Monday, March 14, 2011

The Israeli Way of War

“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” – Hillel the Elder, c.100 BC.
The dry forest on the Israeli-Lebanese border provided shade but little relief. Rain had not fallen for months, and the blistering season-long heat wave that would later set parts of northern Israel on fire was currently burning down forests in Russia.
An Israeli intelligence officer led me to this concealed yet sweltering viewpoint near the border fence overlooking Lebanon where Hezbollah guerrillas were busy fortifying positions for the next round of conflict, a round that will almost certainly be bloodier and more destructive for both sides than the last. A small green valley covered with Mediterranean scrub stood between us and the Party of God.
“Four years ago you could easily see Hezbollah positions and bunkers from here,” she said. “Now you can’t. Hezbollah pretends to respect United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, but that’s just their public face. Their posts are now hidden in houses and mosques.”
A young soldier standing watch handed me a small glass of coffee with no cream or sugar. Tea is the preferred social and professional lubricant in most of the Middle East, but most Israelis and Lebanese I’ve interviewed prefer coffee.

New book on courts & policy in Brazil

Drawing on the experience of the Brazilian federal courts since the transition to democracy, Judging Policy examines the judiciary's role in debating and formulating public policy in Latin America’s largest democracy. During a period of energetic policy reform, the high salience of many policies and a judicial structure conducive to policy contestation ensured that Brazilian courts would become an important institution at the heart of the policy process. Through a study of the full federal court system, this book develops a framework with cross-national implications for understanding how courts influence policy actors' political strategies and the distribution of power in new democracies.

Debbie, PA to Mr Screwtape: Football Crazy, Football Mad Hiya!

Just sweeping up the chicken bones, cigar butts and beer tins. My Guv'nor, Mr Screwtape had a few too many and is snoring at his retro desk, his horned head resting on his traditional-style blotter.

The Boss, His Satanic Majesty, came down to watch the football with Mr Screwtape down here in Reception. We can get it on the Contracts and Arrivals screen, the giant HD plasma over the reception desk. Mr Screwtape explained that the combined subscriptions saved us the cost of going topside. The Boss asked about 'adult channels' and my Guv'nor looked baffled, as usual, so I said that if there were any, they were definitely part of the package and nothing extra had been ordered. The Boss looked fleetingly annoyed, then went back to acting as if I don't exist. Suits me.

His Satanic Majesty was in a good mood for once as he had taken off his business suit and was slumming in a Hawaiian shirt and roomy shorts. They don't chafe his hide. His red pelt is regrowing, judging by the curly wires peeping out around his hocks. He has given up being full-body waxed as he has broken up with his girlfriend Miranda, at least for the time being. She insisted on him being peeled each month and while he can dish it out, he can't take it. The howls used to rattle the stained glass windows in the firmament. He was celebrating his freedom with an enormous Cohiba glowing in the corner of his mouth and scratching himself luxuriously with his long nails as the new hair poked itchily through.

Mr Screwtape got in to the spirit of things by dressing in antique football strip and blowing an ancient shrill whistle. He claimed he got it from George Best in return for the succession of beautiful women George had bedded, but when I checked the file, it seems very little business was done with Best. A few passes to him which defied physics, but that would have been no use if he had not had his own gifted feet. Still, Mr Screwtape has an old autograph book of his most important signings and Best is in there, so they had some private business which didn't show in the main sequence files. The Boss had better not find out; he's apt to turn nasty if he thinks his representatives are trying to cut HellCo out of the deal.

Lord Lucifer and Mr Screwtape settled themselves on the Barcelona office chairs, their hooves up on the leather upholstery, with beer, pizza and chicken legs laid out within reach on glass coffee tables. They like to throw the bones over their shoulder as they once saw Henry VIII do, so I learned to duck. His Excellency clicked his fingers imperiously every time he wanted a ring-pull popped and the can appeared in his hand, as if by magic. I did more running than Rooney.

At the end of the match the Dark Lord was on his feet, shouting his approval at Fabio Capello and saying that he must get a pair of glasses with a heavy black line across the frames, it obviously made people take you seriously. He'd been feeling as if people didn't treat him as if he was quite real. More like he was some mythic joke character, and he wanted to improve his public recognition. He looked at the pictures, the cameras sweeping the pitch and the crowd and then looked accusingly at Mr Screwtape.

"Screwy, there's a lot of people there. A lot of demand unsatisfied. We should be exploiting that."
"Yes, Sir" said Mr Screwtape "and we have agents on the sideline in every team in the country. I'm particularly proud of the Parent's Recruitment campaign. We've had several referees abused and assaulted already, and the players are only seven years old."
"See, that's your trouble, Screwy. You don't think big. Junior league, pah. A game that size and there must be millions of dollars we could be earning through selling moody tickets, fixing the outcome of games and betting on them. And that's before HellCo have made a single signing. What are we offering these people?"

Mr Screwtape was doing the goldfish thing with his mouth again. I coughed and broke in.
"Your Highness, we've been wondering if you would condescend to captain the HellCo team. We are negotiating with several prominent talent agents".

The King of the Underworld preened and slapped Mr Screwtape on the back, knocking the pea right out of his whistle, which rolled away under the reception desk.
"I'll show you how it's done, Screwy, it will be like Cloughy and Taylor, like er, er, er,..."
"Morecambe and Wise, Sir" I suggested.
The Lord of Chaos looked at me and narrowed his goaty eyes, but decided that treating me like unwelcome chewing gum on his hoof was still the way to go.
"Call me when you've got the lads assembled, and I'll take over" he roared, then took himself happily off, burbling about wild parties and wilder women.

Mr Screwtape looked crestfallen.
"Are we really negotiating with key players, Deborah?"
"I'll have to get the files, Mr Screwtape, as I understand you have some expertise in the area".
It was Mr Screwtape's turn to fix me with a hard stare.
"There are no files Deborah, and I'll thank you to remember I have been doing this job for several millenia." He clicked his fingers and this time some real magic happened. The autograph book appeared. "There are some people with whom one has a cordial relationship regardless of anything else. The angels couldn't save George Best and I couldn't sign him. He was the architect of his own downfall."
"What happened to him, Mr Screwtape, Sir?"
"The usual. There was a hearing. The moderators took in to account the violence against women and the thefts. I appeared against him."
"Against him? And yet he gave you his autograph?"
"So you admit you have been going through my personal belongings. He had done me a particular service and I repaid it by prosecuting very lightly."
"Service?"
"Yes. I wanted George Carman QC very badly. His was a valuable contract, and it wasn't easy as he was a leading lawyer of his generation, adept at wriggling. Best helped me goad him by seducing Carman's wife. In fact, he was happy to oblige. ".
"What happened to Carman?"
"He's down on Deck Three with the Specialists. The charges included trying to have Best killed, even though he was Carman's drinking chum.The moderators found it most unsporting". He continued thoughtfully "Even when you tell them all Best did, there was still that spark, that recognition of someone who had been given a gift - two if you count the looks - and yet those very things helped destroy him. One wonders; if he had been as ugly as Rooney, would he ever have got in to some of the scrapes? Perhaps he'd have stayed on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately."
"Mr Screwtape - you could have got Bestie killed!"
"Don't be silly. Carman was happy enough to give a woman a slap, as was Best, but Carman was fundamentally a cowardly bully. So long as nobody was prepared to do it for Carman, Best was safe. He was a much bigger danger to himself than anybody else was."

He was subsiding in to a reverie of past successes, but time was pressing.
"Mr Screwtape, Sir, there's another match on Sunday and it might not end so well, His Excellency is expecting a football team to manage and you have yet to corrupt an entire international industry".

"A demon's work is never, done, Deborah" he sighed "And by far the most difficult part is that FIFA have got in to the corruption business well ahead of us". With that he popped the rings on the remaining four tinnies of Wife Beater, downed them in swift sequence and slumped senseless at his desk.

Political Party and Political Legitimacy

Political party is an organization that is locally articulated, that interacts with and seeks to attract the electoral support of the general public. It plays a direct and substantive role in political recruitment and education. Political party is also committed to the capture or maintenance of power, either alone or in coalition with others. It becomes the vehicle for mass political participation based on political culture and ideology. In a democratic polity, political parties play a significant role that they become the backbone of the polity. The quality of democratic political system depends on the ability of the political parties to absorb demands and aspirations of the people and deliver them back as a product of political process. With Indonesia's return to democracy in 1999, operational controls on political parties and the ban on the establishment of new parties were lifted. This situation has allowed greater opportunities for all Indonesians to actively participate in Indonesia's transition to democracy.

Similarly, moral acceptance of the subjects to the authority of the rulers is deemed important for the justification of their right to rule. Legitimacy relates to the acceptance of power by the people and the process whereby power gains acceptance by the people which essentially includes the process of mobilization of support through ideology, institution building, system of rewards and punishment, performance or manipulation. It involves the capacity of the system to engender and maintain the belief that the existing political institutions are the most appropriate ones for the society. Furthermore, legitimacy brings about stability and possibility to create changes and improvements in the society. It also expands the authority of the ruler as well as limiting it. Legitimate government will bring about political stability and eventually deliver what the voters expect. Thus in order to create political stability and changes in the society, rulers or regimes need to have legitimacy, the moral right to rule, failing of which crisis of legitimacy and stability is the consequence. Democratically administered elections will provide a thoroughfare for a party or coalition of parties to gain necessary political legitimacy to rule.

In the same vein, the electorate in a democratic polity plays a very significant role: it can either establish or bring a government down. No party or parties shall possess any moral right to rule or legitimacy unless it receives endorsement from the electorate. As such, government is merely a form of representation of the people through a democratic process called elections. Once installed, a government is expected to be effective: to run its large administration efficiently and to set goals for policy that are realistic and achievable, and within the broad outlines of its election program. Moreover, it is expected that the government is to be publicly accountable: "the government must be able to give an account of their actions and policies, to explain and justify them to an appropriate audience." The government must act within the terms and conditions of their authority, and conform to standards of conduct that are appropriate to their office.

However, in emerging democratic society like Indonesia, many of a time we find out that once elected, the representatives tend to forget the fact they are essentially subjected to being publicly accountable. They neglect their constituents who have successfully catapulted them to power. Once elected, they would mostly indulge in their own business and greedily reaping the "fruits" of being successfully elected as the "respected members" of people's representatives while neglecting their foremost responsibility and duty as people's representatives: to articulate, defend and support the interests, preferences and grievances of those whom they represent. Instead of focussing on their professional responsibility as people’s representatives, personal gains becomes their main agenda in office. They ignore the fact that they are there for a reason: to serve the public at large.

To rectify this situation, one should return to the fundamentals of representation. Political representation essentially implies “government of, by and for the people”. In parliaments, whether at the national, provincial or local levels, the representatives are obliged to articulate the aspirations and supports from their constituents, and turn them into policies or laws, which would affect not only their constituents but also the public in general. Sound judgment and bold arguments of these representatives are thus functions of a good policy or law. Without them, everybody loses, including those who are not their direct constituents.

Such fundamentals will highlight the need for people's representatives to fully comprehend their duties and responsibilities in a system of political representation. They must realize that the positions they are holding come with huge responsibility. They are merely the extension of people's power and their ultimate duties and responsibilities are being professionally serving the public, not only their own constituents but the public at large. The representatives should be held accountable to the people whom they supposedly represent.

Problems of Participation
Thursday, February 12, 2009 3:09 PM
Larry Diamond has noted in one of his works that one paradox of democracy is that in some circumstances a political system can be made more stably democratic by making it somewhat less representative. At the same time, electoral system is the central rule of the game determining who governs in a polity. Its position is so important that careful steps should be taken before taking any decision to adopt any kind of electoral system, be it the proportional representation, the district system or the mixture of the two. This is what has so far been done by the so called political reformers in the post-Suharto Indonesia. In the name of limiting ethnic or regional movements and promoting more stable politics by encouraging broad-based parties, Indonesian political reformers purposely adopted an electoral system that provides necessary means to achieve the agenda of "stable democratic polity" in Indonesia.

Through a combination of spatial registration for political parties, pressures for smaller parties to amalgamate into larger ones, reductions in the electoral system's proportionality requirement, and regional vote-distribution requirements for presidential elections, political reformers in Indonesia have attempted to engineer the development of a few large parties with a national reach. However, the results of both 1999 and 2004 general elections showed the opposite. Instead of resulting in a moderate multi-partism, the general elections further fragmented the already fragmented party system. While the numbers of parties have reduced significantly in the 2004 general elections, on the contrary, parliamentary fragmentation increased. Measures to promote nationally focused parties and limit the enfranchisement of minorities have had some modest successes, but have not fundamentally changed the nature of electoral politics.

So far as the process of political engineering in Indonesia is concerned, it has been focussing more on protecting the incumbents and the continuance of the status quo. It is yet to focus on utilizing the opportunity to engineer substantial political transformation. Even though legislative framework continued to be enhanced through enactment of new laws prior to the successor election with the aim of creating more credible electoral process and achieving more representative results, this incrementalism has resulted in the elections being tightly scheduled creating major logistical complexity with little time for appropriate planning. Moreover, the drastic reduction in the district magnitude in the 2004 general elections has considerably raised the threshold for electoral victory and made it much more difficult for smaller parties to win seats than at previous elections, when districts were based on entire provinces. This electoral arrangement is considerably more advantageous to the large, well-organized, established parties than towards smaller, new parties, and threatens the prospect of wider political representation.

Several observers had suspected that the prolonged last minute preparation may be deliberate to avoid public scrutiny to the internal political process of the parties in putting forward nomination and as a cloak to shift public attention from demanding political accountability. Furthermore, the tight scheduling is believed to have benefited political elites close to the central party boards and deprived regional candidates. Political oligarchy has been holding captive the efforts to achieve the common good and to improve the process of political representation.

New book on courts & policy in Brazil

Drawing on the experience of the Brazilian federal courts since the transition to democracy, Judging Policy examines the judiciary's role in debating and formulating public policy in Latin America’s largest democracy. During a period of energetic policy reform, the high salience of many policies and a judicial structure conducive to policy contestation ensured that Brazilian courts would become an important institution at the heart of the policy process. Through a study of the full federal court system, this book develops a framework with cross-national implications for understanding how courts influence policy actors' political strategies and the distribution of power in new democracies.

FORD-LASA Special Projects

LASA is pleased to announce the fourth cycle of the Ford-LASA Special Projects competition, made possible by a contribution by the Ford Foundation to the LASA Endowment Fund. Funds provided will support such activities as trans-regional research initiatives, conferences, working groups, the development of curriculum and teaching resources, and similar projects organized and carried out by LASA Sections or by ad hoc groups of LASA members. Proposers are encouraged to think creatively about how this funding might be used to advance the principles of hemispheric collaboration among Latin American Studies scholars and teachers. Proposals that do not assign priority to this objective will not be considered for funding.

Proposals should identify the participants in the proposed activity, the objectives of the project, and the process by which those objectives are to be achieved. The total amount requested in each proposal may not exceed $12,500. Grants may be combined with other sources of funding, and may be used to initiate projects that continue with funding from other sources. No project or group will be funded more than once.

Proposals of no more than five (5) single-spaced pages in length must be received by the LASA Secretariat by March 15, 2008. Proposals will be reviewed by a panel of four LASA members appointed by the President for each program cycle, chaired by the Vice President of LASA. Applicants will be informed of the results within two months after the submission deadline.

Preference will be given to projects that involve trans-regional collaboration in the Western Hemisphere, and which are intended to result in publication of project results. It may be possible for LASA to disseminate project results, including conference papers, through its website, which would not preclude eventual publication in other media. Project directors are encouraged to consider submitting a panel proposal based on their work for presentation at the June 2009 LASA Congress. Within 18 months of the announcement of the award recipients, the project directors will be required to submit a report on the activities undertaken with Special Project funding, suitable for publication in the LASA Forum.

Steve Cohen: I regret that Goebbels crack created "distraction," but Republicans are still liars

Dem Rep. Steve Cohen, who refused to back off last night in the face of criticism of his reference to Goebbels and the GOP's "big lie" technique, is out with a new statement on the matter:
Taken out of context, I can understand the confusion and concern. In speaking about the Republican message of "government takeover of health care" that has been drummed into the heads of Americans and the media for more than a year, I referenced the non-partisan, Pulitzer prize-winning Politfact.com judgment that named the Republican message as the "2010 Lie of the Year."
"While I regret that anything I said has created an opportunity to distract from the debate about health care for 32 million Americans, I want to be clear that I never called Republicans Nazis. Instead, the reference I made was to the greatest propaganda master of all time. Propaganda, which is called "messaging" today, can be true or false. In this case, the message is false.
"I would certainly never do anything to diminish the horror of the Nazi Holocaust as I revere and respect the history of my people. I sponsored legislation which created one of the first state Holocaust Commissions in America and actively served as a Commission member for over 20 years. I regret that anyone in the Jewish Community, my Republican colleagues or anyone else was offended by the portrayal of my comments. My comments were not directed toward any group or people but at the false message and, specifically, the method by which is has been delivered.
"It is disappointing that my comments have been used to distract from the health care reform debate. It is my hope that we can return our focus to the matter at hand-health care for 32 million Americans."
Parse this and it's clear Cohen is not budging. He reiterates that he didn't compare Republicans to Nazis, and rejects the claim that his remarks diminshed the Holocaust. Meanwhile, he's expressing regret that his remarks allowed others to create a distraction from the health debate. And he regrets the fact that some people were offended by "the portrayal" of what he said, not the comments themselves.
Meanwhile, by making the unabashed claim that today's GOP health care "messaging" is "propaganda" by another name, Cohen is standing by his core allegation about a massive Republican campaign of mendacity. He's not backing off one bit.