Quotulatiousness

September 9, 2014

This is why NATO countries are not supplying weapons to Ukraine

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:48

It’s not about a sudden sensitivity to Russian feelings: NATO is not providing up-to-date weapons and ammunition for excellent practical reasons:

The Ukrainian armed forces use Soviet weapons systems. These are well-designed, solid, easy to use for a conscript army, and although the Ukrainian inventory may be aging, Soviet arms production was never geared to high-tech generational obsolescence. They build simple, solid and cheap because they have to. NATO countries are casualty-averse and never commit a platoon where a Hellfire missile is available. On the other hand, Soviet doctrine never varied much from the World War II stories of tank attacks shoving the flaming hulks of the first wave out of the way, for the second wave to be destroyed in turn, until the Germans ran out of ammunition. Almost anything NATO could supply would be very hard to employ on the battlefield without training, and time for training is what the Ukrainians do not have.

In this sense, “training” doesn’t just mean “here’s the operator’s manual.” It means that the whole operational and tactical doctrine of the army has to be redesigned around the new weapons systems.

It’s not just the actual weapons, training and doctrine, either. Not to be unkind about it but Ukraine’s armed forces are almost completely hollowed out by official neglect, underfunding, and corruption. Back in May, Sarah Chayes reported on the pitiful state of Ukrainian military preparedness:

In a 2012 analysis Leonid Polyakov, another senior defense official, detailed the corrupt workings with remarkable candor. Chronic underfunding “enhanced the role of the human factor” in choosing among operational priorities. Ostensibly outdated equipment was sold “at unreasonably understated prices” in return for kickbacks. Officers even auctioned off defense ministry land. Gradually, Kyiv began requiring the military to cover more of its own costs, forcing senior officers into business, “which is…inconsistent with the armed forces’ mission,” and opened multiple avenues for corruption. Commanders took to “using military equipment, infrastructure, and…personnel [to] build private houses, [or] make repairs in their apartments.” Procurement fraud was rife, as were bribes to get into and through military academies, and for desirable assignments.

So even if Ukraine had taken advantage of NATO equipment, training, and support, much of the new kit would have disappeared into the same criminal enterprises which sold off so much of the old kit.

September 4, 2014

The very essence of government is a monopoly on violence

Filed under: Government, History, Middle East — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:19

Matt Ridley on how governments came about historically and how ISIS is trying to do exactly the same thing:

Nobody seems to agree whether Islamic State is best described as a gang of criminals, a terrorist organisation or a religious movement. It clearly has a bit of all three. But don’t forget that it aspires, for better or worse, to be a government. A brutal, bigoted and murderous government, its appeal is at least partly that it seems capable of imposing its version of “order” on the territory it controls, however briefly. It reminds us that the origin and defining characteristic of all government is that it is an organisation with a monopoly on violence.

The deal implicit in being governed is at root a simple one: we allow the people who govern us to have an exclusive right to commit violence, so long as they direct it at other countries and at criminals. In almost every nation, if you go back far enough, government began as a group of thugs who, as Pope Gregory VII put it in 1081, “raised themselves up above their fellows by pride, plunder, treachery, murder — in short by every kind of crime”.

Was Canute, or William the Conqueror, or Oliver Cromwell really much different from the Islamic State? They got to the top by violence and then violently dealt with anybody who rebelled. The American writer Albert Jay Nock in 1939 observed: “The idea that the state originated to serve any kind of social purpose is completely unhistorical. It originated in conquest and confiscation — that is to say, in crime … No state known to history originated in any other manner, or for any other purpose.”

Henry VII, the monarch who managed, after a century of gang warfare, to establish a monopolistic central government in England, funded his administration largely by extorting money from rich merchants with the threat of violence. That is to say, he ran a protection racket as blatant as any mafia don or IRA commander: pay up or lose your kneecaps.

June 17, 2014

Somaly Mam’s Icarus turn

Filed under: Asia, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:31

In Taki’s Magazine, Kathy Shaidle describes the rise and fall of Somaly Mam, who is the most recent fantasist to dupe Westerners about conditions in her home country:

One of the last thrills still permitted us normal folks (for now) is getting to watch one of these self-appointed activists and advocates endure an Icarian tumble. Take that recent Newsweek exposé of secular saint and “sex work” abolitionist Somaly Mam.

No, I’d never heard of her before, either. I didn’t realize how far removed I was from what the authorities have deemed reality until I read that, among other things, this woman had been feted by the White House and the State Department, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, made the “TIME 100” list, and declared one of Glamour’s “Women of the Year.” Plus she’d been named one of the “Women Who Shake the World” by, er, Newsweek.

Cambodian-born Somaly Mam began making claims she’d been sold into sexual slavery as a youngster. After a daring escape, she dedicated her life to rescuing other girls from the same fate, leading armed raids on brothels, then providing shelter, education, and vocational training to the former captives—with the help of Western donors, many of them celebrities.

Aaaaaaannnnnddddd … ? Oh, come on. Guess.

Simon Marks has been investigating Mam for The Cambodia Daily (“All the News Without Fear or Favor”) for years. When Newsweek ran his findings in that cover story last month, the rest of the world found out what actual Cambodians and NGO-types have been trying to tell us all this time:

Mam’s “origin story” is mostly bollocks on stilts.

Her “rescues” are more like kidnappings, and her statistics about Cambodia’s trafficking rates, exaggerated. She coached non-ex-prostitutes to tell hair-raising tales of rape, torture, and even eye-gouging when pale-faced documentarians came calling. “[I]nstead of a brothel or a massage parlour,” Mam’s “rescued slaves” ended up “working for poverty-level wages in unsafe and exploitative conditions in sweatshops.”

April 24, 2014

Beyond civil disobedience lies a second civil war

Filed under: Americas, Government, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

A short quote posted at KA-CHING! led me to this very alarming blog post at Taxicab Depressions:

Mr Wheeler replied, “There is certainly no shortage of guns and corruption in Central America. If you have the means to smuggle a ton of cocaine, you can probably smuggle a ton of guns, too. But this was easier… the Justice Department and the ATF made the contacts and set up the networks, told the gun shops to cooperate, so all the Mexicans had to do was send in a straw buyer, make the purchase, and move the weapons south of the border.”

I said, “These people aren’t very smart… there are something like 300 million guns in America, and they have a robust shelf life. Even if all gun manufacturing stopped tomorrow, there would still be an abundance of guns in America for decades. The only way to disarm Americans is mass confiscation, and I feel pretty certain that would spark a civil war. I know several gun owners that would rather fight than give up their guns.”

Mr. Wheeler said, “Oh, I know dozens… perhaps hundreds that feel the same way. I really don’t think confiscation is something you need to worry about, because it will never work. There are simply too many of them, and too many people have guns that there is no record of. A confiscation program would only piss off the most dangerous people in America… the people who would shoot back. You are correct, a mass confiscation would provoke a civil war.”

I said, “Well, you are a military man… what would that look like?”

Wheeler said, “Well, it wouldn’t look like the first Civil War… no lines of men standing in ranks and shooting across a field at each other, no “North and South” or sharply defined state lines for friendly and enemy territories, at least, not in the beginning. No, it would look more like Iraq or Afghanistan, with house to house fighting, IED’s, snipers, small factions and independent militias operating on their own, refugees streaming away from battle zones in all directions…”

“But the first question to ask is who would the combatants be? I mean, the Army isn’t going to just roll out onto the street in tanks on day one, so my guess is that it would start out as a police action, with Federal agencies like ATF and FBI taking the lead, supported by local law enforcement. But once people start shooting back, they would have to ratchet things up, do things like institute curfews and roadblocks, and they would eventually try to press the various state Guard units into service. That’s where it all goes squirrelly, because both local law enforcement and the Guard will be riddled with people who support gun rights, regardless of what laws the politicians pass, and they won’t be crazy about having to police, and maybe even fight against, their own people. The Governors may well object to the state Guard units being activated and may not wish to cooperate…”

“And it is not clear to me how many LEO and Guardsmen would remain loyal to the government and how many would join the “rebellion”. My guess is that both sides would be riddled with defections, informants, and spies. But what if, say, the Gulf states like Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida secede, and they take control of all military bases and equipment, and you suddenly have gone from an insurgency with rifles to a breakaway nation, or maybe several breakaway nations, armed with fighter jets, drones, tanks, and a navy? Whoo, buddy… now all bets are off… kiss posse comitatus goodbye. This would be the ugliest thing this county has ever seen…”

I asked him several “what if” questions and let him riff on them… I just let him talk and wargame out the Second Civil War, there in the back seat of my car as we drove to the airport, and he painted a picture of horrific death and destruction. Once this conflict started, even the best-case scenarios he described sounded truly grim. He seemed to believe that civilian casualties would be extremely high, given how much fighting would centered in and around large cities, and that food would be used as a weapon, causing famine and starvation on a terrifying scale. Booby traps, IED’s, rampant bombings, drone strikes, snipers, local-level assassinations, mortars and shelling, death squads (both government and rebel), reprisal killings, torture… it sounded more like the Middle East than middle America.

Wheeler got quiet for a few moments, and then he said something that I will never, ever forget.

“These people are playing with matches… I don’t think they understand the scope and scale of the wildfire they are flirting with. They are fucking around with a civil war that could last a decade and cause millions of deaths… and the sad truth is that 95% of the problems we have in this country could be solved tomorrow, by noon… simply by dragging 100 people out in the street and shooting them in the fucking head.”

February 3, 2014

Corruption in the EU

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Europe, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:46

BBC News discusses a recent EU report on bribery and corruption in Europe:

The extent of corruption in Europe is “breathtaking” and it costs the EU economy at least 120bn euros (£99bn) annually, the European Commission says.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem has presented a full report on the problem.

She said the true cost of corruption was “probably much higher” than 120bn.

Three-quarters of Europeans surveyed for the Commission study said that corruption was widespread, and more than half said the level had increased.

Interestingly, the perception of corruption is significantly higher than the (self-reported) incidence:

In the UK only five people out of 1,115 — less than 1% — said they had been expected to pay a bribe. It was “the best result in all Europe”, the report said.

But 64% of British respondents said they believed corruption to be widespread in the UK, while the EU average was 74% on that question.

In some countries there was a relatively high number reporting personal experience of bribery,

In Croatia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece, between 6% and 29% of respondents said they had been asked for a bribe, or had been expected to pay one, in the past 12 months.

There were also high levels of bribery in Poland (15%), Slovakia (14%) and Hungary (13%), where the most prevalent instances were in healthcare.

Ms Malmstroem said corruption was eroding trust in democracy and draining resources from the legal economy.

January 15, 2014

QotD: Early 20th century American imperialism

Filed under: Americas, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.

Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, USMC (1881–1940), War is a racket, 1935.

October 31, 2013

The drug-running submarine squadron

Filed under: Americas, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:25

Strategy Page reports that the set of almost-complete submarines built by a drug cartel in Colombia were much more sophisticated and capable than first thought:

The leader (Mauner Mahecha) of the project was a guy in his early 30s with no boat building experience but excellent organizational and leadership skills.

Mahecha had a huge budget and used it to find and hire men with the needed skills or experience with submarines. Mahecha also quickly recruited additional specialists as needed and obtained whatever materials the builders called for. His project built three submarines, and the project was shut down because one of the men recruited (an experienced engine mechanic working for the Colombian Navy) managed to tip off the Colombian Navy intelligence and then the U.S. about the project.

[...]

The Mahecha submarines, when closely examined by experts, turned out to be more sophisticated than first thought. The outer hull was made out of strong, lightweight, Kevlar/carbon fiber that was sturdy enough to keep the sub intact but very difficult to detect with most sensors. The hull could not survive deep dives but this boat didn’t have to go deep to get the job done. The diesel-electric power supply (up to two-hundred and forty-nine lead-acid batteries), diving and surfacing system, and navigational systems of captured subs were all in working order. Those who built these boats apparently borrowed much from recreational subs. The sub builders also had impressive knowledge of the latest materials used to build exotic boats.

The three fiberglass/Kevlar submarines were obviously built to transport cocaine to North America and the existence of a building effort had been detected by intel agencies. For several years before the submarine boat yard was discovered the U.S. Navy, in cooperation with some Central and South American navies, have been looking for these subs, at sea and on land. While these submarines didn’t run very deep (less than twenty meters/sixty-two feet), they are invisible to most sensors when completely submerged. These subs were designed to run on batteries for up to eighteen hours, before having to surface and recharge. When they are at sea, they usually operate their diesel engines. These are noisy. Sonar can pick up this noise over a long distance. By capturing these subs it was possible to run the engines and get a sound profile of this type of boat and equip American sonar systems with this data. These subs had a range (on internal fuel) of about twelve-thousand kilometers. Thus, the boat could get from Colombia to southern California and back. These drug gangs spent over two million on each of these subs.

The most potent weapon the U.S. Navy has against these tiny (less than thirty-four meters/one-hundred foot long) subs is heat sensors, but even that may have had limited effectiveness. That’s because one of the subs captured had a snorkel type device (a tall structure extending from the conning tower, which contained pipes allowing diesel exhaust to escape and fresh air to be brought into the submerged boat.) It’s this heat that airborne sensors can detect. All surface (or semi-submerged) ships at sea display this kind of “heat signature”, and capturing working examples of these cocaine smuggling subs makes it possible to get a better idea of what the airborne heat sensors should be looking for. A snorkel, however, puts out less heat that a sub running on the surface would and is harder to detect. When running on batteries there is no heat to detect.

September 3, 2013

The market for civilian armoured vehicles

Filed under: Americas — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:33

Strategy Page on the growing demand in some areas of the world for protected civilian vehicles:

Since September 11, 2001 there has been a sharp increase in the use of such bullet proof automobiles. The wealthy are buying most of them, but government has become a major customer as well, accounting for about a third of sales. The biggest markets are those suffering from lots of kidnapping and seemingly random violence. Mexico, Colombia and many Middle Eastern countries are the main markets for these expensive vehicles.

[...]

Because of the cartel wars in Mexico, over 2,500 armored sedans, SUVs and light trucks are now produced each year in Mexico alone. The violence down there has been horrendous. The government believes about a thousand people a month are dying from drug cartel related violence. This puts Mexico ahead of the recently increased terrorist violence in Iraq and where Syria was earlier this year. Some 70,000 have died in the Mexican cartel war since 2007, compared to over 100,000 in two years of Syrian violence and 120,000 Iraqi dead in a decade of religious violence. Since the 1970s there have been similar internal conflicts in Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey. Mexico is a bit of Middle East style civil violence in North America. This is not the first time the Americas have suffered this. Leftist and drug gang violence in Colombia have left over 220,000 dead in the last 60 years. That’s for a country with only about 40 percent as many people as Mexico. This war in Colombia in finally winding down, but is shows you how long and bloody such conflicts can be. Some 20,800 people have disappeared in Mexico since 2006, including 1,200 children under the age of 11. Another estimate holds that that 24,000 people were missing since 2000, and that around 16,000 bodies have been discovered but not identified.

The armored vehicles must, at a minimum, be protected against pistol bullets. But most now are resistant to sniper and assault rifles. Some manufacturers will also build vehicles that provide some protection from roadside bombs. Turning a civilian sedan or SUV into an armored vehicle is a labor-intensive job. First, you have to strip the vehicle down to the bare frame. Then you install Kevlar and steel plate armor and bullet-proof glass. The standard tires are replaced with run-flat models. The additional weight (up to a ton or more) requires the installation of enhanced shocks and a more powerful engine. It takes a few hundred pounds of armor to provide protection from pistol bullets. Protection from rifle bullets requires half a ton. For protection against heavy machine-gun (12.7mm) and bombs, you need a ton or more. The first armor kits for military vehicles, like the hummer, weighed a ton. Soon that was up to two tons. The additional load on high-end vehicles 1.5 tons, which is enough armor to stop heavy machine-gun bullets.

June 27, 2013

Bulgarian protests now into second week

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:08

In the Guardian, John O’Brennan brings us up to date on the much less reported-on protests in Bulgaria:

Bulgarians are protesting against far-reaching and systematic corruption and the “capture” of the state by rent-seeking oligarchic networks. Oresharski was appointed by the BSP to head a so-called “expert” government, after a general election in April produced a tight outcome. The technocratic government came about because the leading figures within the two largest political parties, the BSP and the centre-right Gerb (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) were widely discredited. And although the prime minister has now withdrawn the appointment of Peevski, for protesters the episode suggested that even respected figures like Oresharski are incapable of shaking off the shadowy world of oligarchic power in Bulgaria.

In Bulgaria it is often impossible to know where organised crime ends and legitimate business begins. The nexus between the two is characterised by complex bureaucratic structures, opaque corporate accounting and a maze of offshore accounts. In Varna, Bulgaria’s third largest city, the protests have taken direct aim at TIM, a business conglomerate allied to Gerb and long the real power in the region. Some estimates suggest that it controls up to 70% of Varna’s economy, including most of the tourist infrastructure. When protesters in Varna yell “M-A-F-I-A” they are automatically collapsing business into politics and implicating local municipal officials as the agents of this powerful oligarchic network.

Varna perfectly illustrates why the current protests are largely non-party-political and anti-politics in tone: the definitive division in today’s Bulgaria is no longer between right and left, but between the citizens and the mafia. This is a world where the guilty don’t just go unpunished; they ascend to the highest citadels of power.

Although corruption and the abuse of power are the central themes of this protest, economic hardship also plays a role. New data from the EU demonstrates that Bulgarians have the lowest standard of living in the European Union, at around 50% of the EU average. Even Croatia, which will accede to the EU on 1 July, is significantly more prosperous than Bulgaria.

June 20, 2013

The world map of modern slavery

Filed under: China, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 14:05

In The Atlantic, Olga Khazan talks about the countries that appear on this US State Department map of human trafficking:

World Map of Slavery, 2013

China, Russia, and Uzbekistan have been named among the worst offenders when it comes to human trafficking, according to a State Department report released Wednesday, joining Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan, and Zimbabwe on the bottom “tier” of the U.S. human trafficking rank.

Their lower designation means the U.S. may sanction those countries with measures like cancelling non-humanitarian and military assistance, ending exchange visits for government officials, and voting against any IMF or World Bank loans.

China, Russia, and Uzbekistan had previously been on the “Tier 2 Watch List,” a middling designation for countries that show little progress in making strides in preventing forced labor. Because they had been on the “Watch List” for four years, the State Department was obligated to either promote or downgrade them.

In China, the one-child policy and a cultural preference for male children perpetuates the trafficking of brides and prostitutes.

“During the year, Chinese sex trafficking victims were reported on all of the inhabited continents,” the report found. “Traffickers recruited girls and young women, often from rural areas of China, using a combination of fraudulent job offers, imposition of large travel fees, and threats of physical or financial harm, to obtain and maintain their service in prostitution.”

However, the State Department also singled out the country’s epidemic of forced labor, in which both internal and external migrants are conscripted to work in coal mines or factories without pay, as well as its continued use of re-education hard labor camps for political dissidents.

However, it’s also worth keeping in mind that there are two common definitions of human trafficking in use, one of which is an outrage to common decency while the other is an attempt to conflate sex work with slavery:

1) The transport of unwilling people (usually women, but of course can at times be either men or children) into forced prostitution. This is of course illegal everywhere: it’s repeated rape just as a very start. It is also vile and we should indeed be doing everything possible to stamp it out.

2) The illegal movement of willing people across borders to enter the sex trade. Strange as it may seem there really are people who desire to be prostitutes. People would, other things being equal, similarly like to be in a country where they get a lot of money for their trade rather than very little. Given these two we wouldn’t be surprised if people from poorer countries, who wish to be in the sex trade, will move from those poorer countries to richer countries. And such is the system of immigration laws that many of them will be unable to do this legally: just as with so many who wish to enter other trades and professions in the rich world. You can make your own mind up about the morality of this but it is obviously entirely different from definition 1).

June 15, 2013

Moral panic of the month – sex trafficking

Filed under: Europe, Law — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:18

In Forbes, Tim Worstall explains why so many stories about sex workers being smuggled across borders and forced to work as prostitutes may be based on imaginary numbers:

The full paper is here. And I’m afraid that it’s a horrible mess. And not just because they rather gloss over the two meanings of “trafficking” that are used in the debate.

Those two meanings are as follows:

1) The transport of unwilling people (usually women, but of course can at times be either men or children) into forced prostitution. This is of course illegal everywhere: it’s repeated rape just as a very start. It is also vile and we should indeed be doing everything possible to stamp it out.

2) The illegal movement of willing people across borders to enter the sex trade. Strange as it may seem there really are people who desire to be prostitutes. People would, other things being equal, similarly like to be in a country where they get a lot of money for their trade rather than very little. Given these two we wouldn’t be surprised if people from poorer countries, who wish to be in the sex trade, will move from those poorer countries to richer countries. And such is the system of immigration laws that many of them will be unable to do this legally: just as with so many who wish to enter other trades and professions in the rich world. You can make your own mind up about the morality of this but it is obviously entirely different from definition 1).

There is a third possible meaning which is used by some campaigners which is any foreigner at all who is a sex worker. This is obviously a ridiculous one: especially in the EU given the free movement of labour.

We might paraphrase the two definitions as the “sex slavery” definition and the “illegal immigrant” one. I would certainly argue that the first one is a moral crime crying out to the very heavens for vengeance while the second leaves me with no more than a heartfelt “Meh”.

He also links to a Guardian story about a sex trafficking investigation in Britain from a few years ago called Operation Pentameter:

The UK’s biggest ever investigation of sex trafficking failed to find a single person who had forced anybody into prostitution in spite of hundreds of raids on sex workers in a six-month campaign by government departments, specialist agencies and every police force in the country.

The failure has been disclosed by a Guardian investigation which also suggests that the scale of and nature of sex trafficking into the UK has been exaggerated by politicians and media.

Current and former ministers have claimed that thousands of women have been imported into the UK and forced to work as sex slaves, but most of these statements were either based on distortions of quoted sources or fabrications without any source at all.

We could simply assume that there’s something wildly different about the UK. Something that means that there are, to a reasonable approximation, zero sex slaves in the UK while 30% or more of sex workers in Denmark, Sweden and Germany are all sex slaves. This isn’t an argument that’s likely to pass the smell test to be honest. The explanation is instead that the two different meanings of “trafficked” are being used here.

February 7, 2013

Soccer’s greatest scandal yet … may be far worse than the 680 fixed matches we’ve heard about

Filed under: Law, Media, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:13

Soccer is a huge global sport (yes, my American friends, it really is). It’s also the favourite sport for Asian gamblers to lose money over, and Europol has highlighted 680 “suspicious” matches so far:

It’s huge news, not because the results are particularly surprising — there’s plenty of other evidence, even recent evidence, that match-fixing is rampant in global soccer — but because the sheer extent of the allegations means that we can no longer delude ourselves about what’s happening. This is what’s happening: Soccer is fucked. Match-fixing is corroding the integrity of the game at every level. It’s not just South African friendlies or Korean league games or Chinese “black whistles”; it’s not even just the occasional Calciopoli-type scandal that you can explain away by saying “well, Italy is Italy.” Operation Veto found suspect World Cup qualifiers, suspect European Championship qualifiers, suspect Champions League games. It found 150 suspect matches at the international level, on multiple continents. It found 380 suspect matches in Europe overall. It found a suspect match involving Liverpool that was played at Anfield, arguably the most celebrated club and stadium in England.

These are tip-of-the-iceberg numbers. The investigation didn’t turn up every instance of match-fixing everywhere; they’re just talking about the possibilities they’ve turned up. Concise evidence of what’s still hidden: Europol revealed that they’d found $11 million in organized-crime profits. Sound a little low to you? Chris Eaton, the former FIFA security director who now runs the International Centre for Sports Security in Qatar, thinks the actual number is maybe a hundred times that high.

So let’s say I told you that a major international law-enforcement agency had uncovered a mountain of evidence that indicates the most popular sport in the world was being manipulated by a criminal ring that was profiting to the tune of — conservatively — millions of dollars. On one level, that’s good news, isn’t it? I mean, it’s terrible that it happened, but now that the police know, things can change! We’ll see arrests! We’ll see books opened! The truth will come to light! At a minimum, FIFA will take strong and immediate steps to make sure this never happens again. Right?

Let me answer that question by referring you to the phrase that I hope will be your primary takeaway from this piece. Soccer. Is. Fucked.

January 19, 2013

Which is preferable: pirates or bandits?

Filed under: Government, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:56

Tim Harford gives a history lesson while answering the question of which is better:

Consider two different types of bandit, suggested Olson: the roving bandit, who wanders around pillaging wherever he can; and the stationary bandit, who builds a castle and settles down to exploit a particular area. At first glance, one might think that a stationary bandit is the greater curse, because he’s always around. But not so: roving bandits are more dangerous because they have no reason to hold back. A roving bandit will take everything and leave you dead. The stationary bandit wants to come back and take more next week, and so will ensure you have the resources to keep going about your business.

Because you have everything to fear from the roving bandit, you are likely to take your own steps to avoid him — to hide, to place locks and alarms on everything, or to hire a group of seven samurai to protect you. Meanwhile, anticipating your counter-measures, the roving bandit will also spend resources on his counter-counter-measures. The cost of such arms races can be vast.

[. . .]

Besley and his colleagues reckon that costs of between $900m and $3.6bn were incurred in 2010 as a result either of pirate attacks, or efforts to deter or evade such attacks. Meanwhile the pirates took home just $120m over the same period. Now that $120m does seem to have had some beneficial effects on the pirates’ home ports, according to Anja Shortland, an economist at Brunel University. But piracy is an expensive way to get $120m into the hands of anybody.

There are signs that Somali piracy is on the wane, at least for now. But Somalia remains the poster child for a failed state. And a good working definition of a failed state is one that lacks a decent, long-lived stationary bandit. After all, once a stationary bandit feels secure in his tenure (“long live the king!”) he may do more than show restraint in his plunder: he may begin to invest in the prosperity of the region he dominates, building bridges, establishing a police force and drawing up laws. To maintain his power base he will have to hand out favours and ensure that prosperity is reasonably widespread.

November 15, 2012

Human trafficking in the US

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:20

At the Foundation for Economic Education, Lewis Andrews explains how immigration reform will also help to combat the scourge of human trafficking:

Restrictive immigration policies have long been associated with a variety of economic problems including the diminished availability of foreign business and scientific talent, the inability to fill low-skilled agricultural and service jobs typically scorned by legal residents, and reduced access to the kind of entrepreneurial enthusiasm characteristic of those willing to risk their futures in another country.

Only recently has it become clear how restrictive immigration laws also produce harmful social consequences, particularly when it comes to the age-old scourge of human trafficking — the use of force and fraud to supply cheap labor and sexual services.

To understand these consequences, it is important to appreciate just how lucrative a branch of organized crime the modern slave trade has become. Efficient transportation, technological advances in both farming and factory work, and advances in communication have all combined to make the use of forced labor very cheap by historical measures.

Free the Slaves, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, has calculated the return on the cost of an enslaved field worker in 1850s Alabama at just 5 percent, whereas today a trafficked farmhand can yield the owner anywhere from double digits to 800 percent. Similarly, an imprisoned prostitute shuttled around the boroughs of New York City in a van by a driver scheduling appointments on his cell phone can service as many as 40 customers in a single shift. As one researcher coldly but accurately put it, “People are a good commodity as they do not easily perish, but they can be transported over long distances and can be re-used and re-sold.”

The result, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, is that 2.5 million victims, approximately 80 percent female and 50 percent under the age of 18, are being trafficked around the world at any given time. In 2005 the International Labor Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, estimated the annual revenues from this “industry” at $32 billion, or $13,000 per victim.

September 23, 2012

Canada is open for (shady) business

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:03

The Economist looks at the relative level of difficulty in setting up a shell corporation in various jurisdictions and how easy it is to create an untraceable shell:

Shell companies — which exist on paper only, with no real employees or offices — have legitimate uses. But the untraceable shell also happens to be the vehicle of choice for money launderers, bribe givers and takers, sanctions busters, tax evaders and financiers of terrorism. The trail has gone cold in many a criminal probe because law enforcers were unable to pierce a shell’s corporate veil.

The international standard governing shells, set by the inter-governmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF), is clear-cut. It says countries should take all necessary measures to prevent their misuse, such as ensuring that accurate information on the real (or “beneficial”) owner is available to “competent authorities”. More than 180 countries have pledged to follow it. A study* scrutinises the level of compliance worldwide. The results are depressing.

Posing as consultants, the authors asked 3,700 incorporation agents in 182 countries to form companies for them. Overall, 48% of the agents who replied failed to ask for proper identification; almost half of these did not want any documents at all. Contrary to conventional wisdom, providers in tax havens, such as Jersey and the Cayman Islands, were much more likely to comply with the standards than those from the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries. Even poor countries had a better compliance rate, suggesting the problem in the rich world is not cost but unwillingness to follow the rules (see chart). Only ten out of 1,722 providers in America required notarised documents in line with the FATF standard.

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