Bail out Detroit

My thinking on why Congress should bail out Detroit's big 3 auto makers:

1. The consequences of not bailing them out would be disastrous and probably more expensive than a bailout.  Normally this would be a disaster that could be managed with unemployment insurance, with new companies expanding to fill the gap and hiring workers, etc.  But this isn't a normal time.

2. It will function as a stimulus. Beyond the non-failure of 3 giant companies along with not losing millions of jobs obviously be a good thing, but maybe even the increase in economic security after a bailout would spur consumer spending. People delaying purchases right now because they don't know whether they'll be fired because of an industry collapse might have enough trust to spend money if a bailout comes through.  If 10% of US jobs really depend on the auto industry like Michigan Governor Granholm says, then this could actually be a big impact.

3. Chapter 11 bankruptcy doesn't really seem to be an option right now. Reorganization of giant companies require giant amounts of credit. That credit is currently unavailable.  So if you let GM and the rest go bankrupt, it looks like they'd just shut down and nothing would replace them.

4. I don't see any reason why American auto makers can't be profitable again if you take away the legacy health care costs (via universal health care) and replace management (untrained monkeys with dart boards would be an increase in decision quality over the current idiots).  It's obvious that labor costs themselves aren't the problem - unions are much stronger in Germany than in the US, and VW, BMW and Mercedes are doing fine.

5. There isn't much of a moral hazard problem, especially with CEOs having their pay cut to $1 a year.

6. They deserve it more than Wall St.  They make stuff, which is important.  Wall Street doesn't make stuff and they are thus less important.  This will obviously require some explaning:

Wall Street created imaginary wealth with financial instruments too complicated for anyone to understand (that was the whole point), and when the whole thing blew up they got $700 billion to try to rebuild a fantasy land.  The way I understand it, we need financial institutions for two things: lending and speculation.  Lending to provide capital to businesses, and speculation to even out prices.  But creating financial instruments so complicated that nobody understands what they are based on isn't speculation, because nobody knows what they are betting on.  Information, key in any transaction, isn't there.  Then you just get a situation where people buy these things because they think other people will buy them in the future, which creates a bubble underlied by something that nobody knows what it is.

This is the reasoning that tells me that most of what got Wall Street into trouble was useless activity in the first place.  Creating super-complicated financial instruments seems like a good way to take money from silly rich people and give it to smart rich people, but it doesn't do anything to grow the economy (via lending to businesses that actually produce things) or stabilize the economy (via speculation).

On top of this, Wall Street steals all the smart people that were urgently needed in Detroit board rooms.

So if Wall Street was judged important enough for a $700 billion bailout for basically adding nothing of value to the economy, shouldn't Detroit autmakers get $701 billion for adding something to the economy (even if that something is mediocre cars)?

Ultimately I think Detroit will get a bailout, but not for any of these reasons.  They'll get a bailout because the Democrats control Congress and there would be hell to pay if they didn't back up the Midwest unions.  Hopefully all the necessary provisions will be attached - firing management and putting some monkeys with dart boards and typewriters in charge instead, and pushing them towards a 'green' economy.

Everyone wants a larger State Dept

My thoughts on Obama's national security team:

Assuming things work out between Obama and Clinton at State and Bill Clinton wherever he is, then this looks to be a very good cabinet. And I think things will work out.

But what is even better news is that Clinton, Gen. Jones (the national security adviser), and Gates at the Pentagon all signed on to Obama's core idea of shifting resources away from the Pentagon and towards the State Dept. This is a great idea and people have been screaming about it for years. In one of the first workshops I did in grad school, the professor pointed at someone and said "imagine you are the State Dept. rep and you have to argue against all of the rest of us from DoD. OK, now in real life it'd be you against the rest of the entire graduate program." While the Pentagon's budget is over $500 billion and including the wars and future medical costs may rise over $1 trillion (and some idiots want to pin it to 4% of GDP), the State Dept had a measly $10 billion for FY 2008.

Despite almost universal agreement that the State Department is under-resourced, Pentagon budgets have continued to outpace State budgets in growth because of lots of Congressional pork.  Probably the largest pork item is the United States Air Force.  OK, that was an exaggeration, but stuff like the F-22 which is projected to cost at least $62 billion is equal to the State Dept budget for six years, and this is for an aircraft with no actual mission other than to defeat imaginary Chinese planes.  Unfortunately for the State Department, it's budget doesn't create jobs in Congressional districts because they invest in people rather than buying stuff, so Congress doesn't throw $5 billion (half the State Dept's budget) at the State Dept in unwanted pork projects like they do the Pentagon.

Because Obama hasn't appointed any intelligence people yet, the intelligence community hasn't really been a part of this "national security team" rollout.  However the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community will be the happiest of all due to the proposed enlarging of the State Deptartment.  When the State Department shrinks, CIA officers overseas have to pick up the slack from there being fewer Foreign Service Officers.  FSOs usually report back to Washington intelligence that is easier to collect (intelligence collecting isn't their main function), and that allows CIA officers to concentrate on targeting their collection on harder targets.  But that basic embassy/elite chatter that FSOs report on is still important, and when FSO positions are cut because the State Dept budget is cut, that means CIA officers have less time to spend on harder (and more interesting) targets and have to report gossip instead.

Bottom line: Obama's national security team looks good, and the intelligence community should be very happy.


NYTimes: Top Indian Security Official Resigns as Toll Eclipses 180

Who resigned after the Sept 11 attacks?

Referees suck everywhere

The quality (or lack thereof) of MLS referees is always a hot topic and frequently leads to amusing column or blog titles (like this one). But after watching the Chelsea/Arsenal game today I'm reminded that referees suck everywhere, not just in MLS.

After calling Chelsea forward Solomon Kalou wrongly offsides twice in the first half, the same linesman allows Robin Van Persie's first goal to stand after he was clearly a couple yards offsides on the goal. The referee, Mike Riley, bizarrely points to Chelsea defender Jose Bosingwa, who was yards ahead of Van Persie, as somehow playing Van Persie on. The match commentators speculated that perhaps a Chelsea defender had deflected the ball, as there would be no other possible reason to allow the goal to stand (if the ball came off a Chelsea player, Van Persie couldn't be offsides). However all the replays showed obviously that there was no deflection. The wrong call totally changed the momentum of the game, and Chelsea lost, 2-1 (Chelsea had been winning 1-0, Arsenal's goal came out of nowhere). So refs in England can be awful too.

They can also be awful in Germany, where they fixed games in exchange for being paid off by the Croatian mafia. They can also be awful in Italy, where Juventus appoints which refs referee their games. They can be awful in Spain, where they are apparently fooled by every player that falls down as if shot. They're every bad in sports other than soccer, like the NBA or any NFL game involving a Manning brother (just the personal opinion of this Patriots fan).

So lets cut MLS referees a bit of slack. Nobody's perfect, and in fact the refereeing situation could be a lot worse.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Go see this movie. It is the best movie I've seen in recent memory, certainly the best this year. Ruth and I just saw it in an absolutely packed theater.

When the credits started rolling, there was complete silence.

By popular demand:

More pictures and a video of our cat, Oomi.

Oomi's tail wags like a dog's.
From Oomi

And she enjoys her fort.
From Oomi

What I do

My place of employment, the Monroe Crime Analysis Center, had our public rollout last week.  Here are news articles from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle and local TV (watch the video here).  Here's the official press release from New York State's Department of Criminal Justice Services (which gave us lots of money).

Austrian hostages freed

Months ago, two Austrian tourists were kidnapped by AQIM in Algeria (probably in Tunisia but whatever).  They were freed on Oct 31.  I didn't put anything on my blog because I was hoping for some actual news reports in the media other than a one-line sentence saying they had been freed, but I am disappointed.  So, no info that I've seen on where they were held, what the kidnappers got in return, or anything like that.  And disappointingly to me, no information on what role if any local Tuareg factions played in the negotiations that led to their release.  Oh well.

Here are my previous two pieces on the Austrian hostages: AQIM/GSPC kidnaps two in Tunisia, and Update on Austrian hostages of AQIM.

Deflation on the way?

The conventional wisdom is that, with the recession, the US will experience some inflation. Flanders, the resident financial guru on this blog, thinks the opposite. Here is a potential scenario for deflation, via Flanders, with some input from myself:

a) Deleveraging (selling assets to raise cash) by financial institutions means that they need lots of cash now-now-now and so dollars (because investors want to be paid in dollars rather than Euros or pounds) are more valuable.
b) A global recession means that raw materials are going down in price. So if you are a business needing raw materials, why buy now? Hoard your money for a bit and raw materials will be cheaper in the future. This could create a cycle of reduced demand creating an even steeper slide in price for raw materials, increasing the incentives to hoard money and buy later, decreasing demand further, etc. etc.

So overall, demand (from financial institutions) for the dollar is going up, while supply is going down because of hoarding. When demand goes up and supply goes down, price goes up. Therefore dollars will increase in value.

Since I don't really understand this stuff, comments are welcome.

The problem with private intelligence

What's wrong with Stratfor in a nutshell:

"First, Washington had no intention of actually carrying out airstrikes against Iran."

a) You can never make definitive statements about intentions, because they are unknowable! Especially when 99% of everything regarding possible US military action against Iran remains classified. This is basic intelligence analysis 101. Stratfor is selling false certainty.

b) Washington never intends on doing anything because Washington is not a thing! Stratfor insists on looking at everything through hardcore realists lenses. It's more likely that some PEOPLE in Washington wanted to bomb Iran, and other PEOPLE didn't, and the people who didn't want to bomb were able to outmaneuver their bureaucratic opponents. But individuals don't usually feature in many Stratfor analyses - it is all about indivisible countries that have clear-cut interests.

Private intelligence shops like Stratfor obviously exist and apparently do quite well. But I think the market for private intelligence will always be extremely distorted. For markets to work properly, consumers need good information about the product they're buying. But the nature of intelligence is that good information doesn't exist on whatever the intelligence product is about. So you can only judge intelligence based on logic, examining the sources yourself, and track record. But track records are hard to get in the intelligence world because they are jealously guarded.

So I think what ends up being the best business strategy for a private intelligence firm is to play on your potential customers' pre-existing beliefs on how the world works. A small amount of this is maybe desirable so that the intelligence actually makes sense to the consumer by fitting in their paradigm, but I think the Stratfor stuff goes way beyond that. Stratfor sees their potential customers as "private individuals, global corporations, and divisions of the US and foreign governments." But if you look in their emails, all the testimonials about how great they are come from American businessmen or retired American military folks (who will have credibility with American businessmen) so I think it's accurate to say that US business executives are their target clientele. And I guess Stratfor's brand of unitary rational actor, realist, grand geopolitical drama analysis matches this clientele or else they wouldn't be as successful.

The same problem exists in government when competing intelligence shops open up, whether its Team B in the 1970s providing an "alternate" analysis that conveniently was exactly what the bosses wanted to hear, or Doug Feith doing the same thing with his Office of Special Plans. In government it could be even worse because multiple shops will be competing for a single consumer (the gov't), or at least a much smaller number of consumers. The problem is that people have no way of knowing which product is better until it is too late, and so you run the risk of creating competition to kiss ass rather than provide objectivity. This seems pretty obvious - it's why a lot of people think the head of the CIA and now the DNI should serve set terms instead of at the pleasure of the President - but even in spite of this a lot of people push the idea of private intelligence.

MLS playoffs, round 1

As noted earlier, the Revs lost.  This wasn't very surprising given the injury situation. The other matchups were Columbus vs. Kansas City, Chivas USA vs Real Salt Lake, and New York Red Bulls vs. Houston Dynamo.

Columbus was favored against KC and won easily, no surprise there. Chivas USA had the higher seed against Salt Lake but Salt Lake had been on a roll at the end of the season and so I wasn't surprised to see them beat a Chivas USA side that had a couple injury problems of its own. The shocker was today, the New York Red Bulls knocking out the Houston Dynamo by winning 3-0 away. New York's only away win this season came in week 7, beating a bad LA Galaxy team 2-1. There was a magical force field protecting New York's goal, and that plus Dane Richards having the game of his life put New York through to the Western Conference championship where I'm sure Real Salt Lake will beat them. I expect the MLS Cup final to be Columbus vs. Real Salt Lake. Columbus will be favored but I wouldn't be surprised to see Salt Lake win the whole thing.

You can see video highlights of all the games at MLS's website.

Revs season is over

The New England Revolution lost 3-0 to the Chicago Fire and were knocked out of the playoffs.

The game started out with the Fire getting a lot of shots, including one that Parkhurst cleared off the line. Then New England started getting in to it, getting some of their own attacking players going. Right at that moment, the Fire's John Thorrington came in late and from behind on Jeff Larentowicz, who had been our best player, and broke his ankle. He walked off the field anyway because he's hardcore, but then went to the hospital. We then lost the midfield, gave up a goal just before halftime, and lost the game. In exchange for taking out Larentowicz, Thorrington got a yellow card and got the Fire into the next round of the playoffs. Larentowicz himself was ejected for a far less serious foul against the Fire in the second game of the season, (view the highlights here if you don't believe me).

Basically I felt good about the game until Larentowicz was hacked down by Thorrington. We were holding our own, and we went from competing in the midfield to relying on a gimp (Shalrie's knee) and a slow galumphing rookie (Pat Phelan). In the beginning of the season I thought that our combination of speedy youth and experience would be a good mix, but that doesn't work if all your experience is sent to the hospital (or in Shalrie's case, should have been sent to the hospital). I think if you take any team in the world and subtract their star forward (Twellman), their 2nd forward (Cristman), their star attacking midfielder (Ralston), their most dangerous winger (Khano Smith, deservedly suspended), and then injure both their central midfielders, that team will be in trouble. I'm not really disappointed in the players or the coaches at all for mistakes or lack of effort, I just feel cheated by Lady Luck.

On to next year.

Thoughts on the election

Obama won!  A few observations on the election:

A lot of people are saying "Look, now this really shows that any child can grow up to be President!"  Well, no.  At the same time as the U.S. elected a black man as President, a bunch of states voted for anti-gay laws.  And plenty of ignorant people were still under the impression that Obama is a Muslim and that that's a bad thing.  And Senator (soon to be former Senator) Dole in North Carolina attacked her challenger Kay Fagan by calling her an atheist - Hagan responded by calling it "slander".  There was no Colin Powell moment in that race where someone asked "why do you care if Fagan is an atheist?"  So yes, a black man won the presidency, showing we've progressed, but you probably still can't win the Presidency if you are openly atheist, openly gay, Muslim or Arab (see a poll from 2007).

A lot of people like Chris Matthews and Pat Buchanan are saying this was a transformational election, that the Democrats are building a new coalition just like Reagan in 1980 and FDR in 1932.  Well, no.  The data shows that, compared to 2004, the Democrats just got a a plus 3% handicap in pretty much every state other than states who had their own officials runing (Arizona, Alaska, Massachusetts, Hawaii), and Appalachia and Southern states (hmm).

Stratfor highlights that, even though Obama won in an electoral landslide, the popular vote was relatively close.  One reason for that is going to be Obama losing a lot of areas in the South and Appalachia by much more than Kerry did 4 years ago as you can see on this map.  The obvious explanation is racist voters voting against a black person in those areas.  However you can see that almost no counties in North Carolina and Virginia swung in McCain's direction compared to 2004, however just across the state lines, counties right next to them voted much more heavily in favor of McCain than in 2004.  And Obama targeted North Carolina and especially Virginia, and didn't really target West Virginia and Tennessee.  So I think beyond racism, there is the lesson that if you target voters even in the sticks in Appalachia, they will vote for you in greater numbers than otherwise (vindicating Howard Dean's 50 state strategy).

Basically, I don't think too much has changed in terms of electoral politics.  This election didn't show that we all united, it just showed that a mere 3% more of us reject Republican rule after one of the worst presidencies in history and instead will vote for a black guy if he promises to cut taxes and seems like a generally likeable fellow.

Bunch of Imams and Priests fight each other

...on the soccer field! To benefit charity!  Check out this article from RFE/RL:

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- An unusual charity soccer game was recently played in the northeastern Bosnian city of Tuzla.

The match pitted a team of Catholic priests against a squad of Muslim imams and was played under the slogan "For Children's Smiles."

All proceeds from ticket sales and sponsorship were donated to the city's home for underprivileged children and to an association for children with special needs.

The game was hardly a classic, but it attracted a sizable crowd and a festive atmosphere reigned in the city's Tusanj stadium. The final score was the least important part of the occasion...
If the name Tuzla rings a bell, it may be from the Democratic primary campaign. Hillary Clinton bizarrely claimed to have come under sniper fire when she landed there which of course was false.

Now on to today's election results!

Campaigning in Pennsylvania

Yesterday my wife and I went down to Erie, Pennsylvania, along with her parents and 3 other friends, and we campaigned for Obama.

We were given lists of Obama supporters and went door to door reminding them to vote, telling them where their polling places were, what they needed to bring, etc. Between my wife and I, we knocked on a couple hundred doors, and talked to dozens of people. We only got two McCain supporters (both hers) and one racist (mine).*  I talked to one old lady who was angry that the person that called her from the Obama campaign was a black girl, so she hung up on her.  Then she got even more angry when she mistakenly got a letter in the mail saying "thanks for your $150 pledge".  She said it made her not want to vote, but I talked her down from the ledge (hopefully).

My wife's parents did run in to some McCain campaigners, but nothing interesting happened.

The Rochester paper had an article today about some other supporters who also went down to Pennsylvania and Ohio. Of course, as Yglesias notes, the only reason we had to go down to Pennsylvania to find people who's Presidential votes mattered is because of our screwy electoral system.

My thought as we were driving back was, after all this talk about change, what will his brand be in 2012?  My guess is something like "steadiness," or "I am not a total airhead like my challenger."  If Palin runs in 2012, would we have a sequel to Larry Flynt's Nailin Paylin?

*Apparently plenty of racists are supporting Obama for President over McCain.

Friday cat blogging

Close enough to Friday anyway. Chronicling the growth of Oomi: small, medium, and chubby.

From Oomi

From Oomi

From Oomi

Taxes and healthcare

I posted a rundown of the candidates' tax and health care policies over at my sister's blog, Current Conductor. Check it out here.

Don't hate on me (or ACORN)

In his paper The Political Economy of Hatred, Ed Glaeser looks at anti-Americanism in the Middle East, anti-Semitism in Europe, and anti-Black hatred in the American South and concludes that hatred is "particularly likely to spread against groups that are politicaly relevant and socially isolated."  The social isolation of the object of hatred increases the costs for the in-group to debunk myths, and the political relevance of the group increases the incentives for politicians to target the out-group with hate-creating propaganda.

I think this is a useful model through which to look at McCain's propaganda regarding ACORN, the group he says is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."  This propaganda has resulted in death threats against ACORN employees and vandalism of ACORN offices.

Glaeser's basic theory is that political entrepreneurs who are pro-wealth-redistribution will spread hate-creating stories about rich minorities, while anti-redistribution will spread hate-creaing stories about poor minorities.  However it doesn't just have to apply to minorities classified by economics.  ACORN and other community organizers are minorities, in that 99% of Americans are not ACORN volunteers or employees, and most don't know ACORN volunteers or employees either.

ACORN, the out-group, is politically relevant both because of their connections to Obama and the Obama campaign, but also because they registered 1.3 million new voters this year.

ACORN is also socially isolated from the target group of McCain's propaganda, not only because there are so few ACORN members in the country, but also because they tend to operate in larger cities, and the target of this propaganda is conservative/GOP voters in suburbs and rural communities (the in-group).

Glaeser's model has four steps:
1) Politicians decide whether or not to broadcast a hate-creating message.  My guess is that this occured prior to the GOP national convention, when Giuliani and Palin both devoted chunks of their speeches to ridiculling community organizers.  But it could also have happened whenever the campaign realized that they have no shot at winning based on issues, due to the financial/economic situation.

2) In-group members receive the message about the harmfulness of the out-group, and decide whether or not to investigate the truth of this message, and decide whether or not to take action against the out-group.  False messages can succeed if in-group members have no incentive to figure out whether the messages are true or not, or if the barriers to finding out the truth are very high.  Incentives would be personal, commercial, or other relationships with members of the out-group, which also lower the barriers to the truth.  Since ACORN is both socially isolated and not well known by most voters outside of thecurrent  voter registration story, incentives are low and barriers are high.  While the truth is obviously perfectly available through online news sources, McCain's demographic probably distrusts "liberal media" like ABC (and it doesn't help that CNN bought McCain's propaganda hook, line and sinker).

3) Each group votes for their preferred candidate, and the winner's policies are implemented.

4) The losing group may be harmed by the winning group (the whole point of the propaganda).  Here, the ACORN propaganda fits into McCain's larger desperation strategy of associating with people that are "different" from McCain's voters.  i.e., if Obama and ACORN steal the election, something bad and vaguely associated with terrorism, socialism, high taxes and black people will happen (all examples are from the central McCain campaign, not the even more explicitly racist state and local GOP figures).

A few ending notes.  First, it's important to recognize the transparently cynical nature of McCain's propaganda campaign against ACORN.  This link has a video of McCain congratulating ACORN as "what makes America special" due to their efforts to get immigrants registered to vote.  

Second, while McCain rails about "voter fraud" and implies that ACORN is engaged in some conspiracy to steal the election, there is a significant difference between voter fraud and voter REGISTRATION fraud (it's one thing to register Mickey Mouse, it's another thing to try to vote as Mickey Mouse), and the real victim of this voter registration fraud is ACORN itself for being tricked into paying for bogus registrations, which is why they were the ones that reported it to the Feds in the first place.  ACORN is legally required in several states to turn in all registration forms, whether they think they are fradulent or not, so as to get around the possibility of organizations throwing out registrations of one party or another.  They also noted forms they thought might be fradulent.

Finally, it's important to note that the GOP has a history of crying wolf over voter fraud.  The US Attorneys scandal of a couple years ago was partially about Rove firing US Attorneys who were unwilling to prosecute bogus voter fraud cases.

Another post at the Media Shack

In which I earn a T-shirt (and post on AQIM in Algeria).  If I get stopped at airports for wearing my green Arabic Media Shack T-shirt I will definitely post on that as well.  Also I just noticed they have a Middle East Media Guide, a guide to some of the more prominent newspapers in the Middle East.  Worth checking out if you (like me) don't read the newspapers regularly enough to get a feel for them but still cite them occasionally.

Hey look! It's politics & soccer!

A reader* wrote in with the suggestion that I post something about the U.S. government's takeover of AIG, since AIG sponsors Manchester United. I originally didn't want to because I don't really understand the whole AIG/giant economic meltdown. But Kevin Drum doesn't understand soccer and still posted on it, so I suppose I will write something. Here it is:


A lot of Manchester United fans were actually boycotting their club after it was bought by an American, Malcolm Glazer (owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and from Rochester NY!). Fans didn't only boycott because Glazer's an American, but also because he's (supposedly) a soulless businessman and bought Man Utd by giving them $850 million in debt (via financial hijinks that I also don't understand). Perhaps the debt argument stands, but these Manchester United fans weren't protesting in 1991 back when Man Utd was put on the market and thus became "for sale", only when it was bought by an American.  However, now not only is their club owned by an American, but their jersey sponsor is owned by the United States government!  Suckers.

*I won't lie, it was my mom, but my blog sounds more important if I pretend people read it who aren't obligated to.

War on Terror in the Sahara

I have a long piece on the War on Terror in the Sahara desert up at Rob's Arabic Media Shack. I wrote it before the recent attack by AQIM in Mauritania, but oh well.

Also thanks to the Western Sahara Info blog that gave me a couple links. An apparent communique from AQIM that is translated there seems to confirm what I wrote tentatively about in my piece at the Arabic Media Shack - that Mokhtar Belmokhtar is no longer the head of AQIM-South (perhaps he's relaxing on the beach in Benin) and has been replaced by Yahia Djouadi.  I believe he was previously head of AQIM's military committee, so he's likely to be on board with Droukdel's pro-bin-Ladin-ism.  That will make it interesting to see whether there are a lot of defections from Belmokhtar's former gang, as Belmokhtar reportedly was not big on martyring himself for the greater glory of the Caliphate.

Also through Western Sahara Info's blogroll I found a few more good blogs: Parmenides' Fallacy, The Moor Next Door, and Nick Brook's Sand & Dust.

Lady de Rothchild calls Obama "elitist"

This morning while I was eating lunch, these two things appeared right next to each other in my Google Reader, and make about the same amount of sense:

Matt, examining Lady de Rothchilds defection to McCain, notes that irony must be truly dead. "Lady" de Rothchilds main reason for not endorsing McCain? Obama is an elitist. More accurately elitism is dead. When a gazillionaire who insists on being IDed as "Lady" can call a black dude from the South Side, whose mother had him as a teenager an elitist, the word has no meaning.

Big Red Spanks One

The New England Revolution beat Chivas USA 4-0 in a nationally televised game on Thursday night, although it was a pretty close game until the last ten minutes. Jeff Larentowicz, aka Big Red, scored the 2nd goal of the game that killed Chivas' hope with 10 minutes left. The highlights are below the fold, with Big Red's tremendous goal starting at 2:40.

Jeff Larentowicz is the most under-rated player in the league.


As previously mentioned, my wife and I are proud owners of a new kitten. Here are some pictures.

From Oomi

Oomi likes to climb the carpeted wall in the basement so she can go play with the vents, but she does it in less than a second so it's hard to get a picture of her doing it.
From Oomi

From Oomi

From Oomi

This doesn't happen very often:

From Oomi

You couldn't write a better script

...for a political comedy:

McCain is the candidate of "experience" - picks VP candidate with zero national political experience

McCain is the candidate of "national security" - picks VP candidate with zero national security experience

McCain puts his "country first" - picks VP candidate who was a member of an Alaskan secessionist party

McCain is the "responsible" candidate - picks VP candidate without doing basic political background research

McCain is the "maverick" - picks VP candidate after being bullied out of his first two choices by the evangelical Right

McCain is the anti-corruption candidate - picks VP candidate who ran Ted Stevens' 527 group and who hired a member of Team Abramoff

McCain is the anti-pork candidate - picks VP candidate who won $27 million in pork for her town of 6000 and fought for the "bridge to nowhere"

I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!

Unfortunately for comedy's sake, Palin is too young (and not Vietnamese), otherwise the perfect ending would be finding out she had been one of McCain's captors (had you heard he was a POW in Vietnam?) Feel free to add additional contradictions between McCain's rhetoric and his choice of Sarah Palin as VP in the comments.

When a candidate's relationship with the press moves beyond hostile questioning and into ridicule and satire, big chances are needed. Perhaps a third total restructuring of the McCain campaign is in the future!

Sarah Palin as VP

So McCain picked Sarah Palin as his VP nominee. See her bio here. Another relevant fact is she's in a mini-scandal now for apparently firing some guy because he wouldn't fire her sister's ex-husband, a state Trooper.

The big issue is that she has absolutely no experience in national politics and has only been governor of Alaska for a year and a half. Basically McCain used his VP pick as a political stunt designed to steal coverage of Obama's acceptance speech. This is possibly the most short-sighted VP pick in history and in my view a colossal blunder by McCain. And since Eddie liked my line about how one should view Palin's "experience" in the executive branch in Alaska, I'll repeat it here:
Governing Alaska is like governing Sim City with the free money cheat. It’s easy to repeal taxes and fund infrastructure at the same time when you have a money spigot.

Change? Experience? Character?

I started this post three weeks ago and then got lazy. I figured with the convention this week it'd be a good time to do a political post though.

This election it seems that the themes each campaign has chosen correspond to their own weaknesses. John McCain is running on "experience" despite the fact that he's never held any executive or managerial position in his life. McCain's also running on character and "putting America first," despite his temper tantrums and slime-slinging campaign ads, and the fact that his chief of staff was recently a paid agent of a foreign government.

Barack Obama is running on change, and in the primary most of the positions he laid out clearly were a break from the status quo. However since then he's bought in to three major establishment ideas: immunity for telecom companies that aided the government in illegal domestic intelligence collection; the prioritizing of Israel's short-term security over that of the Middle East as a whole; and the selection of Joe Biden as his VP pick (not a bad pick, but not exactly about "change"). His staff selection also is filled with experienced Washington people - and while you definitely need some experience so you can figure out how the place works, filling your Senate staff with Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle staffers doesn't exactly signal that you want to transform American politics.

John McCain's primary argument is that he's experienced and Obama's a novice who will mess everything up. A look at their campaigns suggests otherwise. Obama's been called "Machiavellian" due to his ruthlessly efficient campaign. Disputes within his office (and I'm assuming they exist) do not end up on the front page of the Washington Post or New York Times the way they do in McCain's campaign and the way they did in Hillary Clinton's. He has raised money hand over fist. His ground operations were by all accounts much better than those of his rivals. He's laying the groundwork for his reelection campaign in 2012 even before he's elected.

Contrast that to McCain's campaign, which is so disorganized he doesn't even know his own positions on key issues like birth control or climate change. He cycles through different cliques of advisers - does he want to be "the original maverick"? Or does he want Karl Rove's proteges to bring him evangelical votes? The answer changes every few months. After a series of attack ads against Obama, defenders of McCain were arguing that McCain was such an 'honorable' guy that his campaign would only put those ads out if McCain wasn't totally in control. It takes a special kind of campaign to reduce the candidate's five years in a torture cell to a farce.

McCain's character and integrity has been a sacred cow in the national press corps - despite reversing practically all of his political positions to win the Republican nomination, cheating on his first wife, his involvement in a corruption scandal, his repeated attempts to portray Obama as un-American, and various other failings of character.

Perhaps some campaigns decide to attack other candidates along certain lines in order to take the focus off their own failings. By attacking the other candidate's character or change credentials, maybe they hope they won't have to defend their own. I can't figure the exact reasoning but it definitely makes for a surreal campaign.

As an addendum, all this talking head crap on TV about a divided Democratic party is stupid. The Democratic party is divided over personalities, which can be much more easily mended than being divided over substance. The GOP on the other hand is divided over substance and the entire direction of party, which threatens to split the entire party in a national realignment.

English Premier League kicks off

Chelsea won in style, and Manchester United couldn't beat Newcastle at home. Looks to be a fine season! Video beneath the cut.

CIFA is no more

Counterintelligence Field Activity, which I've written about a few times here, has been eliminated. Its functions are now folded in to the Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC) inside the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which makes a lot of sense. There is a lot of cynicism about the folding of CIFA, saying that it will just reappear under a different name, but here I'll outline why I think this is a good move.

First off, the law enforcement portions of CIFA have not transfered to the DCHC. This is good because we already have one semi-functional national agency trying to enforce our laws, we don't need the Defense Department clumsily stepping in. Having a secretive DoD agency have lawn enforcement powers over Americans just made me queasy.

Second, according to the memo, the DCHC integrates all DoD-wide counterintelligence with all DoD-wide human intelligence:
The DCHC shall centrally manage the DoD-wide CI and human intelligence (HMINT) enterprises, develop programs that support DoD Component CI and HUMINT functions, and execute assigned CI and HUMINT activities worldwide.
Counterintelligence (CI), simply put, is the art of degrading your opponents intelligence. The best way to do this is by penetrating your opponents' organizations to figure out what they know, etc. While you can do this via technical means (tapping phone, reading email), the best way to do it is by having a human source inside. That's why from an organizational standpoint it's logical to have your CI people and your people working with human sources all working together. Also this way it gives your CI people information to work with, so they don't sit in dark rooms brooding over an imaginary Master Plan or spying on Quakers.

Offshore oil drilling

From Pat Lang:

Larry Kudlow, the financial whiz, was on the Joe Scarborough show on MSNBC today. He repeated his unending mantra of "drill, drill, drill," as a way out of the current wilderness of high priced crude.
"Approval of drilling will frighten the futures traders out of the market and the price will go a long way down." "They are already leaving the oil futures market" he went on. "This will push them out even faster."

So basically the logic behind expanding offshore drilling is that speculation is a big reason for high oil prices, and that drilling will frighten speculators into thinking that the price will go down in the future, thus they will get out of the market and the price will go down right away. But if you think that the price of oil is high because of expanding demand and future shrinking supply, then offshore drilling would do absolutely nothing to oil prices, because it would contribute less than 1% to world oil supply:

Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.
Also, check out this interesting article Flanders sent me on speculators, The Speculator as Hero:
The miracle is that in taking care of ourselves, we speculators somehow ensure that producers all over the world will provide the right quantity and quality of goods at the proper time, without undue waste, and that this meshes with what people want and the money they have available.

Revs win the Superliga

The Revs won the 2008 Superliga last night, beating Houston in the eighth round of penalty kicks after overtime ended 2-2. See the video here. It was a fantastic, wide-open and attacking game played by two teams who clearly respected each other - all this action despite the fact that the teams had agreed to split the prize money evenly between them no matter who won due to a dispute between MLS management and the players union. The Revs knocked off three Mexican teams 1-0 and tied Chivas USA to make it to the final.

This is only the first of four titles the Revs can win this season....

Lazio almost bought by the mob

The Italian police unfortunately stopped Italian football club Lazio from gaining the owners they deserve. Current Lazio club president Giorgio Chinaglia has been the run from Italian cops in the U.S. since 2006 for some financial shenanigans. Now the Casalesi clan in the Camorra (an organized crime group, basically Naples' version of Sicily's Cosa Nostra) tried to buy Lazio with laundered money.

Lazio fans are typically fascist. This actually is not an exaggeration: Der Spiegel has a picture of Lazio fans standing en masse holding a sign that reads "Auchwitz is your home, the ovens your houses"; they also had a sign rhyming the club Livorno's name with "forno", the Italian name for oven (Livorno is a Leftist/Communist club and the city had a lot of Jews before WW2), their most popular player was known for giving the Hitler salute to the fans; they wave pictures of Bennito Mussolini in the stands; Lazio fans honored Arkan, the Serb guilty of war crimes in Bosnia (and a friend to Sinisa Mihailovic, a Serb who plays for Lazio); I could go on but you get the idea.

It would be true irony if this club was stuck with the Camorra as owners. Unfortunately I am not an expert in Italian organized crime but Wikipedia says that the Camorra owns the rights for trash disposal in Naples - you might have heard about the trash piling up in Naples recently.

Money in the soccer world is extremely liquid (like in the recent Carlos Tevez deal) and the sums are very large (bigger than the local pizza parlor), which I guess makes it attractive to rich criminals. My guess is that given the exceptional liquidity of money in football (another word might be corruption), owning a football club would be a great part of a money laundering chain for a large organized criminal organization with a lot of cash to clean.

I leave you with a picture of true Lazio fans:

screw lazio

Too bad these guys didn't get screwed.

Break radio silence

Brief updates:

My fiance and I are now married.

We went on a honeymoon to Alaska:
We got a kitten and named her Oomi, short for Oomingmak, the Eskimo word for Musk Ox, of which we saw some in Alaska. Oomingmak means "bearded one" - Oomi has some white fur where a beard might be. Check out her attack the blinds at the bottom of the post.

I am now back at work, but going to this conference next week.

Lots of stuff happening over in Mali and Niger re: the Tuareg rebellion, but no time to write on it. Al Jazeera has got a reporter in there and put out a few stories on it. Still ignored by the American press. On request I put up some stuff over at, including a copy of my thesis (available as a pdf here) if you would like to read it.

Another blogger that just broke radio silence is Pat - go read his post about his idea of creating a money stream to politicians that can be turned off when they do bad stuff, like Obama voting for amnesty for telecom companies that broke the law. It would be easy to implement and effective at showing politicians that people actually care about issues that the media ignores.

I will get back to blogging once I figure out where to fit it in my schedule.

Now for Oomi!

Climate change and intel

A quick told-ya-so post. Two items over at the Washington Independent: first, the IC did a National Intelligence Estimate relating to climate change, and second, Spencer Ackerman points out that a lot of people were strangely against the idea. I tried for a while to make a pun relating global warming to the acronym HoTS but I failed.

My former Congressman, Ed Markey, helped push this thing along - the requirement for the NIE didn't come from the DNI but came from Congress. Click here to see the discussion between myself, Mike Tanji (at afore-mentioned HoTS) and the mysterious folks at the now-abandoned Kent's Imperative last year when the requirement was handed down. Of course time will tell whether the NIE is any good (we'll have to wait until its leaked) and leads to better decisions being made, but I think it is a good sign that it is at least being taken seriously.

The Meme of Seven

I have been tagged by Eddie and Peter in a meme.

The Rules:
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

1. This is the second time I am writing this post because blogger crapped out yesterday and ate the post.
2. Tomorrow, while my fiance will be working her tail off taking the boards exams, I will be relaxing watching Netherlands vs. Russia in the Euro2008 quarterfinal, and hoping to see my dad on TV (he has tickets and will be at the game!).
3. I think blog memes are a cool way of tracing networks of blogs.
4. I haven't updated my blog in a long time because of internet problems at home - it's not that I lost interest...
5. Everyone should go read/listen to my sister's interview of a big fancy-pants (literally - they wear fancy pants) music star, Stephen Connolly of the King's Singers.
6. I asked my fiance for a random fact about me and she said "you like soccer."
7. I am tagging Pat 7 times because he hasn't updated his blog in nine months.

Sageman vs. Hoffman

After the Grand Masta's chidings, I have a post up at Arabic Mediashack on the dustup between Marc Sageman and Bruce Hoffman over where to focus anti-Al Qaeda efforts.


I have been busy lately so I haven't posted much on soccer, but I can't resist noting this game. I love it when Italy loses.

Oil, politics, and climate in the Tuareg insurgencies

There have been some new developments in the Tuareg insurgencies in Mali and Niger. First, China and Niger have come to an oil deal that will give the Nigerien government five billion dollars. Secondly and possibly related, the MNJ in Niger has (finally) split. Also, the relationship between climate change and conflict has been getting some attention regarding the Tuareg rebellion. This post will look at the oil deal - I will write later on the MNJ split and the relationship between environmental change and conflict.

First, the oil deal. From Reuters:
China's state oil company has won a $5 billion deal to develop oil reserves in eastern Niger in the latest major Chinese investment to secure energy resources in Africa...
China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) agreed to bring into production within three years the large Agadem block, which has proven reserves so far of 324 million barrels, Niger's government said.
Five billion dollars over ten or so years. For comparison, Niger's GDP is between nine billion and four billion dollars depending on how you calculate it. Also from the Reuters article:
Niger's eastern Diffa region has been relatively unaffected by a year-old revolt by Tuareg-led rebels who mostly operate in the country's northern desert region of Agadez.
Well, not quite. The MNJ has allied with a Toubou (the nomadic people that live in eastern Niger) rebel group, the FARS. Back in April, they led an attack against Nigerien soldiers around Diffa (possibly with an MNJ official, Kindo Zada, who had experience in Diffa as a Nigerien soldier). Previous to this oil deal, there wasn't really any economic motive for the Toubou to fight - they occasionally kidnapped tourists or soldiers for cash, but didn't really have any solid political objectives other than to be left alone by the central government. Now there is five billion dollars worth of oil under Toubou land.

Another consequence of an oil industry may be the further deterioration of the agriculture sector, as workers leave subsistence agriculture and pastoralism to compete for oil jobs. This has happened in other African countries (Gabon, Angola, Congo, etc.), well documented and explained by Nicholas Shaxson in his book Poisoned Wells which I'm in the middle of right now. The deterioration of agriculture could lead to further famines and unemployment (it's hard to start up a herd again once you've sold it off), conditions which have fostered the violence in Tuareg areas.

This post will be continued (when I have time) to look at the possible relationship between the Chinese oil deal and the MNJ split, as well as looking at Adam Wolfe's post on climate change and conflict in the Sahel.

Abu Muqawama

It's old news now that Abu Muqawama, A.K.A. Andrew Exum, has retired from blogging (temporarily I'm sure). What I hadn't noticed, due to reading Abu Muqawama via Google Reader, was that the Abu Muqawama comment section may be in the process of jumping the shark. A couple months ago you had great comment threads like this one. Now you have a 90 comment thread where anonymous trolls yell "defeatocrat" at each other. "I RED DUG FEITHS BOOK AND HE SEZ UR WRONG!@!!!1" I imagine the blog's remaining authors are too busy with their actual jobs to monitor the comment threads, although Dr. iRack smacks a few fools down in that last link.

Iranian nukes

A friend sent along this piece from on the IAEA's allegations about the Iranian nuclear project:
Besides the NYT, none of the other papers give much play to the IAEA report and emphasize the agency said it has no evidence that Iran's military has gotten involved in the country's nuclear program. For its part, the NYT specifies that 18 documents were included in the report that claim "Iranians have ventured into explosives, uranium processing and a missile warhead design," which could suggest that nuclear weapons are being developed. The nuclear watchdog agency also says Iran has failed to disclose advancements in its nuclear program and suggests the country could be producing enriched uranium. David Albright, a former weapons inspector who is the go-to guy for these kinds of stories, tells the NYT that the "Iranians are being confronted with some pretty strong evidence of a nuclear weapons program" and the report "is very damning." But Albright also tells the LAT there are some key components missing from the report that one would expect to find in a weapons program. Iran insists the documents are fakes but has failed to release evidence and provide access to international inspectors that could verify Tehran's claims.
Iran's lack of cooperation with the IAEA could indicate that they are hiding a nuclear weapons program, or could be a matter of national pride (like how the US rejects UN elections inspectors), or could be designed to foster uncertainty about their intentions and capabilities. Here are the likely possibilities that I see:
  • Iran has a weapons program and is hiding it very well
  • Iran doesn't have a weapons program currently but plan to have one in the future and so maintains some of the components today
  • Iran's political decision-making mechanisms are so convoluted that some people are setting up weapons program components while others aren't, and nobody knows what is going on, including the Iranians themselves
  • Iran doesn't have the expertise to develop a nuclear weapon small enough to be weaponized on their crappy missiles, but wants to create uncertainty about their capabilities in order to paralyze US and European decision making and/or extract concessions
However I don't know too much about nuclear weapons programs. Comments?

Looking at insurgencies, and data selection

Via Zenpundit, I came across a good article in Armed Forces Journal by Capt. Robert Chamberlain that looks at the faulty idea that insurgencies/counterinsurgencies always take a long time:
It is simply untrue that counterinsurgencies are inherently long-term struggles.
When I started studying the Tuareg insurgencies in Mali and Niger, I was surprised to learn that there had been an insurgency in 1963-1964 in Mali. I had never heard of it, because it hadn't killed very many people. One Tuareg clan - the Kel Adagh, based near Kidal, Mali - rebelled against the Malian government and were brutally crushed in short order. As I wrote in my thesis:
The Malian Army crushed the Kel Adagh rebellion by using widespread violence against civilians, torture, declaring the countryside outside of a few towns a vast free-fire zone, poisoning wells necessary for any activity outside towns, killing Tuareg herds of cattle and camels to force them into the cities, executing the religious and political leaders of both rebel and neutral clans, and threatening napalm bombing from fighter-bombers.
In Chamberlain's metaphor, this was a "kitchen fire" rather than a five-alarm blaze, and because it did not reach 1000 battle deaths, the 1963 rebellion does not appear in the main intra-state war database, Correlates of War (COW).

When academics study insurgencies en masse, they create databases full of very bloody, long insurgencies that kill lots of people but ignore the many many more small, short-lived insurgencies. Consequently our understanding of insurgency as a mode of conflict is skewed towards large bloody messes. I'd hazard a guess that this problem doesn't have the same degree of impact in studying conventional wars, because conventional wars are easier to find in the historical record, and usually the combatants are states that wield significant combat power, meaning there aren't as many kitchen fires that don't turn into five-alarm blazes.

The problem of data selection is cemented in the Correlates of War database. This database is a one-stop shop for researchers on war, but it only counts conflicts that result in more than one thousand battle deaths. Some sort of filter like that is necessary or else the data set would be too large to be useful. The problem comes when researchers like Paul Collier take the COW data, look at intra-state conflict and extrapolate their findings to all intra-state conflict ever, instead of just intra-state conflict with more than 1000 battle deaths.

Using COW data, Collier and Hoeffler reached the conclusion that rebellions happen when there exist opportunities for rebellion (rather than grievances for rebellion). Had they thought about the limitations of their data, they would have realized that their argument only showed that rebellions survive to create conflicts large enough to appear on COW's radar when the opportunity exists for large rebellions - and that rebellions driven by grievances might occur in hostile environments for rebellion but would be wiped out quickly, like the 1963 rebellion by the Kel Adagh.

Dan Byman, the head of my old program, said something related in a talk a couple months ago. He noted that a lot of people argue that terrorism doesn't kill large numbers of people. Byman argued that's only true because when terrorism does start to kill lots of people, we don't call it terrorism any more. Exhibit A, the firebombings of Germany and Tokyo. Exhibit B, the 1990s civil war in Algeria. Exhibit C, the situation in Iraq.

This whole problem is similar to Taleb's idea of "silent evidence" - in order to understand big house fires, you have to look at the big fires themselves, as well as small fires that don't become big fires. Only then can you really understand what factors are important in turning small fires into big ones (click the link to see that even Harvard professors do not understand this concept).

The point of Chamberlain's article was that the mantra that 'counterinsurgency campaigns take a long time' has been used as an excuse for the failure to provide a coherent strategy for a favorable outcome in Iraq and Afghanistan:
According to conventional wisdom, we will be in Iraq and Afghanistan for at least 10 years because they are insurgencies, and that’s how long insurgencies take...
This is an abdication of the responsibilities of strategic leadership. The American public is owed more of an explanation than, “Well, these things take a while.” It is owed a comprehensive strategic vision...
Fabius Maximus continues this point by arguing that when an insurgency has carried on long enough and is damaging enough for a country to beg for large-scale American military involvement, that country is probably doomed to lose anyway. A more effective counterinsurgency strategy for the United States would focus on the small "kitchen fires", and try to keep those kitchen fires from becoming big fires, rather than reacting late to put out big fires.

Obama's VP - how about Clark

At lunch last week with a former professor of mine, we agreed that Obama should consider Wes Clark as a Vice Presidential nominee.

The benefits of Wes Clark as Obama's running mate:
  • Perceived (perceptions > reality) national security experience balances Obama's inexperience
  • Close ties with the Clintons help bridge the gap between the Obama people and the Clinton people
  • Isn't associated with Washington politics, keeping the "change" theme going
  • Clark's background as a poor white boy from Arkansas might help makes inroads on the bigot vote, especially if McCain picks Bobby Jindal (Brown '91!) as his VP, who is Indian
  • Beloved by media types like Bill O'Reilly and CNN
The benefits of Wes Clark as Obama's actual VP:
  • Very smart
  • Experience with messy wars in Bosnia and Kosovo
  • Knows a lot of the Pentagon people already
  • Hasn't been slamming Obama in public - although he endorsed Clinton for President, he hasn't done any negative campaigning and has put most of his energy into targeted Congressional races and specific bills
  • Isn't Dick Cheney
Another potential VP for Obama I'd like to see is Senator Jim Webb.

Weird politics (but one constant)

Arrived in Massachusetts. I listened to a lot of NPR on the way up here, and heard some strange stories - two in which I agreed with President Bush and one in which I almost agreed with Lieberman.

Bush vetoed the farm bill because it is full of pork for rich farmers and food prices are sky high anyway so they don't need it. Naturally all the Midwestern Congressman are screaming, as they feel entitled to billions in welfare from the federal government. Shooting down agricultural subsidies is one of the few things I agree with Bush on. It is strange to find myself agreeing with Bush.

Bush also signed a bill criminalizing genetic discrimination regarding health insurance, something I recently wrote about. Again, I agree with Bush, strange.

Even Senator Lieberman proved he isn't a total waste of oxygen today, pushing a cap-and-trade climate change bill. The bill isn't great, but it is better than nothing and shows how far the debate has moved - a few years ago this bill would have been described as radical, but now it's middle-of-the-road.

But in today's tumultuous political world, there is one constant - Dick Cheney. Today he told the graduating class at the Coast Guard Academy:
"The only way to lose this fight [Iraq] is to quit. That would be irresponsible. More than that, quitting would be an act of betrayal and dishonor."
Full text of his speech (which I haven't read) here.

Cheney believes the majority of Americans to be irresponsible dishonorable betrayers (of whom? not sure). Dick, America's leaders (which in eight long months will no longer include you) are going to have a tough enough time extracting the United States out a manpower-intensive counterinsurgency/foreign occupation already. You don't need to make their job harder by throwing in this "stabbed in the back" myth (Dolchstoss) for them to deal with as well.

Apparently Cheney and others responsible for the war would rather poison American civil-military relations than face the reality of their own mistakes.


Nobody likes it coming down to penalty kicks.

Chelsea lost in the Champions League final to Manchester United. They also lost the Premier League on the last day of the season last week, also to Man Utd. The EPL loss was their own fault - they didn't even win their last game of the season to put pressure on Man Utd. This loss was luck.

Going dark

I am picking up and moving to Rochester, NY, via Boston. Little or no blogging until June.

More on the CIA case in Italy

Now that Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi is involved in the CIA trial/debacle in Italy, American news outlets will finally cover it. There are articles about it in the New York Times, LA Times, AP, etc. The Jurist blog has a good article on it too. M├╝nzenberg's hopes have been realized.

The latest news is about Abu Omar's wife testifying how he was tortured for 14 months in Egyptian jails. One of the Italian codefendants, the former head of Italy's military intelligence service (who denies having assisted CIA in Abu Omar's kidnapping), objected to Abu Omar's wife testifying in a veil because her clothing was "a symbol of fanatacism and extremism." Gee whiz, why won't Europe's Muslims integrate faster?

Now seems a good time to plug a post over at Small Wars Journal's blog called The Children of the Left, on the long-term blowback from abandoning our values.

Great success!

I got a job! King of the castle, king of the castle.

Genetic discrimination

Congress just passed a law banning genetic discrimination by health insurers. This shows the flaws of privatized health insurance and the logic of single-payer socialized health care.

Here's a NYTimes article on the law:
The legislation, which President Bush has indicated he will sign, speaks both to the mounting hope that genetic research may greatly improve health care and the fear of a dystopia in which people’s own DNA could be turned against them.

On the House floor on Thursday, Democrats and Republicans alike cited anecdotes and polls illustrating that people feel they should not be penalized because they happened to be born at higher risk for a given disease.

...Many who do learn that they are at higher risk for a disease opt not to ask their insurance companies to cover the costs of the genetic test, to keep the information secret.

...While the intent of the law is to prohibit discrimination by insurance companies based on genetic tests, the bill does allow the companies urge patients take them. The goal would be not to deny coverage but to help find the best, and least expensive, therapy for a patient.
Here is the text of the bill. The House passed it 414-3 (3 Republicans including Ron Paul opposed it), the Senate passed it 95-0, and Bush is expected to sign it - this bill is even less controversial than Mother's Day (which Republicans voted against!). The fact that this bill was so uncontroversial signals an unease with the basic premise of private health insurance.

Genetic screening would be a normal part of any insurance underwriting process - trying to screen out high-risk customers so the insurance company doesn't get bogged down solely with expensive patients. Right now apparently about one in eight people who apply for health care individually are denied through the underwriting process, and even more are forced to pay higher premiums (pages 8-10). Some of the reasons may be under a patient's control (smoking, etc.) while others aren't (chronic diseases, family's medical history). This is distasteful but necessary to any method of paying for health care that does not agglomerate all potential patients in a single risk pool (single-payer).

Nothing separates screening out patients with a genetic predisposition towards expensive illnesses, and patients with chronic yet dormant illnesses that may have expensive flare-ups in the future (both have current low costs but a high risk for future high costs). Congress outlawed the former because the concept of genetic screening is icky (a technical term). The later is legal.

A lot of conservatives like to blather on about how the free market will fix the way we pay for health care. Companies succeed in the free market by increasing revenue and cutting losses, which is exactly what Congress just outlawed. This is not evil behavior - if a company gave coverage to anyone who wanted it, it would go out of business and not be able to cover anybody.

Some people say that the government can pick up all the really sick people that are uninsurable. All that does is privatize the profit (from low-risk insurance policies) and socialize the risk.

Free markets are great for some things, like selling my fridge. They are not great at charity and ensuring that the least fortunate in society are taken care of. Universal single-payer health care is the way to go.

Brief thoughts on Lebanon

Although it was billed as a "civil war", it seems the recent violence in Lebanon was Hezbollah eliminating a bunch of rival militias before they could pose a threat to its power. According to a lot of reports, rival militia members, many of whom are simply hired guns, ran away without firing a shot. The Lebanese army didn't do anything, for fear of not being able to do anything.

Hezbollah gains a lot of its strength from its provision of social services - schools, hospitals, welfare programs, agricultural centers, etc. These gain it loyalty amongst Lebanon's Shia population, through building the credibility of the organization (compare Hezbollah's actions after the summer 2006 war to FEMA in Katrina), trust amongst members, basically social capital. That loyalty in turn is what gives Hezbollah military strength - fighters willing to die for the cause. The other militias in Lebanon do not have these broad social/political structures.

Hezbollah's social services are thus the source of its military power. New militias that attempt to join the game have to go through a period of vulnerability - it takes time to build loyalty and social capital in order to get fighters willing to die for you, and I guess Hezbollah decided to strike before its rivals crossed that threshold.

Hezbollah is being described as a "state within a state." But it's not within anything, the 'state' of Lebanon exists just like the 'state' of Iraq. Little legitimacy, little actual power. So Hezbollah is really just a state by itself.

I haven't been following the current violence in depth, but some good sources are Abu Muqawama, BBC, Ilan Goldenberg at Democracy Arsenal, the Angry Arab, and the Media Shack who has been posting on Arab media reactions to what's going on.

More than pieces of paper

Although the government of Mali signed a truce with rebel insurgents about a month ago, there has been a recent spate of attacks over the last few days. Is it worth signing peace deals when you know they will be broken?

Mali (and its neighbor Niger) is in the midst of what Wikipedia calls the "Second Tuareg Rebellion." It began in Mali in May of 2006, but the main rebel groups agreed on peace the following July. The sole holdout was a group loyal to Ibrahim Bahanga, which kept fighting until a cease fire signed last month under the 'guidance' of the Libyans. This peace deal held up until about a week ago, when there were a number of violent clashes between security forces and insurgents. It is not certain that Bahanga's men are responsible for these attacks, but it is a reasonable assumption.

If we look back to 1990, the government of Mali has signed peace deals in 1991, 1992, 1994, 1996, 2006, and 2008, and none of them have held up. Yet Malian officials and even the Malian military still sees political agreements as vital to solving the "problem of the North." Even those these peace deals keep getting broken, I think they are still beneficial to the government for several reasons:

1) They strengthen Mali's democratic tradition, in which consensus-based decentralized governance plays a key role;
2) They demonstrate to nomadic populations the willingness of the government to engage nomads politically rather than just militarily, as was the case in the past;
3) They emphasize the health of civil-military relations in Mali (especially relative to other countries in the region) which also helps with American military training;
4) They demonstrate to the West that Mali "speaks democracy" and is thus deserving of Western aid;
5) The failure of rebels to adhere to the peace deals delegitimizes them in the eyes of the local population because the rebels either break their word or lack the power to control their fighters.

The danger of all these peace deals is that the government makes promises that it can't deliver on, such as large amounts of development and aid (the mistake of the 1991 and 1992 peace deals), or integrating lots of rebels into Mali's military, which can backfire (as it did last week).

The alternative to signing peace deals and political agreements is to pursue a military solution, like Mali's neighbor Niger is doing. The situation is not strictly analogous, but Niger's military has pressured the president into letting them pursue a military solution to the MNJ problem. The result has been (so far) a military stalemate. Libya might have flipped its policy away from the MNJ and towards the Niger government, so perhaps that stalemate will move in favor of the government soon, but so far the results of a purely military strategy have not been better than Mali's political strategy.

The peace deal a month ago was "preliminary" and provided a cease fire and a framework to hammer out a more conclusive peace deal in the future. Whatever peace deal is signed in the future, it too will probably be broken, maybe by Bahanga, maybe by someone else. But even so, it is still worthwhile to sign these things.

New Nike soccer commercial

Nike always does great soccer commercials. Here is the latest one, apparently directed by Guy Ritchie. The TV version is a bit shorter because they cut out three short snippets - spitting out teeth, 'special autograph', and puking after training.

Chelsea into the Champions League Final

Chelsea beat Liverpool in overtime today to advance into the Champions League final. The aggregate score was 4-3. This game had it all - end to end attacking, controversial referee decisions (Essien's disallowed goal, Hypia's non-penalty), dubious coaching decisions (Liverpool subbed off goal-scorer Torres instead of general waste-of-space Dirk Kuyt), pre-game trash talk (Benitez claimed he had a 4 year video record of Drogba's dives), fantastic goals, and emotion. Frank Lampard played his first game since his mother died last week, scored a penalty kick, and kissed his black armband. Now they will play Manchester United in the final in Moscow on May 21st.

I watched the game at Summer's and am glad for it, it was one of the best games all season. Plus the Liverpool supporters were good comic relief, screaming for penalties after every cross or blocked shot. And yes, my thesis is due in two days, but some things in life are important.

Video highlights to come.