Saturday, December 28, 2013

Google bait in Beirut

The photo above shows on the ground a Lebanese teenager, Mohammed Al-Chaar, who was injured and later died in the car bomb attack -- likely instigated by Syria -- on the convoy of  the politician Mohammed Chatah.

There appears to be a consensus in online news sites to run headlines and references to the teenager and his friends having taken a "selfie" photo immediately before the attack e.g. headline picked up by numerous outlets: Teenager in Beirut bombing 'selfie' dies.

Is there a mandate from editors to use the buzzwords of 2013 in all articles to drive up hitcounts? Leaving aside that Mohammed al-Chaar (a) did not take the selfie (it was a group photo) and (b) is dead in (c) from an attack with major regional implications, how is the selfie meme at all relevant?

Photo: Al Arabiya.

Bear arms but not names

From the Hartford Courant article on the Connecticut state's final report on the Sandy Spring atrocity --

Records show that the four guns he carried to the Sandy Hook school that day were all legally purchased by Nancy between March 2010 and January 2012. The report redacts the locations where the guns were purchased. The Bushmaster used in the shootings was bought in March 2010.

Why do the gun stores get anonymity? 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Impunity kills

With the bomb attack in Beirut today, the current Syria policy of urging the opposition to go to Geneva and talk to that nice man Mr Assad is surely beyond any viability. If Syria and Hezbollah got away before with car bombs outside the Phoenicia hotel -- the one that killed Rafik Hariri -- why should do they do any differently now given the lack of will to confront them? Maybe Russia will offer to investigate the Chatah killing and Barack Obama will eagerly accept.

Photo: Reuters.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Roots of Turkish corruption scandal revealed!

Bertie Ahern meets Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2003 and assures him he's read the Turkish government's national program line by line.

Actually there's a broader point here, prompted by this New York Times article about the frustration in Bulgaria that EU membership hasn't changed politics or corruption after 6 years. The Irish case shows that it could take nearly 40 years.

Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Great milestones in cultural change

Steely Dan, "Deacon Blues," 1977 --

I'll learn to work the saxophone
I'll play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whisky all night long
And die behind the wheel

Pajama Boy, 2013 --

Wear pajamas
Drink hot chocolate. 
Talk about getting health insurance. 

Our man in Damascus

It hardly needs pointing out, but the Bashar al-Assad use of barrel bombs seems to have increased just as his chemical weapons were taken away. Same terror, different delivery. No word of any Seymour Hersh investigation of who's dropping the barrel bombs. But Bashar seems to have found ever-gullible securocrats who think he's the bulwark against the real terrorists.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Is the Pope Catholic?

National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru writes in Bloomberg News opinion --

Much of Francis’s economic thought, though, seems to rest on the identification of free markets with extreme individualism. A generation ago, the writer Michael Novak and others were instrumental in persuading many American Catholics that markets could instead enable a creative form of community. The pope’s remarks suggest that this type of evangelizing still needs to be done.

It was not so long ago that Novak was being sent to the Vatican to explain why they were wrong about Iraq.

Keeping these turbulent priests in line with Republican theology is a tough business.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Not a selfies crowd

With the VIPs and the unvetted schizophrenic sign language interpreters long gone, Gerry Adams as part of the honour guard for Nelson Mandela's final send off today.

All In

Writing in the Financial Times, historian Roy Foster posits that one reason why Irish protests about austerity have been so muted is that the trades unions are now part of the establishment.


Above is Bertie Ahern regaling an audience in 2007 with his view that doubters on the economy should consider suicide.

The audience was trades union officials.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Over-eager editor

Good New York Times article on Ireland's bailout exit --

The austerity was squeezing most people Mr. [John] Donovan knew. “The government, in a moment of madness, has burdened every man, woman and child with a debt we may never escape,” he said. “We are on our backside.”

Unfortunately the background explanation for his remark appears to have been cut, so to be clear, he's referring specifically to the September 2008 no-bondholder-left-behind bank guarantee, rather than some specific decision on austerity.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

We can remember it for you wholesale

David Brooks writing in the New York Times contemplates a future where technology causes huge income disparities --

Economizers. The bottom 85 percent is likely to be made up of people with less marketable workplace skills. Some of these people may struggle financially but not socially or intellectually. That is, they may not make much running a food truck, but they can lead rich lives, using the free bounty of the Internet. They could use a class of advisers on how to preserve rich lives on a small income.

Serious question: is this a vision informed by actual analysis or simply an extrapolation of dystopian sci-fi films that he's seen?

Monday, December 09, 2013

Everyone has their blinkers on

Seymour Hersh has an extensive article in the London Review of Books alleging that Barack Obama lied to set up a war that he never wanted in the first place. It all makes sense to Seymour Hersh and his numerous unnamed sources. Just one example of the contentious style of argument in the article. There's a discussion of how the USA has secret sensors all over Syria near chemical weapons sites and --

The sensors detected no movement in the months and days before 21 August, the former official said. It is of course possible that sarin had been supplied to the Syrian army by other means, but the lack of warning meant that Washington was unable to monitor the events in Eastern Ghouta as they unfolded.

On the other hand, regarding the casualty counts --

The strikingly precise US total was later reported by the Wall Street Journal to have been based not on an actual body count, but on an extrapolation by CIA analysts, who scanned more than a hundred YouTube videos from Eastern Ghouta into a computer system and looked for images of the dead. In other words, it was little more than a guess.)  

Note the logic: when his unnamed source tells him that super-duper technology didn't detect preparations for an attack, that's taken as part of his case that there was no government attack. But when photo/video analysis technology is applied to the actual images of the attack and comes up with an awkward number, that's dismissed as a "guess." Consider also the levels of insinuation in this method: Assad didn't do it, and if he did, it didn't kill that many people. Hersh's fans no doubt see heroic debunking, but that style of argument is the plain old multi-step denial program.

In terms of who Hersh and his sources think did it, he's weirdly obsessed with the Al Nusra front, which is just one of numerous Islamist groups, albeit one of the most effective against the Assad forces. The cui bono question should apply to everybody running around with unnamed sources and leaks, shouldn't it?

UPDATE: One of Hersh's insinuations relies on an apparent non-update of a New York Times story about the range of the rockets used in the attack. The story has since been updated. It doesn't change the expert assessment that the attack was most likely carried out by Assad forces.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Obama's ears were burning

How long before we hear "leaked" complaints about US foreign policy coming from this meeting on 4 December in Riyadh of John McCain with Saudi interior minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef?

Photo: Saudi Press Agency

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

We have no opinion on your border dispute with Turkey

New York Times on American reaction to the rising strength of militant Islamist groups in Syria -- to which American inaction on Syria has contributed:

“We need to start talking to the Assad regime again” about counterterrorism and other issues of shared concern, said Ryan C. Crocker, a veteran diplomat who has served in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. “It will have to be done very, very quietly. But bad as Assad is, he is not as bad as the jihadis who would take over in his absence.”

Doing deals with a Baathist dictator who has used chemical weapons against his own people ... what could possibly go wrong?

Denial by association

The Smithwick Tribunal has found that there was a mole in the Irish police in the 1980s whose information led to at least 2 murders and probably more. The specific incident being investigated happened in 1989, but unfortunately that's about the time lag involved in finding the truth about anything in Ireland. Among the issues discussed by the judge is the culture of denial at the top levels of Irish politics. One example cited followed a 1987 case where again there was circumstantial evidence of a mole. The government's policy was to say that anyone making such an allegation was trying to disrupt cooperation between the police forces north and south of the border (page 46):

In regard to the allegations of moles for political advantage, on 28 April 1987, the late Mr Brian Lenihan T.D. standing in for the then Minister for Justice in reply to a question on the Gibson murders said in the Dáil;

“Allegations of a leak to the IRA from within the ranks of the Garda Síochána by those who could have no evidence to support them are regrettable for several reasons, one of them being that they play directly into the hands of those, like the IRA, who would wish to reduce the level of security co-operation between the two forces.”

Nobody, of course, can fully disprove an allegation of this kind unless the people actually responsible are detected. What is quite clear, as I have said, is that the allegations were made without a shred of evidence. Accordingly, the least that can be said about them is that they reflect seriously on the judgment of those who made them.

That last sentence could be applied to all of Official Ireland, and not just about mole-hunts, but on the broader diseases of insiderism and corruption.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

No true Catholic

Conservative Catholic intellectual George Weigel rushes to the Wall Street Journal op-ed page to package Pope Francis as People Like Us despite the Pope's obvious critique of conservative capitalism --

The pope is passionately concerned about the poor, and he knows that poverty in the 21st century takes many forms. It can be found in the grinding material poverty of his native Buenos Aires, caused by decades of corruption, indifference, and the church's failures to catechize Argentina's economic and political leaders.

So if Argentina's leaders had gotten proper religious uplift, the bad economic outcomes in Argentina would not have happened.

But it looks cool from the top of the Burj Khalifa

Tom Friedman is in the Gulf. He writes about it in his Sunday New York Times column. The first part is not bad, noting the expanding space for social media in the Gulf, but not mentioning the limits for criticism of the ruler or perceived blasphemy. He goes astray in the 2nd part, apparently lost in the haze of presentations by government officials and an eagerness to say something nice about his hosts. Hence ..

in Dubai, the government has set a strategy for 2021,

There is no particular Dubai strategy for 2021. That's for the federal government. Now it's an understandable mistake because the same Sheikh Mohammed that he writes about favourably as ruler of Dubai is also PM and VP of the UAE, but of course if you start asking why one man has all those titles, you're getting more into the politics of the UAE than he might want.

and each of the 46 ministries and regulatory agencies has three-year Key Performance Indicators, or K.P.I.’s, they have to fulfill to get there, ranging from improving the success of Dubai 15-year-olds in global science, math and reading exams to making it even easier to start a new business. All 3,600 K.P.I.’s are loaded on an iPad dashboard that the ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, follows each week.

You might note here that somewhere along the way, the meaning of the word "Key" has been lost, since a city-state of around 2 million people somehow needs 3600 of them. The most likely explanation is that whatever consulting firm came up with them was being paid by the indicator.

Again, this is not about democracy. It’s about leaders feeling the need to earn their legitimacy. But when one leader does it, others feel the pressure to copy. 

Which of course raises the question of what they would copy.

There is also a mistake which reveals the perils of pop-in journalism. He attributes a cartoon to the "Saudi newspaper" Al Sharq al Awsat. That pan-Arab paper is in London. The online version correctly attributes the cartoon to al Sharq.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Low inflation is like Cristiano Ronaldo

Speech by Jörg Asmussen, a member of the Executive Board of the ECB,at the  Martinsgansessen Nordmetall, Hamburg, 27 November 2013. He's addressing the claim that Germany's strength in trade makes it harder for other Eurozone countries to adjust --

Monetary union is a team sport - and when a teammate is in good shape, everyone benefits.

As Paul Krugman explains, in a monetary union, it's easier for the team to look good when everyone slacks off a bit.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Game, set, and match

Good word choice from the New York Times on the inexplicably protracted Newtown, Conn. massacre report, a report dumped into the Thanksgiving getaway news cycle --

The long-awaited report does not suggest a motive for Mr. Lanza’s actions, even as it offers a glimpse into his strange, troubled life. It comes nearly a year after the shooting set off a national discussion about gun control, mental health and violence in American popular culture.

The word being discussion when the journalistic habit would have been debate.

There is no debate about gun control. It's long lost. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Near abroad and nearer

A representative piece of reporting, from the New York Times, on Ukraine's decision to put off sealing an association agreement with the European Union --

The Ukrainian government on Thursday said it was suspending plans to complete the agreements and would instead pursue improved economic relations with a competing trade bloc led by Russia. The decision upends the European Union’s top foreign policy initiative, an effort to draw in former Soviet republics and promote Western-style political and economic overhauls.

It appears that while EU leaders were happy to hide behind Russian obstructionism on Syria, they never extrapolated that to how Russia might behave regarding a really close country, like Ukraine.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Party of Lies

This Wall Street Journal tick-tock on the Bashar al-Assad chemical weapons attack in August is a must-read for a variety of reasons (this link should find a free version) but among the revelations is that Hezbollah knew once the attack unfolded that it was the Syrian government -- because their own fighters had not been warned in advance and got caught up in it, so they had to phone in a request to stop it.

4 months later, none of the phalanx of bloggers who weighed in against US intervention in Syria has anything to say about Syria. We told you so.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Message by omission

Saudi Press Agency --

Riyadh, Muharram 17, 1435, Nov 20, 2013, SPA -- An official source stated that the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia strongly denounces and condemns the cowardly terrorist bombings in the Lebanese capital Beirut yesterday. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia extends condolences to the families of the victims and the Lebanese government and people, wishing all injured a speedy recovery. The source added that the Kingdom reiterates its stance towards condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, whatever its origin or motivation. --SPA 

You'd never know from that statement that the bombing targeted the embassy of Iran. It probably didn't help that Hezbollah blamed Saudi Arabia for the bombing, unwilling to recognize the blowback and asymmetric response created by its own actions in Syria. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

More Bombay than Berlin

Writing in the Saturday Wall Street Journal, Dan Hannan MEP uncorks another bottle of that trusty brew, the view that the "Anglosphere" -- a select group of English system legacy countries -- provides the epitome of state-citizen relations. Towards the end, some musings about whether India is in da club:

In India, governments come and go as the result of elections, without anyone being exiled or shot. The armed forces stay out of politics. English is the language of government and of most universities and businesses. Property rights and free contract are secured by a common-law system, which remains open to individuals seeking redress. Shared values lead to shared habits. When, in the aftermath of the tsunami 10 years ago, the U.S., Australian and Indian navies coordinated the relief effort, they found an interoperability that goes beyond even that found among NATO allies. If India were to take its place at the heart of a loose Anglosphere network, based on free trade and military alliance, the future would suddenly look a great deal brighter. Of course, to join such a free trade area, the U.K. and Ireland would have to leave the EU. But that's another story.

Perhaps it's flattering that he thinks Ireland is such an integral part of the Anglosphere that any meaningful grouping would have to involve it. Not very clear is what would be in this for Ireland, which, for example, already seems to have a level of tax integration with the UK and US that it can handle. It's also worth mentioning that David Cameron letting the genie out of the bottle with his EU membership referendum may be bringing the realities of such a decision for Ireland closer than people think.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Equal Opportunity

RTE website in the last hour. Underlying story -- which appears to involve an inexplicable concentration of sensitive information in one place. 

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Wait till the Qataris see his impersonation of the Emir

FIFA President Sepp Blatter meets the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim, today. The official statement gives no hint of the, er, hot, topics that needed to be discussed.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Hamlet Without Polonius

Saudi Press Agency --

Riyadh, Muharram 1, 1435, Nov 4, 2013, SPA -- The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud received at his palace here today U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the accompanying delegation. At the outset of the audience, the U.S. Secretary of State conveyed to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques greetings of U.S. President Barack Obama. In turn, the King sent his greetings to the U.S. President. Then, they discussed aspects of cooperation between the two countries, the developments of the Palestinian cause and the situation in Syria in addition to the regional and international latest developments and the two countries' stances towards them. The audience was attended by Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense; Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Second Deputy Premier, Special Envoy of and Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques; Prince Meteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Minister of National Guard; Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Interior; Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs; Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Chief of the Crown Prince's Court and Special Advisor to the Crown Prince; Adel bin Ahmad Al-Jubeir, Saudi ambassador to the United States, and Timothy Lenderking, U.S. Charge D'affaires in Riyadh. --SPA

One person is conspicuously absent from that list of attendees: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who has been leading the rhetorical charge against the US hands-off policy on Syria.

A side note about the meeting. Note that King Abdullah had no objection to an unveiled female interpreter.

Photo: SPA.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

If we call him the Bahraini Jon Stewart, people might care

Statements from Bahrain News Agency (1st and 2nd)--

An investigation is underway to probe the violations which marred the licensed rally which was held yesterday , Central Governorate Acting Chief Prosecutor Hamad Shaheen Al-Bouainain said. A notification submitted by The Central Governorate police directorate prompted the public Prosecution to launch the legal inquiry. “The violations amount to crimes which are punishable by the law as they contravene the law governing rallies and protests”, Mr. Al-Bouainian. He pointed out that participants in the rally chanted humiliating slogans which represented an affront to public order, moral decency and contravene the laws governing rallies ...Al-Wefaq Society secretary-general  (Sheikh Ali Salman) has been summoned to appear before the Public Prosecution tomorrow (Nov3, 2013), accused of humiliating the Interior Ministry. In a statement tonight, Minister of State for Information Affairs and Government’s Official Spokesperson Samira Ibrahim bin Rajab said that Al-Wefaq secretary-general is accused of denigrating and disparaging the Interior Ministry. The association organized an event showcasing models, miniatures and drawings alleging policemen’s systematic use of inhuman practices and human rights violations. Al-Wefaq Society secretary-general and other members delivered instigative speeches packed with lies and allegations at the opening of the event, which represented an affront to the status of police.

Is that east or west of the Bann?

The UK Treasury report into the options for RBS introduces a new phrase that is sure to catch on:: "Core Ulster." This is the least bad part of Ulster Bank, which apparently is still bad enough that more of it will get dumped into a new internal bad bank. As usual of course, the term "Ulster" is prone to mislead, since a huge part of the bank's overall problems are in the Republic of Ireland. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bank Rule before Home Rule

From Bank of England governor Mark Carney speech marking the 125th anniversary of the Financial Times -- The preoccupations of 1888 were not very different than today. Editions of the FT 125 years ago contained stories on economic development in China, the health of Spanish government finances, and the state of Irish banks.

Friday, October 25, 2013

What would they do without America to complain about?

European Union policy on Syria -- get outraged only when US might bomb Syria.

European Union policy on migration -- get outraged about alleged US snooping. As a Wall Street Journal news story notes:

It was just two weeks ago that European leaders expressed shock at the tragedy just miles off the Italian island of Lampedusa, where hundreds of African migrants died in a shipwreck. The loss of life in European waters drove home the sheer desperation that brings migrants from North Africa to Europe on precarious, life-threatening boat journeys. But it also exposed the problems faced by countries on the borders of the European Union. The migration issue was set to be discussed by EU leaders on Friday in Brussels on the second day of a two-day summit. But for the four countries that are the main gateways for migrants to Europe—Greece, Italy, Malta and Cyprus—the extent to which the issue was overshadowed by new allegations of U.S. spying on its European allies was likely jarring. EU leaders arriving at the summit Thursday mostly spent time criticizing the U.S. for its alleged spying, rather than commenting on the need to prevent such tragic losses of life in the Mediterranean. It's "surreal," said Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Furious and the Fast

Part of statement from the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Interior concerning the proposed women day of driving in the Kingdom --

The laws of the Kingdom prohibit activities disturbing the public peace and opening venues to sedition which only serve the senseless, the ill-intentioned, intruders, and opportunity hunters, the statement said.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

It's not the humidity, it's the heat

Why Google News (as of Tuesday evening) might need an actual editor.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Free trade and billable hours

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso during a speech in June selling the potential of an EU-US free trade agreement (the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) --

I believe that the EU-US trade negotiations are a game changer and can be the start of a new era. They will further intensify the economic relationship between the United States and European Union, two economic giants eager to be as successful in the future as they were in the past. They will add to the international push for trade liberalization, hammering out a new framework for open, transparent and balanced trade that fits the realities of the global economy. But most of all, they will reaffirm the global role and responsibility of both partners, which goes much beyond economics. Together, we share a world view based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We share an engagement and the ambition to cooperate across borders, to think and act multilaterally, to look for global solutions to global problems.

A fascinating New York Times article on how the Washington DC K Street lobbying culture is replicating itself in the agreeable environs of elite Brussels --

On a brisk night in September, with American lawyers as hosts, the library’s reading room was packed with dozens of executives from corporations including Boeing, Intel and Samsung, along with senior staff members of the European Commission. The guest of honor was James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and Treasury and chief of staff to two presidents. He was looking so fit, at 83, that a lawyer asked him for nutrition tips. Mr. Baker had come to celebrate the first anniversary of the Brussels office of Baker Botts, the Houston-based law firm co-founded by his great-grandfather. As attendees nibbled on foie gras lollipops, dipped in a chocolate fondant, they discussed the potential business bonanza from trans-Atlantic trade negotiations that recently began between Europe and the United States. The goal of the negotiations is to “harmonize” the regulatory systems of the United States and Europe, so that companies can meet a single standard — worth hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, in savings for businesses, particularly if they can persuade negotiators to accept less strict rules in the process. The deal making could also mean a huge wave of lucrative lobbying and legal work in Brussels and in Washington for firms, which charge up to $1,000 an hour. “It ain’t going to be easy — it’s going to be tough,” Mr. Baker told the assembled crowd. “But it’s really important to get it done.”

The pensioners made the banksters borrow from the foreigners

Alan Greenspan, sounding like a parody of a Washington DC centrist,  in a Wall Street Journal profile--

Mr. Greenspan's biggest revelation came one day about a year ago when he was playing with gross domestic savings numbers. What he found, to his surprise and initial skepticism, was that an increase in entitlements has closely corresponded to a decline in the country's savings. "We had this extraordinary increase in benefits, with each party trying to outbid the other," he says. "That practice has been eroding the country's flow of savings that's so critical in financing our capital investment." The decline in savings has been partly offset by borrowing from abroad, which brings us to our current foreign debt: "$5 trillion and counting," he says.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Secretive Squid

Goldman Sachs released its 3rd quarter results yesterday. The press release is a classic of elevator accounting -- lots of numbers going up and down, but not a shred of analysis as to why. A New York Times article on the same issue concludes --

The lack of detail about the trading decline disappointed some analysts. “More disclosure would be better,” said Michael Mayo, a bank analyst at CLSA. “This is one reason that there is concern about large financial firms,” he said. “There is a lack of transparency in the areas that matter the most.”

The US government is providing large amounts of explicit and implicit insurance to a very large investment bank that can't or won't explain to people shifts of billions of dollars in its revenues.

The financial crisis changed nothing.

Talking points dead on arrival

Yesterday Saudi Arabia got a temporary seat on the UN Security Council. Human rights organizations went into ritual condemnation mode, as if there was something especially bad about Saudi Arabia being on the Council -- as opposed to Pakistan, the country it replaced, or Russia, which is on the Council all the time. Today, Saudi Arabia told the UN to take its security council and stick it. The full statement is worth reading:

First of all, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is pleased to extend its sincere thanks and deep gratitude to all countries that have given their confidence to elect it as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the next two years. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a founding member of the United Nations, is proud of its full and permanent commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, believing that commitment of all Member States, honestly, truthfully and accurately, as agreed upon and stipulated in the Charter is the real guarantee for world security and peace. 

If the Member States of the United Nations consider wining the membership of UN Security Council, which is, according to the Charter of the Organization, the sole agency responsible for preserving world peace and security, as a high honor and a great responsibility for participating directly and effectively in the service of international issues, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia believes that the manner, the mechanisms of action and double standards existing in the Security Council prevent it from performing its duties and assuming its responsibilities towards preserving international peace and security as required, leading to the continued disruption of peace and security, the expansion of the injustices against the peoples, the violation of rights and the spread of conflicts and wars around the world. In this regard, it is unfortunate that all international efforts that have been exerted in recent years, and in which Saudi Arabia participated very effectively, did not result in reaching reforms required to be made to enable the Security Council to regain its desired role in the serve of the issues of peace and security in the world. 

With the current continuation of the Palestinian cause without a just and lasting solution for 65 years, which resulted in several wars threatened international peace and security is irrefutable evidence and proof of the Security Council's inability to carry out its duties and assume its responsibilities. The failure of the Security Council to make the Middle East a free zone of all weapons of mass destruction, whether because of its inability to subdue the nuclear programs of all countries in the region, without exception, to the international control and inspection or to prevent any country in the region from possessing nuclear weapons, is another irrefutable evidence and proof of its inability to carry out its duties and hold its responsibilities. 

Allowing the ruling regime in Syria to kill and burn its people by the chemical weapons, while the world stands idly, without applying deterrent sanctions against Damascus regime, is also irrefutable evidence and proof of the inability of the Security Council to carry out its duties and responsibilities. Accordingly, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, based on its historical responsibilities towards its people, Arab and Islamic nations as well as towards the peoples aspiring for peace and stability all over the world, announces its apology for not accepting membership of the Security Council until the Council is reformed and enabled, effectively and practically, to carry out its duties and responsibilities in maintaining international peace and security.

Which parts of that statement do Human Rights Watch and UN Watch -- which condemned Saudi Arabia's membership -- disagree with?

[Links to statement Part 1, 2, 3]

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Brief Irish budget commentary

In the 7th year of austerity and in a policy framework that invites tinkering as opposed to wholesale change, there will be many small budget changes that are hard to keep track of, but one of the strangest -- relative to the amount of commentary it is attracted -- is the abolition of the air travel tax. At the same time that the government is going after various fees and charges for government services, to be cutting what was a fairly small tax on people who can afford to fly seems like a move in the wrong direction. Part of the motivation seems to be to attract more business for Dublin Airport as a regional hub -- in particular by encouraging people across the Irish Sea to travel transatlantic through Dublin on split tickets to avoid the UK travel duty on transatlantic flights. Another is surely to remove what swing voters regard as a nuisance tax, despite the associated loss of revenue. On the positive side, the stateless company wheeze is being abolished.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Missing Link

Saudi Press Agency --

New York , Dhu-AlHijjah 9, 1434, Oct 14, 2013, SPA -- Undersecretary General of the United Nations for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman categorically denied statements attributed to him the day before yesterday by a Lebanese newspaper. A statement that has just been issued by the spokesman of the Department of Political Affairs of the United Nations Jared Kotler, and a copy of which was obtained by the Saudi Press Agency, said, 'The Undersecretary General of the United Nations fully rejects the alleged statements attributed to him by the Lebanese newspaper issued on October 12.' The spokesman added, 'The statements attributed by the newspaper to the Undersecretary General of the United Nations were fabricated, were not made by him and neither reflect his point of view nor that of the international organization.' Undersecretary General of United Nations categorically denies statements attributed to him on the Kingdom.

The item doesn't name the paper, describe what was said, let alone give a link.

It takes a bit of work, but here's the link, to Al-Akhbar. You'll likely need Google Translate. Tensions over Syria, Iran, and Lebanon itself are the issues.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

East Bermuda

Financial Times --

The new figures come from the accounts of Google Netherlands Holdings, which represents the “Dutch sandwich” part of the tax structure. It received €8.6bn in royalties from Google Ireland Ltd and €232.8m in royalties from Google’s Singapore operation. All but €10.4m of this was paid out to Google Ireland Holdings, a company that is incorporated in Ireland but controlled in Bermuda. Differences between the Irish and US tax codes mean that this dual-resident company is viewed as Irish for US tax purposes but Bermudan for Irish purposes. It acquired much of Google’s intellectual property in 2003, which it licensed to Google Ireland Ltd, a Dublin-based business that is at the heart of its global operation. The business, which employed 2,199 people last year, paid €17m in Irish corporation tax, having reported pre-tax profits of €153.9 on turnover of €15.5bn.

He flew the shahada over the Savoy Hotel

Bloomberg News --

The Savoy, the five-star London hotel once frequented by Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe and Claude Monet, would be at risk of breaching terms of bank loans if operating results don’t improve, according to the company. “This risk represents a material uncertainty which could cast significant doubt as to the group’s ability to continue as a going concern,” according to an Oct. 7 filing to Companies House by Breezeroad Ltd., the hotel’s owner. Breezeroad’s directors prepared projections that assume an improvement in business and indicate the Savoy will continue to meet its debts, according to the filing. If the financial projections aren’t met, loans to the company, controlled by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal and a Lloyds Banking Group Plc (LLOY) unit, could become repayable on demand.

The Savoy hotel is an important symbolic player in the Celtic Tiger bust. As recounted by Fintan O'Toole in Ship of Fools, referring to 2004 --

When a syndicate led by the Irish developer Derek Quinlan fought off a Saudi oil sheikh, Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, to buy the Savoy Hotel in London (along with Claridge's and the Connaught) , one of Quinlan's employees had the Irish tricolour flown from the roof, like the Russians taking the Reichstag. "I cried," Quinlan recalled. "My father who was in the Irish Army would have loved to have seen this."

Quinlan sold the hotel to Prince al-Waleed a year later, and it's now him and Lloyd's Bank that's stuck with the seemingly bottomless pit. Possibly the only case where it wasn't the Irish patriot-developers who locked the Irish taxpayer into a bad deal.

Image: Flag of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

When things matter

Around 300 people died in the Lampedusa migrant tragedy. The death toll is not that far removed from the number gassed by Bashar al-Assad in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus. Yet Lampedusa has attracted nothing like the attention of the al-Assad chemical attack, for one simple reason: there's no prospect that the USA would attack anyone over Lampedusa, and therefore nothing to people to pose and strut in arguing against. And of course, the EU is doing such a great job of admitting those Syrians that it doesn't want to intervene directly to protect, so who could doubt their commitment to Eritrean migrants?

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Centrists say it destroys half of America

National Review's The Corner takes the mood of US House Republicans --

Representative Paul Broun (R., Ga.) agrees, and says Boehner risks an internal rebellion if he decides to broker a compromise. “America is going to be destroyed by Obamacare, so whatever deal is put together must at least reschedule the implementation of Obamacare,” he says. “This law is going to destroy America and everything in America, and we need to stop it.”

You'll never beat the Irish

Wall Street Journal today --

Chronic electrical surges at the massive new data-storage facility central to the National Security Agency's spying operation have destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of machinery and delayed the center's opening for a year, according to project documents and current and former officials. There have been 10 meltdowns in the past 13 months that have prevented the NSA from using computers at its new Utah data-storage center, slated to be the spy agency's largest, according to project documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal ... But without a reliable electrical system to run computers and keep them cool, the NSA's global surveillance data systems can't function. The NSA chose Bluffdale, Utah, to house the data center largely because of the abundance of cheap electricity. It continuously uses 65 megawatts, which could power a small city of at least 20,000, at a cost of more than $1 million a month, according to project officials and documents.

Recent Guardian article on why tech firms locate in Ireland --

The country's mist, rain and chilly air have all become selling points: Google and other multinationals say that the Irish weather is now one of the main attractions for global computer and online corporations setting up data centres in the Republic. The Silicon Valley firm has just established a $75m (£46.2m) data processing centre alongside its European headquarters in Dublin, insisting that the chilly climate makes it more energy efficient – and hence "greener" – to cool down its servers.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Headline of the Day

Bikini-clad woman creates furor

Kuwait Times.

The resolution -- The officers left the beach after the woman eventually agreed to stay away from the public’s eyes.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Blurred Lines

Above is the outline of a redrawn Middle East map about which Robin Wright muses in today's New York Times. Although the underlying logic of the new regions is close to standard cocktail party chatter among the pundit class at this point, there''s one curious thing about the map. Somehow, amid this tumultuous redrawing, the following countries would be unaffected (leaving aside Egypt which is fair enough):

Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman.

While their history and borders is inextricably linked with the other disappearing countries, those are nice places to go to conferences and meetings where such maps could liven up a conference presentation without imperiling visas or relationships.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Bad quotes are like bad pennies

David McWilliams in the Irish Independent yesterday (via Irish Economy) --

The famous English economist, John Stuart Mill, said the following of crashes: "The crash doesn't destroy wealth, it merely reflects the extent to which wealth has already been destroyed by bad investments made in the boom."

We've been there before. It's from proto-Austrian economist John Mills, not John Stuart Mill.

You can't keep a bad man down

Say what you like about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but the man has a sense of humour.

Financial Times -- Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose rising star in international finance and politics crashed to earth following a sex scandal, has found a new career – in investment banking. The 64-year-old economist and former head of the International Monetary Fund, who went from rescuing countries to fending off sexual-assault accusations, is to join Anatevka, a small investment banking firm based in Luxembourg.

Above, the firm's eponymous song from Fidder on the Roof.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Putin will say the Syrian rebels did it

Wall Street Journal -- Unusually heavy rains around the Russian city of Sochi caused mudslides and floods to wash over a number of roads in the area where the 2014 Winter Olympics Games is set to be held. Emergency sirens blared in the city Tuesday followed by a voice message warning residents that the Sochi River could overflow its banks, according to a statement on the city administration’s website. It warned that the volume of water had risen to “dangerous levels,” threatening to overcome one of Sochi’s bridges.

Monday, September 23, 2013

This bubble will burst

Jazeera Sport Channel 3 is currently entertaining the Gulf and beyond with exciting live coverage of Bradford versus Leyton Orient.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Russians were busy with some weapons shipments

Reuters report on UN debate on crimes against humanity in North Korea --

North Korea's main ally China, joined by Belarus and Syria, were among countries defending it during the 90-minute debate.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Blessed are the peacemakers

From the UN inspectors' report on the chemical attack in Damascus on August 21, photographs of the rocket fragments in which the sarin was delivered. The bottom segment includes Cyrillic script. There are only so many places, beginning with Russia, with where it could have come from. The report also hints that the timing of the attack was specifically chosen for favourable weather conditions (low air circulation at ground level). Whoever did it wasn't just trying their luck, and knew a lot about chemical weapons.

And they've gotten away with it.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

We're dancing mechanic

The US President --

’cause a robot can’t– build a road–

Not President George W. Bush. President Barack Obama.

A non-offer they couldn't refuse

From the Council of Eurozone finance ministers ("Eurogroup") statement on Cyprus --

The Eurogroup welcomes that the Cypriot authorities will continue to gradually relax the administrative measures that had been put in place in view of the unique and exceptional situation of Cyprus' financial sector. Further relaxation will be in line with the roadmap of 8 August 2013.

The statement thus takes as given that it was Cyprus that imposed capital controls and has the choice to relax them.

In fact it's because the European Central Bank refused liquidity support to the country's banks, even though they are now solvent.

Shouting at him also works

From the Geneva news conference announcing Peace in our Time and Never Again, aka the USA-Russia deal on Bashar al-Assad's already-used chemical weapons:

MODERATOR: The first question will come from Anne Gearan of The Washington Post. 
QUESTION: Yes. Good afternoon. And if – Minister Lavrov, if I could beg your indulgence to please give at least part of your answer in English, could we get a couple of specifics, please?

Lavrov did not answer in English.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

George W. Bush: An Apology

The following text and variations thereof will soon be appearing in the pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, Foreign Policy magazine, websites of international relations think-tanks etc. With acknowledgement for the style to Private Eye.

Corrections and Amplifications

We would like to correct a major misperception that has arisen over our assessment of the foreign policy performance of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Regarding Mr Bush, our use of phrases such as "blithering idiot," "clown," "dolt" and "not fit even to be extricating San Diego college students from the drunk tank in Tijuana" may have given the impression that we had unfavorable views of Mr Bush. Correspondingly for Mr Obama, phrases such as "the Metternich of our time," "world peace is now at hand" and "he'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony" may have led readers to believe that we rated Mr Obama highly. In view of recent events, we now realize that what we meant to say was that Mr Bush's occasional verbal slips were merely masterful distractions that allowed him to get what he wanted, while Mr Obama's seemingly refined academic musings clearly merit not much more than an adjunct position at Faber College. 

We regret any confusion that our poor choice of words may have caused. 

At least Bush knew he was being taken for a ride

From Vladimir Putin's ostentatious end-zone dance over Syria on the op-ed page of the New York Times --

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.

Can one of the reporters on John Kerry's plane ask him whether (a) he agrees with the above statement or (b) if he disagrees, what point he sees in dealing with a government headed by someone that believes it?

Photo from a 2005 Bush visit to Russia.

If that had been the war, Germany would have won

European Commission President in his "state of the union" speech to the European Parliament --

Next year, it will be one century after the start of the First World War. A war that tore Europe apart, from Sarajevo to the Somme.

Wasn't there a whole "eastern front" thingy to World War I, which had rather significant implications for what the next decades in Europe would look like?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

When things matter

The chart above shows a stylized and so fake but accurate representation of the frequency of usual suspect liberal-leaning blogs posts about the Syrian crisis.  As the reader will observe, we are confidently projecting a complete loss of interest once the current phase of indecision has passed. Because all the other stuff -- the millions of refugees, the war crimes, the transparent bad faith of Russia, the existing intervention of Hezbollah, the rebooting of Al Qaeda -- where's the posture and pose value in blogging about that?

Send lawyers, guns, and money

There's one obvious outcome of the US Congressional stalling on the military strikes on Syria. Once people in the US and Europe start to dwell on the fact that they've been played like a violin by Maher al-Assad and Vladimir Putin, the easy response will be to demand all sorts of indictments of the al-Assads, and the flooding of Syria with new weapons for the rebels. It'll be a field day for international criminal specialists and weapons traders.

For ordinary Syrians, it will suck way more than US missile strikes on the Assads would have.

Heckuva job.

Making the cars run on time

Victorious conservative election campaign in Australia --

Tony Abbott, who wants to be known as the infrastructure prime minister, is proposing to accelerate infrastructure investment in order to help prop up demand as mining investment spending goes into decline.

Victorious conservative election campaign in Norway --

Norwegians voted in a Conservative ruling party led by Erna Solberg, ending an eight-year tenure for Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg that was marked by economic stability and an unprecedented domestic terror attack. ...  "Today, voters have given the Conservatives our best Parliament election results in 28 years," Ms. Solberg told her party members in a speech late Monday. "Voters have given us a mandate to go through with the Conservative policy of better schools, better roads and increasing Norway's competitiveness to ensure that Norway remains a welfare state," she added.

It's a little odd that it's the conservatives coming to power with the promise of big projects. Perhaps it's just the politics of late-boom resource rich countries. But see also HS2 and Boris Island.

It also points to one difference between American conservatives and their overseas counterparts, notwithstanding attempts of supporters of the former to say that there's potential of the recipe in the latter: conservatives in other places are not intrinsically afraid of sounding like they will build stuff. 

Friday, September 06, 2013

Musical Interlude

You may ask yourself: Am I really being asked to click on Madonna's Like a Prayer on this blog? The answer is Yes, because this song is sufficiently good to be repackaged -- apparently without attribution -- by independent rock darlings Imagine Dragons as Demons.

We'd been having that deja vu sense every time we heard the latter song -- which is in heavy rotation -- and finally the origin song clicked. From a quick use of the Google, it appears that a few blogs and tweets have also been struck by the resemblance.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

It's not nicknamed Faux News for nothing

Strange denial sequence today from Saudi Arabia (although perhaps yet consistent with a recent tradition) --

[Middle East Monitor] In an interview with Fox News, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal said the Kingdom has helped Egypt both before and after the revolution. Following the deposition of President Mohammad Morsi, Saudi offered huge financial sums to help Egypt overcome the country's political crisis and crippling economic recession. However Faisal added that, "Every beginning has an end. Saudi Arabia offered grants and loans to Egypt, but will not continue to support it forever. Therefore, the Egyptian government must quickly find a solution to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to obtain a loan. We cannot support Egypt forever." -

Saudi Press Agency -- Jeddah, Shawwal 29, 1434, Sep 5, 2013, SPA -- Referring to statements attributed to Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and quoted allegedly by Fox News, an official source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that those statements are incorrect completely. The source added that the Minister of Foreign Affairs did not make recently an interview or speak to Fox News or other mass media.

The first item is now flagged with an addendum that the quotes are being verified.

UPDATE: In fairness to Fox News, there is currently no evidence that they ever reported such a quote from Prince Saud. 

Don't wait by the phone

Labour leader Ed Miliband's theory of the Syrian conflict last week during the House of Commons debate on UK military intervention --

We must ensure that every effort is made to bring the civil war in Syria to an end, and principal responsibility for that rests, of course, with the parties in that conflict, and in particular President Assad.

Ed Miliband's theory of the Syrian conflict during Questions to the PM yesterday --

Nobody disagrees about our revulsion at the use of chemical weapons. As I say, the question is how to deal with it. What I said to the Prime Minister was, given the difficulty of getting direct talks moving between the Syrian Government and opposition, is there not a case for getting the regional partners involved? We all know the role that Iran has played in fuelling this conflict. However, given that successful diplomacy involves talking to those with whom we profoundly disagree, what is the Government’s position on Iran participating either in a contact group or as part of the Geneva process?

So a conflict that last week was principally about the warring parties this week is about their regional backers -- who somehow are going to be induced to the negotiating table now after polite asking by the UK overcomes their 2 year reluctance to do so. He also still wants peace talks even after the chemical weapons attack for which of course he hastens to express his "revulsion," a luxury not available to the people who would have to sit the other side of the table from the Assad regime.

He needs to accept that the price of last week's vote was irrelevance.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Grozny, continued

The table above is from the French government's intelligence conclusions about the Bashar al-Assad chemical attack in eastern Damascus. Apparently French intelligence is in on the massive American conspiracy to blame the Al-Assads for the attack. Anyway the point is that many of the Syrian delivery systems for chemical attacks use Russian rockets. Not that we needed another reason to view Russian contributions to the "debate" with a grain of salt, but there you go.

By the way, the French called mustard gas "Ypérite" after its first use against their troops in Ypres in 1915. They know what they're talking about.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

It's an argument that has circulated since the question of responding to Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons began, but for some reason your humble blogger was particularly irritated by hearing Dominic Tierney make it on CNN last night, someone whose CV suggests he should know better: why should we single out chemical weapons for an international response when conventional weapons kill many more people?

Regulating the conduct of war is a messy and non-idealistic business. It begins from the premise that bad things are going to happen and that since parties are already at war, the normal means of enforcement don't mean a whole lot. In particular, the norms of war have to be realistic about excuses and justifications. Thus of course a norm of war should ban the use of conventional artillery against civilians. But it's impossible to operationalize this because one side can always claim that its weapons just aren't accurate enough or that the enemy is mingling in civilian areas, making precise attacks impossible.

Hence the approach of banning types of weapon, especially chemical weapons which are clearly indiscriminate at their point of use, and which contort people's normal survival instincts: in a chemical weapons attack, rushing for shelter will probably kill you. Of course it's a blunt norm but one which reflects a century-old public revulsion, can be verified, and has some prospect of prevention, deterrence, and enforcement.

Can we get on CNN now?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

This will be close

President Obama is to ask Congress to authorize the use of military force against the Assad regime. In 1991, when George HW Bush was seeking authorization to use force to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait -- a much clearer case of a breach of international law -- the Yes votes were hardly a stampede: 250-183 in the House, and 52-47 in the Senate. At that time, Republicans in Congress were overwhelmingly in favour and the issue was how many Democrats would join them (examples: Harry Reid and Al Gore). The most obvious factors that have changed since then -- war fatigue and the tea party -- would lower those vote numbers. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

When the Private Eye material writes itself

BBC --

A further 30 Conservative MPs - including a number of serving ministers - are reported to have missed the vote, which was called at short notice during Parliament's summer break. Among those, it has emerged that international development secretary Justine Greening and foreign office minister Mark Simmonds were present in Parliament but did not make it into the Commons chamber to vote. A spokeswoman for Ms Greening said she and Mr Simmonds, who is responsible for Africa policy, were discussing another foreign policy issue during the vote. The division bell, which rings across the Palace of Westminster to alert MPs to imminent votes, did not sound on Thursday evening, she added, and the two ministers were apparently unaware the crunch vote on the government's motion was taking place. "Mark Simmonds asked to speak to her [Ms Greening] about a separate Foreign Office issue and took her to the ministers' meeting room, which is a small room near the chamber which ministers often use between votes, and the clerks did not ring the bell," she said.  But a House of Commons spokesman said there had been no fault with the division bell. 

[So as not be too obtuse ...]

Now the beef is going to a French restaurant

Taking the dodgy dossier out on Syrians

So after seemingly everyone enjoys a good posture on not intervening in Syria to show how sophistamacated they are, the following questions may present themselves.

1. Does anyone think it's a coincidence that it's the same UK political system which can't articulate a coherent stance on European Union membership is the one that can't mobilize a coherent position on Syria? It's UKIP's foreign policy now.

2. Does anyone think that the de facto policy towards regional messes implied by the new conventional wisdom -- let the neighbours sort it out -- has any success stories to hand? Somalia? The Democratic Republic of Congo? Or cases of regional great power vetoes on intervention, like North Korea?

3. Does anyone really think that Europe can wall itself off from an Afghanistan in the eastern Mediterranean, which is where Syria is headed?

4. Does anyone really think that Bashar and Maher al-Assad are more likely to head to the negotiating table if there's no western intervention?

UPDATE: We didn't think the UKIP aspect would this literal!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Classics of non-denial

Saudi Press Agency --

Jeddah, Shawwal 22, 1434, Aug 29, 2013, SPA -- Commenting on what has been published recently by Wall Street Journal quoting Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Chief of the General Intelligence and Secretary General of the National Security Council, a source said that Prince Bandar does not make any press statement and does not hold an interview with any newspaper or others. Therefore, it is not true to what has been quoting of Prince Bandar for that newspaper.

The section of the WSJ article that has excited the most controversy --

Qatar is "nothing but 300 people…and a TV channel," the Saudi prince yelled into a phone, according to a person familiar with the exchange. "That doesn't make a country." Saudi officials declined to comment on the exchange.

Thus, the Journal never claimed to have a press statement or interview with Prince Bandar.

Over the top

Cultural criticism of contemporary music is a strange business. It now seems to be conventional wisdom that drum solos like in Led Zeppelin's Moby Dick were "self-indulgent," but it's left to generally conservative social critics to indicate that there was something seriously wrong with the anorexic exhibitionism of Miley Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards (no link, just watch MTV peddle that shite for the next 6 months instead of actual music videos). There seem to be parents out there who planted their kids in front of the MTV VMAs and maybe are gradually recognizing that particular branch of the Viacom Corporation is not the best custodian of their upbringing. May we suggest instead intensive study of drum solos?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Caliphate for a Horse

Years of Iraq blogging is relevant again. Max Boot in Commentary magazine's blog on the USA's options in Syria --

A few days of attacks with cruise missiles is a pinprick strike reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s attacks on al-Qaeda and Iraq in 1998. What did those strikes achieve? Precisely nothing beyond blowing up a poor pharmaceutical plant in Sudan wrongly suspected of manufacturing, ironically, chemical weapons. Actually, worse than nothing: those strikes, which Osama bin Laden survived easily, convinced him that the U.S. was a “weak horse” that could be defied with impunity.

The horse is back! Osama bin Laden delivered his famous weak horse/strong horse quote not after Sudan 1998 but in Afghanistan in 2001 after 9/11 and with the NATO operation against him and the Taliban underway. It was the obsession with "strength", channeled from Bernard Lewis to Dick Cheney to George Bush which led to the view that radical Islam could only be quelled with a massive military initiative.

Now we're again hearing this logic in the claim that there's no point in responding to the chemical weapons attack unless it's of the strong horse variety.

It might be imputing too much deviousness to wonder if conservatives are only playing up the all-or-nothing option not because they actually want all, but because they want nothing. Al Qaeda versus Hezbollah with Iran and Russia on a drip-feed of support to a hated government in a prolonged war probably looks like a good outcome in some quarters.

Shame about those Syrian civilians.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


From a Wall Street Journal article quoting the Russian government response to a perceived outrage --

"What happened today is beyond all bounds. We think this is a very strange situation, given the nature of our relationship," said Russia's first deputy prime minister, Igor Shuvalov, according to the Interfax news agency. He said Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has been informed and urged Russia's Foreign Ministry to use "all possible levers" to resolve the matter.

Could this be the Kremlin finally asking why their pal Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons?

No, they're just upset that Belarus is playing hardball in a cartel dispute about potash.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

He had a chance

It is Saturday night and we could be accused of digging up old posts instead of coming up with new material.  But this photo (from 2010!) stands as refutation of the idea that the Sunni Gulf Arabs have always had some intrinsic vendetta against the Alawite Bashar al-Assad. That's President Assad and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia sitting next to each other at the Nobles' Palace restaurant when the King visited Damascus just 3 years ago.

Then Assad let things get to the point where he's gassing Damascus suburbs. Tough to blame an outside sectarian agenda for that one.

UPDATE: This Wall Street Journal article (subs. maybe req'd) notes that King Abdullah exerted some effort to win over Bashar al-Assad from his Iran comfort zone before concluding that al-Assad wasn't for turning.

Friday, August 23, 2013

False start

Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post --

The authoritarian regimes we supported — in South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Chile, Brazil, even Spain and Portugal (ruled by fascists until the mid-1970s!) — in time yielded democratic outcomes. Gen. Augusto Pinochet, after 16 years of iron rule, yielded to U.S. pressure and allowed a free election — which he lost, ushering in Chile’s current era of democratic flourishing. How many times have communists or Islamists allowed that to happen?

How many times have Islamists had power for there to be a meaningful decision to let someone else have power?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Crazy countries are not always crazy

Wired magazine current issue --

The reason is MERS: Middle East respiratory syndrome, a disease that has been simmering in the region for months. The virus is new, recorded in humans for the first time in mid-2012. It is dire, having killed more than half of those who contracted it. And it is mysterious, far more so than it should be—because Saudi Arabia, where the majority of cases have clustered, has been tight-lipped about the disease’s spread, responding slowly to requests for information and preventing outside researchers from publishing their findings about the syndrome.

New York Times today in an article noting that after months of research, the virus has been found in bats --

Knowing that one bat had an identical virus is a start, but more testing will be needed, said Dr. Ziad A. Memish, the Saudi deputy health minister who was a co-author on the study and gave a presentation on the virus in Washington on Wednesday ...Those restrictions can add months to the testing process, Dr. Memish said. That is one reason the bat samples were tested sooner, although other problems emerged: one of two frozen shipments of bat samples – the one the positive bat was in – was opened at Customs on entry into the United States and had thawed out by the time it reached Dr. Lipkin’s lab 48 hours later. What was recovered from that sample, however, was a 100 percent match, which is virtually unheard of in virology, the study said.  ...

In his presentation Wednesday, hosted in Washington by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Center for Health Security, Dr. Memish said he only learned of the existence of the new virus in his own country when he read about it late last September on ProMED, an outbreak-alert service. Dr. Memish said that by then, it was too late to advise travelers not to come to the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which draws 4.5 million pilgrims. “That put an incredible strain on our system,” he said.

Just because there wasn't hour-by-hour coverage of the MERS investigation on cable news (amidst the shark attacks and missing white women), it doesn't mean that stuff wasn't happening.

Big countries can be crazy

Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, on the chemical weapons attacks near Damascus --

All of this really looks like an attempt, at any cost, to create a reason to produce demands for the U.N. Security Council to side with the regime's opponents and undermine the chances of convening the Geneva conference.

Note: the Russian position is not that various things might have happened. It's that the rebels somehow suddenly got the ability to launch chemical weapons over several areas simultaneously and used them against people in areas that they control -- all with the objective of thwarting peace talks that were already in danger of not happening.

That's deep Stalinist sociopathic conspiracy theorizing masquerading as a respectable foreign policy position. The mystery is why it carries so much weight with other countries that should know better.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

It's how they'll celebrate the 60th anniverary

John Bolton weighs in on the Wall Street Journal opinion page about why the US should support the Egyptian military crackdown in preference to Muslim Brotherhood government --

Third, for purely economic reasons, the Suez Canal must remain open. Annually, some 14% of global shipping and 30% of oil supplies pass through the canal. The Brotherhood is far more susceptible to suicidal impulses if it means harming the West. Egypt's military does not prize martyrdom.

The last time Suez Canal passage led to war, it was after a military coup, repression of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a general -- Gamal Nasser -- riding a wave of populism to a confrontation with Israel and the West. Bolton must know about the 1956 Suez Crisis but apparently the Green Menace is having some effect on his ability to bring it to bear in this case.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Or the Seychelles?

The latest in a line of opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal presenting the ill-effects of the USA's system of taxation for overseas citizens, this one from investment banker Ken Moelis --

Congress should borrow from U.K. policy and provide an immediate tax holiday to any American citizen who takes up residence and works in Africa for more than one full year. The incentive of paying a maximum local tax rate of, for example, 15% in Mauritius may be just the motivation needed to get our most ambitious and forward-thinking Americans to put down roots in one of the world's most important regions.

Is someone planning to retire to Mauritius?