Saturday, December 30, 2017

Military trolling

A Russian air force pilot at yet another Syria Mission Accomplished event with Master of Ceremonies Vladimir Putin --

Meeting in the air with our partners in the Western coalition, we always appeared to them, as the pilots say, "on the tail," which means victory in real combat.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Planning Ahead

Walter Isaacson's concluding chapter of his Leonardo biography clearly has in mind conference speeches/ management motivational boondoggles and Ted talks on the theme of what large organizations can Learn from Leonardo.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Central Planning

Wall Street Journal Weekend interview with Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, "the Senate's leading intellectual force for growth economics" --

There will be “estimates all across the board,” he continues [for growth effect of tax cuts]. “Joint Tax will have theirs, and private economists will have theirs. But just ask yourself at a gut level: Do you think it’s plausible that we can go from the 1.9% [growth] that CBO currently projects, to 2.3% average growth over the next 10 years, if we do a great job with the tax-reform bill?”

The fact that Toomey holds, and sold the tax cut to his colleagues on the basis of, a high confidence that this particular tax legislation will increase growth by 0.4 percentage points annually -- with all the other things that could happen and the huge prospect for changes in tax behaviour -- is a perfect illustration of the economic philosophy of the Republican party. Pull some levers, and 0.4 percent more widgets come off the assembly line!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Long lasting crazy

This  British "blue passport" obsession has been going for a long time. House of Commons debate on the EEC, 1975, Reginald Maudling, then in opposition --

There was a small point which arose in Rome concerning passports, and I did not understand it. It was suggested in the Press that some new European passport is to take the place of the British passport. I would regret that very much. I still cling, old-fashioned as I am, to the British passport and to the words which refer to Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State requesting and requiring, in the name of the Queen, that people should give us facilities. I hope that that will not be abandoned. If it is, it will be one of those examples of people trying to substitute for the substance of European unity a form of unity which pleases and helps no one. 

Above, Bernadette Devlin speaking to reporters after slapping Maudling on the floor of the House of Commons after Bloody Sunday in 1972.

Not concealing anything

Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu at military strategy conference in Moscow today, speaking immediately after Vladimir Putin --

Priceless combat experience in Syria was received by more than 48 thousand military men of the Russian army, of which more than 14 thousand were awarded with state awards. 80 percent of the operational-tactical crews and 90 percent of the army aviation have from 100 to 120 sorties. The long-range aviation crews received practice of striking at important militant targets. In total, the Aviation and Space Forces of Russia carried out 34 thousand sorties during two years. For the first time, pilots of ship aviation from the heavy aircraft carrying cruiser Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov participated in combat operations, 420 combat sorties were performed by them. High-precision long-range missiles Caliber, X-101, Iskander, Tochka-U, X-55 and others were used for the most important targets of the militants. Ships and submarines inflicted 100 blows, and strategic aircraft - 66 shots at a range of 500 to 1,5 thousand kilometers. Each missile struck the assigned target.

And that's not even the end of his list. Russia's intervention in Syria was a massive military operation, glossed over in gullible media accounts which made it sound like sporadic technical and mostly air and long-range artillery support. Despite yet another Russian announcement of a scale down, their operations continue, both directly and in support of the Assad regime, as manifested in the continuing humanitarian crisis in Ghouta (the scene of the first of the large scale regime chemical weapons attacks).

Note to readers: you could free up a lot of time in your life between mid-June and mid-July by not watching the FIFA 2018 World Cup, taking place in Russia. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

This one expression explains everything about Brexit

Unicorn Slaughter.

From the Financial Times report that the EU is preparing a magic-busting Canada plus just a little bit as their post-transition trade deal with the UK, given the unrealism of what the UK is likely to propose otherwise --

They [EU] expected the first months of 2018 to involve some “unicorn slaughter” as Britain’s illusions were confronted.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Get poor or die trying

The single most disingenuous clause in US House Speaker Paul Ryan's lie-ridden WSJ pitch for the tax legislation --

This is about helping a middle class that has been squeezed by a tax code that is expensive, complicated and skewed toward special interests. Nearly 8 in 10 Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck; nearly half say a $500 surprise bill or emergency would put them in debt.

A major source of such an "emergency" would be healthcare costs, the ability with which to cope is busily being shredded by ... Paul Ryan!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Up the Republic

Since rational arguments against the Trump-Ryan-McConnell tax bill aren't making much progress, it might time for a maximalist one: that since the tax bill will be signed by a President to whom the bill grants large but unknown tax benefits, it violates Article IV Section 4 of the US Constitution:
the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government. The head of state has pushed for, and will enact, a law from which he and family will derive big gains.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Jerusalem/ Al-Quds

BBC Sports website advertising choice during the updates on the Hearts win over Celtic. 

Flexible interpretation

Nick Timothy was Theresa May's co-chief of staff up to the botched general election this year, and a key scribe on her Brexit speeches. He's now arguing that her infamous "citizens of nowhere" speech at the Conservative Party conference on 5 October 2016 was not about Remainers, and points to the Red Tory section of the speech where it was coupled with indictments of tax avoidance and financial self-dealing. But, earlier in the speech, she said --

For the referendum was not just a vote to withdraw from the EU. It was about something broader – something that the European Union had come to represent. It was about a sense – deep, profound and let’s face it often justified – that many people have today that the world works well for a privileged few, but not for them.

Thus, she was equating the EU with what she could criticise in the later part of the speech. Since Timothy contributed to the speech, he should know that.

Incidentally, that "citizens of nowhere" line (which also nodded to Bannonism) was not even the worst part of the speech. That honour goes to --

But let’s state one thing loud and clear: we are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration all over again. And we are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That’s not going to happen.

That commitment to leave ECJ jurisdiction set up the still-unresolved dilemma of the Customs Union, which was never a point of debate in the referendum. The ECJ issue bubbled up in the Tory hierarchy during 2017, possibly due to a simple misunderstanding in the Johnson household about what the ECJ was. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Thinker

Wall Street Journal editorial applauds the Republican tax "cut" bill --

... Speaker Paul Ryan deserves particular notice for years of intellectual and political spadework.

Just in case you think Paul Krugman is exaggerating when he describes Paul Ryan's image in the media.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Quote of the Day

Simon Kuper in the Financial Times --

Last week’s deal with the EU may leave the UK tracking Irish regulations for ever (or as Brexiters call it, “freedom”).

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Chuckle Brother

New York Times story a couple of weeks ago on how Donald Trump still believes all the crazy stuff he said before the election --

One senator who listened as the president revived his doubts about Mr. Obama’s birth certificate chuckled on Tuesday as he recalled the conversation. The president, he said, has had a hard time letting go of his claim that Mr. Obama was not born in the United States. The senator asked not to be named to discuss private conversations.

New York Times story today on Trump's daily routine --

“He feels like there’s an effort to undermine his election and that collusion allegations are unfounded,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who has spent more time with the president than most lawmakers. “He believes passionately that the liberal left and the media are out to destroy him. The way he got here is fighting back and counterpunching.

There's a lot of connective tissue between the two stories (not least in terms of a common byline, Maggie Haberman), which suggests that Lindsey Graham is in fact the source for the first anecdote.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Quote of the Day

The FT's Sebastian Payne in an excellent roundup of UK 2017 Election/ Brexit books --

The biggest strategic error was the clash between Crosby’s “strong and stable” message and Team May’s vision of radical social and economic reform. Selling this message of change in six weeks, during an election that was supposed to be about Brexit, was to prove impossible. The manifesto, which sought to define a new type of blue-collar Conservatism by tackling what Timothy saw as the five great injustices in British society, did not tap into a natural voting constituency ... Timothy’s dream of remoulding the Conservative party into a force that speaks more to the people of northern provinces was over. This Red Toryism, as some have termed it, remains an interesting theory that has yet to find a successful vehicle.

Red Toryism has an American analogue in the Reformicons, a group of conservative pundits and intellectuals selling a very similar claim, that there is a package of conservative-leaning economic and social policies that can appeal to lower middle and working class voters. Donald Trump may have gotten a little closer to finding that recipe -- as a candidate -- but it's clear that the cultural component of the appeal is more important than the economic one. Notice for example the signs at Trump's Pensacola rally last night: his most energized supporters really believe that the "establishment" is out to suppress Christmas. No tweaking of taxes and incentives is going to deal with that.

AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman

Friday, December 08, 2017

The new Anglo-Irish Agreement

From the Brexit negotiations first stage agreement --

In the absence of agreed solutions, as set out in the previous paragraph, the United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, unless, consistent with the 1998 Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland. In all circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland's businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market. 

 ... . Both Parties acknowledge that the 1998 Agreement recognises the birth right of all the people of Northern Ireland to choose to be Irish or British or both and be accepted as such. The people of Northern Ireland who are Irish citizens will continue to enjoy rights as EU citizens, including where they reside in Northern Ireland. Both Parties therefore agree that the Withdrawal Agreement should respect and be without prejudice to the rights, opportunities and identity that come with European Union citizenship for such people and, in the next phase of negotiations, will examine arrangements required to give effect to the ongoing exercise of, and access to, their EU rights, opportunities and benefits. 5

... Both Parties recognise that the United Kingdom and Ireland may continue to make arrangements between themselves relating to the movement of persons between their territories (Common Travel Area), while fully respecting the rights of natural persons conferred by Union law. The United Kingdom confirms and accepts that the Common Travel Area and associated rights and privileges can continue to operate without affecting Ireland’s obligations under Union law, in particular with respect to free movement for EU citizens.

In other words, Ireland got the following: the UK had to assert that Northern Ireland remains part of the UK, the more than Northern Ireland residents take Irish citizenship, the more it becomes an EU enclave, and Ireland can continue to have its own special arrangements for its citizens resident in the UK.

This is a demolition of the Tory/ DUP Brexit.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Another Riyadh Orb

Tom Friedman, writing about Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (2 weeks before his visit to Riyadh) --

Hearing that Saudi princes were arrested for “corruption” is like reading that Donald Trump fired seven cabinet secretaries “for lying.” You know it has to be something else. Trump obviously missed the story last year that M.B.S. impulsively bought a yacht while on vacation in the south of France — it just caught his fancy in the harbor — from its Russian owner for $550 million. Did that money come out of his piggy bank? Savings from his Riyadh lemonade stand? From his Saudi government 401(k)?

The Wall Street Journal is today reporting that the mystery buyer of the "lost da Vinci" painting Salvator Mundi is in fact MBS (yesterday's version, that another prince known only for real estate investments had bought it, was clearly implausible),

The sequencing of him buying a painting of Jesus (possibly as a gift to the Louvre Abu Dhabi) while Jerusalem goes through its current travails is awkward. Implicit in the revelation is that US intelligence leaked the news as a warning to MBS not to make too much noise about Jerusalem.

UPDATE: Important detail from the New York Times --

The Times on Wednesday sent detailed questions about the purchase to Prince Bader. The newspaper also contacted the Saudi Embassy in Washington. Three intermediaries for Prince Bader, including two affiliated with the embassy, asked The Times to delay publication to await a response from Prince Bader. But at the end of the day the intermediaries said Prince Bader would decline to speak, and around the same time, the Louvre Abu Dhabi said on Twitter that it was expecting to receive “Salvator Mundi,” at which point The Times published its article.

Other than the tweet, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has supplied no details on the processology of its acquisition, but it was convenient to have the story appear right at the NYT deadline!

By Leonardo da Vinci - Getty Images, Public Domain,

Less optimistic than Trump

House of Commons, 27 April 1950 --

Winston Churchill: Does not the hon. Gentleman (Foreign Office Minister of State Kenneth Younger) realise that Dr. Weizmann (President of Israel) and King Abdullah (of Jordan) have both, over the vicissitudes of 20 or 30 years, shown themselves always staunch friends to this country, and will he avail himself to the full of the possibilities of bringing these two eminent men into the closest harmonious contact? Am I right in assuming that that is the general path upon which the Government are embarked and which is expressed in the statement to which we have just listened?

That was part of a general mood that the Israel - Palestinian issue was still solvable in a modest time frame, and a process that the UK thought it was advancing by recognizing Jordanian control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The UK became the only country to recognize the expanded Jordan (the oft-repeated claim that Pakistan also did is contested), and in any event it became moot after the Six Day Year.

Anyway, the point is that there's a precedent for one country thinking it can get out in front of a complex process with a unilateral step. 

Stay classy, DUP

DUP MP Nigel Dodds -- who may be the deepest of the true believers in the Sunlit Uplands vision of Brexit -- in the House of Commons yesterday during a debate a potential amendment to the Brexit bill being offered by Independent Unionist Sylvia Hermon --

Could the hon. Lady answer the question posed by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who asked whether she accepts, as he does, that it is a good idea to have regulatory convergence and common rules between Northern Ireland and the Republic? Could she give a straight answer to that, because many in Northern Ireland now view her as being on the side of the Dublin Government on these issues?

Lady Hermon:  I thank the right hon. Gentleman so much for that. [Interruption.] Yes, what do you do in response to that? 

Nigel Dodds:  Answer!

Wednesday, December 06, 2017


There's not much to say that's not already been said about Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but his speech -- besides afflicted in delivery by an apparent mouth ulcer -- was incoherent, probably reflecting multiple authors.

On the one hand, saying that the recognition was the culmination of the Zionist vision of Israel -- that having created a modern country, it deserved a capital.

On the other hand, repeated references to the multiple religious claims on Jerusalem, which would be one of the best arguments against a unilateral decision on its status.

His focus on the specific details of getting a new US Embassy -- "architects, engineers, and planners" -- suggests that one explanation for the decision may be that, in his mind, a US Embassy in Jerusalem will be a monument to the legacy of ... Donald J. Trump.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Arabia Brutus

Saudi Arabia knows a sucker when it sees one. That's US Energy Secretary Rick Perry clowning with Saudi Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih during a visit to the Kingdom. The government has long since figured out that a little desert pageantry buys a lot of White House acquiescence. 

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Nice family you've got there

Reuters --

Former Egyptian prime minister Ahmed Shafik, who last week announced his intention of running for the presidency in 2018, has been taken from his home in the United Arab Emirates and is being deported to Egypt, his family told Reuters on Saturday.

UAE news agency (WAM) --

An official source has announced that the former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq has left the UAE heading to Cairo, Egypt. In a statement, the source added that the family of the former Egyptian Prime Minister is still in the UAE under generous care of the country.

Arabian Reformer

Saudi Press Agency --

An official source declared to the Saudi Press Agency that the allegations published by some sources in good intention or otherwise that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is embarked on abolishing the apostasy penalty are altogether false and incorrect. The source explained that such groundless claims are absurd according to the ruling system of governance and as per the practices of this blessed country since its institution. He confirmed that the public prosecution is embarked on taking the necessary legal measures to sue who dared to disseminate such lies which go contrary to the constitution of this country. The source stressed that such issue was already determined and un-negotiable at all in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Luckily this issue didn't bubble up during Tom Friedman's visit last week.

Short shelf life

New York Times' Peter Baker 3 months ago --

Now in the White House, President Trump demonstrated this past week that he still imagines himself a solitary cowboy as he abandoned Republican congressional leaders to forge a short-term fiscal deal with Democrats. Although elected as a Republican last year, Mr. Trump has shown in the nearly eight months in office that he is, in many ways, the first independent to hold the presidency since the advent of the current two-party system around the time of the Civil War.

With an atrocious tax bill about to pass due to a strong alignment of the White House with House and Senate Republicans, has any piece of political analysis of Trump aged more quickly?