Sunday, December 10, 2017

Defeatism, Separatism, and Misunderstanding Canada: Steve's Annoyed

I have been seeing this floating around on the internet
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and it combines several triggers: a depressing view of democracy, a willingness to sell out or betray those on the wrong side of a line, and, yes, cluelessness about Canada.  Sure, I get it--Canada is wonderful, and Trump's America sucks, but, damn, what a dumb meme that is actually several dumb ideas combined into one.

First, democracy means accepting defeat.  It does not mean submission, but accepting defeat and the moving on to come back.  Yes, Trump is thoroughly awful, and is doing much damage.  But before people even joke about giving up, which is what secession would be, let's give 2018 a try, shall we?  That is, until Trump and the GOP change the rules (which they are trying to do via #voterfraudfraud), how about focusing one's humor and efforts on defeating their legislation (the tax bill ain't law yet) and defeating the GOP candidates in the various elections between now and 2021? 

Second, despite all the blue and red maps out there, there are many, many people in the yellow states in that map who do not support Trump nor the Republicans.  I am not just talking about Colorado and Virginia and Maryland but Democrats and independents in Texas and Florida and Arizona and even Montana and Utah.  This map reeks of white liberal arrogance (and I am a white semi-liberal).  What happens to all the brown people left behind in Trump's lesser America?  Right now, the GOP can't revise the Constitution at will, but could if you take out the Democratic bastions of New York, Massachusetts, New England (well, sort of with NH and Maine being shaky at best) and the West Coast?  It also gives up on the dream of the future--the Democrats competing in Texas, winning Arizona and so forth.  Sure, #voterfraudfraud makes that harder, but the future of the GOP is dim unless they learn how to keep their white voters while appealing to non-whites.  Let's not give up too soon, shall we?

Third, Canadians had fun this morning posting a series of things about Canada that would flip out Americans, even liberal ones.  I will not list all of that, but this kind of meme is just wonderfully ignorant about Canada. For one thing, Canada might not want all of these states, as it would upset a variety of power structures--Quebec would fear being inundated by Anglophones, Alberta would fear being marginalized by left/centrist voters and dwarfed by California.  Indeed, a key brake on irredentism are those who would lose by being part of a greater entity.  For another, Canadians define themselves in large part by not being Americans.  So, what would Canada be if one adds in so many people that Canadians are a minority (remember, California is about equal to Canada in population so the math here is quite easy)?  So, there's that. 
And then there is the stuff my Canadian friends mentioned--stronger unions than American are used to, far more tolerance of cartels, some limitations on free speech, that whole constitutional monarchy thing, bags of milk (ok, that is an Ontario/Quebec thing), too much damn hockey on SportsCentre, the metric system and on and on.

It is easy is to idealize Canada from afar, but, despite what liberal Americans might think, it is not just a colder version of Washington (the state) and Vermont. 

Sure, I am crapping on a silly meme.  But it helps to breed yet more ignorance about both American democracy and about Canada.  So, don't mind me when I put a 😠 on your facebook feed when you post it. There are far funnier, more apt memes that one can circulate in one's annoyance that the awfulness that is Trump and the Republican Party.  For instance:

Hegemonic Abdication Theory

Looks like we need to develop some new theory as Trump/Tillerson/Kushner/etc are now doing something that might unprecedented: simply giving up a country's position as the main provider of public goods that stabilize much of the international system--the hegemon.  Putting aside whether hegemons are benign or not, the basic idea is that stability requires either one actor to provide some key contributions or a small group (but cooperation is hard).*
* I don't do IPE nor have I read any of this stuff in a decade or two, so let me remind the readers this is the semi-spew--things are half-baked here.  If other folks have said this, I invoke Steve Martin of the 1970s

What are these things?  A stable currency that is convertible and can be used as a medium of exchange, a large and open market so that countries can continue to export even in hard times, a willingness to enforce freedom of the seas so that trade can flow with little interruption, and supporting international institutions that facilitate exchanges (minimize the transaction costs). The basic idea is that the hegemon provides a buffer in hard times so that countries do not engage in ultimately self-destructive and other-destructive competitive policies that undermine the stability of the system.

Lots of debate in International Relations whether one needs a hegemon for this stuff to exist.  It is clear that it is easier to maintain the system after a hegemon (so Keohane argued) than perhaps to build a system sans hegemon.  Anyhow, leadership can be costly, but the leader can write the rules in ways that make the system work for them.  The US certainly did so after WWII: the rules were written to help the US but also help its allies, and this "benevolence" was largely aimed at the Soviet Union and Communism--providing the public goods for a capitalist world economy was part of containment.  After the decline of the Soviet Union, it still made sense to provide these goods because the US benefits from stability even if there are some costs.

I had considered long ago something called hegemonic instability theory--that one can cooperate to build bits and pieces of order in international relations (regimes) as long as the hegemon is not hostile to the endeavor.  That cooperation can develop among small groups which can then be enlarged to include most countries as long as the hegemon does not try to disturb stuff.

Well, we are now in need of some hegemonic abdication theory: under what conditions will a leader of the international system simply give up its role?  The obvious answer is: when it is no longer able or interested.  In the aftermath of WWI, the British realized that their role as hegemon was over, as they were exhausted by the war and their growth, their economy was no longer so strong that they could dominate the international economy and provide the goods.  They wanted to hand it over to the US, but the US was largely uninterested... which helped to exacerbate the Great Depression.  The US could have played a role to mitigate the damage, but chose policies that made everything worse.

Now? The US can still play the old role.  Despite decades of declinism, the US could still play this role and did so in 2008-09. Sure, being hegemon means that its economic troubles get exported to the rest of the world (sorry), but it also means that it can lead the cooperation to make sure that things don't get worse.  So, is it no longer in the interest of the US as a country?  Is instability preferred now by American companies and sectors of the economy?  Um, no. Despite the love of "disruption" in the modern business jargon, I am pretty sure that most firms and most sectors prefer stable exchange rates, open export markets, and a general level of stability in all things international.  If Hillary Clinton had won last year, we would not be taking about abdication.

So, Hegemonic Abdication Theory needs to build in an additional variable?  Stupidity? Xenophobia? The Trump Administration seems quite willing to abandon pretty much everything the US has built since WWII--any multilateral effort is fair game, no matter how beneficial for the US or how small the costs.  Tis no accident that the label America First was a thing in the 1930s and now again--it may or may not mean isolationism and withdrawal from the world, but it certainly means a refusal to cooperate, a strong preference for unilateralism.  I guess we need to go back to Ruggie and the social purpose that gets attached to power--that American hegemony (and the British one before it) were inherently liberal enterprises--as in free trade and all that.  The US has lost its social purpose as it is now polarized and led by someone who is illiberal to the core.  The strange thing is that his party is willing to follow him over the cliff, that the stock market is so in love with deregulation and tax cuts that they don't seem to mind the crash that is ahead when markets shut down as the international trading order falls apart.

So, Hegemonic Abdication Theory requires that the most powerful economy (still) is led by those who are illiberal?  I guess so.  That is far as I am getting on a Sunday morning.  Any suggestions for refining this theory?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Canadian Foreign Policy Is Broken?

I was invited to chat with a visiting official from an Asian country, and it led to an epiphany:
There is something profoundly wrong with Canada's foreign policy-making process.

How so?  I am a victim of wishful thinking, as I read into the TPP mess that perhaps Trudeau was being clever, holding out for concessions.  Nope, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the negotiations went far beyond what he was expecting, that there is some gap between the negotiators in Global Affairs and the Prime Minister's Office.  I have no idea where the responsibility lies although I have heard bad things about both GAC (understaffed, under-experienced these days) and PMO (way too stretched). 

Going to China and failing to start a negotiation, however smart or problematic the idea of a Free Trade Agreement with China is (I tend to view China as Tony Soprano), going all the way there and getting nothing?  What is the point?

I am not an expert on either Canadian foreign policy nor on Canada-Asian relations (although the latter would be cool since good food and all that), but expending a heap of political capital, upsetting trading partners and then getting nada?  Not good.  Something to keep an eye on.

Conferences, Workshops, Presentations, Oh My

This week was very busy with two different events in Ottawa (ok, many, with several conflicting with the two I was involved in): the Year Ahead conference that the Centre on Security, Intelligence and Defence Studies (a NPSIA center) ran and a Canadian Defence Workshop run by several friends of mine.  The former covered a variety of issues facing Canada and its pals over the next year--North Korea, the Mideast, Russia/Ukraine, many missions (or not), the US, and Cyber stuff.  The latter covered pretty much the entire range of Canadian defence dynamics and challenges.  I learned a lot from both, but can't simply present the storify of each since, well, storify is acting up.  So, what did I learn and what did I say?

The Year Ahead:
  • Trump has delegated the decision making over whether to do freedom of navigation cruises through the South China Sea to Pacific Command, so more of these are happening (Ankit Panda)
  • China is having more sway in part because ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Naitons) is divided on the South China Sea, so the members can't agree on what to do (Panda).
  • Relations between the US and China are likely to sour in the year ahead (Panda).
  • ISIS will remain a threat AND continues to have ties to the Syrian regime, which uses it when it needs to raise the spectre of jihadism for regime maintenance (Barak Barfi)
  • Iran is more dedicated to its proxies than Saudi Arabia to its own proxies (Barfi)
  • That I get annoyed when folks call Trump an isolationist because, thus far, what he has demonstrated is not less involvement in the world but more unilateralist involvement. I also get annoyed when folks say that Obama was anti-Israel.  He might have been anti-Netanyahu, but that is something else entirely.
  • That I should invite Monica Toft of the Fletcher School (Tufts) more often.  She couldn't stay long but dropped a ton of knowledge about UN and other interventions--that they tend to prolong conflicts, that supporting rebels ends conflicts faster, and more.
  • Inviting Canadian generals is always a good idea.  Brigadier General David Anderson was very interesting both on and off stage, although I am reluctant to repeat what he said since officials and officers have less latitude to be cited.
  • I talked about alliance dynamics, with the punchline that coalitions/alliances involve countries having to manage their own domestic coalition politics, and Trump makes that harder since he is toxic in Europe (and Canada).  
  • Jim Fergusson of Manitoba discussed the complexities of US-Canadian defence arrangements.  
  • Christopher Sands was very interesting, presenting a series of angles on the US-Canadian trade relationship, leaving me thinking that we are all doomed despite his sunny disposition.  He did produce the best line of the day: "Trump would kick a bunny."  And yeah, Canada is a bunny.
  • Sands argued that Canada should try to give Trump as many minor victories as possible to assuage him and hope that he does not obsess about the points of difference.
  • The last panel was on cyber stuff, and I was too fried to either live tweet or remember (sorry).
The Canadian Defence Workshop (only a few highlights as my note-taking/life-tweeting was inconsistent):
  • Sheryl Lightfoot of UBC presented three stages of First Nations-mil interactions/dynamics, which was all new info to me.  I have a very shallow knowledge of Canadian military history and Canadian mythology underplays how badly the First Nations have been treated.
  • Adam Chapnick of the Canadian Forces College: our strategy development process is broken as the military can't admit failure, outcomes hinge less on Canada than the alliance/coalition we are with so outcomes are hard to measure, and, oh yeah, outcomes are really hard to measure. Canada tends to make the big decisions and then develop the strategy afterwards (F35/F18/F-whatever anyone?).
  • Adam Lajeunesse: CA arctic policy is misunderstood, media focuses on equipment (ships/planes, things with pretty pictures).
  • Alex Bolt (JAG): really informed us of the imperatives of taking the legal stuff seriously--not an afterthought but should be part of the strategy development.  When will CAF be lawful targets is a big deal.  What is this "direct party in hostilities" stuff?  Very informative.  I should have asked my combat/not combat question.  But I was addled by two days of conferences and getting ready for my presentation.
  • That Phil Lagasse set a fun trap for me by having a key public servant as my discussant, and thus one who had much to say about my take on Canadian civil-military relations.
  • That observers of the frequent Phil-Steve banter on twitter may see us being hostile to each other, which made the both of us laugh.  
  • Oh, and that I may have dark powers that I never exposed before:
David Welch had fun with the Rummy-esque hand gesture.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Good Politics and the Right Thing To Do, Franken Edition

I have long been a fan of Franken. I have most, if not all of his books.  I really enjoyed him actually doing quite well as a Senator, as he did try to hold government officials/appointees accountable.  He accidentally trapped Sessions in a lie that will keep on dogging the highest law enforcement official in the land.  And, yes, he has to go.  It is both the right thing to do and good politics.

Franken is a serial sexual harasser and perhaps even serial sexual assaulter (groping counts, doesn't it?).  This is not the case of him saying something once or acting inappropriately once--it is a pattern of behavior that he is not denying although he has underplayed what is clearly something quite systemic in his own character.  He does not belong in the Senate, he should not be representing people nor should he be paid by taxpayers with public funds.  Everything he does now is tainted.  The Democratic Party needs to have some core values and treating women decently should be one of them.  Franken may have done good things for women in general, but he has bad for the individual women he has encountered.  Franken leaving or getting kicked out is the right thing to do. 

It is also, conveniently, good politics. Not just that the Governor of Minnesota will appoint a Democrat so it does not affect the balance of political control of the Senate in the short term (that someone has to run in 2018 to replace Franken could be dicey).  It is good politics because the Democrats are increasingly becoming the party of consistent values and the GOP is the party of opportunism.  This ain't bad optics going forward.  More importantly, it is good politics because women are more than half of the electorate, and the gender gap already favors the Dems and will favor them more so.  Sure, more than a few women have other interests/identities that cause them to vote against their interests as women---they may be rich, they may love their guns, they may be racist, or whatever.*  Still, alienating some women by being the party of sexual assault is not going to help the GOP, and by drawing a clear line between the Democrats and the Republicans on this, the Democrats will benefit.  The GOP can suppress the vote of minorities and the young via #voterfraudfraud voter id laws, but how can they suppress the female vote?  I am sure they will find a way, but it is much harder.
* Yeah, I am still bitter about white women voting for Trump, which upset my prediction last fall and gave us this darkest timeline.
Anyhow, I will get over the heartbreak of having a guy I have long favored turn out to be sleazy and hurtful to those who was supposed to be helping. Will the GOP get over being the party that preferred a child molester in the Senate and an admitted sexual assaulter in the White House?  I am not so sure.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Concluding Civ-Mil Class With Mushroom Clouds?

Today was the last day of my NPSIA Civil-Military Relations class.  For the past few weeks, the students presented their papers, asking a variety of interesting questions about the civil-military dynamics around the world.  The papers ranged from addressing 1st gen civ-mil questions--coup or no coup--to 2nd gen--why do democracies have trouble controlling their militaries--to 3rd gen--cooperation between civilians and military in the field.  I learned a great deal about many places, so, of course, I popped the joyful balloon of learning with the crisis du jour:
The lack of civilian control of the military in the US might get us all killed.

We have an active general serving as National Security Adviser, HR McMaster, saying time is running out on North Korea.  The last thing you want in a nuclear crisis with a country with vulnerable nuclear weapons is to tell them that they are in a "use them or lose them" situation.   That would be bad enough, but the US and South Korea have started an exercise with hundreds of planes including a simulation of attacking North Korea.  How will North Korea know this is not just this simulation is not actually the preparation or the start of a first strike?

Most of the civilian experts on this stuff that I am familiar with are very concerned about the combination of: fears of preemption, accidents, inadvertent escalation, and egos.  Who are the civilians in this US government who can put the brakes on these kinds of exercises?  Who can tell the President this exercise and McMaster's stances are BAD?  Tillerson?  Please, that amateur is not just the #worstsecstate but on his way out.  He has no wisdom and no sway.  Mattis?  Has anyone seen Mattis lately?  He is really well read, everyone says.  Has he read Schelling?  Jervis? Posen? The stuff on nuclear war near misses?  Oh, and he is not really a civilian, as his mindset has not had a chance to change (tis the anniversary of this post).  Oh and the key spots in State and the Office of the Secretary of Defense--Assistant Secretaries of State/Defense for East Asia--remain unfilled as far as I can tell. 

Which makes Trump the primary civilian responsible for making sure that the US military does not make any moves that might cause North Korea to launch its weapons because its leaders fear that a preemptive strike is on its way or is imminent.  I would never put "Trump" and "responsible" in the same sentence except as a question, and, yeah, we know the answer: not responsible.

So, I ended the semester scaring my students.  I guess I should not have seen Krampus recently.

Ten Years and a Wakeup

Thanks to FB, I was reminded that this week was a big deal ten years ago for me.  I had one of the best job opportunities of my life and I blew it and then I flew off to Afghanistan. 

While I was not yet unhappy at my old place, the opportunity to be in the DC area--both to be close to family and to that center of the IR world--was pretty damn attractive.  Perhaps too much so as I choked during the job talk.  And it was one of those that is before lunch, so I spent lunch apologizing, knowing that I was a dead man walking for the rest of the afternoon.  It turned out ok, as five years later, I got a really cool job in a great city.  So, yeah, my career has gone the way I thought it would, but I am happy with how it has worked out.

One of the strange things about that job talk was I was thinking as much about the next opportunity as the one in front of me.  In the good old days, the Canadian Dept of National Defence would take random or not so random collections of academics to wherever the Canadian Armed Forces were deployed.  This time: Kabul and Kandahar.  The timing was great both for my research and for, well, our safety.  I had just started the NATO book research with Dave Auerswald, which was originally going to compare the NATO missions in Bosnia and Kosovo to the one in Afghanistan and to the unilateral mission in Iraq.  Instead, Afghanistan ate the book, as there was so much variation in the one case, and James Blunt helped to shift our focus.  December of 2007 was also a relatively safe time to do this kind of trip--at the time, Afghanistan seemed to be the war we could win, compared to the very, very violent Iraq war in mid-surge. 

I had never been to any part of Asia, and I had never been in a war zone.  Just the experience of getting one's flak jacket, helmet, etc in Dubai where Camp Mirage was (we were not supposed to identify where the Canadian base in the Mideast was although wikipedia knew it) was startling.  Flying in a C-130 was ... loud and uncomfortable, but not a bad way to start the transition to Afghanistan.  We landed in Kandahar and had to transfer to get to Kabul, displacing a group of advisers and Afghan officers--perhaps the first hint that the priorities might be a bit backwards. 

In Kabul, we were driven around in a two car convey, briefly daily on how to respond if we got attacked and told to look out for rubble alongside the roads, which might mask a roadside bomb.  Um, there is rubble all over the place.  Anyhow, we met with Afghan politicians, we were impressed by the Afghan Aussies who ran a media empire, we met with UN officials (the soon to be lamented Chris Alexander), we met with embassy folks, and we slept in NATO facilities with a doghouse with my name on it:

We then got flown back to Kandahar for several days of briefings, meetings and what passed for tourism.  We very much drank from the fire hose as we received a ton of info, even as we realized that we were actually a component of an information operation ... aimed at the Canadian public.  Not a great choice, I think, since we tend to be critical, but still we developed favorable views of the CAF and what it was doing.  Indeed, we even got to see the temporary detainment facility, which was presented pretty honestly--that the Canadians would hold onto prisoners if and when the Afghans treated them poorly.  Too bad the politicians back home couldn't grasp the realities of this.  We learned a lot from informal discussion as well.  We went to Canada house where the Canadian troops spent their off-hours (I finished second in a poker game!), and heard more critical takes on the mission there than in the official briefings.  We also went off and found the Canadian media tent even though we were supposed to avoid them.  Oops?  We even crossed the road to check out a boneyard--old Soviet tanks!

We were helicoptered (coo1!) to the Provincial Reconstruction Team, where we got to see the whole of government effort writ small-- the diplomats, the aid people, the police trainers and the soldiers.  They seemed quite cooperative, but, well, things were different back home. 

It was a pretty impressive trip, and helped me catch up quickly on the geography, the personalities, and the realities of Afghanistan.  "Wait, you are saying the half brother of the President runs this province and is the Al Capone of Kandahar?!"  It definitely made it easier to write the book.  And I got to spend a heap of time with some great Canadian scholars who are much of the backbone of the Canadian defence community (including a future colleague at NPSIA).  It almost made me forget how badly I bombed that job talk. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Flynn Flipping Means What?

Folks who pay attention to me (ok, my Mom and a few others) might notice a contradiction: I took great delight to see Flynn flip on Trump and the Cult of the Corrupt yet I also don't think impeachment is going to happen.  How to make sense of this?

To start, as I have said before, I don't think impeachment is going to happen.  Ryan and McConnell control the agendas of both houses, so impeachment can't get going.  If the Dems take back both houses in 2018, which is unlikely but possible, then the Dems would need to flip 15-16 or so GOP votes in the Senate as the impeachment requires a majority vote in the House but 2/3s to convict in the Senate--see Bill Clinton. Oh, and the GOP is not going to impeach Trump because they need his core voters and impeaching Trump would alienate them for a long, long time.  The tax cut vote suggests that these GOP folks are not profiles in courage.

Anyhow, why I am happy about Flynn flipping?

First, I am trying to avoid that whole hobgoblin of little minds.  [Oh, and if I had bet on Flynn getting indicted/arrested in 2017, I would be a bit wealtheir]

Second, schadenfreude is a thing.  I am taking joy and happiness from the suffering of bad people--Flynn, Flynn Jr, Jared, Don Jr, Trump.

Third, all this stuff is eroding support for Trump with the latest polls 33 in favor, 62 against in good economic times.  He is more underwater than Trump inc.  And this matters because while it might not lead to impeachment, it makes it harder for GOP folks to stand up for and support Trump AND

Fourth, to win in 2018, the Dems don't have to make the entire GOP leave Trump, but if it can get a small percentage of those who would otherwise vote for their rep to either not show up or vote for someone else, then the Democratic wave can be a thing.  While that might not get us impeachment, a Democratic majority in the House and/or Senate would make it much harder for the GOP to do damage like they just did with the tax bill.  That stuff can't get reversed until the Dems have both houses and the White House, but they can be more effective at blocking stuff after 2018.  Oh, and they can start investigating Trump and his team of corrupt arsonists day after day as they then would control the agendas of the relevant committees.

Fifth, only Trump is protected from prosecution before being impeached (and maybe Pence?).  Don Jr., Jared, and other awful folks (Ivanka, pretty please) can be prosecuted.  Notice that this batch of info does not include money, but I am sure that Mueller is tracking the dollars, just as he did with Manafort.  So, h/t to my brother for reminding of this one.

Sixth, there is that schadenfreude thing again--Trump and his folks are so thoroughly awful that, yes, I want to see them suffer.  And nothing causes Trump to suffer more than to have low popularity ratings and to be welcomed everywhere with chants of "lock him up."

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Tax Bill Insta-Reactions

I guess the first question is: how different is it from the House bill?  Because we could be going through this all again if the House GOP insists on doing stuff that is beyond the pale for Collins and ....

Oh, who am I kidding?  This bill is supremely awful and was not regular order, so McCain flipped (which was predictable but still annoying and frustrating) and Collins sold out Maine.  Flake is, well, flakey.  At least Murkowski got a key priority for some of her constituents--more drilling where the wildlife used to be protected. Only Corker proved to have some scruples somewhere.

The only real solace I can take from this tax bill, which is destined to hurt most Americans and also hurt America in the world, is that the GOP will pay a huge price for it.  They created so many easy ads for the Democrats:
  • "My opponent made it easier for you to buy and maintain a private plane while taking away tax deductions for teachers to buy equipment for the classroom."
  • "You lost your access to health care, but at least you can afford the one school in the US that got a tax deduction (Hillsdale College)."
  • "Hey, remember when the GOP cared about deficits?  Good times"
  • "Kiss medicare and medicaid goodbye"
 Ok, I suck at ad-writing, but it is pretty clear that this bill is best named, by Pod Saves America, "The Donor Relief Act."  Complete with clips of GOP folks saying that they were doing this for the donors and clear evidence that the GOP cut and pasted from the lists the lobbyists sent to Santa.  Yes, Fox and Breitbart will cover it in a way to disguise this stuff, but the Democrats just need to get a few percentage points of GOP voters to realize that the party in power of both houses and the White House have just stacked the deck against them.  Sure, the Dems can screw this up, but I do think the voting last month (so long ago) indicates that the Republicans are going to lose in 2018 in a big way, and even more so now that the Dems are armed with this bill.

What is the difference between Dems and GOP these days?  Look at this tax bill.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Grumpy Dual Citizen and Canadian Hot Takes

The past couple of days have hit a button for me--that Canadians have expressed views on the US that seem both smug and wrong.  Sure, I am vulnerable right now because the US is doing incredibly harmful stuff to everyone at home and abroad.  But getting things wrong probably doesn't help.

So, yesterday, Stephen Gordon, a Canadian economist I respect a great deal said:

This is wrong in so many ways, so let's count them:
  1. The Republicans have lost the popular vote in every Presidential election except for 2004 since 1992.  
  2. The Democrats have been in majority in Congress far more often than the Republicans since the Great Depression.  Recency bias is a problem, I guess.
  3. The Republican victories have been unnatural: Trump via Comey, Russia and all that, House via Russians (yeah, that is one reason they are not investigating) and a combo of gerrymandering plus voter suppression (#voterfraudfaud) and Dems tending to waste votes by living together. 
  4. In the last several elections, the Dems have done far better among younger folks--which is bad for today since they don't vote as much but is great for tomorrow since the GOP's future may be bleak.
  5. The United States is diverse, the GOP is not.  So, the GOP is only the natural governing party of whites.
  6. If you look at the polls on most of the issues, including highly "divisive" ones, the Democratic position is more popular.  Gun control?  Yeah, the iron fist of the NRA is a problem, but more Americans favor background checks and the like.  Abortion? More Americans favor women having access.  LGBT?  The Democrats have won, even as the GOP fights some battles that are alienating the younger folks.
The economists may think that preferences equal outcomes (sorry, can't help myself), but institutions matter and so does other stuff.  So, no, the GOP is not the natural governing party.  Especially since ... they suck at governing.   Burning things down? Great.  Governing? No. And then folks will choose Democrats as they did last month all across Virginia and even in some mighty red parts of places like Oklahoma.

I get it--folks want to say the American chose this and they need to suck on it a while. Well, yes and no.  As an American, I am deeply embarrassed by what Trump is doing and how he is undermining the US at home and abroad.  I recognize that there are three hunks of Trump voters: those who voted for him because they love his white supremacy and his misogyny and all that; those who voted for him because party id is a hell of a drug (factor in Hillary hysteria); and those who don't call themselves Trump voters anymore.  But they were less than one third of the population, so they aren't America.

Indeed, this is a big hobby horse for me--Palin referred only rural places as Real America as if places with big spaces and few people count for more than smaller places with many people. Yes, the lines favor the former, but Real America is the diverse America of the cities and increasingly of the suburbs. 

The hot take today that pushed my button:

Sorry, but let's have some perspective.  Biggest political explosion in US history???  Let's count again:
  1. Pick your Revolutionary moment: Lexington and Concord, the real Tea Party, the Declaration of Independence.
  2. Firing on Fort Sumter or the election of Abraham Lincoln.  
  3. The election of 1932 since that changed the landscape of American politics
  4. Pearl Harbor since World War II re-made the US in a big way.
  5. The assassination of Martin Luther King as it led to cities burning.
  6. 9/11, which ushered in a few forever wars, increased executive authority and more than a little repression.  
I could go on.  The other problem with Gilmore's piece is that he thinks that Flynn's flipping will lead to the end of Trump. I actually think that if the GOP passes the tax cut, that will a bigger deal for everything--because the GOP will have thoroughly alienated much of the country to help their donors and it might make them feel as if Trump fulfilled his role.

Again, impeachment is not happening anytime soon--will Flynn flipping cause the GOP voters to stop supporting Trump?  Since we live in two media worlds (a real one and a fake one led by Fox and Brietbart), I am not sure they will.

I will write tomorrow about what I think Flynn's flipping will do--it is a huge deal and I am most happy.  But the biggest political explosion in US history?  Only for those who have a very short memory.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Disease of More

Pat O'Reilly, the NBA coach and now team president (or whatever), wrote about the Disease of More, which then became the Disease of Me.  That after winning a championship, it is harder to repeat because the individual players focus on themselves rather than the team.  Well, in US foreign policy, the Disease of More is a bit different: it is the Washington, DC and media tendency to think that the only way for the US to be engaged is to send more troops.  That not sending troops or removing troops is "disengagement" or isolationism.

Obama was accused of being isolationist when he would be reluctant to use force--dithering over the eventual surge in Afghanistan, refusing to send troops to Syria, etc.  This is a failure of imagination, a failure to learn lessons, and it is an incredibly dumb way to stretch concepts so that they don't mean anything. 

Isolationism refers to staying out of things entirely.  The 1930s isolationists, including the America Firsters, were opposed to any assistance to the Europeans--a pox on both their houses, a fear that the US would get drawn in, and/or some Nazi sympathizers wanting US to stay out of it so that Hitler could win.  In the 21st century, there has been so much conflation of not using force with being isolationist.  Sure, perhaps Obama didn't want to spend so much time on the Mideast, but he did, his diplomats did, his national security staff did, and the US was heavily involved all along.

These days?  Trump has increased the troops to the region by something close to 50%, there are stories of potentially seeking bases in Syria, and on and on.  For what purpose?  When the American general said that the Taliban would soon be on the run in Afghanistan, that victory was around the corner, he was widely scoffed at.  Again, we need to figure out what the best tools for whatever it is that is the goal to be achieved. 

The costs of using force have always been underestimated:
  • the recent NYT story indicates that the US may have killed 30 times more civilians in Iraq than previously estimated
  • civilian casualties are probably making things worse by generating new hostiles
  • the $ cost at home is over $5-6 trillion and growing and will keep on going up for as long as the veterans of these wars are alive (the US only recently stopped paying the costs of WWI).
  • the twitter accounts that remind of us of this date in history are reminding me that the Russians thought Finland would be a walkover around this date in 1939.  Um, no. 
We need to think about how to measure success besides focusing on inputs (more troops).  We need to figure out what kinds of strategies and tactics actually work.  And, yes, we need to have a lot more humility about how effective US troops can be.  That probably requires American leaders to figure out what they want.... and that is hard to do when the US national security bureaucracy is fully staffed with sharp people.  These days?  Many positions are unfilled, and we have incompetents (Trump, Tilleson) and racists (Trump, Kelly) at the top.

Oh, and hoping that Mattis will save us?  Wishful thinking is just that.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Teaching Can Be Fun: Dissertation Proposal Edition

The hardest part of research is starting.  The hardest part of a PhD program, in my humble opinion, is crafting the dissertation proposal.  It means coming up with an original project--which is no easy feat as much good work precedes us.  It means coming up with something feasible.  Oh, and many good questions go unanswered because they are impossible: "hey, could you guys start a war under these conditions, so we can see what happens?" 

I have been teaching a seminar that aims at getting the students through the proposal.  This is tricky enough, but is even more complicated by a few key realities at my school:
  • The students are a mix of economists and political scientists, so they have very different research topics with all of the economists and most of the political scientists working on issues and using methodologies that are outside my expertise and often way outside.
  • As an interdisciplinary program, we don't always have clear understanding of what is to be expected--how much theory?  How much methods?  How specific? How long should the proposal be?
  • The aim is for these folks to work in non-academic settings, but we have no idea what that market is really demanding and most of the profs (nearly all of us) were trained by traditional disciplines aimed at producing professors. 
The way I teach this class is workshop the dissertation proposals piece by piece: the question, the possible answers (the dreaded lit review), the theory, the testable hypotheses, the methods.  Scattered along the way, due to various opportunities, we spend time on grant proposals, research ethics, and other stuff.  Each student gives a practice dissertation proposal presentation somewhere along the way. 

The fun but challenging part is to try to give feedback on projects that are, as I said, all over place and beyond my expertise for the most part.  The good news is I have fresh eyes.  The bad news is that I have no idea if they are asking original questions (I don't know the literatures they are reviewing) or if their methods make sense (if they are working on something fairly technical).  Today was the last course meeting, and I realized I have had fun getting inside their projects, providing feedback where I can.  I was able, I think, to provide some useful advice (take it or leave it, no biggie) even to those working on the stuff that is beyond me, and I had fun with some of the ideas that I could plausibly research myself.  The students have made much progress, although their advisers may be horrified by my suggestions.  Ooops.

Anyhow, as much as we complain about reading multiple drafts of stuff and how work in progress is often very slooooowly in progress, in my conversations during and after class, I was reminded that it is fun to work with folks as they are starting out.  The work is really hard, but the creativity is inspiring, and working with them to figure out how to surmount the obstacles can be fun.  I got in this job in part to play with ideas, and I use the word "play" deliberately.  As this is fun stuff, and I am glad to be reminded of that basic reality, which is often lost in the daily grind.

So, thanks to my INAF 6900 seminar for reminding me.  

Monday, November 27, 2017

Ted Robert Gurr, a Tall Man

Last night, on the way back from Thanksgiving with the family, I learned that Ted Robert Gurr died over the holiday.  I knew Ted since 1998, so I have some thoughts I want to share.  First, about the title, whenever I bumped into Ted, I was always struck by how tall he was--in height, in stature, and in the way he presented himself.  He just always stood out--because he was tall and so distinguished.  I never saw him, well, as shabby as I can be at times.  His work so very much stood out.  He has over 30,000 citations, which is what legends in the field of political science get to and few others.  His H-index is 67--which meant he averaged something like two articles a year that each got more than 67 citations.  This might not mean much to outsiders, but it is mighty impressive to political scientists.  For how he viewed himself and how he worked at his vocation, see this interview conducted by one of his most successful (and, alas, most troubled) students--Will Moore.

His book, Why Men Rebel, is simply one of those books that is required reading and shaped the field for decades.  The basic argument, if I recall correctly,* is that it is not absolute poverty that causes individuals (and, yes, mostly men although I don't remember gender being something he addressed in that book) but how people view themselves where they are versus where they feel they should be.  While it has  been attacked ever since, the idea helps to make sense of Trump voters today, why richer territories seek to secede, and so on.
*  I am not doing any re-reading of his work to write this as I am not nearly as good as Ted at managing my time.

His second major contribution, in my view, is that he created heaps of public goods--widely used datasets.  Polity, evaluating the world's countries on how democratic they are, was explicitly aimed to do exactly that and then became handy for democratic peace scholars and many others.  Minorities at Risk, which is where I come in, was actually not aimed to become a dataset for asking all kinds of questions about ethnic conflict.  It was designed to assess which minorities in the world were at risk of violence.  Yeah, it is in the title of the dataset, but the intent of the effort baked in a problem that eventually made it hard to use (until resurrected by Johanna Birnir and a bunch of other folks including me).  Anyhow, it was not really designed to be used by others, and one could tell since so many variables were coded as 0 meaning none, 1 meaning high, 2 meaning medium, and 3 meaning low.  Lots of re-coding had to be done.  Oy.

His second book using this, Peoples Versus States, and related pieces indicated that there is actually less ethnic violence now than earlier, which both runs against how we perceive the world (since the media covers ethnic violence, not ethnic peace) and showed that many countries had learned key lessons: that it may not be clear that giving folks more autonomy reduces violence, but taking it away (hey, Spain!!) is likely to cause it; that stable democracy (which Polity showed there is much more of) is better than the alternatives; that international management efforts might actually work.

Ted was definitely a gentleman and a scholar.  I got to know this personally (I have met other "gods" of poli sci, but he is the one I had the most interactions with).  I first interacted with Ted when I learned of MAR as I was trying to figure out how to test quantitatively the arguments in my dissertation.  He moved pretty quickly from being reluctant to share MAR to sending me copies of the raw coding sheets of the international support variables--how much assistance do groups receive from abroad and from whom.  I remember spending hours in my windowless office in Lubbock, taking those sheets and turning them into coded data.  It led to some of my first quantitative publications as well as the quant chapter of my first book.  At the same time, I examined MAR to see what it could tell me about separatism.  This led to a series of articles, but too late for a key opportunity.

I actually met Ted for the first time at a job interview at the University of Maryland in 1998.  This was one of the best job talks of my life, even though I didn't get the job.  How do I know?  It led to a fruitful partnership with Ted and the other MAR folks as well as an invitation to an edited volume project with another Maryland faculty member.  Anyhow, Ted had asked David Lake, who he thought was my adviser, to ask me to apply.  Which I did.  I ended up being fourth or fifth on the short list, and was brought in only after those folks didn't do well.  I did not rank highly on the original list in part because I had not done any quant work yet (it was all in process at the time) and I was pretty junior, and they wanted someone to eventually run MAR and essentially replace Ted.  Given how much I suck at coding data and managing graduate students to code data, they made the right decision.

My subsequent work using MAR data kept me connected to Ted.  When the dataset was attacked for its selection bias problem, I got invited to be on the newly created MAR advisory board and was named its convenor.  I still don't know what that role entails.  The board itself met once a year or so about ten years.  That board helped me connect to both senior scholars and to the next generation of Ted's students, and for that I will always be grateful.  I do remember being rude to Ted at the end of one of these because I had just gotten word that my dog died. I explained later, and he understood.

Finally, I can't think of Ted without remembering how he played a central role in my enduring love of TGIFridays.  At the end of my job interview, Ted had me sit in his office while he looked at his email, and then we got stuck in traffic on the BWI parkway to get to BWI airport.  I didn't have time to get food at the airport as we arrived just in time.   The plane was diverted to Tulsa or Oklahoma because of thunderstorms at Dallas/Fort Worth airport.  By the time we arrived at DFW around 11:30 all of the restaurants were closed and I had nothing to eat since a job talk lunch (small).  I was too cheap as an assistant professor to take a taxi far away from the airport (since all of the hotels nearby were already full of displaced passengers), so I was set for a long night of hunger pains at the airport.  But in the distance, TGIFridays was still lit.  They served that night until 2am, so I went there, and asked if they were still serving food, and they said yep.  They asked if I wanted a drink, and I said yep!  I then sat there, eating and drinking with my luggage, and scurrying out to grab pillows and blankets (both airplane size small) as they were being distributed.  Finally, they distributed cots, so I grabbed all of my stuff and took the cot to a quiet gate and tried to sleep.  In the morning, I woke up, and saw lots of legs with blue pants sticking out of the boxes that the cots had come in--Air Force cadets using the boxes to sleep--smart folks.  Anyhow, TGIFriday's opened at 6am, so I had breakfast and then got on my plane to Lubbock.  And it was all much more indelibly etched in my mind since Ted took his time reading his email before taking me to the airport.

I chatted with Ted briefly over the past few years at conferences, but we haven't talked much over the past several years.  I will always remember Ted fondly for not giving me a job despite giving one of my best talks as he did make a huge difference in my career--providing me with data that led to some of my most cited and perhaps even influential publications, involving me with a great group of people to improve and then rescue the dataset, and being a hell of a model.  I will never stand as tall as he did, but being perched on his shoulder has given me a hell of a view and a big leg up in this profession.  Rest in peace, Ted. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving For a Mixed Year

2017 has been a mighty rough year politically, but it has been a pretty great year for me and my family, so I still have much to be grateful for.

My daughter continues to thrive at college, making amazing films despite the stress of having unpaid labor in front of and behind the camera.  So, perhaps the scenes with lots of extras may not be quite as crowded, and the shooting schedule gets to be a bit, um, stretched out.  But the work is most impressive.  I am also thankful for the wonderful community of friends who helped get her through various challenges over the years including the month or so that she was in between driver's licenses.

We finally resolved the Leaky Cauldron problem as Mrs. Spew's tenacity in landing a contractor paid off.  The house is not only drier but looking brighter with a lighter coat of paint. 

The entire Saideman family celebrated my Dad's 90th birthday by taking a cruise to Alaska.  Sure, getting to Seattle was most challenging, but we got to enjoy that city as well.  The ship had great food and staff, and the sights were amazing.  The only downside was my repeated finishing just out of the money in the poker tourneys.

I am grateful not just to Carleton for the sabbatical but for its continuing ability to foster a supportive community.  Even though I was not around much this past year, I still very much appreciated my colleagues at NPSIA and what a great place it is.  I am also grateful for those who funded my ample (ok, more than ample) travel this year--SSRC, SSHRC, the Paterson family, etc.  2017 has seen me do research in Japan and Brazil--both trips were successful and enjoyable, full of insightful people, great food and beautiful scenery.  I got to go to Mumbai, Honk Kong and Las Vegas for presentations, so I am most thankful for those opportunities. 

I am very thankful for my co-authors who not only make my work better, but take it into new directions.  I am also grateful for the virtual communities I have via social media.  Sure, facebook helped the Russians flip the election, and twitter gives far more visibility to the truly awful, but these and other social media help me remain connected to old friends, make new ones, and learn much from people I would otherwise not know. 

I would be more grateful for this hotel's internet if it was not so flaky.  If it improves, I will add pictures to this post.  And maybe some other stuff for which I am grateful.  I do know that I am quite likely personally and professionally, so I will give much thanks as I eat pie and candied yams this afternoon. 

I hope you and yours have a great thanksgiving, and that the next year will be a bountiful one.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Justice Delayed Better than None at All

Ratko Mladic was convicted by ICTY (the Intl Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia) of committing genocide at Srebrenica.  That was not his only crime against humanity, as he led the Bosnian Serb forces during the Bosnian war, and those forces did many, many bad things--and he was convicted for many of those as well..  At Srebrenica, 7000 Muslim men were killed simply because they were Muslim men.  Very much an act of genocide.   And yeah, it took 22 years for Mladic to be convicted.  He had to be found, and he was running free i Serbia for much of this time, despite suspicions he was still in Bosnia.  That Serbia gave him up was significant progress for that country.  This conviction is still more progress.  There were bad guys on all sides, but he was the biggest and the baddest with the possible exceptions of Slobodan Milosevic who died while on trial by ICTY and Radovan Karadzic (was found earlier and convicted).

While much is well known about the genocide at Srebrenica, a few things are less well known and always get my attention:
  • The Dutch government fell in 2002 due to a report that came out that criticized the Dutch performance in 1995.  Yes, a seven year delay but I find it remarkable that a government would fall for something that happened early and... was mostly not their fault.  It was mostly the UN's fault for not allowing NATO planes to strike the Bosnian Serbs that were attacking "safe areas" that were supposed to be under UN protection.  To use force, NATO and UN officials had to agree--a dual key system.  And, no, the UN guy failed to give his consent.  It is more complicated than that, of course, but more blood is on the UN's hands on this than on the Netherlands's.
  • The Canadians were in Srebrenica before the Dutch but chose to re-deploy so that they would not be present during something like what happened.  So, yeah, the Canadians owe a bit of an unknown debt to the Dutch for taking the hit for the team.
  • The chase for PIFWC's (persons indicted for war crimes) took longer not just because of Serbia hiding some but also
    • the US didn't try to fulfill this key part of the NATO Stabilization Force mandate in its sectors because Bill Clinton told his commanders that the highest priority was force protection--that the US not experience another Blackhawk Down and suffer casualties in a peacekeeping op.  Since chasing PIFWCs was something that could lead to confrontations, riots and such, the US military avoided doing it for a while
    • When they did start, it was done by Special Operations, so I would get kicked out of the room when this stuff was discussed in 2001-2002 as it was above my Top Secret clearance level.
    • That when these searches did happen, it seemed that the French forces in the NATO mission would alert the Bosnian Serbs.  In the name of getting the support of the local authorities but perhaps more likely helping the side with which they had some historical affinity.  Oops.  
One conclusion, of course, is that multilateral peacekeeping is hard.  Originally, the Dave and Steve NATO book was going to cover Bosnia and Kosovo, but Afghanistan ate the book (the Libya chapter fell in our laps, more or less).  So, we would have covered some of these challenges.

Anyhow, happy Mladic Conviction Day!  Better late than never.

Monday, November 20, 2017

If Fox Listened to Ben Parker?

With great power comes great responsibility.  That is what Ben Parker told Peter, and that combined with heaps of guilt produced a mighty (entertaining) superhero.  And it leads me to wonder: given that Fox has managed to become a Trump inception machine:
how would Fox use this power if it were, you know, responsible?

Would Fox focus on trivial stories like a football player sitting or kneeling for the anthem?  The upside is that this directs Trump's antagonism away from any issues that might create conflict with North Korea or push for any policies that harm millions of Americans.  On the downside, he gets to plander to his racist base.

How about essentially streaming Morgan Fairchild's twitter feed since it often has calls to rescue animals?  Good, but she is also a sharp consumer and retweeter of analyses of national security, and that stuff might set off the fragile Donald Trump.

How about criticisms of Habitat for Humanity (not that it deserves any)?  This would allow Trump to play to his worst instincts by insulting a past president, but might also get him to insist on doing more/better for the homeless?

I am taking ideas: if you could control Fox's output so that you can manipulate Trump, what would you program?

Friday, November 17, 2017

Grants, Journalism and Anti-Intellectualism

Tweets like this are super-annoying:

This one tweet does not have a heap of context, but it seems to have some contempt for philosophy.  Another tweet by Akin sends a similar message:

As a social scientist, I get defensive about criticisms of agencies that fund social science.  Even if the implicit criticism is of Philosophy, which is not my area of interest/work (indeed, I often complained at my old job about how the political philosophers were far more successful in empire building than the IR types). 

Anyhow, throwing out titles without context is a fun twitter game, but does not really tell you much about the project. 
Was "Double Hats, Double Trouble: Understanding the Problem of Delegation in Multilateral Military Intervention" something that could be mocked on twitter?  Yes, and yet it produced a project that ended up being well published (the usual indicator of success) and was of much interest to the policy world (another indicator)
Sure, I have my own problems with grant review committees (when they don't give me money), but they read the whole proposal and not just the title.   What it smacks of is anti-intellectualism--that these high falutin' thinkers are focused on abstract stuff rather than real problems so why are they getting money?

Perhaps I am overreacting because I saw how this game was played in the US where politicians would play it and then try to gut the National Science Foundation.  Mostly because we political scientists would ask questions about how and why they did their jobs the way they did.  Ooops.  Whether Akin is consciously trying to provide aid and comfort and info to the enemies of social science and the humanities (SSHRC stands for Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) is not clear, but the effect may be the same.

Why be so defensive, Steve?  Surely, more info is good.  Yeah, it is, but presented in this way, it can create problematic perceptions of the realities of grant funding.  And then folks might try to either cut it or micromanage it.  Which leads to a basic Saideman response: if attacked, respond.  I am not a pacifist in the online debates of stuff--if you don't respond, you are letting the other side dominate the debate.  What good is that? [Which means I am easily trolled]

The basic idea of funding the social sciences and the humanities is that more knowledge about why we behave (social sciences) and what we value (humanities) and how we think (both) and what we create (both) is a public good, and governments help to facilitate public goods. While I am not opposed to private financing of research, it can be problematic (drug companies won't want info released about the harm their drugs might cause) and because Canada's tax laws don't provide much incentives for charitable giving, there is not much private money from foundations.

There are good questions to ask about Canada's funding of research.  For instance, SSHRC went from providing many smaller grants to providing fewer but larger grants.  Has this led to more research?  Better outcomes?  There has been a tendency to reserve more and more money for specific topics?  What has been the effect of that?  Listing grants by their titles is not going to lead to these kinds of questions being asked.

I am sure Akin doesn't want to do away with SSHRC, and twitter is not a friendly media for nuanced conversations, but ripping through a bunch of projects based on their titles tends to send a message.  Whether it is intentional or not, the message "Ottawa wastes its money on pointy head intellectuals" seems to be the one that is being sent.  Not good.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Pod Saves STEM America

I am a big fan of Pod Saves America--the Obama Bros podcast.  Yet they annoyed me greatly today.  Yes, they are rightly upset that the GOP tax "reform" is going to raise heaps of taxes on graduate students.  But, no, it is not just about physicists and engineers.  Tommy Vietor must be too sleep deprived due to his new puppy (understanble) when he said that this is not about Philosophy doctorates.  Dude, the social sciences and humanities are important too.

Yeah, I rail against having too many PhDs produced and I love picking on philosophers, but changing the tax code to screw over grad students hurts not just the STEM folks who get all of the love, but everyone one.  As Neil Degrasse Tyson reminds us with some of his incredibly dumb tweets, to do hard science right, we need the social sciences and humanities.

The GOP tax "reform" plan is short-sighted in a number of ways--gutting the hard sciences may be more obvious and more politically marketable, but the rest of the disciplines matter.  So, yeah, not good, Tommy and pals, not good.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Canada's Peacekeeping Move--A Hot Take

So, Canada's big commitment to the UN and peacekeeping consists not of a 600 battlegroup put into harm's way but "enablers".  That is, Canada is proposing to provide helicopters,* transport aircraft, a quick reaction force (which could be risky if they are sent to a place where quick reactions are needed), some money, trainers.
* The article lists a helo with some guns on it as an attack helicopter.  No.  If the UN calls it such things, the UN is wrong.  Let's not exaggerate what is being done.

It is probably underwhelming for many observers.  It is clearly a much less dangerous endeavor (although still some risk) than sending troops into a semi-counterinsurgency mission in Mali or a peacekeeping operation in Congo or South Sudan.

Will this make Canada more competitive for the UN Security Council seat?  No.  Sure, helping lots of countries a little might impress many countries, but not putting any skin in the game (a phrase I would have used even before a recent conversation with a retired general where it came up) means not being that impressive. The good news is that Norway has even fewer troops dedicated to PKOs at this time.  The bad news is that Ireland has more, despite having a smaller military.  Norway almost certainly gives more aid as a percentage of their budget than Canada does, so, um, good luck with the seat.

To be clear, it is not just about the seat.  The question is--how does this effort advance Canada's interests in the world?  Does it mean that Canada gets a seat at meetings?  Well, it probably will not be kicked out of this week's meetings in Vancouver....  But it will be at the kids' tables at the next rounds of UN meetings on peacekeeping because being present in small numbers in lots of places will not give it any heft anywhere.  As someone reminded me on twitter, 600 troops in one spot would not have done the trick either.

How do I feel about this?  Lukewarm.  It is a smart move from the standpoint of domestic politics--there will less risk here than doing something more significant.  The Conservatives can't really outbid them on peacekeeping.  The NDP?  They can try, I suppose, but it probably will not get much traction.  Canada will make a contribution, so woot for the international relations side?  Meh.  Will Canada be making a difference?  A modest one, I guess.

Perhaps I will have a less hot but more complete take as this thing gets clearer.

What do you think?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Real Conservatives?

One of my frustrations with the way we talk these days is that much of the GOP is no longer conservative in any real meaning of the term since they don't seek to conserve that which worked in the past, that which was good.  Indeed, today's GOP is mostly abetting the burning down of basic institutions and norms via their support for Trump, Ryan, and McConnell.

So, when I see conservative types who I used to find quite problematic--David Frum, Jennifer Rubin and others--saying stuff that is smart and right, I have to recognize it.  This morning, Frum had a series of tweets:

That a conservative is realizing that more folks speaking out at a traditional behavior is something to recognize. To me, it means that the terms of the debate are shifting to places that favor progressives.  Yeah, it is not good that it takes the Trump era and Harvey Weinstein-ian revelations about abuses, but as Frum points out, that stuff is not new.  What may be new is a growing consensus that this abuse of power is wrong and that we need to take seriously those who report such abuses.

Maybe I am just looking for stuff to be optimistic about as rebellions are built on hope and all that.  But if I nod my head and agree with the folks with whom I have disagreed, I need to recognize that.  We are not going to get to the changes we want by not recognizing the positive shifts by folks "on the other side."  While turning out the base is apparently the key to electoral success, the long term survival of our political system depend not just on winning elections but building consensus across the political system on basic values and norms.

As Trump reminds us, the US political system works when folks follow the norms and not just are bound by institutions.  I don't know if there was a magical time where most folks followed the norms, but I do think we have had far more violations of late (McConnell and the Supreme Court seat).  So, if conservatives and progressives can agree on some stuff, it probably makes things better especially when the conservatives are moving towards the progressives.  College Senior Spew would say it ain't fast enough, and she'd be right.  But I will take some progress at this point, as the past year has seemed to be one of damn near infinite regress.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Canada's Pursuit of Security Council Seat: Going, Going, Gone

I have long been skeptical of the chances that Canada would get the coveted United Nations Security Council seat that the Trudeau government has been seeking.  Canada entered the fray way too late and is competing against countries (Norway, Ireland) who not only have better bona fides as contributors to UN stuff, but have ruffled fewer feathers.  Perhaps making a big play at doing heaps more might have helped Canada some.  Clearly, setting up high expectations and then going way under them will not help.

And that is where we are.  Canada's promise to do more peacekeeping is now a promise to do more training of peacekeepers and providing some key logistical support.  This makes a great deal of sense in that this is all stuff Canada can provide, that the UN needs, and exposes Canadian troops to less risk.  But there is the rub: less risk means less commitment, impressing the UN voters less.

I long argued that doing more in Afghanistan meant more influence, even if that became a hard thing to measure or prove.  I am pretty sure that doing less will mean less influence, although losing the UNSC vote will be overdetermined, so I will again lack good evidence for my claim (good thing the editor and peer reviewers of my blog posts are pretty forgiving). 

I think that realizing that modern peacekeeping is really hard is fine, that perhaps none of the missions that were proposed made sense or were too dangerous or were too unlikely to succeed.  The government may be making a good decision, but it will probably message it poorly.  Yes, Canada will be contributing, but not nearly as much as those are putting their own people at significant risk.  So, let's not get too high falutin about this new PKO effort.

Of the campaign promises Trudeau made, this was perhaps the most pie crusty of the promises--easily made, easily broken.  I doubt that voters will care much in 2019 that this promise was broken.  Others will matter more, such as electoral reform.  So, yeah, perhaps a good decision with poor messaging and few real lasting consequences domestically.  Woot?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Identification and Those We Admire: Sexual Assault/Harassment Edition

One of the most impactful influential books I have ever read is Donald Horowitz's Ethnic Groups in Conflict.  I didn't take any psychology in college to my everlasting regret, so what I have learned about psychology I have gotten from political scientists who borrow parts of it, such as Robert Jervis and cognitive psych.  Well, Horowitz taught me about social psychology, with the key dynamic here is how our self-esteem partly hinges on those we identify with.  As those people and groups do well, our self-esteem goes up and when they do poorly, our self esteem goes down.

Which is one reason, I guess, that people have a hard time when those they admire turn out to be awful human beings.  For me, this week, this is about Louis CK and Kevin Spacey.  I feel awful that these guys treated people so badly.  I had seen stuff over the years that indicated that both did stuff that was problematic, but I didn't want to face the reality because it would diminish not just my view of them but of myself, I think.   I think this is one reason why folks are reluctant to believe.  This, of course, is in addition to rape culture and everything else in our society. 

I think I feel kind of icky--grossed out, a bit queasy, and sad.  Not just because I have some empathy for those who had to deal with the sexual assaults and harassment committed by CK, Spacey, and all the rest, but because I feel bad about myself. 

On the other hand, that Roy Moore is a pedophilia probably elevates my self-esteem as Horowitz also taught me about the logic of invidious comparison.  That when the other group does poorly, I feel better by comparison.  So, the revelations about someone who was already thoroughly awful makes his whole group look bad (and the reactions of much of the GOP make the group look really bad), making my group feel good.  And, yeah, we don't want to hear about Bill Clinton because it will harsh our buzz about Moore and the GOP.  Unfortunately, these awful people are in all groups, parties, vocations, locations, etc.  So, the boosts to our self-esteem are likely to be temporary as we eventually realize that we (whatever the "we/us" is) have our own assholes who hurt people. 

Obviously, there is much more to these dynamics, but I do think that the logic of invidious comparison is at work here as well.  Anyhow, just overthinking the week's events as I remove the works of Kevin Spacey and Louis CK* from my Netflix lists of what to watch next.
* While Louis CK's apology was better than most, it was still forced by the events of the last few days even as he had ample opportunities over the years to come clean.  So, good but not good enough and way too damn late.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Who to Call About McMess?

I got a comment on my previous post about who folks should contact if they want to blow the whistle on McGill's sexual harassers.  I don't know the McG procedures they have these days, and I won't really trust them until we see someone be visibly punished for their behavior (again, confidentiality tends to protect the perpetrator more than the survivors).  So, my response to that comment is to provide a series of names/contact info of journalists of all kinds who have contacted me about this story (you will note that most didn't end up writing much probably because they could not get any survivors on the record).

Anyhow, here's what I got:
McGill Tribute Editor: Alexandra Harvey <>
McGill Daily News:  <>  The reporter was Marina Cupido--I don't know if she is still there.
Vice: Hilary Beaumont <>
Maclean's: Martin Patriquin <>, 514.843.2964

The first one listed is based on a very recent conversation.  The other ones are older, so they have probably moved on.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Permission Structures and Social Change

Here I go thinking about stuff about which I know not.... I heard the phrase permission structure on a Pod Saves America podcast, which makes sense since it is an Obama thing.  As far as I can tell, it is a social dynamic where expectations/norms/behavior tend to make it easier for people to act.  Like, hey, vote for a Black guy?  Well, maybe now because other folks I agree with say so...

Anyhow, it got in my head when I was talking with Mrs. Spew about the Harvey Weinstein story.  Something may or may not be changing--we shall see if what has happened the past few weeks with Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and others will stick or not.  But it seems to me that two things have changed:
  1. While there had been some stories and complaints and even jokes about Harvey Weinstein for years, the big news story that had both a big name or two (Ashley Judd) and breadth (more than a few specific stories) essentially gave people permission to speak out about Weinstein and then other men and the Hollywood culture in general.  I am not saying people need permission to speak out, but the environment became more permissive--that it would be ok to tell one's story and not face as much disbelief or victim-blaming as in the past.  Yes, there is some safety in numbers, with more and more folks telling their stories, sharing their horrific experiences, it became easier (although not easy).  The Metoo stuff online provided some accelerant, so we now have a cascade (I should be citing Timur Kuran here).  The Cosby story didn't have the same effect even though the story generated a mini-permission structure for women to come out about Cosby (the pattern of a few women leading to a cascade of many since now they would be believed) perhaps because Cosby was no longer at the top of the power structure.  Taking down a relatively powerful figure in the industry created a permissive environment to come out against James Toback, Kevin Spacey and others.
  2. Maybe, just maybe, a second thing might also be happening: the previous permission structure that made it ok and easy for relatively powerful men to prey upon actresses and others in Hollyood maybe breaking.  For how long was the casting couch an unfortunate but expected obstacle that one had to overcome, one way or another, to get a role and to stay in the business?  The men saw it as an entitlement and the women and men (thanks, Kevin Spacey for reminding us that one can be a creep regardless of orientation) beneath them as legitimate prey.  It maybe the case that these norms--these standards--are changing so that the powerful will not see it as their right, that their companies may be less willing to protect, foster and even feed them.  The economic consequences of harboring these folks may help to break this particular permission structure.  I hope so....
Which gets me to the phone call du jour.  Student journalists at McGill are pursuing the story of sexual harassment there, and wanted to get my take since I have been vocal about it.  One of the challenges McGill faces is this: the current batch of administrators say that they are more serious and will listen to the students who file complaints, but why should students believe them?  Thus far, they have not observed any profs paying any price for their behavior.  The permission structure has not visibly changed: those who complain cannot detect any justice, any ramifications, any consequences for the perpetrators.  Yes, the school will say that folks have faced consequences but it is all confidential, so trust us.  Um, no. Permission structures don't changed based on one set of actors saying "believe me."  People have to see that something has changed.  Weinstein lost his job, that his studio is in deep trouble, that police and prosecutors are looking into him have made a big difference (whether it lasts or not, I have no idea).  If McGill and other universities want to be taken seriously, they may want to fire a serial sexual harasser or two.  Well, if they want to be seen as caring more about their students than about their reputation, which, ironically, would improve their reputation.

I'd appreciate your thoughts on this, as I am way outside of my expertise and just thinking aloud.  Does this make sense?

NATO, Latvia and The Joy That is Trump

This afternoon, I went to a lunch roundtable with a visiting Latvian dignatary, organized by the MacDonald-Laurier Institute.  It was held under Chatham House rule, so I can only report what I said and what I learned, not what individual folks said.  As I am a cheerleader for the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence effort in the Baltics (I would rather Putin have fewer opportunities for a fait accompli), I tend to get invites.  And I learn stuff, which is good because I am endlessly curious.

What did I learn today?
  • I hadn't realized that twenty of NATO's twenty-nine countries have sent contingents to the Baltics. Which raises the classic question: who isn't?  When I have some time, I will figure that out.
  • I heard something I had not heard before: Trump's uncertainty might be a good thing.  That is, Putin likes to play the madman game to intimidate folks, but Trump is more sincerely a madman (not put in those words).  In my one chance to ask a question, I pushed back on this--that what NATO needs is certainty.  Which then led to:
  • Yep, the folks in Europe still hang their hopes on the generals--Mattis, McMaster and Kelly.  Followers of the Semi-Spew would guess that I pushed back hard on this. Yes, I did, noting that McMaster has been a bit more optimistic about military options in Korea, which means he is less credible.  Oh and that Kelly is awful, awful, awful.  That Mattis might have be wiser and more constrained, but Trump doesn't always listen.  Anyhow, I think this is wishful thinking--that we can hope that the generals can contain Trump, but given the lack of real alternatives, it is one that folks are going to hold on to.
  • That Latvia is lucky to have gotten Canada as its framework partner.  The British?  Not so reliable after Brexit--who knows what military capabilities they are going to sacrifice as a declining pound bites them big-time.  Germany?  The Germans are infected by Schroeder disease--that the past Chancellor is now in bed with Putin, and there are concerns that there are others in the German political system with financial interests in Russia.  Canada?  A good transatlantic partner that has always done serious things when needed--Vimy, Dieppe, etc.
  • That a big NATO presence, one that RAND recommended, would be bad.  That the current NATO force is not a real threat to Russia, but if you put in 7 brigades, they will come up with offensive war plans.  That deterrence worked in West Berlin with a very light force. 
  • That if Russia were to engage in war, they would find themselves cut off from the European markets and from shipping lanes--the Baltic Sea and Black Sea would be blocked.  Interesting.
  • Estonia and Latvia do seem to have the rules of engagement that I thought--if they see "little green men" Russian provocateurs, they will shoot them.  The question I didn't ask is: is that authority pre-delegated to the local troops?
  • Smartest thing: EU is the greatest threat to Putin, not NATO.  Because countries seeking to join the west and be more successful economically, such as Belarus, raise more risks for Putin's domestic politics.
  • In terms of who to hang out with, the Latvians prefer to be among the Nordics than Central European countries.
Overall, a very interesting lunch.  Thanks, MacLI!