Thursday, December 29, 2005

Good News From ITALY!

The Italian Central Bank has a new President, Mario Draghi.
Draghi is a world class economist, former Harvard Professor and present Vice-President of Goldman Sachs. He's widely appreciated and well beyond petty political disputes.

In a difficult moment for Italy, this nomination comes as a breath of fresh air. The aim was to give a stong signal of credibility to the international community. I believe that that objective has been reached.

My only regret is that this kind of choices in the INTEREST of the whole country are very rare and happen only under circumstances of very heavy crisis.

Italy has first class people, and it is a first class country. Let's hope that our politicies be dictated by the superior interest of the country, independently from the political colour of the government.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas 2006 and the New Global Order

In his Christmas speech, Pope Benedict XVI, once again raised some interesting points that make many observers reconsider their position towards “Conservative” Cardinal Ratzinger. The Pope once again invoked the conclusions of the II Vatican Council in the most positive manner. In this way the Pope gave those who doubt that he is in fact a hidden reformer (by no means “merely the Administrator” of The previous Pope) a reason to believe that they are in fact right.

In his speech the Pope continued with the line of the Church aspiring to play the role of the counterweight to the ruthless globalization and spiritless technological development. The pope said that the “technological man is risking spiritual atrophy” and that the “new global order” should be founded on a more just economic system. Moreover, the Pope argued that we should take more care of the way in which we use the natural resources of our planet since the way in which we progress with the technological development can put into question its very existence.

All these points seem valid from the point of view of those who are concerned by the way in which we manage the processes of globalization and technological development. The question to be raised, however, is whether the very dogma of Christianity (and the ways in which we interpret it) has the appropriate structure to play the role of the critical corrective to the very idea of Progress.

It can be argued that there is an incremental link between Christianity, the hope of salvation, and the belief in Progress as an immanently positive occurrence. In her novel, “Hadrian's Memoirs” Marguerite Yourcenar, or better Emperor Hadrian, argues, “every man during his brief life faces an eternal choice between tireless hope and wise absence of hope…”, while Hadrian opts for the later, Christianity opts for the first. “Tireless hope”, is something Christianity and Ideology of Progress have in common. While, of course, “tireless hope” can be interpreted in a different manner, as to produce different political choices, it is legitimate to ask whether we need a wholly new foundational philosophy (instead of Christianity) to use as a base for a “new global order”?

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate Christmas according to the Gregorian Calendary.

Hristos Se Rodi, for 7th of January 2006, when I, and most of the Orthodox Serbs, Celebrate Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays dear readers. We'll have a break too, but we will be back at the beginning of 2006!

UK troops in Iraq bound by Human Rights Act

The UK Court of Appeal has ruled that Iraqi detainees fall under the protection of the Human Rights Act - including the right to freedom from torture or other degreading treatment - from the moment they are arrested by British, extending a previous ruling which had held this to be the case only when they are actually in a British-controlled prison. One Judge even proposed that there were good grounds to suggest that the duty under the Act to protect certain fundamental rights, particularly the right to life, should be understood as extending to streets patrolled by British troops. The case in question concerned the death of Baha Mousa, an Iraqi hotel receptionist who died after being arrested by UK forces. 5 other cases of death allegedly caused bythem were held not to fall under the Human Rights Act.

One passage worthy of note, from Lord Justice Brooke, on the right to life in areas under the control of British troops: "It could be difficult for a European government to decide to pursue policies that treated human life as more readily expendable just because those whom their forces kill are not themselves European".

This decision, then, sorts out some potentially thorny jurisdictional issues in terms of the UK occupation of Southern Iraq. It doesn't, I don't think, impose any new obligations on the soldiers involved - the right to life and freedom from torture are already protected under international law - but by opening up a clear path for redress of such actions through the domestic, rather than military, courts, it will hopefully ensure that the troops and their leaders will be more inclined to actually pay attention to them. Nothing concentrates the mind like the prospect of genuine accountablity through enforceability.

It may be worth just noting, however, that, if one of the arguments made quite powerfully in the Pinochet case is accepted, namely that customary international law is properly regarded as forming part of the common law of England, then there would have been valid jurisdictional avenues open in any event: few would today suggest that the prohibition on torture, for example, did not form part of customary international law - and certainly not, it would seem, the House of Lords. Still, in extending the scope of the Human Rights Act in this manner, the Appeal Court has ensured that such potentially controversial solutions remain academic.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Legal blow for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a braod range of observations.

Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origins of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individuals students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.

A District Federal Judge in the US has ruled that this curiously-capitalised attempt to sneak in a mention of intelligent design, the viewpoint that opposes Darwinism by claiming that only the existence of a supreme being can account for the variety of life on earth, into the teaching of science in public schools violates the Constitution, in particular the "no establishment" clause of the first ammendment. Intelligent design, like creationism before it, has thus been found to have no place within a secular science curriculum, despite both Bush and Blair suggesting to the contrary.

The debate on this issue has been, and remains, fairly heated; and we can be sure that this most recent development will be greeted with outpourings of both delight and disgust, in equally spectacular terms: see, for example, Brian Leiter's post on this topic, entitled "Federal Judge hands the Pennsylvania Taliban a Stinging defeat" (although it does seem true that the judge himself pulled no punches in his criticism of the school board from Dover, Pennsylvania).

What is clear is that it is a zero tolerance approach that has been adopted by this decision. The school board's policy may have appeared innocuous enough - requiring teachers to read out the brief, four paragraph passage before proceeding to teach Darwinism, which, in itself, seems to have relatively little objectionable about it. The passage stated that Darwinism is "only" a theory in which gaps exist, mention intelligent design as an alternative, and suggest some further reading for those interested. The judge decided, however, that this was a thinly-veiled attempt to reintroduce religion into the science classroom, thus borrowing for the former some of the prestige accorded to the latter. He did not belittle the bona fides of the beliefs of those proposing it (although he did suggest that they had been less than honest about their motives for doing so), but rather insisted that the "theory" had no scientific basis at all, certainly not enough to justify inclusion of even a mention of it in a class about Darwinism.

Anyway, an important case, even for those of us who know little or less about the actual substance of the science involved; more detail on it here, here, here and here.

Oh, and for anyone a little confused by my title, see here and here. I can only expect that this decision will hold also in this regard...

Public Opinion and Iraq Part 3

Recently, in order to revive his flagging poll numbers, especially regarding his Iraq policy, President Bush has given a series of five speeches aimed at convincing the American public that he has a clear plan for victory in Iraq. At first glance one might conclude his effort succeeded. The latest Washington Post-ABC News and CNN/USA Today Gallup polls show a modest increase in his approval rating. However, with closer scrutiny of the poll data and a bit of context it emerges that Bush’s public opinion problems, at least vis-à-vis Iraq, have not really changed. As I noted in a December 5 post, Bush’s most recent public opinion strategy (based on advice from Duke University political scientist Peter Feaver) for Iraq has been to convince Americans that he has a plan that will lead to success, in the belief that Americans are willing to support significant American casualties as long as they expect victory. Encouragingly for the President, the approval rating for his Iraq policy jumped ten percent and a majority of Americans (56 percent) once again support his handling of the “war on terror.” Also, according to the Washington Post, sixty percent said the United States is making significant progress in restoring civil order in Iraq and 65 percent said the United States is making significant progress in establishing a democratic government there. However, these poll numbers need to be put in the context of an apparently successful election last week. Bush has seen similar poll bounces in the past, like after the capture of Saddam Hussein, and they have generally proven temporary. Unless the insurgency falters significantly, and there is no such indication, these positive numbers will slump. Most discouraging for Bush, almost 60 percent of Americans do not believe he has a clear plan for success in Iraq, signalling that his public relations campaign has been ineffective. The President had better hope that Dr. Feaver’s “plan for victory” thesis is flawed. Otherwise, he will continue to suffer from weak public support for his Iraq policy. This will force him to begin withdrawing American troops in significant numbers soon, a move he is loathe to make.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The President of the Italian Central Bank leaves

It looks as if Fazio, the president of the Italian Central Bank, read my previous post and made up his mind:
he has finally resigned.

It is not an easy situation for Italy, but something needed to change. Fazio goes, now we have to find who comes in its place.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being an Official in Italy

In 'normal' countries, institutions abide by certain rules of fairness: a politician must be able to show that his private interest does not overlap with his public function. Moreover, when a representative of an institution lacks public legitimacy to the point of being attacked by the majority and the minority of the country in equal measure, that person gives up his position.

In Italy, it is the other way round. The prime minister has an overt and unforgivable conflict of interest. And the president of the central bank, Anotnio Fazio, lacks legitimacy on every front. But he does not want to quit.

This is the scenario in Italy, 4 months before general elections.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

EU and WTO: Double Failure

The deals reached in Brussels and Hong Kong simply do not go far enough.

The EU needed a strong sign of the willingness of reform. It only displayed the orthodox national positions; a meagre deal has been reached in order to meet the promises made to Easter Countries. But more than this is required from Europe. We need a more courageous Europe; what we have now is a mammoth struggling for its survival, and barely delivering on its promises.

More importantly, Europe's failure to change affects many other countries in the world. So while we 'enjoy' our relative well-being, unable to break away from the past, a continent like Africa perceives stagnation in Europe as a condemnation. We are not sending any positive signal as to our willingness of giving up our protective agricultural policy in order to create room for African agriculture.

And Asia feels pretty much the same, as we witnessed in Hong Kong. Western protectionism drags them down, but we have no response to that. Shame! Mandelson argued that the deal in Hong Kong was 'acceptable.' It is acceptable for Europe, maybe. As we are in a situation in which we only want to postpone hard questions!

But it is not acceptable for those who are on the brink of disaster. OUR IMMOBILITY is detrimental to us, but dramatic to others. As a wealthy and rich congregation of happy nations, we have to do more. We have to go further.

The deals in Brussels and Hong Kong are a failure from this perspective

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The EU Budget Dilemma

In order to frame the current debate on the EU budget, I copy and paste below one of our Supranationalist Papers (N.2) on the EU Budget.

If you want to know more about Supranationalist Papers, please click here.

Concerning the European Budget

To the people of Europe:

The European Budget is very small (100 million euros annualy for 450 million citizens), and yet it raises so much controversy these days. The most simple explanation is that money is the meter of power relations in Europe. As far as money are concerned, there is little political compromise that can cover a defeat at the budgetary level: if you had 5 and you end up with 3, there is no clearer defeat.

Each member state thinks this way, thus it is particularly difficult to reach an agreeement. This is particularly the case when a conflict is taking place at the level of principles of organisation of a polity; to translate the conflict in economic terms is very easy, and it gives a neat impression as to who is the winner and who is the loser.

From the perspective of the Union, however, everyone is a loser if there is no agreement as to the repartition of the ressources for the sake of enhancing the progress of the whole. Hence, the conflict, be it between France and the UK, or between any other member state, is not a constructive tension; it can only point to a lack of a shared interest in the European project. Moreover, the European people fail to understand what are the principles of collection and expense of european money.

These tensions are bound to remain so long that the only actor in the creation of ressources of the Union are member states. By deciding alone what are the ressources to be attributed to the Union, they can only protect their national intersts, either by opposing any increase of ressources, or by allowing an increase only if this will be allocated to the benefit of national interests.

We are presently stuck with an anachronistic budget, which unduly favours States like France by heavily subsidizing agriculture.

A proper constitution should achieve two things. It should entrench the principle of no taxation without representation, and it should allow for a scope of innovation as far as expenses are concerned, since Europe is in a desperate need for the creation of new employments and not in the maintaning of archaic agricultural structures.

The first principle, no taxation without representation, create a link between european people and the creation of ressources at the european level. This way, the issue of money would not be a private question of national governments that decide those issues in the shadows, but it would be a open issue which concern the people and their representative ( at the European Parliament for instance).

The second principle, innovation in expenses, would carve out for the Union the power to allocate money where money are primarily needed. It is widely felt at the moment that, for example, european unemployment is plaguing citizens; it is, therefore, of very little advantage to know that agricultural expenses can be safeguarded at their very high level. Primacy should be given to more important issues, and where primacy lies should be, once again, decided by the representative of the people along with the representative of the executives of the states.

Hamilton, in the Federalist No. 30, said:

"Money is, with propriety, considered as the vital principle of the body politic; as that which sustains its life and motion, and enables it to perform its most essential functions. A complete power, therefore, to procure a regular and adequate supply of it, as far as the resources of the community will permit, may be regarded as an indispensable ingredient in every constitution. From a deficiency in this particular, one of two evils must ensue; either the people must be subjected to continual plunder, as a substitute for a more eligible mode of supplying the public wants, or the government must sink into a fatal atrophy, and, in a short course of time, perish."

Being unable to reach an agreement concerning the budget, the Union declared its weakness vis-a-vis political crisis. Even if it did manage to reach a compromise, however, it is not evident whether the citizens will be the beneficiary of that agreement. This can only be safeguarded by creating a direct control of the people over the expenses of the Union, that is by empowering the representatives of the European people to decide the allocation of expenses.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

54 Green Heroes to Save the Planet

The French magazine Courrier International has created 54 profiles of what they call “54 heroes to save the planet”. On the basis of play card with pictures and names of most wanted members of Iraqi regime that are in circulation in Iraq they have created 54 play card of most important ecological activists. French peasant leader Jose Bove and the Indian writer Arundhati Roy represent jokers. Go here to see and download these cards.

European Legal Theory!

European Legal Theiry and Constitutionalism is probably the most exciting intellectual discipline nowadays. The many dilemmas revolving around European integration and European future have sparked an icredible mass of high quality literature.

To have an overview of this literature, have a look at the new issue of the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies. That issue published on-line today, contains a good review of Legal Theory and the European Union by Neil Walker. This issue, by the way, celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Oxford Journal.

This is a good occasion to reiterate the committment of this Blog to follow the most exciting legal and philosophical issues in America, in Europe and Beyond!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Northern Ireland case and the sources of justice

Recently there has been a lively debate as to the decree to grant the effective amnesty to IRA terrorists still at large was morally correct. The Guardian presents strong cases against the reasoning behind this agreement that suggests, according to the Northern Ireland minister David Hanson, "Sometimes it is necessary to make difficult decisions in the interests of entrenching the benefits of peace." See Euan’s post on this. This brings us back to the question also relevant in the context of the International Criminal law (see) as to whether one should give priority to Kant’s universalist moral reasoning suggesting that there is such a thing as a universal law commonly accepted and that such a law should be respected. My, one could argue although it requires strong imprecision, post-modernist kind of morality, remains reluctant to accept such an ethical argument without reservations, and remains open to ethical arguments suggesting that justice should always take into account the political context to which it applies, emotions and the balance of force. I am not so negative towards accepting the idea of justice as we go along. Yet, as far as the Northern Irish case is concerned one has to have a particular political context in mind in order to reach a final judgement on this: did peace really require granting de facto amnesty to terrorists and does such a solution create sources of social instability for the future?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Disagreement over Europe in the Conservative Party

Ken Clarke is not happy with Cameron's position on Europe. Clarke fears that Cameron could become the most euro-sceptic of all the previous candidate.

Clarke argues that such a position would not sell well internationally.

No need to worry, anyhow. Even if the British public welcomes Cameron as a new Tony Blair, as soon as he will outline his political ideas, he will collapse as many predecessors, as already stated in a previous post.

The European Budget

The problem is not so much the British rebate, but the Common Agricultural Policy.
Tony Blair is dead right to insist on this point.

It is incredible that all attention is on the UK at this moment, and not on countries like France.

The ultimate aim of a budget reform is to help new comers; so why shouldn't both Britain and France make an effort towards this contribution.

My further impression is that Tony Blair has lost even the support of his national press.

At the end of this week, we should know more about the future of the budget...

Europe needs courageous choices to step forward. Let's see

Friday, December 09, 2005

Law professors are the main political opposition to the State of Urgency in France

Three weeks ago, the State of Urgency, declared by the French President after the riots which had begun a few days before, was extended by a bill in Parliament until 2006. This measure, although popular according to the public opinion polls, seemed unnecessary in the light of the situation at the time. It might have been strictly a demonstration of power on the part of the Government to make it clear to every one that they mean business.

In France, judicial review on the constitutionality of legislation is exercised when 60 members of one of the chambers of Parliament request that the Constitutional Council examine a bill before it has been promulgated. Since the bills are voted by the majority, we rely strictly on the political minority in Parliament to activate this mechanism.

Is the French Socialist Party still part of the political minority? Yes, but a rather invisible one. One that certainly doesn’t deserve to be called “opposition”. When this bill on the State of Urgency was voted, the socialists didn’t request the Constitutional Court’s intervention. They feared that it would be unwise, politically, to provoke a decision that could strike down a popular bill. What a bunch of cowards. As if any political party ever became, or stayed, popular by showing a complete lack of conviction.

Once again, as during the debate around the European Constitution, the Socialist party failed to represent a large number of the leftist population (although it was a completely different matter then as it was not a decision taken out of fear but conviction) and exactly as had occurred in the spring, members of civil society had to step up and replace this impotent bunch. A group of law Professors, led by Frédéric Rolin, tried yesterday, to obtain another jurisdiction to request that this outrageous State of Urgency be abandoned. It will surely fail for several reasons, one of which could be that lack of support from the political minority (some communist and green MPs wanted to request the Constitutional Council's intervention but without the socialists they weren't enough).

All in all there is good and bad news. The bad news is the sorry state the major leftist party is in. The good news is the willingness of citizens to become directly - without the mediation of political parties - important actors in the main political battles.

To offer or not to offer

Currently Serbia is entering negotiations with the Albanians form the autonomous Province of Kosovo on the future status of the Province. While the Albanians insist on nothing but independence, Serbia offers “the greatest autonomy in the world”, as the Serbian president Tadic stated yesterday in Brussels. Is Serbia really ready to grant Kosovo independence, but for now simply follows the maxim of the Israeli ex-Prime Minister Peres who says, referring to negotiating process with the Palestinians, that in negotiations first rule is never to offer. How far are Albanians ready to go versus compromise, are they ready to agree to conditional independence, partition etc? Both sides in this way, possibly strengthen their negotiating positions, however, as my Albanian friend from Kosovo noted last night when we were out for beer, in this way you create expectations among your population which are not realistic, for the Albanians that Kosovo will become independent tomorrow, for the Serbs that it will remain a part of Serbia’s full sovereignty.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The House of Lords on Terrorism!

Evidence obtained by Torture cannot be used against terror suspects.
This is the main point of the decision of the House of Lords, just published. You can find the decision here.

The House of Lords reached the decision by Unanimity in this extrimely delicate issue. This is particularly astounding, given the conservative views of some of its members. Read in particular Lord Bingham's opinion.

Amazing decision, it will cause a lot of debates. No doubt!

Pinter's Nobel Speech

The British playwright, Harold Pinter, has used his Nobel speech to launch a powerful attack on US foreign policy. It is certainly worth reading; although Pinter's own use of his formidable rhetorical arsenal to criticise the same in George Bush is likely to have all those not already sympathetic to his views dismiss them as "just another Pinter rant". Most striking for me, however, is the radical separation that he insists upon between truth in art - "there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other" - and truth in politics, in which "objectivity is essential". He therefore stands by his 1958 claim that "There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false" only for dramatic art; as a citizen, he says, he, like all others, must ask: "What is true? What is false?"

This position - and it is reflected in the black and white certainty with which Pinter presents the recent history of American foreign policy - makes me deeply uncomfortable. I see know reason why the complex and ambiguous truths of art are not mirrored (or, perhaps better, do not themselves mirror) the complex and ambiguous truths of ethical and political value and action. That the invasion of Iraq was both illegal and immoral seems to me, as Pinter asserts, "true"; however, there is also much truth in the assertion that to do nothing about a brutal dictator is also illegal and immoral. Pinter, like so many of the war's more vociferous critics, simply does not address the second point (except to note, absolutely correctly, that acceptance of it does not compel us in any way to support the action that was finally taken. To do so would represent a species of the faulty logic that the classic British comedy Yes, Prime Minister referred to as the "politicians fallacy" - "Something must be done; this is something, ergo this must be done"). This does not, of course, mean that we cannot denounce; however, as long as the legitimate "pull" of opposing opinions is not respected (as Pinter does in his art, but not in much of his overtly political work), our denuciations automatically lose any persuasive force for that most important part of our audience: those who do not already agree with us. In such circumstances, the possibility for conversation - based upon a genuine recognition of the force of both sides of an argument - is lost; and with it much of the hope of achieving what is presumably the goal of our discourse in the first place.

Anyway, like I said, well worth a read. Full text is available here.

The US policy of extraordinary rendition

No-one who watches the news can have failed to have noticed the growing discontent in Europe over the US policy of extraodinary rendition of terrorist suspects, the allegations of secret CIA "black hole" prisons in Eastern Europe, and the suggestion that these mean that the US is acquiescing in, committing, and implicating other European Governments in acts of torture. Secretary of State Rice's visit to Europe has been dominated by these claims, particularly in her first meeting with Angela Merkel, the new German Chancellor. This was difficult as the US has admitted an "error" in kidnapping a German citizen in Macedonia and imprisoning him for five months without trial in Afghanistan (incidentally, Merkel has promised a parliamentary enquiry into claims that her Predecessor, Schroder, knew of this but agreed not to make it public). This is exactly the sort of "error", of course, that procedural rights seek to make impossible; and it is these rights, in turn, that the policy of rendition seeks to bypass. Throughout her tour, however, Rice has been evasive and ambiguous on the existence of secret prisons and on the treatment of prisoners, repeating only that the US does not resort to torture.

The Washington Post today, however, notes that she has "clarified" this position: The United States' obligations under the U.N. Convention against Torture - which Bush has long claimed (dubiously in my view) apply only within the territorial boundaries of the US - extend "as a matter of policy" to "U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States". This is very vague - no doubt deliberately so: is it US policy to extned the legal obligations to its officials acting outside the boundaries of the state? Or are those obligations - legally binding on domestic officials - to be followed as a matter of policy when interrogating suspects outwith the US? Again, here, Rice seems to be returning to her "trust us" theme of the beginning of her European Tour. Given, however, that the government has admitted to a policy of extraordinary rendition in order to remove suspects from the protections afforded by US law, and coupled with the fact that the vice-president is currently making a major effort to have the CIA exempted from Senator McCain's proposed bill to outlaw torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by all US officials everywhere, the Bush administration cannot really be surprised if many worldwide put two and two together, even if they do (and this seems unlikely) come up with five.

*UPDATE* Peggy McGuinnes over at Opinio Juris has an posted an interesting blog on this subject, well worth a read.

Berlusconi Kidnapped... a movie.

Cinema sees the end of Berlusconi. For an amusing example, have a look at this movie script here.

It sounds like a funny idea. Not surprisingly, in Italy the movie does not have a distributor... of course, they fear the reaction of the Prime Minister. You see, this is yet another case how a conflict of interests can affect a society.

Some Italians are still reluctant to acknowledge the perverse effects of a situation of extreme conflict of interests: wake up!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

After the riots in France: By Estelle Carrelet de Loisy

Estelle Carrelet de Loisy is Researcher at the Stability pact for South Eastern Europe in Brussels. She is also a Political Scientist and European Lawyer, working on Organised Crime fighting issues.

Abstract: No European should fear anything any more apart from the French government. The new generation of sons of the French suburbs is testing ways to express themselves publicly. Since teenagers burning cars in order to raise awareness about their overall poverty situation today seems not to lead to constructive governmental measures; perhaps tomorrow some young adults will organize themselves in lobbies, associations, political parties to represent their interest at the decision-making level. It is the voice of the street expressing its social integration’s malaise that needs to finally seriously be addressed now by the State.

The riots happening in the French suburbs of big cities late October and early November have raised worries that violence could spread throughout Europe. Even our transatlantic neighbors were alarmed about these “affected area”. If ones can understand these prudent foreign measures towards uncontrolled violence; however every French citizen had the feeling of a strong exaggerated perception from outside. Naturally, the state of emergency laws was voted in France for 12 days, allowing a period of stronger State’s and police control, specific powers to the government, however, implemented into repressive measures only. But any French citizens will also recognise that the riots were nothing new and nothing really surprising.

The last straw that broke the camel’s back

The situation is nothing new for France, just the explosion of a latent situation lasting since at least 20 years. No French government from the right or the left wing had had until now the courage to face this well-known upcoming and sensible issue of the insufficient integration and the daily discrimination of sons of immigrants and suburbs teenagers. There is clear discrimination and latent racism, by job searching, etc.

As Sophie mentioned in her article, France has at least chosen to try to assimilate its immigrated population, which is not the case of all other EU countries’ immigration policy. These unsuccessful efforts towards an assimilation policy were indeed the decision of a “marriage with the country” for the best and also for the worst. The actual French government is “paying the bill” of 20 years of absence of real immigrant’s integration policy at the French governmental level. And despite of its present official efforts and laud measures; it still tries to avoid balancing this bill.

“They are so blinded that they even could burn the car of their own uncle”

During the last two decades there were about 10 cars per month burned in the French suburbs; these last weeks they were about 500 per days in all different big cities’ suburbs together. The fact that this violence conjointly took place in different suburbs all over France is most probably because, these suburbs of big French cities do all have the same characteristics. Therefore, the rioters developed either a spontaneous solidarity or more probably a competition’s “game” in raising media attention by spectacular actions. These suburbs were quickly built in the 60's and 70's to face the lack of habitat for the migrating labor forces. These cheap skyscrapers’ quarters have become today grey concrete ghettos inhabited by people facing all the same economical, cultural, intellectual and human poverty’s problems in whatever city. The persons acting in the French suburbs these last weeks were mostly adolescents, at the age of their identity crisis, living and going to school in these ghettos only, without any garden to relax, sport place to expense energy and without space and noise isolation in the apartments to live in peace with their neighbor. Their parents either work hard and are not at home; or are jobless and have lost their authority. These teenagers listen neither to their teacher, nor to their parents, perhaps to their oldest brother. Hopefully is their older brother -and example in life- at university, but most probably he has already been in jail or is known from the next police office. But finally their request is towards the society and the State, because they are desperate. For the future, they are seeing no perspective of professional integration, neither in France nor in the country of origin of their parents or grandparents. They have the feeling to stay foreign everywhere. They are mostly from the second or third generation of immigrants now, but differ from the Italian, Spanish, Polish immigration waves since they most of the time coming from less developed countries, with very different cultural and social organization, and with a difficult “hate-love” historical link to France, since they come from former colonial territories. As Sophie mentioned, the nihilist destructive component of the riots is shocking and fundamental at the same time.

The “enemy” is not so easy to identify

At the difference of Raphaël’s article, I realistically keep focusing on the fact that the disadvantaged suburbs inhabitants mostly are kids of recent or old immigrants from former colonies of Muslim culture. The cultural aspect of the families plays a role for understanding these kids’ loss of values; especially in patriarchal family structure when the father has lost authority and honor, because of the humiliation of his treatment as a migrant in a not welcoming country a few decades ago and is jobless today. However, despite of the actual tendency trying to consider any random violence towards citizens as a conspiring Islamic terrorist act, no link should be made between the violent riots and the Muslim religion. Contrarily to those tempted by simplifying problems; complex issues need nuanced answers. In order to avoid any confusion, one should take into account that these events haven’t been declared as neither organized, nor have anything to deal with terrorism or Islamic waves. There has been so far nor recognized or identified political party behind these riots, nor NGO, or religious slogan. The French Government liaising regularly with the head of the French Council for the Muslim Religion has requested an official declaration, that he made, asking to all young Muslims living in France to keep quiet. Teenagers using modern means of communication, contact each other by mobile phone for spontaneous action in order to kill boredom.

Populist provocative slogans for an ambitious political man

The attitude of the ambitious Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy, French Minister of Interior, was too charged of political calculations to be good. He has to a certain extent a part of responsibility in the increase of the intensity and the length of the riots. His respectless public slogans addressed to the media on the issue could only further provoke the rioter’s anger and worsen the situation. He kept on with his slogan even when the situation was really “hot”, increasing the teenagers’ reactions. These slogan never ever had the aim to mean at least the 1958 critical French-Algerian slogan: “I have understood you”, or “I am listening to your distress”. Mr. Sarkozy’s public declarations were aimed to the right to extreme right French electorate that brought in 2002 the negationist, revisionist, and recognized racist French candidate, Mr. Le Pen at the second round of the last presidential elections. There is a dishonoring latent racism in France looking for a less stigmatized and more acceptable public figure to give it respectability. Mr. Sarkozy knows it and uses the opportunity of these riots to try to come up as “the” man having everything under control. But in what direction are the governmental actions now going? They all seem to go in a repressive ways in order to diminishing violence but no fundamental action to avoid future recidivism seems again to be taken by the actual government.

From the burning solidarity to the organized citizen voice

France is a country, since the 1789 Revolution, which has always expressed his discontentment with its people going on the street to protest. Its new generation of sons from the suburbs has finally adopted a similar way of expressing themselves. Should it be seen as a first step into integration towards the French system?! There are some similarities between today's riots and the 1871 Commune de Paris where the hand-workers stroked through the streets of the capitals and built barricades to ask for better rights so well described by Victor Hugo. However, in France, the momentary incapacity that the State had to take control over the situation and the lack of understanding towards a part of its population is the expression of a failed integration system. It is also an urban problem, specific to the crazy inflation of the housing market in the capital of the French centralistic State, where most of the economic activity is concentrated in big cities.

Sustainable reforms should prevent integration malaise

It seems that the French government is today still trying to fight immigration from outside, or sending back any illegal migrants, where the actual problem is much more the situation of the migrants, sons and grand-sons of migrants within the country. The aim is to prevent from outside but not from inside. However the government, trying to find problems from outside should recognize that the problems are inside. Not only repression but also prevention. The most sustainable way is to prevent from inside. The actual governmental measures such as throwing people out of the country, trying to strengthen the control of “white marriages”, forbidding some rap music are short-term measures with broad populist resonance. However, these punctual measures do not solve the much more fundamental problems such as the failed social and economical integration; as well as the urban lack of humanity of some quarters in France.

The government should take the issue of absence of perspective for its youth seriously and from the roots, not only superficially. Else there are risks of recuperation of this disoriented young people by other less recommendable acting organization. France, be aware, these are only short-term projects proposed now, no sustainable, long-term reforms and measures for solving the problems of the young people’s lack of perspective in the French suburbs. Some efforts are made towards more long-term efforts and long-term awareness raising: by the media, by some politicians too, and these are the ones that should be encouraged. If nothing sustainable is done, it will be again just a matter of time until the problem occurs again.

An Interesting Conference in 2006

2006 is the anniversary of John Stuart Mill, he will be 200 years old!

To celebrate this event, the society for Utilitarian Studies organizes the JS MILL BICENTENNIAL CONFERENCE, to be held in University College London from 5 to 7 April, 2006.

Ode to a Leader

The Leader (anonymous)

Patient and steady with all he must bear,
Ready to meet every challenge with care,
Easy in manner, yet solid as steel,
Strong in his faith, refreshingly real.
Isn't afraid to propose what is bold,
Doesn't conform to the usual mould,
Eyes that have foresight, for hindsight won't do,
Never backs down when he sees what is true,
Tells it all straight, and means it all too.
Going forward and knowing he's right,
Even when doubted for why he would fight,
Over and over he makes his case clear,
Reaching to touch the ones who won't hear.
Growing in strength he won't be unnerved,
Ever assuring he'll stand by his word.
Wanting the world to join his firm stand,
Bracing for war, but praying for peace,
Using his power so evil will cease,
So much a leader and worthy of trust,
Here stands a man who will do what he must.

The inclusion of this poem in a textbook for teaching 16 year-old Pakistani schoolchildren English has led to the book being withdrawn by the Pakistani Government. The poem was, apparently, taken from the internet without much analysis, and included as an ode to an abstract ideal of leadership. It didn't take long, however, for the press to realise what the first letter of each line spelled out; and Musharraf's critics have siezed upon it as further proof that his regime is in the pocket of the US.

Embarrassed government officials have, apparently, acknowledged that the poem was uncritically lifted from the web, and, stressing that there was no actual intention to glorfy the character of George Bush, have ordered that the textbok be withdrawn. As the
Independent notes, however, although it seems unlikely that an ode to Bush would have been deliberately included, it is even less plausible that such painfully clumsy verse could have been meant to teach foreign students the correct or poetic use of the English language. "Even when doubted for why he would fight"? Yoda may have been strong with the force, but he could never have been a poet...

Beckett backs compulsory targets for climate change

I noted in a post a while back that the UK Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, had suggested that, given the apparent failure of Kyoto - in particular as regards the US - to deliver the necessary cuts in carbon dioxide emissions to tackle global warming, the UK was prepared to support a deal that would propose voluntary, rather than legally binding, targets for such cuts. Tony Blair had also been making noises in this regard. They seem, however, to have rethought this strategy, judging from Beckett's comments in Montreal this week:

Without mechanisms in the form of compulsory action, such as targets to cut emissions, existing and new technologies will never be rolled out on the scale we need. Voluntary measures can be helpful, but compulsory action is a surer way of delivering results.

This is, I think, to be welcomed. As I argued previously, even if there is only very little hope for the sucess of compulsory targets, there seem to be even fewer grounds for optimism in terms of voluntary ones. Most important, however, may be what this change of heart implies: that the UK has given up on attempting to bring the US on board at Montreal by watering down any agreement, and is instead pushing to commit willing countries to a more ambitious project. If so, this is again to be applauded: too many promising international initiatives have been weakened in ultimately futile attempts to bring the reticent superpower on board. We need look no further than the ICC for an example of this.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Cameron wins Tory leadership

David Cameron has just been elected new leader of the Conservative Party, with a comfortable 68%-32% margin over his competitor, and one-time favourite, David Davies. Cameron may seem surprisingly young at the age of 39 (and contrasts of that sort have already been drawn with the man viewed as his real opponent, Gordon Brown); however, since Blair's victory in 1997 - indeed, since John Major took over from Margaret Thatcher in 1990, the Conservative Party has suffered from a succession of fairly bland, unremarkable, and mostly old-school right-wingers at its head. John Major was unable to keep his government together in the face of Blair's onslaught; and subsequent leaders such as William Hague, Ian Duncan Smith and Michael Howard have spectacularly failed to make any real impression (even Blairs much reduced majority is more down to his actions in Iraq than any real resurgence in the Tories). At the same time, there have been contenders who many felt could make the Tories a force again, and who had the necessary charisma to make the party appealing beyond its core vote - Heseltine, Clarke and (the later) Portillo fall under this category. Often, it has been the Conservative's odd policy of allowing grass-roots volunteers the final say in a run-off between two candidates that has led to these results, and has meant that the party has remained confined to its aging, right-wing base. It is interesting to note that the party attempted, and failed, to change this system this time around.

No matter. This time, the Party has made the more courageous choice. Davies was far more in the Hague/Duncan Smith/Howard mould than his competitor. The Tory volunteers have seen the success that Blair has had, and have gone for someone more obviously in his image. Cameron's first speech ended a few minutes ago with a plea for compassionate and inclusive conservatism; and an invitation for all those who believe in honest, dynamic politics, individual choice and social justice to join him and his party.

We have, of course, heard all of this before. About four times since 1990. Cameron does, however, feel a bit different. He might just manage to revitalise the party, and broaden its core support. On the other hand, he is a significant risk; he has rocketed to power almost from nowhere (he has only been an MP since 2001), and he has now to face some formidable, and experienced, politicians in Blair and, presumably, Brown. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to hold his own in these circumstance, or whether he has just been handed the classic hospital pass. And will he seek to minimise this by surrounding himself with the Tory "old guard", or will he begin his reformation of the Party immediately, from the top down?

The next major point of interest, then, will be to see who he appoints to his shadow cabinet, and where...

...But Cameron Will Not win the Elections

David Cameron has been elected as the Head of the conservatives in the UK.

David, who's only 39, will have to face a very big hurdle: winning against labour, one of the most succesfull parties of UK history.

The election was organised through postal ballot: more or less 200.000 Tory members voted. So the first consideration is: only 200.000? It must not be true, is it?
It is and this tells a lot about the 'health' of british politics. (To have a term of comparison, Romano Prodi in Italy has been elected by 6 million voters; participation is still an important element of modern politics).

The second question is: can he win? The answer is simple: NO!
The reason is that David Cameron does not have a genuine political vision for the UK. Moreover, he doesn't have a clue about the concrete policy-implications of his view.

His manifesto is simple: he wants a modern compassionate conservative Britain. Basically, nothing new under the sun. Cameron borrows a familiar American outlook. It is unclear whether british people will be persuaded by this outlook. Especially now that the Compassionate Conservative in the US are facing troubles due to the change of public opinion on the war of Iraq.

As far as policies are concerned, Cameron has taken since long the pragmatic stance. He does not want to detail them now. He will do so in the future. But if he does not have a sound, genuine, vision of where the UK should be and why, then policies will only reflect short term concerns that are not going to carry him very far away.

Euan suggest in the post above that Cameron was the more corageous choice. Maybe. But it is the conservative party as a whole which has a long way to go. And it is unlikely that Cameron will lead the party far enough to convince British people that the moment has come to switch to conservativism.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Public Opinion and Iraq Part 2

According to the New York Times President Bush has a new advisor on Iraq and a new public relations strategy. Peter Feaver is a Duke University political scientist recruited to advise the White House on public opinion vis-à-vis the Iraq war. The President needs new advice because public opinion has turned against the war. The latest Newsweek poll shows that only about 30 percent of the population supports the President’s Iraq policy. Feaver argues that Americans will support a war with high casualties as long as they believe that the war will succeed ultimately. Judging from his latest effort to rally public opinion last week during a speech at the Naval Academy, the President has embraced this thesis wholeheartedly. Bush used the word “victory” 15 times in his address while standing on a stage papered with “Plan for Victory” signs. Bush’s effort to reverse the public’s opposition to the war indicates his belief that a change in presentation, rather than policy, is the antidote to weak public support and that public opinion on Iraq is malleable. I will be interested to see Dr. Feaver’s research on the subject (he has an article appearing soon in International Security) because his thesis seems counterintuitive and runs counter to other recent scholarship on the subject (eg. John Mueller and Richard C. Eichenberg argue that public opinion is unlikely to rebound regardless of the message). Rather than focusing on an eventual victory, it seems more likely that Americans are motivated by the more immediate concern of the importance of the war being fought. That is, are American troops dying in a cause vital to American national security? Public opinion remained, on balance, supportive in the Civil and Second World Wars because the public judged (or was convinced by Presidents Lincoln and Roosevelt, depending on your interpretation of the nature of public opinion) that the fight was an essential one. This, it seems to me, explains weak public support on Iraq. With no weapons of mass destruction and a growing perception that the White House prevaricated in presenting its argument for war, Americans apparently doubt that the quest for a “democratic” Iraq is worth the sacrifice.

Gay Marriage in the UK

From Today, December 5 2005, gay marriages are allowed in the UK. Thus, the labour party follows the spanish example.

Here is the Civil Partnership Act 2004.

More on this later on.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Srebrenica: The ICTY decision

Reggarding the Srebrenica massacre Johnstone says,

War crimes ? The Serbs themselves do not deny that crimes were committed. Part of a plan of genocide ? For this there is no evidence whatsoever.

In Prosecutor v. Krstić (International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia case), a landmark ruling that put to rest any doubts about the legal character of the massacre, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia unanimously ruled that it was an act of genocide. In this judgment one can see that concerning the numbers of victims ICTY has very little doubt, “The depravity, brutality and cruelty with which the Bosnian Serb Army (“VRS”) treated the innocent inhabitants of the safe area are now well known and documented. Bosnian women, children and elderly were removed from the enclave, and between 7,000 – 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men were systematically murdered.”

Johnstone is denying the findings of this ad hoc international criminal court and it is in this sense that her writing is similar to Irving’s, at least until his own trial he was dennying the Nuernberg decision. The interpretations of history of both authors go against the recognized and final legal facts, legal interpretations of history.

Friday, December 02, 2005

A little more on Johnstone and Srebrencia

A quick addendum to my post below on Srebrenica and the western left, with another example of some of the scholarship I was describing. Oliver Kamm has a couple of pieces on this on his blog (thanks to Renegade Eye for the link), dealing more directly with Chomsky's complaint to the Guardian than with Johnstone's work itself; he does mention the latter, however, and it is the manner in which he does so that is of interest to me here.

Kamm again begins by using the David Irving Holocaust denial example, noting his u-turn at his trial, when he admitted that there was a systematic campaign of mass killings against the Jews. Kamm concludes that "even the world’s most ostentatious denier of the greatest crime in modern history does not deny a deliberate programme of mass killings". Thus he argues that it is entirely consistent to label Johnstone an atrocity-denier, even though she acknowledges that atrocities did take place.

The next crucial step in the argument, after a quite deliberate setting of the scene by invocation of Irving and the Holocaust, is to direct our attention to what needs answered: "The relevant question in the case of Diana Johnstone’s writings is whether she systematically downplays the nature and extent of Serb atrocities in Bosnia". Kamm then concludes that "the evidence is clear" that she does: this evidence being the fact, undeniable, that Johnstone suggests that the massacres may well have been far below the number officially recognised.

I should make clear at this point that Kamm, to his credit, often does maintain a balanced tone, avoiding the shrill excesses of the worst kind of writing of this sort that i criticised below. He does, however, quote approvingly from the Hoare piece below, and is a signatory of the Henry Jackson Society (he also points out, helpfully, something that I hadn't bothered to find out: that Hoare is a specialist in Balkan history, and former investigator for the ICTY. This lends particular weight to his criticism of Johnstone as someone who had done no original research in Bosnia, no interviews or other groundwork, etc.; it also makes more confusing his need to demonise Johnstone instead of calmly refuting her claims). His short piece, however, does provide us with a wonderful example of petitio principii - question begging - viewed by Chaim Perelman, amongst others, as the "gravest error" of argumentative technique.

The crucial step in this is the second one: does Johnstone, in her writing, downplay the nature and extent of the Serb atrocities? Johnstone's writing, however, can only be viewed as a "downplaying" if the generally accepted figures are accepted by us as true. Given that it is precisely Johnstone's goal to challenge these figures, we can easily see how Kamm's argument begs that question. In essence, the unspoken minor premise of that leads to his conclusion - that the accepted figures on the Serb atrocities are true - is exactly the point in issue in Johnstone's work. This is not, of course, to suggest that Johnstone's points cannot be refuted; only that this is not a particularly honest, or effective, way of doing so.

We can also readily see here the effect of Kamm's choice of backdrop. His introduction of Johnstone's work to us in connection with Irving's colours very heavily the manner in which we are inclined to view the former, if we do not read reflectively. That Irving is a deeply unpleasant man, hero of the far right, and (most importantly) flying in the face of massively strong evidence sets the scene in terms of which we are to understand Johnstone's claims, and makes us accept much more readily the question-begging coup de grace when it comes. Irving's work has, however, (I assume) been refuted point-by-point, on the evidence he presents in support of his argument - if it has not, this task is urgent. Johnstone's work, here as elsewhere, is not accorded the same scrutiny, but is instead refuted by association.

The trouble with association is that it is always a matter of choice. And the choice here does exactly the same job as the question Kamm asks of Johnstone: it presumes (this time not explicitly, but by implication) that what happened at Srebrenica and elsewhere has been established beyond all reasonable doubt. The simple fact, however, is that we cannot begin with that statement as axiomatic and then proceed to a mature and serious interrogation of Johnstone's claims.

We can also, with some ease, imagine other situations that could have been used for a backdrop in this argument, creating by association a quite different set of prejudices in the mind of the unreflective reader - although perhaps none quite as extreme, and powerful, as that of Irving and Holocaust denial. David Chandler, for example, in his book From Kosovo to Kabul (pp. 29-30), notes that during the Biafra's attempt to secede from Nigeria in the late 1960s, the Biafran government ensured the support of the international community, and international aid agencies in particular, with claims of genocide and "thousands dying daily". Oxfam's official history now records that "they fell for it, hook, line and sinker".

My intention with the last example is not, of course, to suggest that Srebrenica and the Biafran war are in any way comparable; only to illustrate that we can easily find examples with which to associate any cause, and which create question-begging prejudices in the mind of the reader. The real question to be asked of Johnstone's work is not, therefore, "does she downplay the massacres?", but rather "does the evidence she adduces support her claims, and is it sufficient to present a serious challenge to the generally accepted accounts of what transpired?" Such questions, however, require an engagement with Johnstone's work in considerably better faith than many critics seem inclined to show.

Winter Olympics and Terrorism

Winter Olympics 2006 are hosted by Turin, Italy.

This could be a launching pad for a new Italian Renaissance, after the apocaliptical announcements of decline coming from the Economist. After all, we are pretty good at Rinascimento or Risorgimento, aren't we?

Don't forget also that Italy as a country may be in bad shape economically, but some regions are the best performers in the world. This is the case of Lombardy (20 million people), and of Piedmont (9 million people), the very region of Turin.

Unfortunately, optimism should not fly too high, as another problem is lurking behind Olympics: the ghost of terrorism.

As said many times before in this blog, Italy is one of the main targets for international terrorism. The fact that an international event such as Winter Olympics is taking place just before the national elections is a good source of fear and trouble.

As a result, the Italian government has already taken special measures to enhance security. Vinca il Migliore.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Iraq in Historical Context

Critics of America’s intervention in Iraq have generally pointed to Vietnam as the historical guide to what will happen when things go wrong. This is understandable given the Vietnam War’s relative proximity in American memory. Other, historically literate commentators have offered America’s occupation of the Philippines after the 1898 Spanish-American War as a more relevant example of the burdens of imperialism. President Bush himself used the Philippines analogy in 2003 as an example of occupation that led to a democratic government. Prior to the invasion, minus the eventual happy ending, I too would have preferred the Filipino analogy. However, as America’ presence in Iraq continues, the Vietnam War comparison gains relevance. Democrats are calling for a gradual withdrawal of American troops regardless of the “facts on the ground.” Despite pledges to stay as long as necessary, the Bush administration is laying the groundwork for doing just this and speaking of turning the fighting over to Iraqi soldiers. As justification for this transfer the Bush administration is offering an avalanche of “metrics,” i.e. statistics showing that the war is being won. Almost every day the Pentagon releases numbers for insurgents killed in the latest offensive and optimistic estimates for the number of Iraqi soldiers ready to fight independent of American support. This is all reminiscent of America’s agonizing extrication from Vietnam. Democrat calls for withdrawal are understandable but, as the Washington Post pointed out today, the Bush administration’s “metrics” strain credulity. Iraq’s government, faced with major sectarian problems and a vigorous insurgency, is not ready to stand alone and needs American troops. Yet America’s invasion and occupation was the original cause of, and continues to fuel, the insurgency. There is probably no answer to this dilemma, as there was no answer to the problem of America’s involvement in Vietnam. As with Vietnam, the ending will likely be painful for the United States but devastating for the country it leaves behind.

Blair backtracks (a bit) on EU budget rebate

Tony Blair, currently on a tour of new EU member states in an attempt to resolve the deadlock over the EU budget - for which many feel he has primary responsibility, both as the UK is the current president of the union, and as its budget rebate is one of the major sticking points - has indicated his willingness to either accept a cut in the rebate, or contribute more to EU funds.

These might seem essentially the same thing. Not so, however; the issue of the budget rebate, won by Margaret Thatcher, is something of a hot potato in British domestic policies; and Blair has repeatedly stated that he will not give it up without reform to the Common Agricultural Policy. He has not, of course, offered to give it up entirely, but it will be difficult to prevent opponents from portraying this as a u-turn.

The offer comes as part of a proposed deal which would also see aid to the 10 accession countries cut by something like 10%; small wonder, then, that Blair has had to make a significant concession. The cuts are not, perhaps, as draconian as first appears - the conditions attached to this funding are so strict that, in practice, significant amounts of the money is never spent (Poland, for example, has thus far been able to spend only 4.3% of its allocated funds for 2004-2006). Blair is proposing to loosen up the criteria for accessing the money at the same time as reducing the amount available; nonetheless, this does not seem to have impressed many of the new member states. Even a spokesman for Barroso, the Commission President, has said that "he has made it very clear that he does not expect the British presidency to take the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham, taking from the poor to give to the rich".

I find it difficult not to feel a little sorry for Blair on this one; that both the rebate and the CAP need serious rethinking seems to be generally accepted (almost everywhere but France); his argument, however, that they are "inextricably linked" seems to have considerably less adherents. The rebate seems an easier target at the moment than does the CAP; this, coupled with the fact that the UK currently holds the presidency and thus the responsibility for finding agreement on the budget, has forced his hand. It'll be interesting to see just how far he is prepared to go; and how what he has already conceded will go down domestically.

US and EUROPE on counterterrorism: Cooperation or Conflict?

Bobby Chesney on Opinio Juris argues that this is not a good week as far as cooperation between Europe and the US on counterterrorism is concerned. He cites as example of bad cooperation, the decision of an Italian judge based in Milan who denied Seldon Lady, a CIA Agent in Italy, diplomatic protection.

The problem is all in the interpretation of cooperation. One thing is to have an agreement on how to proceed on counterterrorism; another, totally different, thing is to allow US agents to use force and behave illegally on a foreign territory without taking notice of this fact.

The judge in Milan had good evidence of the breach of Italian law committed by the CIA agents. The only possible argument against that decision is to show that the evidence was not sufficient. But to claim that cooperation is not working is just misleading.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Srebrenica and the Western left

An interesting spat developed earlier this month in the pages of the Guardian, over an interview with Noam Chomsky by the journalist Emma Brockes. It focused upon a book by Diana Johnstone, entitled Fools Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato and Western Delusions, which was withdrawn by its Swedish publisher after a swarm of controversy in the national press there. Fairly or otherwise, this controversy focused on Johnstone's claims about a number of the atrocities committed during the conflict in the Balkans during the 1990s, and in particular on the events in Srebrenica in 1995. Cental to Johnstone's argument in this regard is that there is little actual evidence to support the oft-quoted figure of 8000 innocent muslim men massacred. She notes that:

Six years after the summer of 1995, ICTY forensic teams had exhumed 2,631 bodies in the region, and identified fewer than 50. In an area where fighting had raged for years, some of the bodies were certainly of Serbs as well as of Muslims. Of these bodies, 199 were found to have been bound or blindfolded, and must reasonably be presumed on the basis of the material evidence to have been executed.

She then concludes:

War crimes ? The Serbs themselves do not deny that crimes were committed. Part of a plan of genocide ? For this there is no evidence whatsoever.

The book containing these and other assertions was withdrawn by its Swedish publishers, amid accusations of atrocity denial from the national press. Chomsky publicly defended both the book and its author; he did so, however, in defence of her scholarship and her right to free speech, not on the content of her actual claims. It was this distinction that seems to have caused the tiff in the letters pages of the Guardian.

The interview was removed from the online edition of the paper following complaints from Chomsky - a letter, and then an open letter, to the newspaper. His complaints centred around the headline for the interview - a piece of text removed from the context and printed in large, bold text at the outset. It stated:

Q. [Brockes]: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated ?

A. [Chomsky]: My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough.

To the extent that the interview touched only on the issue of free speech, and not on the content of Johnstone's claims on Srebrenica, the headline does seem misleading, to say the least. Little surprise then, after being subjected to the full force of Chomsky's eloquent sophistication, that the Guardian decided to pull the interview.

As luck would have it, however, this very subject gives us a chance to have a look at some of the early work coming out of the Henry Jackson Society, the new UK neoconservative group on whom I posted last week. Two early papers deal with this very issue, one directly and one in more general terms. I should, at the outset, state that i am in absolutely no position to judge the claim and counter claim here in substantive terms; however, several interesting issues of scholarship more generally are raised, both by the arguments proposed and the meanings enacted by the two groups of texts.

Firstly, for example, the author of the HJS papers, one Marko Attila Hoare, makes an interesting allegation in terms of Johnstone's claims: that she has done no original investigative work; that her sources are overwhelmingly English language, despite the fact that she writes on the Balkans; and that she doesn't even speak one of the languages of the region. These are, in certain circumstances, very valid points; however, they seem to me to miss one of the main thrusts of Johnstone's work, which was not to provide an account of what actually happened but rather to weigh up the imbalance between how the West reported events, and the actual evidence available to support these reports. As she herself notes:

My book does not attempt to recount what happened at Srebrenica, but to point to the political symbolism of such events, marked by the media tendency to dwell on some and not on others, to repeat the highest of casualty estimates when there is no scientifically established number, and above all to simplify and dramatise an unfamiliar and complex reality by resorting to analogy with Hitler and the Holocaust.

A more powerful argument, perhaps, is the one that Hoare makes in terms of the "left" in general: that it is characterised by a far-too-ready willingness to adopt any stance, to support any cause, that is aligned in opposition to the liberal-capitalism consensus of western Europe. He suggests that, thus blinded by its hatred for one, it ignores, accepts or even glorifies the crimes of the other. This seems to me an exceedingly important point, and one that rings true in many contexts: all too often, radical scholarship is a smokescreen for poor scholarship, for immature posturings and territorial pissings that have altogether too much to do with negative self-definition, and altogether too little to do with a genuine attempt to understand both, or all, sides of an astoundlingly complex situation.

Hoare's insistence on this point, however, would have a whole lot more force if he had managed to enact, in his language, the type of scholarship he is implicitly endorsing; instead, however, he does exactly the opposite, using distorting analogies and reductive generalisations in order to demonise his interlocutor and browbeat his audience into agreement with him (exactly the allegation that he lays, perhaps not without justification, at Chomsky's door). Firstly, is his choice of target. I have not read Johnstone's book; I have, however read her contribution to Tariq Ali's
Masters of the Unverse: Nato's Balkan Crusade, in which she makes a series of similar claims. Many of the authors in this book did rely far too much on the demonisation of the oppostion, and the rubbishing of their scholarly works, for my taste; this was not, however, my impression of Johnstone's piece, which maintained a balanced tone throughout. Her own recent contribution to the Guardian seems to confirm this, largely free from the sensationalism or affected disinterest that characterise both Chomsky's open letter and Hoares opinion pieces.

The other point, which, as her earlier quote suggests, will not have surprised Johnstone, is Hoare's continuous attempts to reduce the Balkan wars to the "goodies" versus the "baddies" by a constant stream of analogies to the Holocaust. The piece on massacre denial begins with the "parallel" between Chomsky and David Irving, the Holocaust-denying historian who was recently arrested in Austria on those charges. The following passage, worth quoting at a little length, exemplifies this perfectly:

To sum up Johnstone’s position on Srebrenica: she blames everything that happened there on the Muslims; claims they provoked the Serb offensive in the first place; then deliberately engineered their own killing; and then exaggerated their own death-toll. She denies that thousands of Muslims were massacred; suggesting there is no evidence for a number higher than 199 - less than 2.5% of the accepted figure of eight thousand. And she eschews the word 'massacre' in favour of 'execution' - as if it were a question of criminals on Death Row, not of innocent civilians. It is as if she were to claim that less than 150,000 Jews, rather than six million, had died in the Holocaust; that the Jews had provoked and engineered the Nazi killings; that these killings had been 'executions'; and that the Jews had then exaggerated their death toll.

The trouble is that Hoare's piece is almost completely devoid of any attempt to rebut the specific claims made by Johnstone, except insofar as they go against what is "generally accepted", or has been established by international investigation. As Johnstone's aim is to call these processes into question, Hoare's position seems more than a little circular. And, of course, it carries with it the deeply unpleasant and unwarranted implication that all those who question the received wisdom in questions of war crimes or other atrocities are crypto-fascist Holocaust deniers.

The holocaust theme is taken up at every available opportunity, and reinforced through usage even when not directly linked to the claims of his targets. The more general piece, for example, on Srebrencia and the London Bombings, begins with the claim that "
At Srebrenica on 11 July 1995, Christian Serb fascists - Chetniks - massacred about eight thousand Muslim men and boys. A few days before the tenth anniversary of the massacre, British Islamic fascists massacred over fifty people in London." And again, he notes that, in the early stages of the Balkan conflict "John Major’s Britain and Francois Mitterand’s France fought hard to appease Milosevic". (For those who do not know, the term "appeasement" is an extremely loaded one in the English language, particularly when used in the context of international relations, as it was the name of the failed policy of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in his attempts to avoid war with Hitler. At best ikt conjures up images of woeful naivety; at worst, craven cowardice; and always in the face of the Nazis.)

It is difficult to see what links the notion of fascism in these two situations (the Serbs and the London Bombers) beyond a penchant for illegal massacre (with which Hoare disagrees); we may ask whether this is an honest use of the term, or an attempt to reduce horrific yet deeply complex situations to the black/white of the Holocaust, with all that this term implies. This is not to suggest that complexity can excuse the massacre of innocent civilians - of course not, nothing can - but that the invocation of the rhetoric of the Holocaust casts a shadow over the entire debate about what can, should, must be done; and that this shadow removes the complexity necessary for us to make mature ethical and political choices about the past and the future.

This is the most disappointing thing about Hoare's critique; there are some important points to be made about certain trends in left wing thought; they are, however, buried beneath Nazi analogies and other, almost hysterical language that seems designed to bully the reader into agreement (but is more likely to alienate all those who do not already agree). For example, he raises the issue, particularly important in terms of his recent letters, of what Chomsky does actually think of the reporting of the Srebrenica massacre; whether it was indeed "exaggerated" or not. Like so much done in this field, however - and so much of the work that Hoare justly criticises - it does so not so much as to invite an answer, or conversation, on this point, but rather as a weapon in a war the sides in which have already long been decided. But should we expect any more from a society that is determined to use force to spread democracy, and that comes into existence at precisely the time when this idea seems to be at its shakiest in practical terms, as Jack's post below, on Iraq, suggests?

In a sense, however, (although I suspect an accidental one) Hoare's critique functions brilliantly: not only does he rightly criticise, in the substance of what he rights, a type of writing that gives rise not to mature ethico-political converstaion but only to a series of ever-more-polarised and reductive knee-jerks; he also enacts it, he exemplifies it, in his prose. We are thus left with a very full sense, much fuller than a mere description could ever hope to furnish us with, of exactly how disagreeable it is to read writing of this sort. I finished my (admittedly brief) reading around this subject absolutely none the wiser over what happened in Srebrenica in 1995, but with a sense of despair over much of what passes for scholarship, on both sides.

Perhaps ironically, the only actor in this saga not to leave me with with this impression was Johnstone herself.

American Public Opinion and the War in Iraq

John Mueller published an interesting article in the latest Foreign Affairs issue on waning public support for the American military campaign in Iraq. In brief, he argues that the pattern of American public support for operations in Iraq has followed the same trend it followed in America’s other major post-Second World War military engagements, Korea and Vietnam. That is, strong, initial support for military operations (i.e. rally in support of “our boys over there”) which falters inexorably as casualties increase. Mueller asserts that, despite President Bush’s best efforts to rally support, public backing will almost certainly not increase substantially. This means that Bush will be forced to embrace an exit strategy for American troops that commences sooner rather than later. Mueller goes on to suggest that America’s post-Iraq foreign policy will be similar to its post-Vietnam foreign policy, i.e. more constrained and much less willing to send troops abroad. I want to make two points in connection with Mueller’s article. First, from a scholarly viewpoint, his depiction of American public opinion as structured, coherent, resistant to manipulation and changing in a logical manner seems to buttress the more recent scholarship on public opinion’s role in American foreign policy and to refute much of the traditional “Almond-Lippmann” consensus. Second, from a political standpoint, Mueller indicates that, vis-à-vis the Iraq issue, public support for Bush especially and Republicans to a lesser extent will slip regardless of any policy suggestions put forward by the Democrats. With 2006 midterm elections in mind, this suggests the following campaign strategies for the two parties: for the Democrats, avoid detailed policy proposals for Iraq other than sober, moderate generalities (the recent calls by Senators Biden and Obama for orderly, gradual troop withdrawals seem to follow this pattern); for the Republicans in Congress the strategy should be twofold – downplay the war as much as possible (a difficult task but not impossible) and when forced to address the Iraq issue, mirror (but not too obviously) Democrat calls for orderly, gradual troop withdrawal; early indications are that the President’s team has begun to accept the inevitability of beginning significant troop withdrawals before the 2006 elections (November in the U.S. and December, I believe, in Iraq). Most reports indicate that Iraqi troops are nowhere near ready to fight the insurgency alone. That and the likelihood of irreconcilable sectarian differences between Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish Iraqis do not bode well for the country’s future. It also augurs badly for Bush’s legacy, which will be based largely on the success of his Iraq policy….

Racism and Italian Football

Another sad story from Italy.

The protagonist is an African football player of the sicilian team, Messina.
Booed by the opponent's supporters, he grabbed the ball and headed towards the bench: he didn't want to play anymore.

Such is the frustration of some players, and little has been done so far to penalize or exclude supporters who display such bad behaviour. A full report of the story can be read here (in english).

Unfortunately, the story is not limited to football pitches. Racism, in a country like Italy that has only recently came across massive immigration, is a huge problem that needs to be dealt with immediately. Before it is too late, and becomes a plague.

Italian parties, on top of a fully fledged economic reform, would be much better off if they suggested a strong civic reform aimed at educating people at least as far as the basics are concerned.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Italy can deal with its decline

The political campaign for italian elections is beginning to be very interesting.
Following the article in the Economist that described Italy as bound to slowly decline, Italian major coalitions respond with strong arguments (facts will only matter though).

Both Prodi and Berlusconi (in italian) now claim that they will engage in deep reforms that will involve great sacrifices on the part of the population.

Sadly, this confirms that Italy is going down the slope, and only muscular reforms will be able to invert the trend. Hopefully, however, the stagnant situation will give an incentive to find real solutions to actual problem. If Italy takes this idea seriously, it could lead the rest of European States out of the present European crisis.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Supranationalist 8: Italy and its decline

Few months before Italian elections, and few days after the beginning of the political campaign, the Economist publishes a survey on Italy entitled 'Addio, Dolce Vita.'

The British magazine is pitiless with Italy and its leaders. Berlusconi is, rightly, described as a man tarnished by financial scandals and mismanagement of Italy. Prodi does not get much better marks, although he is slightly less troublesome than Berlusconi. But both are described as incapable of pulling Italy out of its crisis. Both are considered to be too old (nearly 70), and too dependent on other parties in their coalition that limit the changes of succesfull reforms.

What to do with such a hars judgement? I, for one, agree that Italy is not doing very well and that, at present, there are no real and credible leaders to make us hope. However, as many times before, I stress the importance of a more general, European, crisis that has to be deal with both at national levels and at the European level.

The economist, in its blind anti-european stance, only sees nations and its individual problems, and believes that the mere strengthening of market economy would do us good. The reality is different, Europe as a whole is in a profound need of social as well as economical reforms. Possibly, it needs a cultural revolution, that could bring people closer to a supranational ideal and away from a narowly national one.

This would involve the readiness on the part of people to move around Europe seeking the best compromise between job opportunities and welfare protection. In this case, the market could really make a difference by allocating prizes to those Europeans willing to sacrifice part of their shaky national status for the sake of an improved European polity.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Blair and Europe: a disappointment

Tony Blair is a Janus faced politician. His capacity to warm audiences with his speeches hardly matches with his incapacity to deliver on his promises.

Europe is a good illustration of Tony's gap. In June, we welcomed Blair's speech to the European Parlaiment for his vision and apparent leadership.

Today, we can only take note, along with other observers, that Tony Blair will not be able to achieve half of what he has promised.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

New Italian Electoral Law: Destroying the Italian Democracy

As a follow up to Lorenzo’s article on Berlusconi’s new electoral bill, as result of a request from some Italian friends, I read and summed up an excellent power point presentation (in Italian) on the political effects of Berlusconi’s electoral reform. If anyone wishes to receive a copy of this presentation please leave a comment on this blog entry giving us a clue of how to contact you and send the PP presentation to your e-mail address.

According to several public opinion surveys Prodi’s Center Left Coalition would receive 51% of votes, while Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition gets, in the most optimistic scenario around 47%. Berlusconi is aware of this and he decide to embark on the electoral reform (less than a year before the elections, during the campaign) to mitigate the effects of the popular will, thus, to stay in power.

To understand the effects of the electoral change one has to bear in mind that the two Italian major coalitions (occupying almost the entire political spectrum) are very different in nature. While Berlusconi’s coalition is composed of a small number of political parties that individually receive more than 2% of votes (Forza Italia, Allenaza Nazionale, UDC and Lega Nord), Prodi’s coalition, albeit more popular, consists of numerous political entities that remain below 2% of the votes, however, altogether they receive from 7% to 10% of votes. These members of the centre-left coalition are: Italy of Values (Di Pietro); The Italian Communists; Socialists Union (SDI), Popular Party (UDEUR) etc.

Berlusconi’s electoral engineering introduces two mechanisms.

First one introduces a threshold of 2% for political parties that are part of a coalition and 3% for those that are outside of the coalition. All the abovementioned members of the Prodi coalition in this way lose the right to be represented in the parliament. In this way the centre-left coalition goes down from 51% to 44% of votes that can actually result in assignable parliamentary seats. The same mechanism does not affect the centre-right coalition because as previously mentioned they all individually receive above 2% of votes. In this way Berlusconi’s coalition will still receive its votes on the basis of intact 47% of popular vote. Hence, they will surpass Prodi’s coalition in the percentage of popular votes that is to be considered for assignable seats. Still, despite the first change, according to the present electoral law the Centre-left coalition would receive the so-called majority premium on the basis of the overall number of votes (51%) despite the introduced threshold. In this way, overall Prodi’s coalition would still be victorious over Berluconi’s.

Second mechanism of the new electoral bill takes this fact into account and establishes that the majority premium does not get assigned on the basis of number of votes but on the basis of percentage of votes that results in assignable seats (thus 47% for Berlusconi and 44% more or less to Prodi). In this way, despite its unpopularity Berlusconi’s coalition will still manage to stay in power.

Berlusconi will defend this law, and some of his partisans already do, arguing that it is perfectly in compliance with European standards, which is probably true in some sense. What is, however, not in accordance with principles of any decent democracy is making the change of the electoral law on the eve of the elections. Electoral law must represent a broad societal consensus (must reflect the genuine will of the population) and should not be engineered according to short-term political needs. Changing the electoral law is a feature of a banana republic not of an established democracy such as Italy. In this way Berlusconi not only goes against the electoral will of the Italian population but continues his endless damaging of the Italian image abroad. Media monopoly beyond decency and best democratic practices is no longer sufficient, now he needs to change the very electoral law to stay in power. It is not enough to remain passive in front of such undemocratic processes, it is not enough to wait and hope that the electoral results will be such that Berlusconi will anyways lose. Something must be done to stop this electoral law. In this way we try to help our italian friends and to contribute to the international raising of awareness of the magnitude of, what could even say, the electoral fraud in Italy.