dick Cheney to sort out this whole business of Yemen as a potential source of al-Qaeda terrorism -- in 2002. 

A senior American official said Mr. Cheney had used his meeting with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh primarily to discuss assistance to prevent Yemen from becoming a haven for terrorists. Along with other issues, President Saleh registered his opposition to a potential American attack on Iraq and his concerns about Middle East violence.

The Pentagon is planning to dispatch American Special Forces to train Yemen's military in counterterrorism operations. An adviser to President Saleh said today that the advisers from the United States would consist of three teams, each of which would have 20 to 30 members and would stay about a month.

 Given the scale of the potential threat, 90 US military seems a tad small a mission.  Could it be that the US military was distracted by some other target at that point in time?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The exploitation of the banks

Stanley Kurtz, author of Radical-in-Chief, proposes raises the possibility during an interview with Hugh Hewitt that the crash of the financial system was a result of a malign plot by an intrepid band of low-income urban socialists --

[Hewitt] Now let me dive into something. You do have a very provocative theory here embedded. It’s almost a story within the story. It’s the story of ACORN. And it is a question, not a statement, that you lay, whether or not ACORN knew what they were doing when they brought about, through years of effort, the subprime crisis and the panic of 2008. Explain to people, it’s just, I had never considered it before, Stanley. It’s very well done.

[Kurtz]: Well, I appreciate that, Hugh. You know, ACORN, it has been speculated by some people that ACORN was following a kind of Cloward-Piven strategy. This is the famous strategy created by Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward back in the 60s when they tried to flood the welfare system with so many applicants that it would break down. And their notion was that the federal government would then come in with a guaranteed annual income. And some people have suggested that ACORN had a conscious plan like this to provoke the financial crisis. I don’t think it was that concrete. I think that’s going too far. But in a broader sense, I do think that the Cloward-Piven style strategy had been regularized, so to speak, amongst community organizers. And they came to think that any kind of excessive financial demands on the system, even without a very specific plan, would at some point inevitably provoke financial difficulties and crises which could be exploited for socialist ends. And this was, as I show in detail, this was common currency among community organizers.

The revolution may not go better with Coke, but it's helped by a mortgage application form.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It hasn't stopped the consulting firms

From announcement that Abu Dhabi solar power plant is being affected by dust --

“Dust in the atmosphere absorbed a substantial part of the direct irradiation,” Wouters said at a conference in Barcelona. “There’s a huge difference between PowerPoint and real life.”

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chicken and egg

University of Chicago economist John Cochrane in today's Wall Street Journal --

So Mr. Geithner knows that trade surpluses in the end come down to saving and investment. And he knows that in the U.S. people are trying to save right now. Our government is undoing their efforts with massive fiscal deficits.

John Cochrane, during the 2009 stage of a long-running dispute with Paul Krugman --

In economics, stimulus spending ran aground on Robert Barro’s Ricardian equivalence theorem. This theorem says that debt-financed spending can’t have any more effect than spending financed by raising taxes. People, seeing the higher future taxes that must pay off the debt, will simply save more. They will buy the new government debt and leave all spending decisions unaltered.

So in the first case above, households are trying to save but the pesky government is undoing their efforts by spending. In the second, the households are saving because the pesky government is spending.

You untie that knot, and you understand a lot about why economists disagree about how to get the global economy out of the mess it's in. Incidentally, Ireland looks an extreme case of the second scenario, where people are saving in an effort to undo the wealth destruction -- not stimulus spending -- caused by the government.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Does Saudi Arabia now recognize a Palestinian state?

Official news agency item --

President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine, the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, will arrive here tomorrow in a visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the talks with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

As far as The Google can determine, that particular usage has never been employed before.  He has always been something like "Palestinian President," without any direct reference to a named state.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I'm angry, gimme gimme gimme

One block from the White House in Washington DC, a large pick-up truck with standard angry tough guy bumper sticker: I'll keep my freedom, my guns, and my money, You keep the change.
That's the same truck from the front, implausibly displaying a disabled parking permit to get free parking in the nation's capital. As the bumper sticker says, he doesn't have any change.

Monday, October 18, 2010

It depends what the meaning of tradition is

Wall Street Journal news article on the Merkel speech --

Ms. Merkel's party has railed against multiculturalism for years, arguing for the primacy of German Leitkultur, a term that evokes the country's Judeo-Christian traditions, as well as the principles of the age of the enlightenment.

When the case is being made for why the term "Judeo-Christian" is bogus, this usage should be in the file. Unless the definition is intended to include Christian treatment of the Jews.

But anyway. About this "Leitkultur" business. The dude who invented the term, Bassam Tibi, is an Arab Muslim, and there's not much evidence he intended it to mean Judeo-Christian. Over time it has expanded to mean a core "European" culture and thus most likely non-Islamic, but that's still a big step to get to the way the term is deployed in this article. Incidentally, at least as of 2006, Mr Tibi thought that it was the USA that had this stuff figured out --

SPIEGEL: But what is astounding is that you see yourself also as an example of failed integration. You have been working for 30 years at a German university, you have written 26 books in German and have been awarded the Federal Cross of Merit. Why, out of anyone, are you not integrated?

Tibi: It's more to do with a feeling of belonging. In Germany it is not a contradiction to say, Mr. Tibi is Syrian and has a German passport. In France however it is. And in America it would be a reason to take someone to court, as you are excluding them from American society. Even after 40 years here, I'm still not German. I also believe that I have not progressed higher as a professor here because I am a foreigner. When I retire I will be leaving Germany and going to Cornell university.

Worth an update for a pretty ugly 2010 in America.

UPDATE 29 OCTOBER: An op-ed in today's New York Times by Jürgen Habermas,  a participant in the multiculturalism debate --

It doesn’t make things any better that today leitkultur is defined not by “German culture” but by religion. With an arrogant appropriation of Judaism — and an incredible disregard for the fate the Jews suffered in Germany — the apologists of the leitkultur now appeal to the “Judeo-Christian tradition,” which distinguishes “us” from the foreigners.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Polish plumber, meet Irish airline employee

One wouldn't have thought that now is a good time for Ireland to be further testing the patience of its continental neighbours. But here we go with news from France that what had looked like an isolated case of Ryanair having its employees in Marseille on lax Irish employment contracts on the basis that they are attached to Irish planes turns out to be broader.  In particular, Cityjet, which is based in Dublin but owned by Air France, is now alleged not only to have had the same arrangement but to have farmed the Irish contract workers out to its Air France parent, which is even harder to reconcile with their notional attachment to an Irish plane.  It's not great if the national business model has become opting into the Eurozone at the expense of opting out of everything else. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Nitpick Friday

National Review's Daniel Foster on the Wilders verdict --

Good news not just for the Dutch Republic, but for republicanism.

The Netherlands is not a republic.  It's a monarchy.  Above, Queen Beatrix at the swearing-in of the new government.  The overly flowery historyfied language is not needed.

UPDATE: Hilarity ensues as Foster scrambles to get the republic references out of the sentence --

Good news, not just for what was once the Dutch Republic, but for liberty everywhere.

AP Photo/Peter Dejong

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Chilean mine rescue proves that I'm right about everything

Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger --

When a catastrophe like this occurs—others that come to mind are the BP well blowout, Hurricane Katrina, various disasters in China—a government has all its chips pushed to the center of the table. Chile succeeds (it rebuilt after the February earthquake with phenomenal speed). China flounders. Two American administrations left the public agog as they stumbled through the mess. 

Apparently drilling down to a specific spot to save 33 people is the same as ameliorating the consequences of a flood or oil spill affecting thousands of square miles of ocean and land and millions of people.  Good to know.

Also, Chile has just decided to raise taxes on mining companies to pay for that earthquake rebuilding that Henninger says is already done.  This honeymoon might not last long.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Same as it ever was

As Europe gets 2 quick reminders that the problem of violent ultranationalism in Serbia hasn't gone away, one particular hooligan helpfully holds up a sign in Italian at last night's abandoned qualifier against Italy. It appears to read "Kosovo and is the heart of Serbia."*

Photo: BBC montage.

Thanks to reader PM for clarifying the translation

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Still the world's richest banana republic

One day's news selection in Ireland --

Item 1Justice Minister Dermot Ahern has confirmed to the Dáil that a garda file on an alleged criminal gang, which was being prepared for presentation to the Director of Public Prosecutions, was brought to a photocopying shop for printing.  Dermot Ahern said the file was left unattended for a period of time, during which time a member of staff at the shop communicated with a third party without the consent of An Garda Síochána.

Item 2The Department of Health and the Health Service Executive have said they cannot complete investigations into controversial spending on foreign travel associated with the SKILL training fund, because the relevant documentation is with SIPTU [trade union] ...However, the union said it had nothing to do with the account and believes it has no liability in respect of money under investigation

Item 3Tánaiste Mary Coughlan has said the Department of Enterprise has not yet decided whether or not the so-called 'leave and return' scheme introduced at Aer Lingus two years ago qualifies as redundancy. ... Under the 'leave and return' scheme, 715 staff who left the airline with generous redundancy packages were re-employed within weeks on lower terms and conditions.   Both Aer Lingus and SIPTU [ed note: same union as above] have insisted the redundancies were genuine. The unprecedented redundancy deal had huge implications for the taxpayer   If it qualified as a genuine redundancy, the airline was entitled to a State rebate for part of its redundancy costs, which was potentially worth millions.   Staff would also get favourable tax treatment of the package called 'top slicing'.

Item 4Former European Commission [and Irish finance minister] Charlie McCreevy has resigned from the board of London-based NBNK Investments.  Earlier this week, a spokesman for the European Commission confirmed that the Commission's ethical committee was examining Mr McCreevy's appointment as a director of the company.

Item 5Meanwhile, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern has told the Dáil that the investigation into Anglo Irish Bank will be the most complex in the history of the State. Mr Ahern said the DPP has retained two senior counsel and one junior counsel to advise the investigators. 27 gardaí and 16 officers of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement are involved.

And that's just one day.

Our original banana republic post.

Photo: Andrei Niemimäki, Turku, Finland.

Attention Liverpool fans

Only months after the Texas Rangers baseball team got free -- in a bankruptcy sale -- of former owner Tom Hicks -- they manage a surprise victory in a playoff game against Tampa. Hicks -- whose Rangers ownership group once included George W. Bush -- went for quick results fueled by debt, with the consequences only becoming apparent through lapse of time and with others left to clean up the mess. George W. Bush would implement the same strategy on the entire country.

But there is life after the debt-dependent Texans, even for Texas. You'll never walk alone.

Photo: REUTERS/Scott Audette

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Sugar Party

This is a TV ad from Americans against food taxes -- a standard astroturf name for an industry lobbying group. The issue in this case is recurring proposals at various levels of government in the USA for taxes on empty calorie and fatty foods to deter some consumption and capture some of the societal costs the foods impose, particularly on child health. Watch here as the delivery of food industry talking points morphs into Sarah Connor like anger.

For economists, there's a particularly amusing line in a radio variant of the ad (which is not online yet) ..

They're trying to use taxes to control what we eat and drink ... where will it end? The government is getting way too involved in our personal lives.

Taxation being more intrusive than regulation, licenses, or outright bans?  Then again, this is a country where the original independence trigger was not rule by a foreign monarch per se, but one who wanted to impose taxes.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Dutch

What deal does Nigel de Jong have with referees to ignore his brutal tackles? Hatem Ben Arfa of Newcastle joins the victim list.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bank Resolution

In the spirit of Cementgate, P O'Neill would like to inform readers of recent activities on behalf of the Irish people.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Why does Paul Krugman hate Manx statisticians?

Prof. Krugman has one of those it-was-always-thus teaser quote posts --

Who said this? More important, when did he say it? --

".... I believe this present labor supply of ours is peculiarly unadaptable and untrained. It cannot respond to the opportunities which industry may offer ..."

It's from a 1935 paper, leading Krugman to note -- 

That’s right: in the depths of the Great Depression, wise heads proclaimed the problem one of structural unemployment, which obviously could not be cured just by increasing demand.

Yet having opened with the Who said this question, he doesn't tell us who said it.  It was a man named Ewan Clague.  Clague was a statistician -- not an economist.  Here's his 1987 New York Times obit.  He was a Pacific Northwester of Isle of Man ancestry.  Before being a tax haven, there wasn't a whole lot to do in the Isle of Man.

Anyway, Ewan Clague was hardly a 1930s Tea Partier arguing against more stimulus to reduce unemployment.  As a statistician, he wanted to have more, er, statistics, so that the problem of unemployment could be properly studied.  And, as the quote suggests, he had a specific interest in understanding unemployment due to technological change, an issue which had been a concern even in the 1920s.  This was an era of massive change in industrial technology with understandable anxiety about how it would affect workers.  So he's an odd choice as a limb on the Austrian economics pinata.

Furthermore, when via The Google one tracks down some off-the-cuff memoirs he provided to the Harry Truman library, it's fascinating stuff.  The section about the planning for the post World War II economy is interesting.  Basically lots of people thought that the US economy would crash after the war because it had become so used to wartime demand that it would take years to get back on an even keel.  Yet contrary to his pessimism of the 1930s, Clague was convinced by the work of Vladimir Woytinsky (another man worth a little time to follow up) that the adjustment could be managed relatively easily and that the government was focused on the wrong problem: recession when they needed to worry about falling wages and inflation.

So yes, there are some quotes from back then that can be placed in strange contexts today.  But a little context from then is better than no context at all.

UPDATE: There's a related quote in today's Krugman column.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Our number is up

Wall Street Journal news article reflecting Irish Department of Finance charm offensive --

The Irish economy surged 2.7% on a quarterly basis in the first three months of 2010, the top performer in the 27-nation European Union. Ireland will announce second-quarter growth Thursday; economists expect an expansion of 0.2% to 1%.

Actual 2nd quarter numbers --

The Irish economy contracted in the second quarter of the year as gross domestic product (GDP) shrank 1.2 per cent compared with the first three months.  Figures from the Central Statistics Office showed gross national product (GNP), which excludes the effect of foreign-owned enterprises’ repatriated profits, shrank by 0.3 per cent on the quarter.

The government and its boosters are blaming effects due to the presence of multinational companies -- the same thing that lay behind the "good" 1st quarter number.  To more, er, sober, analysts, declining government spending is part of the problem.

That Republican alternative healthcare plan explained

From National Review's account of the House Republican's Pledge to America 2010 election platform dealing with healthcare, with our helpful translation in italics --

expanded health savings accounts
The higher your income, the higher the tax break!

insurance purchase across state lines
Congratulations, New Jersey, some dodgy outfit in Mississippi is your only remaining insurance provider.  Yes, they have e-mail.

state-based high-risk pools
If the legislature funds the program next year, we can pay for the chemo if your cancer comes back. 

tort reform
Don't worry, we'll make the doctor do the surgery right the second time around.

Good luck with that, America.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Most austere people ever

From a predictably boosterish analysis of Ireland's economy by Davy (stockbrokers) --

It is critical in the context of Europe-wide fiscal tightening that Ireland follows through on its planned adjustments. Not only must the consolidation appear feasible, it must also compare favourably to the fiscal retrenchments in other countries that will compete with Ireland in the same debt markets: it must be a "competitive consolidation".

Competive Consolidation.  It's the new black.  Or rather the new Competitive Devaluation.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The blame of those they better

The Washington  DC-based "Center for Security Policy" has put out a report entitled Shariah: The Threat to America.   Apparently the fact that you don't see too many Muslims around and don't see too many courts imposing Shariah is mere proof of the effectiveness of the conspiracy.  Among the bizarre things about the report is that it glories in a self-comparison with the "Team B" analysis commissioned by the CIA about the USSR in the 1970s -- the analysis that got wrong everything about the economy and defence capabilities of the USSR.  Anyway, here's an incidental sentence from the report --

In a civilized society, though, such a “neutral” position amounts actually to taking sides. Treating terrorism with the same even-handedness accorded to competing tax plans, for example, creates an atmosphere that is amoral to a point of immorality ... On some level, such behavior is the latest incarnation of the age-old encounter between the West and the rest – specifically, the non-Western “Other” encountered during various periods of Western exploration, conquest and colonization. Age-of-Exploration Europeans created the image of the Noble Savage, projecting a nobility onto the primitive peoples of the New World that canceled out, or at least compensated for, their obvious savagery. (p126)

This would be comic stuff until one remembers the kind of savagery to which the indigenous people of America (and everywhere else) were subjected.  But the comedy strand continues when one looks into where the Noble Savage concept comes from.  There appear to be no political philosophers among this crew.  Or English lit types.  Because the original usage comes from a John Dryden play with a subplot about a Muslim who turns out to be the son of a Christian but he fights for the Muslims anyway.   That's so meta.

Co-author Andrew McCarthy reveals that at least 3 Republican House representatives are reading the report, including Michele Bachmann.   There'll be more about this.

Sinking ship

During House of Commons questions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland --

Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): I thank the Minister for his reply. Have he and his team considered what lessons can be learned from the economic successes of the Republic of Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s that could now be applied to the economy of Northern Ireland? 
Mr Swire (The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office): Yes, we certainly continue to study that. It is worth pointing out that despite the economic slowdown experienced in recent years the Republic of Ireland continues to attract major foreign direct investment. Indeed, the Republic of Ireland’s stock of direct inward investment is five times greater than the OECD average. According to one leading accountancy firm, there have been well over 50 investment projects this year alone. It is significant, we believe, when spending is being cut and many taxes are going up, that the one set of taxes that are not being touched in the Republic are the low rates of corporation taxes. 

Thus an illustration of the continued grip of low tax mania even when associated with an economy in crisis.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Under the confluence of alcohol

Taoiseach Brian Cowen on the now legendary interview --

it was prepared for over the weekend, there was a confluence of events that occurred.

The "events" are, er, soberly described by Miriam Lord.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Another Private Eye moment

Actual BBC headline:

Irish PM 'not hungover on air'

Written as if that would be a departure from the usual.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The offside rule is biased

In case one feared that the USA was the country where everything is politicized, here's Silvio Berlucsoni to the rescue --

Il problema è che spesso il Milan si imbatte in arbitri di sinistra

"The problem in [AC] Milan is running into referees from the left."  This after a 2-0 loss to Cesena with 2 disallowed goals.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Minus One

Conservatives have strange counting problems when it comes to 9/11.  George Bush keeping the country safe for eight years and all that.  So here we have Daniel Pipes, doing what 9/11 anniversaries call for -- attacking other people who disagree with his buddies' interpretation of 9/11 --

In contrast to a conventional war, in which objective markers such as control of territory or the output of steel indicate trends, in this new kind of war one must look to subjective factors like understanding the enemy or pride in one’s own civilization. How, on this slippery basis, does the United States stand on the ninth 9/11?

Here's the problem. It's not the ninth 9/11. It's the 10th. The first one counts, when the actual bad things happened.  Incidentally, Pipes also claims that the conservative half of the population has done stuff "like reading the Koran."

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Now we know what Bono told the Russians

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin at a dinner with foreign guests this week --

Asked by a British reporter whether Lenin's tomb should be moved from Red Square before the 2017 centenary of the Russian revolution, he pointed out that all over England are statues of Oliver Cromwell, the 17th-century English Puritan leader who overthrew the monarchy:"Who do you think was worse: Cromwell or Stalin?"

Photo: AP via NPR

Monday, September 06, 2010

Translation still an issue

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visiting Qatar, takes another run at his Israel should be wiped off the map comment --

any action by the zionist entity on Iran means erasing it from political geography, noting that the US Administration is not in a favourable situation and there is no indication that it will confront Iran or will initiate such an action.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Crazy Vaclav's Place of Markets

The right wing blogosphere, beginning with the No Left Turns blog, is propelling a quote from Czech legend and former President Vaclav Havel --

The government has embraced an arrogant ideology. They claim to know the key to prosperity. It's analogous to communism. They thought the same thing. The clever ones - themselves - would run everything. That's the analogy. The key to prosperity is to let things run themselves. We'll liberalize everything, let everyone look after himself, let business, not the state, run the economy. The state should have no views, no policies of its own. Just open it all up, step back, let it go and you'll see how well everything will work if we just leave things alone.

Cheering the quote, Justin Paulette says --

If he'd been born in America, Havel would have been a Republican - and might have succeeded Reagan as one of the great conservative leaders of our time.

Jonah Goldberg is elated --

[Havel] has a few scotches and comes out swinging for capitalism.

There's just one problem. If you read the quote, it's quite clearly a critique of laissez-faire politics, but Havel's sarcasm was clearly a little too calibrated for his new-found American audience.

But don't take our word for it. The quote comes from 1997 in events covered by the Czech documentary Citizen Havel and specifically concerns his feud (as President) with then Prime Minister and now President Vaclav Klaus who was advocating precisely the policies that Havel thought were going so wrong.

So what Goldberg et al have endorsed is an analogy of free market capitalism to communism in its absolute assurance that it knows what's right for the economy.

Next time dudes, make sure you have the right Vaclav.

Like Milly Bloom

View Larger Map

Bloomberg News profile of Ryanair's Michael O'Leary (again seeming to fall for his obvious PR stunts of proposing pay toilets and standing areas on planes) --

In his spare time, O’Leary breeds racehorses and cattle on his estate outside Dublin

Outside Dublin?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

It's not just in Private Eye

English journalism veteran Patience Wheatcroft writing from her new perch in the Wall Street Journal --

He [Tony Blair] has even established the beginning of his own potential finance house, setting up a business which has registered with the Financial Services Authority (please check)

The WSJ sub-editor, who is probably not called a sub-editor, forgot to look for the fact-check notes in her submission. Patience apparently doesn't fully trust a story that ran in Murdoch stablemate, the Sunday Times.

Monday, August 30, 2010

You can't get there from here

The outrage du jour in Germany is an interview with Thilo Sarrazin, veteran politician and currently member of the board of the real European Central Bank, the Bundesbank. Sarrazin has a record of concern about the impact of immigration from Muslim countries on Germany and the European Union, and he must feel that his time has come with the row over the "Ground Zero Mosque" in the US tapping into related anxieties. Anyway, here's an interesting part of the interview (with the German publication World on Sunday) run through The Google translator --

Until a few decades, immigration played for the gene pool of the European population only a minor role and, moreover, took place very slowly. Three-quarters of the ancestors of today's Ireland and the British were already 7500 years ago the British Isles. Indeed, it is wrong that it immigration movements of the scale, as we have it today, had always existed in Europe.

This is meant as a response to the claim that Europe has always had large population movements, so there's nothing unusual about the relatively recent wave of immigration from Muslim countries.

The interview doesn't provide any reference for the idea that the bulk of Britain and Ireland's current gene pool was in place 7500 years ago (note: pre-Celtic) but The Google (is there anything it can't do?) establishes that it traces to the respected Oxford geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer.

The problem is that Oppenheimer's genetic argument is a strange one to rely on for emphasizing the importance of cultural influences. In fact, the genetic perspective leads to the conclusion that genes have much less to do with culture and language than Romantics like to think. How much about modern Britain and Ireland would you understand from Newgrange and Stonehenge even if 3/4 of our ancestors were in place at that time?

In short, there's no harm in thinking intercultural interfaces can be a tad tricky in the modern world. But trying to relate these to genetic theories -- particularly if you're German -- is going to be a rocky road.

Photo source

Saturday, August 28, 2010


We've another post up on the Fistful of Euros platform about misinterpretations of Ireland's recent economic experience.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Don't mention the pork

Founder of disgraced military contractor Blackwater, Erik Prince, has, like the Sex and the City girls, decided that the real fun is to be in had in Abu Dhabi. Explaining his move --

"I’m trying [Abu Dhabi] because it feels a lot like Singapore. Rule of law, a friendly business climate, low to no taxes, free trade and no out of control trial lawyers or labour unions. It’s pro-business and opportunity.”

This from a man whose entire business model depends on government contracts.

UPDATE 13 May: He's actually building a mercenary army for the UAE.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

He's got a lot to do

The latest hit on the "Ground Zero Mosque" is a transcript of remarks made by Feisal Abdul Rauf, promoter of the cultural centre, during an address at the Univ of South Australia in 2005. Someone had to use a lot of the Google to find that one. The supposed outrage comes from Rauf comparing the excess deaths resulting from the sanctions on Iraq to al Qaeda's death toll. Part of the supposed rebuttal is to claim that the sanctions really didn't result in that many deaths -- which makes one wonder why a war to depose Saddam was so much the preferred alternative.

But anyway. Rauf gave his address to the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, in which lectures are supposed to give informed viewpoints in a way that engages communities. And Rauf was there to explain why the War on Terror can look different if you're a Muslim in a country on the receiving end as opposed to, say, being George Bush visiting Iraq but never addressing any crowds outside a military base. And his remarks, which are quite extensive, do a decent job of that. It's the kind of thing that someone like General David Petraeus, seeking to understand local populations, would read.

Interestingly, the prescient Bob Hawke (now 80 years old, and whose election winning skills apparently left Labor with him), in apparent recognition that Islamic issues were going to be on the cultural frontline for some time, has now gotten the university to establish an International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding. Rauf's 2005 address would be good material for that. But the problem now is that if you're a Muslim hoping for an American career, or even an American visa, what you can say at such a centre may be restricted to opinions that American conservatives find agreeable, with the scrutiny increasing as each election approaches.

We could thus be headed for the situation in which many conversations that Americans might find interesting can't happen in America, with Koranic interpretation left to such Arabic experts as Andrew McCarthy and Bill Kristol. Thank God there isn't any dodgy stuff in the Bible.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Latest Lower Manhattan mosque #analogyfail

Tom Friedman, this time actually leaving the airport (but not yet in the taxi) for his column material --

I just saw the movie “Invictus” — the story of how Nelson Mandela, in his first term as president of South Africa, enlists the country’s famed rugby team, the Springboks, on a mission to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup and, through that, to start the healing of that apartheid-torn land ... When the post-apartheid, black-led South African sports committee moved to change the team’s name and colors, President Mandela stopped them. He explained that part of making whites feel at home in a black-led South Africa was not uprooting all their cherished symbols ... Mandela adds, “We have to surprise them with restraint and generosity.” I love that line: “We have to surprise them.” I was watching the movie on an airplane and scribbled that line down on my napkin.

So far, so uplifting. But then on the question of the mosque --

This is also why the issue of the mosque and community center near the site of 9/11 is a sideshow.

So a column that begins with the transcendent importance of the issue of the name of South Africa's rugby team then swats away the symbolism of the row over the mosque? Now while one lesson is that any analogizing of other episodes to the mosque row is bound to fail, isn't Mandela's message that it's up to the people in power to be conciliatory, regardless of hard feelings from the past?

Photo: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe from last night's Tri-Nations in Johannesburg.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

About that Muslim President

Why, according to one poll, do an increasing number of Americans think that Barack Obama is Muslim? One thing to keep in mind is a context of relentless but subtle messaging from his conservative opponents. Take the case of Tom Sowell, a Stanford economist who should know a lot better:

The 2010 elections are one of the most, if not the most, important elections we’ve ever held. Because if Obama doesn’t get stopped in this fall’s election, I don’t know how he’ll ever be stopped. For one thing, people talk about his falling poll numbers. He’s still in the 40% range. If he can somehow make millions of illegal immigrants legal voters before 2012, he can win a second term. That would be the point of no return. The November elections are like the battle of Poitiers or the seige of Vienna. If those battles had gone a different way, the entire history of the world would have been different. In the November elections, this country will be at stake.

Note first the immigration paranoia -- there is no proposal to convert illegal immigrants to citizens. The proposal is for a long path to citizenship, which takes years even for legal immigrants. Then the battle references. It's not clear why he'd pick Poitiers from the various events during the Hundred Years War but he had to get in the Siege of Vienna -- a critical setback in the Ottoman (i.e. Muslim) encroachment in Europe. Who needs the contraptions in Inception when you've got this stuff?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lincoln at Ground Zero

At Gettysburg --

We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.

The application to Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin deciding what buildings in Lower Manhattan are most appropriate to the 9/11 attack site seems clear.

Monday, August 16, 2010

That other America

Addressing the mosque-near-9/11 site controversy, Ross Douthat in the New York Times --

The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes. The first America welcomed the poor, the tired, the huddled masses; the second America demanded that they change their names and drop their native languages, and often threw up hurdles to stop them coming altogether. The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics. But both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success. During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation.

It's a strange conjunction then to read one example of that that 19th century assimilation process might actually have been like --

Young and strapping, the 57 Irish immigrants began grueling work in the summer of 1832 on the Philadelphia and Columbia railroad. Within weeks, all were dead of cholera.

Or were they murdered? ... The brothers [researchers] have long hypothesized that many of the workers succumbed to cholera, a bacterial infection spread by contaminated water or food. The disease was rampant at the time, and had a typical mortality rate of 40 percent to 60 percent.

The other immigrants, they surmise, were killed by vigilantes because of anti-Irish prejudice, tension between affluent residents and poor transient workers, or intense fear of cholera — or a combination of all three.

In other words, it's important not to make those references to America's integration process in the 19th century sound too antiseptic. Even if you weren't Native American, it was pretty brutal. Libertarians in particular seem blind to this point.

Working holiday

Light posting here for another week but we have some actual on the ground reporting up for the audience at A Fistful of Euros.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Write-in candidate

RTE (Irish state broadcaster) Autumn schedule reveals a shocking omission --

The public will also be asked to vote on Ireland’s Greatest Person . The final five involved will be John Hume, Michael Collins, Bono, James Connolly and Mary Robinson.

Besides leaving out Terry Wogan, the presence of Mary Robinson on the list may attract international interest.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Outside his field

Robert "Robby" George is perhaps George W. Bush's favourite public intellectual; he holds down a professorship at Princeton University and is a specialist in the philosopy of "pro-life" issues; he is also a usual suspect in the various front groups that pop up to push aligned Republican and pro-life positions. But in the manner in which right-wingers like to branch out (such as Commentary magazine diversifying from angry pro-Israel positions to opposing Israel-style healthcare for Americans), Prof. George has decided to tell National Review of his outrage about the indeed outrageous release of Pan Am bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.

But here's the problem. He's blaming Barack Obama for it. And specifically, he's blaming Barack Obama for not doing enough to get Gordon Brown to stop it. But read his comments. They show no awareness of the difference between "United Kingdom" and "Scotland", let alone the primacy in judicial matters of the latter -- the critical factor in how al-Megrahi was released. If the London government was indeed angling to release al-Megrahi (as cynics maintain they were), then Obama would have had more leverage. But Scotland explicitly chose to avoid the seeming route offered by London -- the Prisoner Transfer Agreement -- and made the decision on their own moral grounds. This is all stuff that's easy to look up, but apparently too much effort to do so in the quest for a 103rd reason why he doesn't think anyone should vote Democratic.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Behind the Murdoch paywall

View Larger Map

The fun stuff that you can't read anymore since The Times (UK) went subscription --

Former Tory politician Matthew Parris wrote in his Saturday Times column that he had swum across the river in central London in his vest and trunks.

"Frankly swimming in the Thames is not only ignorant it is selfish too," said David Snelson, Port of London Authority chief harbour master. "It was ignorant and it was dangerous," Mr Parris admitted in his column. "It could have ended in disaster," he added, admitting that he was "no great swimmer".

Mr Parris attempted to swim from the Globe Wharf apartment complex, in Rotherhithe, south-east London, across the river to Narrow Street, in Limehouse, north-east London.

The 60-year-old had planned to swim across the river at high tide to reduce the risk of being swept upstream

However, he had not realised that navigational tables were in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). As it was British Summer Time (BST) when he made the swimming attempt, high tide was an hour later than he had expected.

Consequently he was swept three-quarters of a mile upriver from Limehouse.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The talking points will be televised

Sarah Palin showing Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace the scare trillions number written on her palm so she could remember it to argue against letting the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% of earners expire.

She also used the word "cojones."

It's somewhat bizarre that this circus is not generating more alarm.

The reserve army of the migrants

The latest in the Wall Street Journal's efforts to repackage the Celtic Tiger disaster as itself a triumph --

The Irish exodus is a grim indicator of just how far the Irish economy has fallen. But it's also instructive on how immigrants generally behave when free to come and go as they please: They show up when there's work to be had, and move on if their opportunities dry up. In Ireland's case, both before and after the crash, the result of open borders has been a more flexible and productive labor force. That's an achievement all Europeans can celebrate.

It's true that both the non-Irish and the Irish are leaving the fiscal austerity paradise, but as with Ireland's boom, it's tough to see the general lessons in any of this. The tale of Ireland as an immigrant country is essentially one of movement between the European Union's small economies, especially the Baltic states -- and the crucial factor of Poland. which managed its boom much better than smug and complacent Ireland did and so has been able to create opportunities for its former migrants in Britain and Ireland.

But global migration is not a story of movement between relatively wealthy countries already in an economic union. In particular, it's doubtful there's much in America's immigration debate that can be informed from Ireland.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Did they split the bill?

In contrast to the usual fuss about residences and palaces, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad took Saudi King Abdullah to dinner at a restaurant -- Nobles' Palace (al-Nubala) in Damascus.

A new trend in head of state visits?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

English Socialist

As US election season approaches, conservative thinker Stanley Kurtz has announced that he is reviving his 2008 argument that Barack Obama is a lifelong socialist and will have a book -- Radical in Chief -- setting out the case. He elaborates --

Community organizing is a big part of what makes American socialism distinctive, and this, of course, is where Obama comes in.

"Community organizing" is a bizarrely essential element of right-wing demonology about Obama and more broadly about the financial crisis; with regard to the latter, the narrative has it that community organizers forced bank loan officers to give trillions of dollars in mortgages to poor people, whose now-underwater mortgages nearly brought down the global financial system and forced George Bush to increase government intervention in the economy. It was amazingly clever of Obama to have set all this in motion in Chicago 20 years ago, but that's the thing about these nefarious left-wing plots.

But anyway, this obsession with community organizing is coming at a strange time in the Anglo-American currents, because here from just a few days ago is UK Prime Minister David Cameron setting out the philosophy of the government's Big Society initiative --

For a long time the way government has worked – top-down, top-heavy, controlling – has frequently had the effect of sapping responsibility, local innovation and civic action.

It has turned many motivated public sector workers into disillusioned, weary puppets of government targets. It has turned able, capable individuals into passive recipients of state help with little hope for a better future. It has turned lively communities into dull, soulless clones of one another. So we need to turn government completely on its head. The rule of this government should be this: If it unleashes community engagement – we should do it. If it crushes it – we shouldn’t.

And the speech later describes specific efforts that will be taken to support community organizers.

It's going to be fascinating to watch the intellectual gyrations required to make an intrinsically bottom-up and decentralized activity like community organizing into a socialist vanguard. It's more likely that Kurtz will -- as he did in 2008 -- rely on a web of guilt by association, with community organizing being depicted as something that old lefties now do. But the implication for how American conservatives think about freedom of association for disadvantaged people should be clear.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Badge of honour

Newspaper ad in Dubai announces a car recall campaign. For Lamborghini.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Slow news day

Sky News breaking news. Conservative MP David Davis overheard in a pub criticising coalition government.

With recent American media uproars revolving around what people said in emails and tweets, perhaps this was the logical next step.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Too much gold

It's been quite a day for Irish economics. Garret Fitzgerald finds proof in Ireland's austerity experience that we are pragmatic northern Europeans. Paul Krugman finds a belief in leprechauns and faeries at the Economic and Social Research Institute. And Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern unveils a new analysis of the country's problems, one that was clearly in the briefing for today's Cabinet meeting (held, appropriately enough, at a place that the government paid far too much for) --

Mr Ahern said the level of savings had gone up from around 4% to around 12%. He said what we need to do as a nation is to get the people who are saving their money to spend it in the economy.

In other words, Irish people are saving too much. In the 1930s, Keynes figured out why that's the case for governments to spend more. But instead the purpose of the meeting was more cuts. And with the huge overhang of bank bailouts still to be paid for, we wouldn't expect to people to behave any differently -- that money is coming from cuts to public services and higher taxes, so more savings are going to be needed.

Krugman points to an obsession of governments with confidence of "the markets". It seems to the governmment is struggling towards a needed focus on confidence of the citizens.

Second Troy

Bloomberg News collects quotes hailing Ireland --

“The scale of cuts in pay and spending here are unprecedented across Europe,” said Garret FitzGerald, 84, the Irish prime minister in the 1980s who reduced budgets and raised taxes. “We’re Northern European, less emotional, and more accepting of what needs to be done in a crisis.”

You have to read the article a couple of times to see that by the economic measure to which it gives most attention, the budget deficit, Greece is doing much better than Ireland. Especially because it had no banking crisis.

Friday, July 16, 2010

On the home front

If things are looking so dire for Israel's geopolitical situation that people overseas see the need for groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel (a Commentary/Weekly Standard operation on behalf of the Republican candidate in the Pennsylvania US Senate race) and the Friends of Israel (the Aznar/Trimble et al ex-politician outfit), why is Israel itself, under the hawkish Bibi, cutting defence spending?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The most important file

UK Chancellor George Osborne using the oldest meeting trick in the book, the newspaper (The Times, as it happens) buried at the bottom of the materials. Except that he was holding up the materials.

Still, it's a good sign for the UK that he saw the EU meeting as a snoozer, since it's the one that discussed next steps in the EU emergency finance package for countries in distress.

One hopes the Irish representative (Martin Mansergh) was paying attention.

Photo: The Council of the European Union

Spending is futile

The Wall Street Journal editorial page uses forecasts of a modest positive impact of Spain's World Cup win on its economy to prove, to its own satisfaction, that it doesn't matter how much money is spent in any economy --

But there's no such thing as a free celebration, and the money spent celebrating Sunday's 1-0 victory over Holland is, by definition, not available for spending on other things. A household that buys a crate of bubbly to toast Andres Iniesta will certainly improve the wine merchant's fortunes, but probably at the expense of someone else—perhaps a carpenter who had been booked to perform repairs, or wages for a cleaning lady.

To put it another way, winning the World Cup does not expand the Spanish economy's productive capacity, and so the euros spent celebrating have to come from somewhere—either forgone consumption elsewhere, or reduced savings, or increased debt.

So far, so supply side enough. But there's more ...

The labor market for Spain's World Cup heroes may be brighter than ever, but their victory will do nothing for the 20% of the Spanish work force that is currently unemployed. For them, loosening up Spain's still-rigid labor market would do a lot more good than any national party.

Mention of Spain's 20 percent unemployment is where things get crazier than Nigel de Jong's kung fu tackle on Xabi Alonso. Because if Spain's problems were so deep-rooted, you'd expect its unemployment rate to have always been 20 percent.

Two years ago, it was 11 percent.

Which yes, is a tad high for a booming economy but it's a lot less than 20. So why did unemployment go up so much? Because people stopped spending due to the financial crisis. A little World Cup celebrating in that context is just what the doctor ordered.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

That Tuesday Boy problem

"I have two children. One is a boy born on a Tuesday. What is the probability I have two boys?"

Much effort has been expended on this one. The initial presumption is that the answer must be 1/2 or 1/3, depending on how the set up of the question is interpreted.

Actual answer: 13/27. Seeming implication: having a boy born on a Tuesday makes it less likely to have another one. As one would suspect, it's not true. You can do this kind of trick with lots of ancillary events (for boy born night or day, the answer is 3/7).

Sorely lacking in the hours of reading this blogger has done on the topic is any intuition for the 13/27 answer, and indeed the attempted explanations seem to veer ever deeper into the philosophy of probability.

So here's our attempt. By specifying not just that one child is a boy but is one born on a Tuesday, the question has done two things. (1) It has introduced a 2nd characteristic into the event i.e. day of week as well as sex and (2) it has ruled out some events that would otherwise count. Example: 2 boys born on Saturday don't count as positive events. 2 girls born on Saturday already didn't count because of the specification that one child was a boy. In other words, the day-of-week seems irrelevant, but it's still grabbing a portion of the outcome space and putting other parts of it off limits.

The implications of this logic for an opinion poll asking whether the US president is a socialist are left to the reader.