Well then.

Looking back at posts from January 2009, I see a mix of hope and serious concern. Country after country was following the US into what has since become known as the Great Recession. It is reckoned by some as the largest global contraction since the 1930s; I’ve only been following such things for about 20 years, so I don’t know for sure (the Asian currency crisis of 1997 might give it a run for its money in terms of the number of people harmed), and Edward, who would likely have known off the top of his head, is no longer with us.

Still, for all that massive economic dislocation was bearing down on the developed world, new leadership in America gave cause for hope. Republican ideas had been tried, and had failed in the sands of Iraq and in the money markets on Wall Street that had turned into casinos where gains were privatized and sufficiently large losses offloaded onto the general public. With the Bush restoration in 2000, that party had claimed that the grown-ups were back in charge. But it was Democrats who did all of the adult things of putting America back together after the economic carnage of 2008, and they even managed to extend America’s promise to people who had been excluded, to take some of the fear out of American health economics, and to give regular folks more of a chance against plutocracy. In foreign policy, Obama’s most famous adage — “Don’t do stupid shit” — illustrates the low bar set by his predecessor, one unlikely to be cleared by his successor.

Here at the outset, the Trump administration (I still can’t believe I have to write that) looks set to do some very stupid shit indeed. Statements from the transition have not been particularly coherent, but they indicate that the incoming administration does not care whether NATO and the European Union continue to exist, and may in fact prefer it if they didn’t. This is foreign policy malpractice on the greatest scale imaginable. NATO and the EU are human institutions, and therefore imperfect, but blithely talking about doing without them indicates that the Trump people have not asked the third great policy question: “Compared to what?”

We’ve seen what Europe is like without institutions, in which Putin-style land grabs and subversion of neighboring governments are the order of the day. Every few months construction crews in Berlin dig up another unexploded bomb that’s a relic of the last time that kind of Europe was in vogue. Let’s just not.

Given that European policy and politics with Trump in the White House are likely to be a Gish gallop of ridiculous idiocy, it will be worth it to me to concentrate on a few things, in the hope that other people will pick up other threads. At the moment, I’m most interested in Kremlin subversion of the upcoming German election, further signs that Putin’s circle is testing Europe’s institutions, conflicts in the Caucasus, and some aspects of Brexit. In my working life, I have been doing a lot of things related to pharma and biotech in recent years, and so at a micro level I am interested in whether the European Medicines Agency stays in London (seems unlikely, post-Brexit) and if not, who will win the competition to host the agency. I’m sure other stuff will attract my attention, but that’s what I know I will be looking at.

Thanks, Obama. I hope we see your like again before too much time has passed.

IMF: Eastern Mediterranean country with unfair debt service requirement

From new IMF report on a certain country –

The case for fiscal adjustment is also grounded in fairness. Without it and with ever more debt, interest payments will soar to some 12 percent of GDP, or about 40 percent of total spending, crowding out essential social programs and infrastructure projects and largely benefitting public debt holders at the expense of the less-privileged. Thus lack of fiscal adjustment is also costly and inequitable.

That country where debt service will ever more crowd out social spending and be increasingly unfair: Lebanon.

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jacks

Once upon a time, there was a lovely newspaper known as the International Herald Tribune. Each year on baseball’s opening day, the paper would publish its late sports editor Dick Roraback’s poem recalling what it was like to be Over Here when the season was starting Over There.

Its language is sliding toward the archaic, its references even more so — although while Forbes and Griffith have been gone for decades, the Nats are back and playing their 10th season — but since the international edition of the New York Times (the Hairy Trib’s successor) won’t be putting any rhymes on its sports page today, we might as well.

Under the fold, “The Crack of the Bat.”
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far from original heading

In the wake of the mysterious disappearance of Ballardian Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 to the East or possibly the West of the Malaysian peninsula,  here's an interesting account of all the ways civilian airliners keep in touch with ground control in the various territories they cross over. It reveals that quite a lot of the time they're not actually in touch at all. Those reassuring blips on the screen are sometimes just flight path projections, as they appear to have been in this case.

It's shocking – and fascinating in a morbid way – that you can just lose an airliner full of people, as though it was a collective Amelia Earhart. But maybe its not so surprising. It's not just that ground coverage is incomplete. There are more flights than ever before, flying from and between places where perhaps the staff are not too well trained, funded or attentive, over vast expanses of ocean, desert, tundra, jungle and ice. Perhaps the surprising thing is that it doesn't happen more often. I speak as someone who has flown over the arctic with this on my mind. Anyway:

This incident (frankly, we’re not even 100 percent sure it is a crash) is different. So far, no debris field has been found, the Pentagon reports that it detected no midair explosions in the area, and Malaysian authorities have issued contradictory statements about what primary-radar tracks they may or may not have observed. Based on the vast search area, it appears that authorities believe that the plane may have been deliberately flown far from its original heading. If that’s the case, then whoever redirected the plane might well have timed its abduction to coincide with the period when it would have slipped out of sight of the air traffic control system anyway.

The search for flight 370 is also hampered by the fact that the relevant sea lanes are literally full of crap. The almost certain bet is catastrophe in the air compounded by incompetence on the ground, but the resonances of the case are so strange that you wouldn't be surprised to discover that, 20 years on, some mad visionary pilot had taken his passengers to  - say – sojourn among the Wa for urgent but incomprehensible reasons. After all, if the pilot was just intent on suicide/murder, why wait until he was out of contact?

The Extraordinary Aside

Bond contracts and diplomatic notes aren’t the only places where the casual asides can be more rewarding than the main text.

NASA announced yesterday that its Kepler space telescope has helped scientists identify an exoplanet clearly positioned in an orbit that would allow it to have liquid water on its surface.

Twice before astronomers have announced planets found in that zone, but neither was as promising. One was disputed; the other is on the hot edge of the zone. Kepler 22-B is the smallest and the best positioned of the more than 500 planets found to orbit stars beyond our solar system to have liquid water on its surface — among the ingredients necessary for life on Earth.

Good news of course, and with its mass size estimated at 2.4 times Earth’s, it’s the closest match yet to our own. But did you see what the author did right after the word “of”? Mentioned that, just by the by, humanity has now found more than 500 planets orbiting stars beyond our solar system. Five. Hundred.

Moreover, “With the discovery, the Kepler space telescope has now located 2,326 potential planets during its first 16 months of operation.” I’ve written about this before, but it never ceases to amaze. This is what living in the future is like.

ps Six years ago, the smallest confirmed exoplanet had a mass size of about seven times Earth’s. The intervening years have tripled the precision of humanity’s detection capabilities.

life in a low trust society

I missed this when it came out a week ago. Have yourselves a cheerful read:

On the morning of Sept. 4, in the riverside boomtown of Wuhan, Mr. Li, an 88-year-old man, fell in the street and injured his nose. People passed him by, but no one raised a hand to help as he lay on the ground, suffocating on his own blood.

This week, China’s netizens have expressed an outpouring of sympathy – for the bystanders. This is nothing new here. In recent years, there have been several high-profile cases of elderly men and women who have collapsed or suffered accidents in public spaces who then sue the good Samaritans who have tried to help them. These cases have created a genuine and widespread fear that helping a person in need will lead to personal financial loss.

The proximate cause of this is a court ruling back in 2006 which found the fact that someone helped an old lady in distress was evidence that he caused that distress in the first place. But there's maybe more to it than that. More good commentary here.

 

 

Collapsing Case Against Strauss-Kahn?

The New York Times talks to its sources in the NY Police Department and prosecutor’s office and reports:

The sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn is on the verge of collapse as investigators have uncovered major holes in the credibility of the housekeeper who charged that he attacked her in his Manhattan hotel suite in May, according to two well-placed law enforcement officials.

Although forensic tests found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter between Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a French politician, and the woman, prosecutors now do not believe much of what the accuser has told them about the circumstances or about herself.

More key phrases include “repeatedly lied” to investigators, “issues involving the asylum application,” and “possible links to people involved in criminal activities, including drug dealing and money laundering.”
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An unholy alliance

Sonia Le Gouriellec at Alliance Géostrategique quotes Bernard Badie on the Ivory Coast and the fact that democracy is a lot more than just elections.

Prenons-la [la démocratie] comme un idéal, c’est-à-dire faisons-en une valeur partagée par tous, c’est-à-dire reconstruite par ceux-là même auxquels elle est censée s’adresser. Sa faiblesse se trouve dans sa dérive procédurale, dans son universalisme naïf, dans son formalisme, dans la volonté de plaquer et d’imposer de l’extérieur des modèles tout faits auxquels on ne cherche même pas à faire adhérer ceux auxquels on veut l’adresser. Peut-être que le fond du problème est là ; nous avons oublié chez nous que la démocratie était un idéal, nous n’en retenons plus que l’aspect facile de technique de gouvernement : on l’exporte telle quelle et on veut en faire en plus une technique d’action diplomatique ; on a alors tout faux.

This is, arguably, something the EU got right but the UN usually doesn’t. It’s never enough to put on an election, as you put on a play. In fact, it’s often the worst thing that could happen.

But at least it’s not the newly invigorated and enlarged Gulf Cooperation Council. Marc Lynch (he’s a serious these days so we can’t call him Abu Aardvark any more) covers this in some detail. Basically, what is emerging is a new reactionary international institution – a sort of NATO for dictators. In fact, it’s something like all the most radical criticisms of NATO, if they were all true, rolled into one. It doesn’t have nukes but it does want a nuclear industry.

Instead, it seems to be evolving into a club for Sunni Arab monarchs — the institutional home of the counter-revolution, directed against not only Iran but also against the forces for change in the region. Where the United States fits in that new conception remains distinctly unclear.

You bet, as they say. As it seems to be evolving into a police-military alliance, perhaps the closest parallel would be one of the reactionary alliances Europe tried out in the 19th century.