Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Demonstrations in Bilbo

Every Friday demonstrators throng the streets of Bilbao in the Basque country (Euskadi Herria), asking for Basque political prisoners to be returned to the prisons in Euskadi. The protesters, led by relatives of the prisoners, want more than 700 imprisoned Basque Political Prisoners transferred to the prisons in the Basque region. Some of the prisoners are as far away as the Canary Islands, with others held in Madrid and in southern Spain. Their families say that the situation places an unfair burden on them, forcing them to travel hundreds of kilometres to visit their relatives. In last twenty years more than 25 relatives were killed on the Spanish roads in their way to visit them.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"The Yoke of a European Monarch"

This is a statement from Texas Governor Rick Perry:

230 years ago, our forefathers fought a war to throw off the yoke of a European monarch and gain the freedom of self-determination. Texans long ago decided that the death penalty is a just and appropriate punishment for the most horrible crimes committed against our citizens. While we respect our friends in Europe, welcome their investment in our state and appreciate their interest in our laws, Texans are doing just fine governing Texas.

The emphasis is mine. What was he responding to? Well it was this call for a moratorium on the death penalty from the European Union:

The European Union is unreservedly opposed to the use of capital punishment under all circumstances and has consistently called for the universal abolition of this punishment. We believe that elimination of the death penalty is fundamental to the protection of human dignity, and to the progressive development of human rights. We further consider this punishment to be cruel and inhumane. There is no evidence to suggest that the use of the death penalty serves as a deterrent against violent crime and the irreversibility of the punishment means that miscarriages of justice - which are inevitable in all legal systems – cannot be redressed. Consequently, the death penalty has been abolished throughout the European Union.

In countries that maintain the use of capital punishment, the European Union seeks the progressive restriction of both its scope and the number of offences for which capital punishment may be employed, as defined in several human rights instruments.

In this regard, the European Union welcomes the United States Supreme Court rulings of June 2002 and March 2005 declaring the execution of persons with mental retardation and the execution of juveniles respectively, to be unconstitutional. The European Union urges the US authorities to extend these restrictions, in particular, to the execution of persons with severe mental illness. The European Union welcomes the US commitment to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR). However, the European Union regrets the US decision to withdraw from the Optional Protocol of the VCCR, which gives the ICJ jurisdiction over disputes arising from the convention.

The EU appreciates and values its co-operation with the US on a wide range of human rights concerns around the world. The European Union therefore takes this opportunity to renew its call for a moratorium to be placed on the application of the death penalty, by both the US federal and state authorities, in anticipation of its legal abolition.

The Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia* and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and the EFTA countries Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, members of the European Economic Area, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan align themselves with this declaration.

There are logical reasons one can support the death penalty. I would have hoped Governor Perry could have articulated some of them. I don't think the death penalty stands up to a rigorous scrutiny because the death penalty is basically a crapshoot. It is random, and as a result unconstitutional. That's just my view. I'm sure the majority of Texans believe in it, and also believe it makes their state safer.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Pirate Party

Frank Pasquale of concurring opinions has a fascinating post on Rick Falkvinge, head of the Swedish Pirate Party.

You might be forgiven if you thought a Pirate Party was a bit comical, but it seems their positions are surprisingly thoughtful. They advocate a reform of copyright law, arguing copyright laws today "restrict the very thing they are supposed to promote." I think that's exactly right in some cases, as copyright protection should not provide an endless revenue stream. Mickey Mouse should not dictate the life of a right. It should reward creators for their original creations, not create endless monopolies. As they argue "a five years copyright term for commercial use is more than enough". They also advocate a respect for the right to privacy, and tie in such advocacy to recent European history, "We Europeans should know better. It is not twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and there are plenty of other horrific example sof surveillance-gone-wrong in Europe's modern history."

Falkvinge spoke in July about "Copyright Regime vs. Civil Liberties" at Stanford University. It sounds cutting-edge, and it would be great to get him to come to Aberdeen as a part of our visiting scholars program. From what I can gather, he argues copyright first came about as censorship and a way to preserve the stationer's guild in England after the advent of the printing press.

As Pasquale writes:
[H]e admitted that certain works that cost a huge sum wouldn't be produced if their makers had no hope of financial return, so he favored some copyright protection for commercial uses of those works. However, Falkvinge said the threat to privacy posed by modern copyright enforcement techniques was too great to allow any legal monitoring of personal use of works.
I will make a bold and unsupportable prediction that copyright and privacy issues will become increasingly contentious, and a major political issue as the generations which grew up with the internet mature and become a political force. Pasquale has written before on copyright and civil disobedience via an AALS panel. One argument seemed particularly compelling:

Larry Solum presented an impressive application of rival philosophical views to the issue of principle-driven disobedience of copyright laws. After canvassing the shortcomings of utilitaran and deontological approaches, he presented his own virtue theory, essentially arguing that we should seek congruence between societal norms and laws. He also noted how far our DRM-loaded, anticircumvention-obsessed predicament diverges from that happier state of affairs.
It's some really fascinating stuff, and the convergence between jurisprudence and copyright laws is interesting: Rawls and piracy or the morality of cartelization, seem very interesting and move the argument beyond mere utilititarian and economic justifications for the current state of affairs.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Dick Cheney

Until the sun comes back out and upon reading SNP’s White Paper, the LRS would like to recommend more light summer reading. Although it represents a change of topic from the previous post, the piece Angler the Cheney Vice Presidency on US Vice President Dick “Shooter” Cheney, written by Pulitzer Price winner Barton Gellman and his colleague Jo Becker, both Washington Post, is a fascinating read and offers an intriguing insight in the work and mind of the man who has been tagged the most powerful Vice President in modern times. I found the part on the environmental policy particularly fascinating.

You can read the four-part piece here http://blog.washingtonpost.com/cheney/?hpid=specialreports

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The end of the affair?

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s nationalist First Minister, today launched a White Paper (available here) regarding Scotland’s constitutional settlement. As expected, the national discussion that is proposed includes the thorny question of Scottish independence. The First Minister proposes that a referendum should end the union between Scotland and England. Given that the majority of Members of the Scottish Parliament are opposed to independence, it is unlikely that a proposed referendum on independence will see the light of day (see the reactions of other parties here). Still the SNP executive is adamant that the discussion shall be had.

The White Paper recalls that the revived Scottish Parliament is now almost ten years old. It is argued that devolution has borne fruit; the people of Scotland are invited to discuss the pros and cons of taking devolution further - ‘further devolution could...provide greater coherence in decision-making and democratic accountability for delivery of policy.’ An independent Scotland would acquire sovereignty over ‘all domestic and international policy, similar to that of independent states everywhere, subject to the provisions of the European Union Treaties and other inherited treaty obligations.’

The Executive invites views on three options:
(i) First, retention of the devolution scheme defined by the Scotland Act 1998, with the possibility of further evolution in powers, extending these individually as occasion arises.
(ii) Second, redesigning devolution by adopting a specific range of extensions to the current powers of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government, possibly involving fiscal autonomy, but short of progress to full independence.
(iii) Third, which the Scottish Government favours, extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government to the point of independence.

The main opposition parties argue that a discussion of the constitutional settlement is untimely. Yet, as noted in the White Paper, the constitutional settlement of the United Kingdom is topical now. Salmond has probably set himself up for a defeat in parliament. However, it is submitted that he has chosen wisely. Politically a nationalist First Minister could not be taken seriously if he abandoned the main plank of his party’s manifesto; from a legal perspective there is no better time than now to discuss Scotland’s constitutional affairs – the UK’s constitution is soon to undergo a major shakeup through such drastic measures as the complete upheaval of the House of Lords. A thorough discussion followed by a coherent settlement is preferable to the piecemeal change that has been practiced to date.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Do You Like the Odds?

"What it comes down to is this: If Petraeus succeeds in Iraq, and a Republican wins in 2008, Bush will be viewed as a successful president. I like the odds."

These are the words of visiting Harvard Prof. William Kristol, editor of the Conservative Weekly Standard and chief of staff of former Vice President Dan Quayle, printed in the Washington Post three weeks ago.

Although this blog is aimed at legal research, I found the article rather amusing and entertaining in spite of it sober contents. Kristol asserts that Bush’s tenure as president is likely to be a successful one, and hails, among other things, the appointment to the Supreme Court of John G. Roberts and Samuel Alito, the narrowing of the huge budget deficit (that Bush himself created) and the lack of any terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11. While Kristol is right in the latter point, and Bush to some extent deserves credit for it, the question of with what means and losses this aim has been achieved remains unanswered. At the same time, Kristol concedes that the foreign policy issues remain a mixed bag - perhaps in light of his assumption that the resurgent of fighting in Afghanistan may have to be dealt with in the near future and that the war has gone reasonable well.

Anyway, read Kristol’s article for yourself on http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/13/AR2007071301709.html and see if you fancy the odds.