Friday, October 30, 2020

Better Luck This Time: My Prediction

 Last time, on the Friday before the election, I made my prediction.  It was just a wee bit off.  As I have insisted, this time is different.  Am I daring the fates, the Gods, by trying again?  Maybe.  But I am not deterred by my wrongness last time.

So, I will predict and then explain:

Click the map to create your own at

Go big or go home, as they say.  My decisions this time have been critically shaped by the turnout figures.  That more Texas have voted thus far than have ever voted seems to be a thing that we should take into account.  That the turnout figures in Georgia and the utter collapse of David Perdue might be signs as well.  I have no trust that Florida will do the right thing.  Plus looking at the stats of minority turnout and voting tendencies suggests that there might be enough Cuban Americans who vote GOP to offset the turnout of other people in Florida (but they are mostly irrelevant anywhere else). Also, I don't trust DeSantis.  While Kemp can try to mess with things in Georgia, I worry more about Florida being Florida.

Ohio?  That the GOP governor is one of the few who has been reasonable on masks and has been pretty straight-shooting means that there will be less shenanigans with ballots.  And the state has paid a big price for Trumpism.  

PA? The stories I have heard about rural PA being different this time make sense to me.  Although, yes, confirmation bias is my guide.  

When I played around with this, I got Biden to 270 without AZ/TX/GA/NC/OH because I gave PA, MI, WI to Biden.  I think that a few things make the old blue wall a bit more solid this time:

  1. COVID has been killing Wisconsin
  2. Trump's trade wars have been awful for farmers yet not that great for steel workers.
  3. The misogyny that tipped things last time is not relevant despite Trump trying to make Kamala Harris a thing (suggesting that she would be awful if Biden got shot, etc).  
  4. People are tired of Trump and his nonsense, Biden's boringness is a big plus. 
  5. The Senate races, the SCOTUS stuff (Barrett plus vote suppression), the naked voter suppression are all driving big time turnout.  One of the truisms of American politics is that there are more Dems than GOP, so it is really about turnout.  

The only real worry I have is that Trump will get the courts to stop the counting of ballots.  The good news is that few states start counting only on election day.  PA, alas, is one of those.  But if we get TX or GA or NC or AZ reporting Biden wins, then we can go to sleep early.  The decentralization of American voting management is bad for some things--reacting to the Russians--but good for others--limiting how much a President can do to mess with things.

 Last time, I thought that the prospect of Trump was so awful, it would tip things.  Now we have had four years of him, so any "hey, he will govern as a moderate" or "he can't be that bad" or "I hate her more than I hate him" stuff is simply not in play.  Trump has proven to be an arsonist at a time where we desperately need government.  I was saying before COVID that the Dems would win if they could get their act together.  And they have--there is no movement for leftwing types to vote third party or not to show up.  Oh, and the kids are turning out, and the GOP has lost that generation by being intolerant, by trying to deny them health care, and by trying to destroy their future.  

 Of course, I could be wrong.  It has happened before.  But I think a landslide is far more likely than Trump winning.  

Then we can argue what Biden should do with the mandate he gets.  That will a different kind of fun.




Monday, October 26, 2020

The One Issue To Pack the Court

 Voting.  The SCOTUS justices that the Republicans have put on the court seem determined to deny Dems the right to vote.  Ever since Roberts, the most moderate member (which does not mean much) of the GOP Justices, helped to gut the Voting Rights Act, the court has stood in the way of the right to vote.  With a few exceptions, they have ruled in ways that make it harder for the Democrats to compete.

While Dems can be divided on all kinds of issues--not all are feverently pro-choice, some are ambivalent about health care mandates, etc--one thing they can agree on is that they need to have a fair battlefield every November.  That they are united when the GOP justices rule in ways that disenfranchise voters, in ways that limit the counting of ballots. 

So, if there is one issue that makes court packing not just legitimate but necessary, it is the vote.  Folks can argue about precedents and races to the bottom, but the GOP has already gotten to the bottom.  There is nothing lower in a democracy (other than genocide and the like) than making it harder for people to vote, for the votes to be counted.  There is nothing more basic to democracy than that.  One party has been determined to "compete" by making it harder for people to vote.  They have now created a court that supports that stance.   THIS HAS TO BE UN-DONE.  It cannot stand if we want real competition, if we want democracy to continue.  Indeed, if the court keeps on helping block people's ability to vote, then the court will be illegitimate.  The only way to save the court's legitimacy is to change its makeup.  

So, yes, pass law that says that the US needs as many justices as are there are appellate courts (which is pretty precedented).  That gets us to 13, as in 13 colonies.  Isn't that nicely symbolic?  And then the GOP justices will be outnumbered eight to five.  With that many appointments, they can put on a mix of judges--not all flaming far left progressives, a Garland or two can be included.  

Again, it comes down to this: the Supreme Court as it exists and will exist without any changes will continue to tilt the elections towards the Republicans by making it harder for people to vote.  We can't allow that to continue.  So, if given the chance, the Dems must pack the courts.  Otherwise, kiss the courts and American democracy goodbye. 

This Isn't 2016: Another Listicle

I am in a listicle mood, so let me count the ways that this election is not 2016.  And, yes, my sister should not read this as she doesn't want me to jinx anything and she thinks that since I got 2016 wrong, I am an unreliable predictor of American politics (which may be true but not because of 2016).  

But I have been saying this:

So let me invoke the Count and listicle the ways 2020 is different from 2016.:

  1. Biden is not Hillary Clinton.  He has not been vilified for thirty years.  Biden's favorability numbers exceed his unfavorability numbers.  
  2. Misogyny does not help Trump this time because, last I checked, Biden is not a woman.
  3. Misogyny hurts Trump as he has alienated women quite significantly over the past four years.
  4. 2016 Trump could be seen as a moderate businessman who just talked about being "conservative." 2020 Trump cannot be called a moderate anything.  Trump has proven that he is willing to do what the far right wants--tax cuts for the rich, Supreme Court seats for people who are anti-choice (sorry, Susan Collins), and, well, arson in pretty much every government agency.
  5. Four years of attacking the ACA without any plan to follow it up has a price and would have had a price even without a pandemic.  With eight million Americans thus far getting the disease, the legions of Americans with pre-existing conditions is expanding, perhaps exponentially so.  For one example of what a COVID survivor is going through, go here.
  6. Four years ago, there was not a pandemic that the Democrats had bungled.  This time, it is clear to all but the cultists that Trump has been a superspreader both in his policies (or lack thereof) and his rallies.  [I wrote this before Mark Meadows announced that Trump is a surrender monkey on the Sunday morning news shows]
  7. There is no real third party choice, in part because no one can really claim "there is no difference between Trump and Biden."  Trump has made it abundantly clear that he is different.  
  8. Even before the pandemic, people realized that government and policy matter, and that having arsonists in power was hurting them.  As others have noted, Biden was ahead of Trump before the pandemic struck the US.  Again, favorability/unfavorability matters.
  9. Trump's administration is the most corrupt since .... the 1920's or 1870's or somewhere in between. 
  10. The big macro stuff in 2016 tilted towards Trump.  That the Dems winning would have been three Presidential elections in a row, which doesn't happen much.  There was fatigue by and for the Dems.  This time, Trump is, as he often forgets, the incumbent.  Which means he gets to own the state of the country.   
  11. And, jeez, is there Trump fatigue!  So many people are tired, and just want a boring President that they don't have to think about--Biden fits the bill perfectly.
  12. So many juicy close Senate races should help to keep "complacent" voters going to the polls.
  13. Indeed, the Dems have been mobilized in every election since 2016.  2018 went Dem in a big way as well as many other elections in between then and now.  
  14. Speaking of mobilized Dems, the Supreme Court is far less theoretical than it was four years ago.  But with the GOP voters having already gotten what they wanted.  SCOTUS seats usually motivated GOP voters more, but this time?  Probably not as much as enraged Dems.
  15. The young folks are mobilized as they understand their futures are being held hostage by the Trump Administration.  The bungled pandemic response means that their university experience has been interrupted, that the job market they are facing is the worst since the Great Depression, that all kinds of good times have been shelved (weddings, graduation parties, going out).  
  16. And they are outraged by the injustice aimed at African-Americans, at LBGTQ, immigrants, etc.
  17. Trump's white supremacy is clearer even than 4 years ago.  Appointing Jeff "Too Racist of the 1980s Senate" to Attorney General was just the start in 2017 of making it clear that Trump's rhetoric would be met with more racist action.  The mobilizing of the white supremacist base has created a counter-reaction.  
  18. At no point has Trump tried to expand beyond his base.  Not in policy, not in his rallies, not at any moment in the past four years.  
  19. Let's turn to his base.  Because Trump has been acting as an ally of COVID, his supporters are now bearing the brunt of it as they have followed him in being maskless, in social crowding, etc. So, there may literally be fewer of them as Trump's policies on COVID may be kicking in right now as the spikes are highest in the Red states just as the election.
  20. Speaking of his base, Trump got more seniors voting for him four years ago, but the GOP message on COVID has been to sacrifice the old folks so that the economy can grow.  So, the polls how that seniors are now solidly in favor of Biden.
  21. Trump has already been playing around with social security, so, again, old folks are not going to vote for Trump like they did four years ago. 
  22. Oh and also, Trump's base was largely rural.  How has Trump's trade wars helped farmers?  Oh, they lost markets in China?  Yeah.  So, let's not expect quite the same levels of enthusiasm in that part of Trump's "coalition." 
  23. Speaking of rural voters, lots of these folks depend on the mail for delivery of medicine, checks, and lots of other stuff.  The deliberate destruction of the US Postal Service is definitely something these folks have felt even if other arson activities have been less obvious to them.
  24. Last time, I thought Republicans who cared national security would not vote for a candidate so deeply in the pocket of the Russians.  I was wrong about Republicans caring then.  But four years of Putin love and selling out American interests might have made a dent.  I am, indeed, skeptical of the Lincoln Project, but they may represent a very thin slice of the GOP of old.  And that can make the difference in a close state or two.
  25. The Dems have an even bigger money advantage this time especially as Trump's team has pissed away the money it has raised.
  26. The media have not learned as much as they should from four years ago, but CNN is no longer covering every rally from start to finish (and then some, often dedicating time to waiting for the rally sto start).  Instead, we have Daniel Dale listing the lies as they are uttered.
  27. The national polls got the election right four years ago, but several state ones didn't.  Consistent polling error favoring Trump again is very unlikely.  Indeed, folks may be weighting their polls differently in ways that undercount the Democrats voting.
  28. It is really hard to figure out what the huge numbers in early voting means because of the pandemic, but reports are suggestive.  And the polls, yes, those damned polls, have held steady. 
  29.  And the GOP (and Putin) are starting to make their bets.


I am not worried about Dems getting complacent. Not only are they too outraged, but, yes, 2016 and the lessons (both right and wrong) from that experience are very much in the heads of the Dems (and the truly independent).  So, my sister can ignore this post--it is not going to turn people away from the polls. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Quarantine, Week 32: So Close, Yet So Far

The election is so close yet so far away.  My favorite tweet of the week put it into perspective:

The end of the pandemic?  Very far away.  I was trying to figure out where my one pandemic haircut fit within the 32 weeks, as I am getting awfully shaggy.  But Ottawa is spiking as is Ontario and Canada (our second wave seems to be worse than our first), so I am probably going to be on a teleconference on Monday with lots of senior officers and officials with a messy head.  Well, they already think of academics as sloppy, so nothing like reinforcing a stereotype.  It does remind me of my favorite prank of all time:

When I was on the Joint Staff, my boss, Colonel Jim Church would say on a regular basis: by the time you leave here, you will be clean-shaven, have short hair, shined shoes, and be fully squared away.  So, in my second to last month, I showed up at his retirement ceremony like this:

And, yes, I have Halloween on my mind.  I feel bad for the kids, as this is usually the funnest of times.  I don't know if kids will trick or treat with Ottawa authorities discouraging them, but, of all activities, this kind of thing is least problematic in a pandemic.  We know it is mostly aerosols and not fomites--breathing not touching.  So, we shall see.

Twas a week full of meetings with CDSN partners, marking inadvertently the two year anniversary of shipping out the final application to SSHRC.  I have learned a lot over the past two years, and I have greatly enjoyed the CDSN efforts.  It has changed my, yes, battle rhythm, as I have far more meetings with staff, with partners, with potential partners, with government folks than I did pre-network.  But that stuff has been mostly quite engaging and enlightening and fun.  As I head into the last third of my career, it has been nice to shake things up.  

Teaching an undergrad class online has been, well, another way to shake things up.  I hadn't taught undergrads here at Carleton until last year.  It was new in another way--team-taught with David Hornsby.  This year, we are quite lucky to have two phenomenal teaching assistants, who are doing a terrific job.  And we have added fun assignments (well, fun for me): meme of the week.  My favorite this week is probably:

A very smart way to depict the contrasts between the various approaches to International Relations Theory. The students are clearly quite stressed, and we are now having to figure out how to teach the winter term online without the luxury of having an entire summer to prepare.  I will be teaching a different kind of class--an MA seminar.  And the MA students have made it clear that they want synchronous classes--live classes--rather than taped.  I will do a mix--30 minutes or so of lecture that is taped and then 1.5-2 hours of zoomed conversations.  We shall see how it goes.  I guess I have to start prepping that before my video editor gets another job.

We are nearly at the election.  I am quite optimistic, which is driving everyone around me crazy.  They remember that I was optimistic, ruthlessly so, last time.  I will post in a few days why this time will be different.  I also think that being pessimistic makes it harder to get through this, but everyone has a different survival strategy.  All I know is that at least I don't have to fight off zombies to get there.  And, yes, we watched Alive, a Korean zombie flick this week.

So, there's that.  Be well!


Friday, October 23, 2020

The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Unreliable Friend

 The Lincoln Project has been doing an amazing job of getting inside the heads of the Trumps, and it is delightful:

So, why am I ambivalent?  Let me count the ways:

  1. These NeverTrump Republicans are doing a great job of featuring the awfulness of Trump folks
  2. But they are using brutally negative ads that are probably not healthy for a democracy.
  3. They may be convincing some Republicans to vote for Biden.
  4. They may be sucking up money that could be going to Democratic party building.  We need to win this one, but we also need to build the party to fight at all levels for more than just this year.
  5. They seem dedicated to also removing the rot in the GOP Senate by supporting Democratic Senate candidates
  6. They are chock full of people who helped to make Sarah Palin a thing, she of the "real" America stuff.  So, they are partially to more than partially to blame for where we are now. 
  7. I want to believe in forgiveness.  I want folks to make up for the errors of the past.  Perhaps this is what it is. 
  8. Or it could just be a big grift, keeping the usual crew of GOP ad-makers and campaign organizers employed in a cycle where they are, otherwise, out in the woods. 
  9. Their negativity makes it easier for the Biden campaign to mostly run positive stuff and stay above the fray.

So, I am ambivalent.  I see how much pain they are causing the Trumps, who have largely been able to avoid the consequences of all of the bad things they have done for decades.  And I want the Trumps to feel the consequences--I want them to suffer for the crimes they have visited upon the young, the old, and everybody in between.  They should pay for the extra covid deaths, the abuses the kids have experienced, and all of that.

But I also know that hate is toxic if swallowed, and I can't help but think that the LP is creating more hate, more toxicity, not unlike the ooze that flooded NYC in Ghostbusters 2.  

And I worry about 2024--that these folks may line up with Cotton or Hawley or some other awful candidate who lets them back in.  

The realist maxim--the enemy of my enemy is my friend--has an implicit warning--what happens when the mutual adversary is gone?  It is not a basis for trust.  It is fundamentally unreliable.  The Never Trumps do not support many of the policies that Democrats support (when we are feeling mildly coherent).  So, we enjoy the show, but we ought not send them our $ and we ought not turn our backs on them.  


Saturday, October 17, 2020

Quarantine, Week 31: Less Than Three Weeks To Go

Last night, I told my wife that if Biden wins, I will cut my stress-eating down so that I can lose some weight.  My stress-eating thus far, empowered by my stress-baking, has been offset by my stress-exercising.  But maybe I can make some weight loss progress if/when Trump loses and the Dems flip the Senate.

This might be just as much of a pie crust promise (easily made, easily broken) as:

I have speculated about where Trump might flee to avoid extradition--that Saudi Arabia is a more likely choice than Russia.  But, alas, I am pretty sure Trump will leave the White House (knocking on wood) on January 21st to launch his new network so that he can fleece the true believers until he dies (and maybe beyond).  

So, he probably won't flee. But it was a great week of polls.  Doug Jones and Jaime Harrison are essentially tied (within the margin of error), Pennsylvania remains beyond the margin of error, and Trump has to campaign in Georgia since it will be down to the wire in a state he could be taking for granted.  And the voting.  So much voting.  Despite the voter suppression or perhaps, dare I say it, because of attempts at voter suppression, the folks seem determined to vote.  Good for them and bad for the awful people trying to make it hard to vote.  I remember the occasional person pushing back at my discussion of #voterfraudfraud.  Pretty hard to deny that this is the second to last strategy the GOP has.  Of course, the last resort (and the first) is racism/xenophobia/hate.  

Of course, let's not get cocky and all that.  I did tweet this morning that I am not expecting the race to tighten.  Why would it?  Trump has never tried to appeal beyond his base.  His base is probably shrinking because he is trying to kill them--via anti-masking stances, his death rallies, etc.  Who is switching now to vote for Trump?  What has he done lately to prove he deserves four more years?  Has he relented on his misogyny?  The only way he can get more women to vote for him is if the men in their lives do it for them.  Which is one way in which his play to have the GOP turnout on election day and not vote by mail works against him--harder for the men to monitor their wives' ballots.  Ooops.  Ok, so I am a bit cocky.

Perhaps it has been because a week of meetings has me juiced.  Really!  I have been re-engaging with the partners of the CDSN, seeking to determine how we can help them, what they need from us, and possible joint ventures.  And it reminded me of why I got into this adventure in the first place--the defence and security community in Canada (and beyond) is chock full of great people, with interesting ideas and important agendas.  I have also met some new people this past week, referred to me by other partners.  The irony, of course, is that I have spent my career avoiding meetings, and here I am reveling in them.  But the pandemic has a way of making one thirsty for contact.

So, my mid-pandemic vow is to return to the habits of April and May and June--organizing zooms to hangout with individual friends and groups of friends.  If we can't beer in person, we can beer over the computer.  It is not ideal, but the zoom world reduces travel costs to zero.  So, that is my renewed survival strategy.  What's yours?


Saturday, October 10, 2020

Why Do Republican Candidates Suck So Much?

 Why do the Republican candidates seem to suck so much more this year?  I mean:

I am not a scholar of American politics, but I used to work with some who studied the question of candidate emergence.  So, I am going to steal from their work and posit a second dynamic and then a third.  So, the first dynamic is that when smart politicians think that their party will lose, they save their ammo and live to fight another day.  That is, they don't run if they think they are going to lose.  But other, less astute, smart, polished, reality-based politicians will.  So, Delaware, to use the example du jour, is a tough state for a Republican anyway, but particularly in a year where a favorite son will be running for President, driving up Dem turnout.  So, what do you get?  A flaming racist...who made it past the primary.  Maybe if the Republican elites thought they had a fighting chance or a chance of any kind, they would have put up someone who is not this awful.

A second possibility is that the Republicans are out of ideas.  They can't run on the past four years since, well, their policy platform of arson was more fun in theory than in practice for many Americans, and COVID has revealed that governance matters.  So, they can't run on the past.  Can they run on their ideas about the future?  Well, the party has no platform since the Trump convention pretty much killed any idea of a platform.  And the problems of the present/future really don't present themselves as ones the Republicans can think about and propose new policies.  Climate change?  Nope, no real program there but denial.  Health care?  There will be a plan some day.  And on and on. So, they can't run on the past or present, and they can't run on the future.  

A third possibility is that the party has simply become a party of white supremacists.  Sure, that was always there to some degree, but it has become not just naked but a job requirement.  It used to be the case that politicians could run for Republican office without "virtue signaling" that they were friendly to white supremacists.  Now, it seems like it is required to visibly embrace the worst, most extreme xenophobic, racist, misogynist stances.  They can't even condemn right-wing terrorists that sought to kidnap the Governor of Michigan.

A fourth possibility is that when a party sells out all of its values just to get and keep power, that if it becomes a Party of Bad Faith, then they can only get the worst people to sign on.  

I am not saying the GOP is doomed.  I am saying that there are probably systemic (racist) dynamics that are causing such awful people to be the representatives of the party.  Whether they get into power and stay there depends on enough awful people showing up at the polls, enough decent people not, and, of course, a heap of voter suppression.  Indeed, that really is the best indicator of the bankruptcy of the party--that the desperate efforts to deny people the ability to vote reveals that they understand that they suck at appealing to voters.  And their candidates suck. 

Quarantine, Week 30: Canadian Thanksgiving in a Second Wave

Many conflicting emotions this weekend as two things are happening here at the same time--Canadian Thanksgiving and an accelerating second wave.  Canada is not some perfect place, despite the imaginations of Americans as they somewhere, anywhere, for a Trump-less situation with better health care outcomes.  So, I will give thanks (twice, as usual, now and again in November) and mourn as well.  I will do the latter first since I don't want this post to be such a bummer.


Saturday, October 3, 2020

Quarantine, Week 29: Chickens Roosting Edition

 Man, yesterday was quite a week or a month or a year.   Overall, the week at the Saideman house was one of great progress on a variety of front.  We finally have a new bed after dragging the previous one from Texas to Virginia to Montreal to Ottawa.  We have an interim kitchen faucet solution since ours was dying yet our plans for a kitchen reno had to be pushed from this summer to post-pandemic.  We have a squirrel problem and have to get a second opinion since the first removal company's opinion was $$$$$.

The teaching online continues.  The school's template included a third week "check-in" page, so I have heard from about 25% of the class via that page.  And the level of stress is clearly high, but the students largely seem to either like or tolerate well enough the videos we have created and the various assignments.  They complain about the reading, which is perhaps the most normal thing about this course.  Some of that is on my co-teacher and I, as we made things a bit more challenging after last year's students said that the class was too basic.  It is a challenging balance since the class is for third year students but is in an inter-disciplinary program, so the students start with very different backgrounds.  For the most part, we handle that by having two videos a week--one basic and one less so.  Same for the readings--one basic (Dan Drezner's Theory of International Politics and Zombies) and a couple of articles that are less basic.  I have already given more extensions for assignments in this class, three weeks into it, than in any class I remember.  But then again, I have more early assignments--short weekly reading reflections (pass/fail on each one)--to minimize the weight and keep the students engaged.  The memes of the week continue to entertain me with my favorites this week to the right and below

I have been too busy/unproductive to blog about the outbreak of irredentist violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan, something I will try to get to next week.

Of course, out in the world, the big story was the debate.  Oh wait, not any more.  But, yes, I watched the debate as part of a debate bingo game organized by a friend of my sister's.  It was fun although I should have finished in third place (dispute over the meaning of a category).  The debate itself was painful.  Joe started slowly but reacted pretty well, all things considered, to the obnoxious machine on the stage.  I didn't quite realize at the time that Biden's defense of his addicted son was going to be so meaningful.  But in a opoid era, Biden's sincere stance probably was his best move of the night.

Lots of people are getting a lot of satisfaction this week, and I am definitely one of them.  It is not just that Trump now has COVID, but that the event to celebrate the awful nomination of the awful Amy Coney Barrett turns out to be a cursed super-spreading event.  Am I a bad person for taking some, yes, joy from the suffering of others?  Maybe, but I would be a liar if I didn't think this was karmic.  Not ironic, but karmic.  It is not ironic that those who have denied the severity of the virus, who have considered themselves immune, who have behaved recklessly and irresponsibly from the time this pandemic started.  No, it is earned.  This White House and the GOP Senators have earned this illness. I feel bad for the Secret Service, the journalists, and the various staffers who were doing their jobs, but I don't feel bad for Trump, Melania, Mike Lee, or KellyAnne Conway. 

A party utterly devoid of empathy is now complaining that they are not getting enough sympathy.  So, we get takes like this:

Part of dealing with the stress of this thing is venting out one's frustrations, not holding it in.  And since this administration has done much to deepen and prolong the suffering, they are fair game.  Other people can be better than that, but I will not be.   

And then there is this: the President of Notre Dame tried to have a punitive stance towards students who didn't follow the rules, but yet he went to the White House event sans mask and got the disease, which has led to a nice pushback by the students:
The kids, indeed, are alright.

I feel bad for the younger folks--the kids, the teenagers, the college students, recent grads--as this disease is disrupting their lives and sucking out much of the joy of being young.  They can't hang with their friends, they can't play with them, and if they do, they risk the health of others (as well as their own), and if they don't, they still get hammered when it is quite clear that those who are responsible for all of this are so irresponsible.

Canada is now deep into a second wave that promises to be worse than the first wave.  Federalism has meant that the federal government could give money to people who lost their jobs, a good thing, but couldn't get the provinces to keep things closed or to priortize correctly.  So, Ontario, under Doug Ford, looked good at first but has bungled it.  The hospitals are under great pressure, the schools don't have anything like the resources they should, and testing has been spotty at best, incredibly frustrating at worst.

Like in the US, it didn't have to be this way.  And now the toll is accumulating again.  It is going to be a very hard winter.  I need to return to the habit of having social zooms as I am feeling mighty detached.  My recommendation is to reach out, as everyone remains thirsty for company.  If it has to be on a screen, so be it.  But don't go through this alone.  Be well and embrace your schadenfreude.  Whatever it takes to make you feel better.  The only people who should feel guilty are those who are governing.  

Friday, October 2, 2020

Trump and COVID: More or Less Uncertainty

I was asked by a Canadian media outlet to ponder the national security implications of Trump coming down with COVID.  I focused on uncertainty.  That in international relations, uncertainty leads to bad stuff--inadvertent wars, people seeking to take advantage of perceived weakness, etc.  The question really then becomes: if Trump is incapacitated, is the US a less predictable actor?  My take: it is a mix as people will wonder if Trump is still making decisions or not--which means more uncertainty--but since Trump is an Uncertainty Engine, taking him out of the process might increase certainty.

First, don't panic.  Most of the DC apparatus is still operating.  Desks are still staffed, standard operating procedures are still operating.  The US does have contingencies for an impaired President--not just the 25th Amendent but also all of the nuclear planning and such. 

Second, be concerned.  American adversaries may see this as a window of opportunity to act while the US leadership is incapacitated.  But we have to think about which ones.  North Korea, for instance, has been getting pretty much what it has wanted with Trump, so this would not be a moment to do anything to upset that.  China would like Biden to replace Trump, even if  Biden has been stirring up some Sinophobia, as Biden is more predictable and more willing to make credible deals and stop costly trade wars.  Iran, well, Iran would be interested in screwing around with the US since they are still upset about the Suliemani strike which was, yes, this year.  But it is not like Iran has not been thinking about and trying to do stuff already.  So, it might make them a bit more risk prone, but, again, they probably prefer a Biden Administration, so they may not want to upset things. 

Which leaves us with the troll du decade--Putin.  Putin is guessing he is going to lose his puppy, so why not burn things down now?  Russia is already engaged in destabilization efforts in Ukraine and in propping up their pals in Belarus.  I am not sure escalation in either place is in the cards.  But I would worry about Putin since he attacks weakness even if such an attack puts Russia in a worse position (such as 2014). 

I was asked about the implications for Canadian national security.  My answer is: not much. I would worry a bit about the Canadian troops that are near harm's way--trainers in Iraq and Ukraine--but since the American national security system will continue to operate, not much really changes for Canada in the next week or two. 

And, yeah, no one got as concerned about Trudeau's exposure to COVID as Trump because, well, Canada is not quite as central as both guarantor of security and threat to it, depending on what country one happens to be. 

Oh, and perhaps we should all learn to take this disease seriously: stay at home, wear masks when going out, keep at a distance.  We have known what to do for the past six months--it is about time more folks do what they should as this second wave continues to escalate.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Quarantine, Week 28: Can We Panic Now?

The theme of the week just may be:

Between Trump's efforts to subvert the election are much more exhaustive than we may have thought, North Korea killed a potential defector heading their way because of fears of COVID, one of my teaching assistants has COVID, driving through crowds has become the go-to strategy for the far right with it happening in Los Angeles this week, and Justin Trudeau announced that the second wave is here in Canada, it seems like this was a week where it really seems time to despair.  Good thing we have Dennis Quaid paid by CDC money to cheer us up so that folks don't vote Trump out....

I spent much of the week on a hill yelling that we ought not be focused on the US military regarding the election.  The seizing of power that Trump is doing does not involve the US military but instead involves potentially compliant GOP officials at all levels.  Yep, it is not a coup but an autogolpe.  Think Fujimori and Orban, not Mali last month, Soviet Union 1991 or Vietnam 1963 or Thailand (pick the year, you probably won't be wrong).  This should not be so reassuring as plenty of democracies die by Presidents seizing more power, but it does mean that the effort to anticipate and to fight needs to be focused elsewhere than the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff (especially since he only commands the Joint Staff--desk officers).

The good news here is that the Trump Administration can't keep a secret, and seizures of power tend to require secrecy.  Think about all of the effort Chancellor Palpatine put into keeping his plans quiet.  And, yes, rebellions are built on hope, so let's not despair.  Biden is ahead in the polls and is close in states that Trump won bigly four years ago.  The less ambiguous the election results, the harder it is to fake a crisis.  And, yes, autocrats and their wannabe's often lose power precisely by seeking to overturn election results.  There is more good news--the odds of the Dems taking the Senate are increasing as Trump's poisonous policies and stances are spilling over on to them.  The desperation that Lindsay Graham has been exuding reminds me of when I was a teenager seeking romance.  It didn't work for me then, and it may not work for Graham now.

I think we could really use the John Krasinski Good News program these days, but there is good news out there. 

The best news: the CDSN has partnered with RAS-NSA, the new Francophone defence and security network, to launch the Conseils de sécurité podcasts hosted by Sarah-Myriam Martin-Brûlé and Thomas Juneau.  Like Battle Rhythm, it is available at all the usual podcast outlets.  Their first episode interviews Canada's Foreign Minister FRANÇOIS-PHILIPPE CHAMPAGNE!

There is delightful Canadian comedian Julie Nolke putting out more videos (she was the one with the great video of pandemic Julie trying to give a heads up to pre-pandemic Julie):

What else?  Oh, I am loving the assignment I gave to my undergrad IR theory class where they create memes illustrating the concepts.  My fave of this week i(it didn't win the weekly contest):

And my TA's, sick and healthy, are doing a great job of working with each other and with Prof. Hornsby (my co-teacher) and myself.   The students themselves seem to be engaged in the material and have not yet commented on my music selections for each video's intro.  So, there's that. 

On the homefront, Mrs. Spew finally has a diagnosis for the non-covid respiratory problems she's been having, and she has mostly recovered.  Which means we might return to exploring small towns in the Ottawa region and walk through an occasional park before winter hits in ... oh damn.  Ok, we have a few more weeks. 

The baking challenge of last week--smore cookies--required me getting a kitchen torch, so that was a heap of fun!  Turns out the cookies do better with a smidge of broiling than me burning them with a creme brule torch.  Of course, the important thing is that they tasted great.  I shared with my ultimate team and my neighbors--love seeking little kids cover themselves in chocolate--so we didn't have too many ourselves.  A good thing. 

The stress-exercising seems to be working to offset the stress-baking and stress-eating.  I have gone through most of the animated Star Wars stuff (Resistance is not that good), so I have to re-watch Mandalorian while tread-milling.  Biking still has a few weeks before winter ends that for me, and the challenge has been a lot of construction nearby disrupting my usual routes.  Still, we have had good weather mostly, so I am making the most of it before the snows come.  The next stress-shopping binge will be focused on beating the crowds to the winter sporting gear--snowshoes and cross country skis.  I will need to get outside during Wave 2 Winter or maybe Wave 3 Winter. 

Please focus not on exaggerated threats (the US military) but on the things we can do to make it hard for Trump to stick around--vote and get others to vote.   Do not despair even if you don't see the Dennis Quaid ads, as:

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Depressing Day of Getting Terms Right

If Trump remains in power despite an election that goes against him, this would most likely be an autogolpe and not a coup.  A coup refers to a seizure of power by folks not currently in power, usually involving the military.  An autogolpe is when an incumbent seizes power.  It comes from  Spanish because it was a thing in Latin America at various times including rather recently with Fujimori of Peru.  Viktor Orban's moves in Hungary have been an autogolpe in slow motion.

To be clear, this is not just me thinking this:

The latest story about how the GOP might seek to subvert the election results by having GOP-dominated state legislatures throw out the popular vote totals in the name of imagined voter fraud and select GOP electors is very autogolpe type stuff.

And if it were too happen, the US would be in a personalist dictatorship, not a military regime, and not, despite some appearances, one party rule.  Why?  Regarding a military regime, the military would be well out of this and thankfully so.  A single party system?  Not really since it is more about the personality of Trump and less about the party's ideals, but it could end up being a hybrid. This matters because different types of authoritarian regimes have different life spans and patterns of behavior--see Barbara Geddes's work.

Why do these definitions matter?  Because they point to the processes that may tip the US into autocracy and where we need to put our efforts to stop this.  If the threat was a coup, we should be focused on the military and deterring or persuading the folks with the guns not to intervene.  But if the threat is autogolpe, then we need to figure out ways to prevent Trump from usurping power.  Which means putting pressure on these state legislators, on revealing these plans so that opposition increases.  Better to resist now than react to a fait accompli.

One of the key things that those in favor of Democracy have is that the Trump people suck at keeping secrets.  The downside is that when the Trump folks do things in broad daylight, they look less criminal.  Anyhow, none of this is inevitable or foregone.  To resist, we need to protect the media who are doing the hard work of reporting these potential plans, and we need to focus on getting as big a win as possible on election day which makes it harder to fudge results.

Since I am not an autogolpe specialist, I hope others who have studied these things can give us some clues.  I will say that one of the things that gives me a bit of hope is that aspiring autocrats often lose power when they seek to play with unfortunate (for them) election results.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

What I Don't Get, COVID edition

This is all very hard.  It is hard on employees, it is hard on employees, it is hard on parents, it is hard on children, it is hard on politicians.  That I get.  But what I don't get is accumulating:
  • I don't get why non-restaurant/bar parts of the economy have taken a back seat. In California, for instance, sure, Silicon Valley can probably operate in a working from home situation.  But Hollywood?  In all parts of the US, there has been great pressure to open bars and restaurants, but we know that these are the places where the disease is spread (along with religious places, big events, etc).  I thought California was onto something by hiring restaurants to provide food for those who needed it, but I guess that wasn't enough.  But now, Hollywood has to keep pushing most production either into the future or overseas, and that has a huge knock-on effect in LA.  And that also means much less money flowing back to California for taxes.  
  • I don't get why testing still mostly sucks in Ontario and elsewhere.  If it takes several days to get results, then tracing is useful.  If it takes hours or days to get tested, then testing and quarantining can't do that much.  I get why it was hard in March and April and May.  But now?  Ottawa is reeling from the shock of kids and parents having to be tested in order for kids to stay in school.  How is this at all surprising?  Why didn't the province (and other places) hire unemployed people to help fill the staffing for these things?  You don't need trained nurses to direct traffic or organize things.  
  • I don't get why there is such confusion in the schools.  Again, there was an entire summer to prepare.  But my teacher neighbors report that some teachers learned of their year's assignments the day before classes started, so they couldn't prep.  
  • I don't get how people can't figure out how to use masks.  Sure, I get there are folks out there that refuse to do so because they don't care about anyone but themselves.  But those who wear masks, don't have it under your nose.  Jeez.  
  • I don't get why 200,000 dead in the US is not denting Trump world just a bit.  Trump is literally killing his base, and I get that many will just go along with it.  But damn, Trump could not have fucked this up worse.  He gave Kushner responsibility for COVID response, need I say more?  

This is not really a post asking for folks to provide answers.  It is just a collection of stuff that outrages me.   One reason I blog less is that I don't want to spend all my time  (semi) spewing outrage.  Blogging is mostly for fun for me, to give me a place to play with ideas.  I have been meaning to write a post-rewatch Star Wars Rebels take, but I am just so drained and angry that we can't do the simple stuff, not to mention the harder stuff. 

At least I have three more weeks of fall ultimate.  The weather today was amazing if a bit crisp, and it was a great day to throw the disk long (huck).  To huck or not to huck?  I get it why I hucked so much today.  So, there's that.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Quarantine, Week 27: Glitches and Gutpunches

The week started well with classes starting and ended awfully with the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  I won't say much here about RBG's passing as I think it is too early to figure out the ramifications, but I will say that it is very 2020 to have her die just before the election.  The one thing I will say is that if you are motivated to donate money or make phone calls, don't focus on Mitch "Bad Faith is My Middle Name" McConnell's race but the other races that are much tighter.  Mitch can be made mostly irrelevant if the Dems gain control of the Senate.

Anyhow, Monday was my first day of teaching.  I learned quite quickly that the choice to put up videos rather than teach live online was the right one.  I did teach live the first day, and a few different things happened.  First, someone was carrying a conversation with someone else--either in the class or at home or on another device--and I can't remember what it was about, but it wasn't appropriate.  The students started chatting in the chat box about it (see here) and I was kind of flummoxed.  One student said "this is the best fucking thing I have ever seen..." and I responded: "I am pretty sure that is not true."  Here's my look: 

The class went on and was otherwise pretty normal for an online class, including me losing my audio and my video freezing a couple of times.  The class will provide a weekly uplift for me and my twitter followers as the meme of the week assignment promises to be delightful.  Each student has to create four memes, one in each quarter of the class.  Only 8 of 110+ did the assignment for the first week, which means that we will get 100 or so divided among the next two weeks.  The memes ranged from being funny but not really developing the concept to wonderfully on target.  The students vote on who wins the contest with the top four vote-getters each week getting extra credit and the rest of those submitting simply getting a pass grade in the pass/fail assignment.  This one did not win but was my personal fave:

My Phd Proposal class also met on Monday, and it went well.  It meets twice a month with students workshopping their proposals bit by bit and also one or two present their entire proposal, which is often their practice session before defending it before their committee.  As always, lots of questions about the rules of our system--how many people on the committee, how many do you need for the proposal defense, etc--with me never really knowing quite what the rules are.  It is kind of like ultimate--which is on its 11th edition of the rules but I still seem to remember the rules that I learned 35 years ago.  As this is the third PhD program I have been prof-ing at, I lose track of what the rules are here.

Besides the memes, playing ultimate in the rain on Sunday was a highlight of the week.  We once again played the best team in Ottawa--our bubble is very small--and we got crushed after starting off 3-3.  But it was fun and it was not too cold.  I do worry that as the weather gets colder, my muscles are more likely to pull.  The key, as always, is not to run hard or jump much.  My style is more of falling down with style--laying out for errant disks.  It has been great to be out and run around.  Biking is good exercise, but it just isn't fun the way ultimate is.  Alas, as winter approaches, the key will be to find cross country skis or snowshoes before there is a run on them.

The baking continues with my siblings and I making various apple cake recipes.  The cake I made rivals my apple turnovers and apple pie, better than my apple crisp and apple crumble.  This week's competition involves smore cookies, which meant I had to go out and get a kitchen torch to burn the marshmellows.  Ok, I used this as an excuse to get one.   Whether I start making heaps of creme brulé remains to be seen.

The family zoom has changed recently as my sister added games to our conversations, which, thankfully, reduces the amount of pandemic and politics talk.  I get to choose next so I am awaiting a delivery of a game that we can play online.  I will report the results next week.

Speaking of zoom, I had heaps of meetings this week with a variety of people.  Again, I am glad that I taped my class as it can get exhausting to have three hours of zoom in a row.  But these are small complaints. 

The bigger frustration right now in Canada is that the testing is still not where it needs to be.  A journalist friend went on an odyssey trying to get tested.  The problem is that you can only send your kids to school if no one in the family bubble is sick.  If someone is sick, then they need to be tested before the kids can return to school.  Which means tons of people lining up at the very few testing centers in Ottawa, often waiting hours and then learning that the testing center is booked for the day.  And the results come back often very slowly.  So, yeah, Ontario has failed to provide sufficient testing for this very predictable increase in testing demand at the start of the school year.  A second wave has been declared, so, yes, once again, I am very, very thankful that my school has decided to be entirely online this fall and in the winter. 

It would seem like six months into this, we would be doing this better.  But we are not.  Just as the US has had failing leadership, Canada's leaders have not done nearly enough.  And, yes, just as outcomes vary by state in the US, they vary by province up here.  Doug Ford exceeded expectations last winter by closing things down and criticizing the party-goers.  But on the policy front--getting testing right, shifting resources so that there would be more distancing in schools--he has utterly failed.  So, Mrs. Spew and I continue to hunker down with the exception of food shopping, mailing out of US ballots, other errands, and ultimate frisbee. 

I hope you and yours are well and manage to dodge, dip, duck, dive, and dodge this disease.  Be well.