Saturday, December 31, 2016

Peace through trade

That was once the Obama Administration theory about how to get Russia onside. From Foreign Policy, May 2011; the context is that Russia was seeking to join the World Trade Organisation, but since admission of new members is by consensus, Georgia, which has territory occupied by Russia, could have blocked it --

... Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met on the sidelines of the G-8 summit in France. A senior White House official told ABC News after the meeting that Obama has "personally been engaged in" the issue for months, and actually set up the Swiss negotiations and convinced both the Russian and Georgian leaders to attend. The senior official also compared the Georgians to the Palestinians, saying that, with regard to Georgia’s desire to end the Russian occupation, "[T]he WTO is not the forum in which to resolve this… like the Palestinians pursuing the vote at the U.N." "We think that Russian accession to the WTO will be good for the Russian economy, will be good for the U.S. economy, it will be good for the world economy," Obama said today. "And we are confident that we can get this done." There are also signs that senior administration officials have placed pressure on Georgia to make a deal ...

Bonus points for the Administration's then analogy between the Georgians and the Palestinians regarding how to resolve occupied territory!

Why Trump won, Part 94

Wall Street Journal weekend edition --

Yoga vacations — more self-indulgent than you’d think ...

The Trump moment

A point of agreement even among those who disagree about the relevance and scope of Vladimir Putin's interference in the US presidential campaign is that a perception of recurring US interventions in elections in Russia's near-abroad provided him with a motive.

Particularly Ukraine. In fact it's surprising, given how much effort the New Pundits devoted to linking Trump to Putin via Ukraine, that the topic has simply been dropped in the election post-mortems; once Paul Manafort left the Trump campaign organization, they lost interest.

Anyway, Putin's motive would be clear: he blamed the US for derailing the political situation in 2013-14, events culminating in the Maidan protests, the flight of Viktor Yanukovych from power, and the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

It's forgotten now, but the Maidan protests started when Ukraine backed out of signing an EU Association agreement. And about that agreement: Putin had spent months negotiating with then European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to find a formula to align it with Ukraine's pre-existing trade agreement with Russia, but nothing like that was done until after Ukraine's crisis. Leading to this analysis in Time --

Igor Yurgens, a former Kremlin adviser who has been directly involved in those efforts since 2008, admitted as much on Friday after the Brussels compromise was made public. “What happened today is exactly what Russia wanted to do before the crisis,” Yurgens told Barroso at the summit in Kiev. “If we did it before the crisis, probably there would be no crisis.” Yurgens added: “I’m sorry.”

So there's an alternative history. Barroso does a deal with Putin in 2013 on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement; Russia thus allows it to go through; no Maidan protests, no fall of Yanukovych, no Russia seething that the US had interfered in its neighbourhood -- and Russia/Ukraine is simply a non-issue in the US campaign.

This of course means that Barroso is the true agent of global chaos today, that man always in the vicinity of the origin of a crisis, but never directly implicated.

Seemingly unrelated final observation: he now works for Goldman Sachs.

Photo, via EU Commission: Jose Manuel Barroso and Jean-Claude Juncker admire a portrait of, er, Jose Manuel Barroso.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Putin in new Obama outrage

The Kremlin's Christmas and New Year's list of greetings includes further conciliatory language to Donald Trump. But besides listing numerous leaders who also received greetings, even Abkhazia and South Ossetia (republics that are products of Russia's frozen wars), it doesn't mention Barack Obama at all, although both George Bushes got greetings. Notable too on the list of former leaders receiving greetings: Francois Fillon, likely the next President of France.

Drain that Bobo swamp

Washington Post --

The Shaw Bijou's opening was met with a collective side-eye from Washingtonians who balked at chef Kwame Onwuachi's prices — as much as $1,000 per couple for a multicourse dinner with wine pairings. It was especially galling, some thought, in light of the chef's resume. Though Onwuachi is a “Top Chef” and Eleven Madison Park alum, the Shaw Bijou is his first restaurant. Not knowing your market can be a beginner's mistake, and now Onwuachi is owning up to it. He announced Thursday that he plans to change his menu — formerly $185 for 13 to 15 courses and an additional $185 for the suggested wine pairing — to a seven-course, $95 meal beginning Jan. 3. The meal includes an opening cocktail, but other beverages will be priced separately. The new wine pairing price hasn't been determined yet.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Quote of the Day

If we were to come out now with big publicity for our plans, there would be people who would say that we are just trying to create new facts and tie Jerusalem more firmly to Israel, to make sure that the negotiators don't bargain East Jerusalem away to Jordan again.”

That's Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek discussing the low profile of the new District Town Planning Committee's rehabilitation plan for East Jerusalem -- as quoted in the New York Times dated 22 August, 1970.

Putin on the Nile

Probably the strangest aspect of the Israeli government and US conservative media counteroffensive against John Kerry's speech yesterday is its reliance on the Egyptian Deep State. This trend actually well precedes the UN vote, with Trump having played up his relationship with Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi for a while, using it to obtain an ostensible postponement of the UN vote. Then there's the apparent Bibi endorsement of the first "leak" of the alleged "evidence" the US had orchestrated the UN vote -- the leak being to an Egyptian newspaper and thus likely sourced from Egyptian security services.

You'd think the one things that conservatives might have learned from years of frustration in the Middle East is the risk of getting pulled into the machinations of authoritarian regimes, but that's where they are now with al-Sisi. Analysts who have spent a lot more time than they have looking at al-Sisi's incentives see an attempt to place Mohammad Dahlan in prime position as the next leader of Fatah (and thus de facto President of Palestine). Good luck to anyone trying to keep their hands clean in that rivalry. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

May God bless and keep the Tsar ... far away from us

Key point in the Russian admission to the New York Times of a massive multi-Olympic anti-doping program --

The officials, however, continue to reject the accusation that the doping program was state-sponsored. They define the Russian state as President Vladimir V. Putin and his closest associates.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Carrie Fisher

Different people have their different favourite vintages of Princess Leia, but for us the style quotient was always highest in The Empire Strikes Back (left).

Part of the reaction to the deaths this week, and this year, has been people of a certain age (including us!) realizing that we're old. Yes, George Michael and Carrie Fisher died far too young, but they came into our consciousness what is now a long time ago.

The Empire Strikes Back (whose first seeing by this blogger at a cinema in Berkshire is still vividly remembered) came out in 1980. Take a look at this partial list of Top of the Pops performances in 1980. If you're of that vintage of ToTP watcher, the list probably includes some characters and preferences that you haven't thought about in a while.


Comfort news

It gained quick circulation as a version of what happened in the final minutes of the Berlin truck rampage: the original driver of the hijacked truck, Lukasz Urban, was still in the cab and struggled with Anis Amri to the last, saving more lives.

There's just one problem: it's virtually impossible that this happened.

German investigators have determined that Urban was shot in the head hours before the rampage and had already suffered massive blood loss by the time it occurred; even if he was still alive, there was no way he was struggling with Amri.

Now, this isn't an example of fake news -- a widely abused term that used to mean manufacturing viral-potential information that is known to to be false. But it is an example of news that people wanted to be true despite what one or two skeptical questions might have told them. Hence, comfort news.

He learned his diplomatic skills on CNN

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a 2014 speech --

We can and should minimize the possible damage radical Islam poses to us and others, support the international efforts to strengthen Jordan and support the Kurds' aspirations for independence. Jordan is a stable, moderate country with a strong military that can defend itself, and the international efforts to support it are appropriate. So too is the support for the Kurds, who are a fighting people that has shown political commitment and moderation and deserves political independence.

That's Bibi calling for the breakup of a UN member state, Iraq, and a state that, whatever its current flaws, posed no threat to Israel, with Saddam -- the dictator who catapulted Bibi to stardom in 1991 -- long gone. An independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq is also contrary to stated US policy.

All things to remember in the current conservative hysteria about the US formulating its own positions at the UN Security Council.

Monday, December 26, 2016

George Michael

George Michael ft Mary J.Blige - As by foxysoul

Note: the News of the World reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, who wrote the Hampstead Heath story about George is now a media analyst for the Putinist Russia Today. Good riddance 2016.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Tactical anonymity

Associated Press on Friday evening, in a story representative of general news reporting that day (and thus likely based on a common briefing) --

Israel knew even before the Egyptian draft resolution that the White House was planning an "ambush" and coordinating it with the Palestinians, said another Israeli official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal diplomatic conversations. Israeli diplomats believe they were misled by the U.S. during a meeting last week between high-ranking Israeli and Obama administration officials in which the U.S. side offered reassurances about its efforts to support Israel but declined to explicitly state that the U.S. would veto such a resolution if it came up. The Israelis told their counterparts that "friends don't take friends to the Security Council," the official said.

Washington Post on Sunday, in a story representative of general news reporting today --

“Over decades, American administrations and Israeli governments had disagreed about settlements, but we agreed that the Security Council was not the place to resolve this issue,” [Netanyahu] said. “As I told John Kerry on Thursday, friends don’t take friends to the Security Council.”

So what was on Friday a juicy anonymous zinger-style quote has on Sunday been revealed as coming from Netanyahu himself. One would hope that reporters would connect the changing sourcing and ponder whether the original anonymous sourcing was abused to magnify the faux-outrage of Friday's reaction.

And note again that Netanyahu's antics are detached not just from his actual behavior on Thursday and Friday (he phoned Putin but not Obama) but also from any evidence that the US changed its policy stance on the settlements. Is he simply gambling (like the Iranians) that he can say whatever he wants on Christmas Day and no one will notice?

Necessary government

The US Geological Survey is something that Donald Trump will probably want to abolish. It happens to be one of the few original sources of information about the Christmas Day Chile earthquake.

But they are complying with the nuclear deal!

This Al Arabiya article helpfully explains that, in reporting the latest speech of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Mohammed Ali Jafari, the English language Iranian news agencies did not cover the part of the speech where he says that for Iran, Aleppo is the front line of the Islamic revolution.

US National Security Council people -- when you're back in the office on 3rd January, can you make a note to check the original Farsi version of the speech and write it up accordingly -- thanks.


Reuters report on the crash of the Russian plane in the Black Sea which was carrying a military choir from Moscow to Syria via Sochi --

The last big TU-154 crash was in 2010 when a Polish jet carrying then-president Lech Kaczynski and much of Poland's political elite crashed in western Russia killing everyone on board.

That doesn't mean that the plane itself is the problem, but it indicates that the plane plus the conditions -- environmental and human -- are a particularly bad mix.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

There are no coincidences

Corriere della Sera reports on what's being portrayed as a strange coincidence: that when Anis Amri met his end in a Milan suburb, he was less than one kilometer away from where the truck that was used for the Berlin rampage had taken on cargo.

Changing times

For a bit of context on the conservative "outrage" over the Obama Administration abstention on the UN Security Council Israeli settlements resolution, consider the Reagan Administration position on settlements 34 years ago; the context is that immediately after a Reagan initiative in September 1982 that the Palestinian territories could have autonomy in an association arrangement with Jordan, Israel announced -- as usual when any initiative is unveiled -- new settlement activities:

The United States regards the Israeli announcement of its intention to establish additional settlements as most unwelcome. We cannot understand why, at a time when broader participation in the peace process is both critical and possible, Israel has elected to extend a pattern of activity which erodes the confidence of all, and most particularly the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza for a just and fairly negotiated outcome to the peace process. Moreover, such settlement activities can only raise questions about Israel's willingness to abide by the promise of U.N. Resolution 242 that territory will be exchanged for peace. The United States will not alter its stand on settlements. We will persist in our efforts to help Israel understand how damaging its settlements are to the peace we are all trying to achieve and how seriously we take this issue.

Worst analogy of the year

Daniel Hannan (writing at CNN) looks to put everyone at ease about Brexit --

When you move from a dingy flat to a handsome new house, the move itself is still tedious.

Friday, December 23, 2016


The decision of the United States to abstain on the UN Security Council resolution critical of Israel is understandably being presented as a milestone in the US stance on the Israel-Palestine question, and the associated "outrage" gives Fox News and related outlets a nice glide path into Christmas. But does the Israeli government actually care as much as it says it does? Here's a press release on the Kremlin website --

Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israeli side's initiative. The two leaders continued to exchange views on the current situation in the Middle East and reaffirmed their readiness to further actively cooperate in the fight against terrorism.

So on the eve of what's been presented as a new low in UN-Israel relations, Bibi wasn't on the phone to Washington looking to get anything resolved; instead he was talking to Vladimir Putin, who also has a UN Security Council veto, about general regional issues. If the passage of this resolution was really such a concern for Israel, he could have asked Putin to veto it.

The episode looks much more like the typical sound and fury, signifying nothing. Meanwhile Bethlehem will have its one-day spotlight looking very unrepresentative of the daily lives of West Bank residents.

Merry Christmas.

Putin to Obama: Stop Whinging

From the typically wide-ranging end-of-year Kremlin news conference today --

They would be better off not taking the names of their earlier statesmen [Reagan] in vain, of course. I’m not so sure who might be turning in their grave right now. It seems to me that Reagan would be happy to see his party’s people winning everywhere, and would welcome the victory of the newly elected President so adept at catching the public mood, and who took precisely this direction and pressed onwards to the very end, even when no one except us believed he could win. (Applause). The outstanding Democrats in American history would probably be turning in their graves though. Roosevelt certainly would be because he was an exceptional statesman in American and world history, who knew how to unite the nation even during the Great Depression’s bleakest years, in the late 1930s, and during World War II. Today’s administration, however, is very clearly dividing the nation. The call for the electors not to vote for either candidate, in this case, not to vote for the President-elect, was quite simply a step towards dividing the nation. Two electors did decide not to vote for Trump, and four for Clinton, and here too they lost. They are losing on all fronts and looking for scapegoats on whom to lay the blame. I think that this is an affront to their own dignity. It is important to know how to lose gracefully.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Downward Spiral

An amazing photograph from Italian news agency ANSA shows wanted Berlin truck rampage suspect Anis Amri sitting with a group of Tunisian asylum seekers in Lampedusa, 3 April 2011. 

Quote of the Day

Professor Angus Deaton in Saturday Financial Times "lunch with ..." slot --

But his bigger frustration is with what he sees as the detached and technocratic backgrounds of so many people in centrist politics nowadays. “If you think about the first leaders of the UK’s Labour party, they were singing hymns on the train platform as they went off to work. And they were of ‘those people’,” he says. “If you think of someone like Gordon Brown, who I have immense admiration for, and Obama — and the high point of my year this year was my meeting with Obama — he’s not one of ‘those people’ any more. He’s an intellectual with progressive views who is making policy in a way that he judges is good for those people.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Twice Oppressed People Ever

Under Facebook's moderation rules, you can't say "Irish women are stupid" but you can say "Irish teenagers are stupid."

Why? Because Facebook's gatekeepers categorize both "Irish" and "women" as a protected category, but not teenager, so the algorithm only captures the first statement.

Süddeutsche Zeitung explains.

Greater North Atlantic Co-Prosperity Sphere

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The new non-aligned movement

The Wall Street Journal has sight of the cooperation agreement signed between the Putinist United Russia party and Austria's Freedom Party --

The agreement, seen by The Wall Street Journal, describes “mutual noninterference in internal affairs” and “equal, reliable, and mutually beneficial partnership” as key principles ... The Russian official who signed the agreement with the Freedom Party, Deputy State Duma Speaker Sergei Zheleznyak, is a target of U.S. and European Union sanctions because of his support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea. “We must work to expand the development of the partnership between our parties and countries, including on questions of international security, the migration crisis, economic and humanitarian development, support for traditional values, and protecting the environment,” Mr. Zheleznyak said.

Note the way that the language on a broad range of issues has been co-opted by what is an ultra-nationalist and illiberal alliance.

Monday, December 19, 2016


A Christmas tree flattened by a huge black truck -- which also killed 9 people.

Photo via N-TV

Facts still arriving

The Ankara assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey: it seemed clear from the photographs that the assassin had a professional relationship with guns and Reuters reports --

Two security sources identified the gunman as an off-duty police officer who worked in the Turkish capital.

Everyone is going to rush to fit the assassination into a Syria narrative, but if 2016 has taught us anything, it's that nothing is that simple.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Usual Suspects

Sunday's New York Times reports on the prolific Hillary Clinton-focused fake news outfits run by James Dowson. The article focuses on Dowson's connections to pro-Putin activities but he's better known in Ireland as a provocateur feasting on Unionist "outrage" such as above at "flag" protests in Belfast in 2013 (much more on this career phase from Slugger O'Toole).

There's understandably a lot of effort being directed now into what exactly is new about Trumpism. But a critical element is simply old grievances which surfed social media organizing capabilities into new causes.

Photo: Scottish Daily Record.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Long memory

Vladimir Putin in press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe --

But there are many questions in this respect [Kuril Islands dispute], including regarding economic activity and security. For example, when in 1956 the Soviet Union and Japan were close to resolving this dispute and signed (not only signed, but also ratified) the 1956 Declaration, as we know, and it is an established historical fact, the United States, believing that it has interests in this region, in the person of then-Secretary of State Dulles presented an ultimatum to Japan: if Japan does anything that contradicts the interests of the United States, the US will assume full jurisdiction over Okinawa.

Carry on up the Nile

At President Obama's news conference yesterday --

I felt responsible when kids were being shot by snipers [in Syria]. I felt responsible when millions of people had been displaced.  I feel responsible for murder and slaughter that’s taken place in South Sudan that’s not being reported on partly because there’s not as much social media being generated from there.

It's a bit ridiculous for him to be sniping that there's not as much reporting about the dire situation in South Sudan when (a) there's been nothing stopping him talking about South Sudan and (b) his last action on South Sudan was a dead-of-summer waiver for South Sudan from the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, with a new UNICEF report confirming that use of child soldiers remains pervasive in South Sudan.

Friday, December 16, 2016

They never went away

Irish Times --

Horse-racing tycoons John Magnier and JP McManus have sold an office and retail building on Place Vendome in Paris to Norway’s oil-rich sovereign wealth fund for €1 billion. The duo bought the Vendome Saint-Honoré property in 2007 for €650 million from Hammerson plc and Axa’s real estate management unit. They subsequently spent a considerable sum refurbishing the building.

It's as if the Irish property implosion never happened. The breathless reporting of megadeals, the oil money customers, the description of Magnier and McManus line of business as horse-racing, the lack of curiosity about how two individuals with only a stud farm between them (in the Irish mythology) could be dealing in this kind of cash, the blasé references to offshore corporate structures, and the obsession with prestige properties. They flew the tricolour over Place Vendome. The rest of the country went broke.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


White House statement --

This Administration has made clear that an extension of the Iran Sanctions Act, while unnecessary, is entirely consistent with our commitments in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Consistent with this longstanding position, the extension of the Iran Sanctions Act is becoming law without the President's signature. Extension of the Iran Sanctions Act, which was in place at the time the JCPOA was negotiated and remains so today, does not affect in any way our ability to fulfil our commitments in the JCPOA. The Administration has, and continues to use, all of the necessary authorities to waive the relevant sanctions, to enforce those that are outside the scope of the JCPOA, and to reimpose sanctions if necessary in the event that Iran should fail to perform its commitments under the JCPOA.

To understand the signals being sent to Iran by the above, the Iranian government is supposed to interpret the difference between the President not signing a bill when Congress is in session versus when it is not in session, and further between the sanctions that apply based its nuclear ambitions versus the sanctions that apply to its other activities in the Middle East.

And it's that choreography of the President's signature up against the flattening of Aleppo!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

2013 Obama meet 2016 Obama

President Obama at the 2013 G20 summit in St Petersburg when the live issue was the Assad regime use of chemical weapons --

And sometimes the further we get from the horrors of that, the easier it is to rationalize not making tough choices. And I understand that. This is not convenient. This is not something that I think a lot of folks around the world find an appetizing set of choices. But the question is, do these norms mean something? And if we’re not acting, what does that say? If we’re just issuing another statement of condemnation, or passing resolutions saying “wasn't that terrible,” if people who decry international inaction in Rwanda and say how terrible it is that there are these human rights violations that take place around the world and why aren’t we doing something about it -- and they always look to the United States -- why isn’t the United States doing something about this, the most powerful nation on Earth? Why are you allowing these terrible things to happen? And then, if the international community turns around when we’re saying it’s time to take some responsibility and says, well, hold on a second, we’re not sure -- that erodes our ability to maintain the kind of norms that we're looking at.

Follow-up call

New York Times 2 days ago--

Bahrain’s embassy in Washington held its annual National Day celebration last week at Mr. Trump’s new luxury hotel there. The hotel has come under scrutiny by American government ethics experts who worry that foreign governments, special interest groups and others will book rooms and events there to curry favor with the president-elect.

Bahrain News Agency today--

Manama, Dec. 14 (BNA): His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa held a telephone call with the US President-elect Donald Trump and congratulated him on the US people's trust in the recent presidential elections, wishing him every success. HM the King underlined deep-rooted historic and strategic relations between the two friendly countries, voicing keenness on further promoting them for the best interest of both countries. He also wished the new US President-elect abundant good health and further progress and prosperity to the American people. On his part, the US President-elect expressed heartfelt respect and appreciation to HM the King, voicing keenness on working together to further bolster the distinguished historic and strategic relations between Bahrain and the USA and lauding growing bilateral cooperation at all levels.

Irish President in monetary policy outrage

The Financial Times spends a few hours in the official residence with President Michael D. Higgins --

He lambasts the European Central Bank, which some Irish people believe — often against the available evidence — to be the cause of Ireland’s recent brush with the financial abyss. “I’m not supposed to have an opinion about the ECB, but how could you not, given that it is one of the world’s most important institutions?” he ventures. “How did it ever come to be? How did France ever allow it? The French thought it could be [operationally] in Frankfurt and that its intellectual apparatus would come from the grandes écoles. Well, that has been blown apart.”

Sunday, December 11, 2016


Above (via CNN Turk) the crater left by the car bomb outside Besiktas Vodafone stadium in Istanbul last night -- note how the blast went through several layers of the road. 

Putin's Mission Accomplished moment

Vladimir Putin addresses by video conference a concert held at the historic Palmyra ruins in Syria, May 5 2016, to celebrate the recapture of the city from ISIS.

With Russian and Syrian forces now busy flattening eastern Aleppo, ISIS has recaptured Palmyra.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

It's not always Wagner

Financial Times on the rise of Breitbart News --

Breitbart, who died unexpectedly in 2012 aged 43, was not a typical conservative — he once told the FT he enjoyed late 1980s dance music culture ...

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Word games

Statement from leaders of all G7 countries except Japan, via White House --

... strongly condemn the Syrian regime's attacks that have devastated civilians and medical facilities and use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons.

From President Obama's speech in Tampa yesterday defending his counterterrorism policies --

We’ve eliminated Syria’s declared chemical weapons program.

The truth of that sentence hinges on the word "declared" and its substance is undermined by the accurate description of the situation in today's "G6" statement.

Incidentally, this Reuters story explains how the Iraqi government assault on Mosul was reworked on Iranian advice to use the same tactics as Aleppo, i.e, a complete cutoff of all escape routes from the city. The US government is supporting the Mosul assault.


Wall Street Journal --

A U.S. Weather Tradition Takes the British Isles By Storm

... Storms have been named for centuries, but it wasn’t until 1953, when the National Hurricane Center in the U.S. started officially naming Atlantic tropical storms, that they were christened before making landfall. In the U.K. and Ireland, storms were named on an ad hoc basis until last year. A realization that something needed to change occurred in the 2013-14 season, when one particularly bad tempest was given upward of five names by various meteorological and media outlets across Europe, going by the aliases Simone, Carmen, Allan, the St. Jude Storm and Cyclone Christian. The incident pushed the Met Office and Met Éireann to take ownership of the naming of storms that passed over their territories. They based their system on the U.S. National Hurricane Center’s conventions as well as their own national weather warning services. Rules include avoiding names that start with the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z (there aren’t enough of them), and those that were used for particularly destructive storms in the recent past, such as Andrew or Katrina ...

To say that a US weather "tradition" underpins this trend is a stretch. In fact, it was the clearly untraditional Weather Channel practice of naming winter storms that led to the practice -- the met offices were reacting to would-be Brick Tamlands coming up with their own names for storms in the age of clickbait. As quotes in the WSJ article well reflect, there's a general dubiousness about naming storms when wind is so frequent, but that's the time horizon of the social media beast. As we've documented before, the concession on naming storms has done nothing to stop the continued import of Weather Channel clowning, including the use of their names for storms that the met offices don't name, and screaming into a TV camera in gale force conditions.

The difference in weather conditions between the US exposure to infrequent but highly dangerous tropical storms and the recurrence of wind in the north Atlantic is reflected in the fact that the most resonant weather tradition in the UK and Ireland is the shipping forecast, i.e. the names are used for the sea areas affected by the storms rather than the storms themselves, 

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The populist front

Two slightly connected observations.

1. It looks like an oversight that Donald Trump's seemingly abrupt outreach to Taiwan has not yet been linked to deep Republican lore, specifically the 1950s demands to "Unleash Chiang" so as to open up a reverse takeover of Red China by Taiwan, It was of course a preposterous vision, carried on in mocking fashion in a Bush family in-joke to nearly the present day. But someone in Trump's circle, or maybe Trump himself, doesn't get the joke.

2. For the last few weeks, pundits have been rushing to their keyboards to type up "Merkel is the liberal West's last hope" articles. Sceptics have therefore, rightly, been quick to draw attention to Merkel's promise in her CDU party speech today to ban wearing the burqa during public administrative transactions.

Anyway the point is that if Merkel wins next year's election -- which at this point she is likely to do -- it won't be because she fits some New Pundit definition of liberal, but because she knows how to maintain a moderate conservative electoral coalition large enough to give her space to implement moderate conservative policies.

Part of how she does this is being tactically astute. It's forgotten now, but Merkel saw the dangers of Davos attendance last January, an insight that still seems lost on the Thought-Leading Ted-Talking fools headed there again this year. Even her burqa ban might be more aimed at detaching herself from the Intellectual-Yet-Idiot choir than any substantive imposition on observant Muslim lifestyle in Germany.

In that same speech from which the burqa ban grapped all the attention, she also said --

Ehrlich gesagt: Wenn ein Freihandelsabkommen mit den Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika Hunderttausende in Deutschland auf die Straße bringt, aber die so grausamen Bombardierungen auf Aleppo so gut wie keinen öffentlichen Protest auslösen, dann stimmt irgendetwas mit den politischen Maßstäben nicht mehr

Loosely: if a trade agreement with the USA can bring hundreds of thousands onto the streets in protest, but the cruel bombing of Aleppo brings almost no public protest, then something has changed in political standards.

That's an effective dig at the very selective nature of "outrage" as the currency of populism, just as Aleppo has been displaced from the news by whatever is the latest Trump tweet.

A seed of populism

The current political context in Europe calls to mind a missed sign of divergence between the general public and technocrats that occurred with the introduction of the Euro single currency in 1999. There was a widespread public perception that businesses used the conversion from national currencies to the Euro to round up prices, resulting in generally higher prices than prevailed prior to the switchover.

Economists patted simple hoi polloi on the head and told them that they'd made the same mistake as Nigel Tufnel in Spinal Tap, namely confusing numbers ("well it's one louder, isn't it?") with the reality that whether prices went up or down was a purely arithmetic exercise based on the currency conversion factors.

Subsequent research found scattered but tantalizing evidence that some prices really did increase but at the same time indicated that perceptions were the dominant influence in whether people thought this happened or not.

Yet that sense that the Euro had done strange things to national economies despite what experts said looks like a prophecy of what was to come in 2008 -- and part of the explanation for why credibility has been so difficult to restore.

Nigel's amp, By Source, Fair use, Link

Photo of the Day

Great Wall Street Journal reporting from northern Iraq about the town of Qaraqosh, a historically Iraqi Christian town much of whose population has fled; after ISIS was cleared out, it's now defended by a local Christian militia commanded by a retired Iraqi Army officer. The above is part of the scene of destruction inside the town's Mar Gorgis church. Photo by Juan Carlos for the WSJ.

Trump in new U-turn outrage

RTE --

Clare County Council has confirmed that the application for the coastal protection works near Trump International Golf Links and Hotel in Doonbeg, Co Clare, has been withdrawn. The hotel, owned by US President-elect Mr Trump, had proposed building a 2.8km sea wall along a public beach to protect the golf resort. The wall would have been 4.5 metres in height and built from rock. Last night at the opening of the public consultation on revised plans for coastal defences at Doonbeg new plans were displayed that did not include the previously proposed wall.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Make Switzerland awkward again

With Donald Trump's Cincinnati speech renewing his commitment to his anti-globalization campaign position, it's worth noting that the next World Economic Forum in Davos -- where the Davoisie assemble -- will be taking place in the week leading up to his inauguration on 20 January.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Trump in new religion outrage

Irish Times article on the extensive connections of Trump's Treasury Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross to Ireland --

Around the time he was pumping money into Bank of Ireland, he once inquired of an Irish official whether Irish people would be more inclined to repay their mortgages because they were Catholic.


With the US apparently hoping that the Assad-Putin flattening of eastern Aleppo will at least remove the issue of what to do about it, the Financial Times reports on more permanent effects of its inaction, in the form of the opposition deciding to deal with Russia --

One opposition figure, when asked why he thought Russia would seek a deal with the rebels just as Mr Assad appeared to be winning, said Moscow was “essentially saying: ‘Screw you, Americans’.”

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


President Ronald Reagan greeting Donald and Ivana Trump at a dinner for King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, 31 years ago.

Photo: US National Archives.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Obama finally proven right on Syria

In that April 2016 "Obama Doctrine" interview with Jeffrey Goldberg --

“When you have a professional army,” he once told me, “that is well armed and sponsored by two large states”—Iran and Russia—“who have huge stakes in this, and they are fighting against a farmer, a carpenter, an engineer who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict …”

Wait long enough, isolate the rebels, and that's what the war has become, in Aleppo.

Just tidying up

Fascinating New York Times article on how in the last days of the Obama Administration, they are planning to bring the Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab (whose origins go back to the Bush-era Operation Prester John) under the 9/11 use of force authorization --

But as American partners have been going after the Shabab in general more often without any particular focus on individuals linked to Al Qaeda, it has been harder to point to any congressional authorization for such airstrikes that would satisfy the War Powers Resolution. As the election neared, the administration decided it would be irresponsible to hand off Somali counterterrorism operations to Mr. Obama’s successor with that growing tension unresolved.

It's a bit odd that of all the things that might have cluttered the desk of the Trump Administration, one thing that rose from that pile was the legal basis for the al-Shabaab strikes. Which suggests a rationale: in the general tradition of restrictive legal interpretations, bringing al-Shabaab under the 9/11 resolution might be seen as expansionary. But since Trump is not obviously concerned with legal principles, is the rationale to ensure that he has to continue the current policy against al-Shabaab, because now they've been linked by a Presidential decision to 9/11?

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Above, a telegram from Fidel Castro to Pablo Picasso in 1962, congratulating him on winning the USSR's International Lenin Peace Prize.

It's one indication of how long Fidel was around, that telegraph was a regular communications medium in his early days of power, while now his death will be marked by Tweets of Commemoration and/or Tweets of Outrage at the earlier Tweets of Commemoration.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Where the stories were

Important analysis from Lynn Vavreck for New York Times The Upshot --

The content of the [presidential campaign] ads is revealing. Both candidates spent most of their television advertising time attacking the other person’s character. In fact, the losing candidate’s ads did little else. More than three-quarters of the appeals in Mrs. Clinton’s advertisements (and nearly half of Mr. Trump’s) were about traits, characteristics or dispositions. Only 9 percent of Mrs. Clinton’s appeals in her ads were about jobs or the economy. By contrast, 34 percent of Mr. Trump’s appeals focused on the economy, jobs, taxes and trade.

Her point: blaming "the media" for not devoting sufficient coverage to "policy" -- the archetypal Vox critique --  is beside the point when the candidates weren't devoting their own resources to it.

Pulled out of the bubble

Paul Krugman in the New York Times today --

For let’s be serious here: You can’t explain the votes of places like Clay County [Kentucky] as a response to disagreements about trade policy. The only way to make sense of what happened is to see the vote as an expression of, well, identity politics — some combination of white resentment at what voters see as favoritism toward nonwhites (even though it isn’t) and anger on the part of the less educated at liberal elites whom they imagine look down on them.

Paul Krugman on his New York Times blog in August --

If you want to feel good about the state of America, you could do a lot worse than what I did this morning: take a run in Riverside Park.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Dirty deeds not dirt cheap

Among the details in the Washington Post's latest fascinating dive into Trump Foundation activities --

Also, as he entered the presidential race, he gave to several nonprofits connected with conservative causes. One of them was Project Veritas, the group run by conservative provocateur James O’Keefe, which has used hidden-camera stings to target liberal groups. Stephen Gordon, of Project Veritas, said that its point of contact had been Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s one-time campaign manager. He said they had a brief meeting with Trump in 2015, at Trump Tower. Trump gave $10,000 from his foundation to the group, which is an IRS-certified nonprofit. “We showed him a couple of videos. He thought that was really cool. And we walked out with a check. It was a typical donor meeting,” Gordon recalled.

Note: O'Keefe's level of provocation is appropriately captured by an early stunt from his college days at Rutgers University claiming that Lucky Charms breakfast cereal offends his Irish heritage.

Boris Johnson in new Trump - Hamilton outrage

Questions to the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons today --

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab) 
As regards ambassadors for either country, may I make a suggestion? An excellent choice for the unofficial ambassador from the United States to Britain—I emphasise the word unofficial—would be Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor who spoke out to the Vice-President-elect about American values and was criticised by the future President. Mr Dixon is the sort of person who is associated with all that is best about the United States. 

Boris Johnson 
Of course, Mr Brandon Dixon, of whom, I am afraid, I was hitherto unaware is perfectly at liberty to come to this country, assuming that all visa requirements are met, and to spread his message. We look forward to having a new American ambassador in due course to follow in the footsteps, if I may say so, of one of the most distinguished US ambassadors we have seen in this country in recent years, Matthew Barzun.

With friends like these

Vox on the French centre-right primary outcome --

Whether this is true of enough French voters to stop the surging Le Pen from winning the presidency — a victory that would leave Germany's Angela Merkel as the only cosmopolitan in the UN Security Council — is yet to be seen.

It's not clear what about Angela Merkel merits the description of "cosmopolitan" and Germany is not a UN Security Council member!

Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times --

Of all 2016’s weird spectacles, nothing beats middle-class envy of the poor for being spared the ordeal of tolerable affluence.

Monday, November 21, 2016


President Obama at yesterday's news conference in Lima --

With respect to Syria, as I said I think even on this trip in a previous press conference, I am not optimistic about the short-term prospects in Syria. Once Russia and Iran made a decision to back Assad in a brutal air campaign and essentially a pacification of Aleppo, regardless of the potential for civilian casualties, children being killed or wounded, schools or hospitals being destroyed, then it was very hard to see a way in which even a trained and committed moderate opposition could hold its ground for long periods of time.

White House National Security official Ben Rhodes selling the Iran deal 15 months ago --

And this (Gulf) visit will be an opportunity for the President to follow up on the progress we’re making on the Camp David agenda, to discuss the Iran deal, and also our efforts to push back against malign Iranian activities in the region, but also, of course, to discuss a full range of regional issues.

A key sales pitch for the Iran nuclear deal was that the other bad stuff that Iran was doing was irrelevant to the case for the deal, because there would be other ways to counter that other bad stuff.

Now the President is saying on the way out that it's kind of a shame that Iran is assisting Bashar al-Assad to flatten Aleppo. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

On the website you had to scroll more to see the Trump scandals

Some day we'll find those voters in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina who based their decision on the New York Times print edition layout of political campaign stories. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Twenty year rebound

Wall Street Journal editorial ruminating on the Trump conflict of interest problem --

The alternatives are fraught, perhaps even for the Trump Organization’s bottom line: Thanks to a Clinton Administration precedent, Presidents can face litigation in private matters—so the company will become a supermagnet for lawsuits.

That's great passive voice stuff, making it sound like it was something that the "Clinton Administration" did which exposed the President to private lawsuits.

In fact, it was the endless litigation originating in the Paul Jones case against Bill Clinton, and championed by the original Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (charter member: WSJ editorial page) which created the precedent. The threads of that case eventually led to Bill Clinton's impeachment!

How it looked from the inside

Steve Bannon quotes probably should be taken with a pinch of salt but here is explaining to the Wall Street Journal's Kimberly Strassel the Trump campaign strategy --

Mr. Bannon’s role in the Trump campaign was never made clear, though fellow adviser Kellyanne Conway called him the campaign’s “general” and a “brilliant tactician.” Mr. Bannon describes a close alliance of himself, Ms. Conway and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who developed a very “tight strategy” that relied on targeted speeches, rallies and social media. They envisioned two possible paths to the White House: one that hinged on Nevada and New Hampshire; the other that “leveraged Ohio” and rolled up Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin. By the last week they saw the latter plan coming together.

There's very little in that obviously connected to editorial decisions at the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN -- which is where bewildered New Pundits seem to think that the election was lost. 

Once upon a time

Paul Krugman,  New York Times, 11 February 2008 --

And the latest prominent example came when David Shuster of MSNBC, after pointing out that Chelsea Clinton was working for her mother’s campaign — as adult children of presidential aspirants often do — asked, “doesn’t it seem like Chelsea’s sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?” Mr. Shuster has been suspended, but as the Clinton campaign rightly points out, his remark was part of a broader pattern at the network.

Friday, November 18, 2016

History eraser button

President Obama at his news conference yesterday with Angela Merkel --

With respect to Russia, my principal approach to Russia has been constant since I first came into office.

Photo: US State Dept.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Message multiplier

With the US Presidential election lost, Vox is in full Gegenpressing mode and whereas much of its focus during the election was on complaints about the way political stories were presented in the New York Times and CNN, now it's all about Facebook. Leave aside the inconsistency of all the past Vox complaints about the New York Times, which it now understands to be at the mercy of how its coverage gets filtered by Facebook algorithms and users. Here's today's addition to the indictment --

fake news is more viral than real news ... Caulfield found that at least one article from a fake news site was shared far more widely and thus reached a far greater number of people than some concurrently “trending” articles from respected news sources like the Boston Globe and the Washington Post. Ultimately, the fake article garnered thousands more shares than several of the real news stories he looked at.

There's a methodological issue around making the general statement fake news being more viral than "real" news based on one example. But there's even a conceptual problem. Fake news attracts attention precisely because of its uniqueness: "real" news will never be viral because by definition, it's being reported by lots of outlets and no one will see any value to sharing it. Fake news can be constructed to a context with the purpose of being surprising and getting attention -- the originality and targeting gives it a platform that real news does not have.

Another way to say this is that fake news is trolling -- it's designed to provoke and draw a reaction. That failure to understand how trolling could be a political strategy has put a troll in the White House. 

Trump in new Kremlin outrage

... in order to defend refugees and to stop terrorism, the war in Syria and in the wider region must end. This is the common objective and this requires harmonious cooperation of the U.S., the EU, and Russia.

Trump? Er, no. It's Greek President Pavlopoulos during the state dinner toast for visiting President Barack Obama yesterday in Athens!

New Trump foreign policy acclaim

Above, via Sudanese news outlet Radio Tamazuj, an announcement of a rally tomorrow in the South Sudanese capital Juba to celebrate the Trump victory and signal the unity of purpose with President Salva Kiir (wearing his ubiquitous cowboy hat given to him by George W. Bush). Insh'allah, Trump won't be doing to America what Kiir has done to South Sudan.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Ballsbridge Mean Time

Financial Times reports on the sniping within the UK government about how the pre- and post-election Trump relationship was managed  --

British officials are also keen to play down the idea that Mr Trump had “snubbed” prime minister Theresa May by not calling her earlier, or by speaking to the leaders of Egypt, Ireland and other countries before her. They say the president-elect had intended to speak to her sooner, but confusion about the time difference with London meant the scheduled slot for the conversation was slated for after midnight UK time.

Dublin is in the same time zone as London.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Trumpism before Trump

From Michael Novak The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics, 1972 --

[White] ethnics believe that they chose one route to moderate success in America, namely, loyalty, hard work, family discipline and gradual self-development. They tend to believe that some blacks, admittedly more deeply injured and penalized in America, want to jump from a largely rural base of skills and habits over the heads of lower-class whites. Instead of forming a coalition of black and white lower classes, black militants seem to prefer coalition with white intellectual elites.

Quoted by Roger Hewitt,White Backlash and the Politics of Multiculturalism.

Saturday afternoon music

Seems like the right tone for the times that are in it.

Winds of change

This photo (via BBC), of Angela Merkel, David Cameron, and Barack Obama taking a walk during the G7 summit in Germany, dates from just over 16 months ago. At that time, Cameron had just won a general election, the Republican party was about to experience the ostensible reality TV sideshow candidacy of Donald Trump, and Angela Merkel was in the process of opening the door to what would turn out to be 1 million refugees.

Who looked the most politically threatened at the time?

There's a huge amount of hindsight certainty (and its counterpart, "if only ...") going around. Nothing is ever so clear in real time.

The USA's election unanswered questions

There are many. But one thing is already clear: the New Pundits at Vox can't agree whether a big problem was the mass media, or social media. That's a big difference and in practical terms it has implications for whether CNN or Facebook should be of the focus of liberal anger. Our own view is that social media versus mass media is not necessarily a dichotomy, but it does require a perspective on filters used the consumers of output of these communications. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Quote of the Day

Francis Fukuyama, on Trump implications, in the Financial Times --

But the broader failure of the left was the same one made in the lead-up to 1914 and the Great war, when, in the apt phrase of the British-Czech philosopher, Ernest Gellner, a letter sent to a mailbox marked “class” was mistakenly delivered to one marked “nation.”

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The I-95 dishwasher

David McWilliams in the Irish Independent today taking stock of the Trump victory --

Back in the 1980s, when I was toiling away in the kitchens of Manhattan earning expensive dollars to bring back home to Ireland, the Fed was right in the middle of its war on inflation. The strong dollar was an essential part of this offensive.

David McWillians in the Irish Independent 6 weeks ago taking stock of the Trump progress --

In the 1980s, when I was toiling away in those Boston kitchens earning expensive dollars to bring back home to Ireland, the Federal Reserve was right in the middle of its war on inflation. The strong dollar was an essential part of this offensive.

Bobos in Hell

Piecing together the ingredients of last night's disaster is going to take some time. The comparison with Brexit is clear but there's also the comparison with Silvio Berlusconi (seen here holding his Contract with the Italians during the 2001 general election). As with Trump, he was a businessman running a hybrid policy agenda and with an electorate that not put off by his flamboyance and ostensibly outrageous statements.

Anyway some other preliminary thoughts. Blaming the pollsters is really scapegoating for a failure of analysis and punditry which ultimately failed to understand how the Trump message was being received -- voters came to conclusions about Trump's words and actions that differed a lot from their content. The focus on dismissing his working class base as not having grounds for "economic anxiety" made an elementary mistake of confusing income level with class -- it's seemingly clear at this stage that there was a big anti-professional/ Bobo/ New Class element to Trump's voter base, which in turn is related to perceptions of who has gained and lost from globalization. 

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Quote of the Day

If you need a general framework for understanding what happened with the Clinton e-mail Comey events, here's Niklas Luhmann from The Reality of the Mass Media (a book that everyone purporting to offer critiques of mass media role in elections should be reading) --

These two mutually exonerating responses can still be found today, at least in the system of the mass media. On the one hand, improbability has become an institution. It is expected. It operates as an opportunity for attentiveness. On the other hand, suspicions arise of concealed goings-on, of political machinations in the broadest sense. The mass media are 'manipulating' public opinion. They are pursuing an interest that is not being communicated. They are producing 'bias'. It may be that everything they write or broadcast is relevant, but that does not answer the question: what for? Their concern may be to achieve commercial success, or to promote ideological options, to support political tendencies, to maintain the social status quo (this in particular by providing a drug-like distraction towards ever new items of news) or simply to be a commercial success. The mass media seem simultaneously to nurture and to undermine their own credibility. They 'deconstruct' themselves, since they reproduce the constant contradiction of their constative and their performative textual components with their own operations.

[Previous quote of the day from this book]

The virus had pre-boarded

Peter Wehner in the New York Times, lamenting the Trump downturn in the Republican Party --

Pointing to the precise moment this devaluation occurred is difficult; it was a gradual process. But the embodiment of what I’m talking about is someone like Sarah Palin, who started out as a relatively conventional, if unaccomplished, Republican governor and was thrust into the spotlight as John McCain’s vice-presidential nominee in 2008. Since then she has become the proud personification of thoughtlessness. I don’t agree with President Obama on very much, but he was right when he said there was a straight line that could be drawn from Ms. Palin to Mr. Trump. A party that produces Ms. Palin as its vice-presidential nominee and Mr. Trump as its nominee is at war with reason.

Statement from then President George W. Bush, August 2008 --

Today, Senator McCain made an exciting decision in choosing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to join him on his ticket as the Vice Presidential candidate. Governor Palin is a proven reformer who is a wise steward of taxpayer dollars and champion for accountability in government. Governor Palin's success is due to her dedication to principle and her roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic and serves as a wonderful example of the spirit of America. By selecting a working mother with a track record of getting things done, Senator McCain has once again demonstrated his commitment to reforming Washington. I applaud Senator McCain for selecting Governor Palin. This decision is yet another example of why the American people can trust him to make wise decisions and to confidently lead this country.

Peter Wehner worked for President George W. Bush. See this May 2006 explanation from Dan Froomkin of the critical role that he played -- especially interesting when read from Trump hindsight. 

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Image of the Day

The BBC's Robert McKenzie with the Swingometer on Election Night in 1964. Assumptions about national and regional swings in polling play a key role in explaining why the 538 probability favours Trump more than other poll-based prediction models (Vox). One odd thing about the 538 model is that it's unusually sensitive to news that registers in post-news polling compared to other models. Thus, the attention that it gets as an apparent alternative to punditry and ground-reporting based assessments of the campaign is somewhat misplaced. 


While it's common among Middle East pundit strategists to see a tacit alliance in the region between Israel and the Gulf states, here's Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with a different complaint (Sudan Tribune) --

“We were sure of the (negative) impacts of deploying U.S forces in the area as it is seen today in Iraq, Syria and Libya,” said al-Bashir, adding that Sudan has previously warned of a "Zionist and Shiite project to divide the region".

Quote of the Day

Fashion designer and film maker Tom Ford in the Lunch with the FT Saturday slot --

Today, people think Obama — a man who should represent the fulfilment of the American dream — is an elitist. They don’t understand what he’s saying. It’s a failure of our educational system, it is the result of reality television, it is the result of capitalism. It’s the downward spiral of American culture.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Unpacking distraction

Matthew Yglesias in Vox today regarding the ostensibly outsized role of the Clinton e-mails in the presidential campaign --

To spend so much time on such a trivial matter would be absurd in a city council race, much less a presidential election. To do so in circumstances when it advances the electoral prospects of a rival who has shattered all precedents in terms of lacking transparency or basic honesty is infinitely more scandalous than anything related to the server itself.

The same writer, 9 years ago --

The nature of two-party democracy is that elections are decided by the small minority of the public too confused or too ill-informed to realize that there are persistent, substantial differences between the two federal political parties. As a result, the issues (or, more likely, pseudo-issues) that are most important in deciding elections tend to be the issues that are least important in substantive terms.

It's a similar story, but there's a question: is Trump really a new phenomenon or predictable from the conduct of previous presidential campaigns and the role of the mass media therein? Follow up question: is it the same small minority distracted by earlier imbroglios like earth tones which is now being distracted from the awfulness of Trump?

Heightened nerves

First report from Jordanian news agency Petra indicating that US military personnel were killed in Jordan in a case of mistaken assumption at entry to a military base --

Two US military trainers were killed on Friday morning after their vehicle tried to enter the Prince Faisal Airbase in Al Jafr area, south of Jordan, an official source at the Jordan Armed Forces said. The two trainers were killed in a fire exchange at the gate, the source added. A Jordanian officer and a third US trainer were also injured in the incident.

The Middle East keeps finding ways to get more complicated.

Putin gets one right

Reuters --

Russia on Thursday criticized U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon's decision to fire a Kenyan peacekeeping commander in South Sudan as premature, saying the mission there was now "in ruins" after Kenya vowed to withdraw all its troops in response to the move. Ban dismissed Lieutenant General Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki after a U.N. inquiry into the response by peacekeepers to several days of violence in the capital Juba in July found a lack of leadership and that U.N. troops failed to protect civilians... In an unusual move, Russia, a U.N. Security Council veto power, and Kenya publicly criticized Ban's response to the report. "For us the decision was premature," Russia's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Petr Illichev said. "We don't have a special representative, she's leaving, we don't have a force commander. ... The whole structure is in ruins."

Africa is one of the generally ignored areas of US foreign policy failure in the last 8 years, and South Sudan is on the top of that list.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Private Trump and Public Clinton

Vox (prop. Ezra Klein) article today on Trump's election outcome rhetoric --

It would be astounding for any candidate to admit, even privately, 10 days before the election that “if we don’t [win], that’s okay too.” It’s especially mind-boggling — and especially irresponsible — for a candidate to believe that privately, and then tell his supporters, publicly, that electing him is their country’s last chance.

Note then the Vox standard for balancing the conflict between the private and public statements of the two candidates: for Clinton, we're only supposed to focus on the public statements, but for Trump, all the action is in his private statements. And note again, the lack of a theory on how the public filters information; there is no discussion anywhere of how Trump (or Clinton) supporters assess the intentionality of their preferred candidates statements.

To be fair, it's an especially bewildering weekend in Vox world, with the presidential campaign consumed with trying to understand how the public processes information that they don't have, related to the Clinton Abedin Weiner mess. If only the public statements mattered to the public, this wouldn't be a problem!

Quote of the Day

In light of the current Clinton Abedin Weiner tangled web: from the House of Commons, 16 December 1963, the debate on the Denning Report into the Profumo Affair; Leader of Opposition Harold Wilson referring to how then former PM Harold Macmillan had handled it given the interaction of national security and private lives --

It was Lord Attlee, in a few crisp remarks on television, who put the whole matter in its proper setting. He was asked if he would have handled this in the same way as the then Prime Minister. He said "No, I do not think I would." Asked what he would have done differently, he said "I would have handled it myself." Asked about the question of guilt and innocence, he simply said, "Ministers of the Crown should not go round with people of that kind."

Friday, October 28, 2016

Ireland in Yemen war financing Non-Outrage

Saudi Arabia had a very successful bond sale of nearly US$18 billion recently. The money will help finance the overall budget which means that in principle it's financing anything in that budget, such as for example the war in Yemen.

Interesting example of the blind spot in Irish anti-war sentiment. It focuses on the use of Shannon airport by military flights. Those Saudi bonds: they're listed on the Irish Stock Exchange.

One nation controlled by the media

Among the many puzzles of the post-Brexit referendum "debate" is the obliviousness of the establishment to the mess they've created.

And there's a circularity to the celebrations that no economic effect is yet apparent in growth rates -- an uncertain event that has not taken form is unlikely to manifest itself so directly.

Anyway, left is the Telegraph website most read articles as of lunchtime on Friday. With the public getting what the public wants on what they read, why would anyone expect Brexit consequences to get a coherent discussion?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh (Financial Times/Irish Times) on the post-Brexit political landscape --

Some dream of a new Whig party that unites modernist Tories, New Labour remnants and market-minded Liberal Democrats, like fantasy football enthusiasts itching to team up Mesut Ozil and Kevin de Bruyne.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


White House National Security Council Statement this weekend --

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the Asad (sic) regime's defiance of the longstanding global norm against chemical weapons use and Syria's abrogation of its responsibilities under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which it joined in 2013. The Syrian regime has violated the Chemical Weapons Convention and UN Security Council Resolution 2118 by using industrial chlorine as a weapon against its own people.

White House statement in November 2013 soon after Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention -- which under the Lavrov-Kerry Pact, was presented as the solution to the Ghouta attack in August of that year:

October 31 marked a major milestone in our determined effort to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons program. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced it is now confident that no additional chemical agents or munitions can be produced in Syria... In the end, Syria will be held accountable for the safe and swift elimination of its chemical weapons program and for full compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2118, OPCW Executive Council decisions, and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Also, it's forgotten now in a haze of chlorine, but OPCW won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.