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Professor Richard Tiffin, Director of the Centre for Food Security at the University of Reading discusses the House of Commons International Development Committee report on Food Security, published this week.

The House of Commons International Development Committee report on Food Security is a comprehensive and challenging attempt to highlight some of the issues which confront us with this complex problem.

The report highlights: the potential of GM to contribute to food security but recognises that care must be excercised in promoting this as a solution; the importance of agricultural research; the importance of open international markets in protecting against shocks; and that a focus on malnutrition may be as, if not more, important than that of hunger.

However, while the aim of the report is to take a global focus, it is perhaps guilty of oversimplifying the issue of meat production and coming to locally-centred, rather than global, conclusions. It notes that the rate of increase in meat consumption is unsustainable and recommends that meat should be promoted as an occasional product. By highlighting the place of animals in ensuring global food security the report is to be applauded but the reality is that this area is complex and not well understood at the moment.

It is irrefutable that demand for meat globally will grow as populations become richer.  At a local level, it might be sensible for us to reduce meat consumption and the reality is that price increases will probably lead us to do this voluntarily.  At a global level, however, it is much more important to consider how the inevitable increase in demand can be met and what its implications are for human health. We should not solely focus our attention on repelling the tide.

The report correctly states that we need to identify sustainable livestock systems, but it is not necessarily true that extensive pasture-based systems are more sustainable. For example there is evidence to suggest that more intensive feeding reduces the emission of greenhouse gases caused by livestock.  The role played by livestock in providing a route out of poverty for some of the poorest farmers should also not be overlooked.

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Dr Jonathan Bell from the Department of History wonders why the race to the White House is still too close to call…

‘There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,’ commented Mitt Romney in a video clip recorded at a fundraiser in September.

This was one of the most controversial moments in the current US presidential campaign so far and, despite the fact that Romney recently disavowed the statement and impressed in the first tv debate, should have done irreparable damage to the challenger’s campaign.

With Romney’s further comments that ‘forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax,’ and that his role ‘is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,’ it seems staggering that with under two weeks left until the election, the race to the White House is still too close to call.

So what’s Obama done wrong?

Romney’s attempt in the video to lay out in sharp relief the fundamental gulf between his political worldview and that of President Obama, reveals much about the highly charged debate raging in the United States over the future direction of the country. The fact that in making such a statement Romney did not deliver a self knockout blow demonstrates how powerful notions of individualism and freedom from state control remain despite the economic cataclysm of 2008.

The 2012 election is a referendum on how far government can be trusted to nurture a fairer society, a debate that has been raging for at least a hundred years but which has now reached fever pitch.

In response to a similarly devastating economic depression in the 1930s President Roosevelt set up the modern American social welfare system with the Social Security Act, and won a second term by a landslide despite failing to end the Great Depression. That welfare system expanded gradually through the 1950s and 1960s, notably with the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, and Republican Ronald Reagan was unable to curtail government programmes as much as he wanted.

Yet America’s relationship with Big Government remained uneasy and tentative, and notions of the ‘undeserving poor’ were powerful weapons in the Republican arsenal when they took control of Congress in the 1990s. The economic crisis of recent years has only heightened conservative attacks on government, as they see attempts to spend stimulus money or make the state an arbiter of health care provision as reckless extravagant schemes that risk wrecking the US economy on the shoals of fiscal ruin.

But if FDR was able to win a second term despite opponents’ cries of socialism and in spite of the lingering misery of economic crisis, why is Obama having such difficulty painting Romney as uncaring and aloof, happy to cut taxes on the rich while millions of Americans suffer unemployment and job insecurity?

The problem lies in the very success of the New Deal mission over the last eighty years. Most Americans benefit from government aid: through a bewildering array of tax breaks, old age pensions, health care for the elderly and for a majority of mothers and children, farm subsidies, to name a few examples.

But the majority don’t consider themselves part of Romney’s 47 percent. They don’t see their own tax breaks or health care as a handout, but are susceptible to appeals that Democrats want to extend the social safety net to the underserving.

Obama has failed to get across the message that Romney was wrong not because the 47% figure was too high, but because it was too low: corporate America also depends on government, the middle class depend on government, and the poor in many ways get the least from government.

The persistence of the myth, a myth Obama himself cannot quite dare to explode,  that all but undeserving shirkers gain economic security purely from their own efforts, is making it easier to attack Obama than it should be and could lead him passing on the Oval Office keys to Governor Romney.

Dr Jonathan Bell is Head of the Department of History and is interested in the political history of the United States since the Great Depression, in particular the relationship between political ideas and social change. He works mainly on the politics of the post-1945 era, looking at ways in which the theory and practice of liberalism and conservatism changed in the three decades since 1929.

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Justice, security and secrecy

Law, Terrorism and the Right to Know (LTRK) is an ESRC and AHRC funded project led by Dr Lawrence McNamara in the School of Law. The project explores democratic traditions of open justice, media freedom and the contemporary demands of security. In January 2012, Lawrence and research assistant Sam McIntosh submitted a response to a Government consultation and to a Parliamentary Human Rights Committee inquiry into the Justice and Security Green Paper.

When seven former Guantanamo Bay detainees took legal action against the British Security Services, alleging complicity in their detention and mistreatment abroad, their claim for damages would inevitably involve a very public examination of UK security policy and practices. Relevant material would be disclosed to the claimants and considered in open court.

 The Government asked the court to use special procedures which would allow sensitive evidence to be considered in the absence of the claimants and the public. Disclosure, it was said, would damage national security. Conceding the case would avoid disclosure but would unjustifiably tarnish the security services. When the Court of Appeal held the law did not allow for secret evidence in civil proceedings, the Government settled the actions with payments to the claimants. However, wanting to ensure that it would in future be able use special procedures, the Government took two major steps.

First, it appealed the legal issue to the Supreme Court. In Al Rawi v The Security Service the Court held that the common law did not permit the use of special procedures in ordinary civil claims. Legislation would be required to open up that option.

As such, the second and now more significant path has been to set about legislating. To that end, in late 2011 the Government published a Green Paper on Justice and Security as part of a public consultation on how best to protect sensitive evidence.

The Green Paper proposes the introduction of Closed Material Procedures (CMPs) in all civil proceedings and inquests where sensitive information might arise. CMPs are already well established in some areas. They have been used for a decade in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) which hears matters such as appeals against deportations ordered on security grounds.

Under CMPs, judges and government representatives are security cleared. When sensitive evidence arises, the court goes into ‘closed session’ with the public, press and non-government parties (and their lawyers) excluded from the court. Security-cleared ‘Special Advocates’ are appointed to represent the non-government party’s interests during closed hearings. However, once the Special Advocates have seen the sensitive evidence, they cannot consult with or obtain instructions from those whose interests they represent.

The advantage of CMP is that, in theory, all relevant evidence can be considered by the judge. But there are also significant disadvantages to CMPs. A frequent criticism is that non-government parties are severely disadvantaged because they are unable to see, and therefore properly challenge, closed evidence which goes against their case. That is, while CMPs may mean that more evidence is considered, that evidence is less rigorously tested. Among the fiercest critics of CMPs are the Special Advocates who work within them. However, CMPs also have further very negative implications for the general public’s interest in judicial proceedings being conducted in open court and in accordance with the principles of open justice.

The LTRK response to the Green Paper takes issue with the Green Paper’s failure to adequately explore two key questions. First, the Green Paper seems to simply accept that CMPs are an essentially satisfactory way of ensuring justice between the parties, despite this being at odds with criticisms from Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights and Special Advocates. Secondly, the Green Paper fails to seriously consider the implications that CMPs will have for open justice and ignores the real damage that their introduction could do to what Lord Brown in the Supreme Court has described as “the integrity of the judicial process and the reputation of English justice”.

Recognising that the Government appears determined to make CMP available in civil proceedings, the LTRK response goes on to suggest certain safeguards that may limit its impact on open justice. These focus on procedural checks to ensure that such proceedings are only used in truly exceptional circumstances and counter any trend towards their normalisation. Our response suggests that the criteria for engaging CMP should explicitly include the need to consider the benefits of justice being carried out openly and the harm done to the public interest of closed proceedings. It also suggests, for example, that media interests should be represented when courts consider the use of CMP.

The LTRK project will continue to examine the move towards legislation and the implications of proposals as they develop. Our website has regular updates.

www.reading.ac.uk/LTRK/

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