Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Lighter Side of International Relations

I would like to point out two lighter stories in the often overly serious world of international news. First, Conan O’Brien, who along with John Stewart is the best of America’s late-night comedians, apparently played a decisive role in the recent Finnish elections. See the following at NBC's website and CNN (here and here.)

Sex, Drugs, Violence... and Priorities

A brief digression for an interesting story... The Guardian reported yesterday that the city of Los Angeles is suing the makers of the computer game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, for including a hidden sub-game (which needs to be unlocked by special cheat codes) involving some semi-explicit sex scenes. The company, Take Two Interactive Software, first claimed that the game had been added by hackers, but have now acknowledged that it was written into the basic code of the game to begin with.

The case will focus on the failure of the company to mention the extent of the sexual content when marketing the game. However, the real reason for the procedure would seem to be the controversy caused by the inclusion of the sexual scenes at all, after several high-profile politicians, including Hilary Clinton, complained.

What is astonishing about all of this is the ferocity of the anti-sex complaints in a game that surely must be one of the most violent ever made. It already has a "mature audiences only" certificate: players are expected to run drug deals, pimp out prostitutes and carry out drive by shootings. And these are just the missions; in between, the player is free to wander the streets as he or she (probably mostly he) wishes, attacking and killing random passers-by with a variety of weapons, from baseball bats and knives to uzis and flamethrowers. You can shoot someone, wait for the ambulance to appear, then kill the paramedics and steal the ambulance.

My point is not to criticise the game (I enjoyed playing it immensely), but rather to point out how ludicrous it is for people to complain about a little, hard-to-find soft porn in that context. As one blogger noted at the time the controversy first broke, around six months ago, anyone not old enough for that should probably not, on balance, be playing the rest of the game. It does seem amazing that, in a game absolutely full of some pretty graphic interactive violence, it is the perhaps the only part of the game that asks the player to do something that is not deeply illegal (not to mention immoral) in the real world that has caused all the controversy.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Can Hamas be part of the bigger picture?

One thing is certain in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: change is coming. The incapacitation of Ariel Sharon and the election of Hamas have definitively changed the landscape of the debate. Unfortunately, it seems that questions that seemed to have been answered long ago must be revisited. Just as the PLO was persuaded to renounce violence it appears that either Hamas must make the same choice or be conclusively rejected by its constitutents. Either way ... the resolution of this question alone will take time and set back the prospects of peace in the region indefinitely. Similarly, Israel must once again revisit its desire for peace and whether there is a central leader strong enough to put the nation on the path to peace. This debate will similarly require time.

Opinio Juris offers evidence and opinion as to whether Hamas can effectively be brought into the mainstream. Unfortunately, the evidence strongly indicates an unwillingness to be part of a broader, non-violent process.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Onslaught on the Ideology of Communism

Lately numerous institutional and political attacks are directed against Communist practices and ideology. Looking at these attacks on Communism it would seem that Communist idea is still alive and kicking in our liberal democratic societies and that people standing behind the critique of Communism are brave individuals who stand up against tyranny. This is, of course, not true, what these individuals are doing is simply beating the dead corpse and using their actions to achieve petty political gain.

Many Eastern European Countries (e.g. Hungary) introduced a legal ban on a public display of communist Insignia.Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) has adopted a resolution (Resolution 1481 (2006) falling short of directly condemning the Communist ideology, however, getting very close to such a direct accusation. In its paragraph 3, this Resolution affirms that Communist crimes “were justified in the name of the class struggle theory and the principle of dictatorship of the proletariat. The interpretation of both principles legitimised the ‘elimination’ of people who were considered harmful to the construction of a new society and, as such, enemies of the totalitarian communist regimes.”

Whether the dream of classless society is a useful political instrument or not, the PACE Resolution remains silent on. It can be said to an extent that the pressure of communist ideology and political activism did contribute to the construction of the post World War II welfare state in Europe (as by the way this resolution recognizes in its paragraph 4, “some European communist parties have made contributions to achieving democracy”).

Simultaneously to the PACE Resolution, Pope Benedict XVI, in its first encyclical also wrote about utopia of solidarity and political maximalism, “[w]hen we consider the immensity of others' needs, we can, on the one hand, be driven towards an ideology that would aim at doing what God's governance of the world apparently cannot: fully resolving every problem.” The Pope calls Marixst ideology inhumane and essentially impossible, he recalls that history has confirmed his position towards Marxism to be correct. The “illusion” of a classless society, Pope Benedict XVI says, “has vanished”. Instead of Communist political maximalism the Pope suggests patient charitable and spiritual activity to fight for more justice in the world.

Does this mean that any political ideology of the utopian character is wrong? It is really difficult to sustain such an argument. As far as Communism is concerned it is true that Communist regimes are to be blamed for some of the most atrocious crimes in the history of humanity. Such crimes were facilitate by the historical and social determinism inbuilt in the Marxist teaching. Nevertheless, it is wrong to negate the positive effects of the dream of classless society. This dream has prevented that the idea of social justice falls into oblivion, it has prevented, that our societies be plagued by “inertia” and a belief that “nothing can be accomplished” (Benedict XVI). The same can also be said for Christianity, Capitalism or any other world view. Condemning the worldview as such amounts to intellectual poverty. As dangerous as the real Bolshieviks, are the right-wing bolshieviks who today engage in the Communist-wich hunt. They politically instrumentalize Communism and its jusitifed critique to achieve their petty political aims.

Justice and Charity after Ratzinger: the irresponsible church

The Pope publishes its first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est; for an overview have a look here. For the whole text, here.

Of particular interest is the distinction between Charity and Justice. In Ratzinger's mind, the action of the Church is geared towards charity, which is seen as a responsibility for the Church. Justice, to the contrary, is a political value at the centre of public life, and distinguished from the life of the Church.

But is it really? The Church has many times intervened (improperly in my view) in public debates and has never taken the responsibility of its words/actions. It is a far too comfortable position, and has to be reviewed carefully. Either the Church carefully respects the boundaries of politics, or it (the Vatican) bears the responsibility for its inconsistent doctrines before the whole world of faithful people.

Consider the following excerpt from the encyclical:

"The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply."

This is a deeply ambiguous position. First, it says that politics is the forum for justice and not the Church (fair enough). But then goes on saying, that the Church is going to intervene as it wishes to promote justice, that is its OWN version of justice which may well be, and often is, in CONFLICT with the conception of justice that a polity brings forward (just think about the aids question in Africa).

So, once again, the Vatican would like to catch two birds with a stone. First legitimise itself vis-a-vis of the State and the people; then claim a role in politics, without having to bear the responsibility for it.

As far as I can see, the Vatican should intervene in politics as much as it wishes on the ground of its freedom of expression. But in all honesty, it should simply acknowledge that what it is doing when it intervenes on matter of abortion, research on embryos, euthanasia, and so on and so forth, the Vatican is SIMPLY doing politics as any other lobby.

There is no easy answers to those questions, that is clear. But the answer for this world can only be political. Ratzinger and the Vatican have no privileged position in those debates; if they join in, they simply must engage their responsibility and avoid hiding behind the smoke screen of the separation of Church and State.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

German Court on legality of Iraq War

The German Law Journal (an excellent, free monthly online journal, providing English-language coverage of German, European and International legal affairs) has this month published an interesting case note of a judgment by the Bundesverwaltungsgericht (BVerwG – German Federal Administrative Court), in which the issue of the legality of the war in Iraq, and Germany's role therein, were dealt with. The case concerned an appeal from a Military Court, which had ruled that a Major in the Army be demoted to the rank of Captain for refusing to participate in the development of software designed to increase the efficiency of the German armed forces. The officer relied upon his consitutional right to freedom of conscience, arguing that the software could also be used in combat operations in Iraq. The BVerwG found in his favour.

In the Court's opinion, this exercise of freedom of conscience was made in the special circumstances of the Iraq war, thus requiring a judgment on the its legality. It concluded that there were "grave concerns in terms of international law", both in terms of the war itself and Germany's limited role in it. This conclusion is a little odd, in that it clearly stops short of a finding of outright illegality, despite the fact that, according to the case note, the ratio decidendi in the judgment scarcely seems to allow for such obfuscation: the Court began by assuming prima facie violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, then looked to what could justify the war (Chapter VII Security Council action, under Article 39), or exempt it from the coverage of that provision (self-defence, under Article 51), and concluded that neither was applicable.

Judging from the case note alone, there may be some concerns over the sophistication of the international legal analysis carried out by the Court; for example, in their limited discussion of the right to self-defence, or in their assertion that the “Definition of Aggression,” agreed upon by way of consensus by General Assembly (GA) Res. 3314 (XXIX) of 1974 represents a "codification of customary international law". Nonetheless, this judgment remains important as the first by a court of law on the legality of the Iraq war; even if the conclusions it reached will come as no surprise to the vast majority of scholars, politicians, or, indeed, members of the public.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Bush is spying you!

American Law Professors and former governmental officials (including K Sullivan, R Epstein, L tribe and R Dworkin) sign a petition on the New York review of Books against the violation of privacy by the National Security Agency (NSA).

The basic legal question is easy to grasp: the government does not respect the careful balance between protecting civil liberties and obtaining valuable intelligence.

American law, as the petition argues, makes 'any electronic surveillance not authorized by statute' criminal. As a consequence, the NSA program has to be explicitly permitted by Congress. But, as it happens, there is no evidence that Congress has done so.

Thus, Bush is spying you without legal basis!

Monday, January 23, 2006

US vs. EU: who is more progressive?

EU tries to construct an image of a soft power alternative to that of the US who, in the perception of those Europeans who oppose its policies, violates international law invading other countries (i.e. Iraq), still has capital punishment etc. Europe has abolished death penalty and, at least as far the German-French alliance is concerned and the majority of EU population, insists on respecting international legal norms.

Is the image of the two global powers black and white as it seems to the Europeans? Many left-wing Europeans would without thinking too much respond affirmatively: Americans are the “badies” we are much better. Nevertheless, as far as immigration regulation is concerned US remains much more progressive than Europe, despite the fences all along the border with Mexico.

Namely, on December 16th, 2005, US House of Representatives passed by 239 to 182 a bill sponsored by James Sensenbrenner, Republican from Wisconsin. The “Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005” (H.R. 4437), if passed by the Senate, would make illegal immigration to the US a felony, create a crime of employing or aiding undocumented migrants, and order “physical infrastructure enhancements”, i.e. strengthening the fences at the border with Mexico probably aspiring to emulate the Israeli model.

Among its many provisions, H.R. 4437 would:

-Make it harder for legal immigrants to become U.S. citizens.

-Disrupt American communities and put all Americans at risk by broadening the definition of smuggling to include anyone who aids or transports an undocumented immigrant.

-Make everyone who comes to the U.S. to work subject not only to deportation but also imprisonment.

-Disrupt the U.S. economy by creating an overly broad and retroactive employment verification system without creating legal channels for needed workers to work lawfully.

Some of the most ferocious anti-immigrant House Representatives even proposed the elimination of birthright citizenship for babies born in the U.S. and an amendment to build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border.

This bill, however, has a really slim chance passing the Senate. Moreover, it neither has support of the Bush administration, which, true enough, did decide to spend more money on reinforcing the fences towards the South, but simultaneously campaigned for legalisation of some 10 million undocumented aliens (mostly Latino origin) who live in the US.

What does, Liberal Europe, from the aforementioned, black and white picture do? Not only that some of the EU member states already have illegal immigration as an integral part of their penal code, they confront the Balkan states with a following condition: if you want us to place you on the “White Shenghen list” (i.e. free visa regime), then you have to make violation of EU immigration regulations a criminal act. Balkan states are obviously not in a position to negotiate and will consequently (some of them already did) comply with such EU imposition. Such policies are wrong and in striking contrast with the image EU wishes to portray.

Undocumented aliens are not criminals, they are indeed “heroes” as Mexican President Vicente Fox called them. They represent most valuable parts of the sending states, people who in search for a better life are ready to surmount any obstacle, even if that entails risking prison sentences once illegal immigration is proclaimed a felony. Stupid, paranoid laws such as that will certainly not stop immigration, neither will the fences. Governments embarking on such projects are only foolishly spending the money of their tax-payers not recognizing that their laws will be inevitably obliterated by the passage of time. As it is today with slavery, one day in fifty or hundred years time, our children will be reading history books, wandering how their ancestors could insist on inhumane and discriminatory immigration restrictions. Moreover, they will be shocked by the ignorance of their ancestors who did not recognize that immigration is an asset and not threat to our communities. We Europeans have to recognize, on this Americans beat us.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Are Leftists Misguided (and a bit Hypocritical) on Human Rights?

Philip Stephens posed an interesting argument in the Financial Times on Thursday. He posited that leftists in general and European leftists in particular are a bit off the mark when it comes to their criticism of the Bush Administration’s human rights record. His comment came in response to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2006, which, while thorough in its documentation of human rights abuses the world over, began with and emphasized the Bush administration’s poor track record in the “war on terror.” Stephens noted that leftists, especially in Europe, devote so much time to criticizing the Bush administration’s record that they are negligent when it comes to highlighting human rights abuses in the rest of the world. The Bush administration’s record is atrocious and as an American I find it embarrassing. However, Stephens does have a point. I would add that leftists are not always above reproach in their relations to human rights abusers. Angelika Merkel (not a leftist) was fully justified in condemning Guantanamo Bay after her meeting with George Bush. However, the previous (leftist) German government under Gerhard Schroeder (last seen opposing the war in Iraq and striking a blow for leftists and anti-militarists everywhere) and the Social Democrats was almost unseemly in its scramble to establish “strategic partnerships” with two major human rights abusers, Russia and China, in order to sell weapons to the latter and buy energy from the former. In addition, Schroeder’s new job as a supervisory board chairman for an energy company partly funded by Gazprom, the state-owned Russian energy company, did not exactly strike a blow for leftist idealism. Surely he could have gotten a gig with Bono and Bob Geldorf instead….What is more, Labour MPs in the United Kingdom should spend less time scoring political points on Tony Blair for his policy of partnership with the United States and more time supporting Blair’s admirable attempt to spotlight Africa, where human rights abuses abound. As for the French, where even the Conservatives are leftist (comparatively speaking), they could commit at least a bit of the time they spend America-bashing to some self-reflection on their government and industry’s friendly relationship with Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1990’s. How about one or two fewer headlines in the Guardian and The Independent about the U.S. in Iraq and one or two more about prison camps in China or dissidents in Cuba. Now, this is not to urge leftists to hold their tongues. By all means, the Bush administration deserves the criticism it gets for its human rights record. However, American foreign policy, poor as it has been for the last few years, is not the epicenter of human rights violations in the world, and should not be treated as such. When American foreign policy becomes the focus of human rights campaigners it shifts our attention from the myriad of human rights problems elsewhere, many of which rarely see the light of day.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Baseball, Cuba, and the War on Communism

Are we still fighting a "War on Communism"? Obviously, U.S. foreign policy is a bit convoluted on this subject. Ties with China grow ever closer and the "War on Terror" has clearly superseded concerns over communism. All that doesn't mean, however, that the U.S. doesn't have substantial economic sanctions aimed at our communist neighbor to the south.

U.S. sanctions against Cuba prohibit any U.S. person, wherever located, to engage in a transaction with a Cuban national or deal in goods in which a Cuban national has an interest. In theory these sanctions are so strict that a McDonald's in Paris would be prohibited from selling a hamburger to a Cuban national in Paris on vacation.

In reality, however...things often work much differently.

The U.S. Treasury Department recently gave approval for a "specific license" enabling Cuba to play in the World Baseball Classic to be played in March of this year!

Obviously, this is exciting for baseball fans because a "World Cup" of baseball actually requires ALL major players in the sport to be able to participate. Somehow, a WBC with Chinese Tapei and lacking Cuba would seem a bit empty.

I should note that even with the U.S. possessing an amazing roster of talent. It seems likely that the Dominican Republic will walk away as the winners (Manny, Ortiz, Pedro, Pujols, Tejada, Colon!) but every baseball fan has a lot to look forward to this March no matter who their team is!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Just because you're paranoid...

A number of people, including one Republican ex-Congressman James Rogan, have resigned from the advisory board of an alumni group of the University of California, Los Angeles, due to revelations that the group were effectively offering bribes to students to gain evidence to expose lecturers advancing "liberal" viewpoints in their teachings. Amazing: the spirit of McCarthy lives on.

This has been echoed by Noam Chomsky in a recent interview in the autumn 2005 issue of Thought and Action. Of course, one does not normally expect from that author a balanced, even-handed account of anything, his myriad other important talents notwithstanding; however, the stream of stories and anecdotes, like the one above, do combine to lend real credence to the claims that he and many others make.

I, like, perhaps, many others in Europe, still find these claims difficult to fully comprehend, so outlandish are they; it is only really those directly involved in the US university system that can really pass judgment on the current situation there. To what extent, then, do these worrying allegations represent a real and widespread practice?

All comments welcome; although we should, perhaps, re-enable anonymous posting on the blog. Just in case...

European Constitutionalism Reloaded

Srdjan raises an interesting point on the need to reform EU institution to be able to enlarge to other countries (Bulgaria and Roumania already have green light). I agree with this point, and I believe that few think that we can keep enlarging without institutional change (unless they militate for an implosion of the EU).

Euan, however, contends that we have to drop the discourse of constitutionalism, or at least we have to distinguish it from institutional reform.

I wonder. It really depends on how we understand the notion of European Constitution. I, for example, think that a material european constitution exists since long time (Cf Weiler, The Constitution of Europe, CUP). Within this framework, whenever we think about serious institutional changes, we also modify the constitutional framework.

Euan is probably thinking about a more formal, and symbolic, notion of Constitution that ultimately refers to the Constitutional Treaty. From this viewpoint, we can of course distinguish institutional changes from constitutional ones. The reason is that we do not need a constitutional treaty to change institutions that have always been modified by treaty. Fine.

But then again, there is a different problem with Euan's view of the enlargement. Euan seems to suggest that enlargement does not have anything to do with constitutionalism. Not true. Enlargemenent is supported by many Euro-minimalist, in particular British, who would want to see a very large market without any other political aspiration. Thus, if you do not associate the political discourse of constitutionalism with enlargement, the risk is to adopt a defaul interpretation of enlargement that goes back to euro-minimalism.

In my mind, enlargement and constitutionalism go hand in hand. Whether they necessitate the constitutional treaty rejected in France and Holland, is another story.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

European Constitution: 2nd time around

During the period preceding the French referendum on the European Constitution some of us warned that voting against the Constitution might strengthen the forces which are opposing further enlargement of the Union. Quentin Peel, in an Financial Times comment 18th January 2006, argues,

Whether you call it a constitution or not, changes in the EU system of governance are essential to enable the union to accept any new member states beyond the two – Bulgaria and Romania – that have already been given the green light. Without reform, forget membership for Croatia or any other part of former Yugoslavia. Forget about Turkey and Ukraine. An EU of 27 states will be the end of the road.”

At present, Peel suggest quoting the December 2005 Eurobarometer, 49% of the Europeans support renegotiating the constitution, 22% prefer simply continuing with the present ratification procedure, while 13% prefer the Constitution to be killed. There is space for hope…in order to fulfil its integration promise to the Balkans, The European Union needs to adopt a new constitutional structure in one way ore another. Otherwise it risks a general deterioration of the political and economic situation in this region, a move that in the long run, goes directly against the interests of the European Union as a whole and most of the Member States. The Thessalonica European Council Promise to the Western Balkans must be fulfilled, EU must proceed with the enlargement.

What are the chances of proceeding with the work on the European Constitution, Peel mentions the proposal coming from the French Minister and UMP Leader Sarkozy,

“Mr Sarkozy’s proposal is for renegotiation of the constitution to reduce the reforms to an essential core of rules (in the present part I), and a charter of rights (part II). All the detailed regulations in part III, giving effect to the single market and free movement of labour, capital, goods and services (the bits that most alarmed French voters), would be hived off into a separate text. Then, he argues, there really would not be any need for another French referendum: ratification could be done by the national assembly.”

De Menezes report sent to Crown Prosecution Service

The latest on the London tube shooting, in which Brazilian national Jean Charles de Menezes was shot seven times in the head by UK police forces in the mistaken belief that he was a suicide bomber (see my previous posts here and here). The body responsible for investigating his death, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, has today decided to send its report to the Crown Prosecution Service, indicating that, in its belief, their may well be grounds for criminal charges arising from the incident. If the leaks that have come out from that report are accurate (see my post here), then this is hardly surprising. It may take some for the CPS to decide whether to press charges against any of the officers involved, but this is another step in the right direction, towards accountability for this most spectacular of policing failures.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Italy and the New Central Bank

The new president of the central bank, Mario Draghi, starts his job today.
He will be responsible for the future of the central bank in Italy.
You find an interesting overview here

An excerpt:

'Above all, Mr Draghi is seen as the authoritative, well-respected figure who will have to restore an atmosphere of serenity after the recent stormy incidents that have left an unpleasant aftertaste. “Ethics and decency infringed again” is the beginning of a letter sent a few days ago to the director general and acting governor, Vincenzo Desario, by Angelo Marasi. In it, the FABI bank trade union secretary asked for clarification as to why Mr Fazio had been given an office, with secretary and bank car, on the first floor of Villa Huffer, where the notorious painting of Saint Sebastian that hung behind his desk in Palazzo Koch will be placed, along with two safes the former governor is believed to have requested. The decision has created ill feeling among workers in the offices opposite Palazzo Koch, who are reported to have been invited not to use the stairs. So as not to disturb Mr Fazio.'

French Job Market: A Revolution?

France launches a program which is meant to revolutionize the job market.

So many times before, we stressed that necessity on this blog. Now, we'll have to see what will be the effects of that reform.

Any views on this reform are highly welcome!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Of Missile Attacks and Democracy

According to media reports, late last week American Predator unmanned planes launched missiles at a Pakistani village in an attempt to kill al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Ayman Zawahiri. American intelligence was mistaken and Zawahiri was not present at the time of the attack, which killed at least 17 people (at least some of whom were probably foreign militants involved in destabilizing Afghanistan). The attacks prompted an official protest from President Musharraf’s government and protests across Pakistan. As far as I can tell, commentators are ignoring a big storyline here, as seen from the American perspective. That is, what should be done about America’s relationship with the Pakistani government? This also prompts questions about America’s relationship with other authoritarian governments in the Islamic world. I will begin, however, with Pakistan. To summarize: then-General Musharraf staged a coup in 1999 and has been in power ever since; American policy makers (in both parties) consider him an important ally in the “war on terror” as he supported the war in Afghanistan and has made Pakistan a less welcoming environment for al-Qaeda and its associates than it otherwise would have been. In return, the Bush administration has been one of Musharraf’s few allies. They have provided moral and monetary support and excluded him from the list of places where, as President Bush is fond of saying, “Freedom is (or at least should be) on the march.” However, this relationship between the American and Pakistani governments obscures the fact, at least from Americans, that Pakistan is a troubled country. Islamic fundamentalism is endemic, fuelled by a non-democratic government, a weak economy and a poor educational system. Many boys are educated (female school attendance rates are low) in madrasas, where curriculum consists of studying the Koran. As in other places in the Islamic world, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, anti-Americanism is fuelled largely by American support for an unpopular, unrepresentative government. (The other big issue is, of course, unqualified America support for Israel). This is a recurring problem that American policy-makers have generally ignored. The Bush administration, to their credit, has begun to nudge the Egyptians in a more democratic direction, albeit rather weakly. However, it has been largely silent on democratic shortcomings in other countries it considers strategic allies, like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. A vital aspect of combating Islamic terrorism is to improve America’s image in the Islamic world. The Bush administration acknowledges this and has spent a fair amount of money and time on public relation campaigns. This is ridiculous. A better approach would be to lend genuine support to democratization efforts in these countries. Critics might argue that this could well lead to free elections and bring extreme anti-American elements to power. However, genuine democratic processes will surely soften extremism in these countries. And if America helps bring about free and fair elections in Pakistan, does it not seem likely that Pakistanis will look upon America with a kinder eye?

Le Monde against Chirac

Le Monde asked President Chirac to leave in a brilliant article which you can read here (if you read french of course).

The main point, which I totally agree with, concerns the distruction of inter-generational solidarity. France is presently funding its welfare system by imposing future debts on young people! Welfare state without economic growth is a suicide pact with the devil.

Chirac represents all in all a 'demode' view of politics. HE HAS TO LEAVE and allow France to change direction now.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Amnesty plans for Northern Ireland fugitives scrapped

Some time ago, I posted on the UK Government's plans to introduce what were effectively amnesties for those on the run who were accused of crimes committed prior to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement (introduced somewhat clumsily at on the same day as the attempt to force through the 90-day detention plan for others suspected of terrorism). This scheme would have meant that those involved went before special tribunals in order to have their guilt decided, and, if found guilty, they would then be released on licence, in a manner similar to those who have been freed from prison during the peace process. Earlier this week, the Government chose to shelve those plans.

The scheme had attracted almost universal criticism - not least because the accused would not be compelled to face their victims in the special tribunals. However, the Government seemed determined to press on until even Sinn Fein, the (erstwhile?) militant republican party, decided to oppose it - on the grounds that they found it unacceptable that those who had been members of the Security Forces would also benefit from the protection that they sought for their allies. At the time, I supported the Government's decision to introduce the bill; likewise, now, I feel that they had little choice but to withdraw it.

As the Secretary of State Peter Hain noted in his statement to Parliament, the situation of those on the run for crimes for which they would have been released under the Good Friday Agreement represents an anomoly that will have to be dealt with before the peace process can be brought to a close. He is also correct, I think, in noting that "it is regrettable that Northern Ireland is not yet ready to do so". The real shame of this episode is not that the Government was forced into a u-turn, or that fugitives won't get their amnesties: it is what this failure says about the current state of the peace process itself. It is as if things have gone, and continue to go, backwards: as the Guardian notes, it would have been far easier to get this Bill through in 2001 than it has proved in 2006. And we are not yet aware of all of the potential repercussions: the pledge to introduce a Bill on fugitives was a key part of the negotiating positions that led to the IRA's decision to end its armed struggle and comply with the decomissioning requirements of the Agreement; it will be interesting to see what happens now that these plans have been shelved. All eyes are now on the devolved government in Stormont, and the power-sharing executive. If these are not fully operational by the time of the next scheduled elections in 2007, things will look very bleak indeed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Italy is celebrating the first anniversary of the smoking ban in public places. Going beyond initial (legitimate) disagreement on the desirability of the ban, the government enacted a set of measures which proved to be enormously successfull. Beside first hand experience of the actual improvements, now evidence is provided as to the positive effects of the ban (read here for a report).

Smoking not only harms people who smoke, but also people who do not smoke, as for example bar tenders or other clients. The prevention of the harm to others is a good reason enough for accepting the liberal nature of such a measure (some argue that a ban is a paternalist intervention, not justified within the paradigms of a liberal state).

As far as institutional solutions are concerned, I think that Italian law is probably the best law on this topic; it provides the possibility of creating separate rooms for smokers. This goes with few conditions: effective separation and appropriate ventilation systems. Yet, the main aim is limit the incentives for smokers to smoke in public, and possibly to smoke in generally.

One year after, cigarettes sale has decreased of 5.7%. This simple figure tells much more than any other word.

It is a pity that in other countries, such as England, leaders are not brave enough to do the right thing. Tony Blair is alerted: if he's not even able to carry forward such a simple, but so beneficial, reform, then it means that his time has gone.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Zapatero’s Progressive populism

The Spanish Government announced the enactment of a new law that will allow granting of political asylum in Spain to victims of sexual discrimination (homosexuals). If this governmental bill becomes legally binding, and it most probably will , homosexuals from Cuba, for example, could come to Spain realistically hoping to be granted asylum.

There are several objections one could raise against such a governmental proposal.

First, it can be argued that granting asylum right to homosexuals who are victims of sexual persecution stretches the definition of the right of asylum to the point where one can justifiably ask, if granting such a right to homosexuals then why not to economic migrants (I personally think, in terms of principle, both deserve protection and should be granted the right to enter and reside within the EU, within the framework of asylum protection or liberalizing immigration policies, same difference). Zapatero’s government allows Cuban homosexuals in (despite the fact that their situation, although not good, by no means resembles past discriminatory policies of the Castro regime in the past) while it does nothing concrete to facilitate African immigration to Spain. Why is someone who is dying from hunger in a better position then a persecuted homosexual it is very hard to tell? Economic migrants are victims of social discrimination (one could even say in most of the cases victims of colonial discrimination) and European governments should finally tackle the issue of immigration in an appropriate manner and not engage in humanitarian populism by means of asylum protection.

This brings us to the more general critique of Zapatero’s policies. At the beginning of his government, after the Madrid terrorist attacks, Zapatero wanted to give an ideological framework to his brand of left-wing politics…together with a famous Irish-Australian Professor Philip Petit he designated an ideological guidelines of his future government. Petit’s Republicanism presents this ideology. It is an attempt to place the left-wing political agenda within the realities of the world in which comprehensive welfare state of the old, post second world war style is judged no longer possible, to an extent, very progressive approach towards social policies is to be offered as an antidote to what can essentially be branded as economic neo-liberalism.

To simplify, Zapatero seems to think: if we cannot offer the population welfare protection, we offer them the right of homosexuals to get married and to adopt children. But, does the majority of the population care about this and does it significantly meet their expectations about life? While, my intention is certainly not to criticize policies which I in principle support (homosexual rights) because they go in the direction of creating a genuinely open society, I am critical towards policies where e.g. extensive gay rights are used as an antidote to the inability to pursue genuinely left-wing policies…such as fighting for more social equalities for the overall population. One can justifiable be worried about the long-term effects of such policies. Doesn’t such progressive populism just contribute to the trend where vast portions of the ex-left wing (working class electorate) shift towards radical populist right, that on the other hand fills the gap current European left is not able to fill, that of welfare protection. Le Pen pehnomenon is a worrying sign of that trend. Of course radical right does not offer sound alternative in terms of policies but social and economic populism, but doesn’t Zapatero do the same in a more sophisticated manner?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Sick Leaders, Sick Politics

Dick Cheney, Ariel Sharon, Jaques Chirac; these are only three examples of sick leaders around the world.

Sickness can also be read as a metaphor for present global politics. There are no leaders anymore, and those who are there are slowly disappearing in a natural or in an induced way.

Hopefully 2006 will see a brand new era of politics and leadership.