Thursday, August 17, 2017

Rebel Rabble

As much of a fan as I am of the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars, I can't help but notice that The Rebel, a far right media enterprise in Canada, might be named after the Confederacy more than the good guys in Star Wars.

Here's the thing: if one is a southerner in the US, one might plausibly claim that a stars & bars patch or flag might have some other meaning than white supremacy.  One could pick up some affinity via osmosis, relatives, peer pressure, bad history teachers, whatever.  I tend not to buy that excuse, but I can see how it might mitigate things a bit. 

However, if one is attaching oneself to the Confederacy while living in Canada, Europe or any place other than the old South, one is attaching oneself to white supremacy deliberately.  And, yes, Confederacy = White Supremacy as the movement was based on the idea that whites can/should own black people (read any of the articles of secession), making it the highest form of White Supremacy (borrowing a smidge of Lenin).  So, yes, affinity for Confederacy and its symbols means affinity for White Supremacy, and, yes, all that almost always comes with it--anti-semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia and even misogyny. 

The outlet is now trying to distance itself from white supremacy, but it may have a hard time doing so.  Why? Because it has long been more than a smidge racist.  Stephanie Carvin pointed it out quite clearly today:
The skittles, as folks might remember, were reference to the "poisonous" Muslims among the Syrian refugees.  So, yeah, not so cool.

And the folks jumping of the Rebel ship now should still be considered tainted by their previous association since its racism and other fatal flaws are nothing new.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Certainties in the Uncertainty Engine: Vain, Greedy, and Racist

I have been arguing for quite some time that Trump is an uncertainty engine, but there are a few key consistencies that have long been true and actually pretty obvious. He is greedy, he is vain, he is lazy and ignorant, he doth project too much, and, yes, he is a white supremacist. 

Trump has long discriminated against African Americans going back to the lawsuits over discriminating in rental housing in NYC in the 1970s.  He criticized his casino employees for having Black accountants rather than Jews.  His birtherism was grounded in racism.  His campaign kicked off by calling all Mexican immigrants rapists.  He often calls immigrants animals.  Oh, and it is probably not an accident that he has surrounded himself with white supremacists:
  • Jeff Sessions who was too racist to be a federal judge in the 1980s (more than a few GOP Senators agreed with the Democrats) but sufficiently racist to be Attorney General;
  • Stephen Miller, who was reviled for his racism and xenophobia going way back to when he was in high school;
  • Steve Bannon, who is often said not to be really racist, but just uses racism as a political strategy.  Sure, go ahead and try to make that distinction.  I don't buy it.  Not at all.  
So, as I tweeted, there really are two Trump's Razors to explain his behavior.  The first, as enunciated by John Scalzi: “ascertain the stupidest possible scenario that can be reconciled with the available facts” and that answer is likely correct." The second: Trump is a white supremacist, so he picks policies that favor whites over all other groups (African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Native Americans, etc.).  Is he anti-semitic? Perhaps not in beliefs but certainly in who he allies with.  For those who tut-tut and say that Trump can't hate Jews because his daughter married one and some of his grandchildren are Jewish, I scoff and I scorn. And I point out this, of course:

Trump will not be impeached because of his white supremacy as the GOP relies on it to stay in power.  But perhaps people will stop calling out the Democrats' identity politics given that Trump's and the GOP's white identity politics is now a wee bit more obvious to all.  Or not.

What to do?  See something, say something, of course.  Call out the white supremacy, rather than referring to alt-right or other glosses.  Put pressure on any and all politicians to take a stand so that we can identify who needs our opposition and our support.  Put pressure on the media to stop the false equivalence machines--perhaps Trump's latest statements will at least put those machines on pause.

 It will take more than just 2018 and 2020, as this stuff is not new, but Trump has given these deplorable people cover and permission.  We need to return to a time where these people were ashamed and embarrassed and marginalized.  As always, the only way out is through.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Reacting During Limited Computer Access: Nazis? I Hate These Guys

I haven't seen much coverage of the Nazi in Charlotteville, as internet access has been intermittent.  However, I have seen enough to be disgusted and impressed and confused, mostly confused. Disgusted that these hateful assholes are getting any benefit from the various false equivalence machines.  Impressed by those who are protesting despite much risk to themselves.

And confused: should we make fun of the douchebros?  Should we post memes reminding us all that the Americans died to defeat Nazism?  Should we keep in mind that the US was built on white supremacy in its purest form--slavery?  Is it UnAmerican to carry flags with the swastika on them despite the US history of racism?  The answer to all these questions is the same: hells yes. 

We should:
  • mock these guys.  We should diminish them as their cause is pathetic.  That whites are now sharing more and more power and resources and privilege with non-whites is a good thing--that makes the US a better place to live, a stronger economy, and all the rest.  These douchebros are not oppressed.  They just fear that those who gain more power might abuse it as these guys have and would--the problem of projecting too much. 
  • remember US history--the good stuff and the bad.  Yes, the US helped to defeat the Nazis (via a coalition, by the way).  It is one of the best things the US has ever done if the US did it slowly and reluctantly at first.  The US could have chosen Nazism in the 1930s, but turned away from that, from America Firsters and the rest.  But as Obama kept saying, the history of America is an effort to perfect the union--which still suffers from the legacies of slavery, which still incubates white supremacy and other forms of hate, and which still gives too much cover to the allies of the hateful.
We, indeed, have an administration full of white supremacists from Sessions to Bannon to Miller to Trump.  These folks and their incitement have given the douchebros of white supremacy the confidence to come out and voice their hate.  How to counter that? Other than eventually defeating Trump, we need to call out the white supremacy.  Fuck this white nationalism, alt-right bullshit--if they adopt Nazi slogans and symbols, then let's call them Nazis with no modifiers.  Let's remember what the Nazis wrought not just to neighboring countries to but to Germany itself--utter destruction.  Let's remember their targets: Jews, gays, the left, the disabled, and on and on.  While Islamophobes may find the Trump's islamophobia appealing, the brown Islamophobes should keep in mind that white supremacy is for whites only.  Eventually, the non-white Islamophobes will be treated the same as all non-whites.

The good news is that we have Republicans heaping much scorn on the Nazis.  The bad news is that, as both George RR Martin and Brett Freidman would say, words are wind.  We should pressure Congress to put more $ and more investigations into fighting white supremacist terrorism.  Let's get Orrin Hatch, John McCain, and the others to put money where their mouths are. 

Oh, and let's drop the whole bullshit that the Dems lose because they play with identity politics.  White identity politics is white supremacy politics, something that both parties have played with but one party now relies so very heavily on it that their President refuses to clearly condemn the white supremacists.

Hopefully, this will all be resolved by the time our ship docks, but I doubt it. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Dissertation ideas for Americanists

I had a dream last night about a dissertation idea--yep, even up in Alaska, I can't escape the profession in my dreams.  Anyhow, my idea, theory-less as it may be: it would be cool to do network analyses (which are probably no longer the rage) of Trump before the campaign and now.  It would be interesting to see where these various arsonists came from (whenever I say arsonist, I mean Trump cabinet secretaries), and who they were linked to before and now. 

It may not be much, but it could be fun.

As an old prof (Mr. Neil of Oberlin) used to say, "this, I give you for free."  And it might be worth exactly as much as it costs in this case.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Travel Suggestions and Blog Interruption

Time for the annual Saideman gathering, this time far away from any of the usual places--we will be seeing the water of a different coast from a different direction--cruising to Alaska.  I expect little wifi, so probably not much blogging for the next 9-10 days. 

But the journey thus far has been..... frustrating.  Weather disrupted connections, then mechanical problems disrupted connection, so we abandoned Air Canada for the last leg, only to rent the wrong vehicle (the keys worked!). 

But we made it so here are some suggestions, given our experience:
  • If one is going on a cruise, always pad the front of the trip by a few days so that one does not literally miss the boat.  The flight attendants along the way appreciated that we were not that stressed for time since we had enough time built in.  I have flown next to enough panicked cruise goers to know better than to try to time things too tightly.
  • When waiting online (three hours plus) for a service person, make some calls: to one's frequent flyer airline to see if they can help even if you are not on their system for this leg; to get a hotel room since they were going out fast (thanks, priceline!); etc.
  • Travel apps--to find out the status of flights and such.
  • Must keep status--we were able to enjoy lounges (my daughter discovered free booze she could serve herself!).  Not necessary but definitely made the odysssey (lots of references to Odysseus on this journey)
  • Be nice to the car rental people who are swamped, especially after the last person was nasty.  
  • Get a NEXUS card if you can--we saved probably 2-3 hours on the drive from Vancouver to Seattle as they had a special lane and then three open NEXUS booths.  Woot!
Oh and check the receipt after turning in the rental car--it was for $3000 for a day's drive?  The rental guy basically made my day by saying: that's in Canadian dollars, so no biggie.  Um, yes, biggie.  Error fixed, but that was a fun way to end two difficult days of travel to just get to the right city on the West Coast.

Anyhow, enjoy your early August, as I will be eating too much, hanging out with a herd of nieces (and one token nephew), and hopefully seeing bears and otters and whales and Grizzly Adams.

Points? F No

No, this is not a post to regret the demise of @Midnight, which I will surely miss.  It is a very short post about the immigration law being bandied about.

As I have been traveling, I have only seen glimpses, but the general idea is to adopt an Aussie or Canadian style system where applicants are rated by various attributes and those scoring high get to be admitted. I have seen folks quibble with the point system--liberal arts degrees count for bumpkus.

My quick take is: it is fine for other countries to do this, but it betrays the history, identity and essence of the US to say that folks who don't speak English, who don't have a lot of skills and don't have a lot of money can't be admitted.  I would bet that most Americans (except Native Americans) have relatively poor ancestors who didn't speak English make the journey to the US way back when.  Immigration was and remains one of the things that makes the US truly exceptional (there are other immigration nations but few of them). 

Bouts of xenophobia and restrictions on immigration are regular occurrences, which often lead to much regret.  I know that Stephen Miller  and the rest of the Trumpsters want to betray pretty much all American ideals, but we don't have to go along with it.  This law is being generated by white supremacists, who may be disguising their hate for non-whites with details, but the objectives are clear.  So, let's focus on the intent and not the specifics, shall we?


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Sadie Out

Today, I announced at PSR that I am out.
No joke. I am going on a largely wifi-less vacation next week, so it makes sense to use that as a point of departure as any.
Moderating here has become far more time intensive over the past year, and, as one of my friends put it, there is far more noise and less useful signal here. I have had a hard time focusing on my work over that time frame thanks to the daily crises in DC, so I need to cut out some of the noise. Also, on the occasion of my recent birthday, I resolved to have more positivity in my life--that I was getting to be too whiny on the ultimate field. The same applies for my internet life. One could say that I am just not as comfortable as I used to be.
This will be a chance for a natural experiment or two to test the claims that I have never believed--either that this place would collapse without my lending it whatever legitimacy I gave it or that the marketplace of ideas will function adequately.
Over the years, I have enjoyed many of the conversations and give and take. This place has inspired me to think about a variety of aspects of the profession, so I am grateful for that.
Anyhow, if folks want to ask me stuff, rather than go to the Ask Sadie thread, you can find me via twitter or email. I wish y'all heaps of tenure track jobs and publications in the 20 top 3 IR journals. Good luck!

Moderating became too much of a slog as the election and folks linking to PSR at some of the more toxic places on the internet led to far more crap than before.  We shall see if I can still be easily trolled when I am no longer spending much time there. 

Update: That the place crashed for a while after I posted my message was a fun coincidence, but I had nothing to do with that. One consistent false belief over the years was that I have any technical ability to run that place or do anything more complicated than pushing delete buttons.




Trump's Frustration With Afghanistan

I absolutely get why Trump is frustrated with the war in Afghanistan.  The Taliban, even if they are more fragmented than we tend to appreciate, are doing quite well, and the Afghanistan government is not performing well despite the departure of Karzai.  When Obama spent much of 2009 considering whether to surge or not, I was most ambivalent for many reasons.  Was Afghanistan similar enough to Iraq (where the surge seemed to work)? Wasn't the primary challenge political and not military?

So, I see where Trump is coming from.  Of course, his reasoning and his analogies are flawed (Afghanistan ain't a restaurant).  And that gets to the big problem now: he is uniquely unsuited to come up with an alternative policy.  He has a short attention span and hates to listen to bad news.  Afghanistan requires focus and a willingness to see both progress and falling backwards.  Trump has allowed/encouraged Tillerson to gut State, when, again, the primary challenge in Afghanistan is political: not just about improving governance by Ghani and his administration but also figuring how to negotiate with the Taliban AND how to get the various outside actors (Pakistan primarily but also Russia, China, Iran and India) to coordinate enough to provide a conducive environment. 

I have no idea if General Nicholson should be fired.  I do know that replacing generals every year or so has not been good for the war effort as each one has a different strategy.  This means that no strategy is really ever implemented fully, that the folks in the ground get whipsawed by the changes in rules and priorities. 

On the other hand, Mattis arguing that we are losing because we do not have the right strategy may seem to miss the point.  As a former general, he sees the key to winning and losing to be about getting the right strategy--the right set of plans that have various lines of effort coordinated to reach a desired endstate (yep, that is how they speak).  Endstate means goal or final desired outcome.  But is it about picking the right set of plans?  Or is it that we outsiders have, dare I say it, limited influence?  That the actors on the ground have more at stake, longer time horizons, and more influence? 

Whatever strategy the US and its allies choose, the folks on the ground will be deciding whether to bet their lives on the Afghan government, on the Taliban or on staying on the fence.  It is not clear that we can affect those decisions that much.  We didn't influence them that much when there were more than a hundred thousand troops on the ground, so why expect more influence now.  Indeed, Jason Lyall's work seems to suggest that we are damned no matter what we do. The outsiders get blamed for what the Taliban does.  Oh crap.

Until we have some humility about what the outsiders can do, no strategy is going to be "the right strategy."  So, yeah, Trump should be frustrated.  But he lacks the capacity to think long and hard and reality-based.  Thus, I don't expect a significant improvement.  Perhaps he will call for the end to the US effort there, but addressing that is a blog post for another day. 


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Rankest of Rankings

I am easily trolled. I am also a narcissist.  So, when the various folks at PSR ponder whether I suck or truly suck (where do I rank among IR scholars), I can't help but respond.  I resisted mightily for all of ten hours or so.  The smart troll sucked me in when asking whether I thought I was close to Peter Katzeinstein or Dan Drezner.  I responded thusly: "thanks for the giggle."  But it got me thinking about all this stuff.  Yes, the folks there obsess about relative standing of departments, fields, journals, presses, and, yes, scholars.  Here, I have long been a skeptic about ranking such stuff, even as I rank movies and books (Harry Potter, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc).

But the post got me thinking about stuff.  I have always recognized that:
  • the bigger names are those who do grand theory. I don't do grand theory, and as I found it while testing some hypotheses, few people do--tis a niche enterprise (see International Studies Review sometime in 2018 or see this post and related links).
  • there is always a bigger fish--Qui-Jon said so
  • my work is eclectic so I have not spent my career focused on a single argument that would cause me to stand out more.  Instead, I have pursued questions that interest me, which has taken me from the IR of ethnic conflict to the domestic politics of ethnic conflict to civil war to alliance politics to comparative civil-military relations.  This has probably impeded my productivity as it would be easier not to have to review new literatures with each project.
  • my career has been a constant stream of surprises--never expected to live in Texas or Canada, never expected to spend time in the Pentagon or go to Afghanistan, etc.
I suggested that on the spectrum of IR scholars, I was somewhere between Katzenstein and the average IR scholar.  This then led to a charge of arrogance since I suggested I might be above average.  Oh gosh!

The key is this: I think my work has been worthwhile.  I don't need to think I am the "best" or whatever.  I just have to like the stuff I have done--that I have asked interesting questions, developed appropriate research designs and explored the issues creatively and perhaps even diligently.  Do I think that someone will find out that I am a fraud? Of course, as most of us have some sort of imposter syndrome.  I listened to a podcast this week where Charlize Theron admitted to having imposter syndrome even after getting an Oscar.  Wow.  So, if she can, we certainly can and do.

Of course, I seek the respect of my peers because self-esteem is a thing.  And alas, Donald Horowitz taught me a while back via his excellent book that the logic of invidious comparisons mean that self-esteem often hinges on tearing down others.  So, I get why these folks want to argue that I am but a minor player, that I don't deserve to have an endowed chair and so on.  It makes them feel better.  My happiness bums them out.  Oops.

Anyhow, this is what I posted there:
This entire conversation about where I rank is kind of silly. I know I am not a big name, and I am ok with that. I don't do grand theory which is what most of the big names do, but very few people do grand theory (as my TRIP piece in ISR in 2018 will demonstrate). I have averaged pretty good but not great output--an article plus something else (book chapter or policy paper) a year plus a book every six years or so.
I would like to have been more productive, and I still aim to get stuff in the best journals. But I am happy with where I am at. My career has not been anything like what I expected--I am not teaching at a SLAC, I never expected to be in Texas, the Pentagon or Canada. I think I made a good contribution to an area that was not very visible--the IR of ethnic conflict. I am now working in areas that are more mainstream (civil-military relations, alliance stuff), and the work is quite interesting.
I used to obsess about prestige, but it turns out that moving from one of the best known places in the English speaking world (that is in a French speaking province) to a place that has less prestige has benefits--fewer requests to write tenure/promotion letters. Looking back, I have few regrets. Even six years in the flatlands of West Texas meant making great friends for a lifetime plus it was a short commute, a brand new house, and nearby good pediatric ER care that we used quite a bit.
So, yeah, I ain't Katzenstein, and I am not Drezner. However, I do have a sweet gig in a national capital full of nice, smart, interesting people in and out of government, and I live only 12 minutes from the frisbee fields. 
Where do I rank? Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXWvKDSwvls

Of course, the right answer is don't feed the trolls .... 

Lame Duck? Twain Redux

Folks are already writing epitaphs and lame duck columns for Trump in the aftermath of the failure to pass health care.  Puh-lease.  Yes, these folks have a point or two, but we are far closer to the beginning than the end.  Sure, the Democrats can block some stuff, but have they blocked a major appointment yet? No.  Sure, Flake of Arizona is writing nice columns about the decline of conservativism to flog his book, but his voting record is still very, very pro-Trump (95%!).

First, to be clear, health care was McConnell's failure, not Trump's.  Trump put in no effort (he is lazy) and knew nothing about it (because he is lazy and ignorant).  He just wanted a win, any win.  Which makes this argument about Trump being lame or whatever remind me of the post-game punditry in the middle of a playoff series where everybody generalizes from the most recent game to forecast the series--overreacting nearly all of the time.  Oh, team x won game 1, so they will definitely win the series, oh but after game 2, team y won, so expect them to take it, and then ....

Second, some other legislation might be easier--that the Democrats may break unity or the GOP Senators may remain united on stuff that is not so wildly unpopular as gutting health care.  Perhaps tax reform seems hard now, but there might be a package that unifies the hard right with regular right wing and might get a Manchin or two.

Third, Trump's biggest legacies that will keep creating and implementing awful policies are already in place.  His team of arsonists are already burning down much of the US government--Sessions is pursuing voter suppression (#voterfraudfraud), pushing against affirmative action and empowering white supremacy; Tillerson is gutting State; DeVos is doing her best to destroy not just the Dept of Education but educational opportunities across the US; Zinke is burning down the parks and all stuff Interior; Pruitt is determined to break the EPA and much environmental regulation.  Not to mention Gosuck (spelling error is intentional) who will be with us long after Trump is gone.  These administrators are doing two things at once: undermining the capacity of the US to govern itself AND hurting the lives of ordinary Americans.  Even if Trump just played golf for the rest of his administration (and that would be an expensive relief as he tends not to tweet stuff that might prompt a war), these folks are doing damage every single day.  If Trump were somehow leave the scene (resign, get sick, be diagnosed, etc), Pence would keep most of the folks around, and they would continue to commit arson.

Fourth, as some have noted, Trump is still doing foreign policy stuff--with apparently an aim to "fix" the Iran and North Korea problems ASAP.  Which may very well mean a couple more wars with little clue about their endgames and, yes, more nails in the coffin of US-led multilateral liberal international order.

As folks (we call him Spew Brother) warned me about complacency last summer and fall, we need to continue to stay alert.  Trump is not going to be impeached anytime soon no matter what smoking guns Mueller comes up with.  Or, or that matter, the smoking gun we already have--the Don Jr/Jared/Manafort meeting with Russians in Trump Tower!  25th Amendment?  Nope.  

Alastair Moody said it best: