Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Amateur Political Economist and Austerity

Caveat: I am neither an economist nor a political economist, so I may be straying into territory that I know not.

Today's post by Dan Drezner about Angela Merkel came two days after I had a conversation with a German post doc who is hanging out at NPSIA this fall, and both post and conversation dwelt on the same basic issue.  Dan argues that Merkel, while getting much credit for being a pillar of the international order (liberal or whatever), her responses to the Greek crisis and larger financial crises of 2008 did significant damage to this order. 

When the post doc said she was planning a conference and wanted to build a theme around Germany's role in the world, and was at a loss.  That Canada's role in the world is as a peacekeeper--at least its self-perception, but Germany has just been restrained for seventy years.  I pushed back a bit, suggesting that Germany's brand was to fight inflation (and I should have included budget deficits).  That non-Germans have certainly noticed Germany's role in economic relations, compelling countries to spend less and perhaps tax more.

I have been arguing here and there that while much of the "populism" we see in Europe is due to the migration crisis, it is also a crisis of the parties.  That center and center-right parties pushed austerity plans that reduced the help given to people harmed by international economic shocks.  That left wing parties didn't do enough to fight such efforts and were sometimes complicit.  Which has left people dissatisfied with mainstream parties, causing them to look to the far left, far right or to opting out.

In the US, Obama did try to do stuff to cushion workers from the crisis, but he was fought at every step by the Republicans and didn't have sufficient support among the Democrats.  He probably could have done more.  Funny how the Republicans cared so much about budget deficits during a recession and not so much during an expansionary period.

Yep, I am a Keynesian.  I don't understand all of the negative consequences that come with the Keynesian toolbox, but the idea of counter-cyclical policies--of governments spending more during recessions--makes sense to me. That economists got taken in by a bad idea--austerity as a magic bullet--does not make sense to me.  That politicians on the right grabbed on to it makes perfect sense since they want to starve the government and make government spending less legitimate.  Note how the GOP is now back to caring about deficits and wants to cut the social safety net more rather than, dare I say it, reversing the monster tax cuts that have created these deficits.

Anyhow, I don't know Merkel's background and politics to know whether she was playing party politics, whether she was buying into the austerity fantasy, or whatever.  I do believe that she was generally a force for good in maintaining European unity in the face of Putin and now having to deal with Trump, even as I whined about Europe being too slow/weak in its response in the Baltics.

My first reaction to Merkel deciding to leave her post as leader of her party and putting a clear end in sight of her Chancellorship was that democracies must democracy--that turnover is necessary.  That we need to be cautious about betting on individuals rather than institutions.  The question now is whether German institutions will produce new leadership that supports the international order in ways that undermine it less, if that makes any sense.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Arson and Anti-Semitism: The Uncertainty Engine Can Be Consistent

I was going to write about the liberal international order debate, but I got distracted after writing this tweet:

by the news of the day--yet more violence, more domestic terrorism by white guys against those who were different.  Earlier in the week it was African-Americans, then it was Democrats mostly, and now Jews.  So, I started thinking about what unifies this moment, this government.  I have long argued that Trump is an uncertainty engine--but that is on stuff that is not central to his core or to his core supporters.

The key consistencies are arson, ignorance, and hate.
  • Arson: the effort to burn down pretty much everything.  Trump has appointed a team of arsonists to his cabinet, and their role is to destroy the agencies that they "lead."  Deregulate, delegitimate, corrupt by directing the agencies towards the benefit of the inner circle.  Aside from Mattis, who is still a general protecting his Marines with some thought to the rest of the military and thus looks like a hero compared to the rest of the cabinet, the Secretaries and Attorney General are arsonists.  Trump is the chief arsonist, setting fire to the norms of the political system--no tax returns, no speaking on behalf of All Americans, joking on days where Americans are killed in terrorist attacks.  Of course, he never had any sense of appropriateness (he would lech after his own young daughter on television), but he delights in destroying the standards we took for granted.
  • Ignorance: Trump knows very little, and what he remembers from the 1980s is mostly wrong and/or out of date. On any given policy, he will simply not have much of a clue.  Every number he utters is wrong.  And he is singularly the most incurious person I have ever heard of.  His staff say it is ok that Trump talks on a tapped cell phone because he does not really care to know the details, that he can't leak intel because he ain't got none. 
  • Hate:  Trump reminds me of a character in a 1980s show--Wiseguy--where the Feds were trying to penetrate a white supremacist movement led by an insincere politician who whipped up hate but was only doing it to market himself--played by Fred Thompson who later went onto the Senate.  Before getting into what Trump believes and is, let's focus on what he has consistently done--whip up hate.  Trump was an original and most dedicated birther, questioning the history of the first African-American president.  His speech to open the campaign referred to Mexicans as rapists.  The whole wall thing was an appeal to xenophobia--that we need barriers between us and the others.  His Muslim ban, despite a fucked up court ruling, uses the state's power to discriminate on the basis of religion. He used anti-semitic imagery during the campaign.  Trump mocked those with disabilities--how soon we forget.  Trump definitely spends much time separating people into us and them in his mind and then has much dislike for the latter.  People say he can't be anti-semitic because he has Jewish grandchildren.  That is so dumb, it is laughable--is Trump capable of real love?  I do not think so.  I am pretty sure he would cast off Jared at the drop of a hat. 
    None of this is new, as his racism and his use of anti-semitic stereotypes goes way, way back.  
For a man who is wildly inconsistent, he is consistent about some things--that he does not know, he does not care about much, that he likes destroying things, and that he has much contempt for those who are different.  Sure, it is a convenient political strategy to play to his base--that it was useful in outbidding the GOP during the campaign--but he revels in it again and again.  His instincts go back to it again and again.

And because I am ranting, let me diverge and mention that this is not a solo act.  Trump has been enabled and empowered by white supremacists within the right-wing sphere--not just Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh, but Fox, which has aired anti-semitic, racist, xenophobic conspiracy theories and propaganda.  So, people ask where have these violent white men been radicalized, and the answer is: in the Fox/Breitbart/talk radio media space.

We live in dark times indeed, where the President of the United States is a white supremacist, surrounded by arsonists, enabled by cowards in the GOP and empowered by radical (not conservative) television and other media outlets.  I am not sure that voting will do the trick, but it is the least that we can do.  I have voted.  Please go out and vote against this awful tide of arson, ignorance, and hate.

Speaking of Fred Thompson:

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Team CDSN Progress Report

Over the past several years, a team of Canadian defence and security scholars, scientists, officials, officers and interested parties from civil society have been working on building the Canadian Defence and Security Network.  This past year, we have been working on a grant application to fund activities and events that would generate a heap of research, training and sharing of knowledge.  Since I returned from Chile in July, this has been my highest priority, eclipsing pretty much every other work obligation (I am far behind in writing up the case studies for the Dave, Phil and Steve project).

We just submitted it.  It has 26 or so pieces including six forms, fifteen documents we had write ranging from one to eight pages long each, and four items that required ten, thirty-two, thirty-two, and one hundred people to address, including one that involved lawyers (gasp!).

We have about a 50-50 chance at this point, and we won't know until spring.  While I have whined much about it, the process itself has been great. It has helped to build and connect a community of interesting people. It made events like the NATO summit more rewarding as I used them to help bring in new partners.  This partnership effort caused me to go to three different conferences/workshops taking place over the last 10 days in Ottawa, and I learned a great deal from each, even though all were outside my area of research/focus.

I have gotten much assistance and inspiration from the leadership team.  The whole idea is to create structures that harness the energy and interests of the community, so it is not a one-man show by any stretch of the imagination.  The proposal we submitted yesterday is so much better for all of the suggestions/comments/revisions that the partners and the leadership team made along the way.

The joy of this is that the effort to get funding for a network/partnership has built such a thing even before we have received funding.  Of course, the money would be more than handy because we would be far more productive (research, training, dissemination, etc) doing stuff than planning to do stuff, but still it is important to note that the exercise, if it goes unfunded, will not have been a waste of time.  Incredibly frustrating, sure, but it was time well spent.  I made new friendships and deepened old ones, and I learned a lot.  These are things I value the most.

And the timing is fitting as today is the seventh anniversary of my announcing my move to Carleton and to Ottawa.   None of this would have been possible without the support of Carleton.  From the VP for Research to my Dean to my Director to my colleagues to the director of our research centre to my research assistant to our grants facilitator and others in the funding chain of advice/command at Carleton, I have received so much support, assistance, advice, and more.

So, I owe much gratitude to Stef, Steph, JC, David, Alex, Andrea, Phil, Anessa, Irina, Al, and Srdjan; to the folks on our advisory board; to the many partners; and to Rafik, Andre, Teddy, Karen, Melissa, Tabbatha, and Patrica, and especially to Jeff, Alvine, Kate, Kyla, Kyla and Kyla (nope, not three different ones, just one doing the work of at least three different people).

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Call Him A (White) Nationalist

Trump said some words, not the 14, but getting closer all the time--that he is a nationalist.  What does that mean?  Well, if he hadn't prefaced it by saying that he isn't supposed to calling himself this, then one could interpret this as Trump being an American nationalist--proud of being an American, whatever that means.  But since he prefaced it as something that he should not say, well, it is easy to suggest that he was really saying he is a white nationalist even if he denied it today.

Let's step back and think about nationalism.  It is generally referred to a belief or desire or a movement that seeks to have a particular nation have its own government.  That, by itself, may be neither good nor bad (although I am a fan of multi-national states), but the key is this: nationalism is also about defining who is a suitable member of the nation and who is not.  Much of it is not just the aspiration to have a country for the nation but who should be in that country as a citizen, who is not as suitable and how these "Others" should be treated. 

And that is where Trump and his statement come in.  Trump and his allies want to define the American nation very specifically--that brown folks, that those not born in the US, that transgender don't count as real/true Americans.  Sarah Palin's stuff on Real America also defined American cities as not being part of Real America, but Trump as a New Yorker does not quite go there.  To be clear, within the far right (and far left), there will be differences and fights over who really counts and who should be excluded, but they generally agree that the US is a white Christian (narrowly defined) nation, and those who do not fit that combination of categories are not really American. 

Seems strange for Trump to be on board with this given that he has a Jewish son-in-law and Jewish grandchildren, right?  Not really since Trump has long had anti-semitic views even if he thinks he can love specific ones--remember, he wanted Jewish accountants, not African-American ones, because Jews are good with money: "Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day..."  Trump may not be a Nazi, but he does not mind hanging around with such folks--"there are fine people on both sides." 

As Trump panics about the midterms, he needs to get his base to the polls.  Who are his base?  Who were the key folks who helped him win the primaries?  Yeah, he knows.  So, this "I am a nationalist" is an appeal to those folks.  Is he sincere?  Well, Trump isn't sincere about much, but he is consistent about a few things, and his white supremacy (and its frequent companion--misogyny) is one of them.

So, yeah, Trump is a white nationalist, although I prefer white supremacist. His focus on the folks caravaning to the US, his mostly outdated concern about crime in inner cities, his empowering Sessions, Miller and Kelly, his attempts at a Muslim ban, and all of that is a part of a larger pattern.  He is fomenting a nationalism in the US that excludes much of America, and we should find it deeply disturbing. 

I do think it was a mark of desperation that Trump said what he said, but I don't expect him to stop if his party wins  or if it loses the midterms. Either he will be empowered or deeply angry.  It is going to get worse before it gets better.  And, yes, it can get worse.

Iraq War Myths: Academic Edition

Yesterday, one of the old myths about the Iraq war got circulated again with a spin of bad social science added on:
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt keep repeating the myth that they (and 31 others) were lone voices in the wilderness, as they made their opposition to the Iraq War in 2002/3 loud and clear.  Kudos for them for being on the right side of history, but they were not alone.  Far from it.  As I am exhausted by the dual challenges of resizing fonts in a 25 piece grant application and Carleton's email decided today would be a great day to have login problems, I will not go through the web to find all of the op-eds and other efforts by many, many scholars of International Relations who thought this was a bad idea.  You don't have to be a realist to figure out that invading Iraq was contrary to American interests.  Indeed, those of Liberal (caring about multilateralism/institutions) persuasion would be, and, indeed, were, critical of the war precisely because it undermined the international order and was not very multilateral.

The second part of the myth is that Mearsheimer and Walt were punished for being outspoken. Yeah, they surely have been denied ....  um, what?  They did not lose their jobs nor their ability to publish in academic outlets nor in non-academic outlets.  They still get TV time and media attention, so what have they lost?  This tweet suggests that they were denied opportunities to serve in government.  Oh.  Ok.  Really?  Of those on the letter cited in the tweet, many were beyond retirement age at the time or near it.  And, yes, the Bush Administration would not hire those who opposed their favorite project.  But M&W didn't get plush spots in the Obama Administration, which was surely punishment for writing this letter, right?  Didn't Obama oppose the war in 2003?  Woudn't he be disposed to hire critics of the war?  I am lost about the causal mechanism at work here. 

Which gets us to bad social science.  What are the odds that any group of 33 IR profs will get jobs in government?  Should we infer that if none of these profs got govt jobs that there was a conspiracy to exclude them forever from government positions?  How often were these folks giving talks at annual CFR meetings beforehand?  How do campaigns find academics to advise them? Or do academics find the campaigns?  Oh, and SELECTION BIAS: If we look at the academics who did go into government since 2003 and those who were consulted by campaigns, might we find some who opposed the war?

This tweet is typical of the post-Iraq war martyr complex that Mearsheimer and Walt continue to broadcast.  It is not clear to me why they obsess about this.  Take credit for being Cassandras and move on.  Nope, Mearsheimer has got to write a book about politicians having a tendency to lie.  They team up to write a book that is awful social science* about how certain groups dominate the American foreign policy process, imitating, alas, the worst tendencies of the uber-Realist George Kennan. And now Walt has a new book that seems to focus on being martyred for their Iraq stance.

* Bad social science because it does little in the way of research, and it does little to address/build on/challenge existing work that addresses interest groups and/or diasporas and foreign policy.

The reality is that policy-makers will not listen to academics when the academics tell them stuff they don't want to hear, that most academics don't get asked to do all kinds of stuff, and that one probably should not take it that personally.
Or, as the Eagles would say:

Monday, October 22, 2018

Diversity and Gender: Catching Up with the Armed Forces and Society Folks

As I have blogged here on occasion, I have been working with a team of sharp folks to build the Canadian Defence and Security Network.  The latest grant effort is due this week, so the timing of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society-Canada could not be better timed.  The IUS-C is a partner of the CDSN, so I not only interested in their stuff, but semi-obligated.  I learned a great deal, and it made me feel pretty great about what we are trying to do.

The IUS, US version or Canadian version, is a multidisciplinary group of scholars from both civilian and military universities and research centres that focus on the relationships between militaries and their societies.  Armed Forces and Society is the journal that is attached to this organization, and is the leading journal that is focused on civil-military relations.  The group is far more inter-disciplinary than damn near any association I have experienced.  This weekend, I was surrounded by sociologists, psychologists, and a variety of others plus a sprinkling of political scientists. 

The theme this year was Diversity for a variety of reasons, but to be clear this meant not just focusing on gender, race, ethnicity and the like but also cognitive diversity (more on that below).  This meant largely focusing on personnel issues--how to recruit, train, and retain a diverse (whatever that means) force.  Given that personnel is one of the five key CDSN themes but perhaps the one that is least familiar to me, this was an excellent way for me to drink from the fire-hose (an expression I learned in the Pentagon) and get a better grasp of what I have been editing (the personnel theme folks wrote the relevant parts of the application). 

So, what did I learn?  First, I found it interesting that the program itself did not mention affiliations, so status hierarchies, which can exist, could not really shape what panels one attends.  I don't know if it was deliberate or not.  Second, I learned that "science advances one funeral at a time" as change happens when the oldest stubborn folks are replaced by younger ones.  Given that I am older than most people in the room, um, swell. 

Third, I learned about cognitive diversity.  This is a contested idea, as the speakers were wary about the possibility that folks who want more cognitive diversity might be seen as or actually trying to substitute more different thinking white dudes rather than having more different people (women, people of color) which is what we usually think.  Cognitive diversity seemed to mean actually people who think differently, which is a challenge for organizations that want everyone on the same page.  But there seem to be benefits for having some people be more risk acceptant, some to think outside of the box, more "Enders" as one put it, referencing Ender's Game.  Lots of pushback from the military as they don't want too much questioning of orders.  But how to do you get good strategists? Probably not by having everybody think the same.  How do you get change?  Ditto.  One way to focus on diversity of thought and diversity of people is that people with different lived experiences are likely to think differently, so seeking people who think differently need not be a way to dodge making the force look more like Canada.  And, of course, my self-centered take on cognitive diversity is that if the military is not great at fostering people thinking differently, maybe they can hang out with those who are trained to think differently and inclined to do so--the shaggy academics. That is, a partnership with academics, such as the CDSN, may not be a solution to the problem of cognitive diversity in the CAF, but it can be a way to ameliorate the problem.

Fourth, via a panel on integrating gender perspectives into defence and security, I got a better grasp of what has been going on over the past couple of decades--what the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 means, what is the Women, Peace and Security agenda is and what are GENADS (gender advisors) and other new roles in the military.  Given that our grant application needed better citation of this stuff, it was great that my RA happened to be at this panel.  Also, since I just included a week on gender and civ-mil for the first time, it was nice to see how the latest stuff fed off of and reacted to some of the stuff I had talked about in class last week.  One consistent them--GBA+ means not gender-based analysis but much attention to other identities/dimensions and heaps of intersectionality.  A good reminder that identity is complex.  A big question is whether progress was actually getting made--lots of division in the room about that.  A trans-gender CAF officer corrected the panel on how they referred to male/female and men/women, and that was most instructive. 

Fifth, military sexual trauma is something the CAF has a huge problem dealing with--yes, the CAF is trying, but so many aspects of the process are still pretty broken.  For instance, it is the case that at some places, the officers and NCO's responsible for handling reports of sexual harassment are people who engage in sexual harassment.  Not great. There have been some improvements--that it used to be the case that reporting some kind of mental trauma from being sexually assaulted was sufficient grounds to be pushed out of the military--that one was no longer fit to be deployed.  That stopped recently apparently, but talk about retention problems!  If a significant hunk of the women are assaulted and they all get pushed out, then it is not hard to figure out a key problem retaining women. Oh, and the various services and groups for veterans need to be reformed in order to make women and especially those who have survived MST to feel welcome and give them support.

A big move has already taken place--the military used to be gender-blind, thinking that was the best way not to discriminate.  But it is kind of like Stephen Colbert not seeing race. It allows one to ignore all kinds of distinctions and challenges, such as needing different armor for people with hips and breasts that are not the typical male shapes.  

I am reminded when I hear this stuff of many conversations I used to have with my daughter.  I would say there is progress (this is Pre-Trump, obviously), and she would say it was not happening fast enough.  And eventually I would realize she was and is right.  The changes that are happening are not happening fast enough.  And it is not clear if the initiatives of today will endure and be sustained.

On the other hand, I learned a lot and am glad that IUS-C is a partner of the larger CDSN effort.  I have a clearer idea of what our personnel-related projects will be, if we can get funded. And, again, I am reminded that the effort to get money to build a network is actually leading to us folks being better networked. The money would be handy to do stuff, but at least the enterprise is already creating connections and helping to exchange perspectives.  So, woot for #TeamCDSN.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Killings in Kandahar: Instant Reaction

The news out of Kandahar is pretty awful: the top leadership of the province was killed in an apparent attempt to kill General Austin Miller, the commander of US and NATO forces in the country.  There is not many details, but the WashPost account is suggestive of some key dynamics and challenges.

First, it sounds like the killer was apparently part of the provincial governor's security team.  Not great.  It does seem like the primary threat in Kandahar to elites are their security teams, as I seem to remember it was also a member of Ahmed Wali Karzai's security team that killed him. 

Second, and, more importantly, the focus is on Abdul Razik the police chief of Kandahar.  Why?  Because (a) the inability to build institutions meant that the US, Canada and the rest of NATO bet on individuals.  That if we had the right individuals in place, we can manage things and even perhaps improve them.  The story focuses on Razik's own networks and his own capabilities, not that of his office.  That he is hard to replace--because we have relied on individuals.  And, yes, individuals come and go.

Third, the focus is on the police chief, not the governor.
Among those reported killed in the attack inside the governor’s compound in southern Kandahar province were the country’s top police general, Abdul Raziq, who was seen as the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan.
That says something about how little progress has been made--that it is still very much about who controls force, not who governs.  If progress had been made, the focus would be more on the political side--the assassination of a governor.  If we think about this happening in most other places, wouldn't we note the political leader first and foremost?

Fourth, um, about Razik, the discussion of his "strengths" reflects some desperation on the part of the outsiders:
Amrulleh Saleh, a former Afghan national intelligence chief, tweeted that Abdul Razik had been “an architect of stability” in Kandahar who had established “deep political networks” in support of the government. “This is a pan-Afghan loss,” he wrote.
Abdul Razik, a lieutenant general in the Afghan National Police, was a controversial official who had been repeatedly accused of torturing detainees and other abuses during his rise to power in Kandahar. At the same time, he earned a reputation as a ferocious opponent of the Taliban and gained the respect of successive American and NATO military officials in Afghanistan.
Controversial figure?  Indeed.  This points to the biggest challenge facing any outsider hoping to run a successful counter-insurgency effort--local allies.  Do they have similar interests?  Do they behave in ways that alienate local constituencies?  Does one need brutality to win a counter-insurgency?  I am not sure, since this guy was brutal and yet.... is Kandahar a success or a failure? It hasn't fallen (unlike Kunduz), but it is not a haven of security either.

This one story, again based on initial reports, is just very suggestive about how complex counter-insurgency efforts can be, how difficult they are, and how many tricky tradeoffs are involved.  I am sure the US/NATO forces are mourning the loss of Razik, but maybe they should be wondering why they are so dependent on one guy?

Monday, October 15, 2018

Confirmation Bias: Canadian Defence Procurement Edition

I have been arguing that defence contractors in Canada have been underrated..... as sources of dysfunction.  So, when I read today's story about the defensive strategy of the former Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, Mark Norman, who has been accused of leaking stuff, I find myself nodding my head.  Norman's attorney is going after the Liberal government and specifically the ties between the head of the Treasury Board (key budgetary watchdog) and the Irving Shipbuilding company, which seeks to monopolize all naval defence contracts.

Sure, of course, a guy with ties to the Irvings is in a spot to help them, one who has leaked before.  If it is not true, it is still useful "reasonable doubt" fodder.  I do wonder if the government has any ability to wave off the prosecutors since this is a bad news story timed for the election--that is when the trial will be. 

But to step back and examine my own bias for a second, I have long thought this case was handled poorly, that it made little sense to go after a VCDS for leaks when the entire government (which the defence attorney will prove pretty easily according to this article) leaks like a sieve.  However, this article is pretty much PR for the Norman defence and does not have much else in the way of sourcing.  Which gets to a different existing bias I have--that parliament does not have much of a role in this, and, if it did, it would be operating like Pugliese--via leaks. 

And so, I have to remember leaks do not perfectly portray what is going on but portray reality as the leaker would like it to be portrayed. Media outlets that rely on leaks can get played. I am not saying Pugliese is getting played, but I am not saying he is not. I tend to agree with him that Norman is getting shafted because the Liberals fucked up--they fell for Irving's pressure, started to push against a plan to fill the gap in supply ships via a Quebec firm, and then got caught via a leak.  As it turns out, Davie, the Quebec yard, was able to get the ship transformed and in service--a good news procurement story that might have gone the other way.

I am fond these days of quoting the Dumbledore line about it being easier to forgive other people for being wrong versus admitting they were right.  Seems to me the government of Canada, under the Liberals, should be reading more Harry Potter.  But again, that is my bias. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Tide of Voterfraudfraud Reverses

With the elevation of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, voterfraudfraud is back in fashion.  We had a period where the courts were ruling against voter suppression efforts, but that is over.  Yesterday's ruling that makes it harder for Native Americans to vote in North Dakota--the clearly suppressive law that requires street addresses in a state where a certain group relies on POB addresses was allowed to stand--is the beginning of the next wave of efforts by the Republicans to win by denying the vote to people who are unlikely to vote GOP.

As I have argued before, the voter fraud as a threat is itself a fraud--there is not much of a threat of people voting illegally.  What is a threat?  Voter suppression, which Republicans have clearly made as a key strategy.  They know they can't appeal well to large swaths of the country--students, African-Americans, Native Americans, the poor, etc.  So, how to win elections?  Make sure these people can't vote.  Georgia has kicked people off of voting rolls.  States have made it harder to vote by shortening early voting periods.

The effort is systematic and anti-democratic.  The electoral sin of the United States has been voter suppression.  It is why the Voting Rights Act was enacted.  The Roberts Court said that racism was over, and so the VRA could be diminished because.... Roberts is fricking blind.  Since that decision, the GOP has enthusiastically sought to make it harder for non-Republicans to vote.  The myths they spout about fraud seem to work... for those who want them to work--that Republicans believe this bullshit despite few recorded cases of voter fraud.  Yes, it is known to happen, but it is rare and it is a far less severe problem than disenfranchisement.  That they don't get this, but it is not that different than being willing to speed up death penalties despite the risk of killing innocent people.  Of course, they may hot have a problem with that.

While I think that the Dems will still do well in 2018, I fear that two more years of unfettered voterfraudfraud may make it very hard for the Dems to win in 2020.  People in my business disagree about how to code the US as a democracy: was it a democracy when people where enslaved? Was it a democracy when less than half of the population could vote (prior to women's suffrage)?  Was it a democracy when a large minority was essentially denied the right to vote prior to the VRA?  Well, we may start pondering at what point is voter suppression so intense that the US is no longer very democratic.  Maybe we can code the US as a full democracy from 1965 to 2018?

Monday, October 8, 2018

Happy Potter Questions

Seems a bit late to ponder Harry Potter, since he is now well past Hogwarts and deep into his career as an Auror.  However, various folks have been asking questions that have been making me think a bit about stuff stuff.  So, here's how I answer some of the questions of late:
My answer: Accio!  The summoning charm is super-useful even it is pretty mundane.  This would be aimed not just at grabbing the remote control from across the room, but finding stuff that is lost around the house--keys, ipod, phone, etc--or stuck under the seat in one's car.  I could have chosen disapparation as a mode of travel, but I can't call the ability to disappear in one spot and appear in another shockingly mundane use of magic.

The next question: listening to the Binge Mode folks at the Ringer answer questions between podcasts that analyze the books and movies, they were asked to name five Order of the Phoenix members (1.0 or 2.0) they would want on a rescue mission, but, the person asking the question said that Dumbledore could not be included.  Both of the folks on the podcast agreed on Harry and Hermione because the former, despite sometimes making poor decisions, had courage, leadership, and luck (he is something like 5-0 against Lord Voldemort), and the latter is just super-smart.  Mrs. Spew agreed on Hermione, but not so much on Harry.  But I will take Harry because of his record of beating the odds and his "saving people thing."
Who else?
  • I wouldn't have Sirius since he was a bit too cocky--he died because he was too busy laughing at Bellatrix.
  • Lupin is very good at defending against the dark arts, but is unavailable and positively a danger to his team a few days every month.
  • Tonks is klutzy, but has the ability to change her look, making it easy for her to get anywhere.  However, for a short rescue mission, anyone can quaff some polyjuice potion to get a similar effect.  
  • Speaking of which, having a potions master on board makes sense because that brings all kinds of capabilities to the team--truth serum to get info, liquid luck to have better odds, sleeping drafts to eliminate guards, etc.  In the books, we have three highly skilled potion-makers: Slughorn who is not really a member of the Order and has shown a greater desire for self-preservation than for rescuing others; Snape who is gifted at potion making (he is the half-blood prince, after all), but is, as the Binge Mode folks said, bad chemistry--he does not play well with others; and .... Lily Potter.  She thrice evaded Voldemort back in the old days, and is known to be very skilled at potions.  The only weakness here is that she might be more concerned about Harry than about the target of the rescue.
  • The Binge mode folks are high on McGonagall, who is tough enough to take four stunners, and is fiercely loyal, but quick she is not.  
  • Mundungus?  Sure, any D&D party needs a thief, but a rescue mission?  Nope, since he cut out when they needed seven fake Harry's as they sought to flee the Dursley House at the start of the seventh book.
  • Mad-eye Moody?  Constantly vigilant and 2.0 has the ability to see through objects.  Does being ruthlessly paranoid serve as a plus or minus?  For a rescue mission, probably a plus, so count him in.  
  • Ginny?  She packs a lot of power into a small but fierce body.  She is also good on a broom and brings much comic relief. Hem, hem.  Mrs. Spew went with her mother since she was fierce enough to take down Bellatrix, but I do think she worries too much.  So, I will go with the younger Weasley woman.  Harry might be distracted by Ginny's fate in a fight, but they proved at the ministry to be able to fight together quite well.  That was pre-romance, but still....
So,  there's my team--a mix of young and old, brains and action, speed and daring.  What's yours?

Canadian Thanksgiving: Canadian Academia Rocks!

A Semi-Spewful tradition has been to enumerate what I am thankful for on Thanskgiving--whether it is in October or November.  This year, I want to be a bit more focused.  While I am still very thankful for much about Canada, I am going to focus on the academic side this year.  Why?  Because I have spent much of 2018 working on an effort connect the Canadian defence and security community--the Canadian Defence and Security Network.  The big grant is due later this month, so I have been nagging many partners and participants to do their part in this effort--mostly fighting an online form process.  The upside of this effort has been several-fold:
  • I have worked with a small team of academics who serve as co-leaders/partners-in-crime.  These folks are smart, dedicated and fun. Not only did we get together to hash things out in August, but I have been in constant contact with them.  I will forever be indebted to them for tolerating my flood of emails, the requests to review drafts of many documents, the requests to help with institutions they brought to the network, and their patience and endurance as they waged battles within their institutions to get the necessary approvals and commitments.
  • This grant effort has compelled me to reach out across Canada to a variety actors interested in the issues at stake.  I am very thankful for their enthusiasm for this project and their willingness to do the necessary steps to get this thing to work.
  • I am very, very grateful for the support of my institution.  From the VP for Research to the Dean  of the Faculty of Public Affairs to the grant facilitator to the Director of my school to my colleagues, I have received incredible amounts of support and encouragement.
  • I am very thank for the research assistance I have received along the way: undergrads, MA students and now a Phd student have all played key roles. I am learning better how to delegate, and they are doing an excellent job making sure I provide clearer instructions.  
 And if it is not, well, I will have benefited greatly anyway, as I am now better connected with Canada's defence and security community.  They have much expertise to give. They have helped me greatly understand not just Canada and its role in the world, but how to think comparatively about civil-military relations and alliance politics.

So, on this Thanksgiving, I am very, very thankful to those near and far who are helping me and making TeamCDSN an insightful, engaging, and fun endeavor.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Implausible Deniability, SCOTUS edition

I have not been writing much lately--busy grant-writing and too depressed.  What is there to say about the US Senate confirming someone who has lied repeatedly to the Senate, who gave a partisan screed at his confirmation hearing, and who clearly could not pass a real investigation of his past?

What I can say is that implausible deniability is now very much a thing.  Susan Collins and the others who voted for Kavanaugh, including Joe Manchin, had to rely on implausible claims:
  • that Dr. Ford was assaulted but not by Kavanaugh--Collins literally said this, perhaps buying the Ed Whelan conspiracy theory
  • that the FBI investigated and didn't find any compelling evidence.  Of course, the FBI didn't really investigate, but the extra week and its "report" gave Flake and other senators the opportunity to say that they did due diligence.
  • that Kavanaugh is not going to overturn Roe v. Wade or anything else that is "settled law."  
 I can go on and on.  The basic point is this: there were very thin, small, broken fig leaves that were used to cover up the ugly realities, and that the politicians who wanted to vote for Kavanaugh due to party id (Collins, Flake, etc) and those who wanted to vote because of concerns about re-election (Manchin) had enough bits and pieces to deny that Kavanaugh was clearly unqualified.  The truth is that Kavanaugh is unqualified for many, many reasons, but the GOP and the FBI gave the politicians opportunities to deny.  Do we buy these denials? Hells no.  But they serve a purpose--it allows the politicians to live with themselves and perhaps fool those who want to be fooled.

Every time a Supreme Court decision whittles away access to abortion or gives the Trump administration more ways to misbehave (self-pardons, allowing the President to pardon state-level prosecutions, etc), Collins and Manchin and Flake will need to be reminded that they are responsible, not just for telling women that they should not come forward, but for enabling the destruction of the rule of law.  Flake is leaving the Senate, but I hope he faces a lifetime of recriminations.  I hope that Collins loses office in 2020, and I guess I hope that Manchin sticks around long enough to give the Dems a majority but not much longer than that.

Because they all sold out whatever values they claim to have and they claim they did not because they have the thinnest of cover.  Their deniability is implausible, and we need to call them on it.  Again, democratic politics relies on shame, and we need to make these people feel the burn of shame.  Implausible deniability, if unchallenged, leads to shamelessness which paves the way to the end of democracy.

Afghanistan Anniversary

Today is apparently the 17th anniversary of the start of the US (and then allied) war in Afghanistan.   Not quite old enough to drink but old enough to disapparate.  Anyhow, when I was working on ethnic conflict stuff, including my time in the Pentagon on Bosnia, the frequent refrain was that it takes generations for a society to start to recover from a war.  Indeed, when I first heard that the US was calling its post-invasion role in Iraq "Occupation," I was relieved.  Why? 

Because I thought we might have realized that it takes quite a while to make progress after conflict.  That many of the previous conflicts were still problematic because each peace-keeping/nation-building effort was focused on the very short term, as in one year at a time or so.  Indeed, I remember an American officer comparing Bosnia to the American civil war since his unit was one that combined VA and MA personnel--blue and gray.  My response (in my head): yeah, because the North and the South only took 100 or more years to get along.

If the US had invaded Afghanistan with the intent of being there twenty years, as opposed to looking to get out at the first moment possible, much might be different.  Not only would the Taliban perhaps have been less willing to just out-wait the outsiders, but the plans, operations, campaigns and investments might have been different.  Rather than focusing on just getting to the next election or other key milestone (definitely not benchmarks), the US and its allies could have been more focused on building institutions.  Institutions take time to become legitimate and respected and taken for granted. 

Of course, it would be unrealistic for any democracy to tell its public that it would be going to war in a place for two decades.  Far more realistic to say we will be there just for a few years and then keep kicking the can down the road.  This works for winning (or not losing) support back home, but it does no favors to those in the field. 

So, on this anniversary of the Afghanistan campaign, I am embracing humility.  Since we can't expect politicians to defend long term investments, we probably should avoid making decisions that lead to long term wars.  Maybe an American intervention in Syria in 2012 might have improved things compared to what happened, but how many forever wars can the US be sucked into at any one point in time?  As long as we keep thinking that these wars are all going to be short, we are going to do just enough to make sure that they are prolonged.

And, yeah, I am in a pretty pessimistic mood given the destruction of American institutions the past week or two.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Is the New NAFTA Treaty Half-Full or Half Empty?

I am not an expert on trade or trade agreements, but I have opinions and this is the Semi-Spew--where I can speculate or judge without much data or knowledge, so here we go.

NAFTA 2.0 (I hate calling it USMCA, just like I don't call the airport near the Pentagon Reagan but National--I am stubborn and, yes, conservative, that way) is a strange beast.

It does not radically revise NAFTA, but it is an excellent rorschach test. How one views it really depends on what one is expecting from such an agreement.  On the one hand, Canada did not get anything out of the agreement that wasn't already in NAFTA, from what it sounds like.  It did give in a bit on a few key things--a bit more dairy access, limits on cars sold into the US.  So, that sounds like a defeat--that Canada didn't get much or anything but gave up on stuff.

On the other hand, Canada averted major restrictions on cars and perhaps other sectors.  Note the expansion of the US trade war with China to cover lots of goods.  So, Canada gave up a smidge of access to the dairy market--something like access to 3.75% of the dairy market compared to 3.25% in the TPP that Trump walked away from--to keep the trade war limited.

Limited trade war?  Yes, because we still have the steel and aluminum tariffs.*  If Trump rolls that back, then, yes, this agreement is a significant victory.  If not, then it is like a mid-war agreement to keep the carnage limited.  Kind of like implicitly agreeing not to bomb China as long as China does not bomb Japan in 1951.  The trade war would still go on, but it is now less likely to escalate.
*  I talked to my colleague, a trade agreement expert, and she argued that this was a bridge too far because Trump's steel/aluminum tariffs aimed at multiple actors, not just Canada and Mexico.
 One last thing: nothing that Trump says now means that he will follow through.  This is both because Congress may not go along AND Trump has no credibility, his word is not good, and he changes his mind a lot.

This was probably the best Canada could do, which is sad to say, but reflects both the asymmetric power relationship and how messed up the Trump Administration is.  I doubt any other politicians in Canada could have done this better.  I do hope this means that Chrystia Freeland can be the Foreign Minister again and not just the trade negotiator.