Friday, June 27, 2008

He sure loves dodgy Presidential elections

John McCain travel plans --

Republican White House hopeful John McCain will travel to Colombia next week to meet President Alvaro Uribe and discuss a bilateral free trade pact Democrats have held up in Congress, his campaign said Wednesday.

"This shows that Senator McCain knows Latin America, and shows how he is different from Barack Obama" his Democratic rival, campaign spokeswoman Hessy Fernandez told AFP.

Recent Alvaro Uribe news --

BOGOTA, Colombia - Colombia's president on Thursday called for a referendum to decide if new presidential elections should be held in the wake of a court decision that is questioning the legitimacy of his 2006 re-election ...

Uribe's demand came after the Supreme Court called Thursday for the re-evaluation of the congressional act that changed the constitution to allow Uribe to run for a second term. The Supreme Court questioned the act after a former representative was found guilty of having changed her vote in 2004 to support the president's bid for re-election.

After all that went on in Florida in 2000, perhaps McCain doesn't view a possibly illegitimate president as a big deal.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

It means what he wants it to mean

Part of "Fat Tony" Scalia's Supreme Court judgement that it's OK for District of Columbia coffee shops (but not federal buildings) to contain people carrying guns --

As we will describe below, the “militia” in colonial America consisted of a subset of “the people”— those who were male, able bodied, and within a certain age range. Reading the Second Amendment as protecting only the right to “keep and bear Arms” in an organized militia therefore fits poorly with the operative clause’s description of the holder of that right as “the people.”

In other words, since it's inconceivable that people writing in the 1780s might have been mainly focused on the rights of men (notwithstanding that they were the only ones given the right to vote), we have to construe those words as referring to everybody. Not much "strict constructionism" there.

A more general point comes from the amount of time that Fat Tony's judgement spends discussing the arcane meaning that words had in the 18th century. Is this really the most sensible basis for making public policy in the 21st?

The picture is what Karl wanted to say

Karl Rove --

At a time when magnanimity was called for, the candidate decided he'd strut.

Amazingly, Rove is not talking about his perpetually smirking boss, George W. Bush, but Barack Obama. But of course he needed to get that word "strut" in somehow.

UPDATE: This is Rove's second run in a week at dogwhistle politics.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The dude who cleans the pool is great too

George Bush is hosting President of the Philippines Gloria Arroyo today. You'd think the lead topic in the brief press availability would be the typhoon/ferry disaster. George Bush instead wants to talk about how the White House chef is Philippino --

And I reminded the President [Arroyo] that I am reminded of the great talent of the -- of our Philippine-Americans when I eat dinner at the White House. (Laughter.)


PRESIDENT BUSH: And the chef is a great person and a really good cook, by the way, Madam President.

From there, a hasty segue to the actual disaster, including this --

Some are wondering whether or not their loved ones will, you know, reappear.

The event closed as follows --

PRESIDENT ARROYO: Thank you, thank you. Mr. President, with your permission, I'd like to address our countrymen in my own native language. (Speaks in Tagalog.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: I couldn't have said it better myself. (Laughter.)

Furrin languages are funny!

As bogus as Mugabe's "war veterans"

In the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens sees the solution to Zimbabwe and Darfur. Apparently it all proves the wisdom of George W. Bush --

A solution for Zimbabwe's crisis isn't hard to come by: Someone – ideally the British – must remove Mr. Mugabe by force, install Mr. Tsvangirai as president, arm his supporters, prevent any rampages, and leave. "Saving Darfur" is a somewhat different story, but it also involves applying Western military force to whatever degree is necessary to get Khartoum to come to terms with an independent or autonomous Darfur. Burma? Same deal.

With troop strength currently hanging by a thread in Afghanistan, there is not a hint in his column about where the manpower for these operations would come from. There's no point in praising a "Bush Doctrine" approach to these problems when the doctrine never did anything to mobilise resources.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Not his job description

David Cameron to Gordon Brown in the debate following the EU Summit on the Irish No --

said the PM could have "done the difficult thing and declared the treaty dead" or "the easy thing and join others in starting the process of bullying Ireland into a second referendum".

"Isn't it the case that in taking the latter path, you have let down the people of Ireland, you've let down Britain and you've let down Europe?" he asked Mr Brown

Once one overcomes the oddness of hearing a British Prime Minister being accused of letting down Ireland, it's important to remember (as Gordon obliquely pointed out) that it's Taoiseach Brian Cowen who is choosing to dodge the apparent implication of the Lisbon vote that the Treaty is dead.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Keeping them in La Cage aux Folles

Maureen Dowd, defending her endless Hillary-bashing to the NYT's public editor --

From the time I began writing about politics,” Dowd said, “I have always played with gender stereotypes and mined them and twisted them to force the reader to be conscious of how differently we view the sexes.”

Today's Maureen Dowd column (unclear whether it was written from a Paris vacation or simply a cut-and-paste job from news reports) --

Just as Carla [Bruni] charmed the Queen of England and Princes Charles and Philip with her demure French schoolgirl look, she charmed George and Laura Bush on their visit, inviting Laura 30 minutes early for a girls’ tête-à-tête, and then sitting next to the American president and keeping him entertained with a spirited conversation in English, one of her three languages and sort of his one language.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Voting with his feet

The Wall Street Journal editorial page weekend interview is with Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Mundell, who argues in favour of Bush-McCain tax cuts.

One interesting thing about the interview: it's done in Copenhagen, and the article notes that Mundell spends much of his time in Tuscany. Otherwise he's in New York City.

If high taxes are so bad, what's he doing spending so much time in high tax economies?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Neocon heads explode

News item

France's top presidential aide says the leaders of Israel and Syria could meet next month in Paris.

Claude Gueant says Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has recommended that he and Syrian President Bashar Assad hold "direct contacts" at a July 13 summit.

So not only would this meet the White House definition of appeasement (as indeed does Israel's proxy negotiation with Hezbollah and Hamas), it would happen in France. How much more wimpy 1930s can you get?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


George Bush, in the context of the Iowa floods --

And I, unfortunately, have been to too many disasters as President.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Two minutes with Fox News

Just now. It was "America's Newsroom" with Megyn (sic) Campbell and Greg Jarrett. Jarrett is interviewing Anglo-accented reactionary Stuart Varney about oil prices. Jarrett expresses incredulity that the Chinese are drilling for oil just off America's coast in Cuban waters while America can't drill in adjacent waters because of pesky environmental laws.

It's pretty bad to be referring to your show as involving "news" when you're peddling a claim that was debunked a week ago when used by Dick Cheney in an atrocious speech to the US Chamber of Commerce (which also featured a laughable fiscal policy analysis). There is no Chinese drilling for oil anywhere near the US. Varney than complained that Congress had blocked oil drilling in offshore waters 50-200 miles from the coast. "You wouldn't even see it, for God's sake" said Jarrett in response. You'd see it if there was a spill.

And to top it all off, Varney accidentally blundered into an accurate observation when he pointed out that the Saudi announcement of increased oil production had sent the oil price even higher. Yet neither of them thought through the implication that the current oil price trend clearly has little to do with additions of supply. Undeterred, Jarrett ended the segment with "maybe we can just buy our oil from the Chinese". Note how that Cuban oil (not that it exists anyway) is "our oil".

That was two minutes too long.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bless me Tim for I will sin

Dick Cheney yesterday, paying tribute to Tim Russert, RIP --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I always, when I think of Tim and think of "Meet the Press," that's the show that always comes to mind. We did it up at Camp David. The President and the national security team were meeting all weekend up at Camp David, planning our response to 9/11. And Tim came up there and we did the show from a facility right next door.

And it was a remarkable moment in American history. There was this tremendous sense, obviously, that something enormously significant had happened on 9/11. And, of course, we had lost 3,000 Americans that morning to the worst terrorist attack in our history. And Tim captured on the show -- and the way he handled it, captured the feeling and the emotion of the moment. But he also gave us a great opportunity to get into the substance of the kind of response that was being considered, analysis of who had done it.

Perhaps the most notorious segment from that interview --

[CHENEY] We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful. That's the world these folks operate in, and so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.

MR. RUSSERT: There have been restrictions placed on the United States intelligence gathering, reluctance to use unsavory characters, those who violated human rights, to assist in intelligence gathering. Will we lift some of those restrictions?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Oh, I think so. I think the--one of the by-products, if you will, of this tragic set of circumstances is that we'll see a very thorough sort of reassessment of how we operate and the kinds of people we deal with. There's--if you're going to deal only with sort of officially approved, certified good guys, you're not going to find out what the bad guys are doing. You need to be able to penetrate these organizations. You need to have on the payroll some very unsavory characters if, in fact, you're going to be able to learn all that needs to be learned in order to forestall these kinds of activities. It is a mean, nasty, dangerous dirty business out there, and we have to operate in that arena. I'm convinced we can do it; we can do it successfully. But we need to make certain that we have not tied the hands, if you will, of our intelligence communities in terms of accomplishing their mission.

Cheney was also too polite to mention in the context of the deceased Russert that in private notes revealed under the Libby investigation, he liked to go on the show because of the ability to control message.

UPDATE: It's odd that it's treated as Washington mystery as to where the idea for enhanced interrogation techniques came from, when Cheney is telling us in plain sight 3 days after 9/11.

George Bush has a preacher problem

Preparations for his Belfast visit --

As well as meeting new First Minister Peter Robinson and the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, it is reported that Mr Bush has also requested a meeting with former First Minister Ian Paisley.

Ian Paisley, at the opening lecture of his European Instiute of Protestant Studies --

Grace is more than love. It is love triumphant over the righteous judgement of God's Holy Law against the sinner and making God, the Holy God, absolutely free to embrace the sinner through the sacrificial death of Christ. It is God absolutely, inflexibly, just yet the justifier of him who believes in Jesus.

It is here we have the great divide with Rome's Antichrist. The Pope vests salvation in Himself and his cult of a sectarian priesthood and a sectarian priestcraft.

The Gospel brings in a universal priesthood of all believers in Jesus Christ who have no part, and want no part, in sacrificial acts or ceremony. The only thing they offer up is praises to God.

The Mass is an impostor sacrifice just as much as the Pope is an impostor Christ.

George Bush interview prior to the Pope's US visit --

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.

Photograph: John Harrison/Harrison Photography/PA via Irish Times

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Apparently the short-hand description of the problem has already been established: "The Irish No" -- which is sometimes a hiccup. Nicolas Sarkozy today --

Now, the Irish "no" is a political reality. It's a fact. It's happened. But the issue is not whether we like or not; it's a fact, we have to live with it. The Irish people said what they had to say, and we have to accept that. ... We have to continue doing so and that is Gordon Brown's intention, as he explained to me yesterday over the telephone, so that this Irish hiccup not become a major crisis.

... It seems to me that we have a duty to be more effective and look at what the daily lives of our fellow citizens look like. And I take the Irish "no" as a call for us to do things differently and do things better.

Or, as the tabloids say, PHWOOAARR!

George Bush, in his news conference with Nicolas Sarkozy --

And I thank you very much for the dinner last night. And it was a great pleasure to have been able to meet your wife [Carla Bruni]. She's a really smart, capable woman, and I can see why you married her. (Laughter.) And I can see why she married you, too. (Laughter.)

Prisoners without borders

We're coming a bit late to the US Supreme Court judgement that Guantanamo Bay detainees have habeas corpus rights broader than the highly limited appeal given to them by the Bush-McCain Military Commissions Act. The decision incisively gets at one of the paradoxes of the War on Terror, which on the one hand wants to claim that the war is being fought against a stateless entity requiring new instruments that were not used in the past -- while wanting to stick to an entirely traditional interpretation of the constitution as being valid only in the 50 states and territories.

It's usually conservatives hailing the wisdom of a document written over 200 years ago but maybe now they'll see the problem. If they want a new definition of habeas corpus that can survive scrutiny, then pass a new constitutional amendment. Or is it that they think the procedures for passing a new amendment are too cumbersome? Maybe there should first be an amendment to allow future constitutional amendments by popular referendum. Ireland shows how much fun that is!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Free ads

One minor anecdote from the defeat of the Lisbon Treaty referendum in Ireland --

Bookmaker Paddypower has admitted it made a mistake, after paying out more than €80,000 in bets on a Yes vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum. As polls closed at last night, the bookmaker made a decision to pay out punters who had backed a Yes vote after unofficial exit polls indicated a late surge in support for the treaty.

The blunder means the bookmaker will be forced to pay out over €180,000 in referendum bets.

Paddy Power seems to like the gimmick bets and it's hard to see this as anything other than a gimmick. What bookie pays out before an event has been determined, and on the basis of dodgy information? Unless they wanted the publicity.

It ain't the pasta, dude

George Bush, with his pal Silvio Berlusconi --

PRESIDENT BUSH: You're right, we're good friends, and I appreciate that very much. I also have enjoyed coming to Rome. I always leave with a little extra culture -- and a little fatter.

The photo (AFP/Jim Watson) shows the Pot Belly-in-Chief over 2 weeks ago, well clear of any visit to Rome.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Balancing the books

Dick Cheney, speaking before one of the few safe non-uniformed audiences for him, the US Chamber of Commerce --

Understandably, politicians who promise to get rid of the Bush tax cuts don't want to get into these details. They also neglect to point out that ending the tax cuts would hike the total Federal tax burden to about 20 percent of our Gross Domestic Product - nearly the highest ever. That would be a staggering burden on the nation's households, and it would throw discredit on the lawmakers who permitted government greed to reach that level.

Consider this horror level of 20 percent of GDP in taxes. Federal government spending as a percentage of GDP has been just at or above that level every year since 2003. On current projections, the final Bush-Cheney year in office could see it at 21 percent.

Thus Cheney is complaining about the average tax take required to actually pay for his level of government spending. The government greed is in the decision to spend, not the decision to tax. Discredit, indeed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sign of the times

It's not clear what exactly might bring home to Americans the dissipation in economic vitality that has occured under George Bush. But the indignity of having Budweiser beer owned by Belgians just might be it.

Plain English

Tom Friedman is the latest in a line of pundits to proclaim, based on their own anecdotal evidence, that Arabs would be enthralled with a Barack Obama presidency.

Maybe they would. But here is an alternative viewpoint gathered from recent BOBW world travels, with a sample size no worse than Tom Friedman's -- 2 Jordanians. They preferred Hillary. Because they found her manner of speaking much easier to understand. And it's true -- a typical Hillary speech is a patiently laid out set of steps that she would take on each issue. People forget that Obama's speaking style, as talented as it is, relies much more on rhetoric, abstraction, and allusion. Or at least they forget about it when trying to hitch non-native English speakers to the Obama bandwagon.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Job titles

George Bush, who presumably is carefully briefed on these things, seems to have trouble with somewhat sensitive job titles. In today's news conference in Slovenia, he twice referred to Javier Solana as "Foreign Minister". He is in fact the European Union's High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy. Calling him a minister plays into the fears of those who see a European Union superstate emerging, especially if and when the Lisbon Treaty is ratified (which will enhance the power of Solana's job).

Bush also can't help signalling his closeness to Saudi Arabia -- notwithstanding its uselessness in terms of getting the Saudis to pump more oil -- and he always does so as such:

Okay, John -- interesting idea by the -- His Majesty, the King of Saudi Arabia.

King Abdullah is not "His Majesty". That title would encroach on the traditional Islamic view that there is just God and everybody else. At most he is "His Royal Highness" but the preferred title is simply Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, which tries to capture the ephemeral nature of his job in the grand scheme of things.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The neocon God

William Kristol, who may or may not believe in God himself, has a quibble with Barack Obama --

His comment a week earlier at Wesleyan, that “our individual salvation depends on collective salvation,” I might add, would seem at odds with much of Christian teaching. But I’ll let Obama take that up with his minister.

Here's a comment that one would have thought poses a problem for Christian teaching --

We give thanks for our liberty -- and the universal desire for freedom that He [God] has written into every human heart.

That's George Bush, repeatedly claiming that he knows God's design and presenting this knowledge as justfication for the war in Iraq. William Kristol, theologian, has never offered his thoughts on that one.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The other side's "message force multipliers"

In what should be a worrying sign for anyone looking for evidence of preparation for covert military operations against Iran, the Pentagon's Central Command (in charge of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) has revealed that it is part of a government Task Force for Irregular Warfare (news story, transcript) --

[BRIGADIER GENERAL ROBERT HOLMES] Regionally, we look at influences of extreme actors that are malign, that would provide from within their borders, exporting either violence or activities that would be disruptive to their neighbors. And clearly, you know, in my mind, Iran fits that bill. And now this is not to say that as a military person that I'm stepping out of my lane into a political lane, to say that it's state-sponsored. But I will not do that.

What I will say is, is that in the battlespace, if you see malign actors, and it's clearly marked with Iranian influence in terms of tactics, techniques, procedures, equipment, training manuals and such as that; if you find bad stuff in the wrong places, then you've got to call it like you see it. And we clearly continue to see that and continue to watch that.

Apparently the tactics of these malign actors include disputing US claims about civilian casualties --

Taking a very serious look at civilian casualties, over the last year, we've seen an adversarial information operation or communications tactic with regard to civilian casualties. We saw it at the use of the Taliban in Afghanistan. And now I've seen, in my mind, this began to emerge in Iraq, as we see a challenge of a very insular discrepancy in what we see in open-source reporting, with regard to civilian casualties, and then what is actually in our operational reporting ... In some cases, they are called media emirs or they're called media facilitators. And these folks know -- I mean, they are savvy to manipulating media. We know that. And we also know that they're connected to stringers, they're connected to Internet blog sites

So if stringers or bloggers are the source of information about civilian casualties that differs from what the Pentagon provides, the former might be part of an enemy "information operation". On a day when an Afghan reporter working for the BBC was shot dead, it can't help to know that challenging the official version of events might put one under extra scrutiny from more people with guns. In fact, the threat extends more widely than just the sources of the pesky reporting --

The media outlets that our adversaries has used that we would see them network may not necessarily be as upright or as -- let me see if I can choose the right word -- as steadfast in the principles of journalistic truth.

This is all within the tradition of the incessant White House complaints about al-Jazeera, one of the many questions for a post-Bush inquiry to sort out is whether al-Jazeera was deliberately targeted by US forces as a result of such talk. But anyway, the purpose of the task force is to get malign actors out of the battlespace. Doesn't the GWOT imply that the "battlespace" is the whole world?

The Obama ad that will write itself

George Bush, in an interview with RAI prior to his visit to Europe (a visit that will have his staff wondering why everyone is ignoring him and watching some strange sport on TV) --

Now the debate begins as to who could be the best President. And I'm in an interesting position -- I ran hard for presidency twice; I campaigned hard in the off years, and now I'll be passing the mantle on to Senator McCain, particularly at the convention when he becomes the official nominee of our party. Obviously he's going to be the nominee, but there's a moment at the convention where it's -- "here he is."

Bring it on.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Beijing doesn't have much to worry about

At least in terms of embarrassing opening ceremonies. Somehow the display left was relevant to the Swiss location of the European Championship in Basel.

AP Photo/Petr David Josek

That program is still running

Michael Ledeen writes in the Wall Street Journal today comparing al Qaeda and Iran to Hitler and comparing Barack Obama and Europe in general to the Hitler's 1930s opponents. It could be dismissed as standard Bush-McCain talking points except for Ledeen's complete lack of acknowledgment of his own role in the week's news -- as facilitator of a backdoor intelligence operation linking dubious Iranian elements to Dick Cheney's Iraq war operation in 2002 --

When the CIA and the State Department discovered that Ledeen and Ghorbanifar were involved, they opposed any further contact with the two. Ledeen's contacts, the Defense Human Intelligence Service concluded, were "nefarious and unreliable," the Senate committee reported.

According to the report, Ledeen, however, persisted, presenting then-Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith with a new 100-day plan to provide, among other things, evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that supposedly had been moved to Iran — Saddam Hussein's archenemy. This time, the report said, Ledeen solicited support from former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and from three then- GOP senators, Sam Brownback of Kansas , Jon Kyl of Arizona and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

The brilliance of the Saddam-moved-WMDs-to-Iran claim is that it required a war against Iraq and Iran. One out of two ain't bad. So anyway, now he's complaining --

The rise of messianic mass movements is not new, and there is very little we do not know about them. Nor is there any excuse for us to be surprised at the success of evil leaders, even in countries with long histories and great cultural and political accomplishments.

The problem here is that lack of any evidence that Islamism is a mass movement. The best he can do is Ahmadinejad but even he is beset by issues like economic problems and competing power centers. Hence resorting to the lamest of calls to action --

There is little if any condemnation from the West, and virtually no action against it, suggesting, at a minimum, a familiar Western indifference to the fate of the Jews.

This is the type of PR that a war plan drawn up on a napkin ("During the Rome meetings, Ghorbanifar also laid out a scheme to overthrow the Iranian regime on a napkin during a late night meeting in a bar") gets you.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Stereotypes begin at home

Chris Matthews and his MSNBC Hardball panel are now complaining that Hillary Clinton is "withholding" (not as a verb). What she is withholding is not specified.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A new Tehran conference

It's amazing how quickly right-wing talking points are blowing up these days. There goes the Iran=appeasement thing, when it was just getting started --

ANKARA, Turkey - A Turkish TV station is quoting a senior military commander as saying that Turkey and Iran have carried out coordinated strikes against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.

CNN-Turk television reports that Gen. Ilker Basbug has confirmed for the first time that the two countries share intelligence against the rebels.

He said the two countries plan to launch more coordinated operations against the rebel group in the future.

American foreign policy messes create common interests. To run around yelling about "appeasement" when these messes are so complicated is not much of a credential for the next US President, unless it's someone who truly sees himself as running for George Bush's third term.

[Link of interest: the original Tehran conference]

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

As if a million talking points had cried out in terror ...

Following the Barack Obama AIPAC speech --

"Hamas does not differentiate between the two presidential candidates, Obama and (Republican John) McCain, because their policies regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict are the same and are hostile to us."

Monday, June 02, 2008


George Bush --

We'll work with the Congress, but the idea of a huge spending bill fueled by taxes -- increases -- isn't the right way to proceed.

It's quite an achievement to make that statement at an event "celebrating" his tax cuts, which were financed from borrowing from the future -- and not have it be about tax cuts financed by borrowing. It's about a bill in Congress that attempts to make the future environment a little bit better than it otherwise would be. That's Bush's idea of hurting future generations.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

They have adapted

Probably more of a Twitter style post, but observed while travelling: There are rabbits inside the airfield at Frankfurt international airport. They seem to like to hang out near, but not on the runway. One wonders if there's a scenario where it all ends badly.