Tuesday, March 31, 2009

He forgot "capo de tutti capo"

This picture of a bizarrely shaped room shows Arab summit host the Emir of Qatar, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and President Gadhafi of Libya. It seems like a pleasant chat.

A few hours later ...

Gadhafi disrupted the opening Arab League summit in Qatar by taking a microphone and criticizing Saudi's King Abdullah, calling him a "British product and American ally."

When the Qatari emir tried to quiet him, the Libyan leader and current Africa Union chairman insisted he be allowed to speak.

"I am an international leader, the dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the imam (leader) of Muslims, and my international status does not allow me to descend to a lower level," Gadhafi said.

Gadhafi, who is known for his unpredictable behavior, then got up and walked out of the summit hall. A Libyan delegate said he went to an Islamic museum in Doha for a tour.

The museum is apparently excellent.

Monday, March 30, 2009

They should wear matching dark-coloured shirts

Over the years, David Rivkin and Lee Casey have told Wall Street Journal op-ed page readers that torture is constitutional but asking workers whether they want to sign cards (Employee Free Choice Act) to support the unionization of the workplace is unconstitutional.

Corporate hotel TV

Is it really a good idea, between all the economic crisis features on Bloomberg TV, for a heavy advertiser to be "Internaxx -- for offshore shares and investment funds"? Another spot broadcasts their competencies in Contracts for Difference, which helped bring down Anglo-Irish Bank. Internaxx is based in Luxembourg. Hopefully Gordon Brown doesn't watch the ads.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cartoons for grown-ups

In the space of 6 posts on National Review's The Corner you can go from Mark Steyn sighing at how Europe is shutting down freedom of expression when it comes to anything connected to Islam to Andy McCarthy demanding that cartoonists should be shut down when it comes to anything that might imply that the War on Terror as defined by the US and Israel is not a truly fantastic enterprise.

And McCarthy really is arguing that such cartoons should be banned (the context is a heavy-handed Pat Oliphant cartoon), for there is no other implication from his endorsement of the view that they help "the enemy". To the extent that one can divine any principle in McCarthy's approach to deciding what gets banned and what doesn't, it's that people in Muslim countries are stupid and easily inflamed by cartoons. So he'd be in favour of any cartoons as long we're sure that those people couldn't see them.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The first reports were right

We weren't paying enough attention to this one. The Telegraph's Toby Harnden tries to sort out how the Cowen-Obama teleprompter mix-up got turned into the claim that Obama had mechanically read Cowen's speech from the teleprompter. Basically an unclear wire report got laundered through a pre-existing Obama/teleprompter narrative and became a Rush Limbaugh talking point. But note that the Irish Times report on the actual event was correct. As a general point, it's good to begin debunking such shite with some actual reporting from someone who was at the event.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

This European Parliament actually says stuff

Here's a link to the transcript of Gordon Brown's session with the European Parliament on Tuesday. The session has attracted huge attention due to Dan Hannan MEP getting the opportunity that no backbench MP would get -- to deliver a sustained assault on Gordon Brown's record while Gordon has to sit there and listen. Now, one thing the transcript brings out is that Hannan had prepared his speech in advance, because amongst his accusations to Brown --

Who would have guessed listening to you just now that you were the author of the phrase "British jobs for British workers",

but Nigel Farage had already made sure that the listeners knew it was Brown's phrase before Hannan spoke. But anyway, the whole thing is worth a read -- the session was extremely lively and had a much more big picture context (Europe/G20) than a national parliament session would have had.

It's hard not to bring work home

How many Foreign Secretaries like Hillary Clinton would have to listen to their spouses say over breakfast, "Well, as I was saying to King Abdullah yesterday, ..."

Above, the irrepressible Bill Clinton with the King a couple of days ago. Since that appears to be a picture of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in the background, the Obama-hating crazies might want to extend the list of Presidential Muslims to include Bill. He's already been accused of just about everything else so he won't mind.

Euro-diplomat speak

When Czech PM and European Union council president Mirek Topolánek said that Barack Obama had put America on the way to hell, he was just calling for more discussion between the US and the EU.

UPDATE: This is becoming a farce. Topolánek now says that he said "road to perdition" and not "road to hell" but also that Tim Geithner had freaked out the EU Council a couple of weeks ago.

What exactly is this EU-USA summit next week supposed to discuss?

Note that there still appears to be no official transcript of what he said to the European Parliament.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


What? The Project for a New American Century. PNAC. You remember, the late 1990s manifesto that called for the removal of Saddam Hussein and a few short years later its principals were achieving their dream, although when they wrote it, 9/11 hadn't happened yet. Life is strange that way.

So fast forward about 10 years and we see Bush loyalist Pete Wehner working in a mention of

an important and necessary new organization, The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI),

Head to the FPI website and the principals turn out to be Robert Kagan, William Kristol, and Dan Senor -- a more Iraq 2003-connected roster you'd be hard pressed to find. FPI is set up to get tax-deductible contributions, so it can't engage in partisan activities, but an outfit this close to George Bush is going to need scrutiny. Perhaps Joe Lieberman is giving them bipartisan cover, and impressively, they have an Irish politics expert on staff -- it's good for Ireland to provide a diversion for what would otherwise seem like a neocon project.

But make no mistake: this is the Project for a New American Decade. We know how well it's predecessor worked out.

Is this funny?

A "comedy" sketch on Irish state broadcaster, RTÉ --

Nightlive presenter ‘Trevor Corcoran’ tells the cameras that his nephew died of leukaemia ten years before. “He never got a chance to see me drive Formula Ford at Mondello or caddy for me at Castleknock’s new golf course.”

Another viewer complained about a scene which shows a wheelchair-bound young boy with an oxygen mask and hooked up to a drip. The ‘weatherman’ repeatedly tells the boy to utter a catchphrase but he can only stutter and cough.

RTÉ defended Nightlive as a comedy programme which parodies a fictitious news programme and insisted that the joke was really on the shallow, self-centred presenters.

We were going to do a post about how there's a strain of modern Irish "humour" that relies on making fun of easy targets, but it didn't seem worth the trouble. But then we got to found out what RTE's standard is when a guerrilla artist manages to make fun of actual powerful people: the depictions of a naked PM Brian Cowen (a witty commentary on the public finances, if nothing else) get censored from the public record after they were first reported. See Damien for more. Clearly the artist didn't make enough fun of terminally ill kids to survive RTE's standards.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ireland's reputation takes new hit

Already battling the label of a haven and with ethics in the banking-property sector that would shame an actual haven, this is not what Ireland needs --

WASHINGTON (AP) — An Irish trading company and three of its officers have been charged with sending helicopter engines and other aircraft parts to Iran.

A 25-count indictment unsealed in federal court in Washington Tuesday charges the Mac Aviation Group and three men of buying the components from U.S. companies and sending them to Iran through companies in Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates ... Justice Department officials said they are seeking the arrest and deportation of the three Irishmen — company owner Tom McGuinn, his son Sean McGuinn, who is the sales director, and commercial manager Sean Byrne.

The three need to compare notes with Sean Garland.

[more on the indictment]

Monday, March 23, 2009

The War on Notre Dame University

It was inevitable the moment they announced that President Barack Obama would be their commencement speaker. Apparently the conservative idea of a university, if you will, is that the students can't risk hearing from a President with whom some of them might disagree. So our old friend George Weigel as a plan --

As to Lenin’s question, "What, then, is to be done?," one does not risk a charge of cynicism by suggesting that the most effective advocates for Notre Dame's recovering its senses will be alumni and other donors capable of withdrawing or withholding contributions in the range of seven, eight, or nine figures.

It's funny how the conservative reaches so easily for the Communist revolutionary quote, like it was second nature. [In fact, the quote has Biblical echoes too]. Note also that his suggested strategy relies not on debate, but punishment. Compassionate conservatism, indeed.

UPDATE: A fellow critic of NDU's decision, Richard Garnett, seems nonetheless unhappy with Weigel,

It's easy for [insert name here] Completely Pure Catholic College (or blogger) to avoid dilemmas (and mistakes) like Notre Dame's, because no one cares about that College (or blogger).

Weigel would apparently rather that there not be a top ranked Catholic university like Notre Dame than one which would dare let a pro-choice President set foot on its campus. Enjoy the cocoon, dude.

The Real Bush Legacy Project

Today Tim Geithner gave the details of the US Treasury Public-Private Partnership approach to bad banking system assets. It continues to bear some resemblance to the Swiss StabFund, although in the Swiss case, the private partner is the incumbent bank (UBS). Interesting fact: the US Fed helped finance the Swiss plan. Anyway, to help mere mortals understand it, the press release includes examples --

Step 4: The fund manager commences the sales process for the investment fund and is able to raise $100 of private capital for the fund. Treasury provides $100 equity co-investment on a side-by-side basis with private capital and will provide a $100 loan to the Public-Private Investment Fund. Treasury will also consider requests from the fund manager for an additional loan of up to $100 to the fund.
Step 5: As a result, the fund manager has $300 (or, in some cases, up to $400) in total capital and commences a purchase program for targeted securities.

Is it possible that the actual draft of the original plan is just exactly as above, except with 9 more zeroes attached to all the numbers?

UPDATE: Paul Krugman shows that things get more interesting when you attach probabilities to the numbers.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Too distracting to get right

In the New York Times Week in Review, Sheryl Gay Stolberg discusses the phenomenon of the political distraction -- the seemingly minor contretemps that blows up into a much bigger issue than the underlying issue of which it is a part. Looking to find bipartisan distractions, she cites the Dubai Ports World case --

George W. Bush was blindsided by an executive branch decision to contract with Dubai Ports World, an Arab-owned company, to manage terminals in six American ports.

What these stories share is a simple and clear narrative that captures the public imagination by tapping into some larger fear or existing perception — “a proxy for a bigger concern,” in the words of Ed Gillespie, former counselor to Mr. Bush ... Eric Ueland, who was chief of staff to one Republican critic, the former Senate majority leader Bill Frist. “A lot of elements combined, so that when somebody said, quite simply, ‘The Bush administration is turning ports over to a Middle Eastern government,’ you got a lot of resonance.”

While the interpretation is right, the description of the underlying facts is not. The Bush administration did not give any contracts to DPW. Instead, a committee charged with review of overseas takeovers of US entities approved the DPW takeover of P&O (itself a furrin company) which ran those 6 ports in the US.

Thus there's an unintentional illustration of one reason why "distractions" accelerate in the media: they don't get described properly, to the point where the meta-narrative into which they are inserted infects the underlying facts. The transition from truth to truthiness, if you will. And it's happening again. Here's Frank Rich (in an otherwise good column) today --

Summers was even more highhanded in addressing the “retention bonuses” handed to the very employees who brokered all those bad bets.

The very employees who ran AIG into the ground are long gone. That's part of the problem. If we had negative bonuses for them, we'd be getting somewhere.

UPDATE: It's been brought to our attention that the DPW imbroglio was eventually solved by selling the ports to ... AIG!

The gnomes strike again

So all the cool bloggers from Paul Krugman on down have bashed the emerging details of the US Treasury rescue plan for banks. Much of the complaints concern who will bear the losses from the distressed assets that would be offloaded under the plan. Note that the losses have to be borne by somebody, and in a world of limited liability, that somebody is not going to be shareholders and managers -- to the full extent of the losses -- no matter what you do. But the specific complaint is that the plan results in huge gains for the incumbent banks, since they get to dump all the bad assets onto the government.

Last October, the Swiss central bank (SNB) took over $50 billion in bad Union Bank of Switzerland assets. The deal looks a lot like what the US Treasury is now proposing. The assets sit in a special purpose vehicle, StabFund, and SNB bears most of the risk of what the assets are worth. Third party valuation experts determined the sale price.

The above is a chart of the UBS share price on the Swiss stock exchange over the last year, plus the market index (in orange). You'd be hard pressed to see the supposed windfall to UBS shareholders. But the government has kept the economy from tanking, and it has kept politicians from coming up with new bills every day of the week to determine managerial compensation in its banks. Let's give Geithner and Obama a chance.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong defends the Geithner plan.

FINAL UPDATE: So does Andrew Sullivan, for whom the chance to be in opposition to Paul Krugman seems irresistible. Suggestion to Sully: if Krugman picks a fight over this one, ask him if he still stands by his 2008 assessment of Gordon Brown.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Irish Economic Crisis is Over

Wales 15-17 Ireland

Maybe RBS should have bet all the taxpayer capital on Ireland and their problems would be solved.

AP Photo/Paul Thomas

All eyes on Cardiff

It's that kind of match.

UPDATE: Superb stuff. Would have been a shame to lose on a penalty.

AP Photo/Paul Thomas

Friday, March 20, 2009

Get the diplomats on the case

Awkward phrasing from the New York Times --

A.I.G. sued the government last month in a bid to force it to return the payments, which stemmed in large part from its use of aggressive tax deals, some involving entities controlled by the company’s financial products unit in the Cayman Islands, Ireland, the Dutch Antilles and other offshore havens.

That's company that Ireland doesn't want to be in.

UPDATE: Both the Irish Times and Washington Post have read the underlying court documents. The Washington Post has a description of one dodge --

in one transaction, the Bank of Ireland "acquired nominal legal title" to shares of an AIG subsidiary called Maitengrove Finance while another AIG subsidiary "retained equitable title and beneficial ownership" of the shares "for federal income tax purposes."

[previous AIG - Ireland links]

Bismarck: Man of the Left

Jonah Goldberg --

Indeed, the original kulturkampf was launched to crackdown on "backward" and superstitious religionists (AKA Catholics) who wouldn't cave into modernity, science, and the national interest as German protestant progressives understood it.

Note how a 19th century cocktail of religious reformation and nationalism is being defined as "progressive". Apparently Barack Obama has taken up the baton.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Free the AIG 400

AIG has probably decided that it's not worth fighting the retroactive bonus confiscation at this point, but the actual legislation (H. R. 1586) appears to exclude "commission" from the definition of bonus. Thus, if the firm wanted to, it could restructure compensation for last year to have been based on the number of credit default swap contracts closed, label those payments commissions, and get its people paid that way. Which does raise the question of why they didn't structure the payments that way the first time. But with Congress making an utter fool of itself, maybe better late than never.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How they are related

Being an irresponsible non-JournoList approved blogger, we present the following associations. Make of them what you will.

George Bush has a contract from Crown for a book tentatively titled Decision Points. (he really did love being The Decider, apparently).

Crown is an imprint of Random House.

Random House is owned by Bertelsmann AG.

Bertelsmann AG collaborated with the Nazis.

Enough said.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Another one for the AIG bonfire

The US government was providing billions of dollars to Société Générale via the AIG credit default swap bailout during a period when the US Federal Reserve was not sure, and is still not entirely sure, that SocGen was complying with US money laundering provisions. If this was a crazy populist blog, we'd be claiming that this means that US taxpayer money could have been part of a money laundering enterprise. But this is a sedate and reflective blog so we won't.

No wonder Bush didn't like them

Since George Bush is making speeches again (to replenish the ol' coffers), we get to mention him again. Here's AIG CEO Edward Liddy being confronted by Code Pink protesters at his Congressional appearance today concerning the AIGFP bonus scandal. That would the same Code Pink of which yesterday's Calgary barnstormer said --

And we darn sure didn't seek the approval of groups like Code Pink and MoveOn.org before deciding what to do. (Applause.)

He should have checked with them before the AIG bailout, which, after all, was Bush's bailout.

Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Traditional and modern

There was a St Patrick's day breakfast event in Washington DC hosted by the Northern Ireland USA delegation office. The co-First Ministers (for what's what they are, despite the titles) Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson were there plus just about every elected official in Northern Ireland and Irish foreign minister Micheál Martin.

Alone among the VIPs observed by sources close to this blog, Micheál Martin was the only one wearing the once obligatory sprig of shamrock. For the rest, it was either the muted green tie (such as McGuinness) or no particular symbol at all. The latter approaches seemed more with the times. [note: the White House photos confirm that the shamrock is something Dublin politicians do -- but was there no one to iron Cowen's suit?]

As for the speeches, McGuinness left no doubt about his vehemently negative attitude to the dead-enders. At one point he even referred to how the government was "marching on", a nice sign that the prospect of "marching" has lost its old resonance. Happy St Patrick's Day.

UPDATE: As rumoured a few weeks ago, Barack Obama has used the day to announce Dan Rooney as his Ambassador to Ireland.

FINAL UPDATE: Ever thinking about the electoral ballot paper, Brian Cowen's banter with Barack Obama at the White House just now included his claim that he'd never want Obama running for election against him in Laois-Offaly.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Keeping an eye on the Tsar

It's quite an achievement to manage some breathtaking hypocrisy in a few lines of diplomatic babble but here's Irish foreign minister Micheál Martin with Hillary Clinton today in Washington --

FOREIGN MINISTER MARTIN: First of all, we warmly welcomed the decision to close Guantanamo, and indeed Ireland was one of the first countries out calling for its closure.

The problem is that the meaningless me-firstism that he cited has to be put in context of Ireland's tacit cooperation with Gitmo through the rendition flights at Shannon, for which the government has dodged accountability by demanding "evidence" knowing full well that the US won't provide it.

Perhaps Minister Martin is promising full cooperation with Binyam Mohamed's legal team?

How many Middle East envoys does Obama have?

In this official Saudi news agency picture, King Abdullah meets John Brennan to get a "message" from Barack Obama. Interestingly, both Brennan's job and those of the Saudi attendees at the meeting would rank as interior counterterrorism stuff and not diplomacy. It seems that Brennan also went to Yemen. This suggests that something is being cooked up about Guantanamo Bay. The odd thing is, it sounded like Daniel Fried had been given the Gitmo closure job.

Meet the new boss

From The News (Pakistan) explaining some of the behind-the-scenes machinations that led President Asif Ali Zardari to cave in to opposition demands to restore the 2007 Supreme Court --

As a last resort, Zardari tried to use the American pressure. It was surprising for Zardari that some top US government officials never used any “pressure” on Nawaz Sharif and they just tried to mediate.

What must have gone on in the Bush days?

About those regulatory havens

There must be a reasonable explanation as to why AIG describes its common stock as being listed on the Irish Stock Exchange but the ISE shows a share price of zero and apparently not much trading, ever. Should Gordon Brown be told?

UPDATE: Don't forget that Irish-registered entities were bit-players in a previous AIG imbroglio.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Horsesh*t at Horsham

It wasn't a good omen when the gimmick for the hacks at the G20 finance meeting was muffins with the flags of the 20 (or is it 22) participating countries. From the meeting declaration (or rather the annex thereto, which is marginally more interesting) --

Firms [i.e. financial institutions] receiving support should continue to be run according to business principles ...


Government support is a privilege and must come with strong conditions,

Note the contradiction: the bailed out banks should be run as businesses, but the government gets to tell them what to do. Sixty suits in Sussex didn't resolve that problem.

The customers are revolting

This New York Times "political memo" remarks on the abundance of reporting of trivia about White House personalities. Apparently the newsworthiness of the trivia comes because "a lot of Web sites, bloggers and Twitterers have deemed these developments so", even though nearly all but two examples cited come from actual established media enterprises. The examples cited also cover the period when most of the media, as correctly pointed out by various National Review types, were ignoring the Charles Freeman "Lobby" imbroglio. New York Times and Washington Post readers only found out about the affair when it concluded, but blog readers had known about as it unfolded. It does make one wonder whether the prime audience for the people writing the trivia stories is themselves.

The crisis has been tough on the European Commission

Single Markets Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, who sneered at the idea of reading the Lisbon Treaty and who was Minister for Finance in the critical period when Ireland's tech boom became a property bubble, living it up at the Cheltenham race meeting yesterday. That purple tag is presumably his special box access.

Apparently Queen Elizabeth was in the box above Charlie's. This ability of the Irish privileged class to locate themselves below the English elite is a critical element of their faux populism, and is as persistent a consequence of our period in the UK on Irish politics as the Northern Ireland situation.

Photograph: Alan Betson

Friday, March 13, 2009

He knows where the financial bodies are buried

One of the reasons (besides leaving poor Gus O'Donnell with no one to phone) that it's a shame that Rodgin Cohen is apparently out as the US Treasury #2 position is we lose a chance to shed more light on Gordon Brown's role in the Lehman collapse (subs. req'd) --

Mr. Cohen was counseling Lehman Brothers until it sought bankruptcy protection Sept. 15, and then pivoted to represent Barclays, which ended up buying the failed investment bank's U.S. operations.

Meaning that there's no one in a better position to know what happened to Barclays' request to the UK government to provide a bridging guarantee for its takeover of the not yet bankrupt Lehman for the few days that it needed to get a shareholder vote. Barclays never got the guarantee, and the rest is history.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Those were the days

National Review's The Corner recalls that the 11-M ("3/11") Madrid bombings were 5 years ago today. They helpfully include a list of links to National Review articles about 11-M. But they left out the Frank Gaffney one, the one which concludes --

The evidence presented thus far by El Mundo is, to be sure, inconclusive. Yet, it strongly suggests that at least some in the Spanish police may know considerably more about who was really behind the 3/11 bombings — attacks that undid the electoral fortunes of the Spanish government, brought to power socialists hostile to its most important domestic and foreign policies and precipitated changes in those policies that could only encourage terrorists to interfere in elections elsewhere.

Given the stakes for Spain, for its relations with the United States, and for the democratic world more generally, there should be few higher priorities than getting to the bottom of what may be Spain’s Terrorgate. As the current Spanish government might have reasons for resisting a no-holds-barred investigation, and those in Washington anxious to foster improved bilateral ties may be reluctant to press for one, it may fall to the sorts of citizen-activists and bloggers who thwarted Dan Rather’s notorious attempt to hijack America’s exercise of democracy in 2004 to find out precisely what happened to its Spanish counterpart.

Yes, the heady days when what was then an only an embryonic stem cell of Pajamas Media types was going to unmask the alliance of terrorists, socialists, and Dan Rather which was out to destroy the free world.

Good times.

The many IRAs

The New York Times has experienced reporters in Britain and Ireland so one assumes this mistake crept in via an editor --

Members of the groups are mostly drawn from the mainstream I.R.A. and its hard-line offshoot, the so-called Provisionals, who were the main republican strike force during the 30 years of sectarian violence known here euphemistically as the Troubles.

The "mainstream" IRA during the Troubles was the Provisional IRA.

Incidentally, one remnant of the once mainstream "official" IRA, Sean Garland, is back in the news. But it's an era that most people have forgotten.

A loan oft loses both itself and home

America is again a nation under siege -- this time from Islamo-mortgages. So says National Review's Andy McCarthy, picking up on a theme from Powerline's "Hindrocket". The latter notes a news story that the state of Minnesota is offering Sharia-compliant mortgages. They work by cumulating the future interest payments into a recalculated "price" for the house against which the borrower makes installment payments which are not construed as interest, and therefore, it is said, comply with Sharia. McCarthy sees a threat --

It's far from the most dicey financial transaction anyone's ever heard of — after all, no one's getting hurt and its arm's length ... at least ostensibly. But on that point, what makes the state government think it has to, or should, use taxpayer funds to structure financial transactions that accord with a religious code? (Perhaps — and far be it from me to be a nag here — the ACLU might take a few moments away from worrying about poor Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the 9/11 terrorists to consider whether state-sponsored shariah is up there with creches at courthouses on the list of outrages against the Constitution to be avoided.)

And, given that shariah is anti-democracy, anti-equality, anti-freedom of conscience, and understood by a sizable number of Muslims to command jihadist attacks on the United States, is it really something we ought to be incorporating into American law?

So there you have it. We're on the slippery slope to incorporating terrorism into American law. But anyway, how much is there to this product? The discussion (admittedly at the mercy of the original article) seems to misunderstand what a mortgage is. It's a loan for the purchase of property where the lender owns the property until the loan is paid off. So in principle, there is no necessary connection between a mortgage and the payment of interest. There could be no-interest mortgages.

But mortgages still raise concerns in Islamic law because of the distribution of risk; as a rule, everyone in a Sharia-compliant transaction should be bearing some ownership risk throughout the life of the contract. And then there are the moral issues with which Islamic law is actually concerned, such as whether the borrower might be homeless if he can't repay the loan.

By contrast, these Minnesota mortgages sound like simply a technical wheeze with the numbers that don't address the deeper questions. Unfortunately, if the above is indicative of how the right is going to react to the slightest broaching of these issues, they'll be in full Rowan Williams outrage mode when the more serious issues get discussed. And don't forget the fact that religious edicts are already embedded in law, such as usury laws, not to mention widespread notions of "fairness" in law that could be traced back to religious roots. Perhaps they get in under the old "Judeo-Christian tradition" loophole.

UPDATE: In a nice synergy given the theme of this post, here's Rowan Williams from a few days ago ruminating, inter alia, on the connection between capitalist notions of risk and Christian ethics.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Context please

Wall Street Journal editorial page --

Notable & Quotable

On the need for eternal vigilance to protect liberty, from the Times of London, Aug. 11, 1846:

The greatest tyranny has the smallest beginnings. From precedents overlooked, from remonstrances despised, from grievances treated with ridicule, from powerless men oppressed with impunity, and overbearing men tolerated with complaisance, springs the tyrannical usage which generations of wise and good men may hereafter perceive and lament and resist in vain.

At present, common minds no more see a crushing tyranny in a trivial unfairness or a ludicrous indignity, than the eye uninformed by reason can discern the oak in the acorn, or the utter desolation of winter in the first autumnal fall. Hence the necessity of denouncing with unwearied and even troublesome perseverance a single act of oppression. Let it alone, and it stands on record. The country has allowed it, and when it is at last provoked to a late indignation it finds itself gagged with the record of its own ill compliance.

It's stirring stuff. But it could be about anything; one suspects it's circulating on right-wing e-mail lists in an anti-Obama usage. But it's a bit sloppy of them to spring the quote without a subject. So a little detective work through the Times archive (which unfortunately charges for access) indicates that the subject was one of several Poor Law relief scandals, springing in particular from the desire of the government to make welfare as painful as possible and to run care for the mentally ill on a for-profit basis.

The Times was apparently against. But aren't they things that the Journal editorial page would favour?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Security crisis in Northern Ireland

Of course the people of Northern Ireland have long practice in dealing with terrorist violence. But as this evening's events in Craigavon indicate, there is apparently a serial aspect to the latest incidents that must have lots of people on edge. This reflection on what the experience of the Washington DC sniper case was like gets at that feeling of how easy it is for a small number of people to spread a feeling of dread.

I thought it was the UK

Downing Street --

Gordon Brown has stressed that the peace process in Northern Ireland is still working, as he visited the country following the deaths of two soldiers in a terrorist attack.

The social market economy

From AIG's doom-laden presentation to regulators making the case for another bailout --

Insurance is the oxygen of the free enterprise system. Without the promise of protection against life’s adversities, the fundamentals of capitalism are undermined.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sunday Telegraph says Colin Powell slams Obama

In a completely unsourced Sunday Telegraph story which would make Ambrose Evans-Pritchard proud and which will inevitably be amplified by Matt Drudge and The Politico (likely the intended audience anyway), Washington correspondent Tim Shipman says --

The Sunday Telegraph understands that one of Mr Obama's most prominent African American backers, whose endorsement he spent two years cultivating, has told friends that he detects a weakness in Mr Obama's character.

"The one real serious flaw I see in Barack Obama is that he thinks he can manage all this," the well-known figure told a Washington official, who spoke to this newspaper. "He's underestimating the flood of things that will hit his desk."

There is one prominent African-American endorser who made reference to a two year decision process: Colin Powell. But note that you have to read carefully to see that the Telegraph is not even quoting Powell directly, but someone else's version of what Powell allegedly said. So how about it Tim -- are you willing to name a single source for the story, or is the flood of links from conservative websites gratification enough?

UPDATE: Sister paper the Daily Telegraph seems to have a source close to Gordon Brown, specifically with relevance to the wrong region DVD fiasco. Note the link in theme between the stories is the perception that Brown was poorly received in the US.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

He should watch The Other Boleyn Girl

Gordon Brown's bizarre rhetorical intervention in California politics --

This Proposition 8, this attempt to undo the good that has been done. This attempt to create divorces among 18,000 people who were perfectly legally brought together in partnerships, this is unacceptable and shows me why we always have to be vigilant, why we have always got to fight homophobic behaviour and any form of discrimination.

Divorces? If Prop 8. is upheld, the legal status of those marriages would be annulment, not divorce. Legally, they'll never have happened. As the distinction plays a crucial role in British (and Irish) history, you'd think he'd be careful about the difference.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan explains why Brown's comments are shite even on their own terms.

Friday, March 06, 2009

How Indian rice farmers ruined the world

Or would have done so according to Gordon Brown in 2006. The current context being Brown's repeated claim that his main regret about the financial crisis is that for years, he couldn't convince other countries of the need for international financial regulation. But what did he actually see as the biggest threat to the world economy a few years ago? --

MR. BROWN: Thank you very much, and thank you for being so patient. We met today as an International Monetary and Finance Committee at a time of global economic challenge, with world growth strong not least because of continued expansion here in Asia. It is a time of opportunity, but there are also heightened global risks. Global economic imbalances persist and the threat of their unwinding remains. Global inflation is rising, with upward revisions to over half of all country forecasts in the World Economic Outlook. Further sustained rises in oil and energy prices since our Spring Meetings have created risks to world growth. Perhaps the most worrying for the long term, worrying for growth in all areas of the world, is the stalling of the Doha Round of world trade talks.

A Doha deal never did get done, partly due to objections from India. But that's not what brought the roof down.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

It wasn't great for everyone

National Review's Peter Wehner, comparing presidential approval ratings in March 2009 and March 2001 --

George W. Bush’s greatest moment in his presidency was still months off.

White House photo by Eric Draper

Complicated Fed testimony explained

Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Donald L. Kohn explained all the Fed's transactions with AIG to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the U.S. Senate today. It's headache-inducing. But what it amounts to is: sure, we bought all this toxic shite from AIG (and Bear Stearns). But we dumped it into companies with cool names: Maiden Lane I-III.

UPDATE 24 APRIL: Maiden Lane: cool name, shame about the losses.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Gordon Brown's speech to Congress

It's not bad. He gave a slightly more qualified statement than Bertie Ahern about the state of the peace process: "Northern Ireland is today at peace" whereas Bertie had presumed to speak for the island. Guido observes that they needed seat-fillers in the crowd. Bertie needed them too. But there's an eyebrow raiser --

But how much safer would everybody’s savings be if the whole world finally came together to outlaw shadow banking systems and offshore tax havens?

Outlaw is a pretty strong word. "Shadow banking system" is generally taken to mean the creation of various assets that might seem more liquid than they really are. But the financial industry creates asset vehicles all the time and no one is likely to be taken in by claims of liquidity that might attach themselves to such assets at this stage of the crisis -- at least not without doing some real research first. And which tax havens is he talking about? The UK dependencies? The Caribbean? The Republic of Ireland and Luxembourg?

It'll be interesting to see what exactly he's proposing to outlaw. But nothing in the potential list addresses the question of what should be done about policymakers who watched financial sector balance sheets explode for ten years, 1997-2007, and did nothing about it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Rush at war

It's funny watching the reactionaries fight among themselves over whether Rush Limbaugh helps or hurts their cause. But the weight of opinion among them seems to be that he helps. For an idea of what this buys into, start watching from the 1 hour 20 minute mark of his weekend Conservative Political Action Conference performance [sorry, link repaired].

Did he declare that ego in customs?

There was a Gordon Brown interview on American National Public Radio this morning, done live from the UK Embassy and linked to Brown's visit to Barack Obama today. The critical point was 5 minutes in where the interviewer pointed to the fact that Brown had been in charge of the economy for 10 years as chancellor during the time at which consumer and corporate debt was piling up. This was Brown's latest chance to show a little acceptance of responsibility.

Instead he seized on the imprecision of the reference to corporate debt: "our corporations were certainly not borrowing too much", which is disengenous because he knows quite well that the claim is only correct for non-financial corporations; as Martin Wolf has repeatedly pointed out, Britain's financial corporations were on a massive debt spree.

Brown then went on to repeat his claim that the real problem of the last ten years is that other countries hadn't done what "we" (i.e. he) had wanted to do in terms of international supervision of the financial sector.

The not so special relationship

The arrangements for this year's Shamrock ceremony -- in which a financially bust Ireland presents shamrock in a bankrupt Waterford Crystal bowl to Barack Obama -- have seemed slack. Here's the associated proclamation --

Irish-American Heritiage Month, 2009

We don't even get a copy editor?

Fly over Bush's place a few times

This is Palestinian UK resident Manal Timraz (and her son) who lost 15 relatives in an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza strip. In part response to a memorial drive that she launched, Qatar Airways is naming the new plane behind them "Gaza". The plane will fly the Houston-Doha direct route. It would be nice if the oil men sitting inside got to see the name displayed a bit more prominently, but there is something clever about using the plane on a Texas route. Isn't this an obvious candidate for some right-wing "outrage"?

Time to break some contracts

There have been weeks of FDR bashing at National Review's The Corner. Now all of a sudden, he's a genius, according to Rich Lowry --

FDR took office in the midst of a total meltdown of the banking system and acted boldly to arrest it. In March 1933, the Dow was at 52. It climbed 75 percent in the first 100 days. By December 1, 1933 it was 99. Obama is temporizing with his financial crisis in favor of moving quickly on his big spending plans, and watching the Dow trip steadily downward by the day.

What did FDR do in those critical 9 months? He closed all banks for nearly a week, confiscated most privately-held gold, forced a separation of commercial and investment banking, brought in interest rate controls and de facto deposit insurance, and devalued the US dollar in the Gold Standard.

Yet in the current economic crisis, the one policymaker taboo is telling managers, debt holders, and counterparties to large financial institutions that the jig is up. Note in particular that AIG's continual need for cash is due to the fact that the same ratings agency geniuses who rated it AAA in a boom keep downgrading it in a recession, forcing it to post more collateral for the financial institutions on the other side of its contracts.

Isn't it time to tell those other institutions to piss off?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Prince Turki is dead

But which one? It's Prince Turki bin Faisal bin Turki bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. But there are two people with that name. There's the elder Prince Turki, brother of Crown Prince Sultan and one of the Sudairi Seven. But there's also the younger Prince Turki (the elder's son?) and going by age given for the deceased in this report from Qatar, it might be him. An untimely death for him would be grist for the mill on the 9/11 conspiracy theories. He had also been recently in the lead on expressing Saudi frustration with the Israel-Palestine peace (sic) process (sic), and had never been a fan of the neocons, for which the feeling was mutual.

UPDATE April 4: The younger Prince Turki (al-Faisal) has popped up on a visit to Jordan so it's not him.