Saturday, December 30, 2006

Democracy and Justice American style

Saddam is dead, hanged.
Is this day symbolic? Is it the beginning of a new democratic regime in Iraq?
Or is it the just end of a fair trial, as President Bush called it?

If it is meant to be the former, that is the building block of the Iraqui Democracy,
then this is a very bad point from which to start. Democracy is better founded on positive values such as respect for life, the life of everyone including grand scale criminals. Moreover, the Iraqui Democracy is in the process of being built. So who has the power to decide that the execution was democratic?

Some would say Justice! The question then is: was this a fair trial with a just end?
Many doubted the fairness of the trial itself (see Amnesty for instance). It is at least debatable whether the court, its composition, and its procedure were up to international standards of Justice.

Finally, and we come back to a previous issue, is the death penalty a just result of this trial. In Europe, this is clear, we agree that death penalty can NEVER be a just result. In America, the belief seems to be, on democratic grounds, that the death penalty can be a just outcome.

We can only wait and see what we will get out of this inhuman act of 'justice.' What we can say for the moment is that America has exported so far only the worst features of its own brand of Democracy and Justice to Iraq.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Scala says No to 'Berlusconi in underpants'

In Milan, people have a certain taste...
That's why the Opera Theather, La Scala, cancelled one of the shows meant to depict
Berlusconi, Chirac, Putin, Blair and Bush in underpants dancing on a black sea (of oil, needless to say).

Here's an article on the issue.

For 2007 we can only wish that the happy family of the five leaders mentioned above will disappear from the international scene.

Berlusconi was the first to go.
Chirac will be the second (French elections in April/May).
Blair will be the third (in june/july he will step down in favour of Brown).
Bush will join them in two years time.
And Putin will leave in 2009, when his second mandate comes to an end

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Blair's Battle for Global Values

Tony Blair has decided what to do when he quits his post as Prime Minister:
He will be Philosopher! Here's a lengthy analysis of his political thought on global war and Justice.

This is the abstract: The war on terrorism is not just about security or military tactics. It is a battle of values, and one that can only be won by the triumph of tolerance and liberty. Afghanistan and Iraq have been the necessary starting points of this battle. Success there, however, must be coupled with a bolder, more consistent, and more thorough application of global values, with Washington leading the way.

Feel free to assess Blair's consistency. Words and Deeds do not always match...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Secession of Flanders

Yesterday evening, Belgian public TV station staged a fake programme announcing the alleged unilateral proclamation of independence of its Northern Federal Unit Flanders. It is only after a certain period that the editors of the programme decided to inform the public that the entire programme is fiction. By that time it was late, 89% of the population actually believed the news is genuine. Belgian political elite unanimously condemns yesterday’s programme.

The news actually caught me in an Algerian Restaurant in a beautiful municipality of Saint Gilles in the Brussels Capital Region. My Belgian friends with whom I dinned reacted emotionally, and although doubtful as to whether the news is actually through, started appreciating the state they though belonged to the past. As far as I am concerned, it made me thing of Yugoslavia, how it could have stayed a joint democratic state.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"You are killing the democracy"

Italian journalists Enrico Deaglio and Beppe Cremagnani made a film that managed to shake the very foundations of the Italian democracy by putting under question the legality of the 2006 parliamentary elections. The film, entitled “Uccidete la democrazia” (You are killing the democracy) makes an interesting and scandalous claim: it argues that a team of Mr. Berluconi’s close associates, acting on his express orders, rigged the 2006 elections.

The Italian governing centre-left coalition played down the importance of the film and the center-right, Mr. Berlusconi's coallition denied the allegations but welcomed a possible (now certain) recount.

The film is developing its story on the basis of electoral analysis but also on the basis of the claims of an anonymous source close to the Italian Minister of the Interior. According to the film Berluconi’s team used sophisticated software (allegedly bought and already used in the 2004 US Presidential elections in Ohio, see) to correct the electronic data arriving to the central computer in the Ministry of the Interior. Allegedly, it transformed many empty ballots (people refrain from voting for any candidate normally as a form of protest against the system), into votes for Berluconi’s party Forza Italia, but not manually but electronically. Thus, there is a possibility to double check the validity of these claims by recounting the totality of empty ballots. Apart from the testimony of the source of this film there are several other indications that, according to the authors, make their claims justifiable.

First the number of empty ballots significantly decreased from the elections in 2001 to the elections under scrutiny (2006). While in 2001 1.692.048 voters decided, so to speak, not to choose by placing empty ballots in the ballot box, in 2006 their number is significantly smaller 445.497. Not only that, but while in 2001 the number of empty ballots varied significantly from one to another Italian province (e.g. 2,6% in Tuscany, 9,9 in Calabria, 5,5 in Sardegna... in 2006 as if a strange centrifuge made Italy turn around producing almost identical percentage of empty ballots in all provinces, including the islands, from 1-2%). Moreover, the film considers strange coincidence the fact that before the elections The Minister of the Interior replaced numerous Prefects all over Italy. Bearing in mind that their offices were in charge of collecting and disseminating further the elections data this fact is not necessarily insignificant. Finally, the exit-polls predicted a much more convincing victory for the centre-left coalition, one that would have made possible a stable government for a full term in office. At present the coalition of the Italian PM Romano Prodi depends on a tight electoral majority often unable to undergo radical economic and social reforms it promised in its pre-election campaign.

An interesting and deeply troubling claim. However, the first logical question to ask is: If we accept the fact that Berluconi rigged the elections, why didn’t he make his coalition win? The film has an answer to this question, allegedly Berluconi’s Minister of the Interior Beppe Pisanu, an experienced Demo Christian politician, decided to stop the entire process preventing the victory of Berluconi’s coalition. Explanation as to why has he done so (the film is making a claim that he knew of the plan and participated in it from the very beginning) is far from clear.

I am personally not sure of this theory of conspiracy, it is indeed deeply illogical. The most illogical thing is the following: Why would Berluconi (and he did, see ) publicly contest the results of the elections, he himself allegedly tried to manipulate? Wouldn’t such behaviour be too risky?

All this leads me to another conclusion, urging me to question the reliability of the film’s source. It is more in Mr. Berluconi’s favour (who lost the elections) than in Mr. Prodi’s favour (who won them) to contest the electoral results, regardless of the tight electoral victory of the centre-left coalition. This is simply because it is difficult to imagine that a full recount of 40 million ballots would ever be conducted. In this way, the story of alleged electoral fraud, paradoxically, even if conducted by Berlusconi, casts a shade on the legitimacy of the current government.

Moreover, it can be argued that the actual recount might possibly directly favour Berlusconi’s coalition (if we were to imagine that the total recount would actually occur – Berlusconi is calling for this). Namely, in the lower house of the Italian parliament the centre-left coalition won by a margin of merely 25.000 votes. This, small lead, due to the majority premium, awarded them a comfortable majority in the lower house of the Italian parliament (The ruling coalition has a tight majority in the upper house – the Senate). Bearing in mind that on 40 million voters, the margin of error (the votes are in general counted manually), could easily be 25.000 it is entirely possible that a possible recount comes to the conclusion that it is in fact Berluconi’s coalition, not Prodi’s who won the elections in the lower house. In this case it is Berlusconi that would win the premium of majority in the lower house, which would certainly cause the current government’s demise before the expiration of the 4 years term. Having said this it is highly unlikely that the team of 30 parliamentarians in charge of reviewing the ballots would manage to conduct a recount in 4 years. As an Italian MEP Marco Rizzo said on a recent presentation of Deaglio’s film is Brussels, the time needed to conduct the counting of 40 million ballots, would be “biblical”.

Having this in mind, we could construct another theory of conspiracy (provided that the film is indeed such a theory)…this time with no proof whatsoever so I beg the reader to take it as an intellectual exercise, by no means a claim to what has actually happened. Having in mind the fact that Mr. Berlusconi unsuccessfully urged the government to recount the votes perpetually after the 2006 elections. What if Mr. Berlusconi thought of another strategy to get the government to fulfil his demands? What if, the source of the film was actually instructed by someone close to Mr. Berluconi to contact the journalists and make them question the legitimacy of the 2006 elections? This is not entirely illogical. The governing coalition pressured by the public opinion (out of which an important part its own voters) is now forced to organize a recount. Now the centre-right coalition got what they wanted, the Court ordered the legislature to recount the empty ballots in some Italian provinces, and there is a possibility that the legislators will have to, at the end, recount every single vote made at the 2006 elections.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More on Scottish Independence

Things have been a little quiet on here of late, Lorenzo's efforts notwithstanding. To get the ball rolling again, I thought I'd share this interesting and insightful comment on, and expansion of, my post below that I received via email from my father Angus MacDonald, a lifelong resident in and observer of the Scottish political scene...

It is interesting to note that recent polls on Scottish independence show considerable support for this idea on both sides of the Scotland - England border. The polls seem also to show that the support for this in England is based substantially on the view that the Scots are 'subsidy junkies', reliant on an unequal distribution of government financial support through a funding mechanism known as the Barnett formula. Joel Barnett was Chief Secretary to the Treasury during the years 1974 to 1979. The first North Sea oil was piped in to Teesside in 1975. In 1974 Professor Gavin McCrone, who was Economic Adviser to the Secretary of State for Scotland, wrote his report entitled 'The Economics of Nationalism Re-examined'. This report concluded that an independent Scotland “could now expect to have massive surpluses on its budget and on its balance of payments and with the proper husbanding of resources this situation could last for a very long time into the future”. It also concluded that “for the first time since the Act of Union was passed, it can now be credibly argued that Scotland's economic advantage lies in its repeal”. This report was suppressed and only recently released under freedom of information regulations.

At that time, when the oil had just begun to flow, the slogan ' It's Scotland's Oil' had much appeal, but there was also, understandably, some doubt about the true value of the oil, how long it would last, and what would happen to a separate Scotland once it was finished. But there was also some unease about the situation that could develop in the best case scenario - that the oil truly was a massive and long-term windfall; these islands are probably too small, comfortably to contain massive differences in wealth between neighbouring states. That the balance of advantage would lie very clearly with the very much smaller state could only heighten the potential for tension. Perhaps this thought partly underpinned Professor McCrone's qualified comment - repeal of the Union could arguably be in Scotland's economic ( as opposed to political?) interest. The suppression of this paper meant that the debate was uninformed by the authoritative assessment of the potential of oil for Scotland that Professor McCrone had made, but in my view it is by no means certain that Scotland would have opted for independence then, even if the views expressed in this report had been widely known. Whether from fear of going it alone, from a sense of solidarity with and affection for England and the other parts of the UK, from an unwillingness to create major inequalities of wealth and the tensions that this could cause, or from a mixture of all these things, Scotland may well not have opted for independence at that time.

This background makes the view that independence would be good for Scotland, because Scots would then realise that, as Simon Jenkins wrote recently in the Guardian in an otherwise reasonable and balanced piece, 'that public money does not grow on English trees', deeply ironic. Deprived of the conclusions of an authoritative analysis, perhaps even motivated to some extent by a degree of altruism, Scotland continued with the Union, a situation sweetened a little by the Barnett Formula. The high political visibility of this formula, coupled with anunquestioned assumption that the wealth provided by North Sea oil could not possibly have been bestowed anywhere other than on Westminster, have been major factors in producing the view in England of Scotland as a land supported by subsidy; this in turn has fuelled the growth of the view in England as well as Scotland that independence for Scotland would be good for both - the very thing that the suppression of the McCrone report was designed to avoid. Had a fully informed debate been allowed to happen at the time, the Union would not now be threatened by the combination of smug condescension on the one hand, and resentment on the other.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The end of Paparazzi in Italy

The very name, Paparazzo, comes from an italian movie of the 60's (La Dolce Vita). Paparazzo is an obsessive photographer who runs after cinema stars. The rest is history.

Until now though. The italian justice is investigating on a scandal involving various paparazzi who blackmailed their victims. They asked money in exchange with the prohibited pictures.

The scandal is looming large, many seem to be involved in the scandal. Paparazzi seem destined to have a tougher life!

Read a report here