Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Actually a very weird thing to say

George Bush, greeting the Super Bowl champion NY Giants --

You got into the -- you secured a wild card. And it was interesting, in the last game of the season, a lot of folks thought the Coach would just kind of lay down and let New England cruise to a perfect season. (Laughter.) I remember a lot of people speculating about that last game of the season -- and yet you didn't, Coach. Your team didn't win on the scoreboard, but you won the hearts of a lot of Americans for contesting the game. And you also, your team -- (Applause.)

And it clearly gave your team some self-confidence, because you stormed through Tampa Bay and then went into Dallas -- I'm a good sport. (Laughter.) We're going to send Jessica Simpson to the Democrat National Convention. (Laughter.)

He's referring to a perception that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was distracted by being overly involved with his then girlfriend when the Giants played the Cowboys. Note also Bush's use of the McCarthyite "Democrat" instead of Democratic. For someone with so much power, the weird and petty insinuations are bizarre.

UPDATE: A postscript to the reception for the NY Giants at the White House -- it was apparently the beginning of a drinking session for Staten Island Republican Congressman Vito Fossella, who later got pulled over for driving under the influence in Alexandria Va. Fossella is sufficiently connected that Dick Cheney did a fundraiser for him while Cheney was in New York for the Pope's visit. Not clear what happens to that money if Fossella is indisposed in November.

Image: Samson and Delilah, by Rubens.

Champions League Final

It would be most unfortunate if fans of the team not owned by a Russian had visa problems getting to Moscow.

Polite as always

Sitting behind Bertie Ahern during the big speech to Congress were Nancy Pelosi representing the House of Representatives and Robert Byrd representing the Senate -- the latter there (as oldest serving member) because Dick Cheney, who is nominally president of the Senate, didn't show up. Cheney has used his constitutional status as president of the Senate to argue that he's not really part of the executive branch of the government, thus forming the basis of a claim that rules for executive branch don't apply to him. So you'd think he might at least big ceremonial occasions to show that he actually takes the Senate part of his job seriously.

Photo: AFP/Nicholas Kamm

UPDATE: Cheney doesn't have the excuse of not being in town or pressure of time, as he showed up later today at the White House reception for the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

That's globalisation

Irish business news --

Hundreds of new jobs are expected to be announced later this week for Derry as part of a major expansion by FirstSource.

... The company, which has been based in Derry since 2006 is expected to reveal plans for a significant expansion of its operations.

Firstsource ... was founded in Mumbai in 2002. Its initial workforce of 750 has grown to over 9,000, with centres in India, the US, Britain, the Philippines and Argentina.

The company, whose clients include FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 companies, provides call centre and back office processing services for clients in the financial services, telecoms and media, travel and transportation and healthcare industries.

So India, formerly the land of back office operations of western countries, is now exporting those operations to western countries. Jobs are jobs, but a case like this makes for an interesting contrast with the fantasies of "clusters of knowledge-based enterprise" job creation in Dublin.

Not much of a rancher

Another pathetic George Bush press conference. He had essentially one talking point -- the absence of oil extraction from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, an issue that plays well with the loons, who imagine that there are billions of barrels of oil just waiting to be extracted through a tiny hole on which an endangered spotted oil is sitting and those awful liberals care more about the owl than the oil. Luckily that group is unlikely to be decisive in the November election.

Somewhat more unusual was his attack on "rich farmers" who he said were collecting massive subsidies and earning a windfall through high land prices. Which is sort of true and yet a strange point for him to make. Because farmers usually appear in his rhetoric as the case for abolishing estate taxes, with tales of farm parents unable to pass land onto their children because of those taxes. Apparently money is no longer a problem. And the more obvious case for curtailing subsidies in the face of a windfall is for oil, not land. Bush never mentioned that.

Monday, April 28, 2008

What the White House spring intern did

Statement from the White House announcing the next leg of George Bush's Israel-Palestine peace process visits to the region --

The President and Mrs. Bush will travel to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt from May 13-18, 2008 ... The President's visit to Israel will celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary and our close ties over the past six decades. His visit to Saudi Arabia will also commemorate the 75th anniversary of the formal establishment of U.S.-Saudi relations.

One obvious diplomatic problem has dogged this particular visit from the start -- the fact that its main purpose is clearly the Israel at 60 celebration, something that the Arab peace process partners won't quite feel like celebrating. Hence someone was despatched to the history books to find some other anniversary that could be latched onto the trip.

Lo and behold the 75th anniversary of US-Saudi relations. But any history of Saudi Arabia shows that the key date was not the initial exchange of relations but FDR's 1945 Suez summit with King Abdulaziz (pictured above) in which the key bargain of oil for access and protection was struck. Indeed, reading this account makes for an interesting historical context for Bush's visit --

The king's view was that if the suffering of the Jews had been caused by the Germans, Germans should pay the price for it; let the Jews build their homeland on the best lands in Germany, not on the territory of Arabs who had nothing to do with what happened to them. The most he could get from Roosevelt was a promise that the president would "do nothing to assist the Jews against the Arabs and would make no move hostile to the Arab people." The king taking this as a commitment from the United States and not just from Roosevelt personally, was furious to discover three years later that Harry Truman did not consider himself bound by it.

There is no escaping the cross-currents of European and Middle East history, even (or especially) when people think they're being clever.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Holding his manhood cheap

George Bush did his final White House Correspondents' Association dinner a few hours ago. His closing stunt was to bring the US Marine Band on stage and lead them in a medley. This was intended as his nod to a nation at war. So he acknowledges the wars by conducting a military band while his surrogates claim that Moqtada al-Sadr is a coward because he's directing his militia from Iran.

The press corps lapped it up.

White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian

From a distance

Barack Obama's outrageous remark about Pennsylvania was essentially that the powers that be use religion to distract the working class from a true understanding of their economic plight. Andrew Sullivan, a Barack Obama supporter, says that Bill Clinton used race to distract the working class from their true economic plight --

The shrewd and subtle invocation of racial tropes against Obama is also something that these Arkansan operators know well. One recalls that Bill Clinton interrupted his primary campaign in 1992 to return to Arkansas to preside over the execution of a mentally retarded black man. He was a master at bonding with African-Ameri-cans while signalling to white voters that he was also a Bubba underneath. This time, after telling North Carolina voters last week that a black candidate doesn’t care about “people like you”, he has allowed Bubba to become the public face. His wife’s emergence in Pennsylvania as a tribune of the white working classes is part of the Clintons’, er, flexibility.

No wonder Sully likes Obama so much. Also on the Sunday Times commentary pages, Simon Jenkins, sitting in London and yet writing a more perceptive column about the US election, observes --

They give the old Democratic party an echo of the tough old days, of men who play mean and hard. There is a touch of Margaret Thatcher to Clinton at present.

One could speculate that that is what bothers Sully the most. He luvvs Maggie. It hurts to see liberal-leaning policies attached to a somewhat similar personality.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Follow the map

This Times (UK) article abides by the non-naming of terrorism suspect 'G' who was living under stringent sanctions which he and 4 other suspects successfully appealed to the High Court. So now he can spend money at Tesco without needing the permission of a civil servant.

The article also lays out plenty of information to allow people with too much time on their hands to figure out who 'G' or his fellow suspects are by perusing this UN Security Council list. In particular, only one British national with a non-custodial London address appears on the list, Mohammed Al Ghabra, although also appearing with London addresses are Hani Al-Sayyid Al-Sebai, Saad Rashed Mohammad Al-Faqih, and Khalid Abd Al-Rahman Hamd Al-Fawaz. So it's one of those situations where a newspaper can't name a person, but can lay out how anyone can figure out what the name is.

Incidentally, of Irish interest is the claim from the UN list that one al-Qaeda linked person, Shafiq Ben Mohamed Al-Ayadi, is living in Dublin, a fact which has allowed silly newspapers to engage in speculation about a Real IRA-al Qaeda alliance to launch an attack on the Queen during her March visit to Northern Ireland. Lizzie seems to have survived the plot just fine.

UPDATE 8 SEPTEMBER 2008: al Ghabra is now publicly named following the collapse of major portions of the Heathrow liquid bomb plot trial, although, strangely, only in connection with the dude who was acquitted of all charges.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Clintonite running dogs

Andrew Sullivan (from what could be any post on any day in his Age of Obama) --

the current neocon-Clinton-Limbaugh campaign against Obama

Gordon Brown, as seen in Private Eye --

In view of the provocation given by the former leader, surrounded as he was by the fawning lackeys of the Campbellite-Mandelsonian clique ...

In another post:

But that makes the base of their [Clintons] support white working class ethnics - the Reagan Democrats. But how would those voters lean if asked to pick between McCain and Clinton? Surely a Scots-Irish veteran hero is more competitive with them than Ms Wellesley.

One thing. Reagan Democrats are disproportionately Catholic. McCain, and indeed the people usually designated as Scots-Irish are Protestant. That's a difference that George Bush seems not to understand but you'd think Sully would know better. And it's crucial to Hillary Clinton's electoral appeal -- she dominates among Catholic voters. Incidentally, "Ms Wellesley" got into Wellesley under competitive admission, while John McCain got into the Naval Academy because of his family. And still managed to be nearly the worst-performing student.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Two for the price of one

A new twist in George Bush's wheeze of appointing his former ambassador to the EU, C. Boyden Gray, who was never confirmed by the Senate, as Special Envoy to the EU (after the clock on his unconfirmed appointment ran out): he has now nominated an actual ambassador to the same job, who presumably will serve alongside the "Special Envoy" --

The President intends to nominate Kristen Silverberg, of Texas, to be Representative of the United States of America to the European Union, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. Ms. Silverberg currently serves as Assistant Secretary of State (International Organization Affairs). Prior to this, she served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Advisor to the Chief of Staff at the White House. Earlier in her career, she served as a law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas and Judge David Sentelle. Ms. Silverberg received her bachelor's degree from Harvard University and her JD from the University of Texas.

Thus she will be unusual as one of Bush's nominees for a junketeering ambassadorship, which usually go to campaign donors, in that she may have some actual foreign policy qualifications. She may even be, as Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post reported, a nice person. But make no mistake about the connections: the clerkships with two of the loony Right's favourite judges (here's more about Sentelle) and the stints in the White House (sitting, as Froomkin points out, in Karl Rove's old office).

Once the European Union people sort out whether they deal with Gray or her on particular issues, they can take consolation in the fact that Bush has sent two of his inner legal/foreign circle to do the job.

UPDATE: Bush has formally withdrawn Gray's 16 month old nomination for the ambassador job.

Iran, the machine tool powerhouse

When improvised explosive devices containing explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) became an insurgent weapon of choice in Iraq, the US military claimed that EFPs were so complicated, they could only be made in Iran. When the EFPs started showing up in insurgent weapon stockpiles having been made locally, the US military claimed that EFPs were so complicated, the Iraqis could only be making them with technical advice from Iran.

In the picture, US soldiers load a captured EFP-making device onto an armoured vehicle. It appears to be a filing cabinet with a giant wheel and a few power tools attached. Which no doubt is technology that could only be obtained in Iran.

It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that the White House will claim that Iranian purchases of front-loaded washing machines are evidence of nuclear centrifuges.

U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lester Colley

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Inverted chain of command

So General David Petraeus, to whom George Bush delegated his policymaking powers on Iraq, won't even be in Baghdad after this summer to see what the end of the Surge is like, since he's promoted to head of US Central Command -- and thus in charge of the war with Iran all operations in the Middle East. It's interesting to take a quick look at the reaction on National Review's The Corner --

Pete Wehner

What [General David Petraeus] and [Ray] Odierno have achieved in Iraq since early 2007 is staggering. They took a nation that was in a death spiral and, working with the greatest military on earth, have given Iraq a chance to survive and hopefully, over time, to flourish.

Peter Wehner worked for George Bush during all of 2006 (and before) when Iraq was in what Wehner now calls a "death spiral". But when George Bush is giving speeches talking about how much things have turned around from 2006, he only picks pessimistic 2006 quotes from people who are opposed to the war, and recently told us that he was lying in his own optimistic 2006 speeches -- speeches in which Wehner would have a crafting role.

[Rich Lowry]

Odierno [the successor to Petraeus], meanwhile, is a hero of the surge, as important to its successes as Petraeus. And he will push back hard against anyone (read the Chiefs) trying to keep from him the troops he needs to do the job. A very important day in the war...

So in Corner-world, even the superior officers of the Iraq generals are trying to keep them from doing their job. Is there no end to the reach of the wimpy Left?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Not a conspiracy theorist

The "Global War on Terror" has involved many intellectual contortions but one wonders how the White House will manage this one --

Osama bin Laden's chief deputy in an audiotape Tuesday accused Shiite Iran of trying to discredit the Sunni al-Qaida terror network by spreading the conspiracy theory that Israel was behind the Sept. 11 attacks ... Al-Zawahri accused Hezbollah's Al-Manar television of starting the rumor.

"The purpose of this lie is clear — (to suggest) that there are no heroes among the Sunnis who can hurt America as no else did in history. Iranian media snapped up this lie and repeated it," he said. "Iran's aim here is also clear — to cover up its involvement with America in invading the homes of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said.

It's hard to square any of that with the endless Bush-Cheney-McCain packaging of al Qaeda, Iran, and Hezbollah as a ruthless alliance. Perhaps the White House can team up with the 911 truthers to develop a joint response.

One who isn't edited

Perhaps a pure coincidence, but why is it that word of the resignation of Wall Street Journal (prop.: R. Murdoch) managing editor Marcus Brauchli broke on the day that the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal (prop. R. Murdoch) contained a prominent article by Rupert Murdoch outlining a Giuliani-McCain style proposal for an alliance of "the West" against terrorism -- much of it cribbed from White House talking points on the US-Colombia free trade deal. Indeed, the extension of the War on Terror to embrace free trade deals is a story in itself. But anyway, perhaps Brauchli was wondering how many more times the op-ed page might be similarly commandeered and decided that he didn't want to be a part of it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Lots of them have other priorities

Since we know that the Pentagon has a huge propaganda apparatus to keep pleasing facts in circulation, perhaps there's not much point in fact-checking a single Dick Cheney claim to loyalists at the Manhattan Institute. But here it is --

More than 540,000 Iraqis now serve in those [armed] forces.

Here's his source; it's page 13 of a Powerpoint presentation. You get to about 540,000 if you add all "assigned personnel" and ignore the footnote --

Numbers are based upon [Government of Iraq] payroll data and do not reflect present for duty totals.

So there is not anything like 540,000 actually "serving" -- it would be news if there was. That's before one gets into the question of how many of those 540,000 are just militias working -- or collecting cheques -- out of ministries. Note the dependence of the total on numbers from the Ministry of the Interior and not the Ministry for Defence.

It's her job performance ranking

Condi Rice being presented with a Bahrain national soccer team jersey, numbered 621, the numbers coming from the 6 Arab states of the Gulf plus Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq, who were present at a meeting in Bahrain that Condi attended. She is being presented with the jersey by whichever al-Khalifa is the foreign minister of Bahrain -- who is a Dallas Cowboys fan. He probably got sick of the complications of being a fan of Formula 1.

AP Photo/Bahrain News Agency

Prediction gloating

This blog, three years ago, about Andrew Sullivan --

Iron Law of Sully ... he invokes his Irish ancestry when he's feeling alienated from his American conservative friends

Andrew Sullivan today, looking for rationalisation of the long strange journey on which Obama-mania has taken him --

The smartest critiques of Obama get the sincerity of his ambition, while noting his flaws and greenness. The dumbest critiques miss the point entirely. In general: I trust the Irish-Catholic women [Maureen Dowd and Peggy Noonan] to get these things right. At least, that's what my mother taught me.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

That program is still running

In the excellent New York Times story showing how a media-military-industrial complex was allowed to dominate cable news coverage of Iraq, there is an account of one specific propaganda session that was held with Don Rumsfeld and the cable news military analysts ("message force multipliers") in April 2006 --

At another point, an analyst made a suggestion: “In one of your speeches you ought to say, ‘Everybody stop for a minute and imagine an Iraq ruled by Zarqawi.’ And then you just go down the list and say, ‘All right, we’ve got oil, money, sovereignty, access to the geographic center of gravity of the Middle East, blah, blah, blah.’ If you can just paint a mental picture for Joe America to say, ‘Oh my God, I can’t imagine a world like that.’ ”

Even as they assured Mr. Rumsfeld that they stood ready to help in this public relations offensive, the analysts sought guidance on what they should cite as the next “milestone” that would, as one analyst put it, “keep the American people focused on the idea that we’re moving forward to a positive end.” They placed particular emphasis on the growing confrontation with Iran.

These two messages -- that al Qaeda could take over the government of Iraq and be in charge of its oil and that the real enemy in Iraq is Iran -- have dominated the public statements of George Bush (example) and Dick Cheney since 2006. This is despite the fact that George Bush now says he was lying in 2006 when he was making upbeat statements about Iraq i.e. that things on the ground really were as bad as the supposedly negative regular reporters said they were. Yet the message crafted to combat that acknowledged truth still dominates official pronouncements.

Also, the idea that "Joe America" needed some simple messages to help him understand the war in the Iraq sounds like the sort of thing that only elitist Democrats speaking in San Francisco would say about the great unwashed. Very strange.

Cynical design

Andrew Sullivan chose a poor line of attack on William Kristol when the latter criticised the now famous Obama remarks --

A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity [Kristol] is calling a Christian [Obama] a liar about his own faith. That's where they've gone to already. And it's only the middle of April. What are they so scared of?

Risky given that Kristol is Jewish, and Sully's former colleague Leon Wieseltier called him on it --

Ponder that early adjective. It is Jew baiting. I was not aware that only Christians can judge Christians, or that there are things about which a Jew cannot call a Christian a liar. If Kristol is wrong about Obama, it is not because Kristol is a Jew.

Among Sully's mistakes was to zero in on specific faiths rather than look at the more general question of what neocons like Kristol think about any faith. Now a political operative like William Kristol is careful enough not to leave much of a trail in this regard but his father Irving had a longer intellectual career. It's especially worth reading this prescient 1997 Reason article by Ron Bailey analyzing the curious phenomenon of the neocon assault on Darwin, in which the Kristol parents play a key role.

The essence: the neocons hate Darwin because his theory undermines religion, and religion is necessary to keep the masses in order! --

[Irving Kristol] wrote in a 1991 essay, "If there is one indisputable fact about the human condition it is that no community can survive if it is persuaded--or even if it suspects--that its members are leading meaningless lives in a meaningless universe." ... "There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people," he says in an interview. "There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."

Bailey shows how the neocon intellectual lineage holds that there are bunch of things that ordinary people are better off not knowing; those people might be better advised to "cling", if you will, to religion.

Thus for the neocons the danger of Marx is how correct he was, albeit for the wrong reasons: for the neocons, the alternative to the opium of religion is not a proletarian paradise, but complete societal disorder. Given the awkwardness of the issues, they'd rather that Obama just shut up about it, since they thought they were done with Marx after the Cold War.

So anyway, the simpler response to William Kristol would have been to ask him whether he agrees with his father that religion is necessary for the maintenance of social order. Incidentally, Bailey's article has one essential reminder in it -- the remaining intellectual target of the neocons is the resilient Darwin. It's in that light how one should understand Jonah Goldberg deciding that it's worth debating ("I do think Darwinism led to Nazism, in a sense") the links between Darwin and Hitler.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Puppet government

Again with the crazy names on the military operations in Iraq --

BASRA, Iraq – Operation Saulat al Fursan, or Charge of the Knights, began a new phase of operations April 19.

Phase 3 of the operation focuses on the criminal militia strongholds within the Hyyaniyah district area. Iraqi Army soldiers from the 1st and 14th Infantry Divisions are conducting the deliberate clearance operation.

The operation began at approximately 6 a.m. when British artillery and US aircraft released ordnance against known criminal rocket and mortar sites west of Hyyaniyah.

Charge of the Knights Phase 1 was the disastrous Iraqi government crackdown on the Mahdi Army in Basra, initiated by PM al-Maliki 3 days after Dick Cheney was in town. Although widely recognized as a failure, the US and UK have apparently decided that they have to maintain the illusion of their overwatch role in Basra with the government forces in the lead. Hence they bomb the hell out of place and let the Iraqis go in to mop up.

Saulat al Fursan: Phase III makes as much sense, with much larger stakes, as Morty's plan to install Kramer as his puppet on the board of Del Boca Vista Phase III.

They prefer the moonshiny love now

Not much else to do but note this really excellent column by the FT's Matthew Engel based on his visit to Ballyjamesduff, County Cavan, a town that he seems to know better than many of the people who now live there. It would be depressing reading for Pope Benedict.

There he goes again

The latest antics in Golf Cart One. At least he let the visiting dude (Korean President Lee Myung-bak) drive.

The Global Musketeers

Gordon Brown's speech yesterday at the JFK library is an interesting read. It's underlying philosophy is well summarized by Niall Ferguson's NYT review of Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent. But one issue it raises is the uneasy mix of Brown's emphasis on internationalism and his attempts to conjure up a uniquely "British" indentity. Consider first Brown's identification of a global value system --

For through each of our diverse heritages there runs a single, powerful moral sense: one that is reflected and replicated throughout the world’s great religions and also in the moral philosophy of those who adhere to none that shows we are not moral strangers but there is a moral sense common to us all.

When Christians say: ‘do to others what you would have them do to you’;
When Muslims say: ‘no one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself’;
When Jews say ‘what is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man’;
When Hindus say ‘this is the sum of duty: do naught unto other which would cause pain if done to you’;
When Sikhs say ‘treat others as you would be treated yourself’;
When Buddhists say ‘hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful’;
….they reflect a common truth dear to billions of adherents of those and other religions that is true also of all the great secular thinkers: that we not only cooperate out of need but there is a human need to cooperate; and that cooperation is built on the desire for liberty and the call to justice: respect for the dignity of every individual and our sense of what is equitable and fair.

Yet when he's speaking to a domestic audience, he presents a definition of "British" also based on values, and values that don't sound much different than the global moral sense above. So to add some local content, he has to make things like the NHS and Comic Relief a reflection of moral sense. The only thing British is the superstructure erected over the intrinsic moral sense. It's a strange, ahistorical definition of nationality.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Not very alike

The same UN Assembly room. Gordon and George with notes. But at least Gordon seems to do some serious scribbling. Bush was writing a note to Condi asking for a bathroom break.

Brown photo: Chip East/Reuters.

Another cranky Papal visit post

The "good" Christopher Hitchens has been drawing attention to Benedict's dodging of the child sex abuse scandals, with the diocese of Boston being the damned spot of this trip -- not on the itinerary, and its former Cardinal Law sitting in quasi-asylum in the Vatican. This statement from Hitch has drawn National Review's Kathryn-Jean Lopez out of her joint Bush-Pope adulatory haze:

The scandal is not the presence of pedophiles in the church, but the institutionalization of child-rape by the knowing protection and even promotion (by non-pedophiles) of those who are guilty of it.

to which K-Lo responds --

People have been punished (and Cardinal Law was in a lot more powerful position when he was in Boston. I don't think he understands where he is today as a promotion) and prayerful renewal with an emphasis on a return to orthodoxy is the solution. Which is where Benedict leads.

Note that K-Lo's logic attributes to the scandals to a supposed departure from orthodoxy, by which she presumably means an osmosis of societal liberalism into the Church. So it's all the fault of the lefties, again.

But in fact the scandals were facilitated by a traditional culture of silence, an unwillingness to challenge the Church power structure from within, and an unwillingness of the state to pursue a crime against its citizens. It was the belated application of modern values that finally brought some redress. Saying prayers and getting back to basics didn't have much to do with it.

UPDATE: Guy La Roche at A Fistful of Euros finds a "blame society" analysis in Benedict's own reflections on the scandal.

Previous papal visit posts here and here

Cranky papal visit post

Benedict and Bush were made for each other. Bush's big applause lines at his welcome ceremony were repetitions of Benedict's pro-life codephrases -- "pro-life" meaning, for Bush and the applauders, abortion and not Iraq.

And Benedict said nothing that challenged Bush, since Bush will just claim that he's relying on volunteerism or otherwise already taking action to meet all the goals of caring for the less fortunate that Benedict set out. Encompassing invading armies in the case of helping the designated less fortunate in Iraq. And all this on the day when the Supreme Court was deciding that a 3-drug cocktail is an acceptable way to kill people -- the Court including Bush's two Catholic appointees.

One impression from the crowd along the Popemobile route -- who knew that celebrating his presence could involve so much tambourine?

UPDATE: Here's a sophisticated examination of the differences in the notion of freedom as a gift from God between Bush and Benedict. But note that Benedict never challenged Bush's narrow interpretation of the "gift". The marriage of convenience.

Photo: White House/Eric Draper

Out of gas/petrol

Food prices through the roof. Oil at $113/barrel. Investment banks on the brink. The Israel-Palestine peace process stalled. Iraq in another downward spiral. Surely a good time for Gordon Brown to come to America and talk about ...

... cultural exchanges between the US and the UK and a joint US-UK program to teach English worldwide. At least that's what Gordon thought worthy of using a commentary in the Wall Street Journal to lead his arrival in the US today:

Enlarging the Anglosphere ..

In the last half-century the English language has become not only the language of Shakespeare and Twain, of J.K. Rowling and Cormac McCarthy, but of science, commerce, diplomacy, the Internet and travel.

So, finally, I propose that together Britain and America strive to make the international language that happens to be our own far more freely available across the world. I am today asking the British Council to develop a new initiative with private-sector and NGO partners in America, to offer anyone in any part of the world help to learn English.

No mention of how there's already an entire industry, TEFL, doing this without any government intervention and in response to the demand from the rest of the world to learn English and not motivated by some sentimental attachment of elites to the glory days of Churchill and FDR.

Which brings us to Gordon's opener --

When Winston Churchill met President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the deck of the H.M.S. Prince of Wales in 1941, he spoke of the common bonds between Britain and America: "The same language . . . the same hymns . . . more or less, the same ideals."

Churchill did say that, and parts of the rest of the speech doubtless brought a tear to his own eye and others as he described the psychic bonds he witnessed on his trip. But the entire speech is worth a read (apart from anything else, it's his famous "crime without a name" speech that prompted the invention of the word genocide). Perhaps most noteworthy is its truly internationalist nature: Churchill is not pushing the notion of English-speaking exceptionalism, but the common status of all nations as victims of the Nazis --

The Austrians, the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Belgians, the Dutch, the Greeks, the Croats and the Serbs, above all the great French nation, have been stunned and pinioned. Italy, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria--have bought a shameful respite by becoming the jackals of the tiger. But their situation is very little different and will presently be indistinguishable from that of his victims. Sweden, Spain and Turkey stand appalled, wondering which will be struck down next. Here then is the vast pit into which all the most famous States and races of Europe have been flung and from which, unaided, they can never climb.

This speech is also a reminder that 1941 was not the time for the cheap shots that George Bush and Dick Cheney like to take at the USSR in their comparisons of al Qaeda with past evils --

The Russian Armies and all the peoples of the Russian Republic have rallied to the defence of their hearths and homes. For the first time Nazi blood has flowed in a fearful flood. Certainly a million and a half, perhaps two millions of Nazi cannon-fodder, have bitten the dust of the endless plains of Russia. The tremendous battle rages along nearly two thousand miles of front. The Russians fight with magnificent devotion.

How exactly Brown draws from all this an imperative for others to go forth and teach English is not entirely clear.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

No gratitude

You'd think that after recess-appointing him as US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton wouldn't be quite so harsh about George W. Bush. To the left is the cartoon accompanying his slam of Bush's North Korea policy in today's Wall Street Journal.

One issue not raised

Today's New York Times has a fascinating article reporting on apparent confirmation (subject to dispute) that the Titanic was done in by poor quality rivets and riveting at the Harland and Wolff shipyard where it was built.

One feature of H&W may (or may not) be relevant: recruitment and retention of skilled workers was surely more difficult when there was de facto discrimination against Catholics.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Revealed unto him

In preparation for the visit next week of Pope Benedict, George Bush did an interview for the Eternal Word Television Network. It was the sycophantic style that Bush likes. One wonders if the Vatican is paying full attention to how Bush appears to be using Benedict's visit for his own purposes. Anyway, in the absence of a full transcript, two points of note. First, Bush was asked what we [the USA] could do protect the Iraqi Christian minority --

Keep our troops there long enough to have a civil society emerge and go after them ... go after these killers.

So concern about Iraqi Christians is another reason to keep the troops there on an open-ended mission, but not another reason why the war should never have been started in the first place. Or at least should have had a contingency plan for protecting minorities.

At the end of the interview, there is this exchange

Q: You said famously that when you looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes, you saw his soul. What do you see when you look into Benedict's eyes?

A: God.

It must be great for faith to be that simple (it's worth listening to the exchange for the definitiveness of Bush's response). It's not clear though that Benedict sees himself as a portal. There's a lot in the Catholic faith about mystery.

UPDATE: Welcome Dan Froomkin readers. We'll take the opportunity to add here that Bush's "God" response is very curious from a Protestant perspective, which downplays the need for intermediaries in interaction of the worshipper with God.

FINAL UPDATE: Here's a transcript of the interview.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Those Obama remarks

Indeed they are strange, one strange aspect being their socio-economic determinism (which was also evident in his Philadelphia speech about Rev. Wright): that a broad range of behaviour and opinion can be traced back to a class grievance. Here's the key section --

But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

But the charge of "elitist" is also strange. Obama's remarks about religion are within the range of theories that have been around for quite a while. In particular, there is an echo of Nietzsche and his notion of Ressentiment, which gets into the philosophy of religion. About which we know very little.

Consider though the "outrage" of the right that someone might trace religious adherence to a sense of grievance. That's precisely the Right's analysis of Islam, although they'll sometimes allow an -ism at the end to blunt the indictment of the entire group. For example, Bernard Lewis's influential post 9/11 New Yorker article and various writings by Roger Scruton, and one particular rant by Andrew Sullivan (who showed his own philosophy chops with the Nietzsche reference).

So Obama was bringing some strange baggage to his theories of small-town Pennsylvania. But it's baggage that others have too.

UPDATE: See Mickey Kaus for more on the college sociology aspects of Obama's thinking.

FINAL UPDATE: A couple of closing thoughts on this. Obama's critics are focused on the echoes of Marx in his thinking. Of course that's the obvious, if unintended, allusion. But Marx was operating within a 19th century German tradition of which Nietzsche was an important part. And, to his credit, Andrew Sullivan does an extended post noting that the neocon analysis of Islamism (and his own) is not that different methodologically from what Obama said.

The spinners are aware

George Bush's taped Saturday morning radio address is nearly always a cut and paste from his utterances during that week. This week the topic was the extension of the Surge in Iraq --

Beyond that [July], General Petraeus says he will need time to assess how this reduced American presence will affect conditions on the ground before making recommendations on further reductions. I've told him he'll have time he needs to make his assessment.

This is a significant rephrasing from his Thursday speech which confirmed the policy --

Beyond that [July], General Petraeus says he'll need time to consolidate his forces and assess how this reduced American presence will affect conditions on the ground before making measured recommendations on further reductions. And I've told him he'll have all the time he needs.

Note that in the Thursday version, the nation's self-styled "first MBA President" had assigned a task and given an open-ended timetable for its completion. Recognizing the PR blunder (despite its accurate portrayal of his nonchalance), the statement was adjusted to be a tad more specific.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The soldiers made him lie

George Bush, explaining to ABC's Martha Raddatz his upbeat "stay the course" style rhetoric in 2006 even when Iraq was in a downward spiral --

... the president insisted he did it to keep up troop morale.

"That's as much to try and bolster the spirits of the people in the field as well -- you can't have the commander in chief say to a bunch of kids who are sacrificing that either it's not worth it or you're losing. What does that do for morale?" Bush said.

So his job was to ignore what everyone (including the soldiers) could see, and tell them something different. These would be the same soldiers of whom Bush asserted during the course of a phony "outrage" by Senator John Kerry --

The Senator's suggestion that the men and women of our military are somehow uneducated is insulting and it is shameful. (Applause.) The members of the United States military are plenty smart, and they are plenty brave, and the Senator from Massachusetts owes them an apology. (Applause.)

Yet he was assuming that the soldiers would be gullible enough to have their morale maintained by statements that Bush now claims he didn't believe.

Historical footnote

Dick Cheney --

We're engaged right now in a struggle against enemies of a kind not easily dealt with. We're not facing a clash of huge armies and navies. The outcome of the fight won't be like chasing Hitler into his bunker, having a surrender ceremony onboard ship, or wearing down a communist empire.

To the extent that Hitler was chased into his bunker, it was done by the USSR.

The week that's in it

With George Bush spending a long weekend on "the ranch" -- after claiming that the Iraq war involved national sacrifice -- it was left to Dick Cheney to sell the Surge extension to the loyalists, via interviews with Hugh Hewitt and Sean Hannity. Both interviewers seem to have been working from the same talking points, allowing Cheney to give similar answers. The main issue was Iran; the comments to Hewitt are representative --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I've read about it [end-times, 12th-Imam], too. I don't know that that motivates all of the [Iranian] leadership. The one guy who talks about it repeatedly is Ahmadinejad. And -- in other words, a report even at one point that when he went to Iraq on a visit, that at least on one occasion, he insisted on there being a vacant chair at the table for the 12th Imam. And it's a -- it's hard to tell. I mean, if I look at what his beliefs supposedly are, the allegation that the -- a return of the 12th Imam is something to be much desired, and that the best contribution that a man can make is to die a martyr facilitating that return, and all that goes with it -- I always think of Bernard Lewis, who said that mutual assured destruction during the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviets meant peace and stability and deterrence, but mutual assured destruction in the hands of Ahmadinejad may just be an incentive. It's a worrisome proposition.

Well, Bernard Lewis said a lot of stuff, such as that the Iranians would set in motion the end-times on August 22, 2006. Nothing happened.

Then there's business about Ahmadinejad insisting on an empty chair for the mysterious Imam. Next week at Passover, millions of Jewish people will sit at a table with an extra cup of wine poured for the prophet Elijah and at one point in the evening leave the door open for him. And the hoped for arrival of Elijah is a "messianic" moment, if you will. With implications for the world at least as radical as if the 12th Iman ever shows up. By the Cheney standard, that's dangerous behaviour.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It's definitely a message

RTE --

The Government jet, with the Taoiseach and 11 others on board, was struck by lightning this afternoon. The Gulf Stream jet, with eight passengers and four crew, left Dublin this afternoon and was on its final approach to Belfast City Airport when it was struck.

A Government spokesman has confirmed to RTÉ News that the jet landed safely after 'a huge flash'. No injuries occurred and the jet is now being examined.

Mr Ahern is in Belfast for celebrations to mark the 10th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. This is the second time that a Government jet has been hit by lightning as a delegation travelled to Northern Ireland on peace-process related activities

It's not far from Dublin to Belfast. After all, they're on the same small island. There is rail. One could even drive. But perhaps it's a message about the most celebrated peace process in history rather than the inefficiency in how the celebrants were getting there.

Convergence Point

George Bush just said that Iraq is the "convergence point" for al-Qaeda and Iran. His war made it that way.

He also said "the day will come" a few times. Tiocfaidh an lá.

UPDATE: Right after using his grave voice speech to talk about sacrifice, he headed off to the "ranch" for the weekend -- at midday on Thursday.

When is Operation Barbarossa?

Wall Street Journal -- News Corp. is in serious talks with Microsoft Corp. over a joint bid for Yahoo Inc., people familiar with the situation said Wednesday.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Cycle Jerk

Guido Fawkes asks --

Did James Naughtie really just describe Gordon [Brown]'s political situation as "a circle out of which he cannot jerk himself"

He sort of did. Here's the sound file. The action begins at the 23 minute mark. Naughtie is actually talking about the news cycle. But a cycle is somewhat circular and for the casual listener, it's hard to tell the difference.

Incidentally, Gordon did get one bit of good news --

The [WPP] chief executive [Sir Martin Sorrell] also denied recent reports that indicated Mr [Mark] Penn would be advising prime minister Gordon Brown.

Expensive shepherds

Not that the Iraq war needs much symbolism for its lunacy, but the caption says it all --

U.S. Army Soldiers watch as a flock of sheep moves past them during a cordon and search mission for high value insurgents in Upper Dugmut, Iraq, April 3.

Looking for terrorists. Pushed aside by sheep.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Powerpoints gone wild

From the presentation of General David Petraeus to the Senate today explaining the strategy against al-Qaeda in Iraq [AQI]. The War on Terror meets corporate America. It lacks the simplicity of "Wanted Dead or Alive".

UPDATE: Philip Carter actually read the slide.

The magical hand

Alan Greenspan, in a Bart Simpson style "I didn't do it" interview with the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) --

WSJ: Do you believe there has been a problem with how bank capital requirements are set?

Mr. Greenspan: Financial institutions need little capital except when a crisis arises. Since we can't forecast the crisis, capital needs to be available at all times.

That's just incorrect. If banks don't have capital, then they're just gambling 100 percent with other people's money. The effect on incentives is obvious. Making banks maintain capital keeps some of their own money on the line and forces them to be more careful.

It's weird that an acclaimed economist doesn't see that incentives can be a big problem.

We have a new enemy

General David Petraeus, the 3rd ranking US policymaker on Iraq (behind Bush and Cheney) just said --

unchecked, these [Iranian-backed] Special Groups pose the greatest threat to the long-term viability of Iraq.

This is the war that began about WMD and then became about al-Qaeda. Neither was in Iraq when the war began, and the latter is now, apparently, no longer a threat.

UPDATE: There's a new catchphrase from Ryan Crocker -- "post-kinetic development". Kinetic was one of those military words that George Bush thinks is really cool.

FINAL UPDATE: The exact Petraeus statement was --

Unchecked, the Special Groups pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.

Someone else notices the shift.

Coming soon: EU Ministers making chicken noises at meetings

Irish Times --

France plans to push hard to encourage EU states to agree a common method of computing corporate taxes during its upcoming six-month presidency of the union.

French finance minister Christine Lagarde has dismissed Irish concerns about the plan, saying that she "hadn't met any Irish people that were afraid of anything".

Monday, April 07, 2008

Let the unlocking games begin

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

German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom AG said it is lowering the price of Apple Inc.'s iPhone handset in Germany to €99 ($122) in a two-month campaign.

The iPhone currently costs a minimum €399 in Germany, where Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile unit is the exclusive carrier. The multimedia phone costs at least $399 in the U.S. where it has been in short supply.

The new offer runs from April 7 to June 30 for the iPhone model with eight gigabytes of memory, the Bonn-based company said. The €99-deal is only valid in combination with a premium contract for which the customer pays at least €89 a month.

Deutsche Telekom has also introduced a starter iPhone contract that costs €29 a month -- the handset then costs €249.

Compare to the Irish price of €399 with more expensive plans than are being offered elsewhere.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

What happens in Sochi stays in Sochi

PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you. I, first of all, was most grateful for the dinner that you gave last night. Secondly, thank you very much for providing fantastic entertainment. I'm only happy that our press corps didn't try -- see me trying to dance the -- dance the dance that I was asked to do. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT PUTIN: We were able to see that you are a brilliant dancer.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes, well, thank you very much. We'll leave it at that, Mr. President. (Laughter.)

How long before a picture comes out?

Incidentally, every so often the jealous George Bush makes an appearance --

PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you. Look, it seems like there's a lot of interest in you, Mr. President-Elect [Dmitry Medvedev]. You've attracted a lot of cameras. (Laughter.)

Not to mention the George Bush somewhat anxious about what he'll be doing once he's no longer President --

PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you, Vladimir. Thanks for your gracious invitation. This is the very room where you served an unbelievably good dinner last night, with fabulous entertainment. Thank you for your hospitality. Laura and I are thrilled to be with you. And also, thank you for the briefing on the Winter Olympics. I'm sure the people in this area are really excited about the fact that you've been awarded the Winter Olympics. I congratulate you and wish you all the very best. And maybe you'll invite me to come as your guest -- who knows.

The Sochi Winter Olympics are 6 years from now.

Welcome Russian billionaires

And others fleeing the brutal Gordon Brown crackdown on UK residents who are claiming an overseas domicile and therefore only paying tax on income brought into the UK. Ireland will take you in --

Some long-established U.K. residents, such as Stone, say moving to Ireland may be an easy option. ``We would look at other tax havens where we are not going to be hassled or bankrupted,'' she said.

Ireland offers the non-dom everything England is taking away, said Jim Ryan, a personal tax partner at Ernst & Young Tax Services in Dublin and deputy president of the Irish Taxation Institute.

Non-doms in Ireland still enjoy the breaks that are disappearing in the U.K. The Irish government estimates that more than 7,000 people live in Ireland as non-doms.

It's true that the non-dom rules are unlikely to be controversial in Ireland given that a critical mass of the public has no problem with a much more pernicious loophole -- that which allows tax exiles like JP McManus to be based somewhere like Switzerland for tax purposes, but still have enormous influence on Irish politics through donations to Fianna Fail, which includes having tax rules written for their advantage. Such as the "Cinderella rule", meaning that as long as you're out of Ireland by midnight on a particular day, that day doesn't count as a day in Ireland for tax purposes (which would otherwise risk the claim of not being resident).

Anyway, with the Irish public finances in trouble, the little extra revenue that new non-doms would bring on the Irish-remitted income may be badly needed.

UPDATE 20 NOV 2008: The Cinderella rule is dead. But rules for non-doms seem to have been relaxed (section 37: non-doms can have UK-based capital gains which are taxed on a remittance basis i.e. only on the amount they bring into Ireland).

FINAL UPDATE 13 DEC 2009: Budget 2010 confuses the issue with a new domicile tax, albeit one that seems designed to have very few people pay it.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

He'll be back

It probably wasn't the comedy that they were looking for, but on a visit to the farmers' lobby, Silvio Berlusconi decided to illustrate the safety of mozzarella by faking illness after eating it. Luckily for Italy, he was fine.

Incidentally, with its out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to waste disposal, Ireland is headed for a similar type of crisis that Italy is now in, since the underlying issue is what has seeped into land from unrestrained use of landfill. Just one legacy that the Celtic Tiger and Bertie Ahern are dumping, so to speak, onto someone else.

Photo: AP/Plinio Lepri

Friday, April 04, 2008

He's such a maverick

that he would be ineligible for health insurance under his own healthcare plan. John McCain, that is. Paul Krugman notes the silence of McCain's "plan" (which is, as Krugman says, a list of bullet points) on people with pre-existing conditions who get denied private insurance coverage. McCain, as a skin cancer survivor would be one such person. Except that as an old person, he could always go into Medicare. Which is a government program that he presumably opposes.

But perhaps the Maverick deserves some credit. He has shown his opposition to Medicare (and Medicaid, the government program for low income people) by proposing to bankrupt it. On January 5, 2008, McCain told a questioner at a townhall meeting in Peterborough New Hampshire that he would dump people with pre-existing conditions into a Medicare/Medicaid trust fund.

As the Boston Globe noted recently, similar answers that he has offered before have left experts confused. Anyway, the result would be to ruin the programs financially, since they'd get all the people likely to have the highest costs. So he could abolish the programs that way.

Exempt from all intellectual influences

In the above short Bloggingheads clip, Paul Berman -- a key proponent of the Saddam/al Qaeda linkage -- concludes by saying "my thoughts and Dick Cheney's thoughts have nothing in common". Even after it was pointed out to him that Cheney uses the expression he (along with Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan) helped propagate, Islamofascism.

Yet much of his theory of how Islamism is fascist rests precisely on common intellectual influences and common sources, even when Osama bin Laden and Saddam never thought of themselves as fascist, or even like each other.

So Berman, as an intellectual, gets to put ideas out there while disassociating himself from the likes of Cheney when they use them. But his subjects get no such luxury.

UPDATE 15 APRIL: Here's a nice review from Daniel Davies of the role of Berman in the apparently defunct Euston Manifesto.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Special relationship my arse

It lacks that certain je ne sais quoi that George and Tony had.

Surge Protected

When Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki launched his crackdown on the al-Sadr militias in Basra, George Bush said that it was "a defining moment". The phrase "clarifying moment" had already been used for another ill-advised crackdown on a Shiite militia -- the Bush/Blair backed Israeli attack on Hezbollah.

Notwithstanding the resulting humiliation for al-Maliki, he apparently can't get enough of these defining moments --

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, meanwhile, said he plans to launch more security crackdowns like the one in Basra against "criminal gangs" in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. Speaking to reporters, he singled out Sadr City and Shula — two Mahdi Army militia strongholds in Baghdad — as likely targets in the future operations.

Al-Maliki did not mention by name the Mahdi Army militia, but said those areas are under the influence of "criminal gangs." "We cannot remain silent about our people and families in Sadr City, Shula and other areas ... while they are held hostage by gangs that control them. We must liberate these cities because we came (to office) to serve them," he said at a news conference.

One factor in this decision is that he knows that even if he gets in trouble in these urban assault operations, the US and UK will back him up with firepower, even at the risk of major casualties.

This is what the presence of US troops is encouraging. There couldn't be a clearer case against the surge.

That's why he's our man in Baghdad

Who is being described in this New York Times article? --

But interviews with a wide range of American and military officials also suggest that Mr. [...] overestimated his military’s abilities and underestimated the scale of the resistance. [...] also displayed an impulsive leadership style that did not give his forces or that of his most powerful allies, [...], time to prepare.

“He went in with a stick and he poked a hornet’s nest, and the resistance he got was a little bit more than he bargained for,” said one official in the multinational force in Baghdad who requested anonymity. “They went in with 70 percent of a plan. Sometimes that’s enough. This time it wasn’t.”

As the Iraqi military and civilian casualties grew and the Iraqi planning appeared to be little more than an improvisation, the United States mounted an intensive military and political effort to try to turn around the situation, according to accounts by Mr. Crocker and several American military officials in Baghdad and Washington who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In the actual context, which is the botched Iraqi government clampdown on Basra, it's about Iraqi PM Nouri al-Malaki, the preferred fall guy for the failure. But one could take any part of the above and insert George W. Bush's name, and you'd have a description of the original invasion.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Change of venue

With the issue of Internet defamation back in the news in Ireland (and likely not going away any time soon even with Bertie's resignation), the Financial Times makes an interesting observation about the problem of libel tourism/forum shopping in English courts: that even if English law restricted libel cases that are based on very marginal jurisdiction claims, all the action might just shift to Ireland --

Other jurisdictions are accused of providing even readier forums for roving defamation claimants. Both Ireland and Northern Ireland have become hotbeds of libel litigation, due in part to the high payouts available

Paul Tweed, an Irish libel lawyer who has acted for singers Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez, says he has US celebrity clients who "just want an apology" they cannot secure at home. This raises the question of whether libel tourism is partly sustained by the US stance of making it almost impossible for public figures to sue successfully - even when they have legitimate grievances.

So, despite the new act in New York, libel judgments in countries with tight rules are likely to continue echoing around the world. They are a chastening reminder to writers that the ease of electronic publication and retailing has made defamation a global business. As Ms Tyler, Mr Akhmetov's lawyer, puts it: "It's no longer your news stand that contains the libel. It's accessible everywhere internationally."

It's not like Irish solicitors need the work.

The Curse of Bush*

RTE -- Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has announced that he will tender his resignation to President Mary McAleese on 6 May.

*Of course it's unfair and empirically invalid to attribute Bertie's downfall to his 8th St Patrick's Day with Bush (unlike others in the congaline of suckholes who paid the electoral price). But when did unfairness and invalidity ever stop Bush?

UPDATE: Maybe it's the personality type that Bush attracts. Sarkozy is in trouble.

Not enough equipment

Announcement from Multi-National Force Iraq --

TIKRIT, Iraq – Eight Abna al-Iraq, or Sons of Iraq, were killed and three were wounded in an improvised explosive device detonation in southern Ninewah April 1.

The detonation occurred while the SOI members were transporting the IED to a nearby joint combat outpost for destruction.

Prompting the question: why are the US's Iraqi counterparts not given the proper equipment or training to deal with IEDs?