Archive for May, 2011

(The Revolution Will Not Be Televised via the Third Estate, Gil Scott Heron 1949-2011)


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"G-20 leaders pose for a group photograph at the Convention Center September 25, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania."
(Via Fotopedia, International Monetary Fund Photograph/Stephen Jaffe)

As Paul Blustein writes at Foreign Policy, ending the gentlemen’s agreement that governs the leadership of international financial institutions is simply “good international governance”. Current practice, a European heads the IMF an American leads the World Bank, Blustein accurately describes as unjust, unwise, and unethical.

The Euro-American hold over the top office at the international financial institutions should be gracefully ceded. Clinging to declining power generates needless conflict in the international system. European and American energies are better spent building more stable mechanisms that accommodate changing world power dynamics. Given the voting power of Europe and America, as well as the EU and US representing the largest economies in the world, it is difficult to see how ceding the appointments of these two offices would severely damage Euro-American influence in international economic affairs. Arrangements that exclude these powerful economic blocs would face an uphill struggle to be implemented. Just as the current arrangement, by locking out able leaders from developing nations, faces severe credibility and sustainability problems. Euro-American leaders often, rightly, lecture other nations about being responsible stakeholders in the international system. Well now is the time for that selfsame responsibility from both Europe and America.

Over the weekend South Africa and Australia, co-chairs of the G20 working group on IMF reform, reiterated what had been the G20 position on the subject,

In order to maintain trust, credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of its stakeholders, there must be an open and transparent selection process which results in the most competent person being appointed as managing director, regardless of their nationality.

This language should not startle leading European figures, the leaders’ communiqué from the 2009 meeting of the G20 said (pdf),

As part of a comprehensive reform package, we agree that the heads and senior leadership of all international institutions should be appointed through an open, transparent and merit-based process. We must urgently implement the package of IMF quota and voice reforms agreed in April 2008.

Time for both Europe and America to model the good behavior they expect of others.

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(Via Fancis Stokes Dot Com)

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(Via Homework via Dan & Dan)

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the Remorse of Orestes, William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1862)

Three videos in honor of the end of the world, thankfully not yesterday as Harold Camping predicted. To me, the most interesting aspect of Harold Camping’s predictions of the world’s end was not the prediction itself (technically Camping predicted the beginning of the world’s end culminating in the decisive end in some months time, we’re supposedly in for a rather unpleasant October). Many Campings have come before. I’d venture many Campings will follow in this ignominious tradition. The interesting thing about the episode was the amount of money in the whole enterprise for Camping’s self-aggrandizing personality cult organization. CNN reports:

Camping’s organization, Family Radio, is perfectly happy to take your money — and in fact, received $80 million in contributions between 2005 and 2009…. According to their most recent IRS filings, Family Radio is almost entirely funded by donations, and brought in $18 million in contributions in 2009 alone.

To be fair, the CNN piece adds that Camping has not taken a salary from Family Radio, finding further that much of Family Radio’s money is tied up in $56 million worth of broadcasting licenses (CNN examined IRS filing through 2009). And yet, it strikes me as a lot of money for an enterprise of limited social value.

On to the videos. R.E.M. and Mozart are an admittedly unusual combination, but I must yield the demands of my topic. It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine), and John Eliot Gardiner conducting the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir, from Mozart’s Requiem, Dies irae and Tuba mirum.

Dies irae, dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
teste David cum Sibylla.
Quantus tremor est futurus,
quando judex est venturus,
cuncta stricte discussurus!
Day of wrath, day of anger
will dissolve the world in ashes,
as foretold by David and the Sibyl.
Great trembling there will be
when the Judge descends from heaven
to examine all things closely

Tuba mirum spargens sonum
per sepulcra regionum,
coget omnes ante thronum.

Morsstupebit et natura,
cum resurget creatura,
judicanti responsura.
Liber scriptus proferetur,
in quo totum continetur,
unde mundus judicetur.

Judex ergo cum sedebit,
quidquid latet, apparebit,
nil inultum remanebit.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
quem patronum rogaturus,
cum vix justus sit securus?

The trumpet will send its wondrous sound
throughout earth’s sepulchres
and gather all before the throne.

Death and nature will be astounded,
when all creation rises again,
to answer the judgement.
A book will be brought forth,
in which all will be written,
by which the world will be judged.

When the judge takes his place,
what is hidden will be revealed,
nothing will remain unavenged.

What shall a wretch like me say?
Who shall intercede for me,
when the just ones need mercy?

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Voting "Present" is not good enough Glenn Greenwald excoriates the Obama administration for not getting congressional authorization for the US intervention in Libya, highlighting the War Power’s Resolution’s timeline giving the president sixty days to get congressional assent. Yesterday, Obama’s sixty days on Libya without congressional approval were up. Overall, Greenwald characterizes the situation as akin to a power grab and a troubling expansion of the “imperial presidency” – a continuation and cementing of some of the worst impulses of the Bush administration in expanding executive power unreviewed.

There is a lot to be said for the argument Greenwald advances. Like Greenwald and the two Washington Post op-ed writers he highlights, I find the Obama administration excuses for avoiding congressional approval feeble. NATO taking the lead should not mean Congress is sidelined from officially expressing a position on Libya, especially given the huge US role in NATO and ongoing US role in the Libya intervention. The other excuse, America stop bombing for a day to reset the 60 day clock, is a silly nonsense unworthy any who advance it.

Given the Constitution gives the Congress the responsibility for declaring war, we should have a strong presumption in favor of officially articulated Presidential-Congressional cooperation in warmaking. Both keys should be turned as a matter of law and good public policy. Congress handing its key to the president to decide on war alone is an invitation to trouble. I favor the Libya intervention, but the president should have to make his case to members of Congress and the American public. I buy the idea that the exigencies of the circumstance required swift action, but consultations with Congress should have run on a parallel track with similar urgency. Just as a set of precommitments underpin the responsibility to protect in international law, the power to make war is underpinned by a set of precommitments; the Constitution represents a precommitment to certain relations between the branches of government. Being a decision of such great magnitude, committing the nation to war requires more than silly legal games to attempt to reset a clock on having Congress speak on the matter. Both the letter and the spirit of the framework the Constitution establishes matter.

I differ from Greenwald in that I attribute more responsibility for the present circumstance – underscrutinized military intervention – to Congress than the Obama administration (though the Obama administration deserves its rightful share of the responsibility). Unfortunately, Congress collectively has not decided to express a view on Libya. Yes, individual members of Congress have come out for or against intervention, and also, various members have asked to be given an opportunity to vote on the matter. But as a collective body Congress, a coequal branch of government, has left its constitutionally apportioned responsibility unfulfilled. In this case most irresponsibly, Congress has been a quiet coequal.

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Not for first drafts.
(White House briefing room via the Guardian)

The US intelligence community and special operations: Yes, well done. The Obama administration communications team: Not so much.

Over the past week the Obama administration communications team needed to provide “timely and accurate information” on the death of Osama bin Laden – the administration has fallen short of the “accurate” goal set out in the White House Briefing Room site. The administration’s job was to satisfy a number of constituencies interested in learning about bin Laden’s death: the general American public, foreign publics, and the international law wonks. In accounting for bin Laden’s death each of these constituencies would be more demanding than the next. The general American public would be easily satisfied with administration explanations of events leading to bin Laden’s death. A man responsible for a traumatic attack on the United States, the worst since Pearl Harbor, had been killed. The American public with a passing interest in news, and not particularly interested in the finer points of international law, would content itself with a rough account of bin Laden’s demise.

But for foreign publics, international law scholars, practitioners, and analysts a first draft level effort is not nearly enough. These constituencies will not readily accept the fog of war as an excuse for inaccuracies. When you’re responsible for giving the definitive account of events you can’t keep changing the story. Revisions cloud a picture that had the potential to be far clearer. Mark Halperin identifies Obama administration mistakes in the aftermath of killing bin Laden, his rundown of some communications mistakes early in the week:

Not getting its story straight: Was bin Laden armed or not? What woman served as a human shield? Who actually was killed beyond the main target?

Poor quality information about the surrounding circumstances necessarily leads to poor quality explanations as to US conduct’s compliance with international law. Better communications early on would have avoided an endless maze of speculation on legitimate targeting, lethal force, and related matters. It is not as though the administration has not considered the international legal underpinnings of its actions. As Kenneth Anderson observes at Opinio Juris, State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh gave the administration’s perspective in a 2010 speech to the American Society of International Law. Even though later well supported, mere assertions of bin Laden being brought to justice are insufficient. By Wednesday the administration had “articulated the right standard and analysis to this case” (HRF).

Far better to get the official account right the first time and to clearly (re)state the administration’s legal position at the outset than to spend days repairing wounded credibility.

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