Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Israel Legalizes Illegal Settlements on Palestinian Land: On the Toll on the Rule of Law

Israel’s legislature passed a law on February 6, 2017 retroactively legalizing Jewish settlements on privately owned Palestinian land. Incredibly, the state’s own attorney general said he would not defend the new law in court because he had determined the law to unconstitutional and in violation of international law. Anat Ben Nun of an anti-settlement group said the law was “deteriorating Israel’s democracy, making stealing an official policy.”[1] Specifically, the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including those offered financial compensation for the “long term use of their land” but without being able to reclaim their property under the new law, “are not Israeli citizens and cannot vote for candidates for Israel’s Parliament, or Kenesset.”[2] I submit nevertheless that the underlying casualty in this case is the rule of law itself.

Every government enjoys the power of eminent domain, which effectively means that the right of private property is limited in nature rather than absolute. This fact goes to the amount of power that a government potentially has. In the case of the Israeli pro-settlement law on the private property of Palestinians, the rule of law was undercut by the law’s retroactive aspect. To retroactively legalize something illegal weakens law itself in its capacity as prohibition because confidence in the illegality is lessened and thus weakened.

Such a weakening can be invisible when the retroactivity is in popular demand. In the early 1960s, Israel’s highest court declared a 1950 Israeli law to retroactively apply not only temporally, when the state of Israel did not even yet exist, but also as applicable in another sovereign country! Lest this decision seem sordid and utterly devoid of justifiable jurisprudence, even such a dark underbelly can be easily whitewashed or at least overlooked on learning that the decision was against Adolf Eichmann, whom Israel had illegally kidnapped and tried for his significant role in transporting gays, communists, and Jews to the concentration camps in the horrendous systemic atrocity known as the Holocaust. The desire for justice against him easily hid from view the toll on law itself from what probably boiled down to garden-variety vengeance—the notion of law being distorted in the process. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, but not when the sweet scent of revenge at the expense of law itself is too alluring. Perhaps the retroactive law in 2017 may also have been fueled by vengeance, given all the hatred between the Palestinians and the Israelis, though in this case the retroactive vengeance was against the oppressed rather than a former oppressor. In both cases, however, the same basic pattern can be observed with respect to the subtle and gradual corruption of the rule of law itself. The power within the reach of a government—any government—is indeed something to beware.

[1] Ian Fisher, “Israel Passes Provocative Legislation to Retroactively Legalize Settlements,” The New York Times, February 7, 2017.
[2] Ibid.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Aleppo, Syria: A Complete Meltdown of Humanity

War is hell; everybody knows that. A ruling power of a government intent on depriving civilians of life during a civil-war battle in a major city can go beyond the typical battle casualties to cause what the U.N. has called a “complete meltdown of humanity.”[1] One question on the minds of civilians in rebel-controlled areas of Aleppo in Syria in December, 2016 was whether even eventual charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity were enough. From this standpoint, the world was shirking a basic human responsibility in not intervening to stop the intentional killing of civilians. Had the facts on the ground made going after war criminals after the fact a meager excuse for not having acted in real time? Does the world, in other words, have a duty to step in when a government has turned on its own people—not counting soldiers and their suppliers, or does internal affairs encompass even such governmental conduct?

“The crushing of Aleppo, the immeasurably terrifying toll on its people, the bloodshed, the wanton slaughter of men, women and children, the destruction—and we are nowhere near the end of this cruel conflict,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said as the rebels agreed to withdraw from the city on December 13, 2016.[2] Civilians, having been trapped in the rebel-held areas of the city, faced summary-execution; at least 82 had recently been intentionally killed simply for having lived in an area controlled by the rebels. “The reports we had are of people being shot in the street trying to flee and shot in their homes,” U.N. spokesman Rupert Colville said at the time.[3] Additionally, precision-bombing targeted hospitals in the rebel-held areas—leaving no doubt, according to U.S. Senator John McCain, of Assad’s intent.[4]

Meanwhile, at the U.N., the focus of a Security Council meeting was on possible war crimes and crimes against humanity to be levied against the Syrian government. Hamstrung by a well-anticipated veto from Russia, an ally of Assad’s Syrian government, the U.N. was impotent to act on the duty of the international community to act. According to the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, the “duty to prevent and halt genocide and mass atrocities lies first and foremost with the State, but the international community has a rule that cannot be blocked by the invocation of sovereignty. Sovereignty no longer exclusively protects States from foreign interference; [sovereignty] is a charge of responsibility where States are accountable for the welfare of their people.”[5] National sovereignty is not absolute, and the international community, institutionalized as the United Nations, has a responsibility to intervene not merely to see that war criminals are prosecuted, but also and more importantly to stop the atrocities in real time. Just as national sovereignty cannot protect the offending State, so too should sovereignty in a country’s veto in the U.N. be valid in obstructing this duty. The U.N.’s own procedure was thus out of step with the responsibility. Hence, the duty fell to the countries of the world not allied with Syria, yet political considerations of self-interest, and perhaps even the faulty assumption that any international action must or should be under U.N. auspices were formidable obstacles. The promotion of the duty falling on mankind to protect its most vulnerable from their own government was left to Syrian civilians in Aleppo using cell-phone videos to chastise the governments of the world for standing by.

It was within the competence of an international “coalition of the willing”—one not subject to a veto at the U.N.—to go in and target the protection of civilians, leaving the rebel and government troops to fight. Obviously, such a clear demarcation is impractical during a major battle, but the force exerted on the ground and air by an overwhelming coalition could have been enough to group and protect the remaining civilians in demarcated areas. No help would be given to the rebel fighters; the mission would have been carefully targeted to meet the call of responsibility by those in need who were not party to the conflict. Relative to such a response, calls for eventual war crimes and even crimes against humanity to be prosecuted—assuming the culprits could be removed from Syria and tried—could seem like a lame rationale for inaction in real time.

Such a change in perspective, such that human-rights jurisprudence is ironically viewed as weakness, would represent an advance for the species. We have demonstrated a capability for such amazing technological development since the late nineteenth century that the lack of progress in the domain of international relations, even only in protecting people from their own government, is perplexing. Put another way, the innocent Syrians in Aleppo sorely needed a revised answer, practically speaking, to absolute national-sovereignty, whose default-status has strangely been allowed to go unchallenged as if it were a natural law. The right to the unqualified version of the doctrine by governments can be challenged, if done prudently with regard to intent and ensuing action.
Lest it be feared that arriving at a newly revised answer in a practical manner could unleash a torrent of war, the modifications could be modest. In other words, governments such as that of Syria could get the message on the ground that limits do exist in terms of what a government can legitimately do to its own people. The key, I submit, is to limit the intervention to this point. Hence, the military strategy of the international protectors—humanity coming in to protect vestiges of humanity—would rightly and prudently have been limited to protecting civilians rather than taking sides in the conflict. Any contact with the military of either side would be limited to the protection of civilians, as if drumming home the point that the very legitimacy of the intervention is limited, just as is the legitimacy of any government. Contrarywise, taking on a “bad” government would turn the intervention itself into a partisan in the conflict; more retaliation could be expected than were a coalition limited in its coverage to protecting civilians—even if just providing safe passage. Whereas such a response is a step in the direction of changing a seemingly intractable default in international relations, going after war-criminals years after a war takes absolute sovereignty as a given and punishes people for having acted badly in it.  

[1] Reuters, “Battle For Aleppo Ends as Rebels Agree to Ceasefire,” The World Post, December 13, 2016.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] “Morning Edition,” NPR, December 13, 2016.
[5] U.N. Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (accessed December 14, 2016) http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/responsibility.shtml

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Wallonia Threatens to Veto the E.U.-Canada Trade Treaty: Complicating State Sovereignty in the E.U.

"The European Union and Canada signed a far-reaching trade agreement on [October 30, 2016] that commits them to opening their markets to greater competition, after overcoming a last-minute political obstacle that reflected the growing skepticism toward globalization in much of the developed world."[1] The obstacle may indeed have reflected increasing resistance at the time to globalization, but this veil can be pulled back to reveal the underlying political obstacle--that of states' rights in the E.U., taken to a crippling extreme.

1. James Kanter, "Canada and E.U. Sign Trade Deal, Bucking Resistance to Globalization," The New York Times, October 30, 2016.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

CO2 Record-Level in Atmosphere: Implications for Human Population

In 2015, average global CO2 levels for the year surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time, the WMO revealed in its 2016 annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. At the time, any scientists regarded that ratio of carbon dioxide to other gases in the atmosphere as a “climate change touchstone.”[1] Curiously, however, 400 ppm was not considered a tipping point. It was still possible to reverse the progression of the ratio—yet no one seems to ask how long that would take. In this regard, the ratio’s accelerating rate is particularly telling. Practically speaking, 400 ppm may in fact be a tipping point.

CO2 concentrations in 2015 “were about 144 percent higher than pre-industrial levels. Other emissions measured in the report, methane and nitrous oxide, were up 256 percent and 121 percent from pre-industrial levels, respectively. Among those, however, CO2 contributes the most to warming and [was] responsible for about 81 percent of the increase in radiative forcing from 2005 to 2015.”[2] Ralph Keeling, who runs the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s carbon dioxide monitoring program, pointed to the irreversibility of the ratio of CO2 in the atmosphere. “[I]t already seems safe to conclude that we won’t be seeing a monthly value below 400 ppm this year ― or ever again for the indefinite future.”[3] Practically speaking, 400 ppm may be a tipping point in that the likelihood of getting below it again in the foreseeable future is nil.
Lest it be thought that the Paris treaty could turn things around, that the vows are voluntary and without repercussions for failing to adhere to the promised cuts. Moreover, “even if all Paris pledges are fully implemented, predicted emissions in 2030 will still place the world on track for a temperature rise of 2.9 to 3.4 degrees this century,” according to UNEP in 2016.[4] CO2 emissions would have to be cut an additional 25 percent by 2030 to avoid the worst effects of climate change.[5] I assume even that would not be enough to get CO2 levels down below 400.

Sadly, we weren’t even going in the right direction at the time of the U.N. Environment Program’s report. In other words, the CO2 ratio’s rate was accelerating. “The increase of CO2 from 2014 to 2015 was larger than that observed from 2013 to 2014 and that averaged over the past 10 years,” the report noted.[6] Predictably—though not in terms of the acceleration—studies at NASA and the University of California at Irvine showed in 2016 that Smith and Pope Glaciers in Antarctica were “growing thinner” and “retreating at the fastest rate ever observed.”[7] Since 1996, “Smith Glacier’s grounding line retreated at an annual rate of 1.24 miles per year and Pope’s at an annual rate of 0.31 mile per year,” according to NASA.[8] Smith Glacier “lost between 984 and 1,607 feet of ice thickness between 2002 and 2009.”[9] That this pace “is nearly six times faster than a previous estimate” is in line with the accelerating ratio of Carbon parts per million in the atmosphere. I contend that the estimates of the impact of the ratio were low because the ratio’s accelerating rate of increase had not been detected. By implication, estimates of how much carbon-emissions should be reduced by have also been too low.
In fact, even the focus on reducing carbon-emissions may be insufficient. The accelerating rate of the ratio as well as the likelihood that we won’t see anything less than 400 ppm may indicate that we have not yet gotten to the underlying causes. According to the WMO’s report, the bulk of the increase in the ratio was due to unbridled human activities ranging from “growing population, intensified agricultural practices, increase in land use and deforestation, industrialization and associated energy use from fossil sources.”[10] Even among these causes, that of growing population is most fundamental. The human being necessarily takes energy from the environment and expends waste, including pollution. Simply put, our species has been too successful genetically; we have multiplied. Yet the climatic data suggests that we have over-multiplied.

Crucially, the rate of increase in the global population has been increasing. It took 123 years for the total to go from 1 to 2 billion, then only 33 years to reach 3 billion in 1960.[11] The population reached 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999, and 7 billion in 2011.[12] How could there not be an astounding impact on the planet’s climate? As a maximizing variable, human population may be out of control, with the ecosystems bearing the brunt. An analysis in 2014 claims there is a 70% chance that the human population “will rise continuously” from 7 billion in 2014 to 11 billion in 2011.[13] This poses “grave challenges for food supplies, healthcare and social cohesion”—not to mention climate change.[14] The head of the research team stressed that population should return to the top of the international agenda.
Unfortunately, population decrease is typically viewed as a problem in many countries, while those with the largest populations—China and India—have not set population decline as a policy goal. To be sure, decreasing population too fast presents social problems, such as not having enough wage-earners to support retired people. Even so, the accelerating feature of the CO2 ratio and its effects on the climate—most notably, on glaciers and oceans more generally—suggests that serious attempts to reduce reproduction-rates globally—and especially where the rates are highest—are warranted. In addition to international agreements to decrease CO2 emissions, declining population targets should also be negotiated. Both individually and as a group, governments can no longer afford to skirt the underlying cause of the problem, which looks increasingly likely to result in the extinction of our species.

Genetically speaking, our species has been very successful in terms of multiplying our DNA in many, many individual members, yet this very success may be short-lived; it may be breeding extinction, which is failure in genetic terms. Put another way, our short-term thinking that reigns on Wall Street may apply even genetically. It may be up to the people serving in governments around the world to make hard choices in order to extend our species’ perspective enough that we can self-regulate our species back to a reasonable number rather than continue to spiral out of control and be at the mercy of nature’s constraints rather than those of our own choosing. Considering the population growth during the twentieth century alone, we can no longer afford as a species to skip over the underlying cause of climate change, for the acceleration is not limited to the ratio of CO2 and glacier-melt. Add in the lifespan-extending advances in medical science, and it becomes clear just how severe we need to be as a species in limiting our reproduction.

[1] Lydia O’Connor, “The Planet Just Crossed Another Major Carbon Milestone,” The Huffington Post, October 25, 2016.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid, italics added.
[4] Nick Visser and Dominique Mosbergen, “UN: Paris Deal Won’t Be ‘Enough’ To Stave Off Worst Effects Of Climate Change,” The Huffington Post, November 3, 2016.
[5] Ibid.
[6] O’Connor, “The Planet.”
[7] David Freeman, “Glaciers’ Rapic Retreat Should Be ‘Alarm Bell to Everyone’s Ears,’” The Huffington Post, October 26, 2016.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] O’Connor, “The Planet.”
[11]The World at Six Billion: Introduction,” United Nations (1999).
[12] Jasmin Coleman, “World’s ‘Seventh Billionth Baby’ Is Born,” The Guardian, October 31, 2011.
[13] Damian Carrington, “World Population to Hit 11bn in 2100—with 70% Chance of Continuous Rise,” The Guardian, September 18, 2014.
[14] Ibid.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Saudi Arabia Beheads a Member of the Royal Family: Justice for All, Atrociously

On October 18, 2016, Saudi Arabia executed a member of the royal family for committing murder during a brawl. Prince Turki bin Saud bin Turki bin Saud al-Kabeer was put to death most likely by beheading in a public square—as this was the usual method at the time. As horrific as such an execution is, the point that law applies to everyone is laudable—especially “on point” for countries in which the rich can “get away with murder” by hiring the best (and most expensive) lawyers.  The atrocious means of execution coupled with the dictum that the law really does apply to everyone renders this case particularly difficult to analyze from an ethical perspective.

“The greatest thing is that the citizen sees the law applied to everyone, and that there are not big people and other small people,” Abdul-Rahman al-Lahim, a prominent Saudi lawyer wrote.[1] In other words, the verdict and sentence sent the message that no one is above the law. To be sure, thousands of people are in the Saudi royal family enjoying perks not available to the rest of Saudi Arabia’s 20 million people; yet that the member executed was from a prestigious arm of the family sufficiently makes the point that no one is above the law.

This lesson is a valuable one for the United States, as financiers got away with fraudulently mislabeling the risk of sub-prime mortgage-based bonds before the financial crisis of 2008. Yet, interestingly, the Saudis could look to the United States for a lesson on how to execute people humanely. I submit that this combination of lessons demonstrates that a country can be very ethical in one sense yet abysmal in another. This point in turn impedes claims that some countries are more humane, or advanced ethically, than others. Within a culture, insistence on justice in one sense can coexist with toleration for injustice in another sense. Put another way, the human mind seems able to compartmentalize justice, without realizing the cognitive dissidence involved.

1. Ben Hubbard, “Saudi Prince Is Executed for Murder,” The New York Times, October 19, 2016.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

E.U. Free-Trade After Brexit: Applying Domestic Requirements to International Trade

With Britain set to secede from the European Union, one major question was whether British businesses would continue to get unfettered access to the E.U.’s domestic market. I submit that subjecting free-trade negotiations to stipulations that are oriented to states rather than trading partners is unfair to Britain. Given the extraordinary influence of E.U. state officials at the federal level, this is a case in which the political influence of British business would be constructive rather than subversive of the public domain to private interests.

Speaking in October, 2016, Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, “stressed . . . that the U.K. wouldn’t get full access to the European Union’s single market without fully accepting the four basic principles . . . freedom of goods, services, capital and people.”[1] I submit that these principles pertain domestically within a country—whether a single sovereign state or a union of states—rather than to a trade treaty. That is, the four freedoms are typically established within a country rather than between trading partners (i.e., international trade). Free trade need not be justified by the free movement of people; it is sufficient to allow for the exchange of goods and services, and of course money.

The U.S. and Mexico, for example, have a free-trade treaty without the free movement of people. So too, a free-trade treaty between the E.U. and Britain need not include the free movement of people. In short, Merkel failed to distinguish the E.U. itself, internally, from it being one of two trading partners; she was applying a domestic trait to international trade. By implication, she failed to distinguish the E.U. from a free-trade treaty. Subjecting a sovereign U.K. to what E.U. States must accept fails to recognize the real change that is secession.

Whereas Merkel voiced concern that E.U. and state officials would not “be put under pressure constantly via European industry associations to, in the end, allow full access to the internal market even if all freedoms aren’t respected,” I submit that Merkel’s own interests in favor of businesses in her state render her involvement in E.U. policy-making on the secession of Britain suspect. That is to say, she may have been exploiting a conflict of interest in which German businesses would gain from subjecting the continuing free trade of British businesses to freedoms that pertain to E.U. states rather than foreign states trading with the E.U.

[1] Ruth Bender and Andrea Thomas, “Germany Pushes for Hard Line on Brexit,” The Wall Street Journal, October 7, 2016.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

E.U. Defense Post-Britain: Beyond Multinational Military Cooperation

Just months after the British voted to secede from the Union, the E.U.’s Counsel of Ministers discussed “proposals for increased military cooperation” amid concerns from the British state government as well as those of some eastern States that “such collaboration could undermine” NATO.[1] The proposals being discussed were “part of a push by European officials and diplomats to strengthen European ties” after Britain’s vote to secede.[2] I submit that both the expression, “military cooperation,” and Britain’s involvement in the discussion are ill-fitting and inappropriate, respectively.

Federica Mogherini, the E.U.’s foreign minister, said that better cooperation could help the state governments spend their defense budgets more effectively and increase their military strength.[3] Such an enhancement could make continued shifts of governmental sovereignty from the States to the Union more difficult, however, as the states have a more solid power-base with which to resist transfers. Furthermore, in American terms, increasing the cooperation between state militias and the E.U. army goes not go far enough in furnishing a closer Union.

At the time, the E.U. did indeed have an army, so Mogherini’s proposal for a new E.U. military headquarters is not as radical as it may seem by the use of terms such as “multinational military headquarters.”[4] Such a term ignores the governmental sovereignty that the E.U. had at the time. Additionally, the term encourages the category mistake that compares the E.U., a federal system, with NATO, a military alliance. I submit that the concern that the E.U. might duplicate NATO is the same concern that the U.S. might do so as well. In both cases, a union of States is being conflated with a military alliance. A states’ rights ideology is behind the ill-fitting terms.

This leads me to contend that the state of Britain should not have been allowed to take an active role in the discussions, as they pertain to what the E.U. might be like after that State secedes from the Union. Michael Fallon, the British defense secretary, said at the time that his State continued “to oppose any idea of an EU army or an EU army headquarters which would simply undermine NATO.”[5] Such opposition had been part of the reason why a majority of British residents had voted to secede, so it should not play a viable role in determining what the post-secession E.U. might be like. For example, the future E.U. would not have to deal with so much denial—as in that of Fallon saying that the E.U. did not at the time already have an army. Nor would the future E.U. have to deal so much with the category mistake of likening the federal system to a military alliance.

In short, the discussions themselves evinced the E.U. trying to proceed with one hand tied behind its back. Even using the term, multinational military cooperation, undermines the E.U. from being able to move on towards a closer, more viable Union after the state of Britain secedes. 

[1] Julian E. Barnes, “EU Pushes for Deeper Defense Cooperation,” The Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2016.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.