Posts tagged ‘Europe’

05/04/2011

NATO: Has It Become A Modern UN?

The BBC reported Norwegian fighter planes made strikes against the Libyan capital of Tripoli, as part of a NATO mission. It was refreshing for an American, tired of the U.S. superpower burden, to see a small state like Norway play such a central role. While all member states should be involved in NATO operations, a more basic question now is: Just what is the NATO mission?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) started out with 12 European and North American states (1949). [i] Soon, Greece and Turkey joined (1952), and Germany hopped on board (1955).  30 years later, Spain enlisted (1982). After the Soviet Union dissolved, Poland, Hungary, the Czechs joined (1999), followed by 7 East European states (2004), [ii] and 2 in the Balkans (2009). [iii]

NATO’s purpose in 1949 was strictly as a defensive treaty group. They agreed that an armed attack against one European or North American member would be considered an attack upon all. In their first 40 years, NATO concerned itself with threats by Russia, but when the Soviet Union dissolved (1991), NATO changed.

As the former Yugoslavia broke up, NATO became proactive, and intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo (a Serb Province), even though no NATO state had been attacked. They downed Bosnian-Serb planes that violated Bosnian no-fly zones (1994), bombed the Bosnian-Serb Army (1995), and acted as a Bosnian peacekeeper, after the Dayton Accord (1996-04). Despite the lack of UN approval, NATO flew missions against Serbia, to protect Kosovo (1999). While NATO’s conduct in the former Yugoslavia was no longer defensive, at least it was still on the European continent.

NATO then expanded their mission once more, as they went global. They entered South Asia, in an Afghan operation (2003); they undertook a training mission in the Mideast, in Iraq (2004); they started policing international waters off East Africa, to ward off Somali pirates (2009); and now, they are enforcing an embargo and no-fly zone in North Africa, against Libya (2011).

With this history of intervention in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Mideast, and clear authority to enter North America, is there any part of the world off limits to NATO? Could they conduct a mission in South America, Australia or Antarctica?

Has NATO effectively become the enforcement arm of the UN? If so, has the UN Security Council become irrelevant? With a NATO membership that consists of only 28 of the world’s 193 independent states, what legitimacy does it have to act around the globe at will? Do the other 165 nations approve of NATO’s unlimited reach? At some point, the world is going to have to reconcile the growth of NATO, at the expense of the UN.


[i] U.S., Canada, Iceland, Britain, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Italy and Portugal

[ii] Estonia, Latvia, Lith., Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria

[iii] Albania, and Croatia

Advertisements
04/28/2011

Dutch Health Care: A U.S. Model

After teaching one night class at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse for 8 years between 1995 and 2003, I looked into turning my part-time contract into a full-time position, so I could have health insurance. Although the pay for teaching 3 to 4 classes per semester, as a non-tenured lecturer, was not great, the insurance was attractive, since it was absolutely unaffordable at my self-employed day job.

As luck would have it, a tenured professor resigned in 2003, and a position opened. So, I ceased to be self-employed, and started lecturing full-time. 15 months later, while finishing my last class of the day, I noticed a severe pain across my chest and into my arms, as I was having my first heart attack. At the hospital in Wisconsin, 2 stents were inserted to open my vessels. Luckily, the university’s health care paid all of the charges in the amount of $44,523. I was fortunate to have dodged a bullet with insurance.

After the search committee at Wisconsin finally found a new Phd, I moved to the Netherlands to participate in a one-year program at Utrecht University. To live there, I was required by law to have health insurance. So, in 2006, I purchased a Dutch plan for an annual premium of 445 Euro, the equivalent of $567. No questions were asked about pre-existing conditions or prior care.

Five months after arriving in the Netherlands, I had a second heart attack in Dec. 2006. The Dutch care was different, in that it was better. Unlike Wisconsin, where I laid there for what seemed to be an eternity, before permission from the insurance carrier was obtained to keep me alive, the Dutch doctors went right to work, as they knew everyone in their country was covered. They didn’t have to waste any time asking about coverage.

A cardiologist inserted two stents in my heart, and opened up my arteries, including one that had been 100% blocked, but written off in Wisconsin, because the American doctors thought it was too hard to get to. I was copied in on the Dutch ambulance, hospital and doctor bills, and they totaled 7,024 Euro, which translated to $8,920.00. My care in Holland was only one-fifth the cost of the identical care in Wisconsin, but in some ways much better. I was very fortunate to have had my second heart attack on their soil.

I learned several lessons from having virtually identical heart procedures in Wisconsin in Dec. 2004, and in Holland in Dec. 2006: 1) Dutch health insurance premiums are significantly lower and affordable; 2) Dutch insurance asked no questions about pre-existing conditions or care; 3) Dutch doctors got to work immediately, without wasting any time trying to find out if I was covered, since everyone is covered; 4) Dutch charges for the identical treatment of inserting two stents in my heart was only one-fifth the U.S. costs; 5) Dutch follow-up care was superb, as I never waited very long at all to see a doctor; 6) Dutch care, all things considered, was better than what I received in the U.S.

Politically, the lessons are: 1) Don’t listen to right-wing nut jobs, who try to convince Americans that European health care is somehow sub-standard, since it is not; 2) If the Dutch can cover everyone with pre-existing conditions, then so can we. 3) If the Dutch can run their health insurance companies, while charging much lower premiums, so can we; 4) If the Dutch can operate their hospitals on one-fifth the billings and costs, then so can we. We in the U.S. should consider the Dutch health care model.

04/22/2011

British Royalty: Please Abdicate Already

Since even the most respected news outlets, like the BBC, are covering the upcoming wedding of Prince William and Kate, it is difficult to get away from the frivolous non-sense of it all.

The practice of inheriting a throne and holding it for life should have ended long ago. No one has a Devine Right to anything. No one should by birth become a king or queen, or even a prince.

Monarchy has nothing to do with merit. A person with no particular talent has no right to be elevated to a royal position.

The British throne is institutionally sexist. It goes to the eldest son, but to a daughter, only if she has no older or younger brother.

The English crown belongs to a white society. It is unlikely non-white British subjects will ever see one of their own on the throne.

The monarchy is not accountable. The royals can just about say or do anything, and yet keep their elite positions.

The royal family cannot be justified financially, and yet tax-payers in the United Kingdom must finance their lavish lifestyles.

The crown sends the wrong message to impressionable young minds. Hard work and good grades should be rewarded, not the image of beauty queens, like Kate Middleton and Princess Diana.

Although Britain’s monarchy is limited by a constitution, it still must end, as it provides aid and comfort to absolute monarchs, by allowing them to defend their existence by pointing to the UK.

Why are constitutional monarchies, with limited powers, worth keeping? If they have so little power, what purpose do they have?

The current royal family needs to be the last. The easiest way for that to happen is for Charles and others in line, to simply abdicate.

If they do not, the 15 independent countries that sill nominally recognize the British royal family as their Head of State, should terminate that relationship now. In the 12 that have predominately non-white populations, including 9 former British colonies in the Caribbean, and 3 in the Pacific, they should object to rule by an outdated white hierarchy in England. The Caribbean states that must terminate their Commonwealth monarchies are: Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and St. Vincent. The three non-white states in the Pacific that need to end it are Papua-New Guinea, Tuvalu and the Solomons.

Canada, Australia and New Zealand must also terminate their nominal connection to the crown. It is nothing more than a psychological dependency that lacks any rational explanation.

After the 15 Commonwealth states have abolished their lingering ties to the British monarch, the royal family in England will be isolated, and will then be easier to finally terminate.

04/14/2011

French Ban On Veils Violates Treaty

Although France historically separated church and state, they are now fighting a growing Muslim influence, by banning women from wearing veils in public places. The new law may violate not only the French Constitution, but also Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) (1950), and the European Union Treaty (EU) (1992).

A Muslim woman could challenge the French law in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. This is the tribunal for the 46 countries that signed the ECHR. The treaty provides: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” including the right “to manifest his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

The treaty also says: “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations, as are prescribed by law, and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others” (Art. 9). The treaty issue would be whether the law is needed for public safety?

The law could also be challenged in the national courts of France. French courts are not however like their American counterparts, where a judge may declare a law unconstitutional. French judges do not have the power to overturn a legislative act. The French do, however, have a Constitutional Council, that reviews legislation to determine if it conforms to their constitution. If the Council deems the law constitutional, and a court then finds the defendant guilty of violating it, there is still another court that may review it.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg serves as the tribunal for the 27-member European Union. For the case to be reviewed there, the defendant would have to ask the French court to submit the issue to the ECJ. They have no obligation to do so. While some European high courts have referred cases to the ECJ, France has not been one of them. If France referred the issue, the ECJ could declare the French law incompatible with the EU treaty, which is partly based on respect for fundamental rights.

This issue reminds me of Catholic nuns in the U.S. who would cover their bodies in black robes. We in America could never tell them how to dress. France needs to treat the Muslim veil issue the same way.