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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64103353

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

Jerusalem

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?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Flimsy bet

Excellent New York Times analysis exploring the catastrophic security strategy failure of the Egyptian government in Sinai --

One person who did have some sway over Mr. Sisi was Egypt’s chief of defense staff, Mahmoud Hegazy. American officials saw him as the only person in Mr. Sisi’s inner circle with the authority to publicly contradict him, a former United States official said. They also had a personal bond: General Hegazy’s daughter is married to Mr. Sisi’s son. But last month Mr. Sisi fired General Hegazy, after an outcry over a devastating militant ambush on a security convoy south of Cairo that killed 16 police officers, and possibly many more. The move dismayed senior State and Defense Department officials who saw General Hegazy as a check on Mr. Sisi in a circle of advisers that has become ever smaller and, some fear, ever more sycophantic, said the former official, who spoke anonymously to protect internal deliberations on an important ally that rarely receives public criticism well.

So, this is an insight from within the US securocrat establishment that the key part of their military cooperation with Egypt rested on the relationship of a single person with President Sisi. There is no strategy, just a hope that one person, now fired, can bring a message to the top.

Incidentally, since that orb clutching moment in Riyadh, there have been two massive terrorist attacks in Islamic countries, the Friday atrocity and the Mogadishu bombing a few weeks ago.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Choice of words

In early 2001, a hot potato landed on the desk of the then Irish Minister for Justice, John O'Donoghue. It was the summary of an internal police inquiry ("Carty report") into allegations of serious misconduct by Donegal police, including mishandling of a murder investigation. There seemed to be enough in the report summary to launch a broader independent inquiry into rogue elements in the police force, which might have even gotten into similar misconduct in adjacent counties, such as Cavan and Monaghan.

What did the Minister do?

He sent the summary report to the government's chief legal adviser, Attorney-General Michael McDowell.

McDowell, recognizing a hot potato when he saw one, said that he couldn't make a decision without seeing the full report. And the usual "ongoing investigations" excuse provided a dodge for government ministers from needing to see the full report, and so the allegations sat for over a year before their seriousness eventually became the basis for action. With the slow pace of the Irish legal system, that was a lot of time to lose, and by keeping everything very legalistic and narrow in scope, the broader relevance -- including to current circumstances -- was lost.

Things caught up with the government in 2005, when people started to ask about the lapses in timeline in reacting to the original information. Here's Eamon Gilmore in 2005 trying to get a straight answer to who saw what and when; note that the Minister for Justice of the time is now ... Michael McDowell! --

... My colleague, Deputy Howlin, drew attention to the fact that last Friday the Minister, Deputy McDowell, informed the House that the Carty report was not delivered to him or to the then Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, at a time when its full contents would have definitely been of interest to them and would have enabled them to make earlier judgments on some of the issues involved. ... However, during his period as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue repeatedly indicated to the House that he had the Carty report. On 7 February 2001, in response to parliamentary questions, he did not indicate in any way that he did not have the Carty report, although he had plenty of opportunity to do so. On 23 May 2001, he stated that "the investigation by Assistant Commissioner Carty was completed and presented to me and, in turn, to the DPP". ... Either the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, had the report in 2000 or 2001 — as he told the House on 23 May 2001 that Assistant Commissioner Carty's report was completed and presented to him and, in turn, to the DPP — or he did not. ... This is not a minor matter concerning some incidental documentation that got lost in the amalgam of material that goes through a Minister's departmental office. This was a major report on an investigation into matters of the most serious character concerning the conduct of gardaĆ­ in Donegal. 

It was to no avail. McDowell and Bertie Ahern blustered through the questions relying on the distinction between having a precis or a distillation versus the actual report, and ignoring the broader question of why the precis wasn't alarming enough for quicker action. 2005 was the mid-year of the worst government in the history of the state, but at the time, an economic boom made them immovable. A few months after McDowell and Ahern had sidestepped their hazy memories of 2001, Maurice McCabe would make his first complaint about police misconduct in Cavan. That set in motion events which are playing out this weekend. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

England's difficulty is Ireland's ... fault?

Ruth Dudley Edwards, taking a Sun-level of analysis to the opinion pages of the Financial Times --

For reasons to do with Ireland’s complex electoral system of proportional representation and multi-seat constituencies, Mr Coveney [Irish foreign minister] keeps a nervous eye on the competition and courts the green vote, which has caused him to push a nationalist agenda and make bellicose statements about Brexit that Mr Varadkar [PM] began to echo. On Wednesday, Mr Coveney chose a Northern Ireland business breakfast to emphasise what had previously been hinted at: that Ireland is right behind EU negotiators in refusing to go to the next stage of the talks without progress on the rights of EU citizens, the financial settlement and the border. It is prepared to use its veto if necessary, and, for now is insisting that the border should be somewhere in the Irish Sea, leaving Northern Ireland de facto still in the EU. Apart from being anathema to unionists, as Ray Bassett, a rare dissenting voice among retired senior Irish diplomats, put it, “the demand that Britain will be economically dismembered, with the North staying in the customs union while the rest of Britain goes its own way, is universally seen as undeliverable by any British government”. The UK accounts for 14 per cent of Irish exports and 25 per cent of Irish imports and there is additionally a high volume of services trade between the two countries. What people like Mr Bassett and Graham Gudgin of the think-tank Policy Exchange point out is that trade with Britain as a whole is infinitely more important to Ireland than that with Northern Ireland in particular.

It's all there: the bizarre analysis that a Fine Gael-led government is driven by an ultra-nationalist flank, that Ireland's position on Brexit only suddenly emerged last week, a quote from a man with an ostensible credential but zero expertise on multilateral trade and relations, Ray Bassett, dubious conclusions from trade statistics, blaming Ireland for a British desire to leave the Customs Union, no actual solution offered (she calls for imagination), and later down in the column, a fusing of pro-Brexit accommodation with anti-austerity tropes -- two days after Philip Hammond's budget shows what Brexit budgets are going to look like.

The train has unfortunately already left the station in terms of the access of these wreckers and hucksters to the media, but the least response might be to resolve that general election analysis, if there is a general election, will be scrutinized particularly closely for influence of  opportunistic and delusional agitation from the gallery.

Egypt

Three things to contemplate about today's atrocity in Al-Arish.

1. Life in Cairo will go on as "normal" -- after all, it's White Friday.
2. It's worth reminding yourself of the career of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. If Anwar al-Awlaki was the alive-past-his-death philosophical inspiration for many terrorist attacks, al-Zarqawi plays the same role in terms of the tactical role of brutality. Seemingly inexplicable "why would they attack a mosque" becomes very explicable.
3. Where were the security forces?

The Pundit of Arabia

The context: The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is making some intriguing noises about changing the political posture of the country, and an eager Thomas Friedman hops on a plane to Riyadh to get the story in person, and in particular whether things might have changed as Friedman would want with respect to Israel --

After I [Friedman] laid out this idea, the crown prince looked at me with mock astonishment and said, ''Have you broken into my desk?'' ''No,'' I said, wondering what he was talking about. ''The reason I ask is that this is exactly the idea I had in mind.

And so, the Pundit is validated. The Crown Prince continues --

''But I tell you,'' the crown prince added, ''if I were to pick up the phone now and ask someone to read you the speech, you will find it virtually identical to what you are talking about.

Friedman goes on to praise the Crown Prince as untainted by corruption.

The year? 2002. Friedman is visiting Crown Prince Abdullah in the wake of severe tensions in the US-Saudi relationship after 9/11. The Arab Peace Initiative to which their discussion referred never goes anywhere, but in fairness to both of them, that's as much if not more to do with Israel than the Arab states.

Anyway, the cycle continues. Friedman was just in Riyadh with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) looking for another of his islands of decency and declares the start of an Arab Spring with Saudi characteristics, coming from the top rather than the street. And as part of that Arab Spring, MbS has locked up Abdullah's son Miteb on charges of corruption.

One final thing. at that 2002 meeting, Friedman was listening intently and perhaps gullibly to a lot of what Abdullah told him, but not this:

As for the ''axis of evil'' and reports of a possible U.S. military strike against Iraq, the Saudi leader said: ''Any attack on Iraq or Iran should not be contemplated at all because it would not serve the interests of America, the region or the world, as there is no clear evidence of a present danger. Iraq is contemplating the return of the inspectors, and the U.S. should pursue this because inspectors can determine if Iraq is complying with the U.N. resolutions.''

Friedman would go on to support the attack on Iraq.

That Irish political crisis, explained

Ireland's apparent lurch towards a mid-Brexit election that nobody claims to want is a perfect distillation of the broader phenomenon of the interaction of a degraded media and political culture with vested interests -- it's not just Ireland. The applicable features are:

An aura of "scandal" is created around process, not substance. In this case, it's an irrelevant e-mail that the Minister of Justice says she can't remember getting (it's irrelevant because she had no influence over the subject of the e-mail, and her not remembering had no effect on the outcome). But for a media class that grew up with Watergate "what did they know and when did they know it" in the ether, that's enough. Things that might actually be scandalous in Ireland (poverty, traffic fatalities, conduct of banks) don't get politically instrumentalised in the same way.

The lawyers are the one class definitely coming out ahead. The iterations of the same underlying affair ("McCabe") have been going on since 2006, and each involves progressively higher levels of inquiry, with judges and top-flight lawyers in charge, but never quite resolving anything. Nice work if you can get it. In the USA, the Trump-Russia and #metoo eruptions are a legal bonanza.

The alleged solution to resolving the underlying affair won't solve anything. It will be an election where as usual, people who vote put a few numbers on a ballot paper. What emerges at the other hand is supposed to be a government empowered to take action on every issue that arises from the moment it takes power. That's not working out too well for the UK and Brexit, and when Angela Merkel comes back as Chancellor, people might wonder what all the fuss was about.

Nobody has a reliable indicator of actual public views about the "scandal" or electoral outcomes.  Polling is hopelessly contaminated by the same circularity as the scandal itself (it's a scandal because it's being reported as a scandal, and we're asking about it in opinion polls because it's a scandal). As the Trump-Clinton election battle showed, whether particular revelations have a public impact has a lot to do with whether they change perceptions about behaviour relative to a norm: Trump's Access Hollywood tape was certainly awkward, but it's now obvious that there was a lot of tacit knowledge of the culture that he was talking about. But for Hillary Clinton, the standard was perhaps a public belief that she was less slippery than Bill, so the constant refrain about e-mails took their toll.

Which brings us back to process. If it takes an 11 year timeline to explain why something is a scandal, it might be worth stepping back to ask whether the issue is really one forgotten e-mail. But that would get into the role of media and political culture in explaining how the country is run, a discussion that too many people would rather not have.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Friends of Putin


Two days after hugging Bashar al-Assad in Sochi, President Putin today hosted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Moscow. al-Bashir is under indictment by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur, so Putin has really had quite a cast of visitors recently. al-Bashir doesn't seem to mind that he didn't get an al-Assad style hug, but his comments during the public part of the meeting are a good insight into what it takes to be on Putin's good side. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A bigger scandal than St Petersburg Twitter trolls


That's Vladimir Putin hugging surprise visitor Bashar al-Assad in Sochi today, ahead of a tripartite summit (Russia, Iran, Turkey) to discuss the way forward in Syria. Whatever government victory has been achieved in Syria, it's been achieved with use of chemical weapons, indiscriminate air and artillery bombing, massive levels of displacement, egregious human rights violations in Bashar's jails, and around half a million fatalities, mostly civilian. But it's hug time in Sochi

Thanksgiving on the Nile

Cairo billboards, a key advertising tool given the dire Cairo traffic, are currently heavily featuring Black Friday sales at malls, and the rival Amazon version customized for the Middle East, White Friday. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

One strand at a time

Lost in the Zimbabwe turmoil is this interesting development in Angola, via Reuters --

LUANDA - Angolan President Joao Lourenco dismissed Isabel dos Santos as chair of the state oil company Sonangol on Wednesday, in a dramatic move against the family of the former president. Analysts said the change was likely aimed at cementing Lourenco’s power and trying to avoid a decline in production at the country’s biggest company, which has come under fire from international partners for delays in approving projects. The daughter of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who ruled Angola for 38 years until stepping down in September, was replaced by Carlos Saturnino, the president’s office said in a statement.

Angola and Zimbabwe (along with Mozambique) have a similarity that delayed independence and civil war meant that they have only recently arrived at that post-colonial challenge of transition from the first government -- and the first family. Isabel dos Santos still has plenty of money and no doubt a refuge prepared in Portugal, but maybe, just maybe, these countries will move on from dynastic rule.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Russia in "still killing civilians" shock

It's depressing how far down the priority list Syria has shifted, and the focus on Russia's information wars has obscured the fact that, directly or indirectly via its support for Bashar al-Assad, it is still indiscriminately attacking civilian targets in Syria. It's so routine that the social media bots and trolls don't even bother defending or obscuring it. 

Ireland in "island" shock

From yesterday's Brexit legislation debate in the UK House of Commons, a spectacle for many reasons including the fact that the only Irish MPs present were from the Brexit-fevered DUP and so it was left to the Scottish and Welsh nationalists to emphasize the lunacy of what Tory Brexit means for Ireland; here's the latter --

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Plaid Cymru) Transport and logistics experts are warning of the disastrous consequences of a hard border between Wales and the Republic of Ireland for the ports of Holyhead, ​Fishguard and Pembroke Dock. How is the Secretary of State ensuring that his decisions as part of the negotiations do not damage the competitiveness of Welsh ports, which employ thousands of people directly and indirectly? 

 Mr Davis (Brexit Secretary) That is precisely why Government policy is to deliver a frictionless trade arrangement between us and the EU27, most importantly the Republic of Ireland.

There's nothing new here in the delusion that "frictionless" means something different than the currently frictionless solution of Britain being in the EU, but it may be relevant to note that Davis thinks the solution for seaports will be the same as the solution for a land border. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Quote of the Day

New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik on Donald Trump's preference for safe space interviews --

At the Pennsylvania interview on Oct. 11, Mr. Hannity engaged the home-team crowd as if hosting a live “Apprentice” finale. What did they think of Mr. Trump, he asked? (Yay!) What about Congress? (Boo!) And what about the media? (Booooo!) It’s that cheering crowd, one suspects, that is really driving the dynamic here. The point of all the delicate meringue questions is not simply to avoid challenging the president. It’s to avoid challenging the audience.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Pedant's Corner

From that Tom Newton Dunn Sun article that appears to have been written in a pub --

In an ‘all island’ solution, Leo Varadkar is now insisting Ulster remain part of the single market and customs union while the rest of Britain leaves it.

Leo Varadkar doesn't have to insist that the Ulster counties of Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal remain part of the single market after Brexit, since they are already in Ireland. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

The key word is improper

Financial Times with weekend feature on the troubles of Deutsche Bank, among which, a link to the finances of Donald Trump:

People close to the relationship said more than $300m of loans were outstanding to Trump, but the bank's probe found no improper Russian connections. Deutsche insiders said the bank was keen to be subpoenaed by [Robert] Mueller in order to dispel the rumours.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Outraged in Armonk

A letter to the editor of the Financial Times --

Headlines matter, especially large-type, front page, above-the-fold headlines. This article does not provide any credible information supporting its sensational headline.

That's David Boies, 2 weeks ago, responding to a FT article that was critical of his apparent role in obstructing line of sight to the allegations against Harvey Weinstein.

His righteous indignation looks a bit different now in view of the revelations coming from Ronan Farrow's New Yorker article

Hotel Riyadh

Associated Press via Washington Post --

CAIRO — Saudi Arabia has barred Yemen’s president, along with his sons, ministers and military officials, from returning home for months, Yemeni officials tell The Associated Press, a sign of how much the leader-in-exile has been deeply weakened in a war fought in his name by the Saudi-led coalition against rebels in his country. The officials said the ban was prompted by the bitter enmity between President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the United Arab Emirates, which is part of the coalition and has come to dominate southern Yemen, the portion of the country not under rebel control. Hadi and much of his government have been in the Saudi capital Riyadh for most of the war.

Hadi thus joins Saad Hariri, Lebanese Prime Minister, as a leader who, once arriving in Riyadh, is having trouble leaving.

If only the Saudis had stuck to that arrangement with Ali Abdullah Saleh

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Accounts and accountability

Before people get too excited thinking that the Paradise papers might be a source of political damage to Vladimir Putin and associates, they might want to contemplate how a similar hope for the Panama papers played out, via a Washington Post chat with Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan --

Q: Your book suggests that Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. might be a response to the Panama Papers, the enormous 2016 leak of documents from an offshore banking network. Why do you think that leak of financial data angered the Kremlin so much? 

A: It was seen as an attack on personal friends of Putin, his immediate circle. It's a line you cannot cross with Putin, and the Russian media learned that in a hard way. When a small Moscow publication reported in 2008 that Putin divorced and was going to marry a famous gymnast, the publication was immediately shut. When the RBC media holding published stories about Putin's daughter in 2015, the media holding's owner corporation was raided by police, and the media holding soon changed hands. Worse, Putin believed the Panama Papers attack was sponsored by Hillary Clinton's people — this, in a way, provided him with a “justification” for a retaliatory operation.

The more of this data that is out there, the better. But the political effects of tax avoidance/ evasion data dumps are asymmetric, depending on the nature of the media and information channels in various countries (note by the way that Wikileaks refused to handle the Panama papers, which also had an impact on how that release was perceived).


Capricious


Four months ago, at the Hamburg G20 summit, Angela Merkel chats with the leader of the delegation from Saudi Arabia, Ibrahim al-Assaf. He is now detained as part of the anti-corruption crackdown in Riyadh. It is not clear whether, behind the summit blather, participants understood the underlying volatility in Saudi Arabia, but with one of their fellow attendees now under arrest, maybe belatedly, they do.