Saturday, December 31, 2011

Snippets from the UK 30 year paper release

There really was a time when telecommunications could be a problem:

Memo from Number 10 (Clive Whitmore) to the Foreign Office (Brian Fall) 2 July 1981 begins: Dr. Garret Fitzgerald, the new Taoiseach, telephoned the Prime Minister at 1800 yesterday evening. The line over which the conversation took place was particularly bad, and I am afraid that there are periods when Dr. Fitzgerald was inaudible, but I think that have pieced together the essentials of what we had to say.

A United States of Ireland?
Memo from RL Wade-Gery to Sir Robert Armstrong about meetings of the Anglo-Irish Joint Studies Groups 12 March 1981: There were two occasions on which the Irish had to be firmly slapped down, but these were clearly try-ons, and their failure was accepted with good grade and without protest. The first occurred early. The Irish explained frankly that their eventual objective was a Federal Ireland, achieved on the basis of majority consent both in the Republic and in the North.

This was when Charlie Haughey was Taoiseach but the federal idea at the time only existed in a Fine Gael document. As another section of the papers notes, Fianna Fail at the time had no actual policy paper setting out their views on Northern Ireland. Was it widely known at the time that Charlie had told his senior staff that the ultimate goal was federation?

[The relevant papers are here; file size is huge]

Friday, December 30, 2011

That could be anybody's keyboard


A political row festered in Iraq on Friday, as a top Sunni leader denied he penned a commentary criticising the Shiite-led government, the latest in a crisis that has stoked sectarian tensions.

Since the departure of US troops less than two weeks ago, Iraq has plummeted into a political standoff, with authorities having charged Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi with running a death squad and premier Nuri al-Maliki calling for his Sunni deputy Saleh al-Mutlak to be sacked.

Mutlak and Hashemi's Sunni-backed Iraqiya party has boycotted parliament and cabinet, and on Wednesday, the New York Times ran a piece by three Iraqiya leaders -- Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi, parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi and Iraqiya leader Iyad Allawi -- sharply critical of Maliki's administration.

Nujaifi, however, has since said his name was added to the piece without his knowledge.
"The article published in the New York Times... has been written without the knowledge of speaker Nujaifi," said a statement issued by his office late on Thursday.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Already on the rollercoaster

Wall Street Journal editorial on the public-private pay differential in Europe, drawing on an ECB paper also discussed on the Irish Economy blog --

Despite all this, the public-private wage gap in Europe wasn't always so large, and really began to widen after 1999. That has at least something to do with the introduction of the euro, which allowed employees to compare their pay with peers in other countries. One result was that government workers in particular were able to negotiate better contracts. 

It's an interesting point, but the big wave of Irish public sector pay increases didn't spring from comparisons with other European countries. It sprang from alleged comparisons within Ireland. And these comparisons, post-1999, themselves reflected the damaging effect of the convergence of interest rates due to the Euro: house prices were increasing rapidly, leaving public sector workers feeling priced out, and the anecdotal accounts of big money being made in real estate and banking -- in an easily dazzled media -- were growing. Add to that the relative power of public sector unions in Ireland, and you have a story. The epigraph could come from comparing the resulting pay scales with those in other Eurozone countries.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The other Bring 'em on

Andrew Roberts in the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal praising David Cameron's decision to have the UK step outside the negotiations for the Eurozone's fiscal compact --

King George VI actually rejoiced after the fall of France, writing in his diary 1940: "Personally, I feel happier that we have no allies to be polite to and pamper." That is the true voice of Britons, and one that David Cameron has articulated superbly.

Er, was 1940 a good time to be optimistic?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Arab Spring takes turn for the worse

Kuwait News Agency:

Minister of Public Works and Minister of State for Municipal Affairs Dr. Fadhil Safar stressd here on Monday the need to take the necessary requirements and regulations to prohibit smoking and the hubbly bubbly, known as "shisha," in public places, restaurants and cafes.

This is likely to provoke much greater outrage than another statement from the government via Kuwait News Agency today:

Interior Ministry announced on Monday that it has asked the Ministry of Communications to suspend all anonymous accounts on the social networking site (Twitter). The ministry said in a press statement that such measure comes in order to preserve the rights of citizens and residents of people who were used to slander them and their families under fake names, saying that such is a crime punishable by law. It confirmed that all public have the freedom of expression guaranteed to them by the Constitution as long as those practices are going according to the law, especially with regard to using the (Twitter) site.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Occupation dead-enders

Wall Street Journal editorial, July 9, 2008:

A year ago, the conventional Beltway wisdom had it that Iraq was a failed state. Today, the same wisdom holds that it is less chaotic but still fragile, dependent entirely on a U.S. presence to survive. But judging by recent comments from Nouri al-Maliki, even this view may be out of date.

Wall Street Journal editorial on the political and sectarian chaos in Iraq, December 23, 2011:

Inevitably we'll hear this is all the fault of the Bush Administration and the original sin of invasion. Some facts are inconvenient. In the last four years, Iraq put together a workable if imperfect political process. Major violence ceased and a 600,000-man military was formed. Oil revenues are flowing. What changed? The U.S. decided to leave.

Incidentally, the former Wall Street Journal editorial was arguing against Barack Obama's proposal as a candidate for a US withdrawal from Iraq in 2009 and in favour of an agreement-based withdrawal with a few extra years after 2008 to assure stability: the exact approach that President Obama implemented.

And she's such a phoney baloney

Meryl Streep gets the big parts for insights like this that she recalls from 1979 for a New York Times article about Iron Lady:

Ms. Streep nodded and said: “I did the same thing. We all thought if it can happen in England, class bound, socially rigid, homophobic — if they can elect a female leader  over there, then it’s just seconds away in America.”

Friday, December 23, 2011

Futile boosting to the end

Wall Street Journal editorial 16 December --

Iraq may be the country most Americans would prefer to forget, even if its remarkable quiescence during this season of Arab revolt is a testament to how much the U.S. achieved there. Yet U.S. interests in consolidating an alliance with Iraq have never been greater.

There wasn't much "quiescence" even in the months prior to that sentence, and there certainly isn't now.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

He also thought he was near the end of a war

Republicans express outrage that conservative politicians with presidential aspirations compare themselves to historical figures:

Mr. Gingrich was “a disaster” as speaker and most likely would be as a nominee, Mr. King said, given his “compulsion to exaggerate,” erratically changing ideas, intellectual arrogance and the grandiosity of his self-comparisons to the likes of Winston Churchill and others.

Above, George W. Bush using careful White House advance team staging to compare himself to Churchill and FDR, during an event in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2004.

Photo: Larry Downing, Reuters

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Nothing to do with me, sorry

Goldman Sachs. The Cayman Islands.  A complex structured investment vehicle.  The Irish Stock Exchange.  What could possibly go wrong?

The Financial Times (subs. req'd) explains, the gist being the attempt to market the thing with all the above features while still having it as an Islamic security:

Lawyers who structure products to comply with Islamic law warn that, whatever the merits to the scholarly debate, investors may be deterred by the doubts. “Goldman can list this programme on the Irish Stock Exchange, but that does not mean they will get the buyers,” said one lawyer who specialises in the field. “They may well find there is not much demand because of the widespread doubts over the issue in the market.” ... He added that Goldman would make use of the commodities and was not just flipping them to the original seller to create the illusion of a sale. And he said that the listing on the Irish Stock Exchange was for regulatory and tax purposes – scholars and potential investors did not anticipate a secondary market.

Friday, December 09, 2011

More than he meant to say

David Cameron this morning: "Britain is out of it and will remain out of it."

He was referring to the Euro but it serves rather unfortunately as a description of Britain's current position in the overall restructuring of the European Union that is now happening.

Incidentally, his remarks about the new deal surrendering more sovereignty and/or being outside the framework of the EU are not doing the Irish government any favours in terms of its own legal rationale for how to ratify the agreement.

Birds of a feather

David Brooks in his New York Times column

In the two main Republican contenders, we have one man, Romney, who seems to have walked straight out of the 1950s, and another, Gingrich, who seems to have walked straight out of the 1960s. He has every negative character trait that conservatives associate with ’60s excess: narcissism, self-righteousness, self-indulgence and intemperance. He just has those traits in Republican form.

What has the last 30 years of Republican dominated politics in the US been about if not narcissism, self-righteousness, self-indulgence, and intemperance?  That's the simplest explanation for why free tax cuts, free wars are so central to the project.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The official computer of the Eurozone debacle

Iveta Radicova, the Slovak Prime Minister, entering the Brussels summit this evening with a fancy Apple.  The Portuguese PM was also clutching one on the way in.  The others stick with the large piles of paper. It makes them look busier.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Eurozone's loose change

IMF website 5 December 2011.  Loan disbursements to African countries on the order of 1/1000 of what Greece is getting.

Of course the Eurozone is a big crisis, not least if you're in the middle of it.

But is this the right attention ranking relative to where the really poor people actually are?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

When calendars collide

Statement from official news agency of United Arab Emirates --

WAM Abu Dhabi, Dec 04th, 2011 (WAM) -- The Fatwa and Legislation Section of the Department of Judiciary- Abu Dhabi, announced that the first day of Muharram falls on Sunday November 27.

A statement issued by the Fatwa and Legislation Department, said that after a meeting of the three committees in charge of moon sighting, on Friday evening, November 25, the crescent was not sighted by any of the committees within the state.

Therefore, Saturday (Nov. 26) was the last day of Dhul Hijjah, and Sunday is the first of Muharram. Hence, the 10th of Muharram corresponds with Tuesday (Dec. 6).

This matters for dating the Ashura festival.  

That means that today, Sunday 4 December, is 8 Muharram.  In Saudi Arabia, today is 9 Muharram.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Morally bankrupt as well

Associated Press report --

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that Greece, which relies on Iranian oil, had objected to a ban on buying it. But he said work toward an embargo would continue.  "Greece has put forward a number of reservations," Juppe said. "We have to take that into account. We have to see with our partners that the cuts can be compensated by the increase of production in other countries. It is very possible."

This is Iran we're talking about, which was suppressing pro-democracy movements with violence before it was cool, and now is backstopping the Assad regime in Syria as it kills children for fun.  And Greece is complaining about oil sourcing?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Be afraid

Good news from the European Central Bank!

This action will enable the Eurosystem to provide euro to those central banks when required, as well as enabling the Eurosystem to provide liquidity operations, should they be needed, in Japanese yen, sterling, Swiss francs and Canadian dollars (in addition to the existing operations in US dollars).

So the ECB is making plans to be able to provide large amounts of other currencies from within the Eurozone system of central banks.  Why might they need to be able to do that?

Be very afraid.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Maybe mineral water is counterrevolutionary

Amid what the media are still describing as an invasion of the UK Embassy in Tehran by "students", a cleric chants slogans while a goon puzzles over a bottle of Italian mineral water; the original photo caption suggests that he may have suspected it contained alcohol, which would be a strange way to store booze inside an embassy, although stranger things have happened.

More seriously, it's a bit strange that the "students" singled out the UK for enhanced protests given that lots of countries have sanctions against Iran; apparently additional sanctions by the UK against the Iranian Central Bank were the trigger.  They must treasure their ability to conduct monetary policy.  Yet these same "radical" students don't seem at all worked up about the atrocities of their client state, Syria.  In short, we have a carefully channeled "spontaneous" protest against an easy target of the Iranian dictatorship desperate for a distraction from how its Syrian entanglement gets messier and messier.  The "Arab Street" moved to Persia.

Photo: Vahid Salemi

Friday, November 25, 2011

A reason to have your domestic league soccer stars be citizens

The Italian Football Players Association is asking its members to buy Italian government bills next week, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport:

l'iniziativa va segnalata perché, in un momento estremamente difficile per l'economia globale, ma soprattutto italiana, l'investimento in titoli di Stato da parte dei cittadini può essere un contributo importante per dimostrare la fiducia che gli italiani hanno nel proprio Paese e per aiutare a migliorare l'aspettativa complessiva che i mercati hanno nei confronti dell'Italia

[basically, that investment in state bonds can show confidence of the citizens and help fight against the market forces that confront Italy]

It appears that they will also waive commission on the purchases.

Of course it could also be seen as an attempt to head off higher taxation of players.  But it's hard to imagine any other players association coming up with such an initiative.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Not top billing

Kuwait News Agency --

National Assembly Speaker Jassem Al-Kharafi received on Monday British Commercial Secretary to the Treasury and member of the House of Lords Baroness Symonds, along with Former Secretary of Defense and current MP Nicholas Soames. The meeting highlighted issues of mutual concern, including political and economic related topics with regard to the two countries. Al-Kharafi also received British Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, discussing issues of mutual concern and bilateral relations.

Note: news item covers first the minister and Nicholas Soames.  Then as an afterthought, that Blair dude.  Then again, Soames has a talent for the big face-time.

Photo from the MP's website

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Just in time for the 1916 centenary

Niall Ferguson's view from 2020 in the Wall Street Journal --

And in 2013, in a historical twist only a few die-hard Ulster Unionists had dreamt possible, the Republic of Ireland's voters opted to exchange the austerity of the U.S.E. for the prosperity of the U.K. Postsectarian Irishmen celebrated their citizenship in a Reunited Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland with the slogan: "Better Brits Than Brussels."

Full illustration from story

Friday, November 18, 2011

Look After The Next Generation

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine:

Mr PM: Can you speak German?
Enda: Not much beyond Good Day but my children learn German

Ireland in new anti-Semitism outrage

Irish Times --

THE PRICE of bagels, croissants, garlic bread and a range of other similar products is likely to increase significantly in the weeks ahead after Revenue decided they were not sufficiently bread-like to be exempt from VAT. The move will see the products fall into the tax net for the first time and may lead to them increasing in price by as much as 13.5 per cent with almost immediate effect.

All on the heels of this.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Occupy Kuwait!

AFP -- The [Kuwaiti] police had used batons to prevent protesters from marching to the residence of Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, a senior member of the ruling family, after staging a rally outside parliament. Witnesses said at least five demonstrators were injured and treated on the site. Some activists said they will continue to camp outside parliament until the premier is sacked.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The chair, Lebanon style

40 minutes into this video, the talk show bust-up between Fayez Shukr and Mustafa Alloush. Apparently Mr Shukr (the chair lifter) carries the "Baath Party" affiliation with pride. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

They were right because they were right

Paul Krugman:

It [the Euro] was criticized by Thatcherites, who wanted to be free to move Britain in an American direction

Actual Thatcherite*, 1990:

It [the Euro] would also mean that there would have to be enormous transfers of money from one country to another. It would cost us a great deal of money. One reason why some of the poorer countries want it is that they would get those big transfers of money. We are trying to contest that. If we have a single currency or a locked currency, the differences come out substantially in unemployment or vast movements of people from one country to another. Many people who talk about a single currency have never considered its full implications ...  When the Delors proposals for economic and monetary union came out, it was said immediately by my right hon. Friend [ Nigel Lawson ] the then Chancellor of the Exchequer that this was not really about monetary policy at all but about a back door to a federal Europe, taking many democratic powers away from democratically elected bodies and giving them to non-elected bodies ...  I think that some in Germany—only some—are backing the scheme because they know that the dominant voice, the predominant voice, on any central bank would be the German voice. 

*Mrs Thatcher.

UPDATE: In his NYT column, Krugman has modified the claim to --

But it was opposed by British conservatives, who also saw it as a step toward a social-democratic Europe.

That is no more consistent with Maggie's quote.

Pope and Wall Street Journal agree: blame the culture, not the perpetrator

Bizarre line from a Wall Street Journal editorial on the Joe Paterno/Penn State scandal --

It's also something of a relief that in a culture as libertine as ours at least some behavior—sexual exploitation of children—is still considered deviant.

Er, isn't it also criminal, and, like, wrong?

Harvard saves world, again

European Central Bank statement --

Today, Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, Member of the Executive Board and Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB), informed President Mario Draghi that he will resign from his position prior to the end of his term of office on 31 May 2013 to join Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs on 1 January 2012. 

LBS taking his time about quitting was causing problems between France and Germany, because he's essentially sitting in a board seat that France thinks should belong to France.   Unlike the European Prime Ministers forced out of their jobs by European Union policy power plays, LBS wanted to be sure of his next job before he jumped.

UPDATE: If Lucas Papademos is any guide, Harvard seems to be the holding area for future technocrat Prime Ministers.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Celtic Tiger's sore spot

Whipped into a froth of righteous indignation by a Daily Mail report -- always a shaky stool -- Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute (via Forbes) launches into a denunciation of Ireland's incoming President, Michael D. Higgins:

He’s also an economic illiterate or a cynical hack who apparently thinks noble poverty is a good idea for the other 99 percent.

Here’s some of what the Daily Mail reported about one of his recent speeches.

"Michael D Higgins launched a savage attack on the Celtic Tiger in his first speech as President elect. In his acceptance speech, the Labour Party candidate…rejected the years of materialism and selfishness that drove the country to ruin. …Michael D declared: ‘We leave behind a narrow individualism that valued the person for what was assumed to be their accumulated wealth but neglected the connection between the person, the social, the community and the nation. …Mr Higgins called on Irish people to return to ‘co-operative and collective values’."

Isn’t this just wonderful? This pampered and cosseted member of the political elite thinks that Ireland somehow was demeaned by being the Celtic Tiger. Does this mean he wants to go back the mid-1980s, before Ireland began to reform? Back when government was consuming more than 50 percent of the nation’s output? Back when the the corporate tax rate was 50 percent? Back when other tax rates were at extortionary levels?

If that’s true, he wants to dramatically reduce the living standards of the Irish people.

This is strange on several levels.  First, Mitchell seems to have conflated Michael D with Eamon de Valera, who in the much more powerful position of Taoiseach (Prime Minister) infamously invoked what he saw as a better Ireland of athletic youths and comely maidens while pursuing a much more statist and isolationist policy than the country has now.  As President, Higgins will have no such influence of policy and that's not his leaning anyway.

Because what's truly revealing here is that Michael D made no specific reference to any policy choices or indeed the supposed virtues of the 1980s.  Instead it was his denunciation of individualism that caught Mitchell's eye.  In other words, it's not so much that a genre of corporate tax policy or light-touch financial regulation drove Ireland into the ditch -- it's that Ireland's economic troubles can be read as an indictment of a broader economic philosophy of everyone-for-themselves/I've got mine boosterism.  That wound will apparently take time to heal.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Credit where it's due

Here's a link to the French website that broke the story of the Sarkozy-Obama G20 conversation about Bibi Netanyahu being inadvertently being picked up by translation equipment used by reporters (strangely, the G20 organizers' system for preserving the sanctity of conversations involving translators apparently was, er, asking reporters not to listen in till they said so).  As there appears to be some excitement among US Republicans to package the Obama side of the conversation as disparaging about Bibi, it's worth noting that it's hard to read it like that.  Obama was deflecting Sarko's comment, nothing more.  However, other reporters now look foolish for having agreed to suppress the story once the cat was out of the bag.

Monday, November 07, 2011


Wit from the otherwise dismal world of Greek politics --

George Karatzaferis, leader of the small nationalist Laos party, said there was still no agreement on Mr. Papademos. "I was hoping that coming out of here I could say 'Habemus Papademos' but I can't say that yet," he said after a meeting with Greek President Karolos Papoulias.

Habemus Papam!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

At least Sepp Blatter is not involved in selecting the mosques

Yesterday, newly-appointed Saudi Crown Prince Nayef gave what was essentially his inaugural news conference in that position, albeit one springing from his existing position in charge of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.  Responding to what were apparently some testy questions about the state of preparations for a mass arrival compared to a World Cup --

The Crown Prince rejected the comparison between the organization of the world soccer cup finals and Hajj, stating that organizers of such international football events will have each a grace of more than two years while Hajj is a yearly event.

Among the problems with this excuse is that a World Cup hosting country has to build a lot of infrastructure for a one-time event, whereas Saudi Arabia knows ahead of time that it is home to the two holy mosques -- it's in the King's job title, after all --- and it knows exactly when each year's main pilgrimage will occur.  In addition, it's not like being a pilgrimage site swamped by visitors is a uniquely Islamic phenomenon.  A small town in France is able to host 5 million pilgrims a year without the recurring questions about preparedness faced by the Hajj -- that would be Lourdes.  Let's hope he's got a better response to the deficiencies than waiting for Qatar to screw up the 2022 World Cup.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

We are not amused

Statement today from EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Council President Herman Van Rompuy --

We take note of the intention of the Greek authorities to hold a referendum. We are convinced that this agreement is the best for Greece. We fully trust that Greece will honour the commitments undertaken in relation to the euro area and the international community.  The Presidents of the European Council and Commission have had a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Papandreou. The Presidents are in contact with members of the Eurozone and will continue to be in the margins of the G20 meeting in Cannes. 

Among other things, the statement is quite vague about the status of what Greece agreed to at the latest Summit to End All Summits on October 27.  Which puts the self-congratulatory tone at the end of that summit (see photo above) in sharp relief.  How long more can the EU function with the same pathetic leadership?

Photo: EU Council photo service.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Just fancy that!

So of all the media teams that have been through the Gaddafi compound in Sirte, the only one that found a Liverpool FC mug allegedly used by Gaddafi and nicely posed with the rest of the tea cups was the Daily Mail. Clearly all those other news outlets complaining about the Daily Mail just don't know how to find a too-good-to-be-true story.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Oil and defence contracts get the pulse racing, if he had a pulse

Via the Saudi Press Agency, an unusual sighting of Dick Cheney (other than for Fox News appearances) at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington DC.  It's a condolence call for Crown Prince Sultan and Dick is being greeted by the Ambassador, Adel al-Jubeir, the subject of the alleged Iran-backed assassination plot.  That seems to be Liz Cheney skulking in the background.

EU countries: whatever we do, don't do what Ireland did

From the statement of the European Union heads of government council meeting:

A simple repetition of the 2008 experience with full national discretion in the setting-up of [bank] liquidity schemes may not provide a satisfactory solution under current market conditions.  

In other words, putting the entire balance sheet of your busted banks on the public debt, like Ireland, hasn't worked that out well.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Stick to All Murdoch All The Time

Guardian, 18 October --

France and Germany have reached agreement to boost the eurozone's rescue fund to €2tn (£1.75tn) as part of a "comprehensive plan" to resolve the sovereign debt crisis, which this weekend's summit should endorse, EU diplomats said.

Guardian (same reporter David Gow), 20 October

Europe was thrown into fresh chaos on Thursday after a failure to resolved deep differences between France and Germany forced the postponement of a new plan to save the single currency. A joint statement from the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, admitted that a deal at the weekend was now unachievable and that talks in Brussels on Sunday would be followed by a second summit next Wednesday.

The original report was market-moving.  Given the sums of money involved, is the Guardian going to name their 18 October sources?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Our friends the speculators

Wall Street Journal:

MF Global's complex trades involved debt from Portugal, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Ireland, according to the securities filings. The debt has high yields because of the troubles that the countries are facing.  MF Global believed the debt was relatively safe since it matures by the end of next year and may be backed by the European Financial Stability Facility, people familiar with the matter said.  MF Global exited from other higher-yielding trades to free up more capital when regulators required the changes, according to people familiar with the matter.

MF Global is the investment firm of former Goldman Sachs executive and New Jersey governor Jon Corzine.  At least one question: what were the other high-yielding positions that got dumped in the expectation that the Eurozone is underpinning the value of dodgy member country bonds?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The opera is the thing

Oman News Agency --

His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said presided over the official opening of the Royal Opera House this evening ... After a short break, His Majesty headed to the Royal Box where the Royal Guard of Oman band played the national anthem. His Majesty then gave permission to start the ceremony programme which included three opera performances by Opera Turandot "The Power of Love" directed by Franco Zeffirelli and led by the maestro Giacomo Puccini.

The bachelor Sultan at the opera about the unobtainable (Persian?) woman.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

iPhone 4S reviews

Walter Mossberg (Wall Street Journal): When I asked for a "French restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland," it instantly returned a list from Yelp, ranked by user reviews ... The system understands multiple, colloquial forms of a question. I asked, "Will the weather get worse today?" and Siri answered, "I don't think the weather is going to get worse" and displayed a weather chart. 

David Pogue (New York Times):  You can say, “Wake me up at 7:35,” or “Change my 7:35 alarm to 8.” You can say, “What’s Gary’s work number?” Or, “How do I get to the airport?” Or, “Any good Thai restaurants around here?”  ... It’s mind-blowing how inexact your utterances can be. Siri understands everything from, “What’s the weather going to be like in Tucson this weekend?” to “Will I need an umbrella tonight?” (She has various amusing responses for “What is the meaning of life?”)

MG Siegler (Tech Crunch): You really have to use it yourself to see just how great Siri actually is. Using it for the past week, I’ve done everything from getting directions, to sending emails, to sending text messages, to looking up information on WolframAlpha, to getting restaurant recommendations on Yelp, to taking notes, to setting reminders, to setting calendar appointments, to setting alarms, to searching the web.

Brian Chen (Wired): Tonight I’m meeting my friend Peter, who wants to eat steak, so I can say, “I want prime rib” to find steakhouses nearby.

Rich Jaroslovsky (Bloomberg): When I asked Siri, “Will I need an umbrella tonight?” its robotic female voice informed me, “There’s no rain in the forecast,” while the screen displayed the weather report for my location. When I told it to find me a good Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood, it displayed a listing ranked by Yelp ratings.

Enough about the device: is there something about being a technology reviewer and anxiety about being outside and (1) it's raining, and (2) not being able to pick a restaurant?

We need to elect a new people

European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet in interview with Die Welt:

Do you have the impression that the Heads of Government have understood what is at stake?

I believe they are conscious of their extraordinary responsibility. They all have to make decisions in the context of democracies which, in the advanced economies, are very inward-looking, which is a real problem at the time of the worst global crisis for the last 66 years.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Celtic Tiger banking

Irish Times

The case relates to loans provided by Bank of Scotland to HSS, Jeffel and Park Associates Ltd - the Mansfield group - of which Mr Mansfield is a director. The loans were advanced for purchase of lands and for development of a conference office, a golf course, residential units and a hotel.

Mr Leonard said business was conducted between Mr Mansfield and the bank via verbal agreements on funding, with the “paperwork” put in place later. 

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

From Dublin to Brussels by carrier pigeon


And growing expectations of a Greek sovereign default threaten to unleash a banking crisis in Europe and aggravate a global economic slowdown. "The negative feedback loop between sovereigns and banks is materializing," said a senior EU official in the thick of the fire-fighting.

Er, does unnamed senior EU official think that something other than a negative feedback loop between banks and the sovereign was happening in Ireland from September 2008 onwards?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

There's a term for that

Saudi Ministry of Interior statement carried by official news agency concerning riots in Qatif --

At the same time, the Ministry of Interior calls upon the rational members of their families, those of whose loyalties we have no doubts, to bear their responsibilities towards their sons; otherwise, all will bear the consequences of their actions.

The term is "collective punishment."

No Second Troy

Michael Lewis:

On the difference between Ireland and Greece, Lewis said: "The Irish just have a greater talent for suffering. If you imposed on the Greeks what the Irish have imposed on the Irish population, people would be getting shot."

By the way, that Greek austerity is no picnic either.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Please try the fish

The Wall Street Journal's agenda column takes another run at Iceland vs Ireland comparisons.  The gist of it is that the comparisons don't look as good for Iceland as they did earlier in the year because Ireland has had a few quarters of export-led growth, but it's still the case that telling the banksters to go to hell, as Iceland did, is not obviously a worse strategy as the banksters would have you believe.

The different sources of exports in each country need to borne in mind: Ireland relies heavily on multinational tech and pharma, while Iceland has energy-related and fish.  Fish might have worked for Ireland, except that the once-permanent party of government, Fianna Fail, gave them all away to the EU in 1972 as part of the membership negotiations, much as they would later give away the national pension fund to the aforementioned banksters.  So one of the lessons of the comparison might be that the voters shouldn't elect parties with a track record of sacrificing national assets, which the Irish electorate appears to have taken on board as of 2011.

What all this has to do with Greece -- the ostensible subject of the WSJ article -- is not clear. One less obvious lesson may be that a political cleansing -- which Iceland had when the crisis broke and Ireland had at the start of 2011 -- can have strong economic effects.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Eurocrats find their level

European Commission --

Brussels 29 September 2011: The European Commission today decided to refer Poland to the EU's Court of Justice because it maintains obstacles to the registration of right-hand drive vehicles in Poland. National legislation requires that the steering wheel is placed on the left-hand side of the vehicle. That means that, in practice, new and used cars with right-hand drive cannot be registered.

Photo: 1959 Morris Mini-Minor interior via Wikipedia Commons.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Playgirl of the Northern World

BBC --

A farmer who allowed one of the world's best-selling pop stars to film in his grain field told her to cover up after she stripped down for a video.

DUP Alderman Alan Graham said he was fetching his tractor when he saw her and thought it was unacceptable. The 'Rude Boy' star was filming a new pop video in his Bangor field.

"I thought it was inappropriate. I requested them to stop and they did," he explained. "I had my conversation with Rihanna and I hope she understands where I'm coming from. We shook hands," he said.

Mr Graham admitted that he did not know who the 23-year-old sex symbol was when he got a phone call to ask for the use of his field in Bangor, County Down, for a pop video last week.

Plankton's greatest scheme yet

Bloomberg News

Nakheel PJSC, the builder of man- made islands off Dubai’s coast, said some of the land used as collateral for a $1.31 billion Islamic bond is at the bottom of the Persian Gulf.

“The land has been valued by reputable companies and was accepted by lenders and trade creditors,” Chairman Ali Rashed Lootah said after a press conference today, without saying who evaluated the asset. “What’s the issue?”

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cultural collapse comes to the borders of the cradle of Islam

News agency of the United Arab Emirates --

As part of its community-oriented initiatives, the Vehicles Licensing Department, Licensing Agency at Roads '&' Transport Authority (RTA) has recently delivered an educative lecture entitled: Safe Driving for Woman with the aim of protecting women from road accidents through casting light on the safe driving methods.

There's something else I meant to tell you

4 days ago, Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh popped in to see his good friend Saudi King Abdullah who  had provided medical treatment in Riyadh after Saleh was injured in a bomb attack in Sanaa.  It seemed to be a pure courtesy call and there wasn't much sign that Saleh was headed back to oversee his killing machine in Yemen anytime soon, especially as it seems to be functioning quite well without him.

Today, he went back to Yemen.

Did he tell the Saudis he was going back? The choreography of the photo suggests not, but of course it's all guessing from the outside. But there's a strong likelihood that people who thought they knew what was going on are feeling duped.  It's going to be a long weekend.

Photo: Saudi Press Agency

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's conspiracies all the way down

Here's the English text of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's address to the General Assembly of the UN.  It's bizarre even by his standards.  Apparently the USA caused World Wars I and II, which is probably the theory you'd need if you didn't want the Nazis to be a part of your version of history.  But by the same logic of his theories, doesn't the fact that his clowning makes Iran look so bad and causes people to side with the US and Israel prove that he himself must be an Israeli agent? 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Not the first place you'd think has too many visitors

From Bahrain News Agency ... a Gulf Air flight departs from Bahrain for Kabul, Afghanistan, Kabul Airport presumably knows it's coming, but when it gets to Kabul, it's refused permission to land --

The Afghan authorities recently advised the airline to reduce its flights from four to two per week without justifiable reason and in direct contravention of the bilateral agreement in place between The Kingdom of Bahrain and Afghanistan which permits Gulf Air to operate 8 flights per week. Gulf Air was therefore operating in accordance with its schedule and the bilateral agreements in place between Bahrain and Afghanistan. 

As such the refusal to permit landing directly contravenes the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)agreements and protocols in this regard. Furthermore, none of the other airlines operating higher frequencies into Kabul have been subjected to such punitive measures.

As in such cases, one has to guess whether incompetence or a hidden agenda is at work.  But it does appear that 10 years of war hasn't even gotten Kabul a proper air traffic control system.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Somehow this is going to end up as evidence against global warming

From the US Dept of Justice lawsuit alleging that Ireland-based Full Tilt poker was a Ponzi scheme; this is the section dealing with how Full Tilt was running its payments through fake fronts so that US banks wouldn't know they were dealing with a gambling operation --

In another example, in or around June 2009, Franzen, the defendant, working with multiple co-conspirators, created a phony business called “Green2YourGreen” to be used to disguise payments from U.S. gamblers destined for each of the Poker Companies.  Franzen’s coconspirators falsely told multiple United States banks insured by the FDIC, including Citibank and Wells Fargo Bank, among others, that “Green2YourGreen” was a “direct sales” business that allowed consumers to buy environmentally friendly household products and sell them to other consumers in return for commissions.  Indeed, the phony Green2YourGreen website that Franzen’s co-conspirators created to disguise the gambling transactions listed numerous products that were purportedly for sale and contained “testimonials” about the benefits of green living.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This paragraph might also disappear

New York Times --

MADRID — A Spanish judge has reopened an abandoned sexual assault case against a Saudi prince who is one of the world’s richest men, reviving accusations that he raped a 20-year-old model on a luxury yacht in the Spanish Mediterranean in August 2008.

The prince, Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, a nephew of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, is the largest individual stakeholder in Citigroup and, among his other major holdings, is the second largest investor in the News Corporation. Forbes valued his fortune this year at $19.4 billion, making him the 26th richest man in the world and the single richest in the Arab world.
Prince al-Waleed's holding company has put out a pretty definitive sounding rebuttal which suggests that more than one person got taken in:
There have been many examples of people impersonating Prince Alwaleed over the internet and elsewhere for their own purposes. While one can suppose a young person in Ibiza might be fooled by such a fraud, we would have expected more from the New York Times.
So who was their source?

Not quiet on the northern front

A good Wall Street Journal op-ed by Neill Lochery overcomes its subtitle gaffe -- "tensions continue to simmer in Ulster" (sic) -- to explain how, contrary to claims of boasting Irish PMs on victory laps, inner Belfast is still a segregated and troubled city.  One notable claim:

What followed the [Northern Bank] robbery was a huge money laundering operation, with pubs and small hotels in Dublin exchanging hands for as much €10 million as the IRA allegedly tried to legitimize its ill-gotten gains. British intelligence agencies heavily monitored this activity, but politicians in London and Dublin were reluctant to do anything to stop to stop it for fear of derailing the peace process.

Did the Irish government know of specific property deals done with dodgy money and not intervene?  Now that's light-touch regulation!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

This paragraph might disappear

From a Wall Street Journal op-ed article by Nicolas Lecaussin:

'We can no longer borrow dollars. U.S. money-market funds are not lending to us anymore," a bank executive for BNP Paribas, who declines to be named, told me last week. "Since we don't have access to dollars anymore, we're creating a market in euros. This is a first. . . . We hope it will work, otherwise the downward spiral will be hell. We will no longer be trusted at all and no one will lend to us anymore."

Apparently BNP is not happy about the quote.  It is a bit strange for a financial newspaper to put unsourced but clearly sensitive quotes in such a prominent place.  The habits of political coverage don't play so well on the financial side of the shop.

UPDATE: On the substantive point of the article, Robert Peston makes a similar argument.  In France, it's civil servants running the banks.

FINAL UPDATE: More at A Fistful of Euros.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

11 September 2001-2011

We tried to think about something useful to say for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 but it all failed to pass the test of whether it was better not to say anything at all.

So instead we're nominating Green Day as the musical accompaniment to the last decade -- which has had a lot more downs than ups -- and suggest the following among their legitimate (and thus non-embeddable) Youtube material as appropriate 9/11 + 10 music.

Wake me up when September ends

21 Guns

Last of the American Girls

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

It's systemically important that banks do business with dictators

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent story that works through some of the juicy stuff that is showing up the Libyan document trove.  Specifically, French investment bank Societe General made large payments to a Panama-registered vehicle (because it works so well for ships, after all) named Leinada, and no-one can figure out what exact services Leinada provided, but some doors in Libya certainly seemed to have opened as a result.

A little Googling reveals that similar documents have been floating around in the Arabic language media for some time, with occasional translations into English bringing them to more general attention.  So here's the excellent Zanga Zanga blog (the title plays off a ludicrous Gaddafi speech) with a further nugget in a post that also has a lot about SocGen --

At some point in 2008/2009 SIG [Saif al-Islam Gaddafi] was persuaded or otherwise came to the conviction that the acquisition by the LIA [Libyan Investment Authority] of a portfolio of media securities would be of some strategic value to Libya or himself. The intent was that such companies could then be persuaded to make JV [Joint Venture] investments in Libya or in any case report more favourably. Very active in this proposal were Mr. Alejandro Agag and Mr.Ignacio Munoz Alonso  of Addax Capital LLP. These put together a patently corrupt and incompetently documented proposal to set up an Irish fund (with only the LIA as investor) to purchase stock off the market in the likes of Pearson and News Corporation. The documentation and structure were substandard. The intent was that the LIA would invest $1 bn.

The late Celtic Tiger era.  Preferred light-touch home of dodgy investment vehicle for dictator's son to invest the people's oil money in Murdoch enterprises.  Then again, it looks like much of the financial sector in western Europe and the USA was on the take from Libya, big time, during this era.  Then, when things went pear-shaped, the same banks demanded, and got, bailouts from their home governments.  We might not have a SocGen to report on today if it wasn't for the AIG bailout.  One wonders if the same bailout made them any more subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act than they would be otherwise.

UPDATE 8 SEPTEMBER: Also from the "light touch" department, a New York judge has rejected HSBC's proposed settlement with investors in an Irish-based Madoff feeder fund.

Monday, September 05, 2011

It's a great site for a TGI McScratchy's Goodtime Fooddrinkery

Urban cultural preservation, Irish style:

[Irish Times] Dublin City Council has denied planning permission for a McDonald's restaurant in Temple Bar. The proposed development had met resistance from groups such as An Taisce and the Temple Bar Cultural Trust who argued that its construction would detract from the cultural, artistic and historic character of the area.

The US-based fast food giant had hoped to locate itself on the site of Frankie's Steakhouse and Bar at Temple Bar Square.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Don't bother me with the facts

Nobel Prize winning economist and University of Chicago Professor Gary Becker in the Wall Street Journal

Highly publicized are the troubles facing Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain that are mainly due to the growth in spending and debt of their governments prior to the 2008 crisis.

Above, the public debt of Ireland 2000-2010.  And those figures are in currency terms, so debt as a share of GDP was actually declining sharply until the light-touch-regulated banks blew up the country. See also Paul Krugman.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's the same, except when it's different

Fouad Ajami in the Wall Street Journal, glossing over his predictions of late 2010 --

On the face of it, the similarities of the undoing of the terrible regimes of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi are striking. The spectacles of joy in Tripoli today recall the delirious scenes in Baghdad's Firdos Square in 2003—the statues pulled down, the palaces of faux grandeur and kitsch ransacked by people awakening to their own sense of violation and power, the man at the helm who had been full of might and bravado making a run for it, exposed as a paranoid and pretender, living in fear of his day of reckoning.

In neither case had the people of these two tormented societies secured their liberty on their own. In Baghdad, the Baathist reign of terror would have lasted indefinitely had George W. Bush not pushed it into its grave. 

So, Saddam would have lasted forever without the Bush invasion, even as we now know that Arabs can get rid of seemingly well-entrenched dictators with much more selective foreign help?  Perhaps realizing the contradiction, the rest of Ajami's article is a narrative of how Libya's neighbours were much more well inclined to regime change than Iraq's.  Er ... Iran? Which requires him to dance between claiming that Iran regressed into a historical Persian rivalry with Iraq while Saudi Arabia failed to embrace Iraqi regime change because they saw it as inspired by ... Iran!

There wasn't only one

Matthew Yglesias, amid another weirdly flippant reference to Nazi Germany ("Operation Anschluss")

 [Quoting Hans-Olaf Henkel]  That is why we need a plan “C”: Austria, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands to leave the eurozone and create a new currency leaving the euro where it is. [end quote]

you could see this as basically a re-creation of the Holy Roman Empire. ... Someday, rich Northern Italy might succeed in separating from the poorer provinces and might want to sign up, approximating the HR Empire at its greatest extent. We might look back on the past 200 years as a kind of weird interregnum characterized by a series of madcap schemes (by Napoleon, Hitler, Jean-Claude Trichet, etc.) to impose political unity on western Europe.

Hilarious, except for one problem.  The Holy Roman Empire didn't use a single currency.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Dick Cheney interview with Wall Street Journal --

As we finish up, Mr. Cheney diverts into a consideration of the sorts of responses governments may have to make when confronted by things in the news now, such as "flash mobs" using social media to organize riots through London. "It's going to present us with some pretty significant challenges that we've only begun to address."  "Tough problem," the public-policy lifer says, before finally stepping back from a challenge: "My generation is not going to have to deal with it. But yours is."

OK, there were certainly some complex social phenomena behind the London riots.  But conceptually and technologically, it's hard to see what's difficult about them.  Indeed, precisely because of the use of social media, the flash mob networks are much easier to monitor than the kind of snooping that Cheney wanted to do.

Which raises the question: did Cheney really understand the technological aspects of terrorism, or was it all just part of something alien to a man from another era, but a man who had been given the bureaucratic power to, seemingly, control it?

Also, that "public policy lifer" spent the years between his Bush I and Bush II assignments as CEO of Halliburton.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Weather lingo

With the term Heat Dome having been rolled out a few weeks ago as an alternative to a boring old heatwave, it now looks like, judging from Fox News anyway, that we should get ready for Surge Dome to replace boring old storm surges such as one feared from Hurricane Irene.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Republican nightmare

Reuters --

Saudi Arabia is excavating a new archaeological site that will show horses were domesticated 9,000 years ago in the Arabian peninsula, the country's antiquities expert said on Wednesday.

The nightmare being that (1) evidence that the Earth is more than 6,000 years old and (2) the proof is in ... Saudi Arabia!

Probably more of a tweet

So if Warren Buffett was taxed more (or paid more taxes voluntarily), does that mean he wouldn't have the US$5 billion handy to bailout Bank of America? 

Bombs to Damascus

New York Times on Dick Cheney's book --

Former Vice President Dick Cheney says in a new memoir that he urged President George W. Bush  to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor site in June 2007. But, he wrote, Mr. Bush opted for a diplomatic approach after other advisers — still stinging over “the bad intelligence we had received about Iraq’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction” — expressed misgivings. 

Was this the only split in the Bush Administration regarding a war on Syria?  Take a look beginning at the 26th minute of this Syrian TV interview with Bashar al-Assad.  Now not to take his side in anything -- the sooner that the Syrian people get around to a Libyan solution, the better -- but he has no particular reason to make up the story he recounts at that stage of the interview.  In which he says that they were all aware of all the "After Iraq, Syria" chatter in 2003, but even moreso that he was shown a list of specific targets that the Americans were going to attack, and the threat only receded after Afghanistan and Iraq got more complicated (which might explain incidentally why Syria was facilitating jihadis getting to Iraq during this period).

So anyway, it's great that Dick Cheney is telling it like he saw it in his book, but he's probably not telling it all.  Someone wanted to invade Syria in 2003-04 and got talked out of it.  Who and Why?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Libya smart alec comment

Wouldn't it be wise for Muammar Gaddafi to propose that any war crimes trial for him or his sons be held in Scotland?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Service to news editors

This Bahrain news agency story is responding to what it says is a Washington Post story when it's actually a Washington Times story.

He Yadda Yaddad the worst part

Matt Yglesias has a strange post about monetary policy in Nazi Germany.  It plays off the again topical issue of FDR's monetary policy in the New Deal era but the reader is left with the distinct impression that the story of 1930s German economic policy is two monetary wheezes (a parallel currency and then gold seizures in Austria and Czechoslovakia) from which it was just a hop, skip, and jump to the war effort finally getting the economy to full employment.

But what's strange is to propound so authoritatively about Nazi economic policy and never mention fiscal policy, which is where all the action was.  Here's a review by Alex Harrowell of Adam Tooze's excellent book on the topic that lays it all out: monetary policy didn't have a whole lot to do with Germany's 1930s "boom" which was in fact a ruthless military-industrial buildup financed by suppression of consumption and propaganda-boosted labor supply.  Monetary policy was just the increasingly desperate leak-plugging operation on the side, as Nazi economic lunacy ran into the mundane problems of all economic lunacy -- shortages and repressed inflation, not least of foreign currency.   Only in Rick Perry's fantasy world does this tell us anything about the American policy dilemmas today.

UPDATE 13 SEPTEMBER: Yglesias returns to the topic:

In broader terms, the policies of Adolf Hitler were far inferior to those of his predecessors in Germany. But the Nazi regime, under the leadership of Hjalmar Schacht, implemented highly effective monetary policies ...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Note to editors

If, after every occurrence of the country name "Bahrain" we have to have "home to America's Fifth Fleet", can we also have for "Syria" something like "home for 40 years to a USSR/Russia naval base?"  Incidentally, Syria (unlike Bahrain) is using its own naval facilities to shell dissident areas, so keeping track of these naval assets is important.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Agent Bush: Mission Accomplished

New York Times

BAGHDAD — As leaders in the Arab world and other countries condemn President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on demonstrators in Syria, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq  has struck a far friendlier tone, urging the protesters not to “sabotage” the state and hosting an official Syrian delegation.  Mr. Maliki’s support for Mr. Assad has illustrated how much Iraq’s position in the Middle East has shifted toward an axis led by Iran. 

Photo (Paul Morse): July 2006 White House meeting between Maliki and George Bush.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pop Culture Crossover

Daily Star of Lebanon

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea has described Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt as the American television sitcom character Sergeant Schultz.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

And anyone can go to Dubai

In the Financial Times, Christopher Caldwell muses on the latest World's Tallest Tower project in Jeddah:

A well-designed building in Jeddah could enhance the visits of the millions of pilgrims who pass through it each year on their way to Mecca. On the other hand, a badly designed building could make a pilgrimage to Mecca feel more like a shopping weekend in Dubai.

Above, the garish Big Ben imitation overlooking the central courtyard in Mecca.  The complex includes a massive mall, hotels, and luxury apartments.

Photo: Salah Malkawi for the New York Times.

Cause and effect

Wall Street Journal article on another European policy elite summer --

"If you didn't allow vacations during crises, [EU leaders] would not have had a vacation in the last three years," said Kim Oosterlinck of the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Crisis, what crisis? Oh, that one. Right.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, statement following the Eurozone-rescuing summit of 21 July --

So, ladies and gentlemen, we needed a credible package: we have a credible package. It deals with both the concerns of the markets and of citizens. It responds also to the concerns of all Member States of the Euro area. It is a package that every government has signed up to. For the first time in the crisis, the politics and the markets are coming together.

Jose Manuel Barroso, letter to EU heads of government 3 August --

The 21st of July bold decisions on the Greek package and the increased flexibility of the EFSF (precautionary use, recapitalisation of banks and intervention in secondary bond markets), are not having their intended effect on the markets. Markets highlight, among other reasons, the global economic uncertainties due to both economic growth and the protracted decision on budgetary adjustments in the US but, first and foremost, the undisciplined communication and the complexity and incompleteness of the 21st July package.

Incidentally, for someone complaining about communications problems, his press statement of August 3 is notably less bleak than the letter he was writing at the same time and which was made public today and from which the above passage is taken.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

It's better than Arab cottage cheese

Over the last couple of years, there was a vibrant cottage industry among American conservatives in travelling to Israel and proclaiming the discovery of a new economic miracle in the land of milk and honey.  The canonical texts -- which launched a thousand op-ed pieces -- are Startup Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer and The Israel Test by George Gilder.

To the extent that these books had any economic methodology -- as opposed to an implicit Up Yours to Israel's immediate neighbours -- it involved talking to a highly selected sample of successful export-oriented rich people in Israel and using these venture capital-dependent cases to draw conclusions about the overall success of Israel's economy. 

Minor issues such as the validity of comparing Israel to clapped out dictatorships and petro-states as opposed to small European states (a peer group that Israel itself seeks) can be set aside.  Because it turns out that Israel's American boosters missed the story.  The story being that actual Israelis were growing ever more frustrated with the basic cost of living, complaints now exemplified in the tale of the over-expensive cottage cheese and the vested interests that lie behind it.  Here's an excellent article from another of those actual Israelis that explains the economics of the problem.  The neocon view of Bibi Netanyahu as a combination of Churchill and Thatcher on the Jordan looks a bit rougher against this backdrop (not to mention Bibi about to quietly follow Barack Obama's once outrageous 1967 peace line principles of a few weeks ago).

In the spirit of seeking general principles where there might not be any, the lesson appears to be that when The National Question dominates domestic political debate, it leaves huge room for economic mischief.  That's a problem we know in Ireland.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

What could possibly have gone wrong?

Above (via European Council photo service), Council President Herman van Rompuy and Commission President (since the Bertie Ahern-brokered deal that put him there in 2004) Jose Manuel Barroso initiate the Eurocrat orgy of self-congratulation following the July summit that kept Greece on the official financing morphine until the next spasm and so saved all of the Eurozone from contagion.  We were told.

Today --

Italian authorities will meet on Tuesday to discuss growing market turmoil that has sent borrowing costs spiraling to dangerous levels and threatened to drag Italy into full-scale crisis.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Pet goats are calm

A Reuters story excitedly previews a George W. Bush interview with the National Geographic channel that will air in August --

In a rare interview with the National Geographic Channel, Bush reflects on what was going through his mind at the most dramatic moment of his presidency when he was informed that a second passenger jet had hit New York's World Trade Center ... Bush said he could see the news media at the back of the classroom getting the news on their own cellphones "and it was like watching a silent movie." 

Bush said he quickly realized that a lot of people beyond the classroom would be watching for his reaction. "So I made the decision not to jump up immediately and leave the classroom. I didn't want to rattle the kids. I wanted to project a sense of calm," he said of his decision to remain seated and silent.
"I had been in enough crises to know that the first thing a leader has to do is to project calm," he added.

Page 38 of the 9/11 Commission Report of 2004 --

The President told us his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see an excited reaction at a moment of crisis.  The press was standing behind the children; he saw their phones and pagers starting to ring.   The President felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening.

What we learn therefore is that Bush has memorized the explanation that he and his handlers came up with for how the Decider-in-Chief froze on 9/11, not some new insights into his thinking on that disastrous day.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Karl Rove condemns rising income inequality in America

Well, not exactly.  But he seems to be noticing its consequences, if not the link.  In his regular Thursday perch at the Wall Street Journal, he laments the closing of Furin's restaurant in Georgetown--

The family diner, a D.C. landmark, featured wafer-thin pancakes, great sandwiches, homemade soups and the capital's best cakes and cupcakes. It drew generations of students, social types, power brokers and travelers wealthy enough to stay at the Four Seasons across the street but savvy enough to know where to get a wonderful breakfast.

Note: the expensive Four Seasons across the street isn't closing.  Business better for the places getting more money from the wealthy customers.  Weird, that.  The post mortem --

No small business ends for just one reason. But with fewer conventions coming to Washington, a slow economy and people dining out less, it got gradually tougher to keep Furin's doors open

If things are this bad for a small Washington DC business with the existing level of public spending cuts, how much worse would they be if Rove got the cuts that he wanted?

Finally, note the man who was as good as the "real Americans versus Washington" rhetoric as anybody wander all of 14 blocks from his old White House job to find an anecdote for a tough economy. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Photo of the day

Via the Wall Street Journal, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou (front left), Greek leader of the opposition Antonis Samaras (top right) and two friends at Amherst College, Mass., 1973.  Apparently Samaras was the one doing road trips to Emily Dickinson College.