Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Betting on Disaster

I just got this via email and was so amused and amazed that I had to share it:

The betting odds related to President Trump's recent executive orders:  What will be the cost of the wall? Will Mexico pay? How many Starbucks will close? Will Starbucks hire 10,000 refugees? When will congress repeal Obamacare? This is your insight into what oddsmakers and gamblers think about these questions and more.

Not familiar with the betting lingo? A negative number (generally representing the "Favorite") = how much you have to bet to profit $100.  A positive number = how much you profit if you bet $100.
  1. Cost that the U.S. will Pay to Build a Wall Covering the Mexican Border?
    Over $25 billion: -170 (Bet $170 to profit $100)
    Under $25 billion: +150 (Bet $100 to profit $150)
Analysis on Wall Bet: The research group Bernstein estimates that the wall – standing 40 feet tall and 10 inches thick – will cost around $15 billion just for the materials. Bernstein told Fortune that costs could exceed $25 billion when labor and land acquisition are included.
  1. Will Mexico Pay for the Wall? (Tariff Tax Doesn’t Count)
    Yes: -450
    No: +600
Analysis on Mexico Paying for Wall: This was one of President Trump’s biggest campaign promises, vowing to make Mexico pay for the border wall that would keep illegal immigrants and drugs out. Enraged over Trump’s insistence on the wall, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto canceled a late January meeting between the two. Both sides had a “friendly” conversation over the phone, but neither is budging right now.
  1. Will President Enrique Peña Nieto Meet with Madonna or Meryl Streep During Trump’s 4-Year Term?
    Yes: -150
    No: +1200
Analysis on Madonna Meeting: This idea comes from satire in the Vanity Fair, but if things get any worse between President Peña Nieto and Trump over the wall issue, you never know what will happen. Both Streep and Madonna have been very critical of Trump over the last few weeks, so this would be the perfect revenge.
  1. Will President Trump and Peña Nieto Meet within Trump’s 4-Year Term?
    Yes: -130
    No: +110
Analysis on US and Mexican Presidents Meeting: Relations aren’t good right now between Trump and Peña Nieto, especially after the canceled meeting and wall issue. But Trump’s first term lasts until 2020, giving these two sides plenty of time to meet.
  1. How Many Starbucks will Close in Mexico during Boycott within 2017?
    Over 10: -150
    Under 10: +130
Analysis on Starbucks Closing in Mexico: A social media campaign has risen in Mexico to boycott US companies. And for some reason, Starbucks is bearing the brunt of this campaign. Statista.com states that Mexico has 402 Starbucks, and it’s possible that at least 10 could close if the boycott lasts any measurable amount of time.
  1. Number of New Border Patrol Guards Hired during Trump’s Term?
    Over 4,000: -130
    Under 4,000: +110
Analysis on Border Patrol Agents Being Hired: According to MercuryNews, President Trump wants to hire an additional 5,000 Border Patrol agents to keep illegal immigrants out of the US. But there are already 2,000 vacancies in the department because two-thirds of the applicants can’t pass a polygraph test. Furthermore, adding 5,000 agents would significantly increase the cost of maintaining the project.
  1. When Will Congress Repeal Obamacare?
    Before April 30, 2017: -210
    After April 30, 2017: +170
Analysis on Repealing Obamacare: Tom Price, Trump’s pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services, hasn’t had a confirmation hearing yet. Price and Congress’ Republican majority want to repeal Obamacare, but they don’t have a replacement plan yet. This bet hinges on their ability to get this done and repeal the law before April ends.
  1. Will Repealing Obamacare Lower Health Insurance Rates within 3 Years?
    Yes: -170
    No: +150
Analysis on Obamacare Repeal Raising Insurance Rates: According to eHealth, average health insurance rates for individuals are $321, while family plans cost $833. The motive behind Trump and the Republicans’ campaign to get rid of Obamacare is to lower health insurance rates. Will repealing the law have this effect by the end of his term in 2020?
  1. Will Trump’s Order to Ban Muslim Immigrants be Overturned?
    Yes: -170
    No: +150
Analysis on Trump’s Order on Banning Muslims being Overturned: Trump’s order bars refugees from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the US for 90 days. Trump says that the “new vetting measures” are designed to keep out radical Islamic terrorists. But with judges already moving to block the executive order, and more states expected to join the fight, it seems likely that Trump’s decision could be overruled across the US.
  1. If Trump’s Immigration Ban is Accepted, will Pakistan Immigrants also be Banned?
    Yes: -130
    No: +110
Analysis on Pakistan Immigrants being Banned: As seen above, Pakistan isn’t on Trump’s list of seven banned countries. But Imran Khan, Pakistan’s leading opposition politician, is begging Trump to suspend Pakistani travel visas to the US. Khan wants the country’s youth to stay and build their home country, rather than pursuing American travel dreams. Considering that Osama bin Laden famously lived in Pakistan, it seems like any coaxing from Khan could prove successful.
  1. Will Starbucks Really Hire 10,000 Refugees within the Next 5 Years?
    Yes: +210
    No: -170
Analysis on Starbucks Hiring 10,000 Refugees: Perhaps trying to save his country’s international image (refer to prop bet #5), Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said that his company will hire 10,000 refugees around the world. Schultz wrote an open letter explaining how he wants to help refugees “navigate through this confusing period” following Trumps executive order. But Americans are already boycotting Starbucks amid their plans to hire refugees over American vets and young adults.
Which bets would I place if I had some money to do so? 
I'd bet the under on the Wall costs, because I think they will do half a job and declare victory.
I would pound the no, Mexico won't pay for it, since it would be political suicide to do so.
The odds are not good enough to touch the number of new border guards bet.
I would pound the No, repealing Obamacare would not lead to lower rates.
And I would pound the Yes, Starbucks will hire a heap of refugees.

We do, indeed, live in interesting times.  Profitable times for those willing to gamble.

Monday, January 30, 2017

US Customs and Border Protection

I have no words:
Media preview

The New National Security Council

Friends have asked me about my take on the announcement this weekend that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is not going to be a regular member of the National Security Council's Principal Committee and that Steve Bannon will be. My first reaction is: 

To be honest, I am more freaked out by Steve Bannon's presence than the Chairman's absence.  Why?
Steve Bannon wants to burn stuff down, so I have little doubt that he will foster crises, rather than manage or mitigate them.  Oh, and he's a white supremacist and abets anti-semitism.  People are criticizing his spot on the NSC because it should be a body focused on the national interest rather than the domestic political interest of the President, and rightly so.  But Bannon is no David Alexrod, or even, dare I say it, Karl Rove.  He is more than a political operative--he is an arsonist.

Ok, enough about that, what about the Chairman and the Joint Staff's role in foreign policy-making?  In theory, having the Chairman only appear when military issues are raised does not seem so problematic for a couple of reasons.  First, for damn near most national security issues, there will be some "military equities" in play, so it is hard to imagine many meetings where the Chairman is not present.  Second, given how close the SecDef and the Chairman are (both are Marines and all that), as long as the SecDef is present, then the Chairman's views are likely to be represented (one of the jobs of the Chairman is to advise the SecDef).  Third, if a meeting starts without a military representative and then strays into military issues, then it would probably lead to a delay the Chairman or the Vice-Chairman can get there.  And with this administration, delay is probably a good thing.

Of course, in reality, given Trump's respect for folks in uniform (we have to take the advantages we can get), having the Chairman present and having him present reality-based views, including the benefits of multilateralism, is important.   And symbolism is important, so diminishing the role of the Chairman and of the Director of National Intelligence is very bad.  Sure, we can National Security decisions without getting the best military advice and, no, we don't need to have the best intelligence either.  I have long sat on an article which argues that bureaucratic politics is a good thing as competition among agencies leads to vetting.  This government is likely to produce half-assed policies that damage American interests.

What does this mean for the DC's and the other meetings down the chain of command?  Damned if I know.  In my year in the Pentagon, the Principals Committee--National Security Adviser, Sec State, SecDef, Chairman, etc--met to deal with specific issues that needed the attention of those at the top of the various chains of command.  They used to meet quite regularly on the Balkans with my crew quite busy preparing for a PC my first week in the Pentagon.  Thanks to 9/11, we didn't have another one of those until April of 2002.  Deputies Committee--Deputy NSA, DepSecState, DepSecDef, Vice Chairman--meet to work out issues that are significant but don't need the attention and scare time of the Principals.  Below were all kinds of working groups with various initials that I forget.  Much of Balkan policy was made at these lower levels in 2001-2002 after 9/11, and I think we did ok.  Indeed, when we briefed the Chairman in April in prep for that next PC on the Balkans, he complimented the lower ranking generals and colonels for doing a good job without "us".

The key is that US military, represented by the Joint Staff, was in the room for all kinds of stuff even when the use of force was not being considered.  For the Balkans, this meant stuff like how to deal with downsizing the Bosnia armed forces, how to improve the justice system, and so on. The Joint Staff had the chance to "chop", give its take, on guidance cables, papers and other stuff that were relevant to the military.  Given a keen awareness of how much military stuff is political and how much political stuff has implications for the military, having the Joint Staff involved made sense.  And, from my perspective, a good thing since the US military tends to be conservative (small c) in that it cares about risks, it wants to leverage resources via alliances and other multilateral forms of cooperation, and is sensitive to second and third order effects.

What does the removal of the Chairman from the PC mean for these lower level working groups? I have no idea.  The Trump Administraiton is making shit up as they go along, and no commitment, no process, no promise is binding.  The willingness to issue executive orders without getting input from DoD and DHS is suggestive--that on the things this administration cares about, everyone else will be cut out of the process.  So, the NSC organizational stuff represents rather well the future of US foreign policy making--and it will be a shitshow.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Expect Inadequate Responses

The ISA put up a policy in reaction to this weekend's news.  And, of course, the first draft is inadequate.  I get it that this stuff is hard.

First, it puts the onus on scholars to test the US government's refugee ban--that one has to be denied entry to get a refund. Seriously?  People have to spend the money to fly to the US and then find themselves detained?  Or they have to go to their airport and not get on a plane?  This will make it hard to get refunds from airports and hotels, instead of planning ahead and changing all of their plans, which might mitigate the costs.

Second, I get that the ISA is not a political organization--I pushed last year for it not to take a BDS stance.  But this is an academic freedom thing more than a political issue--that our students and our colleagues will either be stuck in the US for fear of not being let in OR they will not be able to come to the US because of these restrictions. 

There are times that call for leadership, rather than risk mitigation, and this is one of those.  Will the ISA stand up for those who are harmed by these policies? Will it stand up for the threat to academic freedom?  I'd hope so, but maybe that is expecting too much?

The National Insecurity Council

Folks are upset that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is not going to be a permanent member.  I am not so chuffed about that as he will be in meetings whenever the military is being discussed.  If not, his voice will be heard via the SecDef, who will share far more in common with the Chairman than the usually SecDef (both being Marines and all that).

Last night, amid the news that the Trump Administration was malevolently screwing with people's lives to play up Islamophobia came the news about the new National Security Council.  It is the right of any president to shuffle some of the seats, but Trump's moves are deeply disturbing.

Media previewThat the DCI--head of the CIA--is also a guest member rather than regular attendee is, of course, disturbing because you want intel to drive policy--you want the best picture of reality before you make decisions.  Well, unless you are the Trump team, where you don't really care about reality.  I used to argue that the Bush Administration (GWB) didn't care about the second or third order effects--that invading Iraq might lead to a stronger Iran and more recruitment for the terrorists, but that the Bushies didn't care about that because they just cared about getting Hussein.  Well, the Trump folks do not even care about the first order effects.  They want to make noise, but don't really care about the direct impacts.  After all, if they did, then perhaps the list of countries in the banning order might have included those that actually have sent terrorists to kill Americans in the US.  But Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan were excluded.  Ooops.

No, the truly disturbing although not surprising move was to put Steve Bannon on the NSC as a permanent member, making him symbolically equal with the Secretaries of Defense and State.  Of course, they are not equal, as Bannon is far more powerful in this administration.  He is the one drawing up executive orders and not staffing them.  He is imposing his will, as we can tell from the team of arsonists in the cabinet and the White House.  And this is awful, since Bannon has said that he would like to burn everything down.  This is not a guy you want influencing decisions about war and peace, and yet here we are.

I don't know what Rasputin-like skills he has to get into Trump's head, but can we please drop any pretence that Jared Kushner is a force for moderation?  I argued last summer that Bannon's ascendancy raised big questions about Kushner's influence since Kushner is Jewish, and Bannon is a Nazi.  Usually, Jews don't get along with Nazis.  And no, this is not hyperbole.  Anyhow, the cabinet choices and the past 48 hours have made it abundantly clear that Bannon is driving this trainwreck of an administration.  People didn't vote for this, and the press could have spent a wee bit more time making people aware of Bannon and his influence.  So, yeah, we can be shocked that this is the darkest timeline, but perhaps we should stop being so surprised.

This is what we got, and Bannon is not going to go away anytime soon.  The GOP in Congress are not making noises with a few notable exceptions.  The status quo will remain.  The only real question is whether SecDHS Kelly or SecDef Mattis will continue to be complicit.  My guess is that they will be, just as Mattis smiled as Trump signed this awful executive order.  The good news is that the more they screw up, by not vetting stuff, the easier they make it on the lawyers and the courts.  And, yes, the majority of Americans are against this regime, and that does mean something.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Arsonists

The common feature of most Trump appointees is that their assignment seems to be to burn down the agencies for which they are responsible. The latest?  The new US Ambassador to the European Union seems to want the EU to go the way of the Soviet Union.  The influence of Steve Bannon over all of this, including authorship of the various executive orders, is apparent.

So, I am now using "Arsonist" as shorthand for Trump appointees.  They want to burn American institutions down. They want to burn the international order down,  I was asked on the radio about whether a shakeup might be a good thing.  Only if you hate international peace and prosperity.  So, if you see me refer to Arsonist online, this is what I mean.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Darkest Timeline

I was asked whether I can/should be reassuring people about Trump, and my answer was essentially "hells no!"  I spent last summer and fall reassuring people that Trump would not win.  I, of course, was very wrong. One reason why I was wrong is that I thought that a Trump presidency was so obviously, so predictably going to be a multidimensional disaster that enough responsible Republicans would vote for Hillary Clinton.

My recent move was to deny that I was surprised by whatever Trump was doing--that he long ago entered the Tyson zone so anything could happen and shouldn't shock us.  I would say that I was not surprised but appalled by the latest moves.  Well, four or so days into the Trump Administration, and I have to drop that stance.  Why? Because my imagination is simply not that good.  Trump keeps on making moves that are even worse than I could have imagined.  The latest?  Putting into a key immigration post the guy who ran FAIR, which is anything but, an anti-immigration group.  It is kind of like putting the KKK in charge of Civil Rights.  Oh wait, Trump kind of did that by putting pal of the KKK, Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.

It is simply bad and going to get worse for pretty much everyone.  The question is becoming: is this temporary or permanent?  With Trump playing up mythical voter fraud, i.e., #voterfraudfraud, plus Sessions as AG, I worry a great deal about whether the rules will be changed to prevent the Democrats from winning.  That is imaginable.  What else is on the table?  Protectionist trade wars are already in play.  Defaulting on the debt?  Sure. Why not?  We already know that NATO's future is up for grabs.

So, sure, let's be enheartened by the activism of the past weekend and the energy going forward.  But let's not kid ourselves.  With the GOP not blocking Trump's pro-Russia appointment (Tillerson at State) and getting the most extreme policies they have preferred, with the Democrats facing difficult decisions about which things to block (hint: Sessions, ACA repeal, next SCOTUS choice, cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid), with the media being overwhelmed by the Distributed Denial of Service attack that is the Trump Administration (where to focus?), and with the domination of Steve Bannon in the White House, I have realized that:
My imagination is simply not dark enough.
 It is going to get worse.  While we must resist and find glimmers of hope (rebellions are built on hope), we have to be realistic.  Yes, non-violent resistance can work, but it takes time, and there is, alas, no inevitability to victory.  We can keep saying that this is going to last only four years, but with Trump's willingness to break rules and norms, we cannot even be assured of that.

We must avoid resting our hopes of fragile reeds. Foreigners kept telling me that campaign promises are one thing, but governing is another.  Oops, broken reed.  The GOP will impeach Trump eventually.  Oops, broken reed.  Trump is just going to delegate, and his son-in-law is pretty reasonable.  Oops, broken reed.  No, we must put our hopes and plans on more solid foundations--that mobilization can work at the local level, that there are actually some limits to federal power, that the courts (in the short term) are still pretty reasonable, that the media is realizing that these are not normal times (NYT and Jake Tapper calling out voterfraudfraud for what it is), and that the government is full of people who may find ways to resist.

Again, I don't want to be too pessimistic, but the time for cautious optimism is past, and the time to prepare for the worst is here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Inevitability of Principal-Agent Theory

My resistance seems to have dominated my destiny.  When I was in high school, my worst class was French, and it was not even close.  So, of course, I end up in Quebec for ten years.  In grad school, I avoided the Americanist classes and especially those taught by a particular one.*  As a result, I did not drink deeply from the dominant thinking in that department at the time--principal-agent theory.  I dodged it for more than a decade, but when it came time to study how and why countries controlled their troops in puzzling ways in Afghanistan, it was the obvious way to frame the project.  And now I can't stop seeing it everywhere, from the Avengers to Breaking Bad to Star Wars, yes, contemporary politics (not to mention the new project).

* Experts on this stuff might cringe at how I approach P-A precisely because my training on this is so incomplete. All my career I have wondered into literatures that are outside my area of expertise.  Oops.

The basic idea is this: anytime someone (the principal) hires another person (the agent) and gives them some responsibility, the agent will know more about that responsibility than the principal.  The agent is simply closer to the matter at hand and focused on it, while the principal delegated responsibility precisely because they did not want to be doing all the work to make sure the particular work was being carried out.  There is inherently slippage between what the principal knows and what the agent knows WITHOUT presuming that the agent has different beliefs about the task or is deliberately acting against the principal's wishes.

Agents may simply not a perfect understanding of the intent of the principal.  As a professor hiring research and teaching assistants, I have often given lousy instructions which then leads to either the assistants asking for more information about what they are supposed to do or they try to figure it out.  I suck at delegation.

Why am I thinking about this now?  Besides the daily work on the comparative legislatures project (how/why do legislatures engage in oversight over their armed forces in varying ways) and the big grant project where P-A is the theoretical glue, I think we are headed towards peak Principal-Agent dynamics in the years ahead in the US.

For less conflictual P-A relations, principals ought to pick agents whose views of the problem and of the solutions are highly congruent.  Given Trump's uncertainty and conflicting views, this is going to be mighty hard for those he selects--the White House staff and the top political appointees.  The gap is likely to be far wider with the civil servants in the bureaucracy because Trump is the least conventional thinker (thinker?) they have ever experienced.  The latest example--using a spot that is meaningful to the members of the CIA as a bully pullpit to rail against the media.

The second step in the principal-agent relationship is to establish how much discretion is to be delegated.  Trump has indicate that he would delegate a great deal, except for when it comes to a few key issues.  More delegation is inherently neither good nor bad, but more does open up more room for more slippage.

So, the key would be the third step: oversight.  Figure out ways to keep an eye on the subordinates so that they know they are being watched, and, thus, less likely to use their authority in ways that are undesired.  The problem is that this requires .... expertise.  The more one knows about the stuff, the more one can detect shirking (deviations from intent).  Outside of DoD with Mattis and a few other spots, few of Trump's appointees have any familiarity with government and some have an appalling lack of expertise on the issue at hand (Carson is the extreme example).

The Trump folks have focused on the fourth part of P-A management--incentives.  They are essentially threatening to fire people who deviate.  All those requests for lists of names of people who have taken stances the Trumpsters don't like are efforts at intimidation.  Threats may deter some agents, but are likely to antagonize others.

By generating hostility with the agents, such as criticizing the CIA and their work and by putting lousy stewards in place and by being an uncertainty engine, Trump is going to encourage shirking on a massive scale.  Shirking, to be clear, is when the agents do not do as intended.  They can do more and they can do less and they can do differently.  They can shirk because their standard operating procedures tell them to do stuff that is not what principal wants, they can shirt because they think they have a clearer idea of what they should do, they can shirt because they think that the policy from on high is misguided.  They can give less information back to the principals.  They can selectively implement complex laws and procedures.  And, yes, they can leak.  They can share with the media tales of the principals' bad leadership, they can share stories of how the new policies are likely to hurt Americans and risk wars.  And on and on.

So, for the US media, the fire alarm in this model--the folks who point a spotlight at bad government policy and yell about it until the Congressfolk and voters pay attention, are in for some fun days ahead.

And cracking down on leakers rarely leads to good things (Watergate, some of Obama's troubles).  As always:

Monday, January 23, 2017

Protecting Canada is Job One

So, Jared Kushner, Ivanka's hubbie and Trump whisperer, has been invited to the Liberal govt's retreat in Calgary.  My quick take:

I have utter contempt for Kushner for a variety of reasons:
  • He has enabled, not blocked Steve Bannon, who is awful on many dimensions but especially relevant here empowering anti-semitism.
  • Kushner has gone along with the legal fiction that his role in the White House does not violate the laws against nepotism.  
  • He seems to have played a significant role in assembling this cabinet of awful.
Anyhow, Kushner is awful.  But the government of Canada has to protect Canadians from the vagaries of the Trump administration.  Canada's prosperity depends on access to the American market, more than any other country.  Its defence depends on cooperation with the US.

So, the Trump folks want to be pandered to, so go ahead. This is a group of folks who want to mix business with government, so let them.  Engage them politely and energetically and focus on the positive stuff. I still believe the best course of action is to work at lower levels where the other side would be normal American government officials, but getting along with Kushner, no matter how tainted he is, is a good idea.

It makes me feel icky, but then again, good international relations often requires working with icky folks.  And, yeah, Kushner is better than Bannon, because, hey, we have to lower our standards when dealing with Trump, right?  So, it would be easy to criticize the government for engaging these awful people, but there is really no choice.

Oh, and if it means selling out Mexico as Trump's hate of NAFTA is entirely focused south, go ahead.  It is not as if standing up for Mexico would stop them anyway.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Despair a Bit But Then Forward, Always Forward

I got kind of silly and sentimental and sad and then bounced back, as I tweeted my emotions in the face of the awful event awaiting us this day.  So, some music, some memes and some sanctimonious advice that is easy for someone living beyond the wall.

It started with FB reminded me that eight years ago, my status was:
is proud to be an American abroad, rather than embarrassed.
Which means I am super-embarassed now.

Anyhow, that led me to this series of tweets:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Encouraging Signs

Just as we see reports that the Trump agenda is going to be as awful as one can imagine, gutting all kinds of government agencies and fulfilling the wishes of the far right dreams, I can't help but be impressed with the signs of resistance.  I have never seen my friends and family more politically mobilized with so many going to DC for the big protest or showing up elsewhere.

People get it--the stakes are high.  The very future of pretty much everything is up for grabs.  That is alarming and awful. But resist we can and we must.  Non-violently, of course, because it is both right and more effective.  Politicians, even Republicans, do respond when pressured.  We have seen some signs of it already, as mobilization around defending Obamacare has some GOP members ducking out of meetings and Trump making promises that directly contradict Paul Ryan. 

The Democratic Senators are sharpening their teeth on the most poorly qualified cabinet appointees in history.  I don't know if they can block any of these appointments, but there is a big difference between Trump and the GOP in the Senate--some of those in the latter do have some shame left and they may even have the national interest in mind from time to time.  Tillerson will be a key test--do the Republicans fear Trump or do they care about the United States?  I have no faith in Rubio to stick to a position.

Anyhow, the point is that we, the majority of Americans who did not vote for Trump, need to resist passionately, consistently, strategically, persuasively and with great perseverance.  It is easy to say from my perch above the Wall (maybe not a joke in the near future), but I am trying to figure out what I can do.

Some ideas?
  1. I am no longer going to blamecast about the election anymore.  That is over--time to move on and fight alongside the Sanders folks and the neverTrump Republicans.  We can find common cause on some issues, if not on everything.  
  2. I will, of course, donate money to groups that fight Trump, especially those that fight for voting rights as we need to preserve the future.
  3. I will use whatever outlet I can to keep talking about the dangers of Trump and his team of arsonists (the theme of this administration is burning down the US govt and the international order).  Talk is cheap, but we need to keep explaining and shining a light, as it may help to mobilize people here and there.  And I will share here any ideas I get about what folks can do.
  4. I will try to be less mad and more kind.  We need to foster a wider community of support, to build bridges among people and support those who are at risk.  This new government is going to try to divide us, using hate and fear.  We cannot fight that with more hate and fear. They aim to tear down civil society.  We need to build it up, to create a sense of us that is broad, inclusive and powerful.  The "we go high, they go low" thing sounds naive, but, first, I am not going to argue with Michelle Obama, and second, it is basic Moneyball--we need to focus on our comparative advantages, and mobilizing hate ain't one of them.
What else can I do?  What else should we do?  Let me know as we need ideas as much as we need patience, passion, and all the rest. 

To all those about to march,  I hope your feet hold up, that the weather is good, that you develop new friends, that you do not face violence from counter-protestors or the police, and that you realize that you are already making a difference.

Too Busy To Tourist? Almost

My trip to Japan is nearing its end, although the joy of South Korean impeachment means I will be back in Japan in June (I am already committed to be in this part of the world for a conference, so I will do more research here while things in South Korea shake out).

So, I do have some pictures of my second week:

Part of my collection of strange signs

I have spent more time in this part of Tokyo than any other part
part of non-North America except for London

Can't take pics inside, but Lower House of Diet is much nicer
than the Upper House (or perhaps the UH library)

Outside of Lower House

After my presentation organized by
the SSRC and Japan Foundation, they took
me to dinner.  This was just one of many
dishes.  Oh my

When I was here last time, this space was used for
a funky art exhibit.  Now?  Selling the 2020 games.

And yes, since I moved to Canada, I happen
across ice rinks everywhere I go.

For a pacifist country, the school uniforms of their kids
can only be described as martial.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Engaging Trump's America Strategically

Spending two weeks in Japan before Trump's inauguration has produced the same question over and over: what is Japan to do?  Of course, Canadians and Germans and everyone else has the same question.  Here are some ideas, based on what we know about the US and about Trump.
  1. If you need US support, pander like hell to his ego.  Prime Minister Abe flew to NY immediately after the election and met with Trump.  He apparently made a very good impression.  
  2. Do as much business with the US at lower levels of government.  All allies and most other countries have webs of relationships with the US government and private actors.  Try to handle most business with the civil servants who are sticking around and not the crazy folks at the top.  Not everyone can do that, but if you can (Canada), do it.
  3. If you are in East Asia, present yourself as a steadfast ally against China.  Note that Trump's first engagements were South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.  While folks in this region are right to be concerned that Trump may overplay things and trigger a war, being seen as a friend against China is likely to get that country off of Trump's blacklist.  
    1. Of course, this logic poses problems for those in East Europe, since Trump's love for Putin has huge consequences.  And siding with Putin is, for many, either impossible or downright stupid.  But Turkey, despite its Muslim-ness, is now working with Russia, which might put it on Trump's good side.  Hungary, with its authoritarian regime, has been leaning to Russia.  There are some others that fit this.  Finland might consider returning to the glory days of Finlandization.  Indeed, folks might want to consult the Finns for their expertise.
  4. Pay to play.  Whether Trump is in it to enrich himself or it is just one of many competing priorities, there is no doubt he believes in pay for play.  While this is problematic for countries with high anti-corruption standards, it is a possible tactic and one that has to be considered. If Ivanka and Eric and Don Jr. come a-calling, meet with them and take them seriously.  Certainly don't object if they show up at meetings even if it is inappropriate.  This goes back to the pandering thing.

Is this too cynical?  Maybe.  But the future is bleak, and much of the world will be dodging, ducking, dividing, dipping and dodging.  We sure could use Patches O'Houlihan right about now.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Great Men? Depends

I was reminded on twitter that international relations professors have trained students for generations to focus on the third and second levels of analysis and dismiss the first--that individuals and their characteristics matter much less than the constraining impact of institutions and the incentives provided by the international system.

So, should we just apologize as Trump sells out the postWWII order and ends American hegemony by whim or fiat?  No, we need to drink heavily.  Seriously, there are a few real responses to this question of agency and structure (I promise not to get very constructivist or intersubjective as I am not very good at that).

First, realists will say, and mostly rightly so, that their main focus is not on what states do but on how the system punishes states.  That the security dilemma operates always--so attempts to improve security vis-a-vis China will only threaten China, producing a reaction by the Chinese that will leave the US worst off (Herz, Waltz).  I have no doubt this is going to play out.  The more recent realists added stuff to their theories so they can predict foreign policy better, but the strength of it was and is how the system produces dynamics that are enduring.  And they will endure during the Trump era, but his complete lack of awareness will mean that the tendencies of IR will be exacerbated, not mitigated or managed by the strongest player in the system (until the US is so weakened that it is not).
International institutionalists have been mostly right in that anarchy can be mitigated by cooperation, but cooperation is not easy.  Institutions endure and adapt because building new ones takes a lot of work.  So, an alliance built to deter the Soviet Union got in the business of peacekeeping, democratization (teaching civilian control of the military to Eastern Europe--one of the real boons of enlargement), counterinsurgency, and now back to deterring Russia.

Second, domestic institutionalist types (that would be me) would say that institutions tell us when individual personalities matter (Presidential systems, not coalition governments).  The problem with Trump for these folks is: he is unconstrained by institutions and owes no interest groups much fealty.  He violates norms and rules without much penalty, undermining the institutions.  He is rich (sort of) and has a cult of supporters.  And polarization has broken US institutions.  The Republican Party is so hostile to Obama and Clinton that they are supporting someone who might be an agent of Russia and who is definitely acting as if he will be drunk at the wheel of government, careening from one crisis to another.

To be fair, the international structure and domestic institutions had a good run--the US followed a relatively stable set of policies for over 70 years through Democratic and Republican Administrations.  But as social scientists we have to admit a couple of things.  First, individuals have agency.  We (IR types) most don't like studying individuals (see Elizabeth Saunders as a timely exception) because it is easier to risk tautology and harder to make predictions.  Second, and relatedly, we might be better at getting outcomes right than intentions.  Third, Trump is, indeed, a black swan event--he had a low probability of success at first, he got empowered by a bunch of things in the primaries, won the general election due to a tainted opponent, a misguided media and much help from Russia.  And now he stands ready to gut American Foreign Policy, because, as we have long taught, whatever constraints there are on Presidents, they are weaker on foreign policy than domestic policy.  It is far easier to sell out to Russia than to end the Affordable Care Act.  That the GOP is so obsessed about the latter that they are willing to overlook the former speaks poorly of them. 

So, did we mis-teach the kids for so long? Perhaps we could have played up the role of individuals a bit more, but mostly, I think we got it right.  And we will keep on getting it right--we may not be able to predict what Trump does (Trump's razor tends to work--the dumbest policy is most likely), but we will get right the effects.  Hegemonic instability theory is going to become quite hip.

Oh and one last thing: when say Great Men here, we are talking about great as in big, not great as in good.

Update: I was pushed on twitter, where folks suggested there was plenty of first level analysis stuff, which returns me to TRIP data and to the class question of how much is a lot or little.  You make hte call (number and percentage of articles over thirty years that use first level of analyis--see TRIP codebook):

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Post-Symposium Tourism: Japan's a Winter Wonderland!

Japan's west coast puts "lake effect snow" into some perspective.  Today, the folks who participated in yesterday's symposium were driven around to various museums through some serious snow.  Alas, it meant having to drop the sake brewery from our itinerary (we made up for it later as our hotel has a "sake museum).  So, some pics as it did happen:

Gatling gun from Japan's civil wars

Uniting Japan was mighty hard

On the way to museum memorializing fire raid

Surviving pieces of incendiary bomb

Shibata castle

Army training, sir

We were at a regiment's museum.  This regiment had
a very busy World War II

A relatively recently dug up American bomb

Yep, Japan sent troops to do reconstruction in Iraq

Japan has done some PKO

Recruiting women

Our group of tourists

David Welch choosing among more
than a hundred sakes.  500 yen get
you five tokens for five samples. Yum.

This region has many, many sake distilleries

Steamed at the table, one of many
dishes we had.  Still full