Thursday, January 29, 2015

Intellectual no-go zone

Andrew Sullivan is packing in blogging -- again -- largely because he feels that he's been at it too long. It's hard not to sympathize when you watch the media cycle through spectacles-du-jour with no apparent memory of these things happening before. Hence for example the Michelle Obama non-scarf freakout, the Pelosi scarf freakout long forgotten.

And we also have conservatives wondering what is it with Sarah Palin speeches -- "Denali, The Great One" must have happened hundreds of years before the dawn of history. But as we queried at the time, if these speeches are the real Palin, who was writing those op-eds under her name?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Scarves and foreign policy

What would happen if a Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives looked like they were running their foreign policy in the Middle East and if a prominent Democratic woman had worn a scarf on a visit to an Islamic country?

Luckily, Nancy Pelosi provided the answer to both questions in a visit to Damascus.

The answer: Outrage!

[Bonus points for remembering the Laura Bush Saudi scarf outrage]

New Saudi Arabia scarf outrage

The translator for the meeting of President Obama and John Kerry with King Salman is not wearing a scarf. It wasn't just Michelle!

Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

Every precedent comes back to bite

Reuters --

Jordan said on Wednesday it was willing to hand over an Iraqi woman detained for her role in a 2005 suicide bombing in Amman if a Jordanian pilot captured by Islamic State was released. "Jordan is ready to release prisoner Sajida al-Rishawi if the Jordanian pilot Lieutenant Muath al-Kasaesbeh was released and his life spared," Mohammad al-Momani, a government spokesman, was quoted on state television as saying. He did not make any reference to Japanese hostage Kenji Goto who said in a video on Tuesday that Islamic State had given Jordan 24 hours to release the Iraqi militant or the pilot would be killed.

By the logic of the Bowe Bergdahl deal done by the US, this is not a ransom, since it's a prisoner exchange for a POW.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Obama bows to Saudi King yet again!

President Obama being met by King Salman today in Riyadh. Michelle seems a bit out of the picture, as it were.

Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

If you liked King Abdullah being called a reformer

You will love this quote from German politician Philipp Roesler who interviewed Egyptian president Abdelfattah Al Sisi at a Davos session:

The Davos community counts on your leadership. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

ISIS uses deflated soccer balls

Friday, January 23, 2015

Ronnie and Maggie under a tree

Peggy Noonan in her Friday Wall Street Journal column (in the context of the Netanyahu invitation) --

Should a foreign leader be on the phone jawboning with members of the American Congress about what they should or should not do? Um, no. It’s a breaching of diplomatic form and tradition. You go run your country, we’ll run ours, and then, because we’re friends and allies and love each other, we’ll meet and talk and see if we can’t get into agreement.

Maggie Thatcher, in a speech to a Joint Session of Congress, 20 February 1985 --

No-one understood the importance of deterrence more clearly than Winston Churchill , when in his last speech to you he said: "Be careful above all things not to let go of the atomic weapon until you are sure and more than sure that other means of preserving peace are in your hands!" Thirty-three years on, those weapons are still keeping the peace, but since then technology has moved on and if we are to maintain deterrence—as we must—it is essential that our research and capacity do not fall behind the work being done by the Soviet Union (applause). That is why I firmly support President Reagan 's decision to pursue research into defence against ballistic nuclear missiles—the Strategic Defence Initiative (applause). Indeed, I hope that our own scientists will share in this research. United States and the Soviet Union are both signatories to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a treaty without any terminal date. Nothing in that treaty precludes research, but should that research—on either side—lead to the possible deployment of new defence systems, that would be a matter for negotiation under the treaty. 

That was clearly, and widely understood so at the time, as support for Reagan's Star Wars initiative, which was highly controversial in the USA.

Noonan was Reagan's speechwriter.

Arabia reverts to form

With the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz,  Saudi Arabia is into its first uncertain succession since the 1980s. But historically,  abrupt change at the top, including by assassination, happened frequently in the Gulf. The longevity of the current cohort of rulers disguised that fact. Today, the Arabian Peninsula had two changes in head of state (Yemen also) without AQAP having to lift a finger. That is before all the regional chaos has even played out directly in the Gulf. 2015 will be a long year.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Risky Date

One puzzle about the Bibi speech stunt -- why did Speaker John Boehner pick 11 February for the speech:

Boehner said Thursday on his Twitter feed that the speech was moved from Feb. 11 to March 3 so that Netanyahu could attend the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that week in Washington.

As the same news article (Bloomberg) points out, that pushes the speech even closer to the Israeli election, to the point where it may break Israeli election law, even if it means Congress and AIPAC can split the airfare. Could it be that 11 February is Iran's Revolution Day and that Iran had talked about launching a satellite by that date? What better backdrop for a scaremongering speech?

Correctly identifying the enemy

Even taking US House Speaker John Boehner's invitation to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress next month at face value (as opposed to a geopolitical stunt), it's preposterous --

I am asking the Prime Minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life. 

One issue being: what expertise does Netanyahu have on radical Islam? Whatever threat is coming from Gaza and the West Bank, it's as much to do with Palestinian nationalism as Islam. Hezbollah emerged as a response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and al Qaeda-linked terrorism has afflicted Arab countries orders of magnitude more than it has Israel. Even the al Qaeda terrorists on Israel's doorstep in the Golan Heights have conspicuously avoided attacking Israel. Since all these facts reflect long-standing features of Israel's position in the Middle East, it's not clear what PM Netanyahu can add to a discussion of them.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Groundhog Decade

In Baghdad, the Iraqi Prime Minister meets Ken Pollack, Fred Kagan, and Kim Kagan. Official statement --

The American delegation in turn recognized the positive developments taking place in Iraq under Prime Minister Al-Abadi's leadership and welcomed the recent military successes achieved by the Iraqi Security Forces as part of the war against Daesh (sic).

Not a hint of the outcomes of the previous Iraq adventure supported by the same delegation.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Squid suckers

From another excellent installment by the Wall Street Journal (free link) on the Goldman Sachs Banco Espirito Santo loan imbroglio --

Goldman says it managed to sell some of its exposure to the Oak Finance loan to investors, including pension funds. ... On Dec. 23, Novo Banco made a surprise announcement: The Bank of Portugal had informed it that Oak Finance would remain in the “bad bank” that the central bank is winding down, virtually guaranteeing the loan won’t be fully repaid. The reason: A Portuguese law passed in August said that anyone owning more than 2% of a bailed-out bank’s shares must go to the back of the queue for any debt repayments. Goldman’s 2.27% shareholding in July triggered that provision, the Bank of Portugal concluded. The decision stunned Goldman executives, who only learned of it when they read it in the Portuguese media on Christmas Eve. Goldman disputed the Bank of Portugal’s legal interpretation, noting that it was buying the shares for clients, not for the bank’s own account. 

So Goldman Sachs clients in this period were being sold pieces in a dodgy loan, or shares in a dodgy bank. The Irish Department of Finance might want to reflect carefully on its recent boasting that Goldman is doing the advisory on the AIB disposal pro bono.

She has one point

It's strange to see Marine Le Pen with an op-ed in the New York Times. She gets her opening salvo -- mirroring a Fox News talking point -- that there's a reluctance among politicians to refer to the religious nature of the Islamist terrorist threat. She correctly notes the emergence of the term "Daesh" among European policy elites and indeed it's ridiculous, like the cricket bat in Spinal Tap, minus the irony. Here's a good New York Times analysis from a few months ago on how the term came into vogue.

FIFA has more than World Cups to ponder

Flicking through the soccer on television yesterday, one witnessed West Ham prominently featuring (on shirts and on sideline advertising) the insolvent foreign exchange trading company Alpari, while Deportivo La Coruna (versus Barcelona) were advertising Nairabet, a Lagos-based betting outfit. Meanwhile, Paddy Power is bankrolling a candidate for FIFA president. But the general attitude to the entanglement of speculative and sports betting operations to soccer seems to be, move along folks.

Greasing the wheels

Excellent New York Times article on how the Charlie Hebdo + Kosher Supermarket attackers were radicalized -- not in no-go zones -- has this interesting detail:

He [Amedy Coulibaly] also apparently used a bank loan to help finance his operation. On Dec. 4, Mr. Coulibaly was approved for a loan of 6,000 euros from the credit agency Cofidis, after providing a telephone bill, pay slips and an identification card, according to the daily La Voix du Nord newspaper. In a posthumously released video, Mr. Coulibaly said he lent money to one of the Kouachi brothers to help pay for “what he had to buy.” 

Note that by the logic of American lawsuits against Middle East banks, Cofidis could be liable in this atrocity.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


AFP via Yahoo News --

Beirut (AFP) - Syrian regime forces battled Kurdish fighters in the eastern city of Hasakeh for the first time Saturday, leaving at least six people dead, a monitoring group said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting broke out at around 2 am at several points in the city, control of which is split between the two sides.  ...  The clashes began after Kurdish fighters detained around 10 regime forces they accused of seizing part of a demilitarised zone. Under a deal agreed last year, Kurdish forces control around 30 percent of the city's Kurdish and mixed Kurdish-Arab districts, with regime forces controlling most of the city's majority-Arab districts. 

Now why would the Assad forces suddenly have more time and inclination to attack the Kurds, whom they'd been previously ignoring? It's as if someone else is relieving some of the pressure in their struggle against the rebels!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Straight Talk Express needs oil

Senator John McCain in Riyadh today meeting Crown Prince Salman. Doubtless he'll claim he raised the issue of imprisoned and flogged blogger Raif Badawi but given the uselessness of such sternly worded démarches, wouldn't it have been better to cancel all his meetings with the government in a show of protest?

It's on this kind of warmish plateau

The post title is from John Christy, an atmospheric scientist, quoted in the New York Times minimizing the seriousness of a string of global temperature records. Maybe Frodo needed to think about Mount Doom (above) the same way.

Image via Wikipedia.

The Broken Windows theory of Islamist terrorism

Fox News has been peddling the police no-go zone view of large of European cities since the Charlie Hebdo atrocity occurred and it's good to see the well-deserved deluge of mockery, even if it was late arriving.

But why would Fox News keep peddling the no-go zone view of the world when the evidence for the existence of such zones, let alone their links to terrorism, was flimsy from the start? Beyond of course the usual imperveriousness to evidence?

Well, one reason is the Fox News demographic. It's a New York City-based "news" station that recruits heavily from local TV news and chases an audience that swung conservative partly as a reaction to urban crime waves of the 1970s and 1980s. So it's an audience with a paradigm that if you let the minorities run wild in urban areas, eventually they'll run wild everywhere. But if they vote Republican, they can stop it.

Their audience is being offered a narrative of Islamist terrorism in terms they'll understand.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Burnt Squid

Reuters on some of the Swiss Franc fallout --

Goldman Sachs, meanwhile, on Thursday closed its 'top trade' recommendation of a short position on the Swiss franc against the Swedish crown, with a potential loss of around 16.5 percent. It added that its current forecast for the euro against the Swiss franc is under review.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Market signals

The Swiss economy is a strange thing. The people seem to want less immigration but today's 30 percent appreciation of the Swiss Franc just made it a lot more attractive for migrants to work there.

It's Qaeda all the way down

Newt Gingrich, writing in the Wall Street Journal, has a list of things he wants the US Congress to study --

5. The Arab countries—including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria—that have successfully contained and minimized radical Islamists. We must learn how this was accomplished and what aspects should be replicated. 

This would indeed be a good topic for investigation, but it wouldn't go the way Newt suggests. It was Egyptian repression of Islamist opposition that led to the birth of Al Qaeda. And France's 1990s terrorism problem suddenly worsens when Algeria launches a brutal assault on its own Islamists. When the Arab countries lean on their own Islamist opposition -- with their grudging support of their middle classes -- the world ends up with more virulent forms of radical Islam. Ask Syria.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How can the same thing happen to same guy 10 times?

French philosopher Ruwen Ogien with a succinct explanation (in an interview with France 2) of why exactly the latest Dieudonné outburst is problematic --

Comme à son habitude, en disant cela, il désigne une certaine partie de la population, à savoir les juifs, qui ont été la cible d'Amedy Coulibaly [il n'a pas dit "je suis Charlie Kouachi].

[As is his habit, it's aimed at a certain portion of the population -- the Jews -- who were the target of Amedy Coulibaly. He didn't say "I am Charlie Kouachi."]

It's always some weird misunderstanding with him and Jewish stuff, isn't it?

Monday, January 12, 2015

VIPs gone wild

Great photo montage in Le Monde working off a report in Paris Match showing how Nicolas Sarkozy moved himself to the front of the dignitaries section of the rally. Also fascinating, via Reuters, the combined antics of Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu.


Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hops on a plane to Riyadh to check on the health of King Abdullah, who has pneumonia.

The fact that oil prices have crashed and could well send Venezuela into default has nothing to do with it at all!

Photo: Saudi Press Agency

Maghreb Legacy

There's an extraordinary confluence of Tunisia connections running through the three days of terrorism in Paris beginning with the Charlie Hebdo atrocity. As this Wall Street Journal article (free link) well lays out (and mirroring similar reporting in French media), the three Paris killers, despite initially broadcasting their Yemen connections, have deep links to Islamists in Tunisia who in turn are connected to significant killings in that country. Tunisians are in turn one of the biggest sources of foreign fighters -- and apparently held in high regard as such -- for ISIS which seems to have its most active affiliate in Libya. And finally, three of the 4 victims in the kosher supermarket killings had strong Tunisian origins. The dispersal of French North Africa in the 1950s and 1960s looms large a generation later.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Nous sommes Yoav, Philippe, Yohan et François-Michel

The 4 people murdered for their religion at the kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes, Paris.

All shall have prizes

Der Spiegel Interview with Sabine Lautenschläger, German member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank (ECB) -- 

I do not expect that the ECB purchasing government bonds on a large scale would change that [corporate lending] in a sustained manner. Instead, banks must again be in a position to see that their borrowers have decent economic prospects. 

Q: How could that be brought about? 

Above all, national governments could contribute to this goal by implementing effective structural reforms to improve the competitiveness of industry. If a company is competitive, it has a future, the risk of default is lower and banks extend loans with lower risk margins.

Alien vs Predator

It's difficult to know how to authenticate the alleged AQAP statement sent to The Intercept and claiming credit for the Paris attacks. But it has one revealing sentence --

The policy of hitting the snake’s head followed by the Al-Qaeda organization under the leadership of Adhawahiri is still achieving its goals; until the West retreats. 

Besides the odd spelling of Ayman Al-Zawahiri's name (doubtless being analyzed by intelligence specialists), the point is that this claim is setting up a contrast with ISIS, with which core Al-Qaeda has disagreed on the policy of setting up an Islamic state. Core al-Qaeda believes it's too soon to establish an Islamic state, and that more "spectaculars" are needed to force a western disengagement from Islamic lands and mobilize Muslims before the state can be declared.

In other words, the Paris attack was to signal that the strategy is still operative, or at least the TED talk-type Al Qaeda types want to read it that way. This will be a feud with a lot of collateral damage.

The 2020s are going to be fun

What the world really needs now is an Egyptian President who used to be a general and for a while gained from an alliance with Islamists but now is willing to clamp down hard on them and help avert a nascent terrorist threat to Egypt, the region, and the world.

The problem is that while for the media, that person is Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi, history has seen this act before. Mapping it back to Nasser and Sayyed Qutb, we're therefore at 1954: the Muslim Brotherhood is being driven underground, and over the decades metastasizing into Egyptian Islamic Jihad and eventually Al Qaeda, with figures like Ayman Al-Zawahiri still to come on the scene.

Good luck American conservatives with your new Egyptian Deep State friends!

Friday, January 09, 2015

Hate's anchor

From the alleged AQAP statement on the Charlie Hebdo massacre send to The Intercept --

So, why is France so thick in learning from its past mistakes? Is it leaving Paris undefended once again? Woe upon you from tens of Muhammad Merah!

Muhammad Merah being the person who killed French soldiers and people at a Jewish school in southern France in 2012. Somewhat similar to Amedy Coulibaly who killed a policewoman and 4 people at a kosher supermarket today.

The Charlie Hebdo staff and the police were targeted because of their occupations. The Jewish civilians were targeted because of who they were.

Not trending on Twitter: #jesuisjuif

UPDATE: The names of the Jewish victims.

In actual good news

Sri Lanka, constantly being bashed -- with justification -- for its troubled civil war reconciliation process and corruption -- accomplished what very few countries can say they did: an electoral change of power from an entrenched President --

(Reuters) - Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa lost his bid for a third term on Friday, ending a decade of rule that critics say had become increasingly authoritarian and marred by nepotism and corruption. Opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena, a one-time ally of Rajapaksa who defected in November and derailed what the president thought would be an easy win, took 51.3 percent of the votes polled in Thursday's election. Rajapaksa got 47.6 percent, according to the Election Department.

Je suis juif

So if Je Suis Charlie is the logical response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and now the same cell is attacking a kosher supermarket, then ... ?

Lost in the chaos

Clarissa Jean-Philippe, the 26 year old municipal policewoman who was murdered in Paris (Montrouge) earlier this week in a separate incident from the Charlie Hebdo massacre but one that appears now connected to the second hostage siege in France today. 

Thursday, January 08, 2015

They didn't say it in English?

The Vox storystream on the Charlie Hebdo massacre is still claiming that among the things we don't know is "what the attackers motive was" even though there was lots of data at the start to draw reliable inference -- data-driven journalism! -- and now Le Monde has provided a gripping account of the shootings including:

Selon les propos des rescapés, ils ont crié « Allahou akbar » et « Vous allez payer , car vous avez insulté le Prophète » .

UPDATE: Vox's studied mystification regarding "motive" has finally disappeared on Friday morning, to be replaced by "Whether the attackers were targeting specific individuals or the magazine generally." If you kill lots of people who work for the same magazine ...

FINAL UPDATE: The motive mystification line is not being pursued at all in the case of the kosher supermarket siege.

Don't forget the economist

Bernard Maris, professor, member of the French Central Bank general council and well-known Keynesian policy advocate, one of the murdered in the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Not dealing with Syria has reanimated the Iraq nightmare

That's certainly true for Iraq itself, as Al Qaeda in Iraq morphed into ISIS using the energy of the Assad regime's brutality.

But now it appears that it's true overseas as well, given the apparent links of the Charlie Hebdo attackers to this Iraq jihadi case ("19th arrondissement/Buttes Chaumont cell") from 2008 (New York Times). It's particularly interesting to read that article given its perspective that the Iraqi jihadi threat was subsiding.

What changed since that threat assessment?


Let's agree to be careful about the word Provocative, for a start

If you're concerned about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, then you should probably be concerned about the words that are used to describe Michel Houellebecq and his new book, Submission. Don't paint the target on his back for ISIS, or AQIM or AQAP, or whoever, to kill him.

People power

Writing in the New York Times, Arthur Brooks notes the demographic challenges of Europe but realizes he can't skip over France's healthy population dynamics so comes up with a wheeze to dodge that one --

There are some exceptions. France has risen to exactly two children per woman in 2012, from 1.95 in 1980, an increase largely attributed to a system of government payments to parents, not a change in the culture of family life. Is there anything more dystopian than the notion that population decline can be slowed only when states bribe their citizens to reproduce?

Er, wouldn't it be more dystopian to be in a society where more and more of the money is directed to a tiny share of the population who in turn want more and more wealth for their own children?

European Central Bank was confused about lender of last resort role in 2008

Bank of England Committee of Non-Executive Directions meeting 10 September 2008 (page 297)

ECB investigation 

It was reported that the ECB was undertaking an investigation into whether any central bank action over the recent period had breached Article 101 of the EU treaty, in providing financing that should have been provided by government, and therefore amounted to finance to government. It was explained that the ECB was the legal authority that had a duty under the Treaty to monitor compliance with Article 101. Therefore ECB officials needed to apply a procedure to investigate all countries in an even way. 

As part of the investigation, the ECB had made a very broad request for information and documents, including Court papers. The Bank had instead supplied a statement about what had happened, and offered to answer further questions. Legal documents setting out the terms of the facilities provided for Northern Rock and the state aid material had also been provided. The Bank had not sent any internal papers or conceded the ECB's right to these. It was noted that, even if the ECB disagreed with what had been done, it was likely that it would only be able to criticise the UK authorities for not having transferred the lending to the Treasury when Northern Rock had been nationalised or earlier. There were good arguments for HM Treasury having phased the repayments rather than having to issue gilts rapidly following their clear statements of intent. 

However, it was stated that the ECB had the right to take a central bank to the European Court for breach of the monetary financing prohibition. This was relevant to the Bank's future role as the Special Resolution Authority. 

The Governor had spoken to the ECB President to ensure an overly legalistic interpretation of Article 101 did not inhibit financial stability operations or circumscribe what the Bank could do as the Special Resolution Authority. It was explained that Article 101 had originally been framed to ensure national central banks did not buy government debt as part of the need to anchor fiscal discipline within monetary union. It had never been designed with lender of last resort or special support operations in mind. Mr Trichet had agreed with that distinction.

From an ECB legal opinion during this same period --

The provision of emergency liquidity assistance is a central bank function, which consists in giving support in exceptional circumstances and on a case-by-case basis to temporarily illiquid but solvent credit institutions. However, it is the ECB’s view that ‘national legislation foreseeing the financing by NCBs of credit institutions other th an in connection with central banking tasks (such as monetary policy, payment systems or temporary liquidity support operations), in particular to support insolvent credit and/or other financial in stitutions, is incompatible with the monetary financing prohibition.’ 

The news here is as follows.

1. At the height of the financial crisis, with central banks reaching deep into the toolbox as lenders of last resort to prevent the banking system from imploding, the European Central Bank was hounding all EU central banks about whether they were financing insolvent banks.

2. The central banks probably were financing insolvent banks, including in Ireland, but it was very hard to tell so at the time.

3. Jean-Claude Trichet told the Bank of England that yes, yes, he understood the distinction between central banks giving money directly to governments (bad) and central banks engaging in operations to prevent banks from collapsing (good), but when it came to actually writing legal opinions, it saw no such distinction -- both bad.

4. This may explain why Ireland was so keen to come up with non-bail out options during this period, and went instead for the disastrous guarantee. Of course the Article 101 blow-up would come 2 years later.

Bank of England believed Irish as bad as Lehmans in causing global financial crisis

Minutes of Bank of England Committee of Non-Executive Directors meeting, 15 October 2008, page 325 --

It was also noted that whilst international coordination proved to be the route to a solution [to the banking crisis], the lack of it also proved to be as much a trigger for the crisis as the failure of Lehman Brothers. Actions announced first by the Irish government and then the German government were both unclear and uncoordinated, and led effectively to a 'beggar thy neighbour' policy which froze the international banking system. 
The Irish policy being discussed is the notorious 2008 blanket bank liability guarantee.

Monday, January 05, 2015

The world's gun shop

From the US Department of Justice press statement regarding the indictment of two US citizens for involvement in a failed coup in The Gambia --

Prior to departing for The Gambia, between August and October 2014, Faal and other co-conspirators purchased multiple firearms, including M4 semi-automatic rifles, and shipped them to The Gambia for use in the coup attempt. Members of the conspiracy also acquired night-vision goggles, body armor, ammunition, black military style uniform pants, boots, and other personal equipment.

All these purchases appear to have been legal.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Ready for the newswires

Press Release

Raqqa, Rabi'l 12, 1436.  The Islamic State Aviation Authority is pleased to announce the launch of Caliphate Airways, which will be the signature airline for our rapidly expanding territory. Initially, Caliphate will offer service from our gleaming new hub in Mosul to Raqqa and Aleppo. In the near future, Insh'Allah, flights will also be offered to Baghdad, Erbil, Basra, Damascus, Amman, and Beirut. But be assured that our top priority is the addition of service to Mecca, Medina, and Al Quds. Pending the reintegration of these cities into the Islamic territory, we have made a generous offer to the de facto authorities at the three holy cities that if they do not agree to regularly scheduled service for Caliphate Airways to the respective cities, we will provide unilateral one-way service (for the passengers and the planes) directly into the mosques. 

Caliphate Airways will offer state of the art amenities for the discerning Islamic customer and suitable for all lifestyles. There will be a standard 3 cabin configuration: Jihadi Class (Economy), Sheikh Class (Business), and Caliph Class (First). In all cabins, families will sit on the right of the aisle, and bachelors on the left. We will soon roll out our Ummah Frequent Flyer Club, and our branded Al-Andalus premium lounges at all our airports.

Stay tuned for imminent announcements regarding planned routes to Istanbul, Vienna, Granada, and Houston!

For information, contact Muhsin Al-Fadhli, c/o Khorasan Public Relations Group.


This post is of course a logical extension of the last one.

Friday, January 02, 2015

ISIS launches "Caliphate Airways" with separate seating cabins for men and women

Well, no, they didn't, but that's about the level of "reporting" that is on the Internet in the last couple of days regarding a claim that the Saudi national airline, Saudia, is planning separate seating for men and women. The way the claim has propagated from a thinly sourced regional media outfit to screaming clickbait on the Daily Mail website mirrors the ISIS reporting from last summer, and indeed seems to reflect some of the same mentality about Islamic culture.

So what happened? A few days ago, Emirates 24/7 had this story --

Saudi Arabia’s national carrier Saudia intends to ban gender-mixing aboard all its flights in line with rules enforced by the conservative Gulf kingdom. The airlines said it decided to act following recurrent complaints from passengers objecting to have males seated next to their wives and other female family members. “There are solutions to this problem…we will soon enforce rules that will satisfy all passengers,” Saudia assistant manager for marketing Abdul Rahman Al Fahd said, quoted by the Saudi Arabic language daily ‘Ajel’

Now for one thing, it's difficult to find evidence of the existence of a Saudi daily "Ajel," so the story was already a little dodgy. The news article surge in the last 2 days is essentially a cut and paste from the earlier version, all citing the same name and Arabic newspaper.

The one part of the story that checks out is the same of the Saudia marketing manager. He has a Twitter account. And while the tweets contain no discussion of the alleged scoop, they do contain an exchange regarding media reports of Orthodox Jewish passengers delaying flights over seating disputes. To which the Saudia executive responds, on his airline, families can guarantee being seated together through seat selection at ticket purchase or anytime before flight.

And then someone, somewhere, turned that into a claim that the airline will segregate seats by sex.

UPDATE: Saudia confirms that the story began as a misinterpretation of the above Twitter exchange.

Bobo on Bibi

Spot the difference --

[1] “The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said ... . “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”

[2] To me, his [Netanyahu] caution is most fascinating. For all his soaring rhetoric and bellicosity, he has been a defensive leader. He seems to understand that, in his country’s situation, the lows are lower than the highs are high. The costs of a mistake are bigger than the benefits of an accomplishment. So he is loath to take risks. He doesn’t do some smart things, like improve life for Palestinians on the West Bank, but he doesn’t do unpredictable dumb things, like prematurely bomb Iran. He talks everything through, and his decisions shift and flip as the discussions evolve.

[1] is the notorious White House "chickenshit" anonymous quotes to Jeffrey Goldberg a couple of months ago. [2] is David Brooks writing his first 2015 New York Times column from Israel. Abstract from the personal dislike of Bibi that comes through in [1]: the fundamental assessment in both is the same.

As with many David Brooks columns, the question is whether he's messaging a right-of-centre bloc of readers of the New York Times, or his fellow conservatives. Because if it's the latter, he's telling them that Obama is right about Bibi.