Monday, October 31, 2005

Attention Irish Immigration Authorities

Just posted on National Review Online's group blog, The Corner:

OK, it’s not quite the Thrilla in Manilla but I’m heading to Trinity College in Dublin tomorrow to debate the resolution: “This house believes that George W. Bush is a danger to world stability.”

My latest Scripps-Howard column is on this theme – but I’d be grateful for suggestions for additional strong arguments I might make.

First things first. One of the debaters (is it Phil or Hist?) should ask Cliff about this recent quote, via Atrios:

There were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The mystery is what Saddam Hussein did with them.

The fact that Cliff is blegging for arguments maybe suggests he's anticipating problems. Anyway, we can't let that multiply-wretched title for his post go. 'Fire' and 'Eire' don't rhyme, and for reasons too complicated to go into here, we citizens of the Republic of Ireland tend to bristle when the country is referred to as 'Eire' anyway, although it depends on the context, but now we're straying into that much longer post we said we'd avoid.

So we hope someone heads along to the Rumblin' in Dublin (no worse than his title) and asks where Saddam hid those Dubya-MDs.

[Previous entry with this title]

More wingless talking points

One of the most effective moments of Pat Fitzgerald's news conference on Friday announcing the 5 count indictment of senior White House Aide Lewis Libby was the following:

QUESTION: Mr. Fitzgerald, the Republicans previewed some talking points in anticipation of your indictment and they said that if you didn't indict on the underlying crimes and you indicted on things exactly like you did indict -- false statements, perjury, obstruction -- these were, quote/unquote, "technicalities," and that it really was over reaching and excessive ...

FITZGERALD: And I don't know who provided those talking points. I assume...I'll be blunt. That talking point won't fly.

Well, grounded or not, the Wall Street Journal op-ed page had the weekend to give them some new feathers, and so Monday's paper brings two willfully dishonest pieces from Ted Olson and Christopher Hitchens (free with reg.) in that vein. Hitch has clearly gone beyond the point where he can learn anything from the company he's in, so being paired with the man who argued Bush v Gore before the Supreme Court is not going to tell him much. But we're prompted to the incidental observation that having built a career on personal attacks -- Princess Di and Mother Teresa -- he was already well adapted to the Rovian technique of when, not liking the message, you attack the messenger. Here's his opener:

The Republicans who drafted and proposed the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in the early days of the Reagan administration, in a vain attempt to end the career of CIA defector Philip Agee, could not have known that their hasty legislation would one day paralyze the workings of a conservative wartime administration. Nor could the eager internationalist Wilsonians who rammed through the 1917 Espionage Act -- the most repressive legislation since the Alien and Sedition laws -- have expected it to be used against government officials making the case for an overseas military intervention.

But then, who would have thought that liberals and civil libertarians -- the New York Times called for the repeal of the IIPA as soon as it was passed, or else for it to be struck down by the courts -- would find these same catch-all statutes coming in handy for the embarrassment of Team Bush?

Of course there's the awkward fact that Fitz didn't actually bring charges under either of these laws, but for lying, in a manner whose brazenness is best documented by Brad DeLong. In good noise machine fashion, Hitch than throws around terms like "covert" and "NOC", claiming that Plame was neither and therefore that no law was broken when her identity was disclosed, when in fact Fitz's news conference (which he doesn't seem to have followed) contained the cagey phrasing:

I will confirm that her association with the CIA was classified at that time through July 2003. And all I'll say is that, look, we have not made any allegation that Mr. Libby knowingly, intentionally outed a covert agent.

As we noted on Friday, Fitz thus leaves open that Libby may have technically violated the Espionage Act while not seeing much precedent for charging him as such -- and well aware of the undesirable parallel with the Official Secrets Act if he did. But in terms of Hitch's complaints about how the latter would squelch valuable leaks if applied in the US, is there any leak in Britain prosecuted under the Act that matches what we now know was going on in the White House, namely discussions straddling several months amongst just about every senior national security official about the family background of one of their critics?

It gets worse from there; Hitch really backloads the dishonesty so let's run through bits of it:

Meanwhile, and just to make things more amusing, George Tenet, in his capacity as Director of Central Intelligence, tells Dick Cheney that he employs Mr. Wilson's wife as an analyst of the weird and wonderful world of WMD. So jealously guarded is its own exclusive right to "out" her, however, that no sooner does anyone else mention her name than the CIA refers the Wilson/Plame disclosure to the Department of Justice.

Ignores distinction between government officials with security clearances discussing things amongst themselves and similar officials saying things that will wind up in every newspaper in the country.

What if he was wrong in stating that Iraqi envoys had never even expressed an interest in Niger's only export? (Most European intelligence services stand by their story that there was indeed such a Baathist initiative.)

Most? Which ones? And when did the alleged attempt take place? Remember the forged Italian documents worked by linking an actual uranium purchase from the early 1980s with a faked one in the 1990s.

Well, in that event, and after he had awarded himself some space on an op-ed page, what was to inhibit an employee of the Bush administration from calling attention to these facts, and letting reporters decide for themselves?

Read Fitz's indictment. The White House started digging up details on Wilson when his trip was mentioned, but not his name, by articles in the New Republic and by Nick Kristof in the New York Times. His op-ed piece only came later.*

The CIA had proven itself untrustworthy or incompetent on numerous occasions before, during and after the crisis of Sept. 11, 2001.

9/11 the fault of CIA, and not some guy who summered in Texas not reading his memos.

Why should it be the only agency of the government that can invoke the law, broken or (as in this case) unbroken, to protect itself from leaks while protecting its own leakers?

But you complained at the very top about these laws. If they weren't broken, what's the problem?

None of the major criticisms of the Bush administration would have become available if it were not for the willingness of many former or serving bureaucrats to "go public."

So you mean that other than from leaking officials, there are no major criticisms of the Bush administration?

Logic and history suggest that there will be a turn of the political wheel, and that Dems will regain control of the White House or the Congress. Will they be willing to accept the inflexible standard of secrecy that they have exacted in the Wilson imbroglio? Will they forbid their own civil servants to put a case, in confidence, to members of the press? Will they allow their trusted loyalists to be dragged before grand juries, and the reporters to be forced to open notebooks to the gaze of any prosecutor? The answer today is presumably "yes," which brings me back to where I began, and to the stupid acquiescence of Republicans in the passage of a law that should never have allowed to hollow out the First Amendment in the first place

There's not much point in disentangling this melange, so instead, we just hope he is reading his friend Andrew Sullivan.

*UPDATE: Tuesday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd), the sane part, and thus not read by Hitch, is clear on the timing. The damning day is 12 June 2003, when the Wilson-Plame link was discusssed at top levels at the White House, including an apparent mandate to discuss it with reporters. Wilson's op-ed piece from which Hitch dates all the incriminating factors ran on 7 July.

2 NOV: Yet more links to show that Hitch's assertion that the hatchet job on Wilson only began after his NYT op-ed piece is wrong: the New Republic on how their article played a role, and Jack Shafer of Slate on the May 2003 Nick Kristof column which set the ball rolling (despite being factually inaccurate).

3 JAN: Powerline still exhibits probably willful confusion on the covert/classified distinction:

One possibly legitimate distinction between the two groups is that the Plame leakers may not have known that there was anything secret about Valerie Plame's CIA employment--prosecutor Fitzgerald apparently concluded that she was not a covert agent--while there is no doubt that the NSA leakers were well aware that they were compromising highly classified intelligence operations.

That's not what Fitz found -- see the quote above.

ABSOLUTE FINAL UPDATE: Fitz has confirmed yet again: Plame was covert, her identity as a CIA operative was classified, but he couldn't prove intent to leak her name (because of Libby's lies) so he didn't charge under IIPA or the Espionage Act.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Our betters

So engaged in mindless channel surfing on Saturday evening we happened upon taped coverage of an event on "Leadership" jointly hosted by US News and World Report (sic) magazine and some corporate sponsors (the latter apparently fussy about who got into the event, but that's another story). Anyway, one of the Leaders (sic) on a panel moderated by David Gergen (advisor to every US president since George Washington) was the bald, repulsive Roger Ailes, Fox News supremo and most definitely not the blogger.

In proof that the fish is stupid from the head, Roger was trying to argue that the power of positive thinking can beat avian flu, except that he showed his man of people credentials by pronouncing it as Evian flu, which is presumably what goes around amongst aristocrats like Roger when they "summer" on the shores of Lake Geneva -- of course, not stopping them coming back on the Fox News TV screen and acting like they're about to reach for a brewski from the fridge to show how regular they are.

But to be fair, it's not just the reactionaries who are showing how disappointing the standards are at the top these days. Maureen Dowd has an extended piece in the New York Times Magazine today, on, as Private Eye would say, wimmin, which opens as follows:

When I entered college in 1969, women were bursting out of theirs 50's chrysalis, shedding girdles, padded bras and conventions.

Leave on the last 's' for sloppy editing.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Secrets and Lies

There are other blogs offering comprehensive analysis of the case culminating in Friday's indictment of senior White House aide Lewis Libby for lying, so we refer you to Larry Johnson at TPM Cafe and, less seriously, Fafblog. Just a few comments about the case here. First, we'll note for the record these elements of a Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) profile of the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald:

The son of Irish immigrants and the third of four children, Mr. Fitzgerald grew up in a middle-class family in Brooklyn. His father was a doorman in Manhattan. He attended Regis High School, an all-scholarship Jesuit school in Manhattan, where he was a member of the debate team and is remembered by fellow students as pretty quiet. To earn extra money during school, he worked as a janitor and a doorman. He studied economics and math at Amherst College in Massachusetts and graduated Harvard Law School in 1985. During this time, he took up rugby, a sport he continued to play for years after graduation.

The article also notes his tendency as a prosecutor to go for simple charges in complicated cases. This is important because it confounded the typical Republican noise machine strategy of making the simple things seem complicated (cutting tax rates cuts tax revenue ... but no, what about X, Y, and Z?, where X, Y, and Z are total shite).

Anyway, the 101st Fighting Keyboarders expended enormous effort arguing that Fitz (as we'll call him from here on) couldn't bring a case on the leak of Valerie Plame's CIA identity under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But Friday's news conference by Fitz made clear that to the extent that he was thinking about building a criminal case around the leak, he was looking instead at the much broader Espionage Act of 1917. In the end he didn't go for it, at least not yet, depriving us of the irony of a government that has used a declared War on Terror to massively expand executive power being done in by a previous wartime expansion of that same power. Fitz's discussion of why this use of the Act is controversial is helpful:

And all I'll say is that if national defense information which is involved because her affiliation with the CIA, whether or not she was covert, was classified, if that was intentionally transmitted, that would violate the statute known as Section 793, which is the Espionage Act.

That is a difficult statute to interpret. It's a statute you ought to carefully apply. I think there are people out there who would argue that you would never use that to prosecute the transmission of classified information, because they think that would convert that statute into what is in England the Official Secrets Act.

Let me back up. The average American may not appreciate that there's no law that's specifically just says, "If you give classified information to somebody else, it is a crime." There may be an Official Secrets Act in England. There are some narrow statutes, and there is this one statute that has some flexibility in it.

So there are people who should argue that you should never use that statute because it would become like the Official Secrets Act. I don't buy that theory, but I do know you should be very careful in applying that law because there are a lot of interests that could be implicated in making sure that you picked the right case to charge that statute.

Which sounds like he thinks that technically he could have charged Libby under the Espionage Act, but didn't think that he had sufficiently solid precedent for doing so. Thus making nonsense of Bill Kristol's claim that the recent troubles of conservatives in high office reflects selective prosecution based on laws more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

Finally, mention of the Official Secrets Act brings to mind that a significant piece of the Plame puzzle resides in London. Specifically, the ferocious reaction of the White House to Joe Wilson's contesting of their Niger uranium claim suggests that he had debunked their only evidence for it. Yet the UK Butler report claimed that there was other evidence for the claim, evidence not solely reliant on the forged Italian documents that neocon pundit Michael Ledeen expedited to the White House. Of course, this "other evidence" has remained secret, protected from any leak to enterprising journalists by the aforementioned Act.

Thus somewhere in there is another irony; that of a White House protected from its recklessness by a law that is not enforced in the USA while a similar law is enforced in the UK. If the Espionage Act was enforced to its letter, Libby would be in bigger trouble than he is already -- and probably Rove too. If the Official Secrets Act was not enforced to its letter, the supposed other evidence for the Niger claim would have leaked by now.

As Fitz seemed to imply, there are limited remedies that he has a prosecutor has to offer the public, and some things will just have to be settled in the political sphere. So to move this along, isn't it time for the UK Opposition to start putting on the heat on Blair to reveal just what this other evidence for the Niger claim actually is?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Dictatorship of the Commentariat

Today's Wall Street Journal carries what they view as a pleasing report on how Lithuanian conservatives are redefining economic concepts away from their awful redistributionist meaning under Communist days to what they "really" mean:

Ruta Vainiene, a young former central banker in Lithuania ... published her plainly titled "Dictionary of Economics." The response, both in Lithuania and elsewhere in Europe, has been striking. Since its release, the Dictionary has been the No. 2 nonfiction best seller in her native country ...

"The dictionary was my response to the market need to educate journalists and students about economic jargon that seemed very frightening to them," Ms. Vainiene said in a phone interview. "It explains the concepts in simple words. But also"--and this is crucial--"explains them correctly."

The book notes, for example, that "social 'justice' is always related to the unjust redistribution of wealth, and 'fair competition' is almost always related to unfair government intervention in the economy." In other words, Ms. Vainiene is trying to educate but also to eradicate the misleading and contradictory doublespeak that infects much economic language, especially as it is used in Europe.

Even more laughable than this claim to "objective" meaning in what is clearly propaganda is that the WSJ pitches this as an Orwellian project to speak plainly, and perhaps they're right about the Orwellian part, although not in the way they think. There does seem to be a larger project on the WSJ editorial pages to dump the Republic of Ireland as their European cause celebre and cast their eye eastwards. Along the way, it looks like the English language will be one of the victims.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Strangest Miers reaction so far

Is on National Review's The Corner. One of the nutters floated the idea of Solictor-General Ted Olson as replacement nominee:

WORKS FOR ME [Michael Ledeen]
Cliff [May] is SOOOOOOOO Right. Ted! Probably the greatest Solicitor General ever (and United Airlines will endorse him, too).

We have simply no idea what he means with the United Airlines reference, except with possible confusion about on which plane Olson's wife Barbara was murdered in the 9/11 hijackings. She was on an American Airlines flight.

But the stranger thing is that Ledeen pops up with a giddy comment like this when he really should be explaining his role as a conduit for the forged Saddam-Niger-uranium documents from Italy to Washington. He hasn't said a word about it.

UPDATE 29 OCTOBER: Two theories on what Ledeen meant. Ted Olson's father worked for United Airlines. Or as Roger Ailes speculates, it's a word play on United's low cost carrier, Ted. But -- an airline reference in the context of someone bereaved by 9/11?
She's qualified because she has a Nokia phone

Remember how the pathetic performance of Michael "heck of a job" Brown in emergency management meant that Dubya wouldn't be nominating any more cronies for top jobs? Of course Harriet Miers already put that one to rest but he's still at it with Ambassadorships as well, although perhaps given the consequence of having cronies in really vital positions, maybe a foreign embassy is the safest place for them. Anyway, step forward the latest purchaser of a diplomatic slot:

The President intends to nominate Marilyn Ware, of Pennsylvania, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Finland. Ms. Ware currently serves as Chief Executive Officer for the Ware Family Office, which designs and initiates business ventures and investment opportunities. She previously served as Chairman of Board of American Water Works Company for 15 years.

It doesn't take long for the political contribution tracking sites to find her footprints. Fund Race finds $37,500 given to the Republican National Committee in the 2004 election cycle, and the C-Span site finds that contribution (broken in two, for some reason) along with numerous smaller contributions by her and a relative, all to Republican causes [Enter her surname and 3 digit zip 175 in either site].

In fact Google is a real treasure trove of information about her; it seems from this article that she is an operative for Big Water, a regulated industry that certainly would like to have America's corporatists on its side. But there's the perennial question with all those crony jobs -- how do they decide which country gets landed with them? Poor Finland.

UPDATE 28 OCT: We learn something about the limits of these embassy for sale jobs -- while Finland gets a crony, Iceland and Turkey get real ambassadors i.e. career foreign service officials.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Irish journalism roundup

A couple of quick notes from today's Irish Times (unfortunately, subs. req'd). Some of the more feverish speculation on the Valerie Plame affair in the US focused on the possibility that the soon-to-be-ex New York Times' Judy Miller might herself have been a confidential source for the divulging of Plame's CIA identity. While that has now waned, a case in Donegal shows that in principle it can happen:

Former TD [MP] Tom Gildea yesterday named journalist Frank Connolly as his confidential source of information that an explosive device had been assembled at the rear of a Co Donegal Garda station ... The tribunal is looking into allegations that gardaí assembled the device, found on November 19th, 1996, and placed it on a television mast in Ardara for the purpose of arresting three local people, Hugh Diver, the late Anthony Diver and Bernard Shovlin ...

Peter Charleton, [senior counsel] for the tribunal, said yesterday the view came about in Co Donegal that the device was assembled in the rear yard of a Garda station, be it Ardara, Glenties, Carrick, nobody knew where. "That's correct, yes. There was a multiplicity of rumours," Mr Gildea said ... "I was told by a confidential source that they had information that, as you said, the device was assembled in the rear of the Garda station in Glenties ..."

Mr Charleton asked if he minded telling them who his source was. "No, I don't mind at all, it was Mr Frank Connolly, a correspondent with a Sunday newspaper, told me that," he said.

It's not clear whether Gildea was under any legal threat if he didn't reveal his source. We'd provide some background on the case except that it's hopelessly complicated -- but at its root is chronic misconduct by police in Donegal, including framing of "suspects" in several different cases. Gildea is himself a testament to the parochialism of Irish politics, elected to the national parliament essentially on a platform of free cable TV for people in his area.

Another case of journalist etics (as Bertie Ahern would say) is presented by the fiasco of the Sunday Independent's coverage of the death of rogue politician and property developer Liam Lawlor in a car crash in Moscow. The Sindo claimed that a woman in the car with him was a prostitute -- an allegation that struck people as unseemly even if true, given that Lawlor isn't even buried yet, and anyway, seems not to be true. But the Sindo's strategy: Blame the Observer:

The Sunday Independent, using information provided by the Observer's correspondent in Moscow, wrongly suggested that Mr Lawlor was in the company of a teenage prostitute when he died. It has since apologised unreservedly to the dead politician's family for the story, which was "lifted" by most other Sunday newspapers ...

Yesterday, the Observer, which had earlier insisted its story had reported "accurately and in good faith" comments by the Moscow police, also admitted it had erred. In a statement, the newspaper said "serious discrepancies" had emerged in the account provided by police to its correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh.

"In the light of these discrepancies we have removed the story published in the Irish edition of the Observer from our website. We would like to apologise for the inaccuracies in the story and for the distress the story caused."

Paton Walsh also broke his silence yesterday to stress that he had "no hand" in drafting the story that appeared in the Sunday Independent.

Denying that the paper "got the story" from him, he said "an editor" in the Sunday Independent contacted him last Saturday seeking help to confirm reports that Mr Lawlor had died. "I rang an official police spokesperson and relayed only the contents of three conversations with this same person to their newsdesk, stressing at one point that it was only a possibility the girl was a prostitute."

This is just another entry for the file on deeply sloppy journalism at "Sir" Tony O'Reilly's flagship newspaper.

UPDATE 6 DEC: On the Donegal story above, we want to note for potential future reference that the journalist who provided the dirt on the police making a device which they later "found" seems to be the same Frank Connolly who is a brother of one of the Colombia Three, and according to Justice Minister Michael McDowell -- not always the most reliable source -- may have availed of a false passport to travel to Colombia himself. This Irish Times story (subs. req'd) confirms that it's the same Frank.
Do-it-yourself blogging: Exam time

Having carefully studied our Treatise on Blogging, it's time for your graduation exam. Provide appropriate blogworthy comment on the following news item from RTE:

Cocaine with a street value of over €500,000 has been seized by UK customs in one of three trucks delivering theatrical sets to Dublin for Opera Ireland's Winter Season. The trucks were carrying sets and costumes for a production of La Traviata and were due at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin for the start of rehearsals this week.

They were being shipped from Theatre Aachen, one of Germany's state theatres, which is co-producing the performance with Opera Ireland. Six kilos of cocaine were found on board one of the trucks when it was searched by UK customs officers at Dover. The vehicles had driven through Belgium and the Netherlands before crossing the English Channel.

The drugs have been impounded but David Collopy, Opera Ireland's CEO, says he is now concerned that the seizure will delay rehearsals. He wants police to allow the costumes and sets to be sent on to Ireland as soon as possible.

UPDATE 15 NOV: The operation's Mr Big has apparently been arrested.
What about the packaging for crisps?

Given the daily lunacy on its editorial page, it's just as well that there are other parts of the Wall Street Journal actually worth reading. Wednesday's paper reports (subs. req'd) on the trend in English pubs towards matching beer with glasses, with gimmicks galore:

LONDON -- At the crammed Pavilion End pub here one recent Friday evening, an order for a pint of Foster's Australian lager sent the bartender diving behind the bar. Before pouring, he first had to find a straight-sided Foster's glass with its embossed map of Australia.

British pubs have long been known for serving lager or bitter in all-purpose pint glasses whose only adornment was a government stamp attesting to the fact that they held exactly 20 fluid ounces. Now, in order to boost beer sales, pubs are swapping that iconic glassware in favor of specially shaped glasses with unusual features. Among the new frills is the "nucleator," a laser-etched "S" on the inside of a Stella Artois glass that creates a steady stream of bubbles after the Belgian lager is poured from the tap ...

On the InBev curriculum for pubs that stock its Hoegaarden brand: the beer must always be served in its hefty, sculpted jar, at a temperature of 3 to 5 degrees centigrade. When pouring, servers should hold the glass so high that the tap touches the glass's inside ridge, a feature InBev designed to make the beer foam on top. Servers should also be able to explain that the wheat beer's ingredients contribute to its cloudy appearance.

To make sure bartenders take the time to learn those details, InBev offers incentives. About every two months, the company sends an incognito quality tester to each U.K. pub that stocks its wares, says Duncan Marsden, national accounts director for InBev U.K. The tester asks servers questions such as, "Why does Hoegaarden come in such a strange glass?" and "Why is it so expensive?" If the responses are deemed adequate, the server and the pub can receive a prize on the spot.

Now for the insertion of Guinness snark: any chance Diageo -- having led the way for the "nucleator" with Surger -- could get a similar program going on the pulling of a pint of the black stuff? But don't worry about the fancy glassware.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


President Addresses Joint Armed Forces Officers' Wives' Luncheon
Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C.
11:33 A.M. EDT

Newswires, 3.20 P.M. EDT

U.S. Military Deaths Reach 2,000 in Iraq By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The U.S. military death toll reached 2,000 with the death of an Army sergeant who was wounded by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad and died in Texas last weekend.

A Pentagon announcement Tuesday said Staff Sgt. George T. Alexander Jr., 34, of Killeen, Texas, died in San Antonio, Texas. The death raised the Associated Press tally of military fatalities in the Iraq war to 2,000.
It's why Lance Armstrong wasn't nominated either

Fox News All Star Fred Barnes explains the selection of Ben Bernanke to succeed Alan Greenspan for Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) readers:

Since the White House views the Fed staff as unfriendly to President Bush's fiscal policy, that ruled out Mr. Kohn [Bernanke rival]. He also is an environmentalist who rides a bike to work, thus not a Bush type of guy.

UPDATE: Aside from the War on Bikers, Brad DeLong finds that Barnes is peddling total shite on Bernanke's economics as well.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Zoo TV

Dubya today, clearly weighed down by his troubles, engaging in banter with the press corps:

THE PRESIDENT: Nedra [Pickler], I also said -- this may be the fourth time I've been asked about this, which I appreciate, you're doing your job -- I'm not going to comment about it. This is a very serious investigation [by Paddy Fitz], and I haven't changed my mind about whether or not I'm going to comment on it publicly.

Fine-looking shades you got there.

Q Thanks, Mr. President. Bono style. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Wait a minute, you don't need to be endorsing any products here in the Cabinet -- (laughter.)

One wonders if Bono's shades are those especially annoying ones with mirrors on the outside, the ones so beloved of private security contractors in Iraq.

The transatlantic mirage

It's a trend: beleaguered conservatives looking across the ocean to see signs that all is not lost. The latest installment is provided by "smart conservative" and New York Times columnist David Brooks (subs. req'd) concluding that George Bush conservatism is in good shape because a potential future leader of the Tories used the expression "compassionate conservatism" in a speech. We're not making this up:

The future belongs to post-Bush conservatives. If you want a glimpse of that future, read the speech David Cameron gave earlier this month, which electrified the British Conservative Party conference. Cameron has learned the essential lessons of Bushism. He offered a positive, governing conservatism. He talked about helping moms afford child care and helping the people of Darfur survive. "A modern, compassionate conservatism is right for our times," he declared.

Er... electrified? We noted this exact usage at the time, and with it the report of groans from the audience during the speech. As Brooks must know, "compassionate conservatism" is one of those zombie phrases from the 2000 election, one developed to separate candidate Bush from the lunatic Congressional Republicans, but one that no one on the right actually knows what it means.

To place in context, we've now seen failed Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith join forces with doomed Pennsylvania Senate candidate Rick Santorum to announce the arrival of "social justice conservatives," the self-same David Brooks call for a "back to basics" revival (without laughing), and Norman Lamont not recognising that it's a replay of his early 1990s for his American conservative friends. DUDES! The Bush-Churchill comparison* at least had the virtue that if the Republicans crashed at the next general election in 2008, as they're on course to do, that could be aligned with Winston's loss after saving the world in 1945. But if you want to make the current brand of Tory your model, with 3 election losses and counting, be our guest.

UPDATE: The much-missed Sullywatch returns with the apt description of the above movement as fin de siécle Anglo-American conservatism.

UPDATE 1 NOV*Latest example of Bush Churchill comparison.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Get some shrinks for these people

At some point, which we suppose is now, we had intended to note an odd typo as Andrew Sullivan does a de facto explication of the Republic of Ireland's abortion policies, and specifically the pro-life constitutional amendment that ended up, under certain circumstances, creating a right to an abortion:

I've never understood the moral argument about banning all abortion as the taking of life, while allowing it in cases of rape and incest. I fully understand the psychological and simply humane reasons for allowing someone to abort in those cases ... Equally, if your criterion is that abortion should be legal if it advances the mental health of the matter, I can see the point. But that's such a nebulous standard it could be and is used to justify any abortion, including the horrifying later-term cases, which are intuitively very hard to distinguish from infanticide.

Now of course he meant to say "mental health of the mother" but it's an unfortunate mistake given that there's a strain of pro-life thinking that in effect devalues the life of the mother, making her merely the delivery system for the next generation.

But by accusing le duc de Sully of having some weird subconscious feelings about motherhood, we do not want to be on the same boat as James Taranto at Opinion Journal, who takes his frequent references to Sully being excitable (=gay, geddit?) up a notch. The context is Sully's frequent harping on the details of specific US detainee abuse cases, and Taranto accuses Sully of an inordinate number of mentions of an incident where a detainee was made to believe he was being smeared in menstrual blood (it was ink):

Note how when Sullivan (or most anyone else) writes about this, it's always "fake menstrual blood," never just "fake blood." Lots of people are squeamish about blood, but the suggestion here is that there is something sordid about menstruation.

This is nonsense. A woman's reproductive cycle is natural and normal. Girls realize this within hours of hitting puberty, but it takes longer for boys to figure out. To a preteen male, the news that women have periods is unsettling. But boys eventually become men, and most of them have intimate relationships with women, which helps to demystify the female reproductive system. To a mature man, menstruation is not a horror.

There are, however, exceptions--adult men who remain strangers to the female body. Among them are homosexual men who identify as gay at a young age and thus do not have heterosexual experiences. Also among them are single men from sexually repressed cultures, such as fundamentalist Islamic ones, in which contact between the sexes is rigidly policed. Many of America's enemy prisoners fall into the latter category. If the mere idea of "fake menstrual blood" discombobulates Andrew Sullivan so, it stands to reason that its actual employment might be an excellent way to break the enemy's resistance.

Now Taranto is on such thin ice here, it's only the surface tension that's holding him up (or perhaps belief in George W. Bush). He and his Keyboard Kommando friends have managed to create for themselves a category of ""other," people not entitled to Magna Carta protections once they acquire the label "terrorist." And while Sully might indeed take an odd gynophobic approach, they don't like being reminded of the degree of alienation that they have managed to achieve. We await Sully's response.

UPDATE: Sully responds, and to be fair, he doesn't pursue the route that he could have -- exploring Taranto's own strange fixations. He explains how the fake menstrual blood tactic was clearly rooted in military documents, and asks:

So my own concern with religious abuse is dismissed as a function of my sexual orientation! I have to say that of all the sad attempts to dismiss or belittle abuse and torture of detainees, this has to be about the lowest and lamest yet ... Taranto's exclusion of gay men from the categories of adulthood and masculinity is also, shall we say, revealing. Has the pro-torture right really been reduced to this kind of irrelevant bigotry? Is this all they have left?


ANOTHER UPDATE: Like, just to spell out one of the problems here, if "normal" (i.e. non Muslim, non gay) society is so comfortable with menstruation, why is it impossible to tell the difference between a tampon ad and a Hallmark card? And Sullywatch details what Taranto either doesn't know, or, well, you don't want to hear the 'or.'

There is an eerie 19th century painting quality to this AP photo of earthquake survivors in Indian-administered Kashmir. [BAD LINK: here's the front page New York Times story that used the photo]. It was taken by Gurinder Osan.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

They can be reasoned with.

Guardian journalist Rory Carroll is freed after just one day in captivity in Baghdad. We'll update when his side of the story comes out. The quick release suggests a media-savvy militia group.
The Silence of the Keyboarders

Now: [BBC] The US military has launched a criminal investigation into alleged misconduct by its troops in Afghanistan, including burning the bodies of Taleban fighters. The move came after an Australian TV station ran footage of what appeared to be US soldiers burning the remains. The footage shows other troops apparently taunting residents of a nearby village, which they believed to be harbouring the Taleban. The act of burning corpses is regarded as a sacrilege in Islam.

Reaction from National Review's The Corner? [ ... ]

Then, specifically April 2004, on National Review's The Corner:

DISGUSTING [Andrew Stuttaford]
There are terrible images over on Drudge of the scene today in Fallujah. I quote from AP: "Enraged Iraqis in this hotbed of anti-Americanism killed four foreigners Wednesday, including at least one U.S. national, took the charred bodies from a burning SUV, dragged them through the streets, and hung them from the bridge spanning the Euphrates River." The deaths themselves are tragedy enough, and as for the rest of it...

I seem to recall that when the bodies of Sadaam's sons were put on display, we were told this was 'un-Islamic'. Lets see what the mullahs, the imams and the other holy men have to say about this incident.

FALLUJAH [John Derbyshire]
Given that these civilian contractors and their colleagues have been brought in to, among other things, get essential services like water, electricity, and sewerage working, I suggest that the Coalition authorities make sure that none of these utilities is available in the city of Fallujah until the bombers are handed over.

FALLUJAH [Rick Brookhiser]
Fallujahns are saying that Fallujah is the graveyard of Americans. Time it became the graveyard of some of those Fallujahns responsible for today's brutality.

Apparently not: "Mr. Derbyshire--Wow, great idea. Let's cut off utilities to Fallujah. If Iraqis there were thirsty, in the dark, and wallowing in their own sh*t, it would really improve America's ability to maintain order and install some sort of democratic system in their country. Sometimes you post things that seem like they are straight out of the Onion."

All right, all right. Then let's just make Fallujah the LAST bit of Iraq we bring democracy to. Followed, after a decent interval, by water, electricity,....


... otherwise there is the potential for this being hailed as a "Mogadishu" by Al Qaeda, the Ba'ath Dead Enders, and a few professors at Coulmbia, if you remember that incident:

.... We cut and run after Somalia. We're going to stick it out in Iraq. The savages in Somalia largely got away with it. I doubt that will happen with the Fallujites (Fallujans? Fallopians?).
The Iron Lady rusts

There's a strange opinion piece by Norman "Je ne regrette rien" Lamont in Thursday's Wall Street Journal Europe(subs. req'd) -- the page that seems to have become a pit-stop for a certain kind of Tory, with Iain Duncan Smith having been there a few weeks ago. Anyway, Norman's basic complaint is that the current Conservative party is too eager to distance itself from Mrs Thatcher despite, in his view, her lasting positive contributions to the UK, and indeed Tony Blair's willingness to pay homage to the same. Lamont sees this as rooted in a perception that she is a divisive figure, best left unmentioned in a modernising party. He contrasts this with Reagan's image amongst Republicans:

This week I was in the U.S. and saw much of American conservatives' opposition to President Bush, particularly over his latest nomination to the Supreme Court. What struck me forcibly was the sheer self belief and confidence of American conservatives compared with Conservatives in Britain. You did not hear American Republicans distancing themselves from Ronald Reagan and apologizing for his legacy. Tory "modernizers" make a terrible mistake when they denigrate their own party. No one will vote for a party that loathes itself and wants to cut its heroes and heroines down to size.

He clearly has not been reading WSJ regular Peggy Noonan's contributions on exactly the issue of Reagan-Bush divergence; further evidence provided by this debate on National Review's The Cornhole (scroll up and down from this relevant post).

In addition, Lamont presents a list of factors that make Maggie a divisive figure:

Lady Thatcher did destroy the postwar political consensus ... It is true there were victims of change in the Thatcher revolution ... It is true that the poor became better off more slowly than the rich became richer.

But missing from the list is a huge asset for Labour in the last three elections -- the Conservative reputation for economic mismanagement in the run-up to the exchange rate crisis in 1992, during which time the Chancellor was one ... Norman Lamont. And then there was the debacle of the deeply unpopular poll tax, pushed by ideologues with no-one around capable of convincing Maggie how bad an idea it was.

In this sense, the right analogy for Maggie's legacy that Lamont should be looking it is not with Reagan, but with George W. Bush. Reagan was saved from the full consequences of his policies by a Congress that forced tax increases, and by the house-cleaning that followed the Iran-Contra scandal. But now it's Dubya doing the late 1980s version of Maggie -- incoherent economic policies and radical social engineering schemes, and too powerful a cult of personality to be told he's wrong.

So Lamont claims to see a supposedly unified American conservative movement right in the middle of making the same mistake that his party was oblivious to 15 years ago.

UPDATE: Sometimes we amaze even ourselves. Our theme above -- that Lamont was totally missing the analogy between the current state of American conservatism and the Thatcher end-days, and we even mentioned Peggy Noonan. Well, here's Noonan today in the WSJ Online:

Now Mr. Bush is in the first political crisis of his presidency, a crisis unusual, even perhaps unprecedented, in modern American politics, in that his own side has risen up and declared it no longer sees him as one of them. (It is comparable to what happened to Margaret Thatcher in 1990, when Conservative Party members turned on her. That rebellion was more personal than policy-based, but an old rule of politics pertains in both cases: Friends come and go but enemies accumulate.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A glass of white and a $430 million loan, please

What would a day be without a litle financial high-jinks?

[WSJ, subs. req'd] When Refco Inc. Chief Executive Phillip R. Bennett needed a loan of about $430 million as his futures brokerage firm began to unravel, a little-known Austrian bank came to his rescue ... Yesterday, the probe into the large U.S.-based firm expanded to Europe as Austrian Vice Chancellor Hubert Gorbach urged his country's central bank to open an investigation into Bawag P.S.K. and its relationship with Mr. Bennett ...

It isn't clear why Mr. Bennett turned to the Vienna bank, out of all banks in the world, for help. At a bail hearing for Mr. Bennett last week, his lawyer said Mr. Bennett had planned a social trip for last week to Vienna with colleagues from Bawag. Wine tasting was on the agenda.
Maybe he'll carry in the indictments

Leaving aside the "controversy" not of their own making about politicians using U2 concerts for fundraisers, Bono is popping in today to see his pal Dubya:

In town for a concert, U2 rock star Bono was invited to lunch Wednesday with the president. White House president secretary Scott McClellan said the meeting at the executive residence would be a follow-up on talks he had with President Bush in July at the G-8 summit in Scotland.

"They had a very good discussion about some of our common priorities," McClellan said. "Both share a deep commitment to combating AIDS, preventing malaria and expanding trade to lift people out of poverty."

McClellan said Bono also planned to meet with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley later in the day, before U2's concert at the MCI Center. The spokesman laughingly told reporters that Bush was not planning to attend the concert.

Hadley is one of the people dragged into Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation so a chat with Bono is surely a nice diversion. It might be awkward for Dubya to actually attend the concert anyway, since we think this is the one that Hillary Clinton is going to.
Very tricky

The BBC has more details so far than RTE: Irish journalist Rory Carroll, who writes for the Guardian, has been kidnapped in Iraq. As we've noted recently, the Department of Foreign Affairs has various headaches at the moment with citizens in detention in other countries, but this is clearly the most perilous.

The precedents for these cases lead one to believe that (a) he will be freed, hopefully quickly, but that (b) a ransom will be paid, although (c) the government will deny it, most likely via relabelling of fees to "middlemen" or concessions provided by 3rd parties as not counting as a "ransom." This was almost certainly the case for Franco-Belgian hostage Florence Aubenas and the Italian hostages, the two Simonas.

UPDATE: The RTE story is now more elaborate. Rory is the son of the well-known journalist, Joe Carroll. We wish that Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern's statement in the RTE story sounded more pro-active.

MORE LINKS: Jim Romenesko's Media News. RTE story suggesting link to an al-Sadr militia.

FINAL UPDATE: He's freed. That was quick.
The Sinn Féin franchise

This was probably inevitable, via Wednesday's Irish Times (subs. maybe req'd):

Salah Mutlak likes being called "the Gerry Adams of Iraq". Although he has never met the Sinn Féin leader, Dr Mutlak professes deep admiration. A Sunni Muslim businessman who owes the title "Dr" to agricultural studies at the University of Aberdeen, Mutlak has become the public face of what Sunnis call "the resistance".

"I consider myself the political wing of the resistance, without being it officially," Dr Mutlak said in an interview in his bullet-pocked office, a luxurious villa in the Sunni neighbourhood of Hay Jamiah. Earlier this month the Iraqi National Guard sprayed the building with machinegun fire.

"That means I say what I believe the resistance want and believe, without getting permission from them, without being appointed by them," Dr Mutlak continues. Is he in contact with them? "Sometimes."

Mutlak is leader of the National Dialogue Council which opposed the constitution and wondered, legitimately, why Condi Rice was announcing the referendum result before all the votes had been counted. Anyway, this is not the first time the Sinn Fein/Insurgency idea has cropped up; we noted before when it was attributed to a pseudonymous insurgent. Previous experience has shown that the emergence of a political side to an insurgency is a sign of strength, not weakness. Whatever length of time the White House had for its estimated engagement in Iraq, it should probably lengthen it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Legal roundup

Another of our occasional updates on legal matters. Last week we posted about Irish citizen Viktor Kozeny, who is sitting in jail in the Bahamas on foot of an indictment by US authorities in connection with a privatisation scandal in Azerbaijan. As we noted then, his Irish citizenship is a touchy issue, as it pertains both to a now-discredited policy of selling citizenship to investors and to his ability to avoid extradition to the US. Tuesday's Irish Times (subs. req'd) reports on additional odd details:

Fugitive financier Viktor Kozeny has been issued six Irish passports and at least two others from the Czech Republic and Venezuela, according to records shown to The Irish Times. [] magistrate Carolita Bethel has warned that she wants full disclosure of all Irish passports held by Mr Kozeny, who has been dubbed "The Bouncing Czech" by the international press.

The first passport was issued on April 28th, 1995, and expired on April 26th, 2005. The second was issued on January 18th, 1996, and expired on April 26th, 2005 ... Mr Kozeny now had two valid Irish passports, and added that five of Mr Kozeny's 32-page passports had been used up with stamps from various countries he visited.

Frequent requests for replacement passports would be the kind of thing that attracts the attention of the GWOT, but apparently not in this case.

An unrelated matter, except insofar as it also pertains to the lack of confidence in the Irish government in security matters. Monday's IT reported (subs.) that:

Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy has ordered an internal investigation following allegations that gardaí failed to fully investigate the death in Donegal in 2003 of Derry academic and well known republican figure Mary Reid ... Ms Reid (49) was found dead on a beach at the Isle of Doagh, Co Donegal, on January 29th, 2003. An inquest two years ago into her death concluded she died as a result of drowning.

... After the inquest their solicitor Robert Eager issued a statement saying the family had "some doubts about the circumstances of her death" and the fact that none of her missing clothes were found. She was naked from the waist up when she was found. He added that the family was "particularly unhappy about the lack of a comprehensive forensic examination of Ms Reid's car" ...Ms Reid's family and partner were also disappointed that the State Pathologist was not called to the scene to carry out a forensic postmortem.

In a meaningless but blogworthy coincidence, we had indirectly mentioned Mary Reid before; she was part of the scandal that should have brought down Francois Mitterand had the full details been known at the time about the extent of presidential involvement in the operation that set up the "Vincennes Irish."

UPDATE 3 DEC: The Bahamas will seek to extradite Kozeny -- [WSJ, subs. req'd] The Bahamas can begin extradition hearings against an Irish businessman wanted in New York on charges of plotting to bribe government officials in the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, prosecutors said Friday.

Approval for the proceedings against investment promoter Viktor Kozeny was given by Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell, prosecutor Francis Cumberbatch said in magistrate court ... A date for Kozeny's extradition hearings will be determined during his next court appearance on Dec. 12.

FINAL UPDATE 6 JULY 2007: Kozeny is still in the Bahamas and the case against him is in trouble; a judge threw out the conspiracy case against his two US-based co-accused. Apparently the US Department of Justice forgot to make sure that the statute of limitations clock wasn't ticking as they gathered evidence. Who would have thought that a Bush government department might be incompetent?
Hitchens does Ulysses

There's a post that we've meaning to get to for a long time if we weren't encumbered by jobs and stuff, and the best we can do here is a downpayment on that longer effort. But it would deal with the single most weaselish aspect of the writings of Christopher Hitchens -- and we know, there's a lot of competition there -- his refusal to explicitly state his position on the legitimacy of Israel, but articles nonetheless containing sly dog-whistles about what that position is. Specifically, our thesis is that Hitch does not believe that Israel is a legitimate state, but also that he has chosen to conceal this position given its awkward conjunction between his GWOT friends and the enemies thereof.

There've been a few times when, reading one of his personal attacks disguised as political analysis, we see what looks like an incidental comment that of itself, communicates very little, but over time start to form a pattern. And notwithstanding his gin-soaked reputation, there are certain things that display too much effort to be accidental. We noted before his odd description of Hamas as "anti-Zionist." Then there's his latest piece for Slate, which is the work of a weasel for so many reasons.

Hitch now tells us that the three-way summary description of Iraqi ethnicities as Sunni/Shia/Kurd is simplistic and even wrong, but he might want to tell that not to his readers, who are probably familiar with the supposed subtleties he describes, but to his friends at the Pentagon and White House who have been using the tripartite Iraq model to understand the place since about, oh, 18 March 2003 -- the same people who would have ridiculed such statements of complexities before then as nuanced or French.

Hitch also presents as a revelation to us all the information that:

the spiritual leader of the Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, is an ethnic Persian

Well, yes. This has been grist for the mill for anyone like us who's wondered for a long time why Iran has such a hold over Republican presidents, mostly recently manifested in the demonisation of Iraqi nationalist Moqtada al-Sadr while the head of something called The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq receives pleading phone calls from George W. Bush.

Anyway, mention of Iran and Republican presidents brings us back to Israel. Here's the little side observation that will work its way into our essay-length piece on Hitch and Israel:

bear in mind that in 1947 there were more Jews in Baghdad than in Jerusalem (many of the former of whom had been there longer),

Now as we said above, the trick with Hitch is that as a stand-alone comment, this is harmless, but there's a subtext: Jews lived in all sorts of places. What's so special about Israel? Where they hadn't even lived for that long? And while arguing for all the complexities of Iraq's history, Hitch displays zero interest in thinking about why the Jews might not have been in Jerusalem in large numbers, up to and including the policy of the British mandate to keep them out, culminating in the brilliantly timed 1939 White Paper that proposed quantitative limits on Jewish immigration to Palestine.

So in trying to pitch old Baghdad as more Jewish than Jerusalem, Hitch reprises the old exchange from Ulysses:

I just wanted to say, he said. Ireland, they say, has the honour of being the only country which never persecuted the jews. Do you know that? No. And do you know why?

He frowned sternly on the bright air.

—Why, sir? Stephen asked, beginning to smile.

—Because she never let them in, Mr Deasy said solemnly.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Let's hope handshakes aren't transitive

White House Announcement today:

President Bush will host Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at the White House for a meeting and lunch on October 31, 2005. Italy is one of America's strongest allies and closest partners in the global war on terror ... The President and the Prime Minister will discuss a range of issues, including their shared commitment to advance freedom and democracy around the world.

Hmmm. Let's see who Silvio's been hanging with recently. Hugo. Who hung out with Robert. But also with St James. Who was also visited by Jenna. So maybe it all makes sense.
The death penalty for staring

If you believe that it takes 20 "terrorists" to plant a roadside bomb, or that 50 "terrorists" would gather in one place to get blasted by a rocket, well, you probably shouldn't read any further. Anyway, while the Pentagon will doubtless be trotting out its line that they don't target civilians, it's abundantly clear that they have a policy of targeting any site where US troops were recently killed, knowing full well that lots of people gather in those areas to see the aftermath of the previous incident. This appears to be explanation for the lesser of the two major death tolls today, and it's happened before:

Baghdad, September 2004 via BBC: At least 13 people were killed and about 60 others were wounded by US helicopter fire as they milled around the burning wreckage of an American armoured vehicle that had been ambushed by insurgents early in the morning.

News footage shows a few dozen curious Iraqis standing around the Bradley Fighting Vehicle just before the missile strike.

When exactly will pro-lifers have something to say about the Commander-in-Chief who oversees these policies?

UPDATE 16 NOV: Links and a picture from the Baghdad incident from Progressive Ireland.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Plain English

The Backword blog is your one-stop shop for commentary on Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize in Literature. But one contribution that might escape Dave's eagle eye is a surprising mostly pro-Pinter piece in Saturday's Wall Street Journal. Now one might think they hid this nod in their new Saturday edition (subs. req'd) so as to get below the radar screen of their more true-believing readers, but they've also provided a free link, so they're not ashamed, notwithstanding the intro:

Another Left Turn in Stockholm
An America-hating playwright wins a Nobel. Surprisingly, he deserves it.


Which is an accurate summary of the article. The funniest bit is

Even Noël Coward, who had no use whatsoever for trendy theatrical innovation, was impressed by his ability to stir up profoundly unsettling emotions through the simplest of means. " 'The Caretaker,' on the face of it, is everything I hate most in the theatre--squalor, repetition, lack of actions, etc.--but somehow it seizes hold of you," he wrote in his diary. "Nothing happens except that somehow it does."

Indeed, having seen Penelope Keith swanning through the role of Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit a little while back, it's tough to imagine her being able to do the same thing with a Pinter play. Anyway, it sounds like Teachout had to talk down some of his more excitable friends:

Within minutes of the announcement, I received this email from a friend: "Do you believe that big phony Pinter won the Nobel?" But Mr. Pinter is no phony--at least not when he's writing plays--and you don't have to be completely convinced by his fill-in-the-blanks style to admire his uncanny knack for portraying the myriad ways in which people talk past one another, never quite managing to say what they mean.

Not quite the praise that fans of a President who "says what he means, and means what he says" could stand for.

UPDATE: Well, the WSJ may have felt they had to atone for tolerting Pinter in Saturday's paper, and so the penance is Hitchens in Monday's (subs. only). Not much to say really, although:

Let us also hope for a long silence to descend upon the thuggish bigmouth who has strutted and fretted his hour upon the stage for far too long.

Indeed. The thuggish bigmouth who spun for the higher-ups in Abu Ghraib, who can take time out of Keyboarding for Kurdistan to pen a defence of Karl Rove in the Plame affair, and even did his bit on the side for the Swift Boat Liars -- bring on the silence.

FINAL UPDATE: The Hitchens article becomes the focal point for the War on Pinter; this contribution from Jonah Goldberg summarises the quality of the analysis:

I will confess here and now I know very little of Pinter's work. I've caught bits and piece over the years, read the occasional criticism (and many since the Nobel announcment) but I think it's fair to say I'm perhaps a few inches shy of real ignorance about Pinter's literary contributions ...
But here's the real reason I think it's ok to complain about Pinter's Nobel without being fully fluent in his oeuvre ... I am not a particularly literary guy ... If that makes me a Philistine, I can deal with that.

And smart conservative John "Midgette" Podhoretz provides the icing on the cake:

Pinter Shminter.

Meanwhile, Hitch really walked into it with the thuggish bigmouth reference. Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber goes for a riposte similar to ours, while Hitchens Watch wonders if the usage is malicious, given Pinter's cancer.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Legal roundup

A couple of legal stories that we want to note. Almost two years ago, we blogged a few times about the case of Ian Bailey, an Englishman living in West Cork and "person of interest" in the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, wife of a well-known film director. Our tone then shared in the general presumption that Bailey did it, it just couldn't be proven to the satisfaction of a prosecution. Well, Friday's Irish Times reports (subs. req'd) that a principal witness has retracted her statements against him:

Marie Farrell (42) had been a witness for newspapers defending themselves against a libel action taken by English journalist Ian Bailey who claimed he was defamed by the papers linking him to the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier in Schull in west Cork.

Ms Farrell told Bailey's libel action in December 2003 that she had seen him at Kealfadda Bridge outside Schull at 3am on December 23rd, 1996, the night Ms Toscan du Plantier was murdered approximately a mile away at her holiday home at Toormore, Schull.

Ms Farrell had been subpoenaed by the newspapers after they obtained access to the Garda file into the murder and obtained statements that she had made to gardaí alleging that she saw Bailey at Kealfadda Bridge and later recognised him on the street in Schull.

But Ms Farrell contacted Bailey's solicitor, Frank Buttimer, in March this year and over the course of several interviews with him, she has stated that statements she made to gardaí implicating Bailey were incorrect

Now we could go a second round here, as others are surely doing, and say "ah well, sure the gardai knew they had their man and maybe juiced up the witness statements a little bit to get it nice and tidy." But that's already much too far down the slippery slope than we would want to be, especially so soon after the evolving knowledge about what happened to Jean Charles de Menezes in July. So for now, we'll just STFU about Ian Bailey, who is, as he always was, innocent till proven guilty, and not even officially a suspect.

We also want to note the bizarre arrest of Worker's Party president Sean Garland, from Navan, County Meath, in Belfast, on foot of an extradition request from the US in connection with the distribution of fake $100 bills in a conspiracy with North Korea (multiple links, as always for these things, from Slugger O'Toole). The allegations in this case have floated around since the late 1990s, so it's not clear what sped things up now. It does add to the set of extradition headaches facing the British and Irish governments.

After hearing the initial details, we had to trace through memories of the arcane history of the IRA to recall what the Workers Party actually is ... essentially one descendant of the late 1960s Official IRA. There's something appropriate about Garland (allegedly) staying true to the old Nationalist-Leninist tradition -- revolution through debasement of the currency, with a little personal enrichment along the way. One wonders though if the North Koreans lost interest in undermining the dollar when they realised that Dubya's fiscal policies were doing their work for them.

UPDATE: Follow-up report on the Bailey case from RTE. And we added a qualifier (in bold) to our Garland commentary to keep it consistent with that on Bailey.
Further reporting on the Bailey case from the Sunday Times, a story which includes a couple of ill-advised sentences -- they might be hearing from Bailey again. The ST also has a story on the Republic's reluctance to extradite to the US, in the context of the Sean Garland case -- but something which, as we have argued before, the NatWest Three and Ian Norris should keep in mind.
It's where the Embassy cat lives


On Thursday, October 13, 2005, the President signed into law:

S. 1413, which redesignates a facility of the U.S. mission in Kingston, Jamaica as the Colin L. Powell Residential Plaza.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Nobel question

Has any winner of the prize for literature, before Harold Pinter, inspired a sitcom episode?

JERRY: You know you're not supposed to drink while you're keeping a secret! (Elaine laughs) Is there anything else?
ELAINE: I can't tell you.
JERRY: (Handing her a small bottle) Here, drink this.
ELAINE: Okay. (Takes a drink) I slept with the groom.
JERRY: Pinter?
ELAINE: He used to be called Peter.
JERRY: (Making nothing of it) So? Who cares about that?
ELAINE: Sue Ellen! If she knew, she'd call off the whole wedding.
Department of Unintended Irony

Wall Street Journal editorial (subs. req'd; free link with reg.) for Thursday:

Ayman al Zawahiri and George W. Bush don't agree on much. But al Qaeda's No. 2 leader and the U.S. President are in accord on one thing: Iraq is the central battlefield.

Later, the editorial tries to whistle past the huge inconsistency in the standard blame-the-media analysis the al Qaeda letter exposes -- al Zawahiri's primary concern that the image of al Qaeda is being tarnished by the media coverage of civilian deaths in Iraq:

He [al Zawahiri] is clearly worried that the jihadists are losing in Iraq. He devotes a large portion of his letter to a critique of Zarqawi's tactics, counseling him to do more to win "public support" among the Iraqi Shiite majority.

Don't attack mosques, he advises. Don't target ordinary people ...
Amid these lamentations, however, one area emerges about which the terror commander exudes great confidence: the media. The lesson he learned from Vietnam is that "more than half of the battle is taking place on the battlefield of the media." He clearly wants to use the media, in the U.S. and in the Arab world, to induce the U.S. to pull out of Iraq and default a position of strength to al Qaeda.

It's like he wants al Zarqawi to run a website that could be called, oh, Good News from Iraq!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Epiphanies all round

It had to happen. Andrew Sullivan had gotten so far with his persona of New Sully, implacable foe of the powers-that-be, but he had to revert to being duc de Sully, faithful servant of the royal court. And indeed, much as his namesake:

Sully was not popular. He was hated ... by all because he was a favorite, and selfish, obstinate and rude. He amassed a large personal fortune, and his jealousy of all other ministers and favorites was extravagant. Nevertheless he was an excellent man of business, inexorable in punishing malversation and dishonesty on the part of others, and opposed to the ruinous court expenditure which was the bane of almost all European monarchies in his day. He was gifted with executive ability, with confidence and resolution, with fondness for work, and above all with deep devotion to his master. He was implicitly trusted by Henry IV and proved himself the most able assistant of the king in dispelling the chaos into which the religious and civil wars had plunged France.

Despite his disgust about the royal budget, the irresistible pull of the royal court exerts itself again with his revived flypaper/fly-trap theory [will add link when he's unhacked] -- that the Iraq war was necessary so that Arabs could experience first hand the impact of Islamist terrorism:

... internal Muslim division ... a fortunate by-product of failure to pacify the country. By allowing chaos and disorder to engulf many Iraqi lives, the coalition may have undermined Jihadist appeal by exposing their willingness to slaughter other Muslims in their bid for a new Caliphate ... by forcing the battle into the heart of the Middle East, rather than in the West, the coalition is exposing internal rifts and dividing the Muslim world into its sane and insane camps. If the sane camp wins, we all win ... But if we can keep the fldegling Iraqi state somewhat stable, the potential benefit is that by using schismatic divisions in Islam, we can help isolate and undermine al Qaeda and Jihadism in general ... But the strategy is not a crazy one, even if it has emerged from the wreckage of incompetence.

This is just a rehashed version of the Epiphany theory pushed by the Wall Street Journal, that 9/11 was necessary to show Americans the threat of terrorism, and that the Saudis needed something similar to happen to them. Sully ups the ante by hoping that the bringing home of terrorism causes a schism within Islam that the West can ride to its own advantage -- not the kind of delicate operation that one wants this White House in charge of.

While this is a shite (one i) strategy for a war, there is one bit of supporting evidence for the effect it postulates -- the now fully released letter from al Zawahiri to al Zarqawi, which makes clear the split between al Qaeda HQ and its franchise in Iraq on the strategy of killing civilians and Shia:

But Mr. Zawahiri ... pointedly [warns] Mr. Zarqawi that such strikes amounted to "action that the masses do not understand or approve."

In the letter, Mr. Zawahiri compared the fierce war of resistance that Iraqis and foreign fighters have waged in Iraq since March 2003 with the speedy fall of Afghanistan's Taliban government after the American-led invasion there in 2001.

"We don't want to repeat the mistake of the Taliban, who restricted participation in governance to the students and the people of Kandahar alone," Mr. Zawahiri wrote. "The result was that the Afghan people disengaged themselves from them. Even devout ones took the stance of the spectator and, when the invasion came, the emirate collapsed in days, because the people were either passive or hostile."

"Therefore," Mr. Zawahiri wrote, "I stress again to you and to all your brothers the need to direct the political action equally with the military action, by the alliance, cooperation and gathering of all leaders of opinion and influence in the Iraqi arena."

This shreds the media criticism of the right, who complain that the Western media reports deaths from terrorism with the implicit goal of undermining the war back home. In fact, Zawahiri makes clear that it is precisely these images that undermine the insurgency and leave room for the split that Sully has now noticed. Incidentally, of interest to Irish readers must surely be that Zawahiri's last sentence above could easily be rephrased as "the Armalite in one hand and the ballot box in the other" -- perhaps soon to be the latest evidence on links between Northern Ireland and the GWOT.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

New Orleans-on-Indus

Powerline, a couple of days ago:

In developed countries like the United States, earthquakes take far less of a human toll because of superior construction techniques. This is one of countless instances where prosperity, which is so often and so unfairly maligned, saves lives ... And the only requirement for prosperity is freedom. This isn't the most important reason why our foreign policy should be centered on promoting freedom abroad, but it is certainly on the list. Helping promote free enterprise in the underdeveloped world will do far more good than any amount of foreign aid.

A Wall Street Journal editorial (subs. req'd) on Tuesday:

Longer term, what Pakistan needs isn't another round of development financing. It needs economic growth, sustained by free markets, transparent institutions and the rule of law.

Just when the New York Times starts charging for content is not the time for its competitor to be recycling trash from the Powerline boys.

UPDATE 13 OCT: Dave Weeden in correspondence notes an earlier provenance for this death toll-driven-entirely-by-wealth of nations meme in a Mark Steyn column. Links, with trenchant commentary, here.
This day in Presidential incoherence

From Dubya's interview, hammer in hand, with NBC:

We had chopper drivers pulling people off roofs;


Q [Carolyn Maloney (Democratic House member)] said that we aren't asking the people of Iraq to pay back the money we're spending there - why are we asking the people of the Gulf Coast, requiring them to pay back this money. How would you respond to that?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the people of Iraq are paying a heavy price for terrorism. A lot of people are dying, Matt.

Interest on loans substitutable for deaths from terrorism.

Q So in other words, if someone says to you, okay, you're moving a wall today and it's a photo op, but if that inspires someone else in another community to move a wall and grab a hammer, then that's mission accomplished?

MRS. BUSH: That's right.

She didn't say whether there would be a resulting banner on an aircraft carrier.

Q Who would take the lead in [avian flu response] Would it be a military situation? Would it be homeland security?

THE PRESIDENT: It's a really interesting question, and it's one that I raised that has created a little bit of consternation among some. I have said that there may be a catastrophic event such that the federal government has got the - it's only the federal government that has got the capacity to move in quickly with a lot of resources, which would require law changes. For example, the military cannot become police without a special proclamation.

And so we're planning all this out. We're in the midst of, one, identifying that there may be a problem, and, two, what to do about it. When I have a plan that I'm comfortable with, of course I will talk to the American people about it.

The plan for avian flu is that there is no plan.

UPDATE: He's in Mississippi now. Excerpted remarks: blue ribbon .. blue ribbon .. blue ribbon .. blue ribbon .. blue ribbon .. blue ribbon.
Further checking required

If true, this will be the sign that U2 have lost it (SEE UPDATE!). A story on the website Newsmax, sourced to ... er ... Newsmax, says that Bono and the lads are playing at a $1,000 a head fundraiser for endangered Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum in Philadelphia this weekend:

The thousand-dollar-a-seat concert has been put together by Sean and Ana Wolfington and will take place at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia in support of Santorum’s re-election, reports NewsMax's James Hirsen.

Now the absence of specific details in the story has us suspicious, but it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that Bono has fallen for Santorum's recent shtick of social justice conservative even amidst his own unique brand of pro-life cut-taxes-and-damn-the-poor economic policies, not to mention his ludicrous attempt to make people pay extra for the weather forecasts that their taxes already pay for in a giveaway to in-state private weather forecaster Accu-weather.

But no further commentary until there's better indication that the story is true.

UPDATE: OK, it looks like Newsmax is doing a dubious mix-and-match. U2's concert calendar does indeed show a gig in Philly on the 16th. Presumably Santorum's campaign is selling some premium seats for this event as a fundraiser, no endorsement either way implied.

ANOTHER UPDATE: While we were tentative from the start, National Review's The Corner got suckered, because of course they wanted it to be true:

BONO AND SANTORUM [John Podhoretz]
Watch as the heads of the editors of Kurt Loder, Rolling Stone, the Utne Reader, Spin, Vibe and the Hollywood geniuses at the Huffington Post simultaneously explode like in Scanners once they hear the news that rock god Bono is raising money for "man on dog" critic Santorum. Oh, the expression of humorless outrage from Andrew Sullivan, culminating in a demand that Bono withdraw from the concert, condemn torture and put money in his tip jar!

K-Lo finally notes the bogosity of the original story, but no update from Midgette yet.

FINAL UPDATE: A complete run-down from a website doing God's work in bashing Rick Santorum.

[WE LIED] FINAL UPDATE: Having fallen for the Ricky-U2 story, the Corner just can't give up:

The junior senator from New York does the u2 fundraiser thing.

The "u2 fundraiser thing" being: buying a box for the event and then selling the tickets at a huge markup to one's rich friends. This has nothing to do with U2, and politicians have been doing this kind of thing for years, especially with sports events.
She's Come So Far!

It should be noted that we only buy InStyle magazine for the articles. Such as the feature in this month's issue about the L.A. home Jeri Ryan (late of Star Trek: Voyager, now, sadly, on The O.C.) shares with French boyfriend Emé. While we were hoping for some discussion of Jeri's ex, Jack Ryan (you remember, the guy who made her go to skeezy sex clubs so other people could watch him getting it on with his hot wife, which was described in their divorce papers, leading him to drop out of the Illinois senate race), we never thought we'd see such a zinger as blatant as this:

Talking about the living room with the 17th-century French columns and antique Italian sideboard "where the couple host game nights," she notes, "We're nerds. We don't go to nightclubs--we stay home and play Monopoly."

As George would say: "Stickin' it!"

Monday, October 10, 2005


It's a quiet Monday here, but not of course elsewhere, so just a couple of quick links and notes. RTE's Carole Coleman has written a book about her time as Washington correspondent. We didn't think a whole lot of her predecessor's book, which we think was called Turn Left at Greenland, and had way too much of a tone of, I, world traveller, will explain America to the benighted Irish public. But Carole's book is guaranteed to have one good story, her famous combative interview with Dubya. The Sunday Times of London has the relevant excerpt, and Free Stater and Atrios have pulled out some of the highlights.

One of the funnier bits concerns the attempts of Dubya's handlers to suggest slow-pitch questions she could ask:

Colby suggested that I ask the president about the yellow suit the taoiseach [Bertie Ahern] had worn the previous week at the G8 Summit on Sea Island in Georgia. I laughed loudly and then stopped to study his face for signs that he was joking — but he didn’t appear to be. "The president has a good comment on that," he said.

The taoiseach’s suit had been a shade of cream, according to the Irish embassy. But alongside the other more conservatively dressed leaders, it had appeared as a bright yellow, leaving our Bertie looking more like the lead singer in a band than the official representative of the European Union.

This incident was widely noted at the time, including, it now appears, by Dubya's team who would usually profess to be too involved with the nation's business to bother with fashion critics. Anyway Coleman's account of jumping on a plane to Clare right after the interview is a reminder that this period really marked a good streak for the country -- her tough performance followed soon by the camera that caught The Exalted One in his white undershirt, and the protests that delayed the hacks for the inevitable meaningless news conference following the EU-US Summit.

One other unrelated thing. Blogging has now well and truly arrived. BBC Radio 4 has a drama about a 73 year old retiree who discovers blogging as an outlet for her frustrations with her marriage. Part I left us all on tenterhooks when her blog gets its first reader. God bless public broadcasting.

UPDATE: More links and commentary on the Coleman interview from Dan Froomkin.