Poland amends Supreme Court changes, ignoring E.U. condemnation
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) passed a legislative amendment through Parliament on Wednesday reversing changes it had made at the Supreme Court that the European Union (E.U.) condemned as undemocratic. The European Union's top court has ordered Poland to "immediately suspend" its decision to lower the retirement age of its Supreme Court judges, which it said threatens judicial independence. The E.U. had led unprecedented proceedings against Poland over "systemic threats" to the rule of law that could see its EU voting rights suspended. The European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, also took Poland's government to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for lowering the age at which Supreme Court judges must retire from 70 to 65.
The PiS formed government in 2015 and enjoys strong public support, benefiting from strong economic growth, generous welfare spending, and nationalist rhetoric. The government defended the April 3 retirement law as part of reforms needed to tackle corruption and overhaul a judicial system still haunted by the communist era. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, "We will see what these (EU) institutions are proposing. When we take them into consideration, several possibilities will be analysed." Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro told Parliament, “We are fulfilling our obligations. At the same time, we are pushing forwards with our changes in the justice system.”
In October, the European Court of Justice ordered Poland to suspend the judicial overhaul which had forced many judges to retire, effectively enabling PiS to select their replacements, one of several steps the E.U. said weakened the country’s rule of law. Since its implementation, more than twenty Supreme Court judges, or one-third of the total, have been forced to quit. Under Wednesday’s amendment, judges who were retired can return to work.
U.S. President Trump warns of government shutdown next month over border security
United States (U.S.) President Donald Trump warned there could be a government shutdown next month over security on the border with Mexico, suggesting he could hold up a funding deal if no more money is provided for a wall between the two countries. The U.S. Congress faces a deadline next month to fund parts of the federal government and a possible showdown over money for Trump’s proposed border wall. Democrats, who gained control of the House in this month’s midterm elections said they will be even less motivated than before to meet Trump’s wall demands. If the Republicans and Democrats cannot reach a funding deal, there would be a partial government shutdown, with so-called “essential services,” including some at the Department of Homeland Security, remaining in operation.
President Trump said he has given the military the authorization to use lethal force if necessary, on the border with Mexico, and warned that the United States could close the whole border with Mexico for a period of time “if we find that it gets to a level where we are going to lose control, or our people are going to start getting hurt.” This would mean “Mexico will not be able to sell their cars into the United States,” he added. Vehicle exports from Mexico to the United States in 2017 totaled 2.3 million units.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Wednesday that he had been granted authority to allow troops on the Mexican border greater powers to help protect border officials and would await direction from the Department of Homeland Security. Secretary Mattis said troops could help protect the border agents with shields and batons but would be unarmed.
China builds on a new reef in the South China Sea, escalating regional tension and risk of war
China, which has been aggressively claiming strategic waterway, the South China Sea, by building of military and other installations on artificial islands and reefs has raised concerns over the possibility of military conflict or war for areas surrounding the country China. Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Brunei have competing claims in the South China Sea. Earlier this month, the United States (U.S.) once again urged China to halt militarization of the South China Sea, but China said it had the right to build “necessary defense facilities” on what it considers its own territory and urged Washington to stop sending warships and military planes close to the islands that Beijing claims. China has frequently lambasted the U.S. and its allies for freedom of navigation naval operations near to Chinese-occupied islands.
The islands China occupies are off-limits to foreigners, with access under the effective control of the People’s Liberation Army though they are technically administratively part of China’s southern Hainan province. China has said some civilian facilities on the islands are intended for use by others in the region, but the government has given few details about how that may work in practice.
Now, China has installed a new platform on a remote part of the Paracel Islands, which could be used for military purposes, according to recent satellite images reviewed by a U.S. think tank. The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies said the images showed a “modest new structure” on Bombay Reef, topped by a radome and solar panels, saying the purpose of the platform and radome was unclear, but it could be for military use. “The development is interesting given Bombay Reef’s strategic location, and the possibility that the structure’s rapid deployment could be repeated in other parts of the South China Sea,” ASTI said, “The reef is directly adjacent to the major shipping lanes that run between the Paracels and the Spratly Islands to the south, making it an attractive location for a sensor array to extend Chinese radar or signals intelligence collection over that important sea lane.”
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Chinese sovereignty over the Paracel Islands was not in dispute, and there is nothing wrong with China carrying out construction work on its own territory. However, Vietnam also claims the Paracel Islands.
In their paper published by the Central Party School, which trains future and rising officials, China’s Study Times wrote, “Unprecedented outside military interference is the biggest threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea. Without the strong deterrence power of our military in the South China Sea, then protecting regional peace and stability is merely idle theorizing and falls short of what we would wish.” The paper’s authors go on to say there must be a greater role for non-military actors in the South China Sea, and “facilities on the reefs and islands of the South China Sea should be more civilian and less military,” meaning more focus on building lighthouses, civilian airports, maritime search and rescue, scientific research and weather forecasting. “Just as the Chinese government has repeatedly stressed, after the completion of the island facilities, they will actively provide relevant public security products and services to regional countries,” the paper said, to help the international community with counter-terror and anti-piracy operations, to jointly safeguard peace and security in the South China Sea.
An influential Chinese state-run newspaper said China should put more focus on building civilian facilities on islands in the South China Sea and less emphasis on the military to soothe regional fears about China’s intentions.
Swiss vote in a referendum Sunday on whether their iconic cows should be with or without horns
Switzerland votes this Sunday in a referendum on preserving the “dignity of livestock”, initiated by farmer Armin Capaul and whether to subsidize farmers who let their cows’ and goats’ horns grow naturally. The latest poll says the vote is too close to call. “We must respect cows as they are. Leave them their horns. When you look at them they always hold their head high and are proud. When you remove the horns, they are sad,” he told Reuters on his small farm in northwestern Switzerland. Swiss cows are a national symbol and tourist attraction, and three-quarters of them are dehorned or genetically hornless.
Capaul, who says horns help cows communicate and regulate their body temperature, wants a CHF 190 annual subsidy per horned animal for farmers. He says that “listening” to his cows inspired his nine-year campaign for cash to fund extra grazing space horned animals need and which he hopes will reduce dehorning. When political lobbying failed, he collected over 100,000 signatures to trigger a national vote.
The government opposes his campaign saying it would drain up to CHF 30 million from its CHF 3 billion annual agricultural budget and is a burden on the constitution. “In Switzerland it’s usual for issues to be brought to the people for a vote - every important question or less important question,” Swiss Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann said.
Critics of dehorning say the procedure is painful and unnatural, whereas supporters compare it to castrating cats or dogs and argue it is a safety issue. Stefan Gilgen, whose 48 cows provide 1,000 liters of milk daily to Swiss dairy Emmi AG, said, “Our current system in the stable has advantages, the cows get along better with each other. If cows have horns, the danger of injuries to the animals and humans is greater,” and “Each farm should decide for itself. We have other problems in agriculture.”
When veterinarian Jean-Marie Surer dehorns calves, he anaesthetises each one before the procedure that causes smoke and a burning odor, saying “Using a very hot iron for seven seconds, I burned the skin and blood vessels which irrigate the horn bud, so it won’t grow, it is painless, they didn’t move even an ear.”
Google reveals new policy for election ads ahead of EU vote
Alphabet Inc’s Google said it will roll out new policies in Europe to provide more transparency around political ads, ahead of European Union elections in the spring. According to a blog post, Google said it would require advertisers to submit an application and receive verification before they can pay for political ads.
In September, the European Commission said Facebook, Google, and other tech firms had agreed to a code of conduct to do more to tackle the spread of fake news over concerns it can influence elections. Google also said it would publish an E.U. transparency report, along with a searchable ad library, to provide more information about who is purchasing election ads, for how much, and to whom they are targeted.