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International development

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/11/2020 - 9:02am in

After today’s percentage of GDP reduction on International Trade which was announced by Sunak, I cannot understand how, if the GDP is reducing anyway, as it clearly is, all the rhetoric is of much consequence. Still it may be a useful sop to the Tory Right Wing who may not realise this, any more than... Read more

The Australian Army’s inauspicious birth. From the Boer War to the Afghanistan War.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/11/2020 - 6:10am in



With such intense focus on the army’s record in Afghanistan we might look more closely at its history. It had an inauspicious birth on the first of March 1902 in South Africa, three months before the end of the Boer War.

The contingents from the six states which had been engaged in hostilities since late in 1899 came together to b constituent parts of the new federal army.

They had been deeply involved in the second phase of the war as the Imperial forces ravaged the Veldt in an attempt to repress the Boer’s highly effective guerrilla campaign. In doing so they became usually willing participants in a campaign that scandalised public opinion in both Europe and the United States and which flew in the face of the rules governing the treatment of civilians in war which been set out in detail in the First Hague Convention on the International Settlement Disputes which finished its deliberations just three months before the outbreak of war.

The Imperial army showed no restraint. Thirty thousand houses and farm buildings were burnt along with 40 towns and villages. All the personal property—furniture, clothes, pictures books and even pianos were thrown on bonfires or stolen and carried away. Farm machinery was smashed or otherwise disabled. Standing crops were burnt. Portable stores were commandeered. Tens of thousands of domestic animals were slaughtered or led away to be consumed by the soldiers. Dams were cut and fencing was demolished. In their diaries and letters home the young Australian men wrote expansively about torching the houses, stealing anything of value and smashing up the furniture to be used in camp fires.

But the pillage was not the worst of it. The Imperial troops took into captivity everyone they came across—women ,children ,old men and African servants and marched or ferried them in wagons to the nearest railway station to be carried to the open air prisons rapidly set up on the Veldt. There were officially called concentration camps. There were 34 of them. The death rate was catastrophic during the time the army was in charge—160,000 Boers were impounded; 28,000 died; more than 22,000 were children. More than 100,000 Africans were held in even more ramshackle camps. At least 14,000 died 80% of them children. Four times more children died in the camps than the number of Australians who died in Japanese prison camps during the Second World War.

The Australians had a bad reputation for ill- treating Africans and routinely shooting any they thought might be spies. One study of the war concluded that a substantial proportion of the assaults upon Africans attached to the army and upon Indian and Chinese civilians could be attributed to the colonial contingents ‘ notably Australians.’ And shooting of Boer prisoners may have been much more common than historical accounts suggest. A British soldier recorded in his diary in November 1900 one such incident. Twelve Boers had surrendered to a contingent of Australian mounted infantry members of which ‘ coolly walked up and bayoneted all the lot—no prisoners with them.’

All was forgiven or more likely forgotten when in 2002 Australia commemorated the centenary of the war. Farewelling an army contingent setting off for official events in South Africa the Minister for Veterans ’Affairs Dana Vaile declared:

Those Australians who served in the Boer War began the fine military tradition that

would be followed in wars and conflicts over the next century, from Gallipoli to members

of the Australian Defence Force serving today as part of the international coalition

against terrorism.

The war was swept up in the cavalcade of commemoration initiated and financed by the federal government which culminated during the centenary of the First World War. A statue was placed in a vacant location on Canberra’s Anzac Avenue, the mint issued a commemorative coin and official gatherings were held all over the country on the 31st of May which has now been named Boer War Day. In his official address on Boer War Day in 2015 Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove declared:

These men and women were the first to serve Australia in battle, and they did us proud

……….In a difficult war far from home, our Boer War veterans showed what it was to be

an Australian. In this centenary year, their deeds are as important and relevant as ever

and they are widely regarded as fathers of the ANZACS.

What can one say?

Is it simply a matter of inexcusable ignorance or a deliberate official policy to wash out of our historical memory the truly egregious behaviour of the Australian and other Imperial forces in South Africa which at the time shocked the world and a great many of the most prominent intellectuals, writers and artists in Britain itself.

But it draws attention to a profound problem created by what has been called the militarisation of Australian history, a project supported, often enthusiastically, by both sides of national politics. Our civil, social and political achievements have been overshadowed by what our armed forces have done in overseas wars. A whole generation of young Australians has been told that the nation was founded on the shores of Gallipoli, that our warriors are the exemplars of national virtue. The lavishly funded War Memorial now promotes itself as the embodiment of the nation’s soul and there seem to be few people in public life willing to question that self-aggrandising fantasy.

And it all has a purpose. The implicit message is that it is perfectly normal for the country to intervene in wars far from our shores. The ANZAC legend itself makes it easier for governments to go to war and makes it difficult for sceptics to carry out appropriate assessment when the diggers return. War is thereby normalised as something which we Australians routinely engage in and we always acquit ourselves well. How rarely we engage in serious assessment of what our assorted wars have achieved. We are even less able to seriously debate the morality of carrying war into countries like the Boer Republics that we knew very little about and which presented no conceivable threat to our homeland

It therefore comes as a shock to our self-perception when we are finally forced to confront the brutal reality of war, when the veil of gauzy romanticism is ripped away. We would have been for better prepared to confront the truth about Afghanistan if we had always known about the infamous circumstances attending the birth of the national army.

The Brereton Report: what the military can learn from the health system

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/11/2020 - 5:59am in



The Brereton Report makes for uncomfortable reading. Its findings and recommendations principally focus on individuals and their conduct, including unlawful acts, wilful misreporting, falsifying records, failing to exercise proper control over subordinates, giving false evidence and suborning colleagues to give false evidence. There are a handful of recommendations in relation to culture but they tend to focus on operational matters and training.

Several important lessons from the health system can and should be applied to the Australian military. This might seem a strange and implausible connection – health and the military – but not so long ago hospitals and their nursing staff were established and run along military lines. It has long been observed that nursing was ‘born in the church and bred in the army’ and, until nursing education moved into universities in the 1980s, the most inexperienced recruits were on the ‘front line’, making rigid obedience to orders and meticulous attention to minor detail critical for both staff and patient safety.

What has changed for health?

First, the evidence has shown that strict hierarchical structures are not conducive to patient safety. Programs such as ‘speaking up for safety’ encourage and educate even the most junior nursing and medical staff to raise their concerns when they believe the system might be unsafe. Bullying has been recognised as endemic within these hierarchical structures and active anti-bullying campaigns and programs are in place, although there is always more to be done. In addition, the administrative hierarchies have been flattened. The chief executive’s office is open to all. Chief executives regularly walk the floors and hold town hall meetings.

Second, when high-profile medical mishaps occur, internal and external reviews and formal inquiries, such as the 2008 Garling Report into acute care services in NSW public hospitals, demand the identification of cultural and organisational changes to prevent a recurrence. This focus is at least as important to the health system as is delivering redress to those who have been adversely affected and taking action against those found at fault. When things do go wrong, the system encourages open disclosure and a just culture and important protections are given to whistle blowers.

Third, governance arrangements have changed to allow other voices to be heard by the senior leadership team. The days of hospital boards being comprised solely of doctors are long gone. Hospital boards must meet community expectations on diversity and inclusion and have members with backgrounds that include other health professions, patients and carers, business, risk, governance, stakeholder engagement, NGOs, IT, marketing and communications. We know from the Banking Royal Commission that ‘group think’, a slavish adherence to orthodoxy and cognitive bias are the enemies of innovation and change. Diversity delivers strength and ensures that hard, uncomfortable and novel questions are regularly put to management.

Fourth, even though health focuses diligently on things that have gone wrong, learning from excellence and understanding resilience in healthcare are helping health services and their staff to focus on what goes right, and to capitalise on the goodwill and expertise at every level in the services .

Fifth, partnering with consumers at every stage of health service delivery is growing into a critical element of the co-production of health care. Studying, understanding and acknowledging the impact of the work we do on the people we do it with and for is critical to the improvement of services, even when sometimes the feedback from those partnerships may require us to do radical re-thinks.

Finally, hospital administrators are expected to accept accountability for high-profile medical mishaps and systemic problems, especially if they could have been known or uncovered by asking the right questions.

These developments have made for a much better, more agile and more resilient health system than we had a century ago, even if it might not be immediately recognisable to Florence Nightingale. Naturally, there are still chains of command. Excellence and compassion continue to be delivered. There are flexible and evidence-based models of care that guide and standardise decision making.

The arguments that the military is somehow different because of its mission and its traditions and that civilians do not understand the issues and challenges applicable to the military are redolent of similar arguments that were once put forward about the health system. Those arguments are outdated and no longer hold water. The military has shown its ability to adapt to modern civilian laws on work, health and safety and the environment. There should be no reason why the positives from the health system could not be applied to the Australian military.

West Australian Liberals gamble on youth

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/11/2020 - 5:58am in



Like a football club hoping to climb up from the bottom of the ladder, the West Australian Liberals have gone for youth in their latest leadership selection.
Zac Kirkup, elected unopposed to the Liberal leadership on Tuesday, is 33-years-old. He is in his first term in the State Parliament, having been elected in 2017 on a thin majority in the seat of Dawesville, south of Perth. His success was widely anticipated and may be seen either as a bold move by the WA Liberals or a sign of desperation, or perhaps a bit of both.

Politics is a funny sort of job and some people are cut out for it. Zac Kirkup is one of them and I expect him to be a formidable opponent, even for the tough hombres on the Labor front bench in Perth. I had never heard of Kirkup when I surveyed the West Australian scene in July for a post in Pearls and Irritations but I was assured by my government informant that he was leadership material. The general public will soon get to know him, judging by the impression he has made on colleagues and opponents in his first term in the Parliament.

Kirkup replaces Liza Harvey, who never showed the same spark in the top job that appeared so promising when she was. deputy to Liberal Premier Colin Barnett. Neither Harvey nor Dean Nalder, the mover and shaker behind Liberal leadership rumbles in recent years, stood for the job after the defeat of the Barnett Government in 2017. They left the Opposition leadership to economist Mike Nahan, who made a good fist of it and scored a by-election victory against the Labor Government. Harvey took over from Nahan in June 2019. Nahan was critical of the latest leadership change and called on Harvey’s deputy, Bill Marmion, and Liberal power-broker Peter Collier, to follow him into retirement at next year’s election. They did not accept his advice.

Labor won 41 of the 59 Legislative Assembly seats in 2017 in an unprecedented and unexpected landslide The Liberals hold 13 seats and opinion polls in the last weeks of Liza Harvey’s leadership were rumoured to be so bad that even further losses were feared in the election due on 13 March next year. Labor added to the pressure on Harvey. The West Australian newspaper on 17 November featured a full-page advertisement in colour with a picture of Liza Harvey looking worried. Labor was attacking the Opposition leader on the submarine maintenance issue.

Even by today’s standards it was a nasty ad and it was produced for two reasons. To let the Liberals know that Labor in WA has so much money it can afford to run full page advertisements four months before the election and to give a taste of the ruthless campaign that lies ahead. On the Labor side, Premier Mark McGowan exuded confidence as he opened the renovated West Australian Museum, which is one of Perth’s most spectacular and exciting projects in recent years.

The Government’s Treasurer, Ben Wyatt, is retiring from Parliament at next year’s election..His safe seat of Victoria Park goes to Hannah Beazley, who will become the latest parliamentarian in this family dynasty. It was Wyatt who first stepped up to challenge then Labor Opposition leader Eric Ripper but the challenge stalled and McGowan took over from Ripper in 2012. McGowan then led Labor to defeat against the Barnett-led Government in 2013, only to score a massive victory four years later with the same policies, placing a strong emphasis on public transport in greater Perth. They were good policies in 2013 and they were good policies in 2017. In earlier posts I have speculated on the reasons for their eventual success.

Libby Mettam from the south-west electorate of Vasse was unopposed for the Liberal deputy leadership. She and Zac Kirkup have a formidable task. To stop the rot, the Liberals need to pick up a few seats in next year’s election. The main criticism I hear from people close to the action is that the Opposition simply is not working hard enough. Kirkup and Mettam bring youth and energy but they will need to get their limited numbers working as a team and that might be a problem.

A dominating issue like Covid 19 favours the incumbent government. Voters are even less interested than usual in party politics. They are looking for consensus and bi-partisan policy. As a member I receive emails from Labor headquarters. The Party is fund-raising and door-knocking but there is not a lot of enthusiasm around the traps. After the extravaganza of the American election most of us have political indigestion and we are looking forward to a summer watching cricket.

Don’t tar all our soldiers with the same brush

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/11/2020 - 5:56am in



War in all its forms is awful, so let’s support those who conduct it on our behalf and, when they come back, go easy on them. They were only doing our bidding.

These days our soldiers are often put in impossible situations where the enemy is indistinguishable from the general community and follows no rules. While there can be no excuses for ill-discipline or criminal conduct by our forces, let us try to understand the dangers they face and the horrors they witness. Our forces should not remain in Afghanistan a moment longer.

The current outrage about the alleged criminal conduct of a small number of special forces soldiers in Afghanistan is justified, but let’s be careful not to tar all our soldiers with the same brush.

Both of my grandfathers served in the British Army on the Western Front in the First World War and both were gassed and suffered other injuries from their time in the trenches. I never got to meet my paternal grandfather, who died from his injuries well before I was born, but I’m proud to have his medals.

Growing up in England in the 1950s and ’60s, there was a sense of pride, a belief in the invincibility of Britain: the Second World War was still fresh in people’s memories, and we’d won that, hadn’t we? Films and comic books about the war were everywhere, and I was fascinated by the apparent glory of it all, even though the part of London where we lived was still horribly scarred from the blitz, piles of rubble everywhere 10 years after the Armistice.

My mother and I would occasionally visit her parents in the country, and I’d buttonhole my grandfather to try to get him to tell me about his experiences in the trenches. He’d shoo me away. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was because he was ashamed, he thought I’d never understand.

Years later, as a teenager with nothing else to do, I joined the British Army myself, and did three tours of duty in Belfast at the height of “the troubles”. It was only then that my grandfather was prepared to share his stories with me, because even though the shootings and bombings on the streets of Belfast couldn’t compare with what my granddad had experienced, I was a brother in arms. I knew what it felt like to have been a soldier in action, and the feelings of fear and guilt and shame that went with it.

Like most recruits I’d never really thought about what armies and soldiers were there for. To me and my comrades it was an opportunity to have some adventures, play a lot of sport and travel abroad to sunny places well away from the depressing grey dampness of England.

This may sound naïve, but despite being trained in a number of ways to injure, maim and kill people, we never actually thought we’d have to do it, until we did. I remember years later trying to explain to a good and trusted friend what had happened and how it felt, but I still remember the look of disgust on his face to this day. I felt like an animal, and I thought that I’d only been doing my job.

And that was why my grandfather wouldn’t tell me anything until I’d been there too, when he knew I’d have some hope of understanding it all, and that I wouldn’t judge him too harshly. And then we’d talk about the futility of it all and how it should never happen again, both of us knowing that it would.

And now, many years later, not much has changed. War follows war, and soldiers still do what they’re paid to do while politicians, the media and public wring their hands about bastardisation and the poor behaviour of our forces at home and abroad, and the terrible toll that war takes on innocent civilians. And then we send the soldiers off again to do more inhuman things to other humans, while the politicians we elected ride around on tanks or pose for photo opportunities wearing camouflage and holding weapons to look tough.

Meanwhile, our young men and women are fighting other young men and women, other peoples’ brothers and sisters and sons and daughters. And while we still send our young people to war, and will do again, let us take our share of the responsibility for what happens next. Try to imagine yourself in a situation where you have been shot at, and seen your mates killed and innocent civilians blown to pieces by an enemy which has absolutely no regard for “the rules of war”, an oxymoron if ever there was one. Our countrymen are killed and wounded, inexcusable atrocities are committed by both sides and it usually seems hard to find a winner when the smoke has cleared and the bombs and bullets stop.

And when our servicemen come home again, from Afghanistan, or from other conflicts that have nothing to do with us, let’s welcome them. I still remember how shocked I was when I first came to Australia and learnt that returning Vietnam veterans had been treated like lepers, when surely it had been the Australian people who had sent them there in the first place. War in all its forms is awful, so let’s support those who conduct it on our behalf and, when they come back, go easy on them. They were only doing our bidding

And, if there is an opportunity for anything positive to come out of all the current turmoil, surely it is to bring our soldiers home from Afghanistan now.

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts for the economy are massively flawed – because they assume behaviour totally different from what happened after 2008

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/11/2020 - 12:34am in

For me the most important chart in any economic forecast is that on the sectoral balances. This says who is going to save, and who is going to run a deficit. And there are only four sectors - the government, business, households and the overseas sector. The chart reflects an accounting identity - the data has to balance (as is true in reality) but where it balances is a critical indicator of the truth or otherwise of any forecast - and indicates whether it is plausible or not.

This is the OBR forecast, just published:

As I noted earlier today, the government deficit is matched by a massive rise in household saving this year. But it is assumed that by the end of 2022 households will hardly be saving at all.

How likely is that? Look at household behaviour after 2009 as an indication: savings remained high, and much higher than is now being forecast for 2022 onwards, until 2016. Given all the uncertainties that now exist, I suspect a 4% ratio likely, at least, for a long time to come. That is much higher than forecast, and means spending in the economy will be much lower than the OBR predicts.

Look too at the foreign sector. Will its savings in the UK grow after Brexit, as the government assumes? Why would that happen? And again, note they fell for four years after 2008 - so there is no reason for thinking that anything will be different now. I think a percentage or two could be knocked off that.

And look too at the corporate sector - where it is forecast that the sector will invest on a more consistent and at a higher level than it has for some time from 2021. But look at 2009 to 2013 and it saved during that period. As it will also do now.

In other words, all these forecasts look to be wildly overstated. And that means there must be a counterbalancing entry, and that is in the government deficit. That will not be 4% from 2022 on (which is about £90 billion a year). I think it could be 4% or more higher than that. I suspect a deficit of £200 billion a year much more likely.

This one chart says that. And all the evidence to support the suggestion is in that same chart. Economies do not bounce back from trauma in the way the OBR is assuming after massive events as happened in 2008 and 2020. It has never happened the way that the Office for Budget Responsibility is forecasting. It will not happen that way this time.

The whole forecast is floored by this one flawed chart.

Jama’at-i Islami – The Pakistani Islamic Party Pushing for Theocracy

Pakistan was founded as an explicitly Muslim country. It’s a democracy, but there is a section of its parliament, if I remember correctly, that’s made up of Muslim clergy, who scrutinise legislation passed by the lower house to make sure it accords with Islamic law. Since the 1970s and the regime of the dictator, Zia al-Haqq, Islam has become increasingly powerful in Pakistani politics. I believe the current president, Imran Khan, is the leader of an Islamic party. Pakistan was one of the nations that experienced protests against France over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and there have been official denunciations of the cartoons and President Macron’s attempts to combat Muslim radicalism.

The force behind the growth of political Islam in Pakistan appears to be the Jama’at-i Islami, whose name translates as ‘The Islamic Society.’ The article about them in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions runs as follows

A highly disciplined and well-organised Muslim political party, founded in 1941 by Abul al-A’la Mawdudi. it aims at establishing an observant Islamic state in Pakistan. The Jam’at’s political platform offers an alternative to teh secularists and modernists, and in this lies its appeal (especially since 1977). The Ja’amat advocates that Pakistan should be a theocratic state, ruled by a single man whose tenure of office and power are limited only by his faithfulness to Islam. The ruler should be assisted by a shura (advisory council), with no political parties and no provision for an opposition. General Zia al-Haqq, the military leader after the overthrow of Z. Bhutto (1977)., used the Jama’at as a political prop for his ‘back to Islam’ campaign. The Jama’at has influence among the military, the middle classes, and the college and university students. It publishes a monthly magazine, Tarjuman al-Quran, in Lahore that has a high circulation. On the international level, the Jama’at was on good terms with Imam Khumayni and the oil rich Arab states; the Saudis have supported the movement since the early 1970s. (p. 489).

This looks like an attempt to create a kind of caliphate, and the Dictionary notes that there is considerable support for its return in Pakistan. I also wonder about the movement’s influence in British Islam, as there has been a problem with fire-breathing radicals immigrating to Britain to supply the shortage of imams for British mosques. Which is why moderate Muslims in this country have demanded government assistance in training Muslim Brits, who have grown up in our ostensibly democratic culture, as imams and community leaders.

I’m not a secularist, and believe that people of faith have a right to have their voices heard in politics and parliament, but this is just a movement for religious tyranny. In Pakistan as it is there’s persecution, including violence and pogroms against religious minorities. We’ve seen Christians murdered and imprisoned following accusations of blasphemy. There have also been riots and murders of the Ahmadiyya. Apparently even pious Muslims have been murdered because of comments they have made, which have been interpreted by others as blasphemous. There are 200 people on Pakistan’s Death Row accused of blasphemy. Many of these accusations are spurious, cynically levelled because of other disputes between the parties concerned. If a theocracy was established in Pakistan, it would only cause more oppression and violence.

I also believe that it wouldn’t be good for Islam either. Atheist sites on the web have reported that there has been a massive increase in atheism in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Iran. Six years or so ago Saudi news reported that a large number of Qurans had been found thrown into a sewer. A few days ago Iranian media reported that this had also happened in their country. A poll conducted of 50,000 Iranians found that 38 per cent of the population is either atheist or has no religion. If this is true, then it’s probably the result of people becoming fed up of the repression they are experiencing from their theocratic governments. The religious violence of the Islamist extremists, al-Qaeda and Daesh, are undoubtedly another factor. A few years ago I read a book by a French anthropologist, who came to the conclusion that the Islamist movements were the response of Muslim societies as the experienced the transition to modernity. This was comparable to the way radical, militant Christian movements had appeared in Europe in the 17th century, such as those in the British Civil War. Now Islam was experiencing the same.

My guess is that if the Jama’at ever succeeded in creating a theocracy in Pakistan, it would be massively unstable as the various sects excluded from the regime’s view of what was properly Islamic were oppressed and rebelled. I don’t believe that the Jama’at and other extreme, theocratic movements have anything to offer Muslims or anyone else anything except more oppression and violence.

Book Review: Great Judgments of the European Court of Justice: Rethinking the Landmark Decisions of the Foundational Period by William Phelan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 10:54pm in

In Great Judgments of the European Court of Justice: Rethinking the Landmark Decisions of the Foundational PeriodWilliam Phelan offers a new account of European legal integration, showing how the novel doctrines of the European Court of Justice fundamentally transformed interstate relations on the European continent. This is a highly persuasive and stimulating study, writes Jacob van de Beeten, that will prompt EU legal scholars to reflect on the role that the EU’s laws and institutions will play in a changing geopolitical environment. 

Great Judgments of the European Court of Justice: Rethinking the Landmark Decisions of the Foundational Period. William Phelan. Cambridge University Press. 2019.   

In the conventional textbook understanding of European integration, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ‘constitutionalised’ the European legal order by introducing the doctrines of direct effect and supremacy. This development allowed private individuals to directly invoke European law in their own national courts, and therefore EU law is normally regarded as transforming the relations between citizens vis-à-vis their national states. In recent years, however, some of the more reflexive and innovative scholars of European legal integration have started to question the assumptions underlying this conventional account. William Phelan is one of them. In a highly persuasive manner, The Great Judgments of the European Court of Justice shows how many of the foundational judgments of the ECJ can be read through an entirely different perspective. Rather than focusing on the legal status of the individual, Phelan instead brings into focus how these novel doctrines of the ECJ fundamentally altered and transformed interstate relations on the European continent.

Drawing extensively on the writings of former ECJ judge Robert Lecourt and the influential European law scholar Paolo Gori, Phelan revisits several of the ‘landmark judgments’ of the Court. Dedicating individual chapters to each of these, Phelan contrasts his interpretation with the conventional one and proposes granting ‘landmark’ status to several judgments which are normally ignored (and which coincidentally all relate to foodstuffs, namely Pork Products (1961), Dairy Products (1964), International Fruit (1972) and Sheep Meat (1979)). The book ends with a chapter summarising the main findings. Although this structure is highly effective in convincing readers well versed in the subject of EU law, a less specialist reader might be put off by the discussions of the legal technicalities of the cases in question and the repetitiveness with which Phelan drives his points home.

I will briefly reconstruct the general thrust of Phelan’s argument – with no intention of being exhaustive. Phelan’s main claim is that the specificities of the EU legal order can be explained as a way of dealing with the problem of treaty enforcement in the absence of interstate retaliation and unilateral safeguard mechanisms, which are commonly found in other trade systems such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO). In such regimes, the threat of retaliation and counter-measures is regarded as an incentive for states to adhere to their treaty obligations. Within the European legal order, however, the ECJ has consistently ruled out the possibility that states can resort to self-help if another member state fails to meet its treaty obligations. But why have member states accepted the position of the ECJ in practice?

Phelan’s answer is that this is due to the peculiar characteristics of the EU legal order. Through the doctrines of direct effect and supremacy, the ECJ in effect created a treaty system in which member states can trust that treaty obligations are enforced in every individual member state, because these obligations are embedded within the national legal order. As a consequence, private litigants can invoke EU law in their national courts and, in doing so, become private enforcers of the law. In the words of Phelan:

where national courts will reliably act to directly apply a treaty obligation in their national legal order, it removes the requirement for a state’s compliance with its treaty obligations to be supported by threats of retaliation by the state’s trading partners, because the decisions of treaty-based dispute settlement tribunal are no longer merely declaratory but instead embedded within the internal legal orders of the participating state. (112)

This claim is not merely analytical. Phelan also shows how at the time of the landmark judgments of the Court, such as Van Gend and Loos (1963) and Costa v. E.N.E.L (1964), Lecourt was well aware of the threat of interstate retaliation and justified the decisions of the Court with reference to the need for member states to abstain ‘from taking the law into their own hands’ [de se faire justice à soi meme] (8) Although Lecourt destroyed his private papers before his death, Phelan reconstruct his views on interstate retaliation based on his public publications and his early legal scholarship in which Lecourt perceived the risk of states retorting to self-help in enforcing treaty obligations. It would have been interesting if Phelan had also explained the historical context in which Lecourt made these comments – were retaliatory measures a common feature of interstate relations in 1930s Europe? Are there any particular reasons it was on Lecourt’s mind at this time? Indeed, one wonders whether interstate retaliation really was the problem Phelan assumes it to be, and to what extent the solutions developed by the ECJ are rooted in the pre-war experience of interstate relations.

Phelan also uses a comparative approach to show how the logical connection between direct enforceability of treaty obligations and the lack of self-help is not unique to the EU trade regime, but can be observed in other international trade regimes too. A particular instructive example is Phelan’s discussion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Side Agreement on dispute settlement procedures between the United States and Canada. Unwilling to accept the possibility that a dispute panel could authorise US trade sanctions, Canada instead proposed to make decisions of the arbitration panel directly enforceable in Canadian courts (111-12). In this context, direct enforceability of treaty obligations is thus regarded as the alternative to interstate retaliation. Moreover, the Side Agreement also stipulates that the conclusion of the arbitration panel ‘shall not be subject to domestic review or appeal’. In other words, it isolates the panel from the normal judicial hierarchy of the Canadian legal system. In a similar fashion, the EJC has systematically emphasised the independence of national courts in enforcing European law, notwithstanding the rules of their national constitutions or the roles assigned to national constitutional courts (180-83).

By introducing his readers to the Sheep Meat judgment of 1979, which concerned the legality of French restrictions on the import of sheep meat products, Phelan also draws attention to the limits of the enforcement of treaty obligations in the European legal order. Even though the Court ruled that France was in breach of its treaty obligations, for several years the French government refused to implement the judgment and remove the import restrictions, because this would have a negative socio-economic impact in several less developed areas of France. Nonetheless, the UK, whose meat sector was particularly affected by the French measures, was not able to retaliate against France as a result of the structure of the EU legal order. According to Phelan, this shows that ‘the European member states had to accept that their European partners could at times persist in Treaty violations even after a finding of the Court’ (189). As commentators noted at the time, one way around the France refusal would be for UK meat exports to bring cases against France in French domestic courts. However, Phelan rightly points out that there are some limitations here too: not all European obligations enjoy direct effect, only affected parties can litigate and it requires a certain willingness of domestic courts to vindicate European law. In other words, ‘states must accept the many failures and disappointments of national court enforcement as well’ (191).

It is precisely on this point that Great Judgments could have benefitted from going beyond its historical context to give a fresh perspective on the present circumstances in which the EU finds itself. Retaliation and counter-measures may not only play a role in the new relationship between the EU and the UK post-Brexit, as Phelan recognises in a footnote, but are also a distinct possibility as a result of the ongoing ‘rule of law crisis’. As the independence of the judiciary in countries such as Poland and Hungary is under threat, the enforcement of treaty obligations by national courts in those countries is no longer guaranteed. When the legal infrastructure of the EU is not able to contain and regulate interstate relations, political power dynamics will undoubtedly resurface.

This is adequately illustrated in the case of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW): after a Dutch court found that it can no longer extradite suspects to Poland on the ground that their right to a fair trial cannot be guaranteed, the Polish National Public Prosecutor sent an order making clear that as a retaliatory measure, Poland will no longer extradite suspects to the Netherlands. In other words, it seems likely that in the coming years, retaliation and counter-measures will make a comeback within the EU. In this sense, Phelan’s book urges EU legal scholars to think through this distinct possibility and reflect on what role the EU’s laws and institutions can play in this changing (geo)political environment (a task that so far has been left to political theorists such as Luuk van Middelaar and Hans Kribbe, both of whom – rather unsurprisingly – have shown little appreciation for the role of law in European integration). It is a shame that the question of how EU institutions could and should respond to these developments falls outside the scope of Phelan’s highly stimulating work, but without this study, one would not have asked this question in the first place.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Banner Image Credit: Towers of the European Court of Justice, 2008 (sprklg CC BY SA 2.0).

In-Text Image Credit: Outside the European Court of Justice (katarina_dzurekova CC BY 2.0).


Progressives Look to Wield Power in a New Place: The Foreign Affairs Committee

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 10:00pm in



On November 2, anticipating President Donald Trump’s impending electoral demise, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, outlined a plan to turn the page on the administration’s treatment of migrants and asylum-seekers. Castro called on Congress to create a special body — either a human rights commission or a select committee — that would investigate family separations under Trump and refer any violations of the law to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution.

Castro has also called for bringing the war in Afghanistan to an end, cutting off U.S. support for the Saudi-led conflict in Yemen, and having Congress end blank-check authorizations for wars in the Middle East — which would force Congress to debate and define the scope of the war on terror.

Come next Congress, Castro may have a real power to make good on those ideas.

But first, he has to win his bid to become chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, beating two senior members in an uphill, secret-ballot election. If Republicans keep control of the Senate, whoever is elected chair in the Democratic-controlled House could end up becoming one of the most important congressional figures in shaping a post-Trump foreign policy.

The position is only open because insurgent Jamaal Bowman, a middle school principal, ousted committee chair Rep. Eliot Engel in a New York primary. Though Castro isn’t particularly known as a leader in the progressive foreign policy space, among the contenders, he is by far the most sympathetic to the broader left, explaining why he has rounded up near-unanimous support among the country’s progressive foreign policy organizations.

But despite that support, it’s unclear how many progressive votes Castro may actually get. Often, member-to-member races can be less ideological and have more to do with personal relationships. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., for example, a progressive voice on foreign policy who sponsored a number of congressional efforts to stop U.S. support to Saudi Arabia, indicated in September that he would support New York Democrat Gregory Meeks. (In a statement, Khanna told The Intercept that Meeks was helpful in building support for the Yemen resolution and that he “shares an understanding about the harm a colonizers model of the world has caused in Asia and Africa.”)

 Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York, speaks during a news conference outside a U.S. Postal Service post office in Queens, N.Y., on Aug. 18, 2020.

Photo: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Over the course of two phone interviews from his home in San Antonio, one last month and another last week, Castro laid out his vision of a Foreign Affairs Committee that he said would be more diverse, would tackle a wider range of issues, and which wouldn’t let up on investigating Trump after he leaves office.

“It’s true that the other side is going to make big political headlines about how you’re ‘coming after’ opponents. But are we supposed to not hold people accountable folks for what were intentional acts?” Castro said in October. “I think there is a greater risk to doing nothing and letting everybody skate. That’s the greatest risk.”

Castro, alongside his twin brother and former presidential candidate Julián Castro, are perhaps best known as vocal critics of the Trump administration’s immigration policy. (During his brother’s presidential campaign, Joaquin grew a beard to help people tell them apart, with mixed success.) But during his seven years in Congress, Joaquin Castro has quietly built a reputation for tough oversight, particularly in his current role as chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva, who has endorsed Castro in the race, said that Castro developed a reputation as a hands-on leader in the CHC and that he is serious about accountability for immigration abuses.

“I’ve watched him run the caucus through some very, very difficult years — the last two years under Trump,” Grijalva said. “He experienced it. We visited the private prisons, the for-profit prisons, visited the border, saw the separation firsthand. He saw the Border Patrol and ICE suddenly become political arms of the Trump administration … you can’t just go back to the way it was there. There has to be reforms and guardrails going forward.”

Castro’s stance on post-election investigations could put him at odds with a Biden administration. Last week NBC reported that the Biden administration is wary of post-inauguration Trump investigations, fearing they may appear hyperpartisan and undermine national unity. That would be in line with the Obama White House’s messaging on Bush-era torture: The U.S. should “look forward, not back.”

In his work with the committee, where he chairs the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, Castro has been clear that he thinks unfinished investigations due to Trump’s stonewalling should be completed after President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated.

A video of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaking during the Republican National Convention plays from the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

A video of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaking from Jerusalem plays in the Rose Garden of the White House, during the Republican National Convention on Aug. 25, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

In August, for example, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke remotely at the Republican National Convention while on official diplomatic travel in Jerusalem — an act that is both unprecedented and likely illegal — Castro launched an investigation into how State Department resources may have gone to supporting Pompeo’s political activity.

Later, when State Department officials testified in front of the committee in September, Castro warned them not to stonewall his document requests. “If we don’t wrap this investigation up … I am going to ask this committee to make sure that those investigations continue past November and past January.”

“There has historically been this idea that once an administration is done, you try to move forward and you don’t want to look like you’re simply trying to go after or prosecute political opponents,” Castro said last week. “We have to do what is necessary to make sure that a future administration is not inspired by the Trump administration to conduct some of the same activities as before, like separating kids from their parents, knowing that they have no way of tracking that and reuniting them.”

This summer, after it became clear that committee chair Eliot Engel lost his primary election, Castro announced his bid, calling for a “new generation of foreign policy leadership.” But in a system usually dominated by seniority, Castro, having only come to Congress in 2013, is at a severe disadvantage.

Castro is up against California Democrat Brad Sherman and Meeks, both of whom were elected to Congress more than a decade before Castro. Both are relatively more hawkish on Iran and U.S. support for Israel. Sherman opposed the Obama administration’s Iran deal; Meeks, although he was a target for progressives in a June primary election in Queens, has the backing of many in the powerful Congressional Black Caucus, and is seen as a heavy favorite.

  Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) (R) talks to reporters as he leaves a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol February 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. Support from Democrats for a federal budget deal struck by leaders in the Senate will be key in getting the legislation through the House and prevent a government shutdown.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., right, talks to reporters as he leaves a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 8, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In a statement, Sherman said he was running for the position because he thought he was the most qualified and would do the best job. “That said, I know Joaquin is capable, knowledgeable and a hard-working member of the Foreign Affairs committee. He would do a good job if elected.” A spokesperson for Meeks did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Because Congress’s Foreign Affairs Committees oversee the State Department, the race will determine who will be in charge of shepherding legislation to rebuild the department after the number of career diplomats was decimated under the Trump administration. Castro has already outlined his plan to “build a bigger, better State Department” — with an emphasis on diversity. He also worked on legislation to combat harassment and discrimination at the department and introduced legislation that would fund paid internships.

Castro also said that under Biden, the Foreign Affairs Committee should adopt a stronger focus on migration, asylum-seekers, and refugees, including by holding hearings on climate refugees, and that the committee should get involved in trying to reunite families who were separated under Trump’s immigration policies. During his campaign, Biden promised to form a task force that aimed at unifying the 666 kids with their parents.

In interviews, several Democratic staff members who were not authorized to speak on the record said that Castro’s chances to win the race outright are slim, but that he may have a pathway to a majority if he can cultivate enough support from both progressives and younger members of the caucus. And to that end, he has engaged heavily with outside advocacy organizations — taking what is usually a secretive, member-to-member campaigning process and turning it into a public effort to build support. A coalition of progressive organizations published a letter endorsing Castro, including the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats.

One Democratic aide interviewed by The Intercept, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said that because Castro’s chances are slim, engagement with progressives and progressive groups was a savvy way to draw attention to the race. “Castro knows that he has a narrow path to victory that is dependent on defining himself as the champion of the new progressive foreign policy consensus,” the aide said.

On the other hand, although Castro has cast himself as a progressive alternative in the race, he is not a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and has not been endorsed by CPC. When I asked him whether he identifies as a progressive, he paused and said, “I think if you look at my record, it’s been progressive.”

 Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) addresses the media after touring the Clint, TX Border Patrol Facility housing  children on July 1, 2019 in Clint, Texas. Reports of inhumane conditions have plagued the facility where migrant children are being held. (Photo by Christ Chavez/Getty Images)

Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, addresses the media after touring a Border Patrol facility housing children on July 1, 2019, in Clint, Texas.

Photo: Christ Chavez/Getty Images

Many of the stances Castro has taken over the years are generally in line with the left wing of the party’s asks for a new foreign policy — in wanting to examine the expansive use-of-force resolutions that allow U.S. wars to continue indefinitely in the Middle East, for instance. He has defended the Iran deal, and been an early supporter of efforts to curb the U.S. role in Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. And although all three candidates have stated their opposition to Israeli annexation of the West Bank, Castro has been willing to go further in criticizing Israel’s human rights violations, including by signing a letter critical of the Israeli government’s home demolitions in Palestine.

Stephen Miles, the executive director of the progressive group Win Without War, which has endorsed Castro, told The Intercept that progressives should demand a foreign policy in line with certain principles, not necessarily one that is made solely by progressive caucus members.

“Folks like Congressman Castro, who are not members of the Progressive Caucus, can really pick up this mantle of a different kind of foreign policy — one more deeply rooted in the notion that those who are on the receiving end, or feeling the impacts of these decisions, should be part of the decision-making process,” Miles said.

And one of Castro’s central promises of his bid is to increase the diversity of witnesses before the committee, which is an issue he has championed alongside the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The Foreign Affairs committees are known for calling on a relatively insular group of D.C.-based experts, and one analysis earlier this year highlighted low gender diversity among their witnesses. “Ultimately this a question not just about what is our foreign policy, but how we make foreign policy,” Miles said, adding, “We’ve seen the same handful of folks be witnesses, regardless, frankly of whether the chairman was a Democrat or Republican.”

Last month, Castro testified in front of the House Rules Committee in favor a rule requiring committees to track the diversity of witnesses — gender, racial, and otherwise.

“During my eight years now on the committee, I don’t recall that we’ve had a Palestinian come in front of us and give us their perspective on the situation in the Middle East, for example,” Castro said. “I don’t think that should be controversial at all. And the United States has over the years positioned itself as a mediator and arbiter of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. And if it’s going to truly be a fair mediator or arbiter, and you have got to be willing to hear from all sides.”

Correction: November 25, 2020, 9:05 a.m.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly cited an analysis claiming that the Congressional Foreign Affairs committees have the lowest gender diversity of any committee’s pool of witnesses. The analysis critically cited gender diversity figures for HFAC and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but did not compare those to the witness pools of other committees.

The post Progressives Look to Wield Power in a New Place: The Foreign Affairs Committee appeared first on The Intercept.

‘I’ Predicts Laboratory Produced Meat Could Be on Sale in Two Years’ Time

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 9:54pm in

More news about the rapidly approaching Science Fictional society on the horizon. Last Friday’s edition of the I for 20th November 2020 carried a piece by Madeleine Cuff, ‘Biofarm to fork: Lab-grown meat on supermarket shelf in two years’, which reported that an Israeli company has had such success growing meat in a lab, that it may be sufficiently commercially viable to compete with traditionally farmed meat. The article ran

Steak grown in a laboratory could be hitting dinner plates within two years, after an Israeli food start-up this week unveiled a “commercial prototype” of its cultured steak.

Aleph Farms’ steak slices are grown in a laboratory – they prefer the term biofarm – using cells extracted from a living cow. The firm claims its “slaughter-free” product has the taste, texture, aroma, and nutritional value of meat reared the traditional way.

It is not the first firm to produce lab-grown meat that mimics traditional meat, but it is the first to say it can produce lab-grown meat cheaply enough for the average shopper. Aleph claims its production system will soon be able to produce lab-grown steak slices as cheaply as conventional meat.

“One of the big challenges of cultivated meat is the ability to produce large quantities efficiently at a cost that can complete with conventional meat industry pricing, without compromising on quality,” said Didier Toubia, co-founder and CEO of Aleph Farms. “We have developed five technological building blocks unique to Aleph Farms that are put into a large-scale production process, all patented by the company.”

The slices are being unveiled today at an innovation conference in Singapore, ahead of a pilot launch at the end of 2022. The firm has raised $12m (£9m) in funding, including backing from the multinational Cargill, Swiss supermarket Migros and Israeli food manufacturer Strauss Group to fund its plans.

Aleph Farms says its system of meat production – which will take place in specially developed “Bio-Farms” – uses a fraction of the resources needed to rear livestock for meat. Beef is one of the most carbon-intensive foods, in part because it requires large amounts of land, food and water to rear cattle.

Switching to lab-grown meat would also curb the use of antibiotics in farm animals, one of the major drivers of antibiotic resistance around the world, Aleph Farms said.

But many consumers are still uncomfortable with the idea of eating so-called cultured meat, and farmers are expected to mount stiff opposition to its roll-out. In the US the beef lobby is already pressuring the US Department of Agriculture to define meat as a product that comes from the carcass of an animal.

This looks to me like it might be another industry puff-piece, like the glowing report a week or so ago that the rapid transit vacuum tube train system had been successfully tested. I’m starting to wonder if Lebedev or whoever owns the I now has shares in these companies.

SF writers and scientists have been predicting the development of lab-grown meat for decades now. I think it’s one of the targets the SF writers Pohl and Kornbluth take solid aim at in their 1950s satire of consumerism and advertising, The Space Merchants. It also appears in one of the Gregory Benford’s ‘Galactic Centre’ cycle of novels, where he describes the endless production of cloned turkey – lurkey- to feed an interstellar expedition sent to the centre of the Galaxy to find allies against an invading civilisation of intelligent machines. Outside SF, the late botanist David Bellamy gave an interview in the Sunday supplement for the Heil way back in the 1980s, in which he looked forward to the advent of lab-grown meat. This would end the cruelty of current farming, and cattle would then be reared as pets.

It’s an inspiring vision, and many people naturally have qualms about the way animals are reared and slaughtered. And there are plenty of veggies out there, who still want to enjoy the taste of meat. Hence the growth of vegetable substitutes.

But I’ve also got strong reservations about this. Firstly there’s the health aspect. What happens if you clone endlessly from a limited set of cells? I can see the nutritional value of such meat declining over time. I also don’t think it’s a good idea to get the meat from such a limited stock. One of the causes of the Great Potato Famine in Ireland was that the strains used by the Irish were too restricted. Other varieties of spud, which could have resisted the fungus which devastated the crop, weren’t available. And so when the fungus appeared, it destroyed such a high proportion that millions either starved to death or were forced to emigrate. And the British government was so unsympathetic, that immense bitterness was left that added a further spur to the Irish nationalists. I can see a similar problem devastating clone food.

I also worry about the potentially dehumanising effect this will have on us as well. One of the complaints we hear regularly from educators and agricultural/ nature programmes like Countryfile is that many children don’t know where their food comes from. Hence the schemes to take kids, especially from the inner city, to farms. For many people meat, and other foodstuffs, is simply what comes from the shops or supermarkets. But people aren’t robots or disembodied minds. As Priss says in the film Bladerunner, ‘We’re not computers. We’re biological’. And I’m afraid if we go down this route and begin the mass consumption of lab-grown meat, we’ll contact with that biology, to our own spiritual detriment.

And I’m not sure that it will be good for the animals either. Yes, I know the arguments. Cows need much space and vegetation, and their flatulence gives off such amounts of methane that it’s a major contributor to global warming. A little while ago a vegetarian organisation appeared on the Beeb local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West, to present their argument that if everyone in the Bristol, Somerset and Gloucestershire region turned veggie, the amount of land used for farming could be drastically reduced. The vast tracts of unused land could be rewilded, thus aiding the environment. But what humanity has no use for in the environment, it destroys or allows to become extinct. The wolf is extinct in Britain, and it’s been argued that the only reason the fox has survived is because there was precious little else left to hunt after the number of deer was reduced. And despite official protection, birds of prey are also under threat because they prey on grouse and so threatened that alleged sport and its profits in Scotland. Cattle continue to be farmed, but the previous varieties bred by our ancestors have become rare as their place has been taken by more profitable animals. If lab-grown meat takes off, then I’m afraid that cattle as a species will also become rare.

Whatever the environmental advantages, this looks like another step towards the kind of overly technological, dehumanizing dystopia SF writers have been warning us about. It’s an interesting idea, but it needs much more debate and caution.