Thursday, September 28, 2017

News dump of the day

Reuters --

A Russian general killed in Syria had been seconded to the Syrian government as a military commander, Russia’s military chief of staff said on Wednesday.

So it's not just Russian support to the Assad regime; Russian officers are commanding Syrian military divisions. Which means that, among other things, if the Syrian military is carrying out war crimes ...

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Another German election map

There's a lot of trite German election analysis noting the role that the former east Germany played in driving the AfD vote. Other than fuzzy invoking of the Communist legacy and the point that this is a region of low in-migration, there's not much explanation as to why.

But the migration point gets us part of the way there. It's presented as an ostensible paradox: why does the region with low immigration vote for the anti-migrant party?

The answer is that migration is a two way process. It's not just that eastern Germany is a region of low immigration. Since 1990 it's been a region of massive out-migration, with major demographic effects on who now lives there. So those election maps are telling you about characteristics as much a region.

For one thing, eastern Germany has a skewed ratio of males, and non-working males at that. Any shade of blue in the chart is where the ratio female: male is less than 95 percent, and it's often far less than that. Migration affects quality of life even when it's people leaving than arriving. And people vote on that basis. So a strange conclusion: yes, the election was partly about Mrs Merkel's decision to let in 1 million Syrian migrants. But it's also about decisions nearly 3 decades ago that gave freedom of movement to eastern Germany.  

Quote of the Day

Wolfgang M√ľnchau in the Financial Times --

The FDP is probably the only Eurosceptic party in Europe that does not recognise itself as Eurosceptic.

This is one thing that has gotten lost in the election analysis. The AfD nutters are in opposition. The Free Democrats, representing a potent strain of centre-right Euroscepticism, will be in government. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Some things get worse

If the 1988 Saddam chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja had happened in the last few years, we can be assured that there would be a large social-media enabled denial industry at work -- denying that it happened, or denying that Saddam did it. Unfortunately, it's Syrians who have to live with that final insult to the dead. At least the Kurds can say that the cards eventually fell in their favour. 

So much winning we got tired of them winning

With "the Left" (however defined) headed for another extended period out of power in a major European country, the twilight zone which holds two of its former vote-magnets -- Gerhard Schroeder and Tony Blair -- looks odder by the year. Were they really that bad?

Photo: Hello. By the way, in the same Hello picture batch as this one from 2002, Donald Trump is pictured crowning a Miss Universe. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Quote of the Day

In the Financial Times, Simon Kuper on lessons from the Brexit experiment:

Negotiations get harder when you lose your counter-party's trust. That's what Greece discovered during its negotiations with the EU, says Greek economic analyst Paris Mantzavras of Pantelakis Securities. Mocking the other side in public — as Greece's Yanis Varoufakis did, and as British politicians now do regularly — is therefore a losing tactic.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Was he listening?

Petra (Jordan News Agency) version of the Trump -- King Abdullah talks at the UN, which is much more expansive than the White House version:

The talks stressed the need to intensify efforts aimed at moving the peace process forward through re-launching serious and effective negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. In this context, His Majesty emphasized the importance of the U.S. role in urging the Israelis to seriously consider such efforts. His Majesty warned that the failure to reach a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian issue based on the two-state solution undermines security and stability in the region and the whole world and fuels violence and extremism in the Middle East.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Migrant ex-Chancellor

Nigel Lawson championing the cause of Boris and Brexit in the Financial Times --

That is just as well, as a trade deal is in the gift of the EU, and there is no way they will offer us anything but a thoroughly bad deal (if that). That is not because they are anti-British. It is because there is widespread dissatisfaction with EU membership throughout Europe, not least in France, where I now live.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

No one is talking about leaving the gold standard

Daniel Hannan in the Telegraph (and yes, it's a really bonkers Sunday Telegraph edition) --

How many times, for example, have you heard it claimed that the Great Depression came to an end because of rearmament and war? It’s simply not true: Snowden and Chamberlain responded to the crash with sharp spending cuts and, in consequence, the 1930s saw some of the strongest growth in British history.

That's a laughable misreading of the UK's experience during the Great Depression, in which 1931 spending cuts made it worse, but the heterodox policies of devaluing the pound and imposing imperial preference tariffs helped. An additional irony is that Hannan presents his interpretation of the Great Depression within a context of claiming that Bastiat's broken-windows fallacy disproves any argument for the stimulus effect of government spending. 

Opaque Foundations

Liam Halligan and Gerard Lyons fulminate about "soft Brexit" in the Telegraph --

Why do we have a large deficit on our EU trade, but a sizeable surplus on our trade outside the EU?

While to them, that's an argument to switch towards non-EU trade, there's a problem. Because trade with the EU is allowing the UK to import things that make it more competitive in trade with non-EU countries!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The needs of the few

A boarded up once-busy commercial street in Hebron in the West Bank.

Although in the middle of a large Palestinian city, this street cannot be used by Palestinians. The centre of the city is frozen in what was meant to be a temporary arrangement from the 1990s.

It might be a worth a stop on the itinerary of the next Trump envoy to the Israel-Palestine peace process.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Bad timing

Maureen Dowd has a long New York Times profile of Leo Varadkar and picks an unfortunate anecdote --

“I don’t care whether his partner is man, woman or vegetable,” declared George Hook, a radio host, after Varadkar’s visit to Canada.

The fact that Hook went from person to vegetable as the hypothetical partner indicates that maybe he does care. But anyway, this is the weekend that Irish social media is dominated by Hook's latest unfortunate outburst, which as with such characters is merely a story because he went ever so slightly further than he normally does (in this case, supposed personal responsibility of victims for rape).

The magic touch

Reuters on a rapid relapse after what had seemed like a conciliatory phone call between Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman --

Qatar’s state news agency QNA said the phone call was based on coordination of U.S. President Donald Trump who had earlier talked with Sheikh Tamim. Trump on Thursday said he would be willing to step in and mediate the worst dispute in decades among the U.S.-allied Arab states and Qatar, and said he thinks a deal could come quickly. Both Qatar’s Emir and the Saudi Crown Prince “stressed the need to resolve the crisis by sitting down to the dialogue table to ensure the unity and stability of the GCC countries,” QNA reported. Sheikh Tamim welcomed the proposal of Prince Mohammed during the call “to assign two envoys to resolve controversial issues in a way that does not affect the sovereignty of the states,” QNA said. Saudi Arabia later issued a second statement citing an unnamed official at the ministry of the foreign affairs denying the QNA report. “What was published on the Qatar News Agency is a continuation of the distortion of the Qatari authority of the facts,” SPA reported citing the Saudi official.

Although the Saudis cited the issue of who requested the phone call as the distortion, the events suggest that instead they saw the Trump initiative as forced, and then looked for a way out. The dispute with Qatar flared up after Trump's attendance at the Riyadh summit, which the Saudis apparently took as a signal that they had the go-ahead from him to isolate Qatar. This is one foreign policy mess that could last a long time. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Starving people can't revolt

Wall Street Journal on North Korea options:

Withholding food aid to bring down a government would normally be unethical, but North Korea is an exceptional case. Past aid proved to be a mistake as it perpetuated one of the most evil regimes in history. The U.N. says some 40% of the population is undernourished, even as the Kims continue to spend huge sums on weapons. Ending the North Korean state as quickly as possible is the most humane course.

Monday, September 04, 2017


The seemingly endless Syrian civil war is sometimes presented as a backhanded tribute to the resilience of the al-Assad regime. But the precedent for regime survival in the wake of the Arab Spring through the use of force was set not by Bashar al-Assad, but by Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Now of course Saleh is not officially in power in Yemen these days, instead in an awkward coalition with the Houthi-led de facto government in Sanaa while the internationally recognized government in Aden relies on external military force for its authority. Yet the fact that Saleh is still a force in Yemen at all is astounding, given that he was seriously injured in a mysterious explosion at his palace in June 2011, and formally (if reluctantly) resigned at the end of that year, with the circumstances of his return from Riyadh to Yemen never fully explained.

Anyway, he has remained a key power broker since then, with the current internal crisis in the governing alliance triggered by concerns that he could be reinstalled as President as a way to break the military stalemate that has been a disaster for the Yemeni people. The photo above shows a large pro-Saleh demonstration held in Sanaa last week.

In terms of timeline, the Al-Assads were barely getting started on their war when Saleh, already dealing with insurrection for years, was nearly killed in that June 2011 attack. And he's done it with no obvious source of external support. The lesson is that for leaders ruthless and calculating enough, it's very very difficult to remove them, even in dire circumstances for their country.

Photo via Al Arabiya.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

It was the same year as Katrina

Brexit means ... Wider Europe?

Leading Brextwit Daniel Hannan in the Telegraph --

Of the 47 states in the Council of Europe, 19 are outside the EU, and many are happy that way. Public opinion in all four EFTA countries, for example, is overwhelmingly against joining. Britain, whose economy is larger than that of those 19 states combined, might aim to organise an outer tier, linked to the EU through a common market, not a common government. We should seek over time to build a prosperity zone from Iceland to Israel, from Ukraine to Morocco, within which the EU can pursue political union, surrounded by friends.

What percentage of Leave voters think they voted for a deep free trade deal with Iceland, Israel, Morocco, Ukraine, and all the other countries on the EU periphery?

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Swiss time will run out

Daniel Hannan -- still collecting a salary from the European Parliament -- keeps saying that Britain can get a Swiss-style deal post-Brexit. He said it again today at the FT Weekend Festival. The chart above shows how Switzerland manages its EU relations: a complex set of bilateral agreements, which include Switzerland agreeing to enforce EU provisions within its borders despite not being an EU member. Note the length of time it takes to put these treaties together, even for a country highly integrated economically and geographically with the EU.