Monday, July 31, 2006

The more things change

A few quick notes about recent items from Andrew Sullivan:

1. Props to Power Line's Scott Hinderaker for breaking with the Popular Front two years ago and finding "The Passion of the Christ" an anti-Semitic movie when he first saw it.

The dude's name is Scott "Trunk" Johnson. Andrew has him confused with John "Hindrocket" Hinderaker, who unlike "Trunk", has never written a sane post. [he has since corrected the above sentence, but forgotten that he reused the incorrect name later in the paragraph]

2. Speaking of Gibson:

Stephen Pollard notices that the BBC, Reuters, and Sky News in Britain have not reported the content of Mel Gibson's "despicable" remarks about Jews. I cannot find a reference in the Guardian/Observer either. I guess exposing anti-Semitism would be off-message given the British media's coverage of the Iran-Israel war in Lebanon.

Try to wrap your mind around that one: the British mainstream media is witholding mention of Gibson's tirade, because it's actually part of the justification for Israel's assault on Lebanon?

His conclusion: "Thank God for Drudge" -- who played no role in reporting the story.*

3. Andrew once had a bad habit of granting his e-mailers the presumption of anonymity, but violating it when it suited him. Free Stater chronicles the appearance of the trend in Ireland.

*UPDATE: In an odd, but almost certainly innocent twist, Andrew seems not to know that the website that originally broke the Gibson story with the unedited police reports,, is a sister website to his own blog, as it is owned by Time Warner. Also, the Irish version of the Sully e-mail confidentiality breach is showing slight contrition, but only after hot pursuit by Irish bloggers.

Step 1: admitting the problem (2)

The National Review's Jonah Goldberg:

Al-Qaeda is our [USA] Hezbollah (and, in a sense, Hezbollah was our al Qaeda before al Qaeda showed up on the scene).

That's right, but not in the way he thinks it is. American foreign policy from 1979 onwards was marked by an obsession with Shia fundamentalism while the more virulent Sunni fundamentalism was spreading from Saudi Arabia. In terms of how this obsession is again dominating US foreign policy, the pre 9-11 mentality has been restored.

[UPDATE: Here, via Dan Froomkin, is a Time magazine article noting the important of the Hezbollah/al Qaeda distinction]

Step 1: admitting the problem

Condi Rice en route to Shannon today:

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I’m going to try again. I think what Warren was asking was a personal question about how you felt. I think a lot of us were seeing that you looked -- you’ll excuse me -- you looked really bad at several times during this trip. I mean, you always look fabulously, but you looked tense. I mean, tell us what you were feeling, like when you were standing up on that podium in Rome and Siniora was saying some of the things that did not quite jive with U.S. policy. Give us a sense personally.

SECRETARY RICE: I don’t know. Maybe I’m just not as self-reflective as you think I am.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


[NOTE: Here, via YouTube, is the video discussed below.]

The Israeli military video that Fox News is currently running in heavy rotation as a justification for its attack on Qana, allegedly showing Hezbollah rockets being fired from near, not in, the building hit today, is over a week old. The date stamp is 07-22-06.

UPDATE: There's another problem. Fox News is trying to reconcile the IDF video with the claims of Qana residents that they didn't see any rockets being launched from near the building. Fox News says that this is because Hezbollah uses a "shoot and scoot" strategy -- launch the rockets from the bed of a pickup truck and leave the area. In which case, why would a fixed structure, the building, have been bombed?

[Note: the video in question ran on Weekend Live, should be here; there are now additional IDF videos circulating (e.g. here) where the date it was taken is not clear]

FINAL UPDATE: With an old, irrelevant video not doing the trick, the defenders of the Israeli strike have gone to the Katrina playbook, arguing (as with the hurricane and the levy breaches) that there were two separate events, the missile strike and the building collapse.

Shannon: There is an alternative

It's not clear what exactly prompted the US and UK governments to jointly draw the conclusion that running military operations through civilian airports had become too much of a hot potato, but now it's happened:

Two flights carrying "hazardous" material were diverted from Prestwick to the RAF Mildenhall military base in Suffolk on Saturday evening.

There has been no official confirmation of the cargo being carried.

A spokesman for the US air force at RAF Mildenhall said the two the Atlas Air cargo flights arrived late on Saturday night. One departed on Sunday afternoon, with the other expected to follow later.

Since the US does seem to have some aversion to running these flights through military bases (otherwise they would have been doing it already), it's now more incumbent than ever on Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern to move beyond photo-op denunciations and find out exactly what is on those planes at Shannon.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Count to ten before hitting "publish"

[UPDATE 3: the NYT Lamont endorsement]

Earlier today, the New York Times posted the web version of a story that will run in tomorrow's print edition [byline: Adam Nagourney], and it dropped a by-the-way scoop -- that the paper will endorse the challenger, not the incumbent Joe Lieberman, in the Connecticut Senate Democratic primary. It was so by-the-way that it was in brackets:

[The New York Times, in an editorial published on Sunday, endorsed Mr. Lamont over Mr. Lieberman, arguing that the senator had offered the nation a "warped version of bipartisanship" in his dealings with Mr. Bush on national security.]

But the editorial still isn't posted [see updates], so the news side of the paper jumped the gun on its editorial side. The story now seems to be undergoing hasty additions, again in brackets, because there's a paragraph there now that we're pretty sure is new:

(The Times has endorsed Mr. Lieberman for the United States Senate only once in his four campaigns. A 1988 editorial endorsed the incumbent, Lowell Weicker. In 1994, The Times endorsed Mr. Lieberman. In 2000, The Times endorsed the Gore-Lieberman presidential ticket but made no endorsement in the Senate race in Connecticut.)

Which doesn't address the question of primary endorsements. We suspect that the decision to have this addition in round brackets and the earlier one in square brackets is the least fraught of the discussions in the NYT offices right now.

[UPDATE 4: Brad DeLong lays out in detail the bizarreness of the Nagourney article]

UPDATE 2: The NYT is playing hard to get with the editorial endorsement. Even though there are no links on the main page yet to the Sunday editorials, the ones about John Bolton and the Negro Leagues are already posted, their urls easily guessable. We're guessing that Lieberman's will be here, but they could play trixy and post it as a Connecticut regional editorial.

[UPDATE 1: The commenters in this TPM Cafe thread also find the sequence of events very strange]

Hawks and Bulls

Selected quotes from the Fox News weekend financial show that aired just now, with host Neil Cavuto:

"Anything we can do to help Israel is going to help the stock market" [Wayne Rogers]

"I'm going to be crass for a second -- wouldn't we be better off if this guy [Nasrallah, Hezbollah chief] was dead" [Cavuto]
"Absolutely -- the market loves certainty" [panelist, name TBD]

UPDATE: This style of analysis is getting around.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A story like that is so crazy it must be true

WSJ (subs. req'd) -- But in an interview yesterday, Mr. Landis, who has been suspended and could be stripped of his Tour title, denied using any illegal substances during the race and offered some surprising insights into his preparation for Stage 17 ...

The night before ... Mr. Landis said, while gathered with friends and teammates, he prepared for the strenuous mountain stage by drinking two beers and at least four shots of whiskey ... Last week, after he completed Stage 16, Mr. Landis told reporters his first priority was to have a cold beer. He said yesterday he went to an outdoor veranda with a bar near his hotel and drank two draft beers. After a crowd began to gather, he retired to the hotel with about five other people, including Phonak teammates Axel Merckx and Robert Hunter. Someone produced a bottle of Jack Daniel's, he said, and he had "at least four shots" before going to bed before 11:30 p.m. Because he doesn't usually drink much and was so skinny from weeks of racing, the alcohol definitely had an effect, he said yesterday. "I don't remember much."


The outlines of the imminent diplomatic stunt by Bush and Blair are becoming apparent. Blair will meet Bush in about an hour and then there is a short news conference at 17.30 BST. The call for a ceasefire will be firmer than previous efforts, and will include the "news" that Condi is returning to Israel this weekend. However it seems that the background work for the stunt is not going well, as Condi's "surprise" early departure from Malaysia was postponed. The underlying problem is that wars tend to take on their own momentum, often surprising the instigators (weird anniversary today, by the way) -- which is exactly why most people wanted a ceasefire as soon as possible.

We'll update this post as events today warrant.

UPDATE: They're also seeking a UN resolution on Monday to implement a multinational force. Still not clear what the Israelis are expected to do in the meantime. The subtle change in terminology is that "sustainable ceasefire" has moved to "cessation of hostilities with a framework for a longer-term solution." But how does a conflict with "root causes" start "out of the blue"?

At one point in the press conference, Bush seemed to imply that reporters who ask difficult questions are doing the bidding of Islamists:

QUESTION [David Gregory, NBC]: But I asked about the loss of American influence, and are you worried about that?

BUSH: Well, we went to the G-8 and worked with our allies and got a remarkable statement on what took place. We're working to get a United Nations resolution on Iran. We're working to have a Palestinian state.

But the reason why you asked the question is because terrorists are trying to stop that progress. And we'll ultimately prevail, because their -- they have -- their ideology is so dark and so dismal that when people really think about it, it'll be rejected.

They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That's what they do. And they're good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, you know, this, that or the other. I mean, they're able to kind of say to people: Don't come and bother us, because we will kill you.

And in response to the Man from The Sun:

QUESTION: Mr. President and Prime Minister Blair, can I ask you both tonight what your messages are for the governments of Iran and Syria, given that you say that this is the crisis of the 21st century?

BUSH: Want me to start?

Our message is: Give up your nuclear weapon and your nuclear weapon ambitions. That's my message to Syria -- I mean, to Iran.

[Washington Post transcript]; Josh Marshall has a link to the video of the answer to Gregory's question.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Get him rewrite

Given the reputation for the kind of humour that Ana Marie Cox brought to the Wonkette blog, is this really the kind of phrasing that a Time Magazine memo announcing her new Washington Editor job should go for? --

"Ana Marie is a sharp and witty observer of the Washington scene and has the ability to spot political angles in surprising places," says [Richard] Stengel [Time Managing Editor]. "In her new role, she'll bring her great web instincts to covering the hot topics of the day."

Sign o' the times

With the week that's in it, we wonder if some of the more rapturist readers of the New York Times will see another nod from above that everything is going to according to God's design -- in a message from an Irish bog:

The [1200 year old] manuscript, containing approximately 20 pages, was discovered last Thursday in the Irish Midlands when the construction worker noticed it while excavating for commercial potting soil. Museum officials declined to specify the bog’s location, explaining that archaeologists were still exploring the site.

The museum said that the bound pages had slipped outside the book’s wraparound cover, made of vellum or leather, and that the psalms were written directly on vellum and the book was found open at a page showing Psalm 83 in Latin.

In later English-language versions, Psalm 83 exhorts God to act against conspirator nations plotting to wipe out "the name of Israel."

UPDATE: The NYT was apparently more careful than many other accounts, in noting that the Israel phrase only appears in the later King James version of the corresponding Psalm, but did not appear in the manuscript itself. And more on the find, more focussed on the preservation aspects, from Sunday's NYT.

The failure of diplomatic niceties

In a typically meandering column in the WSJ today, Peggy Noonan does raise a noteworthy point:

When Secretary Rice arrived in Lebanon the other day, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora greeted her with kisses on both cheeks. They seemed as if they had a personal relationship unstressed by the current war. They seemed like mature and friendly comrades greeting each other after an absence. This of course was all done for spin. I don't mean it was insincere. It may have been fully sincere on both parts. But it was also spin, both parties agreeing to produce a picture that told a story. The purpose was to show the world that these adults, operating in a good faith implicit in the affection shown, can handle a tense situation, are friends, and can effectively work together. The world isn't ending.

I know it is spin. You know it too. And yet it worked for me.

It didn't work for us. And here's the point: if the Lebanese Prime Minister really believes, as he would be justified in doing, that his country has been sold down the river by his "fellow" Arabs, the Europeans, the US, everybody -- why did he contribute to the diplomatic charade that these greetings and conferences represent?

Meet the new bad guy

As yet another security plan for Baghdad is implemented, it's already clear that the strategists should get to work on drafting the next one, because this one is going to fail. The reason is clear from the structure it has been given by the Pentagon's outside strategy board -- the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. And the plan is: elevate Moqtada al-Sadr and his militia as the new super bad guys and clamp down on them, despite the fact that they are not driving force of the proto-civil war, and many of their activities are defensive.

First, here are the hints from Thursday's WSJ. The lead editorial (subs. req'd; alt. free link):

On the other hand, the followers of hardline Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are a big faction in parliament and a hard problem.

On the same page, usual suspect, Dan Senor (subs. req'd; alt. free link):

Moqtada al-Sadr and his Sadrists, the Sadriyyun, are as powerful and destructive as ever, forcing the prime minister's hand on Israel and other issues.

Mr. Sadr's militia, the Mehdi army, has been responsible for a considerable share of Iraq's sectarian strife, not to mention the deaths of American soldiers in 2003 and 2004. His power is derived from a combination of family lineage, violent intimidation of rival clerics, and agitation on behalf of Iraq's Shiite underclass. His support is largely concentrated in Sadr City (a Baghdad slum, home to some two million Iraqi Shiites), and in a number of other impoverished neighborhoods throughout southern Iraq.

While the Sadriyyun lack the sophistication, weaponry and social welfare services of Hezbollah, both are funded by Tehran; and both organizations represent the same ethnic, religious and socioeconomic demographic within their respective countries. Mr. Sadr's organization is, in fact, about where Hezbollah was 20 years ago.

This is all preposterous. The actual Iranian-backed Shia organisation is not hiding its intentions, carrying the name Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. They are based in the Iraqi south, which is, like, closer to Iran. For all his faults, al-Sadr is an Iraqi nationalist, reflecting his power base in the capital. Consider also the designated good guy amongst the Shia, Ayatollah al-Sistani. Here's a map of Iran. Take a look at it and then make a wild guess as to where he got his surname. For God's sake, even Hitch knows!

Denunciations of al-Sadr are not even a new strategy. Instead, as Senor makes clear, it's driven by being easy to sell through an equivalence with Hezbollah. If the US is trying to make Shiites not feel persecuted (and just why were the Saudis sitting in on Condi's last meeting before she left for the Middle East?), they're going exactly the wrong way about it.

UPDATE: Speaking of Dan Senor, Slate's Fred Kaplan notes that Iraqi PM al-Maliki's speech to Congress yesterday bears the hallmarks of having been written by the White House -- the same trick that Dan Senor did for then PM Allawi's speech 2 years ago (via Dan Froomkin).

And [30 July], Frank Rich (subs. req'd), who should know better, goes for the new bad guy -- hook, line, and sinker:

The most dangerous figure in Iraq, the home-grown radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, is an acolyte of neither Osama bin Laden nor Saddam but an ally of Iran who has sworn solidarity to both Hezbollah and Hamas. He commands more than 30 seats in Mr. Maliki’s governing coalition in Parliament and 5 cabinet positions. He is also linked to death squads that have slaughtered Iraqis and Americans with impunity since the April 2004 uprising that killed, among others, Cindy Sheehan’s son, Casey. Since then, Mr. Sadr’s power has only grown, enabled by Iraqi “democracy.”

FINAL UPDATE 15 OCTOBER: Yet another reminder that Moqtada al-Sadr is not the main problem; he opposed the "federalism" legislation (=partition) that the Iranian-backed parties pushed for.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

It's not just Shannon

Wednesday's Daily Telegraph reports that that the accelerated shipment of precision-guided weapons from the US to Israel over the weekend passed through Prestwick Airport in Scotland. It's not clear what legal issues are raised by this, although the transparent end-use intentions for these weapons might at least pose moral problems for a self-styled Gladstonian like Tony Blair. One unresolved issue in the controversy surrounding the use of Shannon and Prestwick for rendition flights and weapons shipments is how exactly the US decides which airport to use for each flight. Unfortunately, despite occasional flareups in the media, it's still not clear that there is public momentum to restrict these flights in any way. Depending on how damning the circumstances are concerning the killing of the 4 UN observers by the Israeli military, that may change.

UPDATE: Margaret Beckett manages to muster a protest. What are the odds that the cargo on US planes stopping at Shannon gets more interesting?

UPDATE 27 JULY: Two more weapons flights are planned over the next fortnight. If Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern is serious about his display of outrage regarding the Israeli operations in south Lebanon, he could start by ordering audits of US cargo flights through Shannon.

FINAL UPDATE 28 JULY: One the arguments of the Irish government in denying that Shannon would be used for rendition flights is to ask why they would use a civilian airport when they could use military bases in Britain and not attract any scrutiny. But as the Prestwick incident reveals, they are using civilian airports even when military bases would be available:

Questions have been asked as to why the US would use a civil airport when they have military bases in Britain

In other words, this is no longer a valid line of defence for the Irish and British governments, but another part of the puzzle.

VERY FINAL UPDATE 30 JULY: The Scottish Sunday Herald is reporting that Dermot Ahern refused permission for the munitions flights. But note the wording:

A spokeswoman for [Dermot] Ahern told the Sunday Herald: “Minister Ahern did say during the week that permission would not be granted if there was an application made to transport munitions of war to the Middle East.”

i.e. the don't ask, don't tell policy for rendition flights applies here as well.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Iraq: One jury is in

In a remarkable verdict, an Irish jury has acquitted 5 anti-war protestors of charges of damaging a US plane at Shannon in 2003. It's remarkable because no facts were actually in dispute: the accused accepted that they had damaged the plane. Instead they argued that their action was lawful because it helped save lives in Iraq. This was their 3rd trial, the 2nd having collapsed when the judge was revealed to have had unusually familiar contacts with Texas Republicans, including Tom DeLay (and by extension, George W. Bush). Since the protestors' defence probably failed to meet any legal standard of specificity (e.g. showing how this plane would have led to deaths in Iraq), the verdict instead reveals concerns about the overall nod-and-wink policy of the government towards the use of Shannon in US military operations.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Just in case anyone is labouring under the misapprehension that Anakin Skywalker is back in control of the writings of Andrew Sullivan, consider this:

the Sunni-Shiite division is one the West should exploit as shrewdly and relentlessly as possible to further our interests in the region.

Apart from the thought experiment of changing "Sunni-Shiite" to "Catholic-Protestant" and asking whether the sentence still sounds right, does anyone believe that George W. Bush is the man to be "shrewdly" exploiting religious divisions without lots of people ending up dead?


Following a weekend in which the White House had expressed mystification about how one constructs agreements with non-state "terrorist" actors, this announcement:

President Bush will meet with Minni Minawi, Sudan Liberation Movement/Army Leader, at the White House on July 25, 2006. The focus of the discussion will be on how to broaden support for the Darfur Peace Agreement, facilitate its implementation, and ensure the expeditious deployment of U.N. peacekeepers to Darfur.

Not an Irish Coffee?

The Wall Street Journal's politics blog has a brilliant catch today, presumably by virtue of having a reporter on Condi Rice's plane to the Middle East, which stopped for refuelling at Shannon. Given Condi's lack of urgency, it's a miracle she wasn't spotted taking in the sights in Clare, but that's another story. Anyway, while the plane was on the ground, Condi's party headed for the bar, at 5am. Unlucky for them however, there was a group of stranded Lebanese-American evacuees trying to get back to the US, and they were spotted. Read the entire WSJ post, but here's one of the best details:

“Aren’t you a TV person?” one woman asked [Karen] Hughes, a former press aide who was sitting at the bar sipping wine.

“Well you may have seen me on TV,” Hughes replied. She then apologized repeatedly for the group’s travails and promised to make some calls back to State. Within an hour the group appeared to be off to a hotel, though no one knew when a working plane would arrive. Suspecting Rice might be flying to Beirut — as she was — one man begged to get on her plane. “I’d rather go back,” he said

Unclear whether he meant that Beirut was better than Shannon. But what in God's name was Karen Hughes doing drinking at 5 in the morning?

[Karen's Shannon imbibing also noted at The Plank]


Every so often we're reminded of why it can be worth taking a look at William Rees-Mogg's column in the Times (UK) and today's definitely merits a mention. One doesn't have to buy into his classic Tory worldview to appreciate the little asides, not to mention the benefits of having been around for so long. His topic is the Suez crisis, for which a series of 50th anniversaries are now approaching. But consider his acknowledgment of what would now be considered hopeless conflicts of interest:

In 1956 I was writing leaders for The Financial Times. I had been commissioned to write a brief life of the Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, a man whom I liked and admired. I had also become involved as an assistant speech writer to Eden, specialising in economic policy. I saw him during the early months of the Suez Crisis; he was always calm, courteous and thoughtful. I am not sure that my varied connections would be thought acceptable nowadays; they did in fact break down early in November when it became apparent, not least to myself, that I could not properly write The Financial Times’s comments on prime ministerial speeches to which I might myself have contributed.

Nevertheless, I observed the development of the Suez Crisis from a privileged vantage point. In addition, I fought the Chester-le-Street by-election in September as the Conservative candidate; I went around the mining villages saying that we should not appease Colonel Nasser. The Durham miners did not have the least wish to appease Colonel Nasser; unfortunately they had no wish to vote for me. That was the only by-election between the nationalisation of the canal and the invasion of Egypt.

Anyway, his more serious point, which you'll only get if you read the whole thing, is that Eisenhower screwed the British in the crisis and the world has paid the price ever since. And he's referring not just to the US pulling the plug on the Anglo-French-Israeli scheme after its military success in seizing the Canal, but to the preceding summer of fruitless negotiations after the canal was nationalised -- the failure of which led the British to see the virtues of the more radical French-Israeli plan to invade.

It's helpful when reading Rees-Mogg's column to have a chronology of the crisis at hand; note the plus ca change aspect to it, as old friends such as the Gaza strip, Ariel Sharon, the Fedayeen, and a UN peacekeeping force all make an appearance. Thankfully, the world has progressed since then, and Rees-Mogg's account of lackadaisical US diplomacy amid turmoil in the Middle East leading to many unintended consequences couldn't happen today.

UPDATE 26 July: The anniversary of the nationalisation of the canal is today. Nasser had been annoyed by the US blocking a World Bank loan for the Aswan Dam the week before.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Navan Man and the supernotes

Sunday's New York Times magazine has a lengthy story following the trail of extremely high quality $100 bill forgeries that leads back to North Korea. Inevitably the tale gets around to the accusations against Sean Garland:

... increased scrutiny of North Korea’s diplomatic and trading missions ... the regime seems to have changed tactics, harnessing new distribution networks and wholesaling the counterfeits to third parties who would funnel them to criminal gangs. In the late 1990’s, for instance, British detectives began tracking Sean Garland, the leader of the Official Irish Republican Army, a Marxist splinter group of the I.R.A. According to an unsealed federal indictment in Washington, Garland began working with North Korean agents earlier in the decade, purchasing supernotes at wholesale prices before distributing them through an elaborate criminal network with outposts in Belarus and Russia, as well as Ireland. (Garland denies the charges and is currently fighting extradition to the United States from Ireland.)

Incidentally, the story is a tad more tangled than this, since the British actually had Garland in detention following his arrest at the "Official Sinn Fein" annual conference, but he jumped bail and is now back in the Republic. A few months ago, Slugger O'Toole had noted that the US State Department seemed vague about when the extradition request would be sent, and that Bertie didn't sound especially enthused about receiving it.

UPDATE 10 OCTOBER: There's some indication that the increased US aggressiveness towards North Korean financial transactions, of which the Garland indictment is a part, contributed to the NK ill-will regarding nuclear non-proliferation efforts.

The original Chicago boy

will have them sputtering into their coffee as they read Saturday's Wall Street Journal editorial page interview with Milton Friedman. The conversation turns to the Iraq war:

Mr. Friedman here shifted focus. "What's really killed the Republican Party isn't spending, it's Iraq. As it happens, I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression." Mrs. Friedman--listening to her husband with an ear cocked--was now muttering darkly.

Milton: "Huh? What?" Rose: "This was not aggression!" Milton (exasperatedly): "It was aggression. Of course it was!" Rose: "You count it as aggression if it's against the people, not against the monster who's ruling them. We don't agree. This is the first thing to come along in our lives, of the deep things, that we don't agree on. We have disagreed on little things, obviously--such as, I don't want to go out to dinner, he wants to go out--but big issues, this is the first one!" Milton: "But, having said that, once we went in to Iraq, it seems to me very important that we make a success of it." Rose: "And we will!"

Mrs. Friedman, you will note, had the last word.

At least as far as the true believers at the Journal were concerned. Note also this makes Uncle Miltie objectively pro-Saddam.

[Friedman's opposition to the Iraq war noted at The Corner, (to be cont'd)]

Friday, July 21, 2006

Israel has its deadline

Just announced by the White House:

President Bush will welcome British Prime Minister Tony Blair to the White House on July 28, 2006. The United States has no closer ally and partner than the United Kingdom, and the President appreciates the Prime Minister's leadership and vision. The two leaders will consult on efforts to secure a lasting peace in the Middle East, consolidate democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, prevent Iran from obtaining the means to build nuclear weapons, end the genocide in Darfur, and promote free and fair trade.

UPDATE: Given the transparency of the above signal to the Israelis that they have until this day next week to scale things back, Condi's supposed tour of the Middle East earlier next week made little sense. Hence, this completely unsurprising change of plan, via the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd, brief here):

In a startling twist that shows how tense the atmosphere now is in the Arab world, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will not be traveling next week to any Arab capitals. Instead, she will visit Israel and then loop back to Italy for a meeting with top officials from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and various European countries.

Diplomats say that Egypt was too skittish to host a gathering on the Lebanon conflict in Cairo, fearing it would spark a popular backlash.

Ms. Rice had originally planned to travel first to Cairo and then to visit other Arab capitals after a stopover in Israel. Now it is thought that she will return to the region after a short visit to Malaysia at the end of the week to attend a regional summit. In that return trip, she may stop in key Arab capitals. Israeli officials say that by then, their bombing campaign may have ceased or seriously abated.

UPDATE 25 JULY: In addition to the Bush-Blair formal call for a ceasefire, Bush has invited along some American Idol guests to entertain himself and Blair. And [27 July] it seems that the PR stunt of the Blair visit will be a joint call to Condi Rice to return to the Middle East this weekend to seal a ceasefire.

FINAL UPDATE 18 NOVEMBER: Confirmation that the White House originally thought that the war would be short from this New York Times article --

The Israelis say Washington was disappointed in their performance against Hezbollah. They are right: inside the White House, said one senior official there, who agreed to speak about internal deliberations on condition of anonymity, “Bush and Cheney believed that this would be another Six-Day War, or on the outside, two weeks.”

It happens to the best of them

There's no reason that the people of Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines should be insulted at their new US ambassador nominee:

The President intends to nominate Mary Martin Ourisman, of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Barbados and to serve concurrently as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to [other countries above].

because, while her primary qualification is being part of a car dealership empire that of course donates exclusively to Republicans, even the United "Yo, Blair" Kingdom gets a car dealer as its US ambassador.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

It's not just a Stone Roses album

This attempt at a witty aside from New Republic part-owner Martin Peretz seems blissfully unaware of its alternative meanings:

No one thinks this really tiny patch of land [Sheba farms] belongs to Lebanon, no one. It actually belongs to Syria, and its disposition awaits the arrival of the Messiah or peace talks between Jerusalem and Damascus, whichever comes first.

Well Martin, with the people that you're ideologically in bed with, those events will in fact be simultaneous:

[Evangelical support of Israel]. The establishment--and continuation--of the State of Israel is essential to set the stage for the imminent return of Jesus. At the time of the Second Coming, these Christians believe, Jesus will descend from heaven, subdue all of Israel's enemies and take believers to heaven in what is known as the Rapture--literally, they will ascend to the clouds to be in heaven. This series of events ushers in the end-times. According to conservative Christians' reading of the Book of Revelation, this won't happen unless Israel exists in the Holy Land. [see also here]

Indeed, how handy for the Revelation to have the serpents assembling as well:

Anyway, Siniora [Lebanese PM] seems to have changed his mind about Hezbollah. Or is he simply speaking with the forked tongue that defines the political culture from which he has emerged?

Also McDonald's, the local eatery

The New York Times today, on the return of British Open golf to the Liverpool area:

A Starbucks and an Armani Exchange are in the same Liverpool neighborhood as local watering holes like "Hog Head’s Pub" and "Slug and Lettuce."

Both of the latter, as their faux pub names suggest, are, like Starbucks and Armani, chains.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Yo, Brown" won't work quite as well

One almost gets the sense that there is a sudden rush of US criminal indictments of British citizens*; could it be that American prosecutors suspect that a post-Blair environment won't be quite so favourable to the procurement of suspects? Following quickly on the BetOnSports arrest (where the unfortunate Mr Carruthers made things easy for the feds by changing planes in Dallas) comes a new indictment and extradition request related to the Babar Ahmad case. Syed Talha Ahsan from Tooting is now co-accused with Ahmad of running websites in Ireland, Britain, the US, and Malaysia that accepted donations of money and equipment allegedly destined for terrorist groups.

Unlike the NatWest 3, Ahmad and Ahsan's cases fall squarely within the intent of the controversial 2003 extradition legislation -- but the lack of reciprocal action by the US is just as germane as it was to the NatWest 3 campaign (and we haven't heard much in the way of results from Baroness Scotland's visit to see US Attorney-General Al Gonzales to encourage US ratification of the treaty, have we?). Also unlike the NatWest 3, the two, if extradited, would become Muslim non-citizen terrorism suspects in US custody. The case thus merits very close scrutiny.

*UPDATE: we're not sure that the people we refer to in the post are British citizens, although they are clearly British residents. Will try to check this.

Adjective of the day

George Bush: And there's suspicions that the instability created by the Hezbollian attacks will cause some in Lebanon to invite Syria back in ...

[The WSJ also noticed]

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Just out of curiosity

Since the National Review's Rich Lowry has just posted an e-mail "from a Republican" quoting odds from Tradesports, does this mean that conservatives have satisfied themselves that Ireland-based Tradesports is in a legally different situation from Costa Rica-based BetOnSports, whose CEO was just arrested for racketeering conspiracy while changing planes in Dallas?

UPDATE: On a related note, bookmaker Paddy Power says that it blocks access to its online site from US users.

The hair of the dog that bit him

Andrew Sullivan admits that the side of the blogosphere that he used to be on has gone, well, looney:

I find myself having to agree with Glenn Greenwald [also here] on how the far-right blogosphere has jumped the rhetorical shark this past year, aided and abetted by more mainstream conservative bloggers.

But he can't quite let go of some of his old tricks:

By the way, one of his commenters again brings up my infamous sentence a few days after 9/11 when I predicted that small enclaves of leftists might blame America for the attack and become what amounts to a "fifth column." I regret that rhetoric, expressed my regret days after the piece was published, and only ever applied it to those who immediately sympathized with al Qaeda in September 2001. As for my later comments about opponents of the Iraq war being "objectively pro-Saddam," that seems to me to be indisputable. If they'd had their way, he'd still be in power.

The apology seems abject enough, but he's again playing games with that quote: it was never qualified to refer to "small" enclaves, or to people "who immediately sympathized with al Qaeda" after 9/11. [Beyond unverified claims about people on the street in Brooklyn cheering and a few ultra-fringe elements, the Right has never produced evidence of any surge in sympathy for al Qaeda after 9/11, and definitely not in proportion to the rage it generated in their keyboarding].

And then there's the definition of "objectively pro-Saddam" -- not the bastardised innuendo of the old left (well, of Orwell, really), as was clearly intended when first used, but now covering anyone who thinks that maybe leaving Saddam in power wasn't necessarily a bad option. Like George Will, who Sully had just gushingly linked to a few posts back:

[Will] Still, it is not perverse to wonder whether the spectacle of America, currently learning a lesson -- one that conservatives should not have to learn on the job -- about the limits of power to subdue an unruly world, has emboldened many enemies ... As for the "healthy" repercussions that the Weekly Standard is so eager to experience from yet another war: One envies that publication's powers of prophecy but wishes it had exercised them on the nation's behalf before all of the surprises -- all of them unpleasant -- that Iraq has inflicted.

One suspects that Will is probably still stinging more from being tagged as "not that bright" by Kramer than as "objectively pro-Saddam" by Sully.

UPDATE: A reader calls him out on the same point. And [21 June] enclave member Eric Alterman responds directly.

Bizarre maybe, but not unprecedented

The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto, linking to an opaquely sourced Saddam Hussein rumination about the Israel-Lebanon crisis:

Saddam supposedly goes on to offer a rather bizarre conspiracy theory about the U.S., Israel and Iran working in concert.

One element of the Iran-Contra scandal:

In summer 1985, Michael Ledeen, a consultant of Robert McFarlane, asked Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres for help in the sale of arms to Iran. The Israel government required that the sale of arms meet the approval of the United States government, and when it was convinced that the U.S. government approved the sale by Robert McFarlane, Israel obliged by agreeing to sell the arms. In July 1985, Israel sent American-made BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) anti-tank missiles to Iran for the release of Reverend Benjamin Weir; Weir was released. Despite the fact that arms were being sold to Iran, only Weir was released. This resulted in the failure of Ledeen's plan with only three shipments through Israel.

Yes Please

Via Pajamas Media, Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, fresh from having led Likud to electoral oblivion:

Netanyahu in Haifa: "Israel should act as United States did during the Cuban missile crisis." "Our goal should be to eliminate the source of fire. We don’t want to leave Nasrallah with his finger on the trigger. We must continue the operation, even without international support," he said.

Note: the death toll during the Cuban missile crisis was zero.

UPDATE: Bibi reproduces the analogy for the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link).

Perhaps Putin should try the "Yo, Blair" approach

A Russian journalist nicely caught Tony Blair in extradition hypocrisy:

I will ask my question in Russian. I have two questions. Can we call the political system of Russia a fully-fledged democracy of the European model? Yesterday you signed a document on high corruption, you mention in that document that Heads of State undertake to extradite corrupt officials, therefore can the Russian Prosecutor's Office expect the extradition of Boris Berezovsky?

Prime Minister:
Well in relation to extradition, these are things that are eventually decided by our courts. I think sometimes there is a misunderstanding that somehow I or anyone else can order the extradition of someone. If you talk to the British journalists they will tell you how hard I find it to deport people who we believe are a threat to the security of our country, never mind the extradition of others. So the extradition laws will simply have to follow their course there.

What Blair ignores is that if the government really wants to extradite someone, they can always pass legislation to make it happen e.g. the extradition of the NatWest 3 under provisions of legislation intended as an anti-terrorism measure. And of course, corrupt officials have a much more deleterious effect on governance in a country than an investment deal that pushed the envelope. Not how TB sees it though, apparently.

Monday, July 17, 2006

From Churchill and FDR to

The opening lines of the widely disseminated Bush-Blair open microphone fiasco:

Bush: Yo, Blair. How are you doing?
Blair: I’m just...
Bush: You’re leaving?
Blair: No, no, no not yet. On this trade thingy...

The above is the Sky News transcript. The Washington Post transcript renders the last word as "thing" but "thingy" is so Tony.

Don't mention their war

The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin has noted the strange habit of White House Press Secretary Tony Snow to pose questions to reporters, as opposed to the more customary role of answering questions from reporters. The latest example of this reveals a clear point of sensitivity of the White House concerning the useless G8 statement on the Lebanon crisis:

MR. SNOW: Jim, let me ask you a quick question. Is your -- I want to make sure I've got the sort of gist of the question correct. Are you asking whether we consulted the Israelis on language to put in? Is that the corner of your question?

Q I guess that's part of my question, and how do you think the Israelis are going to respond to this request for release of arrested Palestinian ministers and parliamentarians?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I'll put it this way: There are a lot of people here in the American delegation, but I can tell you that our senior leadership was not on the phone working out language with the Israeli government, but the Israelis obviously know what's going on here, know what our position is, and know what the position of some of the other countries are.

These negotiations -- it's the President in the middle of negotiations, it's a small room, there aren't a lot of people in it. So these reflect the discussions among the leaders.

On a not unrelated note, Condi made clear that no one should expect any difference in the private message to the Israelis from the public nod-and-wink ones:

SECRETARY RICE: We're saying to the Israelis privately precisely what we're saying to them publicly.

In fact, one possibility is that the statements from Burns and Condi are both true, and the White House has not grasped the potential of the Israel-Lebanon crisis to completely derail their foreign policy. With this administration, summers spent ignoring clear warning signs have sad precedents.

UPDATE 18 JULY: Snow did it again --

MR. SNOW: How does it seem that the United States is giving breathing room? You and I have talked -- I'm just curious about the characterization. How would you draw that conclusion?

Q Well, I don't think that he's even had a conversation with Olmert.

MR. SNOW: Okay, so you're assuming because the President hasn't called Olmert that that creates breathing room? I'm trying to get the context for the question. Let me proceed, and if it doesn't do well enough, you can follow up ...

Q So the idea that the United States is holding back in doing any more criticizing of Israel to give them a chance to take out as many targets as they want?

MR. SNOW: No, because, Deb, the insinuation there is that there is either active military planning, collusion or collaboration between the United States and Israel, and there just isn't. Israel is proceeding in the manner it sees fit to defend itself and its territory.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Is that a threat?

At the Bush-Putin news conference:

PRESIDENT PUTIN: We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly. (Laughter.)


And, what kind of sales pitch was Putin responding to with this?

PRESIDENT PUTIN: I have already mentioned that we will not participate in any crusades, in any holy alliances.

Friday, July 14, 2006

La testata de tutti testata

Last evening's news on RAI (Italian TV) showed the Zidane headbutt 7 times, followed by another 6 showings of an apparent comedy routine based on the headbutt. This is a full 4 days after the already legendary move. It's not very hard to find the video on their website either.

[and yes, the grammar in our title is probably dreadful]

This one goes up to 11

Bertie Ahern shows George Bush how mangled econ-english should be done:

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said yesterday higher inflation was a sign of a strengthening economy: "In actual fact the reason it's on the rise is because probably the boom times are getting even more boomer."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The NatWest 3

With the 3 now in Houston, the hometown Houston Chronicle will be recommended reading for those interested in tracking their fate. The sidebar to their story on the 3 has an excellent set of links, including to the actual indictment. The indictment makes clear what the 3's supporters have always said: that any fraud was against NatWest and that the US jurisdiction is quite flimsy (arising from faxes, e-mails, and a wire transfer travelling in US territory).

Furthermore, one can virtually guarantee that (assuming the 3 can afford good legal representation) that a professor of finance will be on the witness stand. The entire case rests on the fact that a corporate vehicle to hedge financial risk, which by construction has an economic value of zero when set up (because its risks are exactly offsetting), can gain or lose value over time as the price of the assets it holds fluctuates. Indeed, it seems from the indictment that the hedging vehicle was still exposed to risk when the three bought it, which will surely be part of their argument that NatWest was not defrauded by the purchase price.

UPDATE: The 3 got bail (which seems to be $100,000) pending a longer hearing next week on whether they can return to the UK until the trial date. Gary Mulgrew posted his bail mostly in the form of shares in Glasgow Celtic FC!

More on the Celtic connection here; at the end, Mulgrew's mother makes reference (though the story doesn't explain) to the fact that government MPs referred to the 3 as the "Enron 3," a clearly prejudicial tag in view of their trial in Texas. Michael Howard got Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien to stop doing it during the debate on Wednesday.

Would they have said that 'Alexander' was a turkey?

Irish state broadcaster RTÉ fell the wrong side of this latest decision of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission (, subs. req'd):

The fake fly-on-the-wall satire "The Unbelievable Truth - Colin Farrell's darkest secrets" was labelled a tasteless and vulgar display that made a mockery of the Catholic faith in a complaint by a priest.

A scene from the fictional programme showed a man dressed in priest's vestments pretending to handout Holy Communion to a group of men. But instead of saying Body of Christ, the character announced Body of Colin Farrell, and a close-up showed it was Viagra, not sacred hosts, that was being handed out ...

RTÉ said the programme, narrated by comedian Colin Murphy, was by its nature iconoclastic, designed to attack popular or traditional beliefs, presenting fictional biographies of high profile Irish celebrities.

That's a remarkable, apparently self-granted, mission statement for a state-funded broadcaster; what stands out in particular is its cowardice posing as bravery given that Colin Farrell is in fact popular whereas the Catholic Church is an easy target. Unfortunately, the upholding of the complaint will probably only confirm the Dublin 4 rebels in their self-image as part of the avant-garde.

The Leader of the Free World

and his "press corps" are having great fun in east Germany:

Q On both of these [Lebanon and Iran]. Does it concern you that the Beirut airport has been bombed? And do you see a risk of triggering a wider war?

And on Iran, they've, so far, refused to respond. Is it now past the deadline, or do they still have more time to respond?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I thought you were going to ask me about the pig.

Q I'm curious about that, too. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: The pig? I'll tell you tomorrow after I eat it.

UPDATE: Dan Froomkin shares in the astonishment that this is what passes for diplomacy. Incidentally, it continues the recent insulation of the extended White House bubble (reporters included) from Israel-related issues.

The Italian job

Thursday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) has an impressive story about a man who comes with the billing "the Iranian Ahmad Chalabi" -- which is not a compliment (it would be if it appeared as a WSJ editorial). The man in question is Manucher Ghorbanifar, who's had opaque connections to the Iranian government since he left the country following the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Since then, he has figured repeatedly in mishaps in American-Iranian relations. He was the middleman in the Iran-Contra scandal, having been introduced to Reagan's White House by the neocon Michael Ledeen (noted recently playing up the Iranian role in Iraqi Sunni terrorism). That scandal blotted his copybook in US eyes but as in other areas, 9/11 changed everything and he was soon back in business:

Michael Ledeen ... -- says he received a call from Mr. Ghorbanifar. He offered assistance safeguarding American forces that had moved into Afghanistan, which borders Iran. Mr. Ledeen says Mr. Ghorbanifar told him he had Iranian contacts with intelligence on Iran's terrorist infrastructure inside Afghanistan and on Tehran's plans to use it.

Mr. Ledeen says he was skeptical that the White House would sanction a meeting with Mr. Ghorbanifar because of his history. He says he suggested the meeting anyway to Stephen J. Hadley, then deputy national security adviser in the White House. The White House signed off on a Rome meeting, which Mr. Ledeen says surprised him. Mr. Hadley said it was worthwhile if it could save American lives, Mr. Leeden recalls. The State Department, CIA and other agencies approved the mission, according to Mr. Ledeen and a former Pentagon official involved in the meeting. Mr. Hadley, through a spokesman, declined to comment.

The Pentagon sent two Iran experts, Lawrence Franklin and Harold Rhode, to meet Mr. Ghorbanifar and other Iranians in Rome, according to two people who helped set up the meeting. Mr. Ledeen and representatives of Italy's military intelligence unit, Sismi, also attended. Mr. Ghorbanifar requested that no one from the CIA be present, says the former Pentagon official.

Mr. Ledeen declines to discuss what Mr. Ghorbanifar said at the meeting, as does a White House spokesman. Mr. Rhode held at least one more meeting with Mr. Ghorbanifar in Europe in 2003, according to the former Pentagon official. Mr. Rhode and a Pentagon spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment. A lawyer for Mr. Franklin, who was convicted last year for passing classified information on Iran to pro-Israel lobbyists, says his client is barred from talking to the media.

A more tangled web of Middle Eastern interests would be hard to imagine. But things got a bit too hot after the meeting became public, so Ghorbanifar went to Plan B -- channels of communication to Congress rather than the White House. And again there was a market:

Starting in 2003, he and Mr. Mahdavi, the former Iranian minister [and his confidant], held a string of meetings in Europe with members of Congress, including Mr. [Curt] Weldon, the Pennsylvania Republican who had taken a keen interest in Iranian threats to American interests, according to congressional and intelligence officials.

Mr. Weldon's subsequent book was a wide-ranging indictment of Iran's alleged role in terrorism, and criticized the CIA for allegedly failing to act. In the book, Mr. Weldon cited as his primary source an Iranian exile he calls "Ali," whom he said served as a conduit for information from senior officials inside Iran. This source, wrote Mr. Weldon, is a "trusted associate" of Mr. Ghorbanifar, though Mr. Weldon said he was independent. In an interview, Mr. Weldon declined to identify Ali, and said it was "abhorrent" that anyone would leak information about his sources.

In a telephone interview in Paris, Mr. Mahdavi said he's Ali, and that he worked closely with Mr. Weldon on the book. He said much of the information he provided came from Mr. Ghorbanifar. Mr. Mahdavi said his identity was supposed to be kept secret, but that Mr. Weldon had included material in the book that helped identify him. The Washington-based magazine, "American Prospect," last year named Mr. Mahdavi as "Ali."

None of the concrete information about Iranian plots in Weldon's book has checked out. In fact what's most interesting about this extended episode is the tantalising circumstantial evidence it offers for a different issue: the still unresolved question of who provided the information that Saddam Hussein sought to buy uranium from Niger. It is known that the story travelled via Italy, with possible links to other European intelligence agencies, to the White House. Given the hatred between Iran and Saddam and Ghorbanifar's weirdly symbiotic relationship with the Iranian government, it would seem that Iran had motives, means, and opportunity to get the information to a place where it would be acted upon.

UPDATE 28 July: There's now a surge in stories about Ledeen's possible connection to the Niger claim; a Rolling Stone feature and a proxy response by Ledeen, via fellow National Review-ers. The latter refer heavily to the WSJ story above.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

And Justice for Some

It's nice for Tony Blair that his chief fundraiser Lord Levy was able to make bail in 6 hours, infinitesimally shorter than the amount of time that the NatWest 3 will spend on bail in the US, if they're lucky, for alleged crimes committed 6 years ago in London. It does not seem that Lord Levy's rush to make bail was in any way connected with the UK government's desire to have a position of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, even though:

The prime minister's official spokesman said he could not comment on Lord Levy's arrest because "it is a party matter". He confirmed the peer was still the prime minister's Middle East envoy.

[Yes, we've done something like this one before]

UPDATE 16 July: Even Vladimir Putin notices --

But there are also other issues, such as combating corruption. And it would be very interesting to hear your views on corruption [such as the case concerning Lord Levy]. I mean, in some countries of the G8 there are some high-level corruption cases and we'd like to hear about your experience on this.

For the Zidane insatiables

As a service to our readership, here are the logistical details of his interviews this evening about the headbutt: he will be on the pay channel Canal+ at 18.40 BST and then on free TV (TF1) at 19.00 BST. Details follow. It's unclear (from our not very good French) whether TF1 has a live stream.

[via Le Monde headlines] L'ex-capitaine de l'équipe de France Zinedine Zidane s'exprimera ce soir sur Canal+ à 19h40 puis à TF1 dans la foulée (20h00) pour expliquer les raisons qui l'ont conduit à donner un coup de tête au défenseur italien Marco Materazzi en finale de la Coupe du monde.

La direction de Canal+ a annoncé que Zinédine Zidane accorderait un entretien exclusif à Michel Denisot, retransmis mercredi à 19h40 sur la chaîne cryptée en léger différé.

L'ancien capitaine des Bleus s'exprimera dans la foulée, à 20h00, lors du journal télévisé de TF1(également en différé) pour expliquer les raisons qui l'ont conduit à asséner un violent coup de tête sur le torse du défenseur italien Marco Materazzi. Un geste qui a entraîné son exclusion en finale du Mondial.

UPDATE: TF1 has the key quotes.

The Enron curse

Barely 2 weeks after the death of Ken Lay, a bizarre twist in the case of the NatWest 3 (being debated in the House of Commons today). The banker who supervised the controversial deal at the heart of the case has been found dead in east London:

He was the former head of financial markets in North America for RBS [NatWest parent]. The FBI said: "It is our policy to neither confirm or deny whether any individual has been interviewed or not regarding any case which we might be investigating.

"We have no comment to make of any sort and nor will we while this case is ongoing." One former NatWest employee facing extradition, David Bermingham, said he was "knocked sideways by the news" of Mr Coulbeck's death. "It is awful, appalling."

It is in this environment that the 3 will be on board a plane from Gatwick tomorrow, unsure when they will return to the UK.

UPDATE: RBS now denies that the deceased, Neil Coulbeck, had any direct role in the controversial deal, although he was the supervisor of the three when the deal went through.

Capitalism and Freedom

One aspect of the rejuvenated military-industrial complex under George Bush is the application of marketing skills to weapons systems. In other words, stuff that destroys other stuff (or people) has to have a cool name. Consider for instance a story in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) about how US defence contractors have found a useful reserve market in Israel for technology that the Pentagon has passed on: mobile short-range missile defence systems. The Israelis are interested, though possibly not at the price the American firms want, since the Palestinian rockets are low-tech and not that difficult to spot and stop.

But some thought clearly went into the names for these systems. Northrop Grumman has a system called Skyguard, which sounds like something to do with air traffic control (which in a sense it is). Competitor Raytheon, which ingeniously used CNN to in effect run ads for their Patriot system in the 1991 Gulf War, goes for the classic Greek reference this time with Phalanx. There's something about this terminology that calls to mind the earlier, non-prurient, Paul Verhoeven films, like Robocop.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The soft bigotry of low expectations

It's not news that George W. Bush is economically illiterate; the only surprise is that his illiteracy intruded today on a long-planned fiscal policy stunt, whereby he was to congratulate himself on beating a rigged forecast for the budget deficit this year. So his explanation began:

This economy is growing, federal taxes are rising [sic], and we're cutting the federal deficit faster than we expected.

The transcribers catching his confusion of taxes with revenues. And here's that rigged forecast:

Here are some hard numbers: Our regional projection for this year's budget deficit was $423 billion. That was a projection. That's what we thought was going to happen. That's what we sent up to the Congress, here's what we think. Today's report from OMB tells us that this year's deficit will actually come in at about $296 billion. (Applause.)

Could it be then that the botched forecast of what would happen in Iraq is not a bug, but a feature?

Saint Elsewhere

A fine Pseud's Corner nominee in today's Wall Street Journal from Bernard Henri-Lévy on Zidane:

The man's insurrection against the saint. A refusal of the halo that had been put on his head and that he then, quite logically, pulverized with a head-butt, as though saying: "I am a living being not a fetish; a man of flesh and blood and passion, not this idiotic empty hologram, this guru, this universal psychoanalyst, natural child of Abbé Pierre and Sister Emanuelle, which soccer-mania was trying to turn me into."

Comrade Andrew

It's mainly a casual spectator sport, the ongoing feud between Andrew Sullivan and the National Review staff. It has escalated from pro-life issues to more general issues of conservative theology. But one quick note: the speed with which Sully has embraced rhetoric that he used to denounce is remarkable. Consider for instance --

The attitude of people like [Ramesh] Ponnuru and [Laura] Ingraham and [Mark] Levin is indeed Stalinist in form, if not content. But when you have to defend a massive increase in government spending and power in the name of conservatism, this kind of newspeak is necessary.

He gets in the digs from the Trotskyist and Orwellian playbooks; won't Hitch be impressed? But there was a time when tossing around a term like Stalinist would draw his ire, for example this attack on cartoonist/provocateur Ted Rall:

Rall is someone who craves and shouldn't get more attention, but his views from an interview last year are revealing:
"My theory is that essentially, people don’t like to think they're living in a country [the US] that’s led by an evil, dictatorial madman. But they are, they are living in Nazi Germany, in Stalinist Russia."

[link via Google cache because Andrew seems to have (inadvertently?) sabotaged direct searching of his archives]

And note that his complaint here is not what with the factual (in)accuracy of what Rall says, but the violation of "elemental decency and taste." Yet now, not for the first time, Andrew seems to be eligible for one of his own awards.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The current state of American conservatism

Encapsulated by this post from Powerline's "Hindrocket" (a regular guest on CNN's Reliable Sources) approvingly linking to a Ralph Peters op-ed in the Fox News sister publication, the New York Post:

This morning, Ralph Peters says out loud what many have been thinking about "our prisoner problem" in the wake of Hamdan, Abu Ghraib, etc.:

"Violent Islamist extremists must be killed on the battlefield. Only in the rarest cases should they be taken prisoner. Few have serious intelligence value. And, once captured, there's no way to dispose of them."

Aside from the obvious war crime, the "good" military powers had finally figured out by the 20th century that such a policy is irrational, because it creates a fight-to-the-death incentive for the enemy.

Final World Cup one liner

At least Zidane didn't headbutt Materazzi in the head.

[More on the actual event here]

Saturday, July 08, 2006

And justice for some

It's nice for Tony Blair that the 18 month Italian statute of limitations for financial indictments such as the one facing the husband of his Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell is shorter than the amount of time that the NatWest 3 will likely spend on bail in the US -- if they're lucky -- for alleged crimes committed 6 years ago in London.

Protecting someone's honour

Since it cannot be a winning public relations strategy for the IRA to continue to contest the background to their murder of Jean McConville in 1972, the only plausible conclusion from them doing so is that people involved in the murder are now high up in the IRA or, more likely, in Sinn Fein.

UPDATE: Detailed roundup and analysis from Slugger O'Toole.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Don't mention those wars

George Bush's news conference today has two noteworthy points as far as we're concerned. First, the unveiling of an impressive new euphemism, perhaps cooked up at Graceland last week:

The Far East was a pretty difficult place. I know we spend a lot of time talking about the Far East today because of North Korea, but if you really look at the development in the Far East, it's pretty remarkable, isn't it? South Korea has emerged into a vibrant capitalist society. Japan has still got a little hangover from their previous activities in the region, but nevertheless, is a thriving partner in peace

Second, something that perhaps reveals more about the field of vision of the "press corps," not a single question on the crisis in Gaza.

The Armalite in one hand and the steering wheel in the other

It's rarely worth bothering with Charles Krauthammer's columns, being just a print variation of the usual warblogger shite. But in today's column -- devoted to his outrage that the Geneva Conventions apply to George W. Bush -- he tries to show that he's not just another inside the Beltway suit with contempt for real Americans -- and gets his slang wrong:

The court tortures the reading of Common Article 3 to confer upon Hamdan -- and by extension the man for whom he rode shotgun, bin Laden -- the kind of elaborate legal protections that one expects from "civilized peoples."

The dude who "rides shotgun" sits in the passenger seat. But Hamdan was Bin Laden's driver.

One other thing. What, exactly, does he mean with his closing paragraph?

The court has decreed: There is no war -- or we will pretend so -- and henceforth it shall be conducted by the court. God save the United States. (This honorable court can fend for itself.)

Suspect Device 2.0

A chaotic week at Dublin Airport -- a false claim by an apparently disturbed individual that he had a bomb, a strike, and now a controlled explosion on a suspicious package. Which turned out to be:

[a] bag [containing] a copy of the Koran and medicines.

An immediate question is whether any prior inspection of the bag had led to its contents being deemed more suspicious than usual.

UPDATE: The Koran being visible now indeed seems to have been the original source of the alert; perhaps an understandable leap, if only an awkward coincidence given the 7-7 anniversary.

Money to burn

It's not clear which of the following recent or imminent purchases Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich values more --

(1) Irish Times (subs. req'd): For a mere £285,000 (€410,000), Mr Abramovich (39) has bought the "VIP 1" plate first owned by Kilkenny businessman Bill Finnegan in the 1970s and later - in replica, at least - by Pope John Paul II.

When it first became available in Kilkenny (which had the code IP under the old licensing system) in 1971, the much-sought-after plate was given to the founder of the Kilkenny Beer Festival, Bill Finnegan, in recognition of his work on behalf of the city.

[the attraction of the plate seems to be that it's a still valid, non-special issue registration]

(2) WSJ (subs. req'd) -- The efforts by Russian oil company OAO Rosneft to enlist strategic investors in its coming initial public offering could extend to Russian tycoons such as billionaire Roman Abramovich, who is considering an investment in the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to two people familiar with the matter.

If Mr. Abramovich and other super-rich Russians decide to invest, their interest could find favor with the government of President Vladimir Putin. For Mr. Putin, the offering is a ratification of the Kremlin's retaking of large swaths of the energy sector in recent years and an important element of prestige ahead of the Group of Eight summit of world leaders next weekend.

The portion of Rosneft that is to be listed in Moscow could be valued at as much as $12 billion. The shares are expected to be priced July 13. A spokesman for Millhouse, Mr. Abramovich's investment vehicle, declined to comment.

UPDATE: Abramovich now denies that he purchased the Kilkenny plate.

Birds of a feather

Vladimir Putin has a PR firm in the run-up to the G8 summit in "St Pete" (as Bush will call it):

The Kremlin has launched a huge publicity drive, with the help of Ketchum, an American PR firm, to counter critics of its campaign to curb democracy.

The PR team denies having anything to do with “that kiss”. It is, however, helping to organise media events like the webcast to give Mr Putin a chance to explain his policies to a Western audience.

This would be the same firm that figured in the White House pundit payola scandal:

The contract, detailed in documents obtained by USA TODAY through a Freedom of Information Act request, also shows that the Education Department, through the Ketchum public relations firm, arranged with [Armstrong] Williams to use contacts with America's Black Forum, a group of black broadcast journalists, "to encourage the producers to periodically address" [No Child Left Behind] NCLB. He persuaded radio and TV personality Steve Harvey to invite Paige onto his show twice. Harvey's manager, Rushion McDonald, confirmed the appearances.

Williams said he does not recall disclosing the contract to audiences on the air but told colleagues about it when urging them to promote NCLB.

What happens when two world leaders with the same spinners come into contact with each other?

Lost in translation

One of the favourite implications of GWOT boosters with each new revelation of snooping is that technology allows greater precision in the pursuit of bad guys than in the past. More likely is that it creates greater possibilities for mistakes. We noted before one plausible hypothesis for the case of the German kidnapped in Macedonia by the CIA and tortured in Afghanistan -- that his surname, a generic reference to Egyptian heritage, is shared by many bad guys, including incidentally the successor to al-Zarqawi.

Anyway, another linguistic screwup is the turning point in a depressing story in Friday's New York Times about a previously unknown kidnap-torture victim of the GWOT: this time, it's an Algerian, Laid Saidi, spirited off the streets in Tanzania, and then via Malawi sent, most likely, to Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan. Here's when his interrogators realised they had the wrong man:

In prison, Mr. Saidi said, he was interrogated daily, sometimes twice a day, for weeks. Eventually, he said, his interrogators produced an audiotape of the conversation in which he had allegedly talked about planes.

But Mr. Saidi said he was talking about tires, not planes, that his brother-in-law planned to sell from Kenya to Tanzania. He said he was mixing English and Arabic and used the word "tirat," making "tire" plural by adding an Arabic "at" sound. Whoever was monitoring the conversation apparently understood the word as "tayarat," Arabic for planes, Mr. Saidi said.

"When I heard it, I asked the Moroccan translator if he understood what we were saying in the recording," Mr. Saidi said. After the Moroccan explained it to the interrogators, Mr. Saidi said, he was never asked about it again.

So their cool technology allowed them to listen in on the phone call, but it still required someone who actually knew improvised Arabic to figure out what was being talked about. One other twist: Saidi acknowledges that there is one dodgy thing about his time in Tanzania -- he was there on a fake Tunisian passport (due to his desire to avoid the reach of the Algerian state, then in the midst of a vicious civil war). So did the geniuses at the CIA figure this out?

Mr. Saidi said the interrogations eventually stopped. In the late spring or early summer of 2004, he said, he was flown to Tunisia, apparently because his captors thought he was Tunisian. But when Arabic-speaking men boarded the plane, he said he told them he was from Algeria and that his Tunisian passport was fake.

Tunisia and Algeria eventually sorted the mess out, and he's now a free man in Algeria -- and in touch with one of his Afghan prison mates, the unfortunately named German. Most likely, this is one of the topics that the glorious Washington press corps will not trouble Bush with during his news conference later today in Chicago.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Read headlines with care

The WSJ (subs. req'd) headline Citigroup Ex-Trading Official Joins Peloton does not actually lead to a story that the architect of the Dr. Evil trade has joined the Tour de France. He's joined a hedge fund.

One has a King, the other a Queen

Canadian PM Stephen Harper at the White House just now:

And thank you [to Bush] for doing something I never thought I'd see, which is have the Canadian media stand when I entered the room.

[quote adjusted from original post to reflect the transcript]

UPDATE DECEMBER 9: The habit is apparently also novel to the British press corps.

World Cup roundup

With the composition of the final settled, a quick look back at the status of our earlier commentary. Our predicted winner -- Argentina -- gone in the quarter finals. The hate team (following on their display against the Netherlands) -- Portugal -- getting to the semis before exiting, although with Cristiano Ronaldo now needing to plan on playing through a season of jeers next season for Man Utd. At some point we mentioned what seemed to us like France's dreadful preparation for the tournament -- inexpicable omissions from the squad, a big friendly a few days before their first match that cost them one of their strikers. But there they are in the final. The political bandwagon-hopping is fairly predictable, but thank God it's not Silvio Berlusconi getting to smirk his way through a final. In unrelated news, Spike Lee is apparently a big France supporter, via his friendship with Thierry Henry.

As for the final itself, we have no strong allegiance. The French players are more familiar from their high profile in the English league, and while it's a nice story to have Italy doing so well despite the domestic corruption scandal in their league, one could invert that logic and wonder whether a country with a domestic league so tainted deserves to win. However we don't buy the view of the Italians as negative, cynical divers -- that role was taken by Portugal -- and one of the most memorable scenes from the tournament was the brilliant camera work focusing on Francesco Totti's eyes as he stepped up to take the penalty against Australia. He wasn't going to miss.

All in all, a very tough final to predict (and not at all like 2002 in that regard). We think Italy have a slight edge and so predict they win, 2-1.

One award before we go, for worst piece of World Cup commentary -- to Iran-Contra operative and all-purpose neocon hawk, Michael Ledeen in the National Review:

In today's "reportage" of the World Cup semifinal between Italy and Germany, the (lefty) Washington Post reported that the game-winning goal was scored on a left-footed kick, while the (righty) Washington Times reported it was scored on a right-footed kick. The Post account was correct, but don't you find it mysteriously symbolic of something or other?

It's unmysteriously symbolic of the total shite that is the Washington Times. [comment also spotted by Belle at Crooked Timber, and at Sadly No.]

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Case study

It's interesting to see how the content of Slugger O'Toole's comment thread on a minor local Belfast incident of Bush-bashing changed when it was linked to by Glenn Reynolds, who incidentally mischaracterised Slugger's position by omitting a question mark ("anti Americanism gone mad?"). Reynolds posted at 4.03pm Irish time, and the trolls arrived at Slugger very soon thereafter. Amongst the features illustrated by this episode is that the outrage that Bush supporters can work up over someone else's words far exceeds that of any opinions they've ever expressed on real life-or-death issues, like the daily toll of misery in Iraq.

Eyes wide shut

If the chaos that accompanied the White House press briefing during the North Korean missile launch is any indication of the state of the White House preparedness for an actual national security emergency, then there'll be very few people saying "Thank God George Bush is our president" in such an eventuality. The briefing alternated between the hacks getting updates from Press Secretary Tony Snow as each launch took place, coupled with a preposterous dance about whether the whole briefing was on or off the record.

It's clear ex post that the format was Snow, fellow spinner Dana Perino, and National Security Adviser Steven Hadley -- but for some reason, the administration was initially obsessed with having anonymous attribution to one or more of "senior administration official." Hence exchanges like the following:

[MR. SNOW] All right. Here is what we have. I've just done a similar briefing in the press room, attribution, senior administration official. We can talk about that if you have other concerns a little bit later ...
MS. PERINO: You might mention to her that you wanted to do this as a senior administration official.
MR. SNOW: Yes, we're doing this as senior administration official ... Q Steve, this is Deb from AP.
MR. HADLEY: Hi, Deb.
Q We've got all these senior administration official people talking here. Is there any reason why you can't be on the record, you're the National Security Advisor.
MR. SNOW: No, it's fine.
Q Great.
Q Does that change --
Q Mr. Hadley --
So are you okay on the record?
MR. HADLEY: About five people spoke at the same time. If there was a question or something we needed to clarify -- Tony, what is the process here. We will do a transcript of this?
MS. PERINO: Yes, we have a steno on.
MR. HADLEY: We've gone from senior administration official, on the record, let us just take a quick look. But, Tony, I didn't hear -- (inaudible) -- anything I was concerned about.
MR. SNOW: No. Dana.
MS. PERINO: Well, Tony, I think you need to make a decision. You started off as a senior administration official; I don't know if you want to change that.
Q I think we can let Snow be as a senior administration official, but this is a serious, diplomatic issue --
MR. SNOW: Yes, I think that's fine.
MR. HADLEY: Let's do that.

Whereupon the entire briefing became on-the-record. As of 11pm eastern time on the 4th, the stories in the New York Times and Washington Post quote Hadley without making reference to the antics that had preceded him going on the record. They would have been equally happy to go along with the original "senior administration official" designation, leaving readers in the dark about where the quotes were coming from.

The stories both still include anonymous quotes, apparently from the Pentagon (Rumsfeld?) -- perhaps enough to sustain for another day the symbiotic relationship between government officials and their friends in the press corps. The reading public, however, is left to wonder who said what and why.

And then there was one

There are two people alive who know for sure whether Rudy Giuliani really found the time on 9/11 to grab someone by the shoulder and say "Thank God George Bush is our President." Those people being Rudy himself and the owner of the grabbed shoulder, Bernie Kerik -- whose name is being wiped from New York City history so fast that workers go home on Friday from the Bernard B. Kerik Complex and come to work Monday at the Manhattan Detention Complex. That's quite a witness you've got there, Rudy [still being hyped, in some quarters, as a presidential candidate].