Thursday, April 16, 2009

Israel and Palestine: A Case Study

There has been a recent string of attacks by Israeli defense forces throughout the latter half of this decade on Palestinian militants, members of Hamas, and the political group Palestinian Popular Resistance. The new Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is adopting a tougher approach to Palestinian attacks than the previous government, enforcing a "zero-tolerance" policy for Palestinian militant attacks. When viewed through an angle of international offense-defense theory, the Israeli-Palestinian case is actually not as confusing as some may believe.

First, I want to parallel this conflict with the crisis of the IRA and the United Kingdom in the early 1970s. Both militant groups, the IRA and the Palestinians do not recognize the sovereignty or authority of their nation-state, both are armed resistance groups, and both implement the same categories of unconventional warfare strategy. Both nation-state groups operate under large operational warfare strategy: including special operations, air strikes, intelligence gathering, and weapons training.

The problem with the current situation is that sovereignty, according to international law, the works of Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes, through the state "has undivided jurisdiction over all persons and property within its territory." For a quick geography and history lesson: the area known as Palestine, in the Gaza Strip region of the sovereign nation of Israel is, in fact, in jurisdiction of the Israeli government, and no international body or nation-state may strip or deny Israel its claim to enforce its policy and laws on any territory that it controls.

This description of a sovereign state has recently been somewhat modified by the United Nations because states are limited by treaties and international obligations and are not legally permitted by the United Nations to commit aggression at will. In current international practice this view is generally accepted. The most important point of this entire situation though is that the United Nations has not reliquished or restricted, by written sanction, the sovereignty of Israel over the Gaza Strip. Accordingly, Israel has the full authority to enforce its regulations, policies, and rules over its citizens, including those in Palestine.

The case of the IRA is important because the reason that there now exists peace is because the strategic interaction between the IRA and the UK ended when the IRA stopped fighting. In fact, with the Camp David Accord the IRA actually got what it wanted in the end, just by stopping the armed conflict. The same can be said for Palestinians. They are only being targeted because the international notion of security strategies demands that armed forces be targeted by sovereign nations when under attack. If the Palestinian resistance only fought back through words and protest, just as in India, Ireland, Australia, France, Spain, and dozens of countries throughout the world, they would have a game theory advantage over the nation-state of Israel by being a peaceful demonstrator. The fact they keep fighting will provoke Israel and further complicate things.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

OpenCongress: Limitations and Reviews

I am sure that with all of the positive relays I have been sending out about OpenCongress over the past week you may have been wondering to yourself, "Now, is The General simply a PR person for OpenCongress?" The answer to that question is, "Of course not, because when a historian evaluates a source, whether that source is a document, photograph, video, or a widget, he must at one time praise its successes and at another, criticize its shortcomings." You may be wondering to yourself, "With a content streaming source that is unbiased, transparent, and free what could possibly be wrong with OpenCongress?" To you I provide three criteria: 1) awareness, 2) lack of sources, and 3) lack of tool sophistication.

Here I define awareness as the measure of the knowledge or understanding of OpenCongress. OpenCongress, while particularly useful for historians and political scientists, is nearly void of any incentive for the average American to use. Instead, OpenCongress acts as an information provider for academics in the field, which is not OpenCongress' stated purpose. OpenCongress was designed to build tools to "facilitate citizen involvement." Now, while historians and political scientists may be citizens, the involvement factor, hereto, the awareness factor is seriously lacking.

OpenCongress relies heavily on the content streaming source known as THOMAS, which is the official Congressional information database. Now think of the irony here. OpenCongress, a site dedicated to Congressional transparency, is obtaining nearly all of its information regarding Congress from an official Congressional database, controlled by Congressmen. Could there possibly be a problem with that? Of course! Say, California Senator Barbara Boxer decides that she no longer wants to display certain interest group participation from her campaign contributions because it may link her to controversial associations, she can simply deny THOMAS the information, in turn denying OpenCongress, in turn denying the citizen's "congressional transparency."

Lastly, the lack of tool sophistication is a problem for any user because it limits the amount of information you can have readily available without trying every single possible combination. For example, the bill issue widget is really only a simple content streamer of five different categories including different background and text colors and the bill title. Instead of having coverage of different aspects of the bill, such as the interest groups that support it and the representatives that have expressed opinions about it, you simply get the bill's name, who introduced it, where it is in the process, and its voting record. It provides very little in the form of identifying key political trends or deviations.

The criteria that I established for examining OpenCongress' limitations is in no way fool proof or exhaustive. I found that these criteria were the most lacking and most surprising (in ironical terms) for the purpose of fulfilling OpenCongress' mission of "facilitating citizen involvement" through "congressional transparency." While OpenCongress does have its shortfalls, allow me to briefly contextualize its importance. OpenCongress does offer academics and some citizens, to an easy interface (much easier and much more eye catching than THOMAS), opinion through blog postings, and most importantly fun and informational tools. In closing, OpenCongress has been a valuable source for my understanding of Congressional trends and deviations, yet it does have some limitations, which, like any historian, should be criticized and evaluated alongside its successes.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

OpenCongress: How Useful Can it Really Be?

Earlier this week the discussion was focused on a uniquely innovative Web 2.0 tool called OpenCongress, a Congressional database, content-streaming, tool-housing symposium of academic discussion and citizen participation. But then you ask yourself, "Is this really useful for my field?" The question, of course, plagues the mind of the historian, who throughout his work must explain the imponderables of historical awareness and the realism of bias in information gathering. However daunting this task may be, the historian does have a great sense of intuition for finding unbiased information that is readily available. That is exactly what OpenCongress offers to historians and political scientists. There are three reasons that OpenCongress is such a useful tool for these academic individuals:

1) OpenCongress' variety of bill issue, bill identification, status, and trends allow unparalleled transparency in the Congressional Pipeline.
2) Unbiased, accurate information from reliable sources, such as the THOMAS, Congress' own content streaming web resource.
3) OpenCongress links the community to Senators and Representatives, following trends, sponsors, and most watched bills.

For these three reasons OpenCongress is an invaluable tool for accessing unbiased, transparent information regarding the most important actions happening in the Beltway. OpenCongress even provides contribution information and interest group participation from various categories and from various political parties, which is essential to identifying key political or historical trends or deviations. OpenCongress has been very useful for me personally, in identifying trends in relation to gun control and military doctrine. The most important tools I have found have been the bill issue widget which categorizes "gun control" and "military" so that I can have easy access to the information. For an example of these widgets at work please see the bottom of my blog, and remember Audio Hostem--I hear the enemy. At least this time the enemy that I am listening to is right on my computer screen.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

OpenCongress: The Historian's Alternative to the Arcane

Have you ever felt that the Congressional legislative process is largely closed-off from timely and meaningful public input? Have you ever wondered why the convoluted process where bills become laws is notoriously arcane and virtually impossible to follow? For most people, finding out what is really happening in our democratically-elected Congress is a difficult and discouraging task. While cruising the Web 2.0 tools of the future I came across a uniquely solid piece of scholarship and conventional political tool. OpenCongress, a free, non-partisan, non-profit, open-source, transparent Web 2.0 software taps into the valuable social wisdom of political scientists, historians, citizen journalists, and academics to clear away the sticky mire of Congressional business and place it in the hands of citizens.

OpenCongress was developed by The Participatory Politics Foundation (PPF) and the The Sunlight Foundation with the goal to use the
"revolutionary power of the Internet and new information technology to enable citizens to learn more about what Congress and their elected representatives are doing."
The two groups seek to build software tools to enable continual government participation by citizens because while
"voting is important, we have a chance to go further and create a political process that is meritocratic, creative, and participatory."
OpenCongress is also a partnered with the Open House Project, a working group designed to make recommendations to Congress on ways to begin the process of opening up the House of Representatives and increasing government transparency.

The initial phase of OpenCongress has focused on bringing together government data, blog and press coverage, and non-profit analysis into a comprehensive snapshot of every congressional bill. However, to truly bring together the average citizen to the immense information network of the nation's capital OpenCongress has instituted a variety of productivity tools to enhance the interactivity and engagement with the Congressional process. Action Calendars, a tool to keep track of scheduling and voting of certain bills, will help citizens keep in contact with their representatives during the most important time in a bill's creation or destruction.

You may be wondering where all this information comes from and how that information is so readily accessible. OpenCongress uses data provided by, which collects data from official government websites, such as THOMAS, through daily automated processes. THOMAS is a database of legislative information, started in 1995 THOMAS includes information on scheduling of bills, voting results, the Congressional record, and information on treaties and nominations of public officials. OpenCongress also uses RSS feeds from Google News and Daylife, as well as from Google Blog Search and Technorati to obtain blog information to update OpenCongress' news page. OpenCongress further uses campaign contribution information provided by the Center for Responsive Politics and their sister website Open Secrets. Finally, OpenCongress automatically brings in video coverage of Members of Congress from Metavid and the YouTube Senate Hub and House Hub.

OpenCongress is a powerful, innovative resource for answering your most puzzling questions about the Congressional process. Which bills have the most money riding on them? Which bills affect the issues you care about? Congressional information rarely makes its way out of the Beltway and into our daily lives, but OpenCongress provides part of the means to lead us in that direction.