Yesterday, with most of the world already in weekend mode, the IMF website carried a link to an item entitled Fiscal Safeguards. There is no explanatory text with the link. Going into the very brief main document is slightly more informative:
The Wall Street Journal Europe uncorks an instant classic in explaining the longevity of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi:
Karol Sikora, a leading cancer specialist who examined Megrahi shortly before his release, explains that predicting how long a patient with end-stage prostate cancer has to live is “a value judgment of probability,” not an exact science. But Dr. Sikora also writes that his initial three-month prognosis was “based on his treatment as an NHS patient in Glasgow at the time, when not even standard docetaxel chemotherapy was offered.” By contrast, “Mr. Megrahi almost certainly had excellent care in Tripoli.” Think about that one: Get treated for cancer by the U.K.’s National Health Service, and you’ll be dead by Christmas. But get treated for the same cancer in Libya, and you may have years to live. No wonder Americans are terrified of government-run medicine and rationing boards.
It’s painfully obvious but apparently nonetheless necessary to point that Mr al-Megrahi was in this case receiving care as a political trophy in a petro-state with an open-ended government budget available to embarrass his former hosts. So Yes, his care was probably better than the NHS standard available to him in Glasgow, but as Dr Sikora also explains, there was a lot of variability around the now-notorious “3 months to live” prognosis even at the time it was issued. His care was also a lot better than someone without health insurance in the USA would receive, but who wants to descend to cheap health system point scoring based on a single case. Besides the Wall Street Journal.
My own view is that there’s no big conspiracy theory or undiscovered files behind Mr al-Megrahi’s release. Instead, the issue played into the self-righteousness of the SNP government. Up against that, geopolitics didn’t stand a chance.
In recent days I have been think a lot, and reading a lot, about the implications of Greece’s recent election results.
At the end of the day the only difference this whole process makes to the ultimate outcome may turn out to be one of timing. If Alexis Tsipras of the anti bailout, anti Troika, party Syriza won and started to form a government then the second bailout money would undoubtedly be immediately stopped. On the other hand if the centre right New Democracy wins and is able to form a government, as the latest polls tend to suggest, then the country would quite possibly try to conform to the bailout conditions, but in trying it would almost certainly fail, and then the money would be stopped. Before the last election results, it will be remembered, this was the main scenario prevailing. Continue reading
The day after, some French election blogging. A somewhat ambiguous photo from the Sarkozy rally – he’s despairing, she’s…not. Sarkozy gets made to eat his Flamby, an allusion to Francois Hollande’s enemies’ habit of likening him to a wobbly jelly. But in the end, it wasn’t a wobbly jelly but more of an epic blob. Sarko kept throwing punches, but it just kept coming.
The exact details show that the polls narrowed at the last, to 51.6% vs 48.4%, not as decisive as you might have expected earlier in the campaign. However, as the winner said in an interview last week, the nature of the poll is that a win is a win, and the Left’s support, the peuple de gauche, put on a spectacular crowd at the Bastille for Hollande to struggle through with the sixty motorbike cops that were the security state’s own special tribute, today’s version of a bodyguard of lancers.
Transition of power in France is somewhere between the astonishingly swift process in Britain, where the old and new prime ministers’ official cars both park up outside Buckingham Palace while the first has their farewell audience and the second officially accepts the appointment, and the weeks long grind from a US presidential election to inauguration. The handover was fixed this morning for the 15th of May.
It couldn’t be much later, as the president will then have to zap off to the G-8 summit at Camp David on the 18th and then on to the NATO summit in Chicago on the 20th, as well as whatever happens on the European scene in the meantime.
Is it time for AFOE to declare victory on this post about Catherine Ashton’s appointment as EU foreign minister (but we don’t call it that)? Laura Rozen writes that the Iran nuclear talks are making progress for the first time in ages.
The Russians are being constructive. The head of the Israeli military thinks that there has been no decision to build the Bomb, and that the talks are going the right way. David Ignatius sketches some details of a possible agreement, which would combine a halt to uranium enrichment with a promise of regular supplies of 20% enriched uranium and explicit recognition of the right to own the fuel cycle. And it’s been suggested that the Iranian government is trying to prepare public opinion for a deal.
In this context, Laura Rozen profiles the three women at the core of the Western negotiating team, Catherine Ashton from the EU, Helga Schmid from the German Foreign Ministry, and Wendy Sherman of the US State Department. Quote of note:
“She is totally working class,” the European diplomat said. “The criticism from the British press if anything is that she is from northern England, and speaks with a northern accent…
Yeah, well, if you think international understanding is difficult…
This week we got what seemed to be some good news in the ongoing Euro debt crisis. Bond spreads in many of the countries on Europe’s periphery tightened vis-their German equivalents. Unfortunately we also got some bad news to go with it (no silver lining these days without the accompanying black cloud it seems): the tighter spreads were the result of a weakening of German bunds (or a rise in their yields) following what many considered to be a failed bond auction.
“What do I think about the legacy of AtatÃ¼rk, General? Let it go. I don’t care. The age of AtatÃ¼rk is over.”
Guests stiffen around the table, breath subtly indrawn; social gasps. This is heresy. People have been shot down in the streets of Istanbul for less. Adnan commands every eye.
“AtatÃ¼rk was father of the nation, unquestionably. No AtatÃ¼rk, no Turkey. But, at some point every child has to leave his father. You have to stand on your own two feet and find out if you’re a man. We’re like the kids that go on about how great their dads are; my dad’s the strongest, the best wrestler, the fastest driver, the biggest moustache. And when someone squares up to us, or calls us a name or even looks at us squinty, we run back shouting ‘I’ll get my dad, I’ll get my dad!’ At some point; we have to grow up. If you’ll pardon the expression, the balls have to drop. We talk the talk mighty fine; great nation, proud people, global union of the noble Turkic races, all that stuff. There’s no one like us for talking ourselves up. And then the EU says, All right, prove it. The door’s open, in you come; sit down, be one of us. Move out of the family home; move in with the other guys. Step out from the shadow of the Father of the Nation.
“And do you know what the European Union shows us about ourselves? We’re all those things we say we are. They weren’t lies, they weren’t boasts. We’re good. We’re big. We’re a powerhouse. We’ve got an economy that goes all the way to the South China Sea. We’ve got energy and ideas and talent – look at the stuff that’s coming out of those tin-shed business parks in the nano sector and the synthetic biology start-ups. Turkish. All Turkish. That’s the legacy of AtatÃ¼rk. It doesn’t matter if the Kurds have their own Parliament or the French make everyone stand in Taksim Square and apologize to the Armenians. We’re the legacy of AtatÃ¼rk. Turkey is the people. AtatÃ¼rk’s done his job. He can crumble into dust now. The kid’s come right. The kid’s come very right. That’s why I believe the EU’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us because it’s finally taught us how to be Turks.”
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald, pp. 175-76
Micah Zenko on the burgeoning US assassination programme. Here's the halfway point:
However, in mid-2008, President Bush authorized a vast expansion in the scope and intensity of the use of drones in Pakistan. Since then, there have been an additional 250 strikes. As David Sanger reported, Bush lowered the threshold for an attack to what one anonymous U.S. official described as the "reasonable man" standard: "If it seemed reasonable, you could hit it."
I'm not returning to the good old days of Bush bashing here. We've now reached the stage where people whose names are not known can be assassinated on the grounds that their "life patterns" as interpreted by targeters provide "operational support" to organisations that the US has decided are terrorist, and on the grounds that their deaths will "minimize threats to allies and partner states." Widely interpreted – and the trend is clearly towards wide interpretation – those parameters could end up including a lot of reasonable men.