Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fourth branch of government

In today's silly season document dump, George Bush has implemented what seems like a major reconfiguration of his spy agencies. Here's one intriguing section --

1.11 The Department of Homeland Security. In addition to the authorities exercised by the Office of Intelligence and Analysis of the Department of Homeland Security under sections 1.4 and 1.7(i) of this order, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall conduct, through the United States Secret Service, activities to determine the existence and capability of surveillance equipment being used against the President or the Vice President of the United States, the Executive Office of the President, and, as authorized by the Secretary of Homeland Security or the President, other Secret Service protectees and United States officials. No information shall be acquired intentionally through such activities except to protect against use of such surveillance equipment, and those activities shall be conducted pursuant to procedures agreed upon by the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General.

In other words, the securocrats get to test surveillance equipment on executive branch offices, just to make sure that no one else could do the same thing. But remember that Dick Cheney has argued that he has legislative branch functions as president of the Senate. Is there anything in that order that stops the securocrats from spying on the Senate through the link to Cheney, and "unintentionally" letting that information be used by the executive branch?

Extra Special Groups

There is some new branding in the press releases from Multi-National Forces Iraq. Previously, Iranian involvement in the insurgency was only hinted at through the designation Special Groups. But now --

BAGHDAD – Coalition forces captured two suspected criminals associated with Kata’ib Hezbollah Thursday morning in east Baghdad.

Based on intelligence information, Coalition forces targeted the location of an individual suspected of being a part of a propaganda cell for Kata’ib Hezbollah. This propaganda cell is suspected of making videos of attacks on Coalition and Iraqi forces, which are then used to raise funds and resources for additional attacks against Coalition forces and Iraqis.

So they are now claiming the existence of a new group, Hezbollah Brigades, with the presumed link to Hezbollah in Lebanon and via them to Iran. There has not been much presentation of evidence of this link.

Is August when the new marketing campaign for the war against Iran begins?

The public is revolting

Karl Rove in today's Wall Street Journal --

Mr. McCain's first Iraq problem is that he favored removing Saddam Hussein when it was popular -- 76% of Americans thought it was worth going to war in April 2003 -- and has maintained his support of the war even as it grew to be unpopular.

Karl Rove, a few sentences later --

Opinion surveys are notoriously unreliable in gauging public opinion on a complicated question like Iraq.

With this kind of analysis, it's not clear why the fact that Rove and his disciples are now running McCain's campaign is seen as such fearsome news.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Holy War

If you're wondering about the scope of the anti-Barack Obama arguments that you're likely to hear between now and November, consider this astonishing tirade on National Review online from Michael Novak. The conclusion --

Everyone knows silly bravado when he sees it. So let me lay some out. Since Osama bin Laden is out to harm Americans all he can, it seems only right that we should wear a flag to make it easy for him to find us. It would be disgraceful to cower.

Except that it's not clear it's bravado. Novak -- a self-styled Catholic intellectual -- really thinks that Barack Obama has dual loyalties as a citizen of the USA and a "citizen of the world" (a line from his Berlin speech) and is therefore not man enough to always wear his lapel pin. And the rooster crowed a third time, or something.

And Novak is not just another Fox News goon -- the White House sent him to Vatican before the Iraq war to persuade JP2 that Iraq would meet the just war criteria.

Speaking of wars, Novak also reveals how he honours the troops --

As for me, I have been wearing a flag in my lapel since September 11, 2001, and with special care ever since American forces took the war to the place whence it emanated, Afghanistan. As long as brave Americans were willing to accept, if necessary, wounds or death on our behalf, I felt a duty to be faithful to them: “This flag’s for them!” And will stay in my lapel until they are out of harm’s way.

God forbid that the lapel pin be crooked -- it would hurt the troops.

He does feel shame

How embarrassed is George W. Bush about the housing bill that he signed today, which gets the government more into the housing loan business and deepens its regulatory role in the housing finance market? Listed in the bills he signed over the last 12 hours it comes second, after --

The Clean Boating Act of 2008, which exempts certain discharges incidental to the normal operation of a recreational vessel from regulation under the Clean Water Act.

Because that's what it takes to sound like a conservative these days.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

No time for a wake

The US restaurant chain that sounded Irish, but was not -- Bennigan's -- has gone bust. Its sister company that sounded English, but was not -- Steak and Ale -- has gone the same way. Apparently the owner of the operations is still worth about $10 billion but the workers won't be paid for the rest of the week. Family restaurant, indeed.

The missing link

Fascinating story in today's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) --

Influential former Pentagon official Richard Perle has been exploring going into the oil business in Iraq and Kazakhstan, according to people with knowledge of the matter and documents outlining possible deals.

Mr. Perle, one of a group of security experts who began pushing the case for toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein about a decade ago, has been discussing a possible deal with officials of northern Iraq's Kurdistan regional government, including its Washington envoy, according to these people and the documents.

It would involve a tract called K18, near the Kurdish city of Erbil, according to documents describing the plan. A consortium founded by Turkish company AK Group International is seeking rights to drill there, the documents say. Potential backers include two Turkish companies as well as Kazakhstan, according to individuals involved.

Above, one man not mentioned in the story, Dick Cheney with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Cheney's links to Kazakhstan go back to his 1990s days with Halliburton. Nazarbayev, whose democratic credentials are dubious, has been a favourite of the White House for quite a while.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Condi must have a big event coming up

Condoleezza Rice is on a long overseas trip. Just a day after complaining in Australia that her job as Secretary of State cuts into her shopping time, she used a speech in Auckland to make reference to what she been up to in New Zealand --

Now, as we work to increase bilateral investment and bilateral trade, you've got a lot going for you. I was just helping out myself a little bit with Australian fashion -- with New Zealand fashion. And I want you to know that you've got good dress makers out there.

In case anyone missed it, given the Australia botch, she wrapped up by mentioning "New Zealand's dress makers to show off their talent". Presumably the fine work of the Antipodean tailors will be unveiled soon.

Condi also tried to flatter her hosts with a discussion of the Tri-Nations rugby --

I am a huge sports fan, and I plan myself tonight to watch. I was in Australia, as you know, just yesterday. And Australia is a good friend and a good ally. And I know that they are passionate, too, about their rugby. So I am not going to create a diplomatic incident. I will just say this. The Wallabies have their hands full with the All Blacks. I wish you the best of luck in bringing the Bledisloe Cup back to New Zealand. And I have been fully informed of all the compelling controversies and drama that attend this game.

Australia won 34-19.

On a more serious note, Condi touted the free trade credentials of the US --

It is not always an easy proposition to defend these days. There are plenty of demagogues who would say that all of the economic problems before us are really because we trade freely. In fact, we all know that our economic problems would multiply if we did not trade freely, and that the global trading system needs to be as free and as open as possible.

It requires, also, fairness in trade. And that's why we work together, through the WTO and other organizations, to make sure that countries live up to their obligations. And in this regard, the challenge and the opportunity posed by China, as it becomes a truly significant influence and force in this region, to make certain that, if China is going to be the force that it is in the international economy, that it will do so on a level playing field, that it will take the structural reforms that are needed, that it will defend intellectual property rights, that it will open its markets for financial services and other elements, that it will indeed be a responsible player in a global trading system.

It was a bad example to pick given her audience, since New Zealand, uniquely among industrial countries already has a free trade deal with China. Now that's commitment to free trade!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama Berlin speech

It's a good theme about tearing down walls but he mentioned Belfast. Belfast still has walls.

Cleverly builds on Reagan rhetoric but also echoes of Lincoln --

the walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand

Overall impression: from TV, speech seemed a bit flat -- bad acoustics? But the big applause reactions were telling: Iraq, nuclear weapons, and torture/rule of law.

There's a complaint from Byron York --

It's a small passage from Obama's Berlin speech, but this formulation, common in some circles, grates on some ears, like mine:

"The terrorists of September 11th plotted in Hamburg and trained in Kandahar and Karachi before killing thousands from all over the globe on American soil."

Yes, the victims were from all over the globe — places like Brooklyn, and the Bronx, and Manhattan, and Queens, and Staten Island, and New Jersey — all over. And most were Americans, weren't they? Wasn't that the point of the attack?

George Bush's 5th anniversary speech --

Nineteen men attacked us with a barbarity unequaled in our history. They murdered people of all colors, creeds, and nationalities -- and made war upon the entire free world.

[see also Political Animal and Crooked Timber]

Don't edit yourself

From Guido Fawkes: how a Times (UK) review of Café Boheme in Soho led to an enraged e-mail from the reviewer to his sub-editors ...

... fu**ing stripped it out like a pissed Irish plasterer restoring a renaissance fresco ...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Whatever you're having yourself

In the legislation going through the US Congress to help clean up the housing debt binge --

It includes about $15 billion in housing tax breaks, including a credit of up to $7,500 for first-time buyers, and increases the statutory limit on the national debt by $800 billion, to $10.6 trillion.

How were householders expected to behave responsibly with the biggest mortgage of all being taken out at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, secured with the future tax revenues of the country?

Hitler: Man of the Right

In Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg argued that fascism was an outgrowth of early 20th century left liberalism. Reviewing two books about Pius XII for the Spectator, Pope during World War II, historian Andrew Roberts writes about --

the discussion that took place between Roosevelt and Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli at FDR’s upstate New York home, Hyde Park, in 1936. According to the President’s recollection in 1943, the future Pope — then Vatican secretary of state — had said that the United States was ripe for a Communist take-over. FDR disagreed, saying that in fact the genuine peril was of America going Fascist. ‘No,’ said Pacelli. ‘Yes,’ said Roosevelt. ‘Mr President, you simply do not understand the terrible importance of the Communist movement,’ said Pacelli. ‘You just don’t understand the American people,’ FDR claimed to have replied.

This book also makes the plausible case that in the Twenties, Pacelli originally ‘saw Hitler’s Nazism as merely a political ruse. Aware that Hitler’s earliest ostensible political alliance was with the German Workers’ Party in 1919, Pacelli remained suspicious of Hitler as a politician of the left.’ He certainly told the US consul in Cologne, as late as 1939, that Hitler was not a true Nazi and that he ‘in spite of appearances would end up in the camp of the left-wing Nazi extremists where he began his career’.

Jonah reads this as: Pius XII thought that Hitler was a man of the left, therefore I am right to think of Hitler as a man of the left. The problem is, as Roberts notes, that Pius XII's assessment was the essence of his miscalculation about Hitler and his resulting ineffectiveness during the Holocaust. FDR -- one of the targets of Liberal Fascism -- understood that Fascism was a pernicious philosophy on its own terms, and very different from Communism.

Strange Bedfellows

President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, has some new friends: intellectual supporters of George W. Bush. In today's Wall Street Journal, David Rivkin and Lee Casey, tireless advocates for the imperial presidency, argue that the International Criminal Court indictment of al-Bashir is a mistake because it impedes diplomatic solutions to the Darfur crisis. So what is their preferred solution? --

International justice, especially for heads of state, works best after regime change. This was the lesson of the Nuremberg trials, of Saddam Hussein's trial and punishment by a liberated Iraq, and of the 1990s Balkan wars -- where Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic was turned over to the U.N.'s ad hoc court in The Hague after he was toppled.

Thus the only way to bring al-Bashir to justice is an invasion. Which won't happen of course, and no diplomatic solution will bring about regime change. So why shouldn't the ICC precommit to ensuring some kind of justice is part of any deal.

The other interesting thing is that Rivkin and Casey go the entire article without mentioning US opposition to the ICC, which was not on the grounds that indictments could impede diplomatic solutions to crises. It was on the grounds that the ICC could indict US citizens, which the Bush administration recast as a scenario where US troops participating in peace-keeping missions could be indicted for war crimes.

One wonders if George Bush now has lawyers looking at whether he or other senior officials might have ICC problems of their own once they are out of office. Hence the emergence of al-Bashir as a useful stick with which to beat the ICC.


More evidence that the assumption that the war in Iraq is in the homestretch may be unwarranted --

BAGHDAD – Acting on a citizen tip, Iraq Police officials found a surveillance camera underneath a bridge in the Karadah security district of eastern Baghdad July 19.

The tip led Iraqi Policemen from Baghdad Al Jadida to a video surveillance camera encased in foam underneath a bridge near Burma Road. Iraqi Security Force explosive experts destroyed the camera with an explosives charge.

A camera of course is so sophisticated that only the Iranians could have done it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Not the fault of the Roma

Random bizarre TV watching: RAI uno, a talent show for parents to promote their kids, and a 12 year old is singing I want to be loved by you complete with Marilyn Monroe stylings. The bosomy host is impressed. Thankfully little silvia is next with a more innocent act. But it looks like she didn't win over the panel.

Friday, July 18, 2008


National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez (via Andrew Sullivan) --

Bush said it like a man who, with a cautious optimism and a deep yearning, ultimately looks forward not simply to more time in Crawford, but after that, to the full revelation of those mysteries come his Judgment day.

Dick Cheney during his suite of Elijah hidden Imam interviews --

But Ahmadinejad is I think a very dangerous man. On the one hand, he has repeatedly stated that he wants to destroy Israel. He also has -- is a man who believes in the return of the 12th Imam; and that the highest honor that can befall a man is that he should die a martyr in facilitating the return of the 12th Imam.

It's a radical, radical point of view. Bernard Lewis once said, mutual assured destruction in the Soviet-U.S. relationship in the Cold War meant deterrence, but mutual assured destruction with Ahmadinejad is an incentive. You have to be concerned about that.

It's as if Ahmadinejad looks forward to the full revelation of mysteries come his Judgment Day.

Useful enemies

Aside from the laughably imprecise commitment embodied in George Bush's latest understanding with Iraqi PM al-Maliki about when US troops will leave --

a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals

it should also be noted that the new understanding also cites --

progress made toward completing a broad strategic framework agreement that will build on the Declaration of Principles signed last November

The very first principle of which is that the US endorses

Supporting the Republic of Iraq in defending its democratic system against internal and external threats.

an open-ended defence commitment (there will always be some "enemy") that in any other context would be the subject of a treaty and therefore require Senate ratification. Thus Bush's response to his apparent concession of agreeing any timeline for being out of Iraq is to rub the Senate's nose in his intention to do an end-run around his constitutional obligations. One of the many questions is whether he's attempting to constrain Barack Obama's visit to Iraq.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

How can he leave this behind?

It's a tad odd that the background on the wall for the religious tolerance conference in Madrid hosted by Kings Abdullah and Juan Carlos had depictions of the human form, which (by similar logic to the Danish cartoon controversy) might be offensive to Muslims. The images are even clearer during King Abdullah's chat with Jesse Jackson.
AP Photo/Victor Caivano

The Lebanonisation of Iraq

Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki meets with senior Lebanese politician Saad al-Hariri. Each endorsed the other's criticism of outside interference in their national affairs while sitting in governments in which Iranian-backed militias play powerful roles. Apparently, for the second day in a row, the road to a new Middle East runs through (or possibly over) Beirut.

Photo: REUTERS/Ali Al-Saadi/Pool (IRAQ)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Just a few weeks ago, George Bush was hailing Lebanon's new president, Michel Suleiman/Sleiman as the man who could bring all of the country together. Condi Rice followed up with more support for him and his government.

Today we have the sight of Suleiman, along with what seems like the entire Lebanese government, greeting Samir al-Kuntar on a reviewing stand in Beirut before everyone heads to the southern suburbs for a massive greeting rally for al-Kuntar and 4 other militants freed by Israel. al-Kuntar's "iconic" status flows from having smashed in the head of a 3.5 year old Israeli girl (along with the murder of 3 other Israelis). Hezbollah's initial welcome rally in southern Lebanon had their gloating signs in English, for the benefit of the cameras.

If you think the Northern Ireland peace process involved suppressing a lot of pain, this one takes it up a few notches. Or, as Condi said about the 2006 war, which essentially concludes with this swap, the birth pangs of a new Middle East.

UPDATE: Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has just made his first appearance in nearly a year at the south Beirut welcome rally, standing right next to al-Kuntar. George Bush's dream of a unified Lebanon is realised!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Decide for yourself

If memory serves, Kevin Myers and Mark Steyn are friends, or at least friendly acquaintances. Perhaps Myers was impressed with Steyn's recent run-in with a bizarre administrative speech-regulating tribunal in Canada. Anyway, Myers has drawn the wrath of the Immigrant Council of Ireland for this column from last week's Indo. They've zeroed in on --

They [non-African and once war-torn countries] are now -- one way or another -- virtually all giving aid to or investing in Africa, whereas Africa, with its vast savannahs and its lush pastures, is giving almost nothing to anyone, apart from AIDS.

But read the whole thing. It's harsh but heartfelt -- not heartless -- and surely within the range of depressing but not unwarranted Afro-pessimism. He uses Ethiopia as an example because of its large and recurring famines. He doesn't mention the lunacy of its expensive -- and Bush-inspired -- military adventure in Somalia, while people in both countries starve. But here's another example. Niger. Is it obvious why so many people continue to live there, with the Sahara on the march every day (and uranium sales to Saddam no longer the gravy train they once were)? There's not much hate-speech in what he's arguing.

In fact, one thing that we're fairly unaware of in the rich west is what being right next to a chaotic African civil war is like. Ask a South African (other than Thabo Mbeki). You just don't know whether that angry teenager in the street was just a few months ago an angry gun-toting teenager in, e.g. the DRC. It's a different calculation than rushing to the media to complain about offensive newspaper columns.

Another way Iraq is about oil

George Bush (who must be in a rush to start his holliers) at today's press conference --

And once you [an oil company] explore, your first exploratory, if you happen to find oil or gas, it is -- you'll find yourself in a position where a lot of capital is tied up. And it becomes in your interest, your economic interest, to continue to explore so as to reduce the capital costs of the project on a per-barrel basis.

So if you've spent a lot of money looking for oil, and find some, you have to look even more to find even more oil to make it worth while to have spent money in the first place.

He's never heard of sunk costs: that the past exploration money is gone and the only issue is whether it's a good decision from this point forward to keep exploring.

Which is pretty much why he'll never leave Iraq. He needs to spread the cost of the project out on a per-casualty basis.

Monday, July 14, 2008

He needs oil from one and DVD players from the other

George Bush celebrating the 10th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act and bravely bashes countries that Borat might be from, but then gets to some carefully hedged criticism --

We remember those seeking religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, where the religious police continue to harass non-Muslims -- yet where we also believe reforms pledged by King Abdullah can bring real change. We remember those seeking religious freedom in China, and we honor those who press for their liberties -- people like Uighur Muslims.

Don't hold your breath for a Mass in Riyadh anytime soon. And the Uighur Muslims in western China have for their trouble gotten classified as part of al-Qaeda and thus subject to all the fun of the Global War on Terror -- including Gitmo.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Using the dead to speak ill of the living

Former White House Press Secretary and Fox News anchor Tony Snow has died. Rest in Peace. Part of the conservative response to every death from "their" side nowadays is to complain that everyone else is not being sufficiently solemn about it. Most recent exhibit: Jesse Helms. So here is National Review;'s Kathryn Jean Lopez complaining about an incidental mention in an AP report that Snow sometimes had his facts wrong --

So the AP gets points this morning in the nasty, unnecessary, and off categories.

But just down the screen is Byron York --

Everyone knew that things had been going badly there [White House, 2006], with the war in Iraq taking a downturn, the CIA leak affair, and spokesman Scott McClellan's inability to engage reporters in real, substantive exchanges from the podium ... People knew things were a mess in the communications shop at the White House, and they knew Tony couldn't come out and say it, but that was why he took the job.

The agenda of course to bash Scott McClellan following his recent frank and damning criticism of the White House. As for those "frank and substantive exchanges" that Snow had with the press corps, who amongst us has forgotten Operation Together Forward/Forward Together?

Friday, July 11, 2008

The latest extra-evil bad guys

It's worth occasionally checking the list of Multi-National Forces Iraq press releases for the latest acronym --

Two injured during IRAM attack on JSS Ur
Multi-National Division – Baghdad PAO

BAGHDAD – A U.S. Soldier and an interpreter working with Coalition forces received minor injuries when eight explosions went off in the vicinity of Joint Security Station Ur in northeast Baghdad at approximately 1 p.m. July 8.

The explosions were caused by an Improvised Rocket Assisted Mortar attack against CF working to help the people of Iraq establish security, essential services and improve the quality of life.

So it sounds like they attach some rockets to a bunch of munitions -- of the type left around during the "stuff happens" era -- and point it towards a target. Here's a report by the AP going into more detail on what are also being called "lob bombs":

The 107 mm rockets that are used in the improvised bombs — which some call an airborne version of the roadside bombs that through the course of the war have been the leading killer of U.S. troops — are manufactured in Iran, officials said. But some officers cautioned against assuming Iran is directly involved.

The weapons are launched from small trucks and are fired in multiples of four to nine rockets at a time. The detonation is sometimes triggered by a signal from a cell phone, other times by a washing machine timer.

Brig. Gen. Will Grimsley, deputy commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, said in a separate AP interview on Thursday that for lack of a better term he refers to the group as "the evil militia." He said it is small and exhibits a high degree of technical skill in assembling the weapons and executing attacks ...

Hammond said the perpetrators are so skilled that he has likened their organization to the U.S. military's secretive and elite Delta Force. He said they have demonstrated an unusual degree of military skill and cunning.

"They don't leave a forensic trail, and that just means we're going to have to work a little bit longer" to eliminate them, he said. "Of everything we've had to deal with here, this is a tough one. They're sort of the Delta Force of this enemy we face out there. They are very good" at covering their tracks, picking out targets and preserving secrecy about their membership and movements.

At one level it seems strange that this highly improvised device can get one labelled a terrorist genius. But perhaps that's always going to be problem with Iraq. The threat evolves. And somehow each innovation is billed as something that the Iranians must have come up with.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Enforcing loyalty to the end

White House announcements --


Clifford D. May, of Maryland, to be a Member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors for a term expiring August 13, 2009, vice Mark McKinnon.


Mark McKinnon, of Texas, to be a Member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors for a term expiring August 13, 2009, vice Fayza Veronique Boulad Rodman, which was sent to the Senate on January 9, 2007.

The net effect is to pull the nomination of Bush-Cheney stalwart McKinnon, who had strayed from the true path with words of praise for Barack Obama (and indications that he wouldn't work for John McCain with Obama as an opponent) and replace it with neocon Cliff May, who can bring the message of the various Washington freedom-style institutes with which he is affiliated to taxpayer-financed broadcasting. Note that Cliff May will be familiar to regular attendees at Phil debates at Trinity College Dublin.

UPDATE: An alternative interpretation is that McKinnon wants to stay involved with the McCain campaign and so would be too awkward as a Senate nominee. How Cliff May -- who will spend the next 4 months bashing Obama -- is a better pick in that regard is not clear.

FINAL UPDATE: More background on May's role in the Republican noise machine.

If it's oil, it doesn't count

National Review's Byron York --

And finally, Allen doesn't appear to consider that the Obama Muslim thing didn't just appear out of thin air. We've never had a candidate with as many ties to Islam as Obama, and in this post-9/11 world, that attracts attention.

White House photo by David Bohrer

The most dangerous country in the world

Iran is such an existential threat to everybody that they have to doctor their photos of missile launches so that there seems to be more missiles than there actually are. Does this make Photoshop an ancillary weapon of mass destruction?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Out means out

It was never going to be easy for the neocons to spin their way out of the Iraqi government's call for a timetable for US withdrawal. Today's Wall Street Journal lead editorial shows the problem. It begins by taking at face value --

the Iraqi prime minister ... saying his government was "looking at the necessity of terminating the foreign presence on Iraqi lands and restoring full sovereignty."

but by the end, the recommendation is that --

Inside Iraq, a significant long-term U.S. presence would also increase the confidence of Iraq's various factions to make political compromises. And outside, it would improve regional stability by giving the U.S. a presence in the heart of the Middle East that would deter foreign adventurism.

Which is more or less the argument made for the original, temporary, Surge. The editorial also makes a strange call for Egypt, but not Kuwait, to provide debt relief to Iraq (Iraq's debt to Kuwait is much larger), and quotes Swift Boater T. Boone Pickens predicting 2.5 million extra barrels of oil from Iraq over the coming years while just across the same page Pickens has his own article predicting gloom and doom for global oil production. These Texas oilmen just seem to say whatever suits them at the time, but we knew that already from the White House.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Desperate Summit Wives

Sarah Brown and the other G8 wives (note that Carla Bruni and Mr Merkel wisely stayed away from Japan) look at a Japanese robot. It would seem cooler if (as they probably are not) were fans of Beck.

They never learn

You'd think after 8 years of experience, people would have learned: playing nice with George Bush is for suckers. Just at recent G8s we have -- Yo, Blair; the Angela Merkel backrub, Yo, Harper, and now an insulting (to Silvio) biography of the Italian PM in the White House briefing book for the press corpse --

The biography, written by Encyclopedia of World Biography, said Berlusconi burst onto the political scene with no experience and used his "vast network of media holdings" to finance his campaign on a promise to "purge the notoriously lackadaisical Italian government of corruption."

The biography went on to say that Berlusconi was appointed to the prime minister's office in 1994, "however, he and his fellow Forza Italia Party leaders soon found themselves accused of the very corruption he had vowed to eradicate."

In the Bush White House, cooperation = loss of respect. Or, as the Italian media put it -- Gaffe Usa: «Berlusconi? Politico dilettante in un Paese corrotto». Poi Bush si scusa

It happens when there's a summit in Japan

George Bush discovers the G8 summit bento box.

Monday, July 07, 2008

At least there's not a visit to a market

When the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff visits, Sadr City doesn't get a whole lot of trust. And that's post-Surge.

Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy Petty Offier 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

Why does George Bush hate the flag?

He has allowed some pesky G8 pin to displace his flag lapel pin, an awkward position that also seems to have left him as the only two-pinned leader at the G8 summit.

White House photo by Eric Draper

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Great gray north

Canadian PM Stephen Harper shows his legacy fashion sense from his past career as an economist for his arrival at the G8 summit in Tokyo. Contrast with Silvio Berlusconi who, alone among the G8 leaders, dumped the tie and looks ready to go clubbing.

UPDATE: Perhaps Harper was trying to seem inconspicuous to avoid the dreaded "Yo" from Bush. He failed.

What political reporters see in the mirror

From today's New York Times article by Mark Leibovich describing how a team from Fox News and the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign is retooling John McCain --

He [McCain] said he was trying to be “extra vigilant” about not giving unnecessary offense, knowing that the wisecracking humor that might charm cynical reporters might not do the same for earnest voters.

Voters too weak to handle jokes, according to the reporters.

Image: Wikepedia Commons

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Another problem with the 15 words

This AP news story describes how difficult it was to move, over the last few weeks, Iraq's pre-1991 stockpile of yellowcake -- concentrated natural uranium -- from Iraq to a buyer in Canada.

carrying 3,500 barrels by road to Baghdad, then on 37 military flights to the Indian Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia and finally aboard a U.S.-flagged ship for a 8,500-mile trip to Montreal.

The shipment arrived today. The route was forced by the refusal of Kuwait to cooperate and fear of taking the convoy too close to Iran. If it's that difficult to move the stuff around, how plausible was it that Saddam -- under even more constraints -- would have been able to move in a post-1991 shipment from Niger?

Rash and bloody deeds

Powerline's "Hindrocket" --

In Great Britain, following decades of increasingly stringent gun control, private ownership of handguns was banned in 1997. And, in fact, there appear to be few firearms in private hands.

But the result has not been what was intended. Crime rates in the U.K. have risen steadily, and violent crime has increased alarmingly in recent years. London is currently in the grip of a crime wave, as one brutal, sensational murder follows another. The perpetrators are nearly always young, and the crimes, often unspeakably vicious, are generally of the type conventionally labeled "senseless." The weapon of choice these days is the knife, and British papers are full of discussion of what to do about "knife crime."

From this you wouldn't want to conclude that knives have simply substituted for guns to produce a US style crime wave. For example, for the last period measured, 2006/07, England and Wales had 19,157 crimes of "most serious violence against the person" (Table 2.04), of which 755 were homicides. Statistical changes impede a direct comparison with the late 1990s, so evidence of a "crime wave" is tenuous (and the number of homicides is little different, despite population growth).

But here's another comparison. You can get to almost the same number of homicides by adding the 2007 murders for Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Forth Worth -- cities with a combined population of just over 5 million people, and therefore less than a tenth of the population of England and Wales. The aggravated assault comparison is just as bad.

Knife crime is of course a problem. But it doesn't spin you out of confronting the role that the overall supply of guns plays in driving crime rates in the USA.

Is that it?

Condi Rice, setting an amazingly low bar for judging the war on terror --

"We're now beginning to see that perhaps it's not so popular to be a suicide bomber. We're beginning to see that perhaps people are questioning whether Osama Bin Laden ought to really be the face of Islam," Rice, 53, said in an interview to be broadcast this weekend on Bloomberg Television's Conversations with Judy Woodruff.

This 7 years after 9/11.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Awaiting Benedict's endorsement

It seems that pretending to be Catholic is an important part of the electoral repertoire of actual and aspiring Republican Presidents. In the photo (AFP/Luis Acosta), McCain stands before an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, an image that would presumably be condemned as idolatrous by his evangelical supporters.

UPDATE: Jeb Bush, who converted to Catholicism years ago, was also on the trip.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Suspicious mind

It's great news that Ingrid Betancourt and 314 other hostages were freed by the Colombian military. Let's hope that the many other civilian hostages are freed soon and that the FARC will be extinct.

But what are the odds that the spectacular publicity coup happens with John McCain in town?

UPDATE: Not to mention with President Uribe under legal pressures! And apparently the White House wants us to know that George Bush is on the job with the congratulations.

FINAL UPDATE: CNN is already going with the angle that the hostage rescue is bad for the Democrats because it calls attention to the stalled US-Colombia free trade agreement.

VERY FINAL UPDATE: In her post-rescue statement, Ingrid Betancourt compared the rescue operation to the most famous of the Israeli commando raids -- on the same day that Israel had to swallow a prisoner swap with Hezbollah. Times have changed.

The last thing he said is right

The value of $1 in terms of euro over the last 5 years.

George Bush --

Yes. Well, we're strong-dollar people in this administration and have always been for a strong dollar, and believe that the relative strengths of our economy will reflect that.

UPDATE: Bush's handlers seem to love this logic. Here he is today in Japan --

In terms of the dollar, the United States strongly believes -- believes in a strong dollar policy and believes that our -- the strength of our economy will be reflected in the dollar.

Q -- (inaudible) --

PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I just said the relative strength of our economy will be reflected in currencies.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

It's an ill-wind

The global economic downturn has seen an upturn in the usage of the phrase "tipping point" by international organizations. Does Malcolm Gladwell get a royalty for each mention?

US Constitution, RIP

History will show that George Bush killed it. But he had help. Yesterday brought an interesting parallel in opining writing: Both Jim Manzi (of the National Review) and the FT's Clive Crook made a very similar argument that the US Supreme Court has become pointless as a supposed arbiter of disputes between the other branches of government and instead is just a mirror of those disputes, with the tiebreaker being whatever mood one particular justice is in on a particular day, which is a strange way to run a country.

But Manzi is the one writing for the National Review and therefore a bit more locked into the Republican taboos, so it's only Crook who can make the obvious link from this argument to the most atrocious, most partisan Supreme Court decision -- Bush versus Gore. Crook also points out that Barack Obama is the only one showing a glimmer of a vision of the Court as something other than another legislative branch of government.