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


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 
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.


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.

The Trump - Kim reading list Item 1

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan:

So that in the nature of man, we find three principall causes of quarrel. First, Competition; Secondly, Diffidence; Thirdly, Glory. The first, maketh men invade for Gain; the second, for Safety; and the third, for Reputation. The first use Violence, to make themselves Masters of other mens persons, wives, children, and cattell; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other signe of undervalue, either direct in their Persons, or by reflexion in their Kindred, their Friends, their Nation, their Profession, or their Name.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

The next phase of West Brexit

This Tweet from Brexit financier Arron Banks is a good sign of what's coming from his circle in terms of Ireland's position on Brexit. For a while, the Brexiteers have been content with finding useful idiots in the Irish media who will talk up their vision of Ireland leaving the EU with Britain. But with that line of argument at a dead-end -- confirmed by the Irish government's blunt assessment over the last week -- they'll switch very quickly to saying that Ireland is holding up Brexit because of its insistence on a continued soft border with Northern Ireland. This of course completely contradicts the claim of the Irish government's critics that it hasn't been "doing enough" about Brexit, but that won't stop the two lines of argument being made at the same time. The ugliness is only just beginning. 

BDS just got more complicated

This Al-Arabiya story (and yes, they have their anti-Qatar reasons) claims that a major beneficiary of the Neymar Jr to PSG deal is ... the Israeli Treasury, because Israel will collect a hefty income tax take on mystery agent Pini Zahavi's commission on this mysterious deal!

Friday, August 04, 2017

Make Kenya Great Again

Superb Wall Street Journal on the run-up to the Kenyan Presidential election --

Tensions on the street have been aggravated by an explosion of aggressive social media posts and fake news. Some spurious videos have carried the logos of CNN International and BBC World, claiming Mr. Kenyatta is set to win the election. Both organizations said the videos were fabricated. Facebook on Thursday took out a full-page ad in major Kenyan newspapers with guidelines on how to identify fake news. One election ad on social media site Instagram warned: “Kenya needs Uhuru—Violence needs Raila.” Some blame the spike in negative social-media advertising on Cambridge Analytica, a data-mining company hired by Mr. Kenyatta’s party. Cambridge Analytica also assisted in the Trump campaign. Cambridge Analytica declined to comment on the allegations, as did representatives for the government.

After all, it's not like Donald Trump has ever championed the misuse of a CNN logo!

Quote of the Day

Simon Kuper in the Financial Times:

As long as politicians restricted their silly wordgames to Prime Minister's Question Time while letting civil servants run the country, they were relatively harmless. But after the referendum, the Brexiters were tasked with managing Brexit. This was like asking the winners of a debating contest to engineer a spaceship. Results have been predictable. The Brexiters cannot wow Brussels with rhetoric, because the EU's negotiators prefer rules. "That is a cultural difference," notes Catherine de Vries, professor of politics at Essex University.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

It's like reading Playboy for the articles

From the Donald Trump Wall Street Journal interview transcript (bizarrely, not published by the Wall Street Journal, but Politico) --

TRUMP: We think we’re going to have tremendous growth. We think money’s going to come pouring into the country. Look, we’re losing companies. People don’t even realize how bad it is, but we’re losing companies every single day where they’re leaving because the taxes are too high. When we do this, we’ll have companies – I know companies that have left. They go to Ireland, they go to other – I own a lot of property in Ireland. They go to Ireland because of these incredible tax rates, and other places, right? We’ll have companies pouring back into our nation. I mean, it’s going to be – you know, it’s going to be beautiful.

So others are investing in Ireland to dodge taxes, but he's there for the golf!

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Quote of the Day

In the Financial Times, Jonathan Derbyshire reviews a couple of books about the crisis in western politics --

The emergence over the past few years of a more confrontational style of politics, in which charismatic leadership matters more than policy and the old division between right and left matters less than that between “internationalists and nativists”, leads Krastev to predict that 2017 “may end up being just as consequential” as 1917, the year of the Russian revolution.

The point that there's a stylistic element to populist politics as much as ideological is extremely important.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Knowing your market

Wall Street Journal on sales hook that Blackwater founder Erik Prince (whose sister is Trump's Secretary of Education) has been making for his proposal to hand the US operations in Afghanistan over to contractors --

Mr. Prince is pitching his idea as Mr. Trump’s new “Wollman Rink” moment, a reference to the president’s successful 1986 rehabilitation of a landmark Central Park ice-skating rink that was over-budget and years behind schedule. The proposal, seen by The Wall Street Journal, outlines ways for the U.S. to quickly replace most U.S. troops with contractors who would help carry out airstrikes and work side by side with Afghan forces across the country.

Thus, the notion that Trump is stuck in the 1980s is not just confined to interpretations of Trump from the sideline; it's integral to how people around him play their cards.

In 1986, the year that Trump "saved" Wollman Rink, one of the big pop hits was You Give Love a Bad Name, by Bon Jovi. Jon Bon Jovi has moved on. Trump hasn't.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Friends of Friends

This photograph (via Saudi Press Agency) conveys an astounding message in the underlying event: a meeting yesterday in Jeddah of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) with Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Moqtada is a major figure of Iraqi Shia politics, a key hate-figure for the American invasion forces, and an influential voice on the Iraqi street. That MBS would meet with him amid the constant feuding with Iran is a major statement that previous rules of engagement in the Gulf may no longer apply. 

Enumerating old themes

Kevin Myers is 70. Donald Trump is 71.

No, that's not a way to let Myers off the hook. But it is a way to point out that what Brexiteers like to portray as a North Atlantic Anglosphere has a public square afflicted with a cohort of people given platforms whose views have not evolved in 30 years.

Myers doesn't realize that a 1980s blend of Jewish stereotyping and pro-Israel political views isn't viable in 2017. Donald Trump still talks about "inner cities" with the lens of the crack epidemic, and his obsession with TV breakfast chit-chat shows and who's on the Time magazine cover is a perfect reflection of that decade. The former has had regular access to newspaper columnist gigs. The latter is President of the United States -- put there by a voting bloc that likewise never moved on from the 1980s TV Trump.

And then there's Brexit. That classic Fawlty Towers Don't Mention the War episode, except without the laughs. The era of Up Yours, Delors. The Irish border as something that the Irish government wasn't properly managing. They've never moved on, and the age profile of their Irish sympathizers is just as revealing -- a group also with access to newspaper columns. They're a combination of what was described by Yeats (ideas that began as a mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street, Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can) and Keynes (slaves of some defunct economist, distilling their frenzies from some academic scribbler). Unfortunately, reducing their influence is a lot more difficult than sacking a newspaper columnist. 

Light touch regulation

An observation from Wolfgang Munchau in the Financial Times, nearly 2 years ago, that has stood the test of time --

More importantly, the Volks­wagen scandal has the potential to unhinge the German economic model. It has been over-reliant on the car industry, just as the car industry has been over-reliant on diesel technology. For its part, Berlin mollycoddles the industry and represents its interests abroad. The “VW law” in effect protects the company against a hostile takeover. And it was a former VW director, Peter Hartz, who wrote the labour reforms of the previous decade. In return, the industry contributes to the stability of regional employment. And the voting rules in the supervisory board ensure that production could be shifted out of Germany only with the explicit consent of the trade unions. In other words, it cannot. In terms of macroeconomic risk management, this is a silly strategy — similar to the UK’s over-reliance on the financial sector. Such strategies work well until they do not work at all.

He was talking about the diesel emissions scandal, which at the time afflicted only VW. But as it widens in scope and is now augmented by an anti-trust scandal, the distortions arising from the favoured status of the car industry look even clearer. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Quote of the Day

In the New York Times, Dwight Garner with a rumination on Paul Fussell's 1983 book, Class: A Guide Through the American Status System --

For the tyro reader, Fussell dispatches early the notion that class has much to do with how much money you have. Those who’ve paid any attention “perceive that taste, values, ideas, style and behavior are indispensable criteria of class, regardless of money or occupation.” Donald J. Trump is an instructive specimen in this regard.

The biggest failure of American liberal political punditry over the last 18 months is the failure to engage with the class aspects of the Trump phenomenon. Trump's supporters are seen as closet racists, ridiculed for "economic anxiety," and/ or a benighted proletariat voting against interest. Yet the connection between these voters and Trump's inner circle love-hate relationship with Manhattan is precisely where class comes into play. Proof that the pundit class has still not reconciled with this issue is the mockery of David Brooks for an admittedly belabored example of class signifiers operating through restaurant menus -- yet his point was just exactly one that Fussell made above. 

Operation Air Lion

The Telegraph's unsubtle graphic for a story relying on analysis of Brexiter Gerard Lyons that Philip Hammond's Brexit transition plan involves continued EU migration to the UK after Brexit. Of particular note: the arrows are one way, and they don't originate in the actual sources of large current EU migration to the UK. They do however originate in northern France, Benelux, and Germany. What possible historical echo could they have in mind?

Unapproved Roads

To the left is an illustration that the Irish Sunday Business Post -- a Brexit sneaking regarder publication -- has with a report on the areas of Ireland adjacent to the border with Northern Ireland. The West Brexit contingent has been quite busy over the last few days, inflamed by Michel Barnier's blunt assessment that Britain had presented no proposal on how to deal with the Irish border, leading to a revival of demands that this proves Ireland must leave the European Union.

Anyway, the focus on the land border is understandable, but it's a trap. The main impact of Brexit on Ireland and Northern Ireland will not happen through the land border. Violence imposed a much harder border than customs posts ever did, and people found ways to function across the border even then. The main impacts will happen through the disruption to the UK's trade, investment, travel and migration links with Ireland that currently operate on the presumption that both are EU members -- and only a tiny fraction of those links involve physical crossing of the land border.

So there will be scenic photography and warm Prosecco-worthy tales of borders passing through people's gardens as Dublin and London reporters head to Armagh and Donegal to cover the border issue. But the fixation on the border has as much to do with a perspective locked in, like Trump and 1980s television, in the era of the Troubles, on the border as a source of banditry and violence, as its current economic significance. And it lends itself to a view that razzle-dazzle technology, cameras etc, can "solve" the Brexit problem with Ireland, when it's actually a sideshow. It's that view that Ireland's government rightly lost patience with in the last few days; the border is an important issue, but it can best be solved by things that the Brexiters still do not want to acknowledge: the customs union, EEA, EFTA, or some other option that the UK government would need to start working on!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Crisis, what crisis?

That means that Theresa May is spending 3 percent of the 2 year EU exit period -- a clock that she chose to start -- on holidays. And that's just this summer's holidays, and after all the time that was lost to the futile election. Meanwhile the newspapers -- even the "serious" broadsheets -- have already shifted to silly season mode of royals, celebrities, and sport.

Brexit, like the Trump presidency, is a slow-motion in-progress disaster. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Since just about any logic is possible in Trump world, it could be that his obsession with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is due to his mistaken belief that the elusive ISIS leader was Time Magazine's Person of the Year in 2015. He wasn't. He was the runner up, to Angela Merkel -- a lineup that must have driven Trump crazy. Trump's strange tweet this morning seems fixated on 2015, because that's when the New York Times story which he blames for the missed hit on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Real News

On 21 June, 2017, the day that the news broke that Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (MBN) had been removed as Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in favour of his cousin Mohammed bin Salman, the Iranian media ridiculed the move as a "soft coup." The general reaction was to send congratulations to Riyadh.

A flood of reporting today confirms that it was in fact a soft coup. MBN was detained until he agreed to the transition, he was accused of addiction to painkillers (a harsh accusation since the pain originated in a terrorist attack), and he remains confined to his palace without his own security.

Sometimes, the Iranians are right!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

He's already ignoring the intelligence

White House statement just over a month ago --

President Donald J. Trump spoke today with Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates. First, and most importantly, the leaders agreed on the importance of implementing agreements reached in Riyadh to counter extremism and to combat the funding of terrorist groups.

This was with reference to the Saudi Arabia and UAE led sanctions against Qatar.

The Washington Post now reports that US intelligence agencies believe that the Qatar News Agency website hacking which precipitated the crisis was carried out by ... the UAE! And remember this is in the context where the supposed "last straw" -- the receipt of Qatari ransom money by Iran and Hezbollah -- may never have happened

The spires and the rock


Gibraltar will not be a victim of Brexit and has had guarantees from the British government it will not do a trade deal with the European Union which doesn't include the territory, its chief minister said on Sunday.

That's an ambiguous statement which could mean that Gibraltar would be treated differently within such a deal. But it further highlights the self imposed constraints of the London Brexit strategy. Why should Ireland contort its border arrangements with Northern Ireland just so that Britain can hang on to what will be, post 2019, Falklands on Med?

Follow the money

New York Times on Iran's increasing dominance in Iraq --

When a group of Qatari falcon hunters, including members of the royal family, were kidnapped in 2015 while on safari in the southern deserts of Iraq, Qatar called Iran and its militia allies — not the central government in Baghdad. For Mr. Abadi, the prime minister, the episode was an embarrassing demonstration of his government’s weakness at the hands of Iran, whose proxy militia Kataibb Hezbollah was believed to be behind the kidnapping. So when the hostage negotiations were about to end, Mr. Abadi pushed back. Around noon on a day in April, a government jet from Qatar landed in Baghdad, carrying a delegation of diplomats and 500 million euros stuffed into 23 black boxes. The hunters were soon on their way home, but the ransom did not go to the Iranian-backed militiamen who had abducted the Qataris; the cash ended up in a central bank vault in Baghdad. The seizure of the money had been ordered by Mr. Abadi, who was furious at the prospect of militias, and their Iranian and Hezbollah benefactors, being paid so richly right under the Iraqi government’s nose. “Hundreds of millions to armed groups?” Mr. Abadi said in a public rant. “Is this acceptable?”

This detail -- that the money ended up with the Iraqi government -- has been occasionally reported over the last 6 weeks, but it's a critical detail, because the alleged payment of the ransom money to Iran and Hezbollah is also commonly cited as the "last straw" that led to the severe sanctions against Qatar. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Greatest Living Irish woman

Janan Ganesh takes Edna O'Brien to lunch for the Financial Times:

 If anything, she values being left alone to concentrate on her writing. "For all my affability, I am also cold."

You have to look after number one?

"Well no, you have to look after what is right. In the case of work, you have to look after the work. If someone comes into your life that you don't want and keeps nagging you with emails and things, the gate comes down." She mimes a portcullis shutting in front of her face. This is Graham Greene's "splinter of ice": the chill at the heart of the serious novelist. Writers cannot be with you all that much. And even when they are with you, they are not really with you.

Quote of the Day

Peter Jukes in the New York Times --

Forget Shakespeare and Dickens, or even the Beatles and David Bowie. Today Britain’s most important cultural export to the United States is the use of tabloid tricks and reality TV techniques for influence and profit. Rob Goldstone may look like a bit player in this story, but he is an avatar of the new power brokers in the age of politics as entertainment. Welcome to your new ruling class. Made in Britain.

It is this common factor that helps explain why despite concerns about "populism" as a global phenomenon, it has done the most damage in these two countries. But very tricksy of Australia to have successfully exported Patient Zero (Rupert Murdoch). 

Fake News, Real Purpose

The New York Times recounts the story of Moldovan soccer sensation and transfer market target Masal Bugduv -- a completely made up character created by Declan Varley and whose name is a loose phonetic spelling of a story by Pádraic Ó Conaire. Anyway, one thing the article never quite says is that the problem with these stories isn't on the social media fringes of transfer speculation: it is with player agents paying sports reporters in the conventional media to write these stories so as to get their under-contract clients into the transfer market. As with politics, social media is certainly part of the problem, but because of the way it magnifies distortions in conventional media practices. 

The genesis of hard Brexit

Amid many insights into the role that stupidity as much as mendacity played in the Brexit campaign, this superb analysis by David Allen Green from April sticks in our mind: the obsession with the European Court of Justice, which is the key driver of the UK government imperative to interpret Brexit as leaving not just the Single Market, but also the Customs Union, may be due to a simple misunderstanding of conversations over the Boris Johnson family dinner table, misunderstandings which became Tory policy either via BoJo himself, or Theresa May not realizing the implications of the explanations that were being given to her.

Corollary: Sometimes the explanation involving the most idiocy is the right one. See also under Trump, Russia. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Puttin' on the Ritz

It's forgotten now, but in March 2017, the biggest "outrage" in Ireland was from the country's correspondent/ pundit class, enraged that former Taoiseach Enda Kenny had been too civil with Donald Trump.

Photo: Trump with French President Emmanuel Macron during his invited visit to the Bastille Day celebrations. 

Quote of the Day

Martin Wolf in the Financial Times --

The UK has become so ludicrous because the issue of the EU is so deeply felt by a significant part of the body politic. The Brexiters are the Jacobins of UK politics. Their ideological intensity has devastated the Conservative party and reduced British politics to its present shambles. There is, as a result, neither a comfortable exit from Brexit nor a plausible way of managing it smoothly. Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. So it now is over Brexit.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Remember, Pence is the sane one

US Vice President Mike Pence in a speech to a student conference at American University in Washington DC --

You know, 30 years ago, our President wrote a book that holds words of wisdom for all future leaders that are gathered here today. It really is a book that’s inspired many leaders over more than three decades, and I believe it could be an inspiration to each one of you, as well. The book is entitled “The Art of the Deal,” and it’s actually an American classic. In that famous book, President Trump said, “I like thinking big,” because “if you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.” And that’s exactly what our President has done throughout his life. He’s thought big. He’s achieved big, and today we have a President of the United States who’s literally lived the American Dream. It’s remarkable to think that our President, a grandson of an immigrant to this country, the son of a self-made businessman has lived the life that he’s lived and now finds himself in the Oval Office of the United States. It’s interesting -- I often tell people that our two family stories are somewhat similar. The President’s grandfather immigrated to this country, and my grandfather immigrated to this country from Ireland. His father was a self-made man who built a business with his own two hands. My dad built a small gasoline station business in a small town in southern Indiana. He, the man who calls himself “the Kid from Queens,” decided to build on that legacy, and he went to Manhattan Island to build the big buildings.

Sunday, July 09, 2017


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy --

In the Paris intelligence base -- RICKI TARR (dictating) Ricki Tarr claims to have further information vital to the safeguarding of the Circus.

Donald Trump Jnr statement to ABC News --

I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign

There's so much of the Trump-Russia entanglement that can be read as echoes of Tinker Tailor, the same level of amorality, but a much higher level of greed and incompetence, and of course much less style.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Fossil Fundamentalists

Allowing for the usual quotient of Sir Humphrey-esque blather, the G20 closing statement actually says some things. For example --

The Leaders of the other (non-USA) G20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible. We reiterate the importance of fulfilling the UNFCCC commitment by developed countries in providing means of implementation including financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation actions in line with Paris outcomes and note the OECD’s report “Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth”. We reaffirm our strong commitment to the Paris Agreement, moving swiftly towards its full implementation in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances and, to this end, we agree to the G20 Hamburg Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth as set out in the Annex.

That means in particular that Saudi Arabia committed itself to the Paris Agreement, while the Trump administration didn't.

Photo: via G20 Presidency website, head of Saudi Arabian delegation Ibrahim al-Assaf with Angela Merkel. 

Trade deals need peaceful partners

Boris Johnson in December --

Johnson said Britain's decision to leave the European Union would open fresh opportunities. "We'll still be there to stick up for our friends and partners in the Gulf ... But now for the first time since the 1970s we will additionally be able to do free trade deals and we'll be able to build on the extraordinary commercial relationships that already exist between the UK and the Gulf."

BoJo is in Riyadh this weekend -- but not to seal a trade deal. Instead, he's part of a belated realization in western countries that the Qatar crisis is getting worse and needs urgent attention. One reason why the EU worked as an economic bloc is because the members had gone past the stage of being on the verge of war with each other. But Britain decided to leave that and look for trade deals with regions where that condition is not met. 

Border space

Financial Times on the UK government/ business talks at Chevening regarding Brexit --

Finding a solution to how the UK-EU border in Ireland would work was a priority for the summer, Mr Davis (Brexit Minister) said, so it could be a "test border" for the rest of EU.

The fact that the UK government views the Irish border as a potential model for the rest of the EU further highlights the ridiculous position of Ireland's West Brexiters, who insist that Ireland has to leave the EU to do a special deal on the border with the UK. Since Ireland is in the EU, the UK can't just focus on a bilateral deal with Ireland without thinking through the consequences for the rest of the EU. Hasn't Ireland historically done badly when Britain could deal however it likes with Ireland? Tell that to the West Brexiters. 

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Tory Blue

Financial Times on the mood within the May government headed into the hard work on Brexit:

The poison is already running around the system. "We can work with half the Labour party and crush the f*ckers," says one Conservative MP, referring to his Eurosceptic colleagues. A leading pro-Brexit MP says he would not tolerate threats from the "wankers" on his party's pro-European wing.

Remember that the West Brexit agitators in Ireland want to hitch the country to that dynamic.

Pass the message

Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah receives by hand the Qatari response to the demands from its other Gulf neighbours besides Oman. Kuwait is trying to act as an intermediary in the dispute. The Emir usually smiles in photos but he looks distinctly unexcited about his role in this case. Kuwait has unhappy memories of where such ultimatums end.

Photo: Kuwait News Agency.

Monday, July 03, 2017

UKIP dot ie

It was inevitable: the position that Ireland should leave the EU has graduated from outposts of social media and the opinion pages of the Sunday Business Post to a think tank "report." That would be a Policy Exchange report written by Irish public sector pensioner Ray Bassett. A few observations on this report -- which appears timed to generate media and summer school attention:

  • It contains no original research, and the few numbers that are cited are cut-and-paste from media articles and press releases.
  • It uses the Eurovision Song Contest as an analogy for Ireland's alleged loss of influence in the EU.
  • It cites Denmark as an example of a country that controls the value of its currency, even though Denmark is in a tight peg with the Euro.
  • It uses South Sudan as an example of a country that thought it was a good idea to launch its own currency.
  • It refers at one point to the President of France as Francois Macron -- everyone from France is named Francois, right?
  • It has a weird Sun-Delors style obsession with Michel Barnier, the EU Commission negotiator on Brexit, to the point where one wonders whether there was a past run-in between Barnier and Bassett.
  • It ends by advocating that Ireland might need to leave the EU while retaining access to the Single Market, even though all of the UK-Ireland economic disruption it cites arise from the UK leaving the Single Market -- and thus all would remain with Ireland in the Single Market!
  • It argues that Ireland is isolated in the EU because it has no overlapping memberships with other organizations unlike other EU members, and its list of such non-memberships includes the Commonwealth -- but the rest of the report is premised on Ireland's links with the UK.
  • Its Anglo-pundit style familiarity with European politics shows in numerous places, including for example an assumption that Martin Schulz will be the next Chancellor of Germany. 

These problems -- and there are many others (see John O'Brennan) -- need to be on the table before this report is taken as evidence of a serious West Brexit position. 

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Towards a theory of Trump and the media

From Niklas Luhmann, The Reality of the Mass Media --

The media designate what they are communicating about and must therefore distinguish it. For example, they inform people about scandals and in doing so must presuppose that non-scandalous behaviour would have been possible as well. What is not reflected here, however, is that one could pose the question (which a sociologist might pose) why something is even being observed in the schema scandalous/non-scandalous at all, and why the frequency of use of this schema is clearly increasing. In other words, the media remain (for good reason, as we shall presently see) invisible to themselves as an observer. They are turned towards the world in their operations and do not reflect that this turning itself generates an unmarked space in which they find themselves.

Coverage of the Trump spectacle presents many challenges, but as we've said before, one of the challenges that he has posed to pundits, especially liberal pundits, is their lack of any engagement with sociological theories of the mass media. Here for example is a perfectly reasonable tweet from Farhad Manjoo that takes as given a particular role for the "mass media" even as the Trump spectacle strains conventional notions of "outrage" and "scandal" -- notions in which the media play a determining role.


House of Commons, 11 June 1964, Business of the House --

Sir W. Teeling (Brighton): Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the Home Secretary considers that the Malicious Damage Bill is likely to be a useful deterrent against "Mods" and "Rockers" going to seaside and other resorts, and is he aware also that the Home Office feels that the Bill cannot be got through much before the end of the Session unless it is brought in very soon? Can the Bill be brought in very quickly; otherwise, it is quite likely that we shall have more trouble in these resorts before it becomes an Act of Parliament?

Untested leader

Conversation transcript --

Prince Mohammed bin Naif: But, thanks to Allah, what I know is that nobody has a case of this kind against any member of your group.

Suicide bomber: If you possibly can dispatch a special plane or anything so that I can speak to the youth from your office; for such a thing would certainly have them reassured.

Prince Mohammed bin Naif: As you wish. You are the one who can evaluate the situation. If the situation remains the same until the plane is sent to you, you are then welcome.

Suicide bomber: God bless you

That's part of the phone conversation in late August 2009 between Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Abdullah bin Hassan bin Talea' Asiri, a key member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The latter indicated a willingness to turn himself in, but only in person to Prince Mohammed, who sent a plane to Yemen to get him. He then blew himself up in the surrender, injuring Prince Mohammed, whose bandaged hand can be seen in a televised meeting that same night with King Abdullah (RIP).

That evening's events have lots of significance. It was only realized later that it was the first use of the AQAP underwear bomb (the bomber passed through multiple security checks before meeting the Prince). It also cemented the legitimacy of Prince Mohammed in terms of his personal commitment and risk-taking to get AQAP members to turn themselves in -- confirming his upward track culminating in him being elevated to Crown Prince.

Until he was shifted out a few weeks ago, suspiciously soon after Donald Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia. Let's just say that it's a somewhat less experienced crowd in charge in the USA and Saudi Arabia these days, headed into a very hot summer.

Photo: SPA via SUSRIS.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Don't give Trump ideas

At next week's G20 summit in Hamburg, Saudi King Salman and his delegation are staying as the sole occupants of the Hotel Fairmont Vier Jahreszeiten, and among many other specifications, King Salman is flying in his own throne for the visit. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Quote of the Day

Gillian Tett in the Financial Times on Ireland's transformed attitude to gay marriage --

“In Ireland, the campaign was all about a person, not policy,” E Moore Quinn, a linguistic anthropologist at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, told a meeting of anthropologists last year. “The consultants for the campaign decided that everyone knows someone who is gay, and everyone recognises the importance of love. So the campaigners would start with the personal incentive and then go bigger, talking about Ireland’s desire to be a modern, pluralistic European country. But people vote for the personal not the global — that was the lesson.”

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hybrid Operations

Yesterday, by pure coincidence, the following events happened --

  • Ransomware attack that appeared to first target Ukraine
  • Mysterious explosion which killed a Ukrainian intelligence officer
  • Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov hanging out in Syria with his good friend Bashar al-Assad -- on the day that the Pentagon had concluded he was planning a new chemical weapons attack.

It's almost as if there was a strategy of multiple disruptions at the same time!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

West Brexiters in Westminster

House of Commons debate on the Brexit portions of the Queen's Speech --

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP) ... The director of social policy at Trinity College Dublin said in a letter to the leader of the Democratic Unionist party: “If the Government of the Republic of Ireland is so foolish as to seek to stay in the EU when Northern Ireland and Britain leave, it is the Republic, not the UK, that will be putting the Common Anglo-Irish Travel and Trade Area at risk.” Those are very important comments because the onus is actually on the Republic of Ireland to address its problems with Europe. It is not for Northern Ireland to address those issues. Since 2014, the Republic of Ireland has been paying €1.7 billion to be a member of the EU. ... Post-Brexit, the Republic of Ireland will be required to pay even more to make up for the UK leaving the EU. All the trading issues between the Republic of Ireland and the UK show very clearly that the Republic of Ireland can do far better by leaving the EU along with the UK. I hope that the Republic of Ireland gets that message loud and clear, and recognises that it can do more for our common citizenship by leaving the EU along with us. 

First, Ian Beag is misquoting the title of Anthony Coughlan, who is not director of anything at Trinity College Dublin, although merely by virtue of having retired from there, it gets used a credential for media references (much the same way that public sector pensioner Ray Bassett catapults onto the op-ed pages by virtue of having retired from the Department of Foreign Affairs).

But anyway, Ian's contribution is helpful: it lays out clearly the argument that it's up to the Republic of Ireland to adapt to Brexit by leaving the EU -- an argument implicit in all the claims (such as from Ray Bassett) that the Republic is not "doing enough" about Brexit. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Around the time that Donald Trump's name was being put a statement marking the onset of the Islamic festival of Eid al-Fitr (end of Ramadan), a statement that was issued to the media but not posted on the White House website, he felt the need to tweet, with no context, Make America Great Again. He might need to move from the armchair to the couch. 


Chris Giles in the Financial Times with a brutally accurate verdict on Brexit:

After the Grenfell Tower fire, Brexiters might think twice before declaring war on red tape in order to spur growth. The disaster has shown there is nothing inherently superior in the UK's drafting or enforcement of regulations ... The first year since the vote to leave has been difficult. Living standards are down, the economy is more fragile and there have been few signs of the fabled investment-led balanced growth. No one should take great comfort from the fact we have avoided recession.

Worse, devalued ministers are ploughing on regardless with a hard Brexit. They are playing with the oiled cogs of Britain's economy in one hand and a bucket of sand in the other. No one knows how much they will tip in.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Gulf Ultimatum

New York Times 18 July 1990 --

''The policies of some Arab rulers are American,'' the Iraqi leader was quoted as having said by news agencies from Baghdad. ''They are inspired by America to undermine Arab interests and security.'' President [Saddam] Hussein said, ''Iraqis will not forget the saying that cutting necks is better than cutting means of living.'' ''O God almighty, be witness that we have warned them,'' he added. ''If words fail to protect Iraqis, something effective must be done to return things to their natural course and to return usurped rights to their owners.''

2 weeks after that article, and with repeated assurances from pundits, experts, and diplomats that all Iraq really wanted was money, Saddam invaded Kuwait.

That same obliviousness to the logic of where a Gulf political crisis is headed is happening today.

Outrage of the Day, a fortnight ago

Remember when Twitter users were tapping furiously on the nearest glass screen about how the greatest outrage in London was a New York Times headline that London was "reeling"?


From Ben Okri's poem about the tower block disaster, in the Financial Times:

But if you really look you can see it, if you really listen
You can hear it. You've got to look beneath the cladding.
There's cladding everywhere. Political cladding,
Economic cladding, intellectual cladding — things that look good
But have no centre, have no heart, only moral padding.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Brexit clarity

The media and gullible opinionators spent a couple of days discovering that the DUP actually does want to leave the European Union Customs Union -- a policy clearly stated in their manifesto and evident for months beforehand in their remarks on Brexit. Lest there be any doubt, Nigel Dodds set them to rest in the Queen's Speech debate --

We have, of course, heard some debate today about membership of the single market and the customs union, and we have heard talk about special status for Northern Ireland within the European Union. Let me make this very clear. I believe that when people voted, in the European Union referendum, to leave the European Union, they voted to leave the single market and the customs union, and I believe that Northern Ireland, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, must do likewise. We must not find ourselves allowing borders to be erected between the island of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom; that would be totally unacceptable. We must be imaginative, flexible and pragmatic in ensuring that there is an open border, as frictionless as possible, between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. There are ways—sensible ways that have already been discussed —of ensuring that that can be made to happen, and it is in the interests of the Irish Republic and the European Union, as well as those of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, to make it happen. The great advantage with which we start is that everyone is saying that—apart from, I have to say, Sinn Féin, which is calling for special status within the EU for Northern Ireland. That has not been adopted or accepted by the new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, by any of the parties in the Irish Republic, or by the EU negotiators. Everyone accepts that Northern Ireland’s priorities in relation to the land frontier must also be at the top of the negotiating priorities.

So: they want to leave the Customs Union, but they want a special arrangement for the "land frontier" with the Republic of Ireland to save them from the logic of that preference. Unfortunately, there are fools in Dublin who believe that the Irish government should step aside from the EU negotiation framework and give the Paisleyites what they want.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Opportunity Knocks

Financial Times on UK government formation:

The DUP's tough approach to negotiations has raised eyebrows in Westminster; one person familiar with talks labelled the party "short-termist fools".

Remember,  the Tories are at the mercy of Paisleyism because of an unnecessary election called on the basis of opinion polls. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Trucial Taunt

The UAE Ambassador to the USA had a prime spot in the Wall Street Journal op-ed page last week to lay out their side of the story in the dispute with Qatar. In Monday's paper, his Qatari counterpart has a letter in response ($). It's brutal --

... Surely his excellency also remembers that the U.A.E. was singled out in the 9/11 Commission’s report for its role in laundering money to terrorists, and that Emiratis, not Qataris, were among the hijackers who flew planes into the Twin Towers. ... he fails to mention that the U.A.E. financed the military coup that overthrew Egypt’s first democratically elected government, and that the U.A.E. allegedly bankrolled the coup plotters who attempted to overthrow the elected government in Turkey. ... It has become clear that the current campaign against Qatar is not about terrorism, Al Jazeera or any of the other issues highlighted by the boycotting nations. It is about Qatar’s independence, which some apparently view as a threat. We would like our brothers in the GCC to know that we are a threat to no one. But they should also understand that Qatar is a sovereign nation, and that we will not be bullied.

The dig about the alleged UAE rule in the abortive Turkish coup is particularly significant. This isn't going to end well. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ian says out

Quite predictably, there is a "news" frenzy around the ostensible revelation that the DUP wants to leave the European Customs Union as part of Brexit -- even though this was clearly stated in their manifesto and has been mentioned by their MPs in the House of Commons for months beforehand. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Tough Republic

Nicholas Macpherson in the Financial Times:

But whereas Ireland managed to reduce its gross public debt from 86 per cent to 75 per cent of national income between 2010 and 2016, Britain's public debt carried on rising: from 76 per cent to 89 per cent.  In short, Britain never experienced austerity.


Wall Street Journal on the case of newly sanctioned ISIS operative Oussama Atar:

His extraction from Iraq wasn't only because of a humanitarian campaign because of his alleged chronic illness—which later turned out to be false—but also because the Belgian intelligence services sought to recruit him as a source given his contacts in the Moroccan-Belgian community, according to an official familiar with the probe. "The Belgians promised the U.S. two things—to never give him a passport and to put him under 24-hour surveillance. They failed on both accounts," the official said.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Gulf memories

New York Times, September 23 1990 -- 2 months after the disastrous all-round miscalculation that was the Saddam invasion of Kuwait:

The American strategy, carried out primarily by the State Department but approved by the White House, was based on the assumption that Iraq would not invade and occupy Kuwait. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, who assured the Bush Administration that Mr. Hussein would not invade, argued that the best way to resolve an inter-Arab squabble was for the United States to avoid inflammatory words and actions. Some senior Administration officials said the strategy was also rooted in the view that Washington - and most of the Arab world - probably could live with a limited invasion of Kuwait, in which Iraqi forces seized bits of Kuwaiti territory to gain concessions. ''We were reluctant to draw a line in the sand,'' a senior Administration official said. ''I can't see the American public supporting the deployment of troops over a dispute over 20 miles of desert territory and it is not clear that the local countries would have supported that kind of commitment. The basic principle is not to make threats you can't deliver on. That was one reason there was a certain degree of hedging on what was said.''

Ireland 1 Italy 0

New York Times on Gianluca Tonelli's sometimes uphill struggle to bring pastrami to Tuscany --

But now he felt down about Italy, its economic prospects and culinary closed­mindedness. His dream, he said, is to put the truck on a boat to Ireland. “Nobody knows pastrami there,” he said, adding that it was a nation full of open­minded people, fiscal benefits and less cuisine elitism. “In Ireland the food is great until they cook it.”

Sunday, June 11, 2017


The Saudi Press Agency is providing more details (meaning more than zero) on the phone call today between 2nd Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in which Qatar was clearly discussed. There is no official US account, so far, of the phone call. 

One quintile to rule them all

Important article by Richard Reeves in the New York Times Sunday Review: the problem in American politics and social dynamics is not the Top 1 percent, it's the Top 20 percent. Besides the fact that we completely agree, Reeves doesn't note one additional point: The Pundit Class is in that Top 20 percent. 

They'll never have lunch on Massachusetts Avenue again

Bloomberg News --

The government of Qatar, blockaded by its neighbors and singled out for supporting terror in recent days by President Donald Trump, has hired the firm of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft for services that could include lobbying, according to disclosures released by the Justice Department. Qatar is paying Ashcroft’s firm $2.5 million to represent it in connection with its efforts to combat global terrorism and comply with U.S. money laundering and counterterrorism financing regulations, according to the four-page contract filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires lobbyists for foreign clients to disclose information about their activities.

The tone of the news coverage seems to be, here we go again, the Qataris splashing out the cash on Washington lobbyists. But the actual news is that they were able to find any Washington lobbyist to represent them, given the squeeze being applied by the much deeper-pocketed alliance against them. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have written a lot of cheques to think tanks and pundits over the last 15 years, far more than Qatar.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

American Strategist in London

From May Co-Chief of staff Nick Timothy resignation statement assessing the campaign: 

It also failed to notice the surge in Labour support, because modern campaigning techniques require ever-narrower targeting of specific voters, and we were not talking to the people who decided to vote for Labour.

He means Jim Messina, the Obama campaign consultant expensively hired by the Conservative campaign. 

You'll never beat the Irish

In the Wall Street Journal ($), Ben Zimmer with a reminder that the now-common term Whataboutery, often seen as a Russian media/ troll tactic, actually originated in a different era, from the opinion section of the then troll-free Irish Times --

On Jan. 30, 1974, the Irish Times published a letter to the editor from Sean O'Conaill, a history teacher from the town of Coleraine in Northern Ireland. Mr. O'Conaill wrote of "the Whatabouts," his name for "the people who answer every condemnation of the Provisional I.R.A. with an argument to prove the greater immorality of the 'enemy.' "

Three days later, in the same newspaper, John Healy picked up the theme in his "Backbencher" column, citing Mr. O'Conaill's letter. "We have a bellyful of Whataboutery in these killing days, and the one clear fact to emerge is that people, Orange and Green, are dying as a result of it," he wrote.

The DUP and the Customs Union

It's relevant -- and fun -- to lay out the loony positions that the DUP has adopted on social issues over the years. But it's important not to lose sight of the DUP's stated position on Brexit, because it's central to the tension of their support for a government also reliant on Scottish MPs. The DUP wants to leave the Customs Union. They also want a frictionless border with the Republic of Ireland, but the issue is whether those two aspirations are compatible. Commitments in their manifesto include --

Progress on new free trade deals with the rest of the world 
Comprehensive free trade and customs agreement with the European Union 
Northern Ireland established as a hub for trade from Irish Republic into the broader UK market. Customs arrangements which facilitate trade with new and existing markets
 Jurisdiction of European Court of Justice ended and greater control over our laws restored

The aspiration to non-EU trade deals, special arrangements for Irish trade with the UK, and being outside the ECJ are all incompatible with membership in the Customs Union. Word games around this conundrum need to be watched closely in the coming months.

Incidentally, along with the dream of a hard Brexit that died yesterday, so did the dream of West Brexit i.e. Ireland following the UK out of the European Union, as explicitly demanded by West Brit trolls and coyly advocated by the opinion pages of the Sunday Business Post. With Britain now far more likely to stay in the Customs Union and probably even the Single Market, there would be zero logic for Ireland to have asymmetric trade relations with the UK compared with other EU member countries trade relations with the UK. 

Friday, June 09, 2017

Quote of the Day

Edward Carson in the House of Commons debate on the Government of Ireland Bill in the fateful run-up to World War I and suspension of Home Rule --

I say this to my Nationalist fellow countrymen, and, indeed, also to the Government: you have never tried to win over Ulster. You have never tried to understand her position. You have never alleged, and can never allege, that this Bill gives her one atom of advantage. Nay, you cannot deny that it takes away many advantages that she has as a constituent part of the United Kingdom. You cannot deny that in the past she had produced the most loyal and law-abiding part of the citizens of Ireland. After all that, for these two years, every time we came before you your only answer to us—the majority of you, at all events—was to insult us, and to make little of us. I say to the leader of the Nationalist party, if you want Ulster, go and take her, or go and win her. You have never wanted her affections; you have wanted her taxes.

England's Difficulty is Ireland's Opportunity

There is understandable unease about a DUP tail wagging the Tory dog in the formation of a minority Tory government. But there is a lot more good news than bad news in last night's results:

First and foremost, the Tory right/ DUP dream of a Hard Brexit is dead. The Conservative MPs now have an influential group of Scottish MPs sitting among them that will push for soft Brexit, and the Tories barely had the votes even before to dodge the controversial issues like Single Market and migration.

Second, there's a limit to what the DUP can extract from the Tories as a price for support. They are tied to a power sharing agreement with Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, and the UK is a party to that agreement. If the Conservatives make too many concessions to the DUP for Westminster support, they will be destabilizing the intricate arrangements for running Northern Ireland.

And finally: is it really SF's position that on a Brexit deal vote within the next 20 months that would involve a hard border in Ireland, they would not take their seats and vote against it? Given the dramatic changes in electoral politics in the last couple of years, are they sure that a policy designed for 1918 is still the right one? 

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Irish Parliamentary Party

This evening might be a good time for Sinn Féin to reconsider its abstentionist policy in the UK House of Commons. Especially given that the DUP could otherwise have the balance of power. 

The world's saddest excuse

Financial Times election eve analysis including for UKIP:

The Eurosceptic party says its anti-immigration message is being taken more seriously after the terror attacks of the last fortnight, but it still faces what one party official called the "egregious partisanship of the Tory-supporting newspapers".

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Gulf Blowback

David Gardner in the Financial Times on the Qatar diplomatic crisis:

The absolute monarchies of the Gulf are not like, say, the Hashemites in Jordan, where the late King Hussein could run through 56 prime ministers in 46 years, useful scapegoats for misfired policies. The Al Thani are a dynasty as much as the House of Saud. They cannot be laid off without weakening dynastic legitimacy all around.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times on the closing days of the UK election campaign:

It is an unseriousness abroad, a failure to leave behind the Home Office itch to land favourable tabloid headlines, even when it comes to the highest matters of state, that augurs badly for her premiership. The overall impression from the past seven weeks is of a nation protected by the best of its citizens, and governed by merely the best available.

Monday, June 05, 2017

There's always a previous Trump tweet

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Explain this to a time traveller from 2001

That would be a Taliban Twitter account suggesting to President Trump, in a way that he might find convincing, that it's time to pack in the war begun 2 months after 9/11. The latest disasters in Kabul might also be a good time to recall that there's still no satisfactory explanation for the bomb explosion which killed the UAE Ambassador, among many others, in Kandahar in January. 


Reuters interview with head of the armed forces of Colombia, General Juan Pablo Rodriguez --

"Stabilization is very complicated, very difficult. Colombians have to understand it will take time." Rodriguez said. "I would say at a minimum in ten years we will be able to see how we've done and see more concrete results."

And that's a 10 year timeline for security results within his own country. Project accordingly for insurgencies with lots of cross-border interventions on all sides, and you get a sense of what to expect for the Middle East. 

UK election

With a week to go, a few unstructured thoughts.

One question is prompted by the narrowing of the Tory lead according to the polls. What's striking is the extent to which the Tory campaign mimics the mistakes of the Clinton campaign against Trump: assuming that the ostensible awfulness of Corbyn was sufficient of itself without having to make a positive case for their own leader, and underestimating the power of a simple but resonant slogan: Make America Great Again, meet For The Many, Not The Few. Indeed, the aping of the Clinton mistakes is so striking, it's almost as if the Tories have a Democratic "strategist" working for their campaign!

Another issue is the dementia tax. In the post-mortems on the small Tory majority, that will be seen as a pivotal moment in the campaign. How did they commit such an unforced error? For one thing, they found themselves the wrong side of how the public thinks about fairness relative to bad luck.

May clearly thought that the switch from Cameron's maximum out-of-pocket on old age care to a guaranteed minimum level of assets that you'd be left with after old age care was a winner, on the logic that rich people would have a more open-ended liability. But Cameron (who, yes, will still go down as the worst PM in British history over Brexit) did have an intuitive sense that people want a limit on how bad things can get for an unlucky family -- and would place a higher weight on that than level of wealth.

When it comes to such uncertainty, people apparently prefer a bad deal (things can get no worse than X) to no deal (you won't lose everything)!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Quote of the Day

From the FT blockbuster examination of the scale and scope of UK treaty renegotiation after Brexit:

For Mr Chizhov, the potential for bureaucratic overload has echoes of another time and place — Soviet Russia. "Brexit means Brexit is a very interesting expression," says the Russian ambassador, referring to Prime Minister Theresa May's mantra on exit. "It reminds me of Leonid Brezhnev saying, 'the economy should be economical'."

Monday, May 29, 2017

Revenge is a dish best served frothy

Since there's a thriving business now in analyzing every interaction of European leaders with Donald Trump, here's another: during her appearance in Bavaria at which she delivered her bleak assessment of the G7 summit, she also drank beer. The British media were apparently too busy with Diane Abbott's hairstyle to notice, since normally any choices of women leaders are subject to massive scrutiny.

But anyway, the point is -- Trump doesn't drink. For a would-be alpha male like Trump, she was sending a message.

Photo: Der Spiegel.