Impressions, views, and steam-blowing by a lonesome cowboy.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Tolstoy/Hayek over Bush

Culture over politics. And people over leaders.

This post, mostly a link, is dedicated to all those who keep saying and writing letters-to-the-editor and open letters (and that includes you Ghassan Tueni and Rami Khouri): if only our leaders would do this, if only our politicians would do that…

Here’s David Brooks via Café Hayek (and via Josey):

Tolstoy had a very different theory of history. Tolstoy believed great leaders are puffed-up popinjays. They think their public decisions shape history, but really it is the everyday experiences of millions of people which organically and chaotically shape the destiny of nations — from the bottom up.

Politics is a thin crust on the surface of culture. Political leaders can only play a tiny role in transforming a people, especially when the integral fabric of society has dissolved. [Bold mine]
Apply everywhere. Apply to Lebanon.

The whole Café Hayek piece is there (with link to Brooks in the NYT, though he’s behind the registration wall).

PS. Josey’s out for a week or so. Be safe all.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Little Old Lady Seniora on Libya: Help!

Can’t Seniora/Sanioura and his inept government get anything right? From changing the official holiday schedule to the handling of Nahr el Bared and the constitutional crises, I have yet to be impressed with ONE action or ONE forceful intelligent statement from anyone in the current government.

Here’s the latest (according to Naharnet):

Libya and Khadafy (Qaddafi) are seen fomenting the terrible events of Nahr el Bared, with their incredible toll in human life, destruction and threat to security and the Seniora government’s response is:

Discreet back channel complaints to Nicolas Sarkozy. Help Nick! Please tell the Libyans off!

Beirut asked Sarkozy to Pressure Khadafy into Aborting Lebanon Destabilization Scheme [Title]

Khadafy, according to the information, was convinced by Syria and Iran to revive his backing of such Palestinian and Sunni Lebanese factions in the northern city of Tripoli, the southern city of Sidon as well as the capital Beirut and the western sector of the Bekaa valley.


According to credible information received by Naharnet, the Lebanese request [to get help from Sarkozy] was made through diplomatic channels following confirmed reports of recent meetings between Khadafy and leader of the pro-Syrian Palestinian guerrilla group which is active in Lebanon.
The rest of it is here.

Atta boy Seniora! Stick with your failing plan:

-Don’t tell your people anything. Let rumors fly at every turn and, once in a blue moon, leak crappy information to a foreign newspaper that no one in your country reads.

-Don’t put any pressure on, nor remove, any security official failing at his job.

-If Libya is trying, yet again; to destroy your country, wait 30 years like we did with Syria before you publicly accuse them.

-Never ever break diplomatic relations** with enemy countries (what else to call them). And surely don’t ask the Arab League nor the UN to do anything about it.

-Most impressively: go beg some Western leader for protection. After seeing you kiss Syrian ass forever, your supporters and opponents will be very impressed, and deterred, by seeing you kiss elegant French ass for a change.

The usual excuse for inaction in Lebanon is that some cockamamie group or sect opposes such. Certainly Amal, if not the whole Shia community, loathes Libya (as it should) for its role in the disappearance of Imam Moussa Sadr on a trip there in 1978. With M14 behind Seniora, what is the problem with doing the right thing and showing firmness? What’s the excuse this time?

** I am unsure about the detailed relations between Libya and Lebanon since 1978, but in doing a quick search, I came about this 2003 AP story: Libya cut relations with Lebanon over some Berri/Nasrallah comments. Yes, you read it right: THEY cut with US, while our Foreign Affairs Moron of the time Jean Obeid had “no comment”.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Prez Election: Shocker and Scandal

President Lahoud’s term expires November 22, 2007. In a twist of irony, it's also Lebanese Independence Day.

As we head into the contentious election, people have been at loggerheads interpreting article 49 of the constitution. Do we need a 2/3 quorum to hold the election, or not?

In good Lebanese tradition the Supreme Court is an invisible ghost, while the different sides twist the facts and the law to fit their own agenda. Hezbo-Amal-Aoun being the most egregious “distorters” of the law. M14 says we need a plain quorum, and 2/3 votes to elect on the first round (correct in my view, see here and here).

M8 says: no election without 2/3 present. In other words, no election if they boycott, since they have 1/3 of the MPs. Maronite Patriarch Sfeir, no constitutional scholar, saw it fit to undermine his own side (and not for the first time) by saying that 2/3 were needed.

Article 49 of the constitution (in translation):

The President of the Republic shall be elected by secret ballot and by a two-thirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies. After a first ballot, an absolute majority shall be sufficient.

Now while one side says 2/3 are needed and the other says no, the Parliamentary Committee for the Modernization of Laws, headed by MP Robert Ghanem says (L’Orient-Le Jour July 17, 2007, behind pay-wall, my translation):

...the text of the Constitution, when it evokes an election in the majority of two thirds at the first ballot, that means, ipso facto, that the quorum of this same meeting is fixed at two thirds of the deputies
Shocker number one: the parliament that is unfit to meet to conduct urgent business according to its Speaker Nabih Berri, is fit to elect a new President and fit to have its committees meet and conduct other business, as long as it's approved by King Nabih.

Shocker number two: Legal reasoning. Genius Robert Ghanem (and committee) added:

The rule is simple. An election with the majority of two thirds requires a quorum of two thirds and an election in the absolute majority requires the presence of half of the deputies plus one.
The rule is simple all right, and Ghanem is a simpleton. The rule requires more votes to be elected the first round of voting (2/3), period. Nothing uncommon there. Yes it’s an attempt at a wider consensus at first, but also a way to avoid having 20 candidates and one guy elected by 12 votes in the first round.

The committee and Ghanem want us to believe that the constitution has TWO quorums in mind, for 2 consecutive votes that usually take place in the same afternoon?

Why is Ghanem a sometime March 14 MP saying this? Because he wants to be nice to the M8-2/3 side and can’t even argue it smartly?

Well as a Maronite he is eligible to be president. And as a bland incompetent weasel, he’s automatically on the short list. I suppose that given the Patriarch's position, and with St-Cloud compromise in the air, Roro Ghanem knows where his butter is.

In my mind, there is a bigger scandal than the various quorum interpretations. The patriarch and others already got us in to the 2/3 danger zone and anyone (legally) elected without a 2/3 quorum will be tainted. However, there’s another scandal in my mind. The vote should be by SECRET ballot and I’ll bet you anything that, come the election, it won’t be secret.

The ballot was not secret in the past nor will it be secret this time around if history is any guide. People who have watched the process before know that when the votes are counted and X is one of the candidates we get:

Mr. X, X the Great, X, President X, Next President X, X Bey, Dear X….

No two ballots are the same so each can be tracked back to an MP. And that’s how our MPs, their allies, those who bought them, and those who threatened them know who voted for whom.

Secret ballot? Freedom of conscience and opinion when voting? Protection thanks to an anonymous process? No way.

Try to interpret that "secret ballot" out of the Article 49. But even that matters little. Our politicians may make the effort to twist the law, but when they can’t, and still don’t like the law, they will do as they please and we will get another flawed election, if any.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Presidential Election: Sfeir versus Safadi

In Lebanon everyone; no matter the specialty, experience, or education, is an expert on everything. Most recently the Lebanese are now all experts on constitutional law. Who can blame them when the supreme court/council is nowhere to be found (yes, there is one).

From the Patriarch to the Mufti to the Sheik, from Lahoud to Berri, from the wiser Abu Stef and Abu el-Abd, they all have judicial opinions on article 49, the key article about presidential election procedure. (I'll try to cover other views later, this note focuses on Sfeir and Safadi.)

Article 49 of the constitution (in translation):

The President of the Republic shall be elected by secret ballot and by a two-thirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies. After a first ballot, an absolute majority shall be sufficient.
It’s not very complicated but the article is not explicit on the quorum question, i.e. the minimum number of MPs needed to proceed with the election. The quorum is usually a simple majority of the members or 65 MPs (128 seats total).

Currently M14 has 68 MPs and therefore has over the minimum required to have both a quorum and to elect its own candidate, if there are no defections. (I’ve argued before that that is the correct interpretation of article 49).

The opposition Hezbo-Amal-Aoun says that 2/3 of the MPs are needed to hold an election. In other words they say 86 MPs need to be there or no election. The opposition controls over 1/3 votes and so (surprise!), according to their interpretation, no election could obtain without their presence.

The 2/3 election quorum has almost been mooted however, by Maronite Patriarch Sfeir (closer to M14) and by the Tripoli Safadi group (an M14 sub-group with 4 MPs). Sfeir (wrongly) pulled the moral carpet from under M14. Safadi has the 4 MPs needed to force a 2/3 quorum, at least for a while.

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir said Monday that constitutional articles "clearly" specify that a two-thirds quorum is needed to elect the next president.
Sfeir is wrong on the law but his opinion matters. I think Sfeir is wrong on the politics too, further opening the door to sabotage attempt by Hezbo-Aoun. I think Sfeir has been making one bad call after another recently.

In the aftermath of the St-Cloud meeting, Mohammed Safadi, an MP and minister in the Saniora cabinet, said he wouldn’t participate in the election without a 2/3 quorum. He and his group (4MPs) would however participate, even without 2/3 quorum, if there were no new president with 10 days to expiration of the term of the current clown. (L'Orient-Le Jour, July 19 2007, link good one day)

I don’t know much about Safadi and his bloc. However on the election issue, Safadi is not giving a legal opinion, which should be left to the high court, but he is stating what he will do. That is his prerogative and perfectly legal.

Furthermore Safadi's position is actually very defensible: trying to get a wide consensus while at the same time clearly refusing outright sabotage of the election.

Monday, July 16, 2007

St-Cloud: No News Bad News

Representatives of the deadlocked Lebanese political parties met in St Cloud under the mediating presence of French Foreign Affairs Minister Kouchner.

Nothing happened. Nothing was expected. Those who could not communicate in parliament, nor around a “round” table, failed again. Only this time, the chateau, once owned by Madame de Pompadour, provided a nicer setting.

"This dialogue will continue between the Lebanese on Lebanese territory ... I think they have broken the ice. I think they were very happy to talk together," he [Kouchner] added.
Great. Those who would not bring themselves to “talk”, after 2 years of watching their country sink, had to go to France to decide, perhaps, that they will talk now on Lebanese soil. Of course that’s baloney. It was not Kouchner’s charm, nor the ghost of Mme de Pompadour, that changed (perhaps) the demeanor of our sub-flunkies. I say “sub” because the main flunkies stayed home and were represented by underlings. It was, we are told, because Saudi and Iran and France have been discussing our fate behind the scenes. And so of course our flunkies oblige.

Also, by sending the third-raters to St-Cloud you guarantee “no results” because it’s the second-raters who make the decisions, perhaps. In case you’re wondering, we have no first-raters.
It [Naharnet source] said Kouchner's offer was rejected at the last minute by representatives from the pro-Syrian March 8 Forces who argued that such a position needed a "political decision" from their leaderships.
Even a “blah” general statement was too much to be entrusted to the flunkies of St-Cloud by their Lebanese masters. Why not use the phone you ask? The setting disallowed outside contact (no phones, no cells according to Le Figaro) because no one trusts any of these people not to be on the phone to Damascus or some other puppeteer.

And now those who are “happy” to talk together to save their own country and their own ass, perhaps, won’t be talking together before French Nanny Kouchner comes to Beirut in ten days or so to hold their hands and change their diapers.

In the absence of the usual bland communiqué we get:
The around 30 delegates "reiterated their support for full respect for the foundations for the Lebanese State, the sovereignty, the independence," Kouchner said.
I am surprised the 30 did not come out against the mass murder of babies and the torture of cute puppies. But hey, they really had no authorization from back home, which in turn is awaiting authorization from Damascus, Tehran, Saudi etc

Then again, if we are still figuring out that the institution of “state” may be beneficial then we are still making the transition from cavemen to organized society.

Instead of translating Michael Moore, Elle Magazine, and Maria Mercedes in Arabic someone ought to tackle Thomas Hobbes (on pre-state societies):
Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man;….[snip]… And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short." (Hobbes 1651 AD)