Thursday, December 28, 2006

Edwards for President

John Edwards announced today that he is running for President in 2008. I supported him in 2004 and will support him again this time. I'm a sucker for stump speeches and Edwards is really good at it. I also believe he has the right emphasis on the inequality of American society.

I always believed Edwards had a better chance of beating Bush in 2004 than John Kerry and I believe he can win this time. Yes I'm a dreamer and I have been wrong before (I believed Dukakis would win!), but for me discovering Edwards was like Josh and Sam discovering Bartlett in West Wing... the real thing!

Edwards website can be seen here, and yes, tomorrow begins today.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Israels desire for peace.

Israel has often reiterated its view that it lacks a "partner for peace" on the Palestinian side of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The message conveyed is that Israel is eager for peace, but that Palestinians are not.

While Palestinian leaders, both from Fatah or Hamas, have shown very little willingness or desire for peace, I don't believe there is sufficient desire for peace on the Israeli side either. Israels expansion of settlements on the West Bank in the wake of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, and now its establishment of a new settlement there (see this New York Times Article) shows that Israels political leadership desires land more than it desires peace. By expanding the settlements Israel makes it more difficult (or even impossible) to find a agreement between the parties that eventually can undermine the support for violence and terrorism.

Although the expansionist policy is not universally supported in Israel, its continuation shows that Israel has not yet accepted that it cannot militarily defeat the Palestinians and that only a negotiated peace can form the basis of peaceful coexistence. Willingness for peace only on victors terms is not, in my opinion, eagerness for peace.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

International Human Rights and Home schooling.

This is a response to this article which refers to this article by Michael Farris from Home Schooling Legal Defense Association.

While International Human Rights law can and will effect national laws, the warnings expressed in these articles are, in my opinion, exagerated. Neither does the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decision in Konrad v. Germany(1) create any presidence in International Human Rights law for restricting home schooling, for the following reasons:

First, its a decision not a judgment. The ECtHR simply dismissed the case as "manifestly ill-founded." The ECtHR held that the European Convention of Human Rights does not contain a provision giving parents exclusive rights over the education of children.

Secondly, the basis for ECtHR decision was the "margin of appreciation" that the ECtHR gives to contracting states. The ECtHR is very hesitant to overrule national courts and laws enacted by democratically elected legislatures. European nations can therefore, with reason, regulate the educational requirements of children.

This decision poses no threat to home schooling rights in other European Countries, particularly not to countries such as Denmark, Finland and Ireland which have provisions for home education in their constitution.

Konrad v. Germany also makes it clear that Germany's "Basic Law" guarantees "the right to establish private schools." The state does therefore not have a monopoly on education, only the right to regulate it.

Finally, even if the US Congress were to ratify the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child, it could only be enforced by US courts. Although US courts could refer to Konrad v. Germany in its decisions, the case contains no authority for any proposition of law other than national law has priority over international law. US court are, anyway, extremely unwilling to find inspiration from international jurisprudence.(2) As Supreme Court Justice Scalia said in the 2002 case of Atkins v Virginia (3) said: "Equally irrelevant [to decisions of the US Supreme Court] are the practices of the 'world community,' whose notions of justice are (thankfully) not always those of our people."

(1) Konrad and others v. Germany, 11 Sept. 2005, application no. 35504/03, see
(2) for more see Ignatieff, Michael. American Exceptionalism and Human Rights (Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 2006).
(3) Atkins v Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 348 (2002)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Faith in schools.

I never believed in Santa Clause, Father Christmas or what ever you want to call him, and I don't think children benefit from being fooled, so I'm probably the wrong person to comment on this story about a school apologising for telling their students that Father Christmas doesn't exist. Christmas was apparently ruined for one family who wrote: "... we might have had one last Christmas without her knowing if it hadn't been for the school."

My first reaction was to think it incredible that school age children would believe in Father Christmas, but then I realised that in the UK 5 year olds are sent to school. The problem is, however, that the children in question were 9-10 years old.

Although I cannot prove that Father Christmas doesn't exist and I believe schools should be respectful of the religious faith of parents, I still find it disturbing when schools apologises to parents for revealing what is considered common knowledge about Father Christmas and Royal Mail.

Where is the anti-PC brigade when you need them?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Of Course its apartheid.

Jimmy Carters book "Palestine: Peace Not apartheid" has, not surprisingly, been attacked by pro-Israeli commentators and bloggers. Words like "anti-semetic", "anti-American","lies", "plagiarism", "untruthful" and "distortion" are all used to describe Carter and his book.

I haven't read the book so I can't really make any comment on whether its thesis is convincing or not. I suspect most anti-Carter commentators haven't read the book either, but simply take offence at the books title and Carters assertion that the American Israel-Palestine debate is one sided. An example of this was last Tuesday when The Guardian seemingly didn't dare publish this article by Jimmy Carter without also printing this rebuttal by Michael Kinsley.

Kinsleys denial of Carters reference to apartheid is, in my opinion, unconvincing. Simply dismissing the analogy by arguing that the Israeli government does not have an official philosophy of racial superiority, contrary to the former regime in South Africa, only makes Israel look less honest about their policies than National Party lead South Africa. Even if Zionism can be said to not contain an ideology of ethnic supremacy, Israel's policies of annexation and colonization have created a 'de facto' apartheid state. The two ethnic groups are separated physically and in legal status. Israeli settlements occupy many of the best parts of the West Bank and are connected by 'Israeli only' roads. In the impoverished Palestinian areas, the populations live lives deprived rights such as voting, freedom of movement and freedom of ownership.

Kinsley's statement that "Palestine is no bantustan. Or if it is, it is the creation of Arabs, not Jews" is staggering in its denial of Israel's occupation and military control of the West Bank and Gaza. While it is debatable how much Israel planned and orchestrated the removal of Arabs from what became Israel in 1948, it cannot be denied that Israel has been the occupier and ruler of the whole of Palestine since 1967 and that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was created under Israeli rule. Israel has continued to exercise military control since establishment of the PNA in 1994 and has regularly attacked PNA infrastructures undermining its ability to govern. Also in economic terms is Palestine controlled by Israel and the PNA only survives because of EU and US handouts. How can Kinsley argue that this state of affairs is an Arab creation?

Supporters of Israel may believe its policies towards the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza are justified and right, but they are in denial if they reject the label apartheid.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Religious Freedom in Germany.

This is a response to "Anonymous'" query as to my thoughts on this article.

I'm not aware of the background for the German Justice Minister's comments on religious freedom and religious schools. I do know, however, that in some European countries there has been public concerns about schools run by religious minorities, in particular those run by Muslim groups. The criticism has been that the children in some of these schools are indoctrinated towards religious intolerance, as well as hatred towards to the West. This may be the background for her statements.

Concerning Germany's law on compulsory school attendance. I think its a bad law and I know of no other European country where home schooling is not allowed. I do, however, believe that society has the right to require education of children and to set standards for that education.

What should always be remembered, when discussing Germany, is the legacy of Nazism. Germany's post-WWII constitution and laws have been set up to avoid extremism ever arising again, while the political establishment has seen it as its main task to guard the country against extremism. Civil liberties have therefore been limited in ways that would not be tolerated in other western democracies. Nazism is, for example, outlawed, as is distribution of Nazi propaganda and literature. Similarly, individuals who are considered to have extreme views, or belong to groups considered to be dangerous to society, have been and are banned from working in civil service positions. This practice, which mainly has been used to discriminate against Communists and Socialists, has been criticised internationally when it has affected religious groups such as Scientology.

Although Germany's outlawing of home schooling and its treatment of groups with deviant beliefs and convictions sometimes amount to discrimination, its laws must be seen the context of in Germany's history and the political establishments fear of political as well as religious extremism.

Religious freedom is, in my opinion, generally better protected in America than Europe. I can offer three reasons for this: First the 1st Amendment (both the 'free exercise' and 'non-establishment' clauses playing a vital rule). Secondly, the idea that America was founded by individuals fleeing religious persecution is very strong, which makes religious freedom trump every other civil liberty in the US. Thirdly, religious groups have more political power in the US.

Except for France, Europe has no tradition of church and state separation. This has lead, even in recent times, to religious discrimination, in particular in countries where the Catholic faith is very strong, i.e. Ireland, Italy, Spain etc.. Religious freedom is now entrenched in most European national constitutions and in the European Convention of Human Rights, and particularly the Northern European countries have good protection of religious rights. However, it still doesn't not command the same respect as it does in America for the above mentions reasons.

Monday, December 11, 2006

My wife, the conqueror.

Here's to my wife, seen here at restaurant in Greece a couple of years ago, who handed in her MA dissertation today after 6 months of hard work and struggle.

She's really something and I have no doubt her dissertation will get as good a grade as the rest of her work.

My wife is not just my better half, she's my better whole! And, she is "My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song."
(From W. H. Auden's 'Stop all the clocks").

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christ or Amnesty.

Yesterday I was speaking to fellow law student who's actively involved in Amnesty International. He told me of the letters they write and campaigns they coordinate with other student groups, and invited me to come along. He also informed me that the Christian Student Union will not work together with Amnesty because of Amnesty campaign for Homosexual rights.

It frustrates me how I feel more at home with Secular Humanists than Christians, and how I would rather go to an Amnesty meeting than a meeting at the Christian union.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Wall Street Journal Europe.

I've often claimed that being right wing is simply a lack of reflection. Its probably a bit rich for someone in my position, i.e. unemployed loser, to make such a claim, but whenever I doubt its truthfulness, all I have to do i pick up a copy of the Wall Street Journal Europe which is distributed free at my university.

The WSJ Europe, which according to Wikipedia has a circulation of 87.000,(1) is so right wing it makes The Daily Telegraph seem like socialistic propaganda. It basically only has one narrative to tell, which it compensates for by repeating it daily in its editorial and comments pages, which is: Continental Europeans are poor, stupid and evil; while Anglo-Saxons, i.e. Americans and to some extent British, are the people God has chosen to courageously and morally lead the world to the utopia of total economic liberalism.

In today's editorial, other than praising John Bolton as one who speaks "with moral clarity," it actually claims that Germany's health system is the cause of that countries high unemployment. The Journal is worried that Senator Edward Kennedy's proposed Medicare for All Act will make the US "more like Germany."

The Journal's argument is that the German system, requiring all employers and employees to contribute to the federal health insurance, makes businesses unwilling to hire workers. I find that argument unconvincing as health insurance for most Americans is also related to their employment as a benefit, i.e. its part of the expenditure that employers have when hiring employees. Not only that, but the US spends a much higher proportion of its GDP on health care than Germany or any other European country with a universal health insurance system.(2) American employers are therefore paying much more in health insurance schemes than European employers.

Although I admit that there are advantages to the American health system, its ridiculous to argue that it is less of a burden on employers and employees, than the German system. It is also, in my opinion, amoral, because its favours the rich and leaves large sections of society uncovered. I, for example, would love to move back to the USA (the country of my birth), but financially its impossible because I presently couldn't get health insurance!

How the editors at the Wall Street Journal can argue the way they do, without questioning how the private system in the US works, is beyond me. If its not due to unwillingness (or inability) to reflect deeper over the issue, then its just me who's too unintelligent to understand their right wing gospel.

(1) I don't know Whether that figure is with or without the freebie's.
(2) Numerous studies have documented this, see for example:
Evens, B.T. and C.Prichard, 'Cancer survival rates and GDP expenditure on health,' Public Health, Sept. 2000, 336-339. or
Nordqvist, Christian. 'Health Expenditure Often Does Not Match Life Expectancy' Medical Health Today, 26 Sep. 2006 on

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Surveillance Cameras (again).

Yes I know, judging by this blog, all I do all day is read the Guardian/Observer (which is actually what I do all day).

Anyway, if your interested in issues of right to privacy there's this column by Henry Porter in today's Observer. Porter rightly questions what all the surveilance cameras does to society and comments on how they are the result of a climate of fear. Not the best of his articles, but Porter is at least a lone voice crying out against the surveillance society that is and is to come.

Preach it brother Porter! Well, not the line about "Security cameras do have their value and in the centre of big cities they are often responsible for identifying criminals," please leave such concession out of any future articles.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Secret (un)intelligence.

I just have to share this quote from Sir Rodric Braithwaite, who was John Major's foreign policy adviser. The quote appears in this article, in today's Guardian, questioning the UK's special relationship policy.
The intelligence cooperation with the US is extremely useful to us, and somewhat useful to the Americans. If we didn't have it, our intelligence capabilities would be probably [still] better than the Germans and the French, but not by an order of magnitude. And the question then is, Would that matter? Look at Iraq. With most of these things, you actually don't need all that much intelligence; you need common sense, which is a different kind of intelligence. You certainly don't need a lot of secret stuff which turns out to be wrong."
I agree. In 2002 it was apparent to most observers, who where not in the secret intelligence loop, that Saddam Hussein probably did not have chemical weapons (i.e. the infamous weapons of mass destruction), or at least not enough to threaten anyone.

The porblem with secret intelligence information is that it is not open to public scrutiny. The spies/snoops/agents therefore live in a world of their own, where threats become exaggerated and information misused. That is why the US refused to share its secret information with Han Blix's UN inspectors and why the then Secretary of State Colin Powel looked so silly presenting his 'evidence' to the Security Council in 2003. The evidence against Hussein's government was simply a collection of hearsay, innuendos, lies and quotes taken out of context, i.e. "Secret stuff which turns out to be wrong".