Sunday, December 31, 2023

2023: Not Quite Post Pandemic

Throughout 2023,I kept being sarcastic about being post-pandemic, knowing that COVID was still a major problem, even as we stopped acting as if it was.  And then, of course, I got it the last week of the year.  The year started with COVID--my wife and her family got it when she went down to help her mother when she was hospitalized--as well, so it was a strange year of acting like it was not a thing while it was very much a thing.  Since I am not going to be productive today due to my current bout, I thought I would post about the year so that I could remember now and down the road the non-covid-y parts to the year.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Thinking about the G Word

Maybe not genocide, almost
certainly a war crime.
 I have been reluctant to call what Israel is doing in Gaza genocide.  I am not an international lawyer so my hesitance is less about the fine points of international law and more about how fraught the word is--that it is a very inflammatory accusation, that it turns people's minds off, that it ends conversations.  It is pretty much the worst thing you can accuse someone of doing, especially an Israeli given the history of the Jews.  It also raises in some people's minds a false equivalency between this event or that event and the Holocaust.  For the legal beagles, the question is of intent--is the aim to kill in part (the in part thing is important) or entirely a group of people because of their race, religion, language, or some other ethnic marker.*  For an excellent discussion of much of this, see Page Fortna's op-ed.

And then I got into a conversation with a family member about ethnic cleansing versus genocide.  I am far more confident that what is happening in Gaza is ethnic cleansing.  We have had a variety of statements from Israeli officials referring to this as a/the nabka--a repeat of something that had long been denied--that the new Israelis expelled the Palestinians from contested territories in 1948.  Reports that Netanyahu has been looking for other places to settle the Palestinians are very disturbing. The level of violence and its targeting, as this WP analysis illustrates only too clearly, is suggestive.  Israel has more done more damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure in a couple of months than other contemporary campaigns and it is not close. Remember, the 21k civilian casualties in Gaza is almost certainly an undercount that will get worse as the destruction of the health care system and the shortages of food and water kick in.

Israel and its fans will claim that they need to eradicate Hamas because it has genocidal intent.  I sympathize with that, but genocide is partly about power.  One cannot engage in mass killing unless one has the powers of a state or something close to it.  So, in the genocide conversation, one can argue that one side might have intent, but it is the other side that has the ability to engage in large scale destruction and is doing so.  Hamas may present a threat to engage in genocide, but it is Israel that is actually killing large numbers of people, mostly civilians including many, many children.

I need to mention one dynamic here: conflating all Palestinians with Hamas and arguing Hamas needs to be eradicated leads to the conclusion, intentionally or not, implicit or explicit, that to destroy Hamas, one needs to eliminate the Palestinians.  Which leads to the biq question:

Is the intent of Israeli leaders to eliminate all Palestinians?  Just those living in Gaza? Not so clear, so one could argue it is not genocide.  But that is really a quibble.  Israel is forcing Gazans to move south, and so-called safe zones are not so safe (which reminds me of Bosnia).  Israels and its supporters can argue about genocide/not genocide, and maybe that is a conversation that could be more comfortable than addressing the contemporary situation--Israel is killing large numbers of innocents out of revenge, rage, and/or a misconception that hitting much, much harder will ultimately lead to deterrence.  I included the bluesky post because it illustrates something very, very powerful--that Israel is engaged in a variety of horrific tactics and no strategy (if Israel had one) could justify it.  Attacking hospitals and refugee camps is simply wrong--it is immoral and it is also bad strategy.  Netanyahu recently said he was seeking to destroy Hamas,** demilitarize Gaza, and deradicalize the Palestinians.  This campaign may be temporarily successful at the second, but it will not destroy Hamas, and it will do the opposite of deradicalizing the Palestinians.  

I remarked that when Israel had hit the 20,000 casualty figure, was that disproportionate enough, given that something less than 2,000 Israelis died on or after October 7th? It is quite clear that Israel has violated international humanitarian law repeatedly and intentionally.  I get that Israelis think international relations is gamed against them--all the UN votes by countries that have deplorable human rights records, etc.  That international law is less important than survival, but some of this is a self-fulfilling prophecy--that Israel burned whatever goodwill it received in the aftermath of October 7th by engaging in a campaign of revenge and collective punishment.

One of thing that has been so disturbing is the realization that there are two meanings to Never Again--never again will Jews be victims or never again will we let mass killings take place.  It is clear now that Israeli leaders and their supporters believe that Never Again means that Jews will never be victims again, even if it means victimizing others.  The lesson I thought I had learned growing up was that Never Again meant fighting against oppression, persecution, victimization, regardless of the targeted group.  I can't help but think that all of this is a betrayal of what we were supposed to learn from the Holocaust.

All of this is awful.  Hamas is awful, Netanyahu is awful, terrorism is awful, collective punishment is awful.  Whether one wants to call it genocide or not, what Israel is doing is awful--it is counterproductive and it is immoral.  So, from a strategic perspective, Israel's campaign is bad.  From a moral perspective, it is wrong.  Hamas's gross violations of human rights do not justify violating international humanitarian law, even if it were producing a successful outcome, and it is certainly not doing that.

Thus, I avoid using genocide as a label for all of this because it is largely superfluous--one can condemn what Israel has been doing without it.


* The term politicide was invented to cover the attempt to kill many/all people of the same party or movement that is ethnically heterogeneous.

** None of this justifies Hamas or legitimates what Hamas has done.  The recent story about the systemic gender violence committed by Hamas makes abundantly clear that Hamas is an awful, awful organization.  That they deliberately use their own people as shield not to protect the organization but to raise the hypocrisy costs for Israel--that is, they are deliberately getting Palestinians killed--makes them utterly deplorable.  They should be defeated and destroyed.  But Israel is actually empowering Hamas by walking into the traps it has set.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

White Nationalist Outbidding, 2024

 Nikki Haley's "what about slavery?" statement reminds us that the 2024 campaign is one of ethnic outbidding--specifically, white nationalist outbidding.  I have been writing about ethnic outbidding for quite some time, in my own academic work, and then applied to the US especially in the age of Trump.  To be clear, the concept is not mine.  It was most clearly articulated by Donald Horowitz--that when multiple politicians or parties compete for support from an homogenous group in a heterogeneous society, they will be tempted/pressured to outbid each other in their promises to be the best defender of that group.* 

In 2016, Trump was best positioned to win this auction, this competition for ever more extreme voters, as he was willing to say anything, including banning Muslims, and, yes, his personality feeds into it as he always wants to top other folks.  After the 2020 election, Fox News felt pressure from its right, as it initially recognized Trump's defeat, but started to lose market share to OAN and other far right outlets.

In the 2024 race, the competition to be the best white nationalist (I tend to prefer white supremacist but YMMV) is so evident with non-white candidates like Nikki Haley and Tim Scott appealing to the white vote.  Many have noted the irony or hypocrisy of those running to lead the Party of Lincoln getting all soft on slavery.**  Haley once was on the right side of history, lowering the confederate flag from government buildings when she was governor of South Carolina.  But that was before Trump changed the permission structure of Republican politics.  Now, to compete at the national level, one must establish one's white nationalist bona fides by being pro-confederacy.  [Save me the BS about state's rights, as SC's secession and pretty much every other one was based on the selective state's right to support the institution of slavery and oppose the rights of non-slave-holding states to regulate their own borders].  

To be clear, ethnic outbidding refers to pressures and temptations--the fear of losing white voters to other candidates or the temptation to pander to extremist voters to get a leg up on more moderate candidates.  Candidates and parties still have agency. They have a choice to make, often a tough one, but they can choose to go another way at some cost.  Fox could have been willing to risk losing some market share to far right outlets.  Nikki Haley could have risked losing some share of the electorate to others, with the hope that she could corner the market of reasonable Republicans (if such a beast still exists).  The challenge is that we know that the most enthused voters show up at primaries, and those tend to be those on the extremes.  But in this time of increased threat of autocracy, there is an opportunity for a Republican to take a stand.  This is not just wishful thinking or idealism--the white nationalist vote is going to Trump.  Whatever is left will go to DeSantis and others who fit the bill--white "Christian" men.  Nikki Haley could be the candidate that grabs other voters.  Again, she has agency, she has a choice to make, and, until this week, she had somewhat of an advantage with her background--not just being a person of color (perhaps in denial about that) and a woman, but someone who had pulled down the confederate flag in a previous job.  She had the credentials to try to be the savior of the GOP.  

And Haley tossed it away.  Out of weakness. Due to cowardice.  She simply is not going to win an outbidding race against Trump or against the other dudes in the race.  

So, we can blame the structure of the American politics--the winner take all process where small numbers of voters in primaries set the agenda--but we cannot let these politicians off.  They have responsibility for their stances.  We got here because of GOP weakness and temptation.  In 2016, GOP candidates didn't attack Trump directly because they wanted his voters--the deplorables that Hillary Clinton so aptly called them.  In 2024, the cowardice has a physical element to it--that Trump supporters have threatened violence.  But cowardice it still is--to run for Presidency and sell out whatever values one has and ultimately endanger oneself and one's family.  Again, Haley may think of herself as white, but she isn't to to white nationalists to whom she is pandering.  Indian-Americans may not be at the top of their hate list, but I am pretty sure Great Replacement Theorists worry about South Asians replacing white folks, just as they worry about Jews, Black Americans, Muslims, etc.  

Structure and agency are in play here--we need to hold accountable the politicians who pander to the worst instincts in people and we need to remember that Trump and Haley wouldn't be doing this stuff if it did not work, if there was not an audience for it.

* This is not just an American thing, of course, as Horowitz was inspired by the Sinhalese case in Sri Lanka.  These days, Canada is having a bit of the outbidding dynamic as the Conservative Party of Canada feels pressured by a small far right party run by, well, an idiot.  That case illustrates it is not just pressure but temptation.  The temptation to split off voters from the heterogeneous party.

** You don't have to be an historian to know that the two parties switched their positions/places on the rights of African-Americans to be free and to vote, but it doesn't hurt.  Follow Kevin Kruse on social media to get the basics as he has responded extensively to the whole "hey, the Dems were the party of racism" stuff.  It is called partisan realignment for a reason--the parties and voters realigned in response to the response to the civil rights movement.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Spew in Review, 2023!

 There is never a boring year for a scholar of international relations, but, wow, this year was something.  The invasion of Ukraine was eclipsed by the Hamas attack and Israel's response.  The former created much consensus and unity except for the random tankie.  The latter has been incredibly divisive.  It was a year of expectations unmet and exceeded.  And it was an incredibly angering year as so much could have been avoided, and so much awful has been amplified.  

I am lucky and privileged, so Musk turning twitter into a far right hellscape was annoying to me but only hurt my hit rate here at the spew.  For others, it was quite destructive with death threats and actual violence.  Seeing folks start to flee Substack due to tech billionaire greed -- hey, the Nazis pay! -- makes think I was right never to move, and then I have to remember that blogger is owned by google, and google has done a fair amount of evil via gaming its algorithms to get more hits via anger--youtube sending folks to the extremes.

Anyhow, that is part of the context for this review.  The rest of the context: I blog far less than I once did, averaging a bit more than 2 posts a month, when I used post several times a day.  I theoretically have more time to blog as I have been on sabbatical since July, but I haven't.  Why not?  Partly I write on other social media--bluesky now instead of twitter.  Partly because my first reaction is to write something ... that I have written before.  I don't need to write a "GOP is the Party of Bad Faith" post since I have already written it. 

Unto the year in review, which has at least one enthusiastic reader ;)

Academic Careerism: What Is Misunderstood

Academia has long been misunderstood in so many ways.  That folks don't understand the academic job market has long been a theme here.  Lately, folks have been wondering about our motives, with some of this questioning the integrity of the average academic.  So, let me take the lenses we apply to politicians and focus them on the average North American academic.  To be clear, there are exceptions, such as the recent scandal about a climate change scholar taking big bucks from polluters to shill for them.  But when I focus on the basics, these tend to apply to most folks, at least in the research university landscape.

I raise this today because folks think that we academics may sell our souls for grant money.  I have been asked whether I filter what I say in order to get ahead in this business.  Folks who know me giggle at the idea that I filter myself much.  So, what does it take to get ahead in academia, and does the desire for/pressure to get government money lead folks to be less critical?

Since we assume that politicians are careerists, that they are motivated by the desire for election and then re-election, it is only fair that folks assume about academics that they are motivated by the desire to be employed and then promoted.  What does it take to get a job and then promoted?  A shit ton of luck these days.  But mostly academic publications.  We don't get academic jobs in the US or Canada (I can't speak about Mexico or elsewhere) because we do television or radio or say nice things about the government.  We get jobs and we get promoted almost entirely based on how many articles/books we publish, where they are published, whether other academics cite our stuff.  

Where does the money come in?  It matters--and how much it matters varies by discipline--but grant money (not consulting money, more on that later) pays for the research, which then gets us the publications.  Some folks need less grant money than others.  If you need to travel to do fieldwork or to access archives, that costs money. If you need research assistants to code data, they don't work for free (ok, sometimes they work for academic credits or for co-authorship, but mostly they work for pay).  As I have said elsewhere, grant money rarely goes into our pockets.* 

Getting back to publishing, does sucking up to the powers that be get you more pubs?  Well, if you mean government, no.  If you mean the bigger names in the field, that depends on the journal/editor/reviewers.  But mostly what sells a paper are a combination of whether it asks an interesting question (interesting to the editor, to the reviewers), whether it poses an interesting answer (ditto), whether the methods are rigorous and perhaps funky (innovative methods can help... and maybe hurt), whether it has important ramifications.  None of this is aimed at the government--while funding trends can drive research to a certain area, like counterterrorism after 9/11 and counterinsurgency after the US poured gasoline all over Iraq and Afghanistan, the reviewers and editors are the key audiences.  

So, what drives our research agendas?  This cartoon illustrates it nicely:

 That is, profs study the stuff that interests them.  We are driven by curiosity.  I always say we can't control where we do our work, but we can control what our work is.  Scholars vary widely in what they choose to study and why they choose to study whatever it is they study, but it is largely up to them, especially after tenure.  Sure, a department hires a prof to do something, like teach and research International Relations, and maybe something more specific like International Trade, but the questions they ask, the methods they use, the answers they get are not stuff that anyone but the scholar controls.  Some profs may aim their research at hot topics thinking that will get them better publications, but we suck at evaluating what is going to be hot in two to seven years--it takes a while to do the research and then more time to publish.  So, yes, folks can try to game things, but mostly profs study what they want and how they want because that is why they became profs.  So, in all of Marvel-dom, this particular scientist just wants to turn people into dinosaurs, and that might be the most realistic villain--a PhD with a specific interest due to their own preferences. 

Other stuff matters in career progression--networking so that the right people end up writing your letters and inviting to you to various reindeer games--edited volume projects, special issues, etc.  But pandering to donors?  Not really a thing.

There is, of course, one potential exception to all of this--consulting.  As profs are experts in their area, folks in the public and private sectors may want to hire some to provide their insights.  And then, yeah, the prof may aim at telling the funder what they want to hear.  Profs should list who they consult for--I have seem some economists with very fulsome conflict of interest statements.  Poli sci doesn't have quite the same norms, at least not yet. 

In my mind, I do think there is a world of difference between grants and consulting contracts, but I don't have much experience in the latter so I can't speak to it as well.   

Is there careerism in academia?  Certainly.  But it does not operate the way some may suggest--ego, ambition, and even greed matter, but who we pander to is not so obvious nor does the pandering lead to betraying most of our ideals and findings.  As always, if you wonder what is driving us, read our stuff.

*In the US, there is this strange thing called summer money--that since one is often technically employed for 9 months, a grant can include some money for summer wages.  That does not exist in Canada since we are on 12 month contracts.  And, yes, fellowships can cover food/rent/etc, unlike grants.  I recently received a fellowship that will help cover my income since my sabbatical income is 85% of my normal income.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Cookiefest 2023: I Think I Have A Problem

 I have spent the past several weeks making something like 20 batches of cookies which I have shared with some friends and will share with more friends around Ottawa and have some left over to bring to the winterfest celebration down south.

This is madness! I even bought a chest freezer so that I could make heaps of cookies in advance.  One lesson I may have overlearned from last year--one can freeze cookies without hurting them.  Before I go through all of the different cookies/recipes, why have I done this?

Mostly two reasons: I am indecisive and I like giving out cookies.  First, this all started in December of 2020 when I saw a NYT article about cookie boxes that had something like 7-10 recipes.  I liked the look of most of them, and rather than picking one or two, I decided to make most of them.  But wait, there is just Mrs. Spew and I at home (and we were not traveling that year due to the pandemic), so what to do with the extras?  I asked folks if they wanted some, which has now led to a yearly ritual--driving around Ottawa a few days before we leave town, giving boxes of cookies to friends.  This is real joy--as I chit chat with each receiver for a bit.  Remember in December 2020, this was my first interaction in real life with many people after quarantining for the most part since March.  So, yes, I get to exercise my sweet tooth, and I get to embrace my extroversion at the same time.  Win-win as they say.  That and the pandemic cause me to embrace a holy trinity--stress-baking--> stress-eating --> stress exercising.  


Monday, December 11, 2023

Doctoring for Three Decades

 Today marks the anniversary of my doctorate--in the days of yore, before social media, I completed my dissertation, defended it, and then didn't go to graduation as I was already professing as a visitor.  With this much time past since those callow days of talking IR theory and job market stuff  on the second floor pathway (balcony/terrace/veranda?) outsider our (Motel 6-esque) offices, I wonder about some stuff, am bemused by other aspects, and am mostly quite grateful.

Before I get into it, what did I dissertate about?  The international relations of secession.  I first wondered whether sovereignty was about borders or governments and wanted to contrast the IR of secession vs the IR of revolution.  Once I realized the conventional wisdom of the former was wrong, yes, there has been plenty of support for secessionists, I sought to understand why some states support specific secessionists and why other support the government--why countries take sides in other people's ethnic conflicts.  Nice to have a question that has enduring relevance.  I argued vociferously that the countries are not deterred by their own vulnerability to separatism, and I focused on several secessionist crises--Congo Crisis, Biafra, Bangladesh--and one country that supported multiple separatist movements--Somalia.  I argued that the ethnic politics of the potential supporter interacted with the perceived identities of those in conflict--that ethnic ties drove much of this. Which led to the title of the subsequent book, The Ties That Divide, which dropped the Bangladesh case, as it was really about India's intervention, and the Somalia case, as it was really about irredentism (and became the starting point for the next book), and added Yugoslavia's demise, which was largely done by the time I turned to revising the book, and some basic statistics (thanks to the editors of International Organizaiton where I placed a key piece summarizing the dissertation/book).

What do I wonder about?

  • Mostly, am I now out of touch with the experience of being a grad student?  I know the job market has bounced up and down over time, but it was awful when I finished and much more awful now.  So, I have much sympathy for the students finishing today.  But I am not sure how much of the process and stresses have remained the same or have gotten worse.
    • On the bright side, the old fashioned job placement at the conference thing is dead--so much stress, so little promise of anything developing.  Now it is all electronic and pre-arranged.  No more waiting in the job placement room for someone to put a slip of paper into one's box.
    • On the down side, the competition is so much more fierce, and the expectations are so much higher. 
  • I do wonder how grad school is these days--has the pressure to publish meant that there is less some for the silly stuff.  In my day (I say with an old man's voice), we played soccer every friday, some of the folks would play basketball regularly and get their knees fixed semi-regularly, the last few years we had a regular softball/bbq on Sundays, and more than a few parties.  Is there any fun in grad school these days?  No idea.
  • I wonder where my career might have gone had I stuck to the IR of ethnic conflict stuff.  I have no regrets about moving on to NATO and thus to comparative civil-military relations, but staying in the same spot of research would have led to some different opportunities and perhaps less new lit to review.

What am I bemused by?

  • That my dissertation is now as old as I was when we had our daughter.  It means that both it and I are, well, much older.  I am prouder of the latter than the former, but the former has been pretty good to me, too.  
  • That despite my best efforts, the big lessons of the book--that countries are not deterred by their own vulnerability, that precedents don't really matter that much in restraining support for secession--folks still trot out those arguments.  Turns out my book didn't re-shape how policy-makers think about this stuff.  Given the cynical heart of my dissertation, the assumptions it makes about politicians, I should not be very surprised.  Plus as I learned over the years, confirmation bias is a thing.
  • How accidental it all was. I didn't go to grad school to study the international politics of ethnic conflict.  I just fell into it.
  • Likewise, I didn't try to do something that was super timely--that I defended my dissertation proposal the same month Yugoslavia flew apart was an accident.
  • I am bemused that the book that is the basis of the first half of my career keeps competing with an article I wrote that is perhaps the most outside my lane for citation: how institutions amerliorate or exacerbate ethnic conflict. 

What am I grateful for?

  • Damn near everything.  This project established my career, made my reputation in the field (whatever that is), gave me not only two books, but a heap of articles and book chapters, and indirectly that next project that led to the life-changing experience in the Pentagon that ultimately led to my second career as a civil-military relations scholar and to the next two jobs.
    Tis the handiest picture from those days
    as my time in grad school preceded
    smart phones by a couple of decades.
    Oh, and I was most grateful for this
    amazing little guy, the Fonz of dogs.
  • I am grateful for having such a terrific supervisor, Miles Kahler, who would let me meander from my initial topic to what I studied, giving me heaps of constructive and often painful feedback along the way, to make sure the project was feasible and then reasonably well-executed.  I am also grateful for an amazing committee that gave me much to think about, but didn't force me in any particular direction--Peter Cowhey, Lisa Martin, Arend Lijphart, and Edward Reynolds.  
  • I will be eternally thankful that I lucked into a department so chock full of terrific smart silly graduate students, who not only taught me so much about their work which shaped mine, but helped me survive and, yes, thrive, through the difficult process of starting my first act of academic creation (destruction/criticism is far easier than coming up with one's own idea and pursuing it).  We all followed the examples set by Debbi Avant and Hendrik Spruyt.  The folks in and near my cohort were so very sharp and sweet, tolerating my forays onto the soccer field (basketball? not so much), teasing me about all things Steve, welcoming my wife and later my dog into our various shennanigans.  I will always be grateful to Dave, John Carey, both Lisas, Frank, the more dangerous Steve, Neil who left us way too soon, Keith, Judy, Mike, Bart, both Erics, Mona, Chris, Kathy (not my wife, the other one), and all the rest.
  • I am also grateful that this place kept attracting terrific people long after I left, so that I am part of a larger community, which gave me some terrific friends in this business: Wendy, Idean, Cullen, Kathleen and Steve, and so many others.

I am definitely not where I expected to be thirty years ago--not in terms of location (Canada?) or research or teaching.  It has been from the very start a journey of accidents and surprises, from the grad school I ended up at, to the topic I studied, to the various jobs along the way, to the focus of the second part of my career, to my role these days as pundit and as a leader of a network, and all the stuff that came with it.  I used to regret a lot some initial decisions, and I had a lot of frustration on the various job markets.  But it all took me here, a perfect spot for me thirty years later.  So, no, I don't regret where I went to grad school, nor what I did there, or where I went from there.  




Saturday, December 9, 2023

Fearing Which Extremes? The Right, FFS

 I keep seeing folks say something like, sure, right wing extremism is bad, but we also have to worry about the far left, and I am generally left confused, aghast, and outraged.  Why?  Because it is very, very obvious which side of the spectrum is the greatest threat to the greatest number of people, and, yes, in this time of rising anti-semitism, it is the right, not the left, that should be of greatest concern.

Here's a clue in 
Blue's Clues
I wrote on blue sky about this a few days ago, but that is still the realm mostly of academics outraged by Musk/X's anti-semitism, racism, transphobia, and the like.  Oh, by the way, that might be a clue. 

Let's consider the assets/capabilities/behavior of the far left lately (yes, decades ago, the far left was blowing up places and a greater concern)

  1. Does the far left control major media enterprises like a TV network?
  2. Does the far left run large tech companies that are grabbing information and weaponizing it?
  3. Does the far left dominate a major party in the US?  One might argue it dominates the NDP in Canada, but have you looked at its platform lately?  If that is the far left people fear, then they are easy to trigger.
  4. Has the far left denied and sought to manipulate major political outcomes?  And, no, being annoyed by Bush v. Gore is not quite the same as what Trump and company did in 2020, on January 6th, and ever since.
  5. How many seats can the far left claim on the Supreme Court?
  6. How much violence/terrorism has the far left engaged in over the past 20 years?  Hint: most of the extremist violence is from the far right.
  7. I could go on and on.
When I was in Israel four years ago, I kept asking how Netanyahu could buddy up with far right anti-semites such as Orban and, yes, Putin, and people basically said: the left is anti-semitic, too, so he might as well engage those anti-semites who are ideologically similar.  I get the explanation, but damn it is stupid and counter-productive.  Yes, left wing folks who are pro-Palestinian may be anti-Israel and some may be anti-semitic, but they are threatening what?  To boycott Israel.  What is the right wing doing?  Engaging in heaps of violence and inciting more.  Which side has both power and the inclination to kill Jews?  Again, it is not close.  

At this moment in time, far right folks are taking advantage of the Gaza conflict to amp up anti-semitism and Islamophobia and to engage in violence.  While Jews and Muslims have much in conflict, they face a far greater threat from the far right than from each other in the US and Canada.  A Trump government, that would empower Christian nationalism and autocracy, would be bad for all kinds of smaller groups that don't fit into white supremacist/Christian nationalist identities.  And, yes, Pierre Poilievre is borrowing from the same script. The difference is that PP is unlikely to get a majority, so his time in power is likely to be short and ineffective unless he can build some bridges with the Quebec nationalists since they share a common xenophobia.  

Anyhow, the point here is this: at this moment in history, the far right has more power and far worse intent.  There is no equivalence or yes but or yes and about it.  

Friday, December 8, 2023

The Year Ahead: China, Elections Encouraging Extremism, Evacuations, and Back to the Balkans

 The past two days were heaps of CDSN goodness.  We supported the book launch of Phil Lagassé and Thomas Juneau's second Canadian Defence Policy volume, and we held our Year Ahead event.







The book launch had triple the number of people we planned for--150 or so.  We ran out of drink tickets before the speakers event started.  I got a chance to say a few words, mostly to tease Phil and Thomas, partly to promote the Year Ahead event.  It might have been the free booze or it might have been the appearance of the CDS that drew the crowd.  General Wayne Eyre stuck around after his talk for a good 1.5 hours to have pictures taken and to chat with the group.  In my intro, I mentioned that most folks think that no one in Canada cares about Defence, so I guess everyone who does was at the event. 

I really enjoyed the event--glad to see Thomas and Phil and their contributors get the spotlight, great to chat with former students, officers and officials who have interacted with me online but not in person, and various other folks.  I spent many of my conversations promoting our big event the next day.

The Year Ahead started before the CDSN, with Rob McRae as the director of our research center--CSIDS--building a conference aimed at considering the potential challenges facing us in the near future--the year ahead.  We took this over, and it has gone through various changes over the years due to pandemics and such.  This year, we moved to a different space, the former Shopify offices, which meant we could go down a slide and play with giant versions of Connect 4 and Jenga.  

We consulted our various partners in and out of government and came up with four topics.

In our first session (no pics since I was the moderator), we had Scott Kastner zoom in and Meia Nouwens and Pascale Massot in person discuss the challenge of addressing an aggressive China whilst avoiding war.  The good news is that China is not ready for a Taiwan invasion, so the much feared war is not as likely to happen very soon. On the other hand, various policies to deal with China are problematic--like "derisking" by trying to avoid China in various supply chains is simply not going to work well.  

In the second session, we had very different talks as Nisrin Elamin presented her experience as she was in Sudan when the coup attempt/civil war started, and had a hard time getting herself, her kid, and her parents out of the country.  Stephanie Carvin presented her comparative project (with the aforementioned Thomas Juneau) about how democracies take care of their people in conflict situations, Duty of Care, to help us understand the government side.  It was an excellent conversation to see the personal dynamics interact with the policy challenge.

We broke for lunch and made much use of this great space especially the students from Carleton and the NATO Field School:





The third session considered whether and how the 2024 election would generate extremism and violence not just in the US but in Canada. They made it pretty clear that, yes, there will be more extremist violence generated by the next current election campaign, that Americans and increasingly Canadians are living in two different realities, and that things are going to get worse before they might get better.  Ryan Scrivens showed the trends over time, Amy Scooter talked about the rise of militancy in the US (buy her new book!), J.M. Berger talked about the social constructions that are driving these dynamics.  Amar Amarasingam presented more on the Canadian side of things.

As a political scientist, I ordinarily would not support this appeal that Amar made:

Our last panel was certainly not least as Srdjan
Vučetić, Jasmin Mujanović, and Sidita Kushi passionately and insightfully presented the latest dynamics in the Balkans.  I used to study the international relations of some of this so I was surprised to learn how badly the US is screwing this up by supporting directly or indirectly Serb nationalists who are preventing Kosovo from moving forward.  That five European
countries don't recognize Kosovo doesn't surprise me as these folks haven't read my earlier work--that secession is not as contagious as thought, that recognition in place does not really matter elsewhere, etc.  It was a great panel to end the day, since the speakers were very dynamic in their criticism of US and European policy in the region.  To put a Hungarian in charge of the NATO forces in the region is just dumb from so many dimensions--Hungary is a spoiler, its military was one of the worst performers in Afghanistan (the nearby New Zealanders would patrol in the Hungarian sector since the Hungarians didn't patrol)., and so on.

Oh and it turns out the metaphor I used to describe this panel was a bit ... dated and unoriginal and problematic:

 We concluded and moved on to a delightful dinner.  So glad I had a chance to meet these folks.  And I am very proud of the CDSN HQ folks--Melissa, Sherry, Racheal, and Mourad--for doing all of the heavy lifting (sometimes quite literally as our swag was in big boxes).  Much thanks to the MINDS and SSHRC folks who fund us and to the NATO Field School and the new Carleton Society on Conflict and Security (I am surely getting their name wrong)--a new student group on campus for those interested in defence and security stuff--for providing much of our audience.


Oh, and one last thing:

While others did go down the slide, I didn't manage to squeeze it in. 


Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Burden of Proof? Nope.

I am not a lawyer, but, then again, the topic I am discussing today is not about legal stuff but political stuff.  That is, folks may say that there is a judicial process  or that the burden of proof has not been proven yet so we can't do x.  But when it comes to political decisions, one does not need proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  One does not even, dare I say it, need due process in many cases.

Let me throw out a few less than hypothetical examples.

Example 1: Someone comes to the Minister of National Defence and says that the Chief of Defence Staff, the top person in the armed forces, is hitting on subordinates.  The MND does not need a full investigation to decide that maybe having a guy who is violating the various policies on sexual misconduct should continue to lead the military during a time where addressing sexual misconduct was one of the highest priorities. The job of oversight is not about only making decisions after investigations have been completed.

Example 2: India is suspected of assassinating a Canadian on Canadian soil.  It is then indicted for trying to do the same just a bit to the south--trying to kill someone in the US.  One does not need to wait for the legal process to play out to re-think an Indo-Pacific strategic that is partially predicated on India being a reliable partner in the effort to contain China* or what not.

The commonality in these two cases is the use of legal proceedings as a dodge from talking about or actually changing policies in light of new information.  Sure, there is no certainty about the new info--there are reports, accusations, but not confirmed stuff, but, of course, there rarely is certainty.**  So, new information should change the calculations even if the new information is not 100% certain.  

To be as blunt as possible, one does not make defence or foreign policy based on the decisions of courts most of the time.  While legal stuff matters--whether a particular option is legal or not, etc--it does not determine entirely what a country should be doing.  If, say, India's populist government appears to be acting in ways that are contrary to international law and violating Canadian/American sovereignty, then one needs to start adapting the old strategy (no matter how new/old it is) to account for that.   

The larger point, I guess, is this: we make decisions all the time based on available info and on a variety of calculations.  We do not apply a burden of proof equivalent to what is required for a prosecution for many reasons.  Promotions are not as life-changing as imprisonment, so we don't have the same burden of proof--we don't need to know for certain that certain nominees to the Supreme Court have engaged in sexual harassment or assault to decide to find someone in whom we can have greater trust.  We can take into account accusations that are yet to be proven when thinking about extending someone who is charge of the entire military because no one is entitled to that job.  We need to stop treating high office like folks are entitled to it and that we need absolute certainty before booting people.  Same goes for, say, security clearances--suspicion can be enough to deny a security clearance and thus jobs that require such clearances.  Which is why it should be easier to boot people from the armed forces if they are suspected of being white supremacist.

We need to take seriously the burden of proof when the state is taking away someone's freedom.  We can have a lower burden of proof for many other endeavors, including revising foreign policy strategies.

* Folks can claim that Indo-Pacific strategies are not aimed at containing China, and I have to loudly scoff.  If that is not what the strategy is for, then why the urgency?  And if it is not for that, then we need a China containment strategy as well.

** Not to mention that many trials do not really resolve things because the defendant had crappy lawyers or terrific ones, that the prosecution did terrific or made a hash of the case.  So, again, big policy decisions can't ride on juries and judges, etc.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023


 It was already a year for which I have much to be thankful for, and then I received word that one of my applications for my sabbatical plans came through: spending time in Berlin in 2024 and 2025!  So, as is my ritual here, I'd like to express my thanks (dankes?) for the past year.

So far, no one
fell during the horas
I have seen the past
few years but....
First, I am most thankful that my family has made it through intact in a supposedly post-pandemic year.  Some had bouts with covid, some sprained various body parts (that would be Mrs. Spew), my mother-in-law had a health crisis that ultimately led her to moving from her four floor townhouse to a senior retirement place, and many of the next generation moved.  The last few years have taught us not to take anything for granted, so as I prepare to see the west coast kid and the rest of the family as we eat too much food, I am very grateful. We had a great time at the Florida Saideman-fest with Samantha's Bat Mitzvah, just as loud as the NY version but with twice the alligators.



Jon out-dappered me.
He and I ran the place
as the rare eight-weekers.

Second, I am very thankful for the support, humor, and friendly abuse my friends are so generous giving to me.  I have accumulated a far spread silly bunch of sweet people who put me in my place when I need it, encourage me when I am frustrated, and ski with me.  A key highlight was a trip back to the past--the 100th anniversary of the summer camps that were so important to me from age 10 to age 20: Camp Airy and Camp Louise (I didn't go to the latter as a camper, as it is a girls camp, but it was a place I spent much time acting and ... other stuff).

Third, 2023 has been a great skiing year (2024 may be better, it will be different-er).  I had a nice trip with JC Boucher and his family, as we airbnb'ed in Canmore and skied the various places near Banff.  This was an excellent scouting opportunity for my anniversary trip to Banff with my daughter, sister, and wife (who couldn't make it to due to her mother's illness and big move).  I have one last trip this year to ski with my sister in Utah at a place I haven't been since 2001--Alta!

I haven't skied with my daughter since probably 2014 as we didn't ski when she came back from college each winter break or spring break, as far as I can recall.  So, it was a blast to hang out with her for a short time as she didn't have a lot of paid time off.

Fourth, I am very grateful that my travel schedule went into overdrive, much like the pre-pandemic: Carlisle PA for a civ-mil conference, Fort Lauderdale for Samantha's Bat Mitzvah, Latvia for a Department of National Defence tour, SPAIN with Mrs. Spew for our first Eurotrip together (really!), LA for the APSA and to see our daughter in our new digs (she and her roomie and their cats keep moving around LA), Reston for another conference and to see my wife's family, Seoul and Copenhagen, Toronto, and now Philly.  Still two! trips left this year: Alta and Virginia for a new kind of winterfest--air bnb rather than crashing at my mother-in-law's.  I got to see a lot of great people, eat fantastic food, and do a heap of tourism.  


Fifth, I am so very thankful for the CDSN Team.  This past year, I have been able to delegate more, worry less, and watch the team rock a series of activities and efforts.  Last year, we hired Sherry to handle our money and our event planning.  She has been incredible--today's emails were her answering various queries and me just loving that I didn't have to enter the fray at all.  Of course, Melissa is the key to all of this--as our chief operating officer, she runs the shop, generates a heap of ideas for future efforts, and engages our partners and participants.  Racheal has been our PhD research assistant for several years now and is handling more and more stuff so well that I don't have to do much revising.  Mourad is our new PhD RA and he is super enthusiastic.  The CDSN continues to grow and excel, going from 2 podcasts to 6 programs in our podcast network.  Our Summer Institute was the best yet with 1/3 of the participants from the military, 1/3 from the policy world, and 1/3 from academia.  Our various research teams are producing important results and great publications, and we are very much making progress on our various objectives.  I am so grateful to all those who contribute to our stuff--it would not be possible without so many generous, creative, fun, sweet, sharp folks lending their expertise and time.

I am so thankful for our new kitchen.  I spent a lot of time working on the design and plans and then figuring out ways to eat when the oven and sink were out of commission.  It came together so very well, and now this season's cookie baking extravaganza is easier and more fun.  It was a year full of baking, eating, and then treadmilling so that I could eat some more.  2024 will have less of that in the first half as whatever kitchen I have in Berlin will not compete with the great setup I have in Ottawa.

Oh, and I am most thankful for this sabbatical.  Getting a break from teaching after the worst of the pandemic has been a great relief.  We did manage to finally finish the Legislatures and Armed Forces book and send it off to presses--I am pre-emptively thanking kind reviewers (pretty please!).  I got started on the next big thing, and I have gotten a bunch of smaller projects started or finished.  I haven't read as many books as I had planned...yet.  Oh well. 

I passed the midway point in my time at Carleton as this is my 12th year at Carleton, and I am pretty sure that I will retire before I hit 24.  I am very, very grateful for this place and these people.  I have had more support than at any previous spot, I have enjoyed the students (two of whom who defended their dissertations this year!), it has given me a great perch to do all kinds of stuff including public engagement, government exchanges, defence ministers in my classes (via zoom), and more.  It has been a fantastic place to work, and getting better as we keep hiring sharp, sweet young folks who make me see things in different ways. 

I am pretty sure 2024 is going to be even better, as I have some pretty fantastic plans, so I am thankful for what is about to be as well. 

I hope you and yours have much to be thankful for.  Enjoy your huge meals and many pies.

More Germany, More Better

My quest for a sabbatical hangout has succeeded (have I mentioned rejection is inherent in this enterprise?).  The Humboldt Foundation is going to fund six months of my hanging out at the Hertie School in Berlin--three months in 2024 and three months in 2025.  The Hertie School is an international affairs graduate program and very strong in international security.  What will I be doing there?  

First, I will be pursuing the next big project: understanding the varying roles defense agencies play in democracies.  I have already been to South Korea, quite recently.  The next step will now be Germany. Obviously, being in Berlin will facilitate the German case as I will have much time to interview folks in their Minister of Defense, in their armed forces, journalists, and experts.

Second, the project involves case studies in other European countries.  So, I will be able to travel to some other parts of Europe to do some of the work for this project.  Which ones?  Not sure yet.

Third, I will get engaged in the life of Hertie, so that I can learn what the students and profs in Europe are thinking about a variety of international security issues.  Marina Henke, one of the very sharpest scholars on alliance politics and international security, is my host, so I hope to learn much from her about how folks are thinking about NATO, Ukraine-Russia, and other topics. 

Fourth, I hope to have some chances to visit various research centers and talk about my work and, again, get different perspectives.  I will be a cheap date for two winters--that it won't be hard to bring me to any place from the UK to Eastern Europe, compared to the costs of flying me across the Atlantic.  That's, um, a hint. 

Fifth, deep into my career, I need a breath of fresh air, a change of pace, a bit of a shake up.  Sabbaticals are good for that, but sabbaticals away from home are better at it. 

Oh, and maybe there will be some time for tourism and skiing.  

So, there will be the complications of getting a visa and finding an apartment, but overall, it is time for this senior scholar to do a happy dance:

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Thinking About Israel and Palestine: Headaches and Insomnia

 I am not sure that the past month's headaches and insomnia are due to the challenges of thinking about the Israel-Palestine conflict, but I am going to use that as my intro to this effort to think through this stuff.

Usual caveats apply: I am not a political theorist or moral philosopher, I am not an expert on the conflict itself.  Oh, and I was raised Jewish and the education I got at Hebrew school did not adequately present the realities of the past.  I did take one Mideast politics course in college, and I did spend one week on an amazing and amazingly depressing tour of Israel and Palestine with a bunch of other academics four years ago.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Dueling Irredentisms: Always Bad, Never Inevitable

 I am not an international law specialist nor have I extensively studied the Israel-Palestine conflict, but I have written extensively about irredentism--the effort to enlarge one's country to include territories that are considered to be one's own by history and by blood.  So, when I see pictures like this, I get engaged:

The river to the sea, used by either side, is an inherently irredentist phrase: that the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River belong to just one side of this means seeking to get all of the territory of the other.  Palestianians and their supporters have been saying this, and so have Israelis and their allies.  Irredentism does not have to be this maximalist--Russia has claimed just a chunk of Ukraine.  But these claims and efforts are inherently violent--that any effort to change one's boundaries to include territories governed by others will produce war because no country (or quasi-state) surrenders inhabited territory without a fight.  Not Ukraine, not Taiwan, not Israel, and not Palestine.

The thing is: all territory has been occupied by multiple groups, so there will always be competing claims pretty much everywhere on the planet except perhaps Antarctica.  Stuart Kaufman illustrated this nicely at the start of his book on Modern Hatreds:

So, if irredentist claims are possible everywhere, then why isn't there violence everywhere?  Despite the news suggesting otherwise, ethnic violence, including irredentism, is rare.  Ethnic conflicts do end, people do find a way forward without fighting. Remember that the key grievance between Germany and France for ... at least three wars ... was Alsace-Lorraine.  Yet that is not an issue these days.  

It is rare because irredentism is usually very self-destructive.  It didn't work out so well for Nazi Germany and not so well for 1990s Armenia, Croatia, or Serbia.  It has worked out well for China (Tibet), but Taiwan would be another story entirely.  Bill Ayres and I compared the irredentisms that occurred in the 1990s (the aforementioned Armenia, Croatia, and Serbia) and those that did not--Hungary, Romania, and Russia.  We confirmed that irredentism is very costly and self-destructive, but some countries do it anyway--when it benefits the politicians in power.  What is good for the politicians may not be good for the public, which produced our title: For Kin or Country.  Helping the kin abroad is often very bad for the country as war is bad.  Russia is paying a pretty high price for its irredentist campaign against Ukraine, but, thus far, Putin hasn't paid a price himself.  

So, when I see what is going on in Israel and Palestine, my bias is to watch the strategies politicians use to stay in power and see how that intersects with the nationalism of the country. Politics is in part about shaping the nationalism, defining the us, the them, and whether the them can be tolerated.  A central irony we found is that the nationalisms that were more willing to include the thems, the others, in the state, the more able they are to engage in irredentism since any successful expansion will generally lead to more thems as well as us's in the larger state.  Indeed, why do folks often oppose irredentism--a successful campaign would produce the equivalent of a massive wave of immigration, upsetting the balance of domestic politics.  For example, a Greater Albania including Kosovo would likely weaken those who currently hold power in Albania since there are a lot of Kosovars.  

And, yes, this gets to a key dynamic that the Hungarian case revealed--shades of identity, of us-ness.  That for Hungarians in Hungary, they identify with the Hungarians outside of Hungary (due to the Treaty of Trianon in 1920) but only up to a point.  Those Hungarians didn't experience post-1956 Hungary, so they don't have the same experiences and thus are not seen as quite the same.  So, Hungarians in Hungary want the Hungarians outside of Hungary to do well but to stay put--they don't want to share power or their welfare state with them.  

Anyhow, irredentism varies over time and over targets based on who matters to the politicians in power.  Somalia's irredentism from 1960 to 1990 varied depending on who was in power and whose clans they needed for support.  So, Somalia sometimes targeted all three neighbors, despite that being profoundly unwise, because the clans with ties to those in Djibouti, Kenya, and Ethiopia all mattered in the domestic political game. At other times, only those in Ethiopia matters (1976-1977).  

Back to Israel and Palestine: the irredentist efforts of Hamas (it aims to eliminate Israel and govern the entire space) and of Netanyahu (his coalition includes many parties that seek to incorporate the occupied territories, hence the support for the crazed settlers)* reinforce each other, giving each set of politicians more support from those who fear the other.  Not unlike Milosevic and Tudjman being each other's best allies as Tudjman could get Croats to support him because of the threat posed by Milosevic, and Milosevic could do the same to get Serbs to support him.  

Have Hamas and Netanyahu delivered on other public policy issues?  No, they are utter failures, but they are hard to replace when the enemy is at the gates.  The coverage of this war has been quite clear that Netanyahu empowered Hamas to weaken the Palestinian Authority and perhaps also to keep the Israeli public focused on this than his own corruption.

So, what is good for the politicians--war--is bad for the public, but the publics go along with it because they don't see any alternatives.  That people on both sides are talking about claiming territory from the river to the sea is understandable and horrifying, given what it requires--lots more bloodshed. It empowers the worst leaders. It requires incredible leadership by alternative politicians to push in another direction. But until that happens, there won't be peace. BUT if that were to happen, you could have peace. Alas, extremists have killed or marginalized the peacekmakers. So, things are going to be grim. 

We did cover this a bit in the book when we survey the world's irredentist hotspots including Ireland, Kashmir, Taiwan, etc.

Anyhow, the focus should be on the politicians and their incentives. Irredentism is not inevitable, it can be sidelined.  But it can be really hard to stop once it gets started because of the media it generates, the fear it generates, and how the two sides can reinforce each other's worst instincts.


*Yes, killing the two state solution is a key part of an irredentist strategy.  Never really thought about that before, but two state solution inherently recognizes limits on expansion, so one must do away with that if one wants to add the desired territories.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

On the Road in Multiple Places

 It has been a very long time since I have been away from home this long--October 2016--when I spent a month of my last sabbatical in Tokyo [I just received word that I will be spending 3 months abroad x 2 over the next 1.5 years, but more on that later].  This time, two weeks in South Korea and nearly a week in Denmark.  The packing was not that challenging since it is fall in both places although Seoul and Busan were decided
y warmer than Copenhagen and mostly much drier.

I was in South Korea to do the next project's first case study (well, mine, as Phil has already been traveling for some of his).  And then I went to Copenhagen to present the findings to a group I have never met before--the International Society of Military Scientists.  There are some civ-mil folks, but also strategy people, military culture analysts, and all kinds of stuff.  The trick is that the South Korean case was/is not easy to code or figure out.  I did have good access and had much help from a great team of fixer/interpreters, but I need to spend more time thinking about the case, talking to experts, and reading more.  So, the presentation was a bit tricky.  But it went ok. Folks keep finding the project to be interesting.

So, let me instead compare the two trips:

  • Costs (food, taxi): Cost:  South Korea.  Copenhagen is simply a very expensive place, and Seoul/Busan are not.  I kept doing the exchange rate math here in Copenhagen and kept freaking out just a bit.
  • Bike Danger: Denmark.  So quiet, so many.
  • Availability of Bomb Shelters, Emergency Gear: South Korea
  • Easy for the linguistically lame: Denmark.  I have no inhibitio
    ns there about speaking English, as everyone responds in kind thus far.  Also, the alphabet is the same with some strange looking o's, so I can figure much out.  Not so much in Korea.
  • Weather: South Korea.  Much drier and warmer.
  • Walking tourism: Busan > Copenhagen > Seoul.  All three places are great, but I have been to Copenhagen a few times before and to Seoul once before so novelty here wins out.
  • Food: I kept finding Indonesian food in Korea, so that's a win right there.
  • Sleep: oy.  Not great in either place.  Jet lag plus hard to control room temps and those duvets that mean either hot or cold and nothing in between.  
  • Oy, and flying my preferred airline is indeed better than not.  The Lufthansa flight from Seoul to Munich was about as long as the flight from Newark to Japan, but it was econ, no plus, which mean no room before the inconsiderate person in front of me decided to repeatedly slam her seat as far as it could go, hitting my knees and bouncing my ipad off my little table.  Shitty seats are shitty seats, no matter the airline, but when I have a bit of status, I can get at least those precious two or three inches that make all the difference.  When I fly, I always am thankful that I am not tall.
 I am bummed I missed the Vimy Gala as Jacqui O'Neill rocks mightily, and while her talk was not aimed at undoing the damage done by last year's craptastic speaker, it was still an excellent tonic.  Funny what happens when you take the decision-making out of the old boys network's hands.



Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Election Predictions? Hells No! Ok, Maybe

 Last night, at the big conference dinner, a Finnish attendee asked me about the big question of 2024 in the US (yes, US are super worried and they should be).  I first said that I don't do predictions anymore, given my blogging/tweeting/facebooking debacle of 2016.  Then she pushed, so I discussed how I am slightly optimistic but that was diminishing with the potential impact of Gaza on Democratic turnout.  And then I woke up this morning after another Democratic run of success--that the GOP has pretty much lost every election since 2016.  So, I am feeling a bit more positive than I was last night.  

So, what am I thinking now these days?  

First, I am concerned about Gaza/Israel as it may turn off Arab Americans particularly in Michigan.  I don't think that these folks will vote for Islamophobic, xenophobic Trump and his party that is now tyring to get Palestinians living in the US kicked out.  But they may not turn out as much--that Dem turn out has been the key since 2016. So, not great. The Jewish vote?  Oh, where it is strong, it is not going to swing anything---not in California, New York, or, ha, Florida.

Second, the vote yesterday matters far more than various polls.  In each election since 2016, the GOP has underperformed.  Why? It turns out switching from being vaguely racist, more obliquely misogynist, only somewhat theocratic to being rabidly racist, wildly Christian nationalist, and actually depriving women control over their bodies (arresting moms for transporting their daughters for abortions? jailing them?) has made a dent.  In 2016, people could argue that Trump wasn't a real conservative and wouldn't appoint theocrats and their pals to the courts. Now?  Yeah, people are mighty upset that radical courts matter, that state legislatures and various governors are very enthusiastic about making many Americans miserable in so many ways.  So, abortion is a vote winner for the Dems, and that's not going to change anytime soon.  

The part that stunned me the most was the wipeout of the Christian nationalists on school boards.  Local politics is hard, people don't turn out, but the batshit crazy folks with their book banning and trans and homophobia hate, indeed, triggered the Libs.  Trump and the GOP will be wearing this shit next year as the primary campaign is going to define the party as, well, freaking crazy and way outside the mainstream.  

Third, on the big "issues" that the GOP want to use against Biden--his age, his son's crimes--Trump is far, far worse.  Biden may be old, but there is not the record of him losing his train of thought and saying truly bizarre stuff compared to Trump.  Of course, the media will false equivalence this stuff away, but that still means that Trump can't get much of an edge on this.

Fourth, I was asked what happens if Trump is in jail in November.  I said unless it is for the documents case, I believe he will still be the GOP candidate.  There is simply way too much fear in the party regarding Trump's supporters--both because they are violent and because candidates want their support if Trump were to somehow be eliminated.  Trump's criminal behavior is already priced in, however, so it won't hurt him as much as it should.  His voters both want power and are super resentful, so they don't care. Do enough non Trumpist Republicans exist that might stay at home?  Um, I made a gamble about that last time, and it didn't work out--power matters more.  HOWEVER, the big promise for non-Trumpist GOP folks last time was getting the courts, and that is not going to change with another four years of Biden.  So, maybe they won't be so motivated to vote?

Fifth, the GOP is not going to learn any lessons right now about what is causing their electoral defeats.  Why?  Because their primary processes are still going to reward extremism, so they will still send proto-Nazis and theocrats to compete for otherwise winnable Senate seats and then lose those races.  In red states, they can win those races, but in purple ones, they can't--playing to the extremist base may aid in some turnout but hurts more than it helps... at least that is how I read 2018, 2020, 2022, and now 2023.

Sixth, the Dems?  Damned if I know whether they will learn the key lessons and apply them well.  Biden's presidency has been a mixed bag with the media emphasizing the mistakes and the losses.  If the recession still doesn't happen, if jobs remain plentiful and wages going up, the inflation narrative may fade a bit. Will they make progress on making housing more affordable?  Probably not.  Oh, and that foreign policy stuff?  It won't matter except to various diasporas, but some of those are in key locations.  So... 🤷

Oh, and a Canadian note: the Conservative Party has been plagiarizing a bunch of GOP bullshit--trans phobia, using woke as a slur, etc.  I am thinking now that if the Canadian electorate is at all like the American one, these stances are going to hurt the Tories, not help.  So, will Polievre snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?  Probably.

But that would be a prediction, and I suck at those.