Category Archives: Book Review

To Make a Virtue of Necessity: A Review of Melting Pot or Civil War?

Reihan Salam, a wonky conservative columnist and all-around interesting person, wrote a bracing, emotional, personal, and far-sighted new book called Melting Pot or Civil War? A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders (2018, Sentinel). He admits that just a few years ago he found his views on immigration pedestrian and mostly aligned with the immigration activists. After a few years of research, he says he is more aligned with those, like President Trump, who think America should be more, not less, selective regarding immigration. This book is part-memoir, part economic and sociology literature review, and part-policy prescription; it is well written, nuanced, and generous. We need more books like this about disparate subjects as soon as possible.

Early on in the book, Salam makes the case that we need to forge a new “middle class melting pot,” that minimizes what he calls “between group inequality” (26). Salam is apt to highlight that the current immigration system is “increasing both the number and the share of children being raised in low-income households,” and that “today’s poor immigrants are raising tomorrow’s poor natives” (25), which should worry anyone who cares about the future of a united nation, one that actualizes the “melting mot” mythos of American identity. The data presented by Salam to substantiate his descriptive claims is numerous, and are from sociology, political science, and economics, among other fields.

The question that Salam took on was: How do we make sure we make an integrated America, that precludes racialization and ethnically Balkanized areas of existence? This is where Salam’s idiosyncratic mind comes in, one that is largely conservative but not entirely. In short, he thinks we need to limit low-skill immigration, at least for a time (this is Salam’s hedge); he claims that “a more selective, skills-based immigration system would yield a more egalitarian economy, in which machines do the dirty work and workers enjoy middle-class stability. And a more egalitarian economy would help heal our country’s ethnic divides” (28). But, in the pen-ultimate chapter of the book, he couples this more right-of-center idea with “offering amnesty to the long-resident unauthorized population, and fighting the intergenerational transmission of poverty” (157) sure to satisfy his left-of-center readers. I will get to the details of his package of proposals down below.

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In a relatively short book (excluding notes, this book runs a crisp 184 pages), Salam is ambitious, far-reaching and explains complicated ideas simply, yet in a way that respects his reader and that does not engage in simple binary thinking. In chapter two Salam briefly describes the existing immigration systems operative in the world: mongenerational, the Qatari model; multigenerational, the US model; and a hybrid model like those seen in Canada, Australia, and Singapore (60).  By doing so, he really focuses the reader to understand the range of alternatives: utopia doesn’t exist, and, we have to choose something (though the status-quo has largely remained the same because of a lack of choosing; almost no one thinks that the status-quo is sustainable, however). So, what are we going to choose? Salam’s choice is not a limitation on the number of immigrants America takes in, but a shift in which migrants we take in. His proposals assume that a multigenerational model is surely the American model of the future.

He has a chapter focused on the intersection between immigration and group identity, and it he portends a possibly dark future since assimilation is differentiated by groups. He introduces the concepts of amalgamation and racialization here. When immigrants effectively assimilate, they join the “melting-pot mainstream,” and become an example of successful amalgamation, or the process of becoming “mainstream American” where ethnic differences become insignificant. When the opposite occurs, ethnic segregation emerges, producing racialized enclaves or ghettos. Both of these realities exist in America. Salam argues that on our current trajectory, the later path is increasingly likely to become reality for second- and third-generation immigrant families. Why does this matter? Because the type of immigration that makes the ethnic enclave life more likely is the family-based system, the one that Salam thinks we should curtail; and because social science research is pessimistic about what happens when ethnic tribalism rises to the surface and becomes political tribalism.

Offshore caregiving
Salam understands that if America did, in fact, decrease low-skill immigration that the source country could be worse off. Salam proposes ambitious solutions here: allow retiring Americans to access Medicare in Mexico, for example. This would create more low-skill jobs in Mexico, staunching the need for Mexicans to move abroad. Salam points out that we will have to get creative to adequately deal with a population that is getting older, sicker, and who are increasingly without kin (137). Salam proposes we shift some of our counternarcotics and counter-human trafficking budget to help develop poorer regions in Mexico (and Central America). Moreover, we should help subsidize Mexico’s efforts (already underway and successful enough) to “halt migrants long before they reach” the America-Mexico border. I like this idea and have nothing substantial to really say about the idea as a concept. Political contingencies always come to mind, and social security politics deserves a blog post of its own.

Creating Megacities
Salam believes that “our long-term objective should be to help all countries achieve broad-based prosperity,” because there is no way that America, or Europe, or countries such as China or South Korea, will be able to accommodate the hundreds of millions of people coming of age who will need work and fulfilling lives. So what does he propose? This, too, is where his idiosyncratic and curious mind shows off: the creation of new cities out of cloth. Call it “conservatism for those who read The Economist,” if you will. However, this is not a new idea, as Salam acknowledges: the world has already created “charter cities,” such as the successful example in China of Shenzhen, which turned a fishing backwater into a “teeming entrepreneurial metropolis of ten million” in just over three decades (144). Also see Paul Romer’s “charter cities,” TED Talk. The reason this idea is less pie in the sky then it seems is that the alternatives are far worse, and that the need is there. We have no choice argues Salam. We should strive to create “dozens of Shenzhens” (151). This is similar to Paul Romer’s idea to create “100 Hong Kongs.” However, Hong Kong was created after two wars, an imperial reign by the British, and has a symbiotic (deep financial integration) and contentious (remember the Umbrella Movement; this will flare up again) relationship with China to this day.

Another weakness of this “charter city” idea is he does not address how the creation of megacities could happen. If the goal is to create better governance, we must do it where people live right now; how to do this is contested. China carefully turned Shenzhen into what it is now, backed by the heavy hand of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and is home to visionary and successful (and heavily subsidized) companies such as Huawei. Even as a concept, the idea of “charter cities,” is underdeveloped, according to Kee-Cheok Cheong and Kim-Leng Goh, in an article for the international journal of urban policy Citites. I would have loved if Salam got more into this debate since it’s the most interesting part of his proposal. I’ve written an essay on what the future looks like for migrants and it’s mind-blowingly complicated, and requires multilateralism at its finest.

Salam digs into his syncretic proposal in the penultimate chapter. His goal is ambitious: how to reconcile those who are aligned with the Dreamers with those who sympathize more with the so-called “angel moms,” or parents of children who were killed by unauthorized immigrants (and often those who have committed earlier crimes who were not deported, or who were deported but returned). How so? First, “large-scale amnesty followed by resolute enforcement” (164). This entails support for DACA and Dreamers coupled with a verifiable and enforced E-Verify program. Fair enough; this is a popular idea.

Finally, Salam supports increasing the very successful Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and a “universal child benefit” (177). He does not go into details of what this would do to already existing child programs such as the Child Tax Credit (CTC) except as to say that his proposal would help the 25% of families who have children who do not receive any tax subsidies or food stamps and hurt the “nearly poor families” (178). Before I endorse such a program, I’d have to see more details.

I would support paring back some mortgage tax reduction programs that the upper-middle class receive, highlighted brilliantly by Derek Thompson and Suzanne Mettler.  Many believe that the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction (HMID) benefits the middle class but it mostly benefits the rich: three-quarters of the benefits accrue to the top 20% of households, those who make around $130,000 a year (Brookings 2017). Depending on how we reform the deduction, revenues could increase by as high as $60 billion per year, which could help support Salam’s proposals and also shore up existing programs such as the CTC. A melting pot requires stirring lest it curdles.

This is a burst of a book; a book that makes you think, and that was written in all earnestness. What should America do about immigration? What should America do about global income equality? What is the balance between humanitarian concerns and concern for second-generation immigrants in your own country? What about the lives of ninth-generation natives or immigrants? None of this is binary, Red or Blue.

I applaud Salam for this effort.

 

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My Favorite Books I Read in 2018

I tweeted out my favorite books of 2018, and I wanted to blog a bit about my selections.

favbooksoftheyear_2018

(5) Monica Prasad’s The Land of Too Much: American Abundance and the Paradox of Poverty is what I categorize as an “ideal type.” This book was assigned in a graduate seminar in American Politics and Political Economy. My professor encouraged us to use her first few chapters as a template for any literature reviews we might write. I completely agree. Prasad proves that she has a firm grasp of the alternative arguments that she adds to, takes away from, or directly challenges. This book is one of the most learned, nuanced, and counterintuitive books that I have read on the topic of welfare states, inequality, and historical institutionalism alike.

Prasad brilliantly details that early decisions and putative progressive successes in the late 19th century set American on a path that, paradoxically, entrenched progressive income taxes, and cheap credit which has produced more, not less, inequality. America has a welfare state, like all other advanced welfare states, but it is one that encourages private consumption for goods that are normally more socialized. The reason for the “paradox of poverty” that is seen in the subtitle refers to the fact that this type of welfare state was pushed for by agrarians in the 19th century: progressive successes have produced a welfare state that hurts those worse off and one that benefits the middle class. I won’t do this book justice in this blog post: here is a great piece from the author herself that succinctly displays her thesis, which is that America has plenty of government, it has a welfare state; the problem, if you want a more egalitarian society, is the type of welfare state and what function and outcomes it achieves. Read Prasad on political economy and comparative analysis and you will be rewarded.

(4) Patrick J. Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed is an immediate classic, in my opinion. A real piece of political philosophy that, due to Deneen’s environs, milieu, and academic home (University of Notre Dame, a private Catholic institution), might challenge its most likely reader because Deneen (similar to Benjamin Barber’s Jihad vs McWorld) argues that both the state and the market have disrupted the traditional lifestyles that conservatives tend to champion. Deneen does a fantastic job of explaining that liberalism, the classic-type (free markets, hyper-individualism) is failing American families because it is succeeding. Liberalism, the left and right varieties, has become the only game in town – which, in his estimation, has largely contributed to what is commonly referred to as our current “crisis of meaning.”

Deneen’s prescriptions – localism, tradition, religion – are the most contentious part: if liberalism is better than fascism and communism, can we guarantee that a post-liberal age that would be more rooted in tradition, small, and local communities, be preferred? I agree with the likes of Tyler Cowen and Ezra Klein that this book is a must read, even if you disagree with the ultimate thesis that liberalism is failing. Personally, I think we need a new “embedded liberalism,” that understands that family, tradition, and local-connections that foster human capital is the way to assure that liberalism can be maintained and strengthened.

(3) In How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, Northeastern University’s Lisa Feldman Barrett produces cutting-edge synthesis on a field that she is a heavyweight in: the science of emotions. A fascinating, and brilliant read. Malcolm Gladwell remarked that this book “turned [his] understanding upside down.” For me, this book actually aligns with much of what I have come to believe about emotions: they are socially constructed, not determined by the array of neurochemistry produced by an individual emotion, and that we have much control regarding our experience. “When it comes to your experiences and perceptions, you are much more in the driver’s seat than you might think. You are an architect of your experience,” writes Barrett (152).

Barret is not saying, of course, that emotions don’t have a biological foundation; she is saying that we need to understand that “physical states and actions” (X), combine with “the emotion categories that exist in a particular culture” (Y), and “the contents and the workings of the categories as situated conceptualizations that constitute emotions in a particular culture” (C). Barrett backs up her claims with a rigorous review of the data from psychology accumulated over the last few decades. Her work, if true (which I am convinced of), should (in a just world) revolutionize how we think of mental health (she is a fan of mindfulness), criminal justice law, interpersonal relationships, and, yes, how we think of our emotions and the meaning we attribute to the physiological reality of them. There is even a provocative–some science, some speculation–chapter called “Is a Growling Dog Angry?” about whether animals experience emotions (in her opinion: not exactly, though they do experience “affect”).

This book is incredible.

(2) I picked up On Grand Strategy on a hunch. I knew of Gaddis as a Cold War historian, but was not familiar with hardly any of his work. I picked this book up a few weeks before I started my Fall 2018 semester because I was embarking on research on the history of post-Cold War US grand strategy and this book’s title jumped out at me. Little did I know what I was picking up. If I recall correctly, I only used one page or so of this work for my paper. Nonetheless, this book was a superb, erudite read.

On Grand Strategy is a literary fusion of Gaddis’ lifelong accumulation of knowledge and wisdom teaching such classes as “Strategy and Policy,” from 1975-1977 at the US Naval War College, and “Studies in Grand Strategy,” at Yale from 2002 to the present. Gaddis defines “grand strategy” as “the alignment of potentially unlimited aspirations  with necessarily limited capabilities” (21). In chapter after beautiful chapter, Gaddis traces acts of good, effective leadership (Lincoln, who he discusses in a chapter called “The Greatest President.”), and failures of leadership (Xerxes’ failure in 480 BC to invade Greece (for a second time). Lincoln was able to adapt, like Berlin’s foxes; Xerxes acted as a hedgehog – overconfident in his aspirations, failing to match his ends (wanting to conquer all of Europe) to his means (uh….not enough to do THAT). Gaddis brings his reader across continents, ages, books, events, and leaders. Distilling wisdom from the likes of Thucydides, St. Augustine, Machiavelli, Berlin, Lincoln, Clausewitz, and Tolstoy (the last two he calls “the grandest of strategists”) this book is a must read for anyone who wants to be a leader, or who wants to develop strong character.

Gaddis teases out leadership qualities that have been successful across space, time, and scale: the ability to manage polarities, which requires psychological maturity; flexibility; proportionality; “seeing simplicities in complexities”; acquiring a “sense of the whole that reveals the significance of  respective parts” (58); and, one that both the Islamic State and Assad’s Syria seem to misunderstand, distilled from Augustine and Machiavelli, that “if you have to use force, don’t destroy what you’re trying to preserve” (111).

These principals, in this blog post, can read abstract; the beauty of this book is the erudite, and literary way that Gaddis brings these principles to life. You really feel like you are watching Xerxes attempt the impossible; you get a sense of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858; and the “a-ha, moment” when one truly grasps that Woodrow Wilson “confused strengths with hopes,” for example, is highly effective. Reading this book was a real treat.

(1) Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress was my favorite book of the year. Pinker provides nearly 70 graphs, all (with a few exceptions) in a unilinear direction of progress. Humanity has decreased poverty, rates of child neglect/abuse and undernourishment, child labor; increased literacy rates, leisure time, real GDP per capita, and IQ gains, for example. There are lots to chew over in this book; and Pinker is not all sanguine, contrary to many critical book reviews. He notes potential existential threats on the horizon that could jeopardize these positive, and global, trends: he has a chapter dedicated to nuclear weapons, climate change, and cyber/AI threats.

The most interesting and important parts of this book are the subtle, nuanced explanations regarding why our brains are programmed to be pessimistic; fooled by random, and rare events; And in a similar vein, why journalism has an “if it bleeds, it leads” ethic. The people who won’t read this book, need it the most.

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EDIT: I decided that my workload this semester is too much to write a longer blog post on what I loved so much about Enlightenment Now. I added the above paragraphs after initially titling this post as “part one,” promising to write a separate blog about Pinker. Maybe sometime I will, but not now. 

Albright Warns of Rising Authoritarians

The first female secretary of state Madeleine Albright recently released a book with the alarming title: Fascism: A Warning (2018; HarperCollins). Though President Donald Trump is a looming specter throughout the book, the former secretary claims that she was already writing this book, and would have published it even if Hillary Clinton would have won the U.S. presidency in 2016. She does, however, declare in the first chapter that one reason that Americans are asking themselves existential questions such as  “Why have such dangerous splits been allowed to develop between rich and poor, urban and rural, those with a higher education and those without?,” and “why, this far into the twenty-first century, are we once again talking about Fascism?” is Donald Trump. Further, she adds, that “we have not had a chief executive in the modern era whose statements and actions are so at odds with democratic ideals.”

The opening chapter also attempts at defining fascism but does not do so in an very specific way. She sets the scene by relaying to the reader a discussion session that she and her Georgetown graduate students had attempting to answer the question(s) what is fascism? or what makes a fascist…well…a fascist? Albright ends up describing the characteristics of a fascist as “someone who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence to achieve the goals he or she has.” I like the historian Robert O. Paxton’s description of fascism better. He writes that fascism is “a compound, a powerful amalgam of different but marriageable conservative, national-socialist and radical Right ingredients, bonded together by common enemies and common passions for a regenerated, energized, and purified nation at whatever cost to free institutions and the rule of law” (2004, 207) However you define it, the important part of getting a reader to really understand something is to give them concrete examples of a phenomenon.

Albright spends a good third of the book giving a sort of biography and history of the birth of twentieth-century fascism, and various pivotal characters and events leading up to, and during, World War II (WWII). She does this first in a chapter on Benito Mussolini. Mussolini rose to power in a post-World War I (WWI) Italy, a country that was part of the winning coalition yet one that felt cheated out of unheeded promises given to them by Britain and France. Socialists had power in the parliament, and Mussolini tapped into discontent and the urge, desire, and belief that Italy needed to become powerful. As Albright puts it, Mussolini “promised all things,” in a time of desperation, depression, and in the very alive memory of the last great calamity, WWI, which claimed 1.2 million Italian deaths. Next, she profiles Adolf Hitler. After being appointed chancellor Hitler convinced the parliament to pass the Enabling Law, which began the Third Reich, and, as they say, the rest is some of the darkest history in the modern era. Most of the details she offers regarding fascist Italy and Germany are common knowledge, at least for people most likely to read her book. I do love it when I come across quotes that are chilling. For Mussolini: “It is better to break the bones of the democrats…and the sooner the better;” “Often, I would like to be wrong, but so far it has never happened.” For Hitler: ” “There are . . .only two possibilities: either the victory of the Aryan side or its annihilation and the victory of the Jews.” Such narcissism and binary, black and white thinking is a devastating combination. And, to this day, we keep electing such leaders because of their charisma, and unconcern in over-promising.

She later profiles modern despots such as Chávez/Maduro in Venezuela, Erdogan in Turkey, Putin in Russia, and the recent rise of far-right illiberal parties in Hungary (under Victor Orbán) and Poland (under Jarosław Kaczyński). She also profiles North Korea; the one state that she considers truly fascist. Readers of political science and history know much of what Albright writes about, but it is a decent book for a refresher on some of the most important people, countries, and pivotal moments and events. She adds anecdotes and personal stories from her experience meeting several of the men she profiled. She calls Putin “small, and pale, and so cold as to be almost reptilian,” for example (2018, 158). She also was the first secretary of state to visit and speak with the North Korean leader, who was Kim Jung-il at the time. She mentions that President Bill Clinton, with only months to go in his second term, was planning on meeting up with the North Korean president, but instead chose to attempt to make headway regarding the Israel-Palestine situation. The former president has expressed regret that he chose the latter instead of the former.

The final section of the book is the part that she was asked about in interviews during her speaking tour: the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S.  It is interesting that Albright mentions a few policies of President Trump in supportive terms. “He deserves credit for preserving Crimea-related sanctions against Russia, sending arms to a beleaguered Ukraine, and managing an effective military campaign against ISIS. In December 2017, he implemented a law, the Global Magnitsky Act, that imposes penalties on individuals and entities accused of corruption and human rights violations,” writes the former secretary (2018, 220).

President Trump has continued the Middle East policies of his predecessor Barack Obama, who’s administration championed the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, a 75 country organization with multiple goals, including degrading and defeating ISIS in Syria, and Iraq. While the military campaign might be effectively campaigned, ISIS is still alive, Iran has gained an operating base in Syria, and rebuilding efforts will take trillions of dollars and nearly a decade; and that is if efforts are enacted with earnest, little graft, and if the frail peace actually becomes a sturdy peace. It is hard to give Trump credit for simply continuing what was already in motion; and the specific changes that Trump has made, such as “looser rules of engagement,” has contributed to a more than 200% increase in civilian deaths, according to AirWars. It is not surprising that Albright does not mention the serious problems with U.S. strategy; but it was disappointing nonetheless.

Albright warns Americans, and her global readers alike, up this new era, one of encroaching authoritarianism. However, there is no action plan, or concrete steps offered. Instead she offers questions we can ask ourselves regarding future leaders. I find myself asking who exactly is this book written for? And I also am reminded of better books that cover the same terrain such as How Democracies Die (2018). Young readers just getting into international affairs and American politics would find this book a helpful primer, as Albright hops around the world and provides decent profiles of important countries right now. However, more educated readers could completely ignore this release. Read The Anatomy of Fascism instead for a deep dive into the ideological and historical contingencies that produce such monstrous regimes.

References not hyperlinked:
Albright, Madeleine. 2018. Fascism: A Warning. HarperCollins: New York.
Paxton, Robert O. 2004. The Anatomy of Fascism. Alfred A. Knopf: New York.

The Age of Webcraft is Upon Us

In her new book, The Chessboard & The Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the president and CEO of New America, argues that foreign policy makers still overwhelmingly rely on an outdated paradigm; one that views nation-states as sovereign actors engaged in a security dilemma that ends in zero-sum moves. Slaughter advocates for flipping over the proverbial chessboard and replacing it with something more modern, precise, and fluid: the so-called “networked web.” Slaughter posits that academics and practitioners need to understand the links between nation-states and non-governmental organizations (NGOS) to realize that complex interdependence demands a nuanced understanding of the various players, institutions, processes, and norms developed in the last half century.

We are no longer in a zero-sum world of top-down ”direct[ion] and control” but rather a world of networks that “are managed and orchestrated,” writes Slaughter. Think of it, Slaughter continues, as “the power to evoke rather than to impose.” The actors, state or non-state, that can act as the choirmaster on the world stage, dictate the direction of the international order.

As an undergraduate at Princeton, Slaughter read and was fascinated by the seminal work Power and Interdependence, written by the scholars Joseph S. Nye Jr. and Robert Keohane, former Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Professor of International Affairs at Princeton, respectively. Their idea of “complex interdependence” illuminated the world for her. However, that book simply described the web; Slaughter’s goal is to begin crafting strategies beginning with understanding the links between the myriad actors on the global stage.

This work is a summary and synthesis of extant studies of networked solutions. In Slaughter’s ideal world, we would see “network experts work[ing] with foreign policy practitioners and other problem solvers to design and create networks that they will then learn from, modifying both theory and practice.” Slaughter shows an adept understanding of network theory from various disciplines, distilling the important theoretical and empirical findings from seemingly disparate fields, including biology, physics, and industrial organization, among others. Her preferred operative definition of networks that she derives from organization scholars, is that networks “are emergent properties of persistent patterns of relations among agents that can define, enable, and constrain those agents.”

The classic academic paradigm of analyzing international affairs posits that the world is a chessboard, in which each state finds itself in a perpetual game of strategic advantage, engaging in a game of statecraft. Nye Jr., and Keohane updated that image and view in their book Power and Interdependence, released in 1977, by arguing that it is more helpful to think that nation-states are playing a game of three-dimensional chess, in which states have multiple goals instead of only security. Further, they argue that interstate cooperation is possible, with multiple parties winding up better off as opposed to a situation that requires one party to lose for other parties to gain.  By contrast, Slaughter maintains Nye Jr. and Keohane  did not go far enough to explain the world’s relationships accurately. The world we are living in is more like the Internet, the web, argues Slaughter.

To visualize the difference, Slaughter suggests envisioning a standard classroom world map showing borders and capitals as a “chessboard view” of the world. This is a map of “separation,” she muses. Think of a map at night that highlights “the lit-up bursts of cities and highly concentrated regions and the dark swaths of rural areas and wilderness.” This is “the web view,” and a map of “connection, of the density and intensity of ties across boundaries.”

The two dominant international relations theories, realism and liberalism, assume that the main unit of analysis is the “state” and that the state of nature is “separation” and the focus should be on “static equilibria,” for example. The “state of nature” in international relations theory is simply referring to the fact the world is made up of individual sovereign states acting in self-interest. “Static equilibria” is the goal of organizing the world into a relative balance of power that allows for increased trade, commerce, and diplomatic relations. Slaughter argues that global actors must transcend older notions of statecraft.

Statecraft should be complimented by webcraft, argues Slaughter. A state with careful understanding of the various nodes and links between state and non-state actors, will be able to adeptly situate themselves to “maxim[ize] [its] number of valuable connections.” The strategic necessity of maximizing valuable connections, for one, enables countries to take more risks and to diversify their economies, and diplomatic partnerships. Webcraft acknowledges the precariousness of isolationism and having few allies around the world.

Slaughter argues that global problems can fit into three broad categories: resilience problems, execution problems, and scale problems. First, resilience problems require resilience networks to solve them. These networks should aim to “strengthen, deepen, react, respond, bounce back, stabilize, and assist” in solving problems. An example of a resilience problem is climate change; an example of a resilient solution would be the 2015 Paris climate accord, where nearly 200 countries agreed on states-specific targeted reductions of carbon emissions.

Second, execution problems require task networks to solve them. Slaughter describes task networks as “designed to perform more precise and time-bound tasks carried out by small, diverse, but cohesive groups.” This type of network was applied in Iraq under General Stanley McChrystal, who directed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) activities in Iraq. Al-Qaeda is a networked organization. McChrystal knew that in order to defeat al-Qaeda, the U.S. military had to transform from a highly hierarchical and bureaucratic institution into a more flexible “team of teams.” This networked-strategy helped weaken  Al-Qaeda and was utilized to take out its its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Finally, scale problems abound when considering topics like alleviating poverty, improving health, and increasing literacy worldwide. “Many hands make light work, but how to create the global equivalent of a barn raising or a quilting bee?” is the poetic way Slaughter illuminates this challenge. Scale problems, she continues, should be thought about in three basic ways: replication, gathering in, and parceling out. A successful scale network would be the Bolsa Família Program (BF), an anti-poverty program of remarkable success implemented by Brazil in January 2005.

President Lula was able to replicate the problem; coordinate; streamline; and parcel out the program to the rural and urban poor of Brazil. Jonathan Tepperman, managing editor of Foreign Affairs describes the program as immensely popular. Brazilian voters on both sides of the political spectrum support the program since it has work requirements which satisfy conservatives, and programs that directly target extreme poverty with explicit poverty reduction goals, which satisfy liberals. The BF program cost less than half a percent of the country’s total gross domestic product; this amounts to costing “30 percent less per person than more traditional aid programs.” Moreover, the program has cut extreme poverty by 15 percent and has “helped lift a total of 36 million people of our general poverty,” summarizes Tepperman in Foreign Affairs.

Slaughter promises  in the beginning of her book that in the final three chapters she would lay out exactly how network strategies could be implemented globally. She fails to do this with any depth, however. But she does propose that the new international order must be built on three pillars: open governments, open society, and an open international system. This “open global order” must be one in which “states must be waves and particles at the same time.” Slaughter uses the physics metaphor to capture the fact that states have to be more flexible in terms of their capacity; states that can maximize their hard and soft power simultaneously will control the web, for example.

This book is a deceptively challenging read. It covers a vast number of fields in an attempt to explain the world as it is, alongside attempting to establish a new paradigm of thinking, with the goal of becoming this generation’s The Strategy of Conflict. The reader is treated to fascinating overviews of chaos theory, network analysis, and social physics. However, there could have been more specific examples of how to tackle the world’s biggest problems. With that being said, I highly recommend this book for it is a work of great ambition, importance, and scholarship.

Apologize For Being Verbose: A Review of Friedman

I just read Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, by Thomas L. Friedman and man…that was a drag race and I don’t like cars.

Did that turn of phrase make sense? It wouldn’t matter if you were The New York Times Pulitizer Prize-winning columnist, Mr. Friedman.  It would matter if you were a high schooler attempting to turn in a research paper; you would be asked to refine, edit, and rethink your choice of words. You would be asked–politely– to be more clear. If you were Friedman, you would be paraded around institutions such as Politics & Prose, the Brookings Institution, and Talks @ Google, for example. Do I sound bitter? I’m not. OK…maybe a little; only because I really should have been reading Religion in Human Evolution by Robert N. Bellah but for some inexplicable reading I sat down with Friedman instead. I guess I needed some light reading after semester.

Thank You for Being Late is an uneven book that should have been edited down to size. Not including acknowledgements, this book runs 453 pages and could have been quite the read if it was a crisp 225 or so. Hell….if it would have been 300 or less pages I might have even recommended reading it. Now: I wouldn’t bother reading this book if I were you. I would pick it up, jot down some of what he references, and then go and read what Friedman read to compile this book. For instance, he references a fascinating paper by Will Steffen et al from the Anthropocene Review from 2015, about myriad ecological stresses that we ignore at our peril.

What is this book about? This book is about the fact that everything is speeding up and because of this, job competition is increasing and “average is over.” Everyone has to keep learning, and improving if they want a shot at the good life. Moreover, in order to tackle the challenges of the 21st century, we have to rekindle and build-up our local communities in a bi-partisan way. We have to be open and not closed.

The best chapter in this book is chapter 3, “Moore’s Law,” and it really is quite a fascinating history regarding the exponential growth of various technologies, such as microchips/integrated circuits/microprocessors, sensors, storage/memory chips, software, and even fiber-optic cables and wireless systems. It never gets old to hear about Gordon Moore’s “law”, the “expectation that the power of microchips would double roughly every two years.” The heroes of this chapter are bigwigs at Intel, Qualcomm, and At&T; Gordon Moore, too, of course. We really are living in an unfathomable time. I’m excited and terrified about the future.

The first 187 pages or so are quite good, albeit with the unfortunate decision to summarize someone else’s work; which is then followed-up with that person’s actual words. This book really should have been edited, and condensed; if only because there are powerful stuff here drowning in wordy superlatives best left on the cutting room floor. Chapter 2, “What the Hell Happened in 2007?” is illuminating on how important that year was. For example, what follows the colon either were created, emerged, or really started to take off and scale in 2007: IBM started to build “Watson”; Apple introduced the iPhone; Google had just bought YouTube and launched Android; Facebook was taking off; Amazon released Kindle; Airbnb was drawn-up; Intel introduced non-silicon materials into microchips; Hadoop began to make ‘big data’ possible; and so on. 2007 was quite remarkable and this was actually a poignant profound chapter, in my opinion.

There are good sections on climate change and biodiversity loss, too. But, Friedman does as Friedman does and uses the term Mother Nature to describe various separate though connected phenomenon; I think for the sake of making many of these ideas stick but that comes across…flat. As flat as the world is now, as Friedman, himself, might say. (Matt Taibbi calls Friedman’s particularities, lets say, as Friedmanese.) Friedman does a good job highlighting what is important but doesn’t really add anything of value himself. Oh, and he builds a platform for a political party that he says is precisely and exactly what Mother Nature would want in a party. I would have appreciated it more if he would have just written: these are political ideas that I support. Nope: he speaks for Mother Nature instead. Weird.

Overall, I don’t recommend reading this book. I would recommend renting it from the library (which I did) and reading the first few chapters because the first few chapters are really fascinating. However, I wouldn’t finish this book especially when there are 130 million books in existence. I finished it because I’m stubborn. Oh, one more thing. Friedman calls the “cloud” the “supernova” for no good reason other than he thinks he is cute and clever, I suppose. Don’t we all? That, in fact, might be the lesson to learn from this book: we should all ask ourselves: do I sound like Thomas Friedman right now? And if so, time to do some yoga and contemplate a better path for yourself. And: edit!

White Fear; Black Bodies

Book review:
Hayes, Chris. 2017. A Colony in A Nation (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.).

The excellent and fastidious Chris Hayes is back with his second book; it’s a doozy full of righteous (patriotic) indignation; telling data and statistics; and is bathed in humane empathy in a surprisingly nuanced way. He tries to emphasize with quite literally everyone – that alone should be commended.

The book, A Colony In A Nation, comes off the heels of a highly divisive presidential election, seen by many as largely about identity issues, immigration, and race. The winning candidate, Donald J. Trump, pounced on and utilized white fear in a way that only dog whistles could previously capture.

Long live the dog whistle;
blue lives matter!;
all lives matter!

Hayes’ thesis is, as he himself puts it, “simple.” We have a divided justice system producing a divided country. One part of the U.S., which Chris dubs the “Nation” has a policing regime fit for the rules based democracy that we purport to be. Another part of our country, dubbed “the Colony,” has a policing regime with remarkable similarities to militarily-occupied colonies. These “two distinct regimes,” have disproportionate results.

Black Americans largely live in the Colony and thus live by the dictates of order over law. This order is administered by low-level bureaucrats and “petty officers.” When order prevails, you get results such as: “black men aged 20 to 34 without a high school degree have an institutionalization rate of about 37 percent.” Homicide rates in the Colony? 20 per 100,000. In the Nation? 2.5 per 100,000. There are even predominantly black neighborhoods, adjacent to white neighborhoods that “have a homicide rate that is 9,000 percent higher.”

Hayes illuminates the difference not only with hard numbers, but also with his on-the-ground experiences, some from his college years and some from his reporting from the past few years in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other cities.

In one particularly unique passage, Hayes, the host of the award-winning All In w/ Chris Hayes (MSNBC) visited police training headquarters in New Jersey where he participated in a virtual reality simulator. This simulates 85 different scenarios and recruits are assessed based on their actions. One must be quick. Chris draws his weapon in the first scenario; the officer reminds him that that was the incorrect move. “We’re only one scene in, and already the self-righteous liberal pundit has draw his weapon on an unarmed man holding a cinder block,” Hayes rights – channeling that his training officer was “delighted” to instill some humility into the pundit.

Hayes spoke with many everyday folks, black and white, and referenced many scholarly works on criminal justice, policing, and American history; making this book’s potential audience quite wide and it’s content myriad. (Down below, I’ll finish up my thoughts regarding this strategy).

As Hayes unpacks the causes of this Nation/Colony bifurcation, he starts from the top-down and makes his way downward, to me. You. Voters. Citizens. All of us.

How did this happen?

The War on Drugs, beginning with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968 and continuing through to this very day, is a good answer; a good place to start. (It’s not the earliest place to start, of course but it’s definitely relevant.) It was top-down; Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Congress passed laws such as the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970, for example. But, Hayes, surmises that the War on Drugs is not the only answer. Hayes claims that “20 percent of the increase in incarceration,” can be legitimately considered occurring due to the precepts of this so-called War on Drugs.

In Ch. V, Hayes details a nice summary of what is known as “broken windows policing.” Beginning in New York City, under multiple mayors, and continued nationally by President Bill Clinton. It’s the idea that a vacant building with a broken window will facilitate and bring forth other crimes.  The idea was that “one could reduce crime by stamping out disorder.” “Stop and frisk,” was implemented; black and brown people were disproportionately stopped, humiliated, and has their constitutional rights violated. (Hayes notes that federal district judge Shira Scheindlin, in 2000, did find the policy constitutional.)

Hayes leaves no stone unturned; it’s quite an impressive feat, he weaves in history and then personal story and then reporting from Baltimore back to law, scholarship, and pointed philosophical musings.

Hayes is his most passionate when he writes about white fear being a “force” that is a “social fact” and “something burned into our individual neural pathways.” But far from coming across as morally superior, Hayes is up-front about his own biases and fear, growing up in the Bronx, a “white straight male.” He talks about getting a pass from police officers, who found weed on him as a twenty-one-year old; at the Republican National Committee conference in 2000 no less. He opens up about his fears; he agrees that that order is nice. Yet he is aware that order usually comes at the cost of violating Constitutional rights of fellow Americans, who belong in the Nation, but who live in and are policed by The Colony. In fact, in the last few pages of the final chapter, he waxes philosophically, shades of Peter Singer regarding the moral sandpit that comes with valuing order over law.

Hayes isn’t careless or ideological when he tackles the War on Drugs. (He does get a bit ideological at other times.) The Crack Years were horrifying and nearly every single crime, violent and non-violent, skyrocketed from the 1970s, into the early 1990s. In fact in 1992, the U.S. “set an all-time violent crime record with 1,932,274 incidents.”  People are driven by fear and fear is hard to assuage. Fear resides in our brain stem, an ancient part of our brain, Hayes reminds the reader.

Above when I mentioned the top-down side of the creation and propagation of the Colony, I referred to the bottom-up side, too. In the last chapter, Hayes references work from law professor James Whitman who concludes: “it is the strong anti-aristocratic strain in the American legal tradition that has made our punishment system so remorseless and harsh.” I agree with this analysis; I also agree that it’s madness that we elect prosecutors.  Perhaps the most democratic part of our system is our criminal justice system. This doesn’t shine a positive light on the American psyche or on direct democracy frankly.

Here is where I began to add up the cons of the book. Educated readers know most, if not all, of what he chose to write about. I must say that I find this book wanting. There are many paths that Hayes could have explored more, but he leaves them after promising introductions. He mentions Racecraft….doesn’t explore it. He begins to paint a picture relating what he calls the Colony to how the British treated the colonists here during the revolutionary days…then he never brings it up again. He begins to explore police training….and leaves it after a page or two. (I wouldn’t begin to write a book on criminal justice; this is extremely hard to do and the book is quite good and ranging.)

Chirs makes the reader fill in a bunch of details themselves. I simultaneously like this and dislike it.

Solutions? He doesn’t investigate any concrete solutions…at all.  I know Hayes has ideas; I’m a big admirer of his previous work. In interviews, for example, he talks about needing radical desegregation as a political and societal project that, if continued to be unmet, should be openly considered a moral failure. Now THAT is what I hoped he was going to explore.

I would be remiss to say that Hayes didn’t fill out his thesis – he did; I suppose I’m just expressing that I wanted the book to be different than what it was.

This book turns out to be about two-thirds journalistic reporting and one-third memoir. I’m not sure if Hayes would classify it as such, but it is how it reads nevertheless. Overall, I enjoyed reading it. The book is well-written – if sporadic- and needing a bit more of a focus.

I do recommend it if only for the last chapter alone.

 

Books: 2016

I present my favorite reads of 2016. Since I only read 4 books released last year, I will simply include in my list books that I read. In total, I finished 34 books and started many more.

6: The Way of the Knife:: the CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth (2013) Mark Mazzetti, reporter for The New York Times

This book, by Pulitzer-prize winning Mark Mazzetti, has astonishing anecdotes, literally, on every page. I had my nephew pick a number from page one through 327 and voila – “two hundred” he says. “OSS founder William Donovan was so despondent that President Truman had not named him the first director of central intelligence he decided to set up an intelligence operation of his own. During business trips to Europe he collected information about Soviet activities from American ambassadors and journalists and scouted for possible undercover agents.” When President Truman was made aware of such private shenanigans, he was mad, “calling him a prying S.O.B.” One example from one random page, and it is a good one. I read this book along the way of researching for my final analysis of President Obama’s counterterrorism (CT) policy and the most pertinent quote from the president himself was: “The C.I.A. gets what it wants.” My question is: what president has skirted the power of CIA the most? A muckraking funny-if-it-wasn’t- true expose on the CIA. One con would be that it’s anecdote heavy and hard to pull together a comprehensive understanding of the complex-nature of Intelligence work, the CIA, and the various actors, individuals and states.

5:  Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization (2016)
Branko Milanovic, Senior Scholar at the Luxembourg Income Study Center

A fresh, updated accounting on what we know about macroeconomics and what this portends for the future. Milanovic, reforms a classic theoretical understanding of inequality – the Kuznets curve – and coins the Kuznets wave. Succinctly put, inequality rises as economies develop yet the curve flattens out as education, for example spreads. Milanovic adds more lines to the curve and argues that inequality starts to increase once again in developed countries for various reasons, such as high-skilled and information-based job growth. This book is about (1) the rise of the global middle class; (2) the stagnation of the developed world’s middle class; (3) the rise of the global 1%. His prediction is gloomy: we will most likely see increased inequality because the current global climate to tackle this problem is wanting and the task arduous and global governance is limited. “Social separatism” is increasing and this portends a precarious future in our ever-globalizing world.

4: The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality (2012)
Thomas Borstelmann, a Distinguished Professor of Modern World History at the University of Lincoln-Nebraska

I keep trying to formulate exactly when much of the world took a right-wing authoritarianism and extreme form; look at photos of Afghanistan in the 1950s-1960s for an example of what I’m conjuring up. I keep getting to 1979. Well, before said year the 1970s was a fascinating decade that so many positive strides regarding civil rights for black Americans and also women. Income inequality started rising precipitously for the developed world in the middle of the decade and the first Islamic revolution of the modern era happened, when the Shah in Iran was overthrown by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. This global history, which really is American-centric, is a fantastic read. I think about this book all of the time. For readers of contemporary history, this is a good one that I stumbled upon while perusing the “sale” section at my local library.

3: The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy (2011)
Dani Rodrik, the Rafiq Hariri Professor of International Political Economy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University

We read this book in my proseminar in globalization and out of the ten books we read, this book warranted the most discussion and “thumps up” bar none. Rodrik brilliantly excoriates, at times but with minimal vitriol – his fellow economists and their religious adherence to the Washington Consensus. He provides data to support his argument that some sort of embedded liberalism or a updated version of Bretton Woods is the most secure, fair, popular, and effective way for states to enter the developed strata of states. It’s in this book that he presents the trillemma: you can pick two, but only two. We can either live in a world of deep globalization and democracy; deep globalization and global governance; or global governance and democracy. Rodrik inclines

2: Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis: Second Edition (1999)
Graham Allison, Philip Zelikow, John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and Department of History at University of Virginia, respectively

This essential read for IR students is one I am grateful was assigned; I used the Rational Actor Model and the Governmental Politics model to compare the president’s counterterrorism policy for my capstone research paper. Along with Organizational Structure Model, these 3 frameworks are theoretical kingpins. The case study analyzed was the Cuban Missile Crisis and it was brilliantly done. Essence became the bedrock textbook and the impetus for opening the JFK School of Government at Harvard. If you want to know exactly how the insider process happens, and the complexity and complications of hundreds (now thousands) of actors involved in decisions, this is a great start. A foundational IR text from a heavyweight scholar, Allison, who has since penned many more books that are worth reading.

1: The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of Global Order (1996)
Samuel P. Huntington, co-founder of Foreign Policy; Professor at Harvard; president of the American Political Science Association (APSA)

I’m linking to my blog post where I opined my feelings of this work. Seminal work here.

Best book released in 2016

Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror
Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA, NSA, and intelligence of the Air Force

Hayden has worked in the U.S. Intelligence community for decades and his part-memoir and part-current affairs review of the world we live in was my favorite memoir I read this year. For an intelligence official, the work was deeply honest, fair, and wide-ranging. The impression you get is of a big mind with big ideas and even bigger secrets; at once, a patriot who wishes he could tell Americans more but he can’t, for their security. I have been going through government official memoirs – I’ve only read a few so far – and this might be my favorite, though Chollet’s and Brooks’ are close. (I haven’t finished Brooks’ yet therefore it can’t be on this list but it’s damn good.)

I’m looking forward to reading so many more works next year – I hope to even finish listening to Moby-Dick!