Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Risky Business

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Risky Business

We begin today with Anne Applebaum of The Atlantic writing that both states and non-states have failed to comply with the rules based word order established after World War II.

The “rules-based world order” is a system of norms and values that describe how the world ought to work, not how it actually works. This aspirational order is rooted in the idealistic aftermath of the Second World War, when it was transcribed into a series of documents: the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Genocide Convention, and the Geneva Conventions on the laws of war, among others. In the more than seven decades since they were written, these documents have frequently been ignored. The UN Genocide Convention did not prevent genocide in Rwanda. The Geneva Conventions did not stop the Vietnamese from torturing American prisoners of war, did not prevent Americans at Abu Ghraib from torturing Iraqi prisoners of war, and do not prevent Russians from torturing Ukrainian prisoners of war today. Signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights include known violators of human rights, among them China, Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela. The UN Commission on Human Rights deteriorated into parody long ago. […]

Hamas is not a sovereign state, but it has the full backing of Iran, a sovereign state, and funding from Qatar, a sovereign state. Since 2006, Hamas has also been the de facto ruling party in Gaza, a self-governing territory since the Israeli withdrawal in 2005. Nevertheless Hamas does not see itself as part of any kind of order. On Saturday, Hamas launched what appears to have been a well-planned, well-organized attack, designed to spread civilian terror and create chaos. Hamas deployed missiles and drones, including kamikaze drones of the kind used now in Russia and Ukraine, as well as teams of men with guns. Although they hit a few military outposts, they also murdered more than 200 people at a music festival, chased down children and the elderly, and in some towns went from house to house looking for people to murder. They abducted young women, beat them unconscious, and dragged them across the border, a war crime that is as old as Homer’s Iliad.

The Hamas terrorists paid no attention to any modern laws of war, or any norms of any kind: Like the Russians, Hamas and its Iranian backers (who are also Russian allies) run nihilistic regimes whose goal is to undo whatever remains of the rules-based world order, and to put anarchy in its place. They did not hide their war crimes. Instead, they filmed them and circulated the videos online. Their goal was not to gain territory or engage an army, but rather to create misery and anger. Which they have—and not only in Israel. Hamas had to have anticipated a massive retaliation in Gaza, and indeed that retaliation has begun. As a result, hundreds if not thousands of Palestinian civilians will now be victims too.

Fair enough, but let’s not pretend that Israel is not also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights while their compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention is, at the very least, highly debatable

Having said that…

Rob Eshman of Forward criticizes the knee-jerk reaction of some on the left to defend Hamas.

In the last 36 hours, we’ve seen the body of a murdered woman dragged naked through the streets of Gaza. Toddlers grabbed by armed men and hustled away from their parents. More than 200 unarmed young people from around the world shot dead as they danced together on a desert night.

As news of these and other atrocities from Hamas’s terrorist attacks flooded in, some on the left — even on the Jewish left — responded in a knee-jerk, predictable and utterly wrongheaded way. They blamed Israel and America, and let Hamas off the hook. […]

Israel is fascist? If you say so. But how would you characterize a regime that, according to Human Rights Watch, cancels elections, beats, jails, tortures and kills political opponents, controls the media and tortures journalists, hoards resources to enrich its leaders and stoke its population’s rage, and embraces only violent resistance?

It isn’t me, or pro-Bibi Jewish propagandists, leveling these charges. These are the findings of international human rights groups and the voices of Gazans themselves.

The organization Human Rights Watch has long identified a pox on the houses of both Israel and Hamas

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo says that the reporting that Egyptian intelligence warned Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu of “something big and bad” will be highly emphasized in the coming days.

One issue that is increasingly coming into focus is the claim that Egyptian intelligence warned Israel, specifically warned Prime Minister Netanyahu, that something big and bad was coming from Gaza. Just what kind of warning we’re talking about, the timing, details has been fuzzy over the last 24 hours. But at least the claim is coming into focus. Ynet is reporting that ten days before the attack the Director of the General Intelligence Directorate of Egypt, Abbas Kamel, called Netanyahu and warned “something fierce will happen from Gaza”. Netanyahu, according to this report, reacted in a nonchalant fashion and said the IDF had its hands full with events in the West Bank.

Needless to say, this claim is going to loom over everything that is unfolding. The Prime Minister’s office has officially denied the report. But I suspect a huge amount will turn on the specifics of just what is being alleged and denied. Is the PM’s office denying any conversation took place? Are they disputing the specifics of the warning? Even the quote I printed above must be one handed from Arabic to Hebrew and then into English. So we shouldn’t get too focused on the words in that quote.

On the other side, cooperating intelligence agencies give each other heads ups and warnings all the time. But there are warnings and there are warnings. To play the devil’s advocate, we should at least consider the possibility that the kind of heads up about a renewal of episodic rocket fire is now being inflated into a missed warning of the massive attack we’ve seen. One doesn’t even have to assume bad faith in a case like this. Warnings which don’t stand out in the clutter of the moment can look very different after a catastrophic attack.

I don’t profess to know of any solution to the Israel/Hamas war but genocide, surely, is not the answer (scroll down to see the highly offensive paragraph published in a major international newspaper).

I get the anger and the national humiliation, I honestly do, but to invoke Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki as a just revenge is beyond the pale.

Marianna Sotomayor and Maegan Vazquez of The Washington Post report that House Republicans are braced for an intense battle over the next House Speaker.

House Republicans are now scrambling to figure out how to govern — and elect a speaker — with only their majority’s votes, while a small group could hold up any progress. The process of electing a speaker has again tested the ideologically fractious conference, with hard-right and moderate lawmakers pushing to ensure their political and electoral needs are represented.

But even the desire to address aid to Israel has not moved the needle toward electing either Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) or Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). Many Republican lawmakers and aides said neither conservative can garner the 217 votes needed to wield the speaker’s gavel.

With no clear front-runner, Republicans are preparing for a days-long process to choose the next speaker. Republican lawmakers met Monday evening to discuss the week ahead and air lingering grievances from last week’s upheaval. It was a relatively staid meeting, according to lawmakers in attendance, but there was no clear consensus on the timing for choosing a leader. Republicans will hold a candidate forum Tuesday and internal votes to nominate a speaker starting Wednesday morning.

Laura Weiss of Roll Call reports that the freshmen of the New York Republican delegation are determined to have their say in the race for House Speaker.

Staring down some of the toughest reelection battles in the House, several of the New Yorkers said in interviews that their votes hinge on a speaker candidate making clear they understand the needs of their more moderate, hard-won districts that backed President Joe Biden in 2020. Some are also seeking rules changes and confirmation that Kevin McCarthy’s ousting this week won’t go unpunished.

New York sent the largest group of new GOP House members to Washington in the 2022 midterms, and only one of those seven Republicans had as of press time publicly endorsed a candidate to be the House’s next leader. […]

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, a Long Island Republican who flipped his seat in 2022, is hoping to wield that influence and pointed to the fact that New York Republicans — and his fellow freshmen in particular — face difficult reelection bids. He said the New Yorkers understand why voters sent them to Washington after years of electing Democrats and what they need to do to retain those voters’ trust.

Michael Moline of States Newsroom notes that the DeSantis Administration has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a former Florida House member regarding COVID-19 data.

The Florida Department of Health will resume posting on its website details of vaccination counts, case counts, and deaths weekly by county, age group, gender, and race in the future. Additionally, the department will pay $152,000 in litigation costs to the plaintiffs. The agency did not admit wrongdoing or violations of state law.

Furthermore, the department has released 25 gigabytes of data gathered since June 2021 to the plaintiffs, which are free to publish them once they’ve been scrubbed of any personally identifiable information, said Michael Barfield, a paralegal who serves as director of public access initiatives for the Florida Center for Government Accountability, which was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The center seeks to enforce public-records laws through litigation.

The department first released the information to plaintiffs’ attorneys in March in response to an order from the First District Court of Appeal, according to a timeline released by the center. That led directly to the settlement, it said.

‘It was almost entirely Excel spreadsheets. A few PDFs and emails. We actually got more than we asked for,” Barfield said by email.

Zachary Roth, also of States Newsroom, says that studies show universal vote-by-mail is one sure way to increase voting rates but the implications of the studies have not been largely recognized.

When every registered voter gets sent a ballot in the mail — a system known as universal vote-by-mail — voting rates tend to rise, numerous studies have found.

Advocates for mail voting say these findings haven’t gotten the attention they deserve, and that they should lead more states that want to boost turnout to adopt UVM, as it’s called.

“[T]o a remarkable degree, most of the nation’s leading journalists, democracy reform organizations, and elected officials continue to largely ignore, downplay — or even dismiss outright – the potentially profound implications of these noticeably high turnout rates,” said a research paper released last month by the National Vote at Home Institute, which advocates for increased use of mail voting.

Currently, eight states — California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington — use UVM.

Brewster Kahle of the Guardian looks at the war on American libraries and proposes some solutions.

This war on libraries – and on the traditional values of equal opportunity, universal education and cultural preservation they represent – directly contravenes the will of the majority in the United States. Polls reveal that public support for libraries is as strong as ever. But the profession of librarianship has become a hazardous one, because of the actions of a hostile minority. It’s time to reverse course.

Centuries ago, publishers, lawmakers and business leaders understood the value to society of libraries, and of making books accessible to anyone curious enough to read them. Mindful of a long history of autocratic tyranny over the dissemination of books, Benjamin Franklin – a publisher and printer by trade – started the first subscription library in the US to spread knowledge widely.[…]

The traditional practice of libraries is to buy or acquire published materials, preserve and catalog them, and lend them widely and confidentially. When books were printed on paper, the laws governing these practices remained clear for more than a century. But now, in the digital age, every one of these functions has been denied to libraries, or recently even declared illegal in the United States.

Jon Allsop of Columbia Journalism Review takes a look at the information war now underway in Israel and Gaza.

Quickly, graphic videos of unspeakable violence spread on social media. (“Don’t search the trending,” one friend texted me to advise.) These were how the friends and relatives of some of those killed or taken captive found out about the fate of their loved ones. “The sky fell over me,” Moshe Or told Margalit after being sent footage of his brother and his brother’s girlfriend being abducted from the music festival. Around the world, TV news shows aired clips from some of the videos. “It is incredibly disturbing to see,” Anderson Cooper said on CNN, before broadcasting footage showing the kidnap of another festival-goer. “But it is important to see.”

Hamas itself uploaded video footage of its attack, often on the messaging service Telegram, where the group’s following ticked up significantly through the weekend. Some of the footage was shaky, shot from handheld devices. Some of it was slick, including sweeping aerial shots showing the bombing of Israeli observation towers and rockets streaking across the sky. At various major news organizations, reporters set about trying to authenticate the footage. (CNN found that the videos Hamas posted were “heavily edited.”)

Indeed, visual investigators and fact-checkers were kept busy as they tried to keep up with the torrent of online content coming out of the conflict. Some of the imagery was doctored; some was real, but depicted past, not current, events. The situation was seen as a major test for X, formerly known as Twitter, whose status as the key platform for keeping up with unfolding crises in real time has always been complicated by the proliferation of junk information, and has recently foundered as the platform has become less friendly to the sharing of reliable news under the ownership of Elon Musk. On Saturday, Musk recommended that users follow a pair of accounts that are known for spreading bad information and, in one case, anti-Semitic slurs. (Musk later deleted his post.) “I’ve been fact-checking on Twitter for years, and there’s always plenty of misinformation during major events,” Shayan Sardarizadeh, a journalist with the BBC’s Verify service, wrote. “But the deluge of false posts in the last two days…is something else.”

The independent Russian media outlet Meduza has translated into English Alexey Kovalyev and Dmitri Kuznets’s 2021 story about the history of the relationship between Moscow and Hamas.

In 2011, Hamas showed its support for the armed opposition in Syria, which had incited the Syrian revolution. At the time, a significant portion of Hamas’ fighters were based in Syria (where they hid from Israeli special forces). That’s why the organization directly participated in the Syrian revolution, supporting the opposition. Previously, the Syrian regime and Iran were the most important allies of Hamas, supplying weapons to Gaza (including Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missile complexes). Hamas used these weapons to build an arsenal consisting of thousands of rockets, which it used to target Israeli cities.

In Syria, Hamas fighters opposed Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite organization supported by Iran. At the same time, Israel secretly supported the Syrian opposition, which, in effect, meant being on the same side as Hamas. In this conflict, Russia chose to support Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s incumbent president. Since 2015, Russian troops have been deployed to Syria, becoming allies of Iran and Hezbollah.

This ultimately caused Russia’s influence in Gaza to wane. However, Moscow’s official position toward Hamas has not changed. For example, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that Russia doesn’t consider Hamas terrorists because they are an “integral part of Palestinian society,” given that they have representatives in the national legislative assembly and the national unity government.

Finally today, Ian Wafula of BBC News reports that a Kenyan high court has, for now, blocked the deployment of Kenyan police officers to Haiti.

A Kenyan high court has blocked the government’s plans to deploy police officers to Haiti or any other country pending the hearing of a petition.

The judge cited issues raised in the application as being of national importance and public interest.

One of the petitioners, former presidential candidate Ekuru Aukot said the proposed deployment was unconstitutional.

It is argued that there is a question mark over whether regular police can actually be deployed on international assignments.

Mr Aukot added the country could not afford to spare 1,000 officers before addressing insecurity at home.

Last week ethnic clashes in western Kenya left seven people dead.

Everyone try to have the best possible day!

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