Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The bad guys have rules of engagement too

An emerging theory on the Mogadishu bombing via Garowe Online (Puntland) --

MOGADISHU, Somalia - The man who killed more than 300 people with a truck bomb in the center of Mogadishu on Saturday was a former soldier in Somalia’s army whose hometown was raided by local troops and US special forces two months ago in a controversial operation in which 10 civilians were killed, officials in Somalia have said. The death toll from the bombing now stands at more than 300, making it one of the most devastating terrorist attacks anywhere in the world for many years. On Tuesday remains of victims were still being brought out of rubble spread over hundreds of square meters. Investigators believe the attack on Saturday may in part have been motivated by a desire for revenge for the botched US-led operation in August. Al-Shabaab has not claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack but a member of the cell detained by security forces has told interrogators the group was responsible, one security official told the Guardian. Following the raid, in which three children aged between six and 10 died, local tribal elders called for revenge against the Somali government and its allies.

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way


Do the Telegraph's Brexit true-believers (and its enthusiastic #Irexit retweeters) have any idea that the leading edge of Brexit panic has clearly arrived at the paper? The webpage currently up for Wednesday readers features a map of northwest Europe that is somehow trying to make a point about Britain's reverse Operation Sea Lion of jobs but does so by leaving out Ireland, and then an adjacent story which admits that despite all the bluster about imaginative technical solutions and an invisible border with Northern Ireland that only the EU wants to impose -- now they learn that the plan is to militarize the border in a no-deal scenario!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Drones not helpful

Reuters report on the Somalia bombing:

Some of those seriously injured in Saturday's bombing were moved by ambulance to the airport on Monday morning to be flown to Turkey for further treatment, Nur added. Workers unloaded boxes of medicine and other medical supplies from a Turkish military plane parked on the tarmac, while Turkish medical teams attended to the cases of injuries moved from the hospital for evacuation.

Why is it left to Turkey to give help when the USA has scaled up military involvement in Somalia?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Escalation

New York Times in June --

The United States military said on Sunday that it had carried out a drone strike in southern Somalia against the Shabab, the Qaeda-linked insurgent group — apparently the first such strike since President Trump relaxed targeting rules for counterterrorism operations in that country in March. The strike, which the military said targeted a command and logistics portion of a Shabab camp, came two and a half months after Mr. Trump cleared the way for offensive strikes in Somalia, a chaotic nation in the Horn of Africa, without a specific self-defense rationale.

Reuters  --

More than 200 people were killed by twin bomb blasts that struck busy junctions in the heart of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, officials said on Sunday, marking the deadliest attacks since an Islamist insurgency began in 2007.

[The Puntland news outlet Garowe Online is especially worth reading on the atrocity]

The point is that the bomb attack is an indictment of the strategy of raising the level of force against these entrenched insurgencies taking on weak, externally half-backed governments. Trump thinks he's getting tough against al-Shabaab, so they import Baghdad tactics in response. 

Phone a friend

Saudi Press Agency reports on King Salman -- Trump phone call:

The king praised the leadership role of the new US administration, which recognizes the magnitude of these challenges and threats, stressing the need for concerted efforts and taking firm positions on terrorism and extremism and its first sponsor, Iran. President Trump expressed his appreciation for the initiative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and his support and stressed the keenness of the United States of America to work with its allies to achieve world security and peace.

Pedant's Corner

By the time Hurricane Ophelia hits Ireland, it won't be Hurricane Ophelia. It will be a hurricane-force post-tropical cyclone. Note also that the arrival of Ophelia will pose another conundrum for the idiocy of named winter storms in Britain and Ireland, as Ophelia now races to land with a potential Brian coming in across the north Atlantic. 

Myanmar and South Sudan

New York Times on the more-than-usual degree of diplomatic hypocrisy about the Rohingya --

“Western donors and the U.N. have not always been helpful,” said Charles Petrie, a former United Nations resident coordinator in Myanmar, noting “the refusal for a long time to let go of the fairy-tale view of Myanmar with Aung San Suu Kyi coming to power and the corresponding refusal to push back on some of her dogmatic positions.” Mr. Petrie drew comparisons with South Sudan, where the world was “so taken by the narrative of a new country emerging from northern enslavement that the signs of the emerging violence were ignored.”

Both cases show that the tendency to analyze human rights catastrophes in terms of places that the USA has invaded only gets you so far. South Sudan and Myanmar were pet causes of celebrities, pundits, and governments for 10-15 years before their current, entirely foreseeable disasters. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Embracing sectarianism

The single worst portion of Donald Trump's atrocious Iran strategy --

Over the last decade and a half, United States policy has also consistently prioritized the immediate threat of Sunni extremist organizations over the longer-term threat of Iranian-backed militancy. • In doing so, the United States has neglected Iran’s steady expansion of proxy forces and terrorist networks aimed at keeping its neighbors weak and unstable in hopes of dominating the greater Middle East. Recently, the Iranian regime has accelerated the seeding of these networks with increasingly destructive weapons as they try to establish a bridge from Iran to Lebanon and Syria. • The Trump Administration will not repeat these mistakes.

That's 3 decades of harsh lessons being reset to zero, from the emergence of extremist groups in Afghanistan in the 1980s to the widening scope of related groups in the 1990s, to 9/11, Al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS, and whatever else is now brewing in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pence flies to Dublin to be outraged by Che stamp

The Wall Street Journal weighs on the Irish Che Guevara stamp --

The struggle for Irish independence was about equality under the law, property rights and political self-determination. Guevara represents none of that. He hailed from an upper-middle-class family and became a Marxist revolutionary who murdered an unknown number of political opponents during and after the 1959 Cuban revolution.

Note that their concern about Che seems to be not with the murders (since it would require a very sanitized view of the Irish struggle to make that a distinction) but that he was a class traitor and not primarily a nationalist. There might be a little anxiety there that for all the apparent extinction of conventional socialist political parties, something might be rumbling underneath.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Bad Salutes


There are about 10 different things wrong with Mike Pence's idiotic and expensive stunt of flying across the country and back with the express purpose of taking offence, but number 10 on that list would be the hand-on-heart pose during the playing of the National Anthem.

Yes, there's a specification in the US code to do this, but it's unenforceable and it was only formalized in 1942. Which brings us to the quenelle, the arm gesture associated with French comedian and provocateur Dieudonné (seen here also being illustrated by Tony Parker).

Now, the quenelle is controversial because Dieudonné has not gone to much effort to hide the fact that it's an arm being prevented from doing a Nazi salute (which is why the other arm is sometimes placed over the arm with outstretched hand).

And that hand-on-heart thing: it was formalized because the previous alternative was a salute that looked too fascist from the perspective of 1942, but they wanted something like it: the Sieg Heil position, retracted. So the pose descended from a fascist salute is respectful, but kneeling during the anthem is not. 

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Hipster Nukes

A Reuters report makes a strong bid for most ridiculous use ever of generational social typology:

Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, was made an alternate member of the politburo - the top decision-making body over which Kim Jong Un presides. Alongside Kim Jong Un himself, the promotion makes Kim Yo Jong the only other millennial member of the influential body.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Quote of the Day

Holman Jenkins in the Wall Street Journal --

Mass shootings typically involve a substantial measure of planning and preparation. Stephen Paddock walked into a luxury hotel—correction, he walked into a hotel-casino, where it’s part of the business model to know and watch customers carefully—with 23 weapons, ammo and related equipment.

The column makes the above part of an argument against gun control as the lead option in response to the Las Vegas atrocity, but independently of position on that issue, it makes good points along the way. The casino knew a lot about the finances of the person with a lot of mysterious cases in his room.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

From the Azores to Catalonia


Something on which the world seems to need an occasional reminder: While George Bush and Tony Blair (rightly) attract most of the opprobrium over the Iraq war, the final sign-off decision on that war was endorsed by 4 people at the March 2003 Azores summit: Bush, Blair, Jose Maria Aznar (then Prime Minister of Spain) and Jose Manuel Barroso (then PM of Portugal). Aznar and Barroso continued with gilded careers in government and then the private sector -- recently, with controversy for Barroso's stint at Goldman Sachs.

Anyway, Aznar was PM as leader of the Partido Popular. In 2004, the PP lost the general election in the wake of the Madrid train bombing atrocities and the clumsy attempt of the government to blame them on ETA. Subsequent Socialist rule was ended by discontent over the debt crisis in 2011, and the PP has been in power since led by Mariano Rajoy -- who was in Washington DC last week and got Donald Trump's statement against the referendum. It's that PP government that is directing the crackdown on the referendum in Catalonia today.

The point is that the cartoonish nature of American conservatism (and the caricature of Blair as a one-off poodle to it) seems to have obscured what was happening in European conservatism: it was becoming more self-serving, opportunistic, and reactionary. And that's the Europe of Brexit, Poland, Orban, and rubber bullets being used on voters today.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

News dump of the day

Reuters --

A Russian general killed in Syria had been seconded to the Syrian government as a military commander, Russia’s military chief of staff said on Wednesday.

So it's not just Russian support to the Assad regime; Russian officers are commanding Syrian military divisions. Which means that, among other things, if the Syrian military is carrying out war crimes ...


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Another German election map

There's a lot of trite German election analysis noting the role that the former east Germany played in driving the AfD vote. Other than fuzzy invoking of the Communist legacy and the point that this is a region of low in-migration, there's not much explanation as to why.

But the migration point gets us part of the way there. It's presented as an ostensible paradox: why does the region with low immigration vote for the anti-migrant party?

The answer is that migration is a two way process. It's not just that eastern Germany is a region of low immigration. Since 1990 it's been a region of massive out-migration, with major demographic effects on who now lives there. So those election maps are telling you about characteristics as much a region.

For one thing, eastern Germany has a skewed ratio of males, and non-working males at that. Any shade of blue in the chart is where the ratio female: male is less than 95 percent, and it's often far less than that. Migration affects quality of life even when it's people leaving than arriving. And people vote on that basis. So a strange conclusion: yes, the election was partly about Mrs Merkel's decision to let in 1 million Syrian migrants. But it's also about decisions nearly 3 decades ago that gave freedom of movement to eastern Germany.  

Quote of the Day

Wolfgang Münchau in the Financial Times --

The FDP is probably the only Eurosceptic party in Europe that does not recognise itself as Eurosceptic.

This is one thing that has gotten lost in the election analysis. The AfD nutters are in opposition. The Free Democrats, representing a potent strain of centre-right Euroscepticism, will be in government. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Some things get worse

If the 1988 Saddam chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja had happened in the last few years, we can be assured that there would be a large social-media enabled denial industry at work -- denying that it happened, or denying that Saddam did it. Unfortunately, it's Syrians who have to live with that final insult to the dead. At least the Kurds can say that the cards eventually fell in their favour. 

So much winning we got tired of them winning


With "the Left" (however defined) headed for another extended period out of power in a major European country, the twilight zone which holds two of its former vote-magnets -- Gerhard Schroeder and Tony Blair -- looks odder by the year. Were they really that bad?

Photo: Hello. By the way, in the same Hello picture batch as this one from 2002, Donald Trump is pictured crowning a Miss Universe. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Quote of the Day

In the Financial Times, Simon Kuper on lessons from the Brexit experiment:

Negotiations get harder when you lose your counter-party's trust. That's what Greece discovered during its negotiations with the EU, says Greek economic analyst Paris Mantzavras of Pantelakis Securities. Mocking the other side in public — as Greece's Yanis Varoufakis did, and as British politicians now do regularly — is therefore a losing tactic.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Was he listening?

Petra (Jordan News Agency) version of the Trump -- King Abdullah talks at the UN, which is much more expansive than the White House version:

The talks stressed the need to intensify efforts aimed at moving the peace process forward through re-launching serious and effective negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. In this context, His Majesty emphasized the importance of the U.S. role in urging the Israelis to seriously consider such efforts. His Majesty warned that the failure to reach a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian issue based on the two-state solution undermines security and stability in the region and the whole world and fuels violence and extremism in the Middle East.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Migrant ex-Chancellor

Nigel Lawson championing the cause of Boris and Brexit in the Financial Times --

That is just as well, as a trade deal is in the gift of the EU, and there is no way they will offer us anything but a thoroughly bad deal (if that). That is not because they are anti-British. It is because there is widespread dissatisfaction with EU membership throughout Europe, not least in France, where I now live.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

No one is talking about leaving the gold standard

Daniel Hannan in the Telegraph (and yes, it's a really bonkers Sunday Telegraph edition) --

How many times, for example, have you heard it claimed that the Great Depression came to an end because of rearmament and war? It’s simply not true: Snowden and Chamberlain responded to the crash with sharp spending cuts and, in consequence, the 1930s saw some of the strongest growth in British history.

That's a laughable misreading of the UK's experience during the Great Depression, in which 1931 spending cuts made it worse, but the heterodox policies of devaluing the pound and imposing imperial preference tariffs helped. An additional irony is that Hannan presents his interpretation of the Great Depression within a context of claiming that Bastiat's broken-windows fallacy disproves any argument for the stimulus effect of government spending. 

Opaque Foundations

Liam Halligan and Gerard Lyons fulminate about "soft Brexit" in the Telegraph --

Why do we have a large deficit on our EU trade, but a sizeable surplus on our trade outside the EU?

While to them, that's an argument to switch towards non-EU trade, there's a problem. Because trade with the EU is allowing the UK to import things that make it more competitive in trade with non-EU countries!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The needs of the few

A boarded up once-busy commercial street in Hebron in the West Bank.

Although in the middle of a large Palestinian city, this street cannot be used by Palestinians. The centre of the city is frozen in what was meant to be a temporary arrangement from the 1990s.

It might be a worth a stop on the itinerary of the next Trump envoy to the Israel-Palestine peace process.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Bad timing

Maureen Dowd has a long New York Times profile of Leo Varadkar and picks an unfortunate anecdote --

“I don’t care whether his partner is man, woman or vegetable,” declared George Hook, a radio host, after Varadkar’s visit to Canada.

The fact that Hook went from person to vegetable as the hypothetical partner indicates that maybe he does care. But anyway, this is the weekend that Irish social media is dominated by Hook's latest unfortunate outburst, which as with such characters is merely a story because he went ever so slightly further than he normally does (in this case, supposed personal responsibility of victims for rape).

The magic touch

Reuters on a rapid relapse after what had seemed like a conciliatory phone call between Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman --

Qatar’s state news agency QNA said the phone call was based on coordination of U.S. President Donald Trump who had earlier talked with Sheikh Tamim. Trump on Thursday said he would be willing to step in and mediate the worst dispute in decades among the U.S.-allied Arab states and Qatar, and said he thinks a deal could come quickly. Both Qatar’s Emir and the Saudi Crown Prince “stressed the need to resolve the crisis by sitting down to the dialogue table to ensure the unity and stability of the GCC countries,” QNA reported. Sheikh Tamim welcomed the proposal of Prince Mohammed during the call “to assign two envoys to resolve controversial issues in a way that does not affect the sovereignty of the states,” QNA said. Saudi Arabia later issued a second statement citing an unnamed official at the ministry of the foreign affairs denying the QNA report. “What was published on the Qatar News Agency is a continuation of the distortion of the Qatari authority of the facts,” SPA reported citing the Saudi official.

Although the Saudis cited the issue of who requested the phone call as the distortion, the events suggest that instead they saw the Trump initiative as forced, and then looked for a way out. The dispute with Qatar flared up after Trump's attendance at the Riyadh summit, which the Saudis apparently took as a signal that they had the go-ahead from him to isolate Qatar. This is one foreign policy mess that could last a long time. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Starving people can't revolt

Wall Street Journal on North Korea options:

Withholding food aid to bring down a government would normally be unethical, but North Korea is an exceptional case. Past aid proved to be a mistake as it perpetuated one of the most evil regimes in history. The U.N. says some 40% of the population is undernourished, even as the Kims continue to spend huge sums on weapons. Ending the North Korean state as quickly as possible is the most humane course.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Durability


The seemingly endless Syrian civil war is sometimes presented as a backhanded tribute to the resilience of the al-Assad regime. But the precedent for regime survival in the wake of the Arab Spring through the use of force was set not by Bashar al-Assad, but by Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Now of course Saleh is not officially in power in Yemen these days, instead in an awkward coalition with the Houthi-led de facto government in Sanaa while the internationally recognized government in Aden relies on external military force for its authority. Yet the fact that Saleh is still a force in Yemen at all is astounding, given that he was seriously injured in a mysterious explosion at his palace in June 2011, and formally (if reluctantly) resigned at the end of that year, with the circumstances of his return from Riyadh to Yemen never fully explained.

Anyway, he has remained a key power broker since then, with the current internal crisis in the governing alliance triggered by concerns that he could be reinstalled as President as a way to break the military stalemate that has been a disaster for the Yemeni people. The photo above shows a large pro-Saleh demonstration held in Sanaa last week.

In terms of timeline, the Al-Assads were barely getting started on their war when Saleh, already dealing with insurrection for years, was nearly killed in that June 2011 attack. And he's done it with no obvious source of external support. The lesson is that for leaders ruthless and calculating enough, it's very very difficult to remove them, even in dire circumstances for their country.

Photo via Al Arabiya.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

It was the same year as Katrina

Brexit means ... Wider Europe?

Leading Brextwit Daniel Hannan in the Telegraph --

Of the 47 states in the Council of Europe, 19 are outside the EU, and many are happy that way. Public opinion in all four EFTA countries, for example, is overwhelmingly against joining. Britain, whose economy is larger than that of those 19 states combined, might aim to organise an outer tier, linked to the EU through a common market, not a common government. We should seek over time to build a prosperity zone from Iceland to Israel, from Ukraine to Morocco, within which the EU can pursue political union, surrounded by friends.

What percentage of Leave voters think they voted for a deep free trade deal with Iceland, Israel, Morocco, Ukraine, and all the other countries on the EU periphery?

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Swiss time will run out


Daniel Hannan -- still collecting a salary from the European Parliament -- keeps saying that Britain can get a Swiss-style deal post-Brexit. He said it again today at the FT Weekend Festival. The chart above shows how Switzerland manages its EU relations: a complex set of bilateral agreements, which include Switzerland agreeing to enforce EU provisions within its borders despite not being an EU member. Note the length of time it takes to put these treaties together, even for a country highly integrated economically and geographically with the EU. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Headline of the Day

Theresa May, the Arsène Wenger of politics — but without the wins 

That's an opinion piece by Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times..

Memories

Donald Trump, in Missouri yesterday, making a sales pitch for a tax cut at a time when Texas is going to need a lot of money --

Fourth and finally, we want to bring back trillions of dollars in wealth that's parked overseas. Because of our high tax rate and horrible, outdated, bureaucratic rules, large companies that do business overseas will often park their profits offshore to avoid paying a high United States tax if the money is brought back home. So they leave the money over there. The amount of money we're talking about is anywhere from $3 trillion to $5 trillion. Can you believe that? By making it less punitive for companies to bring back this money, and by making the process far less bureaucratic and difficult, we can return trillions and trillions of dollars to our economy and spur billions of dollars in new investments in our struggling communities and throughout our nation.

Donald Trump's Scottish spokesman George Sorial, in November 2008 --

DONALD Trump has £1 billion in cash "sitting in the bank and ready to go" to fund the Menie Estate development in Aberdeenshire ... Sorial said: "The money is there, ready to be wired at any time. I am not discussing where it is, whether it is in a Scottish bank or what, but it is earmarked for this project. If we needed to put the development up tomorrow, we have the cash to do that. It is sitting there in the bank and is ready to go."

That quote later became a problem for Trump because he was saying that at the same time that he was suing Deutsche Bank for US$3 billion on the grounds that their loan terms had caused him financial problems on a Chicago development (and that he should be able to get out of the loan because the global financial crisis was force majeure).

Anyway, what ever happened to that £1 billion in cash?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Henhouse finds Fox boring

With the confirmation yesterday (Reuters) that Rupert Murdoch's US operation has dumped the Fox News Channel feed from the Sky platform, the questions are focusing on why it was dropped -- ratings, political awkwardness?

In fact, the ratings numbers (possibly as little 2000 viewers a day) point to the real question: why was it ever on Sky in the first place? It stood out in that lineup not because of the propaganda (RT and Press TV already in that space), but because of the garish red and blue colour scheme and the happy talk format borrowed from its New York City local news foundations. It's as good a time as any to recall that Rupert Murdoch once thought that the problem with the Sky News channel is that it wasn't enough like Fox News; he said that to the House of Lords Communications Committee tour of the USA in 2007 --

He believed that Sky News would be more popular if it were more like the Fox News Channel. Then it would be “a proper alternative to the BBC”. One of the reasons that it is not a proper alternative to the BBC is that no broadcaster or journalist in the UK knows any different. Mr Murdoch stated that Sky News could become more like Fox without a change to the impartiality rules in the UK. For example Sky had not yet made the presentational progress that Fox News had. He stated that the only reason that Sky News was not more like Fox news was that “nobody at Sky listens to me”.

Even in Brexit-crazed Britain, those supposed presentational skills weren't drawing any viewers. So perhaps it was just there as a vanity project, so that when 21st Century Fox executives and affiliated pundits were flicking around the hotel TV channels on their London junkets, they could indulge a sense of conservative clowning as a true Anglosphere project. But it turns out that such things don't easily cross borders. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The constraining effect of clubs

Another UK position paper for the Brexit negotiations; this one (unlike the trade and Irish border papers), a tad more realistic about the likely continued role of the European Court of Justice. But inconsistencies nonetheless. Here's the discussion of potential frameworks for future international agreements by the UK (paragraph 60) --

In international agreements, final remedies are principally retaliatory in nature and implemented unilaterally by the parties. This includes the ability to take safeguard measures to mitigate any negative effects from the other party’s noncompliance as well as the option to suspend all or part of the agreement (or several linked agreements), or, ultimately, withdraw from the agreement (or several linked agreements). The ability of the European Commission and the CJEU within the EU legal system to impose sanctions, such as fines for non-compliance with EU rules, is exceptional.

This is mentioned without a hint of acknowledgment of the irony that the UK is therefore choosing to leave the most rules-based international agreement in the world, one that operates without self-defeating unilateral punitive and protective measures, into a world where such remedies will be the norm in agreements. And all this in a context where Brexiteers complain that the EU is "punishing us for leaving!"

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The details of trade

Influential Brexiteer, Tory MP Bernard Jenkin writing the Financial Times and declaring optimism on Brexit --

The EU has no case for requiring British companies to prove origin if the UK is still applying the EU tariff on all non-EU imports.

This style of breezy assertion is typical. But it reveals deep misunderstanding about how modern international trade works. By referring to companies needing to "prove origin," Jenkin seems to think all trade is like wine and cheese: origin is intrinsic to where the good was produced. But the actual terminology is rules of origin -- an extremely complex set of rules tailored to supply chains where most goods contain materials and processing from different countries.

Jenkin thinks that as long as Britain maintains the EU tariff, it is entitled to tariff-free access to the EU. But that would depend on the preferential rules of origin that the EU would be entitled to impose on any such agreement with Britain. Practical questions such as: would British exports to the EU be allowed to count EU content and processing along the chain as UK origin for the purposes of tariff-free access? Would content and processing from the EFTA or Mediterranean countries that follow the same rules of origin also count? Incidentally, those countries don't apply the EU tariff but do apply the same rules of origin on EU trade, contrary to Jenkin's view of how such trade works. All those issues and many others would have to be negotiated -- declaring that the EU "has no case" is simply irrelevant.

But these people (Ray Bassett is another example) can get platforms in prominent opinion pages with demonstrably incoherent arguments.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Division

Superb analysis from El Pais of the tensions between Catalonia and the central government in Madrid which form a subtext of the response to the atrocities in the region. In particular, it took nearly a full day for Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy and Catalan President Carlos Puigdemont to have their first meeting on the crisis.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Never going to get it

We have read Ray Bassett in the Daily Telegraph so that you don't have to:

In fact, the alternative, involving Ireland leaving the EU, opting out of the EU customs regime and staying in a free trade and customs union with the UK, may well be the better approach. It would allow the Irish to stay in the European Economic Area (EEA), like Norway, and still have free access to the EU market for its products.

That's the core misunderstanding of the West Brexiters; the same mistake appears in Bassett's Policy Exchange report (incidentally, Policy Exchange is now describing him as a Senior Fellow). If Ireland stays in the EEA Single Market while the UK is outside (as the government has said it will be), all the same problems that happen with Brexit still happen: the UK's non-compliance with EEA rules with make an open border with an EEA member, Ireland, incompatible. These are bilateral people bewildered by a multilateral world.

UPDATE: Policy Exchange Senior Fellow Ray Bassett says that Ireland should stay in the single market while leaving the EU. Here's Policy Exchange Chief Economic Adviser Gerard Lyons explaining why the UK will leave the Single Market (FT today) --

The [transition] plan has to be seen in the context of the need to leave both the EU single market and the customs union. This is the best way to maximise the economic benefits of Brexit. Outside the single market, Britain would save its EU contribution, determine its own laws, regulations and migration quotas. Outside the customs union, it can escape EU protectionism, cut trade deals and set its own tariffs.

Policy Exchange needs to have a staff meeting where they clarify internally how a UK-Ireland open border and differing participation in the single market can be reconciled.

From Tricolour to True Colours

Daily Telegraph Opinion Page --

The EU is becoming less hospitable for Ireland – it's time it joined Britain in leaving 
RAY BASSETT 
By setting out its plan for avoiding a “hard border” between the Republic and Northern Ireland, the UK Government has emphasised once again the strength of the UK and Ireland’s common interests. The new Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, had already laid down the maintenance of the present invisible border as a red line in any EU/UK deal.

That's one of three opinion pieces (2, 3) on the same page today all pursuing the strategy signalled in the UK government "position papers" on Brexit released over the last few days -- to present fantasy solutions to the post-Brexit border problem and then blame the EU, and Ireland, for the reality check.

Bassett had in the past had couched his arguments about Ireland leaving the EU as something to be "seriously considered" and complaints that the Irish government was "not doing enough." But no longer. Now it's just plain and simple West Brexit.

Incidentally, each one of the opinion pieces is paywalled, as are all Bassett's contributions on the issue for the Sunday Business Post.

It prompts a question similar to that mechanism by which the European Parliament was a primary funder of UKIP -- how much of West Brexit is just a grift, a money-making stroking of Imperial fantasies?

How did they get this one past Trump?

US State Department report on religious freedom in Australia --

Government Practices 

Four senators from the One Nation Party were elected during the July (2016) federal elections on a platform which included ceasing Muslim immigration, holding a royal commission on Islam, halting construction of mosques, installing surveillance cameras in mosques, banning wearing of the burqa and niqab in public places, and prohibiting members of parliament from being sworn in under the Quran. In her first senate speech, One Nation Party Leader Pauline Hanson said the country was “in danger of being swamped by Muslims.” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull disagreed with her views and said “my commitment is to an inclusive multicultural society which is based on mutual respect. The more we respect each other the more secure we become.”

This negative assessment of One Nation and Pauline Hanson is being mentioned in the Australian media today, in the context of Hanson's stunt of wearing a burqa to the Senate -- a stunt with which the alt-right Trump would presumably applaud!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A free zone in Ulster?

The UK government has released its Ireland Brexit paper, using the same strategy as the customs paper yesterday -- embargoed briefings to the press to manage the coverage ahead of the fantasy proposals. Just one example of the shambles in this paper: different sections were clearly written by different people, with no read-across for consistency. The section on the common travel area essentially proposes that it could be maintained by transaction checks when Irish people are accessing the privileges they have now (employment, voting, etc), which by the way doesn't follow through on its logic that everyone is going to need ID to enforce this. But anyway, the separate section on the border says --

One potential approach that the UK intends to explore further with the EU is a cross-border trade exemption that would recognise the unique economic, social and cultural context of the land border and the fact that many of the movements of goods across it by smaller traders cannot be properly categorised and treated as economically significant international trade. Such an exemption would ensure that smaller traders could continue to operate as they do now, with no new requirements in relation to customs processes. It is important to note that in 2015, over 80 per cent of North to South trade was carried out by micro, small and medium sized businesses. They are, in effect, examples of local trade in local markets.

If they are proposing to treat most cross-border trade as below the radar screen for customs purposes, then what's the practical mechanism for deciding whether a "small trader" in Dundalk, for example, who employs EU nationals not eligible to work in Brexit UK, is actually deploying those workers mostly in Newry? Once that loophole is open, you'll very quickly see exponential growth in "small trader" employment agencies along the border who can then staff firms anywhere in the UK. Local trade in local markets!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trump blames Ireland for CEO Council resignations

From his tempestuous Manhattan media Q and A:

If you look at Merck as an example, take a look where – excuse me, excuse me – take a look at where their product is made. It is made outside of our country. We want products made in the country, now I have to tell you, some of the folks that will leave, they're leaving out of embarrassment, because they made their products outside, and I have been lecturing them, including the gentleman that you are referring to, about you have to bring it back to this country. You can't do it necessarily in Ireland and all of these other places. You have to bring this work back to this country. That's what I want.

Dublin, we have a problem

Context: The Kevin Myers row.

Consider now --

It was Lionel Barber, Jewish editor of the Financial Times, whose tweet started the ball rolling early that Sunday morning and by the time members of the vocal and powerful American Jewish lobby caught up 5 hours later in New York, the sh*t storm was already under way. As well, there is serious opposition to Murdoch's €13 billion 21st Century Fox bid to take over Sky and there is no greater opinion former in the US than the Jewish lobby.

That's not Myers defending himself, or one of Myers' defenders. That's an ostensibly dispassionate and insiderish analysis of the imbroglio being read in influential circles in Ireland and not triggering any online outrage -- because it's published in the print and paywalled Phoenix magazine (Irish version of Private Eye), not drawing any eyeballs outside Ireland.

Losing control

Hours after having had the advantage of media coverage based on embargoed papers and briefings, the UK Department for Exiting the EU has finally released the much-hyped paper with their proposals for new customs arrangements under Brexit. The paper is a load of rubbish. It actually contains no proposals at all, but is simply a long list of aspirations with a much shorter list of vague indications as to how these could be achieved. A couple of low points --

The Government is keen to explore with the EU a model for an interim period which would ensure that businesses and people in the UK and the EU only have to adjust once to a new customs relationship. This could be delivered through a continued close association with the EU Customs Union for a time-limited period after the UK has left the EU. This could involve a new and time-limited customs union between the UK and the EU Customs Union, based on a shared external tariff and without customs processes and duties between the UK and the EU.

The terminology shared external tariff is very odd. Customs unions usually have a common external tariff. It's not clear whether this is a sensitivity about words (in the same way that deep and special is used instead of deep and comprehensive) or whether there is a technical intent behind it. The paper certainly doesn't explain.

Then:

The UK would seek to recognise the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland and aim to protect individuals and traders by making maximum use of the UK’s flexibility in relation to our own operation of the border. As elsewhere, the processes on the other side of the border would be constrained by the relevant requirements of EU law.

In other words, they are setting up to blame Ireland, as an EU member, for any delays on the Brexit-imposed border. But all those obstacles arise from the UK's departure from the customs union and single market. Everyone else is expected to adjust to them!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times:

Perversely, the anti-elite movement invests the elite with heroic talents. It sees a world of obvious social improvements waiting to be made if only the negligent masters would snap out of their stupor. The deficit of trust flows from a surplus of faith.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Queen's Gin

Great detail from Financial Times article on House of Commons drinking culture:

The late SDLP MP Lord (once Gerry) Fitt is remembered in the 1970s waving great glasses of gin and tonic at the passing boats crying: "It's free, it's all free!"

Quote of the Day

Jeremy Paxman in the Financial Times on how the fixation with salmon farms as a rural job creator requires such adaptation of the environment that the farms don't need to be in such locations:

Geography, though, is an insuperable problem. Salmon farming has political appeal because it seems to offer employment in these Highland communities that have a powerful romantic hold over Scottish identity. Once you use land-based systems, with manufactured salt water, why locate them in the Highlands at all? It could be much more economical to build them somewhere near the markets of southern England or the airports supplying export destinations.

Would you buy Loch Hounslow salmon?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Brexit lorries

Financial Times analysis of UK customs union options points out yet another problem given zero consideration in the referendum campaign -- who will drive trucks after they cross the UK EU border? 

It is a different story at the Turkish border. Problems getting permits to drive across Europe regularly contribute to huge tailbacks. At the moment the EU only offers the right to work freely across Europe to truck drivers who are nationals of countries such Norway and Switzerland, which have accepted free movement of people from the EU. The UK has firmly ruled out such an option.

The Trump - Kim reading list Item 1

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan:

So that in the nature of man, we find three principall causes of quarrel. First, Competition; Secondly, Diffidence; Thirdly, Glory. The first, maketh men invade for Gain; the second, for Safety; and the third, for Reputation. The first use Violence, to make themselves Masters of other mens persons, wives, children, and cattell; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other signe of undervalue, either direct in their Persons, or by reflexion in their Kindred, their Friends, their Nation, their Profession, or their Name.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

The next phase of West Brexit

This Tweet from Brexit financier Arron Banks is a good sign of what's coming from his circle in terms of Ireland's position on Brexit. For a while, the Brexiteers have been content with finding useful idiots in the Irish media who will talk up their vision of Ireland leaving the EU with Britain. But with that line of argument at a dead-end -- confirmed by the Irish government's blunt assessment over the last week -- they'll switch very quickly to saying that Ireland is holding up Brexit because of its insistence on a continued soft border with Northern Ireland. This of course completely contradicts the claim of the Irish government's critics that it hasn't been "doing enough" about Brexit, but that won't stop the two lines of argument being made at the same time. The ugliness is only just beginning. 

BDS just got more complicated

This Al-Arabiya story (and yes, they have their anti-Qatar reasons) claims that a major beneficiary of the Neymar Jr to PSG deal is ... the Israeli Treasury, because Israel will collect a hefty income tax take on mystery agent Pini Zahavi's commission on this mysterious deal!

Friday, August 04, 2017

Make Kenya Great Again

Superb Wall Street Journal on the run-up to the Kenyan Presidential election --

Tensions on the street have been aggravated by an explosion of aggressive social media posts and fake news. Some spurious videos have carried the logos of CNN International and BBC World, claiming Mr. Kenyatta is set to win the election. Both organizations said the videos were fabricated. Facebook on Thursday took out a full-page ad in major Kenyan newspapers with guidelines on how to identify fake news. One election ad on social media site Instagram warned: “Kenya needs Uhuru—Violence needs Raila.” Some blame the spike in negative social-media advertising on Cambridge Analytica, a data-mining company hired by Mr. Kenyatta’s party. Cambridge Analytica also assisted in the Trump campaign. Cambridge Analytica declined to comment on the allegations, as did representatives for the government.

After all, it's not like Donald Trump has ever championed the misuse of a CNN logo!

Quote of the Day

Simon Kuper in the Financial Times:

As long as politicians restricted their silly wordgames to Prime Minister's Question Time while letting civil servants run the country, they were relatively harmless. But after the referendum, the Brexiters were tasked with managing Brexit. This was like asking the winners of a debating contest to engineer a spaceship. Results have been predictable. The Brexiters cannot wow Brussels with rhetoric, because the EU's negotiators prefer rules. "That is a cultural difference," notes Catherine de Vries, professor of politics at Essex University.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

It's like reading Playboy for the articles

From the Donald Trump Wall Street Journal interview transcript (bizarrely, not published by the Wall Street Journal, but Politico) --

TRUMP: We think we’re going to have tremendous growth. We think money’s going to come pouring into the country. Look, we’re losing companies. People don’t even realize how bad it is, but we’re losing companies every single day where they’re leaving because the taxes are too high. When we do this, we’ll have companies – I know companies that have left. They go to Ireland, they go to other – I own a lot of property in Ireland. They go to Ireland because of these incredible tax rates, and other places, right? We’ll have companies pouring back into our nation. I mean, it’s going to be – you know, it’s going to be beautiful.

So others are investing in Ireland to dodge taxes, but he's there for the golf!

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Quote of the Day

In the Financial Times, Jonathan Derbyshire reviews a couple of books about the crisis in western politics --

The emergence over the past few years of a more confrontational style of politics, in which charismatic leadership matters more than policy and the old division between right and left matters less than that between “internationalists and nativists”, leads Krastev to predict that 2017 “may end up being just as consequential” as 1917, the year of the Russian revolution.

The point that there's a stylistic element to populist politics as much as ideological is extremely important.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Knowing your market

Wall Street Journal on sales hook that Blackwater founder Erik Prince (whose sister is Trump's Secretary of Education) has been making for his proposal to hand the US operations in Afghanistan over to contractors --

Mr. Prince is pitching his idea as Mr. Trump’s new “Wollman Rink” moment, a reference to the president’s successful 1986 rehabilitation of a landmark Central Park ice-skating rink that was over-budget and years behind schedule. The proposal, seen by The Wall Street Journal, outlines ways for the U.S. to quickly replace most U.S. troops with contractors who would help carry out airstrikes and work side by side with Afghan forces across the country.

Thus, the notion that Trump is stuck in the 1980s is not just confined to interpretations of Trump from the sideline; it's integral to how people around him play their cards.

In 1986, the year that Trump "saved" Wollman Rink, one of the big pop hits was You Give Love a Bad Name, by Bon Jovi. Jon Bon Jovi has moved on. Trump hasn't.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Friends of Friends


This photograph (via Saudi Press Agency) conveys an astounding message in the underlying event: a meeting yesterday in Jeddah of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) with Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Moqtada is a major figure of Iraqi Shia politics, a key hate-figure for the American invasion forces, and an influential voice on the Iraqi street. That MBS would meet with him amid the constant feuding with Iran is a major statement that previous rules of engagement in the Gulf may no longer apply. 

Enumerating old themes

Kevin Myers is 70. Donald Trump is 71.

No, that's not a way to let Myers off the hook. But it is a way to point out that what Brexiteers like to portray as a North Atlantic Anglosphere has a public square afflicted with a cohort of people given platforms whose views have not evolved in 30 years.

Myers doesn't realize that a 1980s blend of Jewish stereotyping and pro-Israel political views isn't viable in 2017. Donald Trump still talks about "inner cities" with the lens of the crack epidemic, and his obsession with TV breakfast chit-chat shows and who's on the Time magazine cover is a perfect reflection of that decade. The former has had regular access to newspaper columnist gigs. The latter is President of the United States -- put there by a voting bloc that likewise never moved on from the 1980s TV Trump.

And then there's Brexit. That classic Fawlty Towers Don't Mention the War episode, except without the laughs. The era of Up Yours, Delors. The Irish border as something that the Irish government wasn't properly managing. They've never moved on, and the age profile of their Irish sympathizers is just as revealing -- a group also with access to newspaper columns. They're a combination of what was described by Yeats (ideas that began as a mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street, Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can) and Keynes (slaves of some defunct economist, distilling their frenzies from some academic scribbler). Unfortunately, reducing their influence is a lot more difficult than sacking a newspaper columnist. 

Light touch regulation

An observation from Wolfgang Munchau in the Financial Times, nearly 2 years ago, that has stood the test of time --

More importantly, the Volks­wagen scandal has the potential to unhinge the German economic model. It has been over-reliant on the car industry, just as the car industry has been over-reliant on diesel technology. For its part, Berlin mollycoddles the industry and represents its interests abroad. The “VW law” in effect protects the company against a hostile takeover. And it was a former VW director, Peter Hartz, who wrote the labour reforms of the previous decade. In return, the industry contributes to the stability of regional employment. And the voting rules in the supervisory board ensure that production could be shifted out of Germany only with the explicit consent of the trade unions. In other words, it cannot. In terms of macroeconomic risk management, this is a silly strategy — similar to the UK’s over-reliance on the financial sector. Such strategies work well until they do not work at all.

He was talking about the diesel emissions scandal, which at the time afflicted only VW. But as it widens in scope and is now augmented by an anti-trust scandal, the distortions arising from the favoured status of the car industry look even clearer. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Quote of the Day

In the New York Times, Dwight Garner with a rumination on Paul Fussell's 1983 book, Class: A Guide Through the American Status System --

For the tyro reader, Fussell dispatches early the notion that class has much to do with how much money you have. Those who’ve paid any attention “perceive that taste, values, ideas, style and behavior are indispensable criteria of class, regardless of money or occupation.” Donald J. Trump is an instructive specimen in this regard.

The biggest failure of American liberal political punditry over the last 18 months is the failure to engage with the class aspects of the Trump phenomenon. Trump's supporters are seen as closet racists, ridiculed for "economic anxiety," and/ or a benighted proletariat voting against interest. Yet the connection between these voters and Trump's inner circle love-hate relationship with Manhattan is precisely where class comes into play. Proof that the pundit class has still not reconciled with this issue is the mockery of David Brooks for an admittedly belabored example of class signifiers operating through restaurant menus -- yet his point was just exactly one that Fussell made above. 

Operation Air Lion


The Telegraph's unsubtle graphic for a story relying on analysis of Brexiter Gerard Lyons that Philip Hammond's Brexit transition plan involves continued EU migration to the UK after Brexit. Of particular note: the arrows are one way, and they don't originate in the actual sources of large current EU migration to the UK. They do however originate in northern France, Benelux, and Germany. What possible historical echo could they have in mind?

Unapproved Roads

To the left is an illustration that the Irish Sunday Business Post -- a Brexit sneaking regarder publication -- has with a report on the areas of Ireland adjacent to the border with Northern Ireland. The West Brexit contingent has been quite busy over the last few days, inflamed by Michel Barnier's blunt assessment that Britain had presented no proposal on how to deal with the Irish border, leading to a revival of demands that this proves Ireland must leave the European Union.

Anyway, the focus on the land border is understandable, but it's a trap. The main impact of Brexit on Ireland and Northern Ireland will not happen through the land border. Violence imposed a much harder border than customs posts ever did, and people found ways to function across the border even then. The main impacts will happen through the disruption to the UK's trade, investment, travel and migration links with Ireland that currently operate on the presumption that both are EU members -- and only a tiny fraction of those links involve physical crossing of the land border.

So there will be scenic photography and warm Prosecco-worthy tales of borders passing through people's gardens as Dublin and London reporters head to Armagh and Donegal to cover the border issue. But the fixation on the border has as much to do with a perspective locked in, like Trump and 1980s television, in the era of the Troubles, on the border as a source of banditry and violence, as its current economic significance. And it lends itself to a view that razzle-dazzle technology, cameras etc, can "solve" the Brexit problem with Ireland, when it's actually a sideshow. It's that view that Ireland's government rightly lost patience with in the last few days; the border is an important issue, but it can best be solved by things that the Brexiters still do not want to acknowledge: the customs union, EEA, EFTA, or some other option that the UK government would need to start working on!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Crisis, what crisis?

That means that Theresa May is spending 3 percent of the 2 year EU exit period -- a clock that she chose to start -- on holidays. And that's just this summer's holidays, and after all the time that was lost to the futile election. Meanwhile the newspapers -- even the "serious" broadsheets -- have already shifted to silly season mode of royals, celebrities, and sport.

Brexit, like the Trump presidency, is a slow-motion in-progress disaster. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Rivals

Since just about any logic is possible in Trump world, it could be that his obsession with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is due to his mistaken belief that the elusive ISIS leader was Time Magazine's Person of the Year in 2015. He wasn't. He was the runner up, to Angela Merkel -- a lineup that must have driven Trump crazy. Trump's strange tweet this morning seems fixated on 2015, because that's when the New York Times story which he blames for the missed hit on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Real News

On 21 June, 2017, the day that the news broke that Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (MBN) had been removed as Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in favour of his cousin Mohammed bin Salman, the Iranian media ridiculed the move as a "soft coup." The general reaction was to send congratulations to Riyadh.

A flood of reporting today confirms that it was in fact a soft coup. MBN was detained until he agreed to the transition, he was accused of addiction to painkillers (a harsh accusation since the pain originated in a terrorist attack), and he remains confined to his palace without his own security.

Sometimes, the Iranians are right!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

He's already ignoring the intelligence

White House statement just over a month ago --

President Donald J. Trump spoke today with Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates. First, and most importantly, the leaders agreed on the importance of implementing agreements reached in Riyadh to counter extremism and to combat the funding of terrorist groups.

This was with reference to the Saudi Arabia and UAE led sanctions against Qatar.

The Washington Post now reports that US intelligence agencies believe that the Qatar News Agency website hacking which precipitated the crisis was carried out by ... the UAE! And remember this is in the context where the supposed "last straw" -- the receipt of Qatari ransom money by Iran and Hezbollah -- may never have happened

The spires and the rock

Reuters:

Gibraltar will not be a victim of Brexit and has had guarantees from the British government it will not do a trade deal with the European Union which doesn't include the territory, its chief minister said on Sunday.

That's an ambiguous statement which could mean that Gibraltar would be treated differently within such a deal. But it further highlights the self imposed constraints of the London Brexit strategy. Why should Ireland contort its border arrangements with Northern Ireland just so that Britain can hang on to what will be, post 2019, Falklands on Med?

Follow the money

New York Times on Iran's increasing dominance in Iraq --

When a group of Qatari falcon hunters, including members of the royal family, were kidnapped in 2015 while on safari in the southern deserts of Iraq, Qatar called Iran and its militia allies — not the central government in Baghdad. For Mr. Abadi, the prime minister, the episode was an embarrassing demonstration of his government’s weakness at the hands of Iran, whose proxy militia Kataibb Hezbollah was believed to be behind the kidnapping. So when the hostage negotiations were about to end, Mr. Abadi pushed back. Around noon on a day in April, a government jet from Qatar landed in Baghdad, carrying a delegation of diplomats and 500 million euros stuffed into 23 black boxes. The hunters were soon on their way home, but the ransom did not go to the Iranian-backed militiamen who had abducted the Qataris; the cash ended up in a central bank vault in Baghdad. The seizure of the money had been ordered by Mr. Abadi, who was furious at the prospect of militias, and their Iranian and Hezbollah benefactors, being paid so richly right under the Iraqi government’s nose. “Hundreds of millions to armed groups?” Mr. Abadi said in a public rant. “Is this acceptable?”

This detail -- that the money ended up with the Iraqi government -- has been occasionally reported over the last 6 weeks, but it's a critical detail, because the alleged payment of the ransom money to Iran and Hezbollah is also commonly cited as the "last straw" that led to the severe sanctions against Qatar. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Greatest Living Irish woman

Janan Ganesh takes Edna O'Brien to lunch for the Financial Times:


 If anything, she values being left alone to concentrate on her writing. "For all my affability, I am also cold."

You have to look after number one?

"Well no, you have to look after what is right. In the case of work, you have to look after the work. If someone comes into your life that you don't want and keeps nagging you with emails and things, the gate comes down." She mimes a portcullis shutting in front of her face. This is Graham Greene's "splinter of ice": the chill at the heart of the serious novelist. Writers cannot be with you all that much. And even when they are with you, they are not really with you.

Quote of the Day

Peter Jukes in the New York Times --

Forget Shakespeare and Dickens, or even the Beatles and David Bowie. Today Britain’s most important cultural export to the United States is the use of tabloid tricks and reality TV techniques for influence and profit. Rob Goldstone may look like a bit player in this story, but he is an avatar of the new power brokers in the age of politics as entertainment. Welcome to your new ruling class. Made in Britain.

It is this common factor that helps explain why despite concerns about "populism" as a global phenomenon, it has done the most damage in these two countries. But very tricksy of Australia to have successfully exported Patient Zero (Rupert Murdoch). 

Fake News, Real Purpose

The New York Times recounts the story of Moldovan soccer sensation and transfer market target Masal Bugduv -- a completely made up character created by Declan Varley and whose name is a loose phonetic spelling of a story by Pádraic Ó Conaire. Anyway, one thing the article never quite says is that the problem with these stories isn't on the social media fringes of transfer speculation: it is with player agents paying sports reporters in the conventional media to write these stories so as to get their under-contract clients into the transfer market. As with politics, social media is certainly part of the problem, but because of the way it magnifies distortions in conventional media practices. 

The genesis of hard Brexit

Amid many insights into the role that stupidity as much as mendacity played in the Brexit campaign, this superb analysis by David Allen Green from April sticks in our mind: the obsession with the European Court of Justice, which is the key driver of the UK government imperative to interpret Brexit as leaving not just the Single Market, but also the Customs Union, may be due to a simple misunderstanding of conversations over the Boris Johnson family dinner table, misunderstandings which became Tory policy either via BoJo himself, or Theresa May not realizing the implications of the explanations that were being given to her.

Corollary: Sometimes the explanation involving the most idiocy is the right one. See also under Trump, Russia. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Puttin' on the Ritz


It's forgotten now, but in March 2017, the biggest "outrage" in Ireland was from the country's correspondent/ pundit class, enraged that former Taoiseach Enda Kenny had been too civil with Donald Trump.

Photo: Trump with French President Emmanuel Macron during his invited visit to the Bastille Day celebrations. 

Quote of the Day

Martin Wolf in the Financial Times --

The UK has become so ludicrous because the issue of the EU is so deeply felt by a significant part of the body politic. The Brexiters are the Jacobins of UK politics. Their ideological intensity has devastated the Conservative party and reduced British politics to its present shambles. There is, as a result, neither a comfortable exit from Brexit nor a plausible way of managing it smoothly. Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. So it now is over Brexit.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Remember, Pence is the sane one

US Vice President Mike Pence in a speech to a student conference at American University in Washington DC --

You know, 30 years ago, our President wrote a book that holds words of wisdom for all future leaders that are gathered here today. It really is a book that’s inspired many leaders over more than three decades, and I believe it could be an inspiration to each one of you, as well. The book is entitled “The Art of the Deal,” and it’s actually an American classic. In that famous book, President Trump said, “I like thinking big,” because “if you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.” And that’s exactly what our President has done throughout his life. He’s thought big. He’s achieved big, and today we have a President of the United States who’s literally lived the American Dream. It’s remarkable to think that our President, a grandson of an immigrant to this country, the son of a self-made businessman has lived the life that he’s lived and now finds himself in the Oval Office of the United States. It’s interesting -- I often tell people that our two family stories are somewhat similar. The President’s grandfather immigrated to this country, and my grandfather immigrated to this country from Ireland. His father was a self-made man who built a business with his own two hands. My dad built a small gasoline station business in a small town in southern Indiana. He, the man who calls himself “the Kid from Queens,” decided to build on that legacy, and he went to Manhattan Island to build the big buildings.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Treasure

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy --

In the Paris intelligence base -- RICKI TARR (dictating) Ricki Tarr claims to have further information vital to the safeguarding of the Circus.

Donald Trump Jnr statement to ABC News --

I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign

There's so much of the Trump-Russia entanglement that can be read as echoes of Tinker Tailor, the same level of amorality, but a much higher level of greed and incompetence, and of course much less style.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Fossil Fundamentalists


Allowing for the usual quotient of Sir Humphrey-esque blather, the G20 closing statement actually says some things. For example --

The Leaders of the other (non-USA) G20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible. We reiterate the importance of fulfilling the UNFCCC commitment by developed countries in providing means of implementation including financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation actions in line with Paris outcomes and note the OECD’s report “Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth”. We reaffirm our strong commitment to the Paris Agreement, moving swiftly towards its full implementation in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances and, to this end, we agree to the G20 Hamburg Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth as set out in the Annex.

That means in particular that Saudi Arabia committed itself to the Paris Agreement, while the Trump administration didn't.

Photo: via G20 Presidency website, head of Saudi Arabian delegation Ibrahim al-Assaf with Angela Merkel. 

Trade deals need peaceful partners

Boris Johnson in December --

Johnson said Britain's decision to leave the European Union would open fresh opportunities. "We'll still be there to stick up for our friends and partners in the Gulf ... But now for the first time since the 1970s we will additionally be able to do free trade deals and we'll be able to build on the extraordinary commercial relationships that already exist between the UK and the Gulf."

BoJo is in Riyadh this weekend -- but not to seal a trade deal. Instead, he's part of a belated realization in western countries that the Qatar crisis is getting worse and needs urgent attention. One reason why the EU worked as an economic bloc is because the members had gone past the stage of being on the verge of war with each other. But Britain decided to leave that and look for trade deals with regions where that condition is not met. 

Border space

Financial Times on the UK government/ business talks at Chevening regarding Brexit --

Finding a solution to how the UK-EU border in Ireland would work was a priority for the summer, Mr Davis (Brexit Minister) said, so it could be a "test border" for the rest of EU.

The fact that the UK government views the Irish border as a potential model for the rest of the EU further highlights the ridiculous position of Ireland's West Brexiters, who insist that Ireland has to leave the EU to do a special deal on the border with the UK. Since Ireland is in the EU, the UK can't just focus on a bilateral deal with Ireland without thinking through the consequences for the rest of the EU. Hasn't Ireland historically done badly when Britain could deal however it likes with Ireland? Tell that to the West Brexiters. 

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Tory Blue

Financial Times on the mood within the May government headed into the hard work on Brexit:

The poison is already running around the system. "We can work with half the Labour party and crush the f*ckers," says one Conservative MP, referring to his Eurosceptic colleagues. A leading pro-Brexit MP says he would not tolerate threats from the "wankers" on his party's pro-European wing.

Remember that the West Brexit agitators in Ireland want to hitch the country to that dynamic.

Pass the message


Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah receives by hand the Qatari response to the demands from its other Gulf neighbours besides Oman. Kuwait is trying to act as an intermediary in the dispute. The Emir usually smiles in photos but he looks distinctly unexcited about his role in this case. Kuwait has unhappy memories of where such ultimatums end.

Photo: Kuwait News Agency.