30 April 2010

QOTD


Bill Maher via Twitter:











Every asshole who ever chanted 'Drill baby drill' should have to report to the Gulf coast today for cleanup duty

Track of the Day

Sudanese Elections: Backstory and Future Prospects


Awesome noted on the blog earlier this week that indicted international war criminal/president Omal al-Bashir won reelection and that Salva Kiir had similarly cruised to reelection as vice president and (thus) president of the Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan. I've followed this election somewhat closely and wanted to throw in my $.02 on the situation in Sudan.

First, the elections were pretty much a sham. Go over to the Enough Project and read all about the abuses and irregularities perpetrated by the ruling party (or watch videos of the vote being rigged) or go read about all of the problems with the process listed by the Carter Center.

However, no one is making much of a fuss over this because...

a) Most of the opposition candidates did not participate, so there weren't really many choices for voters. This includes the candidate that was going to be put forward by the leading party in the South, the SLPA/M. The calculus by the SLPM seems to be...what's the point? Why worry about national elections when we are just going to secede next year?

b) As far as I can tell, the US and other Western governments seem to have made similar calculations--something like: yes, we could raise a big stink over these elections, but we want to stay on Bashir's good side in order to have at least a shot at a peaceful secession process next year (it seems fairly certain that the South will vote to secede).

There are a couple of problems with this prognosis by Southern Sudan and by the West. First, it presumes that Bashir will follow through with a fair referendum process next year and, if the South votes to secede, he will allow them to do so peacefully. This seems wildly optimistic given his past antics and the fact that huge issues such as border demarcation and oil revenues remain unresolved. For its part, Southern Sudan seems to be hedging its bets in order to force Bashir to think long and hard before trying to re-ignite the North-South Civil War that raged from the 80s all the way up until the CPA in '05.

But even assuming all goes as planned, a newly independent Southern Sudan faces seemingly insurmountable development obstacles including:
-crushing poverty (I've heard estimates that it would be the poorest country in the world)
-sporadic but deadly intercommunal violence
-periodic incursions by the Lord's Resistance Army
-landlocked with (mostly) bad neighbors, including Bashir's state, whose proximity will likely lead to very high military spending by the new state
-resource curse problems (with oil)
-likelihood of a one-party state dominated by the SPLA/M

Meanwhile, in other parts of Russia...

29 April 2010

Picture of the Day: He's At it Again



Picture via abc.net/au.

End of the Euro?

Standard and Poor's downgraded Spain's credit rating from AA+ to AA yesterday. Less than a day earlier, the IMF grudgingly agreed to more than double the size of its aid package to Greece from $45 million to $120 million. The EU's poorer states declined to contribute to Greece's rescue package leaving the IMF and Germany to cover most of the costs. The problem is: if investors lose confidence in Spain's ability to pay its debts, then its going to collapse in the same way Greece did, but there will almost certainly be no bail out for Spain since its economy is four times the size of Greece's.


What is most disturbing about this development is that Spain was actually an ideal member of the EU, keeping its debts low (in 2007 it had a lower debt to GDP ratio than Germany) and running a budget surplus. Spain's problem was that its economy became too intertwined with the housing bubble. It was receiving huge inflows of capital from the rest of the EU to invest in its housing sector (everyone loves Spanish villas), which pushed up its gdp, but also wages and prices. When the bubble collapsed, output from the housing sector fell with it, but wages remained high (wages are generally not adjustable downward), so output from other sectors was inhibited by these higher labor costs which then resulted in higher unemployement. This then led to decreased consumption (unemployed people don't buy that much) which further reduced output, and obliged the government to enact large social insurance outlays despite the huge hit to its tax revenue.

If the European labor market was more efficient (language barriers tend to prevent workers from moving around very much), then wages would not have risen so much and prices would have remained in check. Right now, if Spain had its own currency then it could devalue it to make its exports more competitive, stimulate its economy, compensate for the lost demand, and bring its internal prices back in line with the rest of Europe. But Spain doesn't have its own currency. It is stuck with the euro, and there is no monetary levers for it to pull. Rather than a quick devaluation, it is going to have to grind through a slow deflationary process as its internal prices gradually adjust.

The larger issue is whether or not other EU member states will see Spain's crisis as a signal of the EU's viability. In good times, European integration has been beneficial to all of its member states, but as the situation in Spain has shown, the integration is neither deep enough to ameliorate the negative effects of powerful macroeconomic shocks nor relaxed enough to let the member states solve their problems by themselves. Europe is stuck in an uncomfortable middle ground between full integration and independence. The only way to prevent future problems is either further integration (which is unlikely; there will not be a United States of Europe in our lifetimes), or the slow process of dissolution. If Spain collapses and the rest of the EU isn't there to lend a hand, then the EU's days are definitely numbered.

27 April 2010

Pictures of the Day: Little Known Fact, That Dog is Russia's Interior Minister
























Photos via Foreign Policy and Sulekha.

Riots In Ukraine's Parliament




Quite a few people were upset about Mr. Yanukovich's recent decision to renew Russia's lease on the port at Sevastopol for 25 years, and the situation deteriorated even further today when Ukraine's parliament approved the deal by a slim majority. Opposition leaders like Yulia Tymoshenko claim (and are probably correct) that the deal will drag Ukraine increasingly into Moscow's orbit.


Ukraine didn't get nothing for the deal. Russia is going to give them a 30% discount on natural gas worth about $40 billion over the next decade. Unfortunately, what Ukraine really needs is for gas prices to stay high so it can diversify its energy infrastructure away from its reliance on Russian natural gas. Ukraine's net consumption of natural gas as a share of its total energy consumption has increased by 10% since the early 1990's, and it imports 70% of its natural gas from Russia. Cheap gas is only going to provide a disincentive to invest in alternative sources of power and energy efficiency. Ukraine is shackling itself with some very large chains.

Economic Statecraft

There is an excellent little briefing on some recent economic and commerce related statecraft issues over at the Patterson School's class blog.

26 April 2010

Elections in Sudan

Omar al-Bashir won north Sudan's first presidential election in more than 20 years to become the first reelected head of state to ever be charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court. In Sudan's semi-autonomous south, Salva Kiir Mayardit also easily won re-election and will remain the south's president through its referendum on secession next year.

23 April 2010

QOTD

From Whiskey Fire, in response to a RedState blogger who "doesn't care about the facts."

WE’RE AT WAR! An insistence on factual accuracy is a luxury we can’t afford when the nation faces an existential threat, such as the top marginal tax rate being raised back up a couple percentage points from its all-time historical low to its previous all-time historical low. It’s just like Pearl Harbor (if the Japanese had only mildly dented 5 percent of the ships in our Pacific fleet while actually performing some needed maintenance on the remaining boats)!

22 April 2010

IMF Proposes that Governments Tax More

Got a long post today…

The IMF has proposed a series of bank taxes to avoid future meltdowns of the international financial system. Its proposal is basically two pronged: tax financial companies to the extent that they represent a systemic threat to the economy as a whole, and tax excessive profits so that these companies avoid risky investments. The idea has some merit, but it will probably not burst any future bubbles. Market distortions helped bring about the financial crisis, and distorting investment markets further will not provide any remedy.

The road to the financial crisis started with loose fiscal policy in the United States that encouraged home ownership. Since the price of debt was kept artificially low with the help of huge currency reserves amassed by foreign lenders this positive demand shock to the housing market created a positive feedback cycle that culminated in the housing asset bubble. Banks for their part had poorly calibrated risk models and brand new investment instruments that diffused risk as well as responsibility and destroyed information about the composition of their investments. When the asset bubble burst, as they always do, lenders had tied up billions of dollars in houses that nobody could afford and none of the investment banks could tell who owned the bad debt. This caused credit to tighten, which then affected the “real” economy through decreased demand.

I can identify several market distortions in this narrative: fiscal policy to subsidize housing, monetary policy that permitted the amassing of foreign debt, the investment vehicles (derivatives) that destroyed information about debt ownership, faulty risk models, the “too big to fail” strategy of the banks that led them to take on excess debt, and a principle-agent problem between the banks as an institution and their representative agents (their executives).

Levying taxing on banks is very tempting for policymakers right now. Not only is there a lot of political support for it (Tax the rich! They got us into this mess!), but the US, UK and others who are stimulating their economies with aid packages need a way of paying off all their new debt. However, I am firmly convinced that the best solution to this problem will not come through tax laws. Taxes can be evaded, and are subject to too much political jockying. The only permanent and real reforms must come from the industry itself. Banks (as an institution) need to make their executives more accountable for the risks they take, and expend the time and resources to gather proper information about the assets they are buying with their money. Tax laws are not needed for this, though legal reforms making executives more liable for taking excessive risks would definitely be an improvement. This will also help remove the moral hazard of the "too big to fail" mentality. Why would executives care if the government steps in to bail out thier company if they are still going to be held criminally accountable for thier actions? Governments also need to learn the lessons of their own mistakes, and stop relying so much on fiscal and monetary policy to achieve political goals (this will also have the duel affect of reducing public debt).

As for preventing any and all future bubbles… that’s not going to happen. Liberalizing investment means giving agents the latitude to make risky decisions, and every once in a while those risky decisions will agglomerate into an asset bubble. Shocks and volatility are the costs of having free markets. If you don’t like bubbles, you shouldn’t be a capitalist.

Track of the Day

I don't hate this, surprisingly.

21 April 2010

Good news in the fight against AQIM

The four Saharan countries most at risk from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, and Niger) have formed a joint command center in Algeria. While there are technically state borders in the Sahara, they do not affect AQIM much, and only a joint effort has any chance of slowing AQIM down. There are no details about how much the four countries will be working together, but it seems there will be some intelligence sharing and joint military actions.

Kudos to South Korea


South Korea has managed to foil an apparent plot to kill the most prominent North Korean defector within its borders. Two North Korean army majors attempted to "defect" in order to get close to Hwang Jang Yop, the former chief ideologue of North Korea. They have beefed up security around him (from 8 around the clock guards to at least 10).

The most vital piece of information here is that Yop defected 13 years ago. It seems that North Korea is upping the ante considerably in recent weeks, between the naval confrontation, the reports of a nuclear test, and now this. Thinking more on the nuclear test, it is possible that the regime is trying to bolster its domestic legitimacy (in desperate tatters after the botched revaluation of the currency and attempt to shut down the black markets). The only legitimacy it has left comes from confrontation with outsiders.

Of course, it could be coincidence. This is not the first time North Korea has tried to kill Yop. If that is the case, however, the North Korean government is either incompetently walled off from itself (with the left hand not knowing what the right is doing) or else just oblivious to how it is viewed from outside.

Either way, I don't think this means that we have to worry about a war breaking out, yet, but it definitely means that the chances (in the sense meant by Schelling) are increasing.

20 April 2010

Track of the Day

North Korean insanity?

Supposedly, North Korea is getting ready for a THIRD nuclear test. US and South Korean diplomats are both denying this, and I hope they are right. At no point has a nuclear test done North Korea any good, and so this third test seems to be a real test of the rationality of the Korean regime. If the North Koreans do a third test, it means the government is not responding rationally to the world around it.

I cannot see any reason for a test. Granted, the last test was kind of a flop, but North Korea cannot have enough fissile material to just waste it willy-nilly on testing. Moreover, China is moving closer to the US once again, and pissing off China cannot be a smart move for a country with no other real allies.

My fingers are crossed that this is a hoax or a mistake.

19 April 2010

Don't Get Too Excited About the Army's New Human Terrain System

Don't get me wrong, I think the US Army's new Human Terrain System (HTS) is a step in the right direction, but it is definitely not going to be the key to ending the insurgency. Although it initially focused on embedding social scientists within brigades to provide them with a cultural context for their actions, HTS has also started more large-scale, public opinion projects. If successful, HTS will provide information on public opinions that will be useful at the operational and strategic levels. A new report on the Kandahar Offensive is doing just that.

At the tactical level, the embedded cultural experts should provide a useful means through which soldiers can engage locals and respond to their opinions, wants, needs and concerns. The mere fact that the Army is trying to address the concerns of locals and work within their cultural context will help the counterinsurgency campaign.

However, HTS also has a lot of limitations. It is not going to provide unbiased information. The Census Bureau has a hard enough time getting decent response rates in the US Census, and its going to be even harder conducting surveys in extremely rural, underdeveloped warzones. The places that are the most violent are the ones where this information is going to be the most critical, but they are also the places where it is going to be the hardest to collect accurate information.

HTTs (Human Terrain Teams) are also going to be very vulnerable to information tapping by other components of the military and intelligence communities. According the its website "HTTs [Human Terrain Teams] do not collect actionable military intelligence, nor do they participate in lethal targeting", but I find it hard to believe that HTTs, having spent so much time on the ground talking to locals, will not have gathered some actionable information. The mere possibility that HTTs could relay information to other military units may impede their effectiveness.

Finally, there is only so much that cultural information and public opinion polling can do for a counterinsurgency. If done properly, HTS is definitely going to help legitimize the Army's actions, and in that sense is absolutely vital. HTS is going to tell soldiers what they can do to gain the trust and respect of the locals, but its not going to provide the Army with any information that will fundamentally change the counterinsurgency. Afghans want a legitimate government, minimal corruption, security and economic prosperity. HTS isn't going to actively accomplish any of those objectives, all it does is improve the Army's ability to accomplish them.

18 April 2010

Track of the Day

As the lead singer died a few days ago, I wanted to post this. RIP, Peter Steele.


Gates' Nuclear Iran Memo

A lot to chew on here, hope to have a post up on this sometime soon.

16 April 2010

King Abdullah's Luftballon...

He is the King of Humanitarianism. Don't believe me? It says so on his balloon.

Track of the Day

Biggest Threats Part V: The Really Bad One With Tommy Morrison


With respect to the threat posed by domestic terrorists and lone gunmen, I think the threat to national security comes more from the social reaction and policy response to attacks than from the attacks themselves (as with foreign terrorist attacks).

As far as capabilities go, obviously lone gunmen generally don't pose the same sort of large-scale threat as more organized, networked groups. The difficulty that they present is that there is no conspiracy and thus very limited opportunities for law enforcement to sniff out their plans. They are also pretty much impossible to prevent once in motion without establishing the trappings of a police state.

I don't think the threat capability of domestic terror groups comes as much from their attracting a large following and posing a direct threat to the government as much as their ability to pull off the same kind of attacks that foreign groups pull off. Let's not forget that, prior to '01, Oklahoma City was the gold standard for terror attacks on American soil. Further, there are indications from entities like the DHS and groups like the SPLC that these groups are currently on the uptick.

Biggest Threat, Part 4: The Return of the Thing From Part 2

Slim, I hate to disagree with you, but I would not classify some of the items from the list in your previous post as major security threats. I agree with most of them, but I do not think that lone gunmen or domestic based terrorists are major national security issues. Granted, I think they both could cause a lot of problems but neither of them represents a systemic threat to the United States. A lone gunman could assassinate a politician or kill a lot of people, which would be very unfortunate, but the institutions of government and business would continue to function. As for domestic terrorists, I do not think that any white supremacist, ultra-nationalist, fundamentalist or other similar group could garner enough popular support to pose a serious threat.

I am not saying that these things are not dangerous, just that they are not the most plausible means through which the national interests of the United States could be threatened. It’s also worth noting that I am defining the national interests as primacy, territorial integrity, international stability, domestic tranquility, and a well-behaved economy. Lone gunmen and domestic terrorists could threaten domestic tranquility, but not to the extent that the US could “fail” as a country.

I also want to go back to my original argument for just a minute. The reason that I included socio-economic problems on my list is because they are very subtle and it’s easy to underestimate the threat they pose. Dr. Bernanke even testified in front of Congress that the exploding national debt could undermine foreign confidence in the United States and cause all sorts of problems. I agree with you that hard security threats are important to guard against, but if the US is going to fail then it’s going to be because of a socio-economic issue that policymakers never addressed. It’s like how one out every three Americans owns a gun, but the average American is much more likely to die from the results of poor lifestyle choices (heart disease, diabetes, and cancer) than from homicide.

15 April 2010

QOTD

From here, via Whiskey Fire.

If you were to make a Venn Diagram of the issues Tea Party members care about, and the issues Tea Party members are confused about, you'd only see one circle.

Picture of the Evening



From here.

Kung fu nuns

Because, really, what other reason do I need? Kung. Fu. Nuns.

Track of the Day

14 April 2010

The Critics of Confederate History Month Are Right

Over at Down From the Mountain, a buddy of mine takes on the issue of Governor McDonnell's recent proclamation of Confederate Heritage Month in Virginia and the surrounding controversy. While John criticizes the short shrift that the governor gave slavery in the proclamation, he feels that the media fallout from the controversy was unfair to the South and to southerners and that, generally, liberals (which I am) and northerners (which I'm not) more broadly are unfair toward and dismissive of the South and southerners. He also attempts to dispel the idea that the South was the "bad guy" in the US Civil War. Herein, I take issue with several of his main contentions.

First, he accepts arguendo the common refrain that the South is "still fighting the Civil War" but claims that the North is "insistent on pushing their view" today. First, I would argue that attempting to correct the views of pro-Confederate historical revisionists who attempt to downplay the role that slavery played in motivating secession is less "pushing one's view" than "maintaining the accuracy of the historical record." Second, for most of the post-bellum period, the South has LITERALLY STILL BEEN FIGHTING THE CIVIL WAR. This began with concerted low-level campaigns of terrorist violence for nearly a century after the end of Reconstruction and later morphed into the "massive resistance" to Civil Rights legislation and desegregation.

Second, while he acknowledges that southern military leaders were highly supportive of slavery (and doesn't, as far as I can tell, argue that slavery was not the main motivating factor for secession), he argues that most rank and file southern soldiers were motivated by other factors, since only the elites were slaveowners in the antebellum South.

While this is certainly the case, people don't generally engage in this sort of celebration for other extremely questionable causes on this basis. Many soldiers in the Imperial Japanese Army were probably swell guys and just fighting out of a sense of nationalism but Japan isn't having a remebrance month for the Tojo regime. Hell, most of the fighters in Joseph Kony's murderous LRA are just abducted child soldiers but I don't think Uganda, the DRC, South Sudan, or the Central African Republic will be holding Lord's Resistance Army Day anytime soon or that their citizens will go driving around with LRA flags (if they had them) on their pickup trucks. And to be clear, McDonnell wasn't declaring "Confederate Soldier History Month" or "Civil War History Month," it was Confederate History Month.

(As an aside, as far as the motivation of rank and file soldiers throughout history goes, I think Debs pretty much nailed it in the Canton, Ohio speech:

The feudal barons of the Middle Ages...declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles. The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another’s throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt. And that is war in a nutshell.
)

A few other points. As Dr. Farley asks, why does "Southern History" have to be about the four years in which the region waged a treasonous war in defense of slavery rather than the other 230 years of its existence? Further, why does it have to be about the group of people who fought against the United States Government and not say, the huge chunk of people (a majority in some states) that the rebels wished to keep enslaved or the areas or individuals that remained loyal to the country?

John closes with what I think is the weakest segment of his post:

The CIA refers to the fallout of reconstruction as 'blowback.' For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it is the result of concerted military/propaganda efforts to shift the cultural, political, or social leanings of a state. And blowback there has been. The reaction to reconstruction and further oppression was violent resistance that lasts to this very day. So yes Mr. CNN bigshot, much like our interference in Afghanistan during their war with the Soviets.


Blowback is usually used to refer to the unintended consequences of a covert action, not of reconstruction. He misuses the term here. First, there was certainly nothing covert about Lincoln et al.'s crushing of the rebellion. Second, blowback is generally something surprising or unforeseen (e.g. we didn't know that helping Ethiopia overthrow the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia would lead to the rise of the far worse Al-Shabab). The southern reaction to Reconstruction was completely foreseeable, which is why the Radical Republicans in Congress enacted such sweeping measures. The reason that southerners were able to "continue fighting" the war (as noted above) is because that Reconstruction program ended following the Compromise of 1877.

CRM to Develop an Iron Ore Mine in Sierra Leone

In response to last months restructuring of iron ore prices, the China Railway Materials Commercial Corporation (a state-owned steel trader) has signed a deal with African Minerals (an exploration company) to develop the Tonkolili iron ore deposit in Sierra Leone. Last month, Vale and BHP Billiton won their bid to change the way iron ore contracts are negotiated, and prices are expected to double as a result. Higher prices means that mining companies can increase their capital investments and mine in areas that were previously unprofitable. This is why it is no surprise that lower-grade deposits like Tonkolili are now commercially viable mining projects. This is excellent news for the world market because it will decrease the growth in prices caused by rising demand from Asia (which is largely the reason prices were rising so steeply in the first place). It will also dampen the market power of Vale, BHP Billiton, and Rio Tinto (the three main iron ore producers), which should also help lower prices because additional competition forces firms to reduce their profit margins.


Anti-Track of the Day: Fuckin' Magnets, How Do They Work?



I don't wanna talk to a scientist...

The WikiLeaks Video

Everyone should go read Mackinder's take on this over at Defense Statecraft. It's the best thing I've seen written on this (and it comes from a colleague--the same guy who made the HATERS GONNA HATE pic a few posts down!).

Biggest Threat, Part 3: Electric Boogaloo


I am in total agreement with Frosty and Awesome that the nuclear terrorism threat is way overblown. For more on this I recommend reading Mueller's Atomic Obsession and following Armchair Generalist, a defense policy analyst blogger who writes extensively on CBRN issues (it's a lot of fun to see him rant about some dumb politician hyping the latest existential threat everyday).

Awesome, in the linked post above, does a particularly good job of identifying long-term, pernicious socio-economic trends that should be particularly troubling to short-sighted US policymakers. That post got me thinking, though, about what are the biggest direct, pressing "hard security" threats facing the United States? Here's the DNI's list, and here's what I could come up with (in no particular order):

1. drug cartel violence in Mexico spilling over the border
2. homegrown terror groups with regular ass bombs and guns (either white nationalist, survivalist, or Islamists who may or may not have foreign connections)
3. foreign Islamist terrorists with regular ass bombs and guns
4. lone-wolf nut jobs with guns and either mental illness or ideological zeal
5. some kind of massive disruption to the flow of Middle Eastern oil (doesn't seem like we're going to transition our economy away from oil anytime soon)
6. getting bogged down in another long, grueling COIN war somewhere, like Yemen or Somalia (or looking ahead, the Niger Delta or Sudan or D-RoC)
7. dumb politicians (on either side) sparking an economic confrontation between the US & China that spirals into an arms race

Nothing nuclear, chemical, biological, or radiological on this list. What do you think?

13 April 2010

Why is Taiwan worried about carriers?

I know that China is refurbishing a carrier and leasing another one, but why on earth would that lead to Taiwan to build an anti-carrier ship? The Diplomat's Jason Miks calls it "interesting". To me, it seems really misplaced.

The greatest threat from China against Taiwan is the vast buildup of missiles facing it, not any Chinese carrier. A carrier does allow China to fly more sorties, or faster sorties at least, against Taiwanese targets. However, China can already fly sorties from the mainland. It doesn't need a carrier to do that. An anti-carrier boat is nice, but not essential to Taiwan's defense. Taking down those missiles (or some good portion)? Much more essential.

So, because I refuse to believe that groups like this never do anything for blatantly illogical purposes, what's the point? What's going on? Is it just balancing against a new threat (while ignoring the bigger, present one), or is there a hidden strategy at work?

Chinatown

I've only been to NYC a few times, but Chinatown holds a very special place in my heart. I love it, I love the food, I love the stores. Love it.

So, I'm very sad to hear the following: "Last night a 7-alarm fire destroyed several buildings in NYC's Chinatown, leaving hundreds of residents homeless."

I'm hoping that they can find places for them soon, and I hope the area bounces back soon.


Russian involvement in Kyrgyzstan

In Slim's post yesterday, he mentioned that there are conspiracy theories circulating about Russia's support for the opposition movement in Kyrgyzstan. According to the Washington Post, those theories are not without justification. Within the past year Russia has canceled a $2 billion aid package to Kyrgyzstan, cut oil subsidies, and aired very negative portrayals of Bakiyev during the anniversary of the Tulip Revolution.

When I first heard rumors about a Russian sponsored revolution, I dismissed the whole idea. Bakiyev had been drifting away from Moscow's orbit for a quite a while, but the risks of overthrowing him far exceeded the benefits. Not only would a revolution agitate Russia's Kyrgyz migrants, but if it failed then everyone would know that Russia was behind it. Aside from the Kant airbase, Kyrgyzstan isn't very critical to Russia's security or economy, and even if the opposition secured its hold on the Kyrgyz government there was no reason for Moscow to believe that it would be any more cooperative than the previous regime. Bakiyev was supposed to kick the Americans out of the airbase at Manas after the Tulip revolution, but that didn't happen. Why would Moscow risk a revolution when the outcomes are so unpredictable?

I still do not believe Russia orchestrated the revolution. What is more likely is that the Kremlin was trying to ratchet up pressure on Bakiyev's regime by choking off gasoline exports and foreign aid. The outbreak of revolution was a possibility but not an intention. This makes more sense than assuming Russia was hoping that its southern neighbor would collapse (most countries don't want their neighbors to descend into anarchy).

12 April 2010

Biggest Threat, Part 2

Frosty makes a good point. I don't think anyone in the Pentagon is really worried about a nuclear armed al-Queda, but President Obama has to address the concerns of the citizens, even if they are based more in movie reality than actual reality.

I'm not trying to dismiss the possibility of nuclear armed terrorist group (it is highly unlikely, but within the realm of possibility). However, I would definitely not classify it as the greatest threat facing the country. Nuclear bombs, terrorist attacks, insurgencies, and war are so dramatic that the public consciousness fixates on them and its easy to forget about the more mundane factors that are undermining our nation's security every single day. In my humble opinion, the greatest threats facing the United States involve no violence at all:

1) Long term, institutionalized debt (both public and private)
3) Increasing income inequality

All three of these have long term implications that will damage the primacy of the United States. What do you all think? What would be on your list?

Okay, I Have To...




















h/t to my classmate who made this

A Depressing Revolution

It's difficult to read this piece by Ben Judah, who was on the ground in Kyrgyzstan during the rioting, and be very optimistic about the prospects for success in the post-Bakiyev era. Actually, Awesome's initial comment seems particularly poignant here:

Anyway, I'll wait patiently and see if a new government actually gets installed, and then I'll wait some more and see if that government actually does anything different than the old one. Maybe they should learn from Ukraine's example and re-elect Bakiyev just to save everyone a lot of time.


Judah paints a pretty bleak picture of the Kyrgyz mob that put the opposition in power. According to the article, there was no clear goal or plan in mind, just blind rage at the country's economic deterioration. You also don't get the sense that the protests were ever intended to be anything other than violent, since the protesters were rolling in with gas masks and AKs.

One other disturbing aspect of Judah's account is the role that vague, half-baked notions and conspiracy theories seemed to play. Some of the rioters he quotes make allusions to Russia being behind the revolts. Some others claim that the Bakiyev government was controlled by a Jewish cabal. Another guy suggests that Lenin would be a good model for a new Kyrgyz leadership.

Can such a bleak, problematic revolution lead to a brighter future for the state? It's difficult to say. Romania was the only member of the Eastern Bloc to suffer a bloody break with its communist past, and it doesn't seem to have fared too much worse than its neighbors as a result. However, it would be a lot easier to be hopeful about the post-revolution prospects for Kyrgyzstan if the protests that brought down the government had looked more like this than like this:

Biggest Threat?

C'mon Mr. President! Doesn't plausibility have to factor somewhere into the calculus of "biggest threat" facing the nation? (If not, nuclear annihilation or an asteroid impact should sit higher than this.)

There is still very little risk of nuclear terrorism in the US, particularly as all of the large terrorists groups seeking to attack the US have been suppressed, at least for now. Yes, it would only take one crazy person to hit the US, but one crazy person doesn't generally have access to nuclear weapons.

Moreover, global warming is a much bigger risk right now. A nuclear terrorist event would take out a city. Global warming has the potential to take out every city on our coast, not to mention many of our allies' cities.

I know it makes a great soundbite for your nuclear conference, but I also hope that you actually know better.

11 April 2010

China, trade deficit?

I'm not enough of an economist to really make much comment on this, but it does show that those who fear the Chinese economy have less to worry about than previously thought. China has, for the first time in years, shown a trade deficit. It's not expected to continue, but for a country based on export-led growth, it has to be disturbing for them.

Annexation

Are there any recent (as in since 1900) examples of a country freely choosing to become part of another existing country, and thus giving up its own independence? In the 20th century, Egypt and Syria merged into the short-lived United Arab Republic, and Serbia joined with various other Slavic regions to become Yugoslavia. But I cannot think of anything comparable to the idea, floating around New Zealand, of attempting to become a formal part of Australia.

I'm fascinated by the idea, because I believe consolidation into larger units carries a lot of merit in certain parts of the world. (There are, however, limits.) What is the benefit of being a tiny country?

I think it would be a good thing, economically, for New Zealand, and it could be a model for others to move towards greater cooperation. Also, it will piss in the eye of realist theory, which I can't help but endorse.

(Side note: The last two occasions I can think of another country just up and becoming part of another country would be Hawaii and Texas with the US, and I'm not sure how well they count, since it was after an American coup in Hawaii and an American-led revolution in Texas.)

10 April 2010

Plane Crash in Russia

The Polish President, central bank Governor, Army Chief of Staff and 93 others lost their lives in a plane crash in Russia. The irony is that they were flying in to commemorate the massacre of Polish POWs by the Soviets in 1940.

09 April 2010

7 Year Old Sent Back To Moscow by Adoptive Mother

The Russian foreign minister has suggested that Moscow suspend the adoption of Russian children by American families. His comments came as a reaction to the alleged abandonment of a 7 year old boy by a Tennessee woman. The boy's adoptive mother put him on a plane back to Moscow a year after he arrived in the US, claiming that he had severe "psychopathic" issues that the adoption agency never told her about.

I'm not certain about the ethics of this issue... I'm pretty sure a person ought not return a child to an adoption agency like she would a TV to Best Buy, but then again if the adoption agency misrepresented the boy's emotional issues then the women isn't totally at fault (well... maybe she should should have arranged for someone to pick the boy up from the airport other than some guy she found on the internet).

In the short term, this incident has caused a bit of friction between Washington and Moscow, and has also cast a spotlight on a larger issue: if Russia is a major global power, then why are American's adopting it's children? More importantly, Russia's population is dropping off pretty dramatically. The United Nations Statistics Division has put the average rate of population decline in the Russian Federation at an average of a half percent per year between 2005 and 2010. Population decline is a pretty severe demographic trend; its a symptom social malaise and if left untreated can cause severe economic problems. Over the long run, its going to decrease the size of Russia's labor force, shrink its domestic investment and consumption markets, and lower the base of workers that can pay for social insurance programs. If Moscow really wants to reverse its demographic trends, its going to have to do more than ban foreign adoptions.

Happy National Nuclear Day

I didn't know this, but Iran has an annual National Nuclear Technology Day and President Ahmadinejad has seized the opportunity to take umbrage against the Obama administration's push for more sanctions. He also warned the US against launching an attack against Iran. His position seems pretty ironic considering that no one in the Obama administration is talking about attacking Iran, and earlier this week the US (for the first time ever) announced that it would preclude itself from using nuclear weapons in certain situations. Its worth noting that if Iran abides by the NPT, and just uses its nuclear program for civilian uses, it would fall into the no-nuclear-strikes category.

08 April 2010

THE FANNY PACK REVOLUTION, another view

Since this appears to be the most viral post in the history of ULC, here's another take on our intrepid hipster cum revolutionary, courtesy of the Boston Globe.

So What Exactly Happened?

Generally riots don't turn into full blown revolutions, and generally revolutions take longer than a day and a half to overthrow a government. So its worth asking how exactly did the former government of Bishkek fall so quickly. My thinking is that one of the following three statements must be true:

A) The entire county revolted at the same time, depriving the government of all political support.
B) The Kyrgyz security services were incompetent when they were trying to suppress the protesters.
C) Both A and B

From what I am hearing in the news, it sounds like C is the most accurate description of what happened. If the former government had a better security establishment, the protesters never would have gotten as far as they did, and the more successful the protesters were in pushing back the police the more support they received. Anyway, now that Kyrgyzstan has a new government (kind of... Bakiyev has issued a statement saying that he has not yielded to the opposition, so I guess he still has some support in the southern part of the country) it will have to reestablish the rule of law, which will mean quickly reconstituting the army and police so they can deal with all the looters. That shouldn't be too difficult since the army (or at least a sizable portion of it) now supports the opposition.

Kyrgyzstan Update

Looks like the opposition really did seize power yesterday. They have dissolved Parliament and set up a six month interim government headed by former foreign minister Rosa Otunbayeva. President (well, I guess former President) Bakiyev has not yet responded to demands for his resignation. I understand that the organs of democracy are cumbersome for a freshly born republic, but considering that the revolution only took two days (actually it was more like a protest that turned into a riot that turned into a revolution) it seems somewhat antithetical to the oppositions ethos to dissolve the institutions they are supposed to be strengthening. Couldn't they have at least kept it as an advisory body? I don't think this reveals any bad intentions but I do think it might be a mistake. Regardless, somebody needs to take responsibility and call a time out on all the rioting.

Also, its worth noting that the opposition was never keen on the US's engagement with Bakiyev. However, I doubt that this would put the airbase in danger since the US pays quite well to keep it there.

The Baddest Motherfucker to Ever Don a Fanny Pack

I think this is definitely the iconic image from yesterday's protests/riots/revolution(?) in Kyrgyzstan:

07 April 2010

Kyrgyzstan Riots

Revolution in another ex-Soviet republic! Protests broke out into riots in three cities, including the capital. President Bakiyev fled the city earlier in the day and no one has heard from him since, but his prime minister has already agreed to resign. The opposition managed to take over one of the national TV channels and says that it intends to install a "people's government" that will clean up all the corruption and put an end to rising prices (doesn't all this seem familiar).

The US and Russia aren't being very vocal about supporting one side or the other. That could be due to their deep rooted respect for the principle of self determination... but its probably because they both have air bases in Kyrgyzstan. Anyway, I'll wait patiently and see if a new government actually gets installed, and then I'll wait some more and see if that government actually does anything different than the old one. Maybe they should learn from Ukraine's example and re-elect Bakiyev just to save everyone a lot of time.

06 April 2010

Karzai

Fred Kaplan has a great article in Slate this morning talking about Karzai's recent rants against the United States. On April 1, he accused us of rigging Afghanistan's presidential elections last year and trying to undermine his administration. He then went on and said that the actions of the US military are legitimizing the Taliban as a resistance movement. This is my favorite part: over the weekend he met with Afghan parliamentarians who rejected Karzai's decree to appoint all members of the Electoral Complaints Commission (aren't electoral commissions supposed to be independent?... yeah, I think so). He told them that if they and the international community keep pressuring him then he will join the Taliban himself (apparently, Karzai is a robot powered by irony).

Briefly, I wanted to bring up the possibility of working around Karzai. I know that the whole point of the Afghanistan campaign is to give the central government the space to provide for the needs of the Afghan people, but doing so requires that the US government be able to work with the Afghan government. Its starting to look like it might not be possible for the US to work with the Afghan central government, so I think its time to put more emphasis on the regional governments. Kaplan talks about this point briefly and doesn't really go anywhere with it, but I think its worth pursuing intellectually. The US is already putting more emphasis on the provincial governments, so why not keep shifting focus away from the central government and toward a more federalist framework? I'm not saying all support for the central government should be dropped, but the problem with Karzai is that he sees the US as too committed to his administration to punish him for his machinations. We have to make it clear that if Karzai doesn't cooperate with the goals of the campaign then he will lose relevance as those goals are pursued without him.

05 April 2010

Track of the Day

I've gotten out of doing these, due to fatigue and business, but here you go.


Ukrainian poll data

Apparently, here is better evidence that Ukraine shouldn't join NATO.



If the numbers who find NATO a threat are THAT much bigger than those who find it a protection, why on earth are we attempting to get them to join? (Admittedly, the trend is in NATO's favor, but not by enough.)

Ukraine is better off as a neutral country, like Switzerland and Sweden.

04 April 2010

Forgot About Marja


I hadn't read much reporting about how the aftermath of the February US/NATO/ANA offensive into Marja was going. This article from the NYT isn't particularly encouraging; if the population of Marja is still living in abject terror, that would seem to suggest your population-based COIN isn't working well.

03 April 2010

South Korean vessel cursed?

A diver died earlier, working on the sunk vessel. Now, another search boat (this time a fishing boat) has sunk as well.

Fortunately, one of the other sailors has been found. Sadly, there were nine people on the fishing boat.

The Race for Afghanistan

This WaPo article on the Indian-Pakistani competition to solidify and expand their presence in Afghanistan is a must-read for all students of IR. Both of Afghanistan's neighbors seek to cultivate a proxy in Kabul and, at the same time, to prevent their adversary from gaining a proxy there. The article provides some excellent insights into how this process actually plays out on the ground, with, for instance, major electrification projects by Indian engineers and the donation of buses (with Pakistani flags painted on the side) by Islamabad. The article also addresses, to an extent, how this competition affects (and complicates) US policy goals in the region.

02 April 2010

Goats

I just watched The Men Who Stare at Goats for the first time last night (I'm way behind on my movie watching... I still haven't seen Inglourious Basterds yet). Anyway, somewhere in the middle of the film it mentions that only 10-15% of green troops actually shoot to kill at an enemy because they can't bring themselves to kill another human being. Is this true? If so, does it apply to a conscription army as well as a volunteer army? Wouldn't a volunteer army naturally preclude people who are squeamish about pulling the trigger?

Also (getting back to the actual plot of the movie) does anybody know of any actual (serious) psi research that the government or anyone else has conducted? If so, the US would have a huge advantage over other, less-psionically advanced countries... and we all know what that would mean.

Sanctions Changing Nork Behavior?

A rare victory for sanctions? This article suggests that North Korea's overtures to China may have been sparked, at least in part, by increasing financial hardships due to the sanctions' success in halting illicit arms sales.

And outside, U.N. sanctions are reportedly limiting the North's ability to profit from weapons sales

South Korea vessel update(?)


The South Korean defense minister is saying that it could have been a torpedo attack all along that sunk the South Korean vessel.

You would think that in the modern world it would be relatively easy to determine this, but apparently not. I have to think, though, that the defense minister would be doing everyone a favor by keeping his mouth shut until they have more definitive answers.

Similarly

Apparently, Israel is threatening to invade Gaza again. Because it was such a roaring success last time.

It's simple. Ask yourself first, "Have we tried this?" If the answer is no, you can consider it. If yes, as "Did it work?". If the answer is no, DON'T DO IT.

Definition of Insanity

North Korea, in the middle of massive instability and a few different international crises, is apparently going to try again to shut down the black markets.

If recent history is any guide, this will not end well. The article states that Kim is going to China first, possibly to get some food and investment aid, so that the regime can actually offer something to replace the markets. However, I don't see this ending well.

01 April 2010

Accidental Guerrilla, in Chinese?

My Chinese is horribly rusty, but following up on Attackerman's suggestion for a Russian edition, I might try to make one for China. Because, seriously, they are making the same mistakes.

Chinese instability

The fact that China is ridiculously unstable is one that I'm probably guilty of over-emphasizing. However...



That's Kunming. That's not Urumqi, or Lhasa. It's the capital of Yunnan province last weekend. Rumors circulated that the police had killed a street vendor. The rumor was false, but believable, because apparently it's happening all over. Apparently, several police were captured by rioters in Guangdong back in June, and had to be rescued.

The last paragraph from the Economist article gets at it very well:
In recent weeks, a speech on social unrest by a prominent Chinese scholar, Yu Jianrong, has been widely circulated on the internet in China. In it Mr Yu describes the emergence in recent years of a new type of social unrest, which he calls “venting incidents”: brief, unorganised outbursts of public rage against the authorities or the wealthy. China’s efforts to enforce “rigid stability”, he argues, were not sustainable and could result in “massive social catastrophe”. Even government officials, he notes, are giving warning in private of worse to come.
At the same time, China is making things worse with extensive forced evictions (many of which aren't even legal by Chinese standards.)

I'm deeply afraid of any future in which China is unstable. The current situation is occasionally tense enough, and the vast ability of China to spend money helped get us out of the recession. While I would love a more democratic, more rights-focused, all around better China, the events of Xinjiang show that to be unlikely in the near term.

Iron and Steel Prices set to Rise

Two of the big iron ore oligarchs, Vale of Brazil and BHP Billiton of Australia, have concluded a deal with Japanese, Chinese and South Korean steel mills to switch from annual contracts to more flexible quarterly contracts linked to the iron ore spot market. Essentially, this means that iron miners can renegotiate the prices they charge every three months, and since demand for iron has been skyrocketing because of China's ever expanding hunger for steel, prices are expected to increase by as much as 80-100% over last year at this time. The extra costs will most certainly be passed on the steel consumers. Yesterday, EU steelmakers represented in Eurofer demanded that the European Commission investigate the top three iron producers (the two previously mentioned and also Rio-Tinto) for possible anti-competitive practices meant to choke off iron supply in order to raise profits.

First and foremost, in spite of the complaints of steel makers and steel consumers, iron prices have to go up. There is too much increasing demand from Asia for there not be a price hike, at least in the short run. In the long run, provided that the top three iron extractors are not a cartel, increased revenue should provide an incentive for them to increase production and lower prices over time. The quarterly contracts will lead to more price volatility; and personally I am a bit worried that this may hurt some of the smaller economies who export iron (Mauritania and Kazakhstan for example) even though they will get more money for their exports. The market volatility will make expansions better but recessions all the worse.

My second comment is actually a question: what are the anti-trust rules governing corporations at the international level? Monopolies are (sometimes) discouraged within free-market oriented economies, but what is to prevent a corporation from operating a cartel or a monopoly in a global market? I'm pretty sure there are some WTO rules concerning this, but I don't know what they are.