Friday, March 24, 2017

No Joy in McGill-Ville

I have been holding off on commenting on the column Andrew Potter wrote, his resignation (coerced or otherwise), and the reactions of folks.  Mostly because I am traveling this week, but also partly because so many people (especially this guy) have written such smart stuff that I don't have that much to add.  So, what do I have to say?  A lot as it turns out.  I can't help myself.

First, one does not have to agree with Potter's original column to note some stuff in it that resonates:
  • having police and firefighters be major political actors is problematic (here's where Phil Lagasse thinks I am to his right--that I am not a fan of unions.  I actually don't mind unions when public service ones don't take sides in city politics and are major actors).
  • there is beaucoup de corruption.  Yes, there is an underground economy--any house reno project raises the question about whether one can/should get $10,000s in cash to pay the reno guys.  My fave story is that the firm that had the contract to fingerprints for permanent residency applications in Montreal demanded cash, not checks or credit cards.  Yeah, the one responsible for helping the immigration services identify criminals/security threats.  
  • I am not surprised that the truckers were less than cooperative.  Tis a province where customer service is, um, spotty.  When I was at McGill, we had a candidate give a job talk on language politics, and he started by saying, well, in a store, the owner wants to speak in French, but an anglophone customer walks in, and since the customer is king, and we all laughed, interrupted and said, nope, not here.
  •  On the other hand, Quebec is not a place where there is little social connectivity/capital. For me, it was a huge, friendly, silly, generous ultimate frisbee community of anglophones, francophones and allophones (those whose first language is not French nor English) that welcomed me and my family.  Bowl alone?  Maybe.  But heaps of communal stuff with much glue provided by the Canadiens.

Second, the real story is "Quebec-bashing." That the province overreacts to criticism from certain quarters (English-speakers inside and outside the province) is problematic.  Yes, Quebec was oppressed long ago, but it has been winning for forty plus years.  It has had nearly all of its demands met by the federal government, it has had more than its proportionate share of Prime Ministers, and on and on.  It is a great place in many ways, so it should not become a provincial crisis when one columnist says something that is inaccurate, critical or both. Worse, these reactions provide yet more distraction sauce--rather than focusing on fixing the problems (how are the corruption trials going, I've lost track?), the politics of the place does not lend itself to making much progress on improving things.

Third, I got into an argument with someone on someone else's facebook page about the hypocrisy of all this.  Potter lost his job over criticizing the province, which, in my mind, is a far less of a crime than targeting particular groups.  And, oh yeah, some folks in Quebec can be most insensitive towards groups, such as Jews and Muslims and immigrants.  Do the folks who advocate restricting the abilities of groups to practice their religion get forced to resign?  Hmmmm.   The good news is that those efforts have failed repeatedly.  But the bad news is that the regular appearance of xenophobia and the embracing of it by major parties does not often lead to shaming and exclusion (not just Quebec).  I have long written far more about Quebec's problematic ethnic politics than Ontario's flawed fiscal politics because I have studied ethnic politics and have no clue why Ontario is so stupid about the various fiscal plans.

Finally, while two dots may or may not reflect a pattern, I can't help but note that McGill cares more about reputation than about academic freedom or its students.  When the choice is to do the difficult thing and protect a key part of its mission or do the easy thing and protect itself, it chooses the latter.  Speaking of Potters, Harry would not approve. Will McGill's leadership pay a price for not defending the academic freedom of one of its employees?  I have no idea.  To be clear, I never got any pushback from the administration when I wrote critical things about Quebec or about McGill in my time there.  But if my audience was larger and if they got Quebec politicians yelling about it, I am not sure how much support I would have received.  And, of course, I have tenure whereas Potter and many others do not.  Given that modern universities are staffed primarily by temporary folks, the signal here is clearly that the majority of those on campus should not be doing any public engagement because they might offend someone and find that their contract is unlikely to be renewed (most of the leaders of the temporary faculty effort to get better wages at the school my daughter attends found that their positions have not been renewed).  This bodes poorly not just for McGill but for democracy itself.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mumbai, Day Two

Prettiest poli sci dept?
Yesterday, I talked with folks affiliated with think tanks about Trump and US interventions in West Asia (what I call the Mideast when I am talking to the Asian Society).  Today, I lectured the grad students of the U of Mumbai (the Fighting Traders), presenting what I have learned about intervention into ethnic conflicts over the course of my career. 

I hung out on the beach west of the airport and of the hotel area
to watch the sun set.
It was fun to talk to a completely different audience on this topic, and I tried to summon what I wrote long ago in my dissertation about India abetting the creation of Bangladesh.  The Q&A was most interesting, as questions of supranationalism and partition came up (not a fan of the latter). 

I go back tomorrow to talk about NATO and Trump.

What did I learn today? 
Anyone mention that cricket is a big deal here? Cricket bat statue
  • Oy.  I see that Tillerson is now recommending safe havens, which means that he has hit the Worst SecState Bingo sheet in only two months.  Well played, sir.
  • McGill prioritizes its reputation over academic freedom as it either pushed out or did not try hard to keep Andrew Potter, who dared to right something that was a bit over the top about Quebec's problems.  Good thing I never blogged about Quebec while I worked at McGill (oops).
  • Oh, back to Mumbia, I am amazed that the cars here do not seem to be dented or scratched.  How do they manage that, given how crowded the roads are and how aggressive the drivers are?
  • The lunchbox at the university was amazing--packed with a heap of naan!  Could be the best lunch of the trip.
  • The beaches to the west are mighty rocky, with plenty of young couples canoodling.  Nice spot to watch the sun set over the Arabian Sea.
  • If I do get sick, my faux pas would have been ordering a wheat beer--which came with an orange with a peel. Not good--only peeled fruits, not peels, are ok.  Still, so far, so good.
  • The Canadian consulate does excellent work--I had my last face to face interaction with my Canadian consulate handler, and was most impressed.  The events have been great, the trip has been well organized, and they have tried hard to make sure I don't do anything to hurt Indo-Canadian relations.
Tomorrow, my lecture is at 3, so I hope to get in some tourism before I have to get back.

McMess McContinues

It has been a year plus since I posted about the McGill mess. Every so often, I get contacted by a journalist who seeks to pursue this story,* but they always come up short because no one will talk to them on the record and name names.
* I also get contacted by students from time to time who say that it has happened to themselves or their friends.  They have been let down by the system again and again.

I was just asked by one journalist what I would ask McGill administrators if I had the chance.  I came up with this:

I’d ask her (the administrator) how she feels about confidentiality protecting the perpetrators more than the survivors.  How can future students protect themselves from being preyed upon by serial harassers if they don’t know who is doing the harassing?  How should students feel when they can never see the profs getting punished, if they ever do get punished, because everything is confidential?

Shouldn’t professors who engage in harassment not be given administrative responsibilities?

Most bluntly: the current system doesn’t protect the students, but does protect McGill’s reputation.  Is that the right set of priorities?

Yeah, I am still pretty angry a year later.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Evergreen Post: Canadian Defence Spending as Good Politics, Bad Policy

From my perch in Mumbia, I see that the new budget does two things related to the Canadian Armed Forces: it kicks down the road a heap of money set aside for major procurement projects and otherwise did not increase the defence budget.

This makes complete sense politically.  Canadians have not been demanding more money for defence.  Canada faces no real military threats unless one counts cyber attacks.  Despite fearful pieces in Macleans, the arctic remains too far away from everybody to be a key line of attack.  The oceans and air spaces are protected by the Americans due to their own interests.  NORAD gives a fig leaf that allows Canada to feel ok about that.  The biggest change to Canada's defence situation is Trump's election, and there is little Canada can do military to offset that earthquake.  So, the Canadian people get it and are not clamoring for more money for defence.

Can the Tories accuse the Liberals of being weak on defence? Sure, but since they cut the CAF's budgets, they have weak ground to stand on.  Will NDP?  Ha.  So, who besides defence scholars and random folks will mind?  Keep in mind that one of the few points of consensus in last summer's defence review is that the CAF could use more money.  So much for that review....

Oh, our allies.  Ooops.  Yes, the one political downside is that the US has been demanding more $ going to defence, and it is unlikely that this budget is going to improve the % of GDP spent on defence.  Most of the rest of the alliance is shifting towards more spending, so Canada is going to stick out more.  Perhaps Trudeau feels that he can keep Trump distracted (not a bad bet).  But it is not good.

This budget, if it is what we think it is, is bad policy.  The CAF is being asked to do quite a bit these days: train in Ukraine, train and assist and surveil and refuel in Iraq, base and exercise and lead in Latvia, eventually do a new peacekeeping mission, and more.  Yet without more money.  Oh, and the other bit of consensus of the defence review is more effort in cyber.  Where will the money for that come from?  Who loses in the CAF?  So, perhaps the defence review will still matter as it might identify some prioritization, but don't bet on it.

So, in short, this budget is predictable and predictably bad.  Same stuff, different year.

Mumbai, Day 1

I am in Mumbai, as being on the other side of the world has allowed me to ignore the failure that is the US Secretary of State.   Oops, not so much.  Why am I really here?  Not for research this time.  The Canadian Consulate here has a program that brings in Canadian speakers and has them chat with classes and with think tank type folks. 

I got in last night on a wonderfully half empty plane--I could stretch out in my row.  The hotel is super efficient and secure.  This morning I met my contact at the Canadian consulate, and the car we hired weaved through traffic.  In all the places I have traveled, none surpass Mumbai's level of "hell no, I won't drive in this city."  Too many vehicles of all kinds, with few seeming to obey the rules and heaps of chicken games going on.  Pedestrians have heaps of guts here. 

Anyhow, the morning session was with the Asia Society, India.  A very sharp group engaged me in a very interesting discussion after I presented my take on what Trump means for US efforts to foster security in West Asia---not good.  The conversation was wide-ranging as the audience was composed of people with very different backgrounds and interests.  The only real pushback I got was from the diplomat from the Chinese consulate, so mission accomplished.

Lunch was with two leaders of the Strategic Foresight Group, and then we had coffee/tea/hot chocolate (the Canadian diplomat!) with a bunch of their staff.  In one day (or I could have just remembered Indira Gandhi), I realized that women have a much more substantial role in India than those in Japan.  Again, the conversation was all over the place with Trump proving to be an effective conversation starter/icebreaker.

I didn't have much daylight for tourism, but will squeeze some in later this week before I fly back. First, I have a couple of classes to teach at U of Mumbai, whose mascot is The Fighting Pacifist.  So, here's my first batch of pics.

Add caption

Save the clocktower!

I love funky trees

The slums are sprinkled throughout the city as you can see here

Not sure if this what it is all about

Or this

Monday, March 20, 2017

Dark Thoughts About Sanctuary Cities

I get that cities want to make it safer for targets of Trump's awful policies, especially those aimed at immigrants.  But I do have one dark thought when I see news about sanctuary cities: how well did safe havens work out for Bosnia's Muslims?

I worry that sanctuary cities will have only have the appearance of security.   What happens if federal government forces show up and find a convenient concentration of undocumented immigrants that they want to seize?  Do the police forces of these cities have rules of engagement that allow them to confront federal law enforcement?  If not, then I can easily see apparent safety becoming the opposite very quickly.

Please tell me I am wrong.

When the New Guys Exceed the Old Guys

This week is the anniversary of the start of the Iraq War.  The Bush team got much criticism, and deservedly so, for its core approach: to be arrogant enough that they believed that the realities did not matter as they were going to impose their views on reality.  All the noise and complications of what might happen in Iraq were dismissed because it was their mission to revise the map and the realities of the Mideast by removing Hussein. This was an awful approach for many reasons, including empowering Iran, energizing the radical Islamists, and breaking Iraq which has ramifications we are facing in Mosul today. 

The new team of Trump folks seem to be even more arrogant and definitely more ignorant as they seek to act in ways that ignore the very basics of international relations.  What basics are these?
  • Countries respond to threats by balancing--either via building up their arms or by developing new alliances (Realism).
  • Reciprocity is key to international relations (Liberalism). Trump seems to think he can impose policies upon trading partners, including building barriers to trade.  It is most likely that if he imposes tariffs, others will respond.  
  • The domestic politics of other countries matter (much of the rest of IR). Bullying friends and foes alike will make it harder for them to compromise since their domestic audiences will be upset if they see their leader submitting to Trump.  Merkel, for instance, has an election coming up, so her performance last week was all about making clear that she would stick by German values (which are also translatlantic values, thanks to generations of US-European institution building and cooperation and reciprocity).
So, Tillerson blunders through Asia and Trump keeps on Trumping along.  Ignorance is bliss until you need friends to do something for you.  The future is not bright, but we might need to wear shades anyway (nuclear explosions are oh so bright).  Ok, that is a bit much, but if the Iraq War of 2003 tells us anything, it is to be wary of those who think that the realities of International Relations can be ignored or overcome via enough confidence.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Suspicion at the White House

It could be Trump, Bannon or Gorka.  So very disappointing if it were Gorka.  But still worth this:

Friday, March 17, 2017

Special NATO Burden-Sharing 101 for President Trump

Dear President Trump,

I see that you are still confused about how NATO works.  While there is, indeed, some money that goes to keep the lights on at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Mons, and elsewhere, and there are a few key NATO military units (early warning planes, some drones, a few other bits and pieces), the burden-sharing problem is not about that. 

In your meeting with Chancellor Merkel, you said:
I reiterated to Chancellor Merkel my strong support for NATO, as well as the need for our NATO allies to pay their fair share for the cost of defense. Many nations owe vast sums of money from past years and it is very unfair to the United States. These nations must pay what they owe.
No, that is not how it works.  The burden-sharing problem that has been the subject of many NATO meetings, including the Wales Summit, is about each country paying enough (the 2% of GDP aspiration) for their own defense.  It is not about Germany or France or Estonia giving money to Brussels or to the US, but about Germany spending enough on new tanks, planes, ships and enough on a large enough armed forces and enough on fuel and all the rest.  The idea is not that the US is getting ripped off, that somehow countries owe the US money, but that the alliance would be better off if all the allies spent more on their militaries.  The past shortfalls do not mean that countries are in debt to the US or to NATO--it just means that their militaries are not in as good shape as we would like.  It means that they don't have as many tanks or planes or whatever or that their personnel are not as well trained.  The underspending over the years is problematic, but these countries do not owe any debts from the past to catch up in their accounts at NATO HQ.  Again, this is not how it works.

So, next time you complain about burden-sharing, don't suggest that the US is owed money.  Because it is simply wrong. 


The Imperatives Are What?

I have regularly seen stuff online or in academic publications complaining about professionalization and what it has meant for Political Science.  The basic idea is that things were great before people became focused on stuff like citation counts, which has led to all kinds of perverse incentives.  The main complaint, it seems, is that scholars will try to game citations and this will force them into bad habits and away from good work, like thinking big thoughts (grand theory).

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

NATO Rant Du Jour: A Rand Rant

So, Rand Paul and maybe Mike Lee are all that are standing in the way of US ratification of Montenegro's membership in NATO.  The claim: "Paul released a statement after the incident that said the huge and growing national debt is why the U.S. should not take on any additional commitments around the world."

Really?  What a joke.  Given Montenegro's position in Europe, its size and the threats it faces, committing to its defense is not going to cost the US much at all.  It is a silly argument.  John McCain has accused Paul of doing Putin's bidding.  Is that unfair?  Probably, but context is key here.

Russia has being doing its damnedest to keep Monty out of NATO, including trying to launch a coup.  Given Putin's roll lately, how about we thwart him and do what he doesn't want?  Momentum may not matter that much (overrated in sports, if you ask Bill Barnwell), but it probably matters a bit in IR.  Today is already a good day in anti-Russia news with the Dutch not falling for the far right (Geert Wilders's party did better than it did in the past but less well than expected, so suck on that Putin).  It would have been nice to make it a double delightful day. 

It is strange that an individual senator or two can block some stuff, but the Dems can't block a SCOTUS appointment.  Tis a strange body with strange rules.  But stranger is Rand Paul's stance right now since his stated claim is utter horseshit (Funny how I curse more now that Trump is president).

Anyhow, take it from this scholar of NATO that Rand Paul's claim about how expensive it for the US is to add a tiny country to NATO is entirely without merit.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Logan: One Hot Take

Just saw Logan, enjoyed it muchly.  I have just one nit to pick beyond the spoiler break.

My Current Secessionist Stances

I generally oppose secession in democracies since it usually is very costly for all, and these groups usually have ways to have their interests addressed while staying put (yes, Quebec, I am speaking of you).

So, what do I think about the two hypothesized secessionist efforts: Scotland and California/Blue America?

I opposed Scottish separatism the last time because I didn't think the benefits were good enough, and the Scots seemed to have enough sway to get what they needed while staying in.  Um, now?  Oh my.  I think that Brexit essentially represents the English reneging on the deal, that it is being yanked out of the EU.  Sure, it may take time and heaps of paperwork to rejoin, but I could see why leaving the UK as it tries to destroy itself might be a good move.  So, I am no longer opposed.

California/Blue America?  In short: FFS.  The plight of Blue America is, if the institutions are not destroyed utterly, temporary.  Opting out because of a lost election is very much antithetical to democracy.  If Trump utterly subverts the system and the US is no longer a democracy, then one can speak of separatism. But Blue America needs to stay put to rescue the rest of America from Trumpism.  Leaving would consign all of the nonTrump people of remnant America to perpetual awfulness.  Stay and fight, damn it!

Of course, the only folks who are serious about California secession are Russians, so maybe any fellow travelers/useful idiots might want to think about why that might be the case.  Let's focus on resisting Trump, not surrendering to him, shall we?

--Sincerely, Cranky Steve

When Worlds Collide

Turns out that Rachel Green, of Friends, ended up ditching her sales job and now is an editorial assistant at a predatory journal:

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Trump Folks are Lousy Students

There was a fun series of tweets about what the Trump folks might have missed in Intro to Poli Sci.  It got me thinking about what they might have missed in my old Intro to IR course (which I have not taught since moving to Carleton).

Here are the topics (red indicating ones that the Trumpers must have missed:

Weeks 3-4: Basics: Levels of Analysis, Anarchy, Imperialism and Power 
Key concepts missed here are the costs of empire, that power is more than military stuff.

Week 4: Interests and Interactions                                                     
Key concepts missed here are that outcomes are products of interests of competing actors, that the security dilemma means that unilateral efforts to improve security produce counterproductive dynamics.

Week 5: Interactions, pt II, Institutions                                             
That institutions are expensive to build, that they serve US interests.

Week 6: Identity and Individuals                                                               
As white supremacists that think that individual personalities matter a great deal, they ace this part of the course, sort of.

Weeks 7-8: War and Coercive Diplomacy                                                
So much fail here: that bargaining involves credibility to do or not do what one promises to do or not do,  that force has limited utility, that war is not inevitable, etc.

Week 9: Alliances & Nuclear Weapons                                                      
Even more fail here: what causes alliances to develop or fall apart (bullying is not so good), that nuclear proliferation is bad, that nuclear weapons have limited utility, etc.

Week 10:  International Political Economy                                               
They get that trade can cause concentrated pain and diffuse benefits, but miss all of the Milner-esque goodness--that American firms rely on imports so tariffs would make their stuff less competitive.  Of course, they don't really care.
Week 11: Terrorism and Responses                                                        
They missed the lectures on how not to give terrorists assistance when it come to recruiting.

Week 12: Human Rights and the IR of Ethnic Conflict                                 
Human rights?  Oh my.  Oh, and they definitely missed the lecture where I trash Clash of Civilizations.

Week 13: The Environment                                                                           
“Tragedy of he Commons”?  What's that, the Trumpers ask.

Not in my class as I make sure that students need to have done the reading to pass the class.  So, these guys might eke out a C- but probably get a D in my Intro to IR class.