Tag Archives: United Kingdom

UK/EU RIFT

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It’s been a long time coming.

Some of us would say it’s been over forty years in the making.

But now it’s actually happening.

The European Commission has sent the United Kingdom a bill for two billion euros ($2.7 billion; or 1.7 bn British pounds).

Britain has been a net contributor to the EU ever since she became a member of what was then the EEC (European Economic Community) in January 1973.   Margaret Thatcher demanded the EU recalculate Britain’s contribution. They did and the UK got a rebate. But now it’s flared up again.

The British economy has performed better than other EU states, hence the request by the Commission for extra money. The Netherlands and Italy have also been asked to pay more. Germany and France will get a rebate.

The British Prime Minister showed considerable anger in parliament today, refusing to meet the demand of the Commission. Payment is due by December 1st.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has promised a referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EU if his party wins the general election due next year.   The British people, going through a period of austerity, are not likely to be favorable to any compromise as they see the EU as too bureaucratic and wasteful. Top officials are overpaid, with nothing to show for their bloated salaries. The anti-EU party, UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) is likely to gain more votes as a result of the EU’s demand. This will further weaken David Cameron’s Conservatives.

The refusal to pay the sum demanded could be the start of Britain going its own way outside of the EU. This could lead to the organization as it is now falling apart, leading to a reconfiguration of European countries built around Germany, the most dominant economy and another net contributor.

 

A TALE OF TWO COUNTRIES

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My mother died fifteen years ago today.   That year, October 2nd was the Last Great Day, the biblical eighth day of the Feast. The significance was not lost on me.

My father had died a few months earlier, suddenly of a heart attack. Mom was found one morning by two of my brothers, having had a stroke the night before. I flew over to England as soon as I heard the news and was able to stay there in her home, visiting the hospital every day. A few days after her death, I was able to officiate at her funeral, which I had also done for my father.

She was in the hospital six weeks. This year, I was in two different hospitals, both in Michigan, for a total of just over four months, though I had a few days at home in the middle.

Consequently, I’m in a better position than most people to compare the two health systems.

I cannot complain about my mother’s treatment.   She was 73. Her stroke left her paralyzed down the left side. She could not move without help. She couldn’t even feed herself.

After consultations with the head of the cardiac unit at the Princess Diana Hospital in our hometown of Grimsby, it was decided that she should be made as comfortable as possible for as long as necessary. The hospital could have kept her alive indefinitely by inserting a feeding tube into her stomach but she would never be restored to her former state of health. The cardiologist did not want to do anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary.

There was no “death panel” making a decision on her life. My brothers and I made the decision in consultation with the cardiologist. We knew that mom would not want to stay alive, dependent on a feeding tube, relying on others for all her basic needs. None of her sons would want that and we knew she wouldn’t.

She had her own room and was able to receive visitors at any time.

I have often wondered how things might have gone differently if she had been in an American hospital. It is more likely that the feeding tube would have been inserted and she could have lived a few more years, albeit in the hospital. As long as Medicare (i.e. the government) would pay, the hospital would have kept her alive. But that would not have been good for her.

My hospital stays this year involved two major back surgeries, MRSA, abscesses on my spine and all the complications that came directly from my treatment. On two occasions, my wife was told that I might not make it. I was told on one occasion. I’m thankful they continued to treat me.

The complications I suffered were mostly due to the painkillers and strong antibiotics they gave me. They caused chronic nausea and vomiting that left me demoralized and enervated. Eventually, I took myself off all my medications, arranged for my discharge and have been improving ever since.

The biggest problem with both health care systems comes down to one word – money.

In England, where the government controls most health care, they are always trying to save money. In the US, the health care providers are always trying to make money and will often give you treatment and medications you really don’t need. It’s not surprising that Americans have the most expensive health care system in the world, spending almost 20% of GNP on health, compared to an average figure in the western world of 8%. Yet, in spite of the amount spent on health care, we rank 37th in the World Health Organization’s annual ranking of national health care systems. The UK is at number 18. France and Canada compete for number one.

One area in which the US is seriously deficient is in prevention. Governments presiding over socialized medical systems want to save money, so prevention is important. In the US, there’s no money to be made from prevention.

In a study comparing the US and UK’s medical systems a few years ago, it was found that you are twice as likely to die from a heart attack in the United States as in England.

One of my doctors knew of this and said that the hospital I was in was making every effort to improve on this statistic. Personally, I think one factor is that in the UK, heart attack victims will, on average, live closer to a hospital than the average American.   There is little that can be done about this. There are, of course, other factors and hopefully improvements are being made. This is a concern of mine as both my parents died from heart problems.

The same study showed that you are more likely to survive cancer in the US than in the UK. American hospitals are more likely to have all the latest equipment, reflecting advances made in medical research. My wife’s cancer was dealt with very quickly and she is now cancer free. In the UK, she might have had to wait longer for treatment.

I was surprised to read that the US lags behind England and many other western countries when it comes to childbirth and early childcare. The US infant mortality rate is quite high when compared to other advanced nations.

I believe that free enterprise serves people better than government. It is also the most cost-efficient way of delivering anything, whether it be food at the supermarket, gas at the pump, utilities, education or health care. However, the American system is not really a free enterprise system.

For a start, over half of health care is now government. Most of my costs were taken care of by government. In one way I’m thankful for that but a part of me asks: where is the money coming from? Somebody has to pay for it. Government is not careful with money. It’s willingness to foot the bill regardless of cost inevitably pushes up the price and leads to abuse.

Hospitals are now taking maximum advantage of this. Some of the procedures I was subject to seemed unnecessary. They simply ran up my bill.   When I was going through a long period of chronic nausea, they kept giving me additional medications, which only made things worse. The cost of all these pills was added to my bill, for a much higher charge than the pharmacy would make you pay.

Insurance companies also distort free enterprise. The cost of health care has risen dramatically in recent years. Roughly 20% of the cost is administrative, charges added by medical insurance companies. Healthcare is big business in the US and has made a lot of people very wealthy. This was not the case before World War II, before insurance companies got in on the act. If an individual patient had to negotiate his own health care with a provider, it would help keep the bill down. A doctor’s visit would cost closer to $20 than the $100+ it costs now. Doctors could only charge what the market could stand, just as supermarkets do when selling us groceries.

My wife and I scrutinized my bills closely and found a number of charges that we questioned. They charged me $220 for a psychiatric evaluation, which I don’t remember having. Now, I’ve no doubt I would benefit from a psychiatric evaluation but how come I was charged $220 for something I don’t even remember. My hospital room was $2,000 a night, surely excessive when you consider that you can stay in the best hotels in the world for far less? I was also charged $3,000 for a back brace that I never got.   Physical therapy was also $2,000 a day for a ninety-minute session.

As I said, the two systems come down to money. I do not see how either system is sustainable long-term. The UK has been in steady decline as a global and military power as each year the National Health Service requires more funding. In the US, medical bills are now the biggest cause of bankruptcy. The average family is now spending $5,000 per year more on health care than it did ten years ago – and this in a time of declining real wages. Something has to give. There needs to be real changes, whether in the United Kingdom or the United States.

After leaving the hospital I had to consult with a G.I specialist about my nausea. I am still having digestive problems. He recommended a colonoscopy. I had my first one with him seven years ago, so he was rather insistent I have another, as I was overdue.

I didn’t say anything but my first thought was of the comparison study I mentioned earlier.

Colonoscopies are not routinely done in the UK. They are only done when it is felt necessary. The conclusion of the study was that this costs only 25 lives a year in Britain. That’s a small cost, compared to the financial cost, which would force economies in other areas.

As I’m no fan of colonoscopies, I sat there wishing I were in England!

NEWS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

News

“Based on current trends China’s economy will overtake America’s in purchasing power terms within the next few years . . . The US is now no longer the world’s sole economic superpower and indeed its share of world output . . . has slipped below the 20% level which we have seen was a useful sign historically of a single dominant economic superpower.” (“America is very close to losing its place in the world as #1.” Deutsche Bank’s Jim Reid is quoted.)

Rapidly gaining on the US is China. “Reid offered this prescient quote from Napoleon Bonaparte: ‘Let China sleep, for when she awakes, she will shake the world.’”

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Turkey is key to dealing with ISIS.

This Middle Eastern nation is the second biggest military power in NATO and is a long-term US ally.   But its new president, former prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is not the secularist his predecessors have been.   Rather, he’s a more religious Sunni Muslim. As ISIS is Sunni, Erdogan’s loyalty to the US is now in doubt. This is serious for the United States – American nuclear missiles are based in the country.

Turkey was also a long time friend of Israel. Erdogan is now comparing Israel to Hitler.

CBS’s security expert, Michael Morrell, said Monday that there are four Islamic terrorist groups that seriously threaten the West. He said that ISIS is not the greatest threat. That accolade goes to ‘Al-Qaeda in the Yemen.’

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Scotland votes tomorrow on breaking away from the United Kingdom. According to opinion polls, the two sides are running neck and neck. If the “Yes” vote wins, there will likely be a financial upheaval.   Already, the Royal Bank of Scotland, once the world’s biggest bank, is saying it will move its HQ from Scotland to London. Other big companies have also said they will head south.

Scotland depends on London for roughly 10% of its spending, money that will no longer be forthcoming. Additionally, breaking away from the UK will leave Scotland with no currency – it will have to join the eurozone, giving Germany effective control over government spending.

Assuming a “yes” vote, there will be eighteen months of discussions aimed at a manageable divorce, before the new country receives its independence.

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The Obama Administration is sending 3,000 US troops to West Africa, mainly Liberia.

The same administration reluctantly agreed to send 500 military advisers to Iraq to train Iraqis to fight ISIS.

Which poses the greatest threat to the United States, ISIS or Ebola?

IS CRIMEA EUROPE’S FUTURE?

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It’s been exactly a hundred years since an assassin’s bullets opened up an ethnic can of worms across Europe, the Middle East, and eventually the rest of the world.

Prior to the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, Europe was not exactly free of ethnic tensions or religious divides.  Irish Catholics had been campaigning for Home Rule for decades; Hungarians wanted to rule themselves but remain under the Hapsburg crown; Poles wanted to be free of Russia, Germany, and Austria, free to resurrect their own nation again; Zionists wanted their own state in what is now Israel.

But, prior to 1914, imperialism was in vogue.  Large empires composed of multiple nationalities were more the norm.  Globalization was all the rage.

It all came crashing down as the most significant assassination in history led, 37 days later, to “the war to end all wars.”  After the war, the peace treaty allowed a number of different ethnic groups to have their own independent nation state.   The Czechs and Slovaks were grouped together in Czechoslovakia; the Poles got their own country; the Finns, too; Hungarians were formally separated from Austria; the Serbs, who, arguably started the war in the first place, got their own country with the Croats in the new Yugoslavia;  even the Ukrainians had a brief period of independence.

They have just had another such period, this time for over twenty years.  It may be coming to an end again.  Maybe.  Maybe not.

The vote in the Crimea on Sunday is a foregone conclusion, with 58% of the people in the region Russian speaking.  It’s not that the vote will be rigged – there’s no need for that.   The majority will vote to switch allegiance from Kiev to Moscow.  If it wasn’t a certainty, Russia would not be holding a referendum.   This vote, it is hoped, will justify their invasion and put an end to the whole matter.

It won’t be that simple.

What about the Ukrainian minority inside Crimea?  What about the Russian speaking areas in the east of Ukraine?  Will Russia invade them?  What about the Tatars?

Ah yes, the Tatars.

They constitute 12% of the population of the Crimea.  They were the pre-Russian inhabitants of the peninsula, invaded by Catherine the Great in the late eighteenth century.   They are a Turkic people left over from the days of the Ottoman Empire.  They are Muslims.  More significantly, they got a raw deal, a real raw deal, from Russia under Josef Stalin, who had them all forcibly removed from their homes and transported to Siberia with only 15 minutes notice.  They dread a return to Russian rule.

It may be that they have little to fear.  After all, neither Stalin nor Catherine were actually Russian.  But Russia is having difficulties already with its Muslim minorities – it’s unlikely the Tatars will fare any better than the Chechens.

The ethnic complexities of the region are symbolic of the wider European ethnic quilt.

Spain doesn’t want Crimea to break away from Ukraine because they don’t want their own Catalans to break away from their country; the Scots are voting in September on possibly breaking away from the United Kingdom; Belgium has had serious ethnic divisions ever since the country was created almost two centuries ago; the Balkans always has further potential for ethnic conflict; Rumania has a significant Hungarian minority that would like to join Hungary; while Hungary has its own minorities.

The EU has actually made the problem worse.   It is possible now for every small ethnic group to have its own country and still be economically viable through the European Union.  If Scotland breaks away from the UK, it can seek membership of the EU and minimize the economic consequences of breaking away from the bigger whole.

In theory.

They would actually have to have approval of the other member countries, including England.   And none of them has a vested interest right now in approving Scottish membership.  It might encourage separatists in their own countries.   Additionally, the last thing the 28-member EU needs is yet another voting member, holding back further progress toward European unity.  They also don’t want more members needing a bail-out.

However, it’s also possible that the proliferation of smaller countries in the EU could lead to a resurrection of the medieval Holy Roman Empire, a motley assortment of political entities that all owed allegiance to a common German emperor.

Rather than Sunday’s vote bringing an end to the European crisis, it may turn out to just be the beginning!