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

Durability


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. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Headline of the Day

Theresa May, the Arsène Wenger of politics — but without the wins 

That's an opinion piece by Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times..

Memories

Donald Trump, in Missouri yesterday, making a sales pitch for a tax cut at a time when Texas is going to need a lot of money --

Fourth and finally, we want to bring back trillions of dollars in wealth that's parked overseas. Because of our high tax rate and horrible, outdated, bureaucratic rules, large companies that do business overseas will often park their profits offshore to avoid paying a high United States tax if the money is brought back home. So they leave the money over there. The amount of money we're talking about is anywhere from $3 trillion to $5 trillion. Can you believe that? By making it less punitive for companies to bring back this money, and by making the process far less bureaucratic and difficult, we can return trillions and trillions of dollars to our economy and spur billions of dollars in new investments in our struggling communities and throughout our nation.

Donald Trump's Scottish spokesman George Sorial, in November 2008 --

DONALD Trump has £1 billion in cash "sitting in the bank and ready to go" to fund the Menie Estate development in Aberdeenshire ... Sorial said: "The money is there, ready to be wired at any time. I am not discussing where it is, whether it is in a Scottish bank or what, but it is earmarked for this project. If we needed to put the development up tomorrow, we have the cash to do that. It is sitting there in the bank and is ready to go."

That quote later became a problem for Trump because he was saying that at the same time that he was suing Deutsche Bank for US$3 billion on the grounds that their loan terms had caused him financial problems on a Chicago development (and that he should be able to get out of the loan because the global financial crisis was force majeure).

Anyway, what ever happened to that £1 billion in cash?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Henhouse finds Fox boring

With the confirmation yesterday (Reuters) that Rupert Murdoch's US operation has dumped the Fox News Channel feed from the Sky platform, the questions are focusing on why it was dropped -- ratings, political awkwardness?

In fact, the ratings numbers (possibly as little 2000 viewers a day) point to the real question: why was it ever on Sky in the first place? It stood out in that lineup not because of the propaganda (RT and Press TV already in that space), but because of the garish red and blue colour scheme and the happy talk format borrowed from its New York City local news foundations. It's as good a time as any to recall that Rupert Murdoch once thought that the problem with the Sky News channel is that it wasn't enough like Fox News; he said that to the House of Lords Communications Committee tour of the USA in 2007 --

He believed that Sky News would be more popular if it were more like the Fox News Channel. Then it would be “a proper alternative to the BBC”. One of the reasons that it is not a proper alternative to the BBC is that no broadcaster or journalist in the UK knows any different. Mr Murdoch stated that Sky News could become more like Fox without a change to the impartiality rules in the UK. For example Sky had not yet made the presentational progress that Fox News had. He stated that the only reason that Sky News was not more like Fox news was that “nobody at Sky listens to me”.

Even in Brexit-crazed Britain, those supposed presentational skills weren't drawing any viewers. So perhaps it was just there as a vanity project, so that when 21st Century Fox executives and affiliated pundits were flicking around the hotel TV channels on their London junkets, they could indulge a sense of conservative clowning as a true Anglosphere project. But it turns out that such things don't easily cross borders. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The constraining effect of clubs

Another UK position paper for the Brexit negotiations; this one (unlike the trade and Irish border papers), a tad more realistic about the likely continued role of the European Court of Justice. But inconsistencies nonetheless. Here's the discussion of potential frameworks for future international agreements by the UK (paragraph 60) --

In international agreements, final remedies are principally retaliatory in nature and implemented unilaterally by the parties. This includes the ability to take safeguard measures to mitigate any negative effects from the other party’s noncompliance as well as the option to suspend all or part of the agreement (or several linked agreements), or, ultimately, withdraw from the agreement (or several linked agreements). The ability of the European Commission and the CJEU within the EU legal system to impose sanctions, such as fines for non-compliance with EU rules, is exceptional.

This is mentioned without a hint of acknowledgment of the irony that the UK is therefore choosing to leave the most rules-based international agreement in the world, one that operates without self-defeating unilateral punitive and protective measures, into a world where such remedies will be the norm in agreements. And all this in a context where Brexiteers complain that the EU is "punishing us for leaving!"

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The details of trade

Influential Brexiteer, Tory MP Bernard Jenkin writing the Financial Times and declaring optimism on Brexit --

The EU has no case for requiring British companies to prove origin if the UK is still applying the EU tariff on all non-EU imports.

This style of breezy assertion is typical. But it reveals deep misunderstanding about how modern international trade works. By referring to companies needing to "prove origin," Jenkin seems to think all trade is like wine and cheese: origin is intrinsic to where the good was produced. But the actual terminology is rules of origin -- an extremely complex set of rules tailored to supply chains where most goods contain materials and processing from different countries.

Jenkin thinks that as long as Britain maintains the EU tariff, it is entitled to tariff-free access to the EU. But that would depend on the preferential rules of origin that the EU would be entitled to impose on any such agreement with Britain. Practical questions such as: would British exports to the EU be allowed to count EU content and processing along the chain as UK origin for the purposes of tariff-free access? Would content and processing from the EFTA or Mediterranean countries that follow the same rules of origin also count? Incidentally, those countries don't apply the EU tariff but do apply the same rules of origin on EU trade, contrary to Jenkin's view of how such trade works. All those issues and many others would have to be negotiated -- declaring that the EU "has no case" is simply irrelevant.

But these people (Ray Bassett is another example) can get platforms in prominent opinion pages with demonstrably incoherent arguments.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Division

Superb analysis from El Pais of the tensions between Catalonia and the central government in Madrid which form a subtext of the response to the atrocities in the region. In particular, it took nearly a full day for Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy and Catalan President Carlos Puigdemont to have their first meeting on the crisis.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Never going to get it

We have read Ray Bassett in the Daily Telegraph so that you don't have to:

In fact, the alternative, involving Ireland leaving the EU, opting out of the EU customs regime and staying in a free trade and customs union with the UK, may well be the better approach. It would allow the Irish to stay in the European Economic Area (EEA), like Norway, and still have free access to the EU market for its products.

That's the core misunderstanding of the West Brexiters; the same mistake appears in Bassett's Policy Exchange report (incidentally, Policy Exchange is now describing him as a Senior Fellow). If Ireland stays in the EEA Single Market while the UK is outside (as the government has said it will be), all the same problems that happen with Brexit still happen: the UK's non-compliance with EEA rules with make an open border with an EEA member, Ireland, incompatible. These are bilateral people bewildered by a multilateral world.

UPDATE: Policy Exchange Senior Fellow Ray Bassett says that Ireland should stay in the single market while leaving the EU. Here's Policy Exchange Chief Economic Adviser Gerard Lyons explaining why the UK will leave the Single Market (FT today) --

The [transition] plan has to be seen in the context of the need to leave both the EU single market and the customs union. This is the best way to maximise the economic benefits of Brexit. Outside the single market, Britain would save its EU contribution, determine its own laws, regulations and migration quotas. Outside the customs union, it can escape EU protectionism, cut trade deals and set its own tariffs.

Policy Exchange needs to have a staff meeting where they clarify internally how a UK-Ireland open border and differing participation in the single market can be reconciled.

From Tricolour to True Colours

Daily Telegraph Opinion Page --

The EU is becoming less hospitable for Ireland – it's time it joined Britain in leaving 
RAY BASSETT 
By setting out its plan for avoiding a “hard border” between the Republic and Northern Ireland, the UK Government has emphasised once again the strength of the UK and Ireland’s common interests. The new Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, had already laid down the maintenance of the present invisible border as a red line in any EU/UK deal.

That's one of three opinion pieces (2, 3) on the same page today all pursuing the strategy signalled in the UK government "position papers" on Brexit released over the last few days -- to present fantasy solutions to the post-Brexit border problem and then blame the EU, and Ireland, for the reality check.

Bassett had in the past had couched his arguments about Ireland leaving the EU as something to be "seriously considered" and complaints that the Irish government was "not doing enough." But no longer. Now it's just plain and simple West Brexit.

Incidentally, each one of the opinion pieces is paywalled, as are all Bassett's contributions on the issue for the Sunday Business Post.

It prompts a question similar to that mechanism by which the European Parliament was a primary funder of UKIP -- how much of West Brexit is just a grift, a money-making stroking of Imperial fantasies?

How did they get this one past Trump?

US State Department report on religious freedom in Australia --

Government Practices 

Four senators from the One Nation Party were elected during the July (2016) federal elections on a platform which included ceasing Muslim immigration, holding a royal commission on Islam, halting construction of mosques, installing surveillance cameras in mosques, banning wearing of the burqa and niqab in public places, and prohibiting members of parliament from being sworn in under the Quran. In her first senate speech, One Nation Party Leader Pauline Hanson said the country was “in danger of being swamped by Muslims.” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull disagreed with her views and said “my commitment is to an inclusive multicultural society which is based on mutual respect. The more we respect each other the more secure we become.”

This negative assessment of One Nation and Pauline Hanson is being mentioned in the Australian media today, in the context of Hanson's stunt of wearing a burqa to the Senate -- a stunt with which the alt-right Trump would presumably applaud!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A free zone in Ulster?

The UK government has released its Ireland Brexit paper, using the same strategy as the customs paper yesterday -- embargoed briefings to the press to manage the coverage ahead of the fantasy proposals. Just one example of the shambles in this paper: different sections were clearly written by different people, with no read-across for consistency. The section on the common travel area essentially proposes that it could be maintained by transaction checks when Irish people are accessing the privileges they have now (employment, voting, etc), which by the way doesn't follow through on its logic that everyone is going to need ID to enforce this. But anyway, the separate section on the border says --

One potential approach that the UK intends to explore further with the EU is a cross-border trade exemption that would recognise the unique economic, social and cultural context of the land border and the fact that many of the movements of goods across it by smaller traders cannot be properly categorised and treated as economically significant international trade. Such an exemption would ensure that smaller traders could continue to operate as they do now, with no new requirements in relation to customs processes. It is important to note that in 2015, over 80 per cent of North to South trade was carried out by micro, small and medium sized businesses. They are, in effect, examples of local trade in local markets.

If they are proposing to treat most cross-border trade as below the radar screen for customs purposes, then what's the practical mechanism for deciding whether a "small trader" in Dundalk, for example, who employs EU nationals not eligible to work in Brexit UK, is actually deploying those workers mostly in Newry? Once that loophole is open, you'll very quickly see exponential growth in "small trader" employment agencies along the border who can then staff firms anywhere in the UK. Local trade in local markets!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trump blames Ireland for CEO Council resignations

From his tempestuous Manhattan media Q and A:

If you look at Merck as an example, take a look where – excuse me, excuse me – take a look at where their product is made. It is made outside of our country. We want products made in the country, now I have to tell you, some of the folks that will leave, they're leaving out of embarrassment, because they made their products outside, and I have been lecturing them, including the gentleman that you are referring to, about you have to bring it back to this country. You can't do it necessarily in Ireland and all of these other places. You have to bring this work back to this country. That's what I want.

Dublin, we have a problem

Context: The Kevin Myers row.

Consider now --

It was Lionel Barber, Jewish editor of the Financial Times, whose tweet started the ball rolling early that Sunday morning and by the time members of the vocal and powerful American Jewish lobby caught up 5 hours later in New York, the sh*t storm was already under way. As well, there is serious opposition to Murdoch's €13 billion 21st Century Fox bid to take over Sky and there is no greater opinion former in the US than the Jewish lobby.

That's not Myers defending himself, or one of Myers' defenders. That's an ostensibly dispassionate and insiderish analysis of the imbroglio being read in influential circles in Ireland and not triggering any online outrage -- because it's published in the print and paywalled Phoenix magazine (Irish version of Private Eye), not drawing any eyeballs outside Ireland.

Losing control

Hours after having had the advantage of media coverage based on embargoed papers and briefings, the UK Department for Exiting the EU has finally released the much-hyped paper with their proposals for new customs arrangements under Brexit. The paper is a load of rubbish. It actually contains no proposals at all, but is simply a long list of aspirations with a much shorter list of vague indications as to how these could be achieved. A couple of low points --

The Government is keen to explore with the EU a model for an interim period which would ensure that businesses and people in the UK and the EU only have to adjust once to a new customs relationship. This could be delivered through a continued close association with the EU Customs Union for a time-limited period after the UK has left the EU. This could involve a new and time-limited customs union between the UK and the EU Customs Union, based on a shared external tariff and without customs processes and duties between the UK and the EU.

The terminology shared external tariff is very odd. Customs unions usually have a common external tariff. It's not clear whether this is a sensitivity about words (in the same way that deep and special is used instead of deep and comprehensive) or whether there is a technical intent behind it. The paper certainly doesn't explain.

Then:

The UK would seek to recognise the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland and aim to protect individuals and traders by making maximum use of the UK’s flexibility in relation to our own operation of the border. As elsewhere, the processes on the other side of the border would be constrained by the relevant requirements of EU law.

In other words, they are setting up to blame Ireland, as an EU member, for any delays on the Brexit-imposed border. But all those obstacles arise from the UK's departure from the customs union and single market. Everyone else is expected to adjust to them!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times:

Perversely, the anti-elite movement invests the elite with heroic talents. It sees a world of obvious social improvements waiting to be made if only the negligent masters would snap out of their stupor. The deficit of trust flows from a surplus of faith.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Queen's Gin

Great detail from Financial Times article on House of Commons drinking culture:

The late SDLP MP Lord (once Gerry) Fitt is remembered in the 1970s waving great glasses of gin and tonic at the passing boats crying: "It's free, it's all free!"

Quote of the Day

Jeremy Paxman in the Financial Times on how the fixation with salmon farms as a rural job creator requires such adaptation of the environment that the farms don't need to be in such locations:

Geography, though, is an insuperable problem. Salmon farming has political appeal because it seems to offer employment in these Highland communities that have a powerful romantic hold over Scottish identity. Once you use land-based systems, with manufactured salt water, why locate them in the Highlands at all? It could be much more economical to build them somewhere near the markets of southern England or the airports supplying export destinations.

Would you buy Loch Hounslow salmon?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Brexit lorries

Financial Times analysis of UK customs union options points out yet another problem given zero consideration in the referendum campaign -- who will drive trucks after they cross the UK EU border? 

It is a different story at the Turkish border. Problems getting permits to drive across Europe regularly contribute to huge tailbacks. At the moment the EU only offers the right to work freely across Europe to truck drivers who are nationals of countries such Norway and Switzerland, which have accepted free movement of people from the EU. The UK has firmly ruled out such an option.