The Washington Post has a “story”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/18/AR2008031802971.html?hpid%3Dtopnews&sub=AR today on the problems of US terrorist watchlists. The emphasis of the story is on the nightmare that these lists generate for people who have names similar to those of people on the watchlist, and the difficulties that they have in getting off. There’s an interesting parallel debate happening in Europe at the moment, but it’s about a more profound question – are these terrorist lists, as they currently stand, a violation of human rights? And where there is disagreement over them, whose laws should apply? [click to continue…]

Belgium no longer exists

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 19, 2008

… at least, that was what Bart De Wever, the leader of the small Flemish nationalist party, said in “an interview in La Libre Belgique”:http://www.lalibre.be/actu/belgique/article/408221/bart-de-wever-ce-pays-n-existe-plus.html. He doesn’t deny that when Belgium was founded, in 1830, it corresponded to what the francophone elite wanted. But these days, he argues, the media are divided, the culture is divided, public opinion is divided. There is no longer a unified society.

Whether or not that is true, the latest news is that Yves Leterme managed to reach an agreement on a new government yesterday. But what a government, and what an agreement! The coalition includes the three major parties (liberals, social democrats, and Christian democrats) and is asymmetrical, since the francophone social democrats are taking part, whereas the Flemish social democrats are not. This is highly notable, since until now federal governments have, to the best of my knowledge, never been asymmetrical in this way. But more worrisome, the agreement they reached is regarded by commentators from across the spectrum as extremely vague and weak. There are no details on the budget, yet there is an agreement on taxcuts (a demand from the liberals) and on an increase of the social benefits (a demand from the social-democrats), in addition to a commitment not to create a budget deficit. Perhaps they do believe in manna from heaven after all. Nothing is said about the Flemish demands to regionalise the social security system, employment policies and other responsibilities they wanted to transfer from the national to the regional levels. Nothing is said about how they will solve the problem with Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde, without which future elections will be unconstitutional.

So no surprise that most media commentators ask: how long will this government last? De Standaard “summarizes”:http://www.standaard.be/Artikel/Detail.aspx?artikelId=DMF18032008_117 the situation aptly: “No team, no programme, no budget, no leader.” And even if this government lasts longer than when the first real decision needs to be taken, what will it contribute to solving “the profound problems that are haunting this country?”:https://crookedtimber.org/2007/09/19/the-ingredients-of-the-belgian-cocktail/

The early days of a better nation

by Henry on March 19, 2008

I’ve been thinking most of today about Barack Obama’s speech on race and American society; while we’ve tried to avoid too much horserace type commentary here in the last couple of months, I don’t think that this fits well under horse race politics. Before the speech, if you’d asked me which candidate I’d support if I could vote, I’d have said Obama. After the speech, it’s quite different.

I’ve lived in the US for the last four years as a permanent resident, and been quite happy here. Hearing Obama speak made me feel for the first time that I genuinely want to become a citizen of this country and a part of the larger project that he talked about, regardless of specific disagreements I might have. You hear a lot of guff in politicians’ speeches about how great America is; Obama seemed to me to be challenging America to be great, which is a very different and much riskier thing, as well as something I find much more compelling and attractive. Obviously, I’m only speaking for myself here (other CTers’ mileage may vary widely), and I’m not going to talk about it any more, but I felt it would be dishonest if I said nothing (which would be the easier option for an academic, I think; we’re not supposed to talk about sincere personal commitments without some degree of ostentatious sighing, display of jaded skepticism etc).