Monday, May 30, 2011

Trouble in Paradise?

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham are normally inseparable, both from each other and from symbols of US military might.

So a little strange then that McCain is spending the US Memorial Day holiday in Bangkok, while Graham is spending it in Qatar.

Friday, May 27, 2011


If Libyan dictator Gaddafi had billions of dollars sitting at Societe General and huge amounts of AIG bailout money were channeled to Soc Gen, that means that American taxpayer money was put on the line to save the Gaddafi wealth.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Those crazy foreigners

A CNN International report just now described hawala as "an ancient banking system that relies entirely on trust." The reliance on trust was meant to be taken as a remarkable feature.

As opposed to modern banking systems, in which people place paper currency in well-supervised financial institutions that could never possibly go completely pear-shaped.

Name that corporate logo

Answer in 24 hours.

UPDATE: It's a Krispy Kreme in Salmiya, Kuwait.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

War and change

David Brooks writes in the New York Times from London reflecting on British history  --

In 1920, Winston Churchill’s mother held a dinner for M. Paul Cambon to celebrate the end of his 20 years as the French ambassador to Britain. One of the guests asked Cambon what he had seen in his two decades in London.  “I have witnessed an English revolution more profound and searching than the French Revolution itself,” Cambon replied. “The governing class have been almost entirely deprived of political power and to a very large extent of their property and estates; and this has been accomplished almost imperceptibly and without the loss of a single life.”

Buried in that answer is a picture of how politics should work. Britain faced an enormous task: To move from an aristocratic political economy to a democratic, industrial one. This transition was made gradually, without convulsion, with both parties playing a role.

The problem is that the period 1900-1920 includes World War I.  Now you can still make the claim that the political system showed remarkable stability given the convulsions around it, but to isolate a highly militaristic 20 years of British history and claim it as an example of progressive domestic political change is a stretch.  Indeed the War itself was a contributor to those changes, through increasing the role of government, mobilizing more people into the workforce, and undermining the faith in the elite that had made such a shambles of the war. 

And of course the War was critical to Britain's relationship with Ireland, necessitating yet another qualifier on 1900-1920 as a period of peaceful revolution.  Finally, that's a cagey reference of Brooks to "both parties" because in Britain (again ignoring Ireland), there were three: Conservative, Liberal, and Labour.  Yes Labour was not yet in power, but as a social movement it was already exerting influence.

In short, if you wanted to pick a period of British history as involving constructive political quarreling, you could do better.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Own Goal

Those ugly ramps that embassies put at their gates to deter oversized suspicious vehicles did an excellent job of keeping in President Obama's car at the US Embassy in Ballsbridge, Dublin.
Photo: Katie MacArdle

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

John Edwards and Arnold Schwarzenegger

Even by the standards of blogging, this post is a complete waste of time, but anyway.  Here's supposed Democrat and one-time candidate for US Senate from California Mickey Kaus explaining why it was so relevant to keep peddling those true stories about a John Edwards love-child --

4. Irresponsibility: How irresponsible was it to seek the party's nomination knowing that this scandal was lurking around, ready to explode? What if he'd won? Are we sure it wouldn't have been discovered by the McCain campaign before November? Rock stars get to behave this badly because they're only rock stars. Worst that happens is the band breaks up. What if Edwards actually got elected--and then the scandal was discovered when he was in office? Did Democrats enjoy the Lewinsky years?
5. The Coverup: If the scandal is true, it almost certainly means that during the campaign Edwards presided over an elaborate coverup involving at least a) having an aide wrongly claim paternity and b) having other aides go out and lie to reporters. It probably also included payments of money to cooperating parties and various familiar slurs on the character of the 'other woman,' Rielle Hunter.

Now here's Kaus explaining how great it is that we already know all the bad stuff about his one-time hero, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger --

In a perverse way, I think Schwarzenegger's character defects may even serve as a valuable protection against the dangers of his ascendancy. It's not just that he will be on his best behavior toward women, or that he will take special care not to come across as an authoritarian who disrespects the "little men" and "losers." It's that the defects in all their ugliness are now visible to everyone--they've done their damage, making it impossible for him to think about building the sort of cult of personality his Nuremberg-rally fantasies might otherwise tempt him to build. We know he's a pig. We're not going to love him. If he's going to keep our loyalty it will have to be by producing actual results: a slimmed down government, a balanced budget, better schools, a better business climate, etc.

Except now we know that Arnold was sitting on an Edwards-like secret all these years, one that he got away with while running for, and holding, office. That Edwards-era "irresponsibility" and "coverup" sounds like the kind of thing that might have kept the Governator from fulfilling the expectations that people like Kaus had him in. But not being a Democrat, there was a blind spot.

Remember Mickey when he said he'd balance the budget? He lied.

UPDATE: The current Kaus strategy is to claim that the Schwarzenegger revelation is old news, though that's not backed up when you follow his link.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Free fact-checking

The Wall Street Journal Europe finds Lizzie's Windsor's visit to Ireland pleasing:

Queen Elizabeth II will visit Ireland today, the first state visit by a British Monarch since the founding of the Republic in 1921. 

It'll come as news to custodians of the memory of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (Lizzie's mother) that Ireland became a Republic in 1921.  It was in 1949.  Just so you're ready for that trivia question: Who was the last King of Ireland?

Monday, May 16, 2011

DSK: A Theory

Since everyone is offering their interpretation of the Dominique Strass-Kahn accusations, here's ours, taking the NYPD version of events at face value.  It wasn't about the sex.  It was about the anger -- the anger that the lowly hotel maid had disturbed him in his US$3000/night suite.  The assault was the expression of anger, not yet another manifestation of supposed Gallic lust.

This could yet be the fiasco that might have been averted through use of a Do Not Disturb sign, although the underlying psychological issues were probably going to explode eventually.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Warning signs

IMF Managing Director and likely candidate for President of France, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.  Finding himself in the custody of the actual Law and Order: SVU.  But go read this story from France Soir last week (run through your favourite translator if necessary) -- written before this bizarre development.  There were problems for someone on a public sector salary: the apartment in central Paris, the place in Marrakesh, the Porsche, and the fixer Ramzy Khiroun, the kind of fixer that famous people with a tendency to land in sticky situations might need.  It seems there was a lot of stuff about DSK hidden in plain sight.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Argentina without the wine

Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Marian Tupy --

Now, in grabbing for retirees' savings, Irish leaders are attacking the very notion of private property. Dublin's new tax is intended to fund the government's "job creation" program while still shrinking its deficits. But even those who have confidence in the ability of governments to create productive employment should be concerned about the ethical dimension of expropriation, which is on par with Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner's decision to nationalize private pensions in 2008, when her government faced bankruptcy.

Now it's true that there's an element of lunacy to the policies forced by the European Union's still unresolved debt crisis, but a 0.6 percent temporary tax on private pension fund assets -- whose contributions earned tax deductions -- doesn't seem on a par with expropriation.  Especially when the National Pension Reserve Fund, which was set aside to meet public pension obligations has already been fully raided to meet the black holes in the banking sector. 

Tupy correctly focuses on the eurozone as an elite-driven project.  But Ireland's problem isn't the single currency per se, but the insane banking sector policies that come with it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What not to do

Wall Street Journal --

Yet Spanish officials are anxious to avoid a situation in which they take over a bank, or purchase banks' bad assets, as Ireland has done. Ireland's National Asset Management Agency bought commercial-real-estate assets at severe discounts, forcing steep markdowns across the sector and creating further capital holes that had to be filled largely with taxpayer money.

Gradually people are realizing that Ireland wrote the book on the worst possible way of handling a banking crisis.

UPDATE 17 MAY: 2nd news article --

"I think, very rightly, the government [of Spain] has no intention of creating a bad bank," said Luis Arenzana, managing partner of Shelter Island Capital Management in Madrid. "The case of Ireland proves it's a terrible idea."

Monday, May 09, 2011

The conspiracy-theorist in chief

The Daily Beast features "the 6 wackiest Osama bin Laden conspiracy theories."  And it's wacky stuff.  Kate and Wills were tipped off.  He's not dead.  He was a CIA plant etc etc.

But one problem -- there's one truly wacky conspiracy theory not on the list.  That Osama and Saddam Hussein worked together, up to and including 9/11.  And instead of tabloids and crazy Internet users, that theory was held by George Bush and Dick Cheney.

The actual destruction that resulted isn't so wacky.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Random Spongebob Irish moment

In the episode Yours Mine and Mine, a subway train features the destination Ballymun.