From Deflategate to Ultimate Fate: Brady still suspended

Here. We go. Again. The name Tom Brady rings bells from Boston to Singapore, yet, as if the four time Superbowl champion and three time Superbowl MVP does not already soak up his fair share of the spotlight, he once again finds himself familiarly positioned centerstage. This morning, news broke that Tom Brady’s transiently successful appeal of his post-Deflategate four-game suspension was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. To put things into perspective, here is a brief timeline of events that brought us to this juncture:

Deflategate to Ultimate Fate, a short timeline of events.

Now, people have been lobbying since the very beginning that Deflategate is a textbook example of selective bias; every quarterback prefers a different level of inflation and virtually every team alters balls in some way to please their gunslingers. Some have analogized it to jaywalking. While technically against the rules, the relatively innocuous practice has become commonplace such that it is barely enforced.

Even if Brady himself deflated the balls, it could not have had that much of an effect on the game in question, which was a slaying.

While this all may be true, it is not what today’s ruling was about. Today’s decision was not the result of any determination as to whether Roger Goodell’s punishment was based in truth or fact. It did not evaluate whether the punishment fit the crime. The governing principle behind the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision was section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), which discusses the viability of a district court to handle contract disputes between an employee and a labor organization. The decision, citing the LMRA, claims there is a “clear preference for the private resolution of labor disputes without government intervention” (p. 11).

A collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is more than just a contract, according to the decision. In the courts opinion, the LMRA views the agreement as a framework for handling a “myriad” of disputes, the extent of which its authors cannot fully anticipate (p. 11).

Since a CBA is not drafted by legislatures or government agencies, but rather crafted, reworked and refined by the actual interested parties, it ends up more accurately modeling an agreement that better conforms to the needs of both sides. As such, the arbitrator chosen to handle disputes, who is mutually agreed upon, represents someone of particular institutional expertise and judgement.

Therefore, in the courts opinion, it has no authority to alter the terms of the CBA by evaluating Goodell’s judgement or decision-making process. Both the League and the NFL Players Association agreed many years ago to give the Commissioner broad, discretionary authority over league conduct. The Commissioner has the right to punish anyone he “reasonably judge[s]” to have engaged in “conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football” (Article 46 of the CBA). Thus, the only duty of the court was to determine whether Goodell was “even arguably” acting “within the scope of his authority” when he suspended Brady (p. 12). And, by the letter of the law, he was.

In short, because the collective bargaining agreement, the contract which gives Goodell such broad power, was created and agreed upon by both parties to the dispute, it is the court’s opinion that it has no authority to substitute it’s judgement for Goodell’s. The court puts full faith in both the League and the NFLPA to draft an agreement that designates an arbitrator who they both believe has intrinsic institutional knowledge and experience, thus, superior judgement. Ultimately, it is his interpretation of the facts that governs, not the courts.

Was the punishment too harsh? Perhaps. Is four games excessive and inappropriate? Some would say. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has declined to answer those questions although, they did leave us, and Brady, with one last bit of advice: if you don’t like the decision, redraft the agreement.




Rational choice theory and the problem of methodological individualism


There is an old joke that goes as follows:

A physicist, an engineer and an economist are stranded on an island. With a serious stroke of good luck, canned food items begin washing up on shore. In an attempt to open them, the physicist creates a contraption that is designed to use a rock and the force of gravity to open the lid. He is not successful. The engineer crafts a simple device using two rocks to create enough pressure to pop the lid off, yet to no avail. Suddenly, the economist jumps up and shouts to the others. Possessed with the excitement of a brilliant idea, he exclaims: “I’ve got it! Why don’t we just assume a can opener?”

The joke, however dry, actually cuts to the heart of a serious issue in the realm of social science, one in which a critical unveiling must be made. Mainstream economics, which constitutes a mix of neoclassical and Keynesian economics, continues to populate textbook pages without so much as a footnote discussing the uncertainty of it’s theoretical underpinning. Rational choice theory dominates neoclassical economics as the fundamental framework for modeling behavior, and although it is flawed critically by poor statistical methods, it continues to maintain an overwhelming prevalence in literature (see Green & Shapiro 1994). The theory, in short, posits that each individual within a social system makes choices based on his or her preferences and constraints, and that the sum of all those individual decisions produces the aggregate behavior of society. Rational choice theory makes two weighty assumptions and a variety of secondary assumptions about its actors. The theory mainly rests on the premise that rational actors can always make complete decisions (i.e., they can always say whether they prefer A to B, or B to A) and that those decisions are transitive, meaning if A is preferred to B, and B is preferred to C, then A is always preferred over C. There are many different “versions” (see Hodgson 2012) of rationality, but in the version fundamental to modern economics, gain maximization is the primary motivator for human action, creating a scenario in which individuals choose and rank preferences based on highest net benefit. Despite it’s widespread employ, there is a rich literature discussing various critiques of the concept of rationality that deserves attention.

Theory formation: a battle of disciplines

In The Method of Decreasing Abstraction, Siegwart Lindenberg claims rationality faces a challenge that is two-fold: economists require it be simple enough to be applied across a wide range of systems and sociologists need it be complex enough to be sufficiently descriptive of the phenomena in question. Lindenberg characterizes rational choice theory as a nexus between “theory-guided research, as found in economics,” and the “strong empirical tradition of sociology” (p. 3). The battle that affects theory formulation is quite simple: empirics versus analytics. Sociologists prefer a complex theory that models the phenomena in question as closely and realistically as possible, thus producing the most reliable empirical data. Economists, on the other hand, favor a theory that can be applied across a diverse set of circumstances. In order to achieve this level of analytical power, economists must simplify the phenomena immensely. In sum, one party wants a simple, diversifiable model while the other wants a complex, realistic one and “the truth does not seem to lie in the middle” (p. 4). Lindenberg attributes this divergence to differences in the goals of each discipline. Economists seek to explain the social system, whether a group of individuals or even a world system, but the unit of analysis remains the system and not its components. Still, its components cannot be completely ignored. Social systems are derived from the aggregate result of individual behaviors. Thus, in seeking to explain the social system itself, one must also focus on the individual. The theory becomes a trade-off between realism and applicability because the more we generalize about the individuals that comprise a social system, the less representative it becomes of that system, yet the more applicable it becomes.

Rationality: no longer the only game in town

This perspective is useful in analyzing the core assumptions of rational choice theory. Are they specific enough to be realistic yet simple enough to be applicable? Has rational choice theory truly achieved the optimal balance between empirics and analytics, or is the scale tipped in favor of one over the other? I would argue it leans heavily toward simplicity. For instance, a premise implied in the assumption of complete and transitive preferences is that actors constantly reevaluate their preferences over time. Since, according to rational choice theory, actors can always form a preference based on their choices (even if that preference is indifference), it implies they always have access to at least partial information about their choices, otherwise they would not be able to form a preference. Rationality does not account for behavioral aspects like traditionalism, in which an individual adds intrinsic value to an object or choice, simply by virtue of ownership or past association. For example, if John prefers A to B today, and John also prefers A to B tomorrow, rationality assumes that, in both instances, John evaluates the information he has available to him and forms his preference based off which option he believes would yield him the maximum utility. However, it is also possible that if John chooses A over B today, based off the information available to him, he will also choose A over B tomorrow, even if circumstances have changed and A no longer provides the highest probability of achieving his maximum utility. John may choose A simply because he has become more comfortable with A than B.

Real world examples that showcase the shortcomings of rationality are burgeoning. A notable one can be found in an article called The Very Idea of Applying Economics: The Modern Minimum-Wage Controversy and Its Antecedents by Thomas C. Leonard, an article I cited a while ago when I wrote about why raising the minimum wage did not matter. Leonard mentions a survey of various manufacturing executives, the results of which revealed the majority of the CEO’s who participated “did not know marginal costs and revenues,” indicating their firms might not always maximize profits (p. 11). Profit maximization is a basic tenet of rational choice theory; it is the primary motivator for preference formation. Since rational choice theory is, at it’s core, “inextricably intertwined” with gain maximization, the entire theory must be abandoned in instances in which it does not occur (Lindenberg 1992, p.6). There are a variety of reasons why utility maximization does not occur.  On an individual level, altruism is not conclusively prevalent, but persistent enough to warrant consideration. On a collective level, preferences can subject to a certain degree of traditionalism. This lends credence to the criticism that rational choice theory may lack complexity and as such, lacks the degree of realism that would make it effective.

Final thoughts

This particular critiques mentioned in this article fall squarely in the realm of methodological individualism.The basic question, in terms of the scope of this article, is whether rationality gives appropriate weight to each of the various individual motives that comprise a social system. Rationality establishes profit maximization as the baseline behavioral expectation and states other motives, such as altruism, while existent, do not occur with enough frequency to affect the norm. This is due, in part, to the simplicity that drives analytics.  Consequently, rationality represents a social system that lacks the “necessary explanatory detail” concerning the individuals that comprise it (Hodgson 2012).

This article was intended to be a very brief insight to a single aspect of a multifaceted criticism, shedding light on the ongoing intellectual volley regarding a concept that dominated economics for decades. Relative to the wealth of literature that exist on this topic, I have barely scratched the surface. Nonetheless, it seems clear to me that we are on the cusp of a major transition in the realm of economics and social science. Weak and oversimplified, the concept of rationality seems less like a reliable starting point and more like a convenient one. It’s core assumptions may be simplistic enough to provide the level of analytical power economists require, but it seems as though they have abstracted too far from reality, with empirics not nearly strong enough to singlehandedly sustain an entire social discipline. Yet, the incredible amount of evidence notwithstanding, some still refuse to accept that they may have been wrong for close to 40 years.


EDIT: This article is still a work in progress.


Read more:

The Very Idea of Applying Economics: The Modern Minimum-Wage Controversy and Its Antecedents, Thomas C. Leonard, Princeton University, 2000

The Method of Decreasing Abstraction, Siegwart Lindenberg, Sage Publications, 1992.

Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory: A Critique of Applications in Political Science, Donald P. Green & Ian Shapiro, Yale University Press, 1994. (Link is to Chapter 2 only)

On the Limits of Rational Choice Theory, Geoffrey M. Hodgson, Economic Thought, 2012.

Minimum Wage Matters? Not As Much As You Think

The economy is an interesting animal. For some, it is an interesting point of research but for others, the mere echo of the word sends shivers down the spine. Deviations from normative economic behavior, such as raising the minimum wage, frighten some because most assume (and logically so) that the economy is the single most influential agent on their well-being. It comes as no surprise then that the economy becomes a valuable departure point for many political debates. Each and every popularly elected official has incentive to discuss the economy for the simple fact that it is a very efficient way to appeal to the masses. Bearing this axiom in mind, I move to discuss the minimum wage, in brief, its roots in neoclassical economic theory and its political implications.

The history and theory behind a minimum working wage

A very influential paper written by Thomas C. Leonard, titled The Very Idea of Applying Economics: The Modern Minimum-Wage Controversy and Its Antecedents (henceforth abbreviated as Applying Economics), provides a very useful starting point, offering comprehensive recapitulation of the history behind a minimum working wage and summarizing major arguments made both for and against the idea of a higher minimum wage. 

In his work, he discusses the underpinnings of a controversial clash between traditional theory and recent findings: neoclassical theory pit against the empirical results of recent studies, most notably those of David Card and Alan Krueger. The former clearly states that when a price floor is set above an equilibrium point, disemployment will occur yet the latter show that “moderate increases in mandated minimum wages do not lead to adverse employment outcomes for low-wage workers” (Leonard, 2).

In Applying Economics, Leonard discusses how Card and Krueger, along with many others, are moving to question basic tenets of price theory economics as they pertain to the labor market. They claim that the labor market may not function quite like the market for goods. There are two basic assumptions economists make when it comes to the job market: (1) that firms always seek profit maximization and (2) the low-skilled job market is competitive. Scholars are questioning these tenets because updated economic studies seem to contradict them. In Applying Economics, Leonard discusses surveys, given to numerous manufacturing CEO’s, the results of which demonstrate that many “did not know marginal costs and revenues” and also discovered “a wide variance in wages paid to production workers of roughly equal productivity.” It may appear as though firms do not always maximize profits and the low-skilled job market may not be ultra-competitive. It is certainly fairly premature to label these findings as truth, but if they are true or have at least a shred of truth in them, it calls for a total reevaluation of the very science of economics.

So if price theory is holy doctrine for the modern science of economics (which it is), then it should come as no surprise that new investigations, ones that question if, how and when price theory can be applied to labor markets, are making waves. The important thing to understand, at least as far as policy goes, is that the debate is immensely more important for methodology than it is the actual economy.

As Leonard points out, minimum-wage effects on the U.S. economy are “small potatoes.” Consider that from 1990 to 1991, the minimum wage in America saw a 27 percent increase, jumping from $3.35 to $4.25, yet only 8 percent of the workforce was affected. Even if firms passed 100 percent of the increased cost of labor onto consumers, prices would have only increased 0.3 percent. Even the Center for Economic Policy and Research has concluded that the “cost shock of [raising] the minimum wage is small relative to most firms’ overall costs and only modest relative to the wages paid to low-wage workers.”

Minimum-wage and political grandstanding

Even if economic effects engendered by moderate increases in mandated wages are generally insignificant, it still makes intuitive sense that politicians would choose to offer their two cents (pun intended) on the minimum wage controversy. The reason is both very simple and heavily rooted in the principles of public representation. Mao Zedong said “appeal to the masses” and that’s exactly what minimum wage, as a political talking point, does. Everybody on the social spectrum, from the upper-class on down, deals almost hand in hand with minimum wage workers everyday — when they go to the supermarket, the department store or the fast food chain. It is logical for consumers to assume that if the wage of their Walmart cashier increases, that increased cost will translate unto themselves. Not only is the minimum wage something that effects everyone, it is an economic term that everyone understands. If a presidential candidate were to talk about the degree of elasticity of supply and demand curves or throw out words like marginal product of labor, he or she would leave many listeners in the dust. But minimum wage is both easily understood and seemingly important, so it becomes an invaluable departure point for grandstanding. Politicians can use this platform to shape an influential yet unsubstantiated economic narrative, delivering claims that, at face value, might seem to be possible but in reality are largely speculative and simply unpredictable. For instance, one might claim that raising the minimum wage will transfer more funds to low-wage workers, increasing consumption and putting more money back into the economy. One could also claim that keeping the minimum wage low would keep inflation at bay and encourage low-skilled workers to educate themselves in hopes of a better paying job. Both of these statements can be used to sway voters but, as I said, the economic effects one would claim to occur are more so concomitants of a fluctuating economy rather than direct effects of minimum wage adjustment.

The bottom line is this: in regards to the minimum wage, theoretically the vote is still not in yet. Investigating this topic from a methodological standpoint is definitely needed. As for it’s practical ramifications, they seem less deserving of presidential attention, especially in light of other more burgeoning economic issues.

Read more: The Very Idea of Applying Economics: The Modern Minimum-Wage Controversy and Its Antecedents, Thomas C. Leonard, Princeton University, 2000

Why Does the Minimum Wage Have No Discernible Effect on Employment?, John Schmitt, Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2013

BREAKING: Rapper Plies to Sue His Own Throat For Copyright Violations

Algernod Lanier Washington, better known by his stage name “Plies”, entered into the rap music scene in the early 2000’s. Despite being featured on several tracks alongside headliners like T-Pain and DJ Khaled, Plies has remained less than well-known to those slightly removed from the world of hip-hop. The true reason for his struggles, though, may have finally surfaced.

Plies, at a concert, circa 2005.

As of today, Plies has allegedly filed a civil lawsuit with the Lee County Civil Court in his hometown of Fort Myers, Florida citing copyright infringement against several co-defendants: his larynx, his tonsils and his uvula (collectively, his “throat”). The entertainer is seeking financial compensation from his scandalous anatomy for the years of 2007 to 2016, on the grounds that his throat “repeatedly and deliberately, without express consent or authorization from Mr. Washington, withheld several letters of each spoken word” that the rapper had vocalized.

Court papers allege that Plies’ throat has actually been stealing letters from his verbal communications since he was born, however the infringement did not begin to occur until the artist began monetizing his rapping “talents,” at which point the interior of his neck began, in effect, stealing words and lyrics to songs written and protected under copyright by Plies.

“When you take into account all the A’s and B’s and C’s and D’s and E’s and F’s and G’s his throat must have deprived him of over the years,” remarked attorney DeShawn Leroy Wilkins III, Esq.,  “and aggregate them all together, you clearly have the lyrics to fill at least 3 CD’s.”

Adam Apple, defense counsel for the accused, responded promptly by calling Plies’ claims “frivolous”, “having no basis in fact” and “completely false.” Apple affirms that the rapper actually gave expressed written consent to his clients “years ago”, which he submitted to the court as Exhibit C.

Exhibit C to court documents filed by Adam Apple, Esq.

Plies’ throat is standing vehemently in their position, contending this drawing, penciled by Plies himself, granted them permission to withhold letters of his words at their discretion.

When asked why his clients are being targeted now, as opposed to years ago when Mr. Washington began his rap career, Apple could only come to one sad but realistic conclusion. “As reluctant as I am to admit this, the case being brought against the larynx, tonsils and uvula is most likely racially motivated. I’ve frequently asked myself if the same anatomy, belonging to a white man, would be questioned, interrogated and accused to the same degree as my clients.” He went on to add that while “personally, [he is] saddened by this reality”, “professionally, I am eager to balance the scales of justice.”

Plies and his legal team are pursuing compensation to the tune of $56.37, the amount they estimate the “artist” would have sold, had he been able to fully pronounce each and every word for 9 years.

Plies was appropriately unavailable for comment.

Local Teen Forgets to Post Open-Letter to Her Dog, Pup Vanishes

PLYWOOD, NY–Madison Vanderbilt, 19, and her family are distraught tonight after the disappearance of their 4 year old Maltipoo, Tuggles. The Plywood, NY teen is left with mostly introspective questions about her behavior in the past few days, leading to Tuggles untimely departure.

Vanderbilt had allegedly made a verbal promise to the animal, claiming she had written a letter to her favorite pet, which she planned to post online for friends, family and tortured prison inmates to read.

Tuggles, a devout Catholic, celebrates Jesus’ birthday.

“I swear I had an entire letter written in my head,” Vanderbilt told our WTFIGO-7 affiliate Joan DeLay, “but I just kept procrastinating, forgetting each day to hit my keyboard.”

Vanderbilt, a communications major at Duller County Community College, added that she could sense Tuggles was growing cold and “recalcitrant” in the days preceding her absence.

According to sources in the canine community, Tuggles was initially ecstatic that her human companion was planning to post an open-letter online, in her honor. However, after a week of no mention on Madison’s blog, the poor pup began to feel neglected, unwanted and out of place.

Apparently, when Madison’s post about the “12 Best Things to Put Nutella On” surfaced, it was the final straw for Tuggles, and she took off, leaving behind her once loving friends and family. For those left questioning her abrupt exit, she left nothing up to interpretation:


tuggles 2
Vanderbilt family dog expresses herself. (© Twitter)


As she heads for greener pastures, one can only hope she finds what she is looking for, what every pet rightly deservers — an owner that will not only feed her, bathe her and love her wholly yet silently within the confines of the home, but one who will dare to scale the digital Kilimanjaro and shout emphatically and incessantly from it’s peak, “You are my dog, and this is how I know!”

Tom Vanderbilt, Madison’s father, humbled by the ordeal, had this to say:

“I guess the age-old adage is true: if you love someone, let the internet know, before its too late.”

Cervantes: On Consciousness

Cervantes was a remarkable author; not just for “Don Quijote”, his most famous work, but also for a plethora of literature that justly warrants acknowledgement those at all ends of the spectrum – from artist, to writer, to scholar and philosopher. Cervantes was, without question and by all metrics, much more than just an author. In his text, there is an intellectual wisdom that has survived, and not only remained contemporarily relevant but continues to offer answers for some of society’s most pressing questions.

Novelas Ejemplares, a collection of medium-length stories written by Cervantes in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s.

If there ever were a philosophical discussion on the essence of human consciousness, Cervantes would have lectured at considerable length. In reading his text, there are, at times, salient satirical critiques on the perception of the natural man. Within the chambers of satire, Cervantes is a revered magistrate. He administers it with straightforwardly, yet with eloquence and tact. In “Colloquy of the Dogs” (El coloquio de los perros) he delivers a most convincing opinion on the essence of consciousness. The entire story exists in the form of a conversation between two dogs, Scipio and Berganza, who have just suddenly inherited the faculty of speech. This work, a single story in a much larger work Novelas ejemplares (Exemplary Novels), is actually a strategic continuation of another story in that collection, “The Deceitful Marriage”, in which, at the very end, the main protagonist is slipping out of consciousness and beginning to enter a dementia induced dream. By use of this unique backdrop, Cervantes effectively segues from reality to fantasy, making the unbelievable believable and reinforces a notion that successful fiction employs certain elements of reality.

The beginning of the conversation is the metaphorical birth of consciousness, with both dogs marveling at the simple fact that they can suddenly speak, similar to that of a man who has suddenly become self-aware. Berganza’s commentary is remarkably telling:

I intend to enjoy it and avail myself of it as much as I can … not knowing when this blessing, which I regard as a loan, shall be reclaimed from me.

Scipio is noticeably intent on being more reserved with his newfound ability, which, considering the satirical lens which appoints the faculty of speech of dogs as the consciousness of man, underscores a duality of human nature. Scipio reprimands Berganza as he begins to speak, explaining that his story, while important, can be told without the “expressive play of features, hands, and voice.” Scipio’s virtues are firmly rooted in a strict adherence to social rules and norms, while Berganza is more expressive and free-spirited. This difference between Scipio and Berganza echoes a natural dichotomy of man, in which he is torn between the unfettered pursuit of the natural and the imposed need to conform to society. The entire subtext is equally satirical of the idea of societal constraints as it is of consciousness because at times both canines appear to operate with their respective caveats – Scipio can, at times, appear strict and harsh with his criticisms while Berganza’s tangents can be distracting.

The dialogue between the two canines is almost completely commandeered by Berganza, who details his personal history by virtue of lengthy descriptions of the various masters he has encountered throughout his life. He tells of masters both menacing and benign, each offering a respective critique on the flaws of humanity. The shepherd, who used Berganza to protect his flock of sheep from wolves, scolds him with a barrage of sticks and rocks for failing to protect the herd, allowing a sheep to be killed. The shepherd reveals to Berganza and the reader a dark, humbling truth of human nature – “[the] shepherds themselves were the wolves”, he admits. Both the shepherd and the wolf inflict pain – the wolf kills the sheep and the shepherd abuses Bergnza – however, their violence could not be more contrasting. The wolf does it out of a natural need for survival, to eat and sustain itself, while man has the capacity to inflict pain absent of any natural need. His impulse stems from his consciousness. The juxtaposition of the shepherd and the wolf is an important one, the distinction between them being the presence of consciousness.

As a whole, the entire text offers a profound commentary about man’s perfidious nature. It gives weight to the moral burden that rests innately upon the shoulders of humanity and highlights the extent to which that burden, the burden of consciousness, causes us to stray from the path of righteousness.

ISIS — new fight, old theory

The United States has been fighting terror in the Middle East for quite some time now — in Iraq and Afghanistan, Al Qaeda and the Taliban and now in Syira, ISIS. Counterinsurgency strategy has found itself the topic of much debate, even when the debaters don’t know they are talking about it. If you have ever sat around and talked about how the US should have handled Al Qaeda or how we should be dealing with the Islamic State, you’re talking about counterinsurgency. As one would imagine, there are conflicting theories surrounding COIN but what one might not know is that modern counterinsurgency strategy, at least in the United States, is comprised of work by many key theorists including Mao Zedong but is arguably most heavily influenced by one man: David Galula. The United States Army field manual for insurgency and counterinsurgency draws heavily on the tenets of his book, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (1964). In it, he pioneered ideas like winning the population, not battling the enemy and established the well-known “clear-hold-build” strategy to overcoming enemy strongholds. The problem is, however, that his theories, while meritorious, are largely outdated and not configured for this new breed of insurgency we are witnessing.

Scholars are now realizing that classical counterinsurgency theory fails to adapt effectively to new paradigms of conflict and must be reworked. Kilcullen offers compelling insight into new-age conflict in his article, “Counterinsurgency Redux” (2006). In it he puts forth several axioms about contemporary insurgency that may offer helpful implications about combating ISIS.

  • Religious Ideology

The most obvious new dynamic about the fight against ISIS is it’s religiously driven ideology. Traditional counterinsurgency assumes that insurgents have “real-world objectives” but it is now clear that their goal “may not seek to do or achieve any practical objective, but rather to be a mujahid, earning God’s favour” (p. 116).

“[The] batt􏰁le is not between al Qaeda and the U.S. This is a batt􏰁le of Muslims against the global crusaders.”

Osama bin Laden, October 2001

If traditional battle success is measured by the ability of one party to deny the other the achievement of goals and victory is defined as the permanent isolation of insurgent from the population, and one which is not enforced upon but maintained by and with the population, then it is ostensible that both of those terms must be redefined in light of the goals of a group like ISIS. If ISIS’s goals are religiously connected, it will be much harder or impossible to stop them from pursuing that goal. If victory is isolation maintained by the population, then not only must the enemy be eradicated but also the ideology. And while it is true that not all ISIS fighters are religiously motivated, it still remains necessary to grasp a better understanding of the religious backbone of ISIS in order to start defeating it.

  • The binary approach

Galula’s theories and the U.S. approach to COIN is predicated on a binary classification of conflict. That is, one in which there is a clear insurgent and counterinsurgent force. However, as Kilcullen points out, modern insurgency, like the one in Syria, confute this approach since “there are oft􏰀en multiple competing insurgent forces fighting each other as well as the government” (p. 122).

This offers valuable implications on how to combat ISIS. Multi-party conflict is a much different animal than conventional civil war and engaging one single adversary may or may not be disadvantageous. As Kilcullen puts it, in a “conflict ecosystem” in which multiple parties are competing to “maximize survivability,” rectifying an unstable environment might presuppose defeating the insurgent.

  • A political fight

Extant theories on counterinsurgency call for a ‘unity of effort’ — consolidated control of power across all agencies involved in conflict. Much like the military calls for ‘unity of command,’ so that directives given at the top are carried out in an effective manner by foot soldiers, counterinsurgency calls for that same unity. The paradigm shift of conflict, however, has birthed a host of different actors that operate outside the control of the counterinsurgent. Actors such as global media, NGO’s and religious leaders are “critical for success” but will also refuse to accept direction, therefore denying successful counterinsurgency through lack of collaboration.

Galula characterized COIN as 80% political, twenty percent military. Kilcullen debates whether or not COIN is now 100% political, given the “pervasive media presence” that accompanies it.

Terror group the Islamic State is a media juggernaut — every major and subsidiary news outlet in America, and much of the modernized world, extolls a plethora of headline stories about ISIS, covering everything from their battle and ideology to their alarming size. Obama has been criticized for failing to address the legitimacy of ISIS; I even wrote an article defending Obama’s deliberate choice to not label Chattanooga, Tennessee shooter Mohammed Abdulazeez an act of ‘Islamic extremism or terrorism.’ It needs to be realized that the fight against ISIS is shaped largely by global and domestic media, and that the words they choose to use, misuse or not use, all effect the dynamic of conflict.

In sum, the traditional understanding and applications of counterinsurgency tactics seem to be undermined by a shift in conflict paradigms. Insurgency looks much different than it used to, and existing military strategies and theories are misconfigured in light of these new circumstances. The fight against ISIS is a complex one, but it is one that involves a utilization of combat methods that may remain understudied. It should be the goal of leaders in military to cooperate with scholars to update the theory on counterinsurgency and help implement a more effective strategy to fighting terror groups like ISIS.

Partisan politics — here’s why Washington doesn’t work

United States Capitol Building. Washington, DC.

Politics in almost every corner of the globe feature some sort of party system, though they vary greatly in size, shape and function from state to state. Here in America, the political arena is dominated by two major parties, Republicans and Democrats, and no part of the political process, from elections to legislation, escapes their influence. Working from the assumption that at the crux of both parties lies a common, overarching goal of a better America, it seems paradoxical then that Democrats and Republicans are so frequently and vigorously at odds with each other. Differences in opinion on how to run the country are always sure to exist, but a crippling polarization has developed and has stifled our ability to progress as a nation.

During the 1950’s, a man by the name of Maurice Duverger began to notice an understated correlation between party and electoral systems.  His hypothesis, now widely regarded as “Duverger’s Law”, posits that single-member district electoral systems with plurality voting favor the existence of only two parties. In the United States we see this phenomena embodied — we have single-member congressional districts and first-past-the-post voting. The logic holds that even if a third party candidate is the ideal choice for a voter, she will rationally realize that third party members have low realistic chances of garnering enough votes to win, so she decides to use her vote on a member of either of the two major parties who most closely relates to their first choice.

Building on the premise that no third party candidate will ever have a viable chance to enter Congress or the White House, and understanding the reality of the two party system in the United States, the question then becomes: how can we change the political landscapes of both major parties so that they are not constantly trying to block the other’s progress, but rather working together toward a collective one? According to the US Election project (, voter turnout for presidential primaries and caucuses is extremely low, hovering anywhere from 1% to 20%. So not only are we tied to a two-party system, but one in which both major parties are filled with members who only represent a fraction of the population. If the Republican and Democratic parties stand, in all actuality, to represent less than a quarter of voters, it seems logical to assume the ones they do end up representing would tend to be the most polarized ones. Once more people start heading to the polls for congressional elections, primaries and caucuses we will undoubtedly start to see two parties that better represent a larger portion of the electorate, producing a joint ideological shift that brings them closer together on the political spectrum.

Changing the political landscape of the United States is difficult, but it starts with voters, and it starts at a level much lower than the president. Pay attention to congressional elections and participate in them. Vote in primaries. Vote in presidential elections (obviously). It’s hard to say for sure, but if we can boost voter turnout in all aspects of our democracy, we might just start to see a better functioning America.

P.S. — I’ll be the first to admit that this article is only a brief addressing of a complicated problem, a quick summary of a theory that needs fleshing out, but one that has many implications. Perhaps congressional party switching can be linked to the duality of Duverger’s law and low voter turnout, leaving representatives who feel their current party’s views no longer coincide with their own with only one option: cross the aisle. There is much to discuss on this topic and perhaps a full length paper is in order.

GOP or MTV? Debate falls short of expectations


Thursday night was the first debate for the Republican party presidential contenders and the race for a nomination just got a bit more…comical? Positioned centerstage was none other than controversial headliner Donald Trump. To his right stood Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and flanking left was former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, with the rest of the candidates fanned out across the stage. The mood was set for a juicy debate between the top-1o presidential hopefuls for the GOP. Unfortunately, the debate was, by and large, more entertaining than it was informative.


For those who tuned in for a primetime serving of drama, they certainly got their fill. The debate opened in one of the most controversial ways in recent memory — when the candidates were asked whether they would pledge their support to the eventual GOP nominee and promise to not campaign as an independent, again it was Trump in the center of attention, a place becoming all too familiar for him, as he pompously and lonesomely raised his hand. Rand Paul quickly objected,  claiming “this is what’s wrong” with Trump running for president. Trump pulled a bold move, which appears to me to either show his true colors, revealing the mendacious nature of his candidacy or it was a simple publicity stunt to stir the pot, something he enjoys to do. His refusal will undoubtedly cost him votes amongst hardcore Republicans, but it’s still unclear to what extent it will actually effect his numbers.

Moving on, but not very far, because if you tuned in to hear policy proposals, economic strategies or foreign policy arguments, you were unapologetically disappointed. During the broadcast, one which the public uses to gauge aptitude for oval office, topics like wealth inequality, racial tensions, or healthcare were hardly, if at all, mentioned. Not all was lost, however, because at least American voters are now privy to Donald Trump’s opinion of Rosie O’Donnell. When Ohio Gov. John Kasich was asked about immigration, he replied by saying he took the state of Ohio from $8 billion in the hole to $2 billion in the black. Relevant enough, right? When ISIS was first brought up, the question was not “how do you plan to deal with ISIS?”, but rather it was “why are you so quick to blame [Republicans]” for the rise of ISIS? Before we stop ISIS from growing and killing more, we need to know, Dr. Paul, why are you bashing your own party? Excellent question. Ted Cruz answered an ISIS question by slamming Obama for not using the words “radical Islamic terrorism.” The debate was filled with more political mudslinging, both at candidates on stage and especially Hillary Clinton, than actual substance. I’ve read headlines that claim no one “outshined” Donald Trump at the debate — he might as well have not been there. He literally said nothing: “America is losing, our leaders are stupid, we need a wall at the borer.” That gives us a lot to go off of, Don. And to think I was afraid you were going to be vague.

Aside from a moving closing statement from Dr. Ben Carson, the debate was an unsubstantiated mess. It should be treated as a forum for presidential candidates to address the public directly, offering detailed strategies they have for the country, and using those plans as a way to convince voters to choose them come election day. Instead, it was something much less. Entertaining? Sure, by some stretch. Beneficial, however? Not by a long shot.