Thursday, June 30, 2016

The pre-history of Davos Man

From The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class by Alvin Gouldner (1979) --

Professionalism is one of the public ideologies of the New Class, and is the genteel subversion of the old class by the new. Professionalism is a phase in the historical development of the “collective consciousness” of the New Class. While not overtly a critique of the old class, professionalism is a tacit claim by the New Class to technical and moral superiority over the old class, implying that the latter lack technical credentials and are guided by motives of commercial venality. Professionalism silently installs the New Class as the paradigm of virtuous and legitimate authority, performing with technical skill and with dedicated concern for the society-at-large. Professionalism makes a focal claim for the legitimacy of the New Class which tacitly de-authorizes the old class. On the one side, this is a bid for prestige within the established society; on the other, it tacitly presents the New Class as an alternative to the old. In asserting its own claims to authority, professionalism in effect devalues the authority of the old class. 

What, you may ask, does this have to do with recent events? Arguably, Brexit is, as the Marxists might say, the crisis for the New Class, since it was a rejection of their principles.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Quote of the Day -- from 7 months ago

Philip Stephens in the Financial Times, 27 November 2015 --

[UK] Local authorities have been the biggest losers from austerity. The IFS estimates that the big reductions in central government grants to councils during the last parliament will be followed by a further 50 per cent cut by 2020. Councils have also been told to raise additional local taxes to pay for social care and policing. The net effect is to force local politicians to scrap provision of anything much that falls outside their statutory responsibilities. This means closing libraries, swimming pools, parks, children’s centres and community meeting places for the elderly and infirm. These have become the meeting places of what the 18th-century statesman Edmund Burke referred to as the nation’s “little platoons”. They are vital threads in the warp and weft of local communities — in what Mr Cameron once called the Big Society. Now Mr Osborne’s small state is promising a rather smaller society. 

Worth bearing in mind with the inevitable intervention from smart conservative Yuval Levin at National Review The Corner claiming that Brexit shows the case for the return to the little platoons.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Partitioned mind

The Democratic Unionist Party's Gregory Campbell on the Stephen Nolan show, BBC Radio 5 last Friday night, being challenged on the fact that Northern Ireland voted Remain when the in-government DUP position was Leave --

Campbell: ... This was a UK-wide referendum, I don't think we can start picking and choosing which part of the UK voted which way
Nolan: Scotland can.
Campbell: They say they can, but it's a bit like the MP who wins his constituency and a couple of hundred people in a small village or town in a part of it say But we didn't vote for you ... the overall area is the UK and the UK voted the way it did

The interview begins at the 3:06 mark, and is a case study in DUP tribal insularity and obliviousness to the logic of their position on Ireland.

Five things that Official Europe should learn from Brexit

1. Boycott Davos next year. Of course Davos has no decision-making power, but that's the problem. It ends up looking like a closed loop of self-congratulatory platitudes about the global economy, and where any problems are acknowledged, it's all in terms of finding things to do for people in the room. And the universal blather dilutes anything important: was IMF chief Christine Lagarde more concerned when she used Davos to express Brexit worries, or demanding "an Internet of women?"

2. Completely revamp the actual global policy meetings such as G7 and G20. These have become so pre-packaged, with such faux-informality (e.g. the no ties trend), and such Sir Humphrey-for-the-21st century statements that are all about ticking the box ("yes, we mentioned that"), it's meaningless. When George Osborne came back from a Shanghai G20 meeting waving proudly the meeting's concern about Brexit, Nigel Farage simply dismissed it as "mates helping each other out." Did the public see anything that would have advised them otherwise?

3. Drop the maxim that "if you're explaining, you're losing." Maybe that had some content once. But a Yes/No existential question referendum was going to need some explaining around certain issues. Which brings us to ...

4. Find a new discourse on immigration. The "Yes we gain in general but some people lose" formulation is broken. The failure to spell out basic considerations until it was too late was an astounding feature of the referendum debate: European Union freedom of movement is reciprocal; if the immigrants weren't in the poorer working class towns, those towns would be even poorer; and terminology like "expat" and "overseas pensioner" ended up diluting an understanding of the mutuality of migration. One other thing: points-based immigration systems require a considerable amount of planning and enforcement to implement, and they may not be sustainable anyway as sending countries focus more and more on their brain-drain effects.

5. Throw your copies of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century in the rubbish bin. Whatever its analytical merit, politically the debate around the book became an exercise in Bobo Envy, permitting the upper middle class to convince themselves that the real problem was a few thousand people headed to financial world domination through Marxian capital accumulation. The Brexit voter demographics are all about education levels, disposable incomes at lower ranges, and identity -- none of which are informed by Piketty's theory of wealth dynamics. 

Offer not applicable in 1922

New York Times Explainer Interpreter column headline --

After ‘Brexit,’ 3 Centuries of Unity in Britain Are in Danger

Read on and you'll see (1) the UK/Britain terminological confusion that bedevils much writing about the country and (2) only the most oblique references to the fact that the UK did not stay unified since the 1707 union with Scotland, given the departure of what is now the Republic of Ireland.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Exit from facts

George Will joins the strutting parade of conservative pundits on Brexit --

Project Fear was the relentless and ultimately ludicrous parade of Cassandras, “experts” all, warning that Britain, after more than a millennium of sovereign existence, and now with the world’s fifth-largest economy, would endure myriad calamities were it to end its 23-year membership in the E.U.

It's 43 years. [error still appears on Washington Post version of the article Saturday morning hours after it was posted]

He later ascribes significance to a Breitbart-sourced phenomenon of the "hipster right" in Paris (unworried by the opaque meaning of the term "hipster") and caps it off with another reference to 60-70 percent of British laws being made in Brussels, as he did during the campaign.

He concludes

Actually, Brexit was the choice for Britain’s international engagement as a nation.

That's about as elementary a misunderstanding of Britain as one could have, being (with its UK definition), 4 nations.

Tone deaf

From European Union Council president Donald Tusk's invitation letter to Monday's Brexit summit --

It is my intention to ensure that we have sufficient space to debate both with Prime Minister Cameron, and then separately with the 27 Heads of State or Government. At the same time, we will need to address the other planned issues on our agenda - tackling the migratory crisis, pushing ahead with the Single Market agenda to boost growth and jobs, and enhancing our security by working more closely with NATO.

If the EU leadership was looking for that one issue that could get Irish Eurosceptics mobilized, compounding the crisis, it would be to push for a closer relationship between the EU and Nato. In the accession negotiations of 1972, the big 3 issues for Ireland were the Border, fish, and NATO. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Under new management

It was clear from this morning's various statements that head of the Scotland government Nicola Sturgeon will be taking the baton for those parts of the UK that wish to remain integrated with the EU (she pointedly mentioned that she'd spoken to the London mayor about her plan). In particular, Nicola was clear that she wants to be sitting as an equal in the British government discussions about the managed exit, while keeping on the table a second independence referendum. Since Northern Ireland is stuck with cynical DUP veto power on its government, and significant parts of England besides London also disenchanted with Leave (e.g. Liverpool), she will have a big constituency.


Then conservative leader William Hague with one of his Save the Pound election posters in May 2001. From an associated speech --

The question of whether we scrap the pound will settle our country's future, possibly for generations. It will determine whether we live in a free and independent country, or whether we become part of a larger bloc. "It is a question, ultimately, of self-confidence. Do we have faith in our capacity to thrive as an independent country? Or do we feel that we must go along with every new Brussels initiative for fear of being left out? "... The mainstream majority in this country understand this. They know that there is nothing negative about wanting to keep the pound. And they resent being called anti-Europeans, isolationists or sceptics simply because they want Britain to work with its neighbours as an independent country. "In fact, the real sceptics are those who doubt our ability to thrive on our own. It is a normal, natural thing for countries to administer their own economies. And yet, in this country - astonishingly - two of the three parties do not believe that the British people are best placed to run their own affairs. They would remove, forever, our right to tailor our economic policy to suit our own needs. "Whether we give up that right is the single biggest decision our country has faced since the war ... Twelve days to save the pound. Twelve days to secure our independence. Twelve days to decide whether our children and grandchildren will inherit the same freedoms that we inherited in our turn.

That early 2000s anxiety about the pound (and mid-2000s anxiety about the EU constitutional treaty, later abandoned) reads very strangely now.

Referendum, Day After

Barack Obama should sack/fire whoever wrote that "back of the queue" line for him, except that the person (David Cameron) has already resigned.

The lack of historical perspective in linking the current crisis to that of Suez 60 years ago is really striking. It's the same party, the same convulsion over Britain's role in the world, and even again with a Middle East trigger (the impact on Syria on perceptions of migration).

UPDATE (image, above): An unfortunate choice for the European Union newsroom front page today.

Referendum night

It would be nice to know what was the leaked private exit poll that the apparent Remain optimism earlier in the night was based on.  It was not the YouGov poll, which was not an exit poll.

UPDATE: As the scale of the tilt to Leave becomes apparent. one future scenario: the UK becomes a Brittanic Confederation which like its Swiss antecedent will be outside the EU while heavily integrated with it, but with its cantons having considerable autonomy in how they exploit that. Housing scarcity and prices will be the way that openness is mitigated.

FINAL THOUGHT: It was a remarkable assumption of political leaders in Europe -- and the USA -- that the collective failures leading to the emergence of an Afghanistan on the eastern Mediterranean would not have political consequences.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Pain rays for freedom

Whose fault is it that Ramadi, Fallujah, and soon Mosul are being flattened as the Iraqi army tries to retake the cities from ISIS?

If you answered "The Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies," then you're in agreement with an opinion article on the Wall Street Journal editorial page by retired Marine Corps colonel Gary Anderson who says that the military would have viable "Active Denial Systems" by now if it was not for humanitarian concerns. That's an experimental weapon which uses intense radio waves to cause a burning sensation on anyone in its target area.

Apparently all the bad guys could be immobilized long enough by this thing to make urban warfare history.

But actually, once you start to read up on the system, it's clear that any concerns of wine-sipping do-gooders had little connection to its demise. Instead, it's expensive, cumbersome, a propaganda gift to the bad guys. And, it may not work when it's dusty, much like those Royal Navy ships with warm water issues.

Of course, the narrative of "we could win if we weren't held back" has a very powerful hold.

Facts have a well known liberal fascist bias

Noted European Union expert Jonah Goldberg writing at National Review's The Corner --

The smart [European Union] set insisted that a common immigration policy would be an unalloyed economic boon while dismissing any concerns about possible social or economic upheavals. To disagree was to declare yourself not only a crank but a bit of a racist. This species of political correctness led government officials to turn a blind eye to countless problems, including the notorious Rotherham sexual-abuse epidemic in which about 1,400 minors, mostly white girls, were raped and trafficked by men of South Asian descent. The European Union’s bureaucracy and paper-parliament were set up to be as insulated as possible from the concerns of actual voters. Representatives to the European Parliament are selected by party elites as a kind of highbrow patronage.

1. Those ethnic South Asians involved in the Rotherham scandal were, er, ethnic South Asian and therefore were in the UK because of the UK's own immigration policies towards non-EU migrants, which are not an EU policy area.

2. The European Parliament is the EU's only directly elected body. He might have it confused with the European Commission/

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Did Brexit win already?

Telegraph website right before kickoff.

UPDATE: La Gazzetta dello Sport after the result --

Isole britanniche avanti tutta:

All the British Isles advance!

A poem for Brexit

In Westminster Abbey by John Betjeman

Let me take this other glove off
As the vox humana swells,
And the beauteous fields of Eden
Bask beneath the Abbey bells.
Here, where England's statesmen lie,
Listen to a lady's cry.

Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans,
Spare their women for Thy Sake,
And if that is not too easy
We will pardon Thy Mistake.
But, gracious Lord, whate'er shall be,
Don't let anyone bomb me.

Keep our Empire undismembered
Guide our Forces by Thy Hand,
Gallant blacks from far Jamaica,
Honduras and Togoland;
Protect them Lord in all their fights,
And, even more, protect the whites.

Think of what our Nation stands for,
Books from Boots' and country lanes,
Free speech, free passes, class distinction,
Democracy and proper drains.
Lord, put beneath Thy special care
One-eighty-nine Cadogan Square.

Although dear Lord I am a sinner,
I have done no major crime;
Now I'll come to Evening Service
Whensoever I have the time.
So, Lord, reserve for me a crown,
And do not let my shares go down.

I will labour for Thy Kingdom,
Help our lads to win the war,
Send white feathers to the cowards
Join the Women's Army Corps,
Then wash the steps around Thy Throne
In the Eternal Safety Zone.

Now I feel a little better,
What a treat to hear Thy Word,
Where the bones of leading statesmen
Have so often been interr'd.
And now, dear Lord, I cannot wait
Because I have a luncheon date.

Historical note

From the papers of Patrick Hillery, Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs in the early 1970s and thus the chief negotiator of Ireland's accession to the EEC, which was being done in tandem with applications from the UK, Denmark, and Norway --

‘Things about the Norwegians and the fish I would like on record.’ Remarks ‘Heath sent a telegram, saying among other things “we want you in” to the Norwegian Prime Minister, suggesting that they would have to concede and behave like the rest of the applicants. There was great anger at this by the Norwegian Delegation.’ Remarks that the Norwegians threatened to stay out of the EEC and keep the Danes out if they did not get the concessions they required with regard to fishing and their insistence that they wanted to be treated as a special case, negotiating a separate arrangement exclusive to Norway. Concludes ‘The final impression was following-up all my original impressions that there is a Political deal done between Pompidou and Heath on Fish and that’s why we made so much good progress.

Looking back at the time, an enormous amount of negotiating effort was expended on fishing rights, which looks especially anachronistic in Norway's case because this is just when North Sea oil was become a major factor in its economy. Anyway, the point is that in 1972, it was movements of fish, and not people, that was seen as the dealbreaker. The final irony being that after the machinations over fish to keep the Norwegians on board, their EEC membership was defeated in a referendum. We're not very good at spotting the long-term issues when it comes to arrangements that could change what those long-term issues will be.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Paisley's other island

The BBC explains how the Democratic Unionist Party, a Northern Ireland political party which opposes EU membership, spent money on an ad for that position in a newspaper that no one in Northern Ireland will read.

Quote of the Day

Wolfgang Münchau in the Financial Times --

Liberté, égalité, fraternité is clearly not the slogan of China or Brazil.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Identity sublimation

The Orlando Pulse nightclub shooter --

My name is I pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State.

The accused killer of Jo Cox MP in his first court appearance --

My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.

The notion that there's going be a particular type of terrorist inspired by something as distinct from his own personal struggles is getting more and more difficult to maintain, encapsulated in the supposedly different categories of Loner and Lone Wolf.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Special but changing

We're less than a month away from the 60th anniversary from the Egyptian seizure of the Suez Canal and it's odd how little attention that transformative year is getting in the Brexit debate. Anyway, that's a slightly incidental point as we peruse a rant by Andrew Roberts in the Wall Street Journal (drawing from a speech at the Bradley Foundation awards) --

Fortunately, the best kind of Americans instinctively understand that truth, and outside the Obama administration nobody seems to want to relegate my country to the back of the line. Anglo-American friendship is far stronger than any one administration or government. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve read the obituaries of people who have written the obituary of the Special Relationship. It survives because it lives on in the hearts of our two peoples—who have so much more in common than that which separates us—rather than just in the pages of venerable treaties and history books.

Who are those freedom-hating pundits who've written obituaries of the Special Relationship such as this one? --

Similarly, the smashing blow to the Special Relationship seems not to matter to new Britain. The fact that it was dealt to as Left-wing and anti-war a president as Barack Obama shows just how ambivalent modern Britons feel about the friendship of our best, closest and most powerful ally. 

That would be, er, Andrew Roberts writing in the Daily Mail 3 years ago after the failed vote in the House of Commons for Britain to join military action (which subsequently never happened) against the Assad regime following the chemical weapon attack in Ghouta.

In fact, to read the two Roberts pieces together is to read of two different Englands. In the WSJ, it's everything but the transatlantic  band of brothers, with Suez never mentioned, while the Mail piece concludes --

Our path to international irrelevance has been smoothed out for us, and the new generation is clearly keen for us to go down it, handing over global human rights to the tender mercies of the Russians and Chinese while keeping their consciences intact because they didn’t bomb a Muslim country. Welcome to the most morally vacuous, pusillanimous and self-indulgent generation for half a millennium, to life beyond the looking glass. 

Roberts is not a Brexiteer because he's given up on the European Union. It's because he's given up on England.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Adam Smith on Brexit

Wealth of Nations (1776), Book IV, Chapter III --

It is in consequence of these maxims that the commerce between France and England has in both countries been subjected to so many discouragements and restraints. If those two countries, however, were to consider their real interest, without either mercantile jealousy or national animosity, the commerce of France might be more advantageous to Great Britain than that of any other country, and for the same reason that of Great Britain to France. France is the nearest neighbour to Great Britain. In the trade between the southern coast of England and the northern and north-western coasts of France, the returns might be expected, in the same manner as in the inland trade, four, five, or six times in the year. The capital, therefore, employed in this trade could in each of the two countries keep in motion four, five, or six times the quantity of industry, and afford employment and subsistence to four, five, or six times the number of people, which an equal capital could do in the greater part of the other branches of foreign trade. Between the parts of France and Great Britain most remote from one another, the returns might be expected, at least, once in the year, and even this trade would so far be at least equally advantageous as the greater part of the other branches of our foreign European trade. It would be, at least, three times more advantageous than the boasted trade with our North American colonies, in which the returns were seldom made in less than three years, frequently not in less than four or five years.

Not too late to listen to her

Jo Cox MP, responding to a meek Foreign Office answer to her parliamentary question about Aleppo 6 weeks ago --

While I am a huge fan of President Obama—indeed, I worked for him in North Carolina in 2008—I believe that both he and the Prime Minister made the biggest misjudgment of their time in office when they put Syria on the “too difficult” pile and, instead of engaging fully, ​withdrew and put their faith in a policy of containment. This judgment, made by both leaders for different reasons, will, I believe, be judged harshly by history, and it has been nothing short of a foreign policy disaster. However, there is still time for both men to write a postscript to this failure. Does the Minister agree that it is time for the leaders of both our countries, even in the midst of a two hotly contested political campaigns, to launch a joint, bold initiative to protect civilians, to get aid to besieged communities, and to throw our collective weight behind the fragile peace talks before they fail? I do not believe that either President Obama or the Prime Minister tried to do harm in Syria but, as is said, sometimes all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Commercial confusion

That Celebrons Le Football sideline advertising during UEFA 2016 seems like it's the basis of a NBA finals tie-in. LeBron

Rent seekers

A useful paragraph in the IMF numbers round-up on Brexit, dealing with the claim that Britain outside the EU would be a lightly regulated business paradise --

Where the UK scores relatively poorly is in domestically-controlled regulations, such as the complexity of regulatory procedures and licensing and permits systems that are not required by the EU. For example, analysts often point to the UK’s planning regulations and other restrictions on housing construction as being some of the UK’s most economically harmful restrictions—regulations that are wholly under domestic control. 

The report is too polite to speculate about the overlap between the voting bloc that keeps these restrictions intact and prospective Leave voters. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Naming another problem

Is it possible to write a long news analysis article about the term "Radical Islam" and not mention the Muslim Brotherhood? In the New York Times, Max Fisher comes very close to achieving that feat, before finally invoking the Brotherhood obliquely towards the end.

And since he doesn't spell out the relationship between the term "Radical Islam" and the Muslim Brotherhood, he misses one big reason that people (including this blogger!) don't like using the term to describe any terrorism motivated by extreme interpretations of Islam.

There are Islamic political movements which are "radical" in their desire for a return to fundamentals (Salafist) or in their belief that observant Muslims can reform the modern state from the bottom up (the Muslim Brotherhood) -- but they are not of themselves terrorists. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Naming the problem

It will be interesting to watch the process by which the Orlando Pulse killer is a Lone Wolf while the killer of Jo Cox MP is a loner.

Brexiteers would probably agree

Reuters with yet more on the Mozambique mystery loans --

VTB Chief Executive Andrei Kostin told Reuters in an interview. Mozambique Asset Management (MAM) borrowed $535 million from VTB to build shipyards in Maputo and the northern town of Pemba in expectation of a rapid takeoff in the offshore gas sector.  ...  Kostin said he saw the African continent in general as a "high risk zone" but one where operations should continue. "Investors invested in Greece and look how they got burned - but Mozambique is way better than Greece," he said.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

That's why he's the President


President Obama meeting the Dalai Lama, and issuing a photo thereof. Not going to let anyone else tell him who he can't meet.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Maputo mystery

Reuters on the Mozambique hidden loan/tuna bond scandal --

The southern African nation's parliament has agreed to open an inquiry, although diplomats doubt it will ask too many tough questions of leaders of the Frelimo party, which has dominated politics since the end of a civil war in 1992. "Frelimo has its own version of accountability, which normally involves car crashes or people disappearing," one regional diplomat said. "The number one priority is to get some of this money back."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


With Orlando rightly getting so much attention, the ISIS-inspired murder of a couple in a Paris suburb is not so prominent. Yet this case, apparently reflecting a specific ISIS strategy of encouraging loyalists to develop lists of public officials to kill, is no less disturbing.

But just plain astonishing is the legal history of the now deceased assassin Larossi Abballa. He was convicted of being part of a jihadi transit ring to Pakistan in 2013 -- but given just a three-year sentence, with 6 months suspended, whereupon the sentence became time already served on remand. So he was out!

Said the lawyer for one of the other 8 charged with him --

«Ce ne sont pas de dangereux terroristes mais des pieds-nickelés, de jeunes paumés sans repère et incultes, qui se cherchaient une identité dans l'islam radical», avait soutenu Me Georges Sauveur, avocat de Saad Rajraji.

Misfits looking for an identity in radical Islam. Over the subsequent 3 years, Abballa traveled a path to be a depraved murderer. 

Yelling one-at-a-time in a crowded theatre

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, James Glassman is outraged by Iceland's treatment of foreign investors --

Argentina, after the largest sovereign default in history, spent 14 years stiffing creditors until finally settling in March after the defeat of President Cristina Kirchner’s preferred successor. Argentina’s refusal to abide by court orders, negotiate, or even recognize its obligations caused serious harm to the economy as private investors, fearful of receiving the same treatment, stopped lending money. But Argentina has a history of poor governance and serial defaults. You would expect Iceland to be different. Instead, this prosperous member of the European Economic Area and NATO, with an unemployment rate of 2.5% and income per capita of nearly $50,000, is adopting the old Argentine playbook, even hiring the same law firm. The consequences to Iceland’s recovering economy could be similar ...The legislation passed last month gives foreign holders of about $2.3 billion in bonds denominated in Icelandic kronur two unappetizing options. They can either sell their bonds by June 16 at an exchange rate severely below the current market, or hold the bonds until maturity and have the proceeds locked up inside Iceland in a savings account paying 0.5% interest. The exchange rate today is about 122 krona to the dollar, so one million krona should be the equivalent of about $8,100. The legislation orders conversion at between 190 and 210 krona to the dollar, so one million krona becomes as little as $4,800.

There's one thing you'd realize if you read Glassman's column carefully, and a couple of things that you wouldn't, since he doesn't say so.

The one thing you're realize from a careful reading is that these investors bought bonds denominated in the local currency, the kronur. Thus it's Iceland's sovereign decision to set the exchange rate at which these bonds can be converted into dollars -- and the government points out that the exchange rate it has set has to take into account what would happen if all these investors tried to convert into dollars at once when they get paid.

Which brings us to the points not so clear from Glassman but are well explained in this Bloomberg News article. These investors don't want to get out of Iceland. They want to stay invested, because the yields are so large relative to anything else that they get from a well-run country. But Iceland has decided that going up and down with the swell of hedge fund moods is not the way they want to go. So in the second option that Glassman discusses above, they can keep their money in an Icelandic bank account -- until Iceland removes capital controls, which the government wants to do quite soon. And the interest rate in that account is not much different from what they could elsewhere, and in the meantime that Icelandic currency that they're "locked in to" is most likely to gain value -- precisely because of Iceland's unorthodox but successful approach to handling its debt crisis.

The message to foreign investors is not that Iceland is the northern Argentina. The message is not to invest in a country that does such a good job of dealing with the cycles caused by foreign investors that it can pick and choose how to pay them. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Connected wolves

Matthew Yglesias in Vox --

Lone wolf terrorist attacks are the thorniest problem in national security ... The basic problem is that once a shooting spree shifts into the mental and political category of "terrorism," an expectation develops that there will be a foreign policy response.

Thornier than nuclear proliferation?

But anyway. About that term "Lone wolf."

What's the difference between a Lone Wolf and a Loner? In media perceptions, it seems to be mainly about the shooter. Self-identified Muslims involved in these acts are "lone wolves." So using the term implies that at face value, we think of the lone wolf as acting in response to broader cultural and social forces and not just his own view of the world, which already implies that dealing with lone wolves is going to involve issues that transcend country borders. So it's a bit strange to claim it's bad that people might expect a foreign policy response. Indeed, it's generally strange that policy elites often celebrate globalization in the context of trade, but balk at the idea that it could play an increasing role in previously domestic turmoil.

One could go a step further and adapt Olivier Roy to the Orlando and San Bernardino shootings: we're seeing the Islamization of spree killers. So just as with his theory of European Islamism, a pre-existing extremist social tendency found its type -- drifting second-generation Arab immigrants in France and Belgium, and second-generation Muslim immigrants in the USA -- and that agenda got hitched to terrorism and spree-killing respectively. And again, those forces relate intrinsically to how countries interact in the world.

Tangled market

The owner of the gun shop that sold the weapon used in the Orlando massacre is a former New York City police officer. 


Saudi Press Agency --

Jeddah, Ramadan 07, 1437, June 12, 2016, SPA -- The Royal Court today released a statement saying that upon directions by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and in response to an invitation by the United States government, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, will leave on Monday 8 / 9/1437 H corresponding to 06/13/2016 AD to the United States on an official visit during which he will meet with a number of officials to discuss the strengthening of bilateral relations between the two countries, and discuss issues of mutual interest and regional issues.

Now would certainly be a good time for the White House to ask Prince Salman whether there's anything else the US needs to know about Omar Mateen's Mecca trips (or indeed those of his father).

It would also be a good time for them both to compare notes on whether they think Jordan is being up front about recent terrorism in Jordan, events which have gotten a very distinct Move Along Folks Nothing to See Here reaction from the Jordanian government.

Hair club for Kulturkampf

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Where is Lynton Crosby when you need him?

Amazing what the Vote Leave campaign is being let away with. Boris Johnson in 2013 (via The National) --

"There are so many people from the UAE in the Knightsbridge and Mayfair areas that over the summer I have the honour to be the mayor of the eighth emirate," he said in a speech before the British Business Group.

That's what immigration means to Boris -- city states which can admit whoever they want, and by any modality (not least, "guest" worker).

Put another way, the Vote Leave pitch on immigration is that we must admit fewer of the 500 million people living near to the UK so that "we" (never specified who that is) can selectively admit more of the remaining 7 billion people in the rest of the world -- and that will result in less immigration than at present!

Boris of Arabia

From what does Boris Johnson derive his extremely favourable view of Britain's economic prospects outside the European Union? Certainly expenses-paid trips to the Gulf to see only one side of highly open economies highly reliant on guest workers would be part of it. Here he is exulting (in the Telegraph) about Qatar --

The Qataris are wearing M&S underwear beneath their kanduras. They are eating in Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants. They are driving Land Rovers and phoning with Vodafone – and last year the UK exported goods worth a record £1.3 billion to Qatar alone; not bad for a place with only 1.8 million people. It was a joy to hear the natives speak spontaneously of their affection for Britain. I lost count of the number of times I was told: “London is my second home.” ...  I was amazed at the boom in the Gulf, for it is so very different from our wretched European story. For five years the crisis has dragged on, and every time we’ve thought the UK might attain an escape velocity, the euro has had another convulsion and confidence has drained away. Today, the Gulf is doing well because of resurgent demand from Asia, and above all from China. America is returning to life, too – and as to our continent, well, Europe is a microclimate of gloom. ...  It is an extraordinary fact that it is now the Commonwealth countries, so long neglected by the UK, that are turning into the powerhouses of the future. We have more friends than we sometimes imagine. 

All that was written in 2013 when the oil price and China growth stories look very different than they do now. But that's still his vision for a post-EU Britain. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

That Brexit poll

ORB for the Independent (UK)

Table 4. 33 percent of Leave respondents see No Risk from leaving.

Table 17. Remain versus Leave for the 60 percent of sample with secondary school or similar education (shares in total): 49 percent of Remain,  70 percent of Leave.

UPDATE: Similar question in the Opinium Poll (Observer) which in general shows Remain with a tight lead:

For the 56 percent of sample with secondary/pre-degree qualification (GCSE, NVQ etc), Shares of total: 49 percent of remain, 63 percent of Leave. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

The resilience of the map

It's common to sigh about the intractability of Middle East conflicts and blame it all on colonial borders, Sykes-Picot and all that. Above is a photo of fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces, a mainly but not exclusively Kurdish group which is making significant progress in cutting off ISIS supply lines from Turkey. The flag of the group is a map of Syria (with the Euphrates running through it). These groups want a different kind of Syria than the one that is there now, but they haven't -- unlike the glass-tapping gladiators of social media -- given up on the idea of Syria. Or for that matter, Iraq.

Photo: Al Arabiya.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

New York Times gets taken in by South Sudan conflict

The New York Times is usually well-informed on South Sudan, not least because of the long-standing interest of its op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof. But there is a bizarre op-ed still on their website from a couple of days ago, allegedly co-authored by the President and First Vice President (Salva Kiir and Reik Machar) calling for the abandonment of their joint treaty commitment to a special international war crimes court for South Sudan and its replacement by non-punitive mediation.

The biggest beneficiaries of such a move would be those two gentlemen and the senior security officials who surround them, so it's already ethically dubious.

But that's not the worst thing. The worst thing: Machar says he never authorized the article!

Sudan Tribune --

But Machar’s spokesperson, James Gatdet Dak, dismissed the claims by the officials from the president’s office, saying there was no need to dictate people into accepting the “falsified article.” “Well, what I know is that we work as partners in the transitional government. No one party should author an opinion and insert the name of the other partner as co-author. This is illegal and cheating,” Dak said. “And this is particularly a serious matter when the other partner attempts to violate the peace agreement by trying to scrap the vital clauses on justice and accountability,” he added.

What could possibly go wrong?

Reuters -- Venezuela is putting neighborhood committees linked to the ruling Socialist Party in charge of distributing basic foods amid increasingly violent unrest over chronic shortages that have battered the socialist government's popularity. President Nicolas Maduro's government wants state agencies to buy some 70 percent of food produced in local plants and distribute much of it to the population, which is suffering under a severe recession and triple-digit inflation.

Today in European cynicism

Question: If you're an Eritrean refugee stuck in Sudan, what's your quickest and safest route to Europe?

Answer: Being handed over to the Italian government on the word of gullible intelligence officials that you're a refugee-smuggling mastermind by a Sudanese government eager to show that it's Europe's new best friend in closing down migrant routes.

Downside: That same push by the Sudanese government has also involved deporting Eritrean refugees back to Eritrea. 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Referendum Clickbait

77 percent of Swiss voters have rejected the advice of Vox and Charles Murray and voted against the Basic Income proposal in a referendum today. As the aforementioned cast indicates, the basic income idea has attracted a varied intellectual coalition around it.

But that raises the question of whether an idea with so many different motivations embedded in it can really be the miracle that it appears. For the advocates in Switzerland, the proposal was about freedom to pursue dreams and impending idleness due to robots, which is a long way from the anti-poverty agenda which would be undermined by getting rid of current anti-poverty programs.

But perhaps the last best words on the proposal are the bemusement from newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung --

Bezeichnend ist es dennoch, wenn ausgerechnet eine direktdemokratische Randerscheinung eine derartige Beachtung findet, während wichtigere Entscheidungen der Schweizer Politik gewöhnlich ignoriert werden. Einmal mehr zeigt sich, wie verzerrt die hiesige Abstimmungsdemokratie im Ausland herüberkommt.

[rough translation] Nevertheless it is significant, if just a marginal direct democracy proposal receives such attention, while important decisions of Swiss politics are usually ignored. Once again this shows how distorted the foreign view is of local direct democracy. 

UPDATE: Vox declares that defeat is victory, because it caused a debate on the topic, where "debate" is defined as ... being covered by media outlets like Vox!

Bullet the blue sky

Could it be that the New York Times Sunday Magazine does a special "New York" issue on Manhattan skyscrapers and all the things associated with getting up to and being at  that level, and never mentions 9/11? Well, not quite. At one read through, we find perhaps two mentions of 9/11, and both oblique (e.g. in Winging It, about observing bird life). The 9/11 obliviousness of the stories titled Air Force -- Violent Physics Outside the Skyscraper Window and Man on Spire is particularly unfortunate.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

A different era

Reading the events of Muhammad Ali's great life is to be reminded or learn of the dynamic cultural environment in which he participated and to some extent he created.

Above is Muhammad Ali on a visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1972. Note how casually the princes around him are dressed, and posed, compared to the rigid and austere formalism that Saudi Arabia shows to the world today. If you think the America of Muhammad Ali's heyday looks like a different country than today, think of that comparison for Saudi Arabia.

Photo via Al Arabiya.

Bush v Gore is still a problem

George Will (in an annual pundit ritual, suddenly filing from Europe during the summer) --

Britain, too, is infected with political silliness ... Corbyn is an apple that did not fall far from the tree: His parents met at a rally advocating peace in the Spanish Civil War. They got their wish. Peace came. When Gen. Francisco Franco came to Madrid. Corbyn is a vegetarian who does not own a car. He does own — perhaps Al Gore knows why; Gore went through an earth tones phase — many beige clothes bought from street vendors.

Al Gore and "earth tones" (he forgot the Naomi Wolf part) is the crowning idiocy of the 2000 presidential campaign coverage -- a campaign that would conclude with a historic disputed election, and then 9 months later, after earth tones and sharks, with hijacked planes being used as weapons. So it's really something for Will to refer to that in a column wondering where the silliness of the current crop of politicians came from. 

Saturday music choice

For the au courant music, you'll have to go elsewhere.  Here, it's new Megadeth that sounds very very good, but we thought it was on the road to a stronger convergence of Arab music and heavy metal than actually occurs.

Bobos in business class

Janan Ganesh (Financial Times) doing a better David Brooks column than David Brooks.

[Previously in this series]

Live in or die

In the Wall Street Journal, Charles Murray advocates his version of a universal basic income plan, which he admits, would involve replacing all existing transfer and welfare programs, but that won't be a problem because --

... the wealth in private hands would be greater than ever before. It is no pipe dream to imagine the restoration, on an unprecedented scale, of a great American tradition of voluntary efforts to meet human needs. It is how Americans, left to themselves, have always responded. Figuratively, and perhaps literally, it is in our DNA. Regardless of what voluntary agencies do (or fail to do), nobody will starve in the streets. Everybody will know that, even if they can’t find any job at all, they can live a decent existence if they are cooperative enough to pool their grants with one or two other people. The social isolates who don’t cooperate will also be getting their own monthly deposit of $833.

Friday, June 03, 2016

And they didn't mean doubtful

Great detail in a Uganda New Vision article about what British colonial planning meant for the African natives --

The first Physical Plan for Kampala was drawn based on what is referred to as Simpson’s 1912 recommendations. Around this period, Simpson, a British Urban Economist was tasked by the colonial government to provide spatial advice on the development of Kampala. This resulted into Simpson’s report that divided Kampala into 3 major zones namely: i) Kololo which was planned for the settlement of the colonial state officials ii) Parts of Kamwokya and Kira Road which were cadastrated for the Indian Business Community and the Northern parts of Kawempe, Kawara, Bwaise and Kanyaanya which were layed out as the “Sceptic Fringe”. Actually, the parts of Kira Road and Kamwokya were to act as Buffer between the high class colonial settlement and the Northern corridor “sceptic fringe” for “security” from disease vectors such as mosquitoes and others.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

No two countries with Uber have gone to war with each other

OK that was an attempt to generate a Tom Friedman style factoid. But anyway, via Saudi Press Agency --

The investment, part of Uber’s Series G fundraising round, is one of Public Investment Fund (PIF’s) single largest international transactions to date and the first since the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced Vision 2030, the overarching plan for diversifying the Kingdom’s economy. As part of this investment, PIF will take a seat on Uber’s Board of Directors. “Our experience in Saudi Arabia is a great example of how Uber can benefit riders, drivers and cities. We appreciate the vote of confidence in our business and look forward to partnering with the Kingdom to support their economic and social reforms,” said Travis Kalanick, CEO and co-founder of Uber.

There are several things going on, but one might be the government hedging its bets on whether it can push through liberalized rules allowing women to drive. If it can't, then cheaper and more accessible taxi services is a second option. The tie-in also illustrates, again, that "Wahabbism" should not be confused with an aversion to technology. If anything, it's the opposite.