Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Worst tech word ever

Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds takes a break from spinning for Dubya to claim in the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd, but free link here) that news items assembled by people like him would be different from the news we currently get, which is of course true since he doesn't believe that the media shouldn't report things like Abu Ghraib:

Pajamas Media, a blog-news venture I'm involved with, is recruiting a network of independent journalists around the world (and especially in less-democratic countries) and working on ways to support them financially, legally, and technologically.

It's unclear which countries earn inclusion in the especially clause but so far it looks like most of the bloggers who have signed up are American. And the catchy word to describe this phenomenon:

What some are calling "we-dia" may wind up saving the media.

It should be written as "weed-ia."

UPDATE: Reader CS weeds through the Pajamas Media promotional materials and notes the country list in full:

Besides, the US, blogs from the following countries have signed up as of now -- UK, Australia, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Spain, Germany, France, India and Malaysia. Just added - Netherlands.

It would seem then that the French No and its imminent Dutch counterpart can't be taken at face value, if they are the undemocratic countries. Or maybe the Iraqi election? Tony Blair's 37 percent of the popular vote? And didn't the Pajamas Media people get the new memo from the Heritage Foundation -- Malaysia is our friend now!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Poetry Corner

Lines written upon the French rejection of Bertie Ahern's compromise Constitution for the European Union, by Seamus Heaney*

Beacons at Bealtaine: 2

As if the Book of Kells followed the Wild Geese
A new tome from Hibernia to Europa
Divided into 448 parts.
And a hundred thousand welcomes to the 10 from the East
Our allies at Vienna
The dreams of Malmaison and Aix-la-Chapelle are alive.

But beware Gaels bearing gifts
The Gauls only see it too late.
Where black smoke once meant Polish coal
Or a Polish Pope
Now the smokey beacons warn of a Polish plumber
From middle sea to north sea.
And beyond the western shore
Hibernia curses the gall of Gaul.

*the above does not constitute a claim to be Seamus Heaney

France EU:5

This is our link-rich "we told you so" post. In particular, it's time for a reminder of the complete and utter pomposity that characterised the Republic of Ireland's period holding the rotating presidency of the EU in the first half of last year, the period that produced every element of the debacle in France yesterday: the Constitution itself, the 10 country enlargement to which French voters clearly reacted so badly, and the overall sense of an EU driven by elite priorities.

In that light, consider the antics of the time. The Charlemagne Award given to crackpot economics enthusiast Pat Cox, then President of the European Parliament; the diversion of scarce Irish police time to escorting VIP limousine corteges from 15 countries, the Day of Welcomes for the Polish plumbers etc, the Seamus Heaney poetry associated therewith, the harsh review of the Heaney poem that got another reviewer barred from the Irish Times. And let us remember Bertie Ahern's final brilliant compromise -- the selection of then Portugese PM Barroso as President of the European Commission, a man whose every appearance on French television to argue for a Yes vote added a few basis points to the No Vote. He should have stuck to his role as That Other Chump at the Azores summit.

Sunday, May 29, 2005


1. Massive turnout, preliminary polls say No wins 54:46.

2. Speech[12 May 2005] on the European Constitution by the Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern T.D at the Presentation of the European Movement's European of the Year Award

... "The biggest success of Ireland's EU Presidency, which continues to have an impact throughout the European Union, is the agreement on the draft Treaty establishing the European Constitution. The ratification and subsequent implementation of that Constitution is now one of the key priorities for Europe."

He was right about the "impact" part.

3. Our nominee for phrase of the night, at least given that it induced us to look up what the word meant:

un non hétéroclite [motley]

4. France has red-staters too. No wonder the American Right seems so happy with the result.

5. The cruellest cut: even Chirac's favourite holiday destination, Reunion, alone among the big outremers voted heavily against!


[Previous post in this series, or, for Liverpool fans, it was this one]

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Attack of the Clones

Recently, Sullywatch proposed that Andrew Sullivan [pictured here] must struggle to the realisation that his colleagues on the keyboarding right were as irretrievably lost in the moral abyss as Anakin was to the Dark Side in Star Wars. But like Anakin, Sully continues to see far off enemies everywhere, but not the ones closest to him.

For instance, he today prints in full an "e-mail of the day" to him, which consists of a homophobic attack on him by (allegedly) a US soldier in Iraq. But then his supposed friend Mickey Kaus, whose attacks on Sully already have something of the dogwhistle about them, had this throwaway remark in the midst of a critique of a Los Angeles Times editorial:

If Johnny Apple [NYT hack] and Andrew Sullivan had a love child, he might find this editorial highly persuasive.

The only thing to recommend about this sentence is the clear calculation that went into it -- besides the wink-wink, there's the equation of Sully to the epitome of expense-account dead-tree journalism. Completely unsurprisingly, Glenn Reynolds chimes in with approval. Unfortunately, with Sully still being so eager to participate in other Keyboarding Krusades, like the War on Krugman, we don't think he's able to see the Sith Lord just yet.
The passive voice is on the march

The US State Department checks in today with their usual impeccably timed post-catastrophe travel warning for a country, and with an interestingly neutral version of what happened in one of their allies in the Global War on Terror, Uzbekistan:

In addition, on May 13, armed militants stormed a local prison, released its prisoners, and then took control of the regional administration and other government buildings. By the end of the day fighting broke out between government forces and the militants. There were reports indicating that several hundred civilians died in the ensuing violence. There were no reports of U.S. citizens who were affected by these events.

The geniuses in the State Department should follow Dubya's own theory of terrorism and have terror warnings ready to go for every undemocratic ally in the GWoT.
Pope Benedict XVI

This is Friday's contribution of your Holy Roman Emperor Dubya to the culture of life, speaking at the Naval Academy graduation ceremony in Annapolis:

In the coming years, there are going to be some awfully surprised terrorists when the thermobaric hellfire [missile] comes knocking. (Applause.)

Friday, May 27, 2005

Sentences that make you go Hmmmm

Friday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) has an interesting story in the sane section of the paper; it's interesting because it's a nice example of the circumlocutions of political reporters who are trying to raise a delicate issue without affecting their access to the White House. The issue is to extent to which President Bush is on top of his job. This is approached via the question of the information flow to the President, highlighted by two recent cases where he didn't know what his own government was doing.

One was a policy change for people entering the US from Mexico but more serious was him being completely out of the loop on the Cessna scare at the White House a few weeks ago. The article discusses the information channels to Dubya and what we learn is that: there aren't that many. He has no e-mail address, no back-channel way of getting snail-mail (like Bill Clinton did), doesn't read newspapers or watch TV news, and relies on people in immediate proximity around him for information.

But, we're told, this is still better than Reagan:

Scholars say Jimmy Carter was probably the most obsessive about absorbing the minutiae of governance, while Ronald Reagan was the least concerned. Mr. Bush showed a notable understanding of the al Qaeda organization following the 2001 terrorist attacks, and he has a weekly teleconference with Gens. George Casey and John Abizaid, who head U.S. forces in Iraq.

So criticism is avoided by the pleasing reference to Dubya being on top of War on Terror issues. But wait ... what's the criterion for a "notable" understanding of al Qaeda, and when was this notable understanding acquired? It certainly wasn't from any reading up before 9/11. By the way, one of our abiding memories of the immediate aftermath of 9/11 was puzzlement at the speed with which al Qaeda in general and the 15 Saudis plus 4 others in particular were identified as the perpetrators. We don't say this to delve into the weirder conspiracy theories about 9/11, simply to note that one of the scandals of 9/11 is that the government actually had considerable relevant prior information that was never connected by the people at the top until it was too late.

So maybe Dubya really started reading up on al Qaeda on 9/12 and got good at it. For instance, he connected those Saddam/al Qaeda dots that lesser mortals could not see.
Belfast goose and Dublin gander

A long time ago in the same galaxy as this one, we wrote a post entitled "Ah sure why we would need that here." This was with reference to skill of politicians and pundits in the Irish Republic to be sweepingly judgmental about the flaws of other countries accompanied by massive blind spots regarding the same flaws back home. In the last fortnight we got two more examples. On the buffoonish side there was minister Conor Lenihan's kebabs fiasco. Given the willingness of Bertie Ahern to gloss this one over, like so many others, Fintan O'Toole was correct in saying that "higher standards apply to the members of Peterborough council than to ministers in our sovereign government."

On the more serious side we have Thursday's abortive post office raid in north county Dublin in which two of the robbers were shot dead by police. It's fairly clear from the accounts that the robbers never fired a shot and may not even have raised their weapons.* Attitudes in the Republic will range from those of Justice Minister McDowell, who doubtless wanted to be there himself in the post office with the police, to those who will feel at least some mixture of sympathy for the two deceased and their families. The incident will certainly highlight the huge gulf between the state of police oversight in the Republic and that which is advocated by our government for the police in Northern Ireland. The Dublin shootings will be investigated by er... another policeman and ultimately the only power of punishment resides in the aforementioned Minister for Justice. Compare that to Belfast's police ombudsman Nuala O'Loan and her independent investigative authority.

The parallel with Northern Ireland should be pursued further. The Garda clearly had a tip-off about the Dublin robbery, and they heavily outmanned and outgunned the robbers once they showed up. So why wasn't it possible to intercept them before the shooting started? It's difficult not to think of the apparent shoot-to-kill policy of the security forces in Northern Ireland; here's a fairly complete list of the victims, and note that if you think it's a good idea for the police to go in all guns blazing when they have a tip, consider the fate of Anthony Hughes, who simply got caught in the crossfire. Indeed, consider the role of the SAS shoot-to-kill operation in Gibraltar, which triggered one of the ugliest few months in Northern Irish history. It seems that one thing Bertie Ahern and Dubya share is a belief that only bad people do bad stuff.

*UPDATE 27 MAY: Several sources indicate that the robbers did raise their weapons. Also, some civilians in the shop/post office at the time of the shooting are unhappy with the Garda procedures. And only one gun has been recovered. One of the dead was unarmed.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The bandwagon starts creaking

Our primary activity today will be monitoring the Irish newswires for signs of Bertie Ahern's Road to Athenry conversion to being a Liverpool fan, but the gang of Insta-Scousers already includes current and former French Presidents and the Mayor of Paris. In a last grab for optimism (apparently the BoBW endorsement not being enough), the Yes campaign in France's EU referendum has declared that Liverpool's stunning comeback in Istanbul last night is a harbinger of their fortunes. For instance, former President and Constitution author, Valery Giscard d'Estaing:

"Yesterday evening, up to the last five or ten minutes of the match, it was AC Milan that was ahead," Mr D'Estaing said. "This morning in the opinion polls everyone is saying 'Milan' [No] is going to win. Well I think it is going to be 'Liverpool'. "Voting 'No' would be to score a goal against France, author of the constitution and the European project, a goal against Europe."

While allowing for the ever-present possibility of mis-translation, we suspect that Valery was actually reading Voltaire or doing whatever it is the French elite does on a Wednesday evening, because his account of the match is off. Liverpool had already equalised with half an hour left of ordinary time in the match.

It's also funny that for a campaign that seeks to promote a more European-leaning France, any delicacies of foreign diplomacy are being jettisoned. Consider that if Jacques Chirac hasn't already supplied the nascent UK 'No' campaign with the slogan "daughter of 1789," then d'Estaing certainly has with the declaration "Voting 'No' would be to score a goal against France." Those Zidane goals from last year still hurt!

Similarly, Valery shows no regard for the bruised feelings of AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi in making the team from the Euro-sceptic country the good-luck charm of his Yes campaign. Nor for the last politician to hitch his electoral fortunes to the team: Tory leader Michael Howard.

UPDATE: Michael Howard writes of his joy at 'Pool's win, and draws almost no political implications, in Wednes Friday's Times of London.
France/EU: 3

And so it is time for the long-awaited BoBW recommendation to voters in France for the EU Constitution referendum on Sunday. Somewhat to our surprise, our recommendation is that our readers vote Yes. Notwithstanding our concerns about many of the arguments made for the referendum -- that it will prevent a new Holocaust, that it will lead to peace and goodwill between all persons -- having read up on it, we conclude that it's basically a harmless piece of work that codifies things that the member countries have already agreed to.

That being said, we have no problem with the voting public in France and the Low Countries waking up and saying " ... but we never agreed to this stuff." Indeed as Henry at Crooked Timber argues, even if the constitution does tank, the process at least shows signs of a genuine EU-level political debate emerging in Europe.

We have been able to come up with one sure-fire argument for the Constitution -- it will cut down on the pomposity factor in the Union. As things are currently structured, any substantive EU decision-making requires a 25 country summit and associated Seamus Heaney poetry; with the streamlined processes under the Constitution, a bunch of suits can just meet in a low-profile way and get things done. Which is what goes behind the scenes at those Very Important Summits anyway.

The Constitution will also put an end to the rotating Presidency of the Union. Bertie Ahern being "European of the Year" should be sufficient argument against the current arrangement, but if that's not enough for you, then we recommend London Times columnist Anatole Kaletsky's point that current arrangements mean that when the Chinese PM wants to discuss EU-level trade issues, he sits down with the PM of er... Luxembourg!

By the way, the Constitution is actually a good deal for France, having been written by a Frenchman. The revised voting weights that it brings in means that EU's Original Six (France, Germany, Italy, Benelux) have a blocking coalition on just about any proposal -- better than they have under the current system.

So, the Yes campaign was botched. Voters were supposed to be impressed that Johnny Hallyday was for it. The No campaign made all the running with horror stories about Polish plumbers. DUDES! The Handy Andys of the East are coming regardless of how you vote for this thing. The elites never got the issues that motivated the No vote, because for the elite, the EU is just more jobs for the garcons. But none of these things are specific arguments against the Constitution. Vote Yes.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

George Bush says he invented hydrogen fuel

Well, not quite. But there's no difference between what he said today and what became the "Al Gore said he invented the internet" spin of 2000:

but, you know, hydrogen is the wave of the future ... So I'm excited to be part of a technological revolution that's going to change the country

Alert the liberal media.
Malcolm Glazer

You borrowed a ton of money to buy the wrong team. Bertie Ahern: you support the wrong team.
At least it wasn't a Ford Cortina

It's an indictment of the limited capabilities of the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy that there are days when we feel that we could do a better job of finding grist for the War on Terror mill than they can. Consider for instance the question of Iran and its ongoing talks about nuclear capability with European countries. Now, if one was of a suspicious mind about whether the European partners really have their heart in this effort, one's eyes could be caught by this BBC story:

French carmaker Renault is to build its Megane saloon model in Iran from 2006 ... The [Iran-Renault] venture is 51% owned by Renault, despite a law passed this year banning foreign firms from majority ownership.

The law, passed in September 2004, imposed a retroactive 20 March cut-off point. Renault signed its deal for Renault Pars, as the venture is known, four days earlier.

To say the least, that timing works out rather conveniently for Renault, leaving it a guaranteed role as the only foreign owned car manufacturer in the country. Clearly however the deal hasn't made it to the White House talking points, because the VRC doesn't have a word to say about it.

One other thing: whatever might be fishy about this deal, it clearly represents a stylistic improvement for Iranian cars. As the BBC story explains:

Iran, like many other countries, has had a history of borrowing car designs from abroad. For 40 years, its most popular car was the Paykan, a pollution-spewing copy of the 1960s British Hillman Hunter.

Indeed. Put yourself in the position of being a trendy young Persian. Would you rather have a vehicle that wouldn't look out of place on the Rue du Cherche Midi, or this car?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Andrew tries a sugar coating

Sullywatch today offers a fine critique of Andrew Sullivan's latest attempt to suggest that HIV is no biggee (you know, doesn't need to cramp your style in the online barebacking community, etc.). We offer here a small addendum to their analysis, regarding this part of Sully's post:

Compare the kind of medical ramifications of testing positive for Type 2 diabetes with testing positive for HIV. Your life is not as definitively shortened with HIV as it is with diabetes; the treatment is far less onerous; the lifestyle changes are fewer, compared with daily injections, monitoring your diet, and so on.

Er, um, huh? If you have untreated diabetes, you're in trouble; if you have untreated HIV you're in (probably bigger) trouble. Both might shorten your life. But clearly Andrew doesn't know anything about type 2 diabetes, which doesn't always necessitate injections (and when it does, the needles are so small they don't hurt). Given the huge number of people walking around with untreated diabetes, it's terribly irresponsible to suggest that type 2 treatment is somehow more onerous than HIV treatment. Kind of like insisting that positive HIV status doesn't mean you need to make "lifestyle changes," by the way.

UPDATE 23 JUNE: Sully provides an even more bizarrely upbeat take on being HIV positive for The Advocate -- a link not currently provided on his website -- which triggers this bitterly incisive retort from Michelangelo Signorile. And Sullivan is clearly fixated on the analogy to diabetes:

But the bottom line is that HIV is fast becoming another diabetes.

UPDATE 24 JUNE: Now the link to the Advocate piece is there, plus a third spoon of sugar:

From being an automatic death sentence, it's now in the diabetes spectrum, if you get tested early and treated effectively.
But European corruption is so tastefully done

A couple of weeks ago, the European Parliament was seeking to dictate how many hours a week residents of the United Kingdom could work. But Tuesday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) reports on a much more pressing long-term agenda -- watering down of money laundering regulations by legislators who are directly collecting income from the finance industry and submitting legislative amendments that come verbatim from lobbyists. To be clear, the financial industry is perfectly entitled to be against tougher laundering rules, given the bureaucratic burden they impose. But the fox is well and truly inside the henhouse in the process from which the parliament's legislation on the topic has emerged:

One venue for critics of the legislation is a policy-discussion forum run by prominent Brussels banking lobbyist John Houston and funded by many of his clients. The group's chairwoman and several other members are EU lawmakers. Some of them introduced amendments to the bill that were almost identical to drafts circulated by a banking trade group whose members include several clients of Mr. Houston, Parliament records show ... In an interview, Mr. Houston acknowledged that several of his clients are also members of the discussion group he runs, the European Parliamentary Financial Services Forum, but said the group is separate from his lobbying practice. "You are barking up the wrong tree," he said.

Facilitating all this is that Members of the European Parliament have only minimal conflict of interest disclosure requirements, and can be fully engaged in private business while being MEPs at the same time:

Among those who took up the industry group's cause was Parliament member John Purvis of Scotland, a member of Mr. Houston's discussion forum who leads a firm that manages a hedge fund in the tax haven of Luxembourg ... In annual filings with Parliament, Mr. Purvis discloses his role at the hedge fund and in other private businesses, but not his income from them, which isn't required.

To serve our readers, we did a bit of followup that the WSJ didn't report: Purvis is a Tory MEP and his biography reveals a set of Brussels appointments that when combined with his private interests, might even draw a blush from Tom DeLay. But Purvis has no shame:

Mr. Purvis said he has complied with parliamentary rules, and said it is only natural for him to be involved in banking policy. "What about a farmer being involved with agriculture?" he asked. "I think you are climbing up a gum tree."

Clearly, one of the lobbyist talking points that went around was to refute all allegations of conflict of interest with tree references. Anyway, in the tradition of the Euro-gravy train, the loot is being spread around:

Parliament member Jean-Paul Gauzès of France offered similar amendments on trust disclosure. He works in Paris as director of legal and tax affairs for Dexia Credit Local, the municipal-bond unit of Franco-Belgian retail banking powerhouse Dexia Group, which is currently being investigated in Belgium for suspected money laundering ... Mr. Gauzès doesn't disclose the amount of salary he gets from Dexia. He wrote in an email that it is "commensurate with the work," and added that "I exercise my mandate as a member of Parliament in all independence and I do not believe that, in principle, there is a conflict of interest."

By our count, he's left himself 3 outs just in that one quote, and indeed leaves open the implication that he's on some kind of fee-for-service deal with Dexia on his parliamentary work. There can't be a conflict of interest if you only have one client!

Remember: The EU parliament gets more power under the European Union constitution.

Monday, May 23, 2005

It depends what the meaning of source is

Start your week with a priceless example of intellectual incoherence with the Wall Street Journal's lead editorial (free, reg. req'd) today. With the frenzy about Newsweek's use of dodgy anonymous sources still fresh in everyone's mind, the editorial launches an attack on the International Committee of the Red Cross using ... anonymous sources!

The first concerns a story we heard first from a U.S. source that an ICRC representative visiting America's largest detention facility in Iraq last month had compared the U.S. to Nazi Germany. According to a Defense Department source citing internal Pentagon documents, .... A second, senior Defense Department source we asked about the episode confirmed that the quote above is accurate. And a third, very well-placed American source ... But after we started asking about the incident, we began to hear from other sources that someone was attempting damage control by alerting the ICRC's friends in the media and State Department about what we might report

It's apparently no easier to put a name on any of these sources than it is to trace which of these same sources might have guided the use of the "common peroneal strike" -- the US military's equivalent of kneecapping which was used to kill detainees in Afghanistan. A later section of the editorial criticises the ICRC's supposed selective use of confidentiality:

In other words, the ICRC hides behind the confidentiality rule when being candid might embarrass its own officials. But it drops the same rule when it is in a position to embarrass the United States, however unfairly. News of the ICRC Quran reports last week came just as the U.S. was scrambling to undo the damage in the Muslim world from the discredited Newsweek story. This behavior has unfortunately become an ICRC pattern.

But as we noted before, the real pattern is that the Pentagon uses ICRC confidentiality disenguously to claim that the Red Cross hasn't complained about facility X, because, publicly, they can't.

One final question for the WSJ editors. If, as they claim, an ICRC official managed to discredit the entire organisation in a dispute over access to an Iraqi detention facility, why didn't they put this item in the latest edition of Good News from Iraq, which, after all, they edit?

UPDATE 2 JUNE: The ICRC responds with a Letter to the WSJ Editor (subs req'd) in which they indicate -- following the evidence -- that the breach of ICRC confidentiality is coming from the Pentagon:

Insinuations that the ICRC is using its confidentiality policy in an "ideological" fashion are equally untrue and need to be rejected forcefully. Sources unknown to the ICRC have repeatedly leaked confidential ICRC information to the media, including to the Wall Street Journal.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The blights of small nations

And so another week ends in Ireland with an incompetent government minister safe in his job, this time the one who referred to migrant workers as "kebabs." There is a good article by Gene Kerrigan in the Sunday Independent today (reg. req'd) which condenses the striking statis and apathy of Irish politics down to this:

Consider - Fianna Fail has 81 TDs [/MPs], the PDs have eight. Of the 89 government TDs, Bertie and Mary [PM & Deputy PM] must choose 33 for ministerial positions. That is, 37 per cent of the available TDs are expected to be of ministerial material.

The 89 government representatives are out of 166 in total -- in other words, one quarter the size of the House of Commons for a country 15 times smaller than the UK. So if you're looking for an example of a highly selective process, rising to the top of Irish politics would be the exact opposite.

As Kerrigan summarises:

... the upshot is that [the Dail is] over-laden with cute hoors who can run rings around anyone who would challenge them for their seat. It's fairly light on people with the qualities necessary to run a sweetshop, let alone a government department.

The European Union compounds this adverse selection problem by creating even more jobs for this pathetic crew to fill, so if you're wondering why we've sounded a little Euro-sceptic recently, this would be a reason. We're not sure about a club that wants to have our betters as a member. Now in fairness, this problem is not confined to the Republic. Since it's Eurovision weekend (Greece won), consider this prime piece of Euro-dorkiness from small nation Estonia when they won the contest a few years ago:

Prime Minister Mart Laar enthused: 'We demolished the Russian empire by singing; now we are not knocking on the door of Europe but will simply walk in singing.'

There's not really much else to say, but using the vast power of blogging, let us merely be the latest to suggest that what Irish politics needs is the following: slash the size of the Dail, e.g. by half, to force TDs to broaden their electoral base a bit, leave the parish pump stuff to the county councils, and get rid of most junior minister positions while they're at it.

At the European level -- well, there we think is one good argument for the Constitution, which by reducing the voting weights on small member countries, might force a bit more selectivity in European politics. In the meantime, we'll have to tolerate spectacles like Bertie Ahern being named as "European of the Year."

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The neocon conspiracy du jour

As a service to the reality-based community, we think it's important to inform our readers that the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy is peddling a new conspiracy theory; the only thing that's not clear yet is the underlying policy goal which the theory will serve. It concerns the 11-M attacks in Madrid, which via their persistence in referring to them as "3/11," they reveal how every world event now gets refracted through the GWoT prism.

To the extent that there's any coherence to the theory, it's laid out in this Frank Gaffney article in the National Review -- but it relies entirely on a single blogger's translation of articles from one Spanish newspaper. The theory is built around some alleged inconsistencies and coincidences in the aftermath of the bombing, and the "connect the dots" spin is that a Socialist or Islamic cell in the police (it's never specified which) participated in and/or misdirected the investigation (it's never specified which) with the goal of ... (it's never specified which).

But this is a case where sourcing is everything. The VRC has never come to terms with the impact of the Aznar government's disastrous decision to blame Basque separatists for the bombing. Check out this catalog of the extent to which the entire focus in the first couple of days was on ETA. As we noted at the time, the cellphone detonators were even used to link the IRA to the bombings, but now form part of the new theory, whatever it is.

And finally there's Gaffney himself. Three days after his article was posted, it still refers to "Islamofacists" which knocks one's confidence in the subsequent ramblings. And Gaffney has peddled theories linking Saddam to the first World Trade Center bombing and even Oklahoma City; as this Slate summary notes, he's well summarised in his nickname "Mini-Perle." For what it's worth, his Madrid theorising seems to hint at Syria connections, indicating where this branch of the VRC is currently aiming.

Friday, May 20, 2005

That craic isn't funny anymore

In the analysis of the Irish Republic's welcome exit at the semi-final stage of the Eurovision song contest in Kiev, we feel that there's insufficient focus on an incident last Sunday that at the very least was a bad omen:

The backing dancers for the Irish Eurovision Song Contest entry had a narrow escape today when two of them fell through a table.

17-year-old Donna Bissett and 20-year-old Lindsay Cowap, both from Dublin, were doing a jig on the table when it collapsed.

The incident happened around 5.30pm in Kiev after a news conference by the Irish Delegation.

Thus the classic staple of Irish pub antics crashed, literally and metaphorically, indicating that our fellow Europeans may feel that the whole jolly exuberant Irish thing needs some new material. Also, given the view that it's the Eurovision's move to popular voting via mobile phone that did us in, note the real possibility that a similar gimmick will infest the EU Consitution by the petition provision. No wonder the Norwegians with their Eurovision jinx prefer to stay out of the EU.
They were for Saddam photos before they were against them

Amidst all the other things that the Pentagon didn't plan for in the invasion of Iraq was the convergence of the camera and tabloid cultures. Photos are easy to take and disseminate, and the combination of infamy and/or cash ensures they eventually find their way into the public domain. Exhibit 748 of this phenemenon is today's scoop in the Sun, their apparently authentic photos of Saddam Hussein's domestic life in detention. The Pentagon is of course outraged:

"These photos were taken in clear violation of [defense department] directives and possibly Geneva Convention guidelines for the humane treatment of detained individuals," a Multinational Force Iraq official said in a statement.

The spokesperson seemed to catch themselves just in time with the insertion of the "possibly" before the Geneva line. Because in addition to all the mixed messages from the Administration on where and when the conventions apply, they published their own photos of Saddam -- over and above what was necessary to prove that he had been captured:

[December 2003, CNN] Amnesty International said Saddam should be classified as a prisoner of war and that his treatment should be covered by the Geneva Convention.

Nicole Choveiry, Middle East spokeswoman for Amnesty International, criticized the release of any image that seemed to serve no purpose.

"We didn't disagree with a picture of Saddam being released that proved his identity but not with those that showed him being medically examined," she told CNN.

In addition to the well-known dental exam photo, there was another of Saddam meeting Ahmad Chalabi that was published in a Chalabi-owned newspaper. No purpose was served by this photo other than a straight gloatfest by Dick Cheney's pal Chalabi. In fact, if the Pentagon is serious about its investigation of where the Sun got the photos, the Chalabi angle would be a good place to start. But given that the Administration still hasn't tracked down the leaker of Valerie Plame's CIA status 2 years after the event, we don't like their odds of finding this leaker either. It must be Newsweek's fault.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Revenge of the Dissed?

Last night we used our access to the liberal/Hollywood/Communist/Hate-America-First media elite to see an early showing of Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith. Two elements to this post. First, in the rushed scenes at the end where they get all their ducks in a row for A New Hope, we were certain that there was going to be an appearance by Ballymena man Liam Neeson. Yoda is explaining to Obi Wan how he can divert himself from studying the habits of the sand people (easily startled, but soon return ... and in greater number) and implies that Qui-Gon will be popping in to say hello.

So how could they not do a quick Liam appearance there and then? We gather from this story that George Lucas may have indeed filmed such a scene, perhaps it's being kept for the DVD. And yet it should have seemed tempting to be able to take advantage of actors from previous episodes still being around, especially given the alternative of having a lame Peter Cushing look-alike on the bridge of Imperial cruiser at the very end.

Which brings to mind a weird thread linking the Star Wars series with Lord of the Rings, specifically the absence of Saruman as played by Christopher Lee, Cushing's old horror flick contemporary, from the cinematic release of Return of the King. Lee was understandably pissed off about this, and as if anyone needed proof of his continuing vitality, there he is in Sith doing a fine job of being an upper 2nd tier bad dude. Hopefully Liam will likewise get a chance to show some other sequel director that he's still got it.

Now the exclusive BoBW review. Our major problem was alternating between trying to block our ears and bursting out laughing at much of the dialog, with that between Anakin and Padme being the prime offender. No wonder Natalie Portman has changed her look so much since the movie.

There's a particular Howler near the end explaining the disposition of the Baby Leia, and we don't want to ruin the inanity of that moment by revealing it now. More generally, we found too much focus on big set-piece battle/light sabre scenes (the latter always seeming to take place near ledges and fjords), and not enough of simple wandering and character development such as in A New Hope.

We had watched the latter two nights before in preparation. The simplicity of the ideas in that one, such as the early scenes with R2D2 and C3P0 (who still sucks) basically wandering in the desert & gradually the plot unfolds, versus RoTS with many scenes like:

Scene: I/we/you will have to go destination X and carry out task Y
Immediate next scene: Subject of above scene is in destination X carrying out task Y

Fundamentally we're not sold on the reason for Anakin's transition to the dark side, which as one can imagine is kind of a problem for our appreciation of the movie. We were fine with his transition being taken for granted in the later episodes, relative to the attempted explanation offered here.

But let us mention the good points:

Yoda. Everything he does RULES!

R2D2. They might have created some potential inconsistencies with the later episodes with how the little mite is handled here, but it's very entertaining.
As usual with Lucas, cool tech scenes and effects, both ships and characters

The Emperor. Once he starts going on with his bad self. But they could have done a better job with his immediate post-Palpatine face.

The Wookies. Hear them roar.
A better class of resignation statement

That tired formulation of "spending more time with my family" just got spruced up:

[Wall Street Journal, subs. req'd] Gateway named Richard Snyder as chairman, succeeding the PC company's founder, Ted Waitt, who is resigning "to start things."

Positive, yet vague. If the Irish blogosphere claims its first victim in Conor Lenihan, there's a new template from which he can draft his exit speech!
Bush discovers synonyms

Here was the challenge for Dubya's speechwriters for his appearance last night at a dinner of the International Republican Institute, an organisation which (with a partner Democratic Institute) builds political capacity in developing countries: Dubya wanted to say that he and Pope John Paul II both have exactly the same knowledge about what God wants for his people. But they knew that having JP2 and Bush phrase it identically might be a bit of a reach, even by the standards of the 13th Apostle.

So instead of Dubya's typical line

History moves toward freedom because the desire for freedom is written in every human heart

we get

Everywhere he went, Pope John Paul preached that the call of freedom is for every member of the human family -- because the Author of Life wrote it into our common human nature.

Looks like the number of Gospels just went down from 4 to 2.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Credit where it's due

Dubya at a Republican gala last night: I want to thank The Spinners ...
He underestimated the power of the dark side

If Andrew Sullivan's recent return to rapid fire blogging marks a quest for another taste of his perceived glory days earlier in this decade, he is in for some Proustian frustration. For one thing, his former allies have turned on him. Now, they could just use the inconsistency of his present and past statements against him, like Sullywatch often does, but instead there is nasty tactic that almost has us feeling sorry for him. Consider the reaching for thinly disguised references to him being gay by his new critics -- something that used to send him flying off the handle when it was read into what his critics of longer standing had said.

Example: this contribution from James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal online:

Andrew Sullivan, who has long had an (sic) peculiar preoccupation with "torture" tales

Sullivan ... gay ... weird sex ... "torture" ...geddit? In fact, we wonder if the grammatical error an peculiar is revealing -- that they had written something like "obsession" first and then further dog-whistled it to get it just right?

But they're not alone. As we noted a while ago, runtish pundit (term courtesy of Roger Ailes) Mickey Kaus has in fact led the way with repeated references to Sully as excitable, and he gets an Amen to that from Glenn Reynolds today:

As Mickey Kaus has noted, Andrew can be excitable.

There's a very Borg-like quality to this settling on agreed terminology for the War on Sully. Also odd is that when reproducing the Reynolds quote, Kaus clips the reference to himself. Not coincidentally, he recently accused Sully of stealing a pretty obvious point from him: that it benefits Hillary Clinton to be attacked by the Republican dirty-tricksters because it generates sympathy on the liberal end of the Democratic party without requiring any change in her policy positions. They feuded via e-mail:

Sullivan says (replying to an email query):

[Sully quote] yep. i read yr [Kaus] item. but ... i thought [anti-Hillary website] was misogynist and would backfire ... as a sign of how the attacks would only shore her up. but if you want to take part of the credit for my point, go ahead. [end Sully quote]

[Kaus resumes] You, the reader, make the call. ... Maybe that last sentence only looks condescending!

Kaus had headed this item "Magpie alert" making it pretty clear what he thought. In fact, if we had to choose who's the worst in this collection of siamese fighting fish, it would be Kaus. If we had more time, we'd calculate a ratio of Kaus's criticisms of John Kerry to those of George Bush, coming from a self-declared Kerry supporter. That's a level of intellectual dishonesty that goes up to 11.

UPDATE: Barely was the ink dry on this post when we wandered over to National Review's The Corner to see John "Midgette" Podhoretz (term courtesy of Roger Ailes -- damn he's good) leave just a surface tension level of subtlety on an attack on Sully:

... in what may be the worst writing moment of his career, Andrew Sullivan has actually decided to echo the worst screenplay ever written by the worst screenplay writer. When Andy wrote, in that nauseatingly self-gratulatory passage you quote, "This is how liberty dies - with scattered, knee-jerk applause," he was speaking in the voice of Natalie Portman, who, in Star Wars ROTS, says, "This is how liberty dies -- to thunderous applause." If he's going to go all camp on us, couldn't the Sullied One have quoted Mae West or Joan Crawford or Bette Davis or something?

Note the synergy of the War on Lucas with the War on Sully.

2nd UPDATE 21 JUNE: Taranto returns to a similar theme with a contrast of Sullivan quotes past and present, headlined -- following Kaus -- Mr Excitable. And another round here. And Sully is used to argue in favour of Karl Rove's bizarre 9/11 outburst ("Andrew Sullivan explains why Karl Rove is right") here.
Are French workers called croques messieurs?

What does it take to produce a resignation of an Irish government minister? So far, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's approach has been that there's safety in numbers in having a Cabinet of incompetent liars, by which we mean that they're incompetent at everything, not just lying. But barely was the ink dry on Kevin Myers' complaint (see previous post) about sanctimonious lectures from government ministers that one such minister went in for a bit of closing-time-worthy repartee in the Dail today.

Under discussion was the government's incompetent approach to Aer Lingus, and speaking on the issue was Socialist TD Joe Higgins who has led the battle against Turkey's answer to Halliburton, Gama Construction. Its underpayment of Turkish workers and other breaches of Irish labour law have been in the news for weeks. So step forward junior Foreign Affairs minister Conor Lenihan with the following bit of parliamentary wit aimed at Higgins:

"stick with the kebabs, will you?".

Which everyone took to be a reference to the Turkish workers. Adding to the weirdness was that Higgins had just attacked Fianna Fail's backbenchers over their "silence of the lambs" on the airport and airline issues, so we wonder if the mention of "lambs" prompted a "Mmmm... lamb kebabs" thought process in Lenihan's mind, leading to the outburst.

Unfortunately, showing that Oirland is not on the cutting edge when it comes to apologies, Lenihan's first attempt is the dreaded conditional apology which places the burden on the insulted and not the insulter:

"During the Order of Business this morning I made remarks that I now regret having made. I regret the remarks made and regret sincerely if any offence was caused."

He said he wanted to make his apology as soon as possible, "given the interpretation that may be put on those remarks".

And what would a blog post be without a ramble into broader issues. Remember that there's an active debate in Europe over the EU Constitution and a presumption by Europe's elite that Turkish admission is coming sometime down the road. Interesting therefore to know what one current Irish minister thinks of the Turks. Also, today's Irish Times (subs. req'd) had another revelation about Gama:

A Turkish construction company accused of exploiting migrant workers has been the major beneficiary of a scheme exempting employers from paying social insurance for employees from abroad.

Just over 70 per cent of the exemptions granted under the scheme since the start of 2003 were to Gama Construction, figures supplied to The Irish Times reveal.

If you were trying to find an angle that could crystallise the public's fear of job losses due to globalisation, this would be it. Note that the issue here is not even the low wages of Turkish workers, which the firm wasn't disbursing anyway, but its exemption from taxes which Irish firms have to pay. It also shows, in fairness to the European Commission, that the botched thinking underlying the Bolkestein Directive was not just a product of a Brussels mentality. It's just as well the Republic doesn't have the EU referendum coming any time soon, although the French may yet render the process moot anyway.
What about Bob?

We're not sure how we'd explain the Kevin Myers phenomenon to our vast international readership. Prolific Irish Times columnist (4 days a week). Certainly some overlap in themes with the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy. But enough idiosyncracies to be worth reading, if also enough of a hothead to land himself in trouble every so often. We last mentioned him when the Irish Times spiked his column predicting that the IRA would be shown to be involved in the Northern Bank job.

Anyway, Wednesday's column (subs. req'd) is somewhere between a tirade and a gloat -- but, as they say on Passover, Mah nishtanah. Myers notes that the Irish government has come around to his position of two years ago, which is to withhold aid from the government of Uganda, even though the relevant minister had been very dismissive of his position at the time. As usual, Myers has a point -- anyone who suggests any change in aid policies usually gets hit with the "why do you hate poor people?" question, the analogy of the "why do you hate America?" response to any doubts about what might be going on at Gitmo.

But then Myers tries to suggest that when he takes on an issue like aid to Uganda, he's up against not just the political establishment, but also "Sir" Bob Geldof and Bono:

Virtually all discussion on this issue has effectively been monopolised by those who are in the business of funnelling money out of the Irish economy into Africa. On the one hand there are the Third World charities, whose existence and jobs depend on the entire process, and on the other, celebrities, such as Bob Geldof or Paul Hewson, aka Bono, who have - in image terms - very profitably incorporated Africa into their public personas.

Moreover, I surely cannot be the only person who has grown rather tired of hearing Bob Geldof telling us mean f***ers in the f***ing West how f***ing selfish we are towards Africa. ... the way things are, no one, no matter how rational and well-informed, would ever dream of taking him on in public; for the only certain reward is a Boomtown rant and personal humiliation.

But as we pointed out not so long ago, Geldof is actually a hate figure in Uganda right now for his criticisms of the government, to the point where it wouldn't be a good idea for him to go there. So not the first time, we have to give Myers the curate's egg: he's right about the sanctimoniousness of government ministers, but a bit lacking in the specific facts of his cause.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Together we will rule as master and poodle

It's surely not a coincidence that in the same week that the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy declares a War on Lucas for making Revenge of the Sith into the next Fahrenheit 9/11 that, on the other side of the Anglo-American alliance, Tony Blair (alt. link) declares a War on Hoodies.

Monday, May 16, 2005

It's this 1 Thing that got them trippin'

Essence of reactionary punditry:

blah blah ..."torture" ... blah blah
What do insurgents want?

As it becomes ever clearer that the Global War on Terror will also also involve a War on Semantics, Christopher Hitchens unloads today in Slate on a New York Times Week in Review article about the opaque strategy of the Iraqi insurgents. The article made the basic point that killing lots of people makes it difficult to sustain a popular movement. Now it didn't have much to say beyond that, which is why we decided to work through Hitch's tirade about the uselessness of the article.

Indeed, in the print edition of the NYT, the article was accompanied a by a huge picture of the aftermath of an IRA explosion, a picture so large that we suspected its purpose was to take up space rather than contribute anything of substance to the analysis. To be sure, there was a "to be sure" analogy of the seemingly aimless Iraqi insurgency with everyone's favourite developed country white English-speaking insurgents:

If the immediate objective of the insurgents is relatively limited - not to topple the government and drive the Americans out now but to pin them down and bleed them - that at least would have solid precedents. As the counterterrorism expert Bruce Hoffman noted in a paper for Rand last year, "For more than 30 years, a dedicated cadre of approximately 200 to 400 I.R.A. gunmen and bombers frustrated the maintenance of law and order in Northern Ireland, requiring the prolonged deployment of tens of thousands of British troops." Yet the I.R.A. is still far from its larger goal: to drive the British out.

Our longtime readers will know our suspicion of IRA-GWoT comparisons, and in this case the sheer scale of the mayhem in Iraq suggests far more limited patience than the apparent long-haul strategy of the IRA and its political wing Sinn Fein. And mention of Sinn Fein brings us to another of Hitch's dodgy points: that any analysis linking the strength of the insurgency to stalled political goals is wrong:

The corollary of this mush-headed coverage must be that, if a more representative government were available in these terrible conditions (conditions supplied by the gangsters themselves), the homicide and sabotage would thereby decline. Is there a serious person in the known world who can be brought to believe such self-evident rubbish?

From this we learn that Hitch and former Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor (see our previous post) are drinking from the same punchbowl, and thus that Hitch needs to take his quest for believers in "such self-evident rubbish" to the higher-ups in the US government who are apparently negotiating with elements of the insurgency on political concessions.

Hitch's broader error is to trace the psychopathic behaviour of the terrorists (our point, unlike Hitch's mood, doesn't depend on semantics) back to al Qaeda and thus claim that the only strategy is to kill all non-Sunnis; so, Hitch says, what's the point in looking for any other strategy when they're so clear on that one?

But in his eagerness to slot Iraq into the GWoT, he forgets the history of non-Islamic insurgencies. Recent history is full of examples of deranged brutality and murderousness by "rebel" movements, yet over time these same rebels gradually evolve political causes and either wind up in government or as beneficiaries of generous amnesties for their atrocities. An alleged leftie like Hitch can surely recall the activities of rebel movements in Angola and Mozambique, the more recent example of Sierra Leone or the active set of psychopathic loons in Uganda. All of these would fail the same test of "rationality" in the NYT article and yet none were or are linked to al Qaeda.

Terrorists don't always begin with much of a strategy. But with an opponent as incompetent and short-sighted as this White House, they may not have to think very hard to come up with one.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Once a spinner, always a spinner

We've noted the activities of Dan Senor a couple of times: most recently as a lobbyist for Google, and before that as author of then Iraqi PM Allawi's Bush-Cheney '04 campaign speech to Congress before the last election. He pops up in Friday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd), presumably not on time billed to Google, to argue for keeping Sunni insurgents out of the partially formed Iraqi government:

The notion that the [Iraqi] cabinet should have "credibility" with those behind the terrorism is based on a strange idea: that the insurgency exists because Sunnis were disenfranchised. The premise is that Iraqis are being blown up on a daily basis because the insurgents want to join the government. This premise is backwards: The insurgents have never wanted to be in the government; they are against any sort of democracy, and want to destroy it.

Alas! Sunday's New York Times informs us:

WASHINGTON, May 14 - The Bush administration, struggling to cope with a recent intensification of insurgent violence in Iraq, has received signals from some radical Sunni Arab leaders that they would abandon fighting if the new Shiite majority government gave Sunnis a significant voice in the country's political evolution, administration officials said this week.

The officials said American contacts with what they called "rejectionist" elements among Sunni Arabs - the governing minority under Saddam Hussein, which has generated much of the insurgency, and largely boycotted January's elections - showed that many wanted to join in the political system, including the writing of a permanent constitution.

Of course, directly contradicting what Senor says. There are just two possibilities. One is that Senor is plain stupid and forgot to check the latest White House talking points before he rushed to type up an old script for the WSJ. But the other is that there is faction fighting in Washington about how the Iraqi government should be formed, and Senor's WSJ piece was a pre-emptive strike on behalf of the Exclude-the-Sunni crowd in Washington (who probably overlap extensively with the Chalabi boosters). The Sunni inclusionists then strike back with the NYT story.

But what does it say about Dan Senor that something he writes only leads one to wonder whether he's stupid or who he could be spinning for?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

France/EU: 2

Whatever the outcome of the EU Constitutional Referendum in France, the messy campaign is merely the latest indictment of Jacques Chirac's much-less-than-deft political touch. The last few years have seen several attempts by him to manoeuvre the protégé-du-jour into a stronger position, and to weaken the young Turk (or rather, young Hungarian) Nicolas Sarkozy. But each move has backfired, with the Chirac faction weakened, Sarkozy stronger, and French politics further distracted. Which is one factor in the malaise underlying the strength of the No vote.

We'll spare you the much longer post we had originally prepared and just note the following contributing factors to the current dysfunctional state of French politics:
(1) There was only a truncated Left-Right debate in the 2002 elections; instead of arguing the pros and cons of economic reform, voters ended up with a choice of Chirac or National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen for President, and then whether to give Chirac a left or right Assembly majority to work with; tiring of divided government, they chose the latter.

(2) Even with this gift of power, Chirac couldn't resist trying to play favourites -- keeping his own options open for a 2007 run for President, but making sure there would be a designated heir in case he decided to retire. This meant prominent jobs for the protégé and difficult ones for the whiz-kid Sarkozy (who had crossed Chirac in 1995). The net result of all this is that France has had 4 Ministers for Finance since 2002; we noted the demise of #3 a little while back -- he was the dude who tried to stick the state with the tab for his 14,000 euro a month apartment.

So what does all this have to with the referendum? Ideally, electorates would just assess the single issue at hand. But bad government draws protest votes. Job creation is sluggish but the political elite, used to a lifetime at the public trough, doesn't understand why this makes young people pessimistic. As we indicated above, there were serious issues that should have been hashed out in the 2002 election -- such as whether it's possible to work ever fewer hours and still maintain the same level of public services. And this is where the Right's case for voting Yes gets a little disengenuous. Because it amounts to: Closer EU integration will force the type of reforms that the political system here can't deliver (as in this Sarkozy quote). A very similar case was made for joining the Euro, and that doesn't seem to have gotten internal reform very far.

So why wouldn't the Left describe the constitution as a Trojan horse for the dreaded neo-liberal/Anglo-Saxon policies? And why wouldn't the more nationalist right worry about sovereignty being ceded to Brussels? It's odd to hear Chirac describe the Constitution as the "daughter of 1789" (an appellation sure to strengthen the appeal of the Constitution in Britain) and not see the irony of a project favoured more by the elite than the people.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The land of saints, scholars, and heretics

It hasn't taken long for the New Holy Roman Empire to go on the march, with Benedict XVI handling the spiritual side, and the Emperor Dubya marshalling the secular forces. In a sign of the loons that now occupy influential positions in the American Catholic Church, Hibernia is in the crosshairs of the crusade -- Irish President Mary McAleese in particular. It's not like we're huge fans of Mary Mac at this blog but the idea that her planned speech next month to graduates at Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia represents some kind of threat to Church teaching is laughable. But no-one is laughing:

[Irish Times, subs. req'd] An influential US Catholic group is trying to stop President Mary McAleese from making a speech at [Villanova]. The Cardinal Newman Society, which lists 10 US archbishops and bishops as advisers, says the President is not in line with Catholic teaching and had directly contradicted statements by the new pope, Benedict XVI ...

The group, which claims 16,000 members, has said the President had "angered the Irish bishops by her advocacy for homosexual rights and women priests". The group issued a statement listing her alleged transgressions, including a 1997 article in the Tablet, in which she compared defenders of the male priesthood to "Communist Party apparatchiks hawking redundant clichés".

It also lists a 1995 Dublin seminar on women in the church, in which the future president "responded with scorn" to statements by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) that women should never be accepted into the priesthood.

Just one sign of the lunacy represented by this protest is that a society named after Cardinal Newman, who promoted higher learning for Catholics, thinks that college graduates will be harmed by hearing a short speech from this woman. What, in God's name, are they afraid of?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

They do feel shame

There is a hopelessly convoluted row taking place between James Taranto, who writes the Best of the Web column on the Wall Street Journal editorial page's online site, OpinionJournal, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Media Watch program. If you're really looking to waste time, you can go to today's update on OpinionJournal and try to follow along. We'll do our best at a subjective synopsis.

Part of the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy's view of news from Iraq is that there must be either good news, or no news at all. We're not kidding. And to promote that, OpinionJournal has hosted a fortnightly item consisting entirely of "good news from Iraq" assembled by Aussie blogger Arthur Chrenkoff. It's safe to assume that Wednesday's 72 person civilian death toll doesn't make this roundup, although the Cessna scare at the White House did a nice job of keeping that item lower down in the headlines anyway.

The Media Watch team was trying to establish the exact relationship between the series and the Wall Street Journal, but couldn't get any of their calls returned. Given some of the inflammatory items that have aired in Taranto's column over the years (e.g. this one, scroll down to end), we're not surprised that the more PR-sensitive Dow Jones types might be embarrassed to go into it. It was this difficulty in pinning down the link between "good news from Iraq" and the WSJ that got the argument going.

And given the current fuss about blogger ethics, there is an additional revelation. Chrenkoff is described as a blogger**. But his contribution for OpinionJournal is (a) remunerated, and (b) edited:

Media Watch: Do they pay you?

Arthur Chrenkoff: They do actually--a pretty insignificant amount--I started doing it for free but they suggested they might pay me a rather a nominal amount. It's certainly not in line with what is paid for opinion pieces. . . . I do apologize, with hindsight I should have told you the truth. As I said I was a bit taken aback. I didn't see how it was relevant to the story but having said that I do apologize.

MW: What about editing. Do they edit your pieces?

AC: I told you they didn't edit it because to my mind editing means to make substantial changes, but they do have a look at it before they publish it.

As his answers make clear, Chrenkoff was sufficiently sensitive about these aspects to have initially denied them. Besides the lack of disclosure of the remuneration, does the editing represent a reluctance to take the risk that even the good news from Iraq might not be good enough?

UPDATE 13 MAY: Since we learned from the above that Chrenkoff's "good news from Iraq" is a series propagated by the Iraq War boosters at the Wall Street Journal, why does the New York Times see fit to put essentially the same material on Friday's op-ed page (alt. link here)?

**2nd UPDATE 16 MAY: For completeness, here's a link to a typical "Good News from Iraq" piece on OpinionJournal. Note the brief bio: Mr. Chrenkoff is an Australian blogger. He writes at chrenkoff.blogspot.com.
You will beat the Oirish

Our longtime readers will be familiar with previous posts about the ownership of Manchester United Football club, with the largest shareholding in the publicly quoted company held by the two Premier Class Oirishmen John Magnier and JP McManus, with full ownership being sought by bored Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer. Last October, we wrote:

The two Oirishmen so far show no signs of having done a deal with Glazer, but they are busy with other investments which suggests they may be thinking of getting out of Man Utd.

Today, in news that will surely drive the John Bolton confirmation hearings out of the headlines, it emerges that indeed the Oirishmen have sold their 29.9% stake to Glazer, reportedly for 3 quid a share. Glazer now owns a majority of the shares and under UK rules now has the momentum to control 100 percent of them.

Besides real Man Utd fans, who will be concerned about the debt Glazer may take on, the biggest shock will be experienced by Oirish Man Utd fans like Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who may have believed that rich and nominally Irish suits would behave differently than any other kind of rich suit, keeping control of the club safely in Oirish hands. Our brilliant Oirish government couldn't get worked up enough to stop Tara getting paved over, but the new regime at Man Utd is a different class of crisis entirely.


UPDATE: Here's a previous post on the horsey aspects to the Magnier/Fianna Fail/Man Utd connection, and here's one with a little more on McManus, the tax exile. Magnier doesn't need to be a tax exile because his Fianna Fail friends have essentially set up a tax-free enclave in Tipperary for him.

But (2nd update), the European Commission now has its eyes on Magnier's tax-break. Can a move to Geneva to join his pal McManus be far behind? One little detail from this meeting:

The Ministers for Finance and Agriculture, Brian Cowen and Mary Coughlan, have held talks with the European Commission in Brussels amid signs that the lucrative Irish tax exemption for stud fees will have to be scrapped.

The two met with the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, and Ireland's Commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, who is in charge of the internal market.

the same Charlie McCreevy who as Minister for Finance was in charge of these same tax concessions. Just another day's conflict of interest at the European Commission.
Shall we tell the President? No.

Leaving aside the spectacle on worldwide TV of the US government fleeing from its place of work because of a single light airplane, there are a couple of telling details from Wednesday's midday security scare in Washington which emerge from Press Secretary Scott McClellan's briefing. First, Dubya wasn't even at the White House -- he was biking:

First of all, as you all are aware, the President was off-site, getting in a bike ride after returning from a four-day trip overseas.

And yet, despite the jumpiness of the Secret Service, inherited from Tuesday's cancelled stopover at Shannon, there was a strange lack of urgency about telling Dubya what was going on:

Q Why is that -- the President was off-site, but, obviously, he's still in the area somewhat. Why is it that there isn't a procedure that when something like this happens, he would automatically get taken to some sort of secure location?

MR. McCLELLAN: There are protocols in place, and I think that those are decisions that the Secret Service makes based on those protocols that are in place. And I think in this instance, they took the appropriate steps.

Q Just decided that the threat was not serious enough?

And in what is described as an addendum to the briefing, we learn that they didn't even interrupt the bike ride:

MR. McCLELLAN: ... The President’s detail was informed when the decision was made to raise the threat level at the White House to yellow. A determination was made that the threat posed no danger to the President since he was at an off-site location, and protocols were in place to protect people in the area of the threat. Those protocols did not require any presidential authority. Given such circumstances and the fact that the plane turned away from the White House, the decision was made to inform the President upon conclusion of his bike ride.

There was one other issue that was skirted around at the briefing: whether the military had authority to shoot down the plane if the threat was deemed too serious. One questioner got this far:

Q For example, we know September 11th, it was the Vice President who gave the authorization to shoot down, if it was necessary. So we're just wondering who would have been in --

But Scott wouldn't take that question, which is a shame, because whether Cheney actually gave that order is one the fairly evident lies told by Bush and Cheney to the 9/11 Commission: Cheney says he communicated the order to the military after clearing it with Dubya, who was the only one who had the authority to issue it. But there is no evidence that Dubya ever provided that authority. Now of course Scott can refer to "protocols" which presumably cover similar contingencies without needing Dubya's explicit authorisation. It's almost like the country doesn't need a President at all.

UPDATE 12 MAY: Here's an article in the Washington Post online wondering the same thing. It's as if one lesson from 9/11 was the need to ensure that the defence of the country wouldn't depend on any actual input from the Commander-in-Chief. And [further update 13 May], the White House Press Corps does their job and roasts McClellan over the obvious problems with the White House version of events -- that a potential attack on the country doesn't require an Executive Decision.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

It depends what the meaning of 'traditions' is

Fox News political contributor Michael Barone (WSJ Wednesday, free link) joins the Yank hack pack in London to divine the lessons of Tony Blair's victory for US politics. Along the way, readers learn that:

Mr. Blair has little use for British traditions -- he established a separate Scottish Parliament

Oh yeah? We head to the Internets and Google the Act of Union (or as we call it in Ireland, the other Act of Union):

Act of Union 1707
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
The Acts of Union were twin Acts of Parliament passed in 1707 (taking effect on 26 March) in the Scottish and the English Parliaments. The effect was twofold:

to create a new Kingdom of Great Britain, though the name had been used on occasion since 1604 when speaking of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland together ...

to dissolve both parliaments and replace them with a new Parliament of the Kingdom of Great Britain. (Although the new parliament was to be based in the former home of the English parliament.)

Mr Barone should have a chat about Scottish history with Mel Gibson at the next Vast Rightwing Conspiracy cocktail hour.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Iraq's grade inflation

Restrain your rage as you read via the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) that:

The U.S. Army approved $72.2 million in performance bonuses to Halliburton Co. for its work supporting the military in Iraq. The bonus, which was approved Tuesday, is the largest received to date by the Houston-based company ... Halliburton has already accrued "more than half" of the $72.2 million in anticipation of these awards, a company spokeswoman said ... Halliburton has billed the government $10.5 billion so far under a contract to provide logistical support for the military in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region ...

So far, it has received the top ratings of "excellent" and "very good" for all of its work. Under Halliburton's wide-ranging contract, it receives an automatic 1% profit margin and can get an additional 2% bonus, depending on how well it meets military expectations.

Our amateur reading of federal procurement regulations leads us to the paradox that if Halliburton was a not-for-profit operation, this type of contract -- which is aninvitation to pad costs -- would not be legal:

Office and Management & Budget Uniform Administrative Requirements for Grants and Agreements With Institutions of Higher Education, Hospitals, and Other Non-Profit Organizations ...[recent link here]

(c) The type of procuring instruments used (e.g., fixed price contracts, cost reimbursable contracts, purchase orders, and incentive contracts) shall be determined by the recipient but shall be appropriate for the particular procurement and for promoting the best interest of the program or project involved. The "cost-plus-a-percentage-of-cost" or "percentage of construction cost" methods of contracting shall not be used.
A Dubya Donnybrook

Our Irish readers may be interested to note that the Washington Post's White House blogger, Dan Froomkin, appears to be (informally) handing out a Carol Coleman Award for most persistent interviewer in tackling Dubya's usual response technique of cliches and denial of followup questions. Named of course for the RTE interviewer who managed to fluster Dubya, used as he is to "the forensic relentlessness of America's foremost political interviewer, Tim Russert" (laughable blurb supplied by Andrew Sullivan). Anyway, the award goes to a Dutch reporter for this interview. The telltale irritated Dubya ("Let me finish") kicks in about half-way through.
He can run but he can't hide

The role of Shannon Airport in the Global War on Terror has been a source of recurring controversy in the Irish Republic. One of our many posts on the issue is here. Today brings news which makes us wonder whether Dublin and/or Washington are/is getting sensitive about the issue. Air Force 1 was due to make a refueling stop in Shannon en route from Tbilisi back to Washington. A small protest was planned -- and, in the manner of a trip by God's Vessel for Democracy Promotion to just about anywhere, a massive security lockdown was imposed. But the stopover has been cancelled and Dubya will fly straight back to Washington.

It's not clear what we can conclude, although if we take the smart conservative (sic) pundit David Brooks line, that pints of stout and Irish coffee promote deep thoughts and conciliation in US politics, all right-thinking people must be deeply troubled by this lost opportunity. But on balance we think that there is something fishy going on. Dubya's overseas excursions are planned to the last detail. Why would they expect to need a quick top-up at Shannon and then change their mind? The possibilities we see are (a) pressing business back in DC, or, more likely, (b) Bertie Ahern is in a panic about how quickly the dogs of peace have turned on British Taoiseach Tony Blair, and is cutting his links with the GWoT. Exit Shannon, Enter Prestwick?

UPDATE 11 MAY: A specific reason emerges that could have led to a sudden change in plans: a suspect device was tossed in Dubya's vicinity in Tbilisi on Tuesday, and his security team only found out about it a couple of hours after the event, with Dubya already in the air. The Secret Service may have decided to treat the danger as open-ended and therefore proceed straight home.
UK Election: 6

One final look at the phenomenon of American political reporters going to Britain to cover the UK election by interviewing American strategists and pollsters. This time it's Dan Balz of the Washington Post doing the post-election roundup, who quickly gets in the "to be sure" qualifications about how the two systems are really nothing alike but nonetheless sweeping lessons can be drawn for the Democrats -- some of them retroactive. For instance

In 2000, Democrats surrendered their advantage on the economy when Al Gore decided not to make the economic record of the Clinton administration the central theme of his campaign for president.

One might argue, as Daily Howler has repeatedly, that the real problem was that the New York Times and Washington Post and the rest of the "liberal media" decided on their own "central themes" of Al Gore's campaign for president: that he invented the Internet, that he had initiated the clean up to the contaminated Love Canal site, that he misstated the cost of his mother-in-law's medication compared to his dog's, and that it was Gore, not Bush, who was practicing "fuzzy math."

And then there's those Democratic strategists and pollsters that we've written about before:

"Democrats can take a lesson from [the campaign run by Conservative leader Michael] Howard -- not to isolate yourself and not just motivate your base," said Mark Penn, a Democratic pollster who was an adviser to Blair during the campaign here.

This is exactly the opposite of what the New York Times' Adam Nagourney told us that Labour had learned from the Democratic pollsters. And it's also different from what we're repeatedly told about Dubya's electoral success -- his ability to play to the moral values voters. And (as Private Eye might say), is the Dan Balz who reports this pearl of wisdom about the lack of importance of the base any relation to the Dan Balz who said in a recent interview about Karl Rove:

They [white house] never want to get too far away from the base on any of those [moral] issues. It doesn't mean, I don't think, that in this term Bush is going to push hard for that, but the moderates are certainly right that this administration caters to its base, and its social conservative base. Doesn't mean it does everything that pro-life Republicans would like to see, but they are always mindful of that because they know that that coalition has sustained them through a very tough primary fight in 1999 and 2000, through a very tough election in 2000 and through an even tougher re-election in 2004. Without the unity of that base, this president would not have had the success he's had.

Our view is that the best advice to the Democrats is to study closely what the strategists and reporters say they should do -- and then do the opposite.

Monday, May 09, 2005

He left out a couple of hundred years

In today's Wall Street Journal Europe (subs. req'd), Daniel Freedman criticises what he sees as the UK's unusually broad definition of who is eligible to vote. And indeed, people used to the idea that only citizens can vote will be surprised to read, as on this official site,

To vote in parliamentary elections in the UK you must be a British citizen, a citizen of another Commonwealth country or of the Irish Republic, as well as being resident in the UK, aged 18 or over, included in the register of electors for the constituency and not subject to any legal incapacity to vote.

Freedman complains that this opens up a potentially vast pool of non-citizen voters who could swing an election. But the trick is the requirement of residency. Commonwealth citizens can't just show up and live in the UK -- there are visa and work requirements to comply with. Now this is where things really were different for Irish citizens, who have had an unlimited right to reside and work in the UK since Independence.

In fact these rights are now supposed to exist throughout the European Union, so Freedman should be more worked up about the prospect, God forbid, of French residents of the UK tipping an election. Anyway, we hope that you laugh, as we did, at this exchange reported in his article:

Asked why he could cast the ballot in Britain last week, one Irishman angrily told me: "600 years of oppression is why."

We'd like to know how he identified this Irishman, not least because the stock phrase is a bit off, since we usually talk about "800 years." Or, to keep the clock rolling, 1169 and counting.