Category Archives: International Politics
The state of Washington in the United States of America has become the first state in the country to legalise marijuana. The move comes a month after the US election which saw the proposition to make the drug legal receive the votes needed for it to pass into law. Recreational drug users took to the streets to light up in celebration.
And there is another US state which will see similar laws come into force in the coming weeks. Colorado also voted during the national election on a proposition to legalise marijuana.
Under the new laws in Washington state, recreational smokers over the age of 21 will be able to possess up to 28 grams of cannabis or up to 450 grams of baked goods containing marijuana. Having in your possession, up to 720 ounces of the drug in liquid form is also legal under the law which came into force in Washington on Thursday.
There are however some conditions attached to the new law.
Selling, cultivating and giving away marijuana for free, even among pot-smoking buddies will continue to be illegal. And despite the public pot party overnight, toking on marijuana in public will still be verboten.
This begs the question: what has actually changed at present?
The answer is that not much has changed so far. The only differences for now are that you may possess the aforementioned quantities of the once illicit substance and smoke or ingest those products in private.
However, you will have come by the drug in an illegal manner and universities and workplaces will have the ability to ban it on their premises.
State authorities, under the law, will have until December next year to establish legal cannabis trading houses which will be taxed and licensed in much the same manner as liquor-selling businesses currently are.
There is some major uncertainty about the future of the laws in Washington state and Colorado.
The drug is still illegal under federal law and the federal government may well decide to override the two states’ laws, though this has not yet been confirmed.
It is true though, that the Justice Department did not move to override the Washington law before it came into effect and so perhaps this points to the possibility of letting the law in Washington stand as well as the path to legalised cannabis in Colorado being allowed to continue.
The US Government intervening and overturning the two state-based laws would however, actually be quite a good thing.
Cannabis and indeed all drugs, are substances which are harmful to the health of all users, especially long-term recreational drug-takers.
The drug Cannabis is responsible for bringing on mental illnesses which can have devastating consequences in the lives of those experiencing such problems and result in similar negative consequences for the community around users.
Legalising drugs, including marijuana, will not suddenly make them less harmful to the public. They will still cause mental illness in people taking such substances and those effects will continue to harm both the drug-taker and potentially members of the public around them.
And legalising drugs will not cut down on their use either. Legalising drugs would likely mean that more people, some of whom had perhaps wanted to engage in drug-use but did not partake because it was illegal, would take up the habit and this would not be good for both healthcare and crime budgets. When you legalise drugs, you remove the stigma which is behind stopping some people using them.
It is important to acknowledge that the so-called ‘war on drugs’ is a battle that governments around the world are losing and will continue to lose in varying degrees across the globe.
But legalising drugs is no answer.
Even the most tightly regulated drug-use schemes will have their problems unless scientists discover a way to remove the harmful compounds from the drugs, or they discover some kind of way to shield the brain from the potentially very dangerous effects of such chemicals.
Whichever path governments choose, they are going to face costs. But trying to stop harm to consumers of drugs and those around them should be the highest priority.
The Australian Government was reportedly engaged in an especially robust party-room debate today. The Labor caucus was discussing the position to take on the United General Assembly vote set to take place in the coming days. This motion, if successful, would grant the Palestinian territories non-member observer status in the UN. Currently, the Palestinians have observer status.
After looking like the ALP caucus might vote ‘no’ to the motion, it soon emerged that the party-room, in the end, voted in favour of the Australian delegation abstaining from this highly non-controversial vote.
Not surprisingly, the United States of America and of course Israel, have indicated they will be voting against the motion in the UN General Assembly.
Unlike in the Security Council though, the US and Israelis voting against the measure will not matter. There is no veto power in the General Assembly and 132 of the 193 member countries have pledged recognition of Palestine as a state. Despite this, official recognition of statehood has been blocked in the United Nations Security Council.
During the ALP caucus discussions this morning, members of the left faction reportedly indicated that granting observer status would provide some assistance in promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinian territories.
This is an interesting concept. The position argues that by granting non-member state observer state status, the longstanding conflict would suddenly lurch closer to some form of mutually agreeable conclusion.
Clearly it will not. Hostilities on the part of Palestinian terror groups will not stop, at least until a broad solution involving Palestinian statehood is reached.
Terrorist acts on the part of some Palestinian factions would quite likely continue, even in the event of a negotiated peace between authorities on both sides of the conflict. They would however be more isolated and not necessarily linked with representative political organisations.
However, such heinous crimes would still not be tolerable, no matter how infrequent. The point must be made too, that both sides are and have been in the wrong on this issue, albeit in different ways.
The reluctance on the part of the Israelis and the USA to recognise Palestine as an official state would also continue, virtually leaving the situation at the status quo. Non-member state observer status will be a symbolic act.
Granting non-member state observer status is however one that the Israeli government should not be scared of. But they are and they will probably be annoyed. They need to realise, however, that there is a clear difference between a vote for non-member state observer status and a peaceful two-state solution. The latter should be negotiated outside the United Nations.
It is curious that Australia will abstain from the vote. Abstention, to some, gives the appearance that Australia is basically hedging their bets.
Abstaining from the vote will likely be seen by the representatives of the Palestinian territories as a vote against their motion, since the Australian Government does not feel a compulsion to vote for what is ostensibly a sensible concept.
This week’s vote is not about statehood and probably will not provide much of a catalyst toward the Palestinian territories becoming a recognised state.
So why such a fuss?
Israel and Hamas have agreed to the terms of a ceasefire after over a week of rocket attacks perpetrated by both sides of the conflict. Hamas had been rocketing Israel and in return the Israelis sent missiles hurtling into Palestinian territories. Approximately 150 people died in the conflict, the vast majority being Palestinians.
Perhaps surprising to some, Egypt, now controlled by an Islamist government was crucial in negotiating the terms of a ceasefire agreement with Palestinian group, Hamas.
There are four elements of the agreement brokered between Israel and Hamas.
First, it calls on Israel to halt land, sea and air assaults and incursions in the Gaza Strip. This includes, as part of the deal, Israel agreeing not to target individuals in Palestinian territories.
The first part of the ceasefire agreement would appear likely to hold now, with the world’s attention, for at least as long as the Palestinians stop firing rockets into Israel.
Although Israeli incursions into Palestinian territories are a major factor in the ongoing tensions between Israel and Palestinians, this part too seems likely to hold as long as rockets from Palestinian territories are not fired.
The second condition of the ceasefire involves all Palestinian factions. Under the ceasefire, they must not target Israel in any way, be it from the Gaza Strip or the border regions.
The second condition, largely the reverse of the first one, is less likely to hold. There are multiple groups on the Palestinian side with factions that will prove very difficult to control and there is the distinct possibility that possible militant attacks from outside groups might easily be mistaken as originating from Palestinian terrorists.
Ceasefires in general are tenuous and, as such, it will probably be just a matter of time before both the first and second elements of the accord are broken.
The third and perhaps most significant element of the ceasefire is an agreement to open all border crossings. This includes an understanding that the movement of both people and goods must be facilitated and must in all cases be free. Again, this involves an understanding that border residents not be targeted, this time when attempting border crossings. However, this clause of the ceasefire is not immediate. After 24 hours of the ceasefire have passed, this tenet will come into effect.
The third part of the pact is very important. However, if the ceasefire does not last more than a day, then Israel will again close her borders and the free movement of people will cease again.
If the ceasefire does hold and that is very unlikely, then Israel stopping incursions and allowing border crossings will be seen quite favourably by most factions on the Palestinian side.
The final clause is potentially important too in terms of long-term considerations in that it opens up the possibility of further dialogue. The fourth part of the ceasefire equation allows for the negotiation of further issues involved in the dispute between Israel and Palestine.
The fourth part of the ceasefire does provide the opportunity for ongoing dialogue which might lead to discussion of the important and substantive issues in the medium to long-term. However getting to that point would almost certainly hinge upon a well-maintained ceasefire between Israel and Hamas at the very least.
There are a number of small positives but it would appear that they are largely overshadowed by the likelihood of an enduring ceasefire being minimal at best.
The part that Egypt played is interesting and provides hope, but the assistance provided to Hamas from Iran would give pause for concern, over and above the usual fragility of ceasefire agreements.
Having so many disparate groups on the Palestinian side is also a challenge in terms of maintaining order in Israel and the Palestinian territories on any given day.
Add to that the realisation that the conflict involves far more than just territorial considerations, but also regional issues and extremism, and seeking a lasting peace becomes an even more challenging task.
Tensions between Israel and Palestine have increased over recent weeks to a point now where fears are growing that a major conflict will ensue. Militants had been targeting Israel with rockets and Israel responded by killing a leading Hamas militant. In retaliation for the assassination, Hamas fighters have rocketed the capital of Israel, Tel Aviv while Israeli jets continue to bomb Gaza. Both sides of the conflict have again suffered civilian casualties.
A peaceful end to the conflict again has been shown to be too difficult. On the Palestinian side, terrorism has proved impossible to control, particularly the actions of Hamas who are responsible for the rocket attacks on Israel.
As for Israel it’s been a question of the scale of the response to equally unjustifiable and unforgivable attacks on their people. Huge force has been used against Palestinians by the Israelis and that looks set to continue apace with a military-based incursion appearing likely to be utilised by the administration in conjunction with jets bombing Palestinian areas.
The question of Israeli willingness to negotiate on the land dispute is not an argument that can in any way justify violence on the part of Palestinian terrorists. However, the Israelis must display a real willingness, a readiness to negotiate on a two-state solution.
And so, the cycle of violence, as it has for decades, is set to continue. There is again little will from both the Israelis and Palestinians and their respective overseas supporters to attempt to reach a peaceful and necessary two-state solution.
Again it seems that violent fringe groups are dictating terms over the whole dispute. Any hope of any kind of compromise dashed by extremist elements in the conflict. A problem magnified by illegal settlements has had any hope of a solution pegged on a return to peaceful interactions between Israelis and Palestinians.
At least that is the excuse given. Even when there has been relative peace, negotiations over a solution involving the mutual recognition of Israel and Palestine never really went ahead with any real gusto, any vigour or confidence and belief that both states actually have the right to peacefully coexist.
The problem has proved too difficult not just for Israel and Palestine to resolve on their own, but also for world powers and supranational institutions interested in seeing peace between the two parties.
We have probably passed a point, especially in recent years, where any hope of a lasting peace, a compromise deal that would halt hostilities from all groups with a stake in the conflict, would have been a reasonable assumption. The rise of Islamist groupings in the Middle East over the Arab Spring has surely seen to that.
At the same time, it would be folly to suggest that were the extreme elements of Hamas and Fatah not in existence, that a lasting peace would be able to be established swiftly. This is partly the case for the reason just given but there is also another reason.
It is also the case that extreme elements would still exist within Palestinian circles, but the resistance would be much more muted, though still proving a catalyst for inaction on a territorial compromise.
There will also undoubtedly be elements within Palestinian groups always unhappy with a compromise deal, even one that creates two states with reasonable territorial divisions.
With so many disparate groups and as always the violent ones clouding things, the dispute seems even more inexorable as we head towards much more bloodshed in a very unstable geographic region.
A number of factors are compounding to make even a sensible mutual resolution difficult for all parties to accept without further violence. So, the cycle of violence will continue.
Every now and then a former parliamentary leader, minister or MP returns to the airwaves or to our TV screens to comment on issues that they think are important, on policy issues that they can still offer a reasonable opinion on. Some do it more than others as if craving to be back on the national stage in a big way. Some appear to have lucid thoughts, others not so intelligent or in-touch thoughts. Paul Keating is one such man. At times his thoughts on current challenges facing Australia and the world are clearly observable in reality, even on the money, and sometimes his ideas and comments are way off the mark.
The former Prime Minister last night went on Lateline to talk about a speech he was asked to deliver- the Keith Murdoch Oration which was given at the State Library of Victoria. It was a speech called Asia in the New Order: Australia’s Diminishing Sphere of Influence. The oration comes just a short time after the Labor Party released their Australia in the Asian Century White Paper.
In a wide-ranging speech about Australia’s positioning in Australia, both in historic and forward-looking terms, former Prime Minister Keating focused particularly on our relationship with Indonesia and her government based in Jakarta.
Australia’s relationship with Jakarta has been much like a yo-yo. We have had a tough time having to establish and then re-establish firm ties with Indonesia at different times in our mutual political history. Most recently, that cooperation was lost over the East Timor dispute and then clawed back, particularly since the Bali bombings.
Keating’s speech made a number of claims about how Australia should be participating in Asia and with whom that political interaction would offer the best outcomes for Australia.
Ostensibly, Mr Keating said that our key strategic relationship in the Asia-Pacific should actually be situated in the Indo-Pacific, specifically with a close geographical neighbour, Indonesia.
Paul Keating has form talking up the need for a close strategic partnership with Indonesia. Just under twenty years ago the former Australian Prime Minister declared that, “no country is more important to Australia than Indonesia. ”
His argument last night with regard to our relationship with Indonesia was based on three main themes, They were that our partnership lacks “structure” and “coherence” and is dominated by “transactional issues”. Those arguments are, for the most part, wrong.
The Australia-Indonesia relationship, though testy at times, has been a firm one for the past decade despite the occasional flash of discontent toward Australia and vice versa.
To say that the bilateral ties between Australia and Indonesia lack structure is false. For one, increasing economic ties with Indonesia is currently on the negotiating table. We are working towards an Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Partnership Agreement and have been since 2010 when it was announced that discussions had commenced.
Australia and Indonesia are also part of regional bodies including the Bali Process, the Indonesia-Australia Annual Leaders’ meeting and APEC where we have the chance to meet on both a multilateral and bilateral basis.
The only regional forum where Australia is missing out on interaction with Indonesia is ASEAN, We are not a member of this grouping and that is one area where Paul Keating is correct to say we could improve on engagement with our region.
Australia-Indonesia ties do not lack coherence either. Coherence cannot be found to be lacking when we have set meetings at which we engage with the Indonesians at both a multilateral and bilateral level. It cannot be said that our regular two-way visits imply a lack of ongoing relations with our northern neighbour.
In terms of transactional issues, the former Prime Minister almost has a point. He talked about specific examples, the live export trade which was temporarily suspended and about the ongoing people movement between Indonesia and Australia.
They are transactional issues but our relationship goes beyond that. At the very least there appears to be a working relationship that has continued between President Yudhoyono and Julia Gillard after being grown by John Howard in particular and then Kevin Rudd.
There are times when we do not get as much as we would like from the Indonesians and they from us, but that is the nature of most relationships, not just with Indonesia. Particularly in the case of Indonesia, there are some things that they just cannot or will not grant us, mostly by virtue of the fact that they are a developing nation.
When talking about military and security power, the regional importance of Indonesia is questionable. They have a weak defence force and even weaker border protection capabilities. Australia, to its credit is trying to provide some assistance in those areas.
Paul Keating is wrong when he talks about needing to pull back from the Australia-US relationship in order to have a stronger friendship with Indonesia. Our relationship has been largely maintained, even grown throughout a period of increased Australian military ties with the United States of America.
The same is true of our relationship with China, despite their initially being some protestations from both the Chinese and the Indonesians when we announced a greater ongoing military presence in the Northern Territory. Those purported tensions appear to no longer be an issue or at least not one to foment great conflict.
Should we dramatically escalate ties with the USA? Perhaps not. However, the purported need to dramatically disengage from one of our ANZUS partners is overstated, even based on an illusion.
It is quite silly of Paul Keating to say that our relationship with Indonesia lacks structure and coherence and is dominated by transactional issues. This is clearly not the case.
Denmark has decided in recent days that it will repeal the fat tax introduced over a year ago that is levied on foods with a certain level of fat and above. The Danes have also decided not to go ahead with their planned ‘sugar tax’, an extension of the chocolate tax. The move is a victory for common sense, even though it actually took until the tax was operational for the Danish Government to realise that it was a silly idea that was never going to work.
The Danes love their taxation, they are one of the world’s top taxing nations so of course it was almost inevitable, with a worldwide obesity crisis continuing to grow, that they, or another European nation would be the first country in the world to put a tax on high-fat foods. In the end, the Danes went first with a tax adding 16 kroner per kilogram of saturated fat.
In looking at the results of the tax the Danish political establishment found that their world-leading tax was costly to business, but more importantly, failed to change the eating habit’s of Danes. The levy on saturated fats was also a bureaucratic nightmare, having being levied on all food products containing saturated fats.
The government of Denmark found that part of the reason the tax did not work was because Danes travelled across the border to purchase foods high in fat once the tax was introduced.
The Australian Government and others around the world contemplating placing a tax on saturated fats and high-sugar products must learn from the Danish example. Governments must realise both that a fat or sugar tax will not work in combating obesity and that because such a tax will not work, they would be asking business to take on extra costs for no benefit.
There are a few things that government needs to know about introducing a fat tax and the Danish example might finally make politicians realise those facts.
First and foremost, taxing to change behaviour is a stupid concept. In fact, what a tax attempting to change behaviour is doing a lot of the time is actually taxing stupidity. Common sense cannot and should not be legislated for unless it is in order to prevent harm to others. Eating fatty foods is not a crime against your friend, your neighbours or strangers. Having an unhealthy
A tax on saturated fats or fast food just increases the price of fast food. A tax put on foods that are bad for us will not ever magically make healthy foods more accessible than poor food choices.
Not only that but increasing the cost of foods with saturated fats on any level would make it difficult for low-income earners to be able to afford food. People that are on low incomes are already struggling and do not need to be struggling to eat.
Government also needs to think about why foods high in fat, salt or sugar are increasingly the choice made by Australians in their day-to-day lives. In some cases it is not quite as simple as people willingly choosing the worst food option.
First and foremost, unhealthy foods are cheaper. Fast food and more generally, all foods high in fat, salt and sugar cost much less than fast foods and that has been a reality for a long time,
It must also be recognised that we are getting busier as a nation. People are working longer hours and getting more tired. Consequently, fast and convenient food is an increasingly sought after product and again, that is usually processed, high in fat, salt and sugar.
Subsidising healthy food is an option but it would prove extremely costly and would still not work. Subsidising anything is also something that a government should avoid at any cost.
There is a role for educating people about healthy food choices, starting at an early age to instil the benefits of good food choices. Again though, this is a part solution.
The problem is a difficult one, but as Denmark has shown, taxing eating habits is not the answer.
President Obama romped home in yesterday’s presidential poll in the US. It was a famous victory that most pundits had been unwilling to contemplate, at least as far as the extent of the victory for the incumbent yesterday. We were told it would be pretty close, even during the early part of the coverage, but in the end the result was quite comfortable for Obama. It was not of 2008 proportions, nobody expected that, but it was a good win, a strong win nonetheless.
At present Barack Obama has 303 electoral college votes, ahead of rival Mitt Romney on 206. After being behind in the popular vote early on Tuesday night, the President has pulled far enough ahead for any questioning of the extent of the result to be out of the equation. The President has over 59 million votes and his challenger, Governor Romney, over 56 million.
That means four more years as the chant went. Another opportunity to attempt to turn the American economy around and another opportunity to try to implement aspects of an extensive progressive agenda.
Of course there were mixed results during the first two years of Obama’s presidency. With control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the President largely failed to work towards implementing large swathes of his policy agenda. This was partly down to the state of the economy and also as a result of a much less partisan political environment. Some Democrats often vote with Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Mitt Romney was gallant and gracious in defeat, wishing the President all the best with very kind words during his concession speech late yesterday.
But it was the President that stole the headlines with a rollicking victory speech, the kind of oratory precision that Mr Obama is well and truly capable of and some may have thought was lost after some of his performances during the election campaign.
The speech was on a par with those leading up to his becoming President at the 2008 election and with his acceptance speech upon winning the Presidency. Again the President spoke of hope and opportunity for all, much in the same vein as those now famous speeches.
The speech was a vision more than an action plan. It was a look at what President Obama would like to do, what he values. It appeared more of a speech that a presidential challenger or first-term President having just won election, would deliver than it did the work of a second-term incumbent like Obama.
Of course, it was lacking in concrete policies and had some wild claims of reforms that Obama would like to pursue during his second term, like electoral reform, which will prove a massive and probably insurmountable challenge.
The speech undoubtedly excited a large number of people and that was the intention. Even people who do not agree with Mr Obama or his policies were in awe of the strong performance from the newly re-elected leader.
The President probably thought, going into his final term, that he could afford politically to give a speech like that, raising the expectations of the masses again. But whether or not that is smart is an entirely different proposition.
There are three factors that he would have needed to consider before appealing to people’s emotions like that.
The first is regarding his legacy. Does President Obama really want to be remembered for setting lofty goals and then struggling to achieve the vast majority of those aims?
Setting ambitious goals is something that progressive candidates do all the time, often setting too many tasks, failing to have time for some and not being able to successfully implement others. It can often be a significant reason for the failure of progressive governments in an electoral sense.
Progressive government is not inherently bad, but you must be able to manage expectations rather than overly excite them. It is better to be both a bit progressive and a bit conservative.
The second thing that Barack Obama should be wary about is the effect that the speech and its highly ambitious tenor might have on the campaign in four years time. What harm might another term of over-promising and under-delivering produce for the Democrat’s candidate in the 2016 presidential election.
There is one final thing that the President should have had in mind before delivering the speech. There is no extra money in the budget for anything. The United States of America is truly struggling fiscally and that could become a much deeper problem in the coming weeks.
It was a good speech, even a great speech. However, good speeches do not always make or mean good leaders, but they do help us remember them.
Post Tropical Storm Sandy has now vanished from the skies above the United States of America. In its wake it has left at least 90 dead with the final death toll likely to be higher than that. The hurricane has also resulted in billions of dollars damage to cities along the east coast of the USA. Now that the storm has passed, attention first and foremost has turned to the recovery with FEMA and the US President hitting the ground running. The US President has toured areas hit by the natural disaster and FEMA have commenced their post-disaster efforts.
Despite the fact that a tragedy has just transpired, the US election, which has seen an intriguing campaign so far, is still going ahead. Polling day is now less than a week away and after a brief ceasefire, electoral hostilities have resumed in key swing states across the country.
Inevitably, thought has turned to the effects that the hurricane has had on the campaign and might have on the outcome on election day. Would the storm help or hinder Barack Obama and end Mitt Romney’s chances or would it end Barack Obama’s hopes for re-election? Or would the storm have left the electoral equation relatively unchanged?
It would appear that there are two main scenarios which could play out as a result of Hurricane Sandy. But there is also the possibility of a third effect brought on by the tropical storm.
The first is the really obvious one. This is the one that seems to be in the mind’s and on the lip’s of many political commentators. That is that the devastation gives President Obama a chance to appear presidential, an interesting conclusion given that President is exactly what Barack Obama currently is.
This theory holds that the President, through responding to the crisis, will gain electoral momentum thanks to the horrific events which have killed so many, not just in the USA, but also throughout parts of the Caribbean.
Whether or not this theory holds any credibility is largely down to the states involved in the hurricane, with the broader populace probably not as concerned about Barack Obama appearing presidential as a result of something that does not affect them. Most of the directly hit states are well and truly in the bag for either side, save for Virginia and North Carolina.
The theory of looking presidential with strong and swift actions after a tragic event could also be applied to Mitt Romney. It is somewhat arguable that appearing presidential as the challenger could have more of a benefit than the incumbent coming across to voters in the same way.
Governor Romney quickly hit the bellwether state of Ohio for what was termed a ‘ hurricane relief event’. At this outing, Obama’s adversary organised for donations of food and other goods to be sent to storm-hit areas of the country.
This event and others like it as well as Romney’s responses regarding the awful events of earlier this week mean that he could also appear presidential to voters. Again, whether this matters is debatable, though with Governor Romney enjoying most of the electoral momentum, small gains could make a difference.
The other theory is that Sandy might be responsible for halting the momentum of the campaign.
This theory offers more negative consequences for the President than it does for Mitt Romney. Effectively, if this was the case it would mean that two days were removed from Barack Obama’s last week and a bit of the campaign. This means two less days campaigning for votes.
The final effect is mostly a positive for the sitting President, at least for the period of time it was in play.
It is within the realms of reason, even self-evident, that the hurricane provided a distraction for up to almost a week from the real issue that Americans will be voting on when Tuesday next week rolls around. For that time, news of the economy and debate about it would have played second fiddle to the approaching winds and rain.
Whether or not two days of almost zero talk about the has resulted in a change of the complexion of the campaign seems unlikely. The storm is over now too and the focus of the campaign has largely returned to domestic issues.
It would appear that any benefit for either Republicans or Democrats, President Obama or Mitt Romney, derived from the storm that hit the east coast, is small or even negligible. Stranger things have happened though. Who would have thought that a debate would result in quite a dramatic shift in voter intentions?
With less than a week to go in a tough contest, the result is still anyone’s, even with a hurricane thrown into the equation.