Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics
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Dan is a student at Georgetown University. He is currently trying to think of a new biography for this space.
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This blog translated:
Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.
"There are three types of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics." - Variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, Alfred Marshall, Mark Twain and many other dead people.
Songbook by Nick Hornby
The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
You should read:
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
Bobos In Paradise by David Brooks
Madam Secretary: A Memoir by Madeleine Albright
Damned Lies and Statistics by Joel Best
Books written or edited by my professors (well, only the good ones)
The Economics of the Welfare State
The Welfare State As Piggy Bank
Introduction to Econometrics
The Collected Poems of Robert Lowell (ed. with Frank Bidart)
In the Belly
The Sleep of Reason
To Dwell Secure
The Human Web (with William H. McNeill)
Something New Under the Sun
Western Europe: Economic and Social Change Since 1945
Across the Atlantic
Brazos de Dios Cantina Carl with a K
Dilettante's Guide to Life
Enemy of the People
Equilibrismi ridanciani Fester's Place
I Know What I Know Interesting by Association
Kick the Leftist
More White Teeth
No More Mr. Nice Blog Notes on the Atrocities
Open Source Politics
Peevish...I'm Just Saying
Politics and Policy
Sha Ka Ree
Sick of Bush
Something's Got to Break
Truth is a Blog
Vast Left Wing Conspiracy
We Report... You Deride
2004 ESPN Information Please Sports Almanac
"Everything to Everyone" by Barenaked Ladies
"In Between Evolution" by The Tragically Hip
"Phantom Planet" by Phantom Planet
The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell
"One Plus One Is One" by Badly Drawn Boy
"Sultans of Swing" by the Dire Straits
"Best of the Talking Heads" by the Talking Heads
How Shareholder Reforms Can Pay Foreign Policy Dividends, James Shinn, ed.
Weaving the Net, James Shinn, ed.
Fires Across the Water, James Shinn, ed.
Panasonic ES8017SC Men's Triple Blade Pro Curve Rechargeable Linear Shaver
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
I can't really claim original discovery on the following, but it's a point worth noting. For the record, I noticed Indiawest doing it first.
When links are bloggered, as seems to happen so regularly (I'm too damn lazy/technophobic/cheap to mess with the template or switch to Moveable Type), don't bother linking to the front page or the broken link and hope the person finds the post. Link to the blogpage, backslash, and then the entry number for the blog entry (which is the last eight digits of the archive link).
For instance, if the link to this post is bloggered, rather than linking to
just link to it at
Yeah, it's a bit annoying, but at least the link goes to the right place.
I should note that this is only a temporary fix while the linked post remains on the front page. Once the linked post disappears into the archives, as this post eventually will, the link will just be directed to the main page.
So, I noticed that I was picking up a few extra hits from the links page on Neal Pollack's The Maelstrom. Which apparently can be traced back to this CNN.com article on America's Greatest Living Writer.
Becoming a successful writer -- if not, necessarily, The Greatest Living American Writer -- has done wonders for Pollack's magazine career. He now has a regular column in Vanity Fair, and he says he'll be moving away from the easy jokes involving the literary persona.
"McSweeney's seems like a long time ago," he says. "Things have changed. I don't have time to do the literary hipster stuff. And the character is very malleable. I'm trying to move it in a different direction."
Neal, say it ain't so! (and congratulations, of course)
Apparently Jean Chretien has an interesting plan for a going-away present. He plans to decriminalize - but not legalize marijuana. A similar plan has been announced for Britain by the Home Minister, David Blunkett, but has attracted a fair amount of political opposition and has not made much progress through the Parliament. This idea tends to be something of an easy target for politicians.
(via Matthew Yglesias, who points out that such a move might have a destabilizing effect on the northern U.S.)
Disgraced former minister/pro-Euro fanatic/Tony Blair's close advisor Peter Mandelson has admitted that he was 'addicted to publicity.'
Where do they find these people? And how come nothing like this ever happens in the U.S.? The best that we ever get are the tearful apologies from Congressmen who have had multiple affairs while promoting 'family values.' Well that and Enid Waldholz.
Euro (currency) roundup:
Apparently, the pro-Euro lobby fears that 'political shenanigans' will ruin the chances of Euro entry before the next election.
I find this a little funny - it is the pot calling the kettle black - considering that this is coming from the camp that has been arguing that Britain will be politically locked out of Europe if it fails to adopt the Euro.
Actually, George Foulkes has an interesting op-ed in the Independent that argues for the adoption of the Euro on economic grounds. Which is a nice change from the recent hysteria.
Foulkes makes a couple of good points - there are plenty of reasons why the Euro is a good idea in the long run - but I still disagree with him overall. Foulkes is quite right to argue that the minimization of exchange rate risk is best, but is too panicked about the powers of currency speculators. They're not as all-powerful as he thinks. For that matter, Euro entry would temporarily increase the risk of speculation, since it would require Britain to spend two years in the ERM2 exchange rate mechanism before physical use of the Euro is adopted. This would greatly increase the risk of speculation, since there would be something for speculators to bet against. This would be particularly problematic at a misvalued exchange rate - and the Pound is clearly overvalued now. A speculative attack would be quite difficult to pull off right now, given that there is nothing to attack, and nothing that the Bank of England seeks to defend (although it would probably be forced to defend the Pound if an attack did occur to prevent inflation/deflation). Still, the Euro will clearly decrease the risk of speculative attacks in the long run. One more reason to wait for a little while, it seems.
Foulkes also make a couple of rather amateur mistakes. Euro entry could be problematic not because Germany and other Euro countries are growing slowly - he blames it entirely on other causes (there are other things that have helped to cause the slow growth, but the Euro and the Stability and Growth Pact aren't blameless) - but because the economies have not converged. Slow growth would be no problem for entry if Britain were also growing slowly, but it is continuing to plod along satisfactorily. Moreover, he confuses labor (sorry, labour) market flexibility with economic flexibility. The two are certainly correlated, but there is a difference between them.
Foulkes is also right to point out, though, that the risks from a uniform interest rate are relatively small (though the ECB is still too politically influence-able, particularly compared to the almost wholly independent Bank of England). There are certainly some reasons why Euro entry would be good for Britain ... but I still believe that it would be done in the most painless manner in a few years time.
IndiaWest points out that the sound and fury is all about whether to hold the referendum, and not directly whether or not Britain should enter. If the vote were held today, the Euro would lose overwhelmingly to the Pound. Indeed, he/she/it argues that it might be beneficial if the referendum were held and lost, allowing Britain to reconsider when ready - referendums of like this tend to be re-run repeatedly until won, as currently in Sweden and Norway - and allowing a clearer picture for how Britain could work in the E.U.
Local elections for most English councils (the local governments here), Scottish councils, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and the Stormont (Northern Ireland) Assembly are to be held tomorrow. Welsh councils, and some English councils run on a different cycle, though. The elections are going ahead in Northern Ireland, despite the fact that the Assembly remains suspended.
The council elections results are not quire predictable. There are about 19,000 council seats in England, and about 10,000 are up for election. Some predictions have Labour losing up to 500 seats, based mostly on anger over the war. It's not entirely clear if there will be a war bounce to balance this out. The Conservatives intentionally set a low target of gaining 30 seats, apparently in order to ensure that a bad result would not result in a leadership challenge to Iain Duncan Smith. A more realistic expectation is that they will probably gain about 200 seats. That is rather low, since the party in power in Parliament generally tends to do rather badly in mid-term council elections. The Tories picked up over 1,000 seats in 1999, though this followed on a disastrous loss of nearly 2,000 seats in 1995, near the end of John Major's government. The Liberal Democrats have refused to publish a goal, but apparently are expecting to pick up a couple hundred seats. As always, there is a distinct concern that the British National Party, the far-right and nearly racist/fascist party, will win seats here and there.
The Scottish Parliament is elected through an extremely complicated mix of proportional representation, single member districts and preference voting. No one really understand how it works. Thus, just about every party running has announced that it expects to pick up a few seats, which is mathematically impossible. This includes Labour, the Tories, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, the Scottish Socialist Party and the Greens. The assembly has spent the last four years in an often tumultuous coalition consisting of Labour and Lib Dems. Polls have shown the Labour vote rebounding after initially dropping - the SNP was coming in a very close second, but Labour refuses to countenance a coalition with them - as the First Minister, Jack McConnell, was seen to be too supportive of Tony Blair over Iraq and other issues.
The Welsh Assembly is currently run by a rather stable minority Labour government. Labour apparently hopes to pick up the 3 seats it would need to govern as a majority. The second party is Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalists. The Tories and Lib Dems come in third and fourth, respectively.
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
From the 'Only an economist would find this funny' file...
Check out indiawest's Saturday, April 26th post (permalinks bloggered) on the new advice column in the Financial Times.
I need help.
Or, on the more important side of things (I suppose it would be pushing things if I titled this sub-post 'FDIrony'), Matthew Yglesias points out that the U.S. excluding French and German firms from rebuilding contracts in Iraq is pretty pointless, since there's nothing to stop French and German individuals from buying shares or otherwise investing in Bechtel, Halliburton, Brown and Root and the other American companies that get the contracts. Or to stop Americans from investing in French and German firms either.
The CalPundit has an interesting post up on how effective tax rates (not the 'official' income tax rates, but the actual tax rates after exemptions, deductions, and other taxes) have been dropping for the rich, while they've been rising for the poor over the last 50 years.
It's true, and it's antithetical to the idea of a progressive tax system. Part of this is the result of the Republicanization of the income tax system, and the introduction of far, far too many loopholes into the system.
I'd argue, though, that while the current tax system isn't acceptable, the 1950's scenario isn't really workable either. When effective tax rates are so high on the rich relative to the poor, it creates all sorts incentives to push for the creation and use of tax shelters and other loopholes, or just to shift income out of the country altogether. In the short run, though, it clearly makes sense to tax the rich more and the poor less when trying to jump-start the economy. As now.
There's a nice little discussion on the page going on in the comments section. It looks like a couple of conservative bloggers have dispatched their minions to assault Kevin's graphs. Some of them have some intelligent criticisms - changes in the tax code make it difficult to compare tax burdens across time, for one. Using taxation to increase savings - by taxing the rich lower - increases investment, which is beneficial in the long run, and the difference between wealth in income and wealth in assets. A couple others, though, are easily demolishable
I'm not an economist, but I have a question. Looking at your chart, it would seem that in 1948 one man could make $100,000 and a second man could make $27,000, and at the end of the year, both men have about the same amount of money. Why did the first guy work so hard?
Er. No, the upper tax rate on the graph was for millionares. Someone earning $1,000,000 would take home about $250,000 in 1948. Someone earning $12,941 would pay no taxes, according to Kevin. (note: the tax code is traditionally built to avoid the sort of inequity where people at different pre-tax incomes end up with the same post-tax income ... although I can't say that it always functioned like this perfectly, it generally works that way)
Which is the better path to economic growth, 'cause it can't be both: higher tax rates on millionaires putting money in the hands of the government, or lowering tax rates to leave said money in the hands of people who spend it, rich or poor?
Er. There's nothing that says that higher taxes on the rich necessarily goes into the hands of the government. The government can turn and give the money to the poor, who will spend it immediately, helping to expand the economy, rather than sitting on it. The issue here isn't lower or higher effective overall tax rates, but but lower or higher effective tax rates for upper and lower economic strata within the context of constant effective overall tax rates.
Finally, I don't know where you got the idea that the standard of living is higher in Europe, but huh? It's awfully hard to compare standards of living between countries, but unless you start dragging in intangibles, as left-leaning economists are wont to do (all of which, curiously, reflect their own desires -- they don't adjust for the intangible right to bear arms, or personal liberty, or passport-free travel over a large land-mass full of amusement parks), it's nigh-on impossible to get them close, much less "better".
It's called the Schengen Agreement (EU citizens suffer essentially no passport controls within EU countries). Though the amusement parks kinda suck.
Yeah, so I picked on the dumb ones. So sue me. If you want to read the stuff that's not from raving lunatics, check out Kevin's responses to some of the claims, and the comments written by Jane Galt and Max Sawicky, who actually know what they're talking about.
Cadbury's, the British chocolate maker has announced a new plan, by which children can turn in chocolate bar wrappers* - which increase the likelihood of obesity - for sports equipment - to encourage them to lose weight. And so the circle of life continues ...
*If you want to get really anal retentive, chocolate bar wrappers do not directly increase the likelihood of obesity, but the consumption of chocolate bars does so. That said, the correlation between having a chocolate bar wrapper and eating a chocolate bar is almost assuredly not statistically significantly different from 1. Indeed, the individual who gets a significant amount of utility from posessing a chocolate bar wrapper, but not the chocolate bar, has got some serious issues that they need to deal with. And I need to get my head out of my economics textbooks a little more often.
Monday, April 28, 2003
Yes, folks, it's Howard Kurtz's wet dream (or nightmare, maybe).
The Guardian: "MPs warn on risk of missing euro boat"
The Independent: "Decision to delay euro entry would be 'huge opportunity' missed, MPs warn"
The Times: "MPs strengthen Brown's hand to veto the euro"
The Telegraph: "MPs highlight dangers of euro uncertainty"
The House of Commons Select Treasury Committee has released a report on what it thinks of the five tests and current ideas for a referendum right now. The report has quickly become a sounding board - you can tell exactly what the newspaper's position is on the issue by how they report it. The Independent (unrealistically pro-Euro) thinks that they're saying that Britain needs to go into the Euro now , and their article is more panicked than the article in the Guardian (realistically pro-Euro), which notes certain problems that the committee recorded. The Times (realistically anti-Euro for now) thinks that the MPs are saying not to enter the Euro-zone now. The Telegraph (unrealistically and reflexively anti-Euro) thinks that the MPs want to warn people against joining the risks posed by Euro entry at any time.
BBC Radio 4, by the way, explained that the MPs were saying that Britain needed to go into the Euro now, as convergence would be made harder if Britain did not do so now, since Britain will otherwise be locked out of ECB interest rate decisions at one out of every five ECB meetings. The problem is that Britain is going to be locked out of one out of five ECB meetings, regardless of what it decides on the Euro. Due to the expansion of the EU, ECB meetings will not include all EU members (if it were, the meetings would go on for days). So Britain, France, Spain, Germany and Italy will have to share four seats, with one rotating out at each meeting. This will occur regardless of what Britain does as far as entering the Euro-zone. In other words, the folks at BBC Radio 4 have their heads up their arses.
As best I can tell - and relying rather heavily on this separate Times article (which is the only one I can find that does more reporting than spin) - the report argues that the referendum and entry decision should be based on economics, not politics, against the wishes of pro-Euro forces. At the same time, they argue that repeatedly running the tests will open markets up to too much uncertainty and fluctuations. Moreover, it is clear that a number of the tests cannot currently be passed, and both Britain and European countries will need to work together if convergence is to be achieved, particularly in labor (sorry, labour) market flexibility. This article suggests that the group would normally be inclined to be pro-Euro. This poll in the Telegraph suggests that a referendum held on Euro entry today would end up in a landslide for keeping the Pound.
No news on George Galloway today. The Telegraph, though, claims to have found letters that include evidence of attempts by the French government to stifle protests against Saddam Hussein and a conference held by the human rights group, Indict, which was to discuss the crimes of the Iraqi government. The article is here.
I'm really not sure what to make of this, given that the Telegraph seems to keep publishing more and more of these letters. I am not sure whether to believe them more now or less. And for that matter, I still wonder about the possibility that some of the letters may also have been faked to deceive people within the Iraqi regime.
Sunday, April 27, 2003
Does anyone know if there is a legal way for foreigners (non-citizen, non-residents) to legally donate to a political campaign, political party, PAC, or other organization that disperses money to political campaigns or engages in political advertising in the United States?
Because I can think of a few million Europeans who would probably be happy to donate a few Euros right now to anything willing to run against George W. Bush that has a pulse and opposable thumbs (well, actually, an opposable thumb).
(note: I realize that it's a really bad idea for foreign countries and citizens to try to affect the outcomes of political campaigns in different countries, and could be really manipulative and harmful in the long run - see this, for one example - but, that said, the U.S. did it in Nicaragua pretty blatantly in 2001, so it could be argued that we are fair game at this point)
Maybe I'm getting a little too optimistic - actually I'm probably way too optimistic - but I find myself wondering if we've reached the end of George W. Bush's insane tax cut-mania for now. Noted "Franco-Republicans" George Voinovich and Olympia Snowe seem to be holding to their pledge not to go over $350 billion more in tax cuts (which is still way too much, but I digress). Frist and Grassley seem plenty happy to hold this line too.
Bush, Rove, Cheney, etc., will undoubtedly call Frist, Voinovich and Snowe to the woodshed (trans. - they'll get yelled at, quite loudly) and Bush may go barnstorming around Ohio and Maine. And no one seems to be budging.
For all of the politicking and yelling, Bush/Rove can only push things so far. Frist says he's not running for re-election, and isn't likely to be held to threats. Indeed, Voinovich and Snowe seem to be popular at home for what they've done, at least from what I've been reading. Voinovich seems an unlikely defector, but Snowe could probably go independent and survive. And has anyone heard from Lincoln Chafee, or did he wake up with a dead horse's head at the foot of his bed?
It's too early to say that the massive tax cuts are dead (actually, the Voinovich-Snowe-Frist-Grassley plan is still massively huge and misdirected). But I think I may see a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe. Maybe it's an oncoming train, and we're about to be flattened, a la Wile E. Coyote. Maybe I shouldn't have watched so many cartoons as a child. But I digress. I digress a lot, really.
Maybe it will be okay. At least until it goes to the conference committee.
The Sunday Euro-dumbass:
Will Hutton in the Observer (which is the Sunday edition of the Guardian) on Blair and the Euro.
Ahem. (cough) (cough)
It is an open secret that Tony Blair is planning a reshuffle this summer. The issue is Gordon Brown. If he were to embrace a new role, it would radically open up Blair's options and allow him to create a Cabinet in his own image. But Brown is the capital ship of the New Labour fleet. How much should Blair rely on persuading his ally to accept a move - and how much on force?
It's not a secret at all. There still remains an almost certain shuffle, not least of all to follow the resignations over Iraq. Clare Short has to go sooner than later as she has becoming a walking punchline.
Ever since the rows over foundation hospitals and tuition fees, some in Blair's inner circle have been urging him to act. The Blairite vision for the welfare state is to try to find a new settlement combining equity and diversity in provision. Brown disagrees. Diversity and equity are polar opposites; the very character of an universal public service means it cannot be very diverse in delivery.
Let the private sector do what it must do, argues Brown, but understand it has limits and that the public sector must retain its 'publicness'. It's a fundamental difference. In any case, say the siren voices, Gordon needs a change - and it would refresh the Government. A win/win all round.
The siren voices - Mr. Hutton seems to include himself as one - don't have a monopoly on intelligence or ability, last I checked.
Blair is wary. He respects his Chancellor. He also knows that moving Brown against his will could destabilise the Government. But I understand what is persuading the Prime Minister to attempt the manoeuvre is the almost insuperable difficulties of managing his own credibility within Europe, the Labour Party and business once Brown has ruled against Britain joining the euro on the grounds that the five tests are not passed. It is not just that he will look to be in thrall to his Chancellor's will; it is that his own trustworthiness will be grievously damaged.
It was only earlier this year, for example, that Blair privately gave the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, an assurance that there would be a referendum on the euro in this parliament. He has also been telling backers of Britain in Europe that he remains committed to Britain entering the euro and that they should not believe the doomsters. To all these people, there now has to be a convincing story to prevent the pro-European cause from imploding; Britain in Europe, for example, would go belly-up.
The vigorous debate that has gone on between Brown and Blair has definitely indicated that the Prime Minister is not in thrall to his Chancellor. More than that, Britain might not go belly-up in the Euro right now, but it would probably suffer significant damage. At the moment, Britain can do far better for itself - and Europe - with its own monetary policy than that of the ECB. Finally, Tony Blair's government depends on the votes of the people of Great Britan, not of the European Commission. Nor does the European Commission seem able or willing to punish Britain for staying out of the Euro for the time being.
The fall-away in inward investment would become precipitate. The scope for building a EU that reflected British interests would be negligible; our foreign policy choice will be to continue to be George Bush's loyal ally with no European hinterland, a position Blair knows is high risk and, maybe, unsustainable.
No (not gramatically correct either), no, no, and maybe.
If Brown is to say 'No', then there has to be a concrete road-map that will address the obstacles that he says lie in the way of euro entry if Blair is to retain any credibility at all. In other words, Brown has to move from considered passivity to proactive policies promoting the convergence he has claimed does not at present exist.
Actually, if Blair is to retain any economic credibility, he has to be willing to do what is best for Britain economically. That, as Gordon Brown knows, means staying out of the Euro for the time being. Blair's political credibility, I would think, depends on his ability to avoid the idiotic demands of a bunch of panicking Euro-philes. Promoting convergence is all well and good, but should not be done at the expense of economic growth.
The problem for Brown is that economic convergence does exist; on interest rates, inflation and synchronisation of economic cycles, Britain and the euro area are now closely aligned. Predictability of interest rates and the exchange rate after entry must be reckoned to raise investment, growth and employment. Inward investment will be stabilised and even rise after membership. Britain's capacity to accommodate economic shocks within the euro area is as least as great as any other member.
Um, convergence doesn't exist right now, though some have argued that Britain is close to a hypothetical average Europe. Britain, though, does not appear to be close to the actual Europe. Give it a couple of years and it might very well happen, without the intervention of Gordon Brown, the ECB, Alan Greenspan, or any higher being. If the Bank of England remains credible and able, interest rates and exchange rates should remain relatively stable, enough so as to encourage investment, growth and employment. An independent currency does not inherently cause volatility, though it does creates the opportunity for it to occur. It is the maladjustment of monetary policy that causes volatility.
Although there are worries about one exchange rate and one interest rate for a whole continent, the advantages more than outweigh the disadvantages. It sets the seal on the single market and creates a zone of stable, low-interest rates and inflation. Even the Treasury euro-sceptics will be hard pressed to argue differently.
In the long run, the advantages of Euro membership probably outweigh the disadvantages, and would certainly seal the single market. The single market will probably be assured, anyway. The warning of doom-sayers that a failure to join the Euro will cause Britain to be economically excluded from Europe are clearly ludicrous. The last time I checked, Canada hadn't been excluded from American markets despite its strident refusal to even think about adopting the U.S. Dollar and cede its monetary policy to the Fed. The ECB is not an inherent basis for low-interest rates and inflation. Good governance of monetary policy does that.
Proactivity will have to happen in the areas where the Treasury will be able to score telling points. The crooked economics of the Growth and Stability Pact and the overly conservative stance of the European Central Bank will need to change. The weak processes for co-ordinating fiscal policy (government spending, taxing and borrowing) undermine the necessary dialogue to develop sound economic policy between the ECB and the fiscal authority; they must be improved. The pound cannot join at too high a rate because it can take years of disinflation and low growth to correct the mistake - Germany is an awesome warning.
No argument here. The ECB and Growth and Stability Pact badly need to be amended as Europe learns what has gone right and what has gone wrong with them.
These are all profound concerns which I, as a pro-euro advocate, share. What is required is a serious negotiation to sort them out. To say 'No' to the euro now, but 'Yes' if these change but to make no effort to change them is an unsustainable political position. But Europe has already signalled its readiness for such reform, and to do so along British lines; Brown has refused to budge. When John Monks and Neil Kinnock, deputed last autumn secretly to signal Brussels's readiness for major reform, met Brown, he refused even to consider talks about opening talks.
The entire point of the "not now, but maybe later" position is that it is unstable - that it will require continual re-evaluation and adjustment, leaving open the window for membership when the time is right. The history of the EU seems to indicate that it talks a lot about reform of the ECB and Growth and Stability Pact, but does little to enact actual reforms. This could clearly change, though, and hopefully will.
It is a stance that must change, even as the Government tries to secure other concessions from Europe, notably over the proposed constitution. The lead department in this endeavour is the Foreign Office, and it is there that Blair wants to persuade Brown to go. He is telling him that the domestic economic agenda is set, there is little chance of developing his favourite international economic schemes with the Bush administration and that the action now is in Europe and the euro.
Moreover, he reasons, they can thus turn a de facto 'No' into a viable 'Yes, but...' policy, save Blair's credibility and give Brown a role equal to his status.
There has been plenty of noise about certain other Cabinet secretaries being pro-Euro - Hewitt, Milburn, Hain and others. But Jack Straw and the Foreign Office have kept noticeably silent. The idea that the Foreign Office is blatantly pro-Euro for political reasons seems a little off. Anyway, there's no guarantee that Gordon Brown might not continue to oppose Euro membership for the time being were he to be shifted to the Foreign Secretary's post, replacing Jack Straw. Replacing Straw wouldn't be entirely intelligent at the moment, given that he has come out of the Iraq war about as popular as any other minister.
This then opens up the Cabinet for the biggest reshuffle since 1997. Blunkett is earmarked to go to the Treasury in preference, just, to Patricia Hewitt; Alan Milburn to the Home Office. Derry Irvine is to be replaced as Lord Chancellor by Charlie Falconer. There is still debate about how to create a significant job for Jack Straw but it will be done. The middle ranks of the Cabinet will be opened up to promote favoured Blairites.
This seems like a pipe dream. Although Britain has a history of 'management by amateurs,' to borrow from Attlee, Blunkett seems unqualified to head the Treasury, perhaps the one Cabinet post that requires the largest amount of training and knowledge independent of management ability. I certainly do not intend to deride Blunkett's capabilities. Indeed, the fact that he has been able to operate so well, in spite of his disability (he is blind), is a testament to the man. But Brown has six years of experience and the markets clearly trust the man.
This is what the Prime Minister would like; the question is whether he can deliver. The consensus is that Brown is too big a player to be challenged. That misreads both Brown's reading of political realities and Blair's mood. Iraq nearly cost him his job.
The recognition of political mortality has made him determined to use what is now the last phase of his premiership as he wants, with his own people round him to achieve his own goals, including entry to the euro.
Blair's willingness to fight has clearly been encouraged by Iraq. But no one has previously indicated any problems with "Brown's reading of political realities."
Brown may choose to resist Blair's overtures, but he cannot overplay his hand. If he wants to keep his job, he will have to signal that Britain is much nearer to joining and he is readier to be proactive in securing entry than any of the advance spin is suggesting.
Instincts for self-preservation are very powerful in politics, in which case, Blunkett and Milburn will have to wait and Straw can relax. The June deadline for pronouncing on the euro does not presage dull political times.
Even Tony Blair understands, I suspect, the instability in the markets that would probably result from the departure of Gordon Brown from the Chancellor's post. To get rid of Brown in order to push the Euro would probably make it harder to enter the Euro-zone without putting Britain into an economic tailspin - and undermining the political support that Labour now enjoys. It would, indeed, be cutting off one's nose to spite their face.
It increasingly seems that the pro-Euro forces are getting panicky at the thought that the assessment of the tests is looking ever more negative. Thus, they have been predicting everything short of the arrival of plagues if Britain fails to enter the Euro-zone as soon as possible. I'm not convinced.
As far as I see it, if Tony Blair wants to maintain any domestic political credibility on the issue - not appearing to be beholden to a bunch of panicked Euro-philes - and if Gordon Brown wants to maintain any economic credibility on the issue, the assessment is going to have to more or less say "definitely not yet, probably not before the next general election, and we will continue to monitor events as they arise." This might not be the easiest way to make friends within the EU, though the EU is not likely to behave like a five-year-old and throw a tantrum at Britain. Indeed, this would be a far better idea than undermining the economy of Great Britain and the political support for Blair and New Labour. Setting a far too optimistic timetable for entry that could not be maintained would do far more damage than patience.
The Sunday Telegraph has published papers indicating that they have found the long-lost link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. The actual (translated) documents are here and copied below. The documents were found in the bombed-out remains of the offices of the Mukhabarat, Iraq's intelligence service by Inigo Gilmore. The documents record the preparations for the visit of an Al-Qaeda envoy to Baghdad and record that the visit took place, but say nothing else about the contents of any conversations.
On one hand, the increasing number of intelligence discoveries by the Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph are looking increasingly suspect. The Telegraph published the Galloway papers; the Sunday Telegraph also published the papers detailing supposed links between Iraqi intelligence and Russian intelligence officials. On the other hand, it is worth noting that the Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph are editorially independent and have separate staffs, although the two are owned by the same parent company and there is a fairly large degree of co-ordination between the two.
Oh, and if you want to read the Sunday Telegraph's inevitably self-congratulatory editorial, it's here. They also have a rather interesting article hypothesizing that Tariq Aziz may have been the mole who passed along Saddam's whereabouts to American authorities for the decapitation attempt. On one hand, it's certainly an interesting idea, and the decent treatment that Aziz has received seems to indicate some ulterior motive, but it would seem to have been incredibly difficult for someone such as Aziz to pass information without getting noticed.
Document 1, dated February 19, 1998
Marked "Top Secret and Urgent" in the margin and signed by "MDA", thought to be the codename for the director of one of the intelligence sections within the Mukhabarat.
"The envoy is a trusted confidant and known by them. According to the above mediation we request official permission to call Khartoum station to facilitate the travel arrangements for the above-mentioned person to Iraq. And that our body carry all the travel and hotel expenses inside Iraq to gain the knowledge of the message from bin Laden and to convey to his envoy an oral message from us to bin Laden, the Saudi opposition leader, about the future of our relationship with him, and to achieve a direct meeting with him."
At the foot of the page, after the signature, the director recommends bringing the envoy to Iraq because "we may find in this envoy a way to maintain contacts with bin Laden". The deputy director general gives a signature of approval.
Document 2, dated February 23, 1998
Addressed to codename "M4/7", marked "Information M4 D1/3/4" and given the number 375 by the Mukhabarat bureaucracy.
"The permission of Mr Deputy Director of Intelligence has been gained on 21 February for this operation, to secure a reservation for one of the intelligence services guest's for one week in one of the first class hotels [the Al Mansour Melia hotel in Baghdad]".
Signed by "M.D. 1/3", next to which is written February 22.
In the margin it is written that this has been done in co-ordination with the chief of the Saudi section and that they write to extend the period of host for one more week.
A note at the bottom of the page says "The envoy H arrived 5th March". Another note mentions "room 414" next to the name, Mohammed F. Mohammed Ahmed.
Document 3, dated March 24, 1998
Written by hand and labelled number 736 and marked "Secret" in the margin. This paper has been given the code number M 4/7/2 and is addressed to codename "2/D1/3".
"Your information numbered D1/3/4/375 dated 23rd February 1998, we enclose herewith the bill to host a guest in Mansour Melia Hotel. Please let it be known and get the official permission to spend the amount and return the permission back with our regards. Include the name of bills of the hotel." Signed by another official with the codename M.M. 4/7
At the foot of this document there is another note, dated April 13, that says that after 21 days:
"We have been informed by Saudi section chief [of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, the Mukhabarat] that we get permission to send the amount and the permission is sent to directorate accountant."
As the George Galloway turns ...
The Observer is reporting that Gorgeous George is under investigation by the Crown Prosecutorial Service, and may be tried for treachery. The law - the last trial under which was for a man who tried to get British soldiers to refuse to serve in Northern Ireland in the early 1970's - states that:
'If any person maliciously and advisedly endeavours to seduce any member of His Majesty's forces from his duty or allegiance to His Majesty, he shall be guilty of an offence.'
Galloway, in an interview on Abu Dhabi TV, apparently said that British soldiers ought to refuse their 'illegal orders.' This would make for an interesting trial, as Galloway's solicitors would almost certainly attempt to introduce the apparent conflict between international law - which might force the prosecutors to actually argue that the action was justified under international law - and the British law, for which Galloway might face up to two years in jail.
The Sunday Telegraph has a number of articles up today that pretty much suggest that Galloway does everything short of sacrificing young children to Baal. The articles are here, here, and here. One would think that, at a certain point, they would just let the allegations against Galloway speak for themselves.
Jean-Claude Van Damme ... in a movie version of Swan Lake?
TBogg, your office is calling. (oh, and your archives are completely broken)
Saturday, April 26, 2003
I don't have an image hosting service - not that I could put up the thing without violating copyright laws on both sides of the Atlantic, I think - so just, click here for something very funny.
It's a bit of an unfair phrase, but Rudy Park may be the Doonesbury of my generation (and yes, I realize that no one of my generation reads newspapers, let alone the comics pages ... well, actually, that's about all that anyone of my generation reads in the newspapers) (and yes, I also realize that the Instapundit thinks that any cartoon that promotes the war in Iraq is therefore the new Doonesbury) (and yes, I also also realize that the 4-panel TV-watching strip is an old Doonesbury gag) (and yes, I also also also realize that I don't actually have to link to everything)
Andrew Sullivan ... yes, that Andrew Sullivan ... has a rather moving post on the response to Rick Santorum's comments, and the response to his response:
Of course, the hostility directed toward the intimate lives of gay people by Senator Santorum affects me more deeply, because I am gay. How could it not? Being gay my whole life is a huge blessing but also, of course, a difficult path. To try and reconcile it with a faith that is deep but a Church that refuses to support the innermost longings of my body and soul is not easy either.
The simple truth is that I and many others feel immensely wounded not so much by some clumsy, ugly remarks by someone who might even in some way mean well; but by the indifference toward them by so many you thought might at least have empathized for a second.
(I think Santorum meant what he said - his refusal to apologize or even say that he misspoke certainly seems to point in that direction - and Sullivan still seems in denial here)
I know we have made many gains. I know Santorum represents very few. I know also that many, many good people - in the Republican party and elsewhere - do not wish gay people ill. But it is hard to express fully the sheer discouragement of this past week, capped simply by a calculated and contemptuously terse political gesture by a president I had come to trust. It makes me question whether that trust is well founded. And whether hope for a more inclusive future among conservatives is simply quixotic.
Secretary of the Army (and former Enron executive) Tom White has resigned after being asked to do so by Donald Rumsfeld. White and Rumsfeld have disagreed on a number of issues in the past, particularly the Crusader Artillery program.
But does anyone find it just a little weird that it was Rumsfeld that asked for White's resignation, rather than Bush (or even Cheney)? I realize that the Secretary of the Army does report to the Secretary of Defense, but White's post is generally one of the highest profile Cabinet deputy-level positions, and is generally accorded a fair amount of publicity and responsibility. This isn't the same thing as the Deputy Secretary of HUD or HHS getting told to find a new line of work. Nice of them to release this on a Friday, though. Would it be too much to ask them to surprise us once in a while?
(by the way, check out the nice photo of White in the article. Yeesh. It doesn't exactly look like he was enjoying himself.)
Asking the important questions:
Electrolite and Ted Barlow: Alive, dead, or just on vacation?
UPDATE: Well, there's one answer
George W. Bush: He's a uniter, not a divider
Well, he's united Europe in opposition to himself. It's a start, anyway, Jeremy Rifkin argues.
I dunno if this is actually transferable towards any greater projects, or just a brief common sentiment that will fade as time goes on. As Giscard-d'Estaing has proven lately, Europe is hardly united right now in anything else than hatred of George W. Bush - and saying that they're united in that is really an overstatement (unless you are Chirac or Schroeder, and happen to believe that Europe consists of France and Germany) - and that hardly seems to constitute a shared economic or political philosophy to build upon.
War nostalgia! 24 hours, 7 days a week!
Well, it's now been announced/leaked that Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, planned to resign along with Tony Blair if he were to lose the war vote in the Commons. Interestingly, Gordon Brown would not have resigned, and it isn't clear if Geoff Hoon, the Defence (not Defense) Secretary, would have fallen on his sword as well.
Euro (currency) roundup:
Peter Mandelson is blaming Gordon Brown for the failure of Britain to enter the Euro soon. Up until the last couple of days, it was being argued that Mandelson was actually speaking what Tony Blair did not want to say publicly. Mandelson is a disgraced former minister who is still an advisor and close friend of Blair. It seems increasingly less likely that Mandelson is actually speaking for Blair, and is pushing hard for the Euro because of his own beliefs. His comments on the economic benefits to the Euro are, um, proof that he probably can't balance his own checkbook (sorry, chequebook). There are certain economic benefits to Euro entry - I won't deny that. But the benefits certainly do not include 'the buttressing of effective monetary policies' under the current circumstances. Not even close. As far as monetary policy is concerned, staying out of the Euro is far better than joining right now.
George Galloway is now planning to sue the Christian Science Monitor and The Telegraph over this article. Again, the libel action isn't much of a surprise, given that a failure to sue would be something of a public admission of guilt, but I don't know how much will actually come of this. There will inevitably be jurisdictional questions, since the article was published in the United States, but is available over the web here - there may be a precedent for such situations, but I don't know it. Moreover, I don't know whether Galloway would be able to actually collect any damages, since the Monitor (or its parent company, if it is owned by someone else) may or may not have any assets in Britain.
Congestion charging, day 50-something ...
Tom Utley, having failed in his predictions that the congestion charge was doomed to failure, is now arguing that the congestion charge will doom London to failure. He bases this prediction on the fact that a survey of businesses by the London Chamber of Commerce found that 75% of the firms interviewed claimed that business was down by 10-15%. On the other hand, Mayor Livingstone, he points out, is considering enlarging the zone, which will remove the marginal deterrence - people paying to enter the edge of the zone will have no reason not to just go to central London, clogging the roads back up (this could be solved by a two-tier pricing system, though this would require more cameras and be more difficult and costly to administer).
I'm not convinced that business is really off that much, at least based on what I've seen. Things seem just as busy as they were in the fall, and despite whatever the businesses think, there's a lot of other reasons to explain the downturn in business right now. Europeans are travelling less than in the past due to economic weakness. The war in Iraq has lowered travel levels all over the world, and a few people may be boycotting Britain as a result. Still others are deterred by the overvalued Pound - though this is less important relative to the Euro - which is making it harder to export goods, cheaper to import goods, and more expensive for people to travel to Britain. Moreover, I still think that most people who can afford to buy a car and park it in central London can afford a 5-quid charge. While there seem to be relatively fewer cars on the roads now than before - from what I've seen, the number of trucks (sorry, lorries) and buses remains about the same - the drop-off has not been precipitous, and many people may just be concentrating their shopping into one day, rather than going in and out all the time. There are plenty of reasons to explain the downturn over a couple of months. If it's still here in a year or two years from now, then maybe we can start blaming the congestion charge. But statistics created based off of one early - and rather unscientific - study won't convince me.
Two pilots for Southwest have been fired ... for flying naked. Apparently one of them claimed that he spilled coffee, and had to take his uniform off. As one person who was interviewed for the article pointed out, why that caused them both to end up naked isn't exactly clear (or why the alleged nut couldn't just wear a stained uniform). Apparently there are no specific regulations against flying naked, though the FAA does require pilots to be dressed while flying below 10,000 feet, to be prepared for any emergency.
Between this post and the last post, I'm going to get some seriously weird people stumbling on to this site.
Overnight, a few people stumbled onto this website accidentally, one looking for new and used buses and the other having run a Google search for "Burden of Proof Turow anal sex" (somehow - and I really don't know how - I came in 5th out of 5 for whatever freakish individual was looking for that)
Friday, April 25, 2003
A regime change we can all get behind:
Prof. Reynolds comments:
It would be better, of course, if South Africa -- regarded by many, at least until recently, as a responsible nation -- would address this genocidal thugocracy in its backyard. But Thabo Mbeki doesn't seem to mind the goings-on in Zimbabwe, which makes me wonder about his vision for South Africa's future.
I'm rather torn here. South Africa clearly has its own problems to deal with right now - the economy, AIDS, crime levels and a host of other issues. I don't think it's fair to say that Thabo Mbeki "doesn't mind the goings-on in Zimbabwe," but at the same time, his unwillingness to at least speak out against Mugabe is frightening in the willingness of the elected leader of one of the few stable democracies on the continent to tolerate dictatorships next door. It doesn't bode well for Zimbabwe, nor for the rest of the region. I can hardly fault Mbeki for not wanting to overthrow Mugabe himself - I don't like his AIDS policy, but that's another matter - but his refusal to speak out is really worrying.
Euro (currency) roundup:
An article in the Telegraph hypothesizes that the upcoming "not yet but maybe before the next general election" verdict will actually mean "not until after the next general election," as the referendum will not be held this year, and will almost certainly not be held next year. Since it seems unlikely that the referendum and the general election would be held simultaneously - Labour and Blair would almost certainly lose the votes of people who are reflexively anti-Euro in the general election - and since there might well be a general election called in 2005, that means there actually won't be a referendum until after the next general election. The general election must be called by mid-2006, but may be called earlier if Labour thinks it would be better for its majority to do so (the 2001 general election was held about a year before mandated)
An article in the Independent hypothesizes that Blair actually refuses to rule out a referendum before the next general election because he wants to keep pro-Euro momentum growing, and has been told that the official pro-Euro campaign group, Britain in Europe, will shut down if told there will be no referendum before the next general election. Both Britain in Europe and the No Campaign are expected to cut back on staff after the announcement is made.
If true, that means that Tony Blair apparently is more concerned about the jobs of a few dozen workers at the campaign group than the millions might be affected by any switch. Uh, Tony, have you been getting enough sleep lately?
I've been told to link to this or they won't let me sit my exams:
The they is the LSE (and it's the London School of Economics, thankyouverymuch). The article is this op-ed by Tony Giddens in today's Guardian about the present and future of the Third Way and social democracy in Europe. Giddens, the outgoing director of the LSE, argues that the Third Way is just taking a breather, and will actually return shortly. It's been displaced by the time being by populist far-right governments in many EU countries - though social democratic parties are currently doing stronger in Eastern Europe - rather than by any actual political philosophy.
Whether you actually need a legitimate political philosophy to get elected isn't entirely clear to me. After all, Dwight Eisenhower basically got elected to the Presidency twice on the basis of being Ike (well, not far off). Of course, it's a hell of a lot easier to get a single person elected on the basis of personality to a single office in a presidential system of government than it is to get a whole government elected in a parliamentary system of government. Parliamentary systems are far more popular in Europe, of course - the only thing that really comes close to a Presidential system is the French hybrid system (although some have argued that British people and others basically vote for Parliament as if they were voting directly for the Prime Minister rather than for their constituency MP).
That said, I still don't think that the ascendency of the far-right is going to be too long-lived right now. To a certain extent, it's a reaction to economic problems - extremist groups often do well during growth slowdowns and contractions. More importantly, perhaps, I think it won't last right now because far-right groups tend to be incompetent when actually put in charge of things. The Pim Fortuyn List in the Netherlands has basically imploded since joining the coalition. Jorg Haider's Austrian Freedom Party has basically been reduced to calling for Carinthian secession. In both cases, the parties have seen greatly reduced popular support and are now largely considered unfit to govern. The British National Party eternally remains something of a joke, though it does occasionally win a seat or two in local government. This is, I worry, more the result of a lack of experience than permanent incompetence. The latter would disqualify them eternally from government, but the former would simply mean that they might actually get elected and not be removed shortly afterwards a decade from now, when they might find themselves in government and not imploding. Which is an entirely frightening thought.
Not much about George Galloway today, just an op-ed defending him by Scott Ritter in The Guardian and a report that the Charity Commission is going to look into the finances of the Mariam Appeal.
I find myself increasingly convinced that Galloway's career in Parliament is over. The redistricting will probably get him. And if that doesn't, he may yet get kicked out of the Labour Party for insulting Tony Blair and essentially suggesting that British soldiers frag their commanding officers (he has promised to pull a Traficant and run as an independent ... but Traficant is no longer in Congress). And if that's not enough, the questions about the finances of the Mariam Appeal seem likely to leave him with a black eye or two. This, mind you, is all before we even resolve the question of whether or not he was actually getting paid by the Hussein regime.
I can't pretend to say that I know what happened with the documents, nor whether they are real, nor what the outcome of the libel trial will be. Alll of the reports that I have seen seem to indicate that the documents are not forgeries - no evidence has backed the opposing viewpoint. Galloway has even backed off claims that they were forgeries. This of course, doesn't rule out the possibility that the memo just contained real lies. That, however, seems a little less likely given the article in today's Christian Science Monitor, if only because it seems rather unlikely that someone would have maintained such a charade for so long without Galloway, Hussein, or anyone else finding out.
The problem, of course, is that there's really not much of a motive on either side for the money. What the Hussein regime thought that they were getting from a bombastic backbench MP is beyond me. Canon White's comments in yesterday's Telegraph seem to indicate that the leadership thought Galloway far more of a 'propaganda coup' than he really was, but it does not appear that Galloway was changing his views to reflect the money he received, nor did he appear to direct the money to anti-war causes. It is also not wholly plausible that Galloway was motivated to accept the money for personal gain. Though his denials that he lives in luxury seemed to underestimate the value of his properties, he could have probably paid for his homes quite easily on the basis of his salary as an MP and a newspaper columnist.
So, for those keeping score at home, the evidence is good but not certain, the motives are entirely AWOL, and the denials are even worse.
For the news that actual Britons care about ... David Beckham may be leaving Manchester United.
E.J. Dionne on the tarring of people who don't support George W. Bush as "unpatriotic" and "French."
Dan Savage on the hypocrisy and blatant homophobia of the Republican Party.
Nick Kristof on the benefits and detriments of letting women fight on the front lines.
Michael Kinsley isn't entirely coherent while comparing the marketing of the war in Iraq, dealing with traffic via congestion charging and organ donation, but it's still an interesting piece.
I haven't been scared out of my wits in the last few days, so I guess it was due ...
North Korea says it has nuclear weapons. This isn't much of a surprise given recent developments, but they're now promising to either conduct a test or sell them to someone else if the U.S. doesn't guarantee North Korea's energy supply. If they're going to blow up their own little piece of the Korean peninsula, well, that's bad, but it's not inherently dangerous (yes, it'll slightly add to the amount of background radiation, but from what I understand, not enough to do any harm at a large distance), though they may use what they learn from the test to build deadlier weapons. If they're going to sell them to someone else, well that scares the crap out of me.
Gov. George Pataki announced a plan yesterday to get much of the rebuilding work at Ground Zero done by Sept. 11, 2006, the fifth anniversary. Planned for completion by that date are the shell of the Daniel Libeskind-designed tower, the memorial, and the underground transit center.
It's a nice thought, really, insofar as getting things done by the anniversary. But it's the wrong one, I think.
Let's face it, while the "renewed sense of urgency" that Pataki promised is a good idea, getting the shell of a giant skyscraper and an enormous amount of underground work done in 41 months seems incredibly difficult, if not unsafe or impossible. And while perhaps it is appropriate to open the memorial on the fifth anniversary, it seems rather trite to time the construction of a subway station with the deaths of roughly 3000 people. As far as the opening may be timed with the end of Gov. Pataki's third term (he not yet ruled out running for a fourth term), that is just disgusting. Getting the memorial done for the fifth anniversary, that's fine. But as far as the rest of the project, it should be built with all due speed - and no more.
OK, so it won't happen until the end of 2006 (I guess this counts as pulling a Chretien), but Bud Selig is promising that he'll be done as Commissioner of baseball at the end of 2006.
Well, it won't fix everything that's wrong, but it's a start (the next step is getting rid of Selig now)
Well, yesterday it was speculated in the response to one of my posts what the response of the Bush administration might be to sinking approval ratings, now that the war is over. The answer is apparently this:
Yep, President Bush is recalling all those tough decisions he made way back when. Isn't it a little soon for this kind of white-washing of history? (at least it's not another war)
OK, it may be a bit incestuous, but at least they're willing to do a little self-examination from time to time. I'm currently listening to BBC Radio 4, which is running a documentary examining the criticisms of their war coverage. They've read off letters from BBC listeners in Britain and BBC International listeners elsewhere, variously criticising the war coverage as too pro-war, too anti-war, too defeatist, too optimistic, too anti-American, too pro-American, too much coverage, not enough coverage, and more. For a number of the letters, responses have been solicited from the relevant executives responsible for the coverage.
The Christian Science Monitor article on Galloway is here.
Thursday, April 24, 2003
The Christian Science Monitor will apparently publish papers tomorrow that indicate that the Iraqi government paid George Galloway over $10 million over a number of years.
The image of the papers is here. I can't read a word of Arabic, so I'm no help at translating it.
That noise you hear, by the way, is the fat lady singing.
(via the Instapundit and Jay Fitzgerald)
CNN.com is reporting that the U.S. has Tariq Aziz in custody. No one else seems to be reporting on this quite yet.
UPDATE: They're now saying that it's been confirmed. I can't find any other information yet.
UPDATE, PART DEUX: Update soon, my ass.
THE MOTHER OF ALL UPDATES: OK, they now have this article, which is basically a long-winded way of saying that Aziz has been captured and that he was often the public face of Hussein's regime.
NOT ANOTHER DAMN UPDATE: The article that MSNBC has isn't any more of a help.
UPDATE V: The current AP article is here.
A little analysis about George Galloway
His political career is probably finished. It was probably finished a while ago, given that his district will be eliminated at the next general election. It was probably finished a while ago, given that the Labour party was considering removing him from the party over his insults towards Tony Blair and open friendship with Saddam Hussein. And regardless of the truthfulness of the letters linking him to Iraqi intelligence officials, the fact that Galloway apparently paid for personal travel from a fund that contributors thought was a charitable organization is sure to strike most people as morally reprehensible.
Galloway's denials are looking increasingly uncertain. It seems that 'contracts' such as those that he is accused of receiving were commonly handed out. His denial that he had ever met with anyone working for the Iraqi intelligence agencies seems highly unlikely, though he may not have known exactly who was working for whom. Canon Andrew White, who led a number of visits on behalf of (real) charitable organizations, said that "To say that he [Mr Galloway] had never met with any intelligence agents sounds like balderdash to me - we were shadowed by intelligence agents all the time. To say you didn't realise they were there ... well, you would have to be totally naive." Moreover, Galloway's denial that he had "never seen a barrel of oil, never owned one, never bought one, never sold one" may be technically true, but the 'contracts' in question seem to have more to do with the skimming of profits than actual physical ownership.
I really don't think anyone should be sad to see him go. He was always a camera-hogging politician who never did much of anything of substance as far as actual policy. And pretty much everyone in Britain knew that. Even Canon White said that the Iraqis "thought George Galloway was a great propaganda coup. In my last meeting with Tariq Aziz I said that they should give up on George Galloway, and that no one trusted him in England." I don't think anyone should make Galloway out to have been more of a key figure in either Labour or the anti-war movement than he was, building up his reputation for the sake of tearing it down. Trying to make this seem like some great vanquishing of the anti-war movement just doesn't hold up. Although the organizers of the rallies were happy to let him speak - he was, by all accounts, an accomplished orator - few in the crowds or on the platform shared Galloway's viewpoints off-stage. He was a minor figure, an apologist for dictatorships, and he was an ass. And I don't think he should go down in history as anything more than that.
One other quick thought about Galloway's denials that the funds he supposedly received from the Iraqi government went to maintain his high level of living. They seem a little troublesome. He claims that his house in Streatham was bought for £220,000 ($350,570) in 1996 - and is mortgaged for £290,000 ($462,115), after renovations - and his house in Portugal is worth £82,000 ($130,667). I don't know about the latter, but the former seems well off. £220,000 would not buy anything in London today nicer than a shed in Lambeth, and even £290,000 is probably a serious under-estimation of his house's actual worth (The Telegraph apparently appraised the Streatham abode at £800,000 ($1,274,800) and the house in Portugal at £250,000 ($398,375)). Given that Galloway earns £75,000 ($119,512) as a columnist in addition to his salary of £55,118 ($87,830) as an MP, he could probably afford an £800,000 home without the help of the Iraqi government.
Of course, if he did actually pay £220,000 for the place, either he had Peter Foster helping him (not this Peter Foster) or he's going to have a nice career as a real estate speculator to fall back on.
Given the amount of spam I'm getting trying to sell me a deck of the "Iraqi most wanted" cards, it was only a matter of time until someone turned the idea around.
(via Amish Tech Support)
Atrios and Kos have the latest on Sen. Santorum's remarks.
A cup of coffee or a Buddhist temple causes a scandal, but this ...
Patrick Belton of the OxBlog reports that he received a solicitation for a $25,000 donation to the President's re-election campaign after sending his resume for a job in the federal government (no one else apparently had the address in question). Crikey.
It might yet be the economy, stupid
Yikes. CNN is reporting that even Matthew Dowd, the White House pollster, thinks that Bush's current high approval ratings are part of an unsustainable war bounce, and can be expected to fall in the coming months. He seems to believe that such a drop would be normal for a first-term president. The question becomes one of timing then - how long and how far the drop is will probably depend on a number of political factors, and just how well the economy is doing.
Euro (currency) roundup:
For a second day in a row, the Euro decision has been pushed out of the front pages by the George Galloway scandal. There's this Evening Standard article on an apparent meeting between Brown and Blair to finalize the wording of the announcement. It was initially reported that one of the five tests had been failed. Then it was reported that two of the five tests had been failed. Now it's being reported that four of the five tests have been failed. And why exactly do the Euro-philes want to go ahead with this?
There's also this Anatole Kaletsky column in the Times. He makes the case that Blair is mistakenly trying to transform the Euro from an economic issue to a political issue. The economic argument, he thinks, could be won under the right circumstances. The political argument cannot be won, except possibly by threats and force. The British are inherently skeptical about European integration. They tend to view the Euro as a political sacrifice for economic gains, unlike the rest of Europe, which joined as an economic sacrifice in return for political gains.
Though the document hasn't been released (the release has been delayed a number of times), people within the European Commission have apparently blasted the proposed new EU constitution drawn up by its convention, headed by Valery Giscard-d'Estaing. The convention apparently has succeeded in providing a plan as to exactly how not to do this sort of thing.
Yet more on George Galloway
In the Independent, is this op-ed from Galloway, responding to the charges against him in the Telegraph. Interestingly, this article is free, though the Independent recently began charging for viewing all other op-ed articles and the archives. Galloway's response, is also excerpted in the Times.
The Guardian: 1. Galloway admits that individuals whom he worked with may have taken money from the Iraqi government, but insists that he did not. 2. Galloway is facing an investigation into the finances of the Mariam Appeal, but insists that it was a political campaign and not a charity. He is promising to publish an outline of the finances of the organization soon, though detailed figures may not be available until the libel trial. 3. It is being reported that the Iraqi government regularly gave out contracts on oil sales as friendly gestures, and that Galloway's name may have been invoked in certain deals without his knowledge.
The Times: 1. An article looking at Fawaz Zureikat, the link between George Galloway and Saddam Hussein's regime. 2. An article looking at Burhan al-Chalabi, an Iraqi-born British resident (and donor to the Tory party) who may has also been linked to oil dealing and the Iraqi intelligence services in the documents.
The Telegraph: 1. In this interview, an Anglican minister who was involved in charitable work in Iraq states that it would have been all but impossible for Galloway or any other travelers not to encounter intelligence officials during his travels. 2. In this article and this article make the case that the documents found by David Blair were real. 3. This article looks at alleged problems at the War on Want, an anti-poverty charity that Galloway headed from 1983-87. 4. There is also this article calling for an inquest into the finances of Galloway's travels. 5. In the 'better late than never' category, Iain Duncan Smith has become the last politician in Britain to call for an inquiry into the matter (only the Telegraph considers this newsworthy, apparently).
The Independent: 1. Galloway denies that he is wealthy, arguing that his two homes are worth far less than newspapers have estimated, and that he also earns a second salary for writing a column for The Mail on Sunday. 2. More about Fawaz Zureikat. 3. A reporter recounts his experiences on two trips to Baghdad organized by Galloway for politicians, press, charity workers, and other people.
The Evening Standard: Go here.
Still more on George Galloway
The Telegraph seems determined to drag this story out as long as possible. The letter published today is dated May 6, 2000 (a couple of months after the dates on the previous letters), apparently written from one of Saddam's deputies to the heads of the heads of the intelligence authorities, telling them to keep away from Galloway, as the revelation of any contacts might damage Galloway's political career. I can't yet find a copy of the letter, but will post the translation if it is made available.
Galloway was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 a few minutes ago. He repeatedly claimed that the contents of the letter were lies, though he refused to speculate about whether the letter was a forgery, or who would have forged the letters and why they would have done so.
Wednesday, April 23, 2003
One more George Galloway update:
Iain Murray thinks that the Telegraph reporter who discovered the Galloway letters, David Blair, is a reliable individual (Murray apparently knows someone who knows Blair...)
Judging from everything I've heard, I think it can be pretty reliably ruled out at this point that Blair forged the documents. A rather high level of skill would have been needed to execute such a forgery, and the editors for the Telegraph must have been fairly certain that the documents were real, given that they must have known that a libel action would almost certainly follow. This still doesn't rule out a couple of other possibilities, though, either that someone else forged the documents - although I have a tough time imagining a motive for someone in Iraq to fake a letter fingering a Glasgow MP - or that the memo is real but someone in the Iraqi intelligence services created the story of the encounter for a willing audience - more probable, I think, though harder to prove. Under either scenario, though the allegations were technically false, the libel suit would probably come to nothing (the libel laws, though extremely stringent, aren't insane)
Rumor (sorry, rumour) has it that there is still more from the box that has yet to be published and will come out in the coming days.
No, wait, Deep Throat was really Lawrence Welk!
Yep, those damn kids are snooping around again. A group of University of Illinois students have decided that they have figured out who was Deep Throat, Woodward's mysterious informant during the Watergate scandal. The good news is that, at the rate that announcements identifying Deep Throat are made, pretty soon we'll be running out of people who were alive then and are still alive to identify.
(the students, by the way, have settled on Fred Fielding, the deputy to former White House Counsel John Dean)
Woodward and Bernstein have promised to reveal who Deep Throat was after their informant has died. Reading the book, the number of people who might have been the person in question is narrowed pretty quickly, since the source was someone who was high enough up to know what was going on in both the White House and Creep (the Committee to Re-elect the President) - which rules out, say, the interns - but wasn't high enough up to be publicly recognizable or have a regular Secret Service attachment - which probably rules out the likes of Henry Kissinger and Spiro Agnew. Death also rules out Ziegler and Checkers.
What really bugs me about this is that Ben Bradlee - the editor of the Washington Post during Watergate, and reportedly the only other person besides Woodward and Bernstein who knows who Deep Throat was - once stated something to the effect (and I'm quoting from somewhere in the recesses of my brain here) that, if you were to note what dates that Deep Throat had spoken to Woodward, and then take a look at the dates at which various people working in the White House were out of town, it would probably take an afternoon or two to figure the whole thing out. And yet here we are, nearly thirty years later, still trying to pin down every single person who was living anywhere D.C. at the time as the mysterious Deep Throat.
(note: I have an excuse for not doing the research myself. I'm lazy)
The Galloway Letters:
(OK, I'm not really sure if this is allowed under the oft-insane UK copyright laws, but I'm going to put the letters up here for interested readers until someone from the Telegraph tells me to take it down)
The source of the letters published yesterday (Galloway's supposed request for a greater cut of oil revenue and a letter supposedly from Tariq Aziz about the Mariam Appeal request) are here. A letter from Galloway about the Mariam Appeal is here and the letter published today (supposedly written on behalf of Saddam Hussein, turning down the request) is here. There are images of the letters, if you want to have a look at them and guess if they're real or not (Galloway has verified that the letter sent from him is real). I can't tell whether the Iraqi memos are real or not, nor am I remotely qualified to make any judgement.
In the Name of Allah the Compassionate and Merciful
Republic of Iraq
Iraqi Intelligence Service
Confidential and Personal
Letter no. 140/4/5
To: The President's Office - Secretariat
Subject: Mariam Campaign
1. We have been informed by our Jordanian friend Mr Fawaz Abdullah Zureikat (full information about him attached appendix no. 1), who is an envoy of Mr George Galloway because he participated with him in all the Mariam Campaign's activities in Jordan and Iraq, the following:
(a) The mentioned campaign has achieved its goals on different levels, Arabic, international and local, but it is clear that by conducting this campaign and everything involved in it, he puts his future as a British member of parliament in a circle surrounded by many question marks and doubts. As much as he gained many supporters and friends, he made many enemies at the same time.
(b) His projects and future plans for the benefit of the country need financial support to become a motive for him to do more work. And because of the sensitivity of getting money directly from Iraq, it is necessary to grant him oil contracts and special and exception commercial opportunities to provide him with a financial income under commercial cover without being connected to him directly.
To implement this Mr Galloway gave him an authorisation (attached) in which he pointed out that his only representative on all matters related to the Mariam Campaign and any other matters related to him is Mr Fawaz Abdullah Zureikat, and the two partners have agreed that financial and commercial matters should be done by the last [Zureikat] and his company in co-operation with Mr Galloway's wife, Dr Amina Abu Zaid, with emphasis that the name of Mr Galloway or his wife should not be mentioned later.
2. On 26/12/1999 the friend Fawaz arranged a meeting between one of our officers and Mr Galloway in which he expressed his willingness to ensure confidentiality in his financial and commercial relations with the country and reassure his personal security. The most important things Mr Galloway explained were:
(a) He stressed that Mr Fawaz Zureikat is his only representative in all matters concerning the Mariam Campaign and to take care of his future projects for the benefit of Iraq and the commercial contracts with Iraqi companies for the benefit of these projects.
But he did not refer to the commercial side of the authorisation he granted to Mr Fawaz for reasons concerning his personal security and political future and not to give an opportunity to enemies of Iraq to obstruct the future projects he intended to carry out.
(b) He is planning to arrange visits for Iraqi sports and arts delegations to Britain and to start broadcasting programmes for the benefit of Iraq and to locate Iraq On Line for the benefit of Iraq on the internet and mobilise British personalities to support the Iraqi position.
That needs great financial support because the financial support given by [a named Arab sheikh] is limited and volatile because it depends on his personal temper and the economic and political changes. Therefore he needs continuous financial support from Iraq.
He obtained through Mr Tariq Aziz three million barrels of oil every six months, according to the oil-for-food programme. His share would be only between 10 and 15 cents per barrel. He also obtained a limited number of food contracts with the Ministry of Trade. The percentage of its profits does not go above one per cent.
He suggested to us the following: First, increase his share of oil. Second, grant him exceptional commercial and contractual facilities, according to the conditions and suitable qualities for the concerned Iraqi sides, with the Ministry of Trade, the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Ministry of Industry and the Electricity Commission.
(c) Mr Galloway entered into partnership with [a named Iraqi oil trader] (available information in appendix 2) to sign for his specific oil contracts in accordance with his representative Fawaz, benefiting from the great experience of the first in oil trading and his passion for Iraq and financial contribution to campaigns that were organised in Britain for the benefit of the country, in addition to his recommendation by Mr Mudhafar al-Amin, the head of the Iraqi Interests Section in London.
3. We showed him we are ready to give help and support to him to finish all his future projects for the benefit of the country and we will work with our resources to achieve this. But we should not be isolated from Mr Tariq Aziz supervising the project in its different aspects. We are going to make arrangements with him to unite the positions and co-operate to make the work succeed.
4. In accordance with what we have said, we suggest the following:
(a) Agreement on his suggestion explained in article 2 b.
(b) Arranging with Tariq Aziz about implementing these suggestions and taking care of the projects and Mr Galloway's other activities.
Please tell me what actions should be taken.
Chief of the Iraqi Intelligence Service
Confidential and personal
In the Name of Allah the Compassionate and Merciful
Click to enlarge
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Letter no. 1/9/197
5 February 2000
Confidential and urgent
To: Mr Health Minister, Mr Information and Culture Minister, Mr Transport and Communications Minister, Mr the Head of the Friendship, Peace and Solidarity Organisation
Subject: Work programme
We send you attached a translation of the work programme for the year 2000 which was submitted by Member of Parliament George Galloway and cleared by the President's office in its letter C/16/1/3562 on 31 January 2000.
Please read it and adopt suitable procedures to implement its phases under discussion according to your specialisations.
With high regards,
Deputy Prime Minister
Acting Foreign Minister
Copies should be sent to: Mr Chief of Intelligence Service with a copy of the programme to be read please. With high regards. Mr Deputy Prime Minister's office with a copy of the programme. The First Political Unit to take care of please.
George Galloway MP
House of Commons
To Whom It May Concern
This is to certify that Mr. Fawaz A. Zureikat is my representative in Baghdad on all matters concerning my work with the "Mariam Appeal" or the Emergency Committee in Iraq. Given the infrequency of my visits to the Country and the regularity of Mr. Zureikat's, it would be appreciated if all co-operation could be extended to him in dealings on my behalf.
Save for any written permission from me, no other person should be entertained as acting on my behalf in any circumstances.
Thanking you for your co-operation.
Chairman Mariam Appeal
Organizer Emergency Committee on Iraq
In the Name of Allah the Compassionate and Merciful
Republic of Iraq
Confidential and Personal
2 May 2000
To: Comrade The Respected Izzat Ibrahim
Comrade The Respected Taha Yassin Ramadan
Comrade The Respected Tariq Aziz
Comrade The Respected Ali Hassan al-Majid
Subject: Mariam Campaign
Mr President, our leader (God bless him), has given an order concerning the Iraqi Intelligence Services letter no. 5 on 3/1/2000 as follows: To be studied by a four man committee and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
But the belief is that the person who is promoting the right path, even using western methods, needs exceptional support which we cannot afford and I do not think we can promise to do that if we consider it according to our policy. Please act and let us be informed.
With high regards,
Gen Dr Abdid Hamid al-Khattab
Secretariat of the President of the Republic
A copy should be sent to Mr Foreign Minister.
Rick Santorum is still getting blasted for his idiotic comments, and his refusal to offer anything resembling an actual apology.
I haven't really offered my opinion on this yet, mostly because it hasn't been covered in the British press, and pretty much everyone in the blogosphere has already offered an interesting opinion on this (including, well, let's see ... the OxBlog, Tapped, the CalPundit, Matthew Yglesias, Jay Caruso of the Daily Rant, Pandagon and the Rittenhouse Review, to name a few)
The similarities to the Trent Lott scandal are, well, a few. In each case, a senator offered up a spectacularly dumb and bigoted remark that didn't get much of a press response at the time. This was followed by a little outrage in the blogosphere, which in turn was followed by a non-apology apology. This was followed by more outrage in the blogosphere, until the story was finally picked up by the mainstream press, a few days after the remarks were actually offered.
This is hardly the first time that bigoted remarks have been offered by a senator and passed around the blogs (this happens just about every time Conrad Burns opens his mouth). It just goes to show, I guess, that people really don't like half-assed apologies that come out of Congress sometimes. If you said something you shouldn't have and there comes a time to apologize, do it and then keep your mouth shut for a while. Otherwise the blogs will keep the story alive until it makes the big media, becomes well known, and becomes a serious problems.
UPDATE: One other thought. Back when Lott finally resigned, Santorum considered running for the Majority Leader's post. He kept considering it until it was too late to actually run, Frist having locked up a majority of the votes. Unfortunately, we'll never know what would have happened had he won. The 'outing' of Santorum as either a virulent homophobe or proponent of enormous state police powers, just months after Lott had stepped down after making racist remarks, would have likely been a severe blow to the party.
There's not a huge amount of noise about this right now, but there's a general strike in Zimbabwe today, the second in a month. The first one was followed by a few days of political violence in which a number of people thought to belong to the opposition were attacked and/or arrested. Unlike the first two-day strike, which was organized by the major opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), today's strike was organized by the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) in response to the government having tripled fuel prices. One has to hope that today's strike will lead to political advances and not more government-sponsored violence, and might finally shame the Bush administration towards serious action on this issue.