Friday, August 31, 2007

Contrarian indicator

US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in his big Jackson Hole speech today --

As you know, the downturn in the housing market, which began in the summer of 2005, has been sharp. Sales of new and existing homes have declined significantly from their mid-2005 peaks and have remained slow in recent months ... A substantial increase in lending to nonprime borrowers contributed to the bulge in residential investment in 2004 and 2005, and the tightening of credit conditions for these borrowers likely accounts for some of the continued softening in demand we have seen this year ... The problems have been most severe for subprime mortgages with adjustable rates: the proportion of those loans with serious delinquencies rose to about 13-1/2 percent in June, more than double the recent low seen in mid-2005.The adjustable-rate subprime mortgages originated in late 2005 and in 2006 have performed the worst, in part because of slippage in underwriting standards, reflected for example in high loan-to-value ratios and incomplete documentation.

His predecessor, Alan Greenspan, in 2004 --

American consumers might benefit if lenders provided greater mortgage product alternatives to the traditional fixed-rate mortgage. To the degree that households are driven by fears of payment shocks but are willing to manage their own interest rate risks, the traditional fixed-rate mortgage may be an expensive method of financing a home.

It's tough on the people who took their financial advice from Alan Greenspan (as did George Bush, in a different context). At least Greenspan's successor is, if opaquely, calling him out on it.

One night in Kuala Lumpur

Another segment from Bush's pre-APEC interviews --

Q So what are your outlook and hopes for U.S.-Malaysia relations, and especially with Malaysia being the 10th largest trading partner?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I do believe we ought to have -- take this notion of trade and have meaningful discussions with a potential free trade agreement with Malaysia. Secondly, I respect Prime Minister Badawi, admire his leadership. When his wife died I tried to call him early just to let him know I cared about him.
Q He has remarried.
THE PRESIDENT: Has he? Good. I'll congratulate him. Thanks for giving me that heads-up. Don't put that in the article that you had to tell me that. You can put it in there if you want. (Laughter.) I'll be glad to -- I'm going to congratulate him. That's neat.
MR. WILDER: You did, sir.
MR. WILDER: You did congratulate him.
THE PRESIDENT: Exactly. I'm going to congratulate him again. (Laughter.) I'll double the congratulations. (Laughter.) That's right, I did write him a note. I forgot. Did I call him or write him a note?
MR. WILDER: You wrote him a note.
THE PRESIDENT: That's right, yes. Sent him a couple flowers.

Bush down under

In one of the series of interviews he did before heading to a locked-down Sydney next week, George Bush's interview with Sky News Australia (also here) shows that his war on terror is rhetoric is a moving target and does seem to respond to criticism of earlier vintages. In particular --

See, here's the interesting thing that I hope the people of Australia understand, there are two forms of extremism that have now converged on Iraq, one Sunni extremism in the likes of Al Qaeda. These people in Iraq swore allegiance to the very same person that ordered the attack on the United States of America.

Significant because he has dropped the "they're the same people who attacked us on 9/11", which of course was not true. But it's always the curate's egg with Bush --

We the free world has got more work to do, and I believe those of us who live in liberty have a responsibility to promote forms of government that deal with what causes 19 kids to get on airplanes to kill 3,000 students.

To state the obvious, none of the 19 were from Iraq, and nothing going on in Iraq now is making political liberalisation in the countries that they were from more likely. His mangled statement at the end is merely symptomatic of a much deeper strategic confusion.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The excuse trifecta

From the Pentagon announcement that George Bush will conduct a major Iraq meeting with his generals tomorrow --

Army Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock ... warned, however, that a number of factors may dare the enemy to increase attacks. With the pending report to Congress, the beginning of Ramadan next month, and the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, "we can expect the enemy to try to accomplish more high-profile, highly visible attacks to flavor how those reports are received," he said.

i.e. anything bad that happens shouldn't count as lack of progress and/or is all the fault of people wanting these pesky progress reports.

Speaking of the 9/11 anniversary ...

Hard to know what to make of this. A group called "Stop the Islamisation of Europe" is planning a protest outside the European Parliament building in Brussels on 11th September. It's billed as being against the introduction of Sharia law in Europe. It's not clear who, at least who with any size of a constituency is for that, but anyway. Now it appears that the protest has been banned. And at some stage Italy's Northern League had hitched its wagon to the cause, which is perhaps support that they could have done without. And then there's some business about an allegedly "pro-Hezbollah" counter-demonstration.

It really is shaping up as the most contentious 9/11 anniversary yet. With the distance of time the memory of the victims decreases in power relative to the meanings people want to attach to the event.

Worst 9/11 anniversary yet

The anniversary is already going to see George Bush's team from Iraq explaining to Congress on September 11th 2007 why they think the Surge should continue. It will see Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani use the platform of the memorial service in Manhattan. And if Powerline is right, it will see the file of Ted Olson, director of the Bush versus Gore legal effort in 2000, and whose wife was murdered in the Pentagon attack, before the Senate as Bush's nominee for Attorney General. Signs of an administration which feels that it has only one trick left.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

2 states of separation

The Wall Street's Journal's lead editorial (subs. req'd) --

The latest twist in the global warming saga is the revision in data at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, indicating that the warmest year on record for the U.S. was not 1998, but rather 1934 (by 0.02 of a degree Celsius).

Canadian and amateur climate researcher Stephen McIntyre discovered that NASA made a technical error in standardizing the weather air temperature data post-2000. These temperature mistakes were only for the U.S.; their net effect was to lower the average temperature reading from 2000-2006 by 0.15C.

You could read this and the rest of the editorial and not be told that the adjustment referred not to "U.S." but to the 48 contiguous states -- which matters because Alaska is, like, large, and some global warming implications relate to the size of the surface area affected by it. And as the blogger who found the mistake that led to adjustment acknowledges, rankings of individual year as hottest, which are affected by random variation, are less meaningful than temperature trends, which are clearly upwards.

For more and more people, believing this obscurantist stuff from the Journal is going to require ignoring what's going on outside their windows.

It would damage the town to hear it

Among the phenomena illustrated by Senator Larry Craig's bizarre defence of his actions in his Minneapolis airport cruising bust is the broader attitude of conservatives that legal procedures exist on a plane separate from any underlying actions. Whether it's Craig viewing his guilty plea as implying nothing about what he actually did, the "no underlying crime" chant that greeted Scooter Libby's conviction for lying under oath, or George Bush's claim that accusations of criminal conduct against his Attorney General are just "political theater" -- it's the same perspective that these are just mere processes that distract "good men" from serving their country.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More from Laura

Given the bizarre revelations yesterday about Senator Larry Craig from Idaho and "wide stances" at the Minneapolis airport (if you don't know, don't ask), one has to figure that yesterday was known to be not a good day to even mention Idaho. Hence Laura Bush ...

Mary Bomar, as all of you know, is the Director of the National Park Service, and she's done a really terrific job, including working with Secretary Kempthorne, someone from Idaho, who now is the Secretary of the Interior, and who's very, very aware of the specific treasures we have in the western part of the United States and our national parks, but also the treasures everywhere across our country that represent the very best, both of our most beautiful natural landscapes like Grand Teton, and our most important historical sites like the White House and many other of our national parks that are historical sites.

Which sounds like Laura realized that not only had she mentioned Idaho but a (former) Republican Senator from Idaho and decided she better keep babbling to try and make everyone forget about it.

Perhaps feeling that she hadn't yet erased the memory later down in the speech, she decided to offer a scoop --

Jenna Bush was proposed to in Acadia National Park. (Applause.)

Poor Maine. It's such a nice place to have so many Bushes. But don't feel left out, DC --

Our national parks offer children a healthy alternative to being out -- for their free time. The Jefferson Memorial, even in an urban setting, is, of course, also outside

Probably not a great setting for marital propositions, though.

UPDATE 26 SEP: The site of the Jenna engagement is being reported as news from a Jenna interview even though Laura scooped her a month ago.

Meet the latest Iraq talking point

It's that as long as the US defeats "al Qaeda/in Iraq", it will all be worth it. Christopher Hitchens --

One must not declare victory too soon, but if the United States has in fact succeeded in not only smashing but discrediting al-Qaida in a major Arab and Muslim country, that must count as a historic achievement.

He was lower down on the chain mail than Ralph Peters --

Although this trend has been reported, our battlefield leaders here agree that the magnitude of the shift hasn't registered back home: Al Qaeda is on the verge of a humiliating, devastating strategic defeat - rejected by their fellow Sunni Muslims.

If we don't quit, this will not only be a huge practical win - it'll be the information victory we've been aching for.

Just one thing: is there anyone in Syria, Jordan, Egypt or Saudi Arabia who thinks that "freedom" looks like an especially good idea right now?

UPDATE: And this line of argument ignores that the fact that al Qaeda could have been defeated at the source 5 years ago if it wasn't for Iraq.

Monday, August 27, 2007

War on Usury

It's not just for Islam any more. National Review's Larry Kudlow --

Cutting the fed funds rate "removes a tax on money" that has weakened the economy and the dollar in recent years. This tax on money has also strengthened the gold price, a symbol of higher inflation.

Apparently the right interest rate is zero. As Kudlow says --

It may sound counterintuitive, but it makes perfect sense in the logic of supply-side economics.


Keeping score

National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez on the departure as Attorney General of Alberto Gonzales --

Paul Clement is on the list of possible replacements, according to Fox (and my understanding is he will at least be interim acting AG). I am a huge Clement fan. I can't imagine the president would be putting him to best use making him attorney general — dealing with the heated politics and the bureaucracy and silly senators. I'm counting on him being the next Catholic dude on the Court. Can you imagine the reaction at the PFAW [People for the American Way] etc? I'd forgive and forget everything and anything and love George W. Bush forever just to be able to see the reaction.

So apparently: there's some sort of religious quota system or priority for getting Catholics on the court, and the purpose of Supreme Court appointments is to irritate the other side as opposed to picking the best person (Catholic or not) for the job. And the elected branch of government with which Cabinet members have to deal is "silly."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Cecilia gave Laura an idea

It's not long after Mrs Sarkozy's mysterious "sore throat" absence from George Bush's non-lobster summit with her husband in Maine. And it's in the season when there have been recurring questions about whether US foreign policy towards East Asia is being completely neglected in the magnet of Iraq. So what was being billed as George's renewed attention to the region, his visit to the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit in Australia next month has suffered a blow --

Mrs. Laura Bush will not travel with the President, as planned, to Sydney, Australia for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Mrs. Bush extended her regrets in a telephone conversation yesterday to Mrs. Janette Howard, wife of Prime Minister John Howard.

Mrs. Bush has been treated with physical therapy for a pinched nerve, which she injured while hiking earlier this year. Her physicians have strongly advised her to not travel overseas in order to avoid potential complication and aggravation by extended long distance travel.

It seems to part of the protocol of these things that the ladies call each other to drop out of planned engagements. Whatever about John Howard, one hopes that the rest of the summiteers don't take it as a further snub.

UPDATE: The new theory is that the "pinched nerve" was a cover story for the initial preparations for Bush's SURPRISE! Iraq visit.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Gone native

One can wade through countless press releases from Multinational Forces Iraq which report claims about captured foreign fighters in Iraq, or foreign influence, without ever getting a single bit of identifying information for any of the suspects. Some might say that it's because the alleged wave of foreign insurgents is a trickle, and/or because most of the foreign suspects are from Saudi Arabia.

So one reads with interest a press release that seems to offer a bit more --

Coalition forces detained a foreign fighter during an intelligence-driven operation in northern Arab Jabour Aug. 22.

Intelligence indicates the targeted individual is a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device cell leader targeting coalition forces operating in the Arab Jabour area. He was born in Egypt but came to Iraq in the early 1980s and later joined al-Qaeda fighters. He has Iraqi citizenship and believed to be a former high ranking official of the Ba’ath party during Saddam Hussein’s reign.

So the foreign fighter is, er, Iraqi, and not only that, he's from the former regime and so can't even by classified as al Qaeda in Iraq, which anyway they keep telling us is not really Iraqi except for being in Iraq. So not Iran. Not Special Groups. Not foreign. Just a recalcitrant member of the former regime who now has a specialty in car bombs, a symbol of an unfinished job from 2003.

Friday, August 24, 2007

She let them in

With a blogosphere that always seems primed for "outrage" one's eyes get a tad jaded, but Yes, Irish Independent columnist Kevin Myers really wrote these sentences (via Irland Inside) --

The suicide bombers of London two years ago hadn't been born when this chapter opened in 1979: and such has been the utterly cretinous disregard across Europe for the huge cultural differences between the Islamic and the secular/Christian worlds, that the Continent has since then blithely continued to admit hundreds of thousands of Muslims.

However, true pride of place in the European imbecility stakes must surely go to Ireland, which now has some 60,000 Muslims officially living here, though the figure is probably more like 100,000, the vast majority having arrived since 9/11. Now, just how stupid is that?

There was always an element of Mark O'Steyn about Myers but it's hard to see Steyn writing that sentence. But you never know.

Random reading recommendation

The most interesting opinion/analysis writer at work these days is perhaps David Gardner in the Financial Times. The latest one on Spain is really excellent. The demolition of the US "strategy" in Iraq from a few weeks ago is required reading.

UPDATE 25 NOVEMBER: Beginning almost immediately after we wrote the above, there seemed to be no more Gardner in the analysis page. It turns out he got bumped up to chief leader writer, meaning that one has to now read the FT editorials and discern his touch. He's still doing the occasional book review.

Naming and shaming

Powerline's "Trunk" has a complaint. Not long ago the New York Times published an op-ed by 7 Iraq war veterans. It was extremely critical of the management of the war and called for American disengagement from Iraq.

It's not like this is the only line in op-eds from the New York Times; not long before, pro-war types had been trumpeting an article by Michael O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack on the same pages. But of course the criticism from veterans stung.

Hence "Trunk" links to a Weekly Standard article by another group of veterans which takes the pro-Bush position --

Seven Iraq war vets and members of Vets for Freedom respond to the New York Times Seven, of the 82nd Airborne, whose op-ed column appeared in the paper this past Sunday.

So the 7 critics become the "New York Times Seven" (east coast liberals nudge nudge wink wink) while the Bush defenders are the Vets for Freedom. Perhaps we should be thankful that the first 7 didn't become the Vets Against Freedom. As it happens, the Vets for Freedom have an ad campaign going (unlike the NYT Seven) which calls for the war in Iraq to continue. In its parroting of White House talking points, it suggests that they should be renamed Swift Boat Freedom Veterans For Whatever It Is That George W. Bush Currently Wants To Do.

Anyway, Trunk's complaint --

You have to read to the end to find this item of interest:

This Op-Ed was originally submitted to the New York Times, which declined to publish it.

Why should they? Its authors are an organised lobby group with their own funding -- and access to the pages of the Weekly Standard -- to get out their message. There's no right of equal access for Republicans to the pages of the New York Times, or any other paper for that matter.

UPDATE: The complaint is seconded by Instapundit. It's remarkable. They want the Times to give free space to a funded pressure group.

Vietnam again

Yes this Vietnam-Iraq blogging is going to get tiresome but so are its proponents. Here we have Max Boot in the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link) assuring George Bush that his only mistake was in not more fully embracing the analogy. Two things. First, Boot answers the question of what the US could have done to "win" in Vietnam --

By 1972 most of the south was judged secure and the South Vietnamese armed forces were able to throw back the Easter Offensive with help from lots of American aircraft but few American soldiers. If the U.S. had continued to support Saigon with a small troop presence and substantial supplies, there is every reason to believe that South Vietnam could have survived.

By "lots of American aircraft" and "substantial supplies" he means: bombing Vietnam to smithereens. That was the strategy. Of course it works in that you kill "bad guys" but you completely alienate the civilian population. That's why air force plays so little role in modern counterinsurgency strategy -- strategy that Boot presumably supports in the Iraq context. Indeed, Boot subtitles this part of his argument "The danger of winning militarily and losing politically" -- a distinction that does not exist in the Petraeus strategy for Iraq. There's no military victory without political progress.

Then, of the American "defeat" in Vietnam --

whose ripples spread around the world. In the late 1970s, America's enemies seized power in countries from Mozambique to Iran to Nicaragua. American hostages were seized aboard the SS Mayaguez (off Cambodia) and in Tehran. The Red Army invaded Afghanistan.

Which is what happens when you try to relate diverse events to a single cause. There was other stuff going on in the 1970s. The US backed Shah was getting increasingly repressive, cooking up Shia fundamentalism. Portugal pulled the plug on its African colonies and let the locals duke it out for control. The Somozas kept the earthquake relief money. And that Red Army invasion of Afghanistan worked out real well for them. Overall, it's a dreadful analogy for a dreadful war.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Anonymous spinnning

Here's a strange bit of sourcing from the LA Times (via Dan Froomkin) about George Bush's most brazen Iraq-Vietnam analogy yet --

A former official who left the White House recently said the new communications strategy was based on two arguments the administration has been making for a long time.

"One, we can win. And in past cases, such as Korea or Japan, people who made confident predictions about the impossibility of succeeding were eventually proven wrong. Two, the consequences of failure are so bad we should be willing to pay a price to win," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is no longer permitted to speak for the administration.

What's different, the official said, is that the president is taking a perceived weakness -- historical comparisons to Vietnam -- and turning it into a strength.

"Vietnam has been wrung around the administration's neck on Iraq for a long time," he said. "There are many analogies or comparisons or connections that could cut against the administration's position, but this is a connection that supports the administration's position. . . . They want to say, the last time you took a drastic option like abandoning our allies it didn't work well. Let's take a more measured one. They're setting that up."

Why give anonymity to someone who doesn't need it, since the person no longer works at the White House? Especially when the quotes offered are just the message of the speech itself disguised as analysis of it.

Furthermore, the analysis contains some telltale signs of who it is. "the president is taking a perceived weakness and turning it into a strength." That's the standard description of Karl Rove's political tactics. Now Rove still works for the White House, but his favourite operative, and the one who specialises in war spinning, recently left: Peter Wehner. And he has journalistic perches of his own, including at the National Review -- where was spinning for the speech today.

One hopes that the LA Times has not granted him a noises-off perch to accompany his main performance, especially as his pedigree is from a White House where you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.

3 state solution

Two interesting things in the new US National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. First, a signal that the troop surge will continue --

We assess that changing the mission of Coalition forces from a primarily counterinsurgency and stabilization role to a primary combat support role for Iraqi forces and counterterrorist operations to prevent AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] from establishing a safehaven would erode security gains achieved thus far.

But the more insidious paragraph is the implicit answer to the question of what happens when the preferred counterinsurgency strategy can't be sustained due to troop shortages --

Where population displacements have led to significant sectarian separation, conflict levels have diminished to some extent because warring communities find it more difficult to penetrate communal enclaves.

i.e. "Peace" through de facto partition. Is the plan for the US to stay just long enough to allow that to happen?

Denied the triumph of the will

National Review's Jonah Goldberg --

The mainstream media and a lot of liberal-leaning analysts seem to think it's politically foolish or reckless for Bush to compare Vietnam to Iraq because they have one very specific narrative in mind when it comes to that war: America shouldn't have gotten in, couldn't have won, and then lost. What they have long failed to grasp is that's not the moral of the story in the hearts of millions of Americans who believe that we could have won if wanted to and it was a disaster for American prestige and honor that we lost (whether we should have gone in is a murkier question for many, I think). This is a point the Democrats fail to grasp: being on the side of surrender in a war is popular enough during the war, but if you succeed lots of Americans will later get buyer's remorse and feel like it was a mistake and the next generation will see things very differently than their anti-war activist parents.

Which is useful in enough in bringing out the essential question prompted by Bush's analogy, namely: What else could America have done to have "won" in Vietnam? Nuclear weapons?

Incidentally, those against the Vietnam war weren't for American "surrender." They were for letting Vietnam sort out its own problems.

UPDATE: One more thing. If the Goldberg/Bush answer to what more America could have done to win in Vietnam is more troops, remember that Bush has already said that the war in Vietnam was flawed by its use of a draft.

Tears of a clown

From the Times (UK) about the Sarkozy campaign book by Yasmina Reza --

In Washington last autumn Mr Sarkozy received revealing advice from Jean-David Levitte, the French ambassador whom he has appointed as his security adviser. When meeting President Bush, he should do as Mrs Merkel and show friendship, Mr Levitte said. “You will find him strong and welcoming but behind the façade you will find a man in a state of distress.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pre-emptive debunking

Later on Wednesday, George Bush is going to give a speech (link) to the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Kansas City Missouri comparing Iraq to Vietnam and in particular the events that followed US withdrawal from Vietnam with a claim for what would follow with a withdrawal from Iraq.

Audience members and/or the press corps will presumably be ready with the following points --

US engagement in Vietnam was motivated by a theory of global retreat if it wasn't there, specifically that Communism would take over the region and the world. That didn't happen. The entire region is now de facto capitalist.

US withdrawal was opposed on the grounds that Vietnam would implode if it left. It didn't. Bush himself went on a harmonious visit there last year.

There was genocide in Cambodia following the US departure from Vietnam. But this was a consequence of military strategies pursued by the US while it was still fighting the Vietnam war, which weakened the government of Cambodia. Had the US gotten out sooner, or never taken the baton from the French in the first place, it's hard to argue that the Khmer Rouge would still have happened.

And, by the way, the US supported the Khmer Rouge and punished Vietnam for getting rid of them.

August shouldn't be an opportunity for bogus historical analogies to get a free pass.

UPDATE: Based on the White House Fact (sic) Sheet for the speech, it will also argue that Vietnam war opponents enabled al Qaeda --

Some Argue That Our Withdrawal From Vietnam Carried No Price To American Credibility – But The Terrorists See Things Differently. In an interview with a Pakistani paper after the 9/11 attacks, Bin Laden declared that "the American people had risen against their government's war in Vietnam. They must do the same today."

The speech is also oblivious to the USSR's role as an ally in World War II.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


George Bush just now (at the Montebello QC press conference) condemned a style of politics where some people

lay out a conspiracy and try to force people to prove it doesn't exist

Er... Osama, Saddam, Iran, Hezbollah, Syria, al-Qaeda (/in Iraq), Iraq, Hamas etc?

UPDATE: Here's the full quote --

And I'm amused by some of the speculation, some of the old -- you can call them political scare tactics. If you've been in politics as long as I have, you get used to that kind of technique where you lay out a conspiracy and then force people to try to prove it doesn't exist. That's just the way some people operate.

[The context was claims that the countries are working towards excessive integration; all three leaders chose to deal with the most outlandish versions of the theory i..e. a North American superstate]

Dublin in the rare old times

Ormond Quay then: one of the dowdier northside quays.

Ormond Quay now: an unregulated Dublin-based conduit/pass-through off-balance sheet vehicle of German bank Sachsen LB with €12.57 billion in assets as of June 30 of which residential mortgages are €7.09 billion, all financed through lower yielding commercial paper against assets which are now potentially seriously impaired.

But that doesn't matter because it has a cool Irish name.

UPDATE: There was also a George's Quay. At least in that case they were looking out the window of the International Financial Services Centre at it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The oldest scapegoat

The White House press briefer explaining why it just so happens that the testimony of General David Petraeus to Congress about the continuation of The Surge will take place on 9/11/2007 --

MR. JOHNDROE: Yes. General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will testify in open hearings on the Hill. Administration officials are reaching out to Hill leadership today to discuss with them the potential dates for that testimony. Given the tight schedule leading up to September 15th and the congressional recess with Rosh Hashanah coming up, the likely dates for testimony are September 11th and 12th.

Q That's really just because of the tight schedule and not because it's September 11th?

MR. JOHNDROE: That's right. Congress is not -- as of right now, based on the last we checked, Congress is not in session because of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, very much the week leading up to that Saturday, September 15th.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Canada is a very wide country

Here's a tale doing the rounds of the right-wing blogs. A woman in Calgary was pregnant with quadruplets. Labour began early and it was determined that the hospital best equipped to deal with the situation was in Montana, which is about 300 miles away. The issue was the need to have 4 spare neo-natal intensive care (NIC) beds available at once. The babies were delivered successfully and are now back in Canada.

Hence it's worth having a healthcare system that leaves about 15 percent of population uninsured and inserts a massively expensive bureaucracy -- insurance companies -- between the other 85 percent and whatever healthcare they need.

That apparently is meant to be point of the tale. Here are the latest OECD statistics on total healthcare spending as a share of GDP. See Chart 3. The US spends 15.3 percent. Canada 9.8 percent. That's a 5.5 percent difference, which is huge. You could run a long messy war on that amount of money. And, apparently, it's all worth it if you keep a bit of spare capacity in neo-natal intensive care units -- all for the highly unlikely event of quadruplets.

And there's a lot they're not telling us. For instance, what are the odds that a major city hospital in the US would have had 4 spare NIC beds? So the issue is demand as well as supply. What percentage of the Montana hospital's business comes from the US government? And think of how many extra NIC beds they could have if so much of patient spending on healthcare wasn't going to support the administrative expenses of insurance companies.

Incidentally, all the expenses of the quads birth in the US were paid by the public Calgary Heath Region, meaning that the family didn't have to deal with getting the intensive care pre-approved by an insurance company -- or the experience of getting a massive bill if they didn't get pre-approval.

Finally, illustrating the sad spectacle that is right-wing argumentation these days, the comment thread on the original propagator of the story, Don Surber, soon attracted complainers wondering whether the US government had paid for illegal immigrant births, who would then be citizens. Apparently the extra hospital capacity is worth 5.5 percent of GDP, but not 4 extra citizens from up north.

UPDATE: The Surber comment thread continues to be good for a laugh. Some of them don't understand that the size of a city affects the demand as well as the supply of healthcare facilities -- especially in the context of the oil boom in Alberta. And God forbid anyone bring up the statistical theory associated with arrival processes and whether it's optimal to carry excess capacity for low probability events. By the way, the provision of healthcare across national boundaries in scarce event cases happens in Europe, the land of socialised medicine, every so often.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Proof that Cheney is in charge

On a day when he might be issuing statements about the earthquake in Peru or volatile financial markets, or Iraq, George Bush finds time on his holidays to issue an executive order --

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. Purpose. The purpose of this order is to direct Federal agencies that have programs and activities that have a measurable effect on public land management, outdoor recreation, and wildlife management, including the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture, to facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting opportunities and the management of game species and their habitat.

Sec. 2. Federal Activities. Federal agencies shall, consistent with agency missions:

(a) Evaluate the effect of agency actions on trends in hunting participation and, where appropriate to address declining trends, implement actions that expand and enhance hunting opportunities for the public;

And it goes on from there. Basically a recipe for guns blazing on public land. Is this one last Rovian nod to the base?

Dublin's real crisis

It's been hard to get Dublin-based people too worked up about Shannon airport losing its Heathrow landing slots to Belfast. But now those cute northerners have found a new niche that's much more likely to provoke outrage --

The Swedish furniture retailer, IKEA, has confirmed that its first store on the island of Ireland will open outside Belfast this year

The 29,000sq.ft store on the outskirts of east Belfast will open its doors on 13 December.

There are plans for a second IKEA store in the Dublin area, but it is unclear when construction of it will begin.

It'll be an interesting test to see the alacrity with which the government is screaming for an expedited planning process for the Dublin store compared to their duck and cover approach to the Shannon crisis.

Operation Prester John

Not that one needed the evidence, but today brings confirmation that the US "sponsors of terrorism" designation is just for any country with whom the US has geopolitical policy disagreements --

The United States is mulling putting Eritrea on the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list, which would impose some U.S. sanctions, for its permitting arms to flow into Somalia, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.

"We are looking into it," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer told reporters, saying the United States had been collecting data on whether Eritrea should be on the list. "Frankly, the information so far that we have collected is fairly convincing about their activities ... in Somalia."

Those "activities" in Somalia consist of, at most, supporting one of many clans battling for power in the instability left by an Ethiopian alliance with one grouping, an operation which achieved swift initial success but then failed to impose lasting order. Sound familiar? They're making Eritrea into the Iran of eastern Africa, the scapegoat for their own policy failures in the region.

UPDATE: More here, via Atrios.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Because real sharpshooting isn't messy at all

Larry "Kuds" Kudlow, advocating the socialisation of the US home lending market --

the Fed should expand its open-market purchases of collateral to include non-government mortgage-backed securities, jumbo mortgages, and asset-backed commercial paper, along with the more typical Treasury and government agency paper which includes Fannie and Freddie paper. This will help get the new cash into the places that need it the most. It’s a buck-shot approach, not a clean rifle hit. Unusual and cumbersome perhaps, but necessary I think at the present time.

So more of a Cheney-style hunting mthod than those zero collateral damage operations of the US in Iraq. Whatever works.

Extra Special Bad Guys

The upgrading of the latest enemy in Iraq continues. They've gone from special groups to Special Groups to ... High Priority Special Groups Weapons Smugglers. This Multinational Forces Iraq press release announces the capture of such an individual. Note the absence of any identity information for the suspect -- not even his nationality. Which probably means that he's Iraqi, thus confounding the narrative that the insurgency is foreign-dominated.

How cricket explains the world

From a Financial Times review of John Major's More Than a Game --

the cricket-mad former British prime minister, recalls explaining the sport to President George Bush Sr – his “eyes swivelled when he realised that a match could last five days and yet still not produce a winner”.

There seems to be some essence of Bush in that reaction: the impatience, wanting things to be settled quickly, and the bewilderment that foreigners might have a different notion of "winning" than the Bushes have. A little bit of anecdotal evidence for the analysts to ponder.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

832 and no longer counting

Here's hoping that the "Muslim street" fails to notice that while the Danish government has never apologised for the Mohammed cartoons, they have apologised for the Viking invasion of Ireland.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Nobody could have foreseen that the bad guys would move

The US military in Iraq heralds a new military operation --

Operation Lightning Hammer kicked off with a powerful barrage of artillery fires and air strikes on carefully selected targets in Diyala province, Iraq, Tuesday, sending al-Qaeda in Iraq a strong message that they have no safe haven there ... These forces combined with other units already conducting operation Lightning Hammer elsewhere in Diyala and Salah ad Din provinces, totaling approximately 10,000 Coalition Forces and 6,000 Iraqi Security Forces ... “Enemies of Iraq will not get a chance to rest or hide in Diyala Province,” said Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, deputy command general for operations

Well, they won't need to hide there, having been already making their way north of Diyala into the Kurdish region:

BAGHDAD - Four suicide bombers hit Kurdish Yazidi communities with nearly simultaneous attacks on Tuesday, killing at least 175 people and wounding 200 others, said Iraqi military and local officials in northwest Iraq.

The death toll was the highest in a concerted attack since Nov. 23, when 215 people were killed by mortar fire and five car bombs in Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City.

The bombs tore through the districts near Qahataniya, 75 miles west of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, said Abdul-Rahman al-Shimiri, the top government official in the area, and Iraq army Capt. Mohammed Ahmed.

Apparently when one decides to fight the terrorists in one specific place, they have the option of upping to somewhere else.

UPDATE: The US military is claiming a death toll of "only" 60. The attacks were in Nineveh province, very far from the focal points of the surge.

FINAL UPDATE: The attack, with at least 400 dead, is now the worst terrorist attack in the world since 9/11. These 400 people, along with tens of thousands of others, would still be alive with Saddam Hussein in charge.

Hamid doesn't put up his dukes

AP Photo/Saurabh Das; caption

George Bush, trying to rationalize why Iran always seems to have better relations with its neighbours than his demonization of it would suggest --

Look, generally the way these things work is you try to be cordial to the person you're with, and so you don't want the picture to be kind of, you know, ducking it out. Okay, put up your dukes. That's an old boxing expression. (Laughter.)

Apparently Hamid Karzai and his Iranian counterpart agree that Iran is not helping the Taliban. Someone sitting in Washington DC (or Texas) says he knows better.

Gone to ground

AFP/Aamir Qureshi; caption

It's a bit odd that Pakistan's Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz (above), seems to have had a much higher profile today during the independence celebrations than President/General Pervez Musharraf. Something to file away as an observation in case anything weird happens.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sooner than forever

Karl Rove, discussing the timing of his resignation discussions with George Bush --

MR. ROVE: You know, we've been talking about this for a year. I can't tell you what time this spring, or late this winter [2006] where we sort of finally agreed. But constantly it was, like, we'd say, okay, both of us recognize that it's time. And then we'd say, well, let's talk about this again after the State of the Union, or let's talk about it after the surge.

Suggesting therefore that Rove and Bush saw the surge as something that began early this year and expected to be over soon (contradicting their later line) -- or, God forbid, they saw the surge as something that would last forever and he'd never quit.

Legacy Jeopardy

In the Kremlinology forced by the White House's abuse of the English language, how is one to interpret the signal that the President has a statement out for Merv Griffin RIP ("a man of innovation and energy who greeted challenges with laughter and determination") before one for Karl Rove?

UPDATE: The mixed messages continue with both Bush and Rove referring to "sacrifices" -- by which they mean of their own family time for political service, not the military sacrifices that Bush had seen earlier in the morning.


Some new terminology from the US military in Iraq --

Coalition Forces captured a key financier of Special Groups terrorists during a pre-dawn raid Monday in Western Baghdad. The detained individual is believed to be a Special Groups leader for the Bayaa province in Western Baghdad.

No shots were fired when Coalition Forces conducted a ground assault to capture or kill a suspected key financier of the "Special Groups" that are believed to have direct ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps – Quds Force (IRGC-QF). These Special Groups terrorists are suspected of killing Iraqi citizens, directing attacks against Coalition Forces, and promoting sectarian violence.

Special Groups therefore seem to be neither al-Qaeda in Iraq or Mahdi Army. One hopes that it's not simply a residual classification developed to rationalize the seemingly conflicting goals attributed to terrorists in Iraq, of both being in league with Shia Iran but trying to bring down a Shia-supported government through attacks on the Shia population.

UPDATE 15 AUGUST: The "Special Groups" appear to have graduated from lower case letters when they were discussed about a month ago by White House Baghdad operative Kevin Bergner. Bergner is making waves today with a news briefing that seems to be just a repetition of the claims from the earlier story, although this anecdote --

Ali Musa Daqduq contends the Iraqi special groups could not have conducted this complex operation without the support and direction of the Quds Force

-- to claim that the other source, Qayis Khazali, was smiling when he said "there's no way could do this without that source of support [Iran]". So the US evidence for their claim that the support has to be coming from Iran is captured terrorists agreeing with them that the support has to be coming from Iran?

And remember, this is all the in the context of the high probability that Bush's "enhanced interrogation techniques" are being used in Iraq.


One of the strange things in Karl Rove's farewell interview with the Wall Street Journal editorial page -- itself probably in farewell mode with Murdoch coming -- is this:

Yet even with a unified Democratic Party and the war, he argues, [2006] was "a really close election." The GOP lost the Senate by its 3,562 vote margin of defeat in Montana, and in the House the combined margin in the 15 seats that cost control was 85,000 votes.

This is the man whose boss, even on their own dodgy count, was put in the White House in 2000 by 537 votes, or, if you prefer, the 1 vote margin that he had on the Supreme Court.

Word of the day


Which presumably is defined as over-the-top displays of wealth in the Arab world, notably Dubai.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bone and blood is the price of coal

If the US had real media ethics discussions, one might focus on how it is that the owner of the collapsed Utah coal mine is allowed to be the public face of progress reports in the search for the missing miners. There was a clip just now of Robert Murray attributing the lack of progress to "seismic forces that still haven't settled down" -- when all experts believe that the only "seismic forces" are those that were caused by the collapse of the mine. Murray is therefore being allowed to push his view that an earthquake caused the collapse, which could well be his defence in future civil or criminal litigation over the accident. Nice to have such advance access to the jury pool.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Free association, Bush style

George Bush, during a Q&A with journalists immediately prior to the arrival of Nicolas Sarkozy, sans famille, to Maine --

Q Do you think he's bringing cheese?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I think he's bringing goodwill. He's bringing a good brain, good vision and goodwill. I'm looking forward to seeing him.

One wonders if he'd been warned at some point that the French eat brains. More photos of the visit here [here are the official White House photos].

UPDATE: French media wonder why there weren't lobsters -- the obvious Maine specialty -- on the menu:

Avant de partager un pique-nique de hamburgers et de hot-dogs -et non des homards, la spécialité locale- et de déguster une tarte aux myrtilles, M. Sarkozy, M. Bush et le père de ce dernier ont eu un entretien de 45 minutes.


George Bush in his taped radio address --

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. In America, August is considered a slow news month.

The people who wonder what George Bush was doing in August 2001 and August 2005 beg to differ.

Friday, August 10, 2007

So sophisticated only the Iranians could have done it

It's really a goldmine of press releases from Multi-National Forces Iraq today. Will those evil terrorists stop at nothing to advance their goals? --

A platoon from Troop B, 3-7 Cavalry was on patrol when they received information that a bomb was being transported by bicycle to a local mosque.

“We set up a screen around the area where we knew he would be, so that any direction he took off in we could grab him,” said Pittsburgh native 2nd Lt. Kyle Graham, who led the patrol.

Once they spotted the bicycle, the Soldiers gave chase in their humvees and cut the suspect off near a market. Graham, a former football player, was halfway out of his vehicle before it had stopped. He exited the truck and wrestled the startled suspect to the ground.

We do need the 82nd Airborne escorting kids to kindergarten

Arch neo-con Bill Kristol, in a clinical demonstration of how it really is possible to write without thinking for a second about how it reads to people outside the cocoon --

I spent a week in Iraq recently, and here's what impressed me most: the Americans ...I'm not an uncritical cheerleader for the American military ... The rule in Iraq is that brigade and battalion commanders--and even captains and lieutenants--are also taking on responsibilities as diplomats, politicians, development consultants, educators ... My traveling companions (military experts Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan ... the soldiers who have done well in Iraq will be major figures in American life for the next couple of decades. These men and women are no less suited to national leadership than are entrepreneurs, lawyers or local community leaders ...

They are taking our land, That belongs to the clans

Continuing in the bizarre tradition of naming military operations in Iraq in ways that invert the role of superpower and underdog -- a tradition that goes all the way up to George W. Bush (and Condi Rice) linking his side in the war to America's struggle for independence -- we have this press release from Multinational Forces Iraq:

DIYALA RIVER VALLEY, Iraq – Building upon recent success in the Diyala River Valley, Iraqi and Coalition Soldiers conducted Operation William Wallace, Aug. 8, to destroy al-Qaeda elements in the Abu Tina area.

If they mean this William Wallace, that naming choice needs a lot of explaining.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Yesterday's Men

In a further preview of the analytical mode of the forthcoming Fox Business Channel, anchor of that channel and of Fox News Neil Cavuto opened an interview yesterday with George Bush as follows --

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: This is a FOX News Alert. Did something the president of the United States told us today move the markets today? They were up big much of the day, and then ending up even bigger.

Well, today George Bush said even more about the economy -- he devoted much of a surprise news conference to it -- and the market tanked. Down nearly 400 points by the end. Now back to you in the studio Neil.

Only bad people do that

Consider this exchange from George Bush's news conference today --

Q Thank you, sir. A two-part question. The New Yorker reports that the Red Cross has found the interrogation program in the CIA detention facilities use interrogation techniques that were tantamount to torture. I'm wondering if you have read that report and what your reaction to it is? [rest of question]

THE PRESIDENT: [...] Your other question, sir?

Q Red Cross report?

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't seen it. We don't torture.

Thus he says both that he didn't read the report describing the torture, but claims that there's no torture. Thus proving that his claim "We don't torture" is not an empirical statement, but a matter of definition: torture is defined as something that America doesn't do. The denials are thus, as they always have been, meaningless.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Baltic belly

The other news in the George Bush medical exam forms, besides his undisclosed incident of Lyme Disease, is that he is still not fully recovered from the bug he picked up at the G8 summit in June --

He is recovering from an inner ear infection and sinus infection, as well as a virus that resulted in a stomach bug in June and still causes some mild dizziness or disorientation.

Incidentally, one of the few outside witnesses to the nature of Bush's condition on that G8 morning is Nicolas Sarkozy -- whom Bush has invited for lunch this weekend in Maine. Just a coincidence, of course, but it will get strange if Bush has another of those episodes over the weekend.

The cat stays at home

When Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf announced that he would not be attending a much-hyped meeteing of elders ("jirga") in Afghanistan, it first looked like a major snub to Hamid Karzai and, indirectly, George Bush. But was it in fact an application of the time-honoured principle of strongmen rulers that you never take unnecessary trips abroad when your opponents might be cooking something up back home? It's beginning to look like the latter. Political chaos in Pakistan while the world is on holidays? Could be a fun August.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Takes one to know one

The apparently unironic top summary of a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Ion Mihai Pacepa --

Take it from this old KGB hand: The left is abetting America's enemies with its intemperate attacks on President Bush.

Now his claim that as someone who used to stir up leftist agitation against US presidents, he sees the same tactic again. But then he says things like "For communists, only the leader counted, no matter the country, friend or foe" -- in his unconditional defence of George W. Bush. He never seems to have stopped to see how much he has tied himself in knots.

UPDATE 9 AUGUST: Not entirely surprisingly, Powerline's Hindrocket and Trunk team up to argue that the WSJ article proves that the young anti-war John Kerry was in fact a Soviet agent.

Will the last US libertarian please turn out the lights?

From the White House Fact (sic) Sheet explaining the new electronic surveillance law (the "Protect America Act") --

The Act Provides For The FISA Court To Direct Third Parties To Assist The Intelligence Community In Its Collection Efforts. The Act permits the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to direct third parties to provide the information, facilities, and assistance necessary to conduct surveillance of foreign intelligence targets located overseas.

Apart from anything else, the above bullet point is atrociously written, as it refers to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, which is judicial, in the 1st sentence, but then refers to the director of national intelligence and the Attorney General in the second, which is entirely executive branch. Unless that's become the judicial branch in the new law.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Nothing changes

The latest White House Fact (sic) Sheet on terrorism has the following interesting features, inter alia:

As examples of disrupted al Qaeda bomb plots it lists the Heathrow liquid bomb plot along with the dude who was thinking about bringing down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blow-torch, which doesn't do a whole lot for the credibility of the former.

It claims -- In North Africa, we are working with our partners to counter al Qaeda's further expansion in the Maghreb – evident in the emergence of "al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb" (AQIM).

Note therefore that a name change of an incumbent North African terror group to AQIM is taken as evidence of al Qaeda's further expansion, while a name change of an incumbent Iraqi terror group to al Qaeda in Iraq is taken as evidence that al Qaeda was there all along.

It lists the London and Glasgow car bombs under attacks carried out by "Al Qaeda And Those Inspired By Its Hateful Ideology" even though there is yet to be any actual evidence that this is the case, except in the vacuous sense of Muslims doing bad stuff being so defined.

Inshore tax haven

Today's Wall Street Journal reports (link should work for non-subs) on an emerging cross-community consensus in Northern Irelannd that the region should get a preferential corporate tax rate to allow it to better complete with the Republic --

A city like Belfast can provide accommodation and office space at far cheaper rates than London and Dublin, while it also has decent transport links with two nearby airports. Northern Ireland's capital also has a steady supply of graduates from its two universities -- many of those are leaving the area now, but could be persuaded to stay if more high-profile businesses set up there.

And those businesses would be attracted by a lower tax rate. Now, as Chancellor, Gordon Brown wasn't very happy about the ability of Microsoft and other tech firms to pull a big chunk of their UK sales revenue into the Republic as royalty payments to low tax subsidiaries, so on the face of it he wouldn't like a differential tax regime within the realm either. On the other hand, it might attract some extra revenue that would otherwise go to the Republic. Hard to know which side of Gordon wins out in that one.

Incidentally, Aer Lingus does seem to think Belfast has good prospects, at least as compared to Shannon, so maybe the logical consequence of a more stable Northern Ireland -- more competition with the Republic -- is beginning to happen.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Moral hazard

REUTERS/Larry Downing; caption

For all the ease with which the word Orwellian has been tossed around in the last few years, it still has value when applied to George Bush's statement today welcoming passage of the Protect America Act -- the Act which in effect gives him to power to drop eaves without a warrant on any Internet conversation involving Americans (given the vagueness of its criteria for determining what is foreign intelligence):

When Congress returns in September the Intelligence committees and leaders in both parties will need to complete work on the comprehensive reforms requested by Director McConnell, including the important issue of providing meaningful liability protection to those who are alleged to have assisted our Nation following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Which comes pretty close to an admission that the US has tortured people, although George makes it sound like it's just an insurance issue. Speaking of liability, it's not clear what the coverage is for Afghan presidents or first ladies who might fall out of Golf Cart One (yes, it's really called that) when its deranged driver takes a bend too quickly. Luckily such a disaster was averted despite the sharp turn shown above.

UPDATE: Some think that the "liability" referred to above is of phone companies who may have assisted in illegal eavesdropping activities, and not a broader retroactive legalisation of torture. With this crowd, you never know.

A court-phobic publisher

A short note on one issue that still hasn't gone away -- Charlie Haughey's personal passports-for-sale program in the 1990s. In an old post we linked to this story mentioning one particular recipient. Anyway, from a surprisingly readable Mark Steyn column --

Who is Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz? Well, he's a very wealthy and influential Saudi. Big deal, you say. Is there any other kind? Yes, but even by the standards of very wealthy and influential Saudis, this guy is plugged in: He was the personal banker to the Saudi royal family and head of the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, until he sold it to the Saudi government. He has a swanky pad in London and an Irish passport and multiple U.S. business connections, including to Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission.

So there's that passport Charlie sold to him again. Now we thought we'd read somewhere that the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs had revoked all the passports associated with that deal, as the residency requirement was never met, but it's not an easy thing to figure out.

Steyn's point is that bin Mahfouz is engaging in "libel chill", using the threat of a libel action against Cambridge University Press to get it pull its book Alms for Jihad: Charity And Terrorism in the Islamic World, by J. Millard Burr and Robert Collins. This follows an earlier legal action against Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil -- How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It, which has restricted the book's availability outside the USA.

There is however another oblique Irish angle to the case which makes us wonder if Cambridge University Press is being too timid. Charlie Haughey's successor Albert Reynolds is the unwilling creator of the so-called Reynolds defence in libel actions in English courts, which opens up a potentially broad public interest defence for controversial claims, even ones that turn out to be factually wrong. The defence has already been used successfully in another Saudi-links-to-terrorism in London. So there's a lingering sense that there's more to the story about CUP's attitude to the book.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Natural Law Party was right?

It's amazing what Google turns up. With the breaking news from the BBC that the source of the foot and mouth outbreak in Surrey is now considered highly likely to be a vaccine strain that somehow got out in the open from the nearby lab and production facility in Pirbright, take a look at the issues identified in this September 2001 NLP webpage, which specifically raises the biosecurity issue with vaccine manufacture at the Surrey facility. Unfortunately most of the links are dead, but we wonder how long this still live page will last?

Note also the date on the page -- 10 September 2001. The next day, the world moved on to other issues. But the previous issue remained.

UPDATE: Google this too before pages start getting pulled.

UPDATE 2: The link to Merial is confirmed. Merial's link to United Biomedical is not clear.

Business viewspaper

Tony O'Reilly, in an interview with the New York Times --

Q. Rupert Murdoch’s pursuit of The Wall Street Journal evoked a lot of discussion about editorial interference. As a newspaper owner with strong views of your own, what’s your take?

A. Rupert interferes in his papers because he has the time, inclination and the talent to. But people forget how clever Rupert is. It would be a commercial mistake, and Rupert has made very few commercial mistakes in his life.

I bought my first newspaper in 1973, the same year I was made president of Heinz. I made an election not to interfere in my newspapers. I had no time — I was selling ketchup in Pittsburgh and soup in London. I decided not to interfere, and because of that, my own views in regard to the war in Iraq would be more akin to Tony Blair’s. I think he’s been a fantastic prime minister of Great Britain.

It's unfortunate that the only context New York Times readers get for this answer is that of O'Reilly's ownership of the (London) Independent, because anyone familiar with his running of the Irish Independent would have a different view. It would become much too long a post to provide the details, but the crux is the editorial attitude of the Independent to the Republic's last non-Fianna Fail government, the 1994-97 Rainbow.

And in particular, the possible links between that attitude and two business activities of O'Reilly -- a company providing microwave television service which was angry about the pace at which the government was shutting down unlicensed microwave operators, and a company which bid unsuccessfully for a mobile telephone license. All of a sudden, it was payback time.

This one goes up to 95.4

On one of the Fox News Channel's Saturday business shows (which may be called The Co$t of Freedom), there was a series of boosterish factoids flashing on the bottom of the screen. One said --

America's Employment Rate: 95.4%

If you're used to hearing more about unemployment rates, you'd be confused. Here's what clearly happened. The latest unemployment number for the US came out yesterday and it was up to 4.6 percent. This was deemed to be not Good News From America so they just flipped the number by subtracting it from 100 and so making it sound like a high number. How could something at 95.4% (other than a Saddam Hussein election result) be bad?

Two problems. First, by this standard, lots of areas have impressive sounding employment rates. For example, the Euro area would have an employment rate of 93%. So the greatness of George W. Bush only buys the US a lousy 2.4%?

Second, their style of economics would get an F. They think that the employment rate is the difference between the unemployment rate and 100. It's not. The employment rate is the percentage of the working age population with jobs. The working age population includes lots of people not in the labour force (which is the base for the unemployment rate) because of stay-at-home parents, students, and people who've stopped looking for work. For the US, it's 63.6%. But that's not a number that sounds good for the Fox News editors.

One might dismiss this as a pedantic quibble, except that these are the people who are planning on running a full time business news channel in a couple of months. Looks like they already have their mode of analysis up and running.

Friday, August 03, 2007

If anyone is calling anyone else, we need to know why

George Bush, using an endlessly repeated formulation for why he couldn't comply with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires a warrant for electronic eavesdropping on Americans:

If al Qaeda is calling somebody in America, we need to know why, in order to stop attacks.

In a new White House fact sheet, explaining why George Bush wants a drastic revision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act --

Some have suggested that FISA must be reformed, but only to permit collection against certain overseas threats like al Qaeda terrorists. This is unacceptable. There are many threats that confront our Nation, including military, weapons proliferation, and economic, and we must be able to conduct foreign intelligence effectively on all of them.

Notice the scope of the latitude he claims he needs has gone from al Qaeda to just about anything, and that when granted his initial exception, he introduces a demand for far more. As has been clear for a while, it's getting near time to assume any electronic conversation anywhere in the world could fall under the scope of a warrant-free Global War on Terror -- including on Americans, since the argument will inevitably follow that verifying physical location is impossible on the Internet.

UPDATE: Things are getting very strange in the rush to get the new FISA legislation passed. Did the White House lean on their intelligence chief to get him to reject a compromise proposal? They say they did not. But this is a serious bit of business to be transacting in a rush on Friday night.

FINAL UPDATE 5 AUGUST: The White House is apparently claiming that under current arrangements, it needed a warrant to listen in on conversations between evildoers in Iraq --

Administration officials were concerned that the new court restrictions had slowed their ability to eavesdrop on militants in Iraq who were holding three American soldiers in May, according to an Associated Press report on Friday. Asked about the report, Senator Kit Bond, Republican of Missouri, would not discuss specifics, but said, “The inability to collect on foreign targets not only impacts our security in the United States but our military abroad.”

It's weird that no one will ask for clarification of the precise circumstance under which the bad guys in Iraq were using US wires to communicate with each other. US e-mail accounts (gmail, hotmail) perhaps?

Maybe Bush and Cheney match ties ...

AP Photo/Ron Edmonds; caption

... on days when Cheney has decided he's in the executive branch.

He wants his due

REUTERS/Jason Reed

As the caption says - U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney looks for his limousine - with a facial expression that will probably have severe implications for whichever flunky wasn't quick enough on this occasion.

One out of three is bad

From George Bush's letter inviting leaders of the world's largest economies to send delegations to his PR stunt of a conference in September on global warming ("climate change") --

James L. Connaughton, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, will serve as my personal representative, and our delegation will consist of senior officials responsible for economic, energy, and climate policy.

Note the emphasis in the senior officials -- a growth dude, an oil dude, and then a climate dude. Not for the first time, the real agenda hidden in plain bureaucratic sight.

UPDATE 4 AUGUST: While we're on the topic of global warming policy, a bizarre statement from US Transportation Secretary Mary Peters in the context of the Minneapolis bridge collapse which seemed to imply that spending less on roads and bridges was part of a new Bush policy on climate change --

For example, we don't want to contradict a policy objective that says we need to use less foreign oil, we need to use cleaner-burning fuels, and then do something that would perhaps cause us to use more fuel. Fuel efficiency is important, all those things.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Not a fellow fly-boy

AFP; caption

Quite telling that Bush's idea of a gift for Gordon Brown comes from assuming that Gordon wants what would Bush would want for himself.

Same as it ever was

Dan Froomkin nicely lays out the sequence in which Karl Rove's claim of unlimited immunity from testifying before Congress about his activities is rooted in a memo written by William Rehnquist for Richard Nixon -- that would be later Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who put George Bush in power with the Bush vs Gore decision, and of course his then boss, Richard "If the President does it, it's legal" Nixon, himself the precedent for Bush's claim of unlimited executive authority. But Nixon had the decency to resign.

Politics before people

George Bush just did a short public statement after his Cabinet meeting, billed as his remarks of condolence for the Minneapolis I-35W bridge collapse. Here's the text. It's actually 2 short paragraphs about the bridge, and then what was clearly a long-prepared rant about how Congress won't do what he wants on the budget, complete with tiresome calculations that revolve around the fact that it's easy to make small percentages of the US economy sound like big scary numbers (e.g. "Democrats in Congress would have spent an extra $300,000 since I began these remarks").

The decision was thus made by him or his handlers that this budgetary stunt was going ahead, disaster in Minnesota bedamned.

UPDATE: Holden says the word count is 141 words on the bridge collapse, 504 words blasting Dems on the budget.

FINAL UPDATE: Bush enthusiast Captain Ed describes the statement as "obviously impromptu." Not impromptu enough to have decided to dump his canned statement about the budget.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Who says he's joking?

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal, in a press Q&A with Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates --

And as I said, as a sign of good gesture, we also let them [Iraq] beat our soccer team in the final round. (Laughter.)