Sunday, July 31, 2005

Silvio's own goals

As you read this post and quickly become aware that it's about the chaotic state of Italian politics, you may find yourself asking "where in God's name is this headed?" but we think we have a plan. Anyway, it's prompted by seeing Silvio Berlusconi in the news a lot this week. Of course he had to get a little more nervous about the prospect of an al Qaeda attack in Italy when the London Attack 2 suspect just happened to show up in Rome, but there've been other antics as well.

We thought his bizarre tirade against the Euro should have gotten more attention; Silvio is likely just playing politics by hoping to tarnish the unpopular Euro as the project of his opponent Romani Prodi -- the shite European Commission President predecessor of the current shite European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. But when Prime Ministers start making noises about currency regime changes, markets get nervous, and Silvio should wonder why it was that one prominent Italian econ-blogger, Nouriel Roubini, decided that his speech merited a comparison of Italy with Argentina.

Sticking to matters financial before we get to the fun stuff (football!), the president of the Italian central bank, Antonio Fazio, has managed to get himself get dragged into a financial scandal. It's a long story but it looks like he helped an upstart local bank get through some pesky paperwork (minor stuff like evaluating their assets) so that they could mount a bid for a bigger local bank that was also being pursued by a Dutch competitor who Fazio wanted to nobble. But while the details are arcane, there are the juicy phone taps (WSJ, subs. req'd). Fazio called the upstart bank chief Mr. Fiorani on his mobile to tell him the news that all was well with his bid:

"Ah, Tonino, I'm moved," says Mr. Fiorani in response, using a nickname for Antonio, Mr. Fazio's first name. He adds that he has "goose bumps," according to the transcripts. "I'd give you a kiss right now, on the forehead, but I can't...I know how much you have suffered, believe me, I've suffered too...."

We know it's hackneyed and unfair to have Godfather scenes in mind when reading this, but we did. Anyway, it does seem like the Italian elite has an idea in their heads that some combination of the Euro and foreign banks explains their problems. But what about the role of the rampant cronyism at the top levels of Italian society? Consider this financial power play (we'll add a free link asap) by Silvio's media operations, one that we suspect could rebound badly in the forthcoming election:

The Mediaset group owned by ... Silvio Berlusconi won the rights to show Italian soccer highlights on free TV with a bid of $74.46 million Saturday. The three-season contract - lasting through June 30, 2008 - signals an end for state broadcaster RAI's "90th Minute" highlight show, which has become a cultural institution over the years. RAI said it only made a symbolic ... EUR100, offer to retain the rights, and instead renewed its contract for the revised Italian Cup with a $31.44 million bid.

Games from Italy's top Serie A league are shown live only on pay TV - either Rupert Murdoch's Sky Italia satellite service or via pay-per-view through Mediaset or La 7, the TV network of telecommunications giant Telecom Italia.

With no live games on free TV, huge numbers of fans turn to the highlights shown on free TV immediately after matches conclude. Those highlights will now be available only on Mediaset. Critics of the bid process cited what they believed to be a conflict of interest between the league and Mediaset. League president Adriano Galliani is also the president of AC Milan, which is also owned by Berlusconi.

Our UK readers will recognise the anguish of football fans when the highlight show gets screwed by the machinations involving pay TV (and indeed the presence of another usual suspect, Murdoch), but the AC Milan factor does stick out as an extremely fishy aspect to this deal. We hope that the club isn't making decisions based on some ill-focused rage from their loss to Liverpool in the Champions League final a couple of months ago. Because Silvio currently has what Bertie Ahern can only dream of -- a perfect synergy between sporting, media, and political pursuits, and it would be a damned shame if he messed it up.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Well, each of them was partitioned

It's taken us nearly a week to tune into the political science stylings of Judith Apter Klinghoffer, Andrew Sullivan's substitute blogger during Week 1 of his retreat to the hammock in Provincetown. We think the process of understanding was helped by the validation of finding out that Sullywatch also has problems with her writing style, but anyway, one of Friday's entries was clear enough:

TOM FRIEDMAN HAS A MAJOR BLIND SPOT ... The countries to compare Israel with is not the [Palestinian Authority] but Ireland and India. Not only are the three former British colonies engaged in a lengthy territorial conflict but they are also in the midst of a politically controversial but economically successful transformation from socialist to liberal economic systems.

To which our first reaction is: huh? And our second reaction is: well, you might be able to justify those claims, but it would take a couple of history books and a fair bit of argumentation to do it. We don't think that level of sourcing lies behind those statements, so let's deal with what we can in the length of a blog post.

First off, one thing that's repeatedly annoyed us about the GWOT/GSAVE is its imprecision and this habit seeps in here. When she says Ireland she means Republic of Ireland and whatever one's opinion about whether the Republic has been in "long territorial conflict," it's tough to make the argument that the presence of conflict in Ireland has interacted at all with the Republic's economic boom. If anything, it made the courting of multinationals easier, especially in the day when the British were chasing the likes of John DeLorean in their eagerness to bring some showpiece economic development to Northern Ireland.

And what of our friends in India? True, they had to survive a disastrously botched Partition of British India, and then undo some of that lunacy with their liberation of Bangladesh, and Kashmir remains unresolved. But again, how much of the country is impacted now by territorial conflict?

Our point is that the Republics of Ireland and India did indeed face territorial, shall we say, issues, but these impinged very little on the economic lives of citizens. And while India did have to untangle a legacy of socialism with Indian characteristics, it'll come as news to the Irish Republic's natural party of government, Fianna Fail, that they were socialist. And it'll come as unpleasant news to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern that he's now creating a liberal economic system.

In any event, it's hard to see these experiences as relevant to Israel. Israel is tiny. It has land borders with two at best lukewarm neighbours, another one tepid, and another one outright hostile. And it has internal borders with a deeply resentful and marginalised population. It's tough to think of any relevant comparison for that situation, although (in the silly season tradition of recycling old posts), who amongst us doesn't recall the following comic spectacle:

Rebel, Johnny Adair's [loyalist extremist] pet Alsation, has become the latest member of the Ulster loyalist community to display support for Ariel Sharon's assault on the West Bank and Gaza. Last Monday afternoon the UDA commander's four-legged friend was seen being taken for a walk along Belfast's Shankill Road with the Star of David flag wrapped around its body.

But seriously, we suspect that the choice of the Republic and India reflects the current trendiness of these as case studies, due to Tom Friedman. Who her post began by criticising. If you're making comparisons to Ireland, then Tom Friedman has already won. But he's still a jackass.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Lord of the Onion Rings

Dubya's parade of crony ambassadors just keeps on comin'. Following on the ice hockey impresario who's going to Denmark, the car dealer going to the Court of St James, and the Supreme Court backroom dealer going to Brussels, we have the announcement of his nominee for Ambassador to New Zealand -- and Samoa:

The President intends to nominate William McCormick, of Oregon, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to New Zealand and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Samoa. Mr. McCormick is Co-Founder and Chairman of McCormick & Schmick Management Group. He opened the company's first McCormick and Schmick's Seafood Restaurant thirty years ago.

Drive through the expense account district of any US city, and you've seen his restaurants. That clientele is Dubya's "base." McCormick is unlikely to be a complete embarrassment, since there aren't any major language issues and he can probably spend a few years scouting out wines and seafood for his chain. And relative to the 6 figure donations to the Republican party that some of these ambassadorships cost, he got off lightly:

Over the past year [as of August 2004], William McCormick, of seafood chain McCormick & Schmick's, has stepped up to give $25,000 to the [Republican National Committee]. Partner Douglas Schmick kicked in a relatively paltry $2,000 to the Bush campaign.

OK New Zealand. You crushed the Lions in rugger. But when valued by the legalised corruption of American politics, you're getting dissed.

UPDATE: The Embassies for Sale scandal is getting more attention: Newsweek and the Washington Post (both links via Dan Froomkin).

Thursday, July 28, 2005

It depends what the meaning of foreign is

Some followup on the previous post. The welcoming statement from the White House for the IRA cessation opens with a weird area of emphasis:

Consistent with the IRA's commitment to "the development of purely political and democratic programs through exclusively peaceful means" and to "not engage in any other activities whatsoever," we understand that the IRA and its members will no longer have any contact with any foreign paramilitary and terrorist organizations.

which reads to us like one last nod to David Trimble, who had marketed himself in Washington on the basis of IRA linkages to the FARC and even al Qaeda. There continues to be abundant web commentary on the IRA move;, so we'll just discuss one here. Like Sullywatch, we're baffled at the conclusions that Andrew Sullivan substitute Judith Klinghoffer is trying to draw from the IRA announcement. If we could discern what the content of her analysis is, we might have something to say about it. But since her general message as Sully's stand-in this week seems to be that the global security situation is improving more quickly than generally perceived, the IRA move gets slotted in as a positive for the GWOT GSAVE.

UPDATE: That's certainly how the usual VRC suspects are interpreting her; Instapundit:

JUDITH APTER KLINGHOFFER is guestblogging over at, and she's listing quite a few signs of progress. Just follow the link and scroll up for more.

[Note: we briefly had this post as an addendum to the previous one but it was getting too long so it now appears on its own]
Was it needless death after all?

In just over an hour, all Irish Volunteers are to confine themselves to "purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means" in the words of today's IRA statement. There are exhaustive links and commentary at Slugger O'Toole so we'll stick here to a few side observations about the events, though we have to commend one of the Slugger analysts for this:

According to Reuters, "Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has cut short an annual visit to the Galway Races to return to Dublin", in anticipation of the big statement. Has any nation's leader ever selflessly attended so much sport on behalf of his people?

Indeed. Check out Bertie's carefully staged man-of-the-people pose for the front page of today's Irish Times. Anyway, it's been clear for some months now that Ulster Unionism was drifting out of the Coalition of the Willing in the Global War on Terror, just as the "Global War on Terror" was drifting out of the ... what is it now ... Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism.

In the tradition of summer reruns, let us recall the heady days when David Trimble would help out Jose Maria Aznar (and by extension, Dubya) with some detective work linking the IRA to 11-M, and the time that Trimble biographer Dean Godson laid plain for Wall Street Journal readers the similarities of the IRA with al Qaeda.

No more. Trimble lost his seat, Tony Blair explicitly distinguished the IRA from al Qaeda just this week -- in what in retrospect looks like part of the latest choreography ("I don't think you can compare the political demands of Republicanism with the political demands of this terrorist ideology we are facing now"), and one wonders if some former IRA members are even offering their services as poacher-turned-gamekeeper in the hunt for the London bombers.

From this point forward, the pundits are correct that actions will speak louder than (the other) P O'Neill's words, but looking through the list of mostly predictable statements from the politicians today, we suspect that the opposition Fine Gael pick up two issues that may flare up quite quickly:

Fine Gael ... deputy leader Richard Bruton said ...[they] would also oppose allowing the IRA to organise commemorations of its past atrocities, as this would only serve to inflame sectarian tensions on an ongoing basis.

Mr Bruton added that Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny would be seeking an early meeting with the Taoiseach to establish if any concessions were granted to Sinn Féin by the Government in the run up to this statement.

Bertie, much like Dubya, prides his holliers so one does indeed wonder if there was a quick nod to some concessions that might not play so well when publicised. In the meantime, (in our last self-referral of this post), residents of Meath might want to keep an eye on all that excavation going on in their county. You'd never know what kind of interesting stuff a digger might hit!
Will get fooled again

A couple of weeks ago we noted the strange fact of American media outlets having better access to details of the London bombings investigation than British outlets did. It happened again on Wednesday, with ABC News getting pictures of the unexploded bombs from "Attack 1." But in a sign of confusion, ABC news and the security forces seem to disagree on where the bombs were found, and the latter don't seem too pleased that the former got such access in the first place -- consistent with standard police desire not to have the bad guys knowing everything they know about them:

[Times of London] The pictures were leaked to ABC News in America by US law enforcement sources. The items shown were left by the July 7 bombers in a car at Luton railway station.

According to ABC’s report, 16 bombs were found in the boot of a hire car that had been rented by Shehzad Tanweer, 22, who killed himself and six passengers when he set off his bomb on a train near Aldgate station. The American report contradicts information provided by Scotland Yard. They dismissed the idea that a cache of bombs had been found in the Luton car park.

Let's focus on the fact of the leak itself for a second:

Scotland Yard is known to be concerned that the images have emerged in the media but the leak is an almost inevitable result of the international cooperation required in such an inquiry.

OK, but they are presumably sharing this information with many other intelligence services as well, but it only leaked from the US. Most of our readers will know that Dubya's administration is currently beset by an unexpectedly persistent investigation into the leaking of a covert CIA operative's name to the media as part of a spin operation against her husband, Joseph Wilson. The latest defense is that this national security breach was a one-time only response, a counter-leak in Christopher Hitchens' pathetic phrasing, to combat a recalcitrant CIA.

There is no such excuse here. It appears to be simply an ingrained habit of the Bush national security system to leak like a sieve. The only thing we can't pin down is the motive for such carelessness.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Vast Right-wing Clipshow

It's July, and the VRC'ers flee north or east from the effect of Dubya's pro-global warming policies. But to keep the plebs entertained, James Taranto at OpinionJournal is doing summer reruns, condensing 5 years of ranting into 3 issues. For those not in da club, it's funny to see them feel vindicated by citing their critique of some wacky, way-out thing that someone said back in the day -- knowing that in fact the original statement has only gotten more valid over time.

Prime example: today's clip show takes us back to the Florida 2000 recount shambles:

Two writers--Ron Rosenbaum of the New York Observer and Alan Wolfe of Boston College in Salon--described Bush as a "postmodernist," one who disbelieves in objective reality, because his legal team took the position that it was impossible to discern the "intent of the voter" if a ballot was ambiguous because not properly marked.

Of course, they were right: election counters have been making decisions about ambiguous ballots for about as long as there've been elections. But Taranto is clearly delighted with his ludicrous critique (the only way to know intent is to ask the voter, and since it's a secret ballot, we can't). Consider though the original claim, that Dubya doesn't believe in objective reality. Remember that telling quote that Ron Suskind got from a high Bush official last year:

The [senior White House] aide said that guys like me [Ron Suskind, the NYT article's author] were "in what we White House] call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Or spin it for the Wall Street Journal. Another thing -- if you think there's any satire or hyperbole involved in terms like the "101st Fighting Keyboarders" or "Keyboard Kommandos," here's Taranto's closing thought for Clip Show #1:

We're still in the same office, still overlooking Ground Zero. And from time to time we still look out our window for a reminder of why America is fighting--and why we are writing.

To match their rerun, we'll do our own. As far as we can tell, it was Taranto who popularised the description of the 9/11 terrorist attack as an Epiphany. Since it revealed Dubya as the Messiah, why wouldn't it be?
The Shinners do Seinfeld

Newspapers in Ireland and Britain are reporting that Gerry Adams, along with Martin McGuinness, has resigned from the IRA's governing Army Council. The two themselves alone have said nothing, not least because of the awkward conjunction of such an event with their past denials of such a role, which for Gerry extended to a denial that he was even an IRA member. Perhaps a useful analogy to explain Gerry's separation from his alleged job is provided by the classic Bizarro World Seinfeld episode; visualise Gerry as Kramer:

[Day, interior of Brand/Leland, KRAMER's in LELAND's office. LELAND's a greying man.]
KRAMER: What did you want to see me about, Mr. Leland?
LELAND: Kramer, I've.. been reviewing your work.. Quite frankly, it stinks.
KRAMER: Well, I ah.. been havin' trouble at home and uh.. I mean, ah, you know, I'll work harder, nights, weekends, whatever it takes..
LELAND: No, no, I don't think that's going to, do it, uh. These reports you handed in. It's almost as if you have no business training at all.. I don't know what this is supposed to be!
KRAMER: Well, I'm uh, just--tryin' to get ahead..
LELAND: Well, I'm sorry. There's just no way that we could keep you on.
KRAMER: I don't even really work here!
LELAND: That's what makes this so difficult.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Vast Rightwing Conspiracy does The Islands

National Review writer Jonah Goldberg checks in today with the final word on the NR Cruise of Britain and Ireland, and mercifully steers clear of any substantive issues such as those that drew our attention in his last column. Instead it's a variant of the standard pundit Euro-travelogue, albeit with a cast of characters that makes us wish there'd been an especially exciting shipping forecast over the last couple of weeks. Anyway:

I’ve returned from the National Review cruise of the British Isles (sic) ... here’s what I learned on the cruise. There’s very little reason to go to Belfast. Edinburrrrrrrrrrrruh is a great town.

So it would seem that with David Trimble gone, the alliance of the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy with Ulster Unionism doesn't even generate a nice word about Belfast. But if you like his Edinburgh joke-spelling the first time, you'll love it when he does it again later on in the article.

Don’t ever go to the Jameson's distillery in Dublin — because it isn’t there. It's an Epcot Center-style recreation of a distillery. Even worse is the Guinness Brewery tour which is almost exactly like Nike Town, except instead of sneakers there’s really thick bready beer. But again, no actual brewing is included on the tour.

You know what -- he's close enough to the truth there that we'll let it stand. Theme park Dublin.

I was completely charmed by the Island of Guernsey where I had one of the best lunches of my life at a restaurant called L’Escalier. So, you know, the next time you’re in Guernsey ...

Now, what exactly were all these NR'ers doing in the Channel Islands? We certainly hope that these law-abiding folk weren't opening offshore bank accounts.

Mark Steyn is infuriatingly nice ... Smart, charming, and by common assent the best dancer on the boat ... I didn’t have a chance to chat with Paul Johnson, though I spoke several times with his lovely bride ... The Podhoretzes (Norman and Midge) were just delightful. Though they seemed to be drinking from the same bowl as Steyn and the O'Sullivans, who also seemed to believe that singing show tunes and the like was a requirement of sea life. I've seen Norman Podhoretz sing "Making Whoopee."

Yes, these people are really toughing out the Global War on Terror (RIP).
A job done

Continuing his record of nominating cronies to Ambassadorships, Dubya has unveiled His Man in Brussels:

The President intends to nominate C. Boyden Gray, of the District of Columbia, to be the Representative of the United States of America to the European Union, with the Rank and Status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.

Now Gray is a high achiever, but his CV shows zero diplomatic credentials though a lot of connections to the lobbying tentacles of George W. Bush. In fact, Gray had recently managed the trick of being a "Supreme Court Analyst" for the Fox News Channel (quelle surprise) while being a lobbyist to get Dubya's justices confirmed. Since Ambassador nominees do require Senate confirmation, Dubya must be sufficiently confident in getting the Apostle John (Roberts) onto the Supreme Court bench that he doesn't feel that Gray will have to use any dirty tricks in this cause that might alienate some Senators.

Of Irish interest: Gray's new role, assuming confirmation, makes him the counterpart of John Bruton, the EU Ambassador to the US.
The Global* War on Terror

The government of Israel is annoyed that Benedict XVI omitted Israel from a list of recent terrorist attacks:

Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday deplored attacks in "countries including Egypt, Turkey, Iraq and Britain". Israel said he had failed to mention a 12 July suicide bombing in Netanya that killed five Israelis.

In a perhaps unrelated development, Dick "Last Throes" Cheney spoke at a fund raiser for a Staten Island congressman last night and offered his own list of terrorist incidents of recent years:

Since 9/11 they have continued to kill -- in Casablanca, Mombassa, Jakarta, Bali, Riyadh, Istanbul, Baghdad, Madrid, most recently, of course, in Egypt and in London.

Which also omits any attacks on Israel. Now we suppose Dick could say that he was only listing al Qaeda attacks, but since when have such fine distinctions ever stopped him before? Which lends itself to a couple of observations. One is to wonder there might be some soft-pedaling of the rhetoric as Israel tries to manage its withdrawal from Gaza -- indicating that even "moral clarity" can be calibrated to the exigencies of diplomacy. Doesn't that sound a tad French?

More broadly, we wonder if policy towards Israel is a potential chink in Dick and George's pan-Christian Front. This Front encompasses everyone from Evangelical Zionists who believe that the Jewish State is a necessary precursor to Armageddon, to the details men in the Vatican diplomatic corps who fuss about the distinctions between 1948 and 1967 borders in Jerusalem, access to the Holy Sites, and who, frankly, aren't a million miles removed from the Vatican that snoozed through the Holocaust.

Regardless of these meanderings, the specific issue could be settled a simple question to the White House: are terrorist attacks in Israel covered under the Global War on Terror? Follow-up: if so, why didn't Cheney list them?

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Wild Colonial Boys, again

It would seem that the market for stories told over gin and tonics about the good old days of the Empire is experiencing a resurgence. Not that one would expect much else from a blog that produced the usage "Gandhi and his rabble," but Powerline is either being ignorant or disengenuous with a game they are playing with old Winston Churchill quotes about the late 19th century wars in Sudan. Indeed part of the game is to spread different bits of the trail along various reactionary websites, thus not leaving their retrograde implications in plain sight while driving up the hit counts of their buddies, and we have no intention of providing a complete list of links here. But here's the relevant bit from Powerline:

9/11: A Churchillian perspective

... Churchill's thought as related to 9/11. No one has surpassed our friend Steve Hayward in performing this task, as he did in his October 2001 essay: "A Churchillian perspective on September 11." Steve's essay reminds me that James Muller's long-awaited edition of Churchill's The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan will be published on September 1. For the unexpurgated quote giving Churchill's account of "the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries," see Peter Schramm's No Left Turns post: "The inexorable sternness of Churchill."

If you're wondering how Churchill could have had relevant thoughts about 9/11, then you clearly haven't heard about his reincarnation as George W. Bush (once again, we link to our rival view that Bush is the reincarnation of Joe Chamberlain). Anyway, the quote referred to at the end is a paragraph from Churchill's 1899 book that operates at the same level of sweeping generality about Muslims as "Mrs Mortimer" might have -- a Victorian travel writer hilariously resurrected by author Todd Pruzan, e.g.:

The Irish "are very kind and good-natured when pleased, but if affronted, are filled with rage."

Winston was running for elected office when The River War came out, so his motivations for a little jingoism at the expense of the "Mohammedans" are clear enough. And what of this River War itself? Well, the British and their assertive colony in Egypt are seeking to follow and control the Nile, which puts them into someone else's territory -- and that someone else (the Madhi army) kicks their arses a couple of times before finally getting beaten themselves. At which point Kerry man Horatio Kitchener was put in charge and managed to avoid Winston's contempt for the locals (via Wikipedia):

He ordered the mosques of Khartoum rebuilt and instituted reforms which recognised Friday - the Muslim holy day - as the official day of rest, and guaranteed freedom of religion to all citizens of the Sudan. He went so far as to prevent evangelical Christian missionaries from attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity.

The latter lesson not learned by Dubya in Iraq. Anyway, this romanticisation of Empire is consistent with the way the expression "Mau-mau" has travelled into reactionary discourse to mean either something that liberals do to free thinkers, or as another feather in Churchill's cap for having suppressed that rebellion. Churchill was a superb leader in World War II. But the rest of his career is filled with Imperial troublemaking, from Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, to Iraq, Ireland, and Kenya, and it's only because this post is already too long that we won't list more. It's a mark of how little history Dubya knows that he seeks this comparison with such relish.

UPDATE: Another Powerline contribution earns the coveted runner up spot in the weekly "Wingnut of the Week" award from The Poor Man.
He wants to be Big in Paris

If he's not Harry Potter, he must be ... Lance Armstrong! In the relentless pursuit of the right comparison point for Dubya, topicality always helps and so today the European edition of the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) ponders the lessons of Lance's hard-won esteem in France to the absence thereof for The Exalted One:

The Texan's unprecedented streak remains clouded by doping suspicions among some observers, even though he is the sport's most-tested athlete and has never failed one ... Yet in the end Mr. Armstrong seems to have won a measure of begrudging respect from the French that that other famous Texan -- George W. Bush -- hasn't. (Could Saturday's guest appearance by Senator John Kerry have anything to do with that?) [Kerry=French, geddit?] ... Next year's Tour will see the crowning of a new champion -- and, one might hope, a new way of looking at an old one.

Now in context, that final clause seems to mean that the "old champion" is Dubya, since they've already granted that Lance is popular. One problem though -- could Dubya pass drug tests with the perfection that Lance managed?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Corrections and Clarifications

To maintain higher standards of accuracy than the punditocracy, we'd like to use this post to do a little cleanup on some recent posts. In one such post, we argued that Niall Ferguson was presenting fertility statistics in a way that implied a massive divergence between population growth rates in the UK and Pakistan. Part of our counterargument was to note the much higher infant mortality rates in Pakistan, which would offset some of the higher fertility. Reader WH notes that this alone won't provide very much offset, basically because the fractions are much smaller for infant mortality than fertility. That is correct. Nevertheless, we're sticking to our broader claim, as reflected in our label for Ferguson's position ("Neo-Malthusian") that basing predictions of doom on long-term population projections is a very hazardous enterprise, because so many other influences come into play over such time horizons.

Second, our post yesterday about events in London reflected the widespread assumption that the man shot dead at Stockwell station was a would-be suicide bomber. Not least with the history of "shoot-to-kill" policies in Northern Ireland, we should have been more skeptical. Clearly the London police are operating in an extraordinarily tense environment and were forced into some very rapid assumptions about the deceased. But it doesn't change the fact of an unnecessary death.

UPDATE: The Sunday Times draws the parallels with Northern Ireland, including some on-point quotes:

Prophetically, a former senior Special Branch officer from Northern Ireland said: "I suspect that the authorities in England will make all the same mistakes as we did." ... Specialist security forces, such as the recently formed Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), which has been drafted in to combat the present terror threat, are generally protected by law if they shoot first and ask questions later, provided they believe the suspect was a threat to the lives of others.

This proved to be the case when Diarmuid O'Neill, an unarmed IRA man, was shot dead in his Hammersmith flat in 1996 ... "You can’t be afraid to act if life is at stake," said a former Northern Ireland Special Branch officer. "But if you alienate people you can hand the terrorists a long-term support base from which to operate."

Leaving aside the many outs this policy allows, there is a broader issue of the meaning of "shoot-to-kill" -- it can mean (1) that in hot pursuit of a terrorism suspect, lethal force can be used, or (2) a decision is made in advance that lethal force will be used regardless of the circumstances in which the suspect is encountered. We may return to this issue depending on the direction of the commentary on the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes.

OTHER LINKS: Atrios on the distinction between initially giving the London police the benefit of the doubt versus active cheerleading.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Yes, Mother

We've recently watched Fahrenheit 9/11 again -- the main effect being that we're now extra pissed off that George W. Bush "won" in 2000. Bearing in mind the momentous events since then, remember that the glorious Washington "press corps" considered it to be a major campaign issue the question of who, if anyone, had advised Al Gore to wear "earth tones." We therefore fully expect that these same hacks (and it is mostly the same hacks) will be all over a huge new brouhaha over George Bush and "earth tones," revealed by this exchange between Dubya and his mother today at a Social Security Phase-out event in Atlanta:

MRS. BARBARA BUSH: That's not what I was thinking.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, don't tell them what you were thinking, then, if that wasn't it. (Laughter.)
MRS. BARBARA BUSH: I was thinking how great you look in the new brown look. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: About time somebody noticed. (Laughter.)

So what's the backstory? Is George making his own fashion choices and really, really wanted someone to notice (and Karl Rove wasn't available?) Or is it a Laura suggestion -- or Mrs Bush herself, perhaps something that Laura doesn't like? But it's good to know that amid all the turmoil in the world, the Commander-in-Chief can find time to develop new looks.
London latest

Notwithstanding Dubya's constant sneering at the "law enforcement" approach to terrorism, it seems that the preferred approach of the British police is to do detective work and find people to prosecute -- unless it seems that they are about to blow themselves up. By the Karl Rove standard, the police are thus liberals:

[White House Press Briefing] MR. McCLELLAN: He [Karl Rove] was speaking to a political organization. There are many who have looked at the war on terrorism and said it is a law enforcement matter, that we should prosecute people. The President recognizes that it is a war and that we must stay on the offensive, we must take the fight to the enemy. The best way to defeat the enemy is to fight them abroad and bring them to justice before they can carry out their attacks here at home.
The G-Blocks

A few months ago, we speculated that there must have been hunger strikes amongst the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, but that, unlike the IRA hunger strikers, the Pentagon had the inherent advantage of being able to cover them up. It therefore has to count as a marginal improvement that the Pentagon is now at least announcing that indeed, there are hunger strikers in Gitmo, and that there's one going on right now:

Fifty-two inmates at [Gitmo] prison for foreign terrorism suspects have begun a hunger strike to protest their detention.

The detainees, among some 500 al Qaeda and Taliban suspects held at the U.S. Navy base, have refused at least nine consecutive meals, the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo said in a statement on Thursday.

One possibility is that the Pentagon decided to make this announcement because more information was coming out about the tactic anyway:

The US military statement came a day after one of two Afghan men released from the camp after three years said after arriving back in Kabul that 105 prisoners had just staged a hunger strike.

Remember that Dubya's Supreme Court nominee has ruled in favour of the Gitmo detentions.

Article 39 of the Magna Carta, 1215 AD:

No free man shall be arrested, or imprisoned, or deprived of his property, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor shall we go against him or send against him, unless by legal judgement of his peers, or by the law of the land.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Suspect Devices

A definite sign that the London scare this afternoon is not as serious as two weeks ago: a BBC World Service reporter has just remarked that the police in protective equipment entering the Warren Street station resembled the Michelin Man.

UPDATE: A couple of other points. Tomorrow is Tony Blair's 11th anniversary as leader of the Labour party. Any chance the pileup of events might trigger renewed thinking about how long more he wants to stay in the job?

We also think it's weird that the right-wing bloggers went straight into "words speak louder than actions" mode as their response to the London bombs -- specifically the words of John Howard, Australian PM ["JOHN HOWARD'S DEVASTATING RESPONSE to dumb press questions about Iraq" (Instapundit); "JOHN HOWARD RULES" (Warren Bell, 1 of many such posts at the National Review)].

Could it be that the tough talk of Dubya and his pillion passenger is getting jaded, even to eager ears?
Overmatched, overpaid, and over here

If you're looking for a case study of the decline and fall of American conservative writing (not that it's hard to find), then look no further than Jonah Goldberg's latest epistle from his trip around Britain and Ireland on the National Review cruise. We last noted him reporting on 50s night on the ship and we were ahead of him on his new topic: Enoch Powell's 1968 "rivers of blood" speech, which (of course) he agrees with and extends into a rumination on the supposed decline of British confidence since then. Which consists of the following elements:

Lists of supposed modern British ailments that he couldn't be bothered finishing: runaway immigration, secularism, feminism, et al; it reminds them of colonialism or whatnot.

Lists of things that he thinks are true but couldn't be bothered providing any actual examples: For years, the police here have looked the other way as citizens have slaughtered their wives and daughters in "honor killings." To clamp down would be "insensitive" to cultural differences.

Outright howlers:

the now largely forgotten speech by the British scholar and — briefly — politician Enoch Powell,

Briefly? Powell survived as a Tory MP until 1974 (if anything, boosted in stature by his speech since his miserable showing in the 1965 leadership contest that we referred to the other day) and then switched to be the Ulster Unionist MP for South Down until 1987. So nearly 20 years after the speech, he was still in Parliament.

All of this came about because the British lost confidence in themselves. Confidence in the greatness of your nation is a wonderful bulwark against those who'd like to turn it into something else ... The founder of the Guinness beer dynasty signed a 9,000-year lease for his brewery.

So evidence of past British confidence is a contract signed by a Kildare man for land in Dublin? And this business of the "9,000 year lease" is one of those interesting factoids while chatting over a few pints, but it doesn't mean a whole lot. Look at it this way: if Arthur had just bought the land, we could say he leased it for infinity years -- now that's confidence!

In addition to reciting the hackneyed tale of how British Airways removed the Union Jack from their planes (which they later, following heaps of ridicule, brought back) he claims:

Here, the only real debate about the British flag is whether it is in some way analogous to our own Confederate flag.

Now, even a half-decent writer (like, say, a blogger) would see the opportunity here to flesh out a few sentences on how the two flags actually are historically related, since the Confederate (battle) flag has a similar design to the Scottish cross in the Union Jack. But note instead his sly usage "our own Confederate flag" which he can always say just refers to it being American but there's something of the dogwhistle to National Review readers too.

In summary, what we have here is the usual Goldberg sloppiness, accentuated by being stuck on a ship for a couple of weeks, with the Daily Telegraph probably being the primary information source. Rivers of drivel ensue.

UPDATE: The theme of a supposed liberal War on Britain has set up a game of transatlantic volleyball in the "Anglosphere." The National Review's Corner links approvingly ("there is something to be said for the idea that the ceaseless denigration of Britain, its history and its institutions, by the country's liberal elite has done a great deal to hold back the assimilation of the country’s more recent ethnic communities") to a Spectator piece -- the latter appropriately slammed by Mike Power. Also, Goldberg acknowledges the error on Powell's political career.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Minister meanders west

General Richard Myers is in Ireland today. He is the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff -- it's his job to bite his tongue as Dubya presents the circular logic of why there are now and always have been enough troops in Iraq ("because if there weren't enough troops, the generals would have asked me for more troops" -- but the generals know that without a change in policy, there are no more troops).

Anyway, consistent with previous evidence of touchiness over the role of Shannon in the GWoT, it looks like the Minister for Defence, Willie O'Dea, was planning to receive a courtesy visit from Myers and then bailed:

[, subs. req'd] A meeting between Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea and US Joint Chief of Staff [chairman] Richard Myers will not take place, a spokeswoman for the minister said this afternoon.

This morning a spokesman for the Department said General Myers would discuss areas of "mutual interest" with Mr O'Dea in the Department's offices on Infirmary Road.

However, this afternoon the spokeswoman said an official meeting was "never on the cards" and that General Myers would have paid a courtesy call on Mr O'Dea, had the minister been in Dublin. He will not be in Dublin today, it has emerged. .... Mr O'Dea's spokeswoman... said he had appointments in Longford and Mullingar and would not be returning to the capital today.

Now, this has the all the hallmarks of the old Bush trick of suddenly being out of town when a potentially embarrassing ally is in town -- Bush father and son both have a strange proclivity not to be in Washington during pro-life marches, for instance. And how can Minister O'Dea not be aware of the fabulous improvements in Irish roads in recent years, meaning that Mullingar and Longford are just not that far from Dublin anymore -- especially for a ministerial motorcade?

But perhaps Willie is a literary romantic at heart, because being away from Dublin in Mullingar is of course one element in Ulysses:

In silence they drove along Phibsborough road. An empty hearse trotted by, coming from the cemetery: looks relieved.

Crossguns bridge: the royal canal.

Water rushed roaring through the sluices. A man stood on his dropping barge between clamps of turf. On the towpath by the lock a slacktethered horse. Aboard of the Bugabu.

Their eyes watched him. On the slow weedy waterway he had floated on his raft coastward over Ireland drawn by a haulage rope past beds of reeds, over slime, mud-choked bottles, carrion dogs. Athlone, Mullingar, Moyvalley, I could make a walking tour to see Milly by the canal. Or cycle down. Hire some old crock, safety. Wren had one the other day at the auction but a lady's. Developing waterways. James M'Cann's hobby to row me o'er the ferry. Cheaper transit. By easy stages. Houseboats. Camping out. Also hearses. To heaven by water. Perhaps I will without writing. Come as a surprise, Leixlip, Clonsilla. Dropping down, lock by lock to Dublin. With turf from the midland bogs. Salute. He lifted his brown strawhat, saluting Paddy Dignam.

Could it be that the Minister's day trip is by barge along the Royal Canal?

UPDATE 25 JULY: Minister O'Dea would have more credibility with our story than his actual one; the meeting cancellation flared up as an issue over the weekend and the Minister now claims that he was in Mullingar and Longford later than his original schedule because he was "unwell" in the morning. The alternative, and highly plausible interpretation: Bertie decided to cancel the meeting (Irish Times, subs. req'd):

[O'Dea spokesman] described as "absolute rubbish" a claim by Fine Gael defence spokesman Billy Timmins, that the visit was cancelled on the instructions of the Taoiseach's office. Mr Timmins said the US authorities were "extremely angry at the abrupt cancellation of the meeting". He said: "I believe it was an act of great discourtesy to the government and people of America."
Supreme Court nominee

Watching Dubya ... what's with the lip twitching after each sentence? Sources close to this blog say that similar teeth grinding can be an after-effect of hard drug use. Just sayin'. It could just be popcorn stuck between his teeth.

Judge Roberts is from Buffalo NY; how long before the Tim Russert endorsement? ... [UPDATE] it took 30 seconds after the speech on MSNBC.

While the initial coverage is focused on abortion, the Wall Street Journal correctly identifies another issue:

Just last week, Judge Roberts handed the Bush administration a signal victory when he joined a unanimous three-judge panel to rule that so-called enemy combatants being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have no rights under the Geneva Conventions and can be prosecuted before military commissions that lack the due-process protections afforded by U.S. courts martial.

Not so keen on Magna Carta, then. Now that we think of it, what are the ethics of deciding on a high profile Administration case while being under consideration for a promotion from that Administration? [UPDATE: this Slate article fleshes out the egregious reasoning in the Gitmo case and also wonders whether the judge was influenced by his job prospects]

And in the same WSJ story:

Mr. Bush unveiled his choice in a nationally televised speech at 9 p.m. last night following a frenzied day of speculation that initially revolved around Edith Brown Clement of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Any chance the media now understand the abuses of background briefings by this administration?

UPDATE 12 OCT: Months later, wondering continues about the jaw twitch. Dan Froomkin elaborates.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Every night is 50s night

Ireland survived the National Review cruise seemingly intact but our Scottish brethren are now under serious pressure. The Keyboard Kommandos are on the North Sea with a stop near Edinburgh, and lead warmonger Jonah Goldberg provides an update for the landlubbers:

FIFTIES NIGHT [Jonah Goldberg]

Last night was "fifties night" on the ship. Several passengers as well as the entire staff dressed up like greasers, preppies and the life from Happy Days and the like. (I wore a blazer and slacks, which is precisely how I would have dressed in the 1950s were I to have dinner with William F. Buckley).

The striking thing to me was how odd this must seem to the overwhelmingly non-American crew. The waiters and bartenders are mostly from Eastern Europe. You've got to wonder what these people think. The 1950s were not a universally American time. These waiters' grandparents were hiding from Commisars and eating canned cabbage -- if they were lucky -- during the 1950s. Sock-hops and cheese burgers weren't the norm.

That said, Kate O'Beirne had a great idea which we've had a lot of fun with. Shouldn't the NR cruise celebrate a different 1950s? Couldn't we create a Cruise Committee on Un-American Activities? [predictably unfunny "joke" follows]

Now while this sounds like Hell, it's no worse a version of Hell than as noted by Roger Ailes for the similar Weekly Standard Cruise. And yet the level of buffoonery is even higher. For one thing, Goldberg's supposed niche is reactionary lunacy but with Simpsons references, and yet he misses the obvious one where Homer and Marge go to a theme park restaurant (T.G.I. McScratchy's) where it's always New Year's Eve, complete with singing of Auld Lang Syne; Marge assumes that a waiter would be thrilled to be around such non-stop joyousness, to which he responds "Please kill me."

And since it was 50s night, who did the reading from a National Review editorial from that era?

The central question that emerges . . . is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists.

Occasionally people try to make excuses for the intellectual implosion of the reactionary right by saying "they were reasonable before 9/11." But the National Review Jumped the Shark a long time ago.

Monday, July 18, 2005

That '70s show

Not for the first time, we're re-learning events that we'd almost forgotten about from the obituaries. Today's its those for Ted Heath, UK Prime Minister from 1970-74 and predecessor of Maggie as Tory leader. Indeed it's impossible to write a recent history of Britain without mention of Ted -- having taken the country into the EU and (against his will) making way for Margaret Thatcher, his career definitely lends itself to what might have beens.

A couple of comments. First (what do you expect from this blog?) the Irish angle. Ted was PM during the disastrous deterioration of events in Northern Ireland. The best that can be said is that his short 4 year term saw the gradual positive evolution of British policy from the optimism that accompanied the initial arrival of the troops as peacekeepers in 1969, to the alienation of the Catholic population culminating in Bloody Sunday, but then the emergence of the power-sharing Sunningdale agreement, not a whole lot different than what was finally accepted by most parties 25 years later -- but done in at the time by the weakness of the Labour government (under Harold Wilson) that followed Ted.

One snippet from his long Times of London obit:

... when Douglas Home unexpectedly threw in his hand as [Tory] leader at the end of July [1965]. The first Conservative leadership election then took place. Maudling was Heath’s main rival, and the favourite. But the result of the ballot was Heath 150, Maudling 133 and Enoch Powell 15.

We were surprised Maudling came so close to the leadership, which perhaps reflects the fact that for many Irish people, Maudling's image was determined for good by the time he got punched by Bernadette Devlin on the floor of the House of Commons. It's also interesting to see how marginalised Enoch Powell was even with the Tories, notwithstanding the revival of interest in his 1968 "rivers of blood" speech following the London bombings.

Finally, amongst the reflections, step forward Andrew Sullivan to put the (pink) boot in:

EDWARD HEATH, RIP: A pretty dreadful prime minister, in my view. A viscerally anti-American Tory who wanted to submerge Britain into a European super-state, and never managed to forgive Margaret Thatcher for succeeding where he so manifestly failed ... I must also say that it is very weird that the obits barely say anything about his private life. He never married. It was widely assumed he was gay. Why is this somehow a subject that we cannot even discuss after someone has died? I know of no one in British politics who didn't talk of it privately. And a gay prime minister - however terrible he was at the job - is an historic matter of fact or at least inquiry.

Please. Sometimes a bachelor is just a bachelor, or at least chooses to show just that side of his persona to the public. Ted asked for privacy, and never took actions to endanger it*. And it's not so long since Sullivan's last broadside on this issue, the alleged media reluctance to out Prince Albert of Monaco as gay, as he had to be as a bachelor, right? In fact, as we noted in connection with Ted Heath's successor as PM, Wilson, there's a much bigger media taboo about mental illness of politicians than sexual orientation.

*UPDATE 25 APRIL 2007: There's now a second hand claim that Heath was less discrete in his early political days, but Matthew Parris (who would likely have heard gossip) doubts that version of events.
Pre-emptive linking

We'll make a note of two awkward news stories that may work their way into reactionary spin before too long:

[, subs. req'd] Conditions in Irish prisons make the notorious Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq "look like a retirement home", a Labour TD has claimed.

Labour justice spokesman Joe Costello also said the true state of penal facilities in the State will be never known because the Inspector of Prisons is "gagged" by the Department of Justice.

Mr Justice Dermot Kinlen sends his findings on his prison inspections to the Minister for Justice, who then publishes them. But Mr Costello said the department should not be allowed to present "sanitised versions of his report, often censoring the most critical sections" ... "Conditions in Irish prisons make Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq look like a retirement home," he said.

And in a seemingly unrelated story:

[AP newswire] Inmates on Friday beat up a suspected al-Qaida cell leader jailed on charges he helped plot the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, breaking his jaw, nose and a tooth and injuring one of his eyes, Spanish officials said.

Imad Yarkas, 42, a Syrian-born Spaniard, was set upon by other prisoners in the dining hall of a prison in the eastern city of Castellon, said officials at the Interior Ministry department that oversees Spain's prisons ... Yarkas and two other men of Syrian origin went on trial in late April in Madrid on charges of using Spain as a staging ground to help plot the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks ...

The Europa Press news agency reported that prisoners involved in Friday's events accused Yarkas of also being responsible for last year's al-Qaida-linked train bombings in Madrid, which killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,500. The prison system officials said they could not confirm the report.

[Insert favoured spinner phrase such as "Heh" or "Indeed"]

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Carry on up the Indus

Also in Sunday's Telegraph, Niall Ferguson presents a factoid that is predictably going to be hyped by the less careful spinners on the reactionary right:

The gap between Pakistan and Britain has been even wider. Total fertility per woman in Britain today is around 1.7. The latest figure for Pakistan is 4.3.

Grist for the mill for the neo-Malthusians, but here's the problem: Pakistani women give birth to more children than their British counterparts, but fewer of those children survive. Infant mortality is 72.44 deaths per 1,000 live births in Pakistan but just 5.16 deaths per 1,000 live births in the UK (not bad for socialised medicine, eh?).

Pakistan indeed is a major factor in the problem of Islamist terrorism. But demographic trends are only a small part of the story. The major part of the story is that for reasons known only to him and his inner circle, George Bush chose to avoid a strategically difficult challenge to the status quo in Pakistan and to instead pick a fight with the Saddam regime, the latter odious but way down the list of priorities in any reasonable definition of the GWoT. One does wonder though if the sudden focus of the reactionary right on relative fertility rates is going to bring a rethinking of their position on contraception?

Now he tells us

Con Coughlin, in the Sunday Telegraph of 17 July, 2005:

Irrespective of whether you are dealing with the disaffected youth of Leeds or a brainwashed Jihadi at a madrassa on the North West Frontier, the inescapable conclusion is that Pakistan forms the epicentre of Osama bin Laden's unremitting campaign of terror against the West.

Con Coughlin, on Amazon (and in the remainder pile of fine booksellers everywhere):

Saddam: King of Terror

Con Coughlin, in the Sunday Telegraph of 14 December, 2003:

Terrorist behind September 11 strike was trained by Saddam
Iraq's coalition government claims that it has uncovered documentary proof that Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks against the US, was trained in Baghdad by Abu Nidal, the notorious Palestinian terrorist.

Need we go on? Yes, we do. Take for instance the last story above. Here's what became of Coughlin's "documentary proof" [via Newsweek]:

The document, which according to Coughlin was supplied by Iraq's interim government, doesn't say exactly when Atta was supposed to have actually flown to Baghdad. But the memo is dated July 1, 2001, and Coughlin himself places the trip as the summer of 2001.

The problem with this, say U.S. law enforcement officials, is that the FBI has compiled a highly detailed time line for Atta's movements throughout the spring and summer of 2001 based on a mountain of documentary evidence, including airline records, ATM withdrawals and hotel receipts. Those records show Atta crisscrossing the United States during this period—making only one overseas trip, an 11-day visit to Spain that didn't begin until six days after the date of the Iraqi memo.

And by the way, in view of the ongoing Rove-Plame investigation and the sourcing to forged documents of the claim that Saddam purchased uranium from Niger, consider this from the same Newsweek story:

Mneimneh, the Iraqi document expert, says that there are other reasons to discount the handwritten memo touted by the Telegraph. The document includes another sensational second item: how Iraqi intelligence, helped by a "small team from the Al Qaeda organization," arranged for a shipment from Niger to reach Iraq by way of Libya and Syria.

One irony is that if Coughlin follows his new line above and produces another of his secret "documents," written conveniently in English and spelling everything out nice and clear, that labels Pakistan and Afghanistan as the central front in the Global War on Terror, he'll be moving us closer to the truth.

UPDATE AUGUST 2008: Was Coughlin's letter written by the CIA?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Name that topic

Dubya, today in "NASCAR country":

I'm here to talk about making sure that people treat us the way we treat them. I want to talk to you about ...

Alternatively, have some fun imagining what topics it couldn't be.
Harry Potter and the Half-Wit Prince

The book is not even on sale yet and the spinners are at work: Harry Potter = George Bush. Today's Wall Street Journal carries a rumination on the Potter plot line begun in the Order of the Phoenix, a plot line that clearly parallels interwar Britain. There's no explicit mention of Dubya, but the subtext is always clear in these pieces; appeasement = Bill Clinton, confronting the enemy = George Bush:

History According to Harry [by Jonathan Last]
Appeasement fails with warlocks too.

... The parallels between [Phoenix] and Britain's prewar dithering are so great that the book is perhaps best read as a light companion to "Alone," the second volume of William Manchester's biography of Winston Churchill ... Like Neville Chamberlain, Minister Fudge is eager to help his constituents look the other way ... Umbridge--an appeaser if there ever was one--replaces the curriculum of Hogwarts' Defense Against the Dark Arts class with lessons such as "Non-Retaliation and Negotiation" ... Of course, both Churchill and Dumbledore are vindicated by events ... So what's next for Harry Potter? Will Dumbledore replace Fudge as Churchill did Chamberlain? My own theory is that young Harry will come to represent FDR's America: a powerful, immature force that eventually tips the balance of power.

In fact what's interesting about the description of the Potter-Churchill parallels is how much the Chamberlain/Fudge smear campaign sounds like what happens to any critics of Dubya's policies:

Fudge strips Dumbledore of his many honors and has him driven from Hogwarts. He also uses the Daily Prophet--the wizarding version of the London Times--to print nasty stories about Harry and Dumbledore and to suppress reports about the Dark Lord. Fudge even has a toadying adviser--Dolores Umbridge--who, like Lord Halifax, exists to give the cut to Dumbledore and peddle the notion that Voldemort poses no danger.

Kind of like Dubya's appeasement, assisted by toady Karl Rove, of the real threats in the GWOT -- Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and North Korea.
London bombs: Slight Dublin Connection

Friday's Times of London reports that UK police would like to talk to an Egyptian academic who had spent time in North Carolina before living in Leeds and might have been thinking about moving to Dublin:

A BIOCHEMIST from Egypt is being sought by police who believe he may hold clues to a flat in Leeds which became the "bomb factory" where devices used by the suicide terrorists were prepared. Magdi el Nashar, 33, a science student whose nickname is "Mr M", was reported to have asked his landlord for the keys so he could provide them to a mystery friend needing accommodation.

Dr el Nashar came to Leeds in October 2000 to study biochemistry. Previously, he had studied at Cairo University and the North Carolina State University in the United States.

Dr al Nashar completed his PhD in February ... He told neighbours a job application to a Dublin university had failed.

A recent post of ours had noted news reports of al Qaeda presence in Ireland, while expressing skepticism about the sourcing of these reports. But another piece now in the jigsaw.

UPDATE: al/el Nashar is detained in Cairo. And the Sunday Independent (Ireland) says that the job application was to Trinity College, Dublin. And [20 JULY] for completeness we should note that the Egyptian government is expressing skepticism that al-Nashar was in any way involved.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Niger Scandal Haunts Bush

Official proof. The mystery face is about where Niger would be on the map.
Bin Laden determined to strike in UK

Mostly for potential future reference purposes, we'd like to note here a couple of things that are maybe just random bits of information, but maybe signal something weirder.

1. American media outlets seem to have had some key details of the London bomber identities before British ones did. Today's print edition of the New York Times named Lindsey Germaine as one of the suicide bombers, a detail that only seems to have emerged in the British media today. The NYT cites American intelligence officials as their source. [UPDATE JULY 19: The NYT again scoops the local media with access to a document that others don't seem to have; how are they getting this stuff?]

2. Today's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) hints -- while making allowances for spinning -- that Pakistan and the US might have known quite a bit about the plan from their interrogation of one of the many al Qaeda Number Threes captured over the last few years:

Pakistani law-enforcement officials said they gave a number of warnings to London and Washington in recent months about the possibility of al Qaeda targeting U.K. mass-transit systems. Much of this information, these officials said, came from the May arrest and interrogation in Pakistan of Abu Faraj al Libbi, described by U.S. officials as one of al Qaeda's top three commanders.

We wonder if we're headed for another "failure to connect-the-dots" diagnosis of a terrorist incident. Both stories point to a Pakistan and Egypt connection to the London plot. Both allies in the GWOT.

UPDATE 15 JULY: There is some confusion about the Jamaican, including the ordering of his names. This Wall Street Journal story (subs. req'd) refers to him as Jermaine Lindsey and speculates that he provides the global elements of the plot:

Mr. Lindsay, whose personal effects were found on the subway car that exploded underground just outside London's King's Cross station July 7, had surfaced in U.S. money-laundering and terrorism-support inquiries. Investigators also believe he was connected to a suspected plot broken up last year in the U.K. involving a half ton of combustible ammonium nitrate, one official said.

Mr. Lindsay, believed to be about 20 years old, spent much of his life in the Caribbean, said one counterterrorism expert who works with European officials. As a child, he also spent time in Cleveland in 1994 and 2000, according to a counterterrorism expert, and law-enforcement agents say they are investigating reports that his mother still lives there. It is unclear when he arrived in the U.K.

And more on the Egyptian connection from the WSJ:

Magdy Mahmoud Mustafa el-Nashar [possible bombmaker] .... The FBI is investigating reports that Mr. Nashar studied in the U.S. for a semester as a graduate student at North Carolina State University in early 2000, according to a spokesman. Later that year, he began studying for a doctorate in the school of biochemistry at Leeds University, the university said.

He was sponsored by the National Research Center in Cairo, an official there confirmed. The center is the largest multidisciplinary research-and-development center in Egypt, affiliated with the Ministry of Scientific Research. [see also our Dublin post 2 up].

ONE MORE UPDATE 18 JULY: Lindsey had access to Weapons of Mass Destruction:

[via BBC] In another development it emerged the police were investigating large purchases of perfume, worth almost £1,000, by bomber Germaine Lindsay in Aylesbury a few days before the attacks. Perfume can be used as an explosives accelerant, said BBC home affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford. Lindsay was reportedly keen to buy a brand in a distinctive metal bottle.
Chequebook Diplomacy

The apparent eagerness of the American media to pursue a Dubya scandal -- the Rove/Plame affair -- does not absolve them of being asleep at the wheel for the last five years. In particular, contrast their eagerness to turn any Clinton or Gore fundraising into scandal with the continued existence of Ambassadorships-for-Sale under Dubya. Now, selling these postings is an old practice, but Dubya is the one who was going to restore honour and integrity to the White House.

Consider therefore an editorial from today's Times of London about recent events at the US Embassy in London:

Last evening, the American Embassy hosted a belated July 4 celebration party at the residence of the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom ... Had the businessman concerned decided to turn up, he would not, alas, have actually met the US Ambassador. There has been no such individual in place for a year since William Farrish decided to return to his homeland ... Fortunately, there will be a new ambassador, Robert Holmes Tuttle, in position very shortly.

The Times goes on to note what was clear to everyone when Tuttle was nominated -- he got it for being a donor to Dubya's political campaign:

[Washington Post] The nod for the Court of St. James's has gone to Robert Holmes Tuttle , a wealthy California automobile dealer, major GOP contributor, Bush Pioneer and Ranger, and director of presidential personnel during the Reagan administration.

It seems that just about every European country gets this treatment; recall the ice hockey credentials of the Danish Ambassador nominee. But as the Times noted, to have no Ambassador in place for the London attacks -- or for the July 4 celebrations -- is a particular diss. Special relationship indeed.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Bombs over Silicon Valley

Colin Powell is joining a Silicon Valley venture capital firm. Today's New York Times has the story, but when you get down to the details of what he'll actually do, it's nearly as vague as what Osama is supposed to have been doing for Saddam (or vice-versa):

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers ... [Powell] will serve as a coach to its entrepreneurs and an in-house expert on international affairs, ...
Venture capitalists typically spend most of their days listening to entrepreneurs seeking to raise millions of dollars or helping companies in which they have already invested. Mr. Powell, who will maintain his residence in McLean, Va., and work out of a nearby office in Alexandria, will not devote much time to either of those activities ... "This man, I think more than any other," Mr. Doerr [another partner] said, "has deep insights and offers strategic advice into leadership. And building and developing teams. And winning even you're up against formidable opponents or challenges."

Mr. Powell will meet with his partners once every three months - and be available by phone and e-mail message when necessary - to offer advice on prospective investments.

Mr. Powell is also part of a group trying to purchase the Washington Nationals baseball team and is involved with a number of nonprofit groups. "The nice thing about this arrangement with Kleiner Perkins is it allows me time for these other activities," he said.

So after all that, what do we learn: that he's joining a venture capital firm, but won't do any of the usual venture capital stuff, that he'll go to 4 meetings a year and check his e-mail, that he's not even moving to Cali, that he'll provide tutelage on global affairs (they can't spring for a Financial Times subscription in Palo Alto?). And oh yes, his track record in handling formidable opponents -- by coming up with the idea of bombing them to smithereens from 60,000 feet. A real outside the box thinker for sure.

And what else has this craven, lying, sack of sh*t done over the years? His brilliant powerpoint presentation to the UN Security Council, complete with props like Saddam's bio-weapons vials. He was the good soldier who can't handle mischievous dinner seating arrangements. For the aforementioned Washington Nationals bid, he's teamed up with the dude who counted Jews for Richard Nixon. And speaking of Nixon, Powell invoked a supposed precedent of Secretaries of State staying out of domestic politics, which was contradicted by his Nixonian predecessor having used Derry's Bloody Sunday massacre as an opportunity to bash Nixon's Democratic opponent.

On the other hand, he did reveal an ability to maintain a poker face as Dubya mispronounced election as "erection" a few months back. Handy for the ribald humour of these tech whiz kids that he'll be running into.
It might help get more work for Colin Farrell

A writer in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; free link) wants to be clear about one of the grave cultural flaws revealed by the attribution of the London bombs to Islamist suicide bombers -- that the IRA gets a bad rap in the movies:

This fall will mark the fourth anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, and not one European neo-Nazi is to be found on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list. Another convenient movie villain, the Irish Republican Army, has not been deemed responsible for the deadly 7/7 London bombings. Islamo-fascism though is a real, deadly threat. So is censorship by special-interest groups [who criticise depictions of Muslim villains in films] a threat to all that the creative community stands for.

This complaint comes from Bridget Johnson, whose first name may reveal some ethnic sensitivity to the frequent reliance on IRA types as bad guys in films. But Bridget's tirade is part of a broader pattern in which the American Right has been desperate for any change of subject from the lessons of the London bombings, so Hollywood is the best available red herring.

Consider: the bombings involved no WMDs, no state sponsorship, and no residents of repressive regimes, so every pillar of the theory of Global War on Terror is irrelevant. And so far, the British approach to the investigation has been plain old law enforcement work, which normally draws sneers from Dubya and his boosters*. Much easier to bash Hollywood for not having enough Muslim bad guys in films, or for putting Oliver Stone in charge of a 9/11 film.

And what is the cost to society from too many Sean Bean and Jonathan Pryce Oirish accents, and the corresponding lack of Koran-quoting bombers? It's not like people aren't seeing enough of the latter on the news. And even Bridget is forced to acknowledge the list of films that do have such bad guys, albeit with the observation that there have been fewer of them since 9/11:

After all, "True Lies" (1994), "Executive Decision" (1996), "The Siege" (1998) and "Rules of Engagement" (2000) all came under sharp criticism from CAIR [Council on American Islamic Relations] well before 9/11

Let's take another tack. If even big pop films are supposed to teach us all something, then consider the superb Executive Decision. Condi Rice has claimed that before 9/11, no one had conceived of a hijacked plane as a weapon. As we noted before, this is contradicted by the Italian security precautions for the Genoa Summit in the summer of 2001. But back in 1996, Hollywood brought us a film in which Arab terrorists, one of whom is a pilot, get WMDs on board a passenger jet which they then plan to fly into the ground in Washington. It's got bits of both 9/11 and the Bush-Cheney paranoid fantasising thereafter. And yet right up to September 10, 2001, Dubya's team never foresaw, they say, such threats. So if something as glaringly obvious as that can't be picked up from a blockbuster, what's the point in arguing about whether Hollywood has a lopsided Irish/Islamic ratio for terrorists?

*UPDATE: Example of sneer from today's WSJ editorial (subs. req'd; free link), defending their loony Gitmo-complainers-caused-London-bombings editorial of last week --

The specifics of Guantanamo and the Patriot Act aside, the campaigns against them show that we've been creeping back toward the law-enforcement mindset about terrorism that prevailed before September 11 and which contributed so much to letting that day's attacks succeed.

UPDATE 14 JULY: Mickey Kaus in particular is making a fool of himself over the GWOT/Hollywood obsession of the Right. We already linked to one James Wolcott slam of the Kaus War on Stone, but here's another, and Andrew Sullivan gets in a long awaited dig: "I can't believe I beat Mickey to this [Rove-Wilson angle]. I guess he's been too busy covering the London massacres [sarcasm]."

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Try not to visualise what you are about to read

Dubya today welcomed the college champions in many sports to the White House. Amidst the greetings and salutations:

The Auburn [univ.] men's swimming and diving team is celebrating a three-peat. Congratulations. (Applause.) Glad you all are here. Thanks for the Speedo. (Laughter.) I'm not going to wear it. (Laughter.) In public that is. (Laughter.)
The Real/Continuity Club for Growth

Who amongst us doesn't like to quote Brendan Behan's old line that the first issue on any Irish organisational agenda is the split? This global wisdom came to mind as we got around to reading the other news from last Friday's papers and in particular the tragedy, as reported in the New York Times, that has befallen the low tax jihadi at the Club for Growth. This group (not, as Daily Howler warns, to be confused with the Hair Club for Men) has been very influential in promoting Dubya's vision of free tax cuts but inevitably, success has bred personal rivalries and now there is a split.

As neatly as we can sum things up is to note that there appears to be one group centered around the Wall Street Journal op-ed page having at least some doubts about Dubya's steady progress towards fiscal doom, given his complete lack of spending restraint, and another group ready to follow Dubya over the fiscal (and GWoT) cliff:

Mr. [Stephen] Moore, along with some prominent club members including Arthur B. Laffer [note for Irish readers -- hero of Pat Cox], a board member, along with Mallory Factor, a businessman, started a similar group, the Free Enterprise Fund. Three others on the previous five-member board - Thomas L. Rhodes, a former partner in Goldman Sachs and president of National Review; Richard Gilder, a fund manager; and Jackson T. Stephens, of the Arkansas banking dynasty - remained ... Mr. Moore's opponents in the organization accused him of being a sloppy manager. They complained that he made caustic comments to the news media about President Bush and others, irking other board members.

The name of the breakaway group brings us to Free Stater's handy annotated summary of an online guide from the Atlas Economic Research Foundation to setting up a right-leaning think tank, and the "Free Enterprise Fund" comes close to breaking one of the rules:

In all that you do, make it difficult for the opposition to tear you down. If you put the word ‘freedom’ in you name, for example, you will be making it easier for your opposition to stigmatize you as ‘ideological" or more specifically, "right-wing."

But don't weep for the Fund, because as Paul Krugman explained (also in last Friday's NYT) having a policy institute is a pretty lucrative business these days:

Today's food industry would never make that kind of mistake [1970s tobacco companies]. In public, the industry's companies proclaim themselves good guys, committed to healthier eating. Meanwhile, they outsource the campaigns against medical researchers and the dissemination of crude anti-anti-obesity propaganda to industry-financed advocacy groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom.

Who wouldn't jump at the opportunity to prepare policy briefings passionately presenting the case of one's most recent donor? So best of luck to Free Stater at the launch of (his?) own institute, the Dublin Institute for Culture and Knowledge. All that's needed now is a policy "menu" to be sent to well-heeled contributors. Perhaps a policy brief on how requiring a landline phone company to maintain emergency call capability is really a gross intrusion on market freedoms?

Monday, July 11, 2005

The gamut of non-democracies from A to B

Dubya today in Virginia provides a span of countries that will be affected by his brilliant democracy in Iraq:

The success of democracy in Iraq is sending forth the news from Damascus to Tehran that freedom can be the future of every nature [sic ... nation?].

Err ... a line from Damascus to Tehran takes in 2 countries besides Iraq, namely Syria and Iran. Odd how North Africa, from where most European Islamist terrorism seems to have originated, the Arabian Gulf, and Afghanistan and Pakistan are not in the list. Has the GWOT run into "Just two will do?"