My name is Bart Wernaart, I am a lecturer in law and ethics, and wanted to express my sincere appreciation to you for your profession. Well, that is an understatement: I guess I wanted to say that we need help, and we need you more than ever.
Some doubt the added value of your subject. Some might even suggest to delete history as a subject from school curricula. Amongst them, to my horror, we might even find policy makers. They are fools. I hereby would like to ask you to double your effort in your vital job to teach your subject. Law and ethics are important topics to reflect on our current society, but when people fail to learn from past experiences, my subject is rather meaningless.
Each year at Christmas the members of my family (and my family-in-law) give each other presents. Each year I have no idea what material things to ask, so most of the time my wife makes a list for me with stuff she thinks I might need. Each year I jokingly ask for world peace. Each year, this is unfortunately not wrapped up in a fancy looking package underneath the Christmas tree.
It is of course something I still wish for. And as a matter of fact, I have some suggestions in how this could be realized. Most of them are open doors, but somehow I felt the need to list them just because it is Christmas.
Today, fact free politics is increasingly accepted. I guess that the victory of Donald Trump in the American presidential elections is a manifestation of this phenomenon. As we have seen during the fierce campaign, it was hardly about facts but rather about virtues, and perhaps –though less visible- about values. In its core, fact free politics makes some sense. However, completely ignoring facts while taking decisions about something does not. Where should we draw the line?
In the media, we see some surprised responses to the fact that the Walloon parliament in southern Belgium is able to veto an international trade agreement on behalf of Belgium. This concerns the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) closed between the EU and Canada. The surprise does not come from the fact that people or parliamentarians oppose to big trade agreements, but rather that the Walloon parliament is able to resist to such an agreement, being a regional (and not a national) legislature. However, this is not so surprising when we take a closer look at the Belgian constitutional system and its current political climate.
Recently, the headlines of the news have been dominated by all kinds of remarkable details regarding our politicians. However, they usually are not about the political ideas of the politicians or the party they represent, but rather about funny details and edgy characteristics. For instance, why is it so important that Hillary Clinton’s best friend was in a relation with a pervert? And why does Donald Trump keep emphasizing how successful and rich he is as a businessman? And why is the sexual orientation of the Dutch President more important than his liberal ideas on business? And how come that the news regarding the latest AESEAN summit was dominated by a silly remark of the President of the Philippines on Barack Obama, instead of the more pressing issues such as climate change and North Korea’s latest nuclear tests?
The worldwide phenomenon that is called Pokémon Go is not only an interesting hype from a sociological perspective, but also from a legal point of view. The virtual reality game seems innocent at first glance: people are trying to catch Pokémon on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and get some fresh air as a side effect. However, due to the fact that the players only pay attention to their smartphone, and not to their surroundings, some serious things have happened. These include traffic jams, car crashes, and even the loss of life. It is only a mater of time before the first court cases against the creators of Pokémon Go are filed.
‘The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun’ is a famous quote of the President of the National Rifle Association (Wayne LaPierre) that embodies the debate on owning weapons in the U.S. Supporters claim that the right to bear arms is a Constitutional right, which even extends to students who should be able to wear a gun while going to college. Opponents claim that this right is the cause for so many school shootings, and want to restrict the free circulation of weapons.
In this blog I do not wish to repeat that discussion or comment on it. Instead, I would like to reflect on the underlying dispute, which is actually about the fundamental meaning of the word ‘freedom’. The ‘right to bear arms’-discussion says it all: should someone have the right to protect her/himself against evil, or should someone have the right to live in a society in which this is not necessary?
In their latest party programme, the Dutch Party of Freedom is proud to limit the seize of their programme to only one page. The content does not really come as a surprise though. However, I am still intrigued when I read a party’s desire to ban a particular religious book. It is the goal of the PVV (Party of Freedom) to ban the Holy Quran from Dutch soil. While this is nothing new, the popularity of this party is greater than ever.
Therefore, it seems a good idea to help mister Wilders with some legal advise in what he should do to actually ban this holy book by law
Free trade is a heatedly debated issue in politics and the media. The political sensitivity of the topic creates a maelstrom of arguments in favour and against open trade, in which statistics and arguments are thrown around without much second guessing or academic underpinning. Depending on the political colour of your newspaper, the media will choose to show you the pro’s or con’s of open trade. This even possibly results in the queer situation that
two newspapers (The Economist and The Guardian, on the 4th of January 2014) draw completely different conclusions on the functioning of the NAFTA on exactly the same date. While all this arguing and reasoning may have at the core some truth in it, I think we need to step back a bit to truly consider the real benefits of open trade.
Free trade is a heatedly debated issue in politics and the media. Those who oppose the idea of open trade between countries usually come up with the argument that comes down to something like this: ‘as a result of open borders, we lose jobs to those foreigners, and our factories are relocated elsewhere’. The suggested remedy is then that if borders are closed by upholding trade barriers, the jobs will come back, and the factories remain. Another often heard complaint is that so called regulatory competition will lead to a downward spiral: countries with the most flexible rules on product standards, labour regulations or environmental issues will attract most companies and be successful as a result of open trade.
As simple, safe and convenient as it sounds, such arguments are hardly convincing.