Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: The Longest Year of Our Lives

Time for another year in review post--the Spew of 2017.  I blogged less this year, averaging 2/3s of a post a day, which is continues a decline.  Why?  Partly because I express much of my anger on twitter these days, partly because what I want to say I have said before, whether it is about #voterfraudfraud, the tyranny of low expectations, or the politics of academic departments, so I re-post, rather than re-write. 

Anyhow, even though I wrote less, the year felt incredibly long as living in Trump world means responding not to a crisis every few weeks but one every few hours, and that is exhausting.  Which is probably the best explantion for less blogging--it has been a very emotionally exhausting year.  Predictions ahead by folks seem to suggest it will get worse as we get the real Trump.... or nuclear war.

Anyhow, looking back, it was a great year for me despite what was going on elsewhere with record travel, meaning great food, really interesting stuff learned along the way, and, yes, selfies in new places.  I do these yearly summaries because they help to remind me what happened and they also serve as handy places to find key posts.  I hope you enjoy the bath in my nostalgia.


Japan a second time was just as lovely as the first. Ok, it was the third trip but the second research trip, which included travel to the other side of the island (took less time via bullet train than travel across Lost's island the first season but not the sixth) for a conference and more snow than I have ever seen.

2016 was a lousy year for predictions.  2017 was much better despite a vow not to make them (pie crust promises are a long tradition here at the Semi-Spew).  Perhaps the best one was when I referred to Trump's cabinet and other advisers as Arsonists.  That and my response to a question in Japan about the future of the Trump administration--nope, impeachment is not going to happen.


I was accused of being hysterical about Trump.  I guess if one considers the % of posts about the President, maybe.  But I think 2017 shows that I was right to be very, very concerned.  On the positive side, it was nice to see a man being accused of this largely gender-biased term.

Trump's continued and seemingly deliberate ignorance at NATO gave me much fodder for the year, correcting the dumb yet unkillable myths about the alliance and 2%.

I had a book workshop in Irvine that I turned into Anniversary Fest.  We were married 25 years ago in San Diego, so we returned to the scene of .... where it was supposed to happen.  We got rained out and forced inside.  And the amazing thing... I didn't blog about it.  Turns out Mrs. Spew can be super distracting ;)

My favorite idea of 2017--fighting #voterfraudfraud by getting Dems and others to get folks id's.  Voterfraudfraud needs to be fought in every way possible--in the courts, in the statehouses and in the streets. While we should fight efforts to require folks to get voter id's (always aimed at the real threat of folks voting for Democrats despite the claim that these are to fight the imaginary threat of voter fraud), getting people gun permits, drivers' licences, whatever is another way to fight.  Increasing the franchise and fighting voter suppression is a multidimensional effort.

Twas an early and very good International Studies Association meeting.  I got a Duckie for special achievement, I got to visit a really cool pop culture museum across the street from the hotel, I met up with my best friend from summer camp who I had not seen since College Spew was a toddler, and there were protests against the Muslim ban, which, alas, kept one of my students away despite her receiving an award.


I do much academic engagement from home--skyping to tv stations around Canada, so I felt Robert Kelly's pain. I know him as he was a Duckster for a while.  So, this resonated in multiple ways.

I got to go to India for a few talks and roundtables in Mumbai.  It was great to get perspectives from a very different part of the world and to see such an amazing city of contrasts.

One of the recurring themes on twitter in 2017 was how brutal the academic environment can be, so I jumped on the theme of academic kindness when it came up.  It helped me remember how many folks were so very good to me over the years that helped me get to where I am and to make the journey a mostly fun, engaging, and positive one.


A friend of mine started a great podcast on US National Security--Bombshell. I have been thinking of starting one, and now have much to learn from this one.

Will Moore shook the discipline, especially those who study repression and internal conflict, when he killed himself.  The irony of this act is that he felt alone in many ways despite creating an amazing community of scholars who loved him and each other.  They provided much solace for each other in the aftermath.  I am still angry and sad and frustrated, but I know I am in good company. 

I started referring to Trump as an uncertainty engine, but needed to plant my flag on it, so here's the definitive post where I explain how Trump generates uncertainty and why this is so bad.


While I have tenure at Carleton, my endowed chair is renewable. And, yes, I have been here long enough for it to be renewed.  Getting the notice allowed me to look back and be very thankful for everything the chair has done for me.

The Dave/Phil/Steve project took me to Brazil!  I spent two weeks in Brazil asking about their civ-mil relations and specifically the role of their legislature in overseeing their military.  I had so much help from a great team of Brazilian research assistants in Brasilia and Rio, and the Brazilians I met were very interesting and informative.  I did miss the political crisis in Brasilia by a few hours thankfully.  Rio was beautiful but wet.

I got plagiarized in a good way: a conversation with a producer in Hollywood led to some of my words making it into Brad Pitt's movie that tried to satire the US war in Afghanistan and Stan McCrystal's experience.


I finally got my hands on the long hidden Lessons Learned report by the Canadian government regarding the Afghanistan experience.  I was not impressed.  The good news is that Adapting in the Dust didn't get scooped.

Asia?  Again? Yep, after having spent only a week or so in Afghanistan in 2007, 2017 became the year of much Asia with another trip to Japan (instead of South Korea due to their impeachment getting in the way of interviews--which led me to ponder if I am the Impeachment Fairy)--a fourth time in the past year and half--and presenting in Hong Kong!

A regular theme here is griping about Canadian civil-military relations and the lame public debates we have here on the subject.  I had ample opportunity this year.

Five years in Ottawa! Wow!  I marked the anniversary via blogging about the many things I have enjoyed in the fast five. Oh and my sabbatical ended. Sob.


Canada turned 150 on the 1st.  Twas a big deal.   Did I list 150 reasons why I love Canada?  Um, close.

I had fun thinking about how the various players in the GOP would fit into the D&D world.  Yes, intelligence and wisdom are distinct attributes...

A key theme in 2017 and will be one in 2018: not any decent military options re North Korea.


I left PSR.

The Alaska trip went great--but getting to the port of origin (Seattle) was quite the learning experience.

US is not alone in having an ugly affair between white supremacist websites and right wing parties--Canada, too.

Another repeated theme this past year: let's not adore the military.  It is a bad look for a democracy and even worse for civilian control of the military.

APSA did doth rock with my cohort plus getting together.

Favorite documentary of the year?  Flatball.  Because it was about ultimate, duh.

The US won't protect Canada?  Please, let's not panic since Canada has never been protected by defenses against nuclear weapons, but rather US's commitment to respond to an attack on an ally.

Steve's world tour in 2017 continued with Latvia, as that is Canada's next NATO mission.  Tripwires can be fun!

Another recurring theme?  Mattis is overrated.

Shortest trip of the year was to see a former student, Aisha Ahmad, get the award she was supposed to have received at the ISA.  Super proud and impressed.

Sexual harassment was not just a Hollywood thing, but also a recurring theme at the Spew since universities tend to care about protecting themselves more than their students.

Secession is hip again, so my old work is relevant anew.  Actually, secession is not really more prevalent now than in the past, but let's not tell anyone that.


I thought about permission structures and cascades: that the Weinstein news changed who had permission to do what.  Now, at least temporarily, sexual harassers don't have permission to predate and survivors do have permission to come out and be believed.

The war on universities continues, so I ranted back at a journalist who was poo-pooing the grants we receive in the most annoying way possible.

A basic pet peeve for this dual citizen in Canada: when Canadians get US politics/history very wrong.

Trump as President has meant a lot of revisiting Intro to IR since the folks around him don't seem to understand the basics.  This lesson?  Pre-emption and preventive wars are two different things.

What magical creatures live in the academic universe?  A rare chance to be playful this year.

The year ended with my dad learning that he is dying, leading to the family seeing him and downloading his memories as much as possible.

In my scanning of the year, I see that I was focused on the same stuff over and over again.  I blame Trump since he had no learning curve.  But I will try to be more inspired next year by non-Trump stuff.  There will still be heaps of travel to new places although perhaps not as quite as much as in 2017.

May you and yours have a very happy and nuclear war-free 2018!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Learning While There Is Still Time

My 90 year old father was very recently diagnosed with leukemia, the side effect of medicine that kept him alive this long.  So, we have weeks or a few months left with him.  He seems to determined to live them on his terms (escaping from his first rehab place) by sharing his stories about his parents and the extended family and his own life. The good news about this is that his mind is still very much intact so most of his memories are quite sharp (except where motivated bias kicks in).  So, on the way back from winterfest with my wife's relatives, we stopped off for potentially our last visit with my father.  We always had a fairly lousy relationship, so I was determined to put it behind us.   Well, I was not entirely successful, but I learned much.
  • One of his mother's brothers was S. Klein, who owned a major department store (and property in NYC).  I knew that, but I didn't know the details, including S. Klein was the first department store to take returns.  That it would not advertise sales because those tended to lead to riots.  The wikipedia page lists all the references of S. Klein in Mad Men, I Love Lucy and elsewhere--it was a NYC institution... which I did not appreciate until now. 
  • Timing is everything--serving the last few days of WWII in the Navy= lifetime benefits and no Korean War. Draft dodging was something he didn't do, but did seem to be pattern of my ancestors as they fled various countries that ultimately led to the US.  So, it was fleeing the draft rather than pogroms.  
  • Bureaucratic politics and organizational culture were things in the IRS in the 70s.  My father's career had bumps along the way thanks to some backbiting and some lousy bosses, but he seemed to be a good boss himself.  I remember when he retired (early, thinking he would die by 70) that his subordinates had very positive views of him as they told my sister and I about him at the retirement party.
  • He and my mother traveled extensively after he retired--as in all continents.  His favorites?  The national parks in the US and Galapagos.  Which explains why he has wanted to take the family to Galapagos.  Instead, we went to Alaska, which was excellent given both the nature we saw and how gimpy he has been.  Oh and great food, which has always been important for my foodie folks.
  • Mortality breeds some self-awareness and some desire to have some closure, but does not erase the personality nor the tendencies that, well, were not so helpful long ago.  
I was glad to have the chance to say goodbye, if it was that.  I have instructed my wife and daughter what they must do when I am in a similar state--mostly involving sweets like cinnamon buns and chocolate chip cookies.  While being told one is about to die is not a great thing, I do think that having a month or two or three to finish things is not a bad way to have it happen.

Anyhow, most folks don't get this kind of chance, so let them know how you feel in case you or they depart more quickly than my father will. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

2017 Highlights: Positive Meme?

Last night, a guy I don't know started a twitter conversation aimed at creating some positivity, which has been in short supply this year:
My first instinct was to focus on some of the sillier ones:
1) Having a tweet liked by Mark Hamill
2) Being followed on twitter by Henry "the Fonz" Wrinkler
3) Hitting the top category of frequent flier mileage.

But to be serious and to recognize that 2017 was a very cool year
1) Twas a record travel year going to several places I had never been before: Mumbai, Hong Kong, Riga, Rio and Brasilia, as well as some cities in Japan that I didn't visit the first time--Nagano and Niigata.
2) Published the first piece of the next big project.

3)  Managed not to lose my temper during the odyssey to Seattle, which had two tarmac stays of multiple hours, two missed connections, three hour wait for service, renting the wrong car in a city we had not planned to travel through, being wildly overcharged (as in 10x) for the aforementioned car.  The cruise at the end of this trip was fantastic, so it was all worth it. 

Given that I was on sabbatical for half the year, I can't really complain.  We had some great adventures.  There was one last car accident for one family member (my niece dodged a deer, two trees, but, alas, the road as well).  And, well, the end of the year is bringing the family together as mortality is about to visit.  So, much perspective right now about the good things to appreciate.  We have been so lucky for so long....

Anyhow, happy holidays to you and yours.  More year in review stuff once I get back home in a few days.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

North Korea: Rational or What?

Some folks are arguing that a limited strike might send North Korea a message....  Um, for me, that message would be: welcome to nuclear war.  I have a hard time understanding the logics to these arguments--well, if North Korea is rational, they will understand that they should not escalate, and if they are not rational, we will have taken some of their capability away?  I guess?

I think it is far more sensible to start by assuming that North Korea is deterrable.  That way, one does not act in ways that trigger an unnecessary war, nuclear or otherwise (either of which would be devastating to South Korea, Japan and the international economy).  If North Korean leaders just care about staying in power, then:
  • don't threaten to change their regime since that might cause them to attack.
  • don't try to take away their ability to retaliate since that might cause them to attack.
  • don't make them think an attack is imminent since that might cause them to attack.
  • do make it clear that their regime will face much stress if they do attack--via retaliatory strikes by the US.
If they are irrational, then what?  Deterrence might not work, but any effort to denuclearize NK would lead to war.  First strike?  Only if you don't mind many thousands of dead South Koreans, probably many dead Japanese, and, yes, many dead Americans based in the region.  Plus that aforementioned economic catastrophe. 

Any hubris about taking out NK's capabilities to do massive harm to the neighborhood needs to confront the realities that:
  • Past SCUD hunts by the US have gone poorly, so the idea that the US could nail all (and it would have to be all) of NK's missiles is wildly unrealistic
  • Even if NK's missiles are blown up on the pads, NK has way too many artillery pieces aimed at Seoul (as well as various conventional missiles aimed at Japan) so that the opening hours of a war would kill many, many thousands if not tens or hundreds of thousands.  Any effort to send the South Koreans to shelters before a war would signal to NK that a war was imminent and they would start firing, so not so much surprise.
  • Probably at least one North American city would be hit by a nuclear weapon.  Missile defenses are wildly overrated so our best hope would be shoddy NK missiles.
 Just as most IR scholars opposed the Iraq war for all kinds of reasons (wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time by the wrong people, etc), most are opposed to the current march towards war.  Sure, there are a few voices calling for war and, lucky for them, HR McMaster is preparing his memoir (Dereliction of Duty--My Turn).  The good news is we probably won't have the blame game in ten years--where were the IR scholars--because we will be spending most of our time mourning Seattle or San Francisco or DC as well as Tokyo, Seoul, and so on.  Oh, that's not good.  Never mind.

Oh, and to make matters more fun, the North Koreans have to worry if Trump is sane and deterrable. I am not so sure.

As always:

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Civil-Military Relations of the Last Jedi

There ain't none.... that is, there are no civilians among the resistance, so no civil-military relations.

Spoilers below the break

Retiring and the Dual Edged Nature of Accountability (and its Absence)

Political accountability is a tricky thing.  So is wishful thinking, I guess.  Democrats and perhaps Never Trump Republicans have placed their hopes on Senators who are retiring as they don't have to worry about the Republican Party anymore and they don't have to worry about the Republican base.  No fear of being primaried.  So, the hope (not a plan) was that folks like Bob Corker would vote the correct way, defying Trump.  In the case of Corker, on some stuff, maybe.  But on cutting taxes?  On cutting his own taxes?  Nope.

Ah, yes, the whole idea of accountability via elections is that politicians won't nakedly enrich themselves at the public's expense.  Folks doing that are handing their opposition a critical weapon for the next election.  No next election means no concern about appearing incredibly corrupt.  So, oops.  How about that Bob Corker? 

Elections may produce pressures we don't like--to play to one's base, to be outbid.  Having no such pressure means freedom.  But freedom to do what?  Sure, we enjoyed no F's to give Obama in his last couple of years, but, well, most of my readers liked that version of Obama.  No F's to give Corker has been a mixed blessing, looking into Trump's authority to launch nuclear weapons (good) and cutting his own taxes and harming the country (not so good). 

Of course, the GOP folks who are still running for office and still planning to serve for a while longer are also betraying their voters by caring afar more about their donors.  Hey, Susan Collins, how well are you serving Maine? 

In these times, not much seems to be working. The Canadians are crowing about how their institutions are better than the American ones.  I don't think they are right (or wrong), but I am not well armed these days for that fight as the American system depended not just on institutions but on norms of conduct and a sense of shame.  Which are not in play right now.  Not great. 

So, yeah, the key is not hoping for those less accountable Republican Senators to do what is right but working to replace them with Democrats.  That is not just a hope, but the start of a plan.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Academic Magical Menagerie

Tis the time of year to think about elves (Santa's helpers, on shelves, in overly long Tolkien adaptions).  I am always, of course, invoking the Underwear Gnome when folks seem to miss the key middle part of a process (I so invoked this fall in a dissertation proposal workshop as causal mechanisms were often missing).  In a comment on a facebook post, Michael Munger of Duke University reminded me of another kind of magical creature: the Self-Loathing Fairy.  They usually arrive when a desk rejection is received by academic.  Which means that it is time to catalog the variety of magical creatures in the academic universe. 

Relatives of the Self-Loathing Fairy are the Guilt Goblins, who make academics feel bad for not doing enough even when they are doing plenty.  This may be the most plentiful of all the magical creatures.  The only thing that keeps the Guilt Goblin away?  Dead wood.  Really dead wood.

The Envy Urchins tend to spend much time on anonymous websites, but they exist in many places.  They spend lots of time being jealous of more successful academics and seek to sow rivalry and discord. 
Positive Pixies are often overlooked, but they try to ward off the Envy Urchins by spending much time trying to make academics feel better.  They create hashtags like #scholarsunday to promote younger faculty.

While the Self-Loathing Fairies are most unwelcome, the greatest threats to academics are the Time Suck Sirens. These take many forms--administrivia, twitter, overly talkative colleagues (um, hmmm), computer updates, etc.  Lately, the Time Suck Sirens have proliferated, feeding off of the distraction machine operating in the White House.

The Prestige Demons are insidious creatures as they try to get people focus more attention on labels than on the stuff that is labeled, be it universities, presses, journals, or whatever.

Mrs. Spew and I discovered Library Womprats way back in college.  These critters mostly live in libraries but any place where there are many books.  They painlessly nip people, injecting their sleep-inducing venom.  This then gives them ample opportunity to chew on the notes, papers, exams, and whatever that mysteriously go missing.  They are related to Grading Gremlins, who also induce sleepiness but exhaustion and frustration as well.

Alas, we don't have a Newt Scalamander helping us, so we need to crowd source.  Have you discovered any good or bad magical academic creatures in your travels?  If so, let me know and I can add them to this list.

Best Movies of 2017

I realized after seeing a list of best movies that I have not seen as many movies this year as I had expected.  I blame Netflix and Amazon for too many great TV shows plus heaps of travel.  So, my top ten is almost but not quite the entire list of movies I have seen.  And, yes, it is heavily loaded with comic book/action movies since those are the ones I go to the theater for.  We have seen a bunch of movies at home, but few seem to come to mind right now.  Anyhow, here's my favorite movies of the year with the top three being very close and will probably change once I re-watch them:
  1. Get Out.  Just the smartest movie of the year, funny and scary and provocative.
  2. Last Jedi.  I have to go with the Star Wars movie.  This had so much good stuff in it, including Chewie and the tasty porg.
  3. Wonder Woman. Yeah, I am putting a DC movie ahead of the Marvel and Marvel/Sony productions.  It was so incredibly overdue, so very well executed, funny and moving.  
  4. Spider-Man: Homecoming.  Thor is in my head right now because of recency bias, but I always connect with Spidey.  They did a very nice job of realizing the character and breaking the rules--Peter's friend knows, MJ is revealed only late, and on and on.  The Washington Monument scene was terrific.  Not enough Marisa Tomei, but what can do you?
  5. Thor.  So much fun. So silly, with excellent use of Chris Helmsworth, redeeming a very boring character.  The play within the movie was amazing with such great cameos.  
  6. Dunkirk.  Speaking of terror, this movie really puts you in that battle from three very different perspectives.  Just amazing filmmaking.
  7. Lady Bird.  I think it was perhaps slightly overrated.  I enjoyed it, it was very funny, but it was not that special. 
  8. Baby Driver.  Didn't necessarily make much sense but was a great ride with excellent soundtrack.
  9. Colossal.  Yeah, I am an Anne Hathaway fan and she got to do some interesting stuff here.  The whole concept was quite innovative.
  10. a tie between Logan Lucky and Atomic Blond.  Both were very entertaining.
Honorable mentions goes to:
  • War Machine--which had some of my words five minutes into the movie.  Not the M*A*S*H of Afghanistan, alas.  
  • Logan.  It was well made, and paid off greatly. But it was a downer, so not a top ten for me.
  • Split turned out to be quite compelling.  Anything to generate more movies in the Unbreakable universe.
  • The Babysitter.  A netflix movie about a kid who discovers that his babysitter is, um, wow.  Funny, horror, gross, great combo. 
  • The new King Arthur was actually pretty good.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Intro to IR Basic Concepts and Bad Policies

It is pretty easy to annoy an academic these days, especially those who study international relations.  And this does the trick
Media preview

Preventive war and pre-emptive war are two entirely different things. While I got schooled on twitter that these are not legal terms, they basically are in terms of how the world perceives them.

Pre-emptive war: launching a first strike when the other side is about to attack.  Imminence is key AND first strike advantages are hugely important. If there is no advantage in attacking first, one can wait out a first strike.  When pre-emptive war is in the air, it makes war more likely because both sides fear that the other side will strike first. World War I is the cardinal example for IR types even if the reality of that war's start are more complex.  The best example of this in recent times is the Arab-Israel War of 1967.  While that war produced a heap of confusion afterwards, Israel striking as the Arab states were about to launch a war is not seen as illegimate, and, given how near a thing the 1973 war was, not a dumb thing to do.  Pearl Harbor was not pre-emptive since the US was not about to launch a first strike against Japan, although it could be considered preventive.

Preventive war: striking now before the balance of power shifts against oneself.  Far less legitimate since war is not inevitable, and there are many ways to deal with relative decline of oneself and rise of one's potential adversary.  Attacking Iraq in 2003 was a preventive war, as it was an effort to prevent Iraq from getting weapons of mass destruction.  Sure, they didn't find any, but that was the asserted justification. Germany's motivations prior to WWI were in part the desire to deal with Russia before it became too powerful. 

Pre-emptive war can be legitimate--that self-defense may include stopping an attack before it happens with an attack of one's own.  Denying the rise of an adversary by launching a war is not seen as legitimate.  The US lost a heap of legitimacy in 2003 by starting a war that it did not have to fight.

The funny thing is that talk of pre-emptive war with regards to North Korea is rather, um, silly.  Why?  Because any first strike by the US will almost certainly fail to destroy North Korea's ability to wreak havoc and rain destruction upon Seoul, Tokyo and other populated areas in the neighborhood.  But this is not really so funny since the North Koreans might be concerned enough about losing their ability to retaliate that they react hastily to signs that the US might be preparing a first strike.  That is, talk of preemptive war may make war more likely.  Which makes McMaster's talk very bad policy. 

As I have argued before, this notion that we are running out of time and that military options are the only ones available are likely to cause a devastating war that can be avoided.  It may be that North Korea wants more than just maintaining its regime, but it is certain that they care most about that and this talk of pre-emption does not encourage patience or other stabilizing behavior.

So perhaps the McMaster quote is a misquote, but I think it is part of a larger dynamic in DC: that the Trump administration, including McMaster, does not seem to understand the basics of international relations.  That NATO is not a protection racket nor a country club. That protecting one's economy from international competition will lead to retaliation and on and on. Alas, Trump does not study nor read, so I don't expect him to learn no matter how basic IR 101 is.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Last Jedi: Woot!

People are worried about too much Star Wars now that Disney owns that property and Marvel and maybe even the Fox stuff (Spidey, X-stuff).  After last night, I am not so worried.  I saw folks rank Last Jedi among the very best Star Wars movies, but I need to watch it a few times to be sure.  I can be sure that it is the most enjoyable of the new ones and will rank well ultimately (spoilers below):

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Best TV of 2017

Time for a pre-Star Wars, pre-Korean War (part deux) distraction: what is the best stuff on TV in 2017?  I have been seeing some lists and hearing some podcasts.  It has been amazing year, and I am far behind in my tv watching due to the breadth and depth of peak tv.

My criteria are pretty simple: was it fun? did it move me?  Did I feel compelled to binge?  Modest spoilers below.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Charlie Foxtrot: the evergreen defence procurement post

I should just cite Kim Nossal and then run, but I can't help myself: I am not a fan of the Canadian Fighter Replacement Adventure.  Today, the Canadian government announced a decision on how to replace the aging F-18s: buy more old ones as an interim measure and then hold a competition.  Oh, but this new competition has two key features: 2022 as the target for a decision AND the Screw Boeing clause.  Let me explain my take.

First, the Liberals are here because the Conservatives also dithered and played politics with this decision.  Oh, and the NDP had fun with it as well.

Second, yes, Canada has been through this before, but whatever was gleaned from past competitions (in Canada, by the Danes, by the Aussies, whoever) apparently was not "fair" enough for the various companies to agree to use as a basis for a new competition.  Me?  I am lazy, so I would figure that if I had done a bunch of homework and then had to go back to the same project, I would not do so much new research.  I would build on prior work.  Apparently, this is not acceptable to the competitors.  Indeed, Sweden's  Saab was not in past competitions  because they thought they would lose (oh, and guess what, they will lose this time too--interoperability with US/NATO is a fundamental requirement and Sweden is not a NATO country so its planes tend not to be as interoperable [I think]).  Still, the fact that they can't build on the previous work means five years of effort to get a contract?!

Third, yeah, five years.  Wow.  A good reason for this might be that the folks who would do the work on this are working on the interim plane.  Oh, that.  This is a key part of the puzzle--the need to buy 18 F-18s from Australia (at a bargain since they don't want them anymore*) to fill in a capability gap.  This capability gap is the idea that Canada does not have enough planes to do a full NORAD emergency and a full NATO emergency at the same time.  My experiences with military folks says that the government could say that they would be willing to take on some risk by having fewer planes as it is unlikely that Canada would experience both emergencies simultaneously.  Risk is always present--the question is how much and how mitigated.  Anyhow, the other part of the interim thing is this--when the new planes are bought, the old ones must go.  That is the rules of interim purchasing I learned when this stuff came up the first time.
*  People are worried that this will be as bad as buying used subs from the UK, but that is very different.  A) The subs were out of commission and rusting, the planes not so much; B) the subs apparently were partly involved in UK's nuke weapon program, so much of the info about how to run/maintain the subs were not available to the Canadians; C) Canada has heaps and heaps of experience with F-18s.

I get that it took time for this government to figure out what it needed--88 planes!  And more time via the Defence Policy Review that would make it clear that this government would be willing to spend the money.  So, I could have said that they dithered for two years, but I think a fair assessment is that this decision could have been announced six months ago, maybe, but not any earlier than that.  Still, why take until 2022?  Maybe it takes that long, but I am skeptical.  I think a big problem is that the Review did not really address is exactly how will Canada do procurement better/faster.  This decision does not fill me with confidence that they have figured out how to do stuff better.

Which gets me to the fun part--the Screw Boeing clause.  The government has decided that it does not want to buy big, expensive stuff from companies that hurt Canadian businesses--which is Boeing which has pushed the US government to penalize Bombardier (the most favored Canadian company) for dumping planes into the American market.  Sure, they can say it is aimed to incentivize any company to treat Canadian firms well, but this has Boeing written all over it.  The smart play, one they seem prepared to do, is to have this policy apply to all major purchases from now on.  Still, how does this get operationalized in a non-lawsuit attracting kind of way?  No idea.

I still hate the idea of an interim purchase, and I don't really buy the need to fill the gap with temporary planes which pushes the calendar for buying the permanent planes.  But all this stuff is part of a pattern well named Charlie Foxtrot (military for clusterfuck).  Situation Normal All Fucked Up (SNAFU) works as well.

I am glad a decision has been made.... but I am wondering if it will get re-made again and again.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Defeatism, Separatism, and Misunderstanding Canada: Steve's Annoyed

I have been seeing this floating around on the internet
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and it combines several triggers: a depressing view of democracy, a willingness to sell out or betray those on the wrong side of a line, and, yes, cluelessness about Canada.  Sure, I get it--Canada is wonderful, and Trump's America sucks, but, damn, what a dumb meme that is actually several dumb ideas combined into one.

First, democracy means accepting defeat.  It does not mean submission, but accepting defeat and the moving on to come back.  Yes, Trump is thoroughly awful, and is doing much damage.  But before people even joke about giving up, which is what secession would be, let's give 2018 a try, shall we?  That is, until Trump and the GOP change the rules (which they are trying to do via #voterfraudfraud), how about focusing one's humor and efforts on defeating their legislation (the tax bill ain't law yet) and defeating the GOP candidates in the various elections between now and 2021? 

Second, despite all the blue and red maps out there, there are many, many people in the yellow states in that map who do not support Trump nor the Republicans.  I am not just talking about Colorado and Virginia and Maryland but Democrats and independents in Texas and Florida and Arizona and even Montana and Utah.  This map reeks of white liberal arrogance (and I am a white semi-liberal).  What happens to all the brown people left behind in Trump's lesser America?  Right now, the GOP can't revise the Constitution at will, but could if you take out the Democratic bastions of New York, Massachusetts, New England (well, sort of with NH and Maine being shaky at best) and the West Coast?  It also gives up on the dream of the future--the Democrats competing in Texas, winning Arizona and so forth.  Sure, #voterfraudfraud makes that harder, but the future of the GOP is dim unless they learn how to keep their white voters while appealing to non-whites.  Let's not give up too soon, shall we?

Third, Canadians had fun this morning posting a series of things about Canada that would flip out Americans, even liberal ones.  I will not list all of that, but this kind of meme is just wonderfully ignorant about Canada. For one thing, Canada might not want all of these states, as it would upset a variety of power structures--Quebec would fear being inundated by Anglophones, Alberta would fear being marginalized by left/centrist voters and dwarfed by California.  Indeed, a key brake on irredentism are those who would lose by being part of a greater entity.  For another, Canadians define themselves in large part by not being Americans.  So, what would Canada be if one adds in so many people that Canadians are a minority (remember, California is about equal to Canada in population so the math here is quite easy)?  So, there's that. 
And then there is the stuff my Canadian friends mentioned--stronger unions than American are used to, far more tolerance of cartels, some limitations on free speech, that whole constitutional monarchy thing, bags of milk (ok, that is an Ontario/Quebec thing), too much damn hockey on SportsCentre, the metric system and on and on.

It is easy is to idealize Canada from afar, but, despite what liberal Americans might think, it is not just a colder version of Washington (the state) and Vermont. 

Sure, I am crapping on a silly meme.  But it helps to breed yet more ignorance about both American democracy and about Canada.  So, don't mind me when I put a 😠 on your facebook feed when you post it. There are far funnier, more apt memes that one can circulate in one's annoyance that the awfulness that is Trump and the Republican Party.  For instance:

Hegemonic Abdication Theory

Looks like we need to develop some new theory as Trump/Tillerson/Kushner/etc are now doing something that might unprecedented: simply giving up a country's position as the main provider of public goods that stabilize much of the international system--the hegemon.  Putting aside whether hegemons are benign or not, the basic idea is that stability requires either one actor to provide some key contributions or a small group (but cooperation is hard).*
* I don't do IPE nor have I read any of this stuff in a decade or two, so let me remind the readers this is the semi-spew--things are half-baked here.  If other folks have said this, I invoke Steve Martin of the 1970s

What are these things?  A stable currency that is convertible and can be used as a medium of exchange, a large and open market so that countries can continue to export even in hard times, a willingness to enforce freedom of the seas so that trade can flow with little interruption, and supporting international institutions that facilitate exchanges (minimize the transaction costs). The basic idea is that the hegemon provides a buffer in hard times so that countries do not engage in ultimately self-destructive and other-destructive competitive policies that undermine the stability of the system.

Lots of debate in International Relations whether one needs a hegemon for this stuff to exist.  It is clear that it is easier to maintain the system after a hegemon (so Keohane argued) than perhaps to build a system sans hegemon.  Anyhow, leadership can be costly, but the leader can write the rules in ways that make the system work for them.  The US certainly did so after WWII: the rules were written to help the US but also help its allies, and this "benevolence" was largely aimed at the Soviet Union and Communism--providing the public goods for a capitalist world economy was part of containment.  After the decline of the Soviet Union, it still made sense to provide these goods because the US benefits from stability even if there are some costs.

I had considered long ago something called hegemonic instability theory--that one can cooperate to build bits and pieces of order in international relations (regimes) as long as the hegemon is not hostile to the endeavor.  That cooperation can develop among small groups which can then be enlarged to include most countries as long as the hegemon does not try to disturb stuff.

Well, we are now in need of some hegemonic abdication theory: under what conditions will a leader of the international system simply give up its role?  The obvious answer is: when it is no longer able or interested.  In the aftermath of WWI, the British realized that their role as hegemon was over, as they were exhausted by the war and their growth, their economy was no longer so strong that they could dominate the international economy and provide the goods.  They wanted to hand it over to the US, but the US was largely uninterested... which helped to exacerbate the Great Depression.  The US could have played a role to mitigate the damage, but chose policies that made everything worse.

Now? The US can still play the old role.  Despite decades of declinism, the US could still play this role and did so in 2008-09. Sure, being hegemon means that its economic troubles get exported to the rest of the world (sorry), but it also means that it can lead the cooperation to make sure that things don't get worse.  So, is it no longer in the interest of the US as a country?  Is instability preferred now by American companies and sectors of the economy?  Um, no. Despite the love of "disruption" in the modern business jargon, I am pretty sure that most firms and most sectors prefer stable exchange rates, open export markets, and a general level of stability in all things international.  If Hillary Clinton had won last year, we would not be taking about abdication.

So, Hegemonic Abdication Theory needs to build in an additional variable?  Stupidity? Xenophobia? The Trump Administration seems quite willing to abandon pretty much everything the US has built since WWII--any multilateral effort is fair game, no matter how beneficial for the US or how small the costs.  Tis no accident that the label America First was a thing in the 1930s and now again--it may or may not mean isolationism and withdrawal from the world, but it certainly means a refusal to cooperate, a strong preference for unilateralism.  I guess we need to go back to Ruggie and the social purpose that gets attached to power--that American hegemony (and the British one before it) were inherently liberal enterprises--as in free trade and all that.  The US has lost its social purpose as it is now polarized and led by someone who is illiberal to the core.  The strange thing is that his party is willing to follow him over the cliff, that the stock market is so in love with deregulation and tax cuts that they don't seem to mind the crash that is ahead when markets shut down as the international trading order falls apart.

So, Hegemonic Abdication Theory requires that the most powerful economy (still) is led by those who are illiberal?  I guess so.  That is far as I am getting on a Sunday morning.  Any suggestions for refining this theory?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Canadian Foreign Policy Is Broken?

I was invited to chat with a visiting official from an Asian country, and it led to an epiphany:
There is something profoundly wrong with Canada's foreign policy-making process.

How so?  I am a victim of wishful thinking, as I read into the TPP mess that perhaps Trudeau was being clever, holding out for concessions.  Nope, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the negotiations went far beyond what he was expecting, that there is some gap between the negotiators in Global Affairs and the Prime Minister's Office.  I have no idea where the responsibility lies although I have heard bad things about both GAC (understaffed, under-experienced these days) and PMO (way too stretched). 

Going to China and failing to start a negotiation, however smart or problematic the idea of a Free Trade Agreement with China is (I tend to view China as Tony Soprano), going all the way there and getting nothing?  What is the point?

I am not an expert on either Canadian foreign policy nor on Canada-Asian relations (although the latter would be cool since good food and all that), but expending a heap of political capital, upsetting trading partners and then getting nada?  Not good.  Something to keep an eye on.

Conferences, Workshops, Presentations, Oh My

This week was very busy with two different events in Ottawa (ok, many, with several conflicting with the two I was involved in): the Year Ahead conference that the Centre on Security, Intelligence and Defence Studies (a NPSIA center) ran and a Canadian Defence Workshop run by several friends of mine.  The former covered a variety of issues facing Canada and its pals over the next year--North Korea, the Mideast, Russia/Ukraine, many missions (or not), the US, and Cyber stuff.  The latter covered pretty much the entire range of Canadian defence dynamics and challenges.  I learned a lot from both, but can't simply present the storify of each since, well, storify is acting up.  So, what did I learn and what did I say?

The Year Ahead:
  • Trump has delegated the decision making over whether to do freedom of navigation cruises through the South China Sea to Pacific Command, so more of these are happening (Ankit Panda)
  • China is having more sway in part because ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Naitons) is divided on the South China Sea, so the members can't agree on what to do (Panda).
  • Relations between the US and China are likely to sour in the year ahead (Panda).
  • ISIS will remain a threat AND continues to have ties to the Syrian regime, which uses it when it needs to raise the spectre of jihadism for regime maintenance (Barak Barfi)
  • Iran is more dedicated to its proxies than Saudi Arabia to its own proxies (Barfi)
  • That I get annoyed when folks call Trump an isolationist because, thus far, what he has demonstrated is not less involvement in the world but more unilateralist involvement. I also get annoyed when folks say that Obama was anti-Israel.  He might have been anti-Netanyahu, but that is something else entirely.
  • That I should invite Monica Toft of the Fletcher School (Tufts) more often.  She couldn't stay long but dropped a ton of knowledge about UN and other interventions--that they tend to prolong conflicts, that supporting rebels ends conflicts faster, and more.
  • Inviting Canadian generals is always a good idea.  Brigadier General David Anderson was very interesting both on and off stage, although I am reluctant to repeat what he said since officials and officers have less latitude to be cited.
  • I talked about alliance dynamics, with the punchline that coalitions/alliances involve countries having to manage their own domestic coalition politics, and Trump makes that harder since he is toxic in Europe (and Canada).  
  • Jim Fergusson of Manitoba discussed the complexities of US-Canadian defence arrangements.  
  • Christopher Sands was very interesting, presenting a series of angles on the US-Canadian trade relationship, leaving me thinking that we are all doomed despite his sunny disposition.  He did produce the best line of the day: "Trump would kick a bunny."  And yeah, Canada is a bunny.
  • Sands argued that Canada should try to give Trump as many minor victories as possible to assuage him and hope that he does not obsess about the points of difference.
  • The last panel was on cyber stuff, and I was too fried to either live tweet or remember (sorry).
The Canadian Defence Workshop (only a few highlights as my note-taking/life-tweeting was inconsistent):
  • Sheryl Lightfoot of UBC presented three stages of First Nations-mil interactions/dynamics, which was all new info to me.  I have a very shallow knowledge of Canadian military history and Canadian mythology underplays how badly the First Nations have been treated.
  • Adam Chapnick of the Canadian Forces College: our strategy development process is broken as the military can't admit failure, outcomes hinge less on Canada than the alliance/coalition we are with so outcomes are hard to measure, and, oh yeah, outcomes are really hard to measure. Canada tends to make the big decisions and then develop the strategy afterwards (F35/F18/F-whatever anyone?).
  • Adam Lajeunesse: CA arctic policy is misunderstood, media focuses on equipment (ships/planes, things with pretty pictures).
  • Alex Bolt (JAG): really informed us of the imperatives of taking the legal stuff seriously--not an afterthought but should be part of the strategy development.  When will CAF be lawful targets is a big deal.  What is this "direct party in hostilities" stuff?  Very informative.  I should have asked my combat/not combat question.  But I was addled by two days of conferences and getting ready for my presentation.
  • That Phil Lagasse set a fun trap for me by having a key public servant as my discussant, and thus one who had much to say about my take on Canadian civil-military relations.
  • That observers of the frequent Phil-Steve banter on twitter may see us being hostile to each other, which made the both of us laugh.  
  • Oh, and that I may have dark powers that I never exposed before:
David Welch had fun with the Rummy-esque hand gesture.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Good Politics and the Right Thing To Do, Franken Edition

I have long been a fan of Franken. I have most, if not all of his books.  I really enjoyed him actually doing quite well as a Senator, as he did try to hold government officials/appointees accountable.  He accidentally trapped Sessions in a lie that will keep on dogging the highest law enforcement official in the land.  And, yes, he has to go.  It is both the right thing to do and good politics.

Franken is a serial sexual harasser and perhaps even serial sexual assaulter (groping counts, doesn't it?).  This is not the case of him saying something once or acting inappropriately once--it is a pattern of behavior that he is not denying although he has underplayed what is clearly something quite systemic in his own character.  He does not belong in the Senate, he should not be representing people nor should he be paid by taxpayers with public funds.  Everything he does now is tainted.  The Democratic Party needs to have some core values and treating women decently should be one of them.  Franken may have done good things for women in general, but he has bad for the individual women he has encountered.  Franken leaving or getting kicked out is the right thing to do. 

It is also, conveniently, good politics. Not just that the Governor of Minnesota will appoint a Democrat so it does not affect the balance of political control of the Senate in the short term (that someone has to run in 2018 to replace Franken could be dicey).  It is good politics because the Democrats are increasingly becoming the party of consistent values and the GOP is the party of opportunism.  This ain't bad optics going forward.  More importantly, it is good politics because women are more than half of the electorate, and the gender gap already favors the Dems and will favor them more so.  Sure, more than a few women have other interests/identities that cause them to vote against their interests as women---they may be rich, they may love their guns, they may be racist, or whatever.*  Still, alienating some women by being the party of sexual assault is not going to help the GOP, and by drawing a clear line between the Democrats and the Republicans on this, the Democrats will benefit.  The GOP can suppress the vote of minorities and the young via #voterfraudfraud voter id laws, but how can they suppress the female vote?  I am sure they will find a way, but it is much harder.
* Yeah, I am still bitter about white women voting for Trump, which upset my prediction last fall and gave us this darkest timeline.
Anyhow, I will get over the heartbreak of having a guy I have long favored turn out to be sleazy and hurtful to those who was supposed to be helping. Will the GOP get over being the party that preferred a child molester in the Senate and an admitted sexual assaulter in the White House?  I am not so sure.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Concluding Civ-Mil Class With Mushroom Clouds?

Today was the last day of my NPSIA Civil-Military Relations class.  For the past few weeks, the students presented their papers, asking a variety of interesting questions about the civil-military dynamics around the world.  The papers ranged from addressing 1st gen civ-mil questions--coup or no coup--to 2nd gen--why do democracies have trouble controlling their militaries--to 3rd gen--cooperation between civilians and military in the field.  I learned a great deal about many places, so, of course, I popped the joyful balloon of learning with the crisis du jour:
The lack of civilian control of the military in the US might get us all killed.

We have an active general serving as National Security Adviser, HR McMaster, saying time is running out on North Korea.  The last thing you want in a nuclear crisis with a country with vulnerable nuclear weapons is to tell them that they are in a "use them or lose them" situation.   That would be bad enough, but the US and South Korea have started an exercise with hundreds of planes including a simulation of attacking North Korea.  How will North Korea know this is not just this simulation is not actually the preparation or the start of a first strike?

Most of the civilian experts on this stuff that I am familiar with are very concerned about the combination of: fears of preemption, accidents, inadvertent escalation, and egos.  Who are the civilians in this US government who can put the brakes on these kinds of exercises?  Who can tell the President this exercise and McMaster's stances are BAD?  Tillerson?  Please, that amateur is not just the #worstsecstate but on his way out.  He has no wisdom and no sway.  Mattis?  Has anyone seen Mattis lately?  He is really well read, everyone says.  Has he read Schelling?  Jervis? Posen? The stuff on nuclear war near misses?  Oh, and he is not really a civilian, as his mindset has not had a chance to change (tis the anniversary of this post).  Oh and the key spots in State and the Office of the Secretary of Defense--Assistant Secretaries of State/Defense for East Asia--remain unfilled as far as I can tell. 

Which makes Trump the primary civilian responsible for making sure that the US military does not make any moves that might cause North Korea to launch its weapons because its leaders fear that a preemptive strike is on its way or is imminent.  I would never put "Trump" and "responsible" in the same sentence except as a question, and, yeah, we know the answer: not responsible.

So, I ended the semester scaring my students.  I guess I should not have seen Krampus recently.

Ten Years and a Wakeup

Thanks to FB, I was reminded that this week was a big deal ten years ago for me.  I had one of the best job opportunities of my life and I blew it and then I flew off to Afghanistan. 

While I was not yet unhappy at my old place, the opportunity to be in the DC area--both to be close to family and to that center of the IR world--was pretty damn attractive.  Perhaps too much so as I choked during the job talk.  And it was one of those that is before lunch, so I spent lunch apologizing, knowing that I was a dead man walking for the rest of the afternoon.  It turned out ok, as five years later, I got a really cool job in a great city.  So, yeah, my career has gone the way I thought it would, but I am happy with how it has worked out.

One of the strange things about that job talk was I was thinking as much about the next opportunity as the one in front of me.  In the good old days, the Canadian Dept of National Defence would take random or not so random collections of academics to wherever the Canadian Armed Forces were deployed.  This time: Kabul and Kandahar.  The timing was great both for my research and for, well, our safety.  I had just started the NATO book research with Dave Auerswald, which was originally going to compare the NATO missions in Bosnia and Kosovo to the one in Afghanistan and to the unilateral mission in Iraq.  Instead, Afghanistan ate the book, as there was so much variation in the one case, and James Blunt helped to shift our focus.  December of 2007 was also a relatively safe time to do this kind of trip--at the time, Afghanistan seemed to be the war we could win, compared to the very, very violent Iraq war in mid-surge. 

I had never been to any part of Asia, and I had never been in a war zone.  Just the experience of getting one's flak jacket, helmet, etc in Dubai where Camp Mirage was (we were not supposed to identify where the Canadian base in the Mideast was although wikipedia knew it) was startling.  Flying in a C-130 was ... loud and uncomfortable, but not a bad way to start the transition to Afghanistan.  We landed in Kandahar and had to transfer to get to Kabul, displacing a group of advisers and Afghan officers--perhaps the first hint that the priorities might be a bit backwards. 

In Kabul, we were driven around in a two car convey, briefly daily on how to respond if we got attacked and told to look out for rubble alongside the roads, which might mask a roadside bomb.  Um, there is rubble all over the place.  Anyhow, we met with Afghan politicians, we were impressed by the Afghan Aussies who ran a media empire, we met with UN officials (the soon to be lamented Chris Alexander), we met with embassy folks, and we slept in NATO facilities with a doghouse with my name on it:

We then got flown back to Kandahar for several days of briefings, meetings and what passed for tourism.  We very much drank from the fire hose as we received a ton of info, even as we realized that we were actually a component of an information operation ... aimed at the Canadian public.  Not a great choice, I think, since we tend to be critical, but still we developed favorable views of the CAF and what it was doing.  Indeed, we even got to see the temporary detainment facility, which was presented pretty honestly--that the Canadians would hold onto prisoners if and when the Afghans treated them poorly.  Too bad the politicians back home couldn't grasp the realities of this.  We learned a lot from informal discussion as well.  We went to Canada house where the Canadian troops spent their off-hours (I finished second in a poker game!), and heard more critical takes on the mission there than in the official briefings.  We also went off and found the Canadian media tent even though we were supposed to avoid them.  Oops?  We even crossed the road to check out a boneyard--old Soviet tanks!

We were helicoptered (coo1!) to the Provincial Reconstruction Team, where we got to see the whole of government effort writ small-- the diplomats, the aid people, the police trainers and the soldiers.  They seemed quite cooperative, but, well, things were different back home. 

It was a pretty impressive trip, and helped me catch up quickly on the geography, the personalities, and the realities of Afghanistan.  "Wait, you are saying the half brother of the President runs this province and is the Al Capone of Kandahar?!"  It definitely made it easier to write the book.  And I got to spend a heap of time with some great Canadian scholars who are much of the backbone of the Canadian defence community (including a future colleague at NPSIA).  It almost made me forget how badly I bombed that job talk. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Flynn Flipping Means What?

Folks who pay attention to me (ok, my Mom and a few others) might notice a contradiction: I took great delight to see Flynn flip on Trump and the Cult of the Corrupt yet I also don't think impeachment is going to happen.  How to make sense of this?

To start, as I have said before, I don't think impeachment is going to happen.  Ryan and McConnell control the agendas of both houses, so impeachment can't get going.  If the Dems take back both houses in 2018, which is unlikely but possible, then the Dems would need to flip 15-16 or so GOP votes in the Senate as the impeachment requires a majority vote in the House but 2/3s to convict in the Senate--see Bill Clinton. Oh, and the GOP is not going to impeach Trump because they need his core voters and impeaching Trump would alienate them for a long, long time.  The tax cut vote suggests that these GOP folks are not profiles in courage.

Anyhow, why I am happy about Flynn flipping?

First, I am trying to avoid that whole hobgoblin of little minds.  [Oh, and if I had bet on Flynn getting indicted/arrested in 2017, I would be a bit wealtheir]

Second, schadenfreude is a thing.  I am taking joy and happiness from the suffering of bad people--Flynn, Flynn Jr, Jared, Don Jr, Trump.

Third, all this stuff is eroding support for Trump with the latest polls 33 in favor, 62 against in good economic times.  He is more underwater than Trump inc.  And this matters because while it might not lead to impeachment, it makes it harder for GOP folks to stand up for and support Trump AND

Fourth, to win in 2018, the Dems don't have to make the entire GOP leave Trump, but if it can get a small percentage of those who would otherwise vote for their rep to either not show up or vote for someone else, then the Democratic wave can be a thing.  While that might not get us impeachment, a Democratic majority in the House and/or Senate would make it much harder for the GOP to do damage like they just did with the tax bill.  That stuff can't get reversed until the Dems have both houses and the White House, but they can be more effective at blocking stuff after 2018.  Oh, and they can start investigating Trump and his team of corrupt arsonists day after day as they then would control the agendas of the relevant committees.

Fifth, only Trump is protected from prosecution before being impeached (and maybe Pence?).  Don Jr., Jared, and other awful folks (Ivanka, pretty please) can be prosecuted.  Notice that this batch of info does not include money, but I am sure that Mueller is tracking the dollars, just as he did with Manafort.  So, h/t to my brother for reminding of this one.

Sixth, there is that schadenfreude thing again--Trump and his folks are so thoroughly awful that, yes, I want to see them suffer.  And nothing causes Trump to suffer more than to have low popularity ratings and to be welcomed everywhere with chants of "lock him up."

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Tax Bill Insta-Reactions

I guess the first question is: how different is it from the House bill?  Because we could be going through this all again if the House GOP insists on doing stuff that is beyond the pale for Collins and ....

Oh, who am I kidding?  This bill is supremely awful and was not regular order, so McCain flipped (which was predictable but still annoying and frustrating) and Collins sold out Maine.  Flake is, well, flakey.  At least Murkowski got a key priority for some of her constituents--more drilling where the wildlife used to be protected. Only Corker proved to have some scruples somewhere.

The only real solace I can take from this tax bill, which is destined to hurt most Americans and also hurt America in the world, is that the GOP will pay a huge price for it.  They created so many easy ads for the Democrats:
  • "My opponent made it easier for you to buy and maintain a private plane while taking away tax deductions for teachers to buy equipment for the classroom."
  • "You lost your access to health care, but at least you can afford the one school in the US that got a tax deduction (Hillsdale College)."
  • "Hey, remember when the GOP cared about deficits?  Good times"
  • "Kiss medicare and medicaid goodbye"
 Ok, I suck at ad-writing, but it is pretty clear that this bill is best named, by Pod Saves America, "The Donor Relief Act."  Complete with clips of GOP folks saying that they were doing this for the donors and clear evidence that the GOP cut and pasted from the lists the lobbyists sent to Santa.  Yes, Fox and Breitbart will cover it in a way to disguise this stuff, but the Democrats just need to get a few percentage points of GOP voters to realize that the party in power of both houses and the White House have just stacked the deck against them.  Sure, the Dems can screw this up, but I do think the voting last month (so long ago) indicates that the Republicans are going to lose in 2018 in a big way, and even more so now that the Dems are armed with this bill.

What is the difference between Dems and GOP these days?  Look at this tax bill.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Grumpy Dual Citizen and Canadian Hot Takes

The past couple of days have hit a button for me--that Canadians have expressed views on the US that seem both smug and wrong.  Sure, I am vulnerable right now because the US is doing incredibly harmful stuff to everyone at home and abroad.  But getting things wrong probably doesn't help.

So, yesterday, Stephen Gordon, a Canadian economist I respect a great deal said:

This is wrong in so many ways, so let's count them:
  1. The Republicans have lost the popular vote in every Presidential election except for 2004 since 1992.  
  2. The Democrats have been in majority in Congress far more often than the Republicans since the Great Depression.  Recency bias is a problem, I guess.
  3. The Republican victories have been unnatural: Trump via Comey, Russia and all that, House via Russians (yeah, that is one reason they are not investigating) and a combo of gerrymandering plus voter suppression (#voterfraudfaud) and Dems tending to waste votes by living together. 
  4. In the last several elections, the Dems have done far better among younger folks--which is bad for today since they don't vote as much but is great for tomorrow since the GOP's future may be bleak.
  5. The United States is diverse, the GOP is not.  So, the GOP is only the natural governing party of whites.
  6. If you look at the polls on most of the issues, including highly "divisive" ones, the Democratic position is more popular.  Gun control?  Yeah, the iron fist of the NRA is a problem, but more Americans favor background checks and the like.  Abortion? More Americans favor women having access.  LGBT?  The Democrats have won, even as the GOP fights some battles that are alienating the younger folks.
The economists may think that preferences equal outcomes (sorry, can't help myself), but institutions matter and so does other stuff.  So, no, the GOP is not the natural governing party.  Especially since ... they suck at governing.   Burning things down? Great.  Governing? No. And then folks will choose Democrats as they did last month all across Virginia and even in some mighty red parts of places like Oklahoma.

I get it--folks want to say the American chose this and they need to suck on it a while. Well, yes and no.  As an American, I am deeply embarrassed by what Trump is doing and how he is undermining the US at home and abroad.  I recognize that there are three hunks of Trump voters: those who voted for him because they love his white supremacy and his misogyny and all that; those who voted for him because party id is a hell of a drug (factor in Hillary hysteria); and those who don't call themselves Trump voters anymore.  But they were less than one third of the population, so they aren't America.

Indeed, this is a big hobby horse for me--Palin referred only rural places as Real America as if places with big spaces and few people count for more than smaller places with many people. Yes, the lines favor the former, but Real America is the diverse America of the cities and increasingly of the suburbs. 

The hot take today that pushed my button:

Sorry, but let's have some perspective.  Biggest political explosion in US history???  Let's count again:
  1. Pick your Revolutionary moment: Lexington and Concord, the real Tea Party, the Declaration of Independence.
  2. Firing on Fort Sumter or the election of Abraham Lincoln.  
  3. The election of 1932 since that changed the landscape of American politics
  4. Pearl Harbor since World War II re-made the US in a big way.
  5. The assassination of Martin Luther King as it led to cities burning.
  6. 9/11, which ushered in a few forever wars, increased executive authority and more than a little repression.  
I could go on.  The other problem with Gilmore's piece is that he thinks that Flynn's flipping will lead to the end of Trump. I actually think that if the GOP passes the tax cut, that will a bigger deal for everything--because the GOP will have thoroughly alienated much of the country to help their donors and it might make them feel as if Trump fulfilled his role.

Again, impeachment is not happening anytime soon--will Flynn flipping cause the GOP voters to stop supporting Trump?  Since we live in two media worlds (a real one and a fake one led by Fox and Brietbart), I am not sure they will.

I will write tomorrow about what I think Flynn's flipping will do--it is a huge deal and I am most happy.  But the biggest political explosion in US history?  Only for those who have a very short memory.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Disease of More

Pat O'Reilly, the NBA coach and now team president (or whatever), wrote about the Disease of More, which then became the Disease of Me.  That after winning a championship, it is harder to repeat because the individual players focus on themselves rather than the team.  Well, in US foreign policy, the Disease of More is a bit different: it is the Washington, DC and media tendency to think that the only way for the US to be engaged is to send more troops.  That not sending troops or removing troops is "disengagement" or isolationism.

Obama was accused of being isolationist when he would be reluctant to use force--dithering over the eventual surge in Afghanistan, refusing to send troops to Syria, etc.  This is a failure of imagination, a failure to learn lessons, and it is an incredibly dumb way to stretch concepts so that they don't mean anything. 

Isolationism refers to staying out of things entirely.  The 1930s isolationists, including the America Firsters, were opposed to any assistance to the Europeans--a pox on both their houses, a fear that the US would get drawn in, and/or some Nazi sympathizers wanting US to stay out of it so that Hitler could win.  In the 21st century, there has been so much conflation of not using force with being isolationist.  Sure, perhaps Obama didn't want to spend so much time on the Mideast, but he did, his diplomats did, his national security staff did, and the US was heavily involved all along.

These days?  Trump has increased the troops to the region by something close to 50%, there are stories of potentially seeking bases in Syria, and on and on.  For what purpose?  When the American general said that the Taliban would soon be on the run in Afghanistan, that victory was around the corner, he was widely scoffed at.  Again, we need to figure out what the best tools for whatever it is that is the goal to be achieved. 

The costs of using force have always been underestimated:
  • the recent NYT story indicates that the US may have killed 30 times more civilians in Iraq than previously estimated
  • civilian casualties are probably making things worse by generating new hostiles
  • the $ cost at home is over $5-6 trillion and growing and will keep on going up for as long as the veterans of these wars are alive (the US only recently stopped paying the costs of WWI).
  • the twitter accounts that remind of us of this date in history are reminding me that the Russians thought Finland would be a walkover around this date in 1939.  Um, no. 
We need to think about how to measure success besides focusing on inputs (more troops).  We need to figure out what kinds of strategies and tactics actually work.  And, yes, we need to have a lot more humility about how effective US troops can be.  That probably requires American leaders to figure out what they want.... and that is hard to do when the US national security bureaucracy is fully staffed with sharp people.  These days?  Many positions are unfilled, and we have incompetents (Trump, Tilleson) and racists (Trump, Kelly) at the top.

Oh, and hoping that Mattis will save us?  Wishful thinking is just that.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Teaching Can Be Fun: Dissertation Proposal Edition

The hardest part of research is starting.  The hardest part of a PhD program, in my humble opinion, is crafting the dissertation proposal.  It means coming up with an original project--which is no easy feat as much good work precedes us.  It means coming up with something feasible.  Oh, and many good questions go unanswered because they are impossible: "hey, could you guys start a war under these conditions, so we can see what happens?" 

I have been teaching a seminar that aims at getting the students through the proposal.  This is tricky enough, but is even more complicated by a few key realities at my school:
  • The students are a mix of economists and political scientists, so they have very different research topics with all of the economists and most of the political scientists working on issues and using methodologies that are outside my expertise and often way outside.
  • As an interdisciplinary program, we don't always have clear understanding of what is to be expected--how much theory?  How much methods?  How specific? How long should the proposal be?
  • The aim is for these folks to work in non-academic settings, but we have no idea what that market is really demanding and most of the profs (nearly all of us) were trained by traditional disciplines aimed at producing professors. 
The way I teach this class is workshop the dissertation proposals piece by piece: the question, the possible answers (the dreaded lit review), the theory, the testable hypotheses, the methods.  Scattered along the way, due to various opportunities, we spend time on grant proposals, research ethics, and other stuff.  Each student gives a practice dissertation proposal presentation somewhere along the way. 

The fun but challenging part is to try to give feedback on projects that are, as I said, all over place and beyond my expertise for the most part.  The good news is I have fresh eyes.  The bad news is that I have no idea if they are asking original questions (I don't know the literatures they are reviewing) or if their methods make sense (if they are working on something fairly technical).  Today was the last course meeting, and I realized I have had fun getting inside their projects, providing feedback where I can.  I was able, I think, to provide some useful advice (take it or leave it, no biggie) even to those working on the stuff that is beyond me, and I had fun with some of the ideas that I could plausibly research myself.  The students have made much progress, although their advisers may be horrified by my suggestions.  Ooops.

Anyhow, as much as we complain about reading multiple drafts of stuff and how work in progress is often very slooooowly in progress, in my conversations during and after class, I was reminded that it is fun to work with folks as they are starting out.  The work is really hard, but the creativity is inspiring, and working with them to figure out how to surmount the obstacles can be fun.  I got in this job in part to play with ideas, and I use the word "play" deliberately.  As this is fun stuff, and I am glad to be reminded of that basic reality, which is often lost in the daily grind.

So, thanks to my INAF 6900 seminar for reminding me.