Friday, September 30, 2016

Making tomorrow's problem bigger

Wall Street Journal --

Some of Syria’s largest rebel factions are doubling down on their alliance with an al Qaeda-linked group [Fatah al-Sham], despite a U.S. warning to split from the extremists or risk being targeted in airstrikes.

Note the incoherence of the U.S. position: they're telling the other groups to split from Al/Nusra Front/Fatah al-Sham or they will be targeted, but in the midst of Russian indiscriminate bombing of everybody in rebel territory and with Fatah al-Sham as one of the few groups capable of fighting back.

If the White House really wants to weaken Fatah al-Sham, then they should provide some of the self-defence capabilities to the civilian population that the group currently provides.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Next undercover assignment for English newspapers

It's tough to have much sympathy for Sam Allardyce, out of the England manager job after 2 months after being taped offering consulting services on circumventing the rules of the player transfer market. But the media glee at having a major story overlooks one thing: the sports sections of the English newspapers are themselves vehicles for the "dark arts" in player moves, specifically by putting players who are legally under contract to one team into circulation as potentially available to another club, thereby undermining the player's commitment to his signed club. Note for example that the Paul Pogba transfer "speculation" has been going on for quite a while.

Legally, such cases are  potential tapping up, or tampering as the Americans say, and it's rampant.

Wouldn't it be great if a newspaper got on tape one of its own reporters offering to take cash to run a story about a star player interested in an unexpected move to another big name club? 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Moscow melange

Financial Times report on the quasi-official Kremlin global secessionists conference --

Delegates ranged from political movements with longstanding ties to Russia, including Irish splinter group Republican Sinn Féin, unrecognised statelets like Somaliland and the separatist Moldovan region of Transnistria, to the almost wilfully obscure. “Here in Hawaii, we have seen signs that the occupying force is losing its legitimacy as the truth becomes known,” said Edmund K. Silva Jr, a fisherman, kung fu instructor and self-proclaimed King of Hawaii.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Note of caution

Left (via Petra News Agency),  Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar who was assassinated in Amman today. Hattar effectively had a target painted on his back by being put on trial for insulting Islam as a result of sharing a derogatory cartoon on Facebook. That should be a warning to foreign policy elites about the virulence of violent Islamism in what's seen as the region's bulwark against it.

One other point: it will be appealing for western media to present Hattar as another freedom of speech casualty and move on. In fact, Hattar was a controversial figure in Arab politics and had gotten into a few scrapes in Lebanese politics in particular over the last couple of years. Presenting him in this more complex light is important in understanding the fault lines in regional politics regarding the Syrian war.

When Brexit was Fab

Tory leader (and dominant National Government member) Stanley Baldwin briefing the House of Commons ahead of the 1932 Imperial Economic Conference in Ottawa, quoted in Time magazine --

Certain Dominions will be asked at Ottawa to consider whether they have not gone a little too fast in industrial development, both for their own good and for that of the Empire as a whole.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Quote of the Day

Glenn Danzig in a New York Times Q&A --

It’s what’s missing I think from most music — the rebellious part. That rebelliousness is part of great rock music or great literature or any great creative stuff. The most rebelliousness I see now is coming out of WikiLeaks and DC Leaks and BlackListed News. All that pop that you see on the radio? It’s just the worst crud I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s designed to make money, and that’s about it. Pop music doesn’t challenge anything.

No cutesy White House-approved videos of offers to adopt Syrian children

Because, for one thing, the child in this case is dead. Civilians in Al-Marja, Syria, recover the corpse after another round of Putin-Assad airstrikes following the breakdown of the latest iteration of the Lavrov-Kerry Pact.

Photo: AFP published in New York Times.

His mind on his money and his money on his mind

Reuters --

Former European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Friday put up a spirited defence of his right to work for U.S. bank Goldman Sachs, after the commission opened an ethics probe into his move, and he accused it of acting arbitrarily. "Why would I not have the right to work where I choose, if it is a legal entity, obviously, not a drug cartel?" a visibly agitated Barroso, who is a former Portuguese prime minister, said in his first public comments to reporters at an event in Cascais near Lisbon.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Elite liberal pundit doubles down on pro-Trump strategy

In consecutive posts, Paul Krugman deploys the Orwellian "objectively pro-" usage to accuse "the media" of being objectively pro-Trump (a linguistic style that got its most famous outing in the Iraq war), and then goes on to accuse "the media" of engaging in "second-order" reporting about Trump -- in a post analyzing not what Trump said, but how it was reported!

Since extreme analogies are all the rage these days, if Trump wins, then the stab in the back will have been from liberal pundits.

Slovak sense

Compare the following European Union council meeting concluding paragraphs on migration --

Further to the decision to fully apply the Schengen Borders Code and the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement of 18 March 2016, crossings from Turkey to the Greek islands have sharply decreased and have now almost come to a halt. It is important to continue working actively to further stabilise the situation and to ensure a sustainable solution. The legislation recently adopted by Turkey on the treatment of both Syrians and other nationalities allows for the return of migrants to Turkey in full respect of the provisions on inadmissibility under the Asylum Procedures Directive. Considerable progress has been made by both sides to implement the full range of action points contained in the EU-Turkey statement and the European Council looks forward to further determined action. The European Council recalls the need to provide continued support to Western Balkan countries, including in their fight against smugglers, and to remain vigilant about potential developments regarding other routes so as to be able to take rapid and concerted action. Further action is required to accelerate the implementation of the existing relocation and resettlement schemes.


  • Never to allow return to uncontrolled flows of last year and further bring down number of irregular migrants 
  • Ensure full control of our external borders and get back to Schengen 
  • Broaden EU consensus on long term migration policy and apply the principles of responsibility and solidarity

The first is from the Council's meeting in June, immediately post-Brexit. The second is from the Bratislava meeting under the Slovakia EU Presidency a couple of days ago.

There is an extraordinary difference in language. The first is classic EU/ G20 style New Class stuff, written for each other and not the general public. The second follows an explicit commitment from Slovakia's EU Presidency to write in an accessible style for the public. Now it remains to be seen whether the actual policies will be any different. But, it's a good start!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Refined trolling

Russian Communist Party current parliamentary election campaign poster.

Image and context from the Wall Street Journal.

Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times, turning the grammar school debate into a broader rumination on the resilience of upper middle class privilege --

Maybe we go to war over marginal differences in school structure because other kinds of advantage are too awkward to confront.

Monday, September 12, 2016

How Seinfeld explains the world

Austrian Presidential election -- which was already a rerun due to dodgy postal vote procedures -- now has to be postponed because the envelopes have bad glue which apparently was bought because they got a discount.

Photo: Susan from "The Invitations."

Saturday, September 10, 2016

You won't believe the list of pundits helping elect Donald Trump

Paul Krugman. Matthew Yglesias. Josh Marshall. Franklin Foer.

Now that we've gotten your attention: Yes, it's true. The current liberal pundit strategy to stop Trump is at best not going to hurt him, and perhaps even help him. Why?

Let's begin with one dimension of this genre of punditry, which is its fondness for meta-narratives. Thus on the day when Donald Trump went to Mexico and then gave an immigration speech in Arizona, you'd have thought that the effort of liberal pundits would be on the content of what he said in Mexico City and Phoenix.

You'd be wrong. It was on what a frequently updated New York Times website story about what Trump said. Maybe there's a swing voter out there who was really on the fence until the early versions of the NYT Trump immigration speech were out. But besides the marginalization of audience inherent in that focus, there's another problem. The pundits were so energized by what Patrick Healy had expected Trump to say that they missed two bigger stories: Trump surprised (1) the Republican National Committee and (2) the President of Mexico with his speech. But by the time the pundits were done with the media criticism, they'd moved on.

Then there's the Trump-Putin theme. The original version of this was that Trump's campaign adviser Paul Manafort worked for Viktor Yanukovich, who was taking orders from Putin, therefore Trump is Putin's puppet. Lost in that theory was any hint of potential non-linerarity or subtlety in Ukrainian politics. For example, who first hired Manafort? It wasn't Putin or Yanukovich, but Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, whose interests are not the same as Putin's. Then there's the awkward fact of the Ukraine-EU partnership deal. Manafort wanted then President Yanukovich to sign it. Putin didn't. Putin won that argument. The rest is history.

Of course there's also the issue of motive. With the Obama administration, Putin has a dead-end investigation of MH17, a successful annexation of Crimea, proxy wars that have bogged down his opponents in eastern Ukraine and Syria, and the ability to consume huge amounts of NATO time simply by conducting military exercises on his western front. [Incidentally, the latest version of the Lavrov-Kerry Pact on Syria this evening cynically ignores the name change of Al Nusra Front and its comparative popularity, in the interests of having a joint target to bomb]. And that earlier era of Obama-Putin cooperation which gave Putin the advantage of surprise with his actions was launched by ... Hillary Clinton!

Now back to those meta narratives. The latest one is the Clinton Foundation. A phalanx of pundits has used platforms such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Vox, and tweetstorms to complain about "media" coverage of the foundation. Krugman in particular has expounded the theory that the "questions to answer" approach to investigative journalism is illegitimate -- even though that's the line of inquiry that opened up the question of Trump and Ukraine. Even more, the same pundits enraged at the idea that the proximity of Clinton Foundation to big money could affect policy views are sympathetic to the Obama diagnosis of Washington DC foreign policy thinking as excessively influenced by Arab cash infusions to DC think tanks.

Finally, there's just the casual inaccuracies. Trump went on Russian TV to criticize America! Er, he didn't. He did a Larry King podcast that was picked up by RT among other outlets [note: the TPM post mocking the "podcast" version of events in fact confirms that the Trump interview was not with RT, but an independent Larry King show licensed to RT, among others]. There's one of those drive-by hits every couple of days.

Maybe there's been a discussion among these pundits carefully conducted on ephemeral chat platforms rather than e-mail (journolist) that the awfulness of Trump justifies a certain level of hackery. Fine, maybe it does. But you should at least be sure that such a strategy will work! Perhaps there's evidence out there that an insular media-coverage based focus influences elections -- hence the War on Lauer. It's equally likely that typical voters just tune all this out, and decide based on their own assessments of what each candidate really thinks -- which won't necessarily correspond to their public statements. From that perspective, the susceptibiltity of the pundit class to trolling (by Trump, inter alia) -- by definition a statement intended to provoke rather than real -- is astonishing.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Some don't know, some don't care

New York Times corrections to their Gary Johnson's doesn't know what Aleppo is article.

The bigger point is that it's much more fun to discuss a candidate not knowing the name of a place than discussing what could be done to end the 4 years of misery in that place.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Lesser diplomacy

President Obama has cancelled his meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte which was supposed to be on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Laos later on Tuesday. It's been attributed to Duterte's apparent reference to him as a son-of-a-bitch. Thus as with the recent "HS Gavur" social media "outrage" one must dig a little into foreign language expletives to understand what was said. Duterte's departure news conference in Manila was indeed highly tendentious given that he was headed to a summit; he ranged across issues from the American treatment of Mexican migrants, to American extrajudicial killings, and American atrocities during its control of the Philippines.

And then that remark (for which so far only CNN Philippines seems to have a reliable account) --

Duterte also cautioned anyone in the Asean summit from bluntly asking him about the issue on alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. "You must be respectful. You must not just throw away questions. P*t*ng i*a, mumurahin kita dyan. [Son of a bitch, I'll curse you infront of everybody.] Tell that to everybody," Duterte said.

The remark was thus a little more indirect that being portrayed, but of course the broader context implied who the target was. Yet Obama may have been glad for an excuse to get out of the meeting, given its likely lack of productivity (even by summit standards).

Strange new respect

Reuters -- China on Monday leveled responsibility at the United States and journalists for a fracas at a Chinese airport, in which officials of both countries exchanged heated remarks as President Barack Obama disembarked from his aircraft. The comments by a foreign ministry spokeswoman were in response to questions whether China, which is hosting a G20 summit meeting in its eastern city of Hangzhou, intentionally failed to provide Obama's plane with a staircase, an event that has fueled speculation it was a diplomatic snub.

George W. Bush and the locked Chinese door photo via Washington Post.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

That other US foreign policy disaster

Beside the ones in the Middle East. Above, via Sudan Tribune, a photo of government soldiers near a village in South Sudan. South Sudan was brought into existence as a bipartisan policy choice by the USA, but it's been a humanitarian and kleptocratic disaster from Day 1. The manner in which the soldier on the left is holding his gun does not inspire confidence that this is an army with civilian safety as a top priority.

Among the stories not getting much attention in the Trump obsession is that an army atrocity at the Terrain Hotel specifically targeted Americans. Normally, Americans being targeted produces a strong US government response. 

Agent Trump, Mission Accomplished

New York Times analysis pointing out that the Obama administration has to incentive to override its instincts and be more proactive on Syria because Syria has not been a campaign issue --

In another election season, these are the kinds of questions that would be hotly debated. But the foreign policy debate has instead revolved mainly around the fitness of the Republican nominee, Mr. Trump, to be commander in chief. Mrs. Clinton, analysts said, has other reasons for not being drawn out on Syria. “A clear imperative for the Clinton campaign is to stay as close as possible to President Obama,” Mr. Hof said. “That means neither looking for, nor emphasizing, areas of disagreement, such as Syria.”

Who has benefitted from this state of affairs? --

The Russians have been pressing their advantage in recent months, bolstering Mr. Assad’s military as it claims more territory from the C.I.A.-backed rebels and the Nusra Front [sic] and gaining leverage as the diplomacy proceeds at a glacial pace.

How devious of Vladimir Putin to consume the prominent likes of Josh Marshall and Franklin Foer with a tantalizing trail of Putin-Trump puppetry and so distract the entire campaign from Syria resulting in continuation of the default Obama policy towards Syria, which is what Putin actually wants!

Parliamentary tactics and Devo

Explanation via Sydney Morning Herald.

Saturday, September 03, 2016


It's what you find when you "Pivot to Asia." Washington Post with great detail on the logistical disputes upon the landing of Air Force 1 in China today --

On the tarmac, as Obama’s staff scrambled to get lower-level stairs in place for him to disembark, White House press photographers traveling with him tried to get in their usual position to mark his arrival in a foreign country, only to find a member of the Chinese welcoming delegation screaming at them. He told the White House press corps they needed to leave. A White House official tried to intervene, saying this is our president and our plane and the media isn’t moving. The man yelled in response, “This is our country!” The man then entered into a testy exchange with Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, and her deputy, Ben Rhodes, while trying to block them from moving toward the front of the plane.

The extra nice detail here being that it's Ben Rhodes who thinks that the USA needed to dump old thinking that might have had it be pro-active about Syria, because there was always going to be something better to do in Asia!

Friday, September 02, 2016

Those Hillary e-mails

There is a lot of strange and unflattering information in the FBI's holiday weekend testimony dump regarding the Clinton e-mail practices, but one item also reveals the strange classification practices in the State Department. Why would an e-mail about a phone call to President Joyce Banda of Malawi have been classified (part 2 of testimony, page 8)?

Ships not banks

There's an ongoing crisis in global trade due to the bankruptcy of Korean shipper Hanjin (Reuters) --

Freight rates have also surged. Hanjin's collapse has come during the shipping industry's busiest season ahead of the year-end holidays. "The cost of shipping is now jumping through the roof and carriers are filing requests for a full increase in rates from Sept. 1," said Paul Tsui, managing director of the Janel Group in Hong Kong, a freight forwarding and logistics firm. He added that air freight volumes would probably rise to replace urgent orders stranded in ports or at sea. Hanjin accounts for 7.8 percent of trans-Pacific trade volume for the U.S. market and has a global client base. Of 8,281 owners of goods to be transported as of late August, 847 were South Korean firms, according to government data.

Yet there are no demands for bailouts, panic meetings "before the Asian markets open," or any of that other stuff from when banks were constantly needing infusions of public money. Does it reveal that moving around real goods that people actually use is mere economic background noise, but moving around financial quantities can't be undermined under any circumstances?

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Friday morning music

Sometimes the old ways are the best. Jeff Beck still has it.

Awkward dates

There's a lot to digest in the New York Times analysis of potential overlaps in interests and activities between Julian Assange/ Wikileaks and the Kremlin. But one weak point in the analysis is the presumption that any conclusion can be drawn from the fact that Wikileaks and Putin have a shared economic interest around Brexit, scuppering trans-atlantic and trans-pacific trade deals (lots of people don't like those deals), and the oil price. On that last one --

The Saudi documents, for instance, which highlighted efforts to manipulate world opinion about the kingdom, were published months after Mr. Putin accused the Saudis of holding down oil prices to harm the economies of Russia and its allies Iran and Venezuela.

The world oil price started its downward plunge in June 2014, so any date after that could be described as reflecting a grudge against the Saudis about oil prices. Specifically, Wikileaks published those documents on 19 June 2015. Around those days, Vladimir Putin was hosting an economic conference in Saint Petersburg, attendees at which included Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). The two met, as shown in the photo above, the day before the leak. If Putin was masterminding the timing of leaks, would he have chosen that day to do it? And if the Saudis felt they were being manipulated, would Prince MBS have met Putin again at the Sochi Formula 1 Grand Prix a few months later?