Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Hate Decathlon

Trump's pandering to the haters knows no bounds.  He has now taken a stance against marriage equality, so that adds another category to his list of targets.  Let's take a look at the completed events in his Hate competition:

Tis no wonder that white supremacists are some of his biggest fans.  Of course, #notallTrumpsupporters are racists, but Trump has been making racism a key part of his campaign.  So, voting for him means that one is at least tolerant of racism, if not an out-and-out racist. 

Comparative Provocation

One of the issues that kept coming up in the weeklong visit to Japan is the Senkaku islands dispute.  Japan has them, China wants them.  What puzzles me is Japan's military stance.  One of the questions I have been asking lately for pretty much everyone is that China and Russia are not the only actors that can play the anti-access/area denial game of developing weapons (anti-air and anti-ship missiles, subs, etc). 

If China is threatening these islands, why not put some defenses in place that would raise the costs of an attack--to create some deterrence? The answer? This would be too provocative.

So, what is Japan doing?  It is building up its capacity to take back the islands if the Chinese take them. This means aircraft carriers that are not called such things and amphibious ships to land troops.  There are two problems with this:
  1. Folks in the neighborhood might just be provoked bigtime but Japan developing these capabilities.  
  2. Trying to take back lost territory is far likelier to cause a dispute to escalate than placing some weapons.  The scenario would play out thusly: China takes some islands and then tells Japan if you try to take them back, we will escalate.  Um and then what?

So, I am confused.  Perhaps Japan has only lousy choices from which to choose, but the choice of developing the ability to project power via helicopter carriers and amphib stuff seems the most problematic.  What say you?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kyoto Trip Report

Yesterday, we took a bullet train to Kyoto, did some tourism, and then took the bullet train back to Japan.  The trains do, indeed, run on time.

Anyhow, we did three things in Kyoto: a tea ceremony, we visited a beautiful set of shrines, and we shopped in the touristy area near the shrines.  Pics and captions below:
Tea Selfie

Our Tea Hostess

Lots of folks going up or down to/from shrines

Gates and shrines

The folks wearing kimonos and such
were apparently mostly Chinese/Korean tourists who rent
the stuff for the day

Worshiping folks

Shrine dedicated to single people looking to pray for love

Lots of trains as they came and went with much frequency

Random Observations At the End of the Trip

I plan to post at least one piece that thinks through what I have learned from my week in Japan, but I want to get back to North America and ponder a bit.  So, this post is about a few things I noticed along the way.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Ignorant? Yep

I got into a twitter conversation with a Trump fan, and I used the word ignorant to describe Trump supporters.  The supporter then used it to describe me when I answered her question about who I supported (more on that later).  Who used the word correctly?  Well, me, of course.

From wikipedia:
Ignorance is a state of being uninformed (lack of knowledge). The word ignorant is an adjective describing a person in the state of being unaware and is often used to describe individuals who deliberately ignore or disregard important information or facts.
I can be confident that I am not so ignorant since I have a pretty good understanding of the policies my preferred candidate advocates because, um, that person has actually specified the policy stances and has a track record.  And I pay attention, more or less, to politics all the time,  not just every four years.

Do Trump fans know what Trump's record is?  What he will do if elected?  Mostly not. How can I be so sure (I am not ignorant but arrogant, sure!)?  First, Trump does not have much in the way of established policy stances--he mostly has a series of inconsistent statements.  Second, as Colbert has shown recently, Trump tends to take conflicting stances so that it really depends on which day you catch Trump--some days he might support the policy ignorant Trumpkin might like and then oppose them a few days later.    

More importantly, the second part of the definition above applies so very strongly to Trumpkins.  When I raised Trump's xenophobia, racism and misogyny, the Trump fan said that his employees liked him.  WTF?  A) Really?  Do his employees (the ones who still have jobs, not those who lost them in various bankruptcies) really find Trump's management to be so swell?  B) Holy deliberate disregard for the important info--Trump's frequently slurs towards pretty much anyone who is not-white.  I mean, the white supremacists get it, as they see Trump as their best recruiting tool (which gives them something in common with ISIS).

When I mentioned that Trump is actually behind what he would have earned had he just left his money play in the market (he inherited billions and then has lost billions), that he has bankrupted several times, the response is everyone gets a few do-overs.  No, it strikes to the core of his message--that he is a good businessman.  No, he is not.  He is a great self-promoter, but his business acumen?  Meh.  Also, politics is not business, so even if he were a good businessman, so his governing would be a nightmare.

Why do I bother with this?  Just getting it of my system.  I know that the Trump fans will not read this.  I know that they will not seek out the real info about Trump and his stances.  They just want to be entertained and hear someone who can be angry, who can be racist, who can be misogynist, and get away with it.

Saddest Day in History

Not sure August 6th, 1945 is the saddest day in history, but it is definitely in the competition.  I went to the Hiroshima Museum this afternoon as part of the tour of Japan.  I think the last time I was this moved and this sad was when I visited Dachau in 1987.  The displays were just incredibly sad, featuring many burned/torn/tattered kids' clothes, among other objects.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Tokyo Briefings, Day 3

The firehose keeps on on keeping on as we are being given a heap of info to assess.  I am starting to think the Japanese style of providing handouts of powerpoint is an interesting way to go, despite the dead trees.  Anyhow, today's stuff bounced around quite a bit, with the key consistent theme of "really good food."  Indeed, lunch was at the same place that President George HW Bush threw up long ago (see pic -->)
The only downside to lunch was that it was in an interesting area and we had a chance to walk around, but we got driven to a slightly different area to explore--heaps of upscale shops that were far less interesting.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Carleton Plays Dodgeball

There has been some controversy at Carleton University about how the Board of Governors operates, as there are two profs on the board and one has been most critical and has blogged about it.  The storm arose when there was an attempt to get a lifetime confidentiality agreement imposed upon this prof and the rest.  The new stance was sent out today:

To all Members of the Carleton Community,
 Please see the statement released by the Board today below.

 Ottawa, January 26, 2016 - Anthony Tattersfield, chair of the Board of Governors of Carleton University, issued the following statement today:

The Board of Governors has ratified a Code of Conduct for Governors that reaffirms the importance of open Board Meetings, brings greater transparency to how the Board operates and clarifies what is expected of Governors in Board communications.

The Code of Conduct – which had been proposed by the Governance Committee under the chairmanship of Michael Wernick, and adopted by the Executive - makes it clear that:

             Most Board business is conducted transparently in open session and an obligation of confidentiality is not relevant to open session. Confidentiality is relevant to information provided for discussions at closed sessions. Closed sessions are the exception and typically involve potential tendering of contracts, personnel cases, performance reviews, legal advice and labour relations. 

             All Governors are required to act in the best interest of the university. While perspectives may differ, debate and discussion are encouraged at the Board as the manner to resolve them and it is inconsistent with this role of a Governor to reopen and criticize Board decisions after they have been taken or to criticize, question the integrity of, or intimidate fellow Governors and university officials.

             While individual Governors are free to discuss matters from the open session, in the end the chair, or his or her designate, is the spokesperson for the Board, and the minutes which are adopted are the record of discussion and decision.
This does not seem too bad at first glance, but the clause in red bothers me.  What does it mean that it is inconsistent to reopen/criticize board decisions?  Does that mean no blogging?  Because that ain't gonna fly.  Then it gets worse: was there really an attempt to intimidate?  It would seem to me that being on the board means one has to be responsible, but part of that responsibility might be to be transparent--to criticize decisions.

If they just want the profs to be on the board as silent partners, then, well, they don't understand profs.  I don't think this decision is going to play well even if they do away with excessively restrictive confidentiality agreements.

Tokyo Briefings, Day 2

I am losing track of the days given the time travel that comes with living on the other side of the international dateline and getting little sleep (must remember the melatonin next time).  But since I have one post on the briefings, this must be day two.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The day led off with a breakfast meeting I had with a Japanese scholar who works on her country's civil-military relations.  Thanks to Jennifer Lind (I owe you many beers!), I am now working with this scholar on the project that will bring me back to Japan next fall.  Our interests are nicely complimentary as she wants more comparative perspective on her stuff, and it will be mighty helpful to work with someone who really knows Japan.  I am confident that next fall's research will be successful now that I have such a terrific ally here.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Tokyo Briefings, Day 1

I am in Japan this week to be a tool of Japan's public diplomacy efforts learn about Japan's role in the world these days.  I will try to keep a running series of entries on what I have learned.  Given that jetlag and time displacement has woken me up at 3am, and I have read about the various football games I missed (and thankfully so), time to sum up what I learned on Day 1.

Our first meeting focused on the security challenges facing Japan and, not unrelatedly, the new legislation that gives Japan a somewhat greater ability to use its Self Defence Forces.  I had already been briefed about the latter by the Japanese embassy in Ottawa, but it was nice to get even more clarity.  So, the key points here:

My Recommended Presidential Reading List

My list has only one book because presidents have little time to read entire books.  The book is Weapons of Mass Migration by Kelly Greenhill.  To be clear, while migration is a huge issue (just as Europe these days), that is not why I would recommend it.  Instead, it addresses the central problem facing the United States today: success.

Huh?  The US is the most powerful country in the world (not there, China).  And it would largely prefer for the status quo to remain.  The problem of success is that countries and other actors cannot attack the US conventionally--either via war or trade war.  The US is simply too good on the conventional battlefield.  So, opponents must try asymmetric strategies and means to thwart the US.  We have become most familiar with non-state actors (terrorists, insurgents, hackers) using unconventional efforts to impose costs on the US so that it changes its policies.

But we have not really thought so clearly about how weak countries can develop asymmetric strategies to challenge more powerful countries and this is where Greenhill comes in.  Her book focuses on how weaker, non-democratic countries can threaten migration crises to impose costs on the US and other advanced democracies: if the more powerful actors don't give in, the weaker player will force people to flee their country and create a refugee crisis where they land.  This puts democracies into a difficult spot since they face a conflict between interests and values--that most democratic leaders don't want to absorb large numbers of refugees (tis costly in dollars and helps to foster xenophobia and thus domestic political challenges) but they don't want to push the refugees back since it mean risking the lives of these unfortunates.

This is not a new dynamic, but Greenhill does a great job of understanding it and, more importantly, opening up our imagination to other ways in which weaker states can try to challenge more powerful ones.  Any leader of the US needs to understand this challenge in the 21st century: that American strengths are very good at some things but this will lead to the opponents having to figure out other ways to thwart the US.  To be clear, this effort by weaker countries often does not work out too well for them (ask Qaadafi!), but the costs are still generated and imposed upon the US and its friends, which means even failed attempts are a problem.

Anyhow, this book, more so than those on the usual lists, makes me think (and by extension any President because she and I have so much in common) differently about the challenges ahead.  And we need more different thinking since the old thinking is good for keeping the US in a good conventional position but not so good at the responses to our conventional strength.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

First Morning of Tokyo

I had trouble sleeping, of course.  The upside was that I had far more time to explore and get sem-lost before today's meetings.

What did I learn?
  • I got pretty good at figuring out how to log on to the sporadic free wifi so that I could check the map and see where I was, which was usually not where I intended to be.
  • The street signs have enough English but can be confusing when some intersections seem to have the same sign in all four directions.  I need to figure out how to read those better.
  • Interesting mix of pedestrian elevated walkways and regular walking next to the street.  Of course, one legacy of having British style driving (driving on the left) is that the pedestrians tend to walk on the left.  
  • Japanese people mostly do not wear hats despite the chill today.  So, I could easily identify from a distance non-Japanese, including an Aussie who was similarly semi-lost.
  • More than 10% wear face masks.   I had seen Asian travelers in the US wear them, but I was not sure how prevalent they would be in Tokyo.  In China, I get it, but here the air is fine so fear of disease?  
  • It is good to be out of North America when one's team loses in a particularly frustrating game.
Got to meet the rest of my group.

Update: the rest of the Canadians didn't know I was here...  but they let me join them on the Tokyo Tour quick stop complete with view of Mt. Fuji.  Clear skies around here.

Fighting the Fight

Damn, this is good timing:

Japan Junket, Day 1

I don't have much to report as I arrived in the evening.  Toyko is pretty at night from what little I have seen.  Spew readers may be wondering why I am here, given that I have absolutely no background in Japan, its foreign policy or its defense policy.  And I would say: exactly.

I developed a relationship with the Japanese embassy in Ottawa, as the next big project involves comparing democracies around the world: how/why do their legislatures vary in overseeing their respective armed forces?  Japan is a key case since it shares lots of institutions with European countries, it shares a semi-recent tragic history with Germany, but is in a different security environment.  I will be studying Japan for a month next fall thanks for a fellowship I received.  My initial inquires with the embassy led to the invitation for this week's trip.

Why did I accept this invitation?
  • Tokyo in January has to be warmer than Ottawa?
  • Because I get to miss a week of classes?
  • Because I am an amateur when it comes to Japanese politics, and this week will help me drink from the firehouse and get a better sense of the place.
  • Because I will hopefully develop some competency in navigating this city so that I don't waste much time next fall when I am doing the serious work.  
  • I hope to develop some useful contacts.
The latter three more than the first two.  

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Trudeau's Foreign Policy: A Syndicated Assessment

I spent early this morning talking to radio hosts across Canada from Cape Breton to Kamloops to Yellowknife and places in between about the new Prime Minister and his foreign policy.  Did I blast him and his international relations adviser?  Only a wee bit.

The nine or so hosts had a script that they worked from, developed from a conversation I had with the folks at CBC Syndicated Radio.  Some went through the script pretty much verbatim, others riffed and asked some related questions.  But here's what I remember (having woken up mighty early, my memory ain't great):

As Trudeau was quoted at Davos as being committed to pulling the CF-18s out of the anti-ISIS mission, what did I think of that?
That he would stick to it.  That this seems to be a campaign promise that he is wedded to.
Not rightly sure, as the Liberals have bombed in the past.  The argument that we should do x (humanitarian aid or training of the Iraqi forces) and not bombing does not explain why not bombing as Canada can do two or three things at once.
Is Trudeau a pacifist?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Coast to Coast to Coast

Tomorrow morning, I will be talking about the new government's foreign policy from coast to coast to coast on CBC Radio.  I am posting the details below so that I can tweet the schedule.  I haven't done this in a while but always enjoy it.  I will post later tomorrow (perhaps after my nap) what I talked about.

Ottawa - Ottawa Morning Robyn Bresnahan - Host
Twitter (show): @OttawaMorning

Sudbury - Morning North
Markus Schwabe - Host
Twitter (show): @MorningNorth
Twitter (host): @cbcmarkus

Cape Breton (Sydney) - Information Morning
Steve Sutherland - Host
Twitter: @InfoMorningCB

Host: Craig Norris
Twitter: @cbckw891

Kevin Kablutsiak - Host, Andrew Morrison - Producer

Winnipeg - Information Radio **IP**
Marcy Markusa - Host
Twitter: @CBCInfoRad

Yellowknife - The Trailbreaker **IP**
Loren McGinnis- Host
Twitter: @TheTrailBreaker

Saskatoon -- Saskatoon Morning
Leisha Grebinski - Host
Twitter: @cbcsaskatoon

Calgary--The Eyeopener
David Gray - Host
Twitter (host David Gray): @graydio1
Show: @cbceyeopener

Kamloops - Daybreak Kamloops
Shelley Joyce (Host)
Twitter: @cbckamloops