Sunday, December 10, 2017

Chuckle Brother

New York Times story a couple of weeks ago on how Donald Trump still believes all the crazy stuff he said before the election --

One senator who listened as the president revived his doubts about Mr. Obama’s birth certificate chuckled on Tuesday as he recalled the conversation. The president, he said, has had a hard time letting go of his claim that Mr. Obama was not born in the United States. The senator asked not to be named to discuss private conversations.

New York Times story today on Trump's daily routine --

“He feels like there’s an effort to undermine his election and that collusion allegations are unfounded,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who has spent more time with the president than most lawmakers. “He believes passionately that the liberal left and the media are out to destroy him. The way he got here is fighting back and counterpunching.

There's a lot of connective tissue between the two stories (not least in terms of a common byline, Maggie Haberman), which suggests that Lindsey Graham is in fact the source for the first anecdote.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Quote of the Day

The FT's Sebastian Payne in an excellent roundup of UK 2017 Election/ Brexit books --

The biggest strategic error was the clash between Crosby’s “strong and stable” message and Team May’s vision of radical social and economic reform. Selling this message of change in six weeks, during an election that was supposed to be about Brexit, was to prove impossible. The manifesto, which sought to define a new type of blue-collar Conservatism by tackling what Timothy saw as the five great injustices in British society, did not tap into a natural voting constituency ... Timothy’s dream of remoulding the Conservative party into a force that speaks more to the people of northern provinces was over. This Red Toryism, as some have termed it, remains an interesting theory that has yet to find a successful vehicle.

Red Toryism has an American analogue in the Reformicons, a group of conservative pundits and intellectuals selling a very similar claim, that there is a package of conservative-leaning economic and social policies that can appeal to lower middle and working class voters. Donald Trump may have gotten a little closer to finding that recipe -- as a candidate -- but it's clear that the cultural component of the appeal is more important than the economic one. Notice for example the signs at Trump's Pensacola rally last night: his most energized supporters really believe that the "establishment" is out to suppress Christmas. No tweaking of taxes and incentives is going to deal with that.

AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman

Friday, December 08, 2017

The new Anglo-Irish Agreement

From the Brexit negotiations first stage agreement --

In the absence of agreed solutions, as set out in the previous paragraph, the United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, unless, consistent with the 1998 Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland. In all circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland's businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market. 

 ... . Both Parties acknowledge that the 1998 Agreement recognises the birth right of all the people of Northern Ireland to choose to be Irish or British or both and be accepted as such. The people of Northern Ireland who are Irish citizens will continue to enjoy rights as EU citizens, including where they reside in Northern Ireland. Both Parties therefore agree that the Withdrawal Agreement should respect and be without prejudice to the rights, opportunities and identity that come with European Union citizenship for such people and, in the next phase of negotiations, will examine arrangements required to give effect to the ongoing exercise of, and access to, their EU rights, opportunities and benefits. 5

... Both Parties recognise that the United Kingdom and Ireland may continue to make arrangements between themselves relating to the movement of persons between their territories (Common Travel Area), while fully respecting the rights of natural persons conferred by Union law. The United Kingdom confirms and accepts that the Common Travel Area and associated rights and privileges can continue to operate without affecting Ireland’s obligations under Union law, in particular with respect to free movement for EU citizens.

In other words, Ireland got the following: the UK had to assert that Northern Ireland remains part of the UK, the more than Northern Ireland residents take Irish citizenship, the more it becomes an EU enclave, and Ireland can continue to have its own special arrangements for its citizens resident in the UK.

This is a demolition of the Tory/ DUP Brexit.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Another Riyadh Orb

Tom Friedman, writing about Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (2 weeks before his visit to Riyadh) --

Hearing that Saudi princes were arrested for “corruption” is like reading that Donald Trump fired seven cabinet secretaries “for lying.” You know it has to be something else. Trump obviously missed the story last year that M.B.S. impulsively bought a yacht while on vacation in the south of France — it just caught his fancy in the harbor — from its Russian owner for $550 million. Did that money come out of his piggy bank? Savings from his Riyadh lemonade stand? From his Saudi government 401(k)?

The Wall Street Journal is today reporting that the mystery buyer of the "lost da Vinci" painting Salvator Mundi is in fact MBS (yesterday's version, that another prince known only for real estate investments had bought it, was clearly implausible),

The sequencing of him buying a painting of Jesus (possibly as a gift to the Louvre Abu Dhabi) while Jerusalem goes through its current travails is awkward. Implicit in the revelation is that US intelligence leaked the news as a warning to MBS not to make too much noise about Jerusalem.

UPDATE: Important detail from the New York Times --

The Times on Wednesday sent detailed questions about the purchase to Prince Bader. The newspaper also contacted the Saudi Embassy in Washington. Three intermediaries for Prince Bader, including two affiliated with the embassy, asked The Times to delay publication to await a response from Prince Bader. But at the end of the day the intermediaries said Prince Bader would decline to speak, and around the same time, the Louvre Abu Dhabi said on Twitter that it was expecting to receive “Salvator Mundi,” at which point The Times published its article.

Other than the tweet, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has supplied no details on the processology of its acquisition, but it was convenient to have the story appear right at the NYT deadline!

By Leonardo da Vinci - Getty Images, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64103353

Less optimistic than Trump

House of Commons, 27 April 1950 --

Winston Churchill: Does not the hon. Gentleman (Foreign Office Minister of State Kenneth Younger) realise that Dr. Weizmann (President of Israel) and King Abdullah (of Jordan) have both, over the vicissitudes of 20 or 30 years, shown themselves always staunch friends to this country, and will he avail himself to the full of the possibilities of bringing these two eminent men into the closest harmonious contact? Am I right in assuming that that is the general path upon which the Government are embarked and which is expressed in the statement to which we have just listened?

That was part of a general mood that the Israel - Palestinian issue was still solvable in a modest time frame, and a process that the UK thought it was advancing by recognizing Jordanian control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The UK became the only country to recognize the expanded Jordan (the oft-repeated claim that Pakistan also did is contested), and in any event it became moot after the Six Day Year.

Anyway, the point is that there's a precedent for one country thinking it can get out in front of a complex process with a unilateral step. 

Stay classy, DUP

DUP MP Nigel Dodds -- who may be the deepest of the true believers in the Sunlit Uplands vision of Brexit -- in the House of Commons yesterday during a debate a potential amendment to the Brexit bill being offered by Independent Unionist Sylvia Hermon --

Could the hon. Lady answer the question posed by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who asked whether she accepts, as he does, that it is a good idea to have regulatory convergence and common rules between Northern Ireland and the Republic? Could she give a straight answer to that, because many in Northern Ireland now view her as being on the side of the Dublin Government on these issues?

Lady Hermon:  I thank the right hon. Gentleman so much for that. [Interruption.] Yes, what do you do in response to that? 

Nigel Dodds:  Answer!

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Jerusalem

There's not much to say that's not already been said about Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but his speech -- besides afflicted in delivery by an apparent mouth ulcer -- was incoherent, probably reflecting multiple authors.

On the one hand, saying that the recognition was the culmination of the Zionist vision of Israel -- that having created a modern country, it deserved a capital.

On the other hand, repeated references to the multiple religious claims on Jerusalem, which would be one of the best arguments against a unilateral decision on its status.

His focus on the specific details of getting a new US Embassy -- "architects, engineers, and planners" -- suggests that one explanation for the decision may be that, in his mind, a US Embassy in Jerusalem will be a monument to the legacy of ... Donald J. Trump.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Arabia Brutus


Saudi Arabia knows a sucker when it sees one. That's US Energy Secretary Rick Perry clowning with Saudi Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih during a visit to the Kingdom. The government has long since figured out that a little desert pageantry buys a lot of White House acquiescence. 

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Nice family you've got there

Reuters --

Former Egyptian prime minister Ahmed Shafik, who last week announced his intention of running for the presidency in 2018, has been taken from his home in the United Arab Emirates and is being deported to Egypt, his family told Reuters on Saturday.

UAE news agency (WAM) --

An official source has announced that the former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq has left the UAE heading to Cairo, Egypt. In a statement, the source added that the family of the former Egyptian Prime Minister is still in the UAE under generous care of the country.

Arabian Reformer

Saudi Press Agency --

An official source declared to the Saudi Press Agency that the allegations published by some sources in good intention or otherwise that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is embarked on abolishing the apostasy penalty are altogether false and incorrect. The source explained that such groundless claims are absurd according to the ruling system of governance and as per the practices of this blessed country since its institution. He confirmed that the public prosecution is embarked on taking the necessary legal measures to sue who dared to disseminate such lies which go contrary to the constitution of this country. The source stressed that such issue was already determined and un-negotiable at all in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Luckily this issue didn't bubble up during Tom Friedman's visit last week.

Short shelf life

New York Times' Peter Baker 3 months ago --

Now in the White House, President Trump demonstrated this past week that he still imagines himself a solitary cowboy as he abandoned Republican congressional leaders to forge a short-term fiscal deal with Democrats. Although elected as a Republican last year, Mr. Trump has shown in the nearly eight months in office that he is, in many ways, the first independent to hold the presidency since the advent of the current two-party system around the time of the Civil War.

With an atrocious tax bill about to pass due to a strong alignment of the White House with House and Senate Republicans, has any piece of political analysis of Trump aged more quickly?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Flimsy bet

Excellent New York Times analysis exploring the catastrophic security strategy failure of the Egyptian government in Sinai --

One person who did have some sway over Mr. Sisi was Egypt’s chief of defense staff, Mahmoud Hegazy. American officials saw him as the only person in Mr. Sisi’s inner circle with the authority to publicly contradict him, a former United States official said. They also had a personal bond: General Hegazy’s daughter is married to Mr. Sisi’s son. But last month Mr. Sisi fired General Hegazy, after an outcry over a devastating militant ambush on a security convoy south of Cairo that killed 16 police officers, and possibly many more. The move dismayed senior State and Defense Department officials who saw General Hegazy as a check on Mr. Sisi in a circle of advisers that has become ever smaller and, some fear, ever more sycophantic, said the former official, who spoke anonymously to protect internal deliberations on an important ally that rarely receives public criticism well.

So, this is an insight from within the US securocrat establishment that the key part of their military cooperation with Egypt rested on the relationship of a single person with President Sisi. There is no strategy, just a hope that one person, now fired, can bring a message to the top.

Incidentally, since that orb clutching moment in Riyadh, there have been two massive terrorist attacks in Islamic countries, the Friday atrocity and the Mogadishu bombing a few weeks ago.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Choice of words

In early 2001, a hot potato landed on the desk of the then Irish Minister for Justice, John O'Donoghue. It was the summary of an internal police inquiry ("Carty report") into allegations of serious misconduct by Donegal police, including mishandling of a murder investigation. There seemed to be enough in the report summary to launch a broader independent inquiry into rogue elements in the police force, which might have even gotten into similar misconduct in adjacent counties, such as Cavan and Monaghan.

What did the Minister do?

He sent the summary report to the government's chief legal adviser, Attorney-General Michael McDowell.

McDowell, recognizing a hot potato when he saw one, said that he couldn't make a decision without seeing the full report. And the usual "ongoing investigations" excuse provided a dodge for government ministers from needing to see the full report, and so the allegations sat for over a year before their seriousness eventually became the basis for action. With the slow pace of the Irish legal system, that was a lot of time to lose, and by keeping everything very legalistic and narrow in scope, the broader relevance -- including to current circumstances -- was lost.

Things caught up with the government in 2005, when people started to ask about the lapses in timeline in reacting to the original information. Here's Eamon Gilmore in 2005 trying to get a straight answer to who saw what and when; note that the Minister for Justice of the time is now ... Michael McDowell! --

... My colleague, Deputy Howlin, drew attention to the fact that last Friday the Minister, Deputy McDowell, informed the House that the Carty report was not delivered to him or to the then Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, at a time when its full contents would have definitely been of interest to them and would have enabled them to make earlier judgments on some of the issues involved. ... However, during his period as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue repeatedly indicated to the House that he had the Carty report. On 7 February 2001, in response to parliamentary questions, he did not indicate in any way that he did not have the Carty report, although he had plenty of opportunity to do so. On 23 May 2001, he stated that "the investigation by Assistant Commissioner Carty was completed and presented to me and, in turn, to the DPP". ... Either the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, had the report in 2000 or 2001 — as he told the House on 23 May 2001 that Assistant Commissioner Carty's report was completed and presented to him and, in turn, to the DPP — or he did not. ... This is not a minor matter concerning some incidental documentation that got lost in the amalgam of material that goes through a Minister's departmental office. This was a major report on an investigation into matters of the most serious character concerning the conduct of gardaí in Donegal. 

It was to no avail. McDowell and Bertie Ahern blustered through the questions relying on the distinction between having a precis or a distillation versus the actual report, and ignoring the broader question of why the precis wasn't alarming enough for quicker action. 2005 was the mid-year of the worst government in the history of the state, but at the time, an economic boom made them immovable. A few months after McDowell and Ahern had sidestepped their hazy memories of 2001, Maurice McCabe would make his first complaint about police misconduct in Cavan. That set in motion events which are playing out this weekend. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

England's difficulty is Ireland's ... fault?

Ruth Dudley Edwards, taking a Sun-level of analysis to the opinion pages of the Financial Times --

For reasons to do with Ireland’s complex electoral system of proportional representation and multi-seat constituencies, Mr Coveney [Irish foreign minister] keeps a nervous eye on the competition and courts the green vote, which has caused him to push a nationalist agenda and make bellicose statements about Brexit that Mr Varadkar [PM] began to echo. On Wednesday, Mr Coveney chose a Northern Ireland business breakfast to emphasise what had previously been hinted at: that Ireland is right behind EU negotiators in refusing to go to the next stage of the talks without progress on the rights of EU citizens, the financial settlement and the border. It is prepared to use its veto if necessary, and, for now is insisting that the border should be somewhere in the Irish Sea, leaving Northern Ireland de facto still in the EU. Apart from being anathema to unionists, as Ray Bassett, a rare dissenting voice among retired senior Irish diplomats, put it, “the demand that Britain will be economically dismembered, with the North staying in the customs union while the rest of Britain goes its own way, is universally seen as undeliverable by any British government”. The UK accounts for 14 per cent of Irish exports and 25 per cent of Irish imports and there is additionally a high volume of services trade between the two countries. What people like Mr Bassett and Graham Gudgin of the think-tank Policy Exchange point out is that trade with Britain as a whole is infinitely more important to Ireland than that with Northern Ireland in particular.

It's all there: the bizarre analysis that a Fine Gael-led government is driven by an ultra-nationalist flank, that Ireland's position on Brexit only suddenly emerged last week, a quote from a man with an ostensible credential but zero expertise on multilateral trade and relations, Ray Bassett, dubious conclusions from trade statistics, blaming Ireland for a British desire to leave the Customs Union, no actual solution offered (she calls for imagination), and later down in the column, a fusing of pro-Brexit accommodation with anti-austerity tropes -- two days after Philip Hammond's budget shows what Brexit budgets are going to look like.

The train has unfortunately already left the station in terms of the access of these wreckers and hucksters to the media, but the least response might be to resolve that general election analysis, if there is a general election, will be scrutinized particularly closely for influence of  opportunistic and delusional agitation from the gallery.

Egypt

Three things to contemplate about today's atrocity in Al-Arish.

1. Life in Cairo will go on as "normal" -- after all, it's White Friday.
2. It's worth reminding yourself of the career of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. If Anwar al-Awlaki was the alive-past-his-death philosophical inspiration for many terrorist attacks, al-Zarqawi plays the same role in terms of the tactical role of brutality. Seemingly inexplicable "why would they attack a mosque" becomes very explicable.
3. Where were the security forces?

The Pundit of Arabia

The context: The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is making some intriguing noises about changing the political posture of the country, and an eager Thomas Friedman hops on a plane to Riyadh to get the story in person, and in particular whether things might have changed as Friedman would want with respect to Israel --

After I [Friedman] laid out this idea, the crown prince looked at me with mock astonishment and said, ''Have you broken into my desk?'' ''No,'' I said, wondering what he was talking about. ''The reason I ask is that this is exactly the idea I had in mind.

And so, the Pundit is validated. The Crown Prince continues --

''But I tell you,'' the crown prince added, ''if I were to pick up the phone now and ask someone to read you the speech, you will find it virtually identical to what you are talking about.

Friedman goes on to praise the Crown Prince as untainted by corruption.

The year? 2002. Friedman is visiting Crown Prince Abdullah in the wake of severe tensions in the US-Saudi relationship after 9/11. The Arab Peace Initiative to which their discussion referred never goes anywhere, but in fairness to both of them, that's as much if not more to do with Israel than the Arab states.

Anyway, the cycle continues. Friedman was just in Riyadh with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) looking for another of his islands of decency and declares the start of an Arab Spring with Saudi characteristics, coming from the top rather than the street. And as part of that Arab Spring, MbS has locked up Abdullah's son Miteb on charges of corruption.

One final thing. at that 2002 meeting, Friedman was listening intently and perhaps gullibly to a lot of what Abdullah told him, but not this:

As for the ''axis of evil'' and reports of a possible U.S. military strike against Iraq, the Saudi leader said: ''Any attack on Iraq or Iran should not be contemplated at all because it would not serve the interests of America, the region or the world, as there is no clear evidence of a present danger. Iraq is contemplating the return of the inspectors, and the U.S. should pursue this because inspectors can determine if Iraq is complying with the U.N. resolutions.''

Friedman would go on to support the attack on Iraq.

That Irish political crisis, explained

Ireland's apparent lurch towards a mid-Brexit election that nobody claims to want is a perfect distillation of the broader phenomenon of the interaction of a degraded media and political culture with vested interests -- it's not just Ireland. The applicable features are:

An aura of "scandal" is created around process, not substance. In this case, it's an irrelevant e-mail that the Minister of Justice says she can't remember getting (it's irrelevant because she had no influence over the subject of the e-mail, and her not remembering had no effect on the outcome). But for a media class that grew up with Watergate "what did they know and when did they know it" in the ether, that's enough. Things that might actually be scandalous in Ireland (poverty, traffic fatalities, conduct of banks) don't get politically instrumentalised in the same way.

The lawyers are the one class definitely coming out ahead. The iterations of the same underlying affair ("McCabe") have been going on since 2006, and each involves progressively higher levels of inquiry, with judges and top-flight lawyers in charge, but never quite resolving anything. Nice work if you can get it. In the USA, the Trump-Russia and #metoo eruptions are a legal bonanza.

The alleged solution to resolving the underlying affair won't solve anything. It will be an election where as usual, people who vote put a few numbers on a ballot paper. What emerges at the other hand is supposed to be a government empowered to take action on every issue that arises from the moment it takes power. That's not working out too well for the UK and Brexit, and when Angela Merkel comes back as Chancellor, people might wonder what all the fuss was about.

Nobody has a reliable indicator of actual public views about the "scandal" or electoral outcomes.  Polling is hopelessly contaminated by the same circularity as the scandal itself (it's a scandal because it's being reported as a scandal, and we're asking about it in opinion polls because it's a scandal). As the Trump-Clinton election battle showed, whether particular revelations have a public impact has a lot to do with whether they change perceptions about behaviour relative to a norm: Trump's Access Hollywood tape was certainly awkward, but it's now obvious that there was a lot of tacit knowledge of the culture that he was talking about. But for Hillary Clinton, the standard was perhaps a public belief that she was less slippery than Bill, so the constant refrain about e-mails took their toll.

Which brings us back to process. If it takes an 11 year timeline to explain why something is a scandal, it might be worth stepping back to ask whether the issue is really one forgotten e-mail. But that would get into the role of media and political culture in explaining how the country is run, a discussion that too many people would rather not have.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Friends of Putin


Two days after hugging Bashar al-Assad in Sochi, President Putin today hosted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Moscow. al-Bashir is under indictment by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur, so Putin has really had quite a cast of visitors recently. al-Bashir doesn't seem to mind that he didn't get an al-Assad style hug, but his comments during the public part of the meeting are a good insight into what it takes to be on Putin's good side. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A bigger scandal than St Petersburg Twitter trolls


That's Vladimir Putin hugging surprise visitor Bashar al-Assad in Sochi today, ahead of a tripartite summit (Russia, Iran, Turkey) to discuss the way forward in Syria. Whatever government victory has been achieved in Syria, it's been achieved with use of chemical weapons, indiscriminate air and artillery bombing, massive levels of displacement, egregious human rights violations in Bashar's jails, and around half a million fatalities, mostly civilian. But it's hug time in Sochi

Thanksgiving on the Nile

Cairo billboards, a key advertising tool given the dire Cairo traffic, are currently heavily featuring Black Friday sales at malls, and the rival Amazon version customized for the Middle East, White Friday. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

One strand at a time

Lost in the Zimbabwe turmoil is this interesting development in Angola, via Reuters --

LUANDA - Angolan President Joao Lourenco dismissed Isabel dos Santos as chair of the state oil company Sonangol on Wednesday, in a dramatic move against the family of the former president. Analysts said the change was likely aimed at cementing Lourenco’s power and trying to avoid a decline in production at the country’s biggest company, which has come under fire from international partners for delays in approving projects. The daughter of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who ruled Angola for 38 years until stepping down in September, was replaced by Carlos Saturnino, the president’s office said in a statement.

Angola and Zimbabwe (along with Mozambique) have a similarity that delayed independence and civil war meant that they have only recently arrived at that post-colonial challenge of transition from the first government -- and the first family. Isabel dos Santos still has plenty of money and no doubt a refuge prepared in Portugal, but maybe, just maybe, these countries will move on from dynastic rule.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Russia in "still killing civilians" shock

It's depressing how far down the priority list Syria has shifted, and the focus on Russia's information wars has obscured the fact that, directly or indirectly via its support for Bashar al-Assad, it is still indiscriminately attacking civilian targets in Syria. It's so routine that the social media bots and trolls don't even bother defending or obscuring it. 

Ireland in "island" shock

From yesterday's Brexit legislation debate in the UK House of Commons, a spectacle for many reasons including the fact that the only Irish MPs present were from the Brexit-fevered DUP and so it was left to the Scottish and Welsh nationalists to emphasize the lunacy of what Tory Brexit means for Ireland; here's the latter --

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Plaid Cymru) Transport and logistics experts are warning of the disastrous consequences of a hard border between Wales and the Republic of Ireland for the ports of Holyhead, ​Fishguard and Pembroke Dock. How is the Secretary of State ensuring that his decisions as part of the negotiations do not damage the competitiveness of Welsh ports, which employ thousands of people directly and indirectly? 

 Mr Davis (Brexit Secretary) That is precisely why Government policy is to deliver a frictionless trade arrangement between us and the EU27, most importantly the Republic of Ireland.

There's nothing new here in the delusion that "frictionless" means something different than the currently frictionless solution of Britain being in the EU, but it may be relevant to note that Davis thinks the solution for seaports will be the same as the solution for a land border. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Quote of the Day

New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik on Donald Trump's preference for safe space interviews --

At the Pennsylvania interview on Oct. 11, Mr. Hannity engaged the home-team crowd as if hosting a live “Apprentice” finale. What did they think of Mr. Trump, he asked? (Yay!) What about Congress? (Boo!) And what about the media? (Booooo!) It’s that cheering crowd, one suspects, that is really driving the dynamic here. The point of all the delicate meringue questions is not simply to avoid challenging the president. It’s to avoid challenging the audience.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Pedant's Corner

From that Tom Newton Dunn Sun article that appears to have been written in a pub --

In an ‘all island’ solution, Leo Varadkar is now insisting Ulster remain part of the single market and customs union while the rest of Britain leaves it.

Leo Varadkar doesn't have to insist that the Ulster counties of Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal remain part of the single market after Brexit, since they are already in Ireland. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

The key word is improper

Financial Times with weekend feature on the troubles of Deutsche Bank, among which, a link to the finances of Donald Trump:

People close to the relationship said more than $300m of loans were outstanding to Trump, but the bank's probe found no improper Russian connections. Deutsche insiders said the bank was keen to be subpoenaed by [Robert] Mueller in order to dispel the rumours.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Outraged in Armonk

A letter to the editor of the Financial Times --

Headlines matter, especially large-type, front page, above-the-fold headlines. This article does not provide any credible information supporting its sensational headline.

That's David Boies, 2 weeks ago, responding to a FT article that was critical of his apparent role in obstructing line of sight to the allegations against Harvey Weinstein.

His righteous indignation looks a bit different now in view of the revelations coming from Ronan Farrow's New Yorker article

Hotel Riyadh

Associated Press via Washington Post --

CAIRO — Saudi Arabia has barred Yemen’s president, along with his sons, ministers and military officials, from returning home for months, Yemeni officials tell The Associated Press, a sign of how much the leader-in-exile has been deeply weakened in a war fought in his name by the Saudi-led coalition against rebels in his country. The officials said the ban was prompted by the bitter enmity between President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the United Arab Emirates, which is part of the coalition and has come to dominate southern Yemen, the portion of the country not under rebel control. Hadi and much of his government have been in the Saudi capital Riyadh for most of the war.

Hadi thus joins Saad Hariri, Lebanese Prime Minister, as a leader who, once arriving in Riyadh, is having trouble leaving.

If only the Saudis had stuck to that arrangement with Ali Abdullah Saleh

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Accounts and accountability

Before people get too excited thinking that the Paradise papers might be a source of political damage to Vladimir Putin and associates, they might want to contemplate how a similar hope for the Panama papers played out, via a Washington Post chat with Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan --

Q: Your book suggests that Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. might be a response to the Panama Papers, the enormous 2016 leak of documents from an offshore banking network. Why do you think that leak of financial data angered the Kremlin so much? 

A: It was seen as an attack on personal friends of Putin, his immediate circle. It's a line you cannot cross with Putin, and the Russian media learned that in a hard way. When a small Moscow publication reported in 2008 that Putin divorced and was going to marry a famous gymnast, the publication was immediately shut. When the RBC media holding published stories about Putin's daughter in 2015, the media holding's owner corporation was raided by police, and the media holding soon changed hands. Worse, Putin believed the Panama Papers attack was sponsored by Hillary Clinton's people — this, in a way, provided him with a “justification” for a retaliatory operation.

The more of this data that is out there, the better. But the political effects of tax avoidance/ evasion data dumps are asymmetric, depending on the nature of the media and information channels in various countries (note by the way that Wikileaks refused to handle the Panama papers, which also had an impact on how that release was perceived).


Capricious


Four months ago, at the Hamburg G20 summit, Angela Merkel chats with the leader of the delegation from Saudi Arabia, Ibrahim al-Assaf. He is now detained as part of the anti-corruption crackdown in Riyadh. It is not clear whether, behind the summit blather, participants understood the underlying volatility in Saudi Arabia, but with one of their fellow attendees now under arrest, maybe belatedly, they do. 

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Stepping Stone

The brilliant David Gardner in the Financial Times:

Anyone now drawing up a separatist's guide to success should be aware: you need an unanswerable consensus among your own people on becoming an independent nation, and an accord around you that this is a legitimate desire that should be put to a vote. But try not to push this in times of war (Iraq) or economic stress (Spain). In the meantime, perhaps follow the motto of Rome's first emperor, Augustus, festina lente, or make haste slowly — a bit like the Basques.

History returns

Reuters --

BEIRUT  - Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri resigned on Saturday in a televised broadcast, saying he feared a plot to target his life and criticizing Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah. “We are living in a climate similar to the atmosphere that prevailed before the assassination of (his father the late prime minister) martyr Rafik al-Hariri. I have sensed what is being plotted covertly to target my life,” he said.

For the last few weeks, the Syria know-it-all section of social media has assured us that the biggest problem in Lebanon is a few statements from the Saudi Arabia Minister of State for Gulf Affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan. Could it be that the problem is actually an organization with a track record of assassinating Prime Ministers and supporting chemical weapons users?

Friday, November 03, 2017

The new punching bag

While Russian disinformation aimed at last year's US election is getting the most focus, there's been no larger arena for a sustained disinformation campaign than Syria (MH17 probably got a more intense version of the same, but it hasn't lasted as long). From the beginning, an effort to obscure Bashar al-Assad involvement in atrocities, most notably usage of chemical weapons, and to characterize his opposition as either ISIS or too weak be deserving of external support.

As a minor but recent episode in this campaign, consider the case of Thamer al-Sabhan. He has had what is essentially a journeyman career in Saudi politics, from a very brief stint as ambassador to Iraq to Minister of State for Gulf Affairs -- a non-existent position in Saudi officialdom until it was created to ease him out of the Iraq job. 

But if you read certain sections of online media, he's not just a mid-level, mid-career Saudi diplomat, in fact a mastermind and instigator of a Saudi multi-front campaign against Hezbollah and all its allied militias, and is catapulting the region towards a major war as a result of his activities. Here's an example of a Twitter thread where al-Sabhan predictably appears (about half-way down) as the boogeyman -- a thread that includes widely cited Syria expert Joshua Landis. And the "evidence" for all this is simply some excitable quotes from al-Sabhan, which never convey his relative influence on the Saudi government.

And while he's been a hate figure in Syria commentary for some time, what elevated him in the last few weeks to this exalted status? News reports that he had visited Raqqa with US envoy Brett McGurk, which were then hyped up by Iranian official and semi-official media to stoke "outrage," which the Twitter commentariat duly supplied. 

Meanwhile, aid conditions in Syria are getting worse, and there's still been no accountability on the government for any of crimes of the last six years. But people on Twitter are ready to sigh and move on.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

How the Irish became legal

It's worth a reminder that the Diversity Visa program now being mocked by Donald Trump and sympathizers as the means by which the Uzbekistan suspect in the New York City truck attack entered the country was originally a large-scale backdoor legalization of the USA's undocumented Irish immigrant cohort from the 1980s. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Quote of the Day

Philip Stephens in the Financial Times --

I am told that Mr [Boris] Johnson’s response when presented with inconvenient truths is to cover his ears and hum the national anthem until the bearers of the bad news go away.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Themselves Alone

In the Irish Times, Micheál Martin reviews a biography of his predecessor Eamon de Valera --

While Ireland plays only a small role in his research, Gerwarth’s work is a clarion call to Irish historians to understand how many factors we look at as particularly Irish are actually representative of much wider forces. 

The final, and surprising, concern with McCullagh’s valuable book is that it fails to convince on why so many chose to support de Valera and his parties. It is impossible to understand de Valera without accepting that he was incredibly successful in persuading people who had previously opposed him, and who were exposed to substantial propaganda directed against him, to switch their support to him. A simple illustration of this is that in 1923, the republican side, led by de Valera, received 280,000 votes and nine years later Fianna Fáil, led by de Valera, received 560,000 votes. This was achieved with zero access to patronage and in the face of the aggressive hostility of the majority of the media.

Notice what Martin does here. He goes straight from arguing that events in the Irish independence era need to be seen in a European context, while Fianna Fail's election success in 1932 needs to be seen as a uniquely De Valera achievement.

And what was that mysterious event that caused the FF vote to surge between 1922 (and 1927) and 1932? A little global disturbance called "The Great Depression." Look at FF's election literature from 1932. Dev had a newspaper (the Irish Press, established with his American money) and an economic crash. It would have been difficult not to get elected.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Doing what they were told to do

Excellent New York Times analysis of the bitter edge to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's otherwise bizarre defence of his boss in the Niger bereavement fiasco --

It is common for veterans to return from Iraq and Afghanistan to a United States largely unaware of the wars they have just finished fighting. College classes can be awkward, and questions at Thanksgiving about what happened on the battlefield are hard to answer. At the peak of the Iraq war, a picture of a dry erase board spread widely among the military, a rallying cry of sorts for those who prided themselves on being the United States’ “warrior caste.” The board contained three lines: “America is not at war. The Marine Corps is at war; America is at the mall.”

George W. Bush news conference, December 2006 --

The advance of liberty has never been easy, and Iraq is proving how tough it can be. Yet, the safety and security of our citizens requires that we do not let up. We can be smarter about how we deploy our manpower and resources; we can ask more of our Iraqi partners, and we will -- one thing we cannot do is give up on the hundreds of millions of ordinary moms and dads across the Middle East who want the hope and opportunity for their children that the terrorists and extremists seek to deny them, and that's a peaceful existence. As we work with Congress in the coming year to chart a new course in Iraq and strengthen our military to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we must also work together to achieve important goals for the American people here at home. This work begins with keeping our economy growing. As we approach the end of 2006, the American economy continues to post strong gains. The most recent jobs report shows that our economy created 132,000 more jobs in November alone, and we've now added more than 7 million new jobs since August of 2003. The unemployment rate has remained low, at 4.5 percent. A recent report on retail sales shows a strong beginning to the holiday shopping season across the country -- and I encourage you all to go shopping more.

A minimal way to engage Americans in the overseas conflicts being fought by their military would be to have to an explicit Congressional authorization for them. To the extent that the operations in the Sahel, Somalia, and Syria have any legal basis, it's the post 9/11 AUMF against al Qaeda!

Skynet is taking over


Ad on TV that caught kid's attention.

Desolation


One of a brilliant series of photos in Le Monde from Tunisia, the Tunisia outside the cities and not on the radar screen of elites clinging to the Arab Spring narrative. This is the town of Oum Choucha, which as the story explains, has a main street, a mosque, and two shops that open only in the mornings. Everyone in the town sees getting a relative, or themselves, to Europe as the only option.

There was a clue

It was forgotten very quickly, but the World Health Organisation Director General, Dr Tedros, who appointed Grace Mugabe's husband as WHO African Goodwill Ambassador for Non-Communicable Diseases, nearly didn't make it into that position because of substantive accusations that he had covered up cholera epidemics in Ethiopia. 

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.