Monday, March 31, 2008

Tony versus Denis: Some additonal facts

New York Times --

2 Irish Billionaires Clash Over Publisher’s Course

in which it is said of Tony O'Reilly--

He moved from rugby to dairy in the early 1960s when he became chief executive of the Irish Dairy Board, a co-operative of Irish farms, and then joined H.J. Heinz to become the first nonfamily member to run the business.

Well he did "join" H.J. Heinz in a package deal, as economic historian Cormac O'Grada politely explains --

Erin Foods ... specialise in lines such as packaged soup and processed vegetables ... [Mickey Joe] Costello resigned in 1966 and his successor, the youthful Tony O'Reilly set up a trading partnership with the H.J. Heinz Co. in 1967.

So Tony did a deal in which Heinz got access to Erin Foods' advanced food processing techniques, developed at taxpayer expense -- and then jumped over to Heinz himself.

Later on, the NYT explains the feud with Denis O'Brien --

The bad blood between the two began when Mr. O’Reilly, the former chief executive of Heinz, beat Mr. O’Brien in a battle for control of Irish telecommunications company Eircom Group in 2001. Mr. O’Brien did not take it lightly that someone who had joined the bidding contest after him and had less experience in telecommunications beat him to the punch.

No. The bad blood dates to when O'Reilly was in one of the losing consortia for the bid on Ireland's second mobile telephone licence, won by O'Brien. There is an O'Reilly grudge going back to that award and the non-Fianna Fail government which oversaw it -- a grudge that has had a major impact on Irish politics since then with his newspapers in effect campaigning against the 1994-97 coalition and doing major ball carrying duty for Taoiseach Bertie Ahern regarding his own much investigated but poorly understood financial dealings.

Incidentally, in that 2003 Eircom deal that O'Reilly won, the Irish public got fleeced.

The trouble with disputes between rich people is that you might have to pick one of them to cheer for. It's a clear choice in this case.

Ambassador for Hydrocarbons

White House announcement (done, like the "resignation" of Alphonso Jackson, en route to Ukraine) --

President George W. Bush today announced that Special Envoy to the European Union, C. Boyden Gray will also serve as Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy. Mr. Gray will engage directly with senior European, Central Asian, Russian and other political and business leaders to support the continued development and diversification of the energy sector.

That position as "Special Envoy" to the EU is in fact an extended recess appointment for Gray i.e. one done without Senate approval. It's not clear what the backstory is here i.e. whether there was nothing for Gray to do in Brussels given that he's not actually the US Ambassador to the EU or if there's some new wheeze involving oil or gas deals at work. But the US Senate needs to find some way to rein in this parallel diplomatic system, especially given how closely it seems to conform to the obsessions of George Bush and Dick Cheney with energy supplies. It's all too clear where that obsession has already led.

The status struggle in microcosm

The Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) explains the deal in which U2 has agreed to have Live Nation manage its concerts and fan club and sell its merchandise for the next 10 years -- those concert ticket sales taking place through Live Nation's badly needed competitor to Ticketmaster:

Formed in Dublin in 1976, U2 remains one of the most potent live draws in the world. Its most recent tour was the second-highest-grossing concert tour in history, earning $389.4 million at the box office, according to data from Billboard magazine ... The deal may also offer ways for U2 to address problems that arose on its last tour. The band offered members of its online fan club, who paid $40 apiece to join, early access to tickets. But during the so-called fan-club presales, many would-be buyers encountered frustrating waits and a limited, expensive inventory comprising some of the worst seats in the house.

Ticketmaster had a hand in the presale fiascoes, inasmuch as its infrastructure couldn't handle the surge of ticket requests that flooded its computers. But people involved say the bigger problem was that there were simply too many members in the club to provide them all premium seats.

"We feel we've got a great Web site," U2 lead singer Bono said in a statement. "But we want to make it a lot better."

No wonder Bono likes African development projects so much. You really can promise masses of people that they will be free from malaria. You just can't promise them that they'll all have premium seats at the next concert.

Sport in wartime

The oddest moment at this evening's opening of the Washington Nationals new stadium was not the ceremonial first pitch by George Bush, but an earlier sequence in which military personnel in uniform carried out two huge stars and stripes flags.

The folded up flags being carried looked like body bags.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Add the half grand to the grand

The New York Times, in what seems like a spectacularly ill-timed travel section for the super-rich with global financial markets in the tank --

Nothing symbolizes the recent transformation of Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, better than the Merchant Hotel (35-39 Waring Street; 011-44-28-9023-4888;; doubles from about $430). Besides one-upping the old Europa — once ‘‘Europe’s most bombed hotel’’ — the Merchant sells the world’s most expensive cocktail, a mai tai made with hand-cut Fijian ice and rare Wray & Nephew rum, for £750.

Nothing? No other symbol of the fewer dead people, the dismantled barracks, the mere fact that you can park on the street? Instead this tiresome shite about the "world's most expensive cocktail", a pure PR stunt, the reductio ad absurdum of trickle-down economics: the idea that one is supposed to feel good about drinking in the bar that serves such a cocktail.

The NYT also assumes, perhaps correctly, that readers don't care about the dollar conversion of that £750 price tag. It's $1500, and (with another 9 months of Bush to go) counting.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The grim reaper

George Bush, with Australian PM Kevin Rudd today --

And I haven't spoke to the [Iraqi] Prime Minister [al-Maliki] since he's made his decision, but I suspect that he would say, look, the citizens down there just got sick and tired of this kind of behavior ... And so I'm not exactly sure what triggered the Prime Minister's response. I don't know if it was one phone call. I don't know what -- whether or not the local mayor called up and said, help -- we're sick and tired of dealing with these folks. But nevertheless, he made the decision to move. And we'll help him.

But this was his decision. It was his military planning. It was his causing the troops to go from point A to point B. And it's exactly what a lot of folks here in America were wondering whether or not Iraq would even be able to do in the first place.

If ever there was a passage that signified too much protestation, this would be it. For one thing, why did PM al-Maliki look so distinctly unenthused when Dick Cheney popped up in Baghdad last week -- by pure coincidence, of course, right before al-Maliki is said to have decided on his crackdown on the Basra militias?

Second fiddle

White House --

President and Mrs. Bush will welcome British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Mrs. Sarah Brown to the White House on April 17, 2008. The United States and the United Kingdom share a special partnership that enables our countries to more effectively confront the key strategic challenges facing our two nations.

Beyond saying Thanks a lot for Basra, dude, it's not clear how much time George will have to devote to his special friend Gordon, since Pope Benedict will be in town. Sure, the main business between Bush and the Pope will have been done on the previous day, but Benedict will still be whizzing around Washington and the Methodist Bush will still be in one of his hazes from his chat with him the night before. Don't doubt for a moment that Bush looks for Signs in all sorts of ways --

[to eastern european reporter] Are they still talking about the "rainbow speech"? Were you there for that?
Q Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: It was an amazing moment, wasn't it?
Q Yes, it was amazing moment, yes.
THE PRESIDENT: I was giving a speech in the town square where Ceauşescu had given his final speech. And it was raining, and just as I got up to speak a full rainbow appeared.
Q Yes. And about bridge to a new Russia.
Q You remember that?
THE PRESIDENT: I remember the rainbow most of all. It was a startling moment.

Can Benedict, let alone Gordon, match that?

Your Arsenal

Visiting the French team in the Premiership.

Photo: AFP/Pool/Matt Dunham

Not Denmark

As the Internets will be full of people looking for the Geert Wilders film "Fitna", which is easy to find, here instead is the reaction of the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Jan Peter Balkenende. With an eye to reaching the largest possible audience for his condemnation of the film, he speaks in English for a couple of minutes after the 2 minute mark.

The thinking appears to be that Denmark was too late in offering an official reaction to the cartoons, which seems to rely on finer distinctions between country and state than the loons might be willing to make. As the BBC religious correspondent Frances Harrison pointed out, other than showing images of the Danish cartoons, Wilders makes no new potentially "blasphemous" images in Fitna. So maybe this controversy won't have legs.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Another Bush speech

Before a messianic audience in Dayton, Ohio (added: link to speech)--

Delivered justice to Zarqawi in the form of two 500 lb precision guided bombs.

Tell that to Pope Benedict.

Nothing in the speech yet makes any reference to the chaos in southern Iraq and Baghdad today.

Now he mentions the chaos, but blames Iran. Iran supports SCIRI/Dawa which is part of the government, clamping down on al-Sadr.

A new refrain -- "the soccer, the soccer" (it used to be "the schools, the schools"). Odierno says he saw 180 games in one trip. McCain only saw 50! Is it the job of generals to be counting in-use football fields?

Is his audience deluded enough to think that Iraqi politics is just like US politics? Their President certainly is.

He refers to Iraqi oil production without making any reference to the huge pipeline blast today.

His audience probably doesn't understand the legal dance now going on in the speech: "strategic partnership" = a treaty he intends not to submit to the Senate for consent -- contrary to the constitution.

That "critic" he quoted is long-time war supporter, Tony Cordesman.

Two sentences in the speech on the actual current situation in Iraq -- which has almost nothing to do with al-Qaeda. And he asks others to keep an open mind.

Answer to his question (if not Iraq, where?): Pakistan. But Pakistan doesn't have oil.

Our man in Baghdad

What did George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, Steve Hadley and "The Lombardis" think was going to happen?

One question lingers: why did the Iraqi government move against al-Sadr happen so soon after Cheney's visit? Did Dick stir up a battle that the government can't win?

Photo: AFP/Alli Al-Saadi

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wonders will never cease

The New York Times managed to find a Donegal vista without a bungalow perched on a hill in the background.

Photo: Sebastian Meyer for The New York Times

UPDATE: We'd done a similar riff before in connection with this Leitrim photo.

Four Nations Once Again

It's hard not to laugh. After insisting for decades, against geographic common sense, that "Ulster is British" -- while carrying passports labelled "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" -- the Unionists discover that Gordon Brown doesn't think that Northern Ireland is British enough to merit any mention in his British identity initiative, or to be included in the proposal to allow government buildings to fly the Union Jack whenever they want:

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): The House will have heard that the Justice Secretary [Jack Straw] believes that, when it comes to flag flying, the people of Northern Ireland should be treated as children of a lesser god. Will he tell the House the rationale behind the Government’s decision on this matter? Does he believe that the flag may not be universally cherished in Northern Ireland? If so, will that have implications elsewhere in the kingdom?

Mr. Straw: The reason for the Government’s decision is obvious, and it is not the one that the hon. Gentleman mentions. As everyone knows, the two communities in Northern Ireland have been seriously divided. The best advice that we received was that we should maintain the current arrangements for Northern Ireland.

Rather than go round in circles about the "British" debate, a better strategy for the Unionists would be to work with an alternative identity model: one which acknowledges that the UK grew out of 4 constituent nations and that each still provides a sense of place which makes living in each a little bit different from the others. Surely this is better than trying to manufacture a "British" identity along Gordon Brown's lines --

These values live in the popularity of our common institutions from the NHS, the BBC, to the Queen - and even more recently in UK-wide support for the Olympics, Children in Need, Comic Relief, Make Poverty History and action on climate change.

a list with nothing that pre-dates the 20th century and ends with finding an identity in the response to telethons. How could English/Scottish/Welsh/Irish be any worse? And while the Union Jack of course incorporates the 4 nations, it is as Jack Straw says, a bit inflammatory for some people. An alternative symbol of the modern UK identity is thus presented above.

Photo by Phyzome via Wikipedia

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A global campaign

In what may be the reductio ad absurdum of the trend of generating "outrage" via comments from someone associated with a presidential campaign, there is nascent "outrage" over comments made by Niall O'Dowd regarding Barack Obama on Marian Finucane's show last Saturday.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Heroes in the armchair

There's an event going on the American Enterprise Institute with the key intellectual backers of the invasion of Iraq and then the surge discussing the future of the US occupation. Not surprisingly, they've all zeroed in on the concept of the "second election" (which doesn't come for another 18 months) being more important than the first in a new democracy -- and thus the need for troops to stay at least that long -- notwithstanding all the cheering about purple fingers that went on after the first one.

Anyway the panel is Fred Kagan, Michael O'Hanlon, and Ken Pollack. Kagan went through a list of benchmarks and declared most of them "done". O'Hanlon declared that the group of war architects like the panel and David Petraeus deserved a group name -- not Vulcans, but Lombardis, after the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers. That's quite an honour to bestow on themselves. Vince Lombardi had won three NFL titles in a shorter time than the war in Iraq.

O'Hanlon seems surprised that things got worse in Mosul during the surge. He never mentioned that troops were reallocated from Mosul to Baghdad for the surge -- and dastardly al-Qaeda moved in the opposite direction. Meanwhile Ken Pollack is complaining that the success of the surge is creating a demand for more troops in the south. "Overstretch through success" or something. He's also claiming that the surge turned Iraq around much more quickly than British military operations in Northern Ireland.

Vince Lombardi had many quotes. O'Hanlon clearly likes the ones about persistence and attention to fundamentals. But Vince also said --

We didn't lose the game; we just ran out of time.

Someone is going to have blow the final whistle on the war, even at the risk of the "Lombardis" thinking that they could have won it.

UPDATE: Things are getting wackier. Fred Kagan is demonstrating that if you can use even slightly technical terminology, everyone thinks you're genius. He was talking about the reduction in brigades in terms of a "delta". He said that each reduction in brigade strength from 20 has exponential effects on military capabilities, so that by the time you're thinking about going from 15 to 14 brigades, the loss is 106. 1 million times less effective? Nobody asked.

FINAL UPDATE: Think Progress has the clip of O'Hanlon's Lombardi discussion.

New York Zombie

New York Fed, on its role in the revised JP Morgan bid for Bear Stearns --

The New York Fed will take, through a limited liability company formed for this purpose, control of a portfolio of assets valued at $30 billion as of March 14, 2008. The assets will be pledged as security for $29 billion in term financing from the New York Fed at its primary credit rate.

JPMorgan Chase will bear the first $1 billion of any losses associated with the portfolio and any realized gains will accrue to the New York Fed. BlackRock Financial Management, Inc. will manage the portfolio under guidelines established by the New York Fed designed to minimize disruption to financial markets and maximize recovery value.

So JP Morgan dumps the toxic $30 billion Bear Stearns assets into a separate company, gets to borrow against them from the Fed at 2.5% and only bears the first $1 billion of losses on the assets. Meanwhile the assets sit there, potentially for years, as exposure of the NY Fed, but BlackRock collecting nice fee income for managing them (or have they been promised some of the upside too?).

You would think that with part of the credit crisis being Special Purpose Asset-Backed Entities blowing up in people's faces, there might be some reticence about using them as a solution to the crisis. But the virus has mutated.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

All hell on the eastern front

The New York Times is giving Nicholson Baker's book, Human Smoke, the star treatment. Two reviews -- one very negative, one very positive, the latter by Irish writer Colm Toibin. A profile of the author. A free excerpt of the book. The headline on Toibin's review, Their Vilest Hour, accurately captures the deeply anti-Churchill message of the book. And of course, there's plenty to be against. For example, the bits of Churchill that Jonah Goldberg glossed over when looking for evidence of 1920s Liberal Fascism --

Winston Churchill visited Rome. "I could not help being charmed by Signor Mussolini's gentle and simple bearing, and by his calm, detached poise in spite of so many burdens and dangers," Churchill said in a press statement. Italian fascism, he said, had demonstrated that there was a way to combat subversive forces; it had provided the "necessary antidote to the Russian virus."

"If I had been an Italian I am sure I should have been entirely with you from the beginning to the end of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism," Churchill told the Romans. It was January 20, 1927.

But anyway, the main business of the book is as Toibin says --

an eloquent and passionate assault on the idea that the deliberate targeting of civilians can ever be justified

and in particular the effectiveness of the bombing of cities. Baker says it didn't even achieve its stated purpose, let alone meet any moral standard:

the bombing served to kill and maim the civilian population, yet the survivors did not blame the Nazi leaders, who used the bombing as a further excuse to inflict suffering on the Jewish population, claiming, for example, that evictions of Jews were “justified on the grounds that Aryans whose houses were destroyed by bombing needed a place to live.”

But one could turn that around and note the implied pathology of the wartime German population -- that just about any event could be used to rationalize the Holocaust.

And there's another issue. Before there was the large scale allied bombing of German cities, there was the war in the east with the invasions of Poland and then the USSR. Battles in which the Nazis initially had little opposition. And still they set about killing everybody. Jewish people first of course, but Slavs didn't rank highly for Nazi Germany either. Hitler's Germany was evil. The Allies were not, at least not intrinsically. The pacifists had no answer for how to save the non-German eastern European population.

UPDATE: A conversation with the author on the website of Haverford College.

It's been a long time

Dick Cheney, with Israeli president Shimon Peres today --

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I want to thank you, Mr. President, for welcoming me back again to Israel. I remember when we first met many years ago, when you were Defense Minister --


VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Both of us, yes. This was before I was defense minister. This was Rumsfeld's first time as defense minister.

A reminder of the deep roots of the Iraq fiasco. The photo is Cheney with Gerald Ford and Don Rumsfeld when Rumsfeld was Ford's Chief of Staff. Rummy was later moved to the defence position and Cheney took his Chief of Staff job, which is when he first met Peres.

A problematic portfolio

In what seems to be standard procedure -- and what must drive the neocons up the wall -- a Bush administration visitor finds himself underneath a picture of Yassir Arafat. But, in an indication of the lack of grounding of the de facto partitioned Palestinian state (by Arab standards), the best that Mahmoud Abbas can do is be under a picture of himself.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Go match yourself

OK, it's not quite up there with his Auschwitz parka, but Dick Cheney couldn't coordinate his jacket and pants to receive his Islamo-sash and al-bling from Custodian of the 400 Oil Wells, King Abdullah?

Republic or Province?

George Bush has "issued" a statement on the Taiwan election, although since he's probably mountain biking around Camp David, the statement has actually been waiting to go for a few days with an {insert victor name} field once the result was in. And quite a diplomatic dance it is, especially for someone with zero willingness to confront China over Tibet. Of particular note --

Once again, Taiwan has demonstrated the strength and vitality of its democracy ... Taiwan is a beacon of democracy to Asia and the world. I am confident that the election and the democratic process it represents will advance Taiwan as a prosperous, secure, and well-governed society.

As in, not like the other place.

It falls to Taiwan and Beijing to build the essential foundations for peace and stability by pursuing dialogue through all available means and refraining from unilateral steps that would alter the cross-Strait situation.

No reference to "China" at all. Just Beijing. Two places disputing a single title.

The maintenance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the welfare of the people on Taiwan remain of profound importance to the United States.

Not "people of Taiwan" (a usage shared by the State Department). But on balance, a pro-Taiwan statement. Yet, is there really anything that the US could do if things got ugly between China and its "renegade province"? And one hopes Bush doesn't think this compensates for his silence on Tibet.

Hillary and The Peace Process, again

Interesting New York Times (via The Confluence) roundup of opinions regarding the role that Hillary Clinton played in the Northern Ireland peace process, the most celebrated peace process in recorded history. There's a hint that Bill Clinton's non-attendance at the commemorative event next month has less to do with a specific clash on the Pennsylvania campaign schedule and more with not wanting to draw further attention to the controversy over Hillary's role. And yet most of the actual quotes in the article are favourable to Hillary, including from non-obvious sources like Peter King (although one could guess that King, a McCain supporter, prefers Hillary to Obama as a general election opponent).

On the other side, there's the David Trimble quote contesting her importance (and don't forget Trimble's love-in with the neocons; he's not a disinterested observer). Yet much of The Peace Process was indirect, since the protagonists often refused to talk to each other. Intermediaries were important but not every intermediary would have interacted with every party. Furthermore, the White House has always had a large role in outreach to nationalists, since the Unionists had their channels via the UK government to the US State Department. Remember all the uncertainty that used to surround whether Sinn Fein leaders would get a visa? What you saw depends on where you were sitting.

Army of God

George Bush's Easter radio address --

On Easter, we remember especially those who have given their lives for the cause of freedom. These brave individuals have lived out the words of the Gospel: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." And our Nation's fallen heroes live on in the memory of the Nation they helped defend.

Those Gospel words are from John, with Jesus explaining to the Apostles his own impending sacrifice for them, and by extension, all of humanity.

So death in Bush's war of choice is now equivalent to the death (if not Resurrection) of Jesus? One wonders if Pope Benedict, in Washington next month, has an opinion on this bit of theological interpretation.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Passport snoopers: good news and bad news

The good, or at least weird, news is that the one of the two companies involved in the peek into Barack Obama's passport file has as its chairman and CEO a Barack Obama adviser, John Brennan, of The Analysis Corporation. The bad news is that this corporation and its parent (SFA: "national security solutions provider") sees its main business line as counterterrorism, meaning the same securocrats are probably looking through all sorts of other intelligence information on Americans and US residents.

UPDATE: The Analysis Corp, unlike the other company Stanley, has yet to fire the snooper -- the delay at the request of the State Department. And Brennan has disagreed with Obama on retroactive immunity for telecom firms under Bush's modified foreign intelligence surveillance program. Looks like his own company has just become the case study in what happens when private companies start trawling through personal information.

Incidentally, Internet searches for the other company, Stanley, get more precise if you use its NYSE ticker symbol, SXE.

UPDATE: It took 24 hours from when you read it here first for the media to figure out the Brennan angle. But as usual, they try to go with a faux scandal and not look at the underlying issue of privacy and government information-gathering.

How long before a mysterious Congressional fire?

The Wall Street Journal editorial page, in a particularly ill-timed rant coming on the evening of news about George Bush's securocrats rummaging through Barack Obama's passport file --

This exercise [blocking "Protect America Act"] shows that the Democratic left that runs the House is a danger to American security.

Privacy for the little people

The White House/Republican spin on why State Department contract employees were snooping into Barack Obama's passport file will be: well, they got caught, right? But they got caught because --

of a computer-monitoring system that is triggered when the passport accounts of a "high-profile person" are accessed, he said. The system, which focuses on politicians and celebrities, was put in place after the State Department was embroiled in a scandal involving the access of the passport records of then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992.

i.e. if you're not a politician or celebrity, anyone with access to the system, including those pesky "contract employees" could snoop as much they want and no red flag would ever pop up.

Where are the libertarians?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Not a gay blitzkrieg

It'll take someone who knows Polish language and politics to sort it out, but in its report on how Polish president Lech Kaczynski used this picture of Drogheda man Brendan Fay (left) at his Canadian wedding to argue against the Lisbon treaty, the New York Times says --

The Polish president also showed a map of pre-World War II Poland, linking his anti-gay oratory to historic Polish anxieties about German encroachment.

But wasn't the president arguing, separately from the gay marriage issue, that the Lisbon treaty could allow Germans who owned property in what is now western Poland to initiate legal claims for the property on the basis that it was part of Germany before 1945? Maybe Kaczynski's speech was weird enough to have linked the two issues, but it read like they were completely different arguments.

Needed in Pennsylvania

As we said a while ago, the logic of Bill Clinton coming to Northern Ireland less than 2 weeks before the Pennsylvania primary was never clear. He has now cited "changes to his schedule" in withdrawing from the April 10 event marking the Good Friday agreement 10th anniversary.

Freedom cabbage

Future generations will find many aspects of our culture bizarre, one surely being why it was that visits by the McCain-Lieberman '08 campaign to Iraq required a stop at a fruit and veg market (in Iskandariyah) as an index of progress.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bush's 5th anniversary speech

It's very strange. No one told him that "Concerned Local Citizens" were rebranded "Sons of Iraq" to sound less like vigilantes.

Here's an old post on this "weak horse, strong horse" quote. It's amazing that Bush admits that Osama bin Laden has guided his strategy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

There's no TV, radio, or phone there

Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) --

With U.K. money markets tenser than those on the Continent, the Bank of England yesterday added an extra £5 billion to markets. Today, it auctioned £10 billion in three-month funds against an expanded collateral range.

Bank of England Governor Mervyn King also postponed a planned trip to keep tabs on jittery markets. "He deferred the visit to the west Midlands because he needs to be in London to monitor events," said a Bank of England spokeswoman, noting Mr. King had planned a routine visit with business leaders outside London for yesterday and today.

Revolving door of yes men

White House announcement --

The President intends to appoint Peter Pace, of Virginia, to be a Member of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board.

That would be the board whose oversight element Bush recently gutted with an executive order, removing many of its independent monitoring functions. But just to be sure he hears what he wants to hear, that "Peter Pace" is none other than General Pete Pace, who served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Afghan and Iraqi wars, and was the chairman thereof (and thus Bush's top uniformed adviser) when the wheels were coming off in Iraq in 2005 and 2006.

He was one of the guys Bush said he was listening to when he was claiming that he had enough troops in Iraq. Which was the period right before he decided that he didn't have enough troops in Iraq. Just the guy you went in an intelligence advisory capacity.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Royal court

She has no known government job, no apparent protocol position, no official designation of any kind. But there again on a Dick Cheney Middle East trip is Liz Cheney (right), doing all the expensive travel at taxpayer expense and apparently attending a lot of meetings. Shouldn't someone e.g. the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, care?

UPDATE: More Liz Cheney here .

Photo: AFP/Paul J. Richards

What's a name between friends?

Dick Cheney Iraq event --

Remarks by Vice President Cheney and Sayyed Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim, Chairman of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

That would be the bizarre pal of the neocons, the Iran-linked SCIRI, and part of the evidence for what would be one of history's great ironies, that the whole neocon operation is in fact being run for the benefit of Tehran.

But that's another story. SCIRI changed their name a year ago, to make themselves sound more Iraqi and less revolutionary. So why wasn't the name change reflected for Dick's arrival?

UPDATE: They corrected it.

Bertie hearts Hillary

Apparently it was an expansive Bertie Ahern chatting to the meeja in Washington today. Among the most notable elements was his standing up for Hillary Clinton regarding her claim to have been closely involved in The Peace Process -- which apparently extended to telling Barack Obama to lay off the talking points suggesting otherwise:

The Taoiseach also criticised those who have tried to downplay Hilary Clinton's role in the peace process, saying that she had played a key role along with her husband. He said it would be 'very unfair for anyone to take that away from her' and said this had been accepted by Senator Barack Obama in their phone call this morning.

Bertie also correctly assesses that the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill which would have helped the illegal Irish immigrants (inter alia) is a dead duck in an election year. One suspects that he thinks it won't be a President McCain signing it if it comes back in 2009.

Did Bertie tell George that he's leaving?

At the Saint Patrick's Day reception --

President, as we say good-bye on this occasion, but hopefully we'll keep in touch over the years, I will remember -- and I hope that everyone in Ireland will -- how kind, how favorable you've been, how really open you've been to helping us, and the amount of time that the President has given to us.

Of course it's Bush's last St Patrick's Day. But he still has another very scary 10 months on the job. Does Bertie not think he'll see him again as Taoiseach? George seemed to have a similar impression --

Perhaps when we join the ex-leaders club, we'll sit back and put our feet up -- (laughter) -- and talk about the good old times. In the meantime, I know you're going to sprint to the finish, as am I, for the good of our countries.

"Sprint to the finish" was also Bush's formulation for his last press conference with Tony Blair, who by then had a public deadline for quitting.

One other thing Bush mentioned --

It's an interesting poster that somebody brought to my attention that said this: "In the United States, an industrious youth may follow any occupation without being looked down upon, and he may rationally expect to raise himself in the world by his labor." You know, occasionally, people did look down, but not anymore -- because Irish have been unbelievably productive people for the United States of America. They made a huge contribution. They've become an essential thread in the American fabric.

That "somebody" is senior Bush adviser Ed Gillespie, who had used the quote to argue that Ireland's famine emigrants would have favoured Bush's tax cuts.

Shamrock 2008

Bertie said it's worth more than Bear Stearns.

UPDATE: More Bertie captioning here and here.

Photo: AP Photo/Ron Edmonds

Among the great Twenty Major posts

Bush could really use the gift depicted this year.

Your winnings, sir

Alan "Mr Bubble" Greenspan in the Financial Times --

Those of us who look to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder equity have to be in a state of shocked disbelief.

Bad luck of the Irish

What is it about Bertie Ahern and White House visits? 5 years ago he was there in the midst of the start of the Iraq invasion and we all know how well that turned out. Today he is there with financial markets imploding and Bush preoccupied with trying to find more effective "soothing" words for the market than his disastrously detached Friday speech in Manhattan. Another argument for having a new face there next year.

UPDATE: Bush's soothing words include apparent amazement that people work on weekends --

And I want to thank you, Mr. [Treasury] Secretary, for working over the weekend.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Does that include a price of zero?

In what is shaping up as the weirdest Sunday night of financial news in a long time, the New York Fed has announced that it --

has been granted the authority to establish a Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF). This facility is intended to improve the ability of primary dealers to provide financing to participants in securitization markets and promote the orderly functioning of financial markets more generally.

The PDCF will provide overnight funding to primary dealers in exchange for a specified range of collateral, including all collateral eligible for tri-party repurchase agreements arranged by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, as well as all investment-grade corporate securities, municipal securities, mortgage-backed securities and asset-backed securities for which a price is available.

In other worlds, they'll take just about any old shite as collateral (and lend at an even lower rate against it), as long as someone can put a number on its value. But don't worry -- George Bush has his eye on the horizon.

Karma can take a while

Joe Lewis, pal of JP McManus and John Magnier, has apparently lost just about everything he invested in Bear Stearns. The Wall Street Journal says that JP Morgan will pay $2/share. He paid about $80/share.

Free the BBC 7!

Or something. Presumably this will soon be written off as an unfortunate misunderstanding --

Eleven men have been arrested by gardaí in Donegal as part of an ongoing investigation into paramilitary activity. Four men were arrested by gardaí this afternoon. Yesterday gardaí detained seven men aged between 30 years and 48 years.

The BBC has confirmed that some of its personnel are among the eleven people arrested by Gardai in Co Donegal as part of a probe into paramilitary activity. The BBC has said the journalists were working on a current affairs investigation in Northern Ireland and had full editorial authority under the broadcaster's guidelines.

On the face it sounds like the BBC NI team had a lead on a real IRA cell in Donegal but hadn't told the Garda what they were up to. Hopefully someone knew that Donegal is in the Republic, although the border signage is so low-key, it can be hard to tell. Of course, the BBC haters won't be able to resist headlines like "BBC staff arrested in terror investigation".

UPDATE: The team was from BBC NI's Spotlight.

FINAL UPDATE: They are free.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Preachers with attitude

Andrew Sullivan --

I know it's a stretch, but picture, if you will, Barack Obama* at a Louis Farrakhan event. Farrakhan isn't there, but his acolytes are. Obama -- stay with me a minute -- is shoring up support among blacks in a hard-fought election. His speech is campaign boilerplate, emphasizing themes of black self-reliance, the persistence of white racism and so on, but nowhere does he mention the Nation of Islam's anti-Semitic, anti-gay, racist ideology, let alone condemn it. He is mobbed. The crowds love him. His poll numbers among blacks, already strong, firm up.

This image is a stretch because not even Al Sharpton would be loopy enough to recommend such an event. Within seconds of even the idea of it leaking, Obama's campaign, indeed his political career, would be virtually over. Whoever recommended the speech would be fired; Obama would apologize; the Democratic Party establishment, once it had gotten over the shock, would essentially excommunicate him. For all these reasons, the event is literally unthinkable -- and not least because Barack Obama himself would feel nothing but revulsion at the idea.

*No, wait. That's not Andrew Sullivan writing about such an event -- it's Andrew Sullivan writing about how loony it would be for Al Gore, in 2000, to be (hypothetically) in the vicinity of Afrocentric demagoguery and not condemn it.

But fast forward to 2008, and when it's Barack Obama's pastor of 20 years, Jeremiah Wright, with the dodgy quotes --

I don't think it's racist to understand that the black church has a different cultural style in its preaching and activism style that helps add some dimension to Wright's record. If you read Obama's books and listen to him speak about his church, it's clear that he was not drawn by Wright's more inflammatory and offensive language. His engagement with the Church was an attempt to connect with the life and feelings of a black urban class he had never truly belonged to and whom he intended to represent. We can forget what an outsider Obama was when he first came to Chicago.

Does that mean that in his 2000 example, his Gore scenario would be OK once allowance was made for the "cultural style" of a black event and Gore's attempts to connect with the "black urban class"? Or is it different because, accusations of a double-standard bedamned, Obama is black?

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Bush Neologism


which he defines as --

people who say, you just got to worry about stability.

as opposed to --

And I'm saying, we better worry about the conditions that caused 19 kids to kill us in the first place.

Such as the lack of freedom in the home country of 15 of them, Saudi Arabia? But then there's that pesky oil market, which needs "stability", if you will. It's all very confusing. But that's why we need a strong leader --

you know, I guess the best to describe government policy is like a person trying to drive a car on a rough patch. If you ever get stuck in a situation like that, you know full well it's important not to overcorrect -- because when you overcorrect you end up in the ditch. And so it's important to be steady and to keep your eyes on the horizon.

And not worry about who's getting crunched underneath the car.

UPDATE: Bush's speech was sufficiently disastrous even by his standards that Gail Collins devotes a column to it. But he loved his car line so much, he used it again in the radio address.

The Burgundy Revolution

George Bush --

The situation in Tibet* remains deplorable. The regime has rejected calls from its own people and the international community to begin a genuine dialogue with the opposition and ethnic minority groups. Arrests and secret trials of peaceful political activists continue, such as the recent arrest of journalists Thet Zin and Sein Win Maung.

No, wait. That's his most recent statement on Burma, the other monk-beating regime. But Burma is not a huge net lender to the USA and is not hosting the Olympics. So that's different.

Photo: AFP/Mark Ralston

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dept. of idle speculation: New York edition

Why would George Bush, without much fanfare, suddenly yank his nomination of Charles Gargano, highly connected New York City property developer, to be his Ambassador to Austria? Usually such jobs are a lock once you've ponied up the requisite Republican fund-raising and/or satisfied the right connections, which as a George Pataki operative, he surely has.

Perish the thought that he's one of those clients with a number.

No name delegation

The annual White House announcement of junketeer extraordinaire Bertie Ahern's visit --

In keeping with a decades-old tradition, the two leaders will participate in the "Shamrock Ceremony," symbolizing the deep cultural roots and close ties of friendship between the United States and Ireland. The President and the Prime Minister ("Taoiseach" in Gaelic) will meet before the ceremony to discuss a range of issues.

More interesting is the reference to the Northern Ireland contingent --

After their meeting, President Bush and Prime Minister Ahern will greet U.K. Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Shaun Woodward and representatives of Northern Ireland's political leadership, civil society, and business community who are leading the way in promoting a new chapter in Northern Ireland's history built on peace, reconciliation, and economic prosperity.

So Shaun Woodward, who doesn't even take a salary for what is any case a diminished job with Sunningdale devolution up and running, gets billing ahead of any of the locals. The backlash against the Chuckle Brothers routine continues.

UPDATE: Bush's St Patrick's Day greeting comes with no indication that's it's actually observed on the 17th and not today, the 14th.

The oil envy never stops

George Bush --

President Bush Attends Kuwait-America Foundation's Stand for Africa Gala Dinner
Residence of the Ambassador of Kuwait
Washington, D.C.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Mr. Ambassador, thank you for the invitation. You've got a beautiful place here. (Laughter.)

Isn't that what Saddam said about Kuwait in 1991?

Also, an insight into Bush-style parenting --

So the guy comes to see me, and he says, I want to marry your daughter. I said, done deal. (Laughter.)

Which, according to one recent biography, is about the level of parenting that Bush himself received. Little consolation for the rest of us.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Unhappy few

What is it about English teams -- national or club -- and penalty kicks?

Not yet operational

Dick Cheney continues his tour of safe audiences -- military bases and loyal Bushies -- with a trip to the Heritage Foundation to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's announcement of the Strategic Defense ("Star Wars") Initiative. Which 25 years and billions of dollars later, still can't do anything like its original vision of intercepting unannounced ballistic missiles headed towards the USA. But the issue is not whether it felt short of that technological goal, but whether the goal is even relevant now, if it ever was. Dick has no doubts --

But in 2000, George W. Bush campaigned on a promise to build missile defenses, and in 2001, he made the wise decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty. It was an act of great courage, and it opened the way for major advances in our ability to stand up a defense against missile attack. (Applause.)

The decision made even more sense in light of the attacks of September 11th. As President Bush said, 9/11 "made all too clear [that] the greatest threats to both our countries come not from each other, or other big powers in the world, but from terrorists who strike without warning, or rogue states who seek weapons of mass destruction."

In fact, 9/11 showed the irrelevance of missile defence. The missile was a hijacked plane. No rogue state, no WMDs, nothing. And the biggest threat to life in Iraq now is not Iranian missiles, but simple bombs made from stuff left lying around during the Bush occupation. The one advantage that Reagan and his hare-brained scheme has is that, by the standards of George Bush, it seems like a harmless folly.

Finally a limit

So it turns out that extradition from Britain to the USA is not open-ended after all. Ian Norris has won his appeal to the House of Lords against extradition on the basis of a wheeze in which price-fixing -- not a crime in the UK when he allegedly committed it -- was redefined by the US Justice Department as "conspiracy to defraud" so as to meet the requirement that the alleged criminal act must be an offence in both countries.

The US will apparently still try to extradite him for obstruction of justice. Hopefully the Norris lawyers will have a field day with the arguments made during the Scooter Libby case that if there is no underlying crime, there can't be obstruction of justice. The argument was of course shite, since the point of obstruction of justice is to obscure determination of whether there was an underlying crime, but for Ian Norris, it seems by definition there was no underlying crime under UK law.

It's not much help to Babar Ahmad, who faces a whole different class of problems, being accused of terrorism-related offences, but at least it means that the UK courts, unlike the government, are alert to the problems that the aggressive extradition policies of the US have created.

Any colour so long as it's black

Andrew Sullivan, outraged at Geraldine Ferraro's suggestion that Barack Obama's success in the Democratic primary is due to him being black --

So when, one wonders, will Clintonite [Wesley] Clark call for Ferraro to be fired from her campaign position? Or is Rush Limbaugh now held to a higher standard than Geraldine Ferraro? ... The racial polarization in the exit polls is depressing; but when you have Clinton surrogates like Geraldine Ferraro reveling in racist condescension and resentment, as she did today, I can understand a little

Andrew Sullivan, explaining that the redemptive power of an Obama candidacy lies in him being black --

Electing a half-African president, with Hussein as a middle name, who attended school in a Muslim country: it's almost a p.r. agent's dream for America. It would instantly give this country a fresh start in the world after the disaster of the Bush-Cheney years.

It's particularly bizarre for Sullivan to be tossing accusations of racism when someone brings up the topic of race, given his history with The Bell Curve.

UPDATE: For the record, a prediction that we meant to make before -- come the general election, Sully will dump Obama for McCaim, which will be astounding given the way he's made his blog into all-Obama-all-the-time. Here's the latest hint --

I guess I should reiterate that I am undecided about the general election if it turns into a McCain-Obama battle. There are aspects to both men that I deeply admire. Oddly, I find McCain more persuasive on domestic policy and Obama more realistic when it comes to foreign policy.

FINAL UPDATE: Mickey Kaus finds another Sully segment with the same contradiction.

Pentagon insurgency

US Admiral William Fallon was forced out of his job as chief of the Pentagon's Central Command because he disagreed with George Bush's policy on Iran and Iraq. The Wall Street Journal ("The Pentagon vs. Petraeus") considers the problem --

A fateful debate is now taking place at the Pentagon that will determine the pace of U.S. military withdrawals for what remains of President Bush's term. Senior Pentagon officials -- including, we hear, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, Army Chief of Staff George Casey and Admiral Fallon -- have been urging deeper troop cuts in Iraq beyond the five "surge" combat brigades already scheduled for redeployment this summer.

Last month Mr. Gates agreed to a pause in these withdrawals, so that General David Petraeus could assess whether the impressive security gains achieved by the surge can be maintained with fewer troops. But now the Pentagon seems to be pushing for a pause of no more than four to six weeks before the drawdowns resume.

So everyone who ranks above Petraeus wants more withdrawals from Iraq as soon as possible. A tricky one for Bush who has always talked about listening to the generals, not one subordinate general. For the WSJ, the way forward is clear: Bush must overrule everyone who doesn't agree with him. And/or force them out of their jobs. It's a strange way to run a country.

Incidentally, the aforementioned Bob Gates was forced into at least one misleading statement at the news conference announcing that Fallon was out --

Q Did you discuss this with the president before you accepted it?
SEC. GATES: I had -- the president has made clear all along that these matters are to be handled strictly within the Department of Defense. I communicated -- the president's traveling today; I communicated this morning, through the national security adviser, what Admiral Fallon had informed me and what I intended to do.

By "these matters", Gates can only mean the specific business about offering to retire and it being accepted. The idea that Bush had no role in Fallon quitting, not least given what the WSJ says about the rampant disagreements within the Pentagon, is preposterous.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tremble at the word of the Feds

Of all the possible aliases he could have picked from his acquaintances for his prostitution solicitation, why did Eliot Spitzer use "George Fox", the name of the founder of the Quakers?

UPDATE: One theory -- that Quakers are not guilt-ridden about sex. Slate's Tim Noah also notices the allusion.

Image source

Monday, March 10, 2008

Early adopters

It's true as a rule that Americans haven't embraced text messaging the same way as Europeans. But the criminal complaint that forms the basis of the Eliot Spitzer scandal shows, among other things, that the "classy" prostitution business is a text-message intensive operation.

With some dead people

Interesting phrasing from a US military spokesman going beyond their previous description of such events as (using the IRA term) "spectaculars" --

"We have some indicators that they may be planning on executing kind of a large media type event," said Major General John Kelly, commander of the I Marine Expeditionary Force in western Iraq.

It likely indicates that the White House strategy for the inevitable upward spike in violence as the surge impact wears off will be to blame the media for covering it. Which was also their strategy before the surge.

Not bloody likely

George Bush -- The Vice President will be taking a very hopeful message to the Middle East ...

Photo source

The audacity of audacity

Bill Kristol's Monday New York Times column starts out as the same analysis he had been giving on Fox News earlier in the day but then descends into his fantasy presidential tickets, disguised as advice to John McCain --

Perhaps the most obvious way McCain could upend the normal dynamics of this year’s election would be a bold vice presidential choice. He could pick a hawkish and principled Democrat like Joe Lieberman. He could reach beyond the usual bevy of elected officials by tapping either David Petraeus or Raymond Odierno — the two generals who together, in an amazing demonstration of leadership and competence, turned the war in Iraq around last year. He could persuade the most impressive conservative in American public life, Clarence Thomas, to join the ticket. There are other unorthodox possibilities.

He grounds "advice" this in a quote from Danton -- another weird choice of quote, since as Wikipedia tells us:

Georges Danton (October 26, 1759 – April 5, 1794) was a leading figure in the early stages of the French Revolution and the first President of the Committee of Public Safety. Danton's role in the onset of the Revolution has been disputed; many historians describe him as "the chief force in the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the First French Republic".[2] A moderating influence on the Jacobins, he was guillotined by the advocates of revolutionary terror after accusations of venality and leniency to the enemies of the Revolution.

What is about these neocons and leftist revolutionaries?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Can the Mark Ronson-produced album be far behind?

Young people move to Washington DC, share a house, and use the Internet a lot.

Apparently this is the epitome of style, judging by the prominence it gets in Sunday's New York Times.

Election catwalk

Two electorally chastened conservatives head to vote today -- the ever stylish Jose Maria Aznar and Sarko Junior (Jean), running for mayor in his dad's old fiefdom in the Paris suburbs.

Results due for both tonight. It's interesting that Aznar doesn't seem ready to leave the limelight, even though he's not the party leader anymore.

Photos from El Pais

Saturday, March 08, 2008

There's still time to impeach him

In this morning's radio address explaining his veto of a bill that would ban waterboarding and other "alternative interrogation techniques" that other countries consider to be torture, George Bush said --

The bill Congress sent me would not simply ban one particular interrogation method, as some have implied. Instead, it would eliminate all the alternative procedures we've developed to question the world's most dangerous and violent terrorists. This would end an effective program that Congress authorized just over a year ago.

However, Bush also said that the program has been in place since soon after 9/11, well before the supposed Congressional authorization in 2006. By his own logic, the program was therefore operating without Congressional authorization for 5 years. One might think that the program was therefore illegal. But in Bush's mind, it's that Congress has no power to regulate his conduct of "war" in the first place. It's thus amazing that he even bothered to veto the bill, since even had he signed it, he has claimed the power to ignore it.

Friday, March 07, 2008

A little too earnest

Irish-born Samantha Power was due to appear in a RTE documentary called The Importance of Being Irish, a four-part celebration of the achievements of the Irish dispora. Presumably the spot has already been taped, although the series only begins to air during "St Patrick's Week". One wonders therefore how RTE will handle Power's loss of one of her job titles, as a foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama following the Scotsman's publication of her comment describing Hillary Clinton as a monster. Which, for someone who writes about genocide, is a strange comment to make.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Only one state has the blues

Andrew Sullivan cheers on an attempt by Barack Obama through a link to fellow Hillary-hater Mark Halperin, reproducing an Obama press release --

Today, the Obama campaign in Mississippi held a press conference calling on Senator Hillary Clinton to explain derogatory statements made about Mississippi.

In October, Senator Hillary Clinton told the Des Moines Register newspaper that “I was shocked when I learned Iowa and Mississippi have never elected a woman governor, senator or member of Congress. There has got to be something at work here…when you look at the numbers, how can Iowa be ranked with Mississippi? That’s not what I see. That’s not the quality. That’s not the communitarianism. That’s not the openness I see in Iowa.”

If this is "going on offense", God help Obama (and by extension, his boosters like Sully). Simple question: in which state, Iowa or Mississippi, would you rather live? Here's a table with median household income in every state in 2006. Mississippi is lowest. Iowa is respectable upper-middle. You could pull just about any economic or social outcome and the result would be the same.

There are multiple reasons for this. But one is the social ethos of Iowa, where there is a presumption that public services should be delivered for everybody. Mississippi spent most of its recent history excluding many people from those services. One might say that Iowa is "communitarian".

Perhaps Obama doesn't trust the economists who might have told him this, after the Goolsbee/NAFTA fiasco.

King of the slow learners

The Irish Times has a roundup of reflections on the career of Ian Paisley. It's an excellent cross-section and the remarks make for very different reading than the backslapping "tributes" from the likes of Bertie Ahern; indeed, signs that Unionists tired of the so-called Chuckle Brothers routine between Paisley and Martin McGuinness show that the person in the street has a bit more sophistication about these things than the suits at the top.

Anyway, the recurring feature of from the Irish Times roundup (subs. req'd) is the references to Sunningdale -- a deal on the table 3 decades before Good Friday implementation and not much different from it. But who blocked it? Ian Paisley. So --

David Trimble
Northern Ireland first minister, 1998 to 2001

One thing we can be sure of is that without Ian Paisley, there would have been a political settlement in Northern Ireland a generation earlier. And if Tony Blair had kept his promises to me at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, his (Paisley's) political demise would have come a decade ago.

Séamus Mallon
Deputy first minister to David Trimble

... Yes, he brought unionism into a powersharing arrangement with Sinn Féin, but to do that he had to destroy, as he had destroyed Terence O'Neill, as he destroyed Faulkner, as he destroyed Chichester Clarke - he had to destroy the unionist leader David Trimble. It tells you about the paradox of all this, that the creativity which he undoubtedly gave the political process in Northern Ireland in his later years was achieved as a result of the destructive element in his approach to politics and this type of political atavism which demanded absolute and total power.

Ruairi Ó Brádaigh
Former chief of staff of the IRA and currently president of Republican Sinn Féin

The great unanswered question before history is why did not Paisley, on the one hand, and the present Provo leadership, on the other, accept and work the Sunningdale agreement of 1973 which offered more and for which less was to be paid than the 1998 Belfast Agreement? Did we, as a people, have to endure 25 years more of sacrifice and suffering until both elements were poised to divide the major share of the spoils of office between them?

From their very different perspectives, they can see what Tony Blair can not --

The man famous for saying No will go down in history for saying Yes. He did so personally convinced it was right and in reaching that conviction, consigning to the past the feelings he once so trenchantly articulated.

That trenchant articulation made him the dominant figure in Unionism. Then he did the same deal that was available in 1974. So did Sinn Fein. Is it any wonder that people outside the self-congratulatory circle feel bitter?

AP Photo/Peter Morrison

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Quitting his day job

John McCain mentioned several times during his endorsement by George Bush that he would be campaiging with Bush to the extent that Bush's "busy schedule" allowed.

Take a look at Bush's schedule for October 2004, the height of the last general election campaign season. Multiple election events in multiple states, every day. September was nearly as busy.

This was the period when Iraq was descending into the abyss. If ever he would have a busy schedule, that was it. So what is the Straight Talking MaverickTM afraid of?

Belated election reaction

Hillary Clinton is now claiming credit for the Northern Ireland peace process. Perhaps she should show up with Bill to the Good Friday 10th anniversary observance.

And among the strange things about John McCain: you'd think someone who has run for elected office so many times would have his speaking technique sorted out by now. But take note the next time one of these addresses to a crowd is on TV -- who is McCain looking at as he speaks? Clinton, Obama, and Huckabee all have the standard eye-contact-with-crowd manner and they are good at it. McCain always seems to be looking into an upper corner of the room.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

On the march along with freedom

George Bush, during a Q&A with Jordan's King Abdullah (who predictably wimped out on mentioning his previous criticism of Israel) --

He [King] also pointed out something which I knew, but I wasn't exactly sure how it was affecting his country, that there are roughly three-quarters of a million Iraqi citizens who have moved to Jordan.

The population of Jordan in 2003 was about 5 million, so having 750,000 refugees show up since then is a 15 percent increase in population -- and not an immigrant worker population, but victims of war.

But George Bush "isn't exactly sure" what effect that might have.

Trade barrier terrorists

George Bush has just said that if the US Congress fails to pass the US-Colombia free trade agreement, the FARC would be emboldened. This on the day when the FARC are being accused of hatching a dirty bomb plot, complete with shaky evidence of an attempted uranium purchase. No mention of Niger yet.

Bush also signalled his support for Colombian president Alvaro Uribe by saying that America stands with democratic leaders in the region -- apparently forgetting that Hugo Chavez and Rafael Correa (President of Ecuador) are democratically elected. The GWOT template imposed on yet another complex situation.

Incidentally, lest any readers think we have much sympathy for the FARC, read this.

UPDATE: Bush laughably referred to "provocative maneuvers by the regime in Venezuela" when the cause of the current tension is a Colombian incursion on territory of Ecuador.

Contra Iran

Condi Rice has essentially admitted, in Cairo, that the US hatched a plan to subvert the election victory of Hamas by having our new friends Fatah mount an armed takeover in Gaza. Her justification was that if Iran smuggles weapons to Hamas, then the US gets to do some dodgy stuff as well.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Euro conservative

Apparel not likely to be seen on the US campaign trail anytime soon, especially on the Republican side: former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, defeated in the election following the 11-M bombings, campaigns for his party successor Mariano Rajoy sporting a pink V-neck and quite a mane to go with it. One wonders if his US neocon friends would interpret attention to casual style as a sign of weakness in the face of Islamo-fascism.

Photo: REUTERS/Eloy Alonso

The Iraq theory of relativity

We've had multiple central fronts in the War on Terror. We've had various decisive blows against al-Qaeda. Now the US military has come up several centers of al-Qaeda gravity: Baghdad, where the Surge was concentrated, but also northern Iraq, where the bad guys are concentrated --

"Mosul is the center of al-Qaida's terrorist activities today. Mosul is a critical crossroads for al-Qaida in Iraq. Baghdad has always been al-Qaida's operational center of gravity, but Mosul remains their strategic center of gravity as it provides access to the flow of foreign fighters," [US Navy Rear Admiral] Smith said.

Mosul is located at the locus of roads that connect Iraq with Syria to the west, Turkey to the north and Iran to the east. Many fighters smuggled in from Syria make their way through Mosul, where they can easily blend in with city's ethnically and religiously diverse population.

"It is their strategic center of gravity. One-half to two-thirds of attacks in Iraq today are in and around Mosul," Smith said.

Of course one problem with these centers of gravity is that the US attempts to chase them brings the opposite polarity (to botch the physics metaphors) and the centre of gravity moves. Does John McCain really think this futility will not be an issue in the November election?

Incidentally, the news story linked above has a little detail at the end symbolic of the quagmire. A US helicopter fired at teenagers digging at a roadside in the belief they were planting a bomb. They were looking for roots to burn as fuel. In oil rich Iraq.

Hoping he won't notice?

If Jordan's King Abdullah really believes that the Israeli military operation in Gaza is "a massacre" and "a violation of all international conventions", why doesn't he tell George Bush that on Tuesday when he meets him at the White House? Better still, why doesn't he say it in public if the visit includes the customary brief Q&A with reporters?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Blocking it out

It's not clear that the White House or State Department (with Condi Rice apparently still sticking blithely to the "peace process") really understand the impact of the latest Gaza crisis on public opinion in the Middle East. In particular, they don't seem to have thought about the implications of the fact that the media in the Middle East run far more graphic images of the aftermath of Israeli attacks (or wayward Hamas rockets) than anything that would be aired on western news outlets. 10 minutes of al-Jazeera and the front page of any Arab newspaper can be a stomach-churning experience.

Now, are they being "inflammatory"? Well, this stuff is actually happening. Arab fury might be more restrained if there was more outside acknowledgement of what is going on in Gaza.