Sunday, September 30, 2018

"America First," "Belt and Road," "Mutually Advantageous Cooperation" and the Rise of the Global South: Preliminary Thoughts on Remarks by President Trump to the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly (25 September 2018)

On Tuesday 25 September 2018, President Trump addressed the United Nations. This was his second speech to that body.  What most media focused on was the audience reaction (‘People actually laughed at a president’: At U.N. speech, Trump suffers the fate he always feared; Trump's UN speech triggered laughs: Is US leadership still serious?President Trump Boasted About His AccomplishmentsThe Latest: Trump says UN now feels like 'home').

Was there more to the speech than the reactions popularized in the press? Everyone will decide for themselves, of course.  The transcript of the speech (OFFICIAL VERSION Remarks by President Trump to the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly (25 September 2018); and unofficial version here: Read Trump’s speech to the UN General Assembly, VOX) follows. Video HERE. President Trump's speech becomes far more interesting, especially for its views on America Frst and trade when compared to that made by Wang Yi, Multilateralism, Shared Peace and Development,   Remark to the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly (28 September 2018). Video HERE; Transcript below.

In addition to the transcripts, I offer some brief thoughts. Avoiding the sometimes ridiculous panegyrics of dislike (but mostly of class based distaste) for this President and his administration (along with its hallmark cultural markers), I focus on convergence.  In this case, the remarkable alignment of American (bilaterally based) multilateral policy with that of the People's Republic of China, and with echoes of the core premises of foreign policy underlying Caribbean Leninism, for example in the form of Cuba-Venezuela's ALBA group.

The point, worth considering, is that the emerging America First policy better aligns with the progressive ideals of the Global South than it represents some sort of reactionary fever dream (e.g., here).  And that, perhaps, may be the most irritating part for those elements in the global North that continue to cling to a world view that may well be passing.  But ironically enough, for the authors and advocates of America First, this may also be quite irritating for precisely the opposite reasons.  What appears to serve the uniqueness of American sovereignty may well advance notions from the Global South.  And the embrace of this Global South sensibility at the heart of the Global North, may, like China's Belt and Road Initiative, produce "facts" for the Global South lamentably quite different from the expected "truth" in its premises.  An elaboration of these thoughts follow.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Summary Report on "China: Challenges and Opportunities A Conversation with Penn State and East China University of Political Science and Law Faculty" 中国:挑战与机遇 宾州州立大学与华东政法大学学者对话

On 28 September 2018, the event, China: Challenges and Opportunities: A Conversation with Penn State and East China University of Political Science and Law Faculty (中国:挑战与机遇:  宾州州立大学与华东政法大学学者对话) was held at Penn State University.  My thanks to its sponsors, the Coalition for Peace and Ethics (CPE), the Foundation for Law and International Affairs (FLIA), the School of International Affairs and the Law School at Penn State.

The Concept Note can be read HERE. The Event centered on developments in jurisprudential theories that have application not just for the study of Chinese developments, but which also have substantial application for other systems.

This post includes proceedings of the Event and was prepared with Flora Sapio (Uni Naples and CPE). 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Just Published--Peng Chengyi, "Chinese Constitutionalism in a Global Context"

I am delighted to announce a new publication: Peng Chengyi, Chinese Constitutionalism in a Global Context (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group; Hardback: 9781409454106; pub: 2018-08-06).  The work makes an excellent addition to the Globalization Law and Policy Series. Dr. Peng is an Assistant Research Fellow in the Department of World Political Theory, Institute of World Economics and Politics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 

The book is well worth considering for its insightful approach to the core issues of Chinese constitutionalism within the context of global constitutional discourse. The Table of Contents and book description follows, along with the Preface.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Data, Analytics and Algorithm as Fetish and the Semiotics of Fake Facts

 (Pix c Larry Catá Backer 2017)

Generally one ought to become worried--as one ought often to be worried in the United States--when  intellectuals start using ordinary words as fetishes.  One speaks of abstract fetishes here rather than either the traditional tangible fetish (an inanimate object revered or utilized for its connection with extra human forces) or increasingly in sex obsessed America with forms of sexual desire gratified through objects or performance (usually to an extent judged abnormal by those charged with defining the "normal").  Fetishes, then, are objects with utility; they are objects invested with properties that belie their "ordinary use" and indeed, their power comes from the extraordinary effect they might have when invoked during the course of certain rituals designed to "activate" them. Abstract fetishes, on the other hand, are activated by invocation.  And in that invocation through utterance they can be quite powerful. Americans are found of the use of  certain terms for that effect: "liberal," "racist," "Islamophobe," "antisemite," among other even more powerful invocation words projected through utterance at a specific target, have been increasingly used in that way, and sometimes with extraordinary effect.  What makes them powerful is their ability to combine data, analysis, and judgment within one word without the bother of exposing any of those elements to inspection or response.

Now ironically, data, analytics, and especially algorithm themselves may also be acquiring fetish cult status in the U.S. (and elsewhere of course). They have ceased to serve primarily to mean something in an of themselves. That original "something" might usefully be understood as the core of semiotic triadic relations between object, sign, and interpretant (for easy to read background, here). Instead they now serve as judgments which when invoked are expected to have a  calculated set of responses both against those against whom it is being used, and from those who are connected to them (employers, customers, friends, family, the state, etc.).  One sees this in a number of distinct contexts around either the value or threat posed by "big data", data analytics, and especially "algorithms." These are understood as "things" with specific powers that can be invoked by those with the technology and vision to use them (some discussion of sources here).  

This post attempts a very simple, and perhaps simpleminded dissection of the fetish of data, of analytics and of algorithms. The context is facial recognition (which has also assumed a fetish status in its own right).  The object is to start, very tentatively, to consider the difficulties of extracting the meaning of each of those terms in a context in which law, policy, business are increasingly relying on the three in their regulatory structures, compliance, risk management, social control, and policy judgments. The subject around which this discussion will be attempted is facial recognition.  In the process one can more clearly see how carelessness--strategic or otherwise--can turn these fetishes into quite powerful tokens of misdirection, much less misinformation. I will take them one at a time.   

Saturday, September 22, 2018

"Not a Zookeeper's Culture:" Thoughts on Hispanic Heritage Month Twenty Years On

(Pix from video that may be accessed HERE)

The recognition of one of the oldest elements that make up the rich diversity of American culture came only recently in the history of the nation. Hispanic Heritage week was recognized officially during that transformative period that marked the 1960s by President Johnson, and expanded into a moth long observation during the presidency of Ronald Reagan in 1988, when legislation to that effect was enacted. Hispanic Heritage Month is now celebrated from 15 September to 15 October; the start date connected to the independence days of many Central American Republics, whose independence days are celebrated between 15 and 21 September.

This year for Hispanic Heritage Month I revisit something I wrote in 1998, “Not a Zookeeper’s Culture: LatCrit Theory and the Search for Latino/a Authenticity in the U.S.,” Texas Hispanic Journal of Law & Policy 4:7-27 (1998). I wondered whether much has changed over the twenty years that separates my thinking about the conception and self conception of this very fragile concept--of an orthodox "hispanicity" (itself  a politically sensitive term) from the political landscape within which we find ourselves now. Latcrit theory, of course, might have moved on. Beyond that, I am not sure much has changed; perhaps lines have hardened (on one end) and dissipated almost entirely on the other. I suspect that the notions of ethnic community increasing produce a contradiction--the lived experience of community is increasingly remote from its political expression, especially as it is driven by civil and political society.  And, of course, what remains the same is the scope and intensity of argument about all of this.  My principal concern--the outsider within outsider groups--still looms large and is more visible at the level of groups but not at the level of the individual. And perhaps that is the ultimate marker of our times--as the political and societal conversation continues to coalesce around essentializing markers (and lived assertions of membership, the individual is both abstracted and reconstituted as an expression of orthodox characteristics, against which individual conformity if judged and deviation disciplined. In this age n which ethnic and other non-political communities must renegotiate their relationships with dominant political structures in many places, these challenges might be more important now than they were twenty years ago. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Making Sausages?: Preliminary Thoughts on the "Zero-Draft," the first official draft of the legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2018)

"Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made" (sometimes attributed to Bismarck). Its earlier variant is attributed to lawyer-poet John Godfrey Saxe (“Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.”) (See, Quote Investigator).  Either way, thoughts of this quote came to mind when, in July 2018, the open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights released the first official draft of the legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises. (Text of the Zero-Draft also follows below).

The Business and Human Rights Resource Center has called this  “Zero Draft” "a key milestone in a complex and lengthy process, against the backdrop of a political context which has become increasingly challenging since the UN Human Rights Council voted by majority to begin negotiations in June 2014." (Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Reflections on the Zero Draft).

BHRRC has also quite usefully provided a space where global thought leaders can reflect publicly on the Zero Draft. This growing conversation will enrich consideration of this effort, whatever the fate of this Zero Draft instrument. To date there have been marvelous contributions from  Phil Bloomer and Maysa Zorob, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre-  Read more (The continued implementation of the UNGPs and the development of a binding Treaty can and should advance simultaneously, and both stand to benefit from doing so); Charlie Holt, Shira Stanton and Daniel Simons, Greenpeace-  Read more  (Looking at the zero draft through the lens of how such an instrument can contribute to a green and peaceful future, there are still limitations that must be addressed); Professor John G. Ruggie, Harvard University- Read more ((...)a truly foundational challenge for the proposed treaty is how to define and operationalize “business activities of a transnational character.”); Richard Meeran, Leigh Day- Read more (If effectively translated into national laws, the provisions of the Zero Draft would lower the legal and procedural barriers to MNC parent company liability);  Dr Nadia Bernaz, Wageningen University- Read more (The Draft Treaty on Business and Human Rights stays clear of controversy surrounding corporate human rights obligations and criminal responsibility under international law); and Surya Deva, City University of Hong Kong- Read more, Part I and Part II ((...)neither voluntary initiatives alone nor measures merely at national level will ever be adequate to regulate effectively the conduct of today’s businesses). Additional news, commentaries and statements on the Treaty are available here.

My colleague Flora Sapio (UniNaples and CPE) and I both wanted to add our perspectives to this important and lively discussion.  This post includes my own preliminary thoughts about the Zero Draft.  Flora Sapio's comments may be accessed HERE.

I start from the premise that what is intended is the creation of law.  That is, after all, the object of much of this effort.  But the intent is not merely to create law, but to develop a structure of meta-law that itself  provides a coherent (and mandatory) framework for the transformation of the domestic legal orders of those states adhering to it (and at its most ambitions) also coercing those states that reject the treaty through the logic of a global regulatory governance system that effectively internationalized legal norms through the private law of global production chains. In a sense, the Zero-Draft project is a reactionary initiative--times have to some extent passed it by as the realignment of the United States and China within their bilateral multilateralism projects (Belt and Road Initiative and America First) may change the supra national landscape within which it is possible to speak about conventions and the supremacy of one binding set of international norms now transformed into legal obligations.  For all that, the Zero-Draft is worth taking seriously.     

Monday, September 17, 2018

Johnathan Kiwana: "48 Hour Rule: Right to Privilege; The Judiciary Should Let Us Know!"

There are exciting young voices coming out of Africa. They are especially strong in those areas where Africa is usually considered the perpetual student--Constitutional law and practice high among them. It has been my great pleasure to get to know some of these young lawyers during the course of their post graduate studies at Penn State.

I am delighted to highlight some of their work form time to time. For this post I include an excellent short essay, "48 Hour Rule: Right to Privilege; The Judiciary Should Let Us Know! which follows below. It considers constitutional implications of a 48 hour detention rule in Uganda.

Jonathan is currently an LLM Candidate at Penn State Law. Prior to this Jonathan practiced law with the Kampala office of Bowmans, a corporate commercial law firm operating across Africa. His practice majorly entails legal and transactional advice to financial institutions, fin-techs, multi-nationals and energy companies on their operations in East Africa. While practicing Corporate-Commercial law, Jonathan maintains a keen interest in matters of Constitutional Law, Human Rights and Social Justice. He has previously interned with the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and volunteered with International Justice Mission advocating for property rights of widows in rural Uganda.

Jonathan is licensed with the Ugandan bar and a member of Uganda Law Society and the East African Law Society. He has also published an anthology entitled ‘Muselings; A Young man’s Meditations on Life, People and Growing up’ and several newspaper articles.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The EU Parliament's "Statement on China-EU Relations"

Europe appears to be faced, again, with the hard task of balancing its relations among frenemies while retaining its wealth.  To that end it works from its strengths: it barters influence and the influence of ideas for material advantage; the influence of ideas, in this sense, may be Europe's most potent remaining basis of power.  It rides on the embers of empire, and Europe's still potent productive and consumptive capacities, to serve a a global superego. It has been seen in earlier guises through the so-called "Brussels Effect" campaign (to embed European values in European regulations to which those seeking entry in European markets would have to conform).  China, the United States, and Russia are left to squander muscle as they will, always subject to the legitimating judgment of this superego. 

All of this is much in evidence as the EU seeks to comprehensively structure its relations with China.  This is a critical task for Europe now.  To that end the European Parliament has produced a well crafted and quite complex Statement on China-EU Relations. Over the course of ninety-two (92) paragraphs (preceded by a lengthy chapeau that sets out the sources and character of the legal and policy basis of what is to come) the EU seeks to outline both a set of principles framing legitimate parameters for relations, and then prodding, begging, cajoling, praising and suggesting a very large array of actions to conform EU-Chinese relations to these structuring principles that Europe has advanced as the basis for its relations with China. 

This post includes the text of the EU Parliament's Statement on China-EU Relations (adopted Wednesday 12 September 2018) (2017/2274(INI)) along with very brief comments.

Friday, September 14, 2018

7th U.N. Forum on Business and Human Rights 26-28 November 2018: Concept Note and Program

One of the highlights of the "human rights" season is the annual meeting organized by the UN Working Group for Business and Human Rights.  It takes place at the end of November in Geneva and brings together many of the great stakeholders in the law, policy, and business of human rights in international economic activity; at least those who can afford the trip.

It has been my practice to observe and comment on aspects of this gathering every year.  Sometimes those are preceded by critical commentary on the Working Group's annual Report (see, e.g., here, and here).  Sometimes the gathering serves as an unconscious canvas on which larger movements in this field may be observed.  

This year will be no different.

For this Post I include the preliminary information just released by the Forum organizers: Concept Note, Preliminary Program, and Registration information. Each follows below.

Please register online through the Indico platform

Thursday, September 13, 2018

"Socialist Constitutional Democracy in the Age of Accountability (责)"; My Remarks for the European China Law Studies Association Annual Conference, Torino, Italy 14 September 2018

This year, a group of superb scholars will come together in Torino, Italy, to discuss a broad range of current issues touching on China and its increasingly influential role in the world. during the course of the 13th Annual Conference of the European China Law Studies Association (key topics for the 13th Annual Conference HERE). Since its founding in 2006, the European China Law Studies Association has become a major international venue for scholars and practitioners who are engaged in the study of Chinese law, from both comparative and interdisciplinary perspectives.

For this year's conference I participated in a panel,  The Emerging Structures of Chinese Constitutionalism in the New Era, organized by Flora Sapio (more on the panel here).

The text of my remarks for the panel,  "Socialist Constitutional Democracy in the Age of Accountability ()," follow below.

The Remarks (with related PowerPoint images) may be downloaded HERE (large file): Backer_Remarks_ECLSA2018-FINAL

The Remarks TEXT ONLY may be downloaded HERE: Backer_Remarks_TextONLY_ECLSA2018

The PowerPoints may be accessed HERE:  Backer_ECLSA_2018

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Ruminations 80: Very Brief Thoughts on the Anniversary of 11 September 2001

(Pix Wikimedia)

The events of 11 September in New York, Washington, D.C., and over the skies of Western Pennsylvania caused tremendous personal suffering.  The loss of life reverberated out from the crash sites themselves to envelop family, friends and communities. It is this loss, and its effects, that ought to be at the center of the commemorations of the day.  That memory, and that pain, will mellow with time, though its significance will remain undiminished. But those were not the only lives lost. Equally important, and also worth commemorating today, are the lives lost from this day forward, as the United States sought to protect its honor, its interests, and dignity of the lives initially lost.  That has been an equally painful series of events for individuals, families and communities that will be affected for generations. I lack the power of eulogy for a tragedy so great and so long lasting.   I can grant no peace to those who have died and those who remain, nor power to bless and heal. But I like others do what we can by marking the day as a public sign of inward solidarity, by contemplating its significance, and by considering the relationship of this tragedy to us all.  

11 September commemorates something else as well. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Thoughts on John Bolton: Address to the Federalist Society, Washington, D.C. on US policy toward the International Criminal Court

On 10 September, John Bolton, who serves as the 27th National Security Advisor of the United States, delivered a speech to the Federal Society in Washington, D.C. Mr. Bolton is a senior administration official and an influential advisor.  He is also a senior leader among the factions within the U.S. and global intelligentsia now fighting a quite aggressive war for control of the narrative, agenda and context of orthodoxy in the "political line" of the West, even as the West confronts a number of challenges from other orthodoxies abroad.  He is speaking to issues at the core of the projects of a generation or more of global elites who saw in the International Criminal Court a critically important component in the move toward the regulation of state and state based conduct and the judicialization of broad categories of conduct that, at least at a theoretical level, had been deemed beyond the bounds of civilized society (however that is defined). And Mr. Bolton offers an action plan, sweeping in its rejection of the positions of prior U.S. administrations:
* We will negotiate even more binding, bilateral agreements to prohibit nations from surrendering US persons to the ICC. And we will ensure that those we have already entered are honoured by our counterpart governments.
* We will respond against the ICC and its personnel to the extent permitted by US law. We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the US financial system, and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.
*  We will take note if any countries cooperate with ICC investigations of the United States and its allies, and we will remember that cooperation when setting US foreign assistance, military assistance, and intelligence sharing levels.
* We will consider taking steps in the UN Security Council to constrain the court's sweeping powers, including ensuring that the ICC does not exercise jurisdiction over Americans and the nationals of our allies that have not ratified the Rome Statute. (Aljazeera, Full text of John Bolton's speech to the Federalist Society)

It will come as now surprise, then, that this speech will produce a substantial amount of reaction (e.g., press reaction here, here, here, here, here, and here).  More will follow in the coming days, especially as states, international organizations, civil society, and aggregations of the intelligentsia on every side of this issue marshals their forces for their discursive fusillades.  

This post includes Mr. Bolton's speech and some brief reflections. The Reflections may be downloaded here as a CPE Background Brief.

The Video of the speech may be accessed HERE.

The White House "Fact Sheet" may be accessed HERE and below. 

Sunday, September 09, 2018

"China: Challenges and Opportunities A Conversation with Penn State and East China University of Political Science and Law Faculty" 中国:挑战与机遇 宾州州立大学与华东政法大学学者对话

I am delighted to announce a public engagement:  China: Challenges and Opportunities: A Conversation with Penn State and East China University of Political Science and Law Faculty (中国:挑战与机遇:  宾州州立大学与华东政法大学学者对话). 

It is scheduled for  28 September 2018, Penn State University, School of  International Affairs, Room 232, from  10:00 A.M. – Noon (2018年9月28日 上午10点到12点  宾州州立大学国际事务学院 Katz Building Room 232).

Please join our discussion by emailing Miaoqiang Dai at for any questions or comments before, during or after the event. 欢迎各位在活动前、收看直播时或活动后以邮件的形式将您的问题、评论或感悟发送给戴苗强(,我们会帮您向学者提问并及时反馈。We hope to record some parts of the event. 我们希望能记录事件的某些部分

The Concept Note can be read below (概念文件 可以在下面阅读 ).

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Recursos del constitucionalismo cubano/Cuban Constitutionalism Resources: The "Apunta No" ["Vote No"] Campaign

 As part of the Coalition for Peace & Ethics's Technical Assistance Project--Reforma de la Constitución del Estado cubano 2018/Reform of the Cuban State Constitution 2018, we have been considering the popular response to the invitation by the Cuban State and the vanguard Communist Party (PCC) for the masses to debate the new constitutional draft recently circulated after it was approved by the National Assembly.  That debate and the suggestions gleaned from a process of well managed consultation, is expected to produce a revised final draft to be offered for approval by the nation in a popular referendum scheduled for 2019. 

In a prior post (Recursos del constitucionalismo cubano/Cuban Constitutionalism Resources: Comentarios del Extranjero y de la Prensa Independiente/Commentaries from Abroad and the Independent Press) we considered earkly reactions from the Cuban population living abroad and from the independent press.  Most interesting, for our purposes here, was the commentary of Jorge Sanguinetty (Oportunidades del debate constitucional en Cuba, published in Diario de Cuba on 9 August 2018). For Sanguinetty, the current Cuban constitutional moment serves as a test of the ability of the independent sector to organize, as well as an opportunity to practice important  forms of collective action and engagement.

Indeed, Sanguinetty may have been right. It was only a matter of time before  organizations that oppose one aspect or another of the Cuban state or its political principles would come together to oppose  the project of constitutional reform. To that end, organized opposition has now crystallized into a program of action.  Recently a civil society organization calling itself the Foro Antitotalitario Unido (FANTU) [The United Anti-Totalitarian Forum] was formed.  That organization, through a spokesperson, Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, has issued a Proclamation to kick off a in an "Apunta No"["Vote No"] campaign. It's object is to convince Cuban voters to reject the constitutional reforms during the popular referendum scheduled for early 2019.  They base this on the grounds that irrespective of any input or changes, the constitutional document is fatally flawed as both instrument, and as a memorialization of a will of the people that can be understood as legitimate within international standards. 

It would come as no surprise, as well, that this civil society campaign exceeds the tolerance of the Cuban State apparatus and the PCC for debate and comment. FANTU reported that on 1 September 2018 one of its members was arrested in connection with the Apunta No campaign in central Cuba (Arrestado militante del FANTU en Encrucijada por APUNTA NO). Another was arrested on 4 September in central Havana for passing out anti-government videos (Arrestado militante del FANTU en Centro Habana). There are likely to be more efforts like this. To that extent Apunta No serves as a boundary marker for constitutional discourse in Cuba. And a useful one.

The Apunta No proclamation follows in Spanish with my own crude English translation. 

Esta introducción se puede leer a continuación en español.

Friday, September 07, 2018

The Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack: Microwaves? What Microwaves! The Cuban Response--A Pretext is All that is Needed

In a  recent post I considered two reports that were distributed at roughly the same time. (The Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack: Management, Containment and Control--Microwave Weapons and the State Department Cuba Accountability Review Board Report)  The first was the the results of the State Department's Cuba Accountability Review Board Report made available on 30 August 2018. The second is the reporting of an interview given by the lead investigator  of the medical team that examined 21 affected diplomats from Cuba to the effect that microwave weaponry remains the chief suspect in the attacks widely reported on 1 September 2018.

Cuba's response--delivered through its Cuban Communist Party media organ, Granma, followed on September 3 Bertha Mojena Milián, Es imposible demostrar lo que no ocurrió y Estados Unidos lo sabe) (English version It is impossible to prove something that did not occur, and the U.S. knows it).   The Cuban position remains the same: the United States has fabricated an attack from out of a tissue of lies.  The formal response of the Cuban state was made by the Foreign Ministry through Carlos Fernández de Cossío, director de la Dirección general de Estados Unidos de la Cancillería cubana.  For the Cuban State, he again rejected the validity of the "sonic weapons" version of the allegations, suggested that the assertions made by various American public and private organs were either impossible to prove or not proven by the evidence, and that, if the evidence proves anything it is that no "attacks" of any kind actually occurred.

More interesting is the amplification of Cuba's response through the English language version of its Communist Party media organ: Yisell Rodríguez Milán, How is a pretext for a cold war manufactured?, Granma (6 Sept. 2018),  In it, the author builds a timeline of events to suggest the reason that Cuban offer as the reason for all the fuss--the need for an excuse to roll back normalization and to--again--seek to foment regime change in Cuba by other means.The insinuation, of course, is not just pretext, but something more nefarious and deceitful, as the fondation of policy or as a cover for otherwise unjustified acts. 
A pretext is all that is needed to start a conflict, something with which the United States has experience, from the Spanish-American War, to Vietnam, Iraq… but its latest efforts to vilify Cuba are unique. Last year, the U.S. asserted that its diplomatic personnel in Cuba had been affected by “sonic attacks,” an accusation that has been developed in the media in an attempt to justify launching a Cold War. A timeline of events illustrates the current administration’s efforts to undermine the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The report of the more or less official response follows below (Español/English). 

Recursos del constitucionalismo cubano/Cuban Constitutionalism Resources: Flora Sapio-"The Constitutional Debate in Cuba: The Irrelevant, the Good, and the Thoughtful" / Flora Sapio: "El debate constitucional en Cuba: lo irrelevante, lo bueno y lo reflexivo"

(Pix © Flora Sapio 2018)

The Coalition for Peace & Ethics has been looking at the data respecting public commentary on the draft Constitution since such comments were requested 13 August 2018 (e.g., Recursos del constitucionalismo cubano/Cuban Constitutionalism Resources: Primeros Commentarios del Pueblo/Initial Popular Commentaries). From that analysis we shared an Infographic that we thought might give readers a taste for the shape of constitutional discourse in Cuba in real time (Recursos del constitucionalismo cubano/Cuban Constitutionalism Resources: Infografía del Comentario Popular/Infographic on Popular Commentary).

We continue to analyze the data on popular commentary to the Cuban draft constitution.  We have not looked at the formal comments redacted by Cuban officials during the course of the many local meetings to be held all across the Republic to gather comments and to summarize debates.  It is those official transcripts of the tenor of debate and of the suggestions thought worthy enough for memorialization and delivery to the State and Party organs that will serve as the official basis for consideration of further revisions before a final text is approved  and put to a popular Referendum in 2019.  Those comments will no doubt serve a valuable purpose in the course of official engagement leading to the establishment of a revised constitutional order  under the leadership and subject to the direction of the Cuban Communist Party.  But there is also value  in gauging the temperature and trajectories of public opinions from the "informal sector."  These are comments that the state and Party have tolerated sufficiently to permit their posting onto social media but may reflect in much more direct ways popular opinion that may in some respects find their way into  the summaries of opinions and suggestions delivered to the National Assembly. 

Continuamos analizando los datos relacionados a los comentarios populares al borrador de la constitución cubana. No hemos visto los comentarios formales redactados por funcionarios cubanos durante el curso de las multiples reuniones locales que se celebrarán en toda la República cuyos objectivos requiere el reunir comentarios y resumir los debates. Son esas transcripciones oficiales del tenor del debate y de las sugerencias, los que se consideran suficientemente válidas para la conmemoración y la entrega al Estado y los órganos del Partido, que servirán como base oficial para la consideración de nuevas revisiones antes de que se apruebe un texto final para la aprobación popular mediante un Referéndum programado para 2019. Esos comentarios sin duda tendrán un propósito valioso en el curso del compromiso oficial que conduzca al establecimiento de un orden constitucional revisado bajo la dirección y bajo la dirección del Partido Comunista de Cuba. Pero hay valor en y vale la pena  medir la temperatura y las trayectorias de las opiniones públicas del "sector informal". Estos son comentarios que el Estado y la Parte han tolerado lo suficiente para permitir su publicación en las redes sociales, pero pueden reflejar de manera mucho más directa la opinión popular que solo en algunos aspectos quizas se encuentran en los resúmenes de opiniones y sugerencias entregadas a la Asamblea Nacional.

For this post CPE is happy to repost an essay of Flora Sapio, one of its members, who has been working on the analytics of popular opinion in the course of the Cuban Constitutional project.  Her essay--The Constitutional Debate in Cuba: The Irrelevant, the Good, and the Thoughtful--follows below.  It may also be accessed from the blog site, Forgotten Archipelagoes HERE.

Para este post, CPE se complace en volver a publicar un ensayo de Flora Sapio, uno de sus miembros, que ha estado trabajando en el análisis de la opinión popular en el curso del proyecto constitucional cubano. Su ensayo - El debate constitucional en Cuba: lo irrelevante, lo bueno y lo reflexivo - sigue a continuación. También se puede acceder desde el sitio del blog, Forgotten Archipelagoes AQUÍ.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Annual Conference: European China Law Studies Association (欧洲中国法研究协会) Torino Italy--Tentative Program

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2018)

These are very dynamic times in China.  In the wake of the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October 2017, China saw substantial and important changes in its Communist Party and its state organs. China has moved aggressively to advance its Belt and Road Initiative, expanding and complicating its relationship with developing states.  It has produced a vigorous alternative to the principles of global trade that have been substantially unchallenged for a generation. Relations with the United States, always tumultuous, has become more strained as the U.S., like China, roils out its own new version of a global trading order. China has moved as well to become a more significant player in the development of global norms in areas form human rights to the law of the sea. At the same time, China's projects of Yuan internationalization continues to move forward and its move into international development through the the Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank poses a challenge to the hegemony of the World Bank and IMF.

It is in this context that a group of superb scholars will come together in Torino, Italy, to discuss these issues during the course of the 13th Annual Conference of the European China Law Studies Association (key topics for the 13th Annual Conference HERE; for the Conference last year in Leiden see HERE).  Since its founding in 2006, the European China Law Studies Association has become a major international venue for scholars and practitioners who are engaged in the study of Chinese law, from both comparative and interdisciplinary perspectives. The annual general conference provides an excellent forum for the exchange of information and ideas, as well as a platform for the development of research collaboration. Studies from disciplines other than law or interdisciplinary papers as well as submissions from young academics are expressly encouraged.

This Post includes the tentative program for the event.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

From Mr. Woodward's "Fear" to Fear of America First: Initial Thoughts

The release of the much anticipated book by Bob Woodward about the administration of the presidency of Donald Trump, Fear: Trump in the White House (Simon & Schuster (September 11, 2018)) was met with substantial emotion from all quarters of the political spectrum. Mr. Woodward
paints a harrowing portrait of the Trump presidency, based on in-depth interviews with administration officials and other principals. Woodward writes that his book is drawn from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand participants and witnesses that were conducted on “deep background,” meaning the information could be used but he would not reveal who provided it. His account is also drawn from meeting notes, personal diaries and government documents. ( Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, "Bob Woodward’s new book reveals a ‘nervous breakdown’ of Trump’s presidency," The Washington Post (4 Sept. 2018))
It is no doubt a marvelous work of its kind. It is also likely to keep global elites quite busy as they ponder ways to draw maximum utility from the materials in the service of whatever agenda moves them. And yet Fear may yet serve a useful purpose beyond the utility of the gossip about the aristocracy that that book serves up in generous portions. That utility goes to illustrating the structures of power within enclosed and self reflexive  structures that sometimes mark powerful states. I have written about this from the perspective of the architecture that such states leave behind:
There is a certain trans-cultural element to architecture of a certain kind. There is certainly what appears to be a universal approach to an architecture to power. That architecture should serve as a lesson to those who tend to like to wield it. In a different age the architecture of power was expressed in the palace complex. For all their contextual quirks, the Forbidden City, the Topkapi Palace and Versailles all express the same complex set of symbols and gestures. And each reveals the same fatal weakness. (Forbidden Cities 2008)
Americans appear to have been intent on building their own palace complex within the White House. If so, and it is possible Mr. Woodward might agree, then the object, of course, translated into the language of American political culture, is to make the case for the illegitimacy of the office of the United States because, if one believes the gossip, then the President is no longer actually exercising his office.  Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, writing for the Washington Post puts it this way: "Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them." ( Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, "Bob Woodward’s new book reveals a ‘nervous breakdown’ of Trump’s presidency," The Washington Post (4 Sept. 2018)). More importantly, it may serve as an important tool in shaping mass opinion on the eave of elections in the United States that may shift the balance of power among some of the aggressively antagonistic leadership factions in the United States.The effect may be useful to those who have no love for the current administration-- to provide the performance that the population can then vote on  the way people submit their votes during one of the many television talent or reality TV dramas.  And, indeed, one might see Fear as a political version of "The Voice" or more likely "Survivor".

This post considers the other side of "Fear"--the fear that the state of the internal workings of the U.S: administration is reflected in the state of the workings of American foreign policy.  That is it considers the way that the "Fear" administration has developed a new architecture for U.S. engagement in a world, whose leaders read Mr. Woodward's Fear, with the same eager anticipation as many Americans. It is organized in the context of a conversation I recently had with a foreign colleague.  It draws no conclusions about either, but it does suggest a dissonance between analysis and passion in this age increasingly marked by "Fear" at every turn.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

The Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack: Management, Containment and Control--Microwave Weapons and the State Department Cuba Accountability Review Board Report

(Pix credit "Microwave Weapons" (11 Sept. 2015), Weapons and Warfare)

From the start, the Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack has amounted to a series of curious turns. Each of these twists and turns has provided a measure if illumination in a small but significant corner of the world of contemporary conflict at the state to state and institution to institution level.  What had started as a well managed and quite genteel set of partial disclosures about the state of diplomat safety in Cuba has morphed into a story the limits of the ramifications of which remain largely unknown. Those ramifications touch on the state of modern warfare, perhaps in its 6th generation--the development of a set of weapons that can affect specific high value targets (an advance of the utility of drone killings but augmenting the spectrum of weaponry that can be used against specific targets), the erosion of the classical protections of diplomats, the increased blurring of the line between the techniques of war, those of business and those of statecraft.  Most importantly, perhaps, the Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attacks has substantially diffused the access of individuals and non state actors to the means and methods of warfare--nonlethal, technologically accessible and able to be used against individuals.

The Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack has been used in the context of the substantial reshaping of normalization between the U.S. and Cuba.  It has seen some use in the quite aggressive battles between the U.S. and China over the shape of global trade going forward (a work still in progress).  it has helped shape, though on the periphery, the relations between the U.S., Russia and some of the former Central Asian Soviet satellites. And it has shaped a very new and different sensibility about the nature of risk and injury in conflicts that are yet to be defined, much less named. In the process it has exposed the use of a variety of techniques and technologies both within the United States and abroad by others. The Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack has moved from the "he said-she said" stage through the reaction and grand gesture stage, through the solicitude for injury stages, through the scientific investigation and data gathering/analysis stage, to a new stage that may suggest the future course of events.   

Two recent events suggest the current contours of those efforts to manage, contain, and control information, and thus to shape the public environment within which pressure can be exerted to some ends or other. The first is the rather laconic report of the results of the State Department's Cuba Accountability Review Board Report made available on 30 August 2018. The second is the reporting of an interview given by the lead investigator  of the medical team that examined 21 affected diplomats from Cuba made no mention of microwaves in its detailed report published in JAMA in March, that microwave weaponry remains the chief suspect in the attacks widely reported on 1 September 2018 (here and here). This post includes brief commentary around those reports and suggestions, as well as an analysis of both.