Thursday, May 31, 2007

It's also how he explains it to the President

Aware that September, which has suddenly emerged as a consensus date among politicians & pundits by which something good must happen in Iraq, is appraoching rapidly, the Pentagon is trying to ease away from it as a firm deadline. Hence the remarks of the commander of ground forces in Iraq, Lt. General Ray Odierno, today, claiming that September could be too soon to see any surge, and:

Everything in Iraq is subject to quick changes, Odierno said. He said the situation is like a teeter-totter.

“You work your way up the teeter-totter, and when you go past the tipping point, it happens very quickly, and we've seen that out in Anbar,” he said. “We're still going up that teeter-totter, and I'm not sure how long it's going to take us to get to that tipping point or if I believe or assess that we can't get to that tipping point. And that's why I got to just look at it.”

For those used to English from the other side of the Atlantic, he's referring to a see-saw.

A flush of (lame) ducks

Just announced by the White House --

President Bush will welcome Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel to the White House on June 19, 2007.

Most likely the passage of time is considered long enough since the Lebanon fiasco that Bush feels he can be seen in Olmert's company again -- the avoidance notwithstanding what Bush and Blair had said in support of Israel's attack on Lebanon last year.

Know nothing, do nothing

If you want an illustration of the extent of weeding of political hacks out of top US government positions that's going to be necessary when George Bush is no longer president, here's one. It's a National Public Radio interview with NASA administrator Michael Griffin, who was responding to a critique, by Gregg Easterbrook, of NASA priorities for manned travel to the Moon and Mars given other pressing issues that it could be tackling.

Besides repeatedly mispronouncing Easterbrook's name, Griffin's main lurch into deranged incompetence came with the discussion of climate change. NPR has provided some key excerpts --

I understand that the bulk of scientific evidence accumulated supports the claim that we've had about a one degree centigrade rise in temperature over the last century to within an accuracy of 20 percent. I'm also aware of recent findings that appear to have nailed down — pretty well nailed down the conclusion that much of that is manmade. Whether that is a longterm concern or not, I can't say.

Do you have any doubt that this is a problem that mankind has to wrestle with?

I have no doubt that … a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth's climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn't change. First of all, I don't think it's within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown. And second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take.

Thus, a case study in climate change obscurantism, from the guy in charge of the equipment that could tell us a lot about climate change. Note the phrasing of his global warming admission, designed to make it sound as small as possible -- 1 degree Centigrade over 100 years. Note the sudden interest in the metric temperature scale, when he knows his listeners think in Fahrenheit. Note the lack of interest in the bleak projections for future climate change.

But note most of all the bizarre ethical position that it's "arrogant" for current generations to take any actions that could affect the climate of future generations, since those generations could prefer the hothouse that we'll be bequeathing to them. Nick Stern's climate change report got criticised for its ethical position that the current generation should essentially assume that future generations have the same preferences and weight as the current one in making climate change decisions, but Griffin seems to think that one can't take any position at all. And yet somehow he's willing to assume that they will want that manned station on the Moon and trips to Mars.

[Update: More on Griffin's lunacy here and here]

Naples today, Dublin 10 years from now?

REUTERS/Tony Gentile;caption

Because the ingredients of the rubbish crisis in Naples are all present in Ireland: complete reliance on landfill, rampant NIMBYism regarding incinerators, and media focus always on protestors rather than the longer term consequences of different methods of garbage disposal. And just as Romania saying no to any more Italian rubbish seems to have tipped the Neapolitan crisis over the edge, at some point ditches in Northern Ireland will be full of illegally dumped rubbish from the Republic.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fearful new world

Here's the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article which includes an interview with the man who has caused a TB scare on at least two continents. His Jason Bourne-like travels in Europe should surely raise some eyebrows. For one thing, why Prague? It also highlights that if infectious diseases do become a serious issue for air travel within industrialised countries, the passport/visa/identity check regime is going to be far more transnational in scope that it is now.

UPDATE: More determined people would be looking through the same newspaper's wedding pages just in case the wedding that was the reason for the trip was announced there. But we're not determined enough.

FINAL UPDATE: He's been identified. Andrew Speaker. A personal injury lawyer. One wonders if his fellow passengers have a personal injury case?

Past, or passing, or to come?

From National Review's Mark Krikorian, noting a milestone on what the right (using Bernard Lewis as its source) views as a very long war --

We shouldn't let May 29 pass without noting the anniversary of one of the great tragedies of history, the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Sure, the Byzantine Empire was already finished at that point, but its final snuffing out by the Turks was an important milestone in the jihad we continue to face.

It shouldn't need spelling out how bizarre it is to link the Ottoman empire to Osama bin Laden, not least given the fact that such a link is a favourite trope of Osama bin Laden. But then again, with George Bush and Dick Cheney having embraced Osama's "strong horse" view of the world, the adoption of his historical methodology by others should not be a surprise.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

No fixed abode

In the slow moving but persistent inquiry that could yet derail Bertie Ahern's bid for a 3rd term in office (despite much reporting and even actions assuming that this has already happened) the following emerged from key witness Tom Gilmartin today --

Mr Burke (Bertie crony) had, after that meeting, offered to drive him [Gilmartin] to the airport and asked him if he would meet Mr Ahern, who was then Minister for Labour Affairs, on the way.

Mr Gilmartin said Mr Burke had stopped at two different pubs on the way to the airport and had come back out, but that Mr Ahern was not there. Eventually, Mr Gilmartin said he insisted on being driven to the airport as he was late for his flight.

This was 1989 in Ireland when things were bad. But even then, ministers had offices.

Tell is like it is:2

One would have thought that Tony Blair would not be so brazen as to link his farewell trip to Africa to the return of British Petroleum to Libya. But one would then read the morning press briefing from Number 10 today --

We also continued to re-engage at an economic level and today BP will announce that they would be going back into Libya. Re-engagement works - whether it be in Sierra Leone, Libya or Africa in general.

-- and perhaps even recall the close links between Blair and BP, and one would then realise that Tony really would be so brazen.

Tell it like it is

Isn't it time, finally, in the wake of overwhelming evidence, to cease the usage "gunmen wearing Iraqi police uniforms" in favour of "Iraqi police"?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

They're still freelancing

The Boston Globe reports (link found via Think Progress) that --

The Bush administration has dismantled a special committee that was established last year to coordinate aggressive actions against Iran and Syria, State Department officials said this week.

The interagency group, known as the Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group [ISOG], met weekly throughout much of 2006 to coordinate actions such as curtailing Iran's access to credit and banking institutions, organizing the sale of military equipment to Iran's neighbors, and supporting democratic forces that oppose the two regimes.

Yet the Wall Street Journal politics blog notes that --

U.S. OFFICIALS BOOST opposition group’s plans for international demonstrations against Syrian government. Some current and former American government figures are helping the National Salvation Front with media promotion for demonstrations in Berlin, London and Washington tomorrow to coincide with the expected re-election of President Assad.

The two stories are of course consistent, but the 2nd one doesn't lend itself to dovish interpretations of the first one. Incidentally, the mystery of why ISOG-type policies would persist even when it is disbanded within the State Department may be related to the mystery of whether Liz Cheney has a new job. Her most recent article for the Washington Post was very Syria-centric.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The resource curse, Irish style

Back in the youth of this blog, there's a post describing the Republic of Ireland as the world's richest banana republic. Indeed. The election now takes Fianna Fáil, out of power for just 2 of the last 20 years, into another 5 year term.

Tourists in Ireland this summer can decide whether they think that the quality of life in the country warrants such incumbency, as they drink only bottled water in Galway, stand in monumental check-in queues at Dublin Airport (assuming they even get there with the clogged roads) and find themselves wondering why everything is so damned expensive. And that's before you start talking to the locals on the busy roads to the airport who will explain, if given the chance, what it's like to live in a country where there's a priority for building houses but not much in the way of services for them (e.g. schools).

So where did it go wrong? Our working hypothesis is that the Celtic Tiger stunted the country's progression out of parish pump politics by giving the government enough revenue to make the parish pump into a much slicker operation. Indeed, Bertie Ahern revealed his methods perhaps more than he intended in his late count night interview on RTE --

It's a great night for FF, it's a great night for the party machine

Because machine politics is what it is. A top-down patronage system, in which Bertie has lots of ministers, who get lots of civil servants, who write lots of letters for constituents ("representations"), some of whom can hope to get appointed to an ever increasing pool of public sector jobs -- all made possible by the gusher of tax revenue that has come with the Celtic Tiger, a boom which owes little to the specific policies and performance of the current government.

Our point is that the only other countries with such lengthy runs of power for not especially talented rulers are ones where a natural resource (usually oil) has allowed the government to become a distributor of sufficient number of favours to keep the machine running, even while the performance of the economy outside the resource sector is not that impressive: the resource curse. In Ireland, the resource is the multinational sector (and to some extent a housing bubble), and that feeds the rest of the machine.

One of these years, at a United Nations meeting, Bertie might notice that only a select few like him and Omar Bongo, president of Gabon, keep showing up to every event, while other leaders come and go. But if even Bertie notices, it's not clear that his 40 percent electoral base will, yet some of them may be aware of problems with their day-to-day life. That raises the more general topic of the strange alienation of many Irish people from their surroundings, which will be a topic for a much longer and more philosophical future post.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The EU's finest leaders

If, by finest, one means longest serving. On the top, Jean-Claude Juncker, PM of Luxembourg since 1995. And on the bottom, Bertie Ahern, Taoiseach since 1997 and now headed for 15 years in the job as a result of today's election. Incidentally, Juncker doubles up the jobs of Prime Minister and Minister for Finance. One lesson that Bertie's "all shall have prizes" government will not be taking.

Gone with the votes

It's great that poet Paul Muldoon got space in the New York Times to document the insanity of the Irish government running a motorway next to Tara --

It seems strange, to say the least, that the idea of the scene of the Battle of the Boyne as a tourist destination is being bandied about while Tara is being bulldozed. If Bertie Ahern does happen to be returned as prime minister, it’s still not too late for him and Fianna Fail to go down in history as the government that paved the way for a new era of Irish cooperation rather than the government that, at least with regard to Tara of the Kings, literally paved the way.

Unfortunately, today's Irish election results indicate not only that Bertie will be back in power, but that voters in Meath don't especially care about the issue, and that voters in Waterford, home base of the buffoonish Minister for Transport Martin Cullen, applaud his job performance.

The real OPEC

The Wall Street Journal's oil market roundup (subs. req'd) is too kind to say what appears to be going on --

New York crude oil futures slumped to a one-week low as more refinery problems indicated there will be less demand for crude from a key U.S. delivery point. Gasoline futures rallied on the problems.

Valero Energy Corp. shut a gasoline production unit at its McKee refinery in Sunray, Texas, meaning gasoline production will fall by 30,000 barrels a day for two weeks ...A series of unplanned operational problems and prolonged scheduled maintenance on refineries amid strong demand have depleted gasoline inventories and caused pump prices to rise to record highs around the country ... "All these refinery problems just keep occurring," said Tony Rosado of IAG Energy Brokers in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Yes indeed. It's so odd that refineries would have strange accidents when demand for petrol is high. No word yet on whether the maintenance crews were suddenly granted a few extra weeks annual leave.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Each democracy is unhappy in its own way

The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger argues (subs. req'd; alt. free link) that US politics is converging towards the Spanish (and more generally the European) model: in his vision, highly polarised, opposition for the sake of opposition, with a basic level of functionality concealing deep-rooted unresolved issues that shadow the system. Unfortunately this potentially interesting general thesis quickly collapses under the weight of his actual agenda -- the claim that it's always the fault of the left when politics gets like this.

In Spain, allegedly, it's that the Socialists keep revisiting the causes of the civil war. And in the US, it's that the left is still upset about Bush vs Gore 2000, an imbroglio for which he partly blames the 4 Supreme Court justices who wanted a recount in Florida --

The American political system, by historical tradition flexible and accommodative, was unable to turn off the lawyers and forced nine unelected judges to settle it. So they did, splitting 5-4. In retrospect, a more judicious Supreme Court minority would have seen the danger in that vote (as Nixon did in 1960) and made the inevitable result unanimous to avoid recrimination. A pacto. Instead, we got recrimination.

From that day, American politics has been a pitched battle, waged mainly by Democrats against the "illegitimate" Republican presidency ... To lose as the Democrats did in 2000 was, and remains, unendurable (as likely it would have for Republicans if they'd lost 5 to 4).

Thus the left is not mad, he says, because of any fundamental injustice -- only because the Supreme Court minority acted as a promoter of divisiveness by not going along with the majority decision. This would be the majority decision so shakily founded that they could only settle it by giving themselves the luxury of not setting a precedent, a decision that made a complete hash of US election law in which the constitution was clear that the states choose delegates to the electoral college -- except when those delegates might vote against George W. Bush.

In fact we think he's right that the US political system does have critical problems now. But instead of seeking a European analogy, how about an explanation closer to home. It's part of the perverse genius of George W. Bush that has methodically exposed the latent problems with the US Constitution: the aforementioned electoral college which means that the country has no true nationally-elected officials, the excessive powers of the presidency, the complete unhinging of the executive from the legislature, and the increasing legal fetish that attaches to choices of words ("keep and bear arms"?) written over 200 years ago. Apparently drawing attention to these problems makes one part of "the left."

Why armies are not good at being police

From a New York Times article following a US Army platoon near Mahmudiya in Iraq --

After about 15 minutes, they came across a one-story stone house with a wide grass lawn, a cattle pen and five young men whom the Iraqi soldiers had lined up against a wall. Their names were checked against a list of insurgents wanted for questioning in relation to the May 12 attack.

None of their names appeared, but Captain Abercrombie ordered them arrested anyway, in light of the bomb attack that morning.

“I’m detaining them all,” he said. “For proximity.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

No sleep till Athens

Ireland's "low-cost" airlines are at it again, this time Ryanair --

[] Ryanair have tonight issued a late statement to inform Liverpool fans travelling to Athens for tomorrow night's Champions League final that the airline have been forced to bring forward the departure time for tomorrow morning's scheduled flight from Dublin.

Passengers were advised: "Flight FR 5902 will now depart Dublin three hours and 20minutes earlier than scheduled at 6.10am tomorrow morning (Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007) and arrive at 12.10pm."

The flight will also have no desk check-in or checked baggage service. On the other hand, fans from Liverpool in Athens will have an unscheduled extra few hours on Thursday morning in Athens to work off the excesses of the night before --

Passengers are advised that flight FR6133 will now depart Athens on Thursday 24th of May at the later time of 10.00hrs and arrive in Liverpool at 12.30hrs.

But the made-for-media horror story is going to be for the 1st flight, the die-hard Irish fan who shows up at the scheduled time for the outbound flight to discover it left 3 hours ago. There is currently no advisory for this change, which seems to have come after many fans will already have gone to bed, on the Ryanair website. In both cases they are blaming Athens airport for the changes.

Summer in Lebanon

AFP/Ramzi Haidar; caption

It used to be that it was Iraq where the main response to the obvious point that the country is in civil war was to claim that it's not because it's more complicated than a civil war. Now Lebanon joins the club. One hopes that our world leaders don't have any elaborate summer holiday plans, because there's not going to be much time for them.

Monday, May 21, 2007

So much still unknown

Monday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) reports on the mysterious death of Saud Memon, a Karachi cloth merchant who seems to have spent most of the last 4 years in custody of governments unknown, in connection with the suspicion that he was involved in the kidnapping or murder of the Journal's Daniel Pearl. In a scenario that has extraordinary rendition written all over it, Memon disappeared in South Africa while on a business trip in 2003, and circumstantial evidence puts him in Guantanamo Bay subsequently, though possibly in the detention of the FBI and not the Pentagon or CIA.

From there he was, allegedly, handed over to Pakistani authorities and became the subject of petitions to locate that country's "disappeared", the stubborn pursuit of these cases by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry being one of the factors in his falling out with General/President Musharraf.

To make him even more of a hot potato, his detention is in connection with a crime that already has two principals assumed guilty: Walthamstow boy Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was convicted and sentenced to death in a Pakistani military court for Pearl's kidnapping, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a high value Guantanamo detainee who confessed to the crime. The former is also, again allegedly, a possible player in the 9/11 plot, for which the latter claimed all the credit in his confession.

Anyway, Memon's precise role in this web, if any, is not known, and his status is just an obscure clue in the murky world of the global war on terror. Unfortunately, that's about all we're likely to know, as he showed up near his home a few weeks ago, apparently dumped out of custody in seriously ill condition, and died in hospital on Friday. There are probably a few people in Washington and Islamabad who find that extremely convenient.

UPDATE 5 JUNE: Another bizarre twist in the Pearl case as Pakistan announces the "arrest" of two more suspects in the case, Attaur Rehman and Faisal Bhatti, although their relatives claim that they actually have been in detention since 2003 and were just formally arrested now due to pressure from the disappearance cases mentioned above. Still no hint of a link between Memon and two new suspects, let alone with the dude convicted for doing it, or the other dude in Gitmo who says that he did it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bad news from Iraq

It's only when one gets to the end of this initially bland news release from Multinational Forces Iraq that one realizes that the city of Samarra spent several days in May with no water, fuel, or power, and that movement in and out of the city is still highly restricted. Samarra, remember, is the city that George Bush claims unravelled his brilliant plan for Iraq when insurgents blew up the "golden dome" mosque there last year. You'd think that a city so pivotal to sectarian relations would be under better control. You'd be wrong.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The US immigration bill

It's not reasonable to expect journalists to have some practical experience of their beats in every possible subject matter but when it comes to immigration, the fact that everyone reporting on it has little or no personal experience of immigration really comes through. After much TV watching and newspaper reading, we're little wiser on whether the new US Senate immigration compromise requires existing illegal immigrants to leave the country before they can get permission to work in it -- a crucial detail which anyone actually stuck in immigration limbo would want to know.

Our best guess is that they don't have to leave: immigrants here before a cutoff date (which is currently the amazingly recent 1 January 2007) can get immediate work authorisation through an application from within the USA. They do have to leave to file a Green Card application (the "touchback" visit), and it's the vague description of this as "legal residency" that seems to be leading the US citizen hacks astray, as they don't understand that the prior work authorisation is itself a procedure for legally working in the country. [this is a case where one learns more from reading a motivated critic like Mickey Kaus than an "objective" reporter]

If this new work authorisation is like existing types (e.g. the one you get if you were in the country legally while waiting for a Green Card application to be processed) then the main problem is the inability to travel, since it's not a visa. But the work authorization in the new bill sounds like it might be a visa too, although whether it works for all trips abroad or just the trip to file your Green Card application is not clear yet.

But regardless, the immediate implication would seem to be that the country is about to acquire 12m newly legal workers, who will therefore have a much more secure footing in the country, even if their path to permanent residency and citizenship could be a very long one. Good luck to the INS with those 12m application forms (although the good news for the INS is it will have a vast pool of newly employable workers with in-depth knowledge of the immigration system).

Another controversial feature of the reform is its shift to skills-based Green Cards. Added to the list of opponents of this type of reform should be: poor countries. They rightly perceive rich country selective immigration policies as a vehicle for plucking their most educated citizens while leaving them to deal with the masses. For better or worse, the US policy of open immigration was in relative terms, for example, taking as many taxi drivers from Malawi as doctors. Europe only wants the doctors.

UPDATE: The White House press briefing on the bill is surprisingly clear and useful, although the briefers are probably hoping that opponents of the bill don't pay too much attention to the huge scale of the program: everyone with a green card application filed as of March 2005 will get one over the next 8 years; all of the illegal immigrants here before the start of the year get work authorization and then a renewable travel "Z" visa, and then join the Green Card applications after 8 years ("This satisfies the requirement that you go to the back of the line, because the line will have been cleared").

FINAL UPDATE: The White House also has a "fact sheet" on the bill. One example of the spin that is facilitated by the confusion above was provided by House member Mike Pence this evening, who was arguing that the requirement for a "touchback visit" (i.e. return home to file a Green Card application) shows that it's not amnesty. But any illegal immigrant who comes in from the cold to get a Z visa can be legally employed, indefinitely, without having to leave the country.

So it is all about Iraq

It's pretty funny for the Wall Street Journal editorial page (subs. req'd; alt. free link) to be repeatedly complaining that everyone was out to get Paul Wolfowitz because of Iraq and then construct a criticism of Condi Rice for her supposed insuffficient defence of him as follows --

Her behavior in this case is reminiscent of her pre-emptive capitulation on the famous "16 words" in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union, words that Britain's Butler Report later concluded were "well-founded" but which now are a defining myth of the left's "Bush lied" theology.

Apart from anything else, the speed of the US disengagement from the 16 words is the opposite of its behavior with respect to Wolfie, where they should have bailed out weeks ago. But the analogy does raise, again, the question -- will Tony Blair ever reveal what the supporting evidence for the 16 words claim actually was?

UPDATE: One point of similarity between the 16 words and the Wolfowitz scandal is the tactic of the reactionary right in both cases to launch personal attacks on critics and their motives rather than deal with the substance of the allegations.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The remains of their days

Quick impressions on the Blair-Bush news conference. There was often a role reversal, with Bush wistful and reflective and Blair being more passionate and repeatedly indicating that he viewed values as trumping questions of implementation or competence. Bush still doesn't like reporters and he likes the British ones even less. And with their fairly abysmal questions (except for this), most with entirely predictable answers, they don't help themselves anyway.

From the British perspective, probably the main news was Bush's complete diss of David Cameron, never mentioned in response to a question that was about him, and then given a "never met him" when the questioner tried to follow up. Could be awkward if the UK does have a change of power before Bush leaves office, although Bush's attitude may indicate that Blair has told him that Gordon intends to serve the full parliamentary term.

Not the proof they intended

It was inevitable that the Wall Street Journal would try this line of argument. As widely reported, the Bush administration came close to a major crisis in March of 2004 when the Department of Justice refused to reauthorize the special National Security Administration surveillance program; this program was fairly clearly illegal, hence the reticence of the department.*

The Deputy Attorney-General from the time, James Comey, told the Senate how senior White House staffers, likely under orders from Dick Cheney, tried to circumvent his refusal to reauthorize by going to the hospital bed of Attorney-General John Ashcroft to get his approval, even though his incapacitation meant that his deputy had the final say. Bush renewed the program anyway without the approval, whereupon the deputy and several other senior law enforcement officials wrote resignation letters. Comey wrote his on the 10th of March, but like everyone else he came to the office on the 11th of March 2004 to hear of the Madrid bombings, and so held off, and Bush then altered the program to meet his objections.

With that prelude, here's the Journal spin (subs. req'd; alt. free link) --

By the way, March 10, 2004, the date of Mr. Comey's visit to Mr. Ashcroft's bedside is an historic day for another reason: It was the eve of 3-11 and the Madrid train bombings, which killed 191 and injured 2,000. It was, in other words, the kind of event that brings home the global nature of terrorism, as well as the sophisticated coordination required to execute attacks of such brutality.

So they has much as say (after resuming their idiotic American calendarisation of 11-M) that the occurrence of 11-M rationalised the existence of the surveillance program. Except that this entire controversy concerned the reauthorization of an already up and running program which did not detect any sign of 11-M before it happened. Indeed, the National Security Agency does all kinds of global surveillance that is unconstrained by any American laws, and there's no evidence that it detected any 11-M plotting either.

Much like the torture obsession of the right, the Journal has latched on to something that is ineffective and illegal, while sounding to them like a magic solution to the problem of global terrorism.

*Just to be clear, even the stripped down program is probably illegal too, given the absence of warrants, but the program that was apparently running before March 2004 was even more illegal.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Paddy Kielty Ha Ha Ha

photo: Number 10/© Crown copyright

In keeping with the general levity that has marked the final stages of The Peace ProcessTM, here's part of the opener of Patrick Kielty's interview with Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern at Number 10 yesterday --

I am Patrick Kielty and today you find me in the Terracotta Room apparently of 10 Downing Street overlooking Horseguards Parade where I have the privilege and pleasure of sitting down to talk to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Prime Minister Tony Blair about their historic peace deal in Ireland.

First things first, Prime Minister thanks for having me. I think we can say it is changed times. The last time anybody called Paddy from Northern Ireland was this close to a sitting Prime Minister in Downing Street I think John Major had the glaziers in for about a week afterwards, so thanks for that.

He's referring to this incident [see 7 Feb].

One Northern Ireland Secretary since then was named Patrick Murphy.

UPDATE: The Downing Street photo slide show indicates that Blair laughed at Paddy's joke, as indicated above. One wonders if an Iraqi insurgent "barrack buster" headed towards the Green Zone is also considered funny.

Validated by Bush

Bernard Lewis asks in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link) Was Osama Right? It's his standard weak horse/strong horse argument, so beloved of Dick Cheney --

We in the Western world see the defeat and collapse of the Soviet Union as a Western, more specifically an American, victory in the Cold War. For Osama bin Laden and his followers, it was a Muslim victory in a jihad, and, given the circumstances, this perception does not lack plausibility.

From the writings and the speeches of Osama bin Laden and his colleagues, it is clear that they expected this second task, dealing with America, would be comparatively simple and easy. This perception was certainly encouraged and so it seemed, confirmed by the American response to a whole series of attacks -- on the World Trade Center in New York and on U.S. troops in Mogadishu in 1993, on the U.S. military office in Riyadh in 1995, on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in 2000 -- all of which evoked only angry words, sometimes accompanied by the dispatch of expensive missiles to remote and uninhabited places.

He goes on --

Stage One of the jihad was to drive the infidels from the lands of Islam; Stage Two -- to bring the war into the enemy camp, and the attacks of 9/11 were clearly intended to be the opening salvo of this stage. The response to 9/11, so completely out of accord with previous American practice, came as a shock, and it is noteworthy that there has been no successful attack on American soil since then.

Note the implication that Stage 1 was completed before 9/11. It wasn't. As Lewis surely knows, Bin Laden's references to removing infidels from "the lands of Islam" referred to the historic home of Islam in Saudi Arabia. And the US did indeed withdraw from Saudi Arabia -- in 2003, a deal worked out by Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, serving of course under President George W. Bush.

So Osama may not have been right, but he couldn't have been luckier in his choice of enemy.

UPDATE: One other bothersome thing about the Lewis article. If the Russians had such a great thing going in deterring Islamic terrorism by a reputation for a fearsome response, what went wrong? Well, they invaded an Islamic country far away from home and got bogged down in an extended insurgency ...[as even Christopher Hitchens says -- "the true and original source of many of our woes in the Islamic world"]

[previous post discussing the Lewis thesis that the Muslim world uses terrorism and migration as weapons against the West; and the last point above is made quite eloquently here]

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bertie's Westminster speech summarised

Thagadh ár uair.

[based on this; here's the full address]

UPDATE: To be a bit less cryptic about this, surely Bertie thought carefully about the line "Ireland's hour has come" with its echo of "Our day will come/Tiocfaidh ár lá*."

[* e.g. ill-advised usage example]

Where might he have learned that from?

From the World Bank Directors' Committee report into l'affaire Wolfowitz --

[paragraph 99] From the standpoint of internal governance, the [Wolfowitz] actions disturbed the internal system of checks and balances that are in place and act as safeguards ... it left only the Vice President for Human Resources to safeguard the interests of the institution, but he accommodated the wishes of the President.

Incidentally, the above quote is the essence of why today's Wall Street Journal editorial (subs. req'd; alt. free link) responding to the Bank report is so misleading. The Journal cites e-mails that the Bank's VP for Human Resources wrote to himself at the time of the Wolfie negotiations that make it sound like he approved of the deals [how did the WSJ get those e-mails?]. But this is precisely the report's critique of him ("accommodated the wishes of the President")-- and in any event Wolfie had prevented him from getting legal advice on the deals.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Protest opportunity missed

Dick Cheney stopped in Shannon on his return from his Middle East trip (reporter photo). He didn't stop there on the way out, likely because some of the travelling party needed to get a second plane since some were going to Iraq and others not. But the entire collection of warmongers -- Cheney himself, his national security adviser John Hannah, his chief of staff David Addington, and of course his daughter Liz -- did the trip back together. Speaking of Liz Cheney, note her presence at this top meeting in Jordan, with still no public explanation of her position in the administration.

UPDATE: Here she is boarding a Marine helicopter at Andrews Air Force Base for the hop back into DC. On one shoulder, the typical senior official bag. In the other -- is that a Shannon duty free shop bag? The Cheneys know that place well.

FINAL UPDATE: We've collected all the circumstantial evidence of Liz Cheney's senior position at the White House in a TPM Cafe discussion table post.

[postscript: One Liz Cheney job is now out in the open: foreign policy adviser to the nascent Fred Thompson campaign]

Noted for future reference

Excitable contributors at National Review's The Corner are all worked about reports that Nicholas Sarkozy will appoint (socialist) Hubert Védrine as foreign minister [so is Powerline]. Notably, they seem to be sourcing this only to English newspapers. In fact, there are a number of names out there for the job, with this Le Monde story giving the sense that Bernard Kouchner is on the inside track.

UPDATE 16 MAY: the Védrine rumour is receding. Instead it seems that it will be Kouchner, placed within an American style National Security Council structure.

That man, yet again

Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority during its disastrous rule of occupied Iraq, making excuses in Sunday's Washington Post --

We then turned over the implementation of this carefully focused policy [deBaathification] to Iraq's politicians. I was wrong here. The Iraqi leaders, many of them resentful of the old Sunni regime, broadened the decree's impact far beyond our original design.

Why won't he name the actual person who took over the deBaathification policy and used for it a widescale purge of Sunnis -- the Pentagon's one-time favourite, and still a favourite of the neocons, Ahmad Chalabi?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

American Compassion Institute

In a New York Times Sunday magazine article about the several million Iraqi refugess --

John Bolton, who was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security in the Bush administration, and later ambassador to the United Nations, offers one explanation for this lack of recognition: it is not a crisis, and it was not triggered by American action. The refugees, he said, have “absolutely nothing to do with our overthrow of Saddam.

“Our obligation,” he told me this month at his office in the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, “was to give them new institutions and provide security. We have fulfilled that obligation. I don’t think we have an obligation to compensate for the hardships of war.”

Eurovision 2

Jack Hartin/New York Times

Repeating last night's quiz format, is the above picture from (a) Ireland's Eurovision song contest entry or (b) the pop repertory act Celtic Woman?

This New York Times article explains the provenance of the photo and thus settles whether it is (a) or (b). The conclusion is worthy of note --

Ireland is a country that does a lot of psychological heavy lifting for Americans. We’ve imbued the place with mysticism, greenness, quietude and rootedness. Milky-skinned maidens, singing beautiful music in front of a wall of ivy. It’s the very vision of what we want Ireland to be. Or at least what PBS [US public broadcasting service] viewers want Ireland to be.

Noting that musical acts (a) and (b) both feature actual Irish people and are produced in Ireland, it's apparently what Irish people want Ireland to be as well.

It's always about the hair

So the Maureen Dowd Eurotrip continues as the she presumably bills the New York Times for her expenses in Paris and London while collecting the cheques for the columns filed on the road. Whereas the Paris trip was Sego as Hillary, the London trip is apparently Gordon Brown as John Edwards, except that she doesn't have her story straight. With Edwards (subs. req'd), the complaint was that he was spending money on haircuts and looking not like the common man as a result --

Speaking of roots, my dad, a police detective who was in charge of Senate security, got haircuts at the Senate barbershop for 50 cents. He cut my three brothers' hair and did the same for anyone else in the neighborhood who wanted a free clip job. Even now, Mr. Edwards could get his hair cut at the Senate barbershop for $21 or the Chapel Hill Barber Shop near his campaign headquarters for $16 ...
Someone who aspires to talk credibly about the two Americas can't lavish on his locks what working families may spend on electricity in a year. You can't sell earnestness while indulging in decadence.

But with Gordon (subs. req'd) --

He got an uninspiring £100 haircut, which was “lost on everyone,” as one reporter dryly put it.

So the John Edwards $400 haircut is too good, but the Gordon £100 haircut (remember Maureen to do the 2 for 1 conversion on your expenses report) is not good enough. Should Gordon ask John Edwards for the name of who does his hair, or should American pundits stop bringing their most oversized baggage of all -- the triviality that led them to despise Bill Clinton and (initially) love George Bush -- on their European vacations?

We need new material

AP Photo/Alastair Grant; caption

Question: is the above picture (a) a still shot from the latest Irish Spring body soap ad or (b) Ireland's entry in the Eurovision song contest?

This video link is one of the above. So our Eurovision entry is the other one. Cinq points is the new nul points.

UPDATE: See also our later post. And the (mostly) German language blog Irland Inside as a roundup of Eurovision posts.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

More Paisleyite than Paisley

The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan (subs. req'd; alt free link), redefining Ulster to be more a state of mind, and a male one at that, than a place --

Everyone knew it was coming -- the voters had backed it -- yet the sight of it, the Ulstermen and Catholics standing together in the Stormont, and the words, took one's breath away.


An apparent terrorism threat in Germany linked to the G8 summit --

U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said recent intelligence reports suggested possible involvement by Kurdish Islamists from outside Germany.

The group is believed to be affiliated with al Qaeda but not formally a part of the militant network led by Osama bin Laden, they said. They had no specific information about targets or timing.

Some German media reports have suggested involvement by Iraqi militants. However, U.S. officials rejected the notion of a role by Ansar al-Islam, a militant group of Iraqi Kurds and Arabs who have vowed to establish an independent Islamic state in Iraq.

Note two things. First, the US would be especially eager never to hear the name Ansar al-Islam again, since it's at the heart of the lies about the Saddam-al Qaeda linkage. The group is affiliated with al Qaeda and did host Abu Musab al-Zarqawi prior to March 2003 -- but it was based in the northern no-fly zone when Saddam was in power. He couldn't have done anything about them. Kind of awkward to have them still around when the US could have put them out of business five years ago without invading Iraq.

Second, threats linked to G8 summits have a history of their own. After all, there was a previous G8 summit where --

The huge force of officers and equipment which has been assembled to deal with unrest has been spurred on by a warning that supporters of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden might attempt an air attack on some of the world leaders present.

Anti-aircraft missiles have been deployed at the airport, and naval vessels are patrolling the seas.

That was in July 2001, before the Genoa summit -- right at the time when George Bush and Condi Rice didn't think that air attacks by Osama bin Laden could possibly be that big a deal.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Yo Blair

White House --

President Bush will host British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the White House on May 16-17, 2007.

He can finally pick up that medal. It also means that Tony is packing in the farewells that week, as it's immediately after Bertie Ahern's pre-election speech at Westminster.

He did pacify Ireland

There's not much to say about Tony Blair's departure. But while Iraq will always be the damned spot on his legacy, the moment when he should have the sense to go with humility was his decision to hitch his wagon to George Bush's support of Israel's disastrous invasion of Lebanon. The ironies pile on. It's not just that a majority of Israelis are now disgusted with that war, but that their 60 year old country showed the the Coalition of the Willing, with its boasts about centuries of democratic tradition, how to handle a botched war. You produce damning reports, quickly, and people lose their jobs. Maybe hope does spring eternal and Gordon will surprise us.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tony as George's pundit

Since George Bush prides himself on not reading the pundits, who could possibly have been his sources of information for his remarks about Blair's resignation?

I obviously look forward to meeting with [Blair's] successor. I believe that the relationship between Great Britain and America is a vital relationship. It is a relationship that has stood the test of time, and when America and Great Britain work together, we can accomplish important objectives. We share common values. We share a great history. And so I look forward to working with Gordon Brown, who I presume is going to be the -- maybe I shouldn't say -- I shouldn't predict who is going to be in, but the punditry suggests it will be him.

I have had a meeting with him and found him to be an open and engaging person. It's amazing how people make all kinds of characterizations about people in the political process, and I found him to be a easy-to-talk-to, good thinker.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The War Czar has his office

And an acronym therewith, in a new executive order by the White House --

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America ... it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Establishment. There is established within the Department of State, in accordance with section 3161 of title 5, United States Code, a temporary organization to be known as the Iraq Transition Assistance Office (ITAO).

The new office is apparently a successor organization to Iraq Reconstruction Management Office (IRMO), indicating that the White House has settled on a buzzword to describe the job in Iraq -- from reconstruction, we move to transition. Like after Communism.

[war czar background]

The stereotypes, there must be more to life

Laura Bush, interviewed on Fox News this morning --

Q All right, a lot was made about what you served at that dinner. What did the Queen decide to serve at the dinner for you last night [at the British Embassy]?

MRS. BUSH: Well, they had a beautiful dinner for us, starting with smoked salmon as the appetizer, that was great. And then they had veal and wonderful potatoes. And then they had a very traditional English dessert, summer pudding, that was great, with clotted cream.

Q No fish and chips?

MRS. BUSH: No fish and chips.

Laura also kept to her story that it took her and Condi to talk George into wearing white tie for the state dinner the night before.

Handing out the goodies

One day after the Stormont re-establishment, an announcement from Downing Street --

9 May 2007

The Queen has been pleased to approve that Jeffrey Mark Donaldson MP MLA and Peter David Robinson MP MLA be sworn of Her Majesty's most honourable Privy Council.

This seems like a relatively large proportion of "right honourables" for a small party, the DUP.

UPDATE: There's a revealing sentence in Ian Paisley's welcoming statement --

Our Privy Councillors, together with the DUP Police Board members, will adopt a monitoring role over all security and intelligence matters over the coming months and years.

Is this part of the compromise to keep the DUP on the inside track when Sinn Fein are allowed to enter the security arrangements in Northern Ireland? [after writing this update we see that Slugger says that's essentially what it is]

FINAL UPDATE: There were sworn in on the same day as Bertie's Westminster speech. There is stuff going on behind the pomp that people need to keep an eye on.

Protecting the ruling family

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert; caption

Baghdad is so dangerous that the visiting US Vice President, Dick Cheney, wears a flak jacket next to his plane on the runway at the airport. Incidentally, one so far unexplained aspect of Cheney's trip is why his daughter Liz, whose only recent known work activity was writing up Republican talking points for the Washington Post, is with him on the trip.

UPDATE 11 MAY: Dick Cheney provides the 1st explanation, in an interview with Fox News, of why his daughter is on the trip --

QUESTION: How are you feeling?
QUESTION: Yeah? The doctors okay with a long trip?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: They signed up to it and I've got my daughter along to watch carefully to make sure I do everything they tell me to.
QUESTION: I saw the meals. They were pretty healthy on the flights.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right. Well, what I get especially is healthy. (Laughter.)

FINAL UPDATE: Another Liz Cheney sighting --

The US vice president and his daughter Liz were to have an informal dinner with Jordan's King Abdullah II and other officials, with Cheney due to hold talks with the monarch on Monday before returning to Washington.

And here she is getting off the plane in Cairo with her father. It's remarkable that she's been allowed to play a leading role on this trip without any public demand to explain what her role actually is.

One degree of George Soros

As if to illustrate the American right's descent into ever loonier conspiracy theories, the Wall Street Journal editorial page (subs. req'd; alt. free link), already operating in full-scale Republican attack-dog mode for weeks in defending World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, has found the true source of Wolfie's problems. Yes -- all the human resources rule-bending, the botched spinning by top staffers: it's all the fault of George Soros:

Axis of Soros

Mark Malloch Brown spoke Monday to a crowded auditorium at the World Bank's headquarters, warning that the bank's mission was "hugely at risk" as long as Paul Wolfowitz remained its president. Only hours earlier, news leaked that a special committee investigating Mr. Wolfowitz had accused him of violating conflict-of-interest rules. A coincidence? We doubt it ...

Mr. Malloch Brown would almost surely be a leading candidate to replace Mr. Wolfowitz should he step down. Not surprisingly, Gordon Brown cold-shouldered Mr. Wolfowitz at a recent meeting in Brussels ...

If the Bush Administration now abandons Mr. Wolfowitz as he faces a decision from the bank's board of governors, it will not only betray a friend but hand the biggest victory yet to its audacious enemies in the George Soros axis.

To follow their scenario, you need to see the link between Mark Malloch Brown popping up as a visitor to the World Bank on Monday to criticise Wolfie, and then connect his former role at the United Nations Development Programme, an imminent job with George Soros, and ... er... that's it. They don't have a shred of evidence connecting Brown or Soros to any of the shenanigans at the Bank, not least because neither of them work for the Bank.

They don't quite say that the other Brown, Gordon, is in cahoots with the whole thing in gratitude for what Soros did on Black Wednesday, but that's where these types of grand international financial conspiracy theories lead. Such theories lead to another place too, but that's the type of accusation that the Journal likes to toss at others rather than be the subject of itself.

UPDATE 14 MAY: Malloch Brown responds in a letter to the editor -- it's worth posting in full. The final sentence is a dig at the WSJ that sounds familiar:

I Didn't Attack Wolfowitz, Nor Am I Succeeding Him

Your May 9 editorial "Axis of Soros" rests on false premises. I did not attack Paul Wolfowitz when, as a result of a longstanding invitation, I spoke at the World Bank. Indeed, I spoke of my friendship with him, but said the situation had to be resolved. Contrary to your claim, I am not a candidate to succeed him.

You seek to undermine my record as a leading U.N. reformer by distorting the truth. For example you pretend that when I said U.N. overbudgeting in a peacekeeping operation did not lead to the loss of funds that I was talking about procurement practices overall. I set up a task force to investigate procurement fraud. You take a comment I made on an interim Paul Volcker report as relating to his final finding. You even imply that there is something amiss in renting a house at market rate from George Soros. You even get the title of my current job wrong.

But you got one thing right. I am a friend of George Soros's and proud of it.

Let me conclude on a lighter note to say that I am amused by the debate over what would happen if Rupert Murdoch bought The Wall Street Journal. While I admire your news pages he as good as owns your editorial pages already.

Sir Mark Malloch Brown
New York

Incidentally, reading down a bit in this transcript of the Fox News/Wall Street Journal editorial page weekend show reveals that the original WSJ editorial was probably written by Bret Stephens. [update 17 MAY: This hatchet job on the UK World Bank board member Tom Scholar confirms that Stephens is the point man at the Journal for the pro-Wolfie team].

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Point of information

David Brooks, in classic pundit fashion, wrote today's column (subs. req'd) in the New York Times after having attended a garden party at the British Embassy in Washington. Amongst his assertions --

That’s why [skepticism]... the Brits had an open debate about European unification. The British elites exerted enormous pressure in favor of union, but the tabloid readers didn’t care.

What is this debate about European unification that the "elites" were in favour of but for which the tabloid readers didn't care? Any Europhiles in British political life get packed off "to Europe" i.e. jobs in Brussels. Our suspicion is that has has confused Britain with the EU referendum defeat in France.

Media Notes

Two articles of Irish interest in the New York Times today. Colum McCann on the "Sounds of Silence" in Northern Ireland. His memories of watching 1970s Northern Ireland terrorism from the physical and psychological distance of a child in the Republic are evocative. One might question his conclusion, though --

One of the reasons that center holds is that no one politician, or party, or popular figure is trying to own the peace. It is an international agreement that owes as much to the vision of political leaders as it does to the thousands of mothers and fathers who have brokered it from the inside.

There certainly was a rush of VIPs to Stormont today for the photo-op, and a devolved government led by Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness is not what most people had in mind when The Peace ProcessTM* got started.

But anyway. An accidental but revealing juxtaposition comes with the 2nd NYT article -- about the mania of Irish investors for property in Manhattan. It's a good account, putting the apparent surge in Manhattan condo investments from Ireland in the context of an overall surge in Irish property investments abroad, the weak dollar, and the apparently higher rental yield on property in New York City than in Dublin. It's strange though -- it's not obvious that looking for better investments than overvalued property at home would lead one to invest in arguably overvalued properties overseas. There's something strange about the investment returns in the Celtic Tiger.

[* Slugger joke]

"Finally, a chance to actually have my drink"

AP Photo/Evan Vucci; caption

[many more photo gags at Dependable Renegade; scroll to May 8)

Pressurised cabin

From today's Irish Times on the Dublin delegation to the opening of devolved government at Stormont --

Mr Ahern and Tánaiste Michael McDowell are due to fly to Belfast on the Government jet.

More mindboggling than the decision to fly from Dublin to Belfast -- a real vote of confidence in Irish infrastructure -- is that these two will go from somehow not finding the time to speak to each other during the last week of chaos to sitting together in a fairly small plane and apparently still will not come to any final conclusion about whether they can remain in government together.

Monday, May 07, 2007

George's philosophy comedy hour

President Bush, welcoming Lizzie and Phil --

The United Kingdom has written many of the greatest chapters in the history of human freedom. Nearly 800 years ago, the Magna Carta placed the authority of the government under the rule of law. Eighty years later, the first representative assembly of the English people met to debate public policies. Over the centuries, parliaments in Britain established principles that guide all modern democracies. And thinkers from Britain, like Locke and Smith and Burke showed the world that freedom was the natural right of every man, woman and child on Earth.

The sane attendees were hopefully too polite to laugh at George's Magna Carta reference, given his view that a president at war is essentially unbound by the legislature. Although George may share a 1200s era notion of "representative" government i.e. based among the powerful. And the action in Locke, Smith, and Burke was not in vague assertions of natural rights for everyone, but in the mechanisms of getting from present society to more ideal ones. It's doubtful that any of them saw war as a good mechanism for so doing.

On an unrelated note, gossippers looking at tonight's state dinner guest list might take note of Miss Barbara Bush's escort, Jay Blount (apparently an old Yale friend) and the fact that Liz Cheney is coming alone. Perhaps even neocons have trouble finding babysitters.*

Finally, Laura Bush did tell us that her husband has two women in his life --

I will tell you that we did have to talk the President into white tie. (Laughter.) He was not that -- Dr. Rice and I took it upon ourselves to talk him into it, because we thought if we were ever going to have a white tie event, this would be the one.

UPDATE: There also seems to have a reception prior to the dinner with some additional guests invited; mostly it seems to be background staffers who actually make these things work, but note the presence of Dick Cheney's chief of staff David Addington, neck-deep in the torture controversies, and assorted Bush spin-managers including Peter Wehner and Scott Sforza (the dude who e.g. worked on the lighting for Bush's Katrina speech and concocted the photo that made Bush look like a 5th head on Mt Rushmore).

*We erred. Liz's husband was listed below her, Phil Perry. As pointed out elsewhere, this resulted in 6 Cheneys at the event.

Normal behaviour?

During yesterday's excellent Real Madrid-Sevilla match, there was an incident that may warrant further scrutiny. The referee apparently red-carded a Sevilla bench player after he had a row with the linesman. The player is black. At least one fan near the altercation was waving her hand across her face, as if to clear a bad smell. This is the same motion that recently got Milan Baros in trouble, although he denied any racist intent. No one seemed to be passing much remarks on the Madrid version, indicating that we're reading too much into it. Or is it just viewed as par for the course?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Who's fooling whom?

Surge strategist Fred Kagan in the New York Times --

As we look ahead, two things are very clear. First, there can be no “do-over” — the various plans proposed in late 2006 as alternatives to the current strategy are extremely unlikely to be relevant in 2007. Any idea of reverting to the Iraq Study Group [Baker-Hamilton] plan — which focused on pushing more Americans into training teams and pulling them out of the neighborhoods — will probably not make sense in August.

George W. Bush in the "commander guy" speech --

I'm asked all the time about strategies. I liked what James A. Baker and Lee Hamilton reported back after a serious investigation of Iraq. I liked their ideas. And it's something that we should seriously consider. And their idea was, is that at some point in time, it makes sense to have a U.S. presence configured this way, embedded with Iraqi forces, training Iraqi forces, over-the-horizon presence to provide enough security to know that people will have help if they need it, but put the -- more onus on a sovereign government of Iraq, a presence to keep the territorial integrity of Iraq intact, a special ops presence to go after these killers who have got their intentions on America. It's an interesting idea.

It's most likely that Kagan has told Bush what he says publicly -- that he thinks Baker-Hamilton is obsolete. It's Bush who, for whatever reason, wants to tell the public otherwise.


One impression from Sarko's victory speech: it's very international in focus. France's place in the world, France's vision for the European Union, Mediterranean, Africa, relations with the USA.

Zeal of the converted

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson --

I used to have an obsession of winning in Europe but the Premiership has become a priority.

A priority for about the last, oh, 4 days?

Fraternity is for the boys

The New York Times' Maureen Dowd (subs. req'd) got the pundit junket to cover the last stages of the French presidential election. Her previous expertise on the US candidate haircut beat apparently doesn't extend to covering the fabulous hair atop of the heads of many French politicians, but to delivering various stylistic digs at Ségolène Royal --

When Ségo lost her temper at Sarko during Wednesday’s debate, on the issue of disabled children’s going to regular schools, it was denounced as contrived and inaccurate. She wanted to seem assertive and goad her abrasive and volatile rival into boiling over. Instead, he pushed the gender card back, telling her to “calm down” and stereotyping Serene Ségo .

Well, we watched that portion of the debate and there didn't seem to be much contrived about her performance. Sarko had made a pretty weak point which he intended to be self-serving, and she busted him on it. The subtext here, lying not far below the words "too moody and changeable to run a country that likes big, powerful leaders" is Dowd's internalization of Republican campaign spin in which the tough Daddy candidate is always going to beat the flighty liberal, whether it's Al Gore worrying about Mother Earth or John Kerry looking too French.

So while Maureen lays out the template for her Hillary bashing 16 months from now, we'll lay out our prediction that Sarko will win today, not because he made Ségo seem too feminine for France, but because the substance of his policies is more in line with what France wanted. In some countries, elections actually are decided by such things!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Freakonomics-style economics jumps the shark

New York Times -- Editors’ Note

A front-page article on Wednesday about an academic study that detected a racial bias in the foul calls of referees in the National Basketball Association noted that The New York Times had asked three independent experts to review the study and materials from a subsequent N.B.A. study that detected no bias.

The experts, whose names the authors of the two studies did not learn until after the article was published, all agreed that the study that detected bias was far more sound. That study was conducted by Justin Wolfers, an assistant professor of business and public policy at the Wharton School, and Joseph Price, a Cornell graduate student in economics.

After the article was published, The Times learned that one of the three experts, Larry Katz of Harvard University, was the chairman of Mr. Wolfers’s doctoral thesis committee, as Mr. Wolfers had acknowledged in previous studies. Because of this, Mr. Katz should not have been cited as an independent expert.

An updated version of the Wolfers-Price study added acknowledgments for Mr. Katz and a second expert The Times had contacted, David Berri of California State University-Bakersfield. They were thanked for brief “helpful comments” about the paper they made to Mr. Wolfers via e-mail messages after reviewing it for The Times. These later comments would have been mentioned in the article if editors had known about them.

One question springs to mind: if the authors didn't pick the experts, who did?

[corrections link good today only; here's the original article, and here's the academic paper that, er, tipped off the issue]

The Blair-Bush relationship in semaphore

White House/Lynden Steele; caption

Friday, May 04, 2007

He likes his royalty

From the White House fact sheet for the visit of the Windsors --

In honor of the Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh the attire for the State Dinner is white tie. This is the first white tie event that the President and Mrs. Bush have hosted.

One obstacle that state dinners have posed for the Bushes is George's extremely early bedtime. Seriously. They seem to be so out of practice on these dinners that they are still using the china chosen by the Clintons, which of course means it will be waiting for Hillary when she moves back in. Unless they break it.

And speaking of royalty, that tricksy administration is doing another suddenly announced Cheney visit to the Middle East --

Vice President Cheney will depart for the Middle East on May 8, 2007. He will visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. President Bush has asked the Vice President to travel to the region for discussions with the leaders of these nations on key issues of mutual interest. The Vice President will meet with President Khalifa of the UAE, King Abdullah of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, President Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdullah of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and senior officials of their respective governments. The Vice President also will meet with U.S. military commanders and speak with U.S. troops stationed in the Persian Gulf region.

Look for both a SURPRISE visit to Iraq and, given the track record of recent Cheney visits, an increase in terrorist attacks and some new ultimatums from the increasingly unhappy Saudis.

UPDATE 8 MAY: Dan Froomkin has more on Cheney's trip, including the snippet that his daughter Liz is going with him.

Taking a side

White House announcement --

President Bush will welcome President Toomas Ilves of Estonia to the White House on June 25, 2007. As the President witnessed during his visit last November, Estonia is a thriving example of how freedom has transformed the nations of central and eastern Europe, and brought security and prosperity to the people of the region.

One wouldn't like to think the visit is specificially designed to embolden Estonia in its dispute with Russia -- a dispute in which the US would have very few options if things got ugly.

[Our own opinion here]

Grounds for dismissal

George Bush this morning, in a statement praising his departing deputy National Security Adviser J.D. Crouch --

He was at the forefront in devising and implementing the new strategy to help build a peaceful, stable, and secure Iraq.

Indeed. Anyway, his departure makes that "war czar" vacancy at the White House even more pressing. One also wonders whether to read anything into a Friday resignation.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Image now available for use in Iraq

(image credit: BBC)

Since its Irish originators have retired.

UPDATE: Some details of the retirement have yet to be sorted out, according to the Irish Times (subs. req'd) --

Some callers to the BBC in Belfast yesterday, who said they were still paying protection money to the UVF, queried whether they could now safely cease these payments.

Chatrooms of Mass Destruction

Judith Miller, a key conduit of bogus WMD intelligence from Dick Cheney's office to the front page of the New York Times, pops up in her post-NYT gig on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link) to argue that the massive NYPD surveillance of groups planning to protest at the 2004 Republican National Convention in Manhattan was justified. This surveillance, which appears to have violated a long-standing court order, included infiltration of anti-Bush groups. Part of her claimed justification is that people say weird stuff on the Internet --

The "Constitutional Rights Enforcement and Support Team," an Internet-based group, stated on its Web site that "many people who join this group will die, be wounded, or jailed" in its efforts to counter "police brutality." Ashira Affinity, a Colorado-based anarchist group, urged members to join protests that were "strategic, ruthless, efficient, as well as chaotic."

In addition to the usual crackpot threats posted in Internet chat rooms, such as the one by a writer who vowed to "fly a 767 into the convention and take care of the American problem on Thursday" -- which the police nevertheless could ill afford to ignore -- came vaguer if still troubling counsel from would-be protestors: "Give them the New York they are afraid of," urged one listing.

Nowhere in this list is a shred of evidence of any intent or capacity to implement any of these "threats". And there are all kinds of simple tools, like "the Google", that can help sort out who's who before there's a need for a city police department to be running its own domestic intelligence service.

Even more preposterously, Miller's article gets the headline: When Activists Are Terrorists. But the potential activities cited, such as rushing hotel lobbies and blocking traffic, don't meet any sensible definition of terrorism. They are civil disobedience, illegal, and ill-advised -- not least because they create grounds for arrest. Miller says --

... although I am devoted to the First Amendment and privacy rights, and believe that effective judicial and administrative oversight is critical to preventing police abuses, I also want the NYPD to have the tools and programs to protect the city from terrorist attacks. If that means scanning the Internet and sending plainclothes officers to public meetings to learn about planned actions that might turn violent, or be infiltrated and taken over by violent dissidents, so be it.

Is Cheney's office now handing out evidence that, say, Ashira Affinity has been infiltrated by al Qaeda?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The other big match

While the main focus here will be on Milan for the next few hours, having settled on cheering for the home team, it looks like most of France will not give a damn about the soccer and will instead tune in to the Sarkozy-Royal debate, taking place at nearly the same time. It will be live here at 2000 GMT.

UPDATE: Only switched over after savouring the sour look on Stretchface Ferguson's face one last time. So saw the last 45 minutes. Sego seemed to come out ahead in the exchange over childcare: She was ready to belittle his promise of an enforceable right to childcare in terms of mothers not having the time to go to court to enforce it, and Sarko then meandered into a very weak point about an enforceable right for handicapped children to join a normal school after 5 years -- which she was again ready for by pointing out the Socialists had actually implemented places in regular schools for the handicapped before it was abolished by the right. Sarko seemingly saw this as his moment to portray Sego as hysterical -- as she was clearly passionate about it -- but she held her cool.

From there Sarko recovered and did a better job of avoiding the off-camera interruptions that were making him seem argumentative. Sego also left a potentially major landmine in front of her with a seeming promise to push for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics if China doesn't become more responsive on Darfur. Sarko managed to drive home his positions on Turkey (against EU membership), the EU constitution (mini-treaty only, no referendum), and immigration (Sego's "case-by-case" approach sounds like it results in deportations for nobody).

Decider 2: Presidential Boogaloo

George Bush --

I'm the commander guy

UPDATE: Here's the full context for the quote, which came in a Q&A session following a speech to the Associated General Contractors of America --

By the way, in the report[Baker-Hamilton] it said, it is -- the government may have to put in more troops to be able to get to that position. And that's what we do. We put in more troops to get to a position where we can be in some other place. The question is, who ought to make that decision? The Congress or the commanders? And as you know, my position is clear -- I'm the commander guy.

Incidentally, he is now referring to the Baker-Hamilton report as having recommendations that could be usefully considered -- 5 months after it was presented to him.

UPDATE 5 MAY: The White House now claims that Bush said "I'm a commander guy", not "I'm the commander guy", which in the fuller context above meant that he lets the commanders make the decisions, not congress. The audio file (see the 53rd minute) confirms that he used the indefinite article. Of course, "commander guy" sacked his 2006 vintage commanders (Abizaid and Casey) when they were out of line with the new strategy that he wanted.

Ideologues gone wild

A post at National Review's The Corner encapsulates the loony right on a small scale --

Privatize Eastern Market [John J. Miller]

Over the weekend, a fire gutted Eastern Market—an old and famous Capitol Hill building that's sort of a cross between a farmer's market and a food court ... The DC government owns Eastern Market and there are calls to spend federal money to rebuild it. A better idea: Privatize it, and let the businesses within compete for customers just as they would if they were opening stores on Pennsylvania Ave. a couple of blocks away.

This is the same privatization mentality that worked out so well for New Orleans and Iraq. It's also not clear that Miller understands what went on inside Eastern Market before it burned down, where private businesses did indeed compete for customers. Is he confusing local government ownership of the building with private operation of the stalls inside?

His only supporting evidence is a link to someone whining that the Federal government should have no obligation to provide funds to help rebuild it. Other than the fact that the Federal government gives all kinds of grants all the time, Washington DC is the federal city.

A final irony is that there is a case to be made that government ownership of the building hobbled its management, but it's one that he couldn't be bothered making, with yelling about privatization and an "on yer bike" mentality substituting for rational discussion.

Ireland's present, America's future

The future that George Bush envisages for pregnant American women is currently on display in Ireland. [, RTE]

Not just a game

A New York Times correction --

An article in Business Day on Monday about Mark Halperin, who stepped down as the political director of ABC News and will join Time magazine, misstated his role at both media outlets. He is a political — not a policy — analyst.

This distinction, between people like Halperin ("political") who can write stories about a John Edwards haircut after seeing a headline on Drudge, and a "policy" story analyzing e.g. John Edwards' healthcare plan, goes to the heart of why bloggers have so little faith in Halperin's side of the business. It's why, for example, Brad DeLong writes --

I can recommend that someone interested in economic and budget policy read Atrios confident that Duncan Black is giving it the straightest shot he can. I can't say that about the New Republic's giving airtime to Greg Mankiw and Robert Samuelson, can I?

And we all know that you learn a great deal more ideas and facts about the Middle East from reading Markos Moulitsas Zuniga's Daily Kos than from reading the New Republic.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The GWOT is on another planet

Powerline's Deacon --

By now you have probably seen or heard the breathless reports that incidents of terrorism were up worldwide in 2006. This is the MSM's take-away on the State Department's Country Report on Terrorism 2006. However, as Matthew Sheffield explains, the validity of this take-away depends on the meaning of worldwide. The numbers show a sharp increase in terrorist attacks in Iraq, where 2006 was a bad year indeed, and these attacks cause the total number of attacks and deaths to have increased world-wide. However, if one factors out the Middle East, which in the State Department's report does not include Afghanistan, there is no increase. If one also factors out Afghanistan, there's a decrease.

So taking out all the bad numbers, they are actually good numbers. In the same post, Hindrocket adds --

The numbers are also consistent with the fact that al Qaeda has proclaimed Iraq the central front in its war against civilization. It is reasonable to surmise that this focus has contributed to the decline in terrorist incidents in other parts of the world. Likewise, if al Qaeda were no longer tied down in Iraq, it is reasonable to expect that terrorism in other parts of the world would increase.

Got it? First the post excuses the overall rise in terrorism by saying that it's mostly in Iraq. But then it says if the US withdrew from Iraq, the terrorism would get redistributed to the rest of the world, and therefore that global terrorism would indeed be higher than if the US had never invaded Iraq. Not the first time, proponents of the flypaper theory of Iraq entangle only themselves.