Monday, April 24, 2017

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. 

Ivanka, how do you make a fada on Twitter?


Trump tosses Kilkenny man overboard

Donald Trump, opening the Friends of Ireland reception for Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday --

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Speaker Ryan, for that wonderful toast -- although I’ve heard better jokes.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Bannon wears a suit


Steve Bannon ups his sartorial game for the visit of Enda Kenny on St Patrick's Eve to the White House

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Yes but where's the Bobo Price Index?

This is from an actual methodological release from the UK Office of National Statistics --

Hipsters are associated with craft beers and spirits, speciality coffee and coiffured facial hair. They love up-cycling, vintage, doing things ironically, gentrification, saving the planet and veganism, as well as wearing ancient band T-shirts. Typewriters are preferred to laptops, bicycles instead of cars, knitting and urban bee-keeping instead of the rampant consumerism of buying a jumper and honey from a shop.

Here's the more serious version. And here's a previous post giving guidance on determining whether you're a Hipster or a Bobo.

You'll never beat the Irish

Wall Street Journal ($) on Steve Bannon's formative years in Richmond Virginia --

Steve Bannon and his friends grew up with chips on their shoulders in the former capital of the Confederacy, says Pat McSweeney, a boyhood friend of the Bannon family and former Virginia Republican Party chairman. Their race conferred a certain amount of privilege, but their Irish-Catholic backgrounds were out of place in the Southern Baptist town. The Benedictine school they attended was integrated. “We had a hurdle that most didn’t,” says Mr. McSweeney. “I was the first Mick to get a job in a big [law] firm here in Richmond, and that was only 40-some years ago,” he says, using a pejorative for Irish-Americans.

The other nugget in the article is that Bannon traces a lot of his embitterment at "elites" to his father's sale at a loss of AT&T stock in 2008 -- following advice not from his family or broker, but CNBC yeller Jim Cramer!

Irexit would mean more expensive pints and crisps

Wall Street Journal ($) on sterling depreciation impact on British prices --

PepsiCo Inc.-owned Walkers, which makes potato chips, also boosted prices by 10%, citing the weak pound. While Walkers’ potatoes are British grown, other ingredients like oil, seasonings and packaging materials are imported. Heineken NV raised its beer prices in the U.K. by 3.6%.

Sprechaktsituation

Reuters on the rivalry to attract Brexit-displaced financial services --

With the final decision on moves out of London still months away, the rivalry has become increasingly hostile, with some Frankfurt lobbyists, for example, saying privately the Irish accent makes local English incomprehensible.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Land borders

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times --

The strangest tribe in British politics are unionist anti-Europeans, which is unfortunate as several line the cabinet table. Having chosen to relinquish the UK’s principal export market and a say on the laws that govern it, they will now advise Scotland not to relinquish its principal export market and a say on the laws that govern it. We could invite these people to walk us through their mercurial logic if we were not, as of Monday, managing its consequences.

An example he doesn't discuss but is no less relevant: anti-European Unionists are now arguing the following, simultaneously

1. There can be a nearly frictionless border to maintain economic ties between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland even after Brexit and with the UK out of the customs union
2. Scotland could never manage its trading relationship as an independent country given its close integration and land border with England.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Real news, ignored

In the Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Hartcher reflects on the Western Australia election result (see also John Quiggin) --

The second thing that went wrong for One Nation was that [Pauline] Hanson opened her mouth. "When she's been silent," remarks a leader of a major party, "people think she's on their side. But every interview turns out another batshit crazy idea, and people can see that she's not on their side, she's just batshit crazy." Her anti-vaccination comments fall into this category; so do her comments exonerating Vladimir Putin from any responsibility for killing the 38 Australians on MH17.

Among the strange things about MH17: why is it more of an issue in Australian elections than in the Netherlands, from where the plane departed and where most of those killed were from? 

When Stella met Fleur

Another illustration of the contortions involved in naming winter storms: the Weather Channel has named next week's storm that will affect the east coast Stella. But "Stella" -- unlike a tropical storm -- is not a single well defined low pressure system, but rather several different systems that will interact with each other in somewhat unpredictable ways. Thus Stella has less to do with specific atmospheric conditions than a media event. Remember, the UK/ Ireland met office stunt of naming storms was borrowed from the Weather Channel. Wherefore art thou, Fleur?

Rotterdam

As of early Sunday morning, it looks like even if Geert Wilders does not do well in the Dutch parliamentary elections, he's won by pulling everyone to the right. It's also a test for the other conservative parties on whether it's possible to neutralize him by adopting some of his stances. UKIP/ Brexit shows that even when that works, it comes at a high cost. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

You won't believe these 5 reasons the kids-crash-interview video "went viral"

1. It (the Robert Kelly BBC World interview) happened in the morning for Europe and the USA (8AM London, 3AM USA east coast), thus it had lots of time to get e-mailed around while people were still getting to their desks.

2. It happened on a Friday, and a "slow news" Friday at that, especially given that Donald Trump's tweets had been calm in the last few days.

3. "Social" "media" users were already bored with the Barca-PSG storyline from Wednesday and wanted something new to pass the time.

4. It beats forwarding and tweeting about famine in Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen.

5. It illustrates how rolling news has devalued the notion of 'breaking news" since amid what is a breaking news assembly line, the one thing that viewers actually noticed was an unexpected event happening in a seemingly controlled environment, as opposed to the cameras rolling with breathless reported updates from the outside world. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Class through the decades

From the new "serious" version of the Journal of American Greatness, American Affairs, Julius Krein's article about the administrative elite --

Today, with the old partisan categories in disarray, many pundits have begun to acknowledge the existence of a transpartisan elite with its own interests, if only as the antithesis of so-called populists. Yet although many efforts have been made to examine the motives—and, almost always, the pathologies—of populism, little serious thought has been given to the interests and character of the elite as a class. This refusal to interrogate or even conceive of a ruling class of elites reflects the once prevalent—and still lingering—belief that ideological conflict ended after the Cold War. Without a critique of the dominant ideology, the distinct class consciousness and interests of the elite seem to disappear. If there is no critique of the general political consensus, then there is no critique of the political elite, for it is that elite which constitutes and defines the larger society.

Robert Reich in the New York Times Magazine, January 1991 --

In all these ways, the gap between America's symbolic analysts and everyone else is widening into a chasm. Their secession from the rest of the population raises fundamental questions about the future of American society. In the new global economy -- in which money, technologies and corporations cross borders effortlessly -- a citizen's standard of living depends more and more on skills and insights, and on the infrastructure needed to link these abilities to the rest of the world. But the most skilled and insightful Americans, who are already positioned to thrive in the world market, are now able to slip the bonds of national allegiance, and by so doing disengage themselves from their less favored fellows. The stark political challenge in the decades ahead will be to reaffirm that, even though America is no longer a separate and distinct economy, it is still a society whose members have abiding obligations to one another.

The point is that while it's good to see renewed focus on a broader concept of elite than Piketty's billionaires, Krein severely limits his focus by wanting to position his telescope with James Burnham's 1940s-1950s perspective, refracted only by Irving Kristol in the 1970s. But that ignores a considerable New Class literature (referenced frequently on this blog last year as the Trump and Brexit phenomena unfolded) -- the work of Alvin Gouldner, Michael Walzer, the aforementioned Robert Reich, and David Brooks (name-checked but not elaborated, by Krein).

All of these writers in some way broadened the concept of the managerial elite beyond the 1950s notion of operators of economic command and control (whether in state or corporate structures) and analyzed cultural and sociological aspects of it.

So where Krein despairs that managerialism may be so embedded that we've forgotten it's there (or, implicitly, that it takes a Trump to get it to reveal itself), these other writers give us much clearer ideas about where to look for this particular elite. Brooks might suggest starting at your local Whole Foods (or boutique gym), and for a place like Ireland, Walzer's phrase bourgeoisie de robe is especially apposite.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Consultant, Contractor, Vendor, Spy

Sam Jones in the Financial Times (£) summarizes the implications of the Vault 7 Wikileaks CIA trove --

If in 20th-century Britain social class blinded the establishment spookocracy to its traitors, in 21st-century America cosy commercial relationships have done the same.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Singapore-on-Lagan

During the House of Commons Spring Budget debate, the DUP's Sammy Wilson affirms his Brexit vision --

... when we are free of the EU and therefore able to make trade deals with countries across the world. 

Besides the fact that his "therefore" doesn't follow (customs union), where's the evidence that Northern Ireland would gain from free trade with the wider world? Shipbuilding and cars being two industries that couldn't survive previously under similar conditions.

Photo: Belfast Telegraph.


Monday, March 06, 2017

Arabia Felix

From President Trump's revamped travel ban executive order --

Weapons and other materials smuggled across Yemen's porous borders are used to finance AQAP and other terrorist activities.

Yemen only has borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman, both of which are (1) US allies and (2) not in the travel ban.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Making the trolls run on time

Sputnik News --

Italy's Lega Nord party Federal Secretary Matteo Salvini plans to visit Moscow for signing an agreement with Russia's United Russia party on Monday, Gianluca Savoini, the head of the Lombardia Russia Cultural Association, told Sputnik on Sunday.  Claudio D'Amico, a former lawmaker and the foreign relations secretary for Lega Nord, will come alongside the party leader for the one-day visit, according to Savoini. "A meeting with United Russia will take place to sign a protocol of intent," Savoini said.

That would add to the agreement that United Russia has with the Austria Freedom Party.

Photo homage to Putin's new gang of usual suspects

Cranky Sunday Observation

The best way to understand Ukrainian politics and its potential link to the US Presidential campaign is to engage in long-distance Googling of fragmented strands of political/ economic intrigue, many not in English, and connect those back to the wide circle of people with whom Donald Trump has had some association over the years. It's a digital version of the analogue methodology that worked so well for Ambrose Evans-Pritchard -- or at least his bank balance -- in the pre-Google era when Ukraine was Arkansas.

Here's an escape from Sunday crankiness: Marianne Faithfull's That's Right Baby (audio only).

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Quote of the Day

[Bill] Haydon also took for granted that secret services were the only real measure of a nation's political health, the only real expression of its subconscious.

From Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (the quote is only in the book, it appears in the same scene as in the film's final conversation between Haydon and Smiley)

He's still not using his best material


In case you think we've hit Peak Crazy with this morning's Trump tweets, just wait till he frees up enough time to watch even more television. Above, a sample from 2014.

Those Northern Ireland Assembly election results, explained

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Shocking revelation in Al-Bayda Raid Scandal

With attention in increasing on the botched US raid in Al-Bayda, Yemen, that resulted in the death of 2 US citizens (Ryan Owens and Anwar al-Awlaki's daughter), there is sure to be parallels drawn with the multiple Benghazi consulate investigations. One thing forgotten now is that Benghazi theorizing featured intense speculation that a Jihadi Supergroup had been involved -- that it wasn't just a local militia but that Al Qaeda had assembled elite teams from across their network to take part. In particular, "sources" were widely quoted that a team from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group's Saudi-Yemeni combine, had been involved. Given the AQAP link, all existing Benghazi investigations should now be extended to the Al-Bayda raid, which was an attack on AQAP

Two views on Trump / Le Pen comparisons

With the second answering the first.

Ross Douthat, New York Times --

Which points to an interesting difference between the National Front’s candidate and the populism that triumphed in America’s presidential race: Hers is better thought out, more disciplined, and more often correct ... Her party platform overall suggests what Trumpism would look like if it were more coherent — and, for that matter, more responsible, since she’s actively tried to distance her movement from the sort of toxic bigotry that Trump’s campaign saw advantages in winking at.

Gideon Rachman, Financial Times --

The one clear difference between the Trump and Le Pen movements, that could count against the French far right, is novelty. Mr Trump emerged from nowhere (politically speaking) to take over the Republican party and then the US presidency. By contrast, the National Front has been around in French politics for decades, as has the Le Pen dynasty.

Rachman has it correctly. Comparing Trump and Le Pen policy positions is not comparing like with like, because Marine Le Pen leads a long-standing party and has had a generation of watching her father to refine her views to try and break the FN vote share ceiling. But Trump's party is the Republican party, whose ceiling is ... an Electoral College majority. Trump's victory says very very little about the prospect of a President Le Pen.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Categories


The figure is from Page 7 of the European Commission White Paper on the Future of Europe. It shows the complex configuration of groupings at the moment. A glance lends itself to one particular question: by what slicing of the groups are Cyprus and Ireland the only member countries? The answer appears to be In Eurozone, Not in Schengen. But of course, partitioned pending the reintegration of the national territory would also be acceptable!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Tweet-style post

How apt that an Oscars ceremony that was billed as being an opportunity for a singular focus on Donald Trump was overshadowed by consulting firm (PwC) own-goal incompetence -- just like Hillary Clinton's campaign! 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Brexit question

BBC on the DUP's still mysterious Brexit campaign receipts and spending --

How the £425,000 was spent
£282,000 on advertising in Metro newspaper in support of Brexit
£99,616 on promotional material
£32,750 with Canadian IT and consultancy firm

Is the Canadian IT firm the same firm, AggregateIQ, that's described in the Telegraph as having run an effective social media pillar of the Brexit campaign? If so, why is some of the DUP money going to a company that was already under contract by the Leave campaign? It would be unseemly if the party was functioning as a pass-through entity to allow donors to disguise their overall level of support and direction to the campaign.

UPDATE: Buzzfeed reports that the DUP spending on the Canadian company is indeed to AggregateIQ, the same company that was contracted by Vote Leave. Should this emerging scandal be called Cash for Sash?

Low expectations

At CPAC, Donald Trump fondly remembers his first speech there:

I’ll never forget it, really.  I had very little notes, and even less preparation.  So when you have practically no notes and no preparation, and then you leave and everybody was thrilled, I said, I think I like this business.

Never underestimate laziness as a determinant of career choice. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Before Sweden there was Birmingham

The only new thing about the Donald Trump invocation of Fox News expertise on migrant terrorism in Sweden is that the holder of such beliefs is the President.  It is not so long ago that Steve Emerson was peddling the notion of no go zones and Sharia law in various European cities,  most notoriously Birmingham.  If Trump ever does visit Europe,  could he be invited to one of these areas to demystify them?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Generation Gap



It's impossible to pick out one aspect of the bizarre Trump news conference yesterday, but here goes an attempt at identifying the essence of the Trump phenomenon. At one point, he said --

If you [the media] were straight and really told it like it is, as Howard Cosell used to say, right?  Of course, he had some questions also.

Howard Cosell did his last sports broadcast in 1985 and died in 1995. Thus, Trump is making a reference that generously dates at 22 years old and in reality goes back 40 years or more. That's a really long time ago. Above, Cosell's brilliant parody of himself in Woody Allen's Bananas, from 1971.

No room east of the river


Influential Israeli ultra-conservative viewpoint that's now emboldened by President Trump's rejection of a two-state solution. The fact that the population movements implicit in this view would destroy Jordan is apparently beside the point.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Peace on the River

Of the many strange aspects of the Trump visa ban, one worth considering is that it applies to Sudan. Sudan has many problems, but being a source of terrorism is not one of them. There is the matter of Osama bin Laden's sojourn there, but of course bin Laden was not a Sudanese citizen, and anyway, there is an argument that it would have been better for everyone if bin Laden had stayed in a country where it was easier to keep an eye on him.

The immediate question is why Sudan is on the Trump list. For one thing, the CIA appears to have had ample cooperation with the Sudanese government. In addition, for a supposed terrorist haven, Sudan has very little terrorism. The Sudan Tribune explains, in the context of the discovery of a possible terrorist cell in Khartoum --

The last terrorist attack in Khartoum was in 1993 when the Palestinian Black September Organization carried out an attack on the Saudi embassy in the Sudanese capital.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Trump electoral risk spreads

A corporate tax reform (USR III) in Switzerland looks set to be defeated in a referendum today. The reform's opponents have been quick to attach the Trump label to the reform, promoted by conservative parties such as the SVP. Trump might take it as a compliment that he's inspired parody tweets in German cantons like Aargau, as above, but he doesn't have that sense of humour. 

Most influential Australian export since AC/DC

New York Times on the Middle East diplomacy assignment given to Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner --

Mr. Kushner, on something of a crash course in diplomacy, has been speaking with Arab leaders in recent weeks. But he is a mystery to most Middle Eastern officials. He has no experience in government or international affairs. His up-close exposure to the Arab world amounts to little more than trips to a handful of Persian Gulf countries and a star-studded jaunt to Jordan.

That star-studded trip to Jordan was a celebrity entourage that followed in the footsteps of the Biblical Jesus as part of the 2010 baptism of Rupert Murdoch's daughters with then wife Wendi Deng. The group was hosted by the Queen Rania for a tour of the country.

Two things to note. First, yet again, a Trump-Murdoch connection. And the Ivanka link to the Jordanian royal family puts an additional complexion on King Abdullah's supposedly semi-coincidental chat with Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast,

Saturday Evening Trivia Question

Can you name a film in which songs by two different artists, who both competed in the same Eurovision Song Contest, are featured?

Answer: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. All Kinds of Everything by Dana, winner of the 1970 contest, is playing on the radio when George and Peter arrive at the Operation Witchcraft secret house, and the film ends with a recording of a live performance by Julio Iglesias (La Mer), who had finished 4th in the 1970 contest with Gwendolyne.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Alienating allies


Selecting among the multiple Trump Administration stunts of the week is never easy, but they hit a particular low point with the decision to block the appointment of Salam Fayyad as head of the UN mission in Libya, which they're not even trying to disguise is solely because he is Palestinian.

Above, Salam Fayyad, then Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, meeting with Dick Cheney in Ramallah in March, 2008.

White House photo by David Bohrer.

Friday, February 10, 2017

British migrants displaced by austerity

Financial Times --

Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s top oil producer and the wealthiest of its seven emirates, has long epitomised the petrodollar wealth of the Gulf — Adia manages assets estimated at $800bn. But government austerity measures now illustrate how the region’s leaders are being forced to take radical action in response to prolonged low oil prices and implement politically sensitive policies that were once considered a taboo in societies where government largesse has been the norm. ...  The result is the flight of expatriates who had descended on Abu Dhabi during the oil boom of the 2000s as the emirate embarked on an ambitious programme to transform itself into a luxurious business and tourism destination.

Notice again the terminology trick that Europeans in Abu Dhabi are "expats" but in the Brexit debate, Europeans in Britain are "migrants." Unstated in the FT article is that the Gulf economy is one that the Brexiteers thought provided them with an alternative to the case for integration with Europe. Now the Gulf has less money.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Invisible Hand

Financial Times --

It was the journalistic coup of the moment, the first British newspaper interview with Donald Trump since his victory. But there was one thing The Times did not reveal: that its proprietor Rupert Murdoch was sitting in on the conversation. The chairman of News Corp did not feature in photographs of the encounter last month at the top of Trump Tower in Manhattan but two people have confirmed he was in the room. The interview was conducted by Michael Gove, a former British cabinet minister and proponent of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Incidentally, this was the interview where Trump was presented with a brick from the Berlin Wall.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

President of Somalia not subject to Trump visa ban

Reuters --

Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a dual U.S.-Somali citizen and former prime minister, was sworn in as Somalia's new president on Wednesday after lawmakers voted behind the secure blast walls of the capital's airport.

Since the President, nicknamed Farmajo, is a US citizen, he does not need a visa to return to the USA. But hundreds of thousands of other Somalis who followed a path similar to his, except to country besides the USA for refuge, are subject to the ban. In terms of keeping lines of communication open, the USA simply got lucky that he emerged from their part of the diaspora.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Women's Lib

During points of order in the House of Commons --

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab) On a point of order, Mr Speaker. First, is it in order for the Prime Minister to refer to a Member of this House not by her own name, but by the name of her husband? Secondly, for the record, I have never been a lady, and it will take a great deal more than being married to a knight of the realm to make me one. 

The Prime Minister (Mrs Theresa May) Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not in any way intend to be disorderly in this House, and if the hon. Lady is concerned about the reference that I made to her, then of course I will apologise for that. I have to say to her, though, that for the last 36 years I have been referred to by my husband’s name. [Interruption.]

The context is that May had bizarrely referred to Emily Thornberry as Lady Nugee, based on her husband's title, but not a name she has ever used. That her defence for the slip went to offering herself  as an example of giving up her family name is revealing about her concept of tradition.

The issue then got lost when the Speaker dropped his subsequent bombshell that he was blocking a Donald Trump visit to Westminster.