Friday, February 23, 2018

No Shame

In July of this year, the Great and the Good will observe the 23rd anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. They will do so with their best Pharisee long faces and proclaim Never Again. This, as history repeats so precisely, a Russian-backed militarized regime committing atrocities against Sunni Muslims, this time in Ghouta, Syria. It's not just in the USA where the teenagers are going to have to give up on the prospect of their elders ever doing anything. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Inviting in Fake News

New York Times January 19, 2015, a report on the effectiveness of the Obama Administration's social media strategy in the run-up to the state of the union --

Rather than jealously guard the policy proposals the president will announce in the speech — lest they leak — the White House has already rolled them out on social media. That strategy scooped the press and generated millions of retweets well before the newspaper articles and television reports were even produced.

Any second thoughts on the strategy of enhancing the credibility of social media-propagated items at the expense of mass media outlets?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Mickey Mouse Money

In the Irish Times, David McWilliams interprets the Trump socio-economics in terms of Disney World --

I’m writing this to you from America but not just any America. I’m in an “all-you-can-eat” hotel in the bizarre planet that is Disney World, Orlando. Disney World isn’t just any America. This is the place that blue-collar America comes on holiday. An “all-in” week here is part of the American dream. The people who make the pilgrimage are the people who voted for Donald Trump.

Disney World tickets begin at $100 per person per day, and given the time constraints, that's actually $100 per person per day per park (there are 4 parks). All the saving in the world is not going to get his notional Trump voter family a week in Disney World, let alone the flights and hotel in Orlando.

McWilliams continues, trying to get in touch with his inner David Brooks (the same inner persona that created HiCos) --

The enemy of the working man isn’t Donald Trump but the professional, quasi-clerical aristocracy, who look down their noses at him for holidaying in Disney World, while they hang out in a similar la la-lands like Martha’s Vineyard – Disney World for people with degrees.

Those Martha's Vineyard vacationers might indeed look down their nose at people who go Disney World -- in summer. They take the family to Disney World in Fall, Spring, and Winter, when the central Florida weather is more agreeable (and thus everything is pricier).

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Quote of the Day

JD in Heathers --

People will look at the ashes of Westerburg and say, "Now there's a school that self-destructed, not because society didn't care, but because the school was society." Now that's deep.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Lying about a war

New York Times --

MOSCOW — Four Russian nationals, and perhaps dozens more, were killed in fighting between pro-government forces in eastern Syria and members of the United States-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, according to Russian and Syrian officials. A Syrian military officer said that about 100 Syrian soldiers had been killed in the fighting on Feb. 7 and 8, but news about Russian casualties has dribbled out only slowly, through Russian news organizations and social media. Much about the attack and the associated casualties has been obscured in the fog of war. For reasons that remain unclear, Syrian government troops and some Russian nationals appear to have attacked a coalition position, near Al Tabiyeh, Syria.

Since Vladimir Putin's latest Mission Accomplished moment in December (there have been three), the situation in Idlib and Damascus suburbs has gotten even worse, the regional tensions have escalated, and now, Russian casualties on the ground are catching up to the actual scale of the Russian engagement. It shouldn't take a lot of effort to hold Russia, Venezuela, and Syria to the same standards as other countries are held, but there's a class of people out there who revel in the differential treatment. And who like to watch RT.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Not discussed on Russia Today

New York Times with extended report on the external machinations in Libya --

The same year, the Russians also approached Ibrahim Jathran, a militia leader who controlled Libya’s key oil ports before General Haftar. United States Navy SEALs had recently boarded a North Korean-flagged ship and disrupted a plot by Mr. Jathran to bypass Libya’s government and sell oil directly on the international market. Two of Mr. Jathran’s top deputies, who asked that only their first names, Osama and Ahmed, be used, for fear of reprisals, described how the Russians then stepped in with a “really amazing” proposal to help Mr. Jathran sell the oil — and arm his militia. The Russians, Osama and Ahmed said, would market the crude oil, moving it through Egypt to Russia. Mr. Jathran would be paid in weapons for the first six months, and in cash thereafter. “The weapons included everything we have, plus armored cars, antiaircraft missiles, heat-seeking shoulder-held weapons, light weapons and comm gear including Hetra wireless,” Osama said.

The end of the tale is that while the oil-for-weapons deal didn't get done with this particular militia, it eventually got done with the Benghazi-based forces of Khalifa Haftar.

The sad fact is that there's nothing conceptually new about any of this. Natural resources used to finance weapons, which prolong conflict, which deplete the natural resources so that they can't benefit the people, so there is more reason for conflict. That's what the term "conflict diamonds" was meant to capture. But when Russia plays exactly the same game, it's portrayed as brilliant strategic moves by Vladimir Putin, and a lot of war critics go very silent. Since we know how this story of resource-fueled conflict ends -- it doesn't -- they'll have to be silent for a long time. 

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Pensioner Liberation Organization

A meeting yesterday of the executive committee of the PLO in Ramallah, West Bank. The meeting decided on further foreign trips for Mahmoud Abbas (centre) to give speeches about Jerusalem.

Photo via Al Arabiya.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Banks on the Danube

The basic question hovering around the controversial manufactured "memo" is why the FBI was so interested in Carter Page within the scope of a foreign intelligence investigation.

It's been known for a while that Page was keeping some strange company -- in the old days of espionage, he would be the kind of figure popping up in places like Istanbul, Tangier, and Vienna.

Except that he was still popping up in Vienna. Here he is describing a November 2014 visit to Vienna, in the course of remarks praising Austria's neutrality and saying that Ukraine would benefit from the same accommodation between Russia and the West. 

Even more interesting is a strange detour in his remarks to discuss Austrian banks --

Ironically, the Austrian economy has suffered a disproportionately severe impact from the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and E.U. in 2014. The effect of sanctions levied on Russia have severely punished some of Austria’s largest financial institutions, including Raiffeisen Bank International. Although banks today represent almost half of the total market capitalization of the Vienna Stock Exchange, they stand at the forefront of today’s economic tumult given the prominent role they have played in financing Ukrainian development. As a primary example, this unnecessary collateral damage has been particularly great in the case of Raiffeisen which holds a top five market position in Ukraine with loans of 2.9 billion Euro, 713 business outlets and 2,962,732 customers.

Why so much emphasis on Raiffeisen and the impact of sanctions against Russia on it? Maybe there was some lobbying involved. But Raiffeisen also has a bit part in Donald Trump's finances. Raiffeisen was the lender for Trump Tower Toronto -- launched in 2002 but only finished 14 years later, bankrupt, and no longer bearing Trump's name. In fact, Trump was never an investor in the project -- he collected fees while putting in no money -- but that subtlety was not clear to all the other investors, who lost their money.

Anyway, the point is that Trump's serial bankruptcies had made him toxic to most American lenders, so that put him in a relationship with German and Austrian banks that had opaque ties to eastern Europe and Russia. A world that includes a need for no-questions-asked movements of money into solid investment vehicles. Like property. In turn, a trail that Russian intelligence services might like to keep an eye on. Which in turn might pique the interest of other intelligence services, including the fabled Five Eyes, who might notice a recurring character like Carter Page. 

Friday, February 02, 2018

Scandal Singularity

Newsweek, 1998 --

In the spring of 1997, Michael Isikoff, a reporter for Newsweek and a coauthor of this article, first met Linda Tripp. At the time, Isikoff was investigating Clinton's alleged relationship with yet another woman. The twists and turns of Isikoff's reporting are complex, and normally Newsweek would not detail the behind-the-scenes work of its own reporter. But as will become clear, Isikoff's actions had an unavoidable impact on the story as it played out.

The House Republican "Nunes" memo (via Washington Post) --

The Carter Page FISA application also cited extensively a September 23, 2016, Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff, which focuses on Page's July 2016 trip to Moscow. - This article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself to Yahoo News. The Page FISA application incorrectly assesses that Steele did not directly provide information to Yahoo News. 

Quote of the Day

Philip Stephens in the Financial Times --

If Britain does remain part of the EU after all this, it will be because, in its present state, it is simply incapable of leaving.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Brexit state of mind

Nick Clegg, an an otherwise good FT article noting the emerging logic for extending the Article 50 deadline --

Other EU countries are, privately, just as perplexed. A key figure in the Elysée Palace recently shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of Gallic disbelief when he described to me what the transition period would mean for the UK. “Do they not realise how powerless they will be?” he asked.

Isn't the inability to convey the views of a French official in anything other than classic stereotypes (shrug, Gallic disbelief) an illustration of how elite opinion in Britain got led down the Brexit path in the first place?

Hipster Mayor

Washington Post asking Washington DC Mayor to describe her dream day, which as the Post explains --

The mayor’s dream day, in the one and only city where her dream day could unfold, is pretty much an everyday reality for her.

So --

Then you can go to Le Diplomate for a great dinner.

Here's the menu (or should we say, la carte) for Le Diplomate. Remember, people laughed when David Brooks drew attention to the class element of restaurant menus. They're still laughing -- as they put the credit cards over the bill without even looking to see what it is. 

Saturday Music Selection

Just another work of genius off the assembly line for Paul McCartney (ably assisted by Linda).

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Companion Junket

Via official Jordan news agency Petra, that's US Vice President Mike Pence arriving at Marka Air Force Base after spending just a few hours in Cairo (not much more than he spent in Shannon for a fuel stop).

Note: Pence is accompanied by his wife Karen. This is when the US government is in partial shutdown due to the failure to pass an appropriations bill -- and only essential business is supposed to be conducted. So why is Karen Pence on the trip? To chaperone the VP in case he's alone with Queen Rania or Sara Netanyahu?

Friday, January 19, 2018

It's news all the way down

The above is unintentional illustration of the circularity of poll-driven political analysis in a nutshell. Trump's approval rating is steady as long as there is no "news." When there is news, it goes down. How do we know there's no news? Because his approval rating is steady. How do we know there's news? Because his approval rating goes down.

Note: the current boring news cycle includes: the Stormy Daniels payoff, the latest row over The Wall, the prospective government shutdown, and the sh*thole comments!

This is the same mode of analysis that Nate Silver claims gave him superior insights during the election season. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Not the Golfer-in-Chief

Jordan's King Abdullah -- in uniform (2nd from left) -- visits an army base on the country's northern border. King Abdullah occasionally participates in live fire drills, but this visit was to get a briefing. The King may be showing Donald Trump what being a Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East looks like.

Photo: Petra News Agency.

The end of concept company names

The demise of outsourcer Carillion probably has greatest significance for the world of public procurement, but a side benefit may be the end of meaningless appellations for mega merger corporations cooked up in a consulting firm's groundtruthing office suite. So farewell then Carillion, a name that always sounded 1980s progressive rock legends Marillion.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Social media censorship in large Persian Gulf country

No, it's not Iran. Twitter has removed a post by a prominent Saudi intellectual, Sultan al-Hajri, which criticized the cost of living and recent price increases in Saudi Arabia. 

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Insider tweeting

That was Trump, yesterday. Today, Reuters --

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One U.S. service member was killed and four others wounded during a “combat engagement” in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, the U.S military said in a statement on Tuesday. The incident took place on Monday in Achin, Nangarhar province, the statement said. Two of the wounded service members are being treated at a medical facility and in stable condition, it added. Nangarhar, on the porous border with Pakistan, has become a stronghold for Islamic State, generally known as Daesh in Afghanistan, which has grown to become a dangerous militant group since it appeared around the start of 2015.

Trump would have been told about this yesterday. That means the most logical explanation for his tweet, which otherwise seemed out of context, was that as soon as he was told about the fatality, he picked up the phone and tweeted in anger, at Pakistan, likely reflecting the internal explanation that he was given of how the insurgent group was operating.

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.