Saturday, July 2, 2022

Burning Down A Place But Not The Memories

This past week, the main building at Camp Airy burned down
The good news: no one was hurt, it was the only building that was harmed, and the camp season is continuing.  Every start of every summer, the camp director would tell everyone not to let any of the faucets keep dripping after they are done with the sinks because it would empty the water tower.  Well, it turns out that was not mere rhetoric, as they had to bring up water from the pool and the pond.  There are temp facilities being set up, and a variety of entities have lent a hand so that the kids, counselors, and staff can eat. So, the summer and the camp will go on.

I spent the best ten summers of my life there, first as a camper and then as a counselor.  Every year, I spent 44 weeks looking forward to the eight.  I felt far more alive and myself at that place than at my middle school or high school.  The White House--the building that burned down--was mainly the dining hall, but also held offices and the counselor's evening clubhouse.  

What do I remember about that dining hall?  

  • every breakfast, the counselors would have to employ different systems to distribute the small boxes of sweet cereals fairly.  
  • the summer of turbot.  I don't know the details, but we ended up having a lot of fried fish one summer, I guess due to a contract gone awry or something.
  • the summers where the entire camp would chant a particular counselor's name anytime a serving tray of dishes fell.  He always turned bright red, which made it so much more fun.  
  • the time, Ed, the Director for my entire time there, a terrific man but also could be scary, went to the mic to yell at the campers for being too loud, saying that the volume was reaching the roof.  I was a smartass (yeah, it goes way back) and looked at the ceiling, and in his omniscience, Ed said, yeah, go ahead, look at the ceiling.... That scared me so much. 
  • my girlfriend, who is now Mrs. Spew, visited me when I was a counselor and ate at the table with my bunk of 12-13 11-12 year olds.  I showed her and them a fave trick of putting a spoon on my nose and keeping it there sans hands.  The  kids wanted to do it, so I told them to dip their spoons in the tomato sauce (must have been a spaghetti night) and then put the spoon along their noses so that the bowl of the spoon rests between one's eyes.  As a result, they all quickly had red circles on their foreheads.  I am sure counselors played other tricks on me at the White House's tables, but I don't remember them.  
  • the steps of the place were used for orientation pics for first year counselors.  As a rare camper who had spent entire summers rather than four week sessions, I knew about a particular tradition--that at the end of the photo session, more experienced counselors on the roof would upend garbage cans full of water onto the rookies.  As this picture shows, I was strategically positioned to be under the overhand and in the front.  Jon, my best camp pal, was ready to sprint. 
    I wonder where they will stage this picture next year... I am hoping that the replacement is built quickly as Airy's 100th anniversary is two years away.  

 The news of the fire has brought together much of the old gang, telling stories.  It breaks my heart that the building burned, but I find solace in those stories and in the news of the help that is being sent up the mountain.  I am glad that these boys (and the girls down the road at Camp Louise) will keep doing this special camp thing.

How Long Will American Autocracy Endure?

 With the news that the radicals on the Supreme Court will decide next term whether states can toss out the popular vote, along with the rest of the rulings that have already made the US less free, I started wondering how long will the United States be ruled by an authoritarian regime.  Yes, tis a dark place, essentially giving up on American democracy.  Sure, we are not quite there yet, and the folks who have been warning us haven't coded the US as autocracy yet (I await the next update of Brightline Watch).  But I have seven hours to spend at Newark airport in between flights so why not think this through a bit.   And no, conditions here are ok--the new United Lounge has a great taco bar and pretty terrific cccookies.  

Part of this is talking with folks during the EISS conference, getting some fresh perspectives.  That 27% of Republicans think Biden was elected legitimately which means folks may just say that we need an unpeaceful transition (Mike Flynn taking the 5th on that question is disturbing for so many reasons) helped get me thinking. 

Anyhow, assuming that the 2024 election may be tossed out by GOP types or Trump might win and and then return to his mission of destroying democracy, how long might it last?  For me, the starting point is: what type of autocracy?  Sure, we could think about the possible civil war of blue vs red states, but I will skip that for now as I am already sufficiently depressed.  So, I did read Barbara Geddes's book a while back where she codes different types of authoritarian regimes and assesses which ones last longer.  I found a pdf of a paper that took that dataset and went further with it, so that folks can get an open-access taste (but do get her book--it is pretty great)

There are four types of regimes (or more or less, depending on the scholar) but the archetypes are: monarchies, single-party regimes, military regimes, and personalist dictatorship.  Things can get fuzzy, but here's what the basic pattern is:


 We don't have to worry about monarchy, and I don't think a military regime is a likely form for the US.  Maybe down the road, but not in the near future.  That is a post for a different day.  First, the bad news: the average autocracy lasts more than .... ten years.  But most don't last forever.  The big question is whether it will be a personalist dictatorship or single party regime as the latter lasts twice as long as the former.  Personalist regimes do tend to have succession problems.  

Will the oncoming autocracy really be the rule of one man or will it be one party?  This is hard to say because the GOP is doing a lot on its own, the stacking of the court preceded Trump, the state parties around the country are running amok, and so it could just become a single party government.  Previous and existing ones had a coherent ideology to bring folks together (again, this is what I remember from a book I read a while ago)--Communism, Nazism, fascism.  What is the binding ideology of the GOP?  If the last several years has taught us anything, it is a party entirely devoid of values, just a power seeking machine, as the party let itself be taken over by a guy who was very much the antithesis of the stated values of the party (well, besides the racism and misogyny that was baked into the GOP).  

This is important because an utterly craven, power-seeking party with no values will have a hard time building or sustaining institutions that could keep the party together.   Can the GOP stick together after Trump leaves the scene?  Or will it be torn apart by those who seek to succeed him?  While there are those who think they could control the party, such as a Mitch McConnell, how much power will he have when the Senate becomes just an empty symbol that could be disbanded if it gets too quarrelsome for Trump/Trump 2.0.  Trump might get so annoyed and jealous of whatever power McConnell has, that he might disband the Senate.  No Senate, no McConnell. Once you break institutions, those who were empowered by institutions may become less relevant.  

Alternatively how would a GOP politburo work?  Who would be on it?  Would they get along?  Would they sublimate their egos so that their rule could be perpetuated?  I just don't see the GOP managing one party rule well.  On the other hand, I also have a hard time imagining what the rebellion would look like (too much Star Wars in my head).

Of course, in the short term, the US will have an electoral autocracy, so it will look a lot like Hungary (no accident that today's GOP are fans of Orban and what he has done to Hungary) or Russia. So, the institutions will stick around for a while, despite reduced legitimacy, and they might constrain Trump/whoever somewhat.  And that gives us a bit of hope as one thing that does bring autocracies to an end is their screwing up their fake elections.

 All of this is gross and disturbing.  I haven't given up hope yet, but damn, we face dark days ahead.





Sunday, June 26, 2022

Ten Years In An Unexpected National Capital

Ten years ago today, I arrived in Ottawa, a place I had never expected to live and work.  I had been working to move on from my previous job and got several interviews in the DC area.  Instead, I was told about a job interview process at Carleton that I knew I would not get (long story), but I had hoped to practice my stuff and maybe make a few connections.  Instead, I got offered a different job--the Paterson Chair in International Affairs.  And I will forever be grateful for the accidents and luck that got me here.  So much so that I resurrected one of my oldest Spew gags: how I am surprised, troubled, enchanted, and humbled

  • Besides being surprised at how ten years flew by, soon making Ottawa the place I have lived the longest, I guess I am surprised by how I feel like I belong here and how quickly that seemed to have developed.  True, it was the first place I ever moved where I knew people.  I quickly developed friendships with other folks at the other university in town, my friends at Carleton introduced me to folks in the media with several now being friends.  Creating a network, the Canadian Defence and Security Network, was not easy but it was eased by how many people I met at the various events around town over the years, by the contacts I developed at a number of institutions inside and outside of government.  It really is a small city, and it is chock full of people engaged in the stuff that interests me--International Relations, Foreign Policy, Civil-Military Relations, ultimate frisbee, and Defence Policy.
  • I am troubled by the politics of the place--that the city council seems to be dominated by the contractors and can't buy a train system in any competent kind of way, that the provincial leaders don't care about the city since the provincial capital is in Toronto (and we saw this play out during the far right occupation of the city), and the media and perhaps Canadians think that money spent on normal federal stuff is a waste, like the Prime Minister is supposed to live in a dump and fly on an obsolete plane.  Ottawa is a pretty special place, but it has been under-served by politicians at all levels.  
  • I am enchanted by so much of this place, whether it is the sweet ultimate fields near me, the canal that makes for good biking routes (and the ice cream place that makes my exercise bice-creaming), the relatively short distances to get to anywhere in town, so that it is easy to agree to meet folks wherever and to enjoy pretty much all of the place.  I guess the most enchanting aspect of the place are, to repeat myself, the folks I have met--ambassadors, military folks, officials in the department of whatever foreign affairs is called now, the sharp folks at the enemy university, the sweet folks at the Dean's office (I have had great relationships with two Deans here, which is a streak unparalleled in my career), the frisbee folks (of course), and on and on.  
  • I am humbled by the expertise that so many have.  I am a generalist, so I know some about a lot, but not a lot about that much.  This town has so many people who are so sharp in their specialty that I am constantly being corrected.  But that is a good thing, as I keep on learning.  I can't trot out the whole "unfrozen caveman" thing as much as I could before.  Ten years in Ottawa also means twenty years in Canada.  I still don't know about Canadian history, and there are plenty of friendly Canadians who correct me about the present that I don't understand.  

While there are somethings I miss about my previous job and about Montreal, I know that I made the right decision ten years ago for me and for my family.  That we will not be leaving Ottawa when I retire, as we like this place and we really like the people we have met along the way.  This place very much feels like home, and I have much gratitude to all those who made us welcome.  My ultimate career is nearing its end, so I will have to find some other activity to keep me busy in the summer.  I may really become Canadian if I end up paddling up and down the canal.  

Anyhow, thanks to everyone for making us welcome. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Arbour Review, Part 2: Reviewing the Recommendations

 Yesterday, I wrote about the entire report and some themes and questions that arise from it.  Today, I want to address the  recommendations, suggesting what patterns exist, and what might be missing.  A big question is which ones will get implemented, with Minister Anand already agreeing to implement 17 of the recommendations and make progress on several others (green for accepted, yellow for more study according to the link in this sentence).  I put all of the recommendations into a table and coded them by the kind of recommendation and the target of the recommendation.  The table is here (let me know how I should revise it).

The report's recommendations fall into the following categories:

  • Definition--defining or redefining key terms
  • Review--recommending that the Minister or another actor review somethign
  • Jurisdiction--moving a responsibility from one agency to another
  • Legal--changing the legal responsibilities of CAF/DND members and/or agencies
  • Structural--altering key CAF/DND structures
  • Training--recommending changes in training/education
  • Promotion--changing promotion procedures.

This is not a perfect coding scheme, and I am not a great coder.  But these different categories highlight key dimensions of the challenge, suggest which ones will be easier and which ones will be harder.  Right now, I am having a hard time imagining categories that are entirely excluded except for funding--that is, there are no specific recommendations about moving money around even as many recommendations have $ mplications. 

A quick look at the categories shows that some stuff is easier to agree to readily than others.  Almost all of the transparency recommendations were accepted immediately with the one exception of reducing the obstacles placed on external researchers.  Few of the definitions, except for the SMRC's name change, have been accepted, despite how easy that seemed to me.  Suggests that words are complicated and have big effects, which would, of course, be the perspective of the lawyer heading DND.  Most of the jurisdiction changes are not yet agreed to, and that is not a surprise as changing jurisdictions is always complicated.  Some of the recommendations to do additional reviews were accepted with the most controversial, what to do with the military colleges, getting some thought but not a commitment yet (yellow, not green).  The promotion recommendations were mostly accepted, which is not that surprising given that General Eyre and Minister Anand had already made significant changes in the promotion processes of senior leadership.

I coded the recommendations by the target of the reform as well.  Some recs were broad, not targeting a specific agency but many were.  The SMRC was the big, um, winner, getting more specific recommendations than any other agency, and, as I said yesterday, I am happy to see not become the dumping ground for all responsibility for this stuff.  ADM RS, which I discussed in my post yesterday, got several recommendations, and like the SMRC's recs, most of these were immediately accepted.  Most of the training recommendations were not immediately picked up.  Those recs specifically targeting the Minister were immediately accepted--they were easy since they didn't impinge on any other actor and they are the very least she could do--recommendations for informing parliament and setting up an external monitor to keep her on track.

What other patterns emerge?  Well, legal changes were not immediately accepted as that requires either much work by lawyers or legislation.  Changes that require outside actors to play a different role will be more difficult to accept and implement--hanging over responsibility for intra-CAF sexual offenses, Canadian Human Rights Commission playing a greater role, etc.  We have already learned this from the refusal of a number of police agencies to take on CAF sexual assault cases. While it is one thing to change how GOFO's are promoted and much work has been done there, it will require much more thought/planning/reallocation/effort to change recruitment, to change the incentives for being an excellent trainer, to develop probationary periods for new recruits, etc.  One of the big challenges in all of this will be privacy/confidentiality concerns as Arbour recommended in a number of places that those making decisions on promotion and succession should have information about the past misdeeds and current investigations of those under review.  I am all for this, but I can imagine that this is complicated.  Good thing there is no military union or else much of this stuff would be impossible.

Besides my previously mentioned frustration with the lack of stuff on civilian control of the military, what else is missing?  Given Arbour's mandate, we can't expect every reform we might want--just those related to sexual misconduct.  I recommend a couple of things (I believe I told Arbour the first two):

  • Shift emphasis away from Special Operations as the height of military excellence, as that is the whitest, most male part of the armed forces.  The CANSOF folks may actually be among the most open-minded and progressive groups in the CAF, but the idolization of Special Ops creates bad expectations and tendencies for everyone else (including police forces).  More emphasis on domestic operations would highlight a more diverse force, one that is more relevant for the public, and one that is less likely to encourage/deepen toxic masculinity (more on that below)
  • Make service in the CAF a pathway to citizenship.  This is not going to happen, but I like pushing it anyway.  We want more recruits, we want more diverse recruits.  Well, if you give potential immigrants the chance to come to Canada and become Canadians in exchange for some time in the military, that might achieve multiple objectives.  Yes, there are moral challenges (hey, we want to exploit the Global South) and security clearance complexities.  But the US managed to do this, so I am not sure why Canada can't.  Otherwise, I would recommend finding ways to make it easier for those who have already come to Canada to join the CAF.
  • Reduce the percentage of former and active CAF folks in DND.  Arbour raises the issue, but does not include anything related to this in her list of recommendations.  I would also amend the National Defence Act to ban the appointment to the position of Minister of National Defence anyone who has served a significant amount of time (more than six years?) in the Canadian Armed Forces.  I would also shift the attitude that DND's job is to support the CAF (see Arbour's own words in the document) to DND's job is to support the Minister in ensuring civilian control and fostering effectiveness of the CAF.

One of the missing recommendations: how does one reduce toxic masculinity?  None, absolutely none, of the recommendations targets this directly.  But then again, I have no answer to this.  I am guessing others do.  Which leads to a big question for those who have read this far:

What would you recommend the Minister/DND/CAF do to reduce abuse of power, entitlement, and sexual assault/harassment in the military and in DND?

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The Arbour Report, part 1: Reviewing the Review

I finally completed reading the Arbour report.  I am not as familiar with many of the acronyms or units, so it required much flipping back and forth.  Overall, it is an impressive document since it takes seriously the reality that there have been many reviews.  It sometimes addresses why those other reviews didn't get implemented, and sometimes it could have taken more seriously the resistance these reviews faced.  In this post, I am just going to address the themes in the text and what I make of them and what might be missing.  In the next post, I address the recommendations, the patterns of acceptance by Minister Anand, and suggest what happens next.

To begin with, Arbour argues that a key part of the problem is that the CAF is an insular organization that resists external input: "it is the collective failure of an organization that has preserved such a high degree of self-regulation and resistance to external influence and progress."  And by external, she means the Department of National Defence, the Minister of National Defence (when there is not a passive one), the various reviewers, and on and on.  That the Minister and DND are seen as external, I think, is part of the problem.  It should be seen as a hierarchy where the MND is at the top, not as an outsider but the one who owns all that is under her.

I would go further--that the CAF is not just skeptical of outsiders but that it is an organization that expects to be autonomous and expects deference to their superior expertise.  This is not that different from most modern militaries that drank too much Huntington, but the CAF is a bit more so.  Even in conversations with some of the more critical retired generals, I hear them say that the only civilian that they should have to listen to is the Minister, that the unelected Deputy Minister and those under him often don't know what they are talking about and so on.  What is striking in much of the document is how much has previously been left to the military to figure out--what to implement, how to implement it, and so on.  And that clearly has failed.  Repeatedly failed.  

Maybe this is my bias, but the story of reform is really about instilling civilian control of the military.  One of the more worrisome lines in the document is:Ultimately, the DND supports the CAF."  Why is this worrisome?  Because departments of defence vary across the democratic world from those who see their jobs as protecting the military to those who see their jobs as overseeing the military.  You can guess which end of the spectrum I prefer.

One of the consistencies in the document are references to ADM Review Services, a unit within the Defence Team that reports to both the Deputy Minister and the Chief of Defence Staff.  My first question is: did Arbour go far enough on this?  I would recommend that ADM RS be moved to be entirely under the Deputy Minister.  I am tempted to suggest that Military Personnel Command be moved from being solely under the CDS to being moved to being shared by the DM and CDS, as another consistent theme is that the military does not do personnel all that well.  I would also make clearer that the current percentage of former CAF in DND is too high--23% may not seem like too much, but when 40% of DND reports to the CAF and 15% report to former members, that seems like a lot more military influence in the organization responsible for civilian control of the armed forces.  Arbour makes a key point early on that is really something in the military mindset--reinforce success, not failure.  Well, the military does operations really well, but a lot of the other stuff not so much.  So, perhaps move those things out of the military chain that it does not do well.

This does get to one of my frustrations--she does not focus much on DND and she does not focus much on the larger abuse of power problem.  She stayed within her mandate (something I tend to be lousy at), and since the sexual misconduct crisis was seen as a mostly military thing (most of the complaints), that is where her attention was directed.  I think she could have been more explicit about why the previous reviews haven't been implemented--again, there are hints, but not a broader indictment.  For instance, she didn't talk to former CDS Jon Vance (at least as far as the report indicates), and so we don't really know why he didn't follow the Deschamps report.  Entitlement is mentioned only once, and careerism is not mentioned at all.  So much talk by CAF members about service before self, but we didn't see that from the senior officers the past year (Vance, McDonald, Edmundson). 

On the other hand, there are a lot of elements of the report that I think are quite good. I was afraid that the CAF was going to dump all responsibilities for managing sexual misconduct to the Sexual Misconduct Reponse Centre, which would both overwhelm the SMRC and absolve the rest of the CAF of responsibility.  Arbour pushed back hard against this, seeking to change the R to Resource and making it clear that it is only there to help victims/survivors.  That most of the other stuff imposed on the SMRC would be given to the Chief of Professional Conduct and Culture [CPCC] and the aforementioned ADM RS.

Another set of recommendations suggests focuses on how to limit toxic people from being in the CAF--that recruiting should be quicker so that good people aren't turned away AND there should be a probationary period that would allow the CAF to get rid of misogynists, racists, xenophobes, and others who inhibit the development of a good organizational culture.

Arbour suggests a variety of potential reforms to reduce the insularity of the CAF including more secondments so that senior officers will have served in other parts of government or in various parts of society to broaden their perspectives; external experts involved in reviewing promotion files; and so on.  She also puts a lot of emphasis on cleaning up promotion processes, something that CDS Eyre and Minister Anand have already been working on, changing in the processes in ways that should have been obvious a decade or two ago (360 reviews that do not give the candidate being rated the chance to pick the reviewers).  She wants the past misconduct info to be in the packages people refer to as they promote/select folks.  She proposes providing greater recognition and incentives for trainers, so that the CAF puts the best people in position to shape the trained and to instill the proper culture.  

Arbour raises the question of what to do about the military colleges--which are where officers learn to be toxic?  I do think that there is more to this--that this is where entitlement starts.  There have been efforts to improve the schools, but so far, it has not worked out so well.  Burn them down and send the officers to universities?  This would address the insularity problem, but would be pretty drastic.  So, Arbour calls for a review of the schools. This unsurprisingly got the most media attention and backlash from serving officers.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Arbour advocated against creating an Inspector General. This was something the Somalia Inquiry recommended and something that has repeatedly come up since then.  Her basic argument is that if all of her recommendations are followed, an IG would be duplicative.  There are a few problems with this:

  1. It assumes her package will be approved and implemented fully.
  2. There are problems above and beyond sexual misconduct that her report does not address--abuse of power, entitlement--that an IG might be handy with.
  3. While duplication of oversight can be problematic, it does not have to be so.  
  4. Key oversight actors, um, don't believe their job is to do oversight--parliament (and she cites the Phil and Steve piece making that argument).
  5. It hinges on the willingness of the Minister to be focused on this, and not all Ministers are Anand... or likely to be as engaged as Anand.
  6. The PCO is a black hole, so counting on the PCO to play a major role in any of this is to reduce transparency.  Many of her recommendations are aimed at improving transparency, but there are not too many actors in all of this that have transparency baked into their identity and role.

I did like Arbour's inclusion of Stats Can, the media, and, yes, wacky academics as part of the external audience helping to foster oversight.  Indeed, Arbour's recs are pretty academic-friendly--less obstruction of research by the internal social science review board if the researchers have their own research ethics clearances (and we almost always do except for one big oops of mine way back when), pairing MINDS Collaborative Network directors with senior CAF/DND leaders, more access to data, and so on.  Oh, and that she criticizes a consulting firm along the way?  I am fine with that.  One common theme in the report is the need for more input from outside the defence team.  That might mean consultants, but it also means academics.  I prefer the latter--we are cheaper and less profit-driven.

One last thought about Arbour's mandate--it was mostly focused on sexual misconduct and the situation of women in the CAF.  So, one needs to consider how her recommendations may or may not help other groups that have had their share of difficult times in the CAF: indigenous groups, LGBTQ2S+, Black Canadians, immigrants, and others.  Many of her recommendations should help these groups, but many will not.  I don't think any of her recommendations will worsen their situations, but that is something I will consider in my next post.