Thursday, June 06, 2019

Quote of the Day

In the Financial Times,  David Pilling on Sudan:

Protesters have vowed to continue their struggle. The odds are stacked against them. The youth of Sudan, and much of Africa, has a faith in liberal democracy and peaceful protest that has all but evaporated in much of the world. This is a bad era in which to be a democrat without a gun.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Words not being read

From the closing statement of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit held in Mecca, and chaired by Saudi King Salman --

The Conference affirmed its rejection of any proposal for a peaceful settlement that does not conform to the legitimate and inalienable rights of the Palestinian people as recognized by international legitimacy and is incompatible with the internationally recognized references to the peace process, foremost international law and United Nations resolutions. ...  The conference confirmed the adoption and support of the vision of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his address to the Security Council on 20 February 2018 calling on international actors to engage in sponsoring a multilateral political track with the aim of launching a credible peace process under international auspices aimed at achieving peace.

Somehow the Trump Administration's reading of the situation is that there is an alternative path to a settlement that doesn't involve any of the above. 

Friday, May 31, 2019

Israeli politics: All-Media Apology

[Idea from Private Eye]

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
An Apology

In common with all other media outlets in recent months, we may have given the impression that Benjamin Netanyahu was in some way a political genius who was a worthy victor of the Israeli general election. Headlines such as "He's David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, and Moshe Dayan rolled into one," "Bismarck of the Middle East," "Election victory is equivalent of Six Day War for Bibi" and "Is Bibi the Messiah?" might have reinforced the view that were in some sense in awe of Mr Netanyahu's skills. 

We now realize, in the light of the collapse of government formation and a new election in September, that Bibi is in fact somewhat incompetent and prone to exaggeration and motivated mainly by the narrow self interest of him and his family. Our headlines this week such as "Bibi and wife headed to adjacent jail cells," "35 seats when 61 needed for majority returns to haunt Bibi" will, we hope, go some way to correcting any misunderstanding to which our thousands of previous news stories and opinion articles may have given rise.

Leader of "Israel Our Home" Party, Avigdor Lieberman
An Apology

In common with all other media outlets in recent months, we may have given the impression that Avigdor Lieberman was in some way a dangerous ultra-nationalist who represented the worst of Israel's shift to the right. Headlines such as "Back in the USSR," "Lieberman demands all Arabs move east of the Tigris river," and "He wants nothing more than to crush the Church of the Nativity under the wheels of a Russian tank"might have reinforced the view that we in some sense viewed Lieberman as a bizarre byproduct of Soviet migration to Israel who was determined to start an all-out war to expand Israel in every direction.

We now realize, in light of the collapse of coalition negotiations due to Lieberman's insistence on inclusion of the Orthodox in a conscription law, that he is in fact the true custodian of a secular Israel. Our headlines this week such as "Lieberman the toast of Tel Aviv" and "Get a White Russian for The Dude Lieberman" will, we hope, go some way to correcting any misunderstanding to which our thousands of previous news stories and opinion articles may have given rise.


Saturday, May 25, 2019

Quote of the Day

Speech today on the anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah:

Imagine if there had been no resistance in Lebanon, and if there had been no liberation in 2000,  one would have thought that if the Israeli occupation army still controls our land in southern Lebanon to a minimum today, would not we now have seen Mr. Trump guide southern Lebanon or a large part of southern Lebanon to the government of the enemy, as given by Jerusalem and as given by the Golan, as the West Bank will give it and as given by its predecessors in 1948? 

Is he wrong? 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

New exploding turban cartoon outrage


That's a caricature in Saudi newspaper Okaz accompanying an opinion article discussing Iran's possible motives in the still murky attacks on Gulf shipping in the waters off the UAE. 

Quote of the Day

From the film Brüno --

For the second time in a century, the world had turned on Austria's greatest man just because he was brave enough to try something new.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Quote of the Day

In FT weekend,  John McTernan reviews a few Corbynism books:

[Labour] Centrists had forgotten the old motto of the Labour party's organisation department — "The Victory of Ideals must be Organised".

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Bad breeding


Prior to the Kentucky Derby tweeting, the last time Donald Trump had shown this much interest in horses was when he was dabbling in the anti-vaccine cesspool. 

Bobos in Dublin

The New York Times Sunday Travel section hails the authentic cocktail bar scene in Ireland --

The growing popularity of craft cocktails has spread well beyond Dublin, and its rise could have stifled the unfussy fun of Ireland’s bar scene. And yet, the opposite is true. Instead of a gruff doorman with a clipboard outside a cocktail bar, visitors can expect the warm welcome, conversation and personality inherent to Ireland’s best pubs at this new generation of bars. “What Irish people tend to hate is pretension,” said Stephen Teeling, the distillery co-owner, adding that such affectations crept in during the country’s economic boom years, “but it’s not us.”

Ireland's (pre-2009) economic boom is to Ireland what the 2003 US invasion of Iraq is to "anti-establishment" posers everywhere -- everyone defines themselves in terms of not being that sort of thing, even when by an objective standard, they're doing something just as ridiculous (tripping over themselves to buy €15 cocktails, or supporting Baathist dictators, respectively).

A pint of Guinness will cost about half of one of these cocktails, and it's still your only man. 

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Bobos in Belgrade

Branko Milanovic --

When I arrived in the United States, coming from the worker-management world of Titoist Yugoslavia, I was somewhat surprised how Americans took the strongly hierarchical, quasi dictatorial relations in the business world as fully “normal”. I was half expecting that workers would have a say in the choice of their “managers” (actually, for a long time, I could not even figure out who exactly is a “manager”) but of course they did not. The promotions were made by cooption or even direct appointment of lower echelons by the higher echelons. And of course, the management was selected by the owners themselves. So the system was entirely top-down: the top selected the down it liked to have. It was remarkably similar to the political system from which I came. There too the Central Committee coopted its new members; these selected their replacements and so forth down to the lowest level of Communist Party cell. Formally speaking, American companies were organized like the Communist Party. In both cases, to paraphrase Bertold Brecht, the leadership selected their employees, or their citizens. In one case the dictatorship was in the social sphere, in another in the work sphere.

This point is important. There is a further implication. The similarity of the Communist Party and American companies was reflected in the shared emergence of a managerial class; these were very complicated entities without internal market signals, and it takes a lot of managerial capacity to run such organizations. And those people emerge as a class with their own interests.

"The New Class" as the Yugoslav dissident (eventually) Milovan Djilas labelled them.

There is a lineage from the realization of 1950s Communism that something new had emerged, to noticing the same feature of large corporations in "the West," to the rise of an upper middle class in Europe and North America organized around credentials, consultancy / management / professions, to the Peak Bobo presidency of Barack Obama. And the backlash, the reveling in ignorance and the ostensible appeal to "physical" work of Donald Trump and his fellow strongman populists. Who are neither strong, nor populist, but anyway. 

Keynes on Electability

As US political pundits work through their "learned nothing, forgotten nothing" antics for another election cycle, presidential candidates are being assessed in terms of their "electability," meaning some sense of for whom a typical voter is likely to vote. Here's Keynes from Chapter 12 of the General Theory on the problems with that approach --

This battle of wits to anticipate the basis of conventional valuation a few months hence, rather than the prospective yield of an investment over a long term of years, does not even require gulls amongst the public to feed the maws of the professional; — it can be played by professionals amongst themselves. Nor is it necessary that anyone should keep his simple faith in the conventional basis of valuation having any genuine long-term validity. For it is, so to speak, a game of Snap, of Old Maid, of Musical Chairs — a pastime in which he is victor who says Snap neither too soon nor too late, who passes the Old Maid to his neighbour before the game is over, who secures a chair for himself when the music stops. These games can be played with zest and enjoyment, though all the players know that it is the Old Maid which is circulating, or that when the music stops some of the players will find themselves unseated. 

Or, to change the metaphor slightly, professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole; so that each competitor has to pick, not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view. It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practise the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.

Les Etats-Unis, Douze Points

This year's Eurovision Song Context, hosted in Tel Aviv, will in all likelihood be the first to be watched, or at least tweeted about, by an American president. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Quote of the Day

Jay Caspian Kang in the New York Times Sunday Magazine --

Imagining yourself in a book club with Pete Buttigieg becomes this election’s having a beer with George W. Bush. If the news media has an “identitarianism” problem, it’s not so much that people bunker down into racial, gender or sexual groups, but that a whole class of journalists and thinkers never seems to be able to wander out past its own pool of references — all so admiring of the same things that some are blinded to the similar backgrounds of almost every other Democratic candidate for president.


Saturday, April 13, 2019

Let's hope it's contagious


Sudan News Agency still has posted the December tweet featuring the jubilant visit of the now deposed Omar al-Bashir to his friend Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

The protests that brought down Omar al-Bashir began nearly as soon as his return from Damascus and still continue today.

The two dictators have a lot in common; most of all, they held on to power while bankrupting and partitioning their countries and committing large scale war crimes.

Omar al-Bashir never had the cachet with the anti-establishment left that Bashar al-Assad still has. But that insular cranky world is getting small, smaller than Julian Assange's now vacated flat. 

Monday, April 08, 2019

The Real Trump

In an admittedly desperate search for positives, there is one reassuring thing about the latest chaos at Donald Trump's Department of Homeland Security: that last Trump weekend in Las Vegas and California, the weekend where he seemed to be in a perpetual rage -- that wasn't an act, that was genuine Trump. Because he clearly got back to Washington DC still in a rage and decided that he had to make a move.

This, incidentally, is why the perpetual pundit prospect that such and such an event will reveal "the true Trump" is futile. There's only one Trump, and you can see it all where he sees it all, on television. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Transfiguration of Trump

Donald Trump is such an expert on the Golan Heights that he knows it's evidence of the "global warming" hoax if it snows there in January!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The luck of the Irish

Maybe the madness of the Trump administration is such that relative distinctions are pointless, but Trump's twitter feed has gone noticeably crazier since 8 March, the day he pushed out Bill Shine as his communications director. The tweets are more obsessed with Trump World -- his TV-twitter feedback loop and the Mueller investigation -- and less concerned with the "real" World. He's spent the New Zealand weekend tweeting about TV watching, TV personalities, and Mueller, with a little space for the bowl of shamrock. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Global Compact for Migration

Here's a link. It seems to have featured in the demonology of the New Zealand mass killer, which should call for a second look at the rhetoric that was used against it. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Quote of the Day

The FT's Robert Shrimsley on the latest Brexit House of Commons setback:

It is possible to imagine the TV interview after the vote: "I think when Death sees the unity within the Conservative party around eternal life, he will be forced to come back to the table," the chairman of the Mortality Research Group would tell the BBC. "This is a clear message to Death from the UK that it is time to put aside his scythe."

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Laissez Faire

It's too soon to say that the political crisis in Algeria will end well, but Algerians are off to a better start than one might have expected.

It certainly helps that the usual pro-authoritarian coalition ("anti-establishment"left, hard right, Russia, and social media trolls) was too busy with Venezuela to launch information operations against the Algerian protesters before they could get momentum.

And there were probably outside parties inclined to intervene if they possibly knew what they would do.

As a result, at least for a while, one Arab country was let make its own choices. 

Irish Parliamentary Party

Financial Times on the meaningful vote eve:

Downing Street hopes that if Mr Cox provides MPs with legal assurances that the backstop is truly temporary, then the DUP will back the deal, in turn winning over scores of Tory Eurosceptics.

"We can't be seen as more unionist than the unionists," said one Tory Brexiter. Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, held talks late in the evening with Julian Smith, the chief whip.

Note the bizarre Tory logic. One branch of unionism in one part of the UK gets to define unionism for everyone who lives in the UK. 

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Time saver

In case you're looking for it, here's the announcement in the official gazette of Saudi Arabia canceling the Saudi nationality of Hamza bin Laden. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Free thinking anti-establishment, Irish style


Saturday, February 16, 2019

A long way from Sir Humphrey

The FT on the interministerial feuding between defence and exchequer as a Philip Hammond China trip implodes:

Claims Mr [Gavin] Williamson's speech had disrupted planning for chancellor's trip this weekend were "total bollocks", according to a person close to the Ministry of Defence.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Quote of the Day

In the Financial Times, Simon Kuper discusses the perceived commonalities between Trumpism and Brexit --

Weakling neighbours that we bullied in the glorious past — Mexico and Ireland — will bow down again if shouted at hard enough.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Baathist entity

Member of Irish Parliament Mick Wallace, who for context is a very active tweeter on 3 foreign affairs topics: Israel (against), Syria (for Bashar), and Venezuela (for Maduro), speaking on Tuesday on a bill to restrict Irish imports of goods produced in the Israeli settlements in Palestine --

We should stop defending the indefensible - the behaviour of the state of Israel. We are not anti-Semitic, but we are certainly against the violence and brutality of the Israeli Government against the Palestinian people and several other entities in the region.

The only thing he could mean by Israeli violence against "other entities in the region" is Israeli attacks on Iranian and Hezbollah facilities in parts of Syria under the control of the al-Assad regime. He's therefore directly equating the Palestinian cause with that of foreign entanglements of the al-Assads' lust for power, which to say the least, is a discredit to Palestinians (those Palestinians in Yarmouk might not feel the same way as Mick about the virtues of Bashar al-Assad).

Then there's the question of why Mick holds Bashar al-Assad to a different standard, let's say a double standard, to the one which he holds Israel. But he's clever enough to work in the obligatory disclaimer on that one. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Quote of the Day

The FT's Philip Stephens on Theresa May:

She imagined herself the leader who could set at once the terms for Brexit and forestall a Tory rupture such as those over the Corn Laws or “imperial preference”.

That is a vital point. The teaching of history has tended to cast Chamberlain (J, not N) and Gladstone with their legacy of split parties -- and so the standard became not splitting the party. As Stephens says, the cost is splitting the country. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Missing in action

In yesterday's no-confidence motion in the British government,  it was left to a Scottish MP to deliver the significance of Irish nationalism:

Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)

I hope that the motion tabled by the Leader of the Opposition is successful this evening. I was reminded that today is the anniversary of one of the first Home Rule Bills for Ireland, which was agreed by this House in 1913 but defeated in the other place. Yet again—I say this with due deference—the Democratic Unionist party is in control of the Government. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that if the motion succeeds this evening, the Scottish National party will have no truck with any Government funding the Democratic Unionist party and its type of politics?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Not shy


When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Riyadh this evening, his big meeting was with Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir, and Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Ambassador to the USA and brother of the Crown Prince. Prince Khalid's name, shall we say, came up in the Khashoggi affair, so having him visible at a meeting with Pompeo is a statement of itself.

Photo via SPA. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

How it's done

Just in case anyone forgets that Whataboutery originated not as a Russian media strategy or among Bashar al-Assad fanboys, but as a description of Irish Republican posturing in the 1970s:

RTE --

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald has said she is very glad that two Sinn Féin representatives were in attendance at the inauguration of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro.

His election has been criticised by the EU and America as a fraud.

"We believe the Venezuelan election was open and democratic," Ms McDonald said.

"It's for the people of Venezuela and them alone to decide who their president is."

"There are people in this country who would not endorse Leo Varadkar on the basis that they have endured poverty...we also have to accepted that he is the Taoiseach."

The Obama truthers

Trumpism (increasingly indistinguishable from the Republican party overall) has been obsessed with Barack Obama's 2009 Cairo speech since it was delivered. It's that obsession which resulted in US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's clunker of a speech on Thursday, again in Cairo.

The real time context for that obsession is important. At the time (and right up until well into his campaign in 2016, when he suckered rolling news channels into yet more free coverage), Donald Trump had been trafficking in theories that Barack Obama was not born in the USA and was secretly a Muslim. That "secret Muslim" idea, whose entry into the Republican mainstream is a story worthy of Inception, has in turn driven Trump's Middle East views, and those of the people he has around him. And they've now contorted themselves into a set of alliances and stances that will eventually blow up -- as Iran (their other obsession) did in the 1970s. 

Friday, January 11, 2019

Fiasco in Cairo

There may never be a worse high-level speech than the one that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered yesterday at the American University of Cairo. Pompeo travelled all the way to the Nile, but could not step outside the Potomac/ Hudson/ Fox News international relations book circle, in which the Arab Spring was Barack Obama's fault, the average Arab lives in mortal fear of Iran, and a judo contestant from Israel going to Abu Dhabi is the greatest breakthrough anywhere since Nixon went to China. And then's there a line for which we'd have blamed Steve Bannon if he was still in the administration:

Our eagerness to address only Muslims and not nations ignored the rich diversity of the Middle East and frayed old bonds. It undermined the concept of the nation-state, the building block of international stability. And our desire for peace at any cost led us to strike a deal with Iran, our common enemy.

In the background, whoever wrote that is thinking ... ISIS is just like The Globalists! 

The country that should probably feel most aggrieved is Lebanon: Pompeo ignored its hosting of large numbers of Syrian refugees, mindlessly equated it with Hezbollah and Iran, and presented it as a country only to be thought of in terms of the implications for Israel.

There's not much that can be done, but why is Poland lending any legitimacy to this charade?

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Brexit road trip




Maybe Paul McCartney has been writing great songs about so many things for so long that he wrote about future events decades ago, but Helen Wheels (1973) might need to be the upbeat soundtrack for people finding a lot more joy in time on British roads.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Two nations once again

No Labels co-founder Daniel Arbess has got that whole Israel-Palestine thing sorted out in the manner that only a bipartisan no labels person could (Wall Street Journal). He's gone back to the 1922 British Mandate map of Palestine, inserted the word "Jewish" on the part between the west of the Jordan River and the sea, and declared, if you will, that we just need to go back to that map. Jordan would assume responsibility for any Arabs in the West Bank (there's no mention of Jerusalem, or indeed Arabs of 1948 who are citizens of Israel). Israel would have sovereignty, and freedom of movement and settlement, throughout the West Bank. What's not to like?

Well. for one thing, that's quite a map. There's no such thing in post-Ottoman history as "Jewish Palestine." Instead, there was an international agreement that there would be a "national home for the Jewish people" west of the Jordan river. But that careful phrase left options wide open for what the political structure and governance of that national home would be -- reasonable given that the vast majority of its inhabitants were Arab. And as a partition plan, it worked out about as well as the partition of Ireland and India by the same imperial power. Let's hope Trump is not the intended audience.