The ironic Noam rule

by Daniel on December 10, 2009

via Blood & Treasure, it has to be said that if you are going to commit the social solecism of an ironic garden gnome, this is the one to go for.

Bonar Law

by Henry Farrell on December 10, 2009

I’m reading Fearghal McGarry’s forthcoming book on the Easter Rising at the moment, and was reminded of an interesting bit of history – the British Conservative party’s advocacy of armed rebellion against the government in 1912 over the prospect of Home Rule for Ireland.

The Tory leader, Andrew Bonar Law – speaking at Blenheim Palace in July 1912 – openly alluded to the threat of civil war, describing the [British] government ‘as a revolutionary government which has seized by fraud upon despotic power’, and declaring his intention to support Ulster’s unionists in using ‘all means in their power, including force’ to prevent Home Rule. Nor was this mere posturing: leading Tories, including Walter Long and possibly even Bonar Law – were closely involved with the financing and running of guns into Ulster for use against their own government. Whether Bonar Law’s militancy was motivated by a desire to consolidate his own leadership and undermine the Liberal government rather than fervent loyalism remains a matter of debate …

It seems to me that this episode – in which Conservatives, who usually conceive of themselves as the law and order party, actively advocated rebellion against their own government and helped smuggle guns – has fallen out of historical memory in the UK. Perhaps I’m wrong, or just not included in the right discussions, but my strong impression is that the British record in Ireland’s War of Independence (the Black and Tans and so on) is reasonably well known, and still sometimes discussed. The run-up to it – and the direct advocacy of armed resistance by one of Britain’s major parties – not so much.

On Monday I went to The Economist’s World in 2010 Festival, on the invitation of erstwhile CT guest-blogger, Matthew Bishop. It was a witty and thought-provoking romp through a range of issues such as the global economic crisis and the prospects for unemployment, global warming and Copenhagen, whether the Republicans will storm next year’s mid-term elections and, of course, who will win the 2010 World Cup. The panels were sprightly with lots of back and forth, and were interspersed by 10-minute talks from all sorts; DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, celebrity chef Joses Andres, the buyer for Politics and Prose, Mark LaFramboise and a fascinating graphic and information designer, Nicholas Fenton, whose work is as beautiful as Edward Tufte’s and who produces his own Personal Annual Report (comparison of prices paid per mile in 2008: airline: $0.05; driving:$0.15; New York subway: $0.93; gym: $5.26. Sightings of Michael J. Fox: 1. My boyfriend helpfully pointed out that a proper bloke’s personal annual report would also include helpful stats such as how much sex was had, solo or otherwise, average time, some quality measures, etc. etc. But I’m sure Felton was far too busy cataloguing belly button lint for that.)

Each speaker had to make a prediction for 2010. Predictions are good ways to extrapolate present trends, but I’ve been wary of their usefulness since I attended a conference in August 2001 and we predicted the biggest threat to the world was tension between India and China.

Lest I be accused of burying the lead, the combined predictions for 2010 were: [click to continue…]

Local kid makes good

by Michael Bérubé on December 10, 2009

Indonesia Obama Statue

Apparently that’s the inscription at the base of the new “young Barack Obama” statue recently unveiled in Jakarta — on a site that was once an athletic field used by Obama’s elementary school. In what appears to be a deliberate provocation to the American right, the young Obama holds in his left hand a crumpled copy of his Kenyan birth certificate, which according to the laws of Othercountriestan entitles him to Indonesian citizenship.

Rumors that the base of the statue contains hidden “death panels” are as yet unsubstantiated.

“We welcome the statue, which is designed to give Indonesian children the spirit to become President of the United States,” Central Jakarta Mayor Sylviana Murni said.

“There is a message through the young Obama statue that any child and anyone from any background can become President of the United States if they fight for it persistently — and make sure to destroy their original birth certificate,” she added.

[click to continue…]

The ECB and Ireland

by Henry Farrell on December 10, 2009

Brian Lenihan (Ireland’s finance minister) puts the best face he can on the external limits constraining Ireland’s economic decision making in his “budget speech today:”:

In the recent Lisbon referendum the Irish people reaffirmed our place at the heart of Europe. This was the right decision for our economy, for our future and for our children. The single currency has provided huge protection and support to Ireland in the current crisis. It has prevented speculative attacks on our currency and provided funding to the banking system. But, membership of monetary union also means devaluation is not an option. Therefore the adjustment process must be made by way of reductions in wages, prices, profits and rents.

As a small open economy, Ireland would probably have devalued to help cushion the shock, if it had not been an EMU member with no effective control over its currency. Given EMU membership, devaluation (and exit from the system) would probably have been a “very bad idea”: Ireland is hoping to make the best of a bad job, adding levies, increasing taxes and making swingeing cuts to public sector pay so as to shore up its fiscal position.

The problem is that all the fiscal rectitude in the world cannot protect you from “contagious crises of confidence”:

One of the “signals” that could instigate a sudden stop in Ireland is a sudden stop somewhere else, particularly somewhere with regional or trade connections. This is why bad news for Greece is bad news for Ireland. If Greece hits a sudden stop, Ireland will wobble, and will be the next in line for a sudden stop in Europe. There is another simultaneous game being played: the ECB and its bailout policies playing a reputation game against member sovereign governments and their fiscal discipline. Again, the Greek situation is bad for Ireland. … Ireland has done everything (so far) that the ECB could reasonably ask of her to impose fiscal discipline and restore competitiveness. If it were only Ireland at risk of a sudden stop, the ECB could be very accommodating about bailout assistance. The ECB would not let a well-behaved minnow like Ireland cause market turmoil. If a sudden stop was brewing and Irish bond yields rocketed up, the ECB could easily mop up any excess of Irish sovereign bonds, killing the run, and later tell some convenient story about why this did not violate EMU no-bailout guidelines. On the other hand, we now know that the Greek government has deliberately and substantially falsified its national accounts over recent years. … no political will to impose any meaningful discipline on tax and spending … adherence to the Growth and Stability Pact is a charade. If the ECB bails out Greece, all semblance of future fiscal discipline throughout the Euro zone is lost. … How can the ECB bail out Ireland if it refuses to bail out Greece?

Greek government bonds “tumbled”: today. It may very possibly be that Ireland is in the worst of both worlds – suffering the unmitigated agonies of fiscal rectitude imposed by the EMU’s straitjacket, but with at best highly uncertain prospects of support in the event of a new crisis of confidence. Brian Lenihan won’t be sleeping well the next couple of weeks.