Saturday, February 27, 2010

L'esprit de l'escalier

Back when warblogging was cool -- Yale history professor Glenda Gilmore e-mailing Andrew Sullivan, October 2002:

Dear Mr. Sullivan, I am delighted to accept the Sontag Award. I have disagreed with you since you were a boy wonder. In fact, I cancelled my subscription to The New Republic when you hijacked it, and I have watched your downwardly mobile career path with interest. Are you a U.S. citizen yet? Thank you for bringing a small part of my essay to a larger audience. Glenda Gilmore

It turns out that if she had said "Are you a Green Card resident yet?", she would have been getting somewhere. Because Sully still doesn't have one.

Or just another country

This week's National Review cover story by Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru -- which amounts to the claim that Barack Obama likes furriners too much -- has generated a lot of web commentary. One issue has escaped notice. Consider the following paragraphs --

To find the roots of American exceptionalism, you have to start at the beginning — or even before the beginning. They go back to our mother country. Historian Alan Macfarlane argues that England never had a peasantry in the way that other European countries did, or as extensive an established church, or as powerful a monarchy. English society thus had a more individualistic cast than the rest of Europe, which was centralized, hierarchical, and feudal by comparison.

It was, to simplify, the most individualistic elements of En­glish society — basically, dissenting low-church Protestants — who came to the eastern seaboard of North America. And the most liberal fringe of English political thought, the anti-court “country” Whigs and republican theorists such as James Harrington, came to predominate here. All of this made Amer­ica an outlier compared with England, which was an outlier compared with Europe. The U.S. was the spawn of English liberalism, fated to carry it out to its logical conclusion and become the most liberal polity ever known to man.

This is an elemental confusion of "England" with Britain and Ireland, the actual countries from which the USA's intellectual inspiration and a big chunk of its early European population came. When you miss that distinction, you miss the role of established church vs the others, the forced emigration from Scotland and Ireland, the anti-Catholicism and the Catholicism, the republicans, the puritans, the peasants, the escape from feudalism. In short, you miss a whole lot about America. But they're the ones saying that Obama is not American enough.

Friday, February 26, 2010

An emerging state

Here's a common interpretation of the the European Court of Justice ruling that the EU-Israel trade agreement does not provide a customs exemption for products made in the West Bank. Evelyn Gordon at Commentary's blog Contentions --

Many Israeli firms moved to the West Bank because they could export to the EU duty-free while also benefiting from cheaper Palestinian labor. Thus, if the new import taxes lower these firms’ profits, hundreds of Palestinians could lose their jobs ... Moreover, European efforts to tax these companies have already persuaded some to move back to Israel, and yesterday’s ruling is likely to accelerate the trend. That would throw thousands of Palestinians out of work — while benefiting the unemployed Israelis such firms would have to hire instead ... Europeans are obviously entitled to put principle above the consequences for Palestinian employment; countries make such decisions all the time. But the fact remains that once again, the biggest victims of efforts to advance the “peace process” will be ordinary Palestinians.

The short-term impact may indeed be disruptive but the court ruling is more complicated than portrayed above. The court said that exports from the occupied territories to the EU are governed by a separate EU-Palestine trade agreement, and thus their customs status would have to be negotiated by the Palestine authorities and the EU, and the status of Israeli exports via the territories to the EU would require 3 way negotiation: the EU and Israel can't agree them without the Palestinians.

Thus the underlying issue is not the "peace process". It's the ability of the Palestinian government to negotiate its own external agreements. Isn't that what "two-state solution", which everyone says they want, is supposed to be about?

The puppetmasters

As the Hamas-Dubai revelations get more bizarre, here's something to ponder. There's a fine tradition of hypothesizing the existence of grand Iranian conspiracies for various events. For instance, Iran got the US Republicans to sell them weapons and get rid of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. It's almost as if they control the Republican party!

Anyway, back to Hamas-Dubai. Matthias Küntzel has an interesting opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal discussing the activities of the German-Emirati Joint Council for Industry & Commerce, which he argues is acting as a sanctions-busting vehicle for routing German exports to Iran through Dubai.

This raises the more general issue that a key obstacle to sanctions on Iran is the adverse impact that sanctions would have on Dubai, through which much of this trade passes. Thus if new sanctions are imposed on Iran, the United Arab Emirates would come under enormous pressure to shut the Dubai channel down.

Unless, that is, the countries that might be putting such pressure on the UAE would be a little reluctant to do so, in the context of the UAE having a legimate greviance with them about a separate issue. Such as why they are not doing anything about Israel's use of their passports and banking systems to conduct an assassination in Dubai.

In other words, the assassination revelations came at a very awkward time. And after all, the Dubai police chief says that two of the latest batch of named operatives were last seen heading towards ... Iran!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Not amateur hour

One of the strange assumptions of the presumed Israeli hit squad who carried out the Hamas assassination in Dubai was that the Dubai police would be neither able or willing to pursue a politically complex international case.

They have done two recently: the murder of Suzanne Tamim by a well connected Egyptian businessman, and that of Sulim Yamadayev, who apparently fell victim to Russian-Chechen politics. In both cases, investigations quickly got names and court cases got moving.

Presuming that this would be a typical bumbling Arab police force was not well-founded.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hamas-Dubai: Irish passport numbers were authentic

Yesterday the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs rubbished the identity numbers provided for the Irish passports used in the Dubai Hamas hit on the grounds that they didn't have the right pattern.

Another day, another statement --

The new information also includes additional material relating to the passport numbers. This indicates that genuine Irish passport numbers were used. These numbers correspond to actual numbers on three legitimate Irish passports. However, the identities of the persons recorded on the forged passports do not correspond to those recorded on the valid passports carrying the same numbers.

The department was apparently basing its earlier assertions on what appeared in newspapers as opposed to, er, actual information provided by the UAE government.

The obvious question now is how the Bourne people got valid Irish passport numbers. The UK is sending their organized crime unit to Dubai to work on the UK identity theft cases. Shouldn't this be an easy cooperative venture for the Irish police?

UPDATE: The Department goes through the motions of "inviting" the Israeli ambassador for a meeting. The Minister did not attend. Nothing to see here, move along folks.

FINAL UPDATE: The hit squad used 5, not 3, Irish passports. [now confirmed by UAE sources]

It sticks to everyone

As we noted a few days ago, the New Republic's Leon Wieseltier has preposterously accused Andrew Sullivan of anti-Semitism. That imbroglio caused Philip Weiss to dig up Wieseltier’s toast to Cass Sunstein and Samantha Power at their wedding in Waterville, County Kerry a couple of years ago - an event which was the intellectual equivalent of the Posh and Becks nuptials of a few years earlier. Anyway, in the context of the ease with which accusations of anti-Semitism get tossed around, consider this segment from the toast --

We are in Ireland, so my authority is Yeats. In 1918, when he came to compose a tribute to his wife, the poet was exotically drawn to the romance of Solomon and Sheba. This is the last stanza of his poem:

"Said Solomon to Sheba,
And kissed her Arab eyes,"

Yes Yeats is brilliant. He was also popular in Nazi Germany, being awarded the Goethe-Plakette by the city of Frankfurt in 1934 and keeping some very dodgy company in this decade, including Francis Stuart and Eduard Hempel (the latter who would be the recipient of de Valera's Hitler condolence call in 1945).

Was WB Yeats anti-Semitic? No. Could one construct an argument that he was using the sort of arguments that are used against Andrew Sullivan? Yes. Given that, should one be quoting Yeats in wedding toasts? Probably not.

And anyway, about that Yeats poem. It's not one of his best. For one thing, Sheba was Ethiopian.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Be afraid

Ireland debt management agency announcement --

Ireland recognises Goldman Sachs Interantional as a Primary Dealer in Irish Government Bonds

The National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) is pleased to announce that it recognises Goldman Sachs International as a Primary Dealer in Irish Government bonds.

The NTMA is confident that the Irish Government bond market will benefit significantly from the strong presence which Goldman Sachs International has in other European sovereign bond markets as a Primary Dealer.

Be very afraid.

UPDATE: Here are specifics on why Ireland should think carefully about any new association with Goldman Sachs.

Domestic Tranquility

In keeping with the general tone of Commentary Magazine's blog, J.E. Dyer is "outraged" -

If Christmas Day airline bomber Umar Abdulmutallab had been identified by Special Forces in Yemen, rather than being detained in Detroit, he could well have been summarily killed in a drone strike instead of being read his rights. Such are the features of the Obama approach to the war on terror.

Detroit is in the United States of America. Yemen isn't. Apparently the distinction doesn't matter anymore. We begin bombing Michigan in 5 minutes.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Not the best words

Headline on the European Union press release describing yesterday's heads of state/government summit --

Consensus on the need to establish a coordination and control system for the economy

If you're trying to choose between the view of the EU has a huge right-wing scheme to impose free market liberalism on all the countries or a huge left-wing scheme to impose socialism, the headline scores one for the latter.

One possibility is that it was not initially written in English.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

And he didn't copyright the name

Some actual wit from Taoiseach Brian Cowen in the Dail yesterday (with the other lines providing a general sense of the atmosphere in the place) --

Deputy Enda Kenny: Will the Taoiseach indicate the status of the Government statement circulated last night in respect of waste management policy and incineration? It is not on headed paper or signed; it is just a Government statement.

Deputy Seán Power: Could Deputy Kenny speak up?

An Ceann Comhairle: Can we have some ciúnas in the lobbies please?

The Taoiseach: Government statements are never signed.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Many of them are signed.

Deputy Damien English: They usually have a header on top of them.

The Taoiseach: The last guy I knew who signed statements was called P. O’Neill. He is not in action at the moment.

[Noticed via Miriam Lord]

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It's funny because he thinks it's true

High quality reactionary terror pundit Andy McCarthy --

To the Brits, the Eurocrats, the American Left, and transnational progressives everywhere, this is somehow "tantamount to torture" because it amounts to "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment."

He's referring to the latest Binyam Mohamed revelations.

Blog flashback: this dance around the precise meaning of cruel, inhuman, and degrading goes back to the attempt of torture advocates in the USA to use Northern Ireland-related litigation to support their case.

UPDATE: McCarthy's ridicule is especially off-point since the 7 newly published paragraphs don't cover Mohamed's more serious allegations (read down a bit).

And Marc Thiessen is now ranting about the Mohamed case. As before, there is one angle he won't mention: Richard Reid, even though --

US authorities, however, said that while in Afghanistan Mr Mohamed fought on the front line against anti-Taleban Northern Alliance forces.

They claim he was cherry-picked by al-Qaeda because of his UK residency, and received firearms and explosives training alongside British shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Why is it that the Bushies want Reid to sit quietly in jail?

FINAL UPDATE: In a convoluted coda to the case, the 7 published paragraphs left out a judicial assertion that MI5 lied about what they knew about the torture.

Failure to communicate

It's plus ca change in the blogosphere. Andrew Sullivan and Leon Wieseltier are feuding. The spark for the latest round was, apparently, a WH Auden quote from 1944. It's a remark about the difficulty of explaining the concept of the Holy Trinity to readers of the New Republic. If you're snowed in, you've time to read the whole dispute. But of course the Irish perspective (which given past practice Sullivan may invoke at some point) is to ask -- the Trinity: what's so difficult about understanding it?*

UPDATE: As predicted here, Sully's response twice refers to his Irishness (and with a Morrissey tone), although not in connection with the ability to understand the Trinity.

And yes, we know the shamrock thing is probably a myth. Image from Wikipedia

Monday, February 08, 2010

Carry On Apologizing

An interesting statement via the Saudi Press Agency from veteran Saudi politician Prince Turki Al-Faisal, currently the Chairman of King Faisal Center for Islamic Research and Studies, and once mistakenly reported by an incompetent blogger (this one) as possibly being dead.

Anyway, there's a chain of events that goes at least back to the Israeli invasion of the Gaza strip at the end of 2008. Whatever its military objectives, it has taken Israel a long time to come to the terms with the ensuing diplomatic disasters, not least the breakdown in its relationship with Turkey.

Fast forward now to the media stunt of a few weeks ago where Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon decided to humiliate the Turkish ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol in front of the cameras in a row over a TV show that aired on Turkish television.

Now we're up to the weekend at the annual Munich Security Conference which seems to be a venue for a lot of Republican and quasi-Republican US Senators to feel self-important. Prince Turki takes us forward --

... Israeli Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Danny Ayalon indirectly pointed to me saying, ' An envoy of a country possessing a lot of oil refused to sit with me in the same session', adding, 'Saudi Arabia with all its wealth has not given a penny to the Palestinian Authority'.

In reply, Prince Turki Al-Faisal said, 'I had objected to sit with him in the same session, not because he is the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel, but because of his rude behavior towards Turkish Ambassador to Israel Ahmet Oguz Celikkol. I had also rejected his claim on my country's support for the Palestinian Authority and reminded him that the Kingdom has provided more than $ 500 million in the last five years to the Palestinian Authority so that it can work. '

'Then Mr. Ayalon had asked me to come to the podium for shaking hands to show that there are no ill-feelings. I had pointed to him to come down from the podium to me. When we stood face to face, he had apologized for what he had said and I replied that I accepted his apology not only for me, but also for the Turkish ambassador,' Prince Turki Al-Faisal disclosed.

'Ayalon was with U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman in the session and at first he objected my refusal to sit down with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, but after hearing my words, he expressed his regret for misunderstanding what I had done and he commended my immediate clarification of the situation,' Prince Turki Al-Faisal said.

A couple of things to note. First, was Ayalon trying to replicate his constructed height advantage over the Turkish ambassador with his supposed conciliatory handshake with Prince Turki? By asking him to come down from the podium, the Prince may have suspected that was the case. And second, what business was the whole thing of Joe Lieberman's? By the end it's not clear who has apologized for what, but Prince Turki sounds like he has extracted an apology on behalf of Turkey and for a couple of incorrect statements by Ayalon -- so was Joe also a party to these apologies? Was Connecticut? Was the USA? [scroll down to the last picture to see Joe's seating arrangements]. There's a point at which having Senators run their own foreign policies might get to be a problem.

UPDATE: Marc Lynch has an unsourced photo of the handshake.

FINAL UPDATE 17 FEB: While Danny Ayalon has all the time in the world to tag team with Joe Lieberman in opposition to Saudi Arabia, he has no time to meet in Israel with Rep. William Delahunt of Massachusetts. Maybe he's writing letters to the UK and Ireland about those dodgy passports.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Bush Boom

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has done some significant revisions to its numbers for total non-farm employment (measured from employer payrolls). They provide a sobering bookend to the George Bush presidency.

Total non-farm employment in January 2001 (i.e. when his term began): 132.5 million. In January 2009: 133.5 million. 1 million more jobs in an economy of that size over 8 years is a pathetic performance.

In addition, the BLS has revised downwards the level of employment in March 2009 by 900,000 jobs (the numbers are updated for each March when fuller information comes in). The dominant reason for the revision is that the BLS was overestimating the number of jobs in new businesses during April 2008-March 2009. Thus even at the time that "small businesses!" were being used as an argument against everything from estate taxes to health care reform, their job creation ability had collapsed.

God is polyglot

A cheeky opening from Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero at the US National Prayer Breakfast [delivered in Spanish w/ English translation] --

Y permítanme que les hable en castellano, en la lengua en la que por primera vez se rezó al Dios del Evangelio en esta tierra.

[And with your permission I am going to speak to you in Spanish, in the language that was first used to pray to the God Evangel on this land]

A simple factual claim that will probably have come as news to the Anglophone nativist tendency in the US.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Hamas -- Dubai

An interesting comment from the Dubai Police Chief on the mysterious Hamas operative death in the city --

"Whoever attempts to pass unseen behind our backs and gets involved in things that are considered by the law as crimes should protect their own backs."

"This goes for whoever enters the country, whether they are from Hamas, Mossad or any other intelligence service attempting to pass unseen behind our backs. Those should protect their backs," Tamim said in a call-in on Abu Dhabi TV channel.

The equation of Hamas and Mossad and the implication that Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh might himself have been up to no good in Dubai should be noted. This one is going to be messy.

UPDATE 16 FEBRUARY: The surnames of the Irish suspects: Daveron, Folliard, and Dennings, sound made up.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Those weapons that they say don't have

An interesting geopolitical dance from neocon John Bolton --

“Providing additional equipment and capabilities will help protect the Arab states of the Gulf region against possible provocations or retaliation [from Iran], and also enhance the security of deployed American forces in the region.” The new equipment, he adds, “should, of course, be consistent with maintaining Israel’s qualitative edge in the region, which U.S. administrations have supported for decades on a bipartisan basis.”

i.e. the goal of proving weapons to the Gulf countries as a defence against Iran needs to be constrained by the need not to give them such good stuff that Israel's unmentionable stash wouldn't be as effective any more.

A nice illustration of the fact that a lot of the yelling and screaming about Iran is not really about Iran, per se. It's about a desire to maintain a particular distribution of power in the Middle East.

Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose

As fitting an epilogue to the Celtic Tiger as any, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who ran the economy and the Northern Ireland peace process into the ground and collected all the plaudits in the world while doing it, being a good Irishman at his local Fagan's, one of just 9 pubs in Britain and Ireland to get the exclusive Sky 3D view of Arsenal vs Man Utd. Maybe Bertie could use the cool specs as a disguise when he moves out of the safe company of his Murdoch Inc. friends.

UPDATE: Nice choice of words from the Indo story --

The Drumcondra pub, along with eight other British bars


Photograph: Cyril Byrne, Irish Times.