Saturday, May 31, 2014

The revolution will go better with Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Paul Krugman proclaims victory in the War on Giles --

And we know perfectly well why [criticising Piketty]: it’s all about defending the 1 percent from the threat of higher taxes and other actions that might limit top incomes.

Immediately preceding post --

Indie rock and the palace at Versailles, which is the site of my current meeting

Victorian community organizers

John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge write in the Wall Street Journal about how Gladstone can inspire the US Republicans --

Imagine that the world's superpower reduces the size of government by a quarter over the next 30 years, even as its population grows by 50%. Imagine further that the superpower performs this miracle while dramatically increasing both the quality of public services and the nation's diplomatic clout. And imagine that the Republican Party leads this great revolution while uniting its manifold factions behind one of its favorite words: liberty. 

Impossible? That is exactly what Britain, then the world's superpower and pioneer of the new economy, did in the 19th century. Gross revenue from taxation fell from just under £80 million in 1816 to well under £60 million in 1846, even as the population surged and the government helped build schools, hospitals, sewers and the world's first police force. The Victorians paid for these useful new services by getting rid of what they called "Old Corruption" (and we would call cronyism) and by exploiting the new technology of the day, like the railway. For these liberal reformers were the allies of the new commercial classes who were creating the industries that were transforming the world.

The problem is that the era of massive quality of life improvements in Victorian Britain was not financed by central government taxation but by local government property taxes ("rates") and aggressive local government takeovers of the utility companies of the day -- leading to the expression "gas and water socialism" as applied for example to Joe Chamberlain in his Birmingham years. It's hard to think that Republicans would find such a reform vision inspiring, when had they been around at the time, they would have opposed it.

UPDATE: Note that their trough year for British taxation, 1846, was right around when London decided that the government couldn't do a whole lot about ... the Irish potato famine!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Someone in Moscow accidentally left a MANPAD on a table

So a day after Barack Obama's Hamlet-on-the-Hudson reflections on US foreign policy, and 3 years after discussions about giving Syrian rebels anti-aircraft weapons that would help deter the Assad machine indsiscriminate bombings, it somehow only took the Ukrainian rebels a couple of weeks to get their hands on a portable anti-aircraft weapon and use it to shoot down a Ukrainian helicopter.

If the White House is blocking anti-aircraft weapons for the Syrian rebels because of where they might end up, shouldn't it be concerned where the Ukrainian rebels anti-aircraft weapons might end up? 

How can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?

Bloomberg News --

As the former head of U.S. security company Blackwater USA, Erik Prince thrived in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. South Sudan, the world’s newest nation where violence erupted in December, is proving a little tougher. Prohibitive costs, transport difficulties, political instability and growing insecurity have rendered the former U.S. Navy Seal’s plan to build an oil refinery in the north of the country unfeasible for the time being, said Sean Rump, a partner at Prince’s Frontier Resource Group. Talks this month with financiers failed to revive the project that was set to be completed by December, he said in an interview on May 18.

Maps are political

An article in Vox reproduces the above map, which is a nice presentational device showing the last year in which a European country was occupied by any power, and if so, which power.

The Republic of Ireland is indicated as being last occupied by the UK in 1931, and Northern Ireland is shown as sharing the same status as the UK which is never occupied and a year given as 1707, which presumably is the beginning of the German royals the Act of Union with Scotland (hat tip reader WB).

Complaints are left as an exercise for the reader.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

In fairness, two is more than one

Financial Times headline --

Heads roll across Europe in wake of polls

Actual information in article about rolling heads --

Mainstream parties continued to suffer the consequences of the anti-EU backlash, with the leader of Spain’s centre-left Socialists resigning after his party polled only 23 per cent, and Ireland’s deputy prime minister stepping down after his Labour party, the junior coalition partner, finished a distant fifth.

In 28 countries and many more political parties, that's exactly, er, two heads.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Wealth Distribution: Days of Future Past

Chris Giles of the Financial Times -- hardly a conservative hack -- has found significant data problems with Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century. At Vox, Matthew Yglesias -- perhaps in a hurry to get some defensive click-bait posted before Vox readers head to their summer houses for the Memorial Day weekend-- provides a very brief overview of Giles' critique. So brief that he gets one part wrong --

For the US, Giles raises an objection to how Piketty deals with a data lapse between 1870 and 1910, but doesn't really say Piketty's data points are mistaken.

That data lapse for the US for the wealth of the top 10 percent is between 1870 and 1960. As for the UK, Yglesias simply kicks to touch on assessing whether Giles comprehensive critique is correct. Much like he kicked to touch after cursorily acknowledging that he did his Vox interview with Piketty in the bar of the St Regis hotel in Washington DC. Can you get any drink there for under $10?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

History is hidden by the victors

Writing in the Irish Times a few weeks ago, Ireland's leading blinkered nationalist Martin Mansergh contrasts the supposedly disruptive agenda of the Boston College tapes with the 1940s-1950s project by the Bureau of Military History in the Irish Department of Defence --

The Boston tapes project may have been modelled on the Bureau of Military History statements collected 50-60 years ago from survivors of the independence struggle, which only became generally available after everyone’s death. With a broad consensus behind the independence struggle, no one faced prosecution by the State for their part in it. Those collecting the statements acted impartially.

The most prominent participant in the Irish independence struggle not to speak to the Bureau was Eamon de Valera, who clearly didn't share Mansergh's view that there was a consensus about the struggle. Mansergh has to attack the Boston College tapes and the fallout from them, because they threaten the Immaculate Conception view of the 1999 Good Friday Agreement in which the only progress on Northern Ireland happened because of Fianna Fail leaders advised by, er, Martin Mansergh. But for people just as cynical as Mansergh, but less delusional -- like De Valera, and Gerry Adams -- they knew that history can be an awkward thing and is probably best not talked about at all, and certainly not with a recording device running. As Ed Moloney says in yesterday's Irish Times, partly responding to Mansergh, he wants to dictate how Irish history should be told.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Your slip is showing

David Brooks in the New York Times today -- and noted with full awareness that Brooks may simply be self-trolling --

So, obviously, the elite commissions should push proposals that magnify that advantage: which push control over poverty programs to local charities; which push educational diversity through charter schools; which introduce more market mechanisms into public provision of, say, health care, to spread power to consumers.

Hasn't Brooks therefore just told us that localized poverty reduction programs, charter schools, and market-based healthcare are in fact elite policy preferences, which therefore explains their lack of traction with the proletariat?  

Monday, May 19, 2014

Good luck with that

Reuters -- Syria's air defense chief was killed during an offensive by President Bashar al-Assad's forces against rebels east of Damascus, Islamist rebels and a monitoring group said. They said General Hussein Ishaq died on Sunday from wounds suffered on Saturday during the assault by Assad's forces on the town of Mleiha which appears aimed at expanding the president's control around the capital before a June 3 election.

When these rebels end up with  control of substantial parts of Syria, if not it all, they'll have done so with no help from western countries, and if anything, active resistance from them.

The logical route at this point would be for those countries to double down on their tacit support for Bashar al-Assad, but the key word there is "logical."

Welcome to the new world of Jabhat al-Nusra, Europe. You created it. 

Hair of the dog

So about that European banking crisis, at least all the years of austerity and bank bailouts have moved us on from 2008-09 where banks were rushing to Qatari royals looking for capital -- like Barclays, UBS, and Kaupthing.

Except that, er, Germany's biggest bank, Deutsche Bank is rushing to Qatari royals looking for capital.

Let's hope they're not lending the Qataris money to buy the shares, as happened with Barclays and UBS. Or that if they are, they have a "the regulator said it was OK" defence, like with Anglo Irish.

But remember, those EU banking policies are working!

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Telephone call of US Vice President Joe Biden and Acting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki --

The Vice President and the Prime Minister reaffirmed the long-term partnership between Iraq and the United States pursuant to the Strategic Framework Agreement, including their commitment to coordination in the fight against ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), which represents a threat to the entire region.

What's interesting there is the singling out of ISIL as the regional threat. They'll probably take it as a compliment, being just one of the insurgent groups in Syria and indeed not the Al Qaeda-approved insurgent group.

It's tough to read too much into one clause of one sentence, but could the US really be thinking about some kind of intervention just against ISIL while leaving the Al-Assad's -- whose brutality metastatized ISIL into a combined Iraq/Syria operatoin -- intact?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Tomorrow's book review corrections today

In the New York Times Book Review, Isaac Chotiner review's John Keay's Midnight's Descendants --

One of Keay’s rare missteps comes in reference to the Shariah law that Taliban fanatics introduced in the Pakistani district of Swat several years ago. “Almost no one recalled that Shariah had a long pedigree in Swat, and might not be entirely distasteful to the Swatis,” he writes. “Though rough and gender-biased, it . . . ensured the security of property and persons.” To describe Taliban rule as ­“gender-biased” is euphemistic at best — and presumably the people publicly executed by the Taliban are not the ones whose security was “ensured.” Moreover, I wonder how Keay knows their rule wasn’t “distasteful.” I’m not aware of P.T.A. meetings at shuttered girls schools, with everyone voicing feelings and opinions.

Actual quote from Keay's book --

Almost no one recalled that sharia had a long history in Swat and might not be entirely distasteful to the Swatis. Though rough and gender-biased, it slashed the crime rate, ensured the security of property and persons, and was a more effective deterrent than the slow, corrupt, and painfully overloaded judicial system operating in the rest of Pakistan.

Keay is comparing Sharia in Swat to the judicial system in the rest of Pakistan - this would be the judicial system charging 9 month old babies with attempted murder (the perp being finger-printed shown above). And the more general point that Sharia is at least providing rules when the alternative is abuse of power and anarchy is important in understanding the appeal of the Taliban. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014


 During a gala match Russia festival Hockey Amateur Championship.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on the ice in Sochi yesterday for an exhibition match. His team won 21-4 and he scored 6 goals. He should have worn one of those Jason masks.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Exclusive Boko Haram Selfie!

Silly Nigerian Islamist terrorists -- the way to get the US to ignore outrages is just to use barrel bombs, mass detentions and torture, or chemical weapons like Bashar al-Assad!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

The Ireland-Scotland analogy

Writing in the Financial Times (subs. req'd), Kevin Toolis offers amusing and trenchant points about the relevance of the often bleak state of Irish politics and economics as a lesson for pro-independence Scotland. But he goes a bit far here --

But that was not the worst. From the 1920s to the 1970s, millions of Irish were forced to flee – ironically to the UK, in search of work and social freedom. Amid that stream of exiles were Ireland’s greatest artists and writers, figures such as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Edna O’Brien, refugees from the suffocating social prohibitions of the new nationalist order. Rather than bloom, the shamrock withered.

The problem is the assumption that if the 26 counties had remained in the UK, all those people would not have moved to other parts of Britain. In fact, the 26 counties' history within the UK had featured mass emigration and, yes, famine, within the memory of the people in the early 1900s so the desire for independence was just cultural fantasizing. As for that 20th century emigration, things weren't so great in Tyrone, Derry, Armagh, and Fermanagh in those years either.