Sunday, 23 August 2009

"A Mockery of the Rule of Law"?

The decision by Scottish authorities to release Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi on compassionate grounds was bound to cause some distress but surely no one expected an anger-fuelled letter by the head of the FBI.

The empty words from Obama last week about the decision being a "mistake" were perhaps to be expected considering the American victims but for FBI chief Robert Mueller to completely attack the Scottish judicial system is unacceptable.

You may be wondering why I am so bothered about what Mueller has to say; after all he has no power over the decision. Well this is exactly the point! The FBI has no involvement with the Scottish judicial system and has no right to stick their nose in. In fact Mueller himself concedes that it is unbecoming to comment on the actions of other prosecutors.

As a law student I know the vital importance of the rule of law to any democratic country so for this Yank to come along and accuse Scotland of "making a mockery" of the rule of law is frankly insulting. Alex Salmond has certainly done the right thing by backing the decision in the face of criticism. The decision by the Scottish officials is in keeping with their legal rules and arguably more in line with the rule of law than America which has no system of compassionate release.

But this blog isn't seeking to debate the issue of compassionate release. Rather I seek to expose a problem that has plagued American foreign policy as far back as the 1950s. Washington seems to consistently involve itself in other countries affairs. This is prominently seen in South/Central America. Even the most liberal Americans such as libertarian Yaron Brook can't help sticking their nose in where it's not wanted. Many hoped for a change to this when Barack Obama became president and welcomed his reaction to the political crisis in Honduras but this incident shows that maybe the problem is abit more deep-seated than anticipated.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

#welovethenhs but should we have to?

The seemingly increasingly unreliable twitter had another outage yesterday but this time not because of hackers. No, this time the British public flooded the social-networking site with the hashtag #welovethenhs as part of a campaign by the creator of Father Ted, Graham Linehan. The accomplished tweeter has had some other successful campaigns in the past involving subjects from The Daily Mail to Eurovision.

Linehan goes on to say in his interview (linked to above) that "you attack [the NHS] at your peril". This is a response to the video above as well as a concerted effort by the American right to use the example of the British healthcare system as the argument against 'Obamacare'. Certainly there have been a lot of fallacies purported on news stations such as Fox News and these have since been succinctly dealt with by The Daily Telegraph.

The article seems to confirm what Stephen Fry tweeted about the matter and all should have been cleared up nicely. Unfortunately things didn't stop there and people's adoration of the NHS gushed through twitter. The problem with this is that the NHS is nowhere near a perfect system, in fact I would say for certain that the US system is a heck of a lot better than our own.

It would perhaps be unfair to have no provisions whatsoever for those who fall ill but a major reliance on the free market is simply the most efficient way to distribute healthcare. The traditional argument that 'at least a doctor here checks my pulse before my wallet' is absurd. These people associate health insurance solely with going on holiday but most Americans consider this a monthly bill that gets paid with utilities etc. The only reason we don't complain is because it gets taken out of our taxes, which pay for a variety of goods and services; including healthcare.

The campaign has also turned on Daniel Hannan who has also been a victim of @glinner's campaign. Despite making some authentic criticisms of the NHS, albeit not necessarily constructive, he has been made a scapegoat by even his very own party. The campaign has rallied such patriotic support that it has blinded some normally sensible people and whipped renewed fire into those on the left.

The problem lies in the fact that this isn't even much of a left/right issue as much as it is an authoritarian/liberal issue. It's the difference between wanting the government to interfere with healthcare provision and, as Hannan points out, flooded with bureaucracy or leaving it to the efficiencies of the free market. In my mind, Britain is leaning heavily towards the wrong side.

So America is slowly backing away from it's NHS hate campaign but I personally hope that this allows us to look at why the British healthcare system was picked out for ridicule. Of course a myriad of people have their own success stories with the NHS but this time the grass really is greener.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Hit Them Where It Hurts.

I'm always a little bit worried when Britain gets accused of interfering with her old colonies. Even when the allegations are completely unfounded, such as those in Iran, or so absurd they can't be true, such as those in Zimbabwe, there's always a lingering voice telling me we shouldn't be involving ourselves in other countries domestic issues. In fact the recent Iranian election provides a good example. The British media and a lot of the public were outraged at the apparently rigged election result as they have every right to. In fact Channel 4 news did a very good job of reporting the election and subsequent protests. However, what was most important was that the official representation of Britain (i.e. the government) refused to get involved with the election result and stated that it was a matter of the Iranians themselves to sort out.

I think though that there is a balance that needs to be struck. Certainly Britain is a respected country on the international scene which enjoys membership of the EU as well as a close relationship with the US. It would be somewhat pointless having this influence if we could not use it for the power of good. The problems arise when deciding upon the appropriate sanction in a situation. This is what Britain, and other countries/international organisations, have to decide upon in the upcoming weeks and months in relation to Burma.

Aung San Suu Kyi will be kept under house arrest for the next 18 months for allowing a US national into her home. The Burmese have attempted to make the sentence seem lenient in the eyes of the international community by reducing the original sentence from 3 years hard labour but this is widely recognised as a meaningless token because it still means Suu Kyi will not be allowed to stand in the election next year; the first since 1990.

So as our friend Lenin would say; What is to be Done? Well in the short term it seems that once again Labour has done the right thing. The very critical stance taken by Gordon Brown clearly establishes the British position in relation to this matter. The long-term will be more interesting. Whilst we can't jump to extremes and invade, on the other hand we can't simply let this issue drop after a week or so.

The answer, I believe, lies in economic sanctions. By isolating Burma it makes it harder for the country to function. Some would suggest that this only makes things harder for the people of Burma but cutting off economic aid and trade is a good way to strangle the military junta.

At a time when we are considering the legacy of Corazon Aquino and 'people power' in that part of the world, it would not surprise me if the Burmese dictatorship was overthrown within the next year. From the outside, we have to show our support to her people by not assisting those in power.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Vatican vs. Capitalism

This may probably be seen by some as part of my continuing polemic against religion but it seems to me, at least, that I am simply presenting the case for the defence here. Throughout the post-industrial revolution period it seems the church has attacked those seeking to make a profit and be successful.

The main encyclical to this effect appeared in 1967 when Pope Paul VI recommended redistribution of wealth on a mass scale in order to achieve "Populorum Progressio" (The Development of Peoples) as the document was called. This was attacked beautifully at the time by Ayn Rand in her "Requiem for Man" but now the church is once again moving from the theological to the political in Pope Benedict XVI's latest encyclical, “Caritas in veritate”.

This new piece from the Vatican seems to be continuing on the same theme that profit is evil but is given a modern spin by criticising globalisation as well. The call for globalisation, and capitalism generally , to be 'properly managed' seems to be particularly well timed as people are blaming the apparently 'free' market for the global recession. No one of course considers it was the perpetuation of a 'mixed economy' that ultimately collapsed in on itself; but that's for another time.

Capitalism is based on hard, cold logic and I believe it is this that the church fears most when we get down to it. The best way to explain this is to look at those on the right who believe that it is possible to defend capitalism while putting faith before reason and by advocating self-sacrifice, not self-interest, as the essence of morality. The hypocrisy involved by harbouring such a belief is self-evident but goes a long way to showing the church's long standing antipathy towards capitalism.

I'll leave you with a quote from the aforementioned "Requiem for Man":

"Consider the proposal to condemn Americans to a lifetime of unrewarded drudgery at forced labor, making them work as hard as they do or harder, with nothing to gain but the barest subsistence — while savages collect the products of their effort. When you hear a proposal of this sort, what image leaps into your mind? What I see is the young people who start out in life with self-confident eagerness, who work their way through school, their eyes fixed on their future with a joyous, uncomplaining dedication — and what meaning a new coat, a new rug, an old car bought second-hand, or a ticket to the movies has in their lives, as the fuel of their courage. Anyone who evades that image while he plans to dispose of “the fruit of the labors of people” and declares that human effort is not a sufficient reason for a man to keep his own product — may claim any motive but love of humanity."

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

"Mr Obama. Tear down this news ticker."

The Cuban nation has always fascinated me. Although the country adopts completely the opposite political philosophy to what I myself believe it's success in certain areas is undeniable. For example, Cuba has the best healthcare system in the world. After major natural disasters, the first doctors on the scene are Cuban and guess which doctors are the last to leave? Yes, they're Cuban.

This only becomes more impressive when you hear of the struggles that Cuba has had to face since the Communist revolution in 1959. Ongoing cold relations with the US have undoubtedly held back the country back and the collapse of the USSR also caused economic hardship during the 1990s.

Surely though it is time this petty war of words finished between the US and Cuba. It is clear that Cuba won't be changing any time soon. Many pointed to the death of Fidel Castro as a potential turning point but the seamless transition of power to Raúl Castro means Communism in the Central American Republic looks set to continue.

The Obama administration recently showed that it was prepared to take a step in the right direction though as a controversial news ticker was 'unplugged'. Previously located on the US diplomatic mission, the ticker displayed pro-democracy messages from 2006 until the Cuban administration responded by placing flags and billboards to block the sign.

Relations with Central and South America will be a long way behind healthcare reform and the economy on Obama's 'to-do list' but so long as Obama doesn't deliberately go out of his way to anger them like his predecessor and makes some reparation for the last 50 years; he can leave the White House satisfied in this respect.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

The Future for Atheism

Right. Bit of background before I throw myself into this subject because it would be unfair to put forth my position without first explaining my own religious views.

I was brought up as a Catholic because my mother is something stupid like 50th generation Irish-Catholic, tracing roots back to St. Grellan. Anyway I proceeded through the rituals of that: communion, confirmation etc. but last year decided as part of my new-found objectivist philosophical outlook to abandon this in favour of a fairly strong atheist belief.

I'd never really thought about this much as something that should be promoted amongst society in a similar way to an actual religion. However, a couple of news stories about 'Camp Quest', an atheist summer camp, got me thinking about whether I should take my atheism more seriously and be a more active non-believer.

Firstly, I would say that the attitude of 'Answers in Genesis', who argue Camp Quest drums a "hopeless" world view into young minds, only serves to show the intolerance shown by religion to many minorities. I support the Camp Quest, not because it drills secularism into young children but because, instead, it asks the campers to objectively weigh up the evidence and come to their own decision. If a child comes to the conclusion that there is a God then they most certainly will not be castigated for their view.

This sort of tolerance is vitally important to me as a liberal. I have the right as a free citizen to launch a verbal polemic against 'Answers in Genesis' but if I had the power to I certainly wouldn't shut it down because they preach a different view to me and, in my mind, indoctrinates young impressionable minds.

However, it is also for this reason that I would not 'come out of the atheist closet' for want of a better phrase. I would hate to feel that I am forcing my view onto anyone else. Naturally if my position was challenged I would defend atheism to the hilt but if someone came to me for religious advice I would tell them to weigh up the evidence and make their own decision.