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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Threat inflation in Russia

While America ponders and laments its 2016 presidential choices, I'm again sorting through old clippings torn from magazines. This snippet seems especially pertinent as it is from a profile of Vladimir Putin, published about a year ago in Time. As I've noted before, Putin's consolidation of power has depended at least in part upon fear appeals.

Donald Trump (and other conservatives and/or Republicans) have been praising Putin for a couple of years now -- and, arguably, forming new policy proposals that are oddly aligned with Russia's interests. For example, the Republicans platform went soft on Russian involvement in Ukraine and Trump often says NATO is obsolete.

Essentially, the Time story linked above notes that the bureaucratic structure Putin has created foments threat inflation:
Most of the top jobs in the security services, the government and the powerful state corporations went to the members of Putin’s St. Petersburg circle, which came to form the core of what Minchenko calls the Politburo 2.0. The structure of this body differs drastically from its Soviet incarnation. Whereas the old Communist Party bosses met regularly to decide the affairs of the state together, Putin keeps his circle divided into clans and factions that seldom meet all at once. This helps prevent any groups from creating a coalition against him, and it also “makes Putin indispensable as the point of balance,” says Minchenko. “Without him the system doesn’t work, because everyone is connected through him personally.” 
But there are major drawbacks. As the rival factions compete for Putin’s attention, they tend to exaggerate the threats that Russia faces. The intelligence services, for instance, might overstate the threat from foreign spies, while the oil and gas tycoons might play up the danger of competitors in the energy market. When Putin meets separately with each of these factions, “he hears from all sides that there are threats everywhere,” says the political consultant Kirill Petrov, who has worked with Minchenko in mapping the elites. “It’s not a healthy atmosphere.”
The story's main point is that Putin is an autocrat, which makes him a strange figure for Americans to emulate:
One of the figures in Minchenko’s diagram, the senior counselor to Putin who spoke on condition of anonymity, concedes that this informal system of relationships breeds paranoia. But the system’s bigger flaw is its total dependence on just one man. “It is power without institutions,” says the adviser. “It means we have no solid ground beneath us.” The state is Putin, and Putin is the state.


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Friday, September 09, 2016

Presidential politics goes nuclear

This "daisy ad" from 1964 is infamous, though it aired only once (but see also this ad for more context from that campaign cycle). I've showed this ad many times in my classes:



A super-PAC supporting Hillary Clinton is going to run the following ad in a number of swing states this election cycle -- Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio.


I'm not 100% sure that ad is all that effective. Read this piece and watch the accompanying videos to understand the context for this ad. People who have paying attention to the campaign for months (high information voters) already know this material, but those not paying attention (low information voters) won't get enough content from the new ad.

Will it resonate emotionally?

I'll close by quoting a (former?) Republican hero:

“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely?”
Ronald Reagan, 1984 State of the Union


H/T to Patrick Caldwell. 

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Thursday, September 08, 2016

Trump on Iraq

Last night, as he repeatedly has, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump claimed to Matt Lauer on national television that he was an opponent of the Iraq war prior to its start in March 2003:
“I was totally against the war in Iraq. You can look at Esquire magazine from '04, before that,” Trump told Matt Lauer during NBC’s “Commander-in-Chief Forum” Wednesday night, responding to a criticism Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton made earlier in the evening that Trump was not being honest about his position.
On September 11, 2002, Trump was interviewed on Howard Stern's radio program. At about the 1:40 mark of the audio embedded in the video below, Stern asks him directly if he is in favor of invading Iraq. Trump said, "Yeah, I guess so. Uh, you know, I wish the first time it was done correctly."



As the Washington Post reported today, Trump also seemed to support the war when it was initially underway. He certainly wasn't hinting that it was going to be a long and costly disaster:
In an interview with Fox News one day after the March 2003 Iraq invasion, Trump praised the effort while talking about the war’s impact on Wall Street. 
“Well, I think Wall Street’s waiting to see what happens, but even before the fact they’re obviously taking it a little bit for granted, and it looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint, and I think this is really nothing compared to what you’re gonna see after the war is over,” Trump told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto.
This is the most revealing line in the WaPo story, addressing the media's coverage of this year's presidential election: "[Trump's] claim has been repeatedly debunked by independent fact checkers, though Lauer did not press him on the issue."


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Friday, September 02, 2016

Summertime Blues

I didn't blog at all in August and I'm not sure that a full month has ever previously elapsed without at least one post.

July ended with great sadness. My mother-in-law, Donna Courtney died far too young. She was a remarkably loving and generous person, now constantly missed by her family and friends.

My wife and I traveled to Michigan in early August, partly for a brief vacation and partly to retrieve our youngest daughter, who had worked at camp at Interlochen through the summer.

Almost immediately after returning from Michigan, I made an unexpected trip to Tulsa as my mother had fallen and broken her arm. Days after that travel was completed, I helped move my oldest daughter to Chapel Hill, NC, where she began graduate school. I got back the evening of August 19, having spent 11 nights of the month away from home.

The University of Louisville kicked off the fall semester in mid-August and I've already been attending (or often leading) numerous meetings and teaching a graduate class.

That summary explains the lack of blogging.


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Saturday, July 30, 2016

The UofL Foundation President

University of Louisville President James Ramsey resigned this past week, though he offered to continue serving in that capacity through the end of the academic year (at the same generous level of compensation he had been receiving). The Board of Trustees declined to accept that offer and he was immediately replaced by an interim President, Interim Provost Neville Pinto -- a choice apparently mandated by the University's "Redbook".

The day after this occurred, Ramsey reported to work at Grawemeyer Hall as President of the University of Louisville Foundation. For those not paying close attention, it has largely been the UofL Foundation that has paid Ramsey millions of dollars annually over the past few years.

The Foundation's bylaws make clear how every member and officer of its Board of Directors is appointed. The University President is automatically a Director; thus, Pinto presumably replaces Ramsey as a voting member of the Foundation Board when it next meets in September. Some Foundation Board members serve because they are UofL Board members. The Foundation bylaws make clear that once a person is no longer serving UofL in these capacities, the person is no longer a voting director on the Foundation Board.

The President of the Foundation is a Board-elected one-year position that does not have to be filled by a director. The Foundation Board could end the relationship with Ramsey almost immediately, as reported by WDRB reporter Chris Otts:
Ramsey acknowledged Thursday that because he resigned from the university, the foundation board can terminate his employment with no financial consequences.  But he said he hopes to convince the foundation directors to keep him on.
Note going forward that it is very unusual for any American Foundation leaders to earn more than about $130,000 annually. Indeed, Foundation leaders who are paid even $190,000 are in the 90th percentile for the position. Also, the IRS looks askance at very high payments to salaries for non-profit leaders. From section 4 of that linked IRS publication on Governance:
A. Executive compensation. A charity may not pay more than reasonable compensation for services rendered. Although the Internal Revenue Code does not require charities to follow a particular process in determining the amount of compensation to pay, the compensation of officers, directors, trustees, key employees, and others in a position to exercise substantial influence over the affairs of the charity should be determined by persons who are knowledgeable in compensation matters and who have no financial interest in the determination. Organizations that file Form 990 will find that Part VI, Section B, Line 15 asks whether the process used to determine the compensation of an organization’s top management official and other officers and key employees included a review and approval by independent persons, comparability data, and contemporaneous substantiation of the deliberation and decision. 
James Ramsey was very well compensated as a University President, but it is hard to see a case for continued generous compensation as a mere Foundation President.

Leadership Disarray

All of the administrative changes mentioned above are somewhat clouded by a Kentucky court-imposed injunction yesterday ruling that Governor Matt Bevin's newly constituted UofL Board (the one that accepted Ramsey's resignation earlier in the week) is NOT the University's Board any more. The Board that Bevin claims to have dissolved (as opposed to firing, which would have been illegal without a hearing for each trustee) is again THE UofL Board. Of course, it is short several members as it has been since late March when the Governor argued (persuasively) that the Board in place at the time violated state law because it had too little minority representation. The University apparently again has a Board in place that has refused to act on personnel issues (tenure and promotion cases, new tenure track hires) since late March because of its lack of minority representation.

Some members of the now reconstituted UofL Board served also on the Foundation, by the bylaws of that institution. They had already been dismissed, so the operational status of both entities is in disarray. The judge issuing the injunction did state that the ruling would not change actions Bevin's Board had taken, such as accepting Ramsey's resignation. However, Bevin's Board had not approved a proposed 5% tuition increase and the old Board had explicitly rejected that proposed increase back in early June.

The University is in the new fiscal year without a firm budget and clear notion of the cost of tuition. Classes start in four weeks. Without a tuition increase, planned faculty and staff pay raises could only be funded by deeper cuts in other University budgets -- or perhaps Foundation contributions. Many jobs will likely be eliminated if additional cuts are needed. The inability to operate is a disaster and Government Bevin could prolong this disaster indefinitely by failing to add members to the old Board. Based on his immediate reaction to the injunction ruling, Bevin's office plans to appeal the ruling.

Foundation Leadership and Accountability

The University of Louisville Foundation is an important supplemental source of University funding, particularly vital in a time of crisis. Should the Foundation retain James Ramsey as President in this time of need?

I blogged several months ago about the poor performance of the University's endowments . My spouse told me that my posting had been linked by friends and colleagues on Facebook -- and that some commenters there criticized elements of my argument. Some of the criticisms were certainly valid. After all, I compared University endowment performance to my personal investment performance, which has hinged on a "buy and hold" (and reinvest dividends) strategy that did not include withdrawals for spending.

The University needs asset growth in order to spend, but the overall endowment doesn't really need to grow as long as the investments are generating sufficient revenue to fund spending needs. The University needs to average 5.5% annual growth in order to fund endowed spending -- and then more than that to pay Foundation operating costs (including apparently millions of dollars in payments to top University leaders).

Note that President Ramsey and his supporters have often defended his performance as a fundraiser for the University, so a lack of growth in the overall size of the endowment either indicates that he has not really raised lots of new money or that the older investments have performed poorly.

As President, arguably, Ramsey had a leadership role for both tasks. Indeed, this is probably where I should have directed my criticism several months ago. The Foundation President seems like an appropriate person to hold accountable. According to the Foundation bylaws, the President:
...shall be the Chief Administrative Officer and General Manager of the Corporation.  He shall, in addition, perform such other and further duties and have such powers as are usually performed and possessed by similar officers of like corporations, whether stock or nonstock. The President is authorized to execute any instrument of writing for the Corporation and to act for it under any agency contract or agreement it may have with any corporate agent which at any time may be holding or administering any of its assets or endowment or trust funds; any such agent may assume that the President has authority to bind and act for this Corporation.
How has the Foundation/President performed managing its money -- or hiring the right managers to oversee Foundation funds?

I'll answer that question with an anecdote, but the story involves an endowment that is one of the largest in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Department of Political Science, which I have chaired since January 2012, includes the Center for Asian Democracy and an Aung Sun Suu Kyi endowed chair in Asian Democracy. The CAD and the chair are actually funded by two endowment accounts. One account was a late 1990s "bucks for brains" state-funded personnel line that was originally funded at $1 million or more. The other is a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of State.

Those grants and endowments date back to at least 2006. This is ambiguous because the "bucks for brains" account is older and may have previously been tied to a different endowed chair. As a result, when Political Science inherited the account in 2006, the endowment was worth about $1.5 million. The State Department monies arrived at Louisville in 2006 and were vested for a spending policy one year later.

The $5 million 2006 grant from the Department of State was worth only $4.113 million as of December 31, 2015. That's a key date because the University uses it to decide a spending policy for the following academic year. After a decade managing $5 million, the Foundation managed to lose (or spend) over 15% of its value.

Oh, and this wasn't simply because the endowment was created just before the Great Recession. As recently as December 31, 2013, the endowment was worth $5.066 million.

The DJIA closed at  16576.66 on December 31, 2013. On the same date in 2015, it closed at 17425.03. The stock market grew a bit more than 5% in that period, which is somewhat disappointing and obviously below the 5.5% annual return threshold needed to allow a full spending policy and preserve principal. However, the CAD endowment lost a substantial portion of its original principal, well beyond the spending policy.  Incidentally, the DJIA closed at 12463.15 in 2006, meaning the DJIA is up about 40% during the entire period of the CAD's existence. A well-managed account likely could have preserved almost all of the principal and achieved a sizeable chunk of a 5.5% annual spending policy. A well-performing investment might have managed to increase the size of the account and the annual spending policy.

Clearly, University of Louisville Foundation investments have not been especially well-managed over the decade in question. Is the President of that entity going to be held to account?

What are people tied to endowed personnel lines supposed to do going forward?

The CAD endowment returned insufficient funds this year to pay even the endowed chair salary. Last year, CAD additionally employed a staff member to manage programming, two postdoc researchers, and a graduate research assistant.

Again, who should be held responsible for a decade of poor performance?

Given that endowments were down in 2015, James Ramsey personal assets grew substantially more than the Foundation's assets. And that's just based on his payments from the Foundation.


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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Digital Activism

For years, I've been interested in the possibility of political activism and public deliberation on the internet. As department chair, I recently hired a former graduate student, Matt Evans, to teach an online course on "Political Activism in the Digital Age."

Here's the course description, for students who might be interested in enrolling over the next month:
How do we change the world? 
Over 100 years ago, Henry David Thoreau answered this question by suggesting Americans should vote with their whole ballot. This means utilizing the better part of politics – the aspect that could change the world in the face of impossible obstacles through all those activities outside the realm of voting called activism. 
Political Activism in the Digital Age – an online political science course in Fall 2016 – examines activism through the concrete tactics of activists in groups and social movements within and outside of the US. Rather than work through overpriced textbooks – an oxymoron – the class will draw on readings, videos, and other material accessible through Blackboard to empower students to change the world. For more information, contact the instructor Dr. Matt Evans.
Since it's an online class, students don't have to live in Louisville to enroll. Indeed, the instructor lives and teaches in Arkansas.


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Friday, July 01, 2016

UofL Board and Debate

Earlier this week, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin picked a new Board of Trustees for the University of Louisville. As I blogged two weeks ago, Bevin recently disbanded the old Board in what appeared to be a brazen use of executive power given Kentucky statutes regulating the way Board members are supposed to be appointed and removed. Moreover, the committee that nominated the new Board members may itself be illegal because it lacks diversity. 

For those following from afar, I should note that the old Board's paralysis this year was initially triggered by a lack of diversity. It was not diverse and needed additional members to make lawful decisions. Governor Bevin could have fixed that problem any time since March simply by appointing new minority Board members. But he didn't. 

This post, however, isn't about the legal or political processes. Instead, it is about the nature of academic debate and the difference between faith and opinion on the one hand and knowledge on the other.

One of the newly appointed members, Douglas Cobb, has received special scrutiny for his controversial contributions to public discussion almost from the moment he was named to the Board. Cobb had an active twitter feed that was deleted shortly after he was named to the University's Board. However, the account feed survived long enough for various local reporters to notice that Cobb used it to deny mainstream climate science and evolution. He expressed anti-LGBT views and called for the firing of various University coaches and officials because of sports scandals (but not exactly these scandals). There's more:

Cobb, who is an elder at Louisville’s Southeast Christian Church, has also devoted attention on Twitter to issues involving Islam and terrorism, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, questioning fairness policies and quoting Bible verses.
In a tweet two years ago, Cobb said that when Nigerian-based terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped as many as 200 school girls it was practicing a version of Islam that "is orthodox Islam." In another 2014 tweet, Cobb cited a biblical verse to say that being gay and Christian were “incompatible terms of identity.”
In various tweets referenced in the media stories, Cobb dubbed climate science a hoax "invented by the progressive left" and said it reflects a "socialist line."  He tweeted, that "the same people who are lying to you today about global warming have been lying to you for 150 years about evolution."

Perhaps because so many of Cobb's tweets reference the UofL athletic program, sports columnist Tim Sullivan wrote a piece today defending Cobb's contributions to debate about various issues, including controversial science and public policy positions Cobb staked out in his twitter feed. 
Still, debate is healthy. Public institutions warrant scrutiny from a wide range of vantage points. On some levels, appointing trustees whose points of view are likely to cause conflict is preferable to the intellectual lockstep of unquestioning cronies. Hard as it is look past Cobb's harsher opinions and judgmental attitude, his presence should prompt all constituencies to pay closer attention to board proceedings.
Given U of L's recent history, which has included federal charges of fraud, an FBI investigation into the misuse of funds, an NCAA probe of recruiting irregularities involving strippers and prostitutes, and disproportionate pay packages for administrators, it’s fair to ask whether the board should have been even more sharply divided and more inclined to challenge the status quo.
Plus, Cobb is bound to offer some dissenting opinions that will enliven local discourse and provide deserving pundits with fresh material on slow days.
What Sullivan ignores here is the difference between knowledge and rational debate on the one hand versus ideas grounded in faith and opinion. Cobb’s views on LGBT issues, Islam, and gender diversity apparently emanate from his faith. Fine. He’s entitled to his personal religious perspective, but should that faith play any role in influencing the future of a public University? Keep in mind that this same public University has been praised for being one of the most LGBT-friendly campuses in the South. Moreover, the University’s mission statement is committed firmly to diversity.

As for climate science and evolution, Cobb “debates” by referencing conspiracy theories and offering political slurs. The current mainstream scientific understandings are built on mountains of evidence, analysis, and peer-reviewed empirical research. Scientists can be wrong, but their errors should be identified through rigorous scientific processes. 

Oh, by the way, social science works in the same way and I’m quite confident our Middle East and Islamic Studies faculty could dismiss his dubious ideas about Boko Haram and Islam in less than 5 minutes of class time.

So far as I can see from the quoted tweets, Cobb has not contributed one meaningful idea to any active scientific debate in the wider public debate. It's not difficult to understand why this is so. Climate change, for example, has long been mainstream science with very little dissent in the scientific community. Journalists were partly to blame for any public perception of controversy because coverage was horribly misleading. Additionally, Exxon and other wealthy funders are also to blame as they invested substantial sums in propaganda to create public doubt about climate change. 

Oddly enough, Cobb’s business acumen, referenced by some supporters to defend his appointment to the Board, is supposedly tied to his work as an investment entrepreneur. Yet, I wonder if his right-wing politics cause him to miss some larger truths about green investment opportunities

Oh, and readers might want to know about a potential economic conflict of interest. UofL is invested in Cobb's firm, Chrysalis Ventures


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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Political Economy of Relative Gains

Realist IR scholars reject the possibility of meaningful international cooperation on the idea that not all states can benefit from such cooperation. That's wrong, liberal institutionalists retort, because classic trade theory demonstrates that cooperation can promote mutual "absolute" gain.

Realists counter with the point that mutual gains rarely result in equal distribution. Some states will benefit more from cooperation and these relative advantages mitigate against cooperation. Why would a state partake in an agreement that helps competitors more than it helps itself? Essentially, because realists see international politics as a struggle for power, states can prevent a redistribution of power by refusing to partake in meaningful cooperation.

Plus, on many truly difficult issues, there are going to be costs to cooperation -- similar to the dues union members pay for the benefit of membership. States have an incentive to free ride, rather than to pay costs to create gains. Thus, on many global issues that require genuine multilateral cooperation -- Kenneth Waltz mentioned “poverty, population, pollution, and proliferation” (209) -- states won't work together because they lack incentives.

Realists do not think much of existing international cooperation. Believe it or not, a prominent realist view of past trade practices suggests that they reflect typical interstate competition rather than real cooperation. Realists recognize that states form alliances when confronted by potential hegemons, but this is basically because their survival is potentially at stake. In lesser circumstances, a strong state might set up sham institutions to promote forms of cooperation that are in their individual interest and essentially coerce others to participate. This could include institutions that serve multiple purposes, promoting selfish security cooperation with small economic bribes.

Some empirical evidence supports the pessimistic view of international economic cooperation.

This is a quick and simplified account of a complex debate, of course, but I mention it because of this study result I read in The Atlantic last October.** Individual Americans apparently embrace this vision and reject the prospect of mutual benefit if the benefits provides relative gains to "competitors." IOW, people see other people as competitors:
In a survey of faculty, students, and staff at the Harvard School of Public Health, nearly half of the respondents said they’d prefer to live in a world where the average salary was $25,000 and they earned $50,000 than one where they earned $100,000 but the average was $200,000. Similarly, a majority favored relative over absolute advantage when it came to their own intelligence and attractiveness, their child’s intelligence and attractiveness, or praise from a superior. Apparently the survey respondents would rather the planet be filled with stupid, ugly children than have their own child left behind [1].
There are apparent lessons in this about the rise of Donald Trump and the populist/nationalist concerns of his supporters. Trump wants to build a wall along the southern US border, deport millions of undocumented immigrants, and impose new tariffs on major trading partners such as China and Mexico. Many economists predict that his policies would hurt the white working class more than others. However, their analysis is generally framed in terms of utility theory.

What if his voters don't care about utility as much as they do about perceived relative gains -- for them personally as well as for the US? Perhaps they are willing to be additionally impoverished so long as their competitors do worse -- whether that is undocumented Mexican workers or China.

The danger, of course, is that Trump voters are likely very wrong in how his presidency might influence the outcomes they desire. His tax policies, for example, basically continue long-term Republican plans to benefit the richest Americans -- and this link is from The Economist, not some lefty politician or organization. Would the U.S. win a trade war with China?


--------------------
** Yes, I'm cleaning out my office and have a stack of clippings.

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Fear, threats and anxiety

Realist international relations is a theory built upon fear of real and potential threats, typically defined in material terms. In the post-9/11 age, much of American foreign policy focuses on fear of various kinds of allegedly "existential" threats that seem less concrete than that. Just click on some of the labels below to get an idea of some of my past blogging on this topic. Obviously, various fears continue to resonate given Paris, San Bernardino, Brussels, and Orlando. Donald Trump's politics seem built on fear.

Or are they?

Some months ago, I pulled a page from the January 11/18 issue of The Nation where Simon Wolfe Taylor reviewed Joseph LeDoux's book Anxious. It was posted online in mid-December 2015. LeDoux is an expert in human emotions -- a neuroscientist, not an IR scholar. Neither the words "terrorism" or "war" appear in the piece:
Currently the Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science at New York University, LeDoux has been grappling for the better part of the last four decades with questions of how emotions are processed by human and animal brains. 
Indeed, much of the review has to do with anxiety rather than fear, though Taylor ultimately accuses LeDoux of failing to distinguish between them adequately. Taylor does credit LeDoux with his clear thinking on how the brain reacts to genuine threats (fear) because personal safety is at stake.

When reading the review originally, I circled these two passages that center explicitly on fear and the potential links to political science:
Contemporary scientists generally understand fear as the recognition of an identifiable and present threat, and anxiety as the anticipation of an undefined future threat: definitions that bear only the slightest resemblance to Kierkegaard’s and Freud’s conceptions of those states, which themselves differ considerably. 
If this distinction is meaningful, then IR realists and various contemporary politicians build much of theory and programs around uncertain future threats anticipated by anxiety rather than genuine current threats. The reviewer continues:
LeDoux does not consider the idea, advanced most persuasively by the political theorist Corey Robin, that fear is a political idea as much as a conscious state.
Maybe one might say that IR-relevant fears/threats are socially constructed?

I'm not really qualified to speak to how either Taylor or LeDoux discuss anxiety at the personal level, but Taylor credits LeDoux for gesturing towards a humanistic approach to understanding (and addressing) anxiety. This passage is interesting, suggesting that anxiety is actually a positive sign:
Although it could be debilitating, even terrifying, anxiety was regarded by the likes of Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, Kurt Goldstein, Paul Tillich, and Reinhold Niebuhr as the price we pay for some of the values we hold most dear, including freedom, imagination, and creativity. There is, according to the existentialists, a positive correlation between anxiety and human potentiality; as Kierkegaard put it, “the more profoundly he is in anxiety, the greater is the man.”
Here is Taylor's description of more humanistic approaches to anxiety:
Rollo May, a psychologist and the author of 1950’s The Meaning of Anxiety, declared: “One has anxiety because it is possible to create.” Patients, he continued, should be encouraged to recognize that the “presence of anxiety means a conflict is going on, and so long as this is true, a constructive solution is possible.” 
Any notion of a positive understanding of anxiety has almost entirely collapsed over the last three decades. To be sure, there are legitimate reasons to be skeptical of the kind of treatment advocated by May and other existentially oriented therapists. Merely asserting a link between anxiety and artistic fulfillment, for example, does little to help a patient in the grip of a panic attack. But the proposition that anxiety can be channeled into constructive behavior or activity is surely an idea worth considering—one with the potential to provide comfort and hope to many thousands of patients
I'm not sure there are lessons here for IR. How could we channel constructive creativity as a mass response to terrorism?


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Friday, June 17, 2016

Friday morning massacre

This morning, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin announced that he was dissolving the Board of Trustees at the University of Louisville. Embattled University President James Ramsey also announced that he would be resigning to the newly constituted Board.

I followed the story throughout the day on twitter. Here are the key tweets with my comments often added to the originals. Incidentally, Phillip Bailey was one of my students year ago:













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Thursday, June 02, 2016

Tulsa Time

My family members traveled to Tulsa for Memorial Day weekend. I'm pleased to report a couple of interesting new places to visit.

First, with my sister and her spouse, I tried the new Prairie brewpub downtown. We didn't eat, but I tried several beers (one was merely a sample -- the Pilsner). I liked the low abv Pale Ale, but the Daddy Stack IPA was the standout. I've previously tried the darker BOMB!



On Sunday afternoon, my spouse and daughters visited the Woody Guthrie Center with my brother-in-law (who wanted to see the Grammy Museum's traveling Stevie Ray Vaughn exhibit).


 The lyrics to "This Land is Your Land" are under glass in the very center of the Center.












I didn't get to take in a baseball game, unfortunately, but my brother-in-law and I walked down to the new ONEOK ballpark when we dined nearby in the Blue Dome district


It was a fun weekend.


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Monday, May 16, 2016

Evaluating Free Agent Signings at the 1992 Baseball Winter Meetings

This post is tied to a forthcoming SABR publication focusing on the history of baseball's winter meetings. I wrote the chapter on the 1992 meetings held in Louisville, KY, December 3-9. The meetings featured a number of very prominent free agent signings, including two of the biggest stars of the last quarter century.

While I wanted to discuss how well those deals worked out based upon on-field performance of the players, the editors preferred that I focus exclusively on the events of the meeting. This post includes the research I conducted for the chapter that will not be included in the published piece. However, by mutual agreement, the piece will reference this blog post.

These are the prominent player signings, in order they appear in the chapter:

Greg Maddux: In each of the three seasons following his signing by the Braves, from 1993 through 1995, Maddux won the National League ERA title, the Gold Glove for pitchers, and the Cy Young award (the latter two times unanimously). He also led the league in innings pitched during those seasons, as he also had in 1991 and 1992. Put simply, Maddux was the best pitcher in the NL through this period and added to a record that would ultimately position him among the game’s all-time greats. Ultimately, the 2014 Hall of Fame inductee achieved 194 of his remarkable 355 career victories in a Braves uniform. The Braves won their division title in 1993, won the World Series in 1995, and qualified for the playoffs during every season Maddux pitched for the team – save for the 1994 season, which did not include a postseason. During the five years covered by the contract Maddux signed at the 1992 winter meeting, the pitching star remarkably accumulated an average of eight wins above replacement (WAR) per season. Using traditional statistics, he was credited with 89 wins against only 33 losses and posted a 2.13 ERA during the period.

Bobby Bonds: Bonds, of course, is one of the most controversial players in recent baseball history largely because of his eventual association with the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) and the tremendous offensive statistics he accumulated late in his career. A number of high profile successful athletes tied to BALCO were ultimately accused of using designer anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. Allegedly, Bonds turned to BALCO after the 1998 season when sluggers Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire both surpassed the single-season home run record. The contract Bonds signed in 1992 extended only through that 1998 season. The left fielder won the MVP for his new team in 1993, was selected as an All-Star in every season covered by the contract, and averaged 39 home runs and 110 RBIs over those six seasons. Bonds also won the Gold Glove in each of those years, other than 1995. He hit for a .307 batting average, attained a .445 on-base average, and slugged .617 during the life of the contract. The 1997 Giants won the NL West, but lost in the first round of the playoffs. During those seasons, Bonds also accumulated a whopping 50.8 WAR, or nearly 8.5 per season. Largely because of his late career association with BALCO and steroids accusations, Bonds has not been elected to the Hall of Fame.  The seven-time NL MVP retired with a major-league-leading 762 home runs.

Andre Dawson: Somewhat disappointingly, Dawson hit only 39 additional home runs in his career, including 29 for the Red Sox. Because of age and declining health, Dawson mostly played as a designated hitter for the Red Sox. He managed 20 appearances in the outfield during 1993 and none in 1994. During this inflated offensive era, over 70 major-league players hit more home runs than Dawson managed during those two seasons. Boston finished fifth and fourth in their division during the two contract years.

Paul Molitor: During the first two years in Toronto, the 36 year old Molitor paid immediate dividends, compiling batting averages of .332 and .341, on-base averages of .402 and .410 and a slugging percentage of .509 and .518. Molitor finished second in the MVP voting in 1993 and was named World Series MVP. Molitor retired after the 1998 season and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.

Kirby Puckett: Puckett played three more All-Star seasons for the Twins, hitting over .300 through the contract and leading the league in RBIs in 1994. Unfortunately, Puckett was forced to retire abruptly from the game late in spring training in 1996 when he developed glaucoma and lost vision in his right eye. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001 and died in March 2006 after suffering a stroke.

Ozzie Smith: Smith enjoyed two more years as a regular shortstop and made three All Star teams before his career ended with the 1996 season. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.

Joe Carter: Carter would continue to be a fearsome slugger and finished 12th and 10th in MVP voting in 1993 and 1994, respectively. Most memorably, Carter hit the 1993 World Series clinching three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Six.

Greg Swindell: Swindell started 84 games for the Astros during the length of that contract, compiling a 30-34 win-loss record and a 4.48 ERA.

Dave Stewart: Stewart went 12-8 as a member of the World Champion Jays team in 1993, with a 4.44 ERA. He was named the MVP of the American League Championship Series after winning two games during that series. Stewart did not pitch nearly as well in two starts in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies and his 1994 ERA ballooned to 5.87 in just 22 starts.

Todd Worrell: Worrell did not assume the high-profile closer role until the final year of his contract when he recorded 32 saves and had a 2.02 ERA During the first two years, his age 32 and 33 seasons, Worrell saved only 16 games and had seasonal ERA totals of 6.05 and 4.29 in about 40 innings pitched per year.

Randy Myers: Myers had been San Diego’s primary relief ace and he would lead the NL in saves for the Cubs in two of the next three seasons. His ERA also approached 4.00 in two of those three seasons. In his best year, 1993, Myers finished eighth in the National League Cy Young voting.

J.T. Snow: Over the next four years, Snow hit 65 home runs in almost 2,000 plate appearances for the Angels, with an OBA of .330 and a slugging percentage of .410. He would win two gold gloves for the Angels.



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Sunday, May 15, 2016

College Baseball 2016

I went to Jim Patterson stadium today to see the Louisville Cardinals beat the North Carolina State Wolfpack 6-1 in baseball. Both teams are ranked in the top 10 and have decent chances of playing in Omaha this summer.

The Cards started former ace (and very high 2015 draft pick) Kyle Funkhouser. He went 7 strong innings, yielding only 1 run, 2 hits, and 3 walks in 7 innings plus. He struck out 8 batters and looked fairly impressive, though the walks have been an issue for him. His fastball was consistently 93-94-95. He walked a batter in the first to get in trouble when a called strike that was called ball four would have yielded a strike out-caught stealing double play. He also walked the last batter he faced, which yielded the one run he allowed.


NC State's offense didn't do much, but their first baseman is Preston Palmeiro, son of Rafael:



Their shortstop today was Joe Dunand, nephew of Alex Rodriguez. A lot of his mannerisms seem borrowed from his uncle. 




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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Endowments at UofL

Anyone at the University of Louisville who relies upon endowment funding received some very bad news earlier this month. University endowments declined about 17% in 2015.

While this is very bad news in the short term, it is actually part of a larger long-term problem.

At their peak, UofL endowments were worth $824 million on June 30, 2014. However, in a period covering more than a decade, University endowments are up only about 7% in total. This is not as good as the performance of in-state rival University of Kentucky, which has seen its endowments nearly double in that period. InsiderLouisville, which reported these facts, included this long-term chart in a March 2016 story:

Figures provided by the University of Louisville Foundation and the University of Kentucky

Given the recent hullabaloo over President Jim Ramsey's tenure at the university, I decided to investigate a bit further (especially given other recent controversies). After all, Ramsey is also the President of the University of Louisville Foundation, which is responsible for endowments. The Foundation outsources much of its money management, but is ultimately responsible for the outcomes. As its own webpage proclaims, "The Foundation is an independent 501(c)(3) not for profit corporation that holds, invests and designates funds of the University." Moreover:
The students, academic staff, schools, colleges and libraries of the University rely heavily on support generated from the endowments of the Foundation. These funds are invested and managed by the Foundation in support of the university’s education, research and service goals and used for scholarships, endowments, research chairs, grants and other academic initiatives. Gifts to the University are managed according to the wishes of the donor and the appropriate University departments. Gifts without restrictions are managed at the discretion of the Foundation Board upon recommendation of the president. 
Additionally,, the President often references his fundraising as a major success story at the University. In his recent public presentations (I saw these slides at a meeting with Arts and Sciences faculty and staff), the President notes that University of Louisville Foundation "private support" has grown from $35 million in FY 2002-03 to $154.7 million in FY 2015-16. 

Ramsey was hired at UofL on August 1, 2002, so this is essentially his tenure at UofL.

What about endowments during his entire tenure?

The endowment was worth $550 million on December 31, 2001, as revealed at the March 2002 Foundation Finance Committee meeting. Apparently, some UofL sources recently claimed that the value was only $221 million in 2002. At least one media outlet reported this number without checking the primary sources as I have here.

By the way, the endowment had grown an average of 14.7% annually for 5 years prior to Ramsey’s August 1, 2002 start date. This was reported to the Board of Trustees at their March 2002 meeting. Again, I'm linking to the primary sources from the University.

The endowment was worth $646 million on January 31, 2016. That means that during Ramsey's tenure as President of the University and the Foundation, the endowment has grown a total of $96 million, or about 17%. Annualized, the rate is about 1.25%.

Obviously, the growth would be a lot different if the baseline number was $221 million.

In any event, by comparison, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) closed at 10021.57 on December 31, 2001. On December 31, 2015, the DJIA closed at 17,425.03, which means that it increased in value by about 73% during that time, or about 5.2% annually.

Readers with long memories may recall that fall 2001 was a tough time for the stock market. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks stock prices tumbled.

Indeed, because the value seemed low versus historic averages, my wife and I decided to invest about $5000 in the stock market that fall. However, we didn't really know anything and we didn't want to spend lots of money on a broker. We thought the future would involve more technology and knew that the NASDAQ hosted most tech stocks. Thus, we bought 150 shares of QQQ, which is an "exchange-traded fund (ETF) that gives investors and traders a snapshot of how some of the largest technology companies are trading stocks. The QQQ is heavily weighted toward large technology companies trading on the Nasdaq stock market, with over 50% allocated in the information technology sector."

We purchased 100 shares in October 2001 and 50 more a few months later in early 2002 (it was actually called QQQQ until 2011). The price was around $35 per share. For apples-to-apples purposes, the QQQ closed at $38.91 on December 31, 2001. On December 31, 2015, QQQ closed at 111.86. That means this NASDAQ-linked fund has almost tripled in value since the date we purchased it.

My only regret in hindsight is that we didn't invest more in QQQ.

Overall, both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and NASDAQ index funds have offered a lot of value in average returns during President Jim Ramsey's tenure at UofL. Yet, the Unviersity's money gurus have managed to dramatically underperform the market.

How does this align with Ramsey's claimed fundraising success? I offer three explanations.

First, it appears the baseline start number has been....er, mis-remembered.

Second, some of the fundraising has undoubtedly reflected one-time gifts that have been spent on specific projects. These are not endowed funds and are quite valuable to the University.

Third, as media outlets have reported, in recent down years, the University has been spending endowment assets to pay bills. "Asked about the drop in endowment value after the March board meeting of the U of L Foundation, Ramsey said they’ve been using Foundation assets to pay the bills and replace declining state appropriations, and expect increased donations and an improvement in the market to make up for what they’ve recently lost."

Let's hope this plan works out because the investment results have certainly not been great during Ramsey's tenure.


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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

ISA 2016

Looking back at the archives, I forgot to blog about the ISA conference in Atlanta during mid-March. While at the conference I  caught up with some old friends, watched the first round NCAA Kansas basketball victory, drank some good local beers, and served as a discussant and/or chair of three different panels.

I also delivered a paper, "Popular Culture and Public Deliberation about Torture" that needs a good deal of work even though it is too long. That link takes you to the working draft at academia.edu.


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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

College Sports are Broken at Louisville

As I mentioned last week, the same day that the Kentucky legislature agreed to cut University of Louisville funding by 4.5% (roughly a $6.3 million annual spending reduction), the Athletic Department announced that football coach Bobby Petrino had been given a 7-year contract worth over $30 million. He'll be the 12th highest paid college football coach in the land, making over $4.25 million annually.

Today's sports section featured a story about the team hiring a new offensive coordinator at $607,000 per year in salary. The same story mentions that three other newly hired coaches are making about $600,000 per year in combined salary, meaning that these four assistant coaches are making over $1.2 million next year. Given that this is only a fraction of the coaching staff, the football coaches' total compensation will almost surely exceed the size of the state budget cut the rest of the University is facing.

As I wrote last week, new assistant professors make about $54,000 in my department at UofL. Even figuring nearly 30% in benefits, the University could hire 85 assistant professors for the cost of the football staff.

There's more recent news along these lines if you pay attention. For example, the front page of the February 4 sports section of the Courier-Journal carried news that the University is seeking $55 million to (again) expand the football stadium.

These stories highlight much that is wrong at my University and with big-time college athletics. Before I list them, I know the arguments that boosters make. Basically, they argue that big-time college sports are a competitive business and these salaries and stadium costs reflect "the market" conditions. Athletic Director Tom Jurich, for instance, defended his contract to Petrino with these words: "This is a very competitive business. There's a very, very small handful of great coaches in this country. I think that's very self-explanatory. It's obvious that we have one of them. So I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that he stays with us, that he finishes his career with us." The same article claims that "None of this is money from the university, or taxpayers, or student tuition or fees."

Frankly, these arguments are laughable.

First, as more-and-more student athletes have been arguing, they are essentially underpaid labor in a business that strictly limits what they can be compensated. In a free market, the star athletes make a lot more than the coaches. As Taylor Branch wrote in The Atlantic back in fall 2011, college athletes do not work in a market environment:
College athletes are not slaves. Yet to survey the scene—corporations and universities enriching themselves on the backs of uncompensated young men, whose status as “student-athletes” deprives them of the right to due process guaranteed by the Constitution—is to catch an unmistakable whiff of the plantation. Perhaps a more apt metaphor is colonialism: college sports, as overseen by the NCAA, is a system imposed by well-meaning paternalists and rationalized with hoary sentiments about caring for the well-being of the colonized. But it is, nonetheless, unjust. 
Second, market competition is artificially restricted. New business cannot spring up to compete against NCAA division I football or basketball programs. These businesses have formed a cartel, as Joe Nocera has written: "the N.C.A.A.’s real role is to oversee the collusion of university athletic departments, whose goal is to maximize revenue and suppress the wages of its captive labor force, a k a the players." He continues:
The N.C.A.A. has neither an antitrust exemption nor a player’s union to negotiate with. In other words, it lacks some of the legal protections that shield professional sports from antitrust suits. What it has, instead, is a work force full of young adults dreaming of becoming pros and willing to sign any document, no matter how onerous, if it will help them reach that goal. The document the N.C.A.A. forces them to sign completely stacks the deck against them.
Third, college sports are highly subsidized by government taxpayers and students (as I've blogged previously). The "free market" in college sports is cash-rich partly because some revenues are guaranteed and some costs are paid by third parties who do not directly benefit from athletics. Only about a dozen big schools do not subsidize their athletic programs and about another dozen could survive without subsidies. Some programs receive tens of millions of dollars in subsidies. The total amounts involved are truly staggering: "Public universities poured more than $10 billion over the last five years into their athletics programs."

At Louisville, about 20% of subsidies come explicitly from student fees and the total amount of subsidies averaged about $10 million annually from 2010-2014 (for a total of nearly $50 million). Again, for emphasis, in recent years the University has transferred about $2 million per year in student fees to athletics. Athletics has at least sometimes transferred a similar sum back to the University, but that is often framed as a generous gift from athletics rather than a repayment for subsidies.

Fourth, college football and basketball depend upon television revenue that is itself distorted by non-market limits on competition. This is from Reason magazine, so it is admittedly the extreme version of the libertarian argument. Nonetheless, the point it makes about the cost of doing business is true:
In an ideal world there would be property rights in, and markets for, spectrum. Unfortunately, the federal government nationalized the airwaves in 1927 and since then only licenses their use. Today, wireless broadband providers like Verizon and AT&T must bid at auction for the spectrum licenses they use, and this bidding helps ensure that the valuable airwaves are allocated efficiently to their best uses. Television broadcasters, on the other hand, have never had to bid for airwaves. The Federal Communications Commission licenses spectrum to station owners in exchange for a promise that they will operate in the public interest—and that includes making their programming available for free over-the-air and supported by commercial advertising.
Basically, there's a lot of extra cash in TV because the networks don't pay market prices for the right to use the spectrum. It creates a lot of funny money when they sell ads for programs.

Beyond these free market arguments, there are other economic (and ethical) reasons to challenge UofL athletic spending.

Sports competes with academics for philanthropy and other funds. Athletic Director Jurich notes that the stadium expansion will be privately funded, but that just means that UofL academics will be competing with the rest of the University to find new funding to replace funds lost to budget cuts.

Finally, consider the top-dollar nepotism at work in UofL Athletics. Tom Jurich's son Mark Jurich works for the Athletic Association in a variety of capacities. The former campus baseball star makes over $160,000 per year.

Bobby Petrino's son Nick is now the wide receivers coach for his father's team and probably makes $150,000 since that seems to be the minimum UofL coaches make. Petrino son-in-law LD Scott makes $150,000, according to that USA Today database.

A few years ago, Rick Pitino's son Richard served as an assistant basketball coach for two years. 

There's nothing like strong family ties, amirite?


---------------------------------------
Note: This is the third in a recent series about the political economy of the University of Louisville.

Part 1: It's Good to Be the King posted April 12, 2016, concerns President Jim Ramsey's lucrative relationship with Texas Roadhouse.

Part 2: Winner-Take-All in the University Setting posted April 15, 2016, discusses the stagnation in assistant professor salaries, juxtaposed against the explosion in university president compensation.


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