Saturday, May 20, 2017

Quote of the Day

Via Vincent Boland in the Saturday Financial Times:

Peter Leary, the author of Unapproved Routes, a new book about the border, says: "The interesting thing about the Irish border is that it was never designed to control the movement of people, but of things — cattle, guns. On an island-wide basis, it seemed to make sense to the people who created it, but that is much less the case up close. The closer you get to the border, the more complicated it becomes."

Friday, May 19, 2017

A friend in need

Irish Times Suzanne Lynch, part of the Irish-only chorus of criticism of Enda Kenny's St Patrick's Day visit to Washington DC --

Rather than stand up to Trump, the Taoiseach was surprisingly obsequious. He decided to invite Trump to Ireland – and while this has been spun as a given, it was a choice. He didn’t have to – German chancellor Angela Merkel for example didn’t invite him back to Berlin. It’s all the more peculiar given that the Taoiseach will no longer be in situ if and when the visit takes place. The bonhomie and banter displayed between the two men was excruciating – the contrast between Merkel’s formal dignified body language when she met Trump the following day and the back-slapping of the Irish couldn’t have been starker.

New York Times Peter Baker on how foreign leaders and diplomats have learned to indulge Trump --

Ms. Merkel invited Ms. Trump [Ivanka] to Germany to join a panel on women’s entrepreneurship. Ms. Merkel has also learned the value of simply staying in touch. While her meeting at the White House with Mr. Trump included an awkward photo opportunity that suggested coolness, she has kept in regular contact. When she planned to travel to Saudi Arabia last month, she called Mr. Trump first, ostensibly to ask his advice — counsel that after 12 years in office she hardly needed from a diplomatic novice.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The 5PM phone call

There are many inexplicable things about the Trump presidency, but among the most -- simply from a self-preservation perspective -- is why Trump was so slow to react to the obvious legal danger he was revealed to be in by the House intelligence committee hearings on March 20, when James Comey told the world -- and him -- that there was an investigation into his campaign's links to Russia. At that point, Trump should have lawyered up and quarantined himself from any further Russia entanglements. Instead, perhaps out of a belief that the whole thing was a creation of liberals and FAKE NEWS, he dug deeper. That's 2 months more of perilous utterances, and 2 months lost time in dealing with anything else. If he can't react to things in plain sight, how will he react to anything that requires perception and nuance?

Chris Cornell


Many fine Soundgarden songs, but one of the best was not on an album: this from the Singles soundtrack, here a live version.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Diplomatic Impunity

In the wake of the violence yesterday outside the Turkish ambassador residence in Washington DC, commentators seem surprised that non-American security personnel could be brazenly operating on the street,  in this case the security team of President Erdogan. Anyone surprised should look at the case of Orlando Letelier.

UPDATE: There's also a precedent from President Erdogan's visit to the Brookings Institution last year.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Brexit delusions, American style

William McGurn is a former George W. Bush speechwriter and very much a "respectable" pundit writing for a big-name opinion page, that of the Wall Street Journal. Here's part of his pitch for a Trump approach to Brexit, linked to the President's impending international visit --

By negotiating a model free-trade agreement with Britain, the president would boost Mrs. May’s chances of getting a better trade deal for Britain out of the EU.

Britain cannot negotiate a trade deal with any non-EU country as a member of the EU. That's not anyone's opinion, it's a simple fact, embedded in its membership. Thus his recommendation only makes sense if he envisions Britain crashing out of the EU without a trade deal, and then negotiating one with the USA before the EU in order to somehow extract a "better deal" with the EU. That's the kind of thinking that exists in influential circles in the USA, perhaps even with the ear of an impulsive President.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Never doubt Angela

Has there been a more wrong international politics narrative over the last three years than the claim that Angela Merkel (CDU) is facing imminent electoral doom over whatever is her latest "controversial" policy? North Rhine-Westphalia election results via FAZ (yes, that newspaper that British journalists can't read). 

Song for the Trump era


The song is actually from 2008 but its relevance has only increased.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Detour from the stepping stone

Irish Leader of the Opposition Micheal Martin mansplaining to EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier during his visit to the Dáil (lower house) last week --

It is important for Mr. Barnier to understand that Ireland’s approach to Europe and to international commitments is deeply intertwined with our national identity. Last year, we marked 100 years since the most important founding event of our Republic. The nationalism of the Rising of 1916 and the Proclamation of Independence is a generous one. It defines the Irish nation as having diverse elements and seeks a State which works with others. Our republican Constitution, adopted in 1937 at a dark moment in world affairs, goes even further and explicitly recognises the role of international law and co-operation. We have no nostalgia for a lost empire and no wish to assert superiority over others. We have never sought to stand apart from the world, jealously guarding the right to say no to everything. We fully understand that only when states work together they can secure peace, progress and prosperity for their people. That is why we will remain active and constructive members of the European Union.

Note first that his version of Irish history skips from 1916 to 1937. His next milestone is 1972, when Ireland's EEC membership referendum passed by 83:17 -- a date that in his telling, was the one year anniversary of the death of Sean Lemass, whom he gives the credit for the idea of joining the EEC!  Ireland joined the EEC in 1973, but he can't bring himself to mention a year that Fianna Fail was not in power. (Had he decided to go further in terms of milestones, he would have gone for 1998). Anyway, here's eminent historian Ronan Fanning's assessment of that 1937 constitution --

The paradox inherent in the 1937 constitution is that its architect designed it more as an end than as a beginning: its purpose was not to inaugurate a brave new world but to drop the curtain on the old world of the Irish Free State. Published on 1 May, approved by the Dáil on 14 June, endorsed by referendum on 1 July, it came into effect on 29 December 1937. It affirmed the Irish nation's ‘inalienable, indefeasible, and sovereign right to choose its own form of government, to determine its relations with other nations, and develop its life, political, economic, and cultural, in accordance with its own genius and traditions’ (art. 1) and declared that ‘Ireland is a sovereign, independent, democratic state’ (art. 5) whose head of state would be a president elected by direct popular vote to hold office for seven years (art. 12). Again de Valera shrank from the straitjacket of the republic, preferring to name the state ‘Éire’ (‘Ireland’) rather than ‘Poblacht na hÉireann’ (‘The Republic of Ireland’). This ambiguity, like the external relations act of 1936, wreathed Ireland's relationship with the commonwealth in a haze of uncertainty designed to deter British retribution that might entail the loss of rights of Irish-born citizens in Britain or, even worse, their enforced repatriation and the closure of the safety valve of emigration. When the name of the state was changed to ‘The Republic of Ireland’, moreover, as de Valera explained to the 1937 Fianna Fáil ard fheis, he wanted ‘to see it in operation, not for twenty-six counties alone, but for the whole thirty-two counties’ (Moynihan, 331). He also hoped that even a vestigial commonwealth link might make it easier to end partition in order that, as he naively explained to the British, ‘when Northern Ireland came in, the contact with the crown which they valued so highly should not be entirely severed’ (Fisk, 63).

Micheal Martin thus operates in a world (at least for public consumption) where pre-1937 Ireland couldn't engage in its own international relations. That's not true. Ireland signed a full international treaty on trade with Portugal in 1929 and in any event, the Free State had been successfully pushing to the limit the powers that it had in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and the evolving powers of all the Dominions.

The final irony is that, as Fanning explains, Dev couldn't actually write the Constitution that Martin claims he wrote because he feared that the Free State was too dependent on Britain to withstand a rupture of economic links. That constituency has resurfaced in the antics of the closet West Brexiters. Afflicted with Dev's vagueness on The Irish Question, Martin really needs to say if he thinks, as the West Brexiters do, that Ireland needs to conduct its own Brexit negotiations with the UK. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Photo of the Day


In the photo (by Mark Henle from the Arizona Republic), Obama-era Attorney General Loretta Lynch gives a speech on community policing in Phoenix, 28 June 2016.

So now you ask: how can this possibly be the photo of the day, for any day?

Because at the airport after giving that speech, she had a chance meeting with Bill Clinton, and that set off a cascading series of events, the latest of which is James Comey's sacking yesterday (Comey initially inserted himself into the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation because he believed that Lynch couldn't appear impartial after that meeting).

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Brexit supporter "had inconsistent opinions"

Financial Times review of the Pink Floyd show at the Victoria and Albert Museum --

The feeling that Pink Floyd had already lost their relevance by the end of the 1970s is dealt with crisply and summarily, with a replica of Johnny Rotten’s infamous “I Hate Pink Floyd” T-shirt. A notice informing us that Rotten subsequently confessed to loving the group seems a little po-faced; whatever the charms of punk were, intellectual consistency was not among them.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times:

If Mrs May irradiated all currency and gold reserves rather than hand over a pound to the EU, some genius would say how well it played with the crucial retired East Anglian home-owner demographic. This is the political class at its most inane. The problem is not the prime minister's failure to rise from electoral tactics to the national interest, but ours.

The Irish addendum to this is a noisy group of eejits centred on the Sunday Business Post opinion pages would claim that the latest act of May madness is further proof that Ireland cannot trust the EU and must negotiate directly with the Tory government. 

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Genesis

Beside the fact that Donald Trump choosing Saudi Arabia for his first foreign visit is revealing in its own right, there are various signals (e.g. the remarks of the Saudi foreign minister in Washington DC when the visit was announced) that the visit will lead to another run at the "Arab Peace Initiative" as a potential solution to the Israel-Palestine issue.

This initiative certainly makes for "sounds reasonable" reading, but the origins of this initiative need to be remembered: it emerged in 2002, 6 months after 9/11, with eyes in the White House already looking at Iraq, and needing something that could realign Arab opinion given the centrality of the Palestinian issue up to that point.

And then some strange things happened. Tom "Air Miles" Friedman wrote one of his fantasy memo columns, published 6 February 2002, a letter from George W. Bush to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, King Abdullah of Jordan, Bashar al-Assad, and Hosni Mubarak, and the rest of the Arab League. That list of addressees tells you something.

Anyway, Friedman's fantasy memo proposed that Israel would withdraw to its pre-1967 lines in exchange for full recognition by the Arab world. There was some murkiness about what would happen to the displaced Palestinians, but that was glossed over.

Friedman then published a more famous column 2 weeks later, from Riyadh, where Crown Prince Abdullah (RIP) flattered his visitor by implying he was so clairvoyant about Saudi thinking that he must have broken into his desk -- because Abdullah was about to propose exactly what Friedman wanted at the Arab League summit in Beirut the following month. That proposal became the "Arab Peace Initiative" and the basic outlines have remained the same over the following 15 years.

Yet its provenance does merit some scepticism about its viability. From the appearances of the time, it was an idea that went from a New York Times opinion column into a proposal of monarchs and dictators while suiting the interests of the Saddam-obsessed White House. Donald Trump is not one for subtlety and nuance, but someone maybe should tell him where the peace deal that he's about to champion came from. 

Saturday, May 06, 2017

The singularity

On Macronleaks: normally we'd embed this tweet (via Le Monde) but that would be needless additional visibility for its denizens: a photo at a "Cinco de Milo" event featuring key propagator of the Macron campaign e-mail dump, Trumpist Jack Posobiec, with Milo Yiannopoulos (yes, that Milo) and an operative in the charming SlavRight movement, the bridge between Putinism and the western hard right. 

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Arabian Madness

We noted a few days ago the obsession with the sight of Angela Merkel's hair during her visit to Saudi Arabia -- an obsession, that is, for the Anglophone conservative media (Telegraph, Mail, Fox News).

Now there is a new twist. A highly predictable coalition of Russian twits, Islamophobes, and general purpose Arab haters is circulating an obviously photoshopped picture of Mrs Merkel's hair allegedly pixelated during Saudi TV coverage of her meeting with the King. Since there were widely available pictures of the meetings circulated by official Saudi news agencies and TV, it takes around 5 seconds of effort to establish that it's fake. 

Saudi Arabia of course has serious social problems. But for unclear reasons, it goes through spells as the Twitter troll army's Outrage Du Jour, facts be damned.

Logan's Run Economics, Again

The Wall Street Journal online editorial page for Thursday. Three editorials stacked on top of each other.

The first advocates for the US House Republican healthcare bill which makes it easier to exclude people with pre-existing conditions from the health insurance market.

The second celebrates the demise of a proposed tax on sugary fizzy drinks in Santa Fe.

The third celebrates the demise of a federal requirement that chain restaurants publish calorie counts on menus.

It's almost as if conservatives want working class people to be overweight, pre-diabetic, and not contaminating the debate about healthcare!

[Previously in this series]

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

The conservative central planners

Wall Street Journal editorial page angry at scare stories about pre-existing conditions --

This debate is also distorted by a misunderstanding of health risks. The actuarial probability that a healthy person will become sick is already priced into premiums, meaning it is true insurance for unknown future health outcomes. People with pre-existing conditions don’t need insurance—they need help paying for expensive treatment that is already known. High-risk pools are a fairer and more equitable solution to this social problem, rather than hiding the cost by forcing other people to pay premiums that are artificially higher than the value of the product.

Friedrich Hayek, The Use of Knowledge in Society (1945)  --

One reason why economists are increasingly apt to forget about the constant small changes which make up the whole economic picture is probably their growing preoccupation with statistical aggregates, which show a very much greater stability than the movements of the detail. The comparative stability of the aggregates cannot, however, be accounted for—as the statisticians occasionally seem to be inclined to do—by the "law of large numbers" or the mutual compensation of random changes. The number of elements with which we have to deal is not large enough for such accidental forces to produce stability. The continuous flow of goods and services is maintained by constant deliberate adjustments, by new dispositions made every day in the light of circumstances not known the day before, by B stepping in at once when A fails to deliver. Even the large and highly mechanized plant keeps going largely because of an environment upon which it can draw for all sorts of unexpected needs; tiles for its roof, stationery for its forms, and all the thousand and one kinds of equipment in which it cannot be self-contained and which the plans for the operation of the plant require to be readily available in the market. 

The WSJ perspective, which is widely shared by Congressional Republicans, is that healthcare is easily manageable problem that pesky liberals complicate. In fact, in sweeping aside concerns about adverse selection, moral hazard, and the constant flows of people through various health categories through more or less predictable events, they're the ones engaged in the Hayekian delusion about the simplicity with which this market can operate. 

Monday, May 01, 2017

Even Basil Fawlty could translate that headline

The FAZ story from Saturday that only arrived by pigeon post today.

Is Gisela Stuart not answering the phone?

This is the same Tim Shipman (now political editor of the Sunday Times) whose Telegraph story on the 2008 Obama transition was so, er, imaginative that the internal Obama team reaction was "Not even sure how to react to this article, since there's almost nothing in here that's accurate."

UPDATE: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has taken pity on the Anglophone media and posted the entire story online. The hacks will still need to know how to use Google Translate. 

There is no word in German for Schadenfreude

It is likely that the blinkered British media do not see the irony in being flummoxed by the FAZ story about the Juncker May dinner,  having reveled in the dubiously sourced and tendentiously interpreted version of the Merkel Trump meeting just a few weeks ago.

UPDATE: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has taken pity on the Anglophone media and posted the entire story online. The hacks will still need to know how to use Google Translate.

Woman "meets man"


Angela Merkel meets Saudi King Salman yesterday in Jeddah (beneath a particularly large portrait of King Abdulaziz). As usual, in contrast to the media frenzy around the dress code of American and British VIPs in the Kingdom, the German media seemed to have survived Mrs Merkel wearing a typical outfit. The indispensable Saudi Press Agency does report on the handshakes --

Then, she shook hands with Prince Saud bin Abdulmohsen bin Abdulaziz, Special Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques; Prince Khalid bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques; Prince Dr. Mansour bin Miteb bin Abdulaziz, Minister of State, Cabinet s Member and Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques; Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Minister of National Guard; ministers and senior officials. The King shook hands with members of the official delegation accompanying the German Chancellor.

Both countries are apparently doing well after these momentous events,

UPDATE: While the German media were busy covering Brexit, the sartorial freakout about Merkel's visit is in ... the Telegraph and Fox News!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Quote of the Day

Daniel Davies in the Financial Times with a financial sector perspective on Barack Obama as a for-fee speaker:

You don't pay $400,000 a speech because you want to hire President Obama — you pay it because you want to be the kind of guy who can hire President Obama.

Man "doesn't want to do something"

Ireland's culture of "controversy" reaches its reductio ad absurdum (RTE) --

Retailers who sell highly-realistic imitation firearms (RIFs) say they are opposed to any new law making them look less like real guns ... By far most controversial of all the options put forward by the Department is to sell only RIFs which are coloured pink or blue or some other shade, as is done in the UK, which might make them look more like toys and less realistic; in theory making them less useful to criminals. However, Mr Talbot said the retailers and players would be against that suggestion. He said it would do untold damage to the retailers’ business and the many facilities around the country running assault course sports.

The ability to spin any issue as being of crisis-worthy proportions for some interest is a key element of the country's dysfunctional politics. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Channel Tunnel Vision

Andrew Roberts in the New York Times Sunday Review --

If he does win, Mr. Macron will inherit a sclerotic, underproducing, overtaxed, absurdly bureaucratic, highly partisan country with a huge security problem. Napoleon was able to cut through all of those same problems by manipulating public opinion through a controlled press, muscling through votes in a largely appointed Parliament and simply imposing diktats once he became emperor of France in 1804. He could do this because he differentiated between a “popular revolution” led dictatorially by him and a “democratic revolution” dependent upon free and fair elections.

Andrew Roberts last year (Telegraph) on Brexit --

The popular uprising campaign was therefore not like the Poll Tax riots of 1990 but much more firmly in the mainstream of the long British tradition of legitimate peaceful protest. In this way, too, it was a more impressive achievement than the French Revolution, soaked as that was in blood. This popular uprising has toppled the established order without calling upon the tumbrel, the scaffold and the guillotine. It will secure its place in history as a result.

So when Britain changes its course, it's because of the wonder of an average person revolt. When France changes course, it's because of a manipulated media, a compliant Parliament, and rule by decree!

Curse of Trump

President Trump at his love-in with the National Rifle Association on Friday --

And, by the way, I want to thank, really, Heritage. And I want to thank also all of the people that worked with us. Where’s Leo? Is Leo around here? Where is he? He’s got to be here. Where is he? He has been so good. And also from Heritage, Jim DeMint. It’s been amazing. I mean, those people have been fantastic. They’ve been real friends. (Applause.)

He was referring to Jim DeMint, President of the Heritage Foundation, who is about to be sacked

Friday, April 28, 2017

Do the same results hold for Prime Ministers?

National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 23337 entitled Queens by Oeindrila Dube and S.P. Harish --

Are states led by women less prone to conflict than states led by men? We answer this question by examining the effect of female rule on war among European polities over the 15th-20th centuries. ... We find that polities led by queens were more likely to engage in war than polities led by kings. Moreover, the tendency of queens to engage as aggressors varied by marital status. Among unmarried monarchs, queens were more likely to be attacked than kings. Among married monarchs, queens were more likely to participate as attackers than kings, and, more likely to fight alongside allies.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Brexit spillover

Financial Times --

European leaders are preparing to recognise the potential for a united Ireland” within the EU, confirming that Northern Ireland would seamlessly rejoin the bloc after Brexit in the event of a vote for Irish reunification. In a step that may stoke concerns in Britain that Brexit could hasten the fragmentation of the UK, diplomats are planning to ask leaders of the EU’s 27 post-Brexit member countries to endorse the idea in a summit on Saturday. It would allow the province to follow the example of German reunification in 1990 and reflect the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

Besides signalling the momentous nature of what's at stake, this should shut up -- but of course, won't -- the noisy brigade in Ireland who claim that the government is somehow "not preparing" for Brexit. Everything that they've been demanding that can be done within the scope of Ireland's EU membership is being done. It might be time for them to admit that it's that scope which is the real issue for them.

Quote of the Day

Chris Giles in the Financial Times on the broader context for current UK election policy debates --

These are all important questions, but cannot be answered unless Britain decides the sort of country it wants to be. We are stuck in the middle without low US tax rates, without German public services and without even Italian productivity levels. Once, this compromise seemed to satisfy the public. That is no longer true. The public become angry with politicians who contemplate higher taxes, are furious that public services are under such pressure and become incandescent if anyone suggests productivity-enhancing reforms that involve building projects near their homes or foreigners improving the dynamism of the economy.

With a couple of twists, this is also Ireland -- a key twist being that the tax revenue from overseas multinationals somewhat softens the tradeoff between taxes and services.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Bobo lottery

Henry Farrell has a very good post looking at the debate about Barack Obama's first big fee-for-speech engagement, at Cantor Fitzgerald. Since it's oblique and ultimately unverifiable what exactly is being traded in these 6 figure gigs, an alternative sociological explanation for why Obama is doing it may be warranted: it's because he's a Bobo, and like the classic Bobo, he suffers from Status-Income Disequilibrium, as defined by David Brooks --

There are two sides to the status-income equation. On one end is the Monied Class, those with plenty of dough who can use it to acquire status. But I am concerned with the Titled Class. Historically, when we think of the Grand Titles, we think of Prince, Duke, Earl, and Baron. But in the age of meritocracy, the Grand Titles are Senior Fellow, Editor in Chief, Assistant to the Secretary. Or titles that include an employer's name -- the New York Times, the White House, Knopf -- in which case it scarcely matters which position the individual holds. The Titled Class has always resented and secretly envied the Monied Class. But for journalists, writers, and politicos, the pain now is acute. Until recently, a person who went into, say, the media understood that he or she would forever live a middle-class life. But now one need only look at Cokie Roberts or David Gergen to see that vast wealth is possible. Once it becomes plausible to imagine yourself pulling in $ 800,000 a year, the lack of that money begins to hurt. Furthermore, the rich used to be remote. An investment banker went to Andover and Princeton, and a radio producer went to Central High and Rutgers. But in the new media age, the radio producer also went to Andover and Princeton. The schlumps she wouldn't even talk to in gym class are bond traders on Wall Street with summer houses in East Hampton. The student who graduated from Harvard cum laude makes $ 85,000 as a New York Times reporter covering the movie business. The loser who flunked out of Harvard because he spent all his time watching TV makes 1.2 million selling a single movie script.

Barack Obama is in the titled class. All those academic qualifications, plus being an ex-President. But he's in the milieu of the monied class. As Brooks says in another rumination on the same topic, if not treated, that can lead to Sublimated Liquidity Rage. But a couple of these speeches plus a book deal -- problem solved. For him. For the rest of the Bobos, peering through that curtain to the front of the plane while the agitation grows behind them in steerage, the class conflict remains an open wound. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times on Emmanuel Macron --

The way back to power need not involve decades of self-examination in harrowing Davos anteroom symposia with titles such as A New Synthesis of the Progressive Centre. It can happen in a flash with the arrival of a class act.

Electoral rents

Bloomberg News --

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has hired President Obama’s former deputy chief of staff Jim Messina for her election campaign, reuniting the winning team behind David Cameron’s unexpected victory two years ago. Messina and his colleagues arrived in London on Monday to begin work on May’s bid to secure a bigger majority for her Conservative Party and a fresh mandate for her vision of Brexit, a person working on the campaign said ....  Messina previously worked as President Obama’s deputy chief of staff for operations in the White House and served as campaign manager for the Obama 2012 re-election bid. Last year, he advised Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who took charge of a minority government in October. 

Another UK election, another season of imported strategists with special sauce and hocus-pocus, and another reminder of the need for a second look at the role that these strategists played in handling liberal causes in the US, given the evidence that, actually, their modus operandi is that you've got the money, I've got the time.

There is always a previous Trump tweet

Sunday, April 23, 2017

French election tweet-style summary

When the people are given more than 2 choices, they make better choices.

UPDATE 1: If a week is a long time in politics, two weeks -- the runoff campaign -- is an eternity.

UPDATE 2: A Macron profile from 4 years ago, with a projection of his rapid rise*:

Jacques Attali fait plus simple: président de la République dans vingt ans.

*over 20 years.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Herding and converging

On the eve of the French Presidential election (and doubtless to be repeated in June for the UK General Election), Nate Silver's hypothesis that pollsters are herding -- finding ways to be close to the polling average rather than where a pure application of polling methodology would take them -- is getting a lot of prominence.

There's one aspect of this theory that does not get enough scrutiny: it's not just a claim that pollsters herd close to the average, but they are more likely to do as the election date approaches. Key question: how close is the "end?" Consider for example the application by Léopold Mebazaa of Silver's hypothesis to the French polls. He uses a cutoff date of 25 February to determine whether the polls started to converge, on the basis that there were some big moves around that time (e.g. the Fillon indictment) that altered the race. But Le Monde notes that the analysis does not depend on that date -- you could pick a wide variety of dates and the polls would appear to be converging. That suggests that there's more than one thing going on.

For the purposes of this post, we want to zero in on the choice of date being based on assessment that big things were happening in the campaign around that time. How do we know they were big things? Because the polls moved! Thus the analysis is claiming that the polls became less variable after a date when they had responded a lot to news, which raises questions of when pollsters would be chasing the average and when they wouldn't -- after all, if each pollster knows of a "big news" event, why would be trying to stay close to a previous average?

Thus, the herding claim rests on a circularity that is inherent to the way Silver analyzes polls -- it says nothing about which kinds of news causes a move in the polls. You can analyze poll numbers to the Nth degree, but if you don't have a theory of how the public is filtering news into a poll response, it will only take you so far.

UPDATE: The herding claim doesn't fare well. The polls were converging to a very accurate prediction of the outcome!

Friday, April 21, 2017

When the noise becomes the signal

Financial Times on Tory election strategy:

Tory officials say that Sir Lynton and his campaign colleagues discussed on Thursday a blog by Nate Silver, the US elections statistician, who said that UK polls were "terrible" and that the UK snap election was "riskier than it seems".

Sir Lynton's tactics are not new. At the 2015 election he presented David Cameron as a bulwark of stability against the risk of another left-leaning coalition, depicting Ed Miliband as weak and at the mercy of the SNP's Nicola Sturgeon.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Semi-detached

The Democratic Unionist Party Nigel Dodds with an intervention during the House of Commons debate on the June election motion

... Secondly, on Brexit, Northern Ireland’s position is different from that of the rest of the United Kingdom. That has been made clear in the Government’s paper, which recognises our special circumstances. 

A few sentences later in the same intervention --

Finally, this election will provide clarity on the big issue of how this country is to go forward. It will provide clarity on the Union that really matters: the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Again, the people of Northern Ireland will have a clear choice on that issue. They will have a clear choice on whether to rally round and state firmly that they want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom or to go down the route presented by Sinn Féin, whose Marxist-Leninist concept of a republic has been rejected even by most of those who accept its nationalism. They reject the party’s economic outlook. The only way to support the Union is to rally behind the Democratic Unionist party on 8 June.

Notice his irony-free claim that Northern Ireland needs a special treatment in the Brexit negotiations, but that it absolutely is in a single Union with Britain! Dodds also showed no awareness that Theresa May had called an election partly because she concluded that even the slavish loyalty of the DUP to the Tories in parliamentary votes was just not enough of a boost to her 17 seat majority to actually matter. 

Crush the rebellion with one swift stroke

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Quote of the Day

Eric Trump, in an interview with Ireland's Sunday Independent, on the Trump-owned gold course in Doonbeg County Clare --

I don't discuss these things [North Korea] with the administration, no different that I don't discuss business with him, but he [Donald] is very firm and will not jeopardise the safety of the United States or the rest of the world for a lunatic who is in power. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

One question, implicit answer

Andrew Sullivan yesterday ponders the ethnic dimension of United's re-accommodated passenger --

Asian-Americans, like Jews, are indeed a problem for the “social-justice” brigade. I mean, how on earth have both ethnic groups done so well in such a profoundly racist society? How have bigoted white people allowed these minorities to do so well — even to the point of earning more, on average, than whites? Asian-Americans, for example, have been subject to some of the most brutal oppression, racial hatred, and open discrimination over the years. ...  What gives? It couldn’t possibly be that they maintained solid two-parent family structures, had social networks that looked after one another, placed enormous emphasis on education and hard work, and thereby turned false, negative stereotypes into true, positive ones, could it? It couldn’t be that all whites are not racists or that the American dream still lives?

Andrew Sullivan three years ago (and really, continuously since 1994), digging down to the core of what he believes about The Bell Curve (prompted by an onslaught from Ta-Nehisi Coates) --

It was only by reading – and checking – the actual data in The Bell Curve that I discovered what my educators had withheld from me. These differences really do exist; they exist outside the black-white paradigm (for example, the resilient IQ differentials between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews); the bell curve for Asian-Americans is higher on the IQ level than whites; and these differences are not entirely dismissed by accounting for socio-economic class or culture ... What the very title of the book refers to is a distribution curve, which proves that on the limited measure of IQ, many many African-Americans have far higher IQs than many, many whites, but that the bell curve peaks at a higher level for whites and even higher for Ashkenazi Jews and Asians.

Thus, when he's in Bell Curve mode, high-achieving Asians happen because they have higher IQ, and that in turn becomes a shield against the claim that it's only about whites having higher IQ than blacks, because after all, some Asians have higher IQ than whites. But when he's looking to score a point about social mobility not being intrinsically unfair to blacks, he drops the IQ angle and now Asians are more successful because of culture!

Quote of the Day

Kevin Gardiner, creator of the term Celtic Tiger, comments in an Irish Times article on the way the term took off --

“It made people cut corners and rely a little too heavily on the cliché. I am wary of how these phrases develop a life of their own and lead to short cuts. They make people views things in a less careful way and may contribute to some of the animal spirits – to use the phrase from [economist John Maynard] Keynes – and the circus around the phrase can have a little bit of an impact,” he said.

A similar analysis could be applied to the term Brexit.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The convergence


For an exhibit of this phenomenon, take a look at the Twitter feed of supposed leftist, occasional Assad visitor, and Member of the European Parliament Javier Couso. It's equal parts denialism and government propaganda on Syria and Venezuela. 

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Bashar's sarin stash

The case for the Lavrov-Kerry Pact in which Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons after the regime attack on Ghouta in 2013 was not only that all weapons were given up, but also that Syria signed the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Obama officials are now being quoted along the lines of We always knew that the regime hadn't declared its entire stock, and might even still be running a chemical weapons program.

If only the Chemical Weapons Convention had a process whereby a signatory could be challenged to an inspection in the face of doubts about its compliance.

Er ...

Article IX

8. Each State Party has the right to request an on-site challenge inspection of any facility or location in the territory or in any other place under the jurisdiction or control of any other State Party for the sole purpose of clarifying and resolving any questions concerning possible non-compliance with the provisions of this Convention, and to have this inspection conducted anywhere without delay by an inspection team designated by the Director-General and in accordance with the Verification Annex. 

9. Each State Party is under the obligation to keep the inspection request within the scope of this Convention and to provide in the inspection request all appropriate information on the basis of which a concern has arisen regarding possible non-compliance with this Convention as specified in the Verification Annex. Each State Party shall refrain from unfounded inspection requests, care being taken to avoid abuse. The challenge inspection shall be carried out for the sole purpose of determining facts relating to the possible non-compliance.

Why didn't the Obama administration seek such an inspection?

West Brexiters and The Rock

Since actual arguments for #Irexit (Ireland leaving the EU) can't pass the laugh test, a proxy argument has emerged from similar sources that Ireland is not doing a good job in the negotiations for Brexit. Leave aside the basic legal flaw in this argument -- Ireland is in the EU and can't conduct its own negotiations. Being deployed is the case of Gibraltar and how it's dealt with the draft EU negotiation guidelines --

After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the UK may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the kingdom of Spain and the UK.

This leads to claims such as in the Sunday Brexit Business Post today by Mary Regan that

Spain's diplomatic coup makes our own deal with the EU look fairly passive.

It's a bogus comparison.The core point is that Spain already has a veto over Gibraltar's future relations with the EU because once Gibraltar is outside the EU, Spain can completely close the land border, as it did prior to 1986. It could also make travel by air to the territory impossible. Post-Brexit, Gibraltar would simply be a non-EU British Overseas Territory, a Falklands-on-Med, and its relations with the EU would be only as good as London could get as an add-on to its exit deal. And given the choice between, say, slightly better EU market access for London financial services and a slightly more open land border for Gibraltar, which would the UK take?

Then there's the fact that the Spain-Gibraltar frontier currently is a hard border in Brexit terminology, because it has customs checks. Thus Spain can ratchet up from hard border to closed border to get what it wants. The Republic of Ireland has an open border and wants to keep it that way, and would only hurt itself by threatening something else.


Saturday, April 08, 2017

[Fake News] Arab Scientists perfecting Shariah in London!


In the currently fevered Islamophobic environment, it's not beyond possibility that this photograph will be circulating as proof of the ever-growing influence of Shariah law, showing that there's now a "Shariah lab" in London. It's actually a cancer research facility supported by the Emirate of Sharjah

Quote of the day, 2009 edition

Christopher Caldwell in the Financial Times assessing the intellectual legacy of Samuel Huntington, who had died at the end of 2008 --

Anyway, the west's increasing entanglement with Islam has not been the result of an increasing enmity. On the contrary. Viewed from Orthodox Christian civilisation, in Chechnya, Bosnia and Kosovo the west took the Muslims' side. It is curious that the west has shown so little inclination to ask whether it did not perhaps back the wrong horse. Western policy towards Islam did considerably more to produce Vladimir Putin than it did to produce Osama bin Laden.

Huntington's provocative (and easily decontextualized) observation that "Islam has bloody borders" perhaps needs a step the other side of the line to be recast as "Russia has bloody borders." With today's news that the perpetrator of the Swedish truck attack was Uzbek, following close on the heels of the news that the St Petersburg metro bomber was Krygyz, it seems that the legacy of the USSR's breakup and the forces it unleashed needs to be considered as much as the usual focus on the Arab world.


Friday, April 07, 2017

Syria

Two observations.

1. Russia is not above blanket denials of any behind-the-scenes support to nefarious allies while at the same time deciding that those same allies have become a tad inconvenient, leading to mysterious terminations. See most recently the case of Mikhail Tolstykh ("Givi").

2, Much like Trump calling for an investigation of classified materials that he could declassify at a moment's notice, Russia is calling for an investigation of a chemical weapons attack that if accusations are true, was launched from an airbase where Russian personnel are present. 

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Never mind Brexit, who won Jexit?

Why is Theresa May wearing a long coat on departure from Amman, Jordan, when Jordan is already in its late Spring weather pattern with highs in the mid-20sC? One style for Glasgow and another for the Middle East!

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Truth in advertising

French Presidential debate, closing question to all the candidates: How will you bring the French people together?

Opening sentence of response from Nathalie Arthaud, the Trotskyite candidate:

I do not want to bring the French people together. 

Not helping

Prediction: the US government response to the Syrian regime chemical weapon attack on Idlib will be to also bomb Idlib.

And that is not anything to do with Trump. It is a pattern set under Barack Obama.

UPDATE: The US has one feasible and credible punitive response to the use of chemical weapons in Idlib -- it could suspend its bombing of ISIS. That imposes direct costs on the Assad regime while saving lives of civilians caught up in the ISIS areas. 

West Brexit

Occasional columnist in the Toronto Globe and Mail and Irish public sector pensioner Ray Bassett is interviewed by the Irish Times --

Bassett says that he advised that Ireland should strongly support the then British prime minister David Cameron’s attempts to negotiate a new relationship between the UK and the EU before the Brexit referendum. “And I was told that wasn’t it, we had to show we were 100 per cent behind the EU,” he says. “I thought it was madness what we did – row in with Juncker and all those people.”

David Cameron's EU "new settlement" negotiations were first and foremost with his fellow heads of state in the European Council of Ministers, and especially with the eastern European members who had a big stake in any deal on migration curbs. European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker had an important but hardly central role on those negotiations. But he was the UK tabloid hate figure in those negotiations and aftermath. It's thus revealing that Bassett goes straight to his name in giving his view of that period. 

Monday, April 03, 2017

Not safe for workers

Lest there be any doubt, this tweet summarizes our views on #Irexit, the notion being peddled by a motley crew that Ireland should leave the European Union.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

London on Tiber

Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine, borrowing without attribution from David Goodhart, and both with an indirect nod to Enoch Powell:

And unlike America, Britain, a small island, does not have a long history of mass immigration. Far from it. For centuries its population remained almost unchanged. In point of fact, Britain now gets more immigrants in a single year than it did in the entire period from 1066 to 1950. But when Prime Minister David Cameron asked Angela Merkel for some kind of brake on this unprecedented influx, he was told to go jump in the Channel. Meanwhile, mass immigration from non-EU countries has already transformed British culture at an extremely un-British pace. The most popular name for baby boys in Britain is now … Muhammed. It turns out, as Ben Schwarz elaborates, that there will not always be an England, at least an England as anyone before the 21st century would have understood it.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Thought for the weekend

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times:

A recent trip to Dublin reminded me that political arrangements need not determine all human affairs: Ireland and Britain are more alike now than a century ago, when they were part of the same state.

President uses murky intelligence to make rash decision

Financial Times explains the finance minister imbroglio in South Africa --

Mr Zuma pressed ahead with firing his finance minister despite mounting opposition after the recall, including from the South African Communist party, the ANC’s allies in government, which said it had objected to his plans when he told its leaders on Monday. The president cited an intelligence report to accuse Mr Gordhan of plotting to undermine him, the SACP said on Thursday.

Luckily, outside Africa, there aren't any Presidents who are reading half-baked intelligence reports and jumping to unwarranted conclusions based on them.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Mixed Metaphors

Mark Durkan of the SDLP strikes notes of scepticism in a question to Brexit Minister David Davis on the Great Repeal Bill:

The great "download and save until delete" Bill will actually lead to a carnival of reaction, when, alongside the so-called bonfire of red tape, we will see Ministers competing in a demolition derby to reduce various rights and environmental protections. It is also a charter for dilution before devolution. Does the Secretary of State recognise that for some of us to trust Tory Ministers with the "holding and moulding" powers that he wants to give them would be like asking Attila the Hun to mind our horse?

Unexplainer journalism

Zack Beauchamp in Vox explaining Brexit implications -- shield your eyes:

The Schengen Agreement requires that every EU country agree to let citizens of other EU countries live and work within its borders. This led to a large influx of EU migrants to the UK, especially after poorer post-communist countries joined the EU in 2004. 

A correction got posted, but it's still a botched explanation of post-2004 intra-EU migration

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Quote of the day

Edward Luce in the Financial Times:

Mr Trump invited Carryn Owens, the Navy Seal's widow [from Yemen AQAP raid], to watch his address to Congress last month. She received a two-minute standing ovation from lawmakers. That emotional interlude garnered more airtime than anything on Africa's famine before or since. It was deemed by many in the media to be Mr Trump's most presidential moment.

Preposterous Quote of the Day

Jacob Rees-Mogg with a question to Theresa May during her Article 50 statement to the House of Commons:

Does my right hon. Friend recall the words of Francis Drake:

"There must be a begynnyng of any great matter, but the contenewing unto the end untyll it be thoroughly ffynyshed yeldes the trew glory"?

I wish my right hon. Friend good luck and good fortune in her negotiations until she comes to true glory and is welcomed back to this House as a 21st century Gloriana.

Brexit Special

One of the telltale signs of the behind the scenes drafting that went into Theresa May's formal Brexit letter is its avoidance of pairing the terms "deep and comprehensive." Instead, the letter three times refers to wanting a "deep and special" partnership with the EU, while twice also saying it wants a "comprehensive" partnership.

So why not just say "deep and comprehensive?"

Because that has particular meaning in EU trade deal nomenclature: Deep and Comprehensive agreements are what the EU signs under association agreements with countries like Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and potentially Tunisia and Morocco. That's not quite the glamour list that the Bad Boys of Brexit had promised. 

War that's not a war

Pentagon press conference discussing the Mosul civilian casualties --

[ Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, ] described the battle in the old city of Mosul as the most significant urban combat to take place since World War II. “It is tough and brutal, [with] house-by-house, block-by-block fighting,” he said.

Bear in mind his assessment of the nature of this war compared with the fact that the Iraq and Syria campaign does not have a Congressional authorization. That's the blank cheque that Barack Obama and the previous Congress handed Donald Trump and this Congress. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Crucial States

Wall Street Journal ($) on the deepening Pentagon / UAE partnership in Yemen --

The American relationship with the U.A.E. has grown stronger under Mr. Mattis, a former Marine general who officials say has long been a fan of the professionalism, discipline and focus of the Emirati forces, particularly in the fight in Yemen. U.S. officials often refer warmly to the U.A.E. “We love them; they are ‘Little Sparta,’” said one official, referring to the warrior city-state in ancient Greece. 

 As strong as those forces are, they still require hand-holding, said one U.S. military official. But another official said the discipline of the Emiratis was on display when they took the fight to AQAP in Mukalla, a coastal city in central Yemen last year. “They were an Arab force who had skin in the game, they were getting into firefights, they were bleeding and not cowering, against the enemies of our country” said another U.S. official. “The U.S. looks at this and says, how could we not partner with them?” 

 The shift comes at a time when the U.S. is trying to get “back into the game” in Yemen, according to another U.S. official, after American counterterrorism operations there were curtailed in 2015 in the wake of the collapse of the Yemeni government. The U.S. and U.A.E. worked closely together during a Jan. 29 U.S.-led ground raid that led to the death of American Navy SEAL, Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens. The new chapter of the relationship between the two countries was teed up by the Obama administration, said a former U.S. official, but the Trump White House is pushing it further.

The Little Sparta meme (now a film!) apparently comes from James Mattis himself (so why it need to be attributed to another official is not clear). But what is clear from the article is the euphemistic language being used in the Washington DC corridors of power about Yemen -- what is on the ground a flattened country on the brink of famine is all about cliches and catchphrases: "skin in the game," "back in the game," and of course "partner" -- who doesn't love partners!

They're probably too polite in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to say that the US has a strange way of showing its gratitude, with the electronic device ban on Etihad and Emirates.

Image: IMDB.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Putting #irexit out of business

Michel Barnier, lead negotiator for the EU on Brexit, in the Financial Times:

We will not stand for anything that weakens dialogue and peace in Northern Ireland. For that to happen, we will need the UK to assume its responsibility as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, a central element of the peace process.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Log trolling

If Merkel-is-doomed is the most reliable international punditry rubbish these days, the localized version of the same thing would be the bizarre #Irexit meme, a notion pushed mainly on overseas Twitter accounts that Ireland will have to follow the UK in leaving the EU. While this idea is mainly a creature of Twitter, it does have an important foothold in Irish-based media, specifically the Sunday Business Post. A paywalled article by former Irish diplomat Ray Bassett -- who lives in Canada -- is doing the rounds today, and it's appropriately dealt with here (et seq) by John O'Brennan.

Since that's taken care of, let's just add the following. The same Ray Bassett had a similarly-themed op-ed in the Toronto Globe and Mail a few weeks ago (i.e. in the country where he lives), and it observes as follows --

In a recent poll in Ireland's leading business paper, the Sunday Business Post,

Weird how he's writing in the paper a couple of weeks after that compliment!

He goes on --

Certainly, from a cultural, historical and family-ties point of view, Ireland and the U.K. are the closest of any two EU countries. 

Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg? Cyprus-Greece? Austria-Germany? Croatia-Slovenia? Denmark-Sweden?

Without the U.K., Ireland will be left with no natural allies inside the EU. It will be an island off the west coast of Europe, behind another larger island which is not part of the EU.

He might want to investigate a map (downloadable!) of Greece and especially Cyprus in relation to the rest of the EU.

Given that it is so overwhelmingly in Ireland's interest to negotiate directly with Britain on Brexit, the obvious question must be asked as to why the Irish authorities are pursuing the current course.

Er, because Ireland is in the European Union?

The U.K. is energetically seeking new trade agreements, and the prospect of an anglophone North Atlantic free-trade area, encompassing the U.S., Canada and Britain, is emerging as a strong possibility.

Has anyone told Donald Trump this?

Given Ireland's geographic position, its trade links and its ethnic connections with these three countries [USA, Canada, UK], it would be very foolish of any Irish government not to have a Plan B in its sights should the Brexit discussions end in acrimony.

An easy thing to say when you don't define what "end in acrimony" means. But if it means the UK tumbling outside the Customs Union and into WTO relations, how it is a Plan B if you can't even implement it until 2 years after the event, which is what Article 50 means?


Sir Herbert Gussett is now the sanest reader

Sample of headlines from Telegraph website today (no links, defeats the purpose) --

  • Jeremy Corbyn accused of trying to sabotage Brexit talks by demanding 'impossible' deal
  • Three million EU migrants to keep access to benefits in breach of Tory manifesto 
  • The glorification of Martin McGuinness will inspire countless home-grown jihadists 
  • Sexual harassment? We used to call that 'welcome attention' from men, says Fay Weldon

Eurotweet of the Month, October 2016 edition


As he indicates, has there been a narrative of international politics more consistently wrong than the Merkel-in-real-trouble-now theme? Saarland is only the latest falsification.

That Trump - Merkel NATO bill

People who should know better are jumping without looking here.

This claim that Trump presented Angela Merkel with an "invoice" for NATO costs emerged over a week after the original meeting, in anonymous comments to the Times (UK) and is now being repeated widely based on that reporting, with the top hits in German language references to the claim coming from the German sites of ... RT and Sputnik News.

UPDATE: The same newspaper is the source for the claim that Nigel Farage and Arron Banks are now working on a Calexit campaign.

BONUS UPDATE: The Times journalist who did the Brexit/ Calexit story is the same one, Tim Shipman, who did the dubious story about a terrorist alert during the Obama-Bush transition that popped up in the Wikileaks files.

FINAL UPDATE: Sample previous headline from journalist, Bojan Pancevski, on the Merkel-Trump invoice story:
German invasion cuts Britons out of top Brussels jobs

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Quote of the Day

Profile of US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes by Matt Flegenheimer and Emmarie Huetteman in the New York Times --

Many lawmakers crave attention, racing to microphones and pounding lecterns in search of cable news glory. But Mr. Nunes, who can seem by turns earnest and reticent in person, is something different: After over a decade in the House, he has appeared to lurch haphazardly into the spotlight, like Kramer entering a room on “Seinfeld,” straining to keep his balance as a human shield in Washington’s daily Trump wars.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Strictly business

Daily Beast, December 2016, on the Arab expectations about President Trump compared to President Obama --

“In the past eight years, we thought we had good relations with the U.S. but really, it didn’t turn out to be positive,” said Lebanese businessman-turned-politician Fouad Makhzoumi. In remarks to the conference, he said the Obama administration’s agreement with Iran “left the rest of us in the dark.” “Donald Trump will be good for us. Forget the anti-Islamic statements. He’s a transactional president who will be dealing with reality,” he said, to nods from many in the audience. That may mean the Arab world swallows the bitter pill of keeping Assad in power—for now. “He is very clear on the issue of Syria. President Obama was not,” said Lebanese businessman Makhzoumi. “Assad cannot stay, but removing Assad doesn’t deal with the ISIS problem. The fundamentalist movement is against us all. So let’s solve the bigger problem and then we go back to the dictatorship.”

Seemingly interesting fact: the Fouad Makhzoumi quoted in that article as aligned with Trump's Syria outlook is the same one who paid US$50,000 to French Presidential candidate François Fillon's consulting firm to arrange a meeting with Vladimir Putin in June 2015.

But that's the thing about these Trump-Russia linkages. All sorts of connections, but the simplest explanation being: money. Note for example that Makhzoumi's name had previously come in US politics in connection with a contract that he had with the deeply establishment lobbying firm Barbour Griffith and Rogers.

Bobos in Dalkey

David McWilliams in the Irish Independent on the success of the local hurling team in Dalkey, County Dublin, ostensibly displacing rugby and soccer --

To understand this, we have to understand that the last two or three decades have been a time of enormous social upheaval in middle class Dublin. The main force has been the emergence of a rural professional class that has come to dominate Dublin’s professions. These upwardly socially mobile punters from the country are the major winners in the Irish professional meritocracies of medicine, the higher levels of the civil service, the law, accountancy and banking ... The main economic factor behind rise in hurling in coastal south Dublin can be traced to the 1960s and free education. The class that benefitted most from free education in the 1960s and 1970s was not, as you might imagine, the industrial working class, but the small farming class ... They turned into the teacher aristocracy, bringing with them to Dublin a love of the GAA, squeezeboxes and Farah slacks. Their success in education also catapulted them into the public service in great numbers. Now they are retiring as the best-paid public servants in Europe. Their kids have gone up a notch on the social hierarchy to become doctors and lawyers. Some of them have adopted rugby, the sport of the old hierarchy, but they have also kept their allegiance to the GAA. So as they bought houses in the coastal parts of south Dublin, they joined GAA clubs, not rugby or soccer clubs, leading to an explosion of GAA in this part of the world.

David McWilliams discusses his Irish adaptation of the Bobo, the HiCo (Hibernian Cosmopolitan) in The Pope's Children (2005) --

When did names like Oisin and Aoife rocket up the top 10 list of children's names? When did the trendiest clubs in Dublin change their names from the Las Vegas sounding Pink Elephant to Connemara inflected Rí Rá? ... Why did the GAA and particularly hurling -- long associated with the antithesis of progress and sophistication - become hip? ... In the past, the major driver of the jettisoning of Irish or indeed any minority culture was economic .. Today, the very same process is making it accessible again. When the economy is booming, people can indulge in exploring their own culture. The corollary is that when unemployment is close to 20 percent and emigration is high, there are more important fish to fry than culture .. from the mid-1990s, demand for Gaelscoileanna, GAA, and traditional music increased dramatically with national income. 

The two interpretations aren't necessarily contradictory but something has happened between the mid-2000s era portrayal of what is essentially a form of conspicuously differentiated consumption with the current view which is a bit more class tinged and a little hint of metropolitan unease about upward mobility and legacy provincial cultures.

The uncomfortable truth may be that elements of both are right: that it's precisely because Ireland's professional class, the bourgeoisie de robe, was insulated from the 2008 crash, the economic preference of the incumbents and the arrivistes for a certain type of authenticity (and one not easily appropriated by the wrong type of person) is alive and well. 

French Presidential Debate lesser moment

Le Monde --

Puis Gilles Bouleau a clos le débat en détaillant les épisodes de New York, unité spéciale qui allaient suivre, dans l’une de ses interventions les plus longues de l’émission.

Then Gilles Bouleau (co-moderator) closed the debate by detailing the episodes of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit that would follow, in one of his longest interventions of the broadcast.

One irony being that Law and Order's famous opening line -- "the police, who investigate crime" is not true in France, the land of the investigating magistrate. 

Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times --

Over the past year, the terms on which Britain will leave [the EU] have been talked down on such a fine gradient that even vigilant observers of politics are only semi-conscious of how far the country has been led.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Dan Hannan endorses a United Ireland

In a podcast with National Review's Jay Nordlinger (start at the 6 minute mark) --

The closer you can get to natural ethnographic borders, borders that reflect the wishes of the people that live there, the more likely you are to have peaceful neighbours.

Bonus podcast observation #1: Hannan was in Washington to receive the first annual Whittaker Chambers Award for services to Brexit.

Bonus podcast observation #2: Part of Hannan's evidence that Marine Le Pen is an extreme socialist -- she wants higher tariffs and worker-controlled businesses!

Influence surfers

A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ($) reported that Donald Trump Jr received at least US$50,000 for an appearance at an event organized by a French "institute" (Center for Political and Foreign Affairs) which is aligned with a Kremlin-endorsed "peace" plan for Syria (the plan involves Bashar al-Assad staying in power on a vague timeline for exit, which tells you all you need to know about it). Anyway, as with all things Trump-Russia, there are at least two possible interpretations of every link: a vast conspiracy, or greed shackled with incompetence.

This extremely interesting Le Monde article looks at the key figure behind the aforementioned institute, Fabien Baussart, and essentially comes down on the side of the latter hypothesis. Baussart apparently had a nice business brokering Paris events with various Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs -- some of the same names now popping up with the ongoing Trump investigations (and indeed with George Osborne).

The problem for the grand conspiracy theory is that Baussart's links dried up in 2007, when Nicolas Sarkozy was elected President, because Sarko had his own networks (by the way, the parallel between Sarko and Trump, whose shared love of glamour and bling may have led them into dubious company, is often ignored).

With Sarko out in 2012, Baussart tried a relaunch with a splashy event at the Hotel Bristol, but skipped out on the €17K bill, indicating that the commissions weren't flowing quickly enough.

So now, it's 2012, you have a rapidly decaying Rolodex, the bills are piling up, the one thing you know how to do is get actual and would-be elites in a room together, but you need a miracle, a hook to make the phone calls.

And then Syria happens. In the door walks Randa Kassis, the secular Assad opponent who fell out with the mainstream Syrian opposition. Baussart and Kassis rebrand as the acceptable face of the Putin-Assad peace process, and the world of high-ceiling chandeliers and double-doored meeting rooms is back open. Le Monde's analysis concludes by pointing out that other CPFA initiatives have faded, such as supposed Azerbaijan-Armenia peace talks, but something is sustaining the Syria activities. Add in a once-wayward son looking for a role, and deals can get done. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Data mining

If one was inclined to look for circumstantial evidence of Russian infiltration of western politics and media, one might find it a bit strange that there's not more attention on George Osborne. By exactly the same "investigative" techniques (= Google) that are being used to link Trump to Putin via Ukraine, Osborne is also connected to Ukrainian oligarchs and is now the surprise choice as editor of the Evening Standard, owned by UK/ Russian businessman Evgeny Lebedev -- who recently argued for closer Putin-Trump ties.

Sometimes a man who likes money is just a man who likes money. 

Not covered under Ryancare

There's an innocent (by Trump) standards explanation for the awkward non-handshake situation with Angela Merkel yesterday, which is that Donald Trump has hearing loss. It would not be surprising for someone of his age, even if not mentioned in his extremely sparse doctor's letter. Hearing loss is not so noticeable when you can turn Fox and Friends up to the max, but the large meeting room setting is exactly when it would manifest itself. He either needs hearing aids, or didn't have a battery handy when the (hidden) ones he has conked out. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Everywhere and nowhere

Reuters --

The Pentagon on Friday denied accusations by a Syrian rebel group that the United States had targeted a mosque in Syria and, in a rare move, showed an aerial image to illustrate the mosque was intact and the building destroyed was in fact across the street.

Since the Assad and Putin forces target mosques, it's quite possible that worshippers who normally attend the mosque were meeting across the street.

The broader point is that one genuine difficulty that Trump inherited from Obama, but has nonetheless aggravated, is a fatal fuzziness about the exact strategy for targeting Al Qaeda. Here's the US Central Command press release giving their version of the above strike --

U.S. forces conducted an airstrike on an Al Qaeda in Syria meeting location March 16 in Idlib, Syria, killing several terrorists.

Yet, there is no such group as "Al Qaeda in Syria." At one point, that might have been Jabhat al-Nusra, but that group delinked itself from Al Qaeda and renamed itself Fatah al-Sham -- but the press release doesn't use that name anyway. As we've noted before, the contortions involved in targeting al Qaeda in Syria including inventing a name for a group that no one else uses -- the Khorasan Group.

That same obsession with doing something about Al Qaeda lies behind the stepped up attacks in Yemen, including the one in which two Americans died. A war with a slippery mandate is not going to go well, even if the victims will be far away.