Monday, May 31, 2010

Just the spin

US National Public Radio news at 9am eastern time. Bear in mind the perspective of having gone to sleep with no reported events regarding the Gaza flotilla. It was the top news story with sequence as follows --

1. White House Reaction
2. Israel reaction with audio from Mark Regev. Israel response includes claim that that Flotilla members had guns.
3. Arab Reaction.

What's missing?

A description of what actually happened.

That's how quick the "he said, he said" news cycle is these days.

Collateral damage

Andrew Sullivan has been writing about "closet" issues for long enough that some inconsistency in opinion is probably inevitable. But inconsistency over the space of this month is perhaps worth noting. Defending his questioning of whether Elena Kagan might be a lesbian --

But when every aspect of someone's life is for public view except for one, and when that one aspect is as pertinent to a person's life experience as ethnicity or gender or religion or family, then I am not required to uphold a double standard I do not share, and which, in fact, I find to be riddled with prejudice. So I feel it is completely defensible to ask the question and print the answer. That's all. No exposure of private matters; just honesty about public ones. No search and destroy mission into private affairs; just fair-minded clarity about public ones.

Now on the just resigned UK Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws --

The way forward, it seems to me, is to ensure that when we are dealing with high level public figures - Treasury ministers, Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet members, et al - the gay question be no longer shrouded in discretion and ambiguity and taboo. As our society evolves, the closet will always remain an option for those too afraid or too conflicted or too uncomfortable to be open. But in public life, especially at its highest reaches, it has to end. And the press must stop enabling it, and start tackling it. Not out of personal vindictiveness and not out of cruelty. But because emotional and sexual orientation is a fact about people. In my view, public figures in national capacities need to be open about this or not seek high office.

The problem here is the circumstance of David Laws' outing. The Daily Telegraph is sticking to its deeply disengenuous position that it --

was not intending to disclose Mr Laws’s sexuality, but in a statement issued in response to questions from this newspaper, the minister chose to disclose this fact.

So they were merely going to report mysterious rent payments to a "partner" and leave it at that? And as everyone recognises, Laws' job was essentially Minister for expenditure cuts -- zero relevance to his sexual orientation. In other words, the Telegraph was precisely on the kind of search and destroy mission that Sully says he abhors. Sully likes to cite the excellent Matthew Parris every so often. Let's hope he reads the latest Parris column.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Somehow this must be Barack Obama's fault

Kuwait official news agency --

In Kuwait, the Ministry of Interior is eyeing the option of stopping the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service, and a decision to this effect might be issued in the near future, according to a number of local media reports.
These reports said the ministry is considering the ban due to the fact that the service cannot be controlled by the Ministry of Communications or security authorities and hence, users of BlackBerry sets were taking advantage of the situation to spread rumors and call for strikes.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The new Galway tent

Boston conservative activisit Michael Graham --

I’m leaving today for Ireland, where I’ll be hosting two training sessions for Irish voters interested in forming their own version of a tea-party movement. Don’t know if it will involve tea — I prefer Bushmill’s — but it’s part of a small but growing tea-party movement in Europe. Britain and Italy have their own movements underway.

It's a tie-in with George Hook of Newstalk doing a special broadcast from Galway. An Irish Tea Party could hardly be worse than what the existing political system has delivered, but precisely how Ireland makes the case for Tea Party prescriptions -- low taxes and less regulation -- is not entirely clear.

UPDATE: Graham's post-Galway account is fairly realistic.

Monday, May 24, 2010

There must be 2 of them

At the all-anger-all-the-time blog of Commentary Magazine, Jennifer Rubin chastises Newt Gingrich --

Had those individuals [Rand Paul and Richard Blumenthal] not been dominating the headlines, more attention would have been paid to Gingrich’s own comments, comparing liberal Democrats to the Nazis:

“In the 20th Century, America fought and defeated Nazism, fascism, imperialism and communism — four existential threats to our survival,” he wrote. “In this century, America is facing two different kinds of threats, though no less grave.”

The first threat the Gingrich listed was “non-state terrorist networks to kill Americans.”

“But even more disturbing than the threats from foreign terrorists is a second threat that is right here at home,” he wrote. “It is an ideology so fundamentally at odds with historic American values that it threatens to undo the cultural ethics that have made our country great. I call it ‘secular-socialism.’”

Yikes. No, Obamaism isn’t worse than the ideology of jihadist murderers. And the Nazi analogy shouldn’t be bandied about.

In a separate post, Jennifer Rubin, upset at the accounts offered by rabbi who visited the White House to discuss US policy towards Israel --

And by not directly and strongly taking on the president, they are, in fact, enabling the president’s anti-Israel stance. It is, come to think of it, more than an embarrassment; it is an egregious misuse of their status and it is every bit as dangerous as the quietude of American Jews in the 1930s.

The rule seems to be that Nazi analogies are only allowed when the topic is Israel.

Incidentally, there's an apparent subtext to the rage at the moderate rabbi, which is provided by Peter Beinart's damning analysis of the rift between American Jewish liberalism and Zionism. Despite being the object of enormous discussion, Beinart's article has yet to be mentioned in the Israel-obsessed Commentary magazine.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


The man-made sand barriers that Louisiana is proposing to erect to block the Gulf oil spill are called berms.

That word rang a bell. George Bush, September 2006 --

THE PRESIDENT: No, no. The enemy is changing tactics, and we're adapting. That's what's happening. I asked General Casey today, have you got what you need? He said, yes, I've got what I need.

We all want the troops to come home as quickly as possible. But they'll be coming home when our commanders say the Iraqi government is capable of defending itself and sustaining itself and is governing itself. And, you know, I was hoping we would have -- be able to -- hopefully, Casey would come and say, you know, Mr. President, there's a chance to have fewer troops there. It looked like that might be the case -- until the violence started rising in Baghdad, and it spiked in June and July, as you know -- or increased in June and July.

And so they've got a plan now, they've adapted. The enemy moves; we'll help the Iraqis move. So they're building a berm around the city to make it harder for people to come in with explosive devices, for example.

This was the time when the Iraq war was going disastrously and then Bush seemed to think that a moat or ditch around the city might help things. Perhaps as the Texas oil man he always said he was, berms were standard procedure for keeping bad stuff out.

That's not a good omen for the new plan.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The lady was for devaluing

It's a strange day on the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal Europe. An editorial hails "Estonia's Lessons for Greece" which are that you stick for all it's worth to a fixed exchange rate and you make whatever cuts are necessary for that to be credible. There is no mention of the implications of this strategy for GDP growth. Or rather GDP decline. Paul Krugman has the chart. It's about 20 percent loss in GDP.

Then nearby there is veteran monetarist Allan Meltzer mainly preaching the virtues of privatization for Greece but then he does a segue into macroeconomic policy --

Keynesians who think reducing public spending during a recession is a disastrous error should recall that they warned British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1981 that Britain would never recover if she continued with her tight fiscal and monetary policy during Britain's deep recession. Mrs. Thatcher declined to take their advice. Expectations about Britain's future changed for the better, and a long, productive recovery began soon after.

Now that 1981 budget and the famous "364 economists" letter that followed it is indeed very interesting. First, the budget achieved most of its fiscal tightening by higher taxes. Second, when the budget came in, it took about 4.7 Deutschemarks to buy a pound. By the end of the year, it was about 4.3 DM/pound and over the rest of the Thatcher miracle, the pound was on a long downward trajectory towards 3DM.

Thus Maggie's exit from recession included tax hikes and devaluation. Let's hope for the sake of the Wall Street Journal that the Greeks weren't paying attention.

UPDATE: The 1981 Thatcher case is again an issue in Steve Hanke's critique of Paul Krugman.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The private lives of Supreme Court justices

Casting himself in the role of agent provocateur, Andrew Sullivan has already achieved a victory of sorts in that various media outlets are now engaging in hypothetical discussions about what if US Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was a lesbian, hypothetical since there is no relevant public knowledge of that being the case.

For instance, Ramesh Ponnuru uses the discussion pages of the Washington Post to explain one view --

The leading argument for the relevance of a nominee's sexual orientation to the office--and thus for the public's right to know about it--is that a gay or lesbian justice might be inclined to rule in favor of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Ponnuru takes the seeming high road and says that any liberal justice would vote that way, so the question of orientation is irrelevant.

But in the spirit of wondering whether undisclosed personal experiences might colour one's legal opinions, let's posit the scenario of a Supreme Court justice whose two children are two Irish children with adoptions run through an unnamed Central American country. Such a justice could have complex psychological opinions about issues from abortion and contraception but might also believe that legal constraints aren't really that much of an issue for people with money -- since running adoptions of Irish kids through an unnamed Central American country must be complicated and expensive, but after all, he did it.

Anyway, such a discussion is entirely hypothetical, since the media never wanted to broach the exact circumstances of the adoption of the children of current US Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Roberts.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Those Euro membership criteria are getting more demanding

It may be that things look so grim at each meeting of Eurozone finance ministers that any source of levity is welcome. But what exactly Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg was doing with the hair of Jyrki Katainen of Finland, we don't know.

Note to Ireland: Mr Juncker doubles up the jobs of finance minister and prime minister, while Mr Katainen doubles up the job of Deputy PM and finance minister. It doesn't have to be that each ministerial job description merits a separate person, salary, pension, car, and staff.

Photo: Council of the European Union

Thursday, May 13, 2010

You'll never beat the Irish

Estonia has qualified to join the Eurozone in 2011. Lucky Estonia. It worked out so well for Greece.

Anyway, the European Central Bank has published the calculation of the various tests which ended up determining that Estonia could join. One of the tests requires that aspiring countries have inflation within a close distance of the 3 lowest rates in the European Union in the year preceding the evaluation. For the year to March 2010, the three lowest inflation rates are Ireland (-2.7%), Portugal (0.8%) and Estonia (-0.7%). The average of these three is -1.3% and the 1.5% distance that a country is allowed to be within that average means a test value of 0.2%.

But it would have been a tad embarrassing to have as a criterion for Eurozone membership that inflation essentially be zero, since this would very much accord with the critique from the likes of Paul Krugman that the Eurozone is excessively inflation-phobic.

Without knowing the chain of logic that led them to this decision, it should be noted that the ECB ended up not following the above reasoning. Instead they tossed Ireland out of the sample (page 9) --

These factors are mainly related to the exceptionally strong downturn in economic activity and the associated significant decline in wages in Ireland. The Irish inflation rate has therefore been excluded from the calculation of the reference value as its inclusion would have given rise to a distortion in the reference value.

In other words, Ireland had done such a good job of slashing wages that it was making the Eurozone look too much like the deflationary zone that critics think it is. On the other hand, Estonia also had negative inflation and had the privilege of being included in the average that it was being compared against. Instead one could have argued that a Eurozone tendency to deflation is just as damaging as inflation, and so the preference should have been to countries that could keep inflation in the middle. In that sense, Sweden with its 2.1% inflation looks like the ideal member. Except they don't want to join. Doesn't that tell us something?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Wrong to the end

With the exploded BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico now producing onshore tar balls, it's worth remembering that "Drill Baby Drill" wasn't just a bit of clowning from the McCain-Palin campaign of 2008. She was still at it, to rapturous applause, one month ago at the Southern Republican Leadership Convention. In New Orleans.

Let the recriminations begin

It's not news that American political consultants have a nice side business working on UK political campaigns. After all, it's the same language and kinda sorta the same voting system, so it should be easy, right? Indeed, in the 2005 UK election we had the spectacle of "Democratic" consultant Karen Hicks selling a Rovian core vote strategy to Labour, the case study for its application being Rochdale where the Labour candidate, er, lost.

Fast forward now to 2010 and of course they were all still at it. The BBC even had Frank Luntz -- between stints poll-testing Republican spin to oppose financial sector reform -- doing his instant focus group analysis of the debates. Anyway,consider this nice use of the passive voice from today's Times (UK) Cameron post-mortem --

Behind-the-scenes anecdotes are starting to emerge. One records how Bill Knapp, the US political consultant hired to help Mr Cameron, had a simple question on the eve of the vital second television debate. What research had been done into what voters thought of the Tory campaign’s key theme of the Big Society? The answer was an embarrassed silence. When results from a hurriedly convened focus group detailed a negative reaction at a subsequent meeting, Mr Hilton is said to have stormed out.

Hmmm. Anecdote portraying Bill Knapp as the wise outsider ... Who might possibly be the source for this tale ... Bill Knapp?

And there's another problem. The timeline doesn't add up. The second debate was 22 April. Ipsos-Mori had a full poll out on the 21st noting the lukewarm voter reaction to the Big Society concept (not least because it sounded like more work), no "hurriedly convened focus group" required. And if the poll was released on the 21st, the issue had to be have been out there long before then.

"Big Society" is indeed a strange political example. Read the original speech. If you think that voters were crying out for an application of Elinor Ostrom's ideas to their daily lives, this thing was indeed a winner. But did we need someone who just stepped out of Club World to tell us that there might be a problem?

The lesson is that while it's not clear what exactly US political consultants know about UK politics, they do know to run to the nearest hack with a juicy leak once things go pear-shaped. Get ready for more of these tales over the next few days.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Well that's OK then

Press release headline --

Moody's: UK election outcome no direct threat to Aaa rating

God forbid that the voters upset the ratings agencies.

Election: The morning after

Classic stuff from Boris Johnson -- Sensible Meccano-type solution ... the meat of the sausage must be Conservative ... the government of London will carry on despite this temporary difficulty in forming a national government ...

The Welsh

UK Election moments of note.

Count from Vale of Glamorgan ... "want of official mark, nought"

Count from Montgomeryshire ... numbers read in Welsh before English.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

This can't be good

The recently quiet Dick Cheney suddenly pops up in Riyadh to meet with Saudi King Abdullah. Worth keeping an eye on whether some new Gulf-related meme creeps into Fox News over the next week.

Photo: Saudi Press Agency

What do they call a Big Mac in the Arab Gulf?

A Big Mac.

But you can also get something called a McArabia Kofta with salsa sauce. Value meal includes soda and fries.

It is a strange world.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Not a PR man

If you are British snooker supremo Barry Hearn and knowing that your game features drinking and long sticks, should you really say as he just did that your response to a match fixing scandal will be harsh and brutal? Or refer to your leadership as a regime?