Friday, 22 March 2013

Self-determination in the Falklands

BBC News:
The people of the Falkland Islands have voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining a UK overseas territory.

Of 1,517 votes cast in the two-day referendum - on a turnout of more than 90% - 1,513 were in favour, while just three votes were against.

Referendum results don't get much more decisive than that. 99.74% of Falkland Islanders want to remain British - even more than the 98.48% who made that choice in Gibraltar in 2002.

Argentina's response?
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has maintained that the Falkland islanders' wishes are not relevant in what is a territorial issue.
So far, so predictable. But what about the response from a government that claims to respect the principle of democratic self-determination?
we take note of the results of the recent democratic referendum in the islands, where the residents voted to retain the islands’ current political status as a British overseas territory. The residents have clearly expressed their preference for a continued relationship with the United Kingdom. That said, we obviously recognize that there are competing claims. Our formal position has not changed. We recognize the de facto U.K. Administration of the islands, but we take no position on sovereignty claims.
That's Victoria Nuland, speaking on behalf of US Secretary of State John Kerry. The full transcript and video is available here.

The US has no qualms about taking a position on sovereignty claims elsewhere, in situations where the wishes of the local residents are far less clear-cut.

Nevertheless, as @GittleBos notes, the US position seems consistent with their Monroe Doctrine, established in 1823:
The occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.
We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.
It is of course right for nation states to look after their own peace and safety.  Indeed, I would prefer if they did that and little else.  But it is 6361 miles from Port Stanley to Washington DC - far more than the 3663 miles from London or the 351 miles from Toronto.  If the British Empire posed a threat to the peace and safety of the United States, an attack from islands in the South Atlantic was unlikely.  Today it is inconceivable that the United Kingdom would mount an unprovoked attack on the US, but if it did, a nuclear submarine off the US coast would provide a better attack platform than RAF Mount Pleasant.

The British Government has never 'oppressed' the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands, nor sought to control their destiny against their will.  A British expedition reached Port Egmont, West Falkland, in 1765 and "took formal possession of it and of 'all the neighbouring islands' for King George III", apparently unaware of an existing French settlement, Port Louis, on East Falkland at Berkeley Sound.  The French settlement was handed over to Spain in 1767 and renamed Puerto Soledad.  In 1770, Spain attacked Port Egmont with a force of with five armed ships and 1400 soldiers, forcing the British settlers to withdraw.  The attack risked war with Britain, and lacking French support the Spanish consented to the re-establishment of the British settlement in 1771.  Without good economic reasons to stay, the British and Spanish withdrew from their settlements in 1776 and 1811 respectively, but neither party relinquished their claims to the islands.

In 1816 the state that was to become Argentina, The United Provinces of the River Plate, declared independence from Spain. In 1820 they laid a claim to the islands, but it wasn't until 1823 that they made any attempt at settlement. Their chosen man, Luis Vernet was a merchant from Hamburg with purely commercial interests, and he sought British permission for his venture from the outset. Vernet's claim to a monopoly on seal hunting, however, was disputed by both Britain and America. In 1831 Vernet attempted to enforce his monopoly by seizing American ships, prompting a raid by the USS Lexington that destroyed the settlement. In 1833 Britain reasserted sovereignty, and the islands have been in British hands for 180 years (except for 74 days in 1982). Such are the facts as I've been able to determine them from Wikipedia.

The British settlements from 1833 onwards did not represent the "future colonization" opposed by Monroe's 1823 declaration. It's not at all clear, from what I've been able to discover, that the newly independent Argentina could rightfully inherit Spain's claim to the islands, but that claim was disputed in any case.

In practice, the Monroe Doctrine has less to do with the benevolence of the American people towards the "free and independent" nations of South America, and more to do with the interests of a powerful minority of US citizens who benefit from the right of unilateral intervention within their "sphere of influence".

Even so, considering how little influence Britain gains from possession of The Falklands, I doubt the Americans feel their interests are directly threatened. It is true that the US has a large hispanic population, but they care more about Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico than Argentina. Most likely, America's refusal to acknowledge Britain's sovereignty is based on a desire to appease South American governments, who represent potential markets far larger than our own.

The notion of self-determination is an interesting one, which I will have to return to in a future post. How long does a population need to be established before competing claims are dismissed. Where are the boundaries drawn? Later in this century, if a combination of immigration and procreation pushes certain British cities to a Muslim majority, would they be entitled to declare independence? What about the rights of the large minority who may wish to remain British? All interesting questions.

But this post has focused on the Falklands and the US attitude towards them. The most interesting question here is why Tony Blair supported George W's "war for democracy" in Iraq without first securing recognition of the rights of the British inhabitants of the Falkland Islands.

Time to give up?

Over at The Last Ditch, Tom Paine is in a despairing mood:

the British public frankly deserves servitude because it does not value freedom. I am now bitterly convinced that nothing but the crushing misery of totalitarianism will wake them. Provided that their freedoms continue to be removed slowly, slice by salami slice, they will probably claim even then that the state is their friend.

Schadenfreude is not my bag, but I would find it hard not to smile at the thought of them in some future gulag, were I not likely to be sharing their cell. They are a sad shaming remnant of a once great nation.

When I started this blog from Russia, I was angry with British politicians and felt sorry for the British people, thinking them ill-served. Now that I live amongst them again, my views have reversed. The British masses are a shiftless, ignorant, nastily-envious bunch who believe above all in the arboricultural nature of money, the desirability of the free lunch and the infallibility of the state. I now feel sorry for those few politicians who would like to do right, but are restrained by their electorate's vile inclinations.

Though I haven't yet accumulated Tom's wealth of experience, what he says here rings true.

Even so, I'm not quite ready to give up.

I'm conscious that I don't meet a representative sample of the British population in my daily life, nor do I see the British public accurately reflected by the media. The views of vocal minorities are given undue prominence, and the 'ordinary people' selected for display by the BBC are anything but.

Our electoral system was always vulnerable to what we have seen - a gradual slide to the left, with a small number of voters in marginal seats deciding the course of each election.

But there is some hope. Norman Tebbit often writes about the millions of voters who have gone missing. Unimpressed by the options on offer, they simply stay at home.

We need politicians who will unapologetically set out a radically different alternative, as Thatcher once did. Sometimes people need to be led. Speak plainly and honestly, and the public may yet awake from their social democratic slumber.

Today I think UKIP are our best hope. We'll see in 2014 and 2015. Losing Scotland would probably help too, though I doubt they'll have the courage to go it alone.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Taxing benefits

BBC News reports:

Another idea that has been worked on is taxing benefits. Official Treasury numbers seen by Newsnight show that taxing child benefit would raise £1.5bn, taxing DLA £800m and if you taxed the Winter Fuel Payment (which Vince Cable advocated on Thursday), you would raise £200m.

But the trouble with this is that the Treasury hate it. They point out that it would pull huge numbers of people into self-assessment, making it very messy administratively and politically. The Inland Revenue would probably have to hire 5,000 extra staff to deal with the extra work. But it is £2.5bn and every penny counts.

How desperate do you have to be to consider such an obviously insane idea?

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

All the same

More good commentary from Charles Moore:

A quarter of a century ago, when people used to complain in pubs that “they’re all the same”, I used to argue back: it seemed to me patently false. Today, I stay quiet. Nigel Farage says that we have three social democrat parties now. There is a bit of truth in that, but I would put it differently. It is not so much that they all think the same thing. It is more that they are all the same sort of people. They all belong to a political elite whose attitudes and careers are pretty different from those of the rest of us. The credit crunch has now lasted as long as the Second World War, but it has not seriously dented their way of life. This disconnect is made even more marked by the rising power of the EU – Nick Clegg is our first party leader to have started his politics in Brussels not Britain.

Moore is a Conservative, not a libertarian, but I suspect I'd be much more comfortable in his ideal Britain than the Britain of today.

A very uncivil war

I expect English schoolchildren don't learn much about the American Civil War.

In Canada it features in the High School curriculum. The take-away message was that the Southerners were the baddies - all pro-slavery and generally evil. Lincoln was a god among Presidents, saviour of the downtrodden, defender individual rights.

The reality, as I've realised over the years, was rather different. Slavery was a worldwide problem, and in most places it passed away peacefully. The USA and Haiti were the notable exceptions. Did abolition really justify total war?

It seems that freeing slaves was not Lincoln's primary concern. Here are his own words, from a letter to Horace Greeley (August 22, 1862):

If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.

This position is borne out by his choice of allies: Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri were slave states. He did not seek to expel them from the Union, nor to abolish slavery within their borders. The Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to the 'border states'.

A recent article from made some points that were new to me (emphasis mine):

The moral grandeur of Lincoln is rooted in the myth that he made a war on the South to abolish slavery. This is, at most, a Platonic noble lie designed to legitimate the Unionist regime. Lincoln thought that slavery was immoral, but so did Robert E. Lee. And Lee, at his own expense, freed the slaves he had inherited, through marriage, from the family of George Washington. Only around fifteen percent of southerners even owned slaves, and the great majority of these had holdings of one to six. Jefferson Davis was an enlightened slave holder who said that once the Confederacy gained its independence, it would mean the end of slavery. The Confederate Cabinet agreed to abolish slavery within five years after the cessation of hostilities in exchange for recognition by Britain and France.

There is much more to be said here, and I will return to this subject when I have time.

La vida sana

This recent post from Christopher Snowdon is a classic.

How it is that Spaniards are living long, healthy lives despite being overweight, drinking heavily, and smoking a lot?

This all adds up to a bit of a mystery if, like the BBC, you have swallowed the public health fantasy that under-regulation of the food, drink and tobacco industries is the true cause of ill health. Perhaps the Guardian hits the nail on the head with this observation...

Spain has an excellent healthcare system, ranked seventh in 2000 on the only occasion the World Health Organisation has compiled a league table. The UK was 18th.

I suppose we could try to improve the NHS (the envy of the world if you exclude 17 countries who do it better), but that would involve the doctors having to do the job they're being paid for instead of issuing press releases and drawing up lists of demands. And that would be asking far too much, wouldn't it now?

How to get away with murder

Castlebeck, the company at the centre of a BBC-exposed scandal into physical abuse and neglect at one of its care homes, has gone into administration.

Eleven care workers admitted a total of 38 charges last year after they were secretly filmed abusing patients at Winterbourne View near Bristol.

There were two lessons to be learned from this morning's news:

1. If you're a low-paid worker, and you want to abuse old people, join the NHS.

2. If you're a manager, and you want to insulate yourself from risks and responsibility, join the NHS.

How else can we interpret the discrepancy between the handling of events at Winterbourne View and Mid Staffs.

If you work for a private company, and you callously neglect vulnerable patients in your care or knowingly inflict suffering, there's a good chance you will go to jail. And rightly so.

If you work for the NHS, even fatal neglect will go unpunished.

Charles Moore reminds us what 'care' was like at Stafford Hospital:

[The Francis Report] is a great disappointment. It is woolly and over-long, full of jargon and euphemisms and forgettable recommendations. It is a waste of two years. But if you go back to Mr Francis’s first report, in 2010, you are sharply reminded of exactly what all this is about. It has 13 pages on “continence and bladder and bowel care” alone. These include stories about an old man forced to stay on a commode for 55 minutes wearing only a pyjama top, about a woman whose legs were “red raw” because of the effect of her uncleaned faeces, about piles of soiled sheets left at the end of beds, and of bowls full of vomit ditto. A woman arrived at 10am to find her 96-year-old mother-in-law “completely naked… and covered with faeces… It was in her hair, her nails, her hands and on all the cot sides… it was literally everywhere and it was dried.” One nice bureaucratic touch: another woman who found her mother with faeces under her nails asked for them to be cut, but was told that it was “not in the nurses’ remit to cut patients’ nails”.

That treatment alone warrants jail time, but at Stafford Hospital neglect turned fatal:

Statistics show there were between 400 and 1,200 more deaths than would have been expected between 2005 and 2008.

Today we learned that Castlebeck, a private company responsible for 214 residents across 20 UK sites will go into administration. Neglect at just one of their sites, Winterbourne View, proved fatal to their reputation.

In a statement, Daniel Smith, one of the company's partners, said the Winterbourne View home had been immediately closed after the abuse was revealed, with the company "promptly undertaking a root and branch internal review of its operations".

He said: "Whilst the board has focused on quality care provision and restoring confidence in the Castlebeck operations, the impact of two further unit closures in 2011 and reducing occupancy has significantly diluted Castlebeck's subsequent trading capabilities."

In the free market, failure is punished. In the NHS bureaucracy, it is rewarded.

Sir David Nicholson was Chief Executive of the Shropshire and Staffordshire "Strategic Health Authority" at the time of the fatal neglect at Stafford hospital. Today he is Chief Executive of the English NHS. Even after the latest report into the mistreatment, Nicholson refused to step down. Our Coalition Overlords seem quite happy for him to stay in his post. Charles Moore explains:

In retaining his power, Sir David, who is a former member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, had already been endorsed by our political leaders. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, publicly backed him. David Cameron, in the House of Commons, expressed every confidence in the great man. The political calculation, reinforced by the close relationship between Sir David and the omnipresent Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, is that only Sir David can exercise the financial control and manipulation of waiting times required to prevent the NHS exploding politically at the next election. All the deaths at Stafford Hospital occurred under a Labour government, but the Conservatives are being curiously prim about pointing this out. It is in the interests of both parties to play down the lessons of Mid Staffs.

Regular readers may remember Sir Jeremy from my post about him last year. And how appropriate that Sir David was a Communist. A Guardian article from 2006 notes that he was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain until 1983:

Nicholson has been with the NHS for 29 years. He joined as a graduate trainee in the same year he joined the Communist party, which he then saw as the best vehicle to take forward his passionate support for the anti-apartheid struggle. He says he was not a Eurocommunist: he was among the Tankies who did not see an ideological need to distance themselves from Moscow. During the interview, the working-class lad who has reached the top pokes fun at himself by asking how much of this early baggage needs to appear on the civil service security vetting form that is sitting on his desk awaiting his attention. Perhaps former Communist John Reid, Patricia Hewitt's predecessor as health secretary, might be in the best position to advise?

Whatever might have drawn a Communist to the NHS? I'll leave the conclusion to Charles Moore:

The creation of the NHS in 1948 was not a scheme for making medicine better for patients. It was a way of taking charge of its delivery by centralised bureaucratic diktat, something which happens in no other country today except Cuba, North Korea and (oddly) Canada. It was therefore designed for the people who produced the service rather than for those who received it. Each extra patient was, from the producer’s point of view, a nuisance rather than a benefit. The NHS’s proud boast is that it is free at the point of use, but this is delivered in a variety of much more responsive ways in, for example, Australia, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. Only in this country is the punishment of those whose actions or neglect have killed hundreds of people seen as “scapegoating”.
The truth is the exact opposite of what we keep telling ourselves. The NHS is the least caring and most selfishly run important institution in this country. Until we recognise this, there will be plenty more Staffords.