31 December 2009

I'm shocked! Shocked to see bribery going on here!

One of the leaders of the Public Security Bureau in China had just been arrested for taking bribes.

Anyone familiar with the PSB will not be at all surprised. One friend of mine (while I was a student there) told me a story about how he had gone out to bars with the head of a minor Chinese sports team and his friend, the head of the PSB in Shanghai. At every single bar they were offered all the food and booze they wanted, free of charge. At the last bar, they were also offered whichever waitress they wanted to take home.

There is likely some kind of politics behind this particular arrest (though it will be impossible from here to figure out the connections).


Nightwatch, on the underwear bomber and "intelligence failure."

As in all past intelligence failures, the most critical failure is cognitive, meaning a person must recognize information is important before he or she recognizes the need to share that insight. There is no technology or technique in use that would ensure that perfect, unquestioning information sharing would have generated a warning to the airline industry, unless some recipient first discerned a credible threat in it. The probabilities of that occurring were zero because holders of similar information in different agencies all discounted or ignored it.

This problem is not about sharing. It is about the quality of the thinking. Those who had the information failed to recognize that it needed to be acted on. That is a cognitive failure of threat recognition and is the critical first step in any warning system. You have to see dots before you can begin to try to connect them.

Track of the Day

Dedicated to these people, Americans who had dedicated their lives to service and protecting their country.

30 December 2009

The Cheesy Gordita Crunch Supreme is Part of a Balanced Diet

Oh man, this makes the Subway diet look positively sane by comparison...

Obscure War Blogging Part IV: Irish Civil War

For this week's installment, we move from a nationalist uprising in Northwest Africa to a war that was, to a certain extent, the remnant of a nationalist uprising in Europe.
While I'm not sure how obscure this war really is, I didn't know much about it, so it was obscure to me. Also, I watched The Wind That Shakes the Barley last night and wanted to learn more about what I watched.

Who?: The forces of the Irish Free State (formed by the 1922 Anglo-Irish Treaty) versus anti-treaty Republican forces.

When?: 1922-23

Toll: Somewhere in the low thousands total battle deaths, with the Republicans taking the worst of it. Civilian casualties numbers don't seem to be available. The suffering here, though, was actually worse than in the War of Independence with England that preceded the Civil War.

Why?: The main point of dispute between the Free Staters and Republicans was the terms of the treaty that ended the Irish War of Independence. Basically, the Republicans, including Eamon de Valera, felt that the treaty did not go far enough. The Free State was still a British Dominion and its officials had to swear an oath to the British monarch. London also maintained the ability to veto laws passed by the new Free State parliament. The treaty's opponents wanted a clean break from Britain and the establishment of an Irish republic. They were also angry that Britain retained control over Northern Ireland (via a referendum).

The Free Staters, including the famous Michael Collins, were somewhat more pragmatic about the whole thing. They saw dominion status as a path to complete independence and recognized that Britain couldn't grant complete freedom to Ireland without throwing their whole international imperial project into crisis. Mostly, supporters of the treaty wanted an end to war with Britain. Unfortunately, the civil war that would ensue would actually be more destructive.

The first Free State elections were held in 1922, with parties supporting the treaty winning the majority of seats in the new parliament. The Free State government began building an actual state apparatus, including a military to replace the IRA (this refers to the Old IRA that existed prior to the split in 1969-70).

For its part, the IRA began to disintegrate into factionalism. The majority of its members (about 2 to 1), as might be expected, rejected the treaty and the establishment of the Free State. Clashes began to break out both within the IRA itself and between anti-treaty and pro-treaty forces.

One other element that some have argued fueled the Republican campaign--addressed somewhat in the movie I referred to earlier--was class resentment. The Republicans attacked and destroyed over 100 wealthy estates controlled mainly by Loyalist and Anglo-Irish landholders during the course of the war.

Outcome: Formal hostilities broke out when anti-treaty forces occupied the Four Courts and other buildings in Dublin in April of 1922, hoping to provoke a new war with Britain and unite the quarreling factions in the IRA. This was seen as a major test for Collins and the new Free State government. London placed heavy pressure on the government to do something, and even threatened to intervene itself. Eventually, Free State forces bombarded the buildings (with British artillery no less), forcing the surrender of Republican forces.

After securing Dublin, the Free State forces, their ranks quickly swelling (given fairly widespread public support) and armed to the teeth (courtesy of His Majesty's government) quickly took control of most of the major towns in Ireland. Republican forces were quite small and poorly armed and were, for the most part, routed in open conflict. As a result, they quickly converted to guerilla tactics.

While scoring some initial successes, including the assassination of Collins, the guerilla phase of the war was not much more successful for Republican forces. There was a brief period after the killing of Collins and the death of Arthur Griffith where it looked like the Free State might collapse, but they recovered and the guerillas were mostly routed and relegated to acts of sabotage within about 8 months. Anti-treaty forces were unable to wage a proper insurgency since their support among the population was minimal (the fact that the Free State was supported by the Catholic Church was another major negative for the Republicans). This limited both their sources of supplies and their recruiting base.

The Republican campaign petered out early 1923, with many of their leaders captured or killed. A ceasefire was declared in May. Free state parties won the national elections held soon after the war.

Who Cares?: I think one of the most interesting things about this conflict is that it makes it clear that liberation movements are not just about breaking away from the metropol, but that they also have to confront what kind of state they want to create in the wake of that liberation. The hardliners in the anti-treaty movement agreed with the Free Staters that England sucked, but they fundamentally disagreed on a) what Ireland should be once England was gone and b) how to get there.

The whole thing became rather moot by the 1930s, when the anti-treatier's goal of an independent republic was realized (although, of course, the question of Northern Ireland remained unresolved). This seems to vindicate the approach taken by the Free Staters. The likely result of a Republican victory would have probably been more war with Britain and delayed independence.

As with the American Civil War, the conflict cast a pall over Irish politics for decades. Most leading Irish politicians for the next several decades were veterans of the war and politics were basically polarized along the lines drawn during the war. In fact, Ireland's two main political parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, are the direct descendants of the Republican and Free State factions during the war, respectively. One particular aspect of the war that created such social strife going forward were the relatively large number of executions, both formal and summary, of Republicans by the Free State government and Free State soldiers.

Big News!

The biggest news stories of the year, here.

Track of the Day

Just because he's awesome...

Yemen: More Questions Than Answers

So, how prescient was Unleashing Chiang? Just a day after this blog highlights the problems the US faces in dealing with Yemen, the Fruit of the Loom Bomber puts Yemen squarely in the national debate and Americans start to take notice.

So I've been reading the new spurt of articles out on Yemen and thinking more about how the US should approach Yemen in the past couple of days. Some thoughts and questions below.

1.) My last post stated that Islamic Jihad of Yemen was the main AQ-affiliate in Yemen, but I have since learned that IJoY has merged with the Saudi branch of AQ to form Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The group has its roots in a 2006 jailbreak of many AQ members from a jail in Sanaa.

2.) The northern Houthi rebellion is often described as a Shi'ite minority group fighting against a Sunni central government. This requires sort of a "yes, but..." President Saleh and many other leading figures are actually members of the Zaydi sect of Shi'ism--practiced by the Houthis--as well. According to the Jamestown Foundation, the Zaydi sect probably has more in common theologically with Yemeni Sunnis than with the Ayatollahs in Qom or Tehran.

3.) And what exactly is Tehran's role here? Both Sanaa and Riyadh claim that Tehran is giving support and assistance to the Houthis. This certainly doesn't seem outside the realm of possibility, given the Iranian regime's history of supporting Shi'ite groups working against Sunni regimes. But I haven't seen much actual evidence. There is, of course, clear evidence that Saudi Arabia is interfering on behalf of the Yemeni government.

Stratfor is more sure than I am. They even claim that the recent Iranian deployment of ships to the Gulf of Aden was actually in support of the Houthis and was not actually sent as a pirate deterrent, as was claimed:

While Somali pirates may be a security issue in the Gulf of Aden, this is not the only reason for the deployment. Iran is engaged in an escalating proxy battle with Saudi Arabia in the Saudi-Yemeni borderland, where Iran has been arming a Shiite Houthi rebellion to threaten Saudi Arabia’s underbelly. Iran appears to be using the naval assets to protect its supply lines to the Houthi rebels.

Though there is no shortage of weapons in Yemen, Iran has ensured that the Houthis remain well-stocked. STRATFOR sources have reported that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are training Houthis on how to produce improvised explosive devices for use in their insurgent campaign against Saudi and Yemeni forces.

According to STRATFOR sources, the traditional supply route Iran uses to arm the Houthis starts at Asab Harbor on the Eritrean coast. IRGC officers buy and transport weapons in Somalia and Eritrea, and then load them onto ships at the harbor. The ships then cross the Red Sea northward to Salif on the Yemeni coast. From Salif, the supplies pass through Hajjah and Huth in northern Yemen before reaching Saada, where the Houthi rebels are concentrated.

This route, however, has become more problematic for the Iranians ever since Saudi naval forces deployed three warships along the Red Sea coast of northern Yemen on Nov. 12 to interdict the arms, though STRATFOR is still examining Saudi interdiction tactics and the quality of the intelligence used to identify arms shipments. This traditional route is still being used to transport light arms, but given the Saudi deployment, Iran has shifted to a longer route that also begins at Asab Harbor, but then snakes around the heel of the Arabian Peninsula in the Gulf of Aden before reaching Shaqra on the southern Yemeni coast. From Shaqra, the supplies go to Marib in central Yemen, on to Baraqish and finally reach the Saada Mountains. Throughout the supply chain, bribes are paid to various tribes to facilitate the arms shipments.

The IRGC also has been involved in ferrying Hezbollah fighters to Yemen to support the Houthi insurgency. A STRATFOR source claims that around 60 of Hezbollah’s fighters have died in the conflict thus far. Their corpses were sent by boat to Asab Harbor in Eritrea, from which the IRGC flies them to Damascus. From the Syrian capital, the bodies are transported by land to the fighters’ home villages for burial.

Is an Iranian-Eritrean-Houthi-Hizbollah axis forming (can there even be a 4-pronged axis?)? Who knows?

4.) How intertwined are the 3 different problems I addressed in my previous post in Yemen: Al Qaeda, the Houthi Rebellion, & the southern secessionist movement? I really have no clue. Some expert on the teevee said that there were "jihadists" leading the southern movement. I can't imagine, though, that AQ would be much interested in helping the Houthis given their tendency to mass murder Shi'ites whenever possible.

5.) Can the U.S. aid Sanaa in the fight against AQ without indirectly helping them against the Houthis or southerners? It certainly seems that military training, equipment, and aid is fungible and that all of these skills and resources can be redirected against the regime's other opponents. Are we okay with this? Is there any way to avoid this? Do the benefits of attacking AQ outweigh the costs of propping up the Saleh regime against its domestic opponents?


Kung Fu Monkey:

FDR: Oh, I'm sorry, was wiping out our entire Pacific fleet supposed to intimidate us? We have nothing to fear but fear itself, and right now we're coming to kick your ass with brand new destroyers riveted by waitresses. How's that going to feel?

CHURCHILL: Yeah, you keep bombing us. We'll be in the pub, flipping you off. I'm slapping Rolls-Royce engines into untested flying coffins to knock you out of the skies, and then I'm sending angry Welshmen to burn your country from the Rhine to the Polish border.

US. NOW: BE AFRAID!! Oh God, the Brown Bad people could strike any moment! They could strike ... NOW!! AHHHH. Okay, how about .. NOW!! AAGAGAHAHAHHAG! Quick, do whatever we tell you, and believe whatever we tell you, or YOU WILL BE KILLED BY BROWN PEOPLE!! PUT DOWN THAT SIPPY CUP!!

29 December 2009

Engineers and terrorists

Spencer Ackerman has a post up talking about the link between engineers and terrorism, pointing out that engineers are about 4 times more likely to be terrorists than any other advanced degree holding profession. He specifically mentions the Christmas bomber and Osama bin Laden, but almost plays it for laughs.

It makes me wonder, though, because among "Intelligent Design"/creation science opponents, it's been a long running joke that if someone supporting either claims "PhD", and it turns out to be a reputable PhD (and not a diploma mill), they are almost always engineering PhDs. It makes me wonder if there is some connection between religious fundamentalism and engineering. Not likely, but makes me wonder. (Would love if someone could show studies disproving this.)

Why social safety nets are important

A fairly wealthy-sounding financial/legal professional wrote to Andrew Sullivan, after being downsized (a small bit of a larger email):

Before this year I never gave much thought to social programs, frankly, I neither needed or qualified for them. However, when the time came that I needed assistance, the government was there to help. I am extremely grateful to our President and his allies in Congress, as their policies have had an immediate and direct impact on my family. Without the MHA and Cobra subsidy, it is likely that we would have lost our home and filed for bankruptcy.
It never ceases to amaze me how many people only realize this importance after they are affected themselves. Hopefully his story can influence others who don't need them yet.

Track of the Day

Jimmy Sullivan, drummer for Avenged Sevenfold, was found dead last night (of natural causes, supposedly). It's a tragedy when anyone dies, particularly so young (only 28), but I feel it even more so because I've always felt the band had a lot of potential. None of their other songs have matched up to their debut, but I was always hoping.

Better version here.



Umar Farouk “When There’s Nothing Left To Burn, You Must Set Your Crotch On Fire” Abdulmutallab is currently detained in a federal prison in Michigan. For now! In a few days he’ll use his Muslim heat vision to escape and run amok in Ann Arbor, shortly after America is brought to its knees by the force of his oratory in open federal court.


There's a giant uproar in the human rights community over the forced repatriation of several thousand Hmong people to Laos from Thailand today.

I find the uproar rather interesting, because it involves the UN and human rights groups saying that the Hmong are refugees fleeing political oppression, while the Thai government says that they are instead "illegal economic migrants".

Setting aside for a second the actual substance of the arguments (and the Thai argument looks pretty weak, as the people were all living in camps on charity and some of them were even recognized by the official UN body as refugees), I find it fascinating that we consider the two so completely different. If you come to my country because you have no food and will starve to death, you are a criminal. If you come to my country because otherwise the government will (wrongly) put a bullet in your head, then we must welcome you with open arms and help you out.

I'm sure someone out there has done a study on this already, but I'd be fascinated to see how these different statuses were constructed.

28 December 2009

Not to be heartless

but if the guy being detained in North Korea for crossing the border is the "Christian activist" who just brazenly and publicly walked across the border of North Korea to draw attention to human rights abuses in that country, it might be in everyone's best interest to just let him stay there.

It's one thing when a couple of young kids get picked up near the border, with at least a plausible story of being unsure of which side they were on. But when a man brandishing a Bible goes walking directly into North Korea, intent on proving a point about how horrible North Korea's human rights are, one has to wonder what he expected. Never mind that North Korea is distinctly non-Christian (and even rather anti-Christian). Never mind that two other Americans had been arrested and sentenced this year, only to be saved by a personal visit by an ex-President.

I am second to none in my horror of the Kim regime and the suffering it has inflicted on its own people and the terror it has created in its neighbors. However, moves like this do nothing but harden the cruelty of the existing regime. If there is an easy and cheap way to bring the man home, I would love to spare him the sentence that North Korea is guaranteed to give him. However, I find it highly unlikely at this point.

Weekend Recipe Blogging: Carrot-Walnut Bread

Nothing really seems important today given what Iranians are facing down in the streets. But here's a recipe anyway. It goes well with the chili from last week, and is hearty enough to stand alone as a main course for the (non-vegan) vegetarians out there.

You'll need:
-1 lb. carrots, cut up
-1 cup of walnuts
-1/2 stick of butter
-3 eggs

Chop up the carrots and walnuts in food processor and melt the butter. Mix all that together with the eggs and put in a baking pan. Bake at 350 for about half an hour or until a knife comes out clean.

Track of the Day

In awe of the Iranians in the streets.

27 December 2009

Part of the last post may be moot.

And I'm ok with that.

There is some evidence that some Basiji are switching sides. It's not very conclusive yet (video and photographic images, with as yet untranslated sound), but here's hoping.

(h/t, of course, Andrew Sullivan.)

Supposedly, the following video includes the Basiji asking for forgiveness.

BREAKING UPDATE: As I was typing this, Andrew Sullivan found that the picture and most of the one's like it probably are just one event. We'll see if it becomes more widespread, but as of yet it's not.

More on Iran and what's going on

It's long been established wisdom that the coercive powers of any state are such that, as long as the bureaucracy of the state is willing to, any state can use its vast powers of death and extraction to suppress almost any revolt. This is expressed quite elegantly by Robert Farley here, musing on the relationship between the famous "Tank Man" and the "Tank Commander" who refused to run him over.

Therefore, I have to wonder as to what is going on as the demonstrators and protesters are able to basically take over several Basiji stations and take for themselves that very coercive power.

Another example that has been found is that a few days ago, demonstrators freed two men about to be hanged. I'm not at all certain what the crime was, but those men were later retaken by security forces (and many more were killed in the violence).

Are we seeing the demonstrators spontaneously trying to command the same coercive power as the state? Or, at the very least, diminish the monopoly the state has on it? I'm interested in Iranian freedom for its own sake, but I'm also interested in what the protesters are able to accomplish versus the power of the state, because if they succeed without the help of the Basiji or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, it could be a whole new world. (Of course, if they are all shot to death by the same, as in the second video, then we are back in the horrible world of oppressive dictatorships we've known since the 1800s.)

In terror related news

Lieberman is still an idiot. He's all but saying we need to go ahead and attack Yemen in order to prevent more failed terrorist attacks.

"Somebody in our government said to me in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, Iraq was yesterday's war. Afghanistan is today's war. If we don't act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow's war," Lieberman said, during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday". "That's the danger we face."
I used to try to be pretty restrained when talking about Lieberman, at least in part because I did kind of buy in to the idea that he would be a reliable vote on progressive domestic issues, and so the Dems should just put up with him. This of course involved ignoring the reasons I didn't like him being Gore's running mate back in 2000 (including his leading pro-censorship groups). But at this point I realize that he is an utter wanker on any given Democratic priority, and probably as dumb as Jonathan Chait thinks. And that includes his idea that any given war is a good idea, just on the merits of "doing something about terrorism."

(Though, sadly, Pete Hoekstra makes Lieberman look like Ted Kennedy.)

Update on Iran

Via, of course, Andrew Sullivan. Protests have apparently been confirmed in "Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabriz, Mashhad, Babol, Ardabil, Qom and Najafabad." To be honest, I've only heard of maybe 4 of those cities (Tehran, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Qom).

Update: Just to be clear, the point about only knowing 4 of the cities is to point out that this more than just the "liberal elite" of Iran protesting.


From PRI:

Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan but many Japanese celebrate the 25th with a special meal: fried chicken – specifically, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Colonel Sander’s chicken is considered a Christmas tradition there. The fast-food chain is so popular long lines form outside Japanese stores...

Iran Today

Apparently, today is a major Shi'ite religious festival, particularly one of mourning martyrs. This means that today has become a major opposition demonstration in Iran. I cannot do justice to all of the reports coming in (confirmed and unconfirmed), but apparently the violence today has been the largest since the post-election protests. For anyone who wants to follow it (which should be just about everybody), I recommend going to Andrew Sullivan's blog where he is tracking every single report.

Many people have speculated that Andrew Sullivan is a little crazy and occasionally suffers from something like monomania, because he just can't let go of something once it catches his attention. This can be detrimental when it's something like the Sarah Palin pregnancy story, but in the case of the Iranian protests it leads to some very valuable blogging. I highly recommend checking it out.

As for myself, I'm not entirely clear what this all means, but I have some guesses. At the time the protests petered out, many were sure that it meant that the "Green Revolution" had failed. I remember thinking that it was premature to think that, because of what little I knew about the '79 revolution. That revolution had started in '78, and went through fitful periods as it built up support and took devastating losses. I thought that maybe the same thing could be happening here.

It looks likely right now. I can't judge from where I am, but it looks like the protests now are larger and more passionate than any time since the post-election protests. The response is certainly more violent (possibly 3 or 4 dead already, including maybe the nephew of opposition leader Mousavi; no confirmation).

Here's some video from today's protests:

Track of the Day

Dedicated to the people wetting the bed over any attempt at terrorism.

26 December 2009

Glad I waited...

I wish I could claim credit for waiting to chime in on the attempted attacked today, but the truth is I was just playing WoW.

I was reading about it the whole time though (I'm horrible about multitasking like that), and I have to say I'm glad I didn't rush to judgment because the facts changed so much from the beginning story. Initial reports said that the guy was using an "incendiary device" attached to his leg, which wouldn't be likely to do much damage overall (since the inside, and with it his leg, would catch on fire, and no matter how stone-cold the suicide bomber is, a leg on fire will force the body to react). But it turns out that it was just the detonator for a real bomb in his clothes lining, made out of some serious (and apparently easy to acquire) bomb material.

At the same time, of course, it was an utter failure, and as a single attack (rather than the usual redundancies put in place with terrorist attacks) it does make one wonder about the ability of AQ to continue to hit us. Others have pointed out that the physics of this bomb would have led to it not working very well (no shrapnel, no concussive force as the body would absorb most of it, etc.)

I'm not sure what to make of it overall. I think, however, that the best possible point was made by Galrahn at Information Dissemination:

Consider for a moment that even if you add up all the casualties from all the terrorist attacks globally since 9/11, include all deaths related to violence in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, military and civilian, the total combined for the whole decade still falls short of the number of people killed on one day five years ago today.

Yeah. Natural disasters and easily preventable diseases are still a bigger threat to world security (and US security) than all the terrorists in the world. I think that's something we need to remember going forward, especially in an age where AQ can't even blow up a single plane.

PS: Thank you to the passengers and crew of the plane who took it upon themselves to stop the guy and put out the device as soon as they realized what was going on. The willingness to fight back against potential bombers and hijackers in the air is already going to prevent another tragedy using the same techniques as 9/11.


Should we be crapping our pants over the pathetic bombing attempt by the Nigerian "Al-Qaeda" on the plane in Detroit yet?

Kentucky Proud

Ya know, I kind of respect Jim Bunning for just half-assing (at best) what little remains of his...ahem...illustrious U.S. Senate career. He obviously could not give two shits about his job at this point, and I can't say I really blame him. We don't like him and he doesn't like us. Let's just try to remember him for his no-hitters.

Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., was the only senator to miss the historic Christmas Eve vote on the health care overhaul bill.

"The senator had family commitments” and was at home in Kentucky, Bunning spokesman Mike Reynard said in e-mails.

The missed vote was one of 21 this month — nearly half of all Senate floor votes — that the retiring senator skipped.

At least we'll be getting a new senator before too long. They couldn't be much worse than Bunning, right? Right? Oh crap, what's that you say? One of the major candidates is named after Ayn Rand? Oh dear...


Matt Duss, via Marc Lynch.

...if we don't have an Iran war, how are we supposed to have an awesome Iran surge?

25 December 2009

Track of the Day & Defeat

Well, the War on Christmas failed again...I will soldier on.

Just got finished watching my favorite Christmas movie, Elf, now for my new favorite Christmas song.

Hairy Fishnuts!

My Christmas this year is less merry than I would like, but I decided to share one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time, by an American icon.

For those who like more traditional carols:

24 December 2009


I have conservative friends, and I have friends who have gone to CPAC and enjoyed themselves.

Though they are my friends, I do not understand them.

But, this year, CPAC looks to get even worse. Worse than Coulter's homophobia. Worse than Rush Limbaugh's general idiocy.

First, there was the call to boycott CPAC if GOProud (a conservative gay rights group) was allowed to continue as a cosponsor. The big tent was fracturing before the conference could get underway. (The end compromise is that GOProud will stay as a cosponsor, but they will not be allowed to talk at all.)

But, even more than that, now the John Birch Society (last heard from accusing JFK and Ike of being Communist stooges) will also be a cosponsor. Their current web site does not include their positions on issues, but it should be remembered that they were the group that supported such bizarre conspiracy theories as Cuban/African soldiers being trained in the American South by the UN to fight against segregation in the American South. These are people who still believe in the stupid New World Order.

So...GOProud, a group that split off from the Log Cabin Republicans because the LCR wasn't conservative enough, isn't good enough for CPAC to many of these people, but JBS is just fine. Oh, that's going to be fun.

South Korea

South Korea is sending more troops to Afghanistan, a full Province Reconstruction Team of 500 troops, mainly engineers and such but also with some infantry to back them up.

I wrote a paper for my last grad program suggesting that the US-ROK alliance could be the model for the future of US alliances. As it is based on ideology and history, rather than a temporary shared enemy, it provides the possibility of South Korea assisting us in many different places in the world. This is a great example of that coming to bear.

South Korea is also branching out into other ways to project power, including small aircraft carriers. This is an amazing opportunity for the US to have a strong ally fully committed to helping preserve the current international system. In a rational world, this would be enough reason for the US to cut back on VSTOLs, but we know that won't happen. But it is an opportunity for the US to rely on some others and have the whole system sustain itself.

Learning from Our Mistakes: Navigating Yemen

I'm gonna stick around the same region as yesterday for today's international security post...

Lots of news coming out Yemen recently as the US seems to be becoming drawn into that country to an increasing extent.--which is often lumped in with Somalia as something of a "future Af/Pak" region. Recent news reports have indicated that President Obama has personally issued orders for US forces to assist Yemeni forces with strikes and raids against the AQ-affiliate there, Islamic Jihad of Yemen. And today, news came out that a Yemeni air strike against that group may have killed the radical Yemeni cleric that the Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Hassan, was in contact with. In November, there were claims that the US signed a military agreement with Sanaa, but this wasn't confirmed by US government sources.

The beleaguered Saleh regime in Yemen may be in the most difficult position right now of any government in the world. It faces a 3-pronged attack:

1. The Houthi rebellion by members of the Zaidi sect of Shi'ism probably constitutes the biggest threat to the stability of the state right now. Recently, Saudi Arabia seems to have stepped in to support the Saleh regime against the Houthis, even by conducting air strikes across the border.

2. The periodic push for secession by southerners has re-ignited recently--South Yemen was formerly the only Marxist republic in the Middle East prior to reunification in 1990, followed by a brief civil war in '94. This has not devolved into armed conflict, but secessionist rallies have seen violence by state security forces.

3. The ongoing efforts of Islamic Jihad in Yemen.

Yesterday's post outlined 3 major lessons from US policy failures in East Africa:

the War on Terror mentality, the Bush Administration's "with us our against us" mentality, and the too-close relationship with Ethiopia

How can we apply these to the situation in Yemen in order to avoid creating the kinds of problems we have in East Africa? Some thoughts...

the War on Terror mentality, the Bush Administration's "with us our against us" mentality

With respect to this issue, I think it is best that the US needs to a) work with Sanaa only to the extent to which our interests coincide and b) realize that Yemen needs us way more than we need Yemen. As far as coinciding interests, of the three big threats to Sanaa, the only one that seems to be of any concern to the US is the third--the AQ-affiliate operating there. I don't see any compelling reason why we would need to help fight the Houthis or help Sanaa suppress the southern unrest. This would mean any assistance provided to the Yemeni forces should be clearly targeted toward the fight against Islamic Jihad in Yemen, if possible. Second, we have to realize that any one of these threats is a way bigger danger to the Saleh regime than to the US and our allies. To often we have let small client states hold our policies hostage because we inflate the dangers of these sort of things.

the too-close relationship with Ethiopia

I think either Sanaa or Riyadh could stand in for Ethiopia here. Just because Yemen is cooperating with us, as did Ethiopia, is no reason to unconditionally support all of their policies. The Saleh regime isn't particularly democratic or humane. We can leverage our assistance to try to improve this, but, again, there is no compelling reason to support the campaign against the Houthis or the southerners. And the Saudis may be important strategic allies, but our security and economic relationship doesn't mean we have to support their meddling in northern Yemen.

Track of the Day

One of my friends recently claimed that Wham's "Last Christmas" is the worst Christmas song.

I beg to differ. I feel that George Michael takes it so far over the top in the song that it ends up pretty awesome.

Anyway, today's track of the day is the literal verson...

As far as worst songs go, the worst song I've heard on Christmas radio this year is this abomination.

Tomorrow's track will be my favorite Christmas song.

23 December 2009

Ought to Know Better Nominee

In honor of the guy I'm about to trash, let's start a new tradition: nomination for awards (with all nominations going in for next year right now). This is the "WTF you are normally a smart, intelligent pundit and should know SO MUCH better than this" award. (Better name pending.)

That said, Andrew Sullivan yesterday said that, while he regretted voting for Bush, Gore would have taken us into war with Iraq anyway.

This is so utterly ludicrous on so many levels, as even a quick google search will show that Gore was against the Iraq war in September '02, about 4 years before Andrew Sullivan himself came out against the war.

When his readers called him on it...he doubled down.

I guess my sense is that Gore opposed the Iraq war in part out of bitterness. If you look at Gore's record - and at TNR, I was hardly unaware of it - it was full of extreme vigilance about Saddam, willingness to use military force for moral ends (as in Bosnia), and completely conventional neocon views on the Middle East. I can absolutely see him going to war against Saddam if goaded sufficiently. Maybe he would have been persuaded by the intelligence that we didn't actually have the goods on WMDs; maybe his hawkishness would have waned in office as it did in opposition. But knowing Gore, I stick with my point. In office, I suspect he would have been much closer to my position on invasion at the time than he was.

These are the kinds of stupid counerfactuals that are impossible to disprove, and thus there is no end to the arguing. But if Bill Clinton (who was just as hawkish as Gore) didn't attack [edit: by attack, I mean invade; I know that Clinton bombed Iraq plenty] Iraq, and Gore explicitly called on focusing on Afghanistan...I think we can safely assume that Gore would have focused on Afghanistan. Saying that he was just bitter is nothing more than petty nastiness. I could go on a rant about the strange, bizarre double standard applied to Gore by all pundits, but as someone who talks about treating people fairly pretty often (and holding political figures to the same standard), this is just ridiculous.

Prayer Can Backfire

Sorry for the video overload, but this it too good to ignore. Via Balloon Juice.

This may be the most awesomest moment in C-SPAN history. What you are about to watch is a tearful teabagger, noting that James Inhofe missed a health care reform vote sick, calling in to C-SPAN worried that his prayer group from Waycross, Georgia may have killed Inhofe by mistake after answering...[Senator] Coburn’s call to pray for someone [note from slim: read: "a Democrat"] to miss a vote the other day:

The Holiday Spirit...

Track of the Day

In honor of Eritrean sanctions.

How Did Eritrea Become a Villain?

This post is related to Frosty's recent post.

With the young state of Eritrea poised to join the ranks of UN-sanctioned international pariah states such as Sudan, North Korea, and Iran due to its support of Al-Shabab in Somalia, it is worth considering how it got to this point. Mark Leon Goldberg at UN Dispatch provides some background:

It all began in 2000, when Eritrea and Ethiopia, exhausted from war, decided to end their bloody border dispute by submitting to international arbitration. When the arbiters in the Hague handed down their ruling, they awarded the key disputed territory to Eritrea. End of story, right? Wrong. Ethiopia simply refused to withdraw and a stalemate ensued.

A changing international scene did not help things. The Clinton administration was instrumental in forging the original settlement between Ethiopia and Eritrea. But by the time of the arbitration ruling, September 11 had already occurred and the Bush administration was focused on leveraging the support of Ethiopia on terrorism issues in the Horn of Africa. Accordingly, the United States was reluctant to press Ethiopia to abide by the ruling.

From an Eritrean perspective, you can see how this might be unsettling. Asmara had agreed to binding international arbitration, but the international community was apparently unwilling to enforce the ruling. Caught in the middle were a few thousand UN Peacekeepers along the border, acting as a buffer between the two armies.

As Eritrea's understandable frustration with the international community grew, Asmara began to lash out in patently unhelpful ways. It kicked out UN Peacekeepers by blocking their shipments of petrol and food; made threatening statements aganst top American officials; attacked neighboring Djibouti; and supported a faction opposed to the internationally-backed Transitional Federal Government of Somalia.

Asmara has also moved closer to Tehran in recent years, according to some reports.

So what lesson do we take away from all of this? It looks like the situation is somewhat similar to as well as closely related to the problems Frosty diagnosed in Somalia. The War on Terror mentality, the Bush Administration's "with us our against us" mentality, and the too-close relationship with Ethiopia seem to have screwed us here, just as in Somalia. By backing our "ally" Ethiopia unconditionally, just as in its invasion of Somalia in 2006, and ignoring the World Court ruling, we undermined international norms and institutions and created backlash that ended up being even more problematic (just as removing the ICU in Somalia led to the rise of Shabab). I guess Ethiopia is a loyal and submissive client, but it doesn't seem like the relatively authoritarian Zenawi regime is our best option as an East African proxy.

LCS-2 USS Independence

I personally think this video is completely ridiculous, but I also love it.

H/t to Information Dissemination

22 December 2009

Obscure War Blogging Part III: Western Sahara War

For the next installment in our series, we move from the jungles of Indochina to the hot sands of the Sahara...

Who?: Morocco and Mauritania versus the Polisario Front, a national liberation group representing the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara (the Sahrawi aren't really an ethnic group, it's more of a nationalist term adopted by the people of Berber and Arab heritage living in the region).

When?: 1973-1991

Toll: About 10-15,000 total battle deaths, with Morocco, Mauritania, and the Sahrawi suffering relatively evenly. The war also precipitated a major refugee crisis among the Sahrawi.

Why?: Imperialism, nationalism, colonialism, power politics, ideology, outside interference, Arab-African tension--all of these factors played significant roles in igniting or exacerbating the war.

Spain, a minor European power by the end of the 19th century, claimed a protectorate over what became the Spanish Sahara at the Berlin Conference. It originally just claimed control over the coast, but gradually spread its control to include all of the territory. There were periodic revolts against Spanish rule throughout the 20th century. The Polisario Front, a Sahrawi nationalist group, formed in Morocco and in 1971 and launched an insurgency in Western Sahara. The Polisario raided Spanish outposts in the desert and drew major support from the local population. Spain began to negotiate its withdrawal in 1975.

Things were looking up for the Polisario, but this success was short-lived. Spain negotiated a secret deal with Morocco and Mauritania that became the Madrid Accords in 1976. The more powerful Morocco got about 2/3 of the territory and Mauritania got the other 1/3. The territory was divided despite a World Court ruling that popular opinion in Western Sahara was completely against Spanish, Moroccan, or Mauritanian control. Spain was able to maintain a stake in the territory's lucrative trade in phosphates despite its withdrawal (these resources were located in what now became Moroccan-controlled territory).

For its part, Morocco had historic claims to the area based on control by powerful ancient Moroccan kingdoms. The idea of re-establishing "Greater Morocco" had become fashionable in Moroccan politics following its independence from France.

Mauritania's position on Western Sahara was somewhat schizophrenic due to its fear of Morocco. At times, Nouakchott had favored an independent Sahrawi state as a buffer between it and its more powerful neighbor. However, when Spain withdrew, Mauritanian leadership decided that it would be best to work with Morocco rather than against it.

As with almost every conflict during this period, there was also a Cold War angle. The Polisario, which declared the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) following Spanish withdrawal, enjoyed the support and assistance of Algeria (and later, Libya), which was pretty firmly in the Soviet, socialist camp during the Cold War. Not surprisingly then, the other side enjoyed the support of the US and the area's former colonial bigwig, France.

Outcome: The Polisario, based in western Algeria, continued to develop the insurgency from within Western Sahara and also began to conduct guerilla raids into both Morocco and Mauritania. The effect on the weaker Mauritania (its armed forces only numbered about 3,000) was particularly strong. The Polisario raids, combined with ethnic unrest between conscripted black Africans and Arab leadership, led to a coup in 1978 that brought down the government in Nouakchott. In 1979, Mauritania relinquished all claims to Western Sahara, pulled out, and recognized the SADR.

This was something of a pyrrhic victory for the Sahrawi, though, because Rabat immediately took control of the area formerly controlled by Mauritania. Fighting also became bogged down as Morocco built a massive, 2700 km-long sand berm--replete with mines and electronic sensors--separating Polisario controlled areas from phosphate-rich Moroccan controlled areas. This halted the success of the Polisario and separated them from much of the Sahrawi population. Maintaining the Moroccan Wall, however, was quite expensive for Morocco--the number of military forces posted there was about equal to the entire population of Western Sahara--although this was alleviated to some extent by American & Saudi aid. Raids, sniper attacks, & shelling continued, but generally at a low level.

A UN-monitored ceasefire was agreed to in 1991 on the condition that a referendum would eventually be held, but Morocco eventually withdrew. Many Sahrawi today live in refugee camps in Algeria, and Morocco doesn't want them to vote. Morocco has, at the same time, sent a significant number of settlers into Western Sahara to shore up its position. Another UN settlement attempt in 2003 spearheaded by former Secretary of State James Baker also failed.

Who Cares?: This conflict really isn't over so much as frozen. It doesn't seem like either side is going to budge anytime soon. The Moroccan monarchy has been able to generate a significant degree of national unity based on the conflict in the "Southern Provinces" and the Sahrawi in the camps in Algeria really don't want to have spent 30 years in refugee camps for nothing.

The conflict has been extremely costly for Morocco and somewhat so for Algeria. For its part, Mauritania has been quite unstable for the past several decades following the coup precipitated by the war (it just went through another coup last year). The conflict has slowed regional economic integration and made foreign investors much more wary of the area. The entire region has also become a hotbed of illicit activity, including trafficking in people and drugs, due to rampant insecurity.

One other wrinkle on the conflict is that it became a source of Arab-African tension. During the war, the SADR was generally recognized by OAU states (the precursor to today's African Union) while the Arab League tended to support Morocco's claims.

Somali Stability

Looks like Somalia will stay pretty damn unstable for even longer.

Not that I have any love whatsoever for al-Shabab, but I'm starting to think that someone being able to put Somalia back together would be a humanitarian triumph. However, when the factions of al-Shabab cannot even get it together, it looks like the world is stuck with more fighting for quite awhile.

That said, this also could end up being the lost chance of 2006 again. If the international community (not the US alone) can get Robow to defect and join the TFG (perhaps by offering him either the presidency or vice-presidency or whatever; it'll be a step up for him from where he is) and denounce Godane, a real popular front against "foreign fighters" could be accomplished.

In particular, since an attack on a university graduation, al-Shabab has been losing legitimacy. Robow could use this (and the foreign fighters who perpetrated it) as the excuse he would need to leave without losing his own legitimacy. Alternately, he could just create a "real Shabab" to fight against the official structure, and make an alliance with the TFG to do that.

This could also help get the AU off the hook, as they've been hurting trying to help there.

Would a Somalia led by a hardline al-Shabab leader be the best choice? No, but just like the ICU before it, it may be the least bad, particularly if it can remove AQ from the area. Let's hope we don't make the same mistakes of 3 years ago in our anti-terrorist zeal.

Track of the Day

For both Stalin and Kim, I present Living Colour:

Russia needs another Stalin...

like any given Russian needs a bullet to the head.

It amounts to the same thing.

Unfortunately, there are many in Russia who still push for remembrance of Stalin as a revolutionary and wonderful "creator, thinker, and patriot." An old friend of mine has told me stories of seeing the "little old Communist ladies'" groups picketing outside of government buildings with signs saying "Bring Back Comrade Stalin!".

I would say it is sad the way that history is politicized, but it is unfortunate that it is inevitable. Every culture shades its history, and interprets the same events rather differently. (Even within one culture, this happens all the time; see the American Civil War.)

However, it is absolutely insane for anyone to support the kind of mass murderer that Stalin was. Even the president of Russia agrees, though the Prime Minister may not.

Stalin is not the only monster to have people actively trying to rehabilitate him, but probably one of the most high profile to have such a large group behind him. (The question of Mao is an entirely different one, since he has never been fully vilified to the degree he probably deserves, but despite some blowhards even he does not live up to the evil of Stalin.) Here's hoping that historical revisionism does not win out.

21 December 2009

North Korean Insanity

I tend to believe that no national leader is truly insane. It's a realist conceit (though I'm not really a realist), but it's hard to believe that someone could be completely insane and still rise to power anywhere. Someone, somewhere, should have a coup or something to remove someone truly stupid and insane from power before that happens.

However, North Korea constantly makes me re-think this.

After several attempts by the US and South Korea to end tensions...the North Koreans respond by declaring contested waters a "firing zone." Not that they will engage in aggression, but they will merely be engaging in some live-fire artillery exercises in the area.

The ROK Navy can, without any assistance from the US, annihilate the DPRK Navy. But it's still just a pointless provocation from people who should have learned by now how unlikely it is to work. It just reinforces the point made by many friends of mine that actually trying to work with the DPRK is utterly pointless.

The Drezner Obama Oslo Speech Challenge

Daniel Drezner over at FP issued the following challenge to readers:

So, a contest for readers: pore over the speech and look for evidence suggesting Obama favors the following approaches:

  • Neoliberal institutionalism
  • Social construcivism
  • Democratic peace theory
  • Feminist IR theory (I think it's there, but you have to squint)
  • Human security

Thought I'd give it the ol' college try.

Neoliberal Institutionalism

In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another World War. And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations - an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this Prize - America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, and restrict the most dangerous weapons.

In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War. The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall. Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty. The ideals of liberty, self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced.

That is why NATO continues to be indispensable. That is why we must strengthen UN and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few countries. That is why we honor those who return home from peacekeeping and training abroad to Oslo and Rome; to Ottawa and Sydney; to Dhaka and Kigali - we honor them not as makers of war, but as wagers of peace.

Social Constructivism

And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength.

First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to change behavior

One urgent example is the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them.

Democratic Peace Theory

We also know that the opposite is true. Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace. America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens.

Feminist IR Theory

Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.

Human Security

Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies, and failed states; have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. In today's wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sewn, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed, and children scarred.

The same principle applies to those who violate international law by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur; systematic rape in Congo; or repression in Burma - there must be consequences

It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive. It does not exist where children cannot aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.

Couple more for good measure...


War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease - the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.

I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I also know this: the belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it

We are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us.

Hegemonic Stability Theory

Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans.


President Obama gave the speech, and I heard he's a Marxist.

Track of the Day & Health Care Thoughts

Goes out to the Congressional GOP:

Seriously, it's pretty amazing when you consider the sheer amount of poo flung during this whole process that something approaching a half-way decent bill seems to be emerging from this process. Here is but a brief list of some of the crap that got us to this point:

  • socialism!!!11!!11, err, um Communism!!!11! (to be fair, these tactics had already been trotted out during the presidential election), I mean fascism or maybe Nazism!!!!!1!
  • summer '09: crazy wingnuts scream at members of Congress about tyranny
  • the teabag movement (copyright Fox News 2009)
  • protesters literally routinely comparing health care reform to Hitler's policies and making pictures of the President as Hitler
  • Max Baucus' wanktastic finance committee machinations, and then Chuck Grassley turning on him
  • Olympia Snowe's grandstanding
  • "They're gunna take yur Medicare!!!1!" (even though we viciously opposed and probably continue to oppose Medicare)
  • Sarah Palin's Twitter feed
  • the Stupak Amendment
  • big insurance backed ad campaign
  • Senator Eeyore
  • Ben Nelson's most recent hissyfit
  • DEATH PANELS!!!!!!!

A veritable gauntlet of douchebaggery.

20 December 2009


New York Times:

Thirty million people without health insurance stand to gain coverage under a deal announced on Saturday by Senate Democrats.

Death of a Hero

R.I.P. Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri. Hopefully his dream of a free Iran will be fulfilled in the near future.

Crowds of mourners are gathering in the Iranian city of Qom following the death of leading reformist cleric Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri at 87.

Some pro-reform websites say thousands of people are travelling to the city ahead of Monday's funeral.

Other unverified reports say opposition supporters are also gathering in some squares in Tehran, fuelling government concern of increased political tension...

...Montazeri, one of Shia Islam's most respected figures and a leading critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, himself said in August that the turmoil following the election "could lead to the fall of the regime".

He said Iran's clerical leadership was a dictatorship and issued a fatwa condemning the government after the election.

Escalation Along the Axis of Tension

This militarization is starting to look really dangerous and seems poised to break the relatively peaceful streak that the Western Hemisphere had going.

The Colombian government has announced it is building a new military base on its border with Venezuela and has activated six new airborne battalions.

Relations between the two nations are at a historic low with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez already telling his generals to prepare for war.

He moved 15,000 more troops up to the border, accusing Colombia and its ally, the US, of planning an attack.

A BBC correspondent says the potential for conflict is heightened.

Colombian Defence Minister Gabriel Silva announced the formation of a new base in La Guajira in the north, near the Venezuelan border.

At the same time, the Colombian army activated the new airborne battalions, which are equipped with US helicopters.

The helicopter fleet, made up mainly of Blackhawks, now numbers 120, making the Colombian Army Air Corps the best equipped and most experienced in Latin America, the BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Colombia says.

Again, much of this is linked to paranoia surrounding the new US basing agreement with Colombia.

Track of the Day

Posting for me will be light for a few days, as my mother is in the hospital and so I'm out of town. But, here is one for her:

Two different anti-China protests

I think everyone is used to anti-PRC protests in Taiwan, and also occasionally Hong Kong, but Macau made the news today because of a protest there. It wasn't nearly as large, but they were protesting the lack of democracy in Macau.

I think the Chinese attempt to use the "2 systems, 1 country" idea for running Hong Kong and Macau as part of their propaganda war in Taiwan has completely failed. The PRC promised Macau and Hong Kong that, if they just accepted PRC suzerainty, they could keep their internal political models. It should be obvious that PRC tinkering in both has been blatant and widespread. Democracy marches go through each all of the time, and while it should be granted that such marches would not even be allowed on the mainland, it's enough to show the Taiwanese that merging with China will destroy the democracy they've come to respect and love.

Which then leads to the fact that those who support "peaceful unification" as the ultimate end game in the Taiwan Straits are deluding themselves. I do not know any better than anyone else what the end game will be (or if we'll see an end game in our lifetimes), but it will certainly not be peaceful unification.

19 December 2009


Malcolm Gladwell on the NFL:

...football has kind of been ruined for me, I'm afraid. Understand that I live for the game. But I'm increasingly of the opinion that it is screwed up -- on a moral level -- in a way that no other professional sport is.

Think about it. The league has a salary cap (which limits players' pay), minimal health insurance for retirees and no guaranteed contracts. In other words, the owners reserve the right to limit the pool of money available to players, to walk away from contracts whenever they please and then hold no long-term responsibility for the health of the players whose contracts they have limited and declined to honor. Coal miners aren't treated this badly. And now we strongly suspect a fourth fact: that some significant percentage of ex-players, as a direct result of playing professional football, will suffer from dementia in their 40s and 50s, in addition to all the known and significant other health risks of the game (severe arthritis, substantially elevated risk of heart disease, etc.).

At some point, doesn't it become immoral to watch a sport that treats its players so badly? Most people don't go to boxing matches or dogfights on ethical grounds. So how is football different?

Niger Delta Relapse?

A faction of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has reportedly attacked either a Royal Dutch Shell or Chevron pipeline in the delta region. The Niger Delta Joint Task Force (JTF), the security force tasked with dealing with the region, has yet to confirm the attack. MEND claims that the government is using the poor health of President Yar'Adua, who is receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, to delay reconciliation talks (some officials have called for Yar'Adua's resignation due to his illness). An indefinite ceasefire has been in place since late October. If this attack actually happened, it is the first attack on an oil installation since the ceasefire was put in place.

The ceasefire came after significant conflict during the summer. The JTF launched a major operation against delta militants in May and, in return, MEND, which serves as sort of an umbrella organization for several anti-government groups, launched a relentless campaign against foreign oil company facilities in the region, with attacks occurring on a daily basis.

The Delta Conflict has been a huge drain on Nigeria, which is heavily dependent upon oil for government revenue. It is estimated that the country only produces at about 2/3 of its capacity due to these kinds of attacks and illegal oil bunkering or theft (ingenious bunkerers actually tap directly into pipelines and steal oil). Foreign oil workers have also frequently been kidnapped.

The people of the Niger Delta, such as the Ijaw, have quite legitimate grievances. They are the most resource-rich area of the country, but are plagued by poverty and underdevelopment, despite promises from Nigeria of reinvestment and development. Part of the problem is that Nigeria is that the entire oil sector is terribly corrupt. In fact, it is believed that much of the militancy and theft in the delta is actually connected to local politicians.

The campaign against foreign oil companies actually began as a non-violent movement led by Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was later tortured and murdered (Shell has been implicated in the murder, and recently settled with Saro-Wiwa's family to the tune of over $15 million). However, the movement became more and more militant as government promises never came to fruition.

This attack could mean that this dark period for Nigeria will continue indefinitely. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail.