Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Quote of the Day

"Social networks are a murky source”

Vladimir Putin, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, visiting the city of the Siberian mall fire disaster, where multiple accounts of what happened are proliferating. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Shiny Swan

New York Times on Egyptian Presidential election --

With the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power putting Mr. Sisi’s odds of losing at 1 in 500, most Egypt watchers are already looking past the vote that starts Monday to his next challenge: whether he can change the Constitution to extend his rule beyond the current eight-year limit.

Is there any reason for Paddy Power to quote odds on the Egyptian Presidential election other than to be cited in news articles as quoting odds on bizarre scenarios?

Friday, March 23, 2018

Running the tap and flushing while Irish

These are average monthly water and sewage bills for families in the indicated cities in 2015.

The Irish left has attached itself to the cause that the right equivalent number for Irish families is zero. And they shouted about it enough that they won.

Chart from Circle of Blue via Julia Norgaard

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Bombing while white

The Austin murderer "blew himself up" (New York Times, Reuters) while today's Kabul murderer was a "suicide bomber" (New York Times, Reuters).

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Custodian of the Crazy Brexiteers

Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman meets Queen Elizabeth II in London -- without bowing!

Photo: SPA.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018


In Cairo on Monday, Coptic Pope Tawadros II meets with visiting Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman at St Mark's Cathedral.

Consider this meeting in light of (1) Saudi Arabia's conventional portrayal as hostile to Christianity and (2) the fact that Pope Tawadros refused to meet with US Vice President Mike Pence in January, despite the latter styling himself as a champion of Christianity in the Middle East. 

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Money for Oil

There's a lot of excitement about a potential Trump - Russia strand that runs through the partial privatization of Rosneft in which the Qatar Investment Authority was part of a group (with Glencore) that bought a 19.5 percent stake in the company. For example, in Slate, there's a shaky logical chain running from that deal to Jared Kushner not getting a loan from the Qataris later in 2017, orchestrating the June crisis in the Gulf, and later getting a loan from a Qatari-backed entity. The link back to the Rosneft deal is supposed to be through the Qataris, but the link back to Trump is supposed to be through a Carter Page angle to the Rosneft deal - which never happened!

Anyway, for the present purpose, the point is that the actual flows of money associated with the Rosneft deal are not clear. From the start, well informed Russians and outside analysts suspected that the deal was actually a round trip of Russian state bank cash into the Russian exchequer, with the Qataris and Glencore agreeing to put their name to the transaction in exchange for (1) a nice fee, (2) being pals with Putin, and (3) an understanding that the shareholding would eventually be placed with someone else.

Evidence for this interpretation includes that the two shareholders put up almost no cash for their stake. Instead, the money came mostly from a loan to them from an Italian bank, Intesa, which had trouble offloading the loan through syndication (because of sanctions) and eventually found a solution in the sale of the share to a Chinese company. To say the least, finding any simple Trump angle in such a convoluted transaction is not easy.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

War for oil

A couple of weeks ago there was a lot of intrigue around an encounter between Russian mercenaries in Syria and US armed forces; a combination of pro-Assad militias and the Russians ran into much tougher opposition (Kurdish militia backed by US) than they are used to (civilians and poorly organized rebels) and it ended badly for them. Amid much theorizing about what was the motivation for the botched attack (e.g. Putin thought he could embarrass Trump), the Financial Times has a much, much simpler explanation:

For now, some [Russian] businesses are using unconventional methods to position themselves in Syria. Mr Jawabra said Evropolis, a company linked to an ally of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is receiving revenues from Syrian oil wells in territory captured from Isis by a Russian private military contractor.

Fontanka, a Russian website, last year reported that mercenaries had secured deals under which they would receive a cut of income from oilfields they captured, but Mr Jawabra is the first official to confirm it.

"I don't know how many wells, and how big a cut they get," he said. "But there are others as well. It may be one model that helps get around the problem with the sanctions."

Note that the botched attack was on an oil facility. Thus, the Russian mercenaries in Syria need to capture oil to get paid. If you adjusted the labels on this mechanism (e.g. change "Russia" to "USA" and "Syria" to "Iraq), it might even be a scandal!

Wenger is doomed

The FT weekly lunch slot is with Chris Ruddy at Mar-a-Lago:

We walk down to the beachfront, past the president's quarters and some of the cottages built for club members. In the middle distance, a boy in an Arsenal shirt is kicking a football around — he appears to be the president's 11-year-old son, Barron.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Cargo ship diplomacy

From the latest Theresa May speechifying on Brexit --

First, our agreement will need reciprocal binding commitments to ensure fair and open competition. Such agreements are part and parcel of any trade agreement. After all, why would any country enter into a privileged economic partnership without any means of redress if the other party engaged in anti-competitive practices?

Because the means of redress in a typical trade agreement is simply to retaliate and ultimately suspend the agreement, since more intrusive but less disruptive means of redress is precisely what the UK says it doesn't want. This has already been pointed out to the government by their own technical analysis. 

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Same as it ever was

From Emma, by Jane Austen (published 1815) --

(Emma speaking) “So obliging of you! No, we should not have heard, if it had not been for this particular circumstance, of her being to come here so soon. My mother is so delighted!—for she is to be three months with us at least. Three months, she says so, positively, as I am going to have the pleasure of reading to you. The case is, you see, that the Campbells are going to Ireland. Mrs. Dixon has persuaded her father and mother to come over and see her directly. They had not intended to go over till the summer, but she is so impatient to see them again—for till she married, last October, she was never away from them so much as a week, which must make it very strange to be in different kingdoms, I was going to say, but however different countries, and so she wrote a very urgent letter to her mother—or her father, I declare I do not know which it was, but we shall see presently in Jane’s letter—wrote in Mr. Dixon’s name as well as her own, to press their coming over directly, and they would give them the meeting in Dublin, and take them back to their country seat, Baly-craig, a beautiful place, I fancy. Jane has heard a great deal of its beauty; from Mr. Dixon, I mean—I do not know that she ever heard about it from any body else; but it was very natural, you know, that he should like to speak of his own place while he was paying his addresses—and as Jane used to be very often walking out with them—for Colonel and Mrs. Campbell were very particular about their daughter’s not walking out often with only Mr. Dixon, for which I do not at all blame them; of course she heard every thing he might be telling Miss Campbell about his own home in Ireland; and I think she wrote us word that he had shewn them some drawings of the place, views that he had taken himself. He is a most amiable, charming young man, I believe. Jane was quite longing to go to Ireland, from his account of things.”

Is Ireland any better understood in the elite classes in England now as Austen gently indicates was not the case then?

The storm with no name

The latest installment on the UK-Ireland weather service American import of naming winter storms: the blizzard hitting the countries is being referred to as Storm Emma, even though (1) there was no Storm Emma in the list of names for 2017-18 and (2) the low pressure system which is being named is not the feature that's causing all the snow.

Instead, Emma was named by the Portuguese weather service, and its collusion with an off-track Siberian jet stream is producing the blizzard.

Anyway, the American weather hype has moved on. Out goes named winter storms, and in comes impressive sounding weather physics. Thus, this weekend in the northeast will see an event due to Miller-B Cyclogenesis!

The Lavrov-Kerry Pact

Obama era National Security Adviser Susan Rice in a valedictory interview, January 16, 2017

We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.

New York Times story yesterday with  yet more revelations about Syria's continuing chemical weapons program --

Mallory Stewart, a former State Department official who was involved in the Obama administration’s efforts to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program, said that there were always concerns that the Assad government had not listed all of its chemical weapons stockpile on its declared inventory of what it gave up. The report, she says, “confirms everything we’ve been saying.” “Certainly what we tried to do in the last administration is dismantle the entire chemical weapons program,” Ms. Stewart said, “which we know they never did.”