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Declaration of Independence illegal, British lawyers argue

Last night in Philadelphia, a debate was held in Philadelphia, sponsored by the Temple American Inn of Court, between teams of British and American lawyers, on the subject of whether the U.S. Declaration of Independence is illegal. Not surprisingly for an event held just a few blocks away from where the Declaration was signed, the crowd voted with the Americans at the end. (It would be a pretty good "Decline Watch" candidate if they hadn't.) But was it the right call? 

Here's the British case, as summarized by BBC.com:

The Declaration of Independence was not only illegal, but actually treasonable. There is no legal principle then or now to allow a group of citizens to establish their own laws because they want to. What if Texas decided today it wanted to secede from the Union?

Lincoln made the case against secession and he was right. The Declaration of Independence itself, in the absence of any recognised legal basis, had to appeal to "natural law", an undefined concept, and to "self-evident truths", that is to say truths for which no evidence could be provided.

The grievances listed in the Declaration were too trivial to justify secession. The main one - no taxation without representation - was no more than a wish on the part of the colonists, to avoid paying for the expense of protecting them against the French during seven years of arduous war and conflict.

The Americans, on the other hand, argued that the Declaration's "validity is proven by subsequent independence movements."

I think the Brits here are relying on the same faulty assumption that some opponents of Palestinian statehood have recently employed, that there are specific and universally applicable rules governing when a country can be considered independent. 

In any case, wasn't breaking British laws kind of the point? Maybe next time we can debate the legality of colonizing other people's countries in the first place. 

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5 things Gilad Shalit missed while in captivity

With the news of Gilad Shalit's release from five years of captivity at the hands of Hamas, we found ourselves talking about the remarkable changes over the past half decade -- and what he's missed. It's not quite Charlton Heston waking up in a room full of talking apes,  but there's a lot that Shalit might find surprising. Upon his release, he said during an interview that he looked forward to "not doing the same things all day long." There's certainly plenty to keep him busy.

1. The iPhone

Remember that morning in January 2007, when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone? For many people, life has been divided into pre- and post- iPhone since that moment. No word yet if Shalit was a Nokia man or a clamshell guy, but we're betting that he's never unlocked a smart phone with the swipe of his finger, never beheld Google Maps in the palm of his hand, and never tapped out a text message on a touch screen. Apple, get this man a 4S.

2. Twitter/Facebook

Back in the dark days of 2006, people still relied on phone calls and email to communicate. How anything was accomplished is lost to history, now that Facebook and Twitter have changed the manner -- and speed -- with which information is delivered. Facebook launched in 2004, but it was still a limited network when Shalit was abducted: Facebook did not open its doors to everyone over the age of 13 until Sept. 26, 2006. Twitter launched just one month after Shalit was detained, in July of 2006, and now boasts over 200 million users. Indeed, the platform was used extensively to spread word of Shalit's capture and any news of his release. The hashtag #GiladShalit spread around the globe, with the Jewish Week arguing it eclipsed the fame of the soldier himself.  

3. Barack Obama

When Shalit was imprisoned, George W. Bush was president. Two years later, the U.S. elected its first black president, Barack Obama. In 2006, Obama was a senator from Illinois, arguing against the war in Iraq and raising the debt ceiling. After two years in office, Iraq is peaceful and U.S. debt is under control. Just kidding! Shalit actually didn't miss much here.

4. The Beatles

In all fairness, Shalit most likely knew a few Beatles tunes. However, he wouldn't have seen them play in his native Israel: The group was barred from the country --  over fears that they would corrupt Israel's youth -- until 2008, when the government apologized for the national ban, instituted in 1965, and invited the surviving members to play a concert for Israel's 60th anniversary. In Sept., 2008, Paul McCartney finally took the stage in Tel Aviv. That said, it was only McCartney, so it doesn't really count.

5. Economic Collapse

In 2006, when Shalit was taken hostage, the global economy was humming along, buoyed by a strong real estate market and easy credit. By 2008, the boom was over and a recession was sweeping the globe, shifting international power, both politically and economically, perhaps irrevocably toward the developing world. The United States was hit hard by the slump, as was Europe, both of which continue to be plagued by protests and government infighting. China, on the other hand, saw its economy boom, while other emerging economies, including Brazil and India, avoided the worst of the dip and recovered relatively quickly. Shalit doesn't need to worry too much, though: While Israel did feel some of the effects of the recession in 2009, its economy has more than bounced back as its technology sector continues to grow.  

What other major milestones did Shalit miss over the last five years? Let us know in the comments.

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