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!