Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Web Two Point Oh row gets a higher profile

Berkeley economics professor Brad DeLong summarises and assesses:

What part of the difference between "please put an asterisk saying that Web 2.0 is a service mark of CMP and ORA" and "[Your] actions constitute unfair trade practices, unfair competition, and are a fragrant violation of CMP's trademark rights. CMP hereby demands that you immediately cease and desist from utilizing Web 2.0 as the title of your event..." does Tim O'Reilly not understand?

No. I don't think Tom Raftery owes [Tim] O'Reilly any form of apology.

Planet of the probabilities

Holman Jenkins on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, today, coming up with a new critique of Al Gore's global warming film -- that it's an insignificant risk relative to the eternity, most of which we won't be around for:

That said, a valid service is performed in satisfying the eternal human appetite for gloom and doom (and no virgins were sacrificed), distracting people from the reality of life, which is that we all are doomed, while the universe, the Earth and all that environmentalists hold dear will go remorselessly on and on without us.

In a million years, the time it takes the earth to sneeze, the planet will likely be shorn of any conspicuous sign we were ever here, let alone careless with our CO2, dioxins, etc. Talk about an inconvenient truth.

Holman Jenkins, in late 2004, justifying Dubya's manned mission to Mars (remember that?) on the grounds that we need to get a head start now in dealing with the risk that an asteroid might hit Earth:

Up to now, though, our eggs remain in one basket, the earth, within a bigger basket, the solar system. Nature creates probabilities that, given enough time, are certainties: Someday something will bump into the earth, perhaps fatally...Nobody knows when a rock too big for humanity to survive might come along...Whether we get started this century or next might not matter against such a time frame, but every job has to have a starting point...[Dubya's] blueprint implicitly recognizes that the best reason for going anywhere is to begin creating the possibility of self-sustaining human settlements on other worlds.

So in the first case, global warming is a mere "hypothesis" that merits no immediate action because the risk it's true is so tiny, but in the other, a tiny sci-fi risk justifies immediate action in building a Mars colony. What, other than the differing policy views of George W. Bush about them, distinguishes these scenarios?

Libel avoidance, part II

To assist with the background material for today's Irish Times report on Martin McGuinness's "one million per cent" denial that he was a British agent (an allegation which we consider to be total shite), we're posting here the full text and link to the Commons debate from 8th February where the allegation was aired (the IT gives the date but it's a pain in the neck to find the exact point in Hansard where it happened):

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I am happy with the hon. Gentleman's remarks so far, but he will be aware that that case is now sub judice. As long as his remarks are of a general nature, I am happy to allow them, but I would not want him to go into too much detail about that case.

Mr. Robinson: I am happy to comply, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I am all the more happy, because I have only one more sentence to deliver in relation to the case: rather than punish republicans for that continuing crime, the Government want to reward them.

[various allegations about IRA money-laundering and criminality, 8 Feb 2006 : Column 958]

Dr. McCrea: I am sure that the House will be greatly alarmed at some of the facts and figures that my hon. Friend is giving. Will he ask the Secretary of State to look into the suggestion that one of the leading members of the IRA and the army council, Martin McGuinness, has been a paid British agent for a long time?

Mr. Robinson: I am not quite sure how much he might be getting for such a position, but I do know that there is considerable discomfort in the ranks of the republican movement as they each look over their shoulders to see where the next paid agent is going to come from. I am sure that the Secretary of State [Peter Hain] has heard what my hon. Friend has said and will want to scribble down a note and respond to it when he winds up.

He didn't.

UPDATE: In addition to several relevant Slugger links, Liam Clarke in the Sunday Times goes for the deductive approach to the allegations: McGuinness couldn't have survived, physically and politically, for as long as he did, without help. The usual question in such a case would be whether he was lucky or good?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Libel avoidance

This BBC report on the shooting of loyalist hard man Mark Haddock carefully sources all allegations about his activities other than the one for which he is charged to statements made by Labour party leader Pat Rabbitte under parliamentary privilege in the Dail. Hence:

"Mr Rabbitte claimed Mark Haddock ordered the murder of Raymond McCord, 22, who was beaten to death by a UVF gang in Newtownabbey in November 1997.

"He also claimed Haddock had been involved in eight other murders - and said he had not been charged with any of them because he was working as a Special Branch informer who was allowed to act with impunity."

Thus the statements are not about Haddock, but about what someone else said about him, and that other person can't be sued. It'll be important for Rabbitte's sake that nothing he said is perceived as having made Haddock a marked man, although since he was probably just reporting what was already "known" in police and paramilitary circles in Northern Ireland, it's unlikely he was presenting any really new information.

UPDATE: While an almost identically sourced report aired on BBC radio, the report in Wednesday's Irish Times is content with attributing similar allegations to "sources" without the insulation of Rabbitte's speech.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Fooled them twice

In her 3rd last article on the White House beat before going on book leave, the New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller managed to write an installment of "White House Memo" based on the premise that when George W. Bush said he regretted saying "Bring it on," it was the first time he'd done so:

like the chastened husband who finally admitted he had done something wrong ... Mr. Bush's comments were his most personal so far about mistakes he has made

This premise is incorrect, was reiterated as such by Dan Froomkin in the Washington Post, and out of frustration at the way it's being peddled, we even e-mailed the NYT's Corrections department (if it exists) on Friday to point out that a Friday article also claiming that the regret was new was incorrect. One wonders what kind of access to sources Bumiller is planning on having for her book.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

al Qaeda needs better poetry

In what may go down as the blogosphere's most bizarre historical analogy ever (leaving Bush-Napoleon in the ha'penny place), Powerline's "Trunk" compares a group of "insurgents" trying to take over the Dartmouth College alumni council to the Irish heroes of the Easter Rising. And no, we're not making any of this up.

The backstory is a successful campaign waged by two of the insurgents (sic), now with close ties to media conservatives, to get on the council last year. [There's also a connection to the ill-will towards James Freedman, RIP]. This seemed to set the stage for additional insurgent gains until the alumni council decided to postpone the next election, sending Trunk back to his college poetry books:

In his great poem "Easter 1916," William Butler Yeats reflects with ambivalent admiration on the Irish uprising against the British. Yeats moves from noting how the uprising has altered his perception of his fellow countrymen, to paying tribute to the sacrifice of those fallen at arms, to wondering whether their valor may have required too much hardness of heart, to asking whether their sacrifice might prove needless. Yeats nevertheless finds the uprising a transformative moment. The poem concludes with a tribute to the executed leaders of the rebellion:

[the lines you all know] ....

At Dartmouth College, where green is also worn, the college's alumni council has produced a transformative moment of its own. ... It appears that some people at Dartmouth College, who are opposed to reform-minded newcomers like Robinson and Zywicki, are intent on asserting the rights of an occupying power ... At Dartmouth, all appears to be changed, or changing, but it is something far from a terrible beauty that is born. Working "Easter 1916" in reverse, the college is showing itself to be, in Yeats's damning phrase, "where motley is worn."

So there you have it. "Trunk" embraces the terminology of "insurgents" and
"occupying power" and the chic of Irish nationalism for a row about who gets on the alumni council at Dartmouth, but mercifully doesn't continue back to September 1913 to pursue it further. In a way, it's related to this preposterous list of Top 50 conservative rock songs, an obvious attempt to reclaim some cultural territory long lost in past reaction. In fact the earnestness of these efforts makes one wonder if the struggle to be "cool" is still the one that really matters for the right.

UPDATE: It looks like "Wherever green is worn" is to be the motto of the Dartmouth insurgents. Just in time for Ken Loach's film! And [21 June] the story now makes the New York Times, drawing yet another Yeats reference from "Trunk."

Casualties of War

Christopher Hitchens has a Memorial Day-related column in Saturday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link) and while it generally sticks to a discussion of military memorials, good and bad, he couldn't resist a little spinning for Bush along the way:

Since all efforts at commemoration are bound to fall short, one must be on guard against any attempt at overstatement. In particular, one must resist efforts to ventriloquize the dead. To me, Cindy Sheehan's posthumous conscription of her son (who fell on Memorial Day) is as objectionable as Billy Graham's claim, at the National Cathedral, that all the dead of Sept. 11, 2001 were now in paradise. In the first instance, we have no reason to believe that young Casey Sheehan would ever have supported, and in the second instance we cannot be expected to believe that almost 3,000 New Yorkers all died in a state of grace.

If anyone is going to speak for Casey Sheehan, wouldn't it better that it be his mother than, say, Michelle Malkin -- "I can’t imagine that Casey Sheehan would approve of such behavior" (referring to his mother's anti-war activities)? And this weekend's official services are going to consist of lots of people from Bush on down ventriloquizing the dead, with references to the need to "honor their sacrifice" and how "they would have wanted us to complete the mission." But the only person Hitch can find to criticise is a person with the temerity to make George W. Bush look bad.

No-state solution

In what is being seen as Tony Blair's valedictory address to his American fan club, the speech yesterday at Georgetown University contained one argument that came across as making the opposite point to what was intended:

The frustrating thing is that whatever people say, everyone knows the following: the state of Israel is here to stay; the Palestinian people aren't going to disappear; and the only possible solution is two states, side by side. In fact, when President Bush became the first US President openly to articulate this, everyone more or less accepted it. The problem we have had in Northern Ireland is that there has never been agreement on the basic nature of the final outcome, one part wanting Union with the UK, the other with the Republic of Ireland. Nonetheless we have achieved extraordinary progress, by relentless working at it through every stop and start. In the case of Israel and Palestine, we do now have agreement as to the basic nature of the settlement: two states. Yes, there are innumerable difficult aspects, not least Jerusalem and of course a negotiation about territory; but the constitutional outcome is essentially agreed.

This was by way of his general theme that progress in world peace is primarily a matter of establishing common values, and the rest flows from that. But look at his argument to see the problem: if he's right, then peace between Israel and Palestine should be easier than in Northern Ireland, since in the former, everyone is apparently agreed on the final outcome whereas in the latter, they're not.

Now while some might argue that in fact Britain is implementing a two-state solution in Northern Ireland via Peter Hain's super-councils, the comparison also illustrates something else: politically motivated violence can be curtailed when the "hard men" think they can get more from sitting around a table than from killing people. We'd argue that most civil conflicts in the world have ended not because of some sudden alignment around a final outcome, but because the combatants (to the extent that they could) traded off another year of fighting with the prospect of some concessions and relative peace and quiet, and decided they liked the latter more. Final outcomes could eventually wait.

Hence the IRA's acceptance of a peace deal not hugely different from 1974, but the intervening period showing that nothing better was coming. But conversely, Blair's misplaced optimism about the Middle East. With Israel shifting to a unilateral peace strategy, there is nothing on offer to hardline Palestinian groups. Whatever "peace" comes will be due to the efficiency of the Israeli counter-terrorism strategy. But unlike Northern Ireland, there is no default outcome for the disaffected group that they can live with.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Heck of a job

If, as seems increasingly likely, George Bush appoints his Texas oil crony Don Evans as his new Treasury Secretary, the other profiles that you read will ignore his most important contribution to Bush's political career: his declaration, eagerly taken up by the punditocracy, that John Kerry "looks French." Ironically, Kerry has more orderly hair than Evans' future counterpart in Paris, Thierry Breton.

UPDATE 30 MAY: We were wrong. It's Henry "Hank" Paulson from Goldman Sachs. Two points. First, it's small potatoes by Bush standards, but the timing suggests that he came very close to lying at the Bush-Blair news conference last week:

Q ... Has Treasury Secretary Snow given you any indication that he intends to leave his job any time soon?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Secretary of Treasury Snow?

Q Has he given you any indication he intends to leave his job any time soon? And related to that, Americans -- macroeconomic numbers are indeed good, but many Americans are concerned, increasingly concerned about rising health care costs, costs of gasoline. And does that make it hard for your administration, Treasury Secretary Snow, and everyone else to continue to talk up the economy?

PRESIDENT BUSH: No, he has not talked to me about resignation. I think he's doing a fine job.

[further update -- Think Progress has more on the lie and the belated spin to rationalize it]

Second, in Snow's obsequious resignation speech, he used the same construct that Bush has used in the past, that the current huge budget deficit is not a "real deficit." Paulson's seemingly narrow definition of his job, focusing on "competitiveness" suggests that he will have no greater latitude to tell the truth about the US fiscal picture.

Who fears to speak of '98?

It's the talking point that has been canned for preservation: the comparison of George W. Bush to Napoleon. You'd think that the actual historical trajectory associated with the latter might scare people off, but up pops Tom Friedman (who we last noted turning a Budapest airport trip into a column) with it again today (subs. req'd):

In such confusing times I find it useful to listen to someone steeped in the history of the Arab world, someone like the Egyptian sociologist and democracy campaigner Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who was visiting Washington with a human rights group from the Carter Center.

Mr. Ibrahim compares the U.S. invasion of Iraq to Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798, which punched the first big hole through which modernity could seep into the Arab world. It was the key ruler of Egypt after the Napoleonic invasion, Muhammad Ali, who started sending students to Europe, introduced secular education and ushered in a mini-Arab renaissance that culminated with the first Egyptian parliament, elected in 1866.

Ibrahim has been the single source for this comparison, but his ability to get the White House and the punditocracy to latch onto it is impressive. Leave aside the obvious problems with the Napoleon end of it -- what does the comparison with 19th century Egypt tell us Iraq is in for: -- a country falling victim to Great Power meddling in its affairs because of its strategic importance, prompting a nationalist backlash and years of instability? And in the long-term, an Israeli invasion? Won't that be fun!

Bush's biggest regret

One of the few interesting moments in the Bush-Blair news conference was when they were both asked to describe their own mistakes in the Iraq war. Bush specified the "Bring it on" remark -- note, he admits only to a rhetorical mistake and not any tactical mistakes, the biggest of which was surely the failure to secure Baghdad in the summer of 2003 (or 2004). But leave that aside, 2 points. First, it's not news: Bush has admitted this precise mistake over a year ago. Second, as we noted at the time, the warbloggers had constructed a rationale for the invasion around the original remark, a remark that Bush now wishes he had never made. Flypaper, RIP.

UPDATE: Dan Froomkin notes that there was nothing new in the regret, and that it's disengenuous even taken on its own terms.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A pint of Guinness and a packet of poll numbers, please

We were wondering about this when we saw the news stories reporting the latest disastrous Bush opinion poll numbers from:

the Diageo/Hotline Poll

and then Holden at First Draft explains:

Diageo, the world’s leading spirits, beer and wine company, and The Hotline, the leading daily news briefing on American politics, have teamed up to bring you the Diageo/Hotline Poll.

Based on our zero qualifications in marketing, this seems like a bizarre bit of brand building; there is no actual product called Diageo, so one might have thought that the company would want to pin the name of a member of its "brand portfolio" on the poll, such as Guinness. But upon reflection, the sponsorship of the poll is probably ideal from a Washington lobbying perspective, where the identification with a poll probably beats identification with booze. By the standards of lobbying, it seems innocent enough, for now.

Something old, something new

Thursday's Wall Street Journal lead editorial is interesting because of some clear changes in emphasis. First though, what never changes: that man again --

Meanwhile, Ahmed Chalabi, who showed his competence with several portfolios during the transition government, was vetoed for the Interior post by Mr. Jabr's Sciri party. Sciri's Badr militia appears to be a big source of the problem at Interior, and Mr. Chalabi is the kind of non-sectarian leader who could have tame the militias and build a more credible force.

But here's some new stuff:

The White House has been right to point out that the media have missed many good news stories in Iraq, but current coverage probably understates the trauma of daily life in the capital.

Hopefully they won't fall foul of a campaign they've supported in the past, to only report good news from Iraq. And there's more:

Educated Iraqis are fleeing Baghdad in increasing numbers, a terrible sign for the country's democratic future if the exodus is not stopped.

Also a terrible sign for Amir Taheri, whose talking point to the contrary is being dumped, a sign that those who relied on his bogus story that Iran was going to make Jews wear a star are more worried about his credibility than he is. And finally:

All of which points out again the troubles that have arisen from the terribly slow transition to Iraqi sovereignty. The momentum of Saddam Hussein's swift fall from power was squandered as Iraqis were forced to wait more than a year and a half to vote in their first free election.

As close to criticism of the person ultimately in charge of Iraq during that period, George W. Bush, as you'll get from the WSJ pages. [See this post for some idea of what the actual policy priorities were in those 18 months].

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Well, it does replicate his approach to actual disasters

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow keeping the press corps in the loop today:

Also, there is going to be today a Cabinet-level hurricane exercise, so if you see members of the Cabinet coming in here, it is because they are going to be gathering in the Executive Office Building to participate in what is called a table-top exercise on hurricane preparedness, to focus on the federal government's readiness and response to a catastrophic disaster ... Today's mock scenario, a category five hurricane that will have a landfall on the greater New Orleans metropolitan area.

Q Will the President be involved at all?

MR. SNOW: I don't -- no, I don't believe -- the President, as a matter of fact, is traveling. He will be doing an event -- The President is doing an energy event today in Pennsylvania.

Bad example

In the Maryland trial of the Washington area sniper John Muhammad, his former colleague turned prosecution witness John Lee Malvo yesterday confirmed in court what had been guessed from their shooting technique: they were using IRA methods from Northern Ireland --

[CNN] Malvo, 21, described how Muhammad modified an aging Chevrolet Caprice to allow a person to crawl into the trunk and shoot.

He told jurors that Muhammad was the triggerman in the first six killings, all but one of which took place in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Their tactics came from an Irish Republican Army training manual, said Malvo, testifying for prosecutors after agreeing to plead guilty to murder charges in Montgomery County.

It's not clear how Muhammad got the manual. Muhammad is a US Army veteran, so it's not inconceivable that the IRA methods are studied in military circles in the USA.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

So good he named him twice

It didn't seem possible, but George W. Bush has managed to find a few frontier in his sale of ambassadorships to political donors: one of them is getting second helpings. Clifford Sobel, who cashed in previous donations to get the ambassadorship to the Netherlands (he loves the Netherlands because "everybody speaks English") is going now to Brasilia after a short stint back in the private sector. It's enough to confuse the White House website, which has botched the announcement (as of the time of writing; now mended), unclear as to which is his former and which is his prospective job. Sobel has such a track record of Bush donations that he easily Googles -- you don't have to put in the usual words like "Pioneer", "Ranger", or "Super-Ranger." God forbid that the US might actually need something from Brazil, like ethanol.


Tuesday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link) also sees Karl Rove lackey Peter Wehner spinning like a top for the Iraq war rationale [we last noted him comparing Bush to Napoleon], but here's an argument he surely should rephrase:

In addition, no serious person would justify a war based on information he knows to be false and which would be shown to be false within months after the war concluded. It is not as if the WMD stockpile question was one that wasn't going to be answered for a century to come.

Besides the asked-and-answered quality to this talking point, note the assumption that the war is in fact "concluded."

UPDATE: Dan Froomkin has more on the same op-ed piece and much more on Wehner's role as a key behind-the-scenes enforcer of Rovian dogma.

Bush prefers his securocrats

They're back: David Rivkin and Lee Casey -- the print equivalent of Powerline -- go for the low blow in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd), responding to the recent UK government criticism of Guantanamo Bay:

For his part, Lord Goldsmith [Attorney General] might note that U.S. military commissions are at least as protective of the accused as were the British military tribunals operating in Germany after World War II, and in some respects more so than the special "Diplock Courts" the U.K. created in the 1970s for Northern Ireland. Unlike the Diplock Courts, where a single judge may try the accused, U.S. military commissions will guarantee a panel of at least three judges. As we all know by now, there have been abuses in U.S. detention operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. But America's efforts to investigate and prosecute the offenders have been far more vigorous and prompt than were London's inquiries into abuses by British military, intelligence and police during "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland.

Their sudden embrace of Irish terrorism suspects is a perfect illustration of the Bush attack machine, in which actual causes are simply shuffled on the basis of which ever one is currently most useful for attacking opponents of George W. Bush. Because before, the 1970s British approach to Northern Ireland was being cited in support of the GWoT.

And of course it's disinenguous. Diplock courts may, frankly, suck, but if the Gitmo detainees were offered a choice between having the Pentagon as judge, jury, and executioner in bogus military tribunals in territory beyond the reach of US law, or having a single civilian judge hear their case in an actual country, we're pretty sure we know which one they'd take. [in fact, a Diplock court has been used for one Islamist terrorism suspect].

Finally, while human rights campaigners in Northern Ireland will always welcome more numbers to their causes, a more honest comparison would be of the current US and UK versions of the GWoT. Compare in particular the US detention of "enemy combatants" -- not PoWs -- with Britain's use of control orders on terrorism suspects, who are released into the community. Note: this is not a defence of control orders. But the idea that Rivkin and Casey have, that you can defend Bush's GWoT by slamming the British version of it, is not going to hold up.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The porcine threat to national security

George Bush today in Chicago:

The question then is, how do we -- do we have enough feedstock into the ethanol business to be able to really get major penetration? And that's where we're spending some money. Because we got corn, but sometimes you got to eat corn. And sometimes your pigs and cows have got to eat corn.

At the same event: nothing like a closed mind to simplify the agenda:

Q .... And the second part of that question is, will you see Al Gore's new movie? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Doubt it. (Laughter and applause.)

and note that Bush's planning for what to do in case of an epidemic or biological attack seems inordinantly focused not on relief operations, but on how much extra power he'd get:

THE PRESIDENT: Good question. We are working to be prepared. His question is, if there is a catastrophic event that is beyond the magnitude of a natural event, such as a biological attack and/or a attack of pandemic flu, would we be prepared.

Well, first step is to recognize that it's a possibility and start preparing, which we're doing at the federal level. Yes, we've got a good strategy -- now, whether or not it would work to perfection, you hope you never have to find out.

One of the classic cases -- one of the classic dilemmas we're trying to resolve is that most -- it's against the law to put federal troops in to enforce the law. It's posse comitatus, you know? I'm not a lawyer, but nevertheless, that's what the lawyers tell me. However, states can use their Guard to do law enforcement activities. And the fundamental question is, if there's an event big enough, should the federal government be able to prevent state authority -- should there be an automatic declaration of a state of emergency that will enable me to rally federal troops to keep the law?

We haven't resolved that issue yet, but that's one of the dilemmas on a catastrophic event that ends up exceeding the boundaries of -- that would make it not a local event.

[previous oil-related buffoonery]

Opinions differ on temperature of earth

If you start reading today's New York Times Arts section article about Al Gore's film from the end and see:

Adam Nagourney contributed reporting from Washington for this article.

then what precedes makes more sense. In particular:

The libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute

a laughable description of an organisation whose name reeks of lobbyist cookbookery and which is a front for ExxonMobil* and other energy companies, and

For the moment, opinions on [the film's] prospects range from hopeful to scornful, not so much a reflection on the film's quality as the vast distance between combatants in the fight over what to do, or not do, about human-caused warming.

the "combatants" in this case being just about every reputable scientist on one hand, and on the other, the few shills, spinners, and outright fools who still maintain that global warming is not a problem.

UPDATE: The Washington Post's Sebastian Mallaby argues that the political hackery that has greeted Al Gore's flim is actually going to help it and its cause.

*FINAL UPDATE 21 SEP: Exxon has in fact discontinued its funding of CEI, following complaints about CEI's promotion of junk "debunkings" of global warming (WSJ, subs. req'd). Iain Murrary, a "senior fellow" at CEI got through an entire global warming post at the National Review without mentioning the news, which was broken by the Guardian.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

It's not that simple

A little while back we abandoned a post half-way through in which we were trying to say something about the feud between Andrew Sullivan and most of the staff at the National Review, especially Ramesh Ponnuru. We were trying to find a way to work the Ruth Kelly situation into it, but couldn't think what the argument was actually going to be. So we gave up. But now, Sullivan takes up that exact issue:

a follower of Opus Dei, Ruth Kelly, is now the Equality Minister in the Blair cabinet, bringing calls for removal from some gay groups. I think those groups are mistaken. Kelly has every right to her religious faith; and she has also publicly insisted that as a public servant, her first loyalty is to uphold the laws as they stand. That's exactly the right position; and exactly the right distinction between faith and politics. The gay groups should lay off.

The row generated a lively debate in the letters pages of the Times of London last week; Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, wrote to the paper in support of her:

Homosexual people are first of all persons, and have the same entitlement to legal rights as anyone else. The Church has consistently spoken out against any discrimination against homosexual persons, and will continue to do so.

but this triggered many critical responses a couple of days later, noting in essence the Church's doctrinal discrimination against gay people, and the possibility that civil equality and church doctrine are moving in opposite directions regarding gay people, most notably for marriage. Things got more difficult for the Cardinal when it was revealed that he had sacked an openly gay aide; the spin was that the sacking was a result of the aide making clear that he was actively homosexual, which was deemed to cross a line. But the case, embodying as it does a tradeoff between discrimination and religious belief, is a classic "what-if" stumper for someone in Kelly's position. [another one perhaps being what culture-of-life issues might arise if Ruth had to evaluate her grandfather's membership in the IRA].

In fact we remember now why we abandoned the earlier post, because we're still not sure what the point is. But perhaps it's to note Sully's oddly glib "resolution" of Ruth Kelly's conundrum, when it presents exactly the complexities of a politicised church that he is feuding with the NR'ers about [note in particular his entirely correct lambasting of the defenders of Father Maciel; scroll down for his posts about Neuhaus]. It's even odder that he specifically wants gay rights group to pipe down in this case. There's an old Tory hiding in there somewhere.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Cheney jokes about draft-dodging

Dick Cheney today, giving the graduation speech at Louisiana State University

In addition to those of you receiving your bachelor's degrees this morning, I'm told we have many men and women who have earned graduate degrees -- including a number who have earned their PhD's. Their presence here reminds me that I was once in a PhD program myself, and met all the requirements except for the dissertation. (Laughter.) I'll get started as soon as I think of a topic to write about. (Laughter.)

Explanation of some of Cheney's five deferments from the Vietnam draft:

In May 1965, Mr. Cheney graduated from college and his draft status changed to 1-A. But he was married, which offered him some protection.

In July, President Johnson announced that he was doubling the number of men drafted. The number of inductions soared, to 382,010 in 1966 from 230,991 in 1965 and 112,386 in 1964.

Mr. Cheney obtained his fourth deferment when he started graduate school at the University of Wyoming on Nov. 1, 1965.

On Oct. 6, 1965, the Selective Service lifted its ban against drafting married men who had no children. Nine months and two days later, Mr. Cheney's first daughter, Elizabeth, was born. On Jan. 19, 1966, when his wife was about 10 weeks pregnant, Mr. Cheney applied for 3-A status, the "hardship" exemption, which excluded men with children or dependent parents. It was granted.

Make love, not dissertation topics.

UPDATE 22 MAY: Turns out it's an old joke that Cheney is not tired of (via Dan Froomkin).

The hunger strike at St Pat's

We've nothing useful to say about this rapidly developing story other than to note a precedent for what is likely to happen: French police forcibly entering St Bernard church in Paris in 1996 and ending an occupation by several hundred illegal immigrants.

UPDATE: Saturday's events will track here.

Parody is dead

Tom Friedman's New York Times column today

I was on my way from downtown Budapest to the airport the other day when my driver (cont'd p$94)

But this is still funny. And this.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Supersized Astroturf

Today's Wall Street Journal has an interesting story about the PR campaign that's being run by food companies against Fast Food Nation, the film being shown at Cannes and based on Eric Schlosser's book of that name:

[McDonald's] is also funding TCS Daily, an arm of the Washington lobbying and public-relations firm DCI Group, that is making more pointed attacks against Mr. Schlosser and his work. Last week, TCS Daily launched a Web site called Fast Talk Nation that called his theories "rhetoric" and argued that he wants to decriminalize marijuana, based on excerpts from one of his other books, "Reefer Madness," about sex, drugs and cheap labor in the American black market.

Last Friday, TCS Daily abruptly closed the Fast Talk Nation site two days after its launch. James Glassman, who says he "hosts" the TCS Daily site, says he closed the Fast Talk Nation site because he wanted to pool his resources with the broader industry's Best Food Nation site.

Mr. Schlosser says he supports some lighter sentences for marijuana possession but opposes legalization. "What bothers me is the use of third parties to attack me when the people who are paying for it aren't standing up and taking credit for it," he says of the sudden surge of criticism against him.

McDonald's is one of a handful of companies that funded TCS Daily. Anna Rozenich, a McDonald's spokeswoman, said the chain was not involved in the creation of Fast Talk Nation or the decision to take it down, and that it isn't using third parties to attack Mr. Schlosser and his co-author, Mr. Wilson. "We certainly on some points disagree with their opinions but, all in all, we appreciate feedback," Ms. Rozenich says.

TCS Daily is the current version of Tech Central Station, an outfit which has always sought the aura of upstart libertarian blogging (such as in occasional contributor, Glenn Reynolds) but as the story makes clear, is in fact tightly connected to Washington lobbyists. Glassman, co-author of Dow 36000, has his day job at the American Enterprise Institute, where his bio describes TCS as an "online opinion journal." Are we really expected to believe that anything TCS now publishes about the film is not influenced by the food industry even with the more blatant lobbying now hived off to a separate -- industry funded -- website?

Note also the trick of attacking Schlosser on what should be his strong point -- child and teenage health -- using opaquely funded third parties who exploit carefully selected elements of his career. It doesn't get much more Rovian than that.

Pat Finucane: Update

For those following this complicated case, a microcosm of the bad years of the Troubles, a few links relating to a motion that was passed in the US House of Representatives calling on the British government to institute a full public inquiry. The text of the motion, its status page (it passed), and the roll call vote. Note that one of the few No votes was from James Sensenbrenner, Republican from Wisconsin and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. One wonders if he might have some explaining to do to the voters back home. Anyway, the bottom line is that the House

calls on the Government of the United Kingdom to--

(A) reconsider its position on the Finucane case to take full account of the family's objections, Judge Cory's objections, objections raised by officials of the United States Government, other governments, and international bodies, and amend the UK Inquiries Act of 2005; and

(B) establish immediately a full, independent, public judicial inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, as recommended by Judge Cory, which would enjoy the full cooperation of the family and the wider community throughout Ireland and abroad.

The wind that shakes the barley: quotes

In a set of interviews that will surely trigger a War on Loach, Ken Loach has made strong comments in Cannes about the historical context of his latest film set in early 1920s Ireland, covering the War of Independence and the Civil War -- with analogies to present day Iraq. Some key excerpts:

(AP) "A story of the fight for independence, it's a story that recurs and recurs and recurs, so it is always a good time to tell that story ... There are always armies of occupation somewhere in the world being resisted by the people they're occupying ... They [British government] screwed it up 80-odd years ago. If they hadn't divided the country, the problems, certainly you would imagine, would have been resolved by now ... But with the partition, that embodies the conflict. So therefore it continues, because there it is physically in front of you. It was all short-term interest of the British government. How can we get what we want and screw them up ... People confuse the government with the people, and it's obvious you could not but be critical of the actions of the British government, ... Tom Paine said, `My country is the world,' so that's why it's not anti-British. It's anti the actions of that British government."

Reuters: "I don't need to tell anyone where the British now unfortunately and illegally have an army occupation. And the damage and the casualties and the brutalities that are emerging from that ... My view is that this [Iraq] was an illegal war ... It's an appalling scar on our government's record and clearly on the American's."

UPDATE 28 MAY: Loach wins the Palme d'Or.

Mad money

George W. Bush today sends a supplemental budget request to his previous supplemental budget request:

As part of my first objective to secure our Nation's borders, I ask the Congress to consider the enclosed requests for an additional $1.9 billion for the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security, which is in addition to supplemental funding requested on February 16th for the Global War on Terror and the consequences of Hurricane Katrina. This additional amount is offset by a $1.9 billion reduction in the amount requested on February 16th for the Department of Defense.

So to head off the critique that he's a borrow-and-spender, he claims that he doesn't actually need $1.9 bn from this request:

[Feb 16th supplemental] I hereby designate the specific proposals in the amounts requested herein as emergency requirements. This request reflects urgent and essential requirements. I ask the Congress to appropriate the funds as requested and promptly send the bill to me for signature.

If $1.9 bn of previously urgent and essential requests can be chopped at 2 days notice, how much other fat is in there?

UPDATE: Seemingly aware of the conundrum, a White House "Fact Sheet" explains:

The funds [the new $1.9 bn] are fully offset by reductions elsewhere in the Administration's original February supplemental request by delaying certain less-urgent military procurement efforts to future appropriations legislation. There will be no proposed reductions that would impact personnel or operational activities necessary to the War on Terror. Many of these offsets are similar to ones already identified by Congress.

In other words, the $1.9 bn is offset within this specific supplemental, but not from planned total government spending.

And the mystery of the suddenly flexible $1.9 bn came up at both the briefing for the supplemental to the supplemental and Friday morning's press corps chat with Tony Snow (link via Holden).

He's got better Spanish than Bono

George Bush at a Republican National Committee fundraiser last night:

THE PRESIDENT: ... Laura sends her love. (Applause.) She's a fabulous First Lady. (Applause.) She's got to be the most patient woman in America. (Laughter.)


THE PRESIDENT: Yes -- well, wait a minute. (Laughter.) Muy caliente. (Laughter and applause.) I hope she's not watching, you know? (Laughter.)

Faked Alaska

Powerline's "Hindrocket"

I'm well aware of the political power of ethanol, and of its utility, at the margin, as an energy source. But the idea that burning midwestern corn can replace burning petroleum is absurd. And there has been, for a decade now, a concrete proposal on the table whereby Americans would work at good-paying jobs to produce energy that would reduce this country's dependence on foreign energy sources. But the Democrats have successfully blocked drilling for oil in ANWR [Alaska (Arctic)National Wildlife Refuge}, time after time.

George W. Bush, in one of many examples we could have picked:

Look, we want our farmers in Georgia growing crops that can run our automobiles. We need to become less dependent on foreign sources of oil in order to be a competitive nation.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A peace dividend?

One irony of the increasing integration that's already underway between the Republic and Northern Ireland is that consumers in the Republic may benefit from more effective public policy and regulation in the UK. A clear example of this is provided by the electricity market. The problems are laid out for Wall Street Journal Europe (subs. req'd) readers by Constantin Gurdgiev and Peter Nolan.

Notwithstanding the groaner of a title ("Erin Go Dark"), the article lays out in detail how the Republic's de facto electicity generation and distribution monopoly, the ESB, has ruthlessly gamed a supposed market in electricity. In fact every trick they use will be familiar to anyone who has looked at the California power crisis in 2001; take a look at this Paul Krugman article describing what went on there: the ESB is doing the exactly the same thing -- suspiciously well timed shuffling of power generation amongst its different plants to generate huge profits for itself while making it very difficult for competitors to benefit from times when capacity is tight.

And as with many regulatory problems in the Republic, one might ask what the government is doing about it. Well Step 1 with any potentially controversial issue is to shove it off to a quango (see also health, roads) -- in this case, a toothless regulator that has been captured (as they say at the University of Chicago) by the monopoly that it's supposed to be regulating. But the problems are so blatant that the Minister, Noel Dempsey, can't quite dodge them, although not for lack of effort:

Amid the abuses of dominant market power by the ESB, Irish authorities remain largely silent -- at least in public -- on the matter of Ireland's deteriorating energy security. An outside review of the country's energy sector, ordered by the minister for communications, marine and natural resources at a reported cost of €1.2 million, is being kept secret -- out of the hands of Parliament, the press and the public. The minister, Noel Dempsey, says the review contains confidential information from third parties.

It's time to break up ownership and management of the transmission grid and sell off the power stations to the private sector to introduce genuine competition. It is also time to lower planning, regulatory and pricing barriers to market access for independent producers and distributors. The moral of the sad story of electricity in Ireland is that power corrupts, but monopoly power corrupts absolutely.

Now while the facts are damning, we're not sure about their proposed solution. The abuses that Krugman described happened with more than one producer -- several operators can collude to manipulate the system in the same way that the ESB is now doing. This is where the role of Northern Ireland comes in. There's a planned shift to an all-Ireland electricity market next year, but having been burned by these same abuses in the 1980s, the British regulators are not about to let it happen again (Irish Times, subs. req'd):

In a recent debate about the all-island arrangements in the House of Commons, David Hanson, minister of state at the Northern Ireland office, warned that the ESB's market position would be a key factor in the new market.

He said ESB would have almost 60 per cent share of generating capacity in the new market and this needed to be given serious serious consideration.

"We need to consider how to prevent ESB from abusing its market power. The dominance of ESB is a challenge to the operation of the new markets, and the Irish Government too is considering the position of ESB in their review of the Irish electricity sector," he said.

Unfortunately, that reference to the Irish goverment "considering the position of the ESB" is just the situation of the report that Noel Dempsey wants to keep secret. And with powerful and well-paid unions at the ESB bound to be affected by any move to sharpen competition, there's little chance of any policy change that would upset the calculations for a general election that will likely happen within the next year. Dempsey could try the quieter approach of better regulation rather than privatization; while the unions might still object, it would be a much easier sell to the public. But the main hope is that whatever discipline the UK is able to impose on the ESB from the Northern Ireland side will have some spillover benefits for consumers in the Republic.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

He really likes Bullet the Blue Sky

The WSJ Washington Wire blog (subs. maybe req'd) has this juicy snippet:

An iPod from Irish rock star Bono and a nearly $5,500 mountain bike from Trek were two of the $17,316 in gifts President Bush accepted last year, according to a financial disclosure form released Monday by the White House.

... Other gifts show Bush’s taste for the outdoors: a $400 pair of binoculars from Vice President Dick Cheney, $1,220 worth of fishing equipment, and a $351 chain saw. Bono’s gifts - the iPod and a book on the Bible - were valued about $440.

No word on whether the iPod was one of these.

Sixty rebels today bound for Botany Bay

George Bush today the arrival ceremony for Australian PM John Howard, makes us wonder if he was given the right briefing book:

Australians and Americans also believe in the power of freedom. Our two nations were once remote outposts of liberty, lands where those escaping tyranny could find a better life ...

And what counting method is John Howard using for this claim?

It is possible, Mr. President, to count on the fingers of our two hands the number of nations that have remained continuously democratic over the last 100 years. And two of those nations are, of course, the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Australia.

She knows from leaks

Judy Miller has a long part 1 of a 2 parter in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal about Libya's abandonment of WMD programs; one curious thing is that the article seems to have been written on the presumption that the White House would not quickly restore diplomatic relations with Libya, as it did yesterday. But anyway, contain your laughter at this bit:

To prevent leaks and sabotage by neoconservatives and other officials opposed to normalizing relations with Tripoli, details of the Libyan overtures and some half-dozen secret meetings that followed the March overture over the next seven months in London, Geneva and even Tripoli were known to only a handful of senior U.S. officials.

Just one of the many hypotheticals prompted by this: if at the time, the detente with Libya had been leaked to Judy, would she have published it?

UPDATE 17 MAY: Here's part 2. Note Miller's apparent sources for this work: Robert Joseph and John Bolton. A strong hint as to where all her dubious Iraq WMD reporting was coming from.

That bird has flown

While it's nice that the White House announced yesterday that they will impose travel restrictions on top officials in Belarus, in keeping with EU sanctions, it comes a bit late given that President Alexander Lukashenko was able to stop at Boston en route to Cuba a few weeks ago.

Monday, May 15, 2006

George Bush = Francois Mitterand

As the revelations about US National Security Agency domestic spying now broaden to include the possibility that reporters' phones were being tapped, the relevance of the French precedent as to what happens when the executive branch runs its own spying operation become ever more germane. Mitterand created an anti-terrorist intelligence unit, run directly out of his office. The necessary anti-terrorist achievements came with the bogus bust of the "Vincennes Irish" but the real purpose was spying on journalists who might run awkward stories about Mitterand. We're a long way from Churchill comparisons now.

Man crosses street, one person notices

Reviving a similar feature to one that this blog's mysterious other world used to be in charge of, sources close to P O'Neill (i.e. P O'Neill) report seeing Joe Wilson, of Niger not selling uranium to Saddam fame, crossing 18th Street on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC this morning. He was wearing one of those cool Borg implant mobile phones, and did an impressive staredown of a car that had clearly gone through a red light and came quite close to him. Being one block from the White House, we wonder if he was making sure to get a good look at the "errant" driver.

Send lawyers' bills and money

Saturday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) noted that while Lord and Lady Black, Richard Perle, and a few others are long gone from Hollinger International, itself a reduced version of its former Telegraph/Spectator past, their legal problems are still costing the company money:

According to the company's recent SEC filing: "The following legal fees have been advanced on behalf of directors and executive officers who served as such in fiscal year 2005: [Conrad] Black $4,320,420; [Barbara] Amiel Black $857,235; [Richard] Burt $692,538; [Dan] Colson $552,308; [Henry] Kissinger $56,579; [Shmuel] Meitar $159,920; [Richard] Perle $4,655,491 and [James] Thompson $173,339." The company says it will submit bills to its insurer to get reimbursed for the legal fees.

Besides Mr. Black's bill, Mr. Perle's stands out for its size. Mr. Perle didn't respond to an email requesting an explanation of his bills. Mr. Perle is also among the former directors who were served by the SEC with a so-called Wells notice, which allows recipients to respond to the agency before the regulator takes civil action.

Dick Cheney's daughter Elizabeth is running a large slush fund out of the US State Department to promote regime change in Iran, so if Perle somehow gets stuck with this particular legal bill, he could ramp up that element of his activities. Alternatively, with the money he saved from initially threatening to sue Seymour Hersh (" I’m talking to Queen’s Counsel right now,") but then not actually doing so, he might be good for $4.6 million if Hollinger's insurers come after him.

UPDATE: More problems for the Blacks and their associates: Hollinger Inc, the Canadian holding company that controls Hollinger International, is going to cooperate with Patrick Fitzgerald in his prosecution of individuals:

In exchange the U.S. Attorney's office has agreed not to prosecute Hollinger for any crimes committed by its former officers, directors or employees relating to the $16.55 million in non-compete payments diverted from Hollinger International Inc. (HLR) to Hollinger, as long as Hollinger abides by the terms of the cooperation agreement.

Hollinger has acknowledged that one or more of its former officers, directors or employees acted illegally in connection with the $16.55 million in non-compete payments that Hollinger received and that it's responsible for the repayment of that money, which was repaid to Hollinger International Inc. with interest in 2004 pursuant to a judgment in the Delaware Court of Chancery.

Hollinger has a strange structure in which Hollinger International actually publishes newspapers, but control of the company is held by Hollinger Inc, through its "super-voting" equity stake in the company. Black in turn ran Hollinger Inc through other companies and the chain of fees that all this generated is a big part of Paddy Fitz's prosecution.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Some Belgians are more equal than others

When an incident happens in Europe that can be spun as violent Islamists gone wild, the warbloggers are all over it -- even when the facts don't back up their initial presumptions. But not a word from them yet from about last week's shooting rampage in Antwerp, when an anti-immigrant extremist with many guns shot three people -- two fatally -- in the middle of day. He also managed a combination of futility or stupidity even relative to his own warped goals, with one of his victims being a white child whom a Malian woman was looking after. It seems that the shooter was an unhinged teenager, susceptible to rhetoric about native Belgians being swamped by Muslim immigration. Far too much awkward stuff to be mentioned by the usual suspects.

UPDATE 15 MAY: Well, we were ahead of the curve on this one. The Antwerp incident has now made it to the warbloggers. But there's a catch: they're not upset about the shootings themselves, but defending a prominent Belgian blogger who has been cited by the government as a source of incitement that led the teenager to carry out his rampage. The blogger is Paul Belien who writes at Brussels Journal.

While his writings display a bit too much of pet US conservative causes for our tastes (" If America follows Europe’s example Christendom is lost ... Following the recent murder of Joe Van Holsbeeck* I wrote that citizens should be allowed the right to bear arms"), it seems preposterous for the Belgian government to be singling out a blogger for blame for the incident. That being said, we wish the warbloggers were as willing to assign individual and not collective responsibility for murderous behaviour as they now are in the Antwerp case to other cases where the bad guys happen to be Muslim.

Note also Andrew Sullivan, not entirely over his old tricks, linking to the Brussels Journal case via Rod Dreher, neither of whom mention the context for BJ's troubles. You have to work backwards from BJ's latest entries, or have been following the news, or reading this blog, to know what was going on. Note to readers who rely on the French media for these events (or to drivers relying on French road signs): Antwerp is Anvers in French.

*Also, reader PM reminds us that that the Van Holsbeeck murder to which Belien refers above was in fact the previous instance of warbloggers leaping to sweeping Islamophobic conclusions when it was presumed, incorrectly, that his killers were Muslim. And much more on the case from Guy at A Fistful of Euros. And [20 May], the Washington Post does a story about the killings, noting that the disturbed teenager may even have been acting out a scene in Grand Theft Auto.

Bush's war, summarised

AP report -- The cars exploded in a parking long near the Camp Victory coalition base, but the U.S. military said it was not an attack on the compound. ''Instead, it targeted Iraqis congregated in a parking lot,'' the military said.

UPDATE: The Washington Post account makes clear that for ordinary Iraqis, it's either private security or no security at all -- being next to "Camp Victory" is no help:

The parking lot, near a well-known statue of Abbas bin Firnas, a 9th-century philosopher, was guarded until recently by Global Security, a private security company.

"I was expecting this, because Global Security moved the checkpoint away and left this parking lot uncontrolled," Thair Abdulqadir, an airport employee, said.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

He wants to be Mr Nice

Tim Russert has the "Questions for ..." spot in this Sunday's New York Times magazine. A number of his answers are noted here. But here's the most revealing one:

Q: What do you do on "Meet the Press" if your guests fail to answer your questions?

A: It's so interesting. Do I sometimes feel internally like I should lean over and just shake this person and say, "Please answer the question"? Of course I do. But I do not want to make them the least bit sympathetic. For me to inject myself or become personal, I think would probably make the guest very sympathetic, and I don't want to do that.

Note the inversion here -- aggressive questioning would make his spinning guests seem sympathetic, which he doesn't want, which can only mean that he wants to be the sympathetic figure. Given that some of the most egregious lying about the Iraq war occurred on his show (Cheney: "Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators"), he's sympathetic all right, if you remove the first three letters of that word.

A sentence too hot to handle?

Friday's New York Times had a story about Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the number 3 man at the CIA until his resignation earlier this week -- just before the cops showed up, a standard pattern for the Bush administration. There is one strange thing about the article: the final sentence that appeared in the print edition (page A24) is missing from the web version. Here is that sentence:

Mr Foggo was first posted overseas to Honduras, in the mid-1980's, when the CIA station there was a hub for the American-backed war against the Communist Sandinistas in neighboring Nicaragua, intelligence officials say. Before his foreign posting in Frankfurt, he also served in Mexico City, Panama, and Vienna, one of the CIA's largest overseas stations, where Western and Soviet bloc intelligence agencies often crossed paths during the cold war.

So why is this missing from the web version? If it was a space issue, we'd expect the reverse pattern. Of course accidents happen. But was there something about the Honduras segment, with its implicit reference to John Negroponte's Contra linkages, that was considered unwise upon reflection after it went to the presses?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Carry on up the Nile

A few weeks ago we noted that David Cameron seemed to have lifted a quip used during questions to the Prime Minister from a Christy Moore song. If 2 makes a trend, then it looks like Cameron has decided to have at least one elaborate joke ready each Wednesday, based on material that he, or a writer, has recently encountered. Consider then his clearly planned joke the other day, which did draw significant laughter even from the Labour side:

Mr. Cameron: The issue of how long the right hon. Gentleman [Blair] stays in office is of key public interest. I remind him of the clearest pledge that he gave about this issue. He said:

“A full term is a full term and that is what it means”.

The right hon. Gentleman said that when he went to Khartoum. Presumably he wanted to see the place where Gordon was murdered—[Laughter.] I am glad that I have put a smile on the face of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Will the Prime Minister unravel a mystery for us? Why does he not trust the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take over the Government now?

The Prime Minister: No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has been rehearsing those lines all morning. [Interruption.] I think so. I thought that it was a little rehearsed.

At the risk of stating the obvious to some readers, the joke works from the play on Blair's impatient presumptive successor, Gordon Brown, and General Gordon, who met a nasty end at the hands of Sudan's Mahdi Army in 1885. We wonder if Cameron got the idea for the joke from BBC Radio 4's Empire series being up to that specific incident this week; the detailed episode aired last night but it was mentioned earlier in the week as well. Of course the incident -- a general sent to manage a withdrawal from a hotbed of Islamic radicalism but drawn into a disastrous showdown with a resourceful and committed enemy -- has other unfortunate potential parallels. Let's hope it just remains only as good material for the writers.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A crony gets the cuckoo clock country

If the importance of Switzerland to George W. Bush is measured by the level of political fundraising required from the crony who lands the ambassadorship there, then Switzerland is very important indeed. While New Zealand went to a steakhouse magnate for a mere $100,000 of bundled contributions, a Super Ranger is going to Bern:

The President intends to nominate Peter R. Coneway, of Texas, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Switzerland, and to concurrently serve as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Principality of Liechtenstein.

As usual with these diplomatic nominations, the ones that are not "career Foreign Service officers" (i.e. qualified people), you have to head to Google for the real story:

WASHINGTON - July 1, 2004 - The biggest of President Bush's big-money backers were revealed yesterday when the Republican National Committee (RNC) released the names of 62 "Super Rangers" - fundraisers who have collected at least $28.5 million for Bush's re-election efforts, according to an analysis by Public Citizen posted today at

The "Super Rangers" are high-powered fundraisers who have collected at least $300,000 for the RNC ... Forty-five of the Super Rangers previously had been crowned "Rangers" after raising at least $200,000 for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign - meaning they each have raised at least $500,000 this cycle. Nine more had achieved "Pioneer" status by collecting at least $100,000 for Bush ... Nearly a third of the Super Rangers are from the finance sector. These bankers, money managers and wealthy private investors include Roland Arnall, CEO of Ameriquest; Peter Coneway, who founded the Texas branch of Goldman Sachs; and William DeWitt, the longtime business partner of Bush campaign national finance chairman Mercer Reynolds - who recently moved his fundraising operation to the RNC.

The logic of a Texas branch for Goldman Sachs was that oil companies there would have a lot of surplus cash to invest, so it really all fits together quite nicely.

The Internet's Parental Monitor

In view of today's uproar about the US government co-opting private phone companies for intelligence-gathering, it's time for another look at the howls of outrage that greeted the UN World Summit of the Information Society in Tunisia last year and the associated concerns about a UN regulatory role in the Internet. Consider for instance this widely linked op-ed in the Washington Post by Arch Puddington of Freedom House:

... an American nonprofit: the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) ... While ICANN functions on a charter from the Commerce Department, the U.S. government has followed a strict hands-off policy; ICANN's actions are transparent and decisions are made only after extensive consultation with Internet companies, governments, techies and freedom-of-expression organizations. ICANN has contributed to the unique nature of the Internet as a creative and innovative means of communication that links people and ideas across national boundaries -- for the most part outside the control of government.

Can anyone now believe that the NSA has thought about warrantless snooping on phone calls but has not thought about warrantless web/e-mail snooping as well?

UPDATE 23 MAY: explains how AT&T is alleged to have been doing it.

The phone tapping world tour

With today's unsurprising revelation that the scope of US National Security Agency snooping on domestic phone calls is much larger than previously admitted, it might be time for the US media to more energetically pursue a somewhat similar scandal in Greece, concerning the tapping of mobile phones of top Greek government officials during the Athens Olympics. It is widely believed in Greece that the tapping was done by mobile phone companies at the behest of US intelligence services.

UPDATE: Note that Bush's non-denial denial of the domestic snooping by NSA imposes no constraints whatsoever on what his government might press phone companies to do on their behalf in other countries.

Needs clarification

There was a cryptic remark from Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain in evidence to the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs committee on Wednesday, as reported by (subs. req'd):

he blamed "spin from some elements in Dublin" for a misinterpretation of plans for a "joint stewardship" if agreement cannot be reached between Ulster's [sic] parties

Hain's previous remarks had left the distinct impression that Dublin would have a substantial role in making decisions about NI's future if the "Hain Assembly" cannot establish an executive by November, and this indeed seemed to be part of the incentive to get Unionists to agree to something before then. It now seems that he is retreating from that stance, although the sliver of explanation above does not provide the context of the discussion or specify who exactly he is accusing of spinning. Irish Times journalist Frank Millar is doing a series of interviews with key players in the stalled peace process (Dermot Ahern and Gerry Adams (subs. req'd) already interviewed). Assuming he's planning on chatting with Hain, this would be an issue worth fleshing out.

UPDATE: Millar interviews Hain for Friday's Irish Times but the question of who in Dublin had hyped joint stewardship did not come up. Hain did claim that he doesn't think the reformed local government is that good a fall-back position for the Irish politicians, even though it's little different from what Scotland and Wales had before their assemblies. Also, here's a Slugger O'Toole link on the earlier Millar interviews. Slugger updates here.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Remember who's in office because of her

Today's Wall Street Journal has an excellent story about Katherine Harris's imploding campaign for US Senate in Florida. One particular highlight (subs. req'd):

When news broke about Mr. Wade [lobbyist scandal], the Harris campaign was in turmoil. Ms. Harris, increasingly critical of her staff, turned more frequently to Dale Burroughs, a spiritual adviser to the campaign and founder of the Biblical Heritage Institute for the Behavioral Sciences, a Christian counseling service.

Ms. Burroughs told Ms. Harris that the campaign was not a "holy place" because women were dressed provocatively and the men swore and drank, according to Mr. [Ed] Rollins [strategist]. Mr. Ingram, the Harris spokesman, says Ms. Burroughs's role in the campaign has been exaggerated. Ms. Burroughs didn't return calls seeking comment ....

In private, Mr. Rollins recalls Ms. Harris saying God told her to stay in the race --God wanted her to be a senator.

The strategist says he responded: "Maybe God wants Nelson [incumbent Dem] to stay a senator and that's why he's encouraging you to stay in." Ms. Harris denies ever making such a comment, saying it would be "so presumptuous" and not in her character. She allows that Mr. Rollins's response is "pretty funny," even though she says he never said it.

... on a day dubbed "Bloody Friday" by ex-staffers, Ms. Harris called a meeting at her Tampa headquarters. She told the remaining professionals she was bringing in new blood.

Mr. Rollins didn't attend and quit within days. He's since moved to running other Republican campaigns. Ms. Harris's new team, more closely affiliated with the Christian right, came in and changed the locks.

When an owner blogs

They probably don't have much choice in the matter, but it's really not a good idea for the The New Republic's blog, The Plank, that the mag's owner, Marty Peretz, occasionally posts. To be more accurate, Peretz is a part-owner but he's the one that's near a keyboard. So gems that in the past would have gone to other places (like his railing against liberal elites by referring to a Brecht poem) now wind up on the blog. Today for instance there's a post that essentially asserts that civilization only comes to the non-West through the barrel of a gun, but also gets taken in by a hoax:

Here in the Sunday Times of London (May 7) is an article by Hala Jaber about the gruesome killing of Atwar Bahjat, a reporter for the television network Al-Arabiya, in Samarra the day the Shia mosque was blown up. The article is based on a film of her execution.

Not so. The video is of a previous killing of a Nepalese hostage -- no less gruesome for that, of course, but not deemed newsworthy until it was repackaged. Peretz should know this even if he only stuck to the diet of conservative blogs, because National Review's "K-Lo" noted the debunking recently. Remember incidentally, that George Bush continually claims that the terrorists kill only to get on our TV screens. Apparently the tactic is so jaded that they now have to retool old material.

Maggie and Condi

It stands to reason that with only two weekdays on the job so far, the new UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett was likely to generate more press in a fashion contrast with Condi than with subtle changes of wording on Iran. Hence this article in Wednesday's Times of London, which, if you can't get your hands on the print edition, should be read in conjunction with this photograph.

While Condi is likely to find Maggie's work ethic much better than that of her French counterpart, it is increasingly likely that a new face is coming there too, with the latest revelations in the Clearstream affair: a secret Japanese bank account of Jacques Chirac and the apparent identification of the author of a set of anonymous, and possibly malicious, accusatory letters as the vice-president of EADS (the holding company for Airbus). One hopes that this shuffling of foreign ministers at a time of several international crises won't rebound on us all.

It's not from us either

Irish Times (subs. req'd): A Co Wexford man whose land is the proposed site for a controversial quarry has received a menacing letter from a P O'Neill - a name used in statements from the Provisional IRA.

Hudson Concrete Ltd is seeking planning permission from Wexford County Council for a rock quarry on a 42-acre site at Ballythomas Hill near Gorey. The land is owned by John Stanley. However, the company has agreed to buy it if their planning application is successful.

Local residents campaigning against the quarry have made numerous objections to the county council. Mr Stanley has received a warning letter purporting to be from the IRA. The letter is a one-page note with the words "Warning" and "Public Enemy No 1" cut from newspapers, pasted on it.

The name "O'Neill P" is printed on the end of the page. GardaĆ­ are investigating the matter but declined to say whether they believe the threat to be serious.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A "crusader", if you will

George W. Bush runs into a questioner in Florida who doesn't understand that certain things are only to be said in code:

Q ... And also, I just want to say, thank you very much for the way that you run the government with the beliefs of -- your Christian beliefs, and not letting others -- (applause) -- bring you down when you stand behind on your beliefs. It's very important. (Applause.) All the Christians stand behind you.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Yes, ma'am.

While Bush has been accused in the past of only taking screened questions, read further down in the transcript to see the risk of taking unscreened questions. But given the administration's incompetence, maybe the dudes with the "patent to control hurricanes" and "the solution to Social Security" were screened.

Breaking up is so hard to do

In Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, Amir Taheri manages to write a critique of decades of US policy towards Iran without once mentioning Republican presidents prior to the current one -- or, for that matter, the Shah. Three failed models -- JFK, Carter, Clinton -- are described, then an implied criticism of Jack Straw, and a demand for exclusion of direct US-Iran talks as an option now.

By leaving out Republican presidents, he therefore leaves out the emboldenment of Iran: the mysteriously cooperative hostage release in 1980 (during Reagan's inauguration), the arms for hostages deal in 1986, the containment and eventual destruction of Saddam Hussein, the removal of the Taliban, the continued US courting of pro-Iran militias in Iraq, and finally, George W. Bush's call for a boycott of last year's Presidential election in Iran -- the one that brought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

But then again, acknowledging those facts would have required something more than stomping on a keyboard demanding a war -- a rumination on how difficult it is to end a 27 year symbiotic relationship.

UPDATE 22 MAY: Taheri's name comes up in connection with the made-up story that Iran was requiring Jews to wear stars.

UPDATE 4 AUGUST: At least one Bush Administration appointee understands the irony (subs. req'd) --

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, quipped about Iran's influence in a recent speech in Washington. When he met his Iranian counterpart in Afghanistan, Mr. Khalilzad said, "I used to joke with him that 'you guys ought to be much more helpful to us, because look, you couldn't deal with the Taliban problem, you couldn't deal with the Saddam problem, and we've dealt with both. That's a big deal. We'll send you a bill one day for that.' "

It's Europe Day

Which is the anniversary of the proposal to create the EEC, the forerunner of the Union. Bertie Ahern has kicked off the celebrations with a completely sensible set of concerns about the next round of enlargement -- the admission of Bulgaria and Romania sometime next year. Now Bertie's caution is a welcome contrast to the Euro-blarney that greeted the entrance of the previous ten, including Seamus Heaney poetry, with the inevitable backlash culminating in the EU referendum defeat in France last year, also marked by Seamus Heaney poetry.

In particular, the case for admission for Romania was going to be difficult, and Bertie now wants to see the immigration policies of the existing EU members towards the new ones before he opens the door in Ireland, as he did for the previous round:

Asked about his attitude to allowing Romanians and Bulgarians an automatic right to work in Ireland when their countries join the EU, he said the Government would "look at that carefully at the time".

"We haven't made up our minds yet and as I said recently I'd like to see the other countries doing what we did before we made up our mind on that," he said.

Both Bulgaria and Romania had been expecting a decision by the European Commission next week on whether they are ready to join the EU on January 1st, 2007. But Commission sources said yesterday that enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn is preparing to delay until the autumn a final recommendation on when the states should join.

With the census expected to show 10% of the population being immigrants, and nearly all of the 1st round of labour absorption in the last round being done by 3 countries -- Ireland, the UK, and Sweden -- it stands to reason that the government will want to move carefully this time. One might also hope that the EU would use the leverage of admission with Bulgaria and Romania to get information about CIA detention facilities, but that's probably too much to hope for. Especially as any flights to these facilities may well have stopped at Shannon.

Monday, May 08, 2006

He's seen James Bond films, though

Here are the qualifications for the next head of the CIA, as stated by Dick Cheney on Sunday:

... When you think about the intelligence community and the way in which the threat has evolved, it's imposed huge demands for change in the way we do business. We used to just be able to count missiles and silos. That was relatively easy to do from overhead satellites. We've built a whole system around technical collection that worked very well during the Cold War. But now when we're faced with trying to find ways to figure out what a small group of terrorists are going to do, they're difficult to penetrate, difficult to track by national technical means. It's a whole different kind of a target. It places a much heavier emphasis on human intelligence than was required necessarily before.

This is an area in which the actual nominee, active duty Air Force General Michael Hayden has no experience -- most of his career being in technical surveillance activities. The sensitivity to this point is revealed by today's White House "Fact Sheet" (sic) on his nomination, where only one relevant bit of experience is cited:

He also served in the U.S. Embassy in the former People s Republic of Bulgaria during the Cold War, where he trained with the CIA and collected human intelligence.

This is stated so vaguely that it could simply mean reading reports from field agents.

The Downing Street Green Zone

Given that the most disturbing allegation about Tony Blair's Friday reshuffle is that he sacked Jack Straw because of White House displeasure over Straw ruling out military action in Iran, it doesn't help to have Monday's Wall Street Journal editorial page exulting over the sacking on those very grounds:

Friday's demotion of Jack Straw from leading the Foreign Office to managing Labour MPs in Parliament suggests that Mr. Blair doesn't think he's done yet--which is good news if true. Mr. Straw angered Number 10 by ruling out a military strike against the Iranian nuclear program as "inconceivable." Of all Western leaders, Mr. Blair has been most eloquent in warning that weapons of mass destruction in the wrong hands pose an existential threat. Iran is the next great challenge, and Mr. Blair's moral clarity could be a great asset in meeting it.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Get that man a job in the commentary booth

George Bush, in an interview with a German magazine, reaches for the cliches:

Q Are there things that bother you about the Germans? And are there things that you envy about the Germans?

THE PRESIDENT: I am -- look, I mean, Germans have always been incredibly efficient, capable businesspeople, and when they make a product, it is always of the highest of quality.

More seriously, his description of his office:

It's a shrine to democracy. And we treat it that way. When people walk in here, they -- they don't come in here in bathing suits and flip-flops. They come in here dressed like they'd come to a shrine.

A shrine that might be haunted:

The interesting thing about Washington is that they want me to change -- they being the -- and I'm not changing, you know

And his description of his job description on 9/11:

And so I would say the toughest moment of all was after the whole reality sunk in and I was trying to help the nation understand what was going on, and at the same time, be empathetic for those who had lost lives.

The leader as father. But not the soccer Dad:

And, of course, my team [in the World Cup] is the U.S. team. They tell me we've got a good team. Now, whether it's good enough to win it all, who knows?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The fog of pre-war

In the wake of CIA director Porter Goss's mysterious departure, the New York Times notes the paucity of reliable intelligence on Iran:

Such intelligence shortcomings date at least to the period before the Islamist revolution that overthrew the shah in 1979. With no American embassy in Tehran, C.I.A. officers cannot operate under diplomatic cover inside Iran. And because American sanctions ban most business and academic ties, infiltrating spies under what is known as nonofficial cover is difficult.

"I can't think of many people who'd go in under nonofficial cover and pitch senior officers of the I.R.G.C.," the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, said a former veteran C.I.A. operations officer with experience in Iran. Without diplomatic immunity, an unmasked spy could be imprisoned or worse, said the former officer, who was granted anonymity to discuss intelligence methods ... operations have been directed from C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., focusing on areas where there are large numbers of Iranian immigrants, including Los Angeles, the officers said.

So a CIA operative on Iran would most likely be someone maintaining a non-official cover and based in Virginia. Like Valerie Plame. Who is mentioned in the article only in the context of the leak investigation, not her work on Iran. So was it a side benefit, or the main event, that the White House leak of her cover further weakened reliable intelligence on the next target?