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The economics of pirates

Peter Leeson, an economist at George Mason Univeristy, just published an extremely well-timed book on the hidden economists of old-school pirates. Tired of the "arrrrrrrrs" and "aye mateys" floating through blog posts on modern-day pirates? Join the club. However, Leeson does make a solid connection at the end of this Freakonomics interview:

What kinds of lessons can we draw from The Invisible Hook in dealing with modern pirates?

We have to recognize that pirates are rational economic actors and that piracy is an occupational choice. If we think of them as irrational, or as pursuing other ends, we're liable to come up with solutions to the pirate problem that are ineffective. Since we know that pirates respond to costs and benefits, we should think of solutions that alter those costs and benefits to shape the incentives for pirates and to deter them from going into a life of piracy.

Clearly part of the "benefits" side of that equation is building up (or at least not breaking down)  other economic opportunities.

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Rep. Payne’s plane fired on in Somalia…again

payne.jpg Apparently there's no safe passage in Somalia, either by sea or air.  Today UN Dispatch interviewee (and U.S. Congressman) Donald Payne's plane was fired on as it took off from an airport in Mogadishu.  Payne landed safely in Nairobi.  

This, apparently, isn't the first time the Congressman's plane has been attacked on a trip to Somalia. Payne, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, was in Mogadishu meeting with the interim government's president and prime minister in hopes of exploring ways to help stabilize the country.  Do we need more evidence that other leaders should be doing the same?

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U.S. Captain Escapes Pirates!

Rescued Phillips on right*UPDATE - Ok, my fantasy of, one day, being able to escape pirates by flipping off the end of a liferaft is now completely dead.  This in-depth account  confirms that "after snipers, positioned near the fantail of the Bainbridge less than 30 yards from the lifeboat, determined that one of the pirates was aiming an AK-47 at Phillips's back, they opened fire, killing three pirates."

Throughout this whole crisis I kept thinking to myself, if I was to be held hostage, the place I'd most like to be is on a life raft (with Navy SEALs in the vacinity).  If push came to shove I could jump overboard (machine guns don't fire as well underwater).  That was until I found out that this was no dinghy, but a "28-foot covered" lifeboat, where  getting into the water involves more than just falling backward.

Apparently that was no barrier to Capt. Richard Phillips, who today escaped overboard.  Navy SEALs then shot three of his four captors.  (CNN reports this sequence of events, even if the Times doesn't, and it's the one I prefer.) Earlier in the day, the fourth pirate, scared after the Navy fired warning shots, jumped ship himself...into U.S. custody.  Negotiations between the U.S. and a group of "elders" representing the pirates broke down on Saturday.  Phillips is now safe and sound aboard the United States Navy destroyer Bainbridge.

The NY Times quotes a pirate on mainland Somalia:

One pirate named Ali, in Galkaiyo, Somalia, said the American Navy rescue won't discourage other Somali pirate groups at all.

"As long as there is no just government in Somalia, we will still be the coast guard," he said, adding: "If we get an American, we will take revenge."

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One Big Happy Naval Family

Spencer Ackerman and Matt Yglesias are thrilled to see the collection of strange bedocean-fellows -- including the United States, Russia, NATO, the EU, and now China -- patrolling the waters off the coast of Somalia. Here's Spencer:
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Yes, that's right, despite the bleatings of militarists who view the Chinese as an inevitable enemy, there are in fact ways to share the world's security burdens in a positive-sum fashion. The world is far, far better served forming legitimate (and legitimized) coalitions of capable nations to confront shared threats than it is when nations either seize for themselves the mantle of global protector and/or assume the burden alone, with or without the blessing of the international community.
This attack on a Chinese ship -- plus the hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil that pass through the channel -- seems to have hastened Beijing to the quite astute conclusion that enforcing some semblance of legality in the Gulf of Aden is very much in their interests as well. May this be a model for cooperation -- military and diplomatic -- on the entire continent. (image of a Chinese patrol boat from flickr user concrete cornfields under a Creative Commons license)
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Brink of War in South Ossetia

According to news reports Russian and Georgian armed forces are in a pitched battle over South Ossetia, the majority ethnic-Russian breakaway province in Georgia. The Secretary General is urging restraint. And so far, over 1,000 civilians have fled South Ossetia to Russian territory. Global Voices Online offers a grounds eye view from bloggers in the region. Also via Global Voices, this Russia Today clip (posted on Aid Worker Daily) gives an update from the front lines.
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Meeting the Challenges of International Terrorism

For the next seven days, UN Dispatch, The Washington Note and On Day One will host an online discussion about international terrorism and offer recommendations for how the next United States president can meet these challenges. Leading this discussion is an international panel of experts on terrorism, counter-terrorism, international law, and national security. We are honored to have Steve Clemons as a moderator and co-host on The Washington Note. Our panel of experts (full bios here) include:
Peter Bergen, New America Foundation Paul Cruickshank, NYU Center on Law and Security Greg Djerejian, The Belgravia Dispatch Stephanie Kaplan, Woodrow Wilson Center Matthew Levitt, Washington Institute on Near East Policy Alastair Millar, Center on Global Counter Terrorism Cooperation Eric Rosand, Center on Global Counter Terrorism Cooperation Yosri Fouda, Al Jazeera
Stay tuned for the first discussion prompt.