Thursday, March 31, 2005

More on proletarian expropriation

Check the "Europhobia" blog for extremely interesting views about the debates evolving around the European Union and much more. For their interpretation of our presentation of the theoretical background to proletarian expropriation check here.

Wolfowitz in/and Europe

Perhaps surprisingly, we have not yet discussed here Bush's two controversial recent appointments: John Bolton, an arch unilateralist and neoconservative as the US ambassador to the United Nations; and Paul Wolfowitz, "architect of the Iraq war" and neoconservative to the head of the World Bank. The latter has proved the more controversial of the two; however, it seems that, after a trip to Europe yesterday, Wolfowitz has won over enough people in Europe to ensure that his appointment won't be blocked. Such a move would have been unprecedented; by traditionm, the US chooses the head of the World Bank, while the EU selects the head of the IMF. Both, however, possess the formal power to block the other's nomination; after yesterday, however, it is clear that Europe will not do so in this case.

Perhaps most surprising, and most concerning from a European point of view, is not the mere fact, as many have suggested, that both appointments seem to send a clear signal to the world about the US's intentions to make use of multilateral institutions to further its own policy goals: such cannot, in all honesty, have come as a particular surprise to anybody. However, it does seem to me that there is, in the personalities selected, a message directly from Bush to Europe that, regarded in isolation, seems surprising; when put into the context of the last few months, becomes little short of astonishing.

I posted a couple of weeks ago on Bush's apparently successful, "bridge-building" mission to Europe, which itself had built upon the success of Secretary of State Rice's visit a few months earlier. The rhetoric at that time was all about unity: "No temporary debate, no passing disagreement of governments, no power on earth will ever divide us", proclaimed President Bush - a clear reference to the war on Iraq. Many in Europe, "old" and "new" alike, were won over by these words, and began to look forward to a new period of transatlantic harmony. America, it seemed, and the Bush administartion in particular, had learned (perhaps from the ongoing troubles in Iraq), that it simply couldn't "go it alone" in terms of its foreign ppolicy goals; it needed its old allies.

Which is what makes the appointments of Bolton and Wolfowitz so astonishing. After his visit to Europe, many will have been expecting the reconciliatory tone to be followed by actions of a similar kind - with, perhaps, someone like Powell being appointmed to the UN post. Far from it: indeed, it is difficult to imagine two appointments more likely to upset Europeans than Bolton to the UN and Wolfowitz to the World Bank. Clare Short, the outspoken ex-Cabinet Minister in the UK, stated that it was as if Bush was sticking "two fingers up to the world" (a statement that may puzzle some Europeans; it means something similar to the one-fingered "salute"). Given the context of transatlantic relations in the first few months of the year, the insult must have been particularly keenly felt in Europe.

Bush will have been only too aware of the reaction that these appointments was likely to generate. They can only be viewed as a very deliberately orchestrated show of strength, with Europe as the primary intended audience. For the moment, it seems to have worked; Europe will not block Wolfowitz, and in all likelihood would not have even if reconcialtory noises about a senior role in his World Bank leadership team, or even support for Frenchman Pascal Lamy's candidature for the head of the WTO, had not been forthcoming. With these appointments, then, Bush has firmly (and, I suggest, quite deliberately) re-established the US as the senior partner in the transatlantic alliance, despite the rhetoric of togetherness that had characterised the months in the leadup to these announcements. However, he may be storing up problems for the future. In the UK, it seems that, amongst the senior members of Government, practically only Tony Blair was unphased by the decision (indeed, he knew about it some time in advance, and neglected to forewarn his Cabinet colleagues). Perhaps most significantly, Gordon Brown, currently Chancellor of the Exchequer but the man many in Britian believe - and hope - will be the next Prime Minister, was described by sources close to him as "incandescent" at the Wolfowitz nomination in particular. It will be interesting to see, with time, if the deeply symbolic implications of these two appointments for EU-US relations do not come back to haunt Bush, or, if the situation was to arise, any Republican successor.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

"The Union shall offer its citizens an internal market where competition is free and undistorted" A citizen replies: no thanks !

I will probably vote no at the referendum on the European constitution that, in France, will take place in May. But until then I will try, like almost every one of that opinion, to understand the arguments of those in favour of that constitution. If we set aside the criticism that can be addressed to this text from the point of view of a thick conception of democracy, and stick with the social and economical problem, I cannot understand how a left-wing Yes can be argued for.

Art. I-3: The Union shall offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers, and an internal market where competition is free and undistorted.

Art. III-176: (… )the activities of the Member States and the Union shall
include, as provided in the Constitution, the adoption of an economic policy which is based on the close coordination of Member States' economic policies, on the internal market and on the definition of common objectives, and conducted in accordance with the principle of an open market economy with free competition.

Art. III-292-2-e: The Union shall define and pursue common policies and actions, and shall work for a high degree of cooperation in all fields of international relations, in order to: (…) encourage the integration of all countries into the world economy, including through the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade

Art. III-131: Member States shall consult each other with a view to taking together the steps needed to prevent the functioning of the internal market being affected by measures which a Member State may be called upon to take in the event of serious internal disturbances affecting the maintenance of law and order, in the event of war, serious international tension constituting a threat of war.

Is it not obvious that these provisions stem from an ideology that cannot be accepted by anyone who believes that political forces should control the market? How can one believe that and at the same time vote for this constitution? Frankly, whishing for a market where competition is free and undistorted, and calling that a value, is not left-wing. I know that, without so many words, such a market is already a value of the European Union and that the constitution doesn’t change all that much to it. But now we are given, finally, a chance to reject such a polity and I, for one, will take it gladly.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Chuck D v. Sheryl Crow

The above title is not the name of an episode of MTV's claymation series "Celebrity Death Match" but rather the name I have given the case before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding file sharing. WHile Chuck and Sheryl aren't in the case name, they have been active supporting either the file-sharing techies or the music industry, respectively. The NY Times has an article today giving a basic run down on the case, but the opposing arguments kind of go like this:

File-sharing advocates: You cannot allow the music industry, or any industry, to have a technological veto over developing software. A ruling against file sharing would temporarily curb file sharing (and thus copyright infringements), but would also stunt American growth in technological innovation.

Music Industry: File sharing software is all about stealing. It does not possess the potentially legal uses that VCRs do, but rather is entirely designed to screw the music industry and artists out of their rightful profits.

Usually, I am not particularly sympathetic to an argument that runs that deciding X will "stunt" the growth of an economic process. This is for two reasons. First, most industries are adapatable enough that they will learn to operate within the new rule structure efficiently. Second, if a country wants to "stunt" the growth of an economic good, there is usually a reason that they would make that decision that is apart from an ignorance of the economic consequences. This second point is essentially how I feel about stem cell research. Sure, disallowing (or very limited allowances) of stem cell research in the U.S. DOES put the U.S. behind in innovations that stem cell research could advance, but the country (through its representatives) has decided that it has moral qualms with the research that make the sacrifice palatable.

In this case, however, I have been unable to find a non-economic reason to curb file-sharing software. I suppose one could argue that we have a moral obligation to thwart theft and that file-sharing software facilitates such theft. I don't think this argument flies though, because many studies show that the average citizen simply doesn't view file-sharing as theft (or at least theft bad enough to be punished with any regularity). While you might argue that this view is self-serving, I've got news for opponents of file sharing: If the citizenry doesn't think X is's not. Sure, it may literally be theft, but if they don't want it prosecuted under such laws, it won't be.

Also, I think my first hesitancy in embracing the techies logic cuts against the music industry here. If only the industry displayed some creativity, it could learn how to make file-sharing more profitable for them. It's their current unwillingness to deviate from prior success that makes their future success more questionable.

In this battle (just as in my high school / college days) I am squarely on Chuck D's side.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Chirac and the European Constitution

Jacques Chirac, from Tokio, made his point on the European Constitution.
Not surprisingly his message does not concern the substance of the debate but only the form. As Raphael pointed out below, the President wishes to present the 'No' to the European Constitution as a tragedy.

This is not sufficient. French people, as well as European people, want to know why the 'No' would be a tragedy, and why the 'Yes' would make us all better off. Chirac has insisted that French people should concentrate on the role of this constitution for the future of Europe and that they should not see it as a chance to change the domestic government. However, given the polls, if the 'no' were to prevail, Chirac should consider this defeat as a personal one.

Friday, March 25, 2005

A "No" to the European Constitution coming from UMP

Check here for another argument for "no" in the French referendum, this time coming from the UMP member of the French National Assembly.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Right to Death Penalty?

Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermuele have recently written an article arguing in favor of the death penalty. As both Sunstein and Vermuele have sterling academic credentials, their work is typically considered very well balanced and influential.

The abstract of the article:

Recent evidence suggests that capital punishment may have a significant deterrent effect, preventing as many as eighteen or more murders for each execution. This evidence greatly unsettles moral objections to the death penalty, because it suggests that a refusal to impose that penalty condemns numerous innocent people to death.

Capital punishment thus presents a life-life tradeoff, and a serious commitment to the sanctity of human life may well compel, rather than forbid, that form of punishment. Moral objections to the death penalty frequently depend on a distinction between acts and omissions, but that distinction is misleading in this context, because government is a special kind of moral agent.

The familiar problems with capital punishment -– potential error, irreversibility, arbitrariness, and racial skew -– do not argue in favor of abolition, because the world of homicide suffers from those same problems in even more acute form. The widespread failure to appreciate the life-life tradeoffs involved in capital punishment may depend on cognitive processes that fail to treat “statistical lives” with the seriousness that they deserve.

Wow. As an opponent to the death penalty, this is about as convincing of evidence I could find to potentially change my mind. My opposition to the death penalty is not rooted in a moral belief that the government should not sponsor killing, but rather in the belief that the government shouldn't be TRUSTED to find out who deserves to be executed. In essence, I don't trust the government with my social security money, so why should I trust them in trying to put people to death. As a result, any evidence that executions represent a clear deterrent to murder means that the morality of the situation (in my eyes at least) is much less obvious. Ultimately, if I were certain that the number of innocent individuals killed (by the government or private citizens) was one less with the death penalty, I would have to think long and hard about whether I would remain opposed to capital punishment.

Even more complicated is what clear evidence showing that the death penalty saves lives would mean to rights based groups. After all, the most basic thing any government is responsible for is the safety of its citizens, both from domestic and foreign enemies. If the government were to ignore a clear life-saving benefit because of its own squishy moral qualms with the "morality" of government sponsored killing, I think it would have some explaining to do to its public.

This is all besides the point...for now. I don't think Cass and Adrian have made such an overwhelming empirical argument for the death penalty that it's deterrent benefits are clear. But it's not so difficult to imagine a world where the evidence becomes so substantial that it can no longer be ignored. What will we do then?

The US Supreme Court does not want to hear the Schiavo case

Here you find the opinion stated by the court.

Belgrade 1999

24th March 1999 bombing of Serbia

On this day, 24th of March 1999, forces of the NATO Alliance attacked what was then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Montenegro). The bombing lasted until 9th of June 1999 when Milosevic’s regime finally capitulated. In the bombing, according to official estimates, died between 1, 200 and 2, 500 people. Material damage amounts to 29.6 billion US dollars according to the Serbian based G 17 Institute.

Positive sides of the bombing are that it effectively stopped the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians. Moreover, some think that Milosevic’s regime lost power a year later, largely due to the psychological effect the bombing made on the Serbian population. This is possibly true, but one should not forget that the regime could have been brought down on several instances before 5th of October 2000, namely in 1996-1997 during the 120 days long mass street protests against Milosevic’s electoral fraud. If the international community strongly supported the opposition forces then both the Kosovo 1999 war could have been avoided.
As far as the NATO 1999 Intervention is concerned, it is interesting to remind that it was the multilateralist President Clinton and his allies, not George W. Bush that introduced the practice of humanitarian interventions (conducting wars to bring democracy). NATO circumvented the UN Security Council, and bombed the FRY invoking a dubious international public law precedent. The majoritarian opinion in the state of the art of international public law is this war presented a breach of international peremptory legal norms. It is then that the post-WW II international order cracked, not in 2003 when Bush and his allies bombed Iraq. Was it a good or a bad decision, the future will show? What is sure is that present generations of Serbian citizens and Kosovar Albanians (still formally Serbian citizens) will never forget it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Would France's No to the European constitution be a tragedy ?

From a French perspective, there is a democratic deficit in the European Union for two reasons: there are not enough democratic procedures and they are used in undemocratic ways. The first aspect is well known: the elected institution - the European Parliament - has little political power compared with the Commission and the European Court of Justice. The second complaint is heard less frequently but that may be because, to a certain extent, it is specific to some European countries such as France. This unsatisfaction with the way European democratic process works is the topic of this post.

We are called to vote on European issues on two types of occasions: to elect our representatives in Parliament and to adopt Treaties that represent significant changes. I have no illusions about what democracy can be in today's world but the European political campaigns in France don't meet the standards of a modest and realist conception. Indeed, even if by a democratic procedure we mean a mechanism by which the voters are able to chose between different solutions to a common problem, the campaigns we are treated to cannot be called democratic. When we vote for our representatives, European issues are not dealt with and the elections are given the meaning of a test of the majority and the opposition's popularity. What is missing there are the solutions offered to the common problem: European politics. When we vote for a referendum, there is a common problem but what we lack is a plurality of solutions. Apart from the communist party and the nationalists all other significant political parties are always in favour of the Yes.

The political campaign in France for the referendum on the European constitution has started at the beginning of this year. It began in the oddest fashion inside the socialist party. Their leaders decided that the socialists needed to adopt a common position before entering the national debate. The campaign that they launched was one of the saddest I have ever witnessed. The official argument was that the socialist had to vote Yes, not because the constitution is a good text and a significant improvement, but because voting No would bring about a dangerous crisis. A crisis inside the party that would weaken it on the national scene, a crisis between the French socialists and other left-wing national parties in Europe that would result in a marginalization of the party on the European scene and finally a crisis between France and the rest of Europe. In other words, what was debated was not the constitution or what it represents, the socialist were not asked to have such a debate, it was impossible because given the consequences of the No, it was not even an option. The Constitution was almost never mentioned and all we heard about was this dangerous CRISIS. I don't know how they did it with this argument but the leaders of the party were able to convince a large majority of their militants, the Socialist party was to speak in one voice in favour of the Yes during the national campaign. When it began, the same depressing strategy was put into motion: all against the No to the referendum; Chirac and his opposition agreeing that any other solution would be a disaster for France and for Europe. If you are not a communist and not racist, you could not find in the political spectrum a way to express your disagreement with the adoption of this constitution. No one to represent that position, no arguments to defend it and not even any proponents of the Yes to disagree with you since the No was not an option in their minds. But, fortunately for democracy, the wind has changed. In all the left-wing parties, important politicians decided it was worth it to face a crisis between them and the leaders of their party and regained their freedom. Thus the campaign will not to take place between all the moderates for the Yes on one side and the radicals (communists and racists) in favour of the No, on the other. The opponents to the European constitution discuss the text, they put it into question, they confront it with conceptions of the world, of democracy and of economy. So the proponents of the Yes are forced to abandon their strategy of the threat of a crisis, they can no longer keep playing with the fears of the voters. Raffarin has understood that and it is what he meant when he said that in order to win against the No, the Yes needed the No. The No has liberated the Yes, it has forced it to change its strategy.

I don’t mean to say that the crisis that would be brought about by a refusal of the Constitution by France is not an issue. It certainly is. But it is in no case a sufficient argument to vote in favour of the European constitution. First of all, the plausibility of the prediction that a crisis would happen can be questioned. Secondly, we can have doubts about the efficiency of the argument to convince the voters. Who will vote for a constitution because it is presented as the most cautious solution? I know that in modern society comfort and safety are fundamental values but we can hope that they are not the most important ones in constitutional matters. Thirdly if there is a crisis it should be avoided only if the alternative is not worse. That is one of the questions: do we fear more an immediate crisis or a long standing unsatisfactory solution. Fourthly, as Lorenzo would say (about clashes of constitutional rights), tragedy is part of life, of our private life and of political life. Tragedies and crisis of this kind should not be avoided at all cost.

Checkerboard judicial activism

George Bush is inaugurating a season of checkerboard judicial activism.
The same administration that has condamned the Supreme Court for the decision on the juvenile death penalty is now asking federal judges, with the ad hoc statute concerning Terry Schiavo, to overstep state courts in a case which is normally heard by them.
This is not promising from different perspectives. First, US federalism has easily been bypassed. Second, an individual law is threatening the rule of law. Third, Justices who will be appointed in the future will have to deal with a very incoherent framework of principles when it comes to their self-restraint.

France and the European Constitution, again

For an argument in favour of No to the European constitution see here

Monday, March 21, 2005

Foreign Affairs Powers

One issue that has been overlooked a bit in the post-Sept. 11th world of foreign affairs law is whether the executive branch possesses a "foreign affairs power" to the exclusion of other governmental entities. This issue was famously debated between Jack Goldsmith and Harold Koh in dueling Harvard Law Review articles in 1998. At the time, the focus was on whether state's had any foreign affairs powers themselves and how the debate impacted court application of customary international law. The law that sparked the controversy was the Massachusetts Burma Law, which imposed a state sanctions regime against Myanamar.

In essence, Goldsmith and Bradley outline the limits of the foreign affairs power and argue that there is strong evidence that states have retained some rights to engage in limited foreign affairs actions, in particular, actions that augment or supplement federal foreign affairs activities. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the case does not answer the question, but implies that as long as state actions with international consequences are not preempted by a federal scheme of sanctions, they could be valid (a blow to the exlusive foreign affairs idea).

In an era of substantial political differences among states, it seems that a bold maneuver for states to affect the international stage is bound to emerge. It isn't difficult to imagine a world in which New York passes a law that aims to impact the Middle East Peace process, or to reward other nations with favorable policies with potentially large state contracts. Incorporating state lawmakers in the gains and publicity of international affairs could also encourage them to feel a greater stake in ensuring the success in overcoming huge obstacles facing bureaucratic cooperation.

Advocates of federalism should embrace this idea as states work to both make the war on terrorism more effective and more accurately reflect the wishes of their population. Don't get me wrong. Allowing states a piece of the stage of world politics is a bit scary. State governments are more likely than the federal government to act on the fringes of the political spectrum, as long as they are bound by actually executive order / legislated foreign policy, they can serve to make the law more clear and address areas that the federal government is unwilling to address for whatever reason.

Voluntary and Involuntary Euthanasia: two worlds apart

Schiavo, in italian, means slave. Terry Schiavo, a lady who is in a persistent vegetative state, is the object of a political battle in the US over the desirability of euthanasia. Terry Schiavo is a modern slave. She has no control over her life. Her husband and her parents claim this control. On one hand, her husband wants her to die to stop her suffering. On the other, her parents want her alive; more precisely, they want her to be kept alive by a feedin tube.

The suggestion I want to make are not directly in favour of Mr Schiavo (the husband) or Mrs Schindler ( the mother). To be honest, I think that they both have something to say. Instead, I would like to dispel some basic confusion that surrounds the euthanasia domain. After clearing the ground, a clearer question as to Terri's sort will be asked.

A main distinction must be drawn between voluntary and non-voluntary euthanasia. The former concerns the cases in which a person is capable to express an informed consent. The latter concerns the cases in which a person is not capable to express an informed consent. Between the two there is an ocean. Terri's case falls in the second category: she is unable to express her opinion as to her sort. Moreover, she has never even thought of being one day in a position of doing so. Thus, her will cannot be construed as allowing euthanasia or refusing it.

The federal court, which will probably hear the case, will have a very hard task: they will have to decide on a question concerning the quality of life. The question is whether a persistant vegetative state is worth living or not. Its worth could be measured in different ways, though none of them guarantees infallibility. Either it could be measured with a view to prospective medical breakthrough which will bring back Terri Schiavo to a non-vegetative state. Or, it could be measured in its own terms. Someone may argue that a persistant vegetative state is still a form of life that we fail to understand. But who lives it, can enjoy it.

Both roads seem to me hard to follow. A reasonable time has been given to Terri to wake up (15 years). Nothing happened. Theoretically, she could be maintained in life for 40 more years, unless she dies for another illness. Those who are suffering, or at least those who can understand the suffering of are the parents and the husband. They are living a tragedy and whichever way the court will decide, they will face a tragedy. Thus, the only thing we can do is to compare their tragedies and ask whether there is a lesser evil. Mr Schiavo is facing a 15 year long tragedy. He simply wants to write the last chapter of it, in order to go on and have a life as far as it is possible to do so. The final chapter will be the most painful arguably and yet pain, he probably thinks, will redeem all his suffering during the last 15 years. Possibly, an acute pain deriving from the actual death of Terri will also sweep away forthcoming long-term sufferings.

Terri's parents, at the opposite end of the spectrum, are facing the same 15 year long tragedy. But they believe they can still endure an x-number of years of mild sufferings in order to avoid the greatest pain that comes with the realisation of a person dear to you. They want to postpone death in the hope of a miracle. By claiming this, they also want to impose the long term suffering to Mr Schiavo.

I personally believe that, after reasonable attempts to save life (15 years of attempts), the only possible way out is to accept tragedy fully. Terri's death will be horrible for the husband and for the parents. But, death is a fundamental aspect of our lives. We, the living, must learn to accept it and to honour the sacrifice of unlucky humans, such as Terri Schiavo.

Friday, March 18, 2005

France and the European Constitution

The lengthy process that is leading us to the ratification of the European Constitution may still reserve a number of surprises. We all have our eyes on the UK--Blair is not in an easy position-- but the unexpected result may come from France, something which would be more than welcome on the other side of the eurotunnel.
France, which will hold its referendum on 29 may 2005, is now facing a harsh political debate on the European Constitution. The Socialist party is split, and it seems that the rest of the population suddenly realised that the Constitution has an exaggerated liberal-economic component. This is completely false, the EuConst does not add anything new on this point, but the polarised debate seems to attract attention on this feature as being at odd with domestic values. The debate from now until May will be harsh and dirty. The truth is that, at last, the European Constitution is bringing some European politics at the domestic level.

On 21 March, a new poll confirms that the transversal party against the ratification of the European Consitution is growing. More worringly, the European Constitution is now discussed along with the issue of the accession of Turkey to the Union. This is not promising . A Yes to the Eu-Const will not entail a Yes to the accession of Turkey. The two problems have separate consequences, thus they'd better be kept separate.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Back from GTMO

I apologize for my extended absence. My work in private practice is often prohibitively time consuming. Part of my absence was also due to an week long trip to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to meet with my clients. Unfortunately, until my notes are declassified by the government, I am unable to discuss those meetings, however, I can discuss Gitmo generally and discuss information from our clients that has been declassified from our last trip to Cuba.

It has become clear to me that the stories of abuse and torture of the GTMO detainees have recently fallen victim to (1) public torture fatigue, and (2) a feeling that it is okay to torture detainees in order to save innocent lives. Obviously, I think this is disturbing, BUT, I don't plan on using this post to fight these understandable feelings. Having said that, I DO want to note that these individuals have never been abused to find out information to save lives. Much of the unclassified factual returns released by the government indicates that the government has been primarily interested in finding out individual stories of the detainees. Exactly the type of information you would use to prosecute an individual for a crime (a crime that has already taken place). Unfortunately, those crimes are not taking place.

What I want to discuss is a different kind of abuse. One that may resonate more with average Americans. That abuse is the abuse of the attorney / client relationship. A recent NY Times article discusses several instances where detainees have been harshly interrogated after meeting with their attorneys, have been questioned about privileged conversations with their attorneys, and where the goverment has taken attorney-client mail has been taken by the government.

Interfering with the attorney-client relationship is the clearest way to undermine an adversarial system of justice. While I was in GTMO our military escort asked me why we defend individuals he clearly thought should be locked away forever. I told him that the U.S. has an adversarial system of justice and that as part of that system, those who believe in the rule of law believe that between two sides working fervently for their clients, the truth will rise and justice will be done. Not a perfect system by any means, but a system that has served us well. I told him that for every day I am working to free our detainee clients there is someone over at the government working feverishly to keep them detained. I don't feel any anger toward that government employee, because he is a part of a system from which I believe justice springs.

Anyway...interfering with an attorneys access to privileged communications with his client undermines this adversarial process. Undermining this process retards the balanced element from which the truth can arise. It is also symbolic of the larger struggle of these detainees to get a habeas hearing where the government is forced to explain their detention. The true tragedy of these detentions lies not only in physical incarceration, but in the unilateral justification which has not been probed by the justice system.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Prospects for Peace in Northern Ireland

For those who follow the stuttering peace process in Northern Ireland, the last few months have hardly been cause for optimism. Various different factors have contributed to this, among which can be counted most importantly the breakdown of talks over the decommissioning of IRA weapons (ostensibly over what kind of and how many photographs should be taken of the process as evidence), and the huge (nearly 40 million euro) robbery from the Northern Bank last December, which has been almost universaly attributed to the provisional IRA(although, naturally, strenuously denied by them). These have culminated in the IRA's complete withdrawal of its offer to decommission, and its subsequent, ominous warning that the British and Irish Governments must not "underestimate the seriousness of the situation". As a further punishment for the robbery, Sinn Féin members of the UK parliament (the political party with links to the IRA) have had their parliamentary benefits revoked (these MPs are allowed offices and allowances even although they cannot actually take their seats, as a result of their refusal to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen). The reinstatement of the devolved Stormont Assembly in Belfast, at least with Sinn Féin involved, seems like a distant prospect indeed.

Things seem, however, to be changing, in the crucial area of the grass roots support for the more radical wings of the Republican movement. The recent murder of a man in Belfast in which members of the IRA were involved, both in the act itself and in the subsequent cover-up, has created a remarkable groundswell of anti-IRA sentiment in some of its northern heartlands. This has led to an internal IRA inquiry, the organisation expelling some members, explicitly urging witnesses to come forward to the police and guaranteeing their safety, and, astonishingly, publicly offering to execute the men that it believes to have been involved. Why they are so concerned should be immediately clear: while a terrorist movement can survive, and even thrive, on government attempts to crack down on them, the loss of local support would very quickly be fatal. Certainly, what is happening now does seem to indicate that, even in the IRA heartlands of Belfast, their erstwhile supporters are losing patience with its attempts to continue to operate outwith the law: in this sense at least, the peace process, although institutionally faltering, does seem to have created certain expectations that threaten to undermine the IRA's local support. The siege mentality, the almost complete lack of trust in UK state institutions seem to be subsiding - as demonstrated by the family of the murdered man's insistence that IRA internal "disciplinary measures" will not suffice, only an open and transparent court proceedings. This, perhaps, could be the most important development yet in the peace process as a whole.

It is, of course, as yet too early to make confident predictions of this sort. However, an interesting indication will be to see how Sinn Féin perform at upcoming elections, given their links to the IRA. For some time nowm, they have been the elcetorally stronger of the two nationalist parties - and the difference has been growing since the 2001 Westminster Parliament elections (in which Sinn Féin won 21.7% of the vote, whereas the SDLP took 21%) through the 2003 Assembly elections to last year's European elections, where Sinn Féin won 26.3% to the SDLP's 15.9% (see here). The general, UK parliamentary elections, to be held in a few months time, will be an interesting indicator of the effect that the events of the last few months have had on the grass roots support for more radical forms of republicanism; and, by extension, of the relative strength of the peace process, regardless of the situation institutionally.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

“Blogger makes White House debut”

For all you desperate souls that often have existentialist doubts about the usefulness of publishing at your respective blogs, the hour of hope has arrived. Recently the White House has allowed Garret Graff, a blogger, to attend its regular press briefing. It is the first time that an “internet diarist” gets recognized in such an official way (see “Blogger makes White House debut” ).

“War is hell: a beautiful hell”

What are the prospects of the future of humanity? The 2003 Iraq war spurred an enormous public uproar all over Europe and the World. Despite the fact that the Italian government is formally part of the “Coalition of the Willing”, public opposition to the war in Iraq in Italy was and still is enormous. Last example of the liberation of the Italian journalist Sgrena and the killing of the secret agent Nicola Calipari by US soldiers only confirmed that vast majority of Italians continue to oppose the war in Iraq, despite recent Bush’s visit to Europe.

When the war in Iraq was about to start the entire country was covered by Peace flags, endless demonstrations repeated pacifist slogans of the Vietnam war singing with one voice, “mai piu’ Guerra: via le truppe dal’Iraq” (never again the war: out with the troops from Iraq). Despite being some times a participant of these demonstrations, I never stopped doubting…was the coalition of the willing right to attack? Is this the way to bring democracy into a country? Is democracy worth fighting a bloody war? I still do not manage to come up with the answer. The same counts for the war waged against my country by NATO in 1999. I ask myself was democracy and the downfall of Milosevic’s regime possible even without that war, much earlier?

Still this is not what I want to write about in this piece. What I want to make you think about is whether eternal peace is possible or is war and conflict something immanently linked to the human nature? Moreover, I want you to think about whether ideology of Pacifism is a suitable way to combat war? Are we like other animals able to learn only on our mistakes, are we to love peace only as long as we remember the atrocities of the war, and as soon as the memories of the horrors of the battles fade away, are we, pushed by the boredom and hoplessness of every day life, dazzled by the dream of heroic death, to jump back to the trenches?

This time I suggest you do not search the answers in philosophical literature. Read novels.

Alessandro Baricco, one of the most prominent contemporary Italian writers, in his recent book “Omero, Illiade”, actually in an essay that is included in the book (see) writes about the phenomenon of war and the possibility of overcoming its appealing force.

The author argues, “what is surprising about the Iliad, is the power…compassion with which the reasons of the vanquished are transmitted. It is the story written by the victors, however, in the memory remain also, if not mostly, the human figures of the Troians.”

Barrico discovers in “Iliad” the “supernatural” capacity of the Greeks to truly speak for the whole of humanity. A prime monument of the war such as Iliad simultaneously carries in itself an obstinate love for peace, or as Barrico calls it, the feminine side of the Iliad. The characters in the novel, instead of fighting talk and talk about meaning of life, its absurdity, fear of death, hope of immortality, human nature…”The word is the arm that freezes the war…They are all condemned to death but they make their last cigarette last for eternity.” Yet, they throw away the cigarette, the words cease, and they transform themselves into blind fighters. Despite this fact, the Iliad gives a glimpse of a civilization unknown to the Greeks that they nevertheless manage to perceive, and had known, and had kept in the secret and protected angle of their soul. Therefore, the main problem is, says Baricco, how to make the world follow and become aware of its own hidden and ever-present inclination for peace?

Iliad does sing about the beauty of war, splendor of arms, but not in a superficial way, the Iliad makes us remember, says Baricco, of a troublesome but inexorably real fact: for thousands of years the war had presented for men, a moment in which the intensity (the beauty) of life was releasing itself in all its power and beauty. It presented, almost a unique opportunity to change one’s own destiny, to find the truth about ourselves, to achieve a higher ethical awareness.

Against anaemic emotions of ordinary life, against the mediocre moral stature of every day life, war puts the world back into motion and drags individuals out of their customary limits into the part of the soul that seems to them a landing place of any desire. Baricco notes that he is not talking about the far away and barbaric history, not so long ago refined intellectuals as Wittgenstein and Gadda searched for obstinacy in the first lines of the front, in an inhuman war, with the conviction that they will there understand the true meaning of life.

Still today, when for the large part of humanity the idea of going to war seems absurd, the Western world, through the intermediaries of professional soldiers continues to live the old ideal of heroic life, unable to find the true sense of life, unable to value ordinary life as it is.

Baricco wishes to say that Pacifism that argues tout court that war is hell teaches us a horrible and dangerous lie. No pacifism should simply negate the beauty of war, War brings about a feeling of equality among men (which no welfare state is able to provide), war makes the life after war more worthwhile living for. Baricco argues, As much as it sound atrocious: it is necessary to remember that war is hell: but a beautiful hell.

As far as the possibility of overcoming the appeal of war is concerned Baricco ponders about a possible solution (utopia?). The road towards true and everlasting peace is possible only through building an alternative source of beauty; to be able to demonstrate that we are capable of risking the shadow of existence without resorting to the fire of wart; to give a strong sense to things without having to bring them under the blinding light of death; to be able to change our destiny without having to take one of the other; to manage to make the money and wealth flow without having to resort to violence; to find an ethical dimension without having to search for it at the margins of death; to discover ourselves intensely in places and moments that are not those of the trench; to know the emotion, even if the most dizzy one, without having to resort to the doping of war or methadone of the small every day violence; to discover another beauty, says Baricco, Freud would say, to conquer the workings of the “bloody” Thanatos (Sigmund Freud, “Civilization and its Discontents”, I added bloody)

Today Peace is nothing more than a political convenience: it is certainly not a diffused system of thought, argues Baricco.

What about the European Union? Is it a model of peaceful integration able to one day transform itself into a World Federation (Confederation) corresponding to the Kantian dream? Supranational Europe, endowed with the twin ideal of Peace and Prosperity rose from the smoke of Auschwitz and the ashes of Dresden-simultaneously. Are Europeans forever able to nourish this memory as a reminder of how horrible the war is? Does the Shoah present a powerful deterrent of irreplaceable significance for the whole of humanity? As we saw in the Balkans, Rwanda…all over the world it does not. It demonstrates, to great discomfort of Freud for example, that even the civilized and industrialized countries are able to commit atrocities that we believed to belong to the barbaric past.

Are we able to find an alternative to the beauty (curse) of war in the contemporary consumer society? Is marketplace to replace war as a forum in which we become aware of eternal truths about human nature?

If you want to read about this without having to read a cumbersome and complicated philosophical essay read Baricco. Moreover, if you want to read about these things and simultaneously learn something about the spirit of the Balkans (Serbia), read Dobrica Cosic’s novel “A Time of Death”. This book is Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” enriched by dialectical materialism, Niche, Wittgenstien…a truly wonderful and easy read (at least in the original, for the English translation you have to risk and let me know about its quality).

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

America and Giuliana Sgrena

US troops made a big mistake. Now, they have to make up for it.
I am no fan of conspiracy theories, in fact I despise any such thought.
However, whichever way one thinks about it, this story is quite unbelievable. If it was in someone's interest to kill Sgrena, then this is a failure. If it was in someone's interest to protect prisoners, then this is a failure. The truth probably lies somewhere between these two extremes: the italian secret service did not signal its position to american troops in a very accurate way. But, then US troops made a fatal error.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A Scarf case from Britain

A schoolgirl in Britain wins a scarf case against a school. This is one of the several decisions on the topic that are flooding European Courts. On the matter of religious liberty, Europe looks like a messy patchwork. Courts are ill equipped to set clear precedents. Public policies designed by legislators (France) provokes endless discussions and social tensions.
Should Europe speak with one voice as to matters of religious freedom or should it let local policies proliferate in every direction?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Juvenile Death Penalty and the influence of Europe

America is slowly, but surely, joining Europe on the total ban of death Penalty. On 1 march 2005, the US Supreme Court rules out Juvenile Death Penalties.
Justice Kennedy, an expert of European Human Rights Law, delivered the leading opinion, outlining the importance of European precedents...
I wonder what my american friends thinks about it??

Euthanasia and Movie Oscars

Mar Adentro is the winner of the oscar for the best foreign movie. It is the real story of the struggle for physician assisted suicide of a spaniard. The movie is highly recommendable to all those who are interested in moral issues within the law. The director does not take an ideological position on the issue, he does not want to defend the 'right to die.' Rather, he confronts the issue with intelligence and tact, presenting, and opposing, the rival arguments for and against.

Will this movie stir anew the debates on physician assisted suicide on both sides of the Atlantic?