Friday, November 17, 2017

Why wasn't Kuwait Airways forced to face up to its contradictory stance?

The thing that I don't get about this case is how Kuwait Airways could have offered to compensate "Adar M" with a  a direct flight from Frankfurt to Bangkok on a different airline if Kuwaiti law prohibited the company entering "into an agreement, personally or indirectly, with entities or persons residing in Israel, or with Israeli citizenship." Isn't buying Adar a ticket on a different airline entering into an agreement with him, at least indirectly?

If they hadn't compensated him, it just would have looked like they were ripping the Israeli off, which probably would have weakened the airline's case. But by compensating him, why wouldn't that also damage their case in the German court, as they were willing to enter into one kind of deal with an Israeli just not the deal that he paid for.

Two spins on MBS

This is probably the most optimistic spin of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmon's current escapades. I don't think it is all spin. It probably is part of the reason for MSB's domestic moves and Saudi Arabia faces economic collapse unless it finds a way to have an economy that is not entirely dependent on oil.

But it doesn't explain MBS's crazy foreign policy: his quagmire in Yemen, his silly and self-destructive blockade of Qatar, his over-the-top hard line against Iran, and his possible abduction and forced resignation of the Lebanese prime minister. That stuff is related to the other reason for MSB's "anti-corruption" crackdown: Salmon's consolidation of power in anticipation of his ascension to the Saudi throne.

My theory is that MBS believes that the current system in which Saudi Arabia is effectively governed by a council of elders (comprised of the various siblings and brothers who are the closest relatives of the current king) will not be able to make the hard to decisions to modernize the country both economically and socially. He is probably right about that. But his solution, to arrest or marginalize all his relatives who might dilute his authority, while adopting a muscular foreign policy to show he is a decisive and dependable leader, is a bad way to go about it. None of his high-risk foreign adventures has paid off yet, and it is possible (if not likely) that all will end badly for KSA. That will give his rivals in the Saudi royal family ammunition to fight back when the opportunity presents itself.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Why not him?

Al Franken is toast. Maybe he would have been able to explain it away with it-was-just-a-misunderstanding" if not for the photo.

Peut-ĂȘtre libertĂ©

If his alleged Saudi captors don't feed him some excuse to weasel out of this trip, I guess we will finally find out if Saad Hariri really was held against his will and forced to resign.

I know Trump gives any other contender a run for its money these days, but I really think that the Saad Hariri/possible captive in KSA is the weirdest story in the world right now.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Decisive Leadership

Donald Trump is waiting for instructions from President Hannity before he decides whether to continue to endorse Roy Moore for Senate.

Nice Try

A bunch of people on my SocMedes are crowing about how that Company that owns Cards Against Humanity bought some land along the U.S.-Mexican border to stop Trump from building his fucking wall. I'm all for stopping the wall, but why does anyone think that will work? The federal government can use eminent domain to seize the land for the wall.The government would have to pay the CAH folks the fair market price, but thanks to their recent sale, that would not be hard to figure out.

I don't know if the wall will ever get built (I am cautiously optimistic that it won't), but it isn't going to be stopped by this purchase.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What about special hooks for employees to hang their light sabers?

I thought the whole idea behind autonomous cars is you don't need any infrastructure for them to work. One big benefit for cars that drive themselves is they can just ride on existing roads as they currently are. You don't need to build some new mag-lev track, or special lanes on the highway.

That's one reason the FoxConn demand is so ridiculous. Another one is the fact that truly autonomous cars have not been invented yet. There's a lot of excitement and optimism (some insist over-excitement and unrealistic optimism) that self-driving cars will come soon. But they haven't come yet. Until they do, we don't know for sure that they will really work anytime soon. It is still possible that the self-driving revolution won't occur for the rest of my lifetime.

If FoxConn is going to insist on special accommodations for made-up technology that hasn't arrived yet, they might as well be asking for special air lanes for employees arriving by jet pack. What about teleporter receiving stations?

Monday, November 13, 2017


If I were responsible for deciding where some business's advertising dollars went, I would never decide to advertise on any political program, or even any newscast. It doesn't matter if you try to spread your advertising dollars around so it goes to programs that cater to both sides of the political system. Once you put your money behind those shows, you are a potential consumer boycott target. And once that happens, your brand is basically screwed, at least in the short term.

For example, after Sean Hannity defended Judge Moore's pedophile scandal, Media Matters pushed its boycott list for companies that adverse on his show, and Keurig (among others) pulled its advertising. That generated a backlash, so now Keurig is trying to walk it back. But it can't. If it goes back to advertising on Hannity's show, that will put it back on liberal's boycott list (and worse, it will stand out from that list, as it will be the only company that un-did its own boycott of the show, making it an even bigger target ). But if keeps from being Hannity's advertiser, it will be boycotted by conservatives. At least until everyone gets outraged about something else and forgets about all this stuff, Keurig can't win. It would have been better off if it never decided to advertise on Hannity in the first place.

But it is not just Hannity. The same thing could have happened on any other news show. Eventually, advertisers might realize it isn't worth advertising on any news channel.

Proving the thesis that Conservatives are primarily motivated by their desire to piss of liberals, but have no idea what actually pisses off liberals

Going ahead without us

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal originally designed to limit China's influence by writing the rules for trade in the Pacific rim in a treaty that excludes China, will now be used to limit China and American influence.

I have very mixed feelings about agreements like the TPP. (I wish they were not just trade agreements, but rather including binding standards for other things affected by trade, like labor standards and the environment). But the whole idea behind the agreement was to give signatory countries an advantage in trade over China. Now, they will get an advantage over China and the U.S.

Friday, November 10, 2017

KSA is a rogue state

When Saad Hariri suddenly resigned from his post as Prime Minister of Lebanon last week while in Saudi Arabia and rumors started that he was being held hostage by the Saudis who forced him to resign, I thought it was a joke. But if I were Saad and people started saying that about me, I would dispel the rumors by coming home, or at least making some public appearances.

The fact that days have gone by and Hariri is basically incommunicado leads me to believe that the rumors are right. It really does look like Saudi Arabia disregarded any sense of diplomatic immunity, arrested a foreign leader while on a state visit, made him release a statement that he was resigning and then refused to let him leave.

It's totally bizarre. The only thing crazier is the idea that this is a ploy by Mohammed Bin Salman (the Saudi crown prince who seems to be calling all the shots right now) to strike out against Hezbollah and Iran. Lebanon is a country with a precarious balance of sectarian-based political parties. If you take out the leader of the Sunni party, that is going to strengthen the Shia parties, and the biggest and most powerful Shia party in Lebanon is Hezbollah. Like the war in Yemen and the ridiculous blockade of Qatar, this just seems like another bold but badly-thought-through anti-Iran gambit by MSB.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Tax reform is more of a religion than a political strategy

Prevailing wisdom is that the Republicans must pass the tax bill, or else they will suffer horrible consequences in the 2018 election. Tuesday election results seemed to solidify that conclusion in a lot of Republicans' minds.
“I think it simply means we’ve got to deliver,” Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday. 
 And given the party’s epic collapse on repealing Obamacare earlier this year, there’s a pervasive anxiety among lawmakers that they’d better do something big before voters sour on them for good.

“Oh yeah. If we face-plant on health care and taxes,” said Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), “I don’t want to see it.”
I just think that conventional wisdom is wrong. Voters are not pushing for this tax bill.. In many polls, the tax bill is unpopular. A lot of it depends on how you ask the question, but even in the polls that show the strongest level of support is slipping as more details of the plan come out.  Why do so many Republicans think that passing a tax bill giving massive breaks to big corporations will help them win in 2018?

I know what you're going to say: the donors! That's what everyone says. But the donors aren't the ones who decide if Republicans will hold onto Congress. Sure, the donors fund the campaigns, but that doesn't always translate directly into votes. There are abundant examples of the better funded candidate losing. While money can be a huge advantage it's not like the Democrats won't have funding next year.

It just seems like these conventional wisdom Republicans have it backwards. Money is important because it can be used to influence voters. But it is the voters that decide elections. If your only accomplishment is something that the voters don't like, money won't solve the problem. The way to solve the problem is to stop doing unpopular things. While a lot of the Republican agenda is unpopular, surely they can find something that will correspond with their principles and won't be hated by the voters they will depend upon last year.

The Saudis are pissed because a country they have been bombing into smithereens for years shot a missile back

There are two kinds of foreign countries in the world: those that the U.S. can attack and expect to be attacked back, and those that the U.S. can attack with confidence that the target country will not attack back. Most of the world is in the second category, which is why American politicians and pundits openly demand that the U.S. attack various countries when those countries do stuff we don't like. A decade and a half ago, people across the U.S. debated whether the U.S. should invade Iraq with no thought to whether they, sitting in their houses in the States, would be in any danger of retaliation. In the 1990s, Clinton bombed Serbia and sent forces into Somalia and even critics of those operations never warned of a Serbian or Somalian retaliatory attack. Obama decided not to attack the Syrian government over its use of chemical weapons, but not because he thought such an attack would cause Assad's forces to bomb America back. Everyone knows there was no danger of that. Syria is on the bombable list, and its place on that list was reaffirmed when President Trump shot a bunch of cruise missiles into a Syrian military base and American military bases did not experience any retaliatory attack. The Syrians were expected to just take it. And they did. They did not have a choice.

That's the dilemma of North Korea in a nutshell. North Korea is a rare example of a country that is not in the elite first world club, but nevertheless is able to punch back against members of that club. It is not clear whether North Korea could hit the U.S. back, but both its ability to develop weaponry and geography mean that Pyongyang could hit back hard against South Korea and Japan, both members of the first world club and U.S. allies. The fact that it can hit back means that North Korea is treated differently from all the other non-first world countries that give the first world countries grief. If it were on the "can't hit back" list, the U.S. would have bombed North Korea long ago.

Because geography has a role in whether a country is able to hit back or not, the Americans' list of countries that can't hit it back is a little different from the list of other nations in its first world club. Yemen, for example, is on the U.S. list. Sure, AQAP or some other non-state actor, might try something to retaliate. But the Yemeni government, including the current de facto Houthi-run government really can't hit the U.S. back (and they didn't). But that is not the case for Saudi Arabia. The Saudis border Yemen. It doesn't take a lot of technical sophistication for Houthis to retaliate against the KSA.

Saudi Arabia has been bombing the hell out of Yemen for 2.5 years. They have killed hundreds if not thousands of Yemeni civilians, hitting hospitals and schools, not just military targets. Because of the Saudi war, Yemen has been hit with starvation and disease. So, the Houthis struck back. Frankly, the Saudis' outrage over this is absurd.

I wonder if their surprise and anger stems from a simple misclassification. The Saudis probably thought that Yemen was on the can't strike back list when actually they are on the other list of countries that can. Rather than revise their list, they are blaming Iran instead, which is another symptom of the Saudis conviction that Shiites have no agency unless they are Persian.

I guess a short version of this would be: what Hassan Rouhani said.