Monday, September 18, 2017

Consequences for Trumpers? Unlikely

Lots of uproar over Sean Spicer appearing at the Emmys.  I am of two minds on this: meh and duh.

Meh?  Because I don't mind comedy making fun of stuff, even recent stuff.  Does this normalize Spicer?  Seems to me he was as much or more the butt of the joke than being in on it.  If anything, it reminds us that he has been a lying sack of lies.  He was asked to lie on cue, and he did.  So what does that say?  I do think the pics of celebrities cozying up next to him is a wee bit more problematic, but I give comedy much license.  "Too soon?" is usually the question for something like this, not so much whether it is right or wrong to have a former administration official involved.  I'd have to check the old SNL of the mid 70s, but I am pretty sure a Watergate figure or two made the program. 

Duh?  The US (and Canadian) media give heaps and heaps of airtime to people who have done reprehensible things in the past, as long as it gives them the chance to fill bandwidth and get higher ratings: Oliver North, Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney, and on and on.  Being a failure or being a liar or being a criminal does not disqualify.  I get frustrated by this often, but we should be used it by now. 

A second duh: who has paid a price for bad behavior in past administrations?  No one from the Bush Administration got punished for facilitating/ordering torture.  Only lower level folks and one relatively low ranking general got punished for Abu Ghraib.  Scooter Libby, who got jailed for outing Valerie Plame, had his sentence commuted.  We might as well prepare for Trump pardoning his family and some of his operatives....

Finally, I tend to think the folks who are the spokespeople will get a lighter treatment than those who actually make the decisions and those who implement them.  Could I imagine Jeff Sessions getting similar treatment?  Probably not but maybe.  While one can say that Spicer attempted to give cover to all the awful stuff that Trump did the first several months, he did it so very badly, I am not sure we can say he provided any cover at all.  Again, someone like Sessions or Pruitt or DeVos would not be invited or would have gotten a different reception.  Perhaps the actors recognize and empathize with another actor working from a piss poor script?

Anyhow, I was more offended last night by the playing off of Sterling Brown who was giving a kickass speech while Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon got to have as much time as they wanted.  Is this about race or about movie star bias?  My guess is more the latter than the former, but not a good look.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Bad Ideas, Dumb Policies, Horrible Outcomes

As I was biking and listening to a podcast (Pod Saves America), I was struck by the similarity of the #voterfraudfraud stuff and the anti-vax stuff.  The key similarities are:
  • both are based on a false belief.  There is no voter fraud, and vaccines don't cause autism.
  • both advocate solutions that are worse than the "threat."  Essentially using nuclear weapons to deal with minor violations of the law.  The dis-proportionality is so very extreme.
    • #Voterfraudfraud proposes to disenfranchise many people, hundreds of thousands or millions, to deal with the minor risk of some people voting twice or whatever.  
    • Anti-vax movements propose to expose millions to disabling and fatal diseases because of an alleged small risk of autism.  I have previously wondered why having a kid die is better than having a kid be autistic.  
  • both, of course, are reality averse, running against the acreage of reports that demonstrate that the threats are not real and that their preferred solutions are actually far worse than the "threat."
 The big difference is that #voterfraudfraud is partisan--the GOP wants to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters largely because they found that they can't/won't appeal to people of color, poor people, and young people.  Anti-vax?  It seemed like a left-wing, hippie kind of phenomenon, but there are right wing folks who buy it, too.  It is not a Democratic or Republican strategy to gain or deny votes.  Woot?

Both efforts suck, both are hurting people, and hurting American democracy.  One, however, may stack the deck so much that political change will become very difficult. Thanks, Gorsuch. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Panic Du Jour: US Won't Protect Canada?

Today, some Canadian generals talked about the US Ballistic Missile Defence Program, and indicated that since Canada is not involved in it, that the US might not stop missiles headed towards Canada.  Oh my!  So, let me myth bust with a few caveats first:

A) I am not opposed to Canada joining the BMD program. There are good reasons to join--fear of North Korea attacking Calgary is not among them. Better situational awareness, some influence, less antagonizing of the US, and other reasons are better reasons than fear of NK nukes.  The Defence Policy Review should have addressed this head on and did not do so (if I remember correctly).
B)  I don't know much about the history of US-Canadian defence/defense commitments.
C)  I am not an expert on nuclear weapons or defenses.  I am just reasonably well read on that stuff, and have expertise on related stuff (see NATO stuff below).  More importantly, I don't really have anything at stake, unlike various generals....   It maybe that the Canadian generals are not the ones playing us, but rather, it may be the American ones who are apparently saying strange things to the Canadians. 

Ok, let's get to it:
  1. Who is going to attack Canada and not the US?  Folks upset at the maple cartel?  
  2. When ballistic missiles are in the air, those with fingers on the triggers of American defenses will not have hours to make the decision, but a few minutes (missiles from North Korea probably take less than thirty minutes, using the old Soviet ICBM flight time as an amateur guess).  So, are the Americans going to say, hmm, we have missiles inbound from North Korea, but they look like they are headed towards the West Edmonton Mall, so let's not worry about it?  Or will they say, missiles headed in our direction, let's launch our counter-missiles, just in case we are wrong about their final destination?
  3. I used West Edmonton deliberately because any missile headed towards most of Canada's population--within 100 miles of the US border--is going to get an American response.  No American general is going to say, hey, Vancouver, not our problem when Seattle is not far away.  
  4. On the other hand, what about NATO and Article V?  What about it?  There is no automatic invocation of A5 before an attack.  If an attack occurs, NATO reps must meet and agree that an attack has occurred.  This happened after 9/11 but not after a cyber attack on Estonia nor after Syrian artillery hit Turkey.  And note, this is after, not during, not before.  So, not helpful for responding to missiles in the air.  Also, Article V says that once an attack has been recognized, each country responds as each deems necessary.  Not hypothetical at all as we found out when writing our book.
  5. Whatever the legacy of US-Canadian defense agreements, the US will defend Canada.  It is in its own interests to do so.  Indeed, the usual Canadian concern is that the US would be too helpful and violate Canadian sovereignty as the US protects itself.
  6. Oh, one last thing: the idea that Canada is defenseless against nukes?  That has been the case since the Soviet Union developed its own nuclear-tipped ICBMs because.... the US never had an effective system for shooting down missiles.   And, guess what.... it still does not. The US system is unproven.  Indeed, when North Korea launches its tests, the US does not try to shoot them down because it would really suck if the US tried and failed.  Better to be uncertain. 
So, what are these generals doing, scaring Canadians?  I can't help but think of threat inflation.  That the threat is being played up .... because American or Canadian officers want Canada in the ballistic missile program.  While I agree with the ends mostly, I don't agree with the means.

The reality is that there is NOTHING Canada can do about North Korea.  Canada does not trade with North Korea, so sanctions are not applicable.  Canada is not able to bully China into doing anything. If the US can't get that to happen, Canada can't do it.  Canada has no ability to stop missiles from North Korea.  So, yeah, Canada is powerless and vulnerable.  That sucks, but there it is.  Canada can take some solace that North Korea does not give a rat's ass about Canada.  North Korea does not have enough nuclear armed ICBMs to waste any on Canadian cities.  It needs to have one or two so that the US is deterred from regime changing.  Maybe North Korea is aiming to create a stability/instability paradox dynamic where the US and North Korea are deterred at the strategic level, which then allows NK to mess around with South Korea at the conventional level.  That would not be good, but, again, not much Canada can do about that. Indeed, the story for the past twenty years or so is that there is precious little the US can do about North Korea.  If the US can do little, Canada can do even less.  Sorry, but let's be humble about Canadian capabilities (and US BMD capabilities).

Flatball: An Ultimate Doc

Last night, I watched Flatball on Netflix  Tis a documentary about the history of ultimate, narrated by Alec Baldwin. Overall, it was pretty terrific.  It didn't cover everything, and was a bit too obsessed about New York, New York, but explained the sport without dumbing it down.  It focused perhaps the central concern--what is the spirit of the game--without trivializing it, and, most of all, it showed the passion and joyfullness inherent in the game.  It also showed the athleticism and beauty of the sport pretty well.

The central debate in the movie and in reality has been: the Spirit of the Game.  This centers mostly but not entirely on the fact that ultimate was conceived and largely remains self-refereed.  There are observers for some (most?) of the competitive tourneys, and referees in the professional league.  This move towards having non-players make calls was controversial because the Spirit of the Game, the hippie concept at the start of the sport, remains key--that players should compete but value integrity more than self.  The idea is that players call the fouls honestly, including on themselves, that one players honorably. Over time, competition has been intense enough that rules have changed so that people can't call fouls on themselves to slow the other team.  One of the problems with the doc is that it seemed to buy, at least a bit, the New York, New York sense of the Spirit--compete as hard as you can no matter what.  This is imply wrong.  The Spirit is something more than that--it is about respecting the opponent, not deliberately violating the rules, and so forth.

I did experience New York, New York despite never playing at the highest levels.  In the summer between college and grad school, I played in the NY summer league.  I joined late, so I got placed with a team of 14-15 year olds from Bronx Science or whatever.  So, we were a bad team--I had the most experience, which was not really that much.  NY, NY split up and played on several teams, and I remember one game, where one NY, NY segment was so incredibly obnoxious.  I have played heaps of ultimate over my lifetime, and that one game will always stand out as the most unpleasant.  Because they really had no conception of the Spirit of the Game--they rubbed our inferiority in our faces in a summer league game.  I kind of hated that they told the history of ultimate through the experiences of one of the least spirited, least typical ultimate players and teams, but I am sure it was partly guided by which footage they had.  And it was a compelling story, even if it was the wrong story.

UPDATE:  A friend informed me that the director of the doc was a NYNY player, so now it all makes sense.

Other than that, watching the doc was a thrill--to see the teams I had heard of--the legends--such as Windy City, the Condors, Flying Circus.  To see that I was very much part of the boom.  Ultimate  started in 1968 in NJ and started becoming an inter-college club sport in the mid-70s.  It started at Oberlin in 1976 (so I went back for the 30th anniversary of ultimate there in 2006---twas a great weekend).  It was still a fairly marginal sport until the mid-80s.  At that time, it did start appearing randomly on ESPN, in a Howard Cosell piece, in Sports Illustrated, and the first world tourneys.

It was great to see the evolution that continued throughout the 90s with teams around the world becoming more competitive with the US teams.  I didn't know that Team Canada beat the US men's team a couple of years in a row around 2010-11. It was great to see some folks use ultimate to bring Israelis of all kinds together with Palestinians--that was very, very moving and very much in the Spirit of the Game.


My big quibbles:
  • No mixed (co-ed) ultimate.  Absolutely no discussion, footage or anything, and I think this is one thing that makes ultimate damn near unique.  I would hazard a guess and suggest that most of the city leagues that exist have most of their ultimate in this form, which means much of the ultimate out there is mixed. There are competitive teams all the way up to world competitions.  Are there any other sports where men and women play together?  Seems like much ultimate coverage ignores this key form of it.  Really a lost opportunity.  Also minimal coverage of the women's game--first about 53 minutes into the doc, but nice coverage of the post 3/11 tsunami competition in Japan with Japan upsetting the American team.
  • Also, didn't spend any time on the development of city leagues.  Again, where is ultimate being played these days?  Yes, there are world competitions, but just as soccer is now a thing in the US thanks to youth sports, ultimate is more of a thing thanks to big city leagues.  Would have been nice to know how many schools in US, Canada and elsewhere have teams at the junior high and high school levels.  It is now a component in many gym classes.
  • Oh, Alec, I never stopped wearing bandanas.  I just have many more of them than I used to, and now it is not just for the sweat but also for, alas, sunburn prevention.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Micromanagement or Abdication: The Twin Perils of Civil-Military Relations

Reading Micah Zenko's piece "Does the Military Need a Micromanager?" on the same day as my first class of Civil-Military Relations was great timing.  Got me thinking about what we discussed this morning.  What is micromanagement?  As Zenko suggests, tis anytime someone told an officer not to do something or to do something they didn't want to do.  Zenko goes onto discuss how responsibility for deciding how much force to use has moved from the White House and the Pentagon (the Office of the SecDef) to the combatant commanders and even further down the chain of command and the oopsy doopsy (h/t to Jon Lovett) that is more civilian casualties in American strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.  Funny how more delegation might lead to greater use of force with nasty consequences. 

It is not that the military folks are cruel or heartless or careless, but they are perhaps less likely to take the political consequences into consideration despite the fact that they all say they read Clausewitz and his dictum that war is politics by other means.  But it got me thinking about the two distinct choices that shape how much weight/restraint/control that influences stuff on the ground: how much discretion is granted to the folks on the ground or control kept back at HQ & how much oversight there is.  The Dave and Steve book/article focused on the former question, and our new project with Phil Lagasse focuses on the latter.  These tend to get conflated (Feaver does so just a bit in his terrific book). 

This handy 2x2 is a work in progress but suggests four possibilities (as all good social science does):

While micromanagement can mean many things, it seems to be most intense when someone can't make decisions, and every action is closely watched.  On the other hand, when the agents have a heap of discretion and no one is paying much attention, isn't that abdication of control?  Seems like that is where the US is headed these days since Congress is not doing as much oversight as it should of military operations and the SecDef does not seem to be watching too closely.  I think I tend to prefer the combo of high oversight and much discretion/autonomy to centralized command and relatively less oversight.... much to think about here. 

This is mostly to illustrate the basic problem today and why I have little sympathy for military officers who complain about micromanagement of the military.  Civilian control is a thing, you see, and pretty foundational to democracy.  If the military would hold itself accountable, perhaps external oversight might not be quite so necessary, but how has the military held itself accountable for the failures of few wars?  Did Tommy Franks or Ricardo Sanchez or Stan McChrystal pay a price from within the military?  No, maybe, and no. 

So, yeah, I indicated to my class that the US has a significant civ-mil crisis because it is in the abdication box.  I hope I am wrong, but I don't think so.  What say you?

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Second Angriest 9/11

I was probably angrier on the day, but too stunned to realize it.  I read a bunch of my previous 9/11 posts last night thanks to facebook's "on this day" feature, and realized that I have mostly been sad.  That the sacrifices were wasted as the US went off to Iraq so that whatever chance we had in Afghanistan was blown.  That Islamophobia is stronger now than in the aftermath of the attack.  A horrible day led to awful responses, but there was much heroism and, thankfully, much restraint.  George W. Bush is my second least favorite President of my lifetime, but he tried hard to not make things about a war on Islam.  Today, we have my least favorite President who is trying to make war on Islam AND enabling white supremacist terrorism.

Yes, Trump dominates my thinking on 9/11, just as he has dominated my attention since November 9th.  I cannot help it, given that one of his first executive orders was to ban Muslims.  While the Islamic State and the occasional attacks by those inspired by IS may have helped to motivate Islamophobia, it is definitely one of things the far right has been trying to do for years and Trump rode that wave.  In the ethnic outbidding that was the GOP primary, Trump was willing to go further, in that auction for far right support, to play up Islamophobia, inciting violence (often hitting the wrong target thanks to the ignorance of bigots).  So, one of the key lessons of 9/11--that Islamist extremists are the adversaries of both the US and much of the Islamic world--has been destroyed.

I am angry that more Americans see the Republicans as better on terrorism (whatever that means) when the President nods and winks and encourages white supremacists, who have killed more Americans since 9/11 than Islamist extremists.  While I very much remember 9/11, I also remember Oklahoma City.  Efforts to fight the far right white supremacists have been fought by the GOP who wanted to protect the far side of their base.  Trump lauds them, retweets them, and makes all kinds of false equivalence.  There is no doubt that white supremacists feel enabled and empowered by Trump, Sessions, Bannon, Miller, Gorka and others.  Just because a few of these guys are out of the White House does not mean that Trump is now "independent" or "moderate" or an "adult."  He is still an awful racist who has given much power to white supremacists (Sessions).  He has not changed since Charlottesville which ... was only a month ago.

We are supposed to be united on this day, but Trump has taken the existing polarization and amped it up several notches with the help of Fox.  So, I'd like to remember the victims and the heroes of 9/11--there were so many of both.  But on this day, all of that is crowded out by the fact that the US has elected the worst President who now betrays on a daily basis the legacies of that day.  So, yeah, I am sad, but I am mostly angry. 


Sunday, September 10, 2017

How to Deal with Racism and Xenophobia? Damned If I Know

In the past day or so, I* have seen two very different ways to deal with racism and xenophobia:

with love and courage:
and with outrage:
And, of course, there are other ways to deal with it as well.  I admire both responses.  The first because it took discipline and because Jagmeet Singh avoided the easy response: duh, Sikhs are not Muslims (the first iron law of bigotry).  The second because it took a heap of guts to confront a cop since, as the man notes,  the cop had his gun drawn moments ago.  Both demonstrated how wrong the other person was, and shamed them for their behavior.  Will the provocative xenophobe in the first video change their behavior and outlet?  Probably not.  Will the cop?  I don't know, but he seemed more capable of shame than the woman in the first video.  That the driver in the second video seemed to do ok in the encounter--was not pulled out of the car, was allowed to harang the cop--is promising (thanks to our low expectations of police behavior). 


Of course, both moments were recorded and then posted online.  Lots of confrontations with racism are not.  So, we need to be careful about generalizing about how to respond to racism.  Which is my main point: that there is no one best way to respond to these types of encounters.  We can celebrate individuals and groups when we see how they thwart or confront racism--our celebration should not mean that the particular examples are the only ways to do it.  

We live in trying times, so we need to appreciate resistance to racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia and all the other hatreds that are being stirred up. 


* It could be mighty white of me to enter this conversation, except the Nazis at Charlottesville and elsewhere remind us all that few folks fit into their conception of white.   

Liberals on Defence: My "Prediction" and the Reality

Two years ago, I wrote a Liberal Defence Platform since I was pretty annoyed at the one I saw in the news.*  Turns out that platform was not the official party one but that of the defence critic.  The actual platform was better, but still way, way, way too heavy on defence spending = jobs and not as much defence spending for, well, defence.  Anyhow, I thought I would check what I proposed with the reality of the Liberal defence policy, nearly two years into their government.  In the preamble, I did say there would be a white paper.  The Defence Policy Review [DPR] may not be it technically, but did fit the bill--a thorough review of the CAF and DND that sets the agenda and makes commitments.
* I also wrote ones for the NDP and the Conservatives, but they don't shape defence policies these days.
First, I talked about defence procurement and a need to study other countries to fix Canadian procurement.  While the DPR had some text on this, so far it is not clear that procurement is being done differently or better.  That is the hardest thing to fix, and is equivalent to turning around an aircraft carrier.

Second, I suggested that the subs should be killed [that was never going to happen].  Nope, not close.  However, no mention of new subs in the DPR.

Third, I recommended a cut in CAF personnel, given that we will be buying fewer ships and planes.  Well, the Liberals found a capability gap which means more planes, not less, and the DPR has money to be allocated so that the Navy gets all of the ships it had planned.  So a double whiff on this, plus the DPR adds personnel for cyber and other stuff.

Fourth, I pushed more money for readiness--maintenance, exercising and the like.  I am not sure about the numbers, so I cannot say for sure what is going on here.  I have been told that my previous guesses were probably low--that there had been money for such stuff.  Maybe I was projecting from the US case where less money for that has probably lead to, among other things, ship collisions.

Fifth, the F-35... oy.  I called for a competition based on all of the previous work that had been done by Canada, the Danes, Aussies, and others. What do we get?  This interim mess:
  • we need 18 planes fast to address a gap that had not been previously identified. 
  • rather than seeking used F18s (the Kuwaitis and others had some), let's get Super Hornets, which might just game the big decision
  • Oh crap, Boeing is attacking Bombardier so maybe not
  • so now used Aussie F18s look good.  
  • and, yeah, still not making progress on the big competition.
Sixth, cyber?  Yep, a major focus of the DPR.

Seventh, taking care of the personnel?  Yes, the personnel issues got more text and more upfront text in the DPR than any other issue.  Progress?  We shall see.

Eighth, more transparency.  Um, hmmm.  The good news about the DPR: the process itself was very transparent, and they definitely engaged the defence community.  I have heard mixed stories about how open the CAF and DND are now to journalists.  As always, the real test is "will they talk to me"?  I will know that later this month as I head off to Riga.  

So, my attempt at a Liberal platform got some of it right, but missed much as well.  The DPR was more and different than I expected, and, as others have noted, the follow through is the key.  How much of it will actually be done?  Ask me in six years.

What did I learn from this exercise?  I suck at platform writing, but it was a fun exercise.  It led to some interesting conversations with folks in the party.  So, squeaky wheel gets some grease, I guess.  It also serves as a way to measure where things stand now compared to where I would have liked them to be.  How would I grade the Liberals on defence policy thus far?  Probably a B, but then again, I am an American and I am guilty of grade inflation.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Certainly Uncertain: Nuclear Logics Are Still In Play in Northeast Asia

Reading Andrew Coyne's piece on North Korea and the need for Canada to join the American Ballistic Missile Defence System reminded me of lots of old deterrence theory stuff.  The piece raises good questions about the reliability of the key actors, especially Trump, but confuses what is necessary for deterrence.  Still, there are some problems that we need to think about.

The big problem in the piece is that Coyne thinks that the American commitment to defend its East Asia allies is now largely unbelievable with the North Koreans developing the ability to strike the continental US (and Canada).  It is true that the US, under several Presidents, has failed to deter the North Korean effort to develop both nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.  But deterring their effort to develop some deterrence and deterring an attack on allies are two different things.  Coyne is right to point out that extended deterrence (don't attack my allies or else) is less believable than regular, vanilla deterrence (don't attack me or else).  The threat to start or expand a nuclear war is problematic in either case, but seems a bit more believable if it is in retaliation for a big attack on the homeland.

The key is that for deterrence to work, the side being deterred (North Korea in this case for the moment) does not need to be certain that a counter-strike would happen.  They just need to think that there is some possibility of such a response.  Why?  Because the costs of nuclear war are so very high, if one does the probability math (probability of x times value of x), the prospective costs of attacking first are simply too high compared to the status quo (.01 times infinity = infinity) .... as long as the status quo is bearable (which is why we have to stop threatening regime change).  We do not have to convince North Korea that a retaliatory strike is certain if North Korea attacks South Korea and/or Japan, but that it could happen.  The placement of US troops in South Korea is far more about being a tripwire to raise the probability of the US responding than actually defending South Korea in a conventional attack. 

Again, one might say that this is not sufficient, but the key to nuclear threats is that classic Schelling phrase: a threat that leaves something to chance.  One does not have to threaten, for instance, total nuclear annihilation of North Korea crosses the Demilitarized Zone--one just has to threat to start a process that might lead to things getting out of hand and ultimately leading to nuclear war.  This was the old extended deterrence logic for Europe and Asia during the cold war.

Certainty?  That is for allies.  That is, the tripwires and all the rest over the years are mostly aimed at reassuring allies.  The enemy is deterred by a modest chance of the US responding, of sacrificing Chicago for Bonn or now Seattle for Seoul.  The allies?  They are very nervous and require a great deal of assurance.  Ballistic missile defense both in the region and in the US might assure them somewhat--that the US can stick around and meet its commitments knowing that it is protected.

Except for one thing: BMD may be at best a coin flip.  We have lots of uncertainty about whether the efforts to invest in destroying missiles in flight have produced anything remotely reliable.  Again, that is ok from a deterrence perspective--uncertainty is not bad.

While I think that joining the US BMD program makes sense, my reasons do not center on the NK nuclear threat.  The US would try to stop an attack on Vancouver or Toronto since they are very close to American cities whether Canada is in or out of the BMD program.  And North Korea is not going to be gunning for Calgary or Edmonton.  North Korea barely notices Canada, and, given its small supply of nuclear arms, it will not be aiming at Canada.  The BMD arguments I buy have more to do with building a robust NORAD that addresses a variety of threats in the 21st century, and strengthening a key US-Canadian institution in these uncertain times.

While we should all doubt Donald Trump, I am far more worried about his starting a process that leaves something to chance via a small strike at North Korea's missiles or at its leadership than I am about his not responding to a North Korean attack.  Yes, we are now deterred from attacking North Korea, but that has been true since it developed the capability level Seoul with its artillery.  Yes, we have much to worry about, but then so does Kim Jong Un.  If he wants to survive, he will avoid a process that might lead to escalation.  The costs of being wrong are just too high.