Monthly Archives: October 2009

There Has Been A Lot Of Debates About The Goldstone Report And Here’s One More

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Bloggingheads between Posner and Henry Farrell on the book.

Henry Farrell:

I just did a bloggingheads with Eric Posner which was all about this topic (the nature of international law, not the Goldstone report) – Eric has a new book which, it would be fair to say, is not particularly favorable towards international law. Me, I find the debates among legal academics about international law weird and confusing (perhaps because I am a political scientist, who thinks in very different terms). It seems to me that the concept of international law bundles several, quite incongruous things together, which have very different sources and degrees of legitimacy.

First are things like UN Security Council approval for the use of force. This is international law – but I don’t think that one can plausibly argue that it has much inherent legitimacy (see Erik Voeten on this). The justifications for respecting this kind of law are pragmatic. First, UN Security Council approval raises the bar for the use of force significantly, making it somewhat less likely that force will be employed (while states sometimes ignore this requirement, it does cost them). If you think (as I do) that force really should be a last resort, then this is probably a good thing. Second, uses of force that are unlikely to get UN Security Council approval are more likely to fail than uses of force that do, precisely because the latter have the backing or tacit assent of several of the great powers, while the former do not. Thus, there is some real pragmatic justification for abiding by the Security Council most of the time, but I don’t see much of a case that, say, getting the approval of China is likely to be a source of deep normative legitimacy.

Second, is international law regarding, for example, the conduct of wars. This, it seems to me, has considerably stronger normative justification. It stems less from pure power politics than from a shared set of concerns that states have in e.g. minimizing the role of civilian casualties. There is likely a very plausible case to be made that these norms ought to be much tougher and more restrictive than they are – even if they are not a product of power politics they are limited by these politics. Nonetheless, even if they are weaker than they should be, they are still a lot better than nothing. And here, the Goldstone report was exactly right – the ‘but he did it first’ excuse is not, and cannot be a justification for committing war crimes. Nor does the ‘self-hating Jew’ claim, or other ways of attacking the messenger (for a broad sampling of such attacks on various parties, see our indefatigable friend David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy) really stick – if you are unnecessarily killing or seriously injuring hundreds or thousands of civilians, you are unnecessarily killing or seriously injuring hundreds or thousands of civilians, and there is no very good way of getting around this awkward fact. Both Gideon and Eric would point to the undoubted fact that the leading politicians of great powers (or their important clients) are highly unlikely to find themselves in the dock for war crimes. But direct punitive sanctioning is not the only effect of law. It can influence the perceived legitimacy of a particular state, its actions and its leadership. It is quite clear that Israel has taken a substantial reputational hit from the Goldstone report, even if it will never be condemned by the UN Security Council, and that Israel’s leaders are worried and upset about this.

Third are efforts being pushed e.g. by the European Court of Justice to make international law less focused on raw power politics and more on accountability. Here, I think that Eric’s book is wrong. He interprets the European Court of Justice’s holding that “the human rights commitments of European countries take precedence over Security Council resolutions” as evidence that “as Europe becomes a powerful nation, its commitment to international law will weaken.” (p.116). The suggestion here is that Europe is becoming more like the US as it is becoming more integrated and powerful. But this interpretation isn’t really born out by the case that Eric refers to, in which the ECJ held that UN terrorist watchlists were illegal under European law because they had no provisions for effective review.

Posner responds:

Henry Farrell continues our conversation about my book.  One thing he says is that international law should not be regarded as a single entity, which is either “good” or “bad,” but is a label attached to a multitude of cooperative arrangements undertaken by states, which should be evaluated on their own terms.  Security Council resolutions have no inherent moral valence, even though they are issued pursuant to the legal authority created by the UN charter, and are legally binding themselves.  The Security Council is a club of great powers, after all; it has no democratic (or other) legitimacy.  The resolutions are valuable just insofar as they alert other states that the great powers agree on a course of action, which is a useful thing for states to know.  The resolutions have pragmatic value, then, not moral value.  By contrast, the laws of war really do have moral value because they serve a moral purpose—the reduction of suffering during wartime.  Unlike the UN charter, the laws of war reflect moral norms that cross borders.

I am sorry that Henry, having read my book, thinks that I hold the contrary view, at least with respect to his broader methodological point.  The global legalists I criticize are the ones who fetishize international law, not I.  I’m not sure, though, Henry appreciates the radical implications of his argument, at least for the lawyers and states who purport to follow their advice.  No one actually says that states should be free to disregard Security Council resolutions for pragmatic reasons.  When the United States invaded Iraq, the main source of outrage—at least in some quarters—is that the United States violated the UN Charter.  Why is this?  The proper reaction, according to Henry, would be to tote up the costs and benefits of the American intervention, taking into account the fact that most other great powers disapproved of this intervention, and evaluate accordingly.  There is no harm to international law per se; the only consequence of the failure to secure a resolution is that other states learned the great powers did not support the intervention.

However, I don’t understand why Henry draws such a sharp distinction between the UN charter and the laws of war.  The laws of war just reflect a series of agreements between states, which have carefully advanced their interests through them.  States never sought to advance the interests of humanity or universal moral values: they were trying to make warfare more useful and less damaging to their interests.  Powerful states have agreed not to use certain weapons and tactics as long as two conditions are met: that any particular obligation give no other state an advantage over them, and that any other particular state reciprocate.  Otherwise, one is just setting oneself up to lose the war, or to win only with more difficulty (meaning more casualties and destruction), and what is the point of that?

It is true that the Geneva Conventions contain limitations on reprisals and insist that many obligations are not dependent on the similar behavior of foreign states.  But—and here is the important point—these rules are not actually obeyed when states go to war, at least not very much.  States have always departed from the rules when military necessity beckoned, and they are not about to stop.  It is only because people don’t or can’t understand this that American behavior in the conflict with Al Qaeda seems anomalous to them, leading them to claim that the United States or the Bush administration is uniquely evil.  But the old idea never went away: since they don’t play by the rules, neither will we.  Expect similar behavior in future wars.

The upshot is that the laws of war advance moral values only to the extent that those values happen to coincide with the interests of the states that make them.  It should hardly be surprising that this turns out not always to be the case.  The laws of war imagine a relatively morally neutral war—for example, where two powers fight it over some piece of territory that has been in dispute for reasons that no one any longer remembers.  They make little sense for wars where, morally speaking, one side really should win and the other lose.  Unfortunately, it turns out that many wars have this character—World War II is only the most obvious example, and most people are not bothered by the many violations by the allies (preeminently, the fire-bombing of civilian populations in cities) that seemed necessary at the time to counter the Nazis and prevent them from doing much worse.  For the Gaza War, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that observers’ positions on the law-of-war violations of either side is colored by their sense of the justice of that side’s cause.  If so, this suggests that the aspirations of the laws of war—to establish a set of rules that both sides should comply with regardless of the justice of their cause—have failed.

More Posner:

Here I want to point out another problem with this attitude, at least if one takes seriously its logic.  Let us suppose that the Goldstone report was reasonable and fair (I have not read it, so I have no opinion on this issue).  It is worth recalling that it was commissioned by the Human Rights Council, and would not have taken place but for the decision of that institution.  The Human Rights Council is dominated by illiberal states that cannot agree to condemn North  Korea or Iran or Sudan, but can agree to condemn Israel.  When not condemning Israel, it does two things: it tries to advance a conception of human rights that most western states reject; and it issues bland and uninformative periodic reviews of the human rights practices of states.  If you go to their website, and read their reports, you will notice that when votes occur (as they do for controversial issues but not the bland periodic reviews), there is a distinctive pattern, something like this:

“The voting was as follows:

In favor: Angola, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Uruguay, Zambia;

Against:  Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America.”

Hm, what should we make of this?  Here we see the Americans in the same bloc as the virtuous Europeans.  (In the case of the Goldstone report, some European countries abstained rather than voting no because they objected to the Council’s failure to mention Hamas in its resolution adopting the report.)  Henry’s view is that if reports like the Goldstone report are regularly issued, and the state that is the subject of the report takes a “reputational hit,” that can only be a good thing, because at least some states will be more likely to respect human rights and comply with the laws of war.  But can it be seriously entertained that the minority bloc (and it is a bloc) will put up with this state of affairs?  Why should they, exactly?  If they value human rights and the laws of war, they can comply with them.  If they don’t, they would certainly not put themselves in the position of being the only group of states that will be condemned for violations, giving a free pass to a larger group of states that, as it turns out, act much worse.

International law needs institutions if it’s to get beyond its primitive state, but institutions don’t avoid the problem of power politics; they embody them.

Farrell responds:

There may be a part of Eric’s argument that I am not getting here (the claim in the penultimate sentence is a little too compacted for me to be entirely sure what he is saying, and I would be grateful to have it unpacked), but two things are worth pointing out. First – that the Goldstone report, despite the initial HRC mandate, did prominently condemn both Hamas and Israel (Goldstone made it a condition of his involvement that he be allowed to investigate Hamas’s activities as well as Israel). Second, and more importantly that there is good evidence that the HRC’s predecessor, the even more widely excoriated UN Commission on Human Rights did have a measurable, and arguably positive, effect in punishing notorious human rights violators, despite its many flaws.

[…]

If I understand Eric’s arguments about the CHR at all well, this provides troubling evidence against them. I would be startled if Eric were to argue that the HRC is a ‘better’ example than its predecessor of the kinds of problems that he identifies. Every piece of evidence we have would suggest that the UNCHR was, if anything, worse afflicted by the pathologies that he is interested in. Yet the only serious study that I am aware of (perhaps Eric knows of others) provides strong statistical evidence that the UNCHR was not all about the power politics as Erik would claim, and that UNCHR resolutions were increasingly well explained over time by normative factors (whether or not states genuinely were human rights abusers), and reputational ones (whether or not states were good international citizens). A follow-up study furthermore shows that these condemnations had significant material consequences for the states targeted. I would be very interested to see his response to these pieces (especially since I know that he has some familiarity with, and respect for, Erik Voeten’s single-authored work, and is more generally much more interested than most international law professors in building on the findings of political scientists). Finally, if (and this is certainly not explicitly stated by Eric), his normative case against the HRC extends backwards to its predecessor too, it is, at the very least, substantially overstated. The UNCHR did a considerably better job in targeting actual human rights violators than its critics suggested. If, alternatively, the HRC represents a substantial step backwards from the UNCHR, I would be very interested to see the evidence and supporting arguments stating why this is so.

One possible response Eric could make would be to argue that this is still well explained by states’ interests (albeit perhaps with a different understanding of those interests than in his original work). But this would still be vulnerable to the second, and more serious criticism that I want to make of his book – that it doesn’t really have a theory of what states’ interests are, and that without such a theory its explanatory power is highly limited. I hasten to add that this is a general problem for accounts of international politics based around state behaviour – no-one has come up with a generally convincing account of what states’ interests are. However, it is a particular problem for a book that, like Eric’s, wants to make a strong argument about the inherent limits of international law. More on that in my next post.

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David Brooks Likes His Breakfast With Grits; Liberal Bloggers Eat David Brooks For Breakfast

true-gritDavid Brooks in the NYT:

Most of them have no doubt that the president is conducting an intelligent policy review. They have no doubt that he will come up with some plausible troop level.

They are not worried about his policy choices. Their concerns are more fundamental. They are worried about his determination.

These people, who follow the war for a living, who spend their days in military circles both here and in Afghanistan, have no idea if President Obama is committed to this effort. They have no idea if he is willing to stick by his decisions, explain the war to the American people and persevere through good times and bad.

Their first concerns are about Obama the man. They know he is intellectually sophisticated. They know he is capable of processing complicated arguments and weighing nuanced evidence.

But they do not know if he possesses the trait that is more important than intellectual sophistication and, in fact, stands in tension with it. They do not know if he possesses tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. They do not know if he possesses the obstinacy that guided Lincoln and Churchill, and which must guide all war presidents to some degree.

Adam Serwer in Tapped:

We’ve been hearing some version of the “is Obama tough enough” argument since he started running for president, and as always, it’s really less about Obama’s individual tenacity than whether or not he possesses the same sterling moral qualities that led the questioner to their principled beliefs about public policy. In other words, it’s not “is Obama tough enough” but “is Obama tough enough to do what I want him to do?” And in this case, Brooks wants Obama to show some Green Lantern-style willpower and let everyone know the U.S. is there to stay indefinitely.

“If the president cannot find that core conviction,” Brooks writes, “we should get out now. It would be shameful to deploy more troops only to withdraw them later.” Obviously that’s not the outcome Brooks wants, but you don’t even get the sense that Brooks thinks we should be leaving Afghanistan, you know, ever, or even under what circumstances he thinks that would be appropriate.

Robert Farley:

One choice would imply a lack of determination, while the other choice would reflect more Will, Grit, and Determination than Kaiser Soze? The stupidity here is palpable; if Obama were determined right now to withdraw every last soldier from Afghanistan, he’d earn not a whit of credit from the True Grit Brigade. Determination only, ever means one thing; more troops, more commitment, open ended, with no genuine evaluation of goals, means, or metrics.

I know that you can’t expect much from Brooks, or from the rest of the True Grit Brigade, but Jesus; we just had eight years of a President who put grit, determination, and will ahead of any effort to actually evaluate matters of policy, and NO ONE thinks that this brought about good outcomes. Why don’t we all get DETERMINED, and GRITTY, and use our INFLEXIBLE WILL to modulate down the stupid just a bit? Wouldn’t that maybe be helpful?

Andrew Sullivan:

Obama needs to make a decision not about whether he has the tenacity, but whether the American people and future presidents will be willing to sustain a decades-long occupation of one of the least politically mature cultures in a mountainous and hard-to-reach landscape … with no guarantee of success even with the largest number of troops now envisaged. I think the question answers itself. But the institutional and political interests in sustaining this endeavor are far too great to resist. So a war with weak public support by a state already bankrupt in a country close to ungovernable will continue.

Which is how empires always collapse.

Glenn Greenwald:

David Brooks today says he wanted to write a column about Obama’s pending decision over Afghanistan, and in order to write this column, this is what he tells us he did:  “For the past few days I have tried to do what journalists are supposed to do.”  Sounds intrepid.  What, exactly, is it that “journalists are supposed to”?

As he describes it, Brooks “called around to several of the smartest military experts [he] know[s] to get their views on these controversies.”  These are people “who follow the war for a living.”  He wrote down (at least some of) what they said.  He then passed it on without quoting — or even identifying — a single one of these experts.  That’s his whole column.

In a shocking coincidence, the views of these unnamed, handpicked, anonymous “experts” all happen to coincide perfectly with Brooks’s own warrior views and, more generally, with clichéd neoconservative pablum:   Obama must prove that he’s just like Churchill and Lincoln — that he possesses the toughness and determination that tough guy War Presidents exude:  “tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion” — which can only happen if he escalates the war in Afghanistan.  If he doesn’t do that, it will that prove Obama is weak and too “intellectually sophisticated” to be a real War President.  “Their first concerns are about Obama the man,” Brooks informs us about his invisible friends.  The only thing missing from the trite Kristolian playbook is the accusation that Obama will be just like Neville Chamberlain if he doesn’t send more troops to vanquish the Afghan Hitlers.

Joan Walsh in Salon:

Partly it’s because Brooks likes to pretend to be open-minded and reasonable, while spouting neocon talking points, and occasionally liberals get pulled in by him. But today was trademark lazy ideological Brooks. As Glenn Greenwald notes, unbelievably he bragged about “doing what journalists are supposed to do” — which he defined as talking to a handful of anonymous pro-war sources, who uniformly criticized Obama’s inaction to date on McCrystal’s troop request.

That’s some brave shit. Not quite David Rohde brave, but hey, he made the calls! If it was unanimous, that means he didn’t call retired Marine Matthew Hoh, who resigned from a civilian post in Afghanistan this week because he said we can’t win, and our presense is only fueling the insurgency. Hoh told the Washington Post’s Karen de Young he’s “not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love” and that he believes “there are plenty of dudes who need to be killed,” adding: “I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys.”

That question of toughness, macho, manhood, always comes up when we discuss what it would mean for Obama to get realistic about his two wars and get really serious about winding them down. David Brooks’ worst Obama slur in his Friday column was the quietly outrageous, ad hominem, Peggy Noonan-ish revelation that his unanimous pro-war sources don’t question Obama’s smarts or understanding: “Their first concerns are about Obama the man.” Oooooh. And here’s how Brooks defines manhood: “tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion.”

Brooks might protest that he meant “man” as a stand-in for “person,” but it’s hard to imagine him writing that sentence about President Hillary Clinton and saying, “Their first concerns are about Clinton the woman.” Man equals warrior, and like Maureen Dowd before him, another Times columnist seems to be questioning Obama’s manhood.

Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy:

Now that Tom Friedman is expressing a few doubts about the Afghan War, David Brooks is ready to take over as cheerleader-in-chief for endless war in Central Asia. In his column today, he claims to have spoken with various “military experts” (without naming any of them, of course), and-surprise, surprise — all of them channel Brooks’ unsupported belief that the only thing that matters in Central Asia is Obama’s “determination.” There’s no analysis, no facts, no weighing of pros and cons, no attempt at cost-benefit analysis, and of course, no sources. Has Brooks bothered to read any of the recent studies of this problem — including Gen. McChrystal’s own assessment — which make it clear that we face a daunting task? Even those that favor continuing the war understand that victory is far from certain even if we do commit more resources and stay a long time.

This is the kind of “journalism” that gave the Times a black eye over Iraq, and you’d think Brooks (and his editors) would have been chastened by that experience. But I forgot: being a neoconservative pundit means never having to admit error, or apologize for the lives you’ve helped squander.

 

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Bedtime For Dede

Robert Stacy McCain:

Just confirmed that Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava has quit the race. Speaking to supporters, Scozzafava broke down in tears.

UPDATE: Scozzafava, the hand-picked choice of the New York state GOP in the key 23rd District special election, reportedly will throw her support to Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman.

Scozzafava’s withdrawal came shortly after a new Siena College poll was released this morning, showing her in third place, with Hoffman neck-and-neck with Democrat Bill Owens.

Michelle Malkin:

Hey, GOP elites: Can you hear conservatives NOW?!

Ed Morrissey:

I had neglected to review the poll in much detail, but I suspect that Scozzafava’s withdrawal (or suspension, more accurately, since her name will stay on the ballot) hurts Bob Owens tremendously.  According to the poll, Hoffman had attracted 50% of the Republican vote, while Owens had 2/3rds of the Democrats.  Hoffman leads Owens among independents, 40%-35%, and the remaining 15% supporting Scozzafava will almost certainly break more towards Hoffman than Owens.  Owens will likely get more of Scozzafava’s Democratic supporters, but she only had 11%, while 14% have already gone to Hoffman.  Hoffman and Owens had a near-even split of the opposition in Scozzafava’s regional stronghold of Jefferson/Lewis/St. Lawrence counties, but I’d be surprised if Hoffman didn’t pick up more in those areas of disaffected Scozzafava voters, too.

Hoffman now has the default Republican endorsement with Scozzafava’s retreat, as well as all of the late momentum.

John McCormack at TWS

Jillian Bandes at Townhall

David Weigel at The Washington Independent:

Dede Scozzafava, the Republican candidate in the NY-23 special election, has suspended her campaign with a tearful, regretful statement delivered at her headquarters in Watertown, N.Y. Scozzafava’s move clears a path for unlikely Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman to beat Democratic candidate Bill Owens, who had, until now, been benefiting from the conservative infighting over the seat. All of this represents a massive victory for the restive conservative movement.

“We’re a little shell-shocked,” said Eric Odom, a conservative blogger and Tea Party organizer, who’d been an early Hoffman backer. “It’s not what we expected.”

Odom was one of the first to hear the news. The Hoffman campaign made the call to Ali Akbar, one of the conservative bloggers rooming in Lake Placid with Odom. The bloggers hustled to get Internet connections to spread the news, then regrouped to head to Scozzafava’s Watertown headquarters, based on rumors that the GOP candidate might be about to endorse Hoffman.

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Return Of The Zelaya

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

Today’s news brings word that Manuel Zelaya will return as the president of Honduras thanks to American diplomatic pressure. It is perfectly fitting that the signal diplomatic triumph of President Obama’s first year in office is the restoration to power of the lawfully deposed Honduran thug and friend of Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega and Hugh Chavez. It is inimical to the national interest of the United States. It is a setback for the supporters of democracy in the beleaguered country of Honduras. And it is a defeat for those who believe in the rule of law. It is, in other words, a triumph of “smart diplomacy.”

Francisco Toro at TNR:

The Honduran tragicomedy that has consumed the hemisphere’s diplomats for months is at an end (read the details here). Barring the unforeseeable, which is always an iffy thing to do in Honduras, the coupster is out, the mercurial elected president is back in (pending a face-saving vote by Congress and the Supreme Court), and an election to replace him will be held on November 29, as planned.

In light of all this, who was the winner in the Honduran crisis?

Certainly not the elected leader, Mel Zelaya. He’s back in power, but is significantly weakened. He will not be allowed to push for the constitutional reform that precipitated the crisis in the first place. He’ll be forced to head a “unity government” (diplomatese for a “grownup supervised government”), and he’ll have to find himself another job in January.

[…]

No. The real winner in this drama is the top diplomat for the key power who quietly, patiently pushed for this settlement all along. It was Hillary Clinton’s State Department that first pressed for an agreement along these lines. It was State that asked Costa Rican president Oscar Arias to mediate a deal like this, and it was State that stepped into the breach when the Arias compromise fell apart: They dispatched Assistant Secretary of State for the West Hemisphere, Thomas Shannon, to Tegucigalpa on multiple occasions to help settle the dispute.

It’s therefore fitting that, from far off Islamabad, it fell to Hillary Clinton to announce the deal. Hailing the “historic agreement” between the two sides, she went on to stress that “I cannot think of another example of a country in Latin America that, having suffered a rupture of its democratic and constitutional order, overcame such a crisis through negotiation and dialogue.”

Perhaps most importantly, by helping to reinstate a duly elected anti-American president, the deal will be a significant first step in the long, arduous task of re-establishing the U.S.’s democratic bona fides in the region. The entrenched view for many Latin Americans–and not just those on the chavista left–is that the U.S. favors democracy, but only when the people who get elected hew closely to U.S. interests. Undoing that view is an urgent task for the Obama administration, and Secretary Clinton understands that it can only be achieved if the U.S. shows itself willing to stand on principle, even when–especially when–those principles favor regional adversaries.

Tom Maguire

Rick Moran:

The Honduran Constitution no longer rules that country. It has been replaced by US bullying, and our backing of someone who has openly sought to emulate the regime of Hugo Chavez in Venezuala.

Since Zelaya is forbidden by the now shredded Honduran constitution from running again, what are the odds that he will go quietly off into retirement? If there is a way for him to maintain power – even with the help of foreign troops – I have no doubt he will take it.

Exit question: The US has a history of intervening in the internal affairs of Latin American countries. We have been rightly excoriated for doing so. Would someone please tell me why this intervention is any different?

Gateway Pundit:

The Honduran Congress and Supreme Court both sided against Zelaya in June. It’s hard to see how the Honduran Congress is going to change their minds now and reinstate the Chavez wannabe as president.

Lindsay Beyerstein:

I predict that congress will not reinstate Zelaya. The real purpose of the vote is to allow the U.S. to gracefully back off from its earlier observation that the Micheletti regime is illegitimate. Realistically, it looks like Washington cajoled the self-satisfied Micheletti and the desperate Zelaya into signing a deal to provide a fig leaf for the coup.

Why does it seem unlikely that congress will reinstate Zelaya? Recall that Micheletti’s last real job before proclaiming himself president was as the leader of the Honduran congress. As he himself noted in an Wall Street Journal op/ed, congress voted overwhelmingly to back Micheletti’s putsch and remove Zelaya in the first place.

It’s possible that congress will want to ratify the power-sharing deal in order to legitimize the upcoming elections in the eyes of the world, but they didn’t care about world opinion when they backed the coup in the first place. Furthermore, the U.S. has already show itself unwilling to impose real consequences on the junta.

Media reports stress that Zelaya preferred to let congress decide. The other option was to give the Supreme Court the final say. Zelaya seems to think he has a better chance than Congress than he would if the matter were left up to the Supreme Court, which also colluded in his ouster. The Supreme Court has already ruled that Zelaya forfeited his presidency by backing a non-binding referendum on reforming the constitution. (Cf. Prof. Gary Weeks, the Juan Cole of Latin America, for more details about why that argument is transparently bogus.)

Note that under the deal, the Supreme Court would still have some input into whether Zelaya wold actually be reinstated–a body that has already ruled that Zelaya forfeited his presidency.

Why would Zelaya agree to such a deal? Keep in mind that he’s not exactly negotiating from  position of strength. Actually, he’s trapped in an embassy surrounded by armed guards. His only hope of regaining power was to provoke a standoff that would focus international pressure on the Micheletti regime. Now, the U.S. is losing patience with the embassy circus in Tegucigalpa and it doesn’t seem prepared to back up its pro-democracy rhetoric with any real consequences that might induce Micheletti to relinquish power. The U.S. has immense sway with Honduras through millions of dollars worth of trade and aid. Honduras is one of the poorer countries in the Western Hemisphere and the U.S. is its best customer.

Ed Morrissey:

What has contributed most to the political crisis in Honduras?  The wrongheaded stance of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  They have suspended visas and aid to Honduras, weakening one of the few strong alliances we have in Central America, just to interfere with what is truly an internal matter in Tegulcigapa.  The US has rejected the one real solution to the problem, a national election that had already been scheduled before Zelaya’s removal and one in which Zelaya’s own party wants to participate.

If Kerry and Berman want a resolution to the Honduran crisis, then they should be demanding changes from Obama and his team, not silence from the Law Library of Congress.

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Those Tubes Leak Out The Darndest Things

capitol-building-picture

Ellen Nakashima and Paul Kane at Washington Post:

House ethics investigators have been scrutinizing the activities of more than 30 lawmakers and several aides in inquiries about issues including defense lobbying and corporate influence peddling, according to a confidential House ethics committee report prepared in July.

The report appears to have been inadvertently placed on a publicly accessible computer network, and it was provided to The Washington Post by a source not connected to the congressional investigations. The committee said Thursday night that the document was released by a low-level staffer.

The ethics committee is one of the most secretive panels in Congress, and its members and staff members sign oaths not to disclose any activities related to its past or present investigations. Watchdog groups have accused the committee of not actively pursuing inquiries; the newly disclosed document indicates the panel is conducting far more investigations than it had revealed.

Shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday, the committee chairman,  Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), interrupted a series of House votes to alert lawmakers about the breach. She cautioned that some of the panel’s activities are preliminary and not a conclusive sign of inappropriate behavior.

“No inference should be made as to any member,” she said.

Rep. Jo Bonner (Ala.), the committee’s ranking Republican, said the breach was an isolated incident.

The 22-page “Committee on Standards Weekly Summary Report” gives brief summaries of ethics panel investigations of the conduct of 19 lawmakers and a few staff members. It also outlines the work of the new Office of Congressional Ethics, a quasi-independent body that initiates investigations and provides recommendations to the ethics committee. The document indicated that the office was reviewing the activities of 14 other lawmakers. Some were under review by both ethics bodies.

Mike Lillis at Washington Independent:

Yet few details contained in the leaked document are new (which makes some sense because it was prepared in July). There’s the investigation, for example, of lawmakers tied to PMA Group, the now-defunct lobbying shop that funneled millions of dollars of campaign contributions to members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which in turn directed more than $200 million to PMA clients. There’s the ongoing look at the personal finances of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), the Ways and Means Chairman whose failure to include hundreds of thousands of dollars on financial disclosure forms has led to calls for his removal atop the committee. And there’s the case of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the House Financial Services member who organized a meeting between Treasury officials and the head of a bank in which her husband was heavily invested.

Yet these cases are all at least six months old. The fact that the ethics panel hasn’t reached any conclusions seems to reveal what many already suspect: that a system of having Congress investigate Congress is, at best, a conflict of interest, and, at worst, a stage show run by folks with no real appetite to punish colleagues.

Jay Newton-Small at Swampland at Time:

It’s safe to say that Thursday was an eminently bad day for Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat. Lofgren, chair of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, thought much of the news cycle that day would revolve around a 20-page report clearing Rep. Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican who had been referred to the committee by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) for “an appearance of a conflict of interest” over his wife’s involvement with a renewable fuels cooperative. The nearly 200-page report is not exactly flattering to the OCE and sources say Lofgren has long wanted to reclaim the first line of ethics investigations back directly under her committee. The OCE, an independent, bipartisan board of six appointees, was created in 2006 to “drain the swamp,” as Speaker Pelosi likes to say, after years of lackluster oversight at the Standards Committee.

But, then, a leak from the Standards Committee itself blew up the day. Lofgren ran to the House floor, announcing between votes that, “I regret to report that there was a cyber hacking incident of a confidential document of the committee,” she said. “A number of members have been contacted by the Washington Post that is in possession of the document.” The Post this morning led with a large headline: Dozens in Congress under ethics inquiry. The 22-page document, which includes ongoing OCE reviews ranging from queries of legality by members to stage two investigations, ironically proves the efficacy of the OCE – exactly what Lofgren didn’t want. She also surely got an earful from the dozens of angry members whose investigations and contacts have now been inadvertently outed, the preponderance of whom happen to be Democrats (I’m sure the leadership is loving that). And the repercussions have only just begun. The Post followed up that headline with a story about seven investigations into the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense (five Democrats, including the panel’s chairman Rep. Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, and two Republicans). And another story this morning about four members whose tax information has been requested by OCE – Reps. Eliot Engel, Doris Matsui, Edolphus Towns (chairman of the Oversight Committee) and Pete Stark – all Democrats.

PC Magazine’s Larry Seltzer:

According to a statement released by the US House of Representatives Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, often known as the Ethics Committee, a document describing investigations of over 30 house members and several aides was exposed on a public network because of “…the use of peer-to-peer file sharing software on the personal computer of a junior staffer, who is no longer employed by the committee, while working from home.”

The committee statement states that no matter how strong security systems are, humans can make mistakes that bypass them. There’s a lot of truth to this, although there are systems in place, often known as data loss prevention or DLP systems, that attempt to prevent the movement of sensitive data off of authorized networks. A Washington Post story on the breach implies that House members and staffers are permitted to take documents home for work, but quotes House administration rules as saying that if they do so they so: “all users of House sensitive information must protect the confidentiality of sensitive information” from unauthorized disclosure.

Those rules do not place any specific security requirements on home computers or others that are used for access of sensitive House data. They state, on the one hand, that sensitive House data should not leave House property. On the other they state that if the data is taken off property, that it should not leave the possession of authorized personnel and that those people need to protect it. This is not an adequately specific policy for computer security. Even assuming that the P2P software on the unfortunate staffer’s computer was legal and there intentionally and that saving the document publicly was an error, it’s still easy to lose such documents unintentionally through malware or error.

Soren Dayton at Redstate

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Say The Word And You’ll Be Free

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Dish versus Juice. Andrew Sullivan:

The spin is that this is the first ever federal legislation that actually recognizes rather than attacks gay people. That’s the position of Hildebrand and Birch and Democratic party official (and head of the 6 million members of HRC), Joe Solmonese. The president didn’t quite get the message, alas. There’s nothing on the White House blog, and no release yet of the president’s remarks. In front of a largely military audience (the Dems went out on a limb for this piece of symbolism by attaching it to a defense bill), the president couldn’t say the word “gay”:

“After more than a decade of opposition and delay, we’ve passed inclusive hate-crimes legislation that protects people based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray, or who they are. I promised Judy Shepard when she saw me in the Oval Office that this day would come.”

The gay establishment will have its own reception with Obama later today. Their agenda for the gays is pretty much the Democratic party’s: Separate, quiet and just as much a victim special interest group as all the others. Better than the GOP’s (“You’re all going to hell, pervs.”). But no equality yet; and no candor. We really do have a president for the Human Rights Campaign, don’t we?

He’s for gay rights, but not yet and shhhh!

John Cole responds:

Shorter Andrew Sullivan“Fuck you, Barack Obama, for signing the hate crimes legislation. How dare you? Just words. Asshole.”

And no, I am not kidding.

I also love that the GOLD STANDARD for some bloggers is the speed with which POTUS has remarks up on the website. Remember a couple weeks ago when that idiot freaked out because the HRC speech was not up fast enough on a Saturday night, and that was perceived as a grievous insult and demonstrated Obama’s “true feelings” about gay people.

*** Update ***

Some people might want to know- Has Barack Obama ever played basketball with a gay person? Can anyone get in touch with Savannah Guthrie?

Andrew Sullivan:

It’s worth examining the precise wording he used in front of military leaders this afternoon:

“After more than a decade of opposition and delay, we’ve passed inclusive hate crimes legislation to help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray, or who they are.”

This simply doesn’t make sense. Hate crime laws for most categories, including federal measures,  have been around for a long time. The only new thing here – the only thing that has fostered “a decade of opposition and delay” – is the addition of sexual orientation. So the president had a chance to defend gays from being excluded from the usual roster of victims, in front of military leaders, and he had to walk backwards into this strange circumlocution.

Obama’s is the support that dare not speak our name. And what exactly is that referendum in Maine about? Not sure. Haven’t heard enough. Want another party at the White House?

John Cole:

And what does it say that Sullivan only seems to give a shit about the gays. What about the lesbians? What about transexuals? Why do you hate them, Andrew?

It really does take big brass balls for Sullivan to complain about the legislation, then to complain about the way the legislation is signed, and then to do so disingenuously, because the line preceding the quote that gives Andrew the vapors so much states that there will be another signing ceremony specifically for the hate crimes legislation.

I seriously am to the point that every time I open memeorandum or check the progressive blogs, I’m beginning to see the same kind of batshit crazy I see on right wing blogs. Has every one just lost their damned minds? Did everyone go insane?

Sullivan responds:

John Cole is upset. The bill does add gender identity to the roster of victims, and I should have noted that as well. But the inference that if you oppose the logic behind this bill, you support violence or discrimination against transgender people is repulsive. Here’s Cole’s moronic gibe:

“What does it say that Sullivan only seems to give a shit about the gays. What about the lesbians? What about transexuals? Why do you hate them, Andrew?”

Of course I don’t. What conceivable evidence do you have for saying so?

(And you’ll get in trouble for calling them “transexuals”.) I just believe in equality under the law – not special treatment. I’ve held this position for years. It’s a lost cause, I know. But it’s what I believe. Others differ and see all protections for minorities as a good thing. I don’t. I think entrenching people as victims hurts them in the long run. I think accepting as a given discrimination in law-enforcement tells the cops that they don’t have to apply the law fairly because the politicians will come in behind them to add special rights for various sets of victims. I think we should be focused on our own empowerment, not our own victimhood. And I think this entire process is, at root, an exercize in cynicism. But, again, let’s check back in a year’s time to see if I’m wrong.

John Cole responds:

Andrew, I’m just applying your standard. You’re the one who spent the last 36 hours complaining that Obama really doesn’t care about gay rights because he didn’t use the word “gay” at the signing ceremony. Using your standard, what are we supposed to do but assume you do not care about lesbians and transgendered since you failed to mention them all day in your rants.

Additionally, Andrew completely ignores the points brought up by the commenters here about why Obama’s language was appropriate at the ceremonies. Andrew likewise ignores all of the comments from those of you who chimed in about why this was a good and necessary bill and why it should be supported. At least he has now acknowledged that the bill he claimed does nothing actually does something new. That is progress, I guess.

 

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What We’ve Built Today

under-construction

Updated posts (posts with other posts added on):

The Young And The Dissident: Meditations On The Reformers From Some Ordinary Gentlemen

Conservatives Curb Their Enthusiasm

1096, Party Over, Oops, Out Of Time

This Is Just Like John Lennon Writing “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” Except That It’s Not

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Filed under Smatterings Of Nothing