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.

"I'm mad as hell."

Nothing like a citizen's (and father's) methodical and righteous anger. Below the cut is a ten-minute video of the living conditions of Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 508th Brigade,* 82nd Airborne, at Fort Bragg. The video is a collection of still photos shot by the father of one of the soldiers.

*I think he means 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which is a part of the 82nd and is also known as 4th Brigade Combat Team. Somebody with more knowledge of the Army feel free to correct me.

Jumble of stuff

Below the cut are a bunch of cool stuff I've come across, most of which I would dedicate full posts to if I had the time.

Here is something that really ticks me off. People in the media, like Cokie Roberts in this video, and David Brooks in the New York Times, justify asking candidates stupid and inane questions because, according to Cokie, "these are the kinds of questions that will come up in the general election." Notice the use of the passive voice there. Do the questions ask themselves? Will a bush burst into flames and a booming voice ask Senator Obama "WHERE IS YOUR FLAG LAPEL PIN?" Cokie Roberts uses the passive voice to hide the fact that the media is the one that decides the questions will arise in the general campaign. If she was honest, what she would say is "we are justified in asking dumb questions in the primary, because we plan on asking dumb questions in the general election too." Paul Waldman makes the same point at the Prospect.

Some guy in prison in Texas is going to be on the ballot in Idaho's Democratic presidential primary, just by paying $1000 and taking advantage of stupid officials.

Here are some awesome pictures courtesy of the EPA's photo contest for Earth Day.

Via Kevin Drum, apparently there is a newer new left, made up of:
...about a new breed of liberal writers who have emerged on the web—a network of writers who are bringing together reformism and idealism in a way we haven't seen in many years. I'm thinking of people like Joshua Micah Marshall (the man behind Talking Points Memo); Eric Alterman, the Nation columnist, author of many books, and blogger for Media Matters for America; Ezra Klein (The American Prospect); Kevin Drum (the Washington Monthly); Glenn Greenwald (Salon); Matthew Yglesias (the Atlantic); Bob Somerby (the Daily Howler); Rick Perlstein (the Campaign for America's Future); and the writer who goes by the name of Digby who blogs for her own website, digbysblog.

This Congressional Quarterly story by Jeff Stein is, according to Google News, literally THE ONLY story on the ongoing Italian trial of twenty-six American CIA agents for kidnapping (here's the Wikipedia article on it). The only thing more amazing than the story itself is the total lack of interest from the American press.

Andrew Exum writes in the Guardian on the difference between McCain, Clinton and Obama on defense, and specifically on how they view counterinsurgency. More Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have contributed to Obama than either McCain or Hillary.

This is a ten minute video, courtesy of Ghosts of Alexander, that perfectly highlights what Kalyvas calls the core/periphery cleavage in civil war. Two villages are on opposite sides of the Taliban/Government split, not necessarily because of ideology, but because they've had a historic rivalry. The microfoundations of conflict.

Quick soccer post

Two quick soccer notes: Joey Franchino and Gary Flood's "incident" at Fenway Stadium, my account of the Revs game at New York.

First up - last week, Revolution midfielders Gary Flood and Joey Franchino got tossed from Fenway Park last week for public drunkenness. Usually Franchino gets ejected from games when he is a player, not a spectator. Supposedly Flood peed on someone, but that report has been denied (it'd be denied either way, frankly).

Franchino had some personal issues last year, and the Revs and us fans gave him his privacy to allow him to deal with his issues. Apparently he hasn't, so the Revs organization got fed up and traded him to LA. Flood played in the reserves game this past weekend. I think Flood will be allowed to stay with the organization for two reasons. First, coach Nicol thinks Flood has big potential. Second, the Revs seem to give one freebie - Franchino used his last year, Clint Dempsey used his when he got in a fight with Franchino in training (Dempsey was apparently at fault). This is Flood's freebie - shape up or you're gone.

I get irked when people who get paid to play a game for a living turn out to be numbskulls.


I went to the Revs game in New York last Saturday with a bunch of friends, some of whom came from out of town. It was a fantastic night. The Revs went down to a Jozy Altidore goal, then went down a man when Mauricio Castro had a fit of stupidity and kicked a Red Bull player in the balls, but Brown University 2004 graduate Jeff Larentowicz tied it up with a free kick in the 2nd half. It was perfect, as I was even wearing my autographed Larentowicz jersey from his rookie year. It ended a 1-1 tie, but it was a moral victory for the Revs as New York couldn't hold a one goal lead at home with a man advantage. An ugly yet gutsy result.

Regarding Castro's red card: Castro has been in MLS for only 5 games, and is used to much less physicality and more protection from the referee. He was getting pushed around a lot on Saturday and in all 5 games. I think the foul directly proceeding Castro kicking Goldthwaite in the balls was the straw that broke the camel's back and led to Castro's moment of madness. This isn't to excuse him, but I think once Nicol yells at Castro and makes him realize that he isn't going to get the same calls he's used to, Castro will be a more effective player - less time on the ground crying, more time on his feet scoring goals and making assists.

We had an interesting incident with some home fans sitting in front of us. We were all cheering for the Revs and engaging in some friendly banter with neighboring RBNY fans, although there were some other Revs fans around too. We even grudgingly applauded Altidore's goal.

Then after Larentowicz's goal, all of a sudden people turned on us - we were "spilling beer" (untrue) and yelling swears (also untrue). A soccermom in front of us turned around to yell at us for these perceived offenses, and another guy called security on us. The security guy showed up and was pretty wise. I think it helped that nobody else near us seemed to back up his story. He said "hey guys don't do it again [wink]" and that was that as far as security was concerned.

However our new friend sitting in front of us wouldn't let it go. He then yelled at us for "destroying US soccer" because back in the NASL, someone threw a beer bottle at his grandmother's head and then his grandma didn't want to go to soccer games anymore. Apparently cheering for the away side is a comparable crime to chucking beer bottles at grandmothers heads. However his accusation of "destroying US soccer" was actually a close one, as one of my friends confessed later that he actually had attended the soccer game for the sole purpose of destroying US soccer. Plus, seeing as the NASL ended the year many of us were born, I guess a credible case could be made that we destroyed the NASL as well. So I guess we got away with one there.

Here's the video of Larentowicz's goal:

Nexus between organized crime and terrorism

I went to an interesting talk tonight on the nexus between organized crime and terrorism. For me, the most interesting part was a specific logic outlined by Georgetown Professor Vanda Felbab-Brown on how terrorist, insurgent, or other "belligerent" groups interact with illicit economies. Prof. Felbab-Brown has a book coming out soon, "Shooting Up", which I assume contains these arguments in full.

Prof. Felbab-Brown argues that belligerents derive political benefits from controlling illicit economies. The local population that survives on the illicit economy owes their economic wellbeing to the belligerent group (
a term that includes terrorists, insurgents, gangs, etc.). The government, whether its trying to eliminate poppies in Afghanistan, trying to shut down smuggling networks in the Sahara, or trying to eliminate coca in Colombia, is trying to shut down the economies that many ordinary people's lives depend on. Thus, a belligerent group's motivations for controlling an illicit economy is not just that they are greedy (although they may be), but the desire for control over illicit economies can be to gain political power.

This is the situation in Niger and Mali regarding the Tuareg rebellion. U.S. official policy seems to be oriented towards shutting down smuggling networks that aid terrorists. However, as former ICG anthropologist Mike McGovern argues, shutting down smuggling networks with the goal of denying terrorist networks support and sanctuary, while not replacing them with legitimate economic opportunities, could backfire and “threaten to turn people towards more extreme politics."

Felbab-Brown also made the point that labor-intensive illicit economies give the belligerent groups greater benefits, because, she argued, more people are dependent on the illicit economy for survival. Thus more people are indirectly dependent on whichever insurgent or terrorist group that controls the illicit economy for survival. I didn't get a chance to ask her whether a situation like Niger would give broader legitimacy to belligerents - in Niger, the illicit economy is based on smuggling, which is not labor-intensive, however because of the lack of other economic opportunities and because of the key role smuggling has in the economy (makes many other activities affordable, like eating), a larger segment of the population is dependent on the illicit economy than might otherwise be the case with most smuggling networks.

Felbab-Brown argued that the state of the legal economy is directly related to the legitimacy of the government in power. It'd follow that the state of the illicit economy, if controlled by a belligerent group, is also directly related the legitimacy of that belligerent group. This is because, just like governments create markets by enforcing property laws, facilitating information flows, etc., belligerent groups police illicit markets, protecting them from the state and from rival groups.

Felbab-Brown closed her talk with the observation that no terrorist or insurgent group has ever been defeated by the government targeting the illicit economy it relies on to deny it funds. Instead it can backfire: Econ 101 tells us that targeting supply while ignoring demand will cause prices to rise, an observable effect of the War on Drugs (tm). This makes illicit economic activity more profitable for the belligerent group controlling the economy. In economies that rely on smuggling, it would also make life harder for the population that government policy is supposed to win over.

To apply this reasoning to the Tuareg situation, targeting smugglers in Mali and Niger might restrict supply for smuggled goods, but would not shrink the demand. Prices would therefore go up, and with them one would expect smugglers' profits to rise as well. However the population that depends on smuggled goods to survive would see their wallets pinched as a result of government policy. They would then be alienated from the government, the exact opposite of the intended result.

During the Q&A session, I asked her a question on how to distinguish between scenarios in which insurgent/terrorist groups engage in smuggling themselves, and individuals associated with insurgent/terrorist groups profit off of smuggling. I think this question goes to the heart of Niger's accusations against the MNJ that they are just smugglers and bandits, as well as MNJ accusations that the Nigerien Army is itself a criminal organization engaged in smuggling. To my delight, Felbab-Brown's answer was basically: Kalyvas! She said analysts should disassociate between the stated goals of the organization and the motivations of individual members, which might include profit, and also revenge, honor, hate, or whatever else.

All in all it was a good talk. Plus there was free pizza!

Voice of America enters Web 2.0!

Voice of America is now "hip" and "cool"! They have put three (hopefully only a beginning) of VOA reporter Phuong Tran's news reports on the Tuareg rebellion in northern Niger on YouTube. The videos are embedded below the cut. The funniest part is how the user is VOAvideo, "Joined: March 14, 2008, subscribers, 13." Don't worry VOAvideo! You beat my YouTube channel subscription of 8!

Niger Rebellion, April 3rd, 2008

Student Road Trip to Join Rebels, April 10th, 2008

Gasoline Smuggling in the Sahara, April 15th, 2008

Stuff is happening in Liberia

I saw a few Liberia stories pop up recently so I thought I would highlight them.

First, Voice of America has a story with video (also picked up by Chris Albon) about how the US military, using private contractors, is helping rebuild Liberia's military. The UN does not want to become Liberia's permanent police force, so the US is helping Liberia build an army that will hopefully not partake in its past excesses.

My take on it is that the US is using contractors because it doesn't have any Special Forces available. Past efforts training West African militaries have used both contractors (like MPRI) and uniformed U.S. Special Forces. Based on this 2004 interview regarding the now-defunct Pan-Sahel initiative, actual US personnel were used when they were available because it signaled that we took it seriously and weren't just throwing money at the problem. However with the massive strain Iraq and Afghanistan are putting on our ground forces, including Special Forces, it's likely that there just aren't any uniformed military available for the job.

While there's progress, all is not fine and dandy with Liberia's new military. Soldiers aren't happy with their conditions, and progress in training isn't as fast as some had hoped. The UN says it will not withdraw prematurely. One might say... as Liberians stand up, the UN will stand down.

A more positive story regarding the American military's involvement in Liberia is shown in this Navy press release. The Navy seems to be stepping its efforts up in West Africa, probably recognizing that the Gulf of Guinea's oil production will make it a key area in the future. The Navy press release talks about how Navy personnel in Liberia are renovating two clinics, a school, and repairing a road.

And the final, most important Liberia story is that Liberian former New York Dead Bulls striker Francis Doe is on trial at DC United. Doe is very fast and has good dribbling skills, formerly played in Minnesota and Greece, and has two goals in seven appearances for the Liberian national team. DC United has lots of attacking midfielders but needs another finisher to put the pressure on Emilio, so he doesn't stay fat and happy (Emilio was awful last Wednesday against Pachuca). DC United would be wise to pick him up.

Heckling Tony Meola

USA Today did an interview with ex-New York goalie Tony Meola in which Meola gave New England fans a shout-out:

What's the most creative insult you ever heard in MLS, on the field or from the stands?
On the field, guys generally respect each other enough not to insult each other. There's trash-talking, and I never really got involved in it.
In Boston, they do the beeps (like a truck) as you're walking backwards, then they do the hiss like the brakes settling when you stop. I think that's pretty creative. They're very creative in New England and they're great fans. They're great for our league.
The D.C. fans are also great fans, but I always think one day I'm going to run into the one guy who constantly tried to spit at me, and I'm not exactly sure what's going to happen.
My thought process has been that if you pay for a ticket, you can go ahead and have fun and do whatever you want. I'm not into personal insults, and people are going to do that anyway. If somebody bought a ticket for you, if you got a comp, I think you sit there and you shut up.
If you put your money, your hard-earned money, to go see a game, you've pretty much got the right to say anything. As long as you stay on that side of the fence, I'll stay on this side of the fence and we'll see who wins at the end of the day.
Heckling Meola was great fun. He lost his starting spot in Kansas and came back to New York a little overweight, which gave New England fans the cheer "He's back, he's fat, he ate too much spaghetti!"

Update on Austrian hostages of AQIM

A short update on the situation with Austrian hostages taken by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which I earlier blogged about here.

In my earlier post, I hypothesized that the hostage-takers were in it for the money rather than a crusade against the West. The alternative would be that Droukdel, the nominal leader of AQIM who is behind recent Iraq-style simultaneous carbombings, was also behind the hostage-taking, and would behead them on television or somehow use them for purposes other than extortion. Some pointed to an attack in Mauritania where four French tourists were shot by some random dudes that the Mauritanian government claimed were Al Qaeda (you don't get GWOT funding from the US if tourists are killed by bandits, only if they are killed by Al Qaeda), and thought that the current hostage crisis was the same type of deal.

Well multiple deadlines for ransom have passed an by all accounts the Austrian hostages are still alive. The hostages may not be in northern Mali after all, or they may have once been in northern Mali but have been moved elsewhere. (Update, missed this story at Temoust, apparently they are in constant movement.)

It looks like negotiations have been pretty successful so far - demands have moved from "release all these guys in Algerian prisons (and pay us lots of money)!" to the more achievable "release a Muslim couple in jail in Austria, and withdraw your four guys from Afghanistan (and pay us lots of money)." The Austrian government which previously declared it would not pay ransoms, now says: "
We want to achieve a humanitarian goal and are resolutely aiming for that."

My guess is that the hostages will be freed and Austria will, like Germany five years ago, deny having paid a ransom, wink wink.

Important news you may have missed

A friend of mine is a fancy-pants strategic planning analyst for an eeeeeeeeevil multinational energy corporation. One of her jobs is the daily newsfeed. Here is some important news you may have missed from about a week ago:

Asia Pacific
Russia-AP: Sakhalin II Captured by Pirates
In a second attack in two months, pirates have launched an offensive against Russian major Gazprom, this time taking over the whole of the 1.28 Bcf/d Sakhalin II LNG plant on Sakhalin Island in eastern Siberia. Pirates the world over have declared an international holiday, while simultaneously denying any involvement in the act. "I don't know where Russia is," insisted Lucy "Riptide" Walker of Evil Multinational Energy Company Inc., adding "anyway you can't make grog out of vodka."
Gazprom CEO, ex-President of Russia and philanthropist Vladimir Putin, expressed his concern over the hostile take-over, saying, "In order to secure our contractual obligations and pursue our proud history of on-time deliveries of Russian gas, Gazprom has temporarily annexed a small suburb of Moscow called 'Ukraine,' and we will continue to pursue our standard of excellence." He added that the UK's naval forces have vowed to aid the Russian military fleet in engaging the pirates, "just as soon as they stop laughing and can stand up again."

Japan, Indonesia: Asian Spot Prices Increase… Differently
Startling changes in Asian LNG spot-prices reflect a dramatic revolution in an increasingly costly industry. According to Tokyo-based market analysts, TEPCO has recently inked a 5-year agreement with Pertamina that will see the Japanese firm paying twenty-seven dollars, 400 gallons of reduced-sodium soy sauce, and the first-born children of all contractors involved with any of the company's twenty-three power-plants in the country per MMBtu. "We have reached a new age in the balance of LNG supply and demand," said an official for TEPCO. "Spot prices are only going to get weirder."

Atlantic Basin
Russia-AB: DeathStar Nearing Completion – Gazprom Official
Gazprom greenfield project Death Star is approximately 80% complete, according to Gazprom Deputy CEO Alexander "Darth" Ananenkov. The $8.32 billion project, currently orbiting the forest moon of Endor, is expected fully operational in Q2 2009. Emperor Medvedev himself is personally overseeing the final stages of construction, though he is quick to point out, "Behold the power of this fully armed and operational battle-station." Regulators and advocates for alternative energies have expressed some skepticism over the ambitious nature of the project, however. "That's no moon," said Obi Wan MacGregor, spokesman for The Friends Of Renewable and Continuous Energies (The FORCE) on the sidelines of a conference in Tunisia this week. Opponents to the project are urging Endor elected officials to reject the current planned site of the project for fear of a terrorist attack on the part of Jabba the Hutt, and are pushing for a relocation to Long Island, NY.

US-AB: Catalunya Spirit Sees Change in Use
After several weeks adrift off the shore of Massachusetts, the Catalunya Sprit's crew has given up on the 138,000 cbm LNG tanker's ever arriving at the 0.7 Bcf/d Everett terminal near Boston and have settled on an alternative use for the vessel. "With a name like Catalunya Spirit, it seemed to us that while this vessel was made for the energy industry, shipping was never really her calling," said Captain Nathaniel Ahab. The Teekay-owned vessel has been refashioned as an offshore 70's-themed discothèque where "officials from rival energy companies can relax, have some fun, and talk about Ludacris's latest hit single rather than spot-prices in Asia," Captain Ahab explained. Already one-time bitter competitors are appearing in droves onboard the Funkadelic Seventies Rock Unit (FSRU). "This is a brilliant innovation in our industry," said ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson speaking from a mosh pit, one arm around the shoulders of ex-arch nemesis, Jeroen van der Veer. "It's amazing we didn't think of this sooner."