Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Let's Not Talk About Gun Control

The news reports have fallen away and the shock is now confined to the victims and those directly affected. Another mass murder is rapidly becoming history as the National Rifle Association and its supporters hope.  A search of Google will not show many news reports beyond the 7th of October.

It has been well-publicised that it is a technique of the gun lobby in the USA to say after every massacre “It is too soon to talk about gun control.”  https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/04/nra-guns-las-vegas-crisis-playbook  I have therefore waited but frankly, I’m not going to talk about gun control at all. Nor am I going to split hairs about the Second Amendment holding firearms as part of a well-trained militia. There will be no mention that the Founding Fathers could not have imaged the effectiveness of modern assault weapons.  There will be no note that roughly the same number of Americans have died in wars than in shootings from 1968 to the present (http://www.snopes.com/gun-deaths-wars/).

If Americans want to have guns, go right ahead.

It is interesting though to visit the NRA and read their statement on the Las Vegas mass-murder. They call for no legislation that will impede either the Second Amendment or the right of a US citizen to self defence https://home.nra.org/joint-statement/.  A Norwegian friend of mine made an equally interesting point on social media. According to him, there at thirty one guns per hundred people in Norway.  Those weapons are held for various purposes: hunting, military (as part of a civil militia) and target shooting. No guns are held for self-defence and it is unheard of for these weapons to be used as such.
Under the US concept of self defence ( and example of which is here http://open.lib.umn.edu/criminallaw/chapter/5-2-self-defense/), the use of deadly force can only be applied if faced with an assault using deadly force. In other words, guns are justified to be held for self-defence purposes because there are so many guns already in society. A critic might point out the circular logic here but let’s follow the NRA recommendation and leave that for another day, or perhaps never. Ah, one might reply, it is monstrous to suggest that any manufacturer intended for any misuse, criminal or otherwise, of their weapons. This is perfected true. The misuse of any firearm is an unintended outcome of their manufacture and sale.  It is also true that those who make and sell weapons and ammunition do not give any financial compensation to the victims of such incidents. 



What is lacking from the NRA statement is any sense of responsibility beyond that of the murderer: “Banning guns from law-abiding Americans based on the criminal act of a madman will do nothing to prevent future attacks.”  It certainly does not mention the activities of the weapons and ammunition manufacturers, whose business activities allow for such massacres to occur.

In economics, there is a term for this situation: it is called an externality. To quote a textbook, “an externality arises when a person engages in an activity that influences the well-being of a bystander (ie. a third party) who neither pays nor receives any compensation for that effect.”  So while the vast majority of American firearm holders are law-abiding, the economic activities of the manufacturers allow for shootings (on whatever scale, whether fatal or not) to occur. No compensation is offered to those affected and it is left to others in society to pick up the bill.

How big a bill are we talking? Nobody is sure.  A recent paper (http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/36/10/1729.full.pdf+html)*  that gives an indication of the costs involved at $2.8billion per year for the emergency healthcare involved.  The average cost of ED care is $5254.00, rising to $95,887.00 if the victim is admitted as an in-patient. The authors indicate that the total estimate is on the low side, as it does not take into account those who do not make it at all to emergency departments. Nor does it take any account of the police costs involved, nor loss of earnings for victims and dependents.  If these factors are accounted for, the total would be many billions of dollars more. They also note that research in the area is scant because since 1996, the US government department CDC (Centre of Disease and Preventable Illness) is prevented from investigating the cost of firearms injuries if the purpose to bolster the cause of gun control.

In many countries the determined cost would be calculated and a tax raised upon the industry, in exactly the same manner that a factory polluting a river might be levied for each tonne of waste it disposes of into the environment. With the current makeup of the federal congress, that is unlikely to happen.  If state representative houses carried out the research though, state levies could be introduced piecemeal across the USA. 

The suggestion of a levy on the arms industry does not challenge anybody’s right to bear arms. What it does do is address the inequality that currently exists, that the victims of shootings, from whatever cause, are effectively subsidising gun and ammunition producers who are not picking up the economic externalities of their business activities.  Ultimately the additional charge to each consumer who buys a gun or a box of ammo will be low, because it is so widely spread. The principle of polluter pays is well established elsewhere. For the gun industry to try and wriggle out or ignore the social costs of its activity is nothing more than special pleading. 


Meanwhile, like tens of thousands of individuals before them, the hundreds of victims of the Las Vegas mass shooting are having to either resort to charity or sort out the cost of their healthcare on their own. 



*
Faiz Gani, Joseph V. Sakran and Joseph K. Canner
Emergency Department Visits For Firearm-Related Injuries In The United States, 2006−14
Health Affairs 36, no.10 (2017):1729-1738

doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2017.0625

Friday, 16 June 2017

Jo Cox: One Year On.

It was at the start of the EU Edinburgh Rally - Leading not Leaving  on June 16th that Willie Rennie, the event’s chairperson, read out a statement that Jo Cox MP had been attacked in the street.  None of us knew at that time, 2:00pm, that Jo had already died of her wounds.  The pro-EU rally went on but it was not reported on.  I knew as soon as switched on a radio afterwards and they were still talking about her that Jo must be dead. 

It was a shocking attack.  As soon as reports came out that her attacker (who is not worthy of mentioning by name) was into organisations such as The National Alliance, I knew he was a neo-Nazi and that Jo’s murder was a political assassination.  I said so too, for I know The National Alliance.  I was told to shut up, that one should not speculate, that the person may have been mentally ill, but I knew.  He wasn’t ill, he was a Nazi.
How did I know? The leader of The National Alliance was one William Pierce. He used to write weekly news letters, extolling the superiority of the white race and besmirching others. His main target (since he was American) were black people, Mexicans and Latin Americans.  In the 1990s, I came across the online chat room while doing my first degree in Wales. Being blonde and blue-eyed, I took special objection to Pierce's loathsome views and argued vehemently with the racist bastard.
After Jo’s murderer was convicted and the facts were out, he was indeed proved to be acting upon ideology and not through any form of madness.  He is a terrorist who killed in order to advance the tenants of Nazism. 

This year, I went to a Jo Cox get-together for candidates in the general election.  Will such events help take the bitterness out of political campaigning?  I really hope so. I did not know Jo Cox personally but from what I hear she was a wonderful woman who stood up against injustice, although one must always be aware of the perils of hierography of the dead.  It may be enough though that the civic memory of Jo Cox lives on through such events.  It is a reminder that we have far more in common than whatever divides us and, no matter the disagreement, violence is never the answer.

Jo Cox died on June 16th, 2016.  My fiftieth birthday. I think through Jo and the coincidence of the date, the memory of what she has come to stand for will never leave me.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

On the state of Scottish Nationalism and the SNP

I wrote this as a response to the large amount of negative comments I received on my Facebook campaigns page from SNP supporters during the 2017 Spring election campaign.   https://www.facebook.com/martinveartedin/

The problem with the SNP is their agenda is both popularist and regressive. How can this be? The popularise bit is easy: free tuition fees, free proscriptions, opposition to London. Regressive insofar the government is purposely not using available powers to change the Westminster (Conservative) agenda. Sure, the SNP will block the bedroom tax (good) and not hand on the tax cut to higher earners (okay) but will not actually make profound changes. Ah, one might say, Barnett does not allow for Scotland to earn more that the given share. That is true, but it is totally possible to re-jig the tax system, with powers available, in order to put less of the burden on poorer tax payers and a higher burden on those richer. This is not being done nor is it likely to be. It is as if the SNP leadership are eager to pass on hardships while not using powers to ease the pressure on the people of Scotland. A cynic might say this is because that it would not be in their party interest to improve matter. Instead, the situation have to decline further in order to convince more people to vote Yes in the next referendum for independence. Consider the ongoing cuts, confirmed by such bodies as Audit Scotland for education but denied by supporters. The usual technique is to narrow the window of examination and thus present statistics in a narrow window that lets through the best possible light. Oil production is another such field were the larger picture is never presented.
Liberal Democrats support federalism. That is using devolved powers in order to improve things as close as possible to local communities. The SNP do not trust people. If they did, they would allow a diverse Scotland to emerge. Instead, we see a centralisation of power to a handful of minister in Holyrood. The police and emergency services are an obviously case. I shared a hustings stage with Kenny MacAskill in 2011 when he was musing why shouldn’t education be centralised? The popularist freezing of the council tax made councils more and more reliant upon funding by central government. Democracy has been slowly suffocated by the SNP and, while bemoaning the powers that Westminster have, power in Scotland has been increasingly sucked into Edinburgh.
Yet the SNP is not a party which encourages scrutiny and debate. It is a party of faith. Faith that only independence will solve our problems. If only we were independent, then we would be free to address the monumental issues that we all face. Those issues are not really discussed either. In 2014, such issues would be “the will of the Scottish people” following independence.
The SNP are serious about independence and they are in a hurry. Therefore any method is acceptable in order to get people to tick the Yes box the next time around. It is a bit of a reverse of 1745. In that campaign, Bonny Prince Charlie had to win every battle. A single defeat and the war would be lost. Now, the SNP can lose every battle until they win just one. It is their haste, combined with their conservative political strategy, that will be their downfall.
I am not a natural unionist. As a half-Irish Catholic, unionism isn’t a concept I am fond of. My concern over the course of Scottish independence is the effect of sudden independence will have on people. I questioned the economic basis of independence in 2014 and, come, 2019, things are not likely to improve. The glimmer of hope is that of Brexit.
Brexit might, just might, provide the shortcut that the SNP are hoping for. If the Conservatives win on Friday and pursue a hard Brexit (that is making the UK an offshore free-trade zone and basically making us into an mini-me version of the United States), then there is a case of bailing out in a hurry, whatever the economic cost. Both parties though play identity politics. If one is not a supporter of independence, one has to be a unionist. This is a false logic, for in ceding one’s identity, one hands over one’s critical faculties to others. Such-and-such is necessary in order to achieve the ultimate goal. All will be sorted out after victory.
So what must be done? The answer is simple if na├»ve: work for the good of people. Change society from what it is now. The SNP follow Westminster’s line in the hope that line will ultimately snap and with it the Union. Instead, we have powers, available now, to make a difference for good. If those powers were used and a track record achieved, this would result in one of two things. Either the rest of the UK would look to Scotland as a leading member of the Union and demand that they follow our example, or, they would continue to go their own way. If the latter, the case for Scottish independence would be made.
Neither course will suit the SNP though because it takes time, for it is the path of evolution rather than revolution. They want power and in a hurry, regardless of the effect upon us all. Instead of working to improve the prospects for the entire UK, they have given up on ever making a positive change and, instead, claim to just care about Scotland. If they really did care about us, then they know that improving the whole of the UK is just as important because, through simple geographical fact, there is no separating the reality of the links: cultural, scientific, economic. England will remain our largest trading partner, forever. Whatever happens in Westminster will always affect us here. So do we work together to overthrow the cycle of the two-party state or go it alone? The SNP has already answered that question: go it alone, regardless of consequences.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Campaign Blog 2017. Positions on Brexit

Campaigning for the 2017 general election has been very different from previous years. This time the Liberal Democrats are on the offensive. I certainly am here in Edinburgh North and Leith. Since 2014, the local party membership has almost tripled and with more volunteers, more donations and more resources, more is being done. Liberal Democrats are growing once more.
This election has been called on Brexit and it is that I will be talking about in this blog. That is not to say that the Liberal Democrats have nothing else to say. Our flagship policy is to raise income tax by a penny in the pound, in order to pay for the publics services that have been eroded since the economic crash of 2008. This would be linked to tightening up on the loopholes used by corporations and the very rich to avoid paying their fair share of taxation. In England we would see the NHS benefit from the income tax rise, while in Scotland we advocate extra revenue going towards education, which has declined drastically under the tenure of the SNP government at Holyrood. The Liberal Democrat manifesto may be read here:  http://www.libdems.org.uk/manifesto
On Brexit, I am really proud of the Liberal Democrat insistence that any final deal is put before the people of Britain before being signed off. The post-referendum coup inside the Conservative party and their embracing of UKIP’s hardline policies shows that the extremists have taken over. The Conservative leadership now only stand for one thing: a corporate UK where big businesses can operate free of the restraints of taxation and free of responsibility: either to people or to the environment. While business success is vital for Britain, in a decent society, it should never be business before all else. It will be though under Theresa May’s vision for a hard Brexit. She knows this will be unpopular and has been doing her very best to avoid public scrutiny. May failed to turn up to the Leaders Debate and has skipped the Women’s Hour interview. Theresa MIA - missing in action. If you don’t turn up for the job interview, you shouldn’t get the job. May has also proved to be far from competent: her handling of the dementia tax and her inconsistency on almost every important topic shows a lack of depth, a lack of self-awareness, that has even surprised her strongest critics. May called the election, put her competence on the line and she has been found wanting. I feel sorry for moderate conservatives for whom all this extremism must be deeply concerning. If they never supported UKIP previously, isn’t that exactly what they are being asked to do now?
With the reconfirmation of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, that party too has fled the middle ground of politics. Corbyn is a socialist of the Bennite tradition. Tony Benn always opposed the UK joining the European Union, seeing it as a vast conspiracy of capital against the working class. Unlike May, at least Corbyn has the credit of sticking to his principles through thick and thin. Unfortunately for the rest of us, that led to the sight of Corbyn leading his party through the voting lobby with the Conservatives to deliver Article 50, triggering the nation’s divorce proceedings with the EU. It is Corbyn’s history of opposition to the European Union that explains his post-Article 50 tweet “Real fight starts now.” What he means is that the struggle for a socialist Britain starts with us leaving the European Union. Again, central-ground Labour supporters must not be in an happy place right now.
While on the topic, one should note the Scottish Greens are a deeply socialist party. I am not saying this: they are. During hustings events here in Edinburgh, candidates in both the 2015 and 2017 espoused their pride in being socialist, with reference to the metaphor of the watermelon (green on the outside, red under the skin) being embraced. Fair play to both and it does give socialist voters a genuine choice of candidate in this election for voting between Green and Labour. Non-socialist voters will want to bear in mind that the modern Greens are not all about the environment. Scottish Greens are also pro-independence, seeing this as the most likely path to achieve their desire of a socialist Scotland. 
No one can accuse the SNP of being socialist or even particularly green. They have followed Westminster in the change of emphasis from small-scale and community energy to supporting only the large scale suppliers. They are also very happy to see the Air Duty Tax rate being slashed in half, bowing to pressure from the directors at Edinburgh Airport. When it comes to Brexit, I do believe the sincerely of the SNP leadership to wish to stay in the EU. What they failed to do in Westminster however was to support the Liberal Democrat amendment that would have allowed the people of the United Kingdom a final say. This must be the only occasion in history that the SNP does not want a second referendum. The upshot of this choice is to make Brexit another lever for independence rather that it being about the EU. Like Ireland, Scotland’s largest trading partner will be the one closest to it. Whatever one’s views on independence, it makes no sense to have trade barriers between England and Scotland. It genuinely is in Scotland’s best interest to keep England and Wales in the EU. Yet again, the SNP works to its own narrow remit. 
It is too easy for people to be sucked into the symbolic logic that if I am not A, then I must be B. Parties who go down that line must be challenged because instead of policies and issues, everything is reduced to identity politics. 
On June the 8th, I am asking for your support to the Liberal Democrats so that you can have a say on the outcome of the EU negotiations. I am asking for your support to deliver a different Great Britain than what is offered by either May or Corbyn. I am asking for your support to help me deliver a better deal for Edinburgh and Leith.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

2017 Election Campaign: On Israel and Palestine

I have received letters from various correspondents for my views on Israel and Palestine.  Here is the Liberal Democrat view from our 2017 manifesto.

“[We] Remain committed to a negotiated peace settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which includes a two-state solution. We condemn disproportionate force used by all sides. We condemn Hamas’ rocket attacks and other targeting of Israeli civilians. We condemn Israel’s continued illegal policy of settlement expansion, which undermines the possibility of a two-state solution. We support recognition of the independent State of Palestine as and when it will help the prospect of a two-state solution.”  http://www.libdems.org.uk/world

My personal view coincides with the party view insofar I condemn force used in all cases apart from self-defence. Disproportionate force is never right, nor is the targeting of civilians.  Any civilians.

As a liberal, I condemn the suppression of equal rights and any form of discrimination or threat, whether it occurs in Israel, occupied territories or anywhere across the world.

Where I potentially disagree with party policy is the pursuit of a two-state solution. Owing to Israel’s policy of settlement expansion (illegal under international law), there is now not enough land left to a potential Palestinian state to make it viable.  Pragmatically, all I want to see is a country where all citizens have equality under the rule of law and protection against discrimination.  The current situation is a long way from that.  For evidence of Israel’s attitude to a twin-state solution, I suggest the reader researches the siting of the proposed Palestinian airport.  Under a variety of proposals, not once has Israel offered Palestinian control of the airport.  This is not sovereignty on offer.

As for whether I back broad economic and cultural sanctions against Israel, the answer is that I do not.  While the Palestinian people are undoubted are under oppression, citizens of Israel are under compulsion.  Failure to undertake compulsory service in the military either results in a prison sentence or removal of rights following a diagnosis of mental incapacity.  Sanctions tend to hit the most vulnerable of the affected society and this in turn will, in my view, only increase the suffering of all people and reinforce nationalist opinion.  Besides, the material effect of sanctions would be debatable unless the USA were to undertake them and this is not going to happen.

In my view, the root cause of the continuing conflict is that of weapons.  Both from reading and my own experiences in Israel, the nation “benefits” from being lavishly supplied by weapons, not all of which are declared openly.  For an historic example, please refer to Robert Fisk’s book The Great War For Civilisation - The Conquest of the Middle East (search Hellfire missile) and my own experiences in country (see links below).  I do not support ongoing UK co-operation with the Israeli arms industry.

I feel desperately sorry for all people involved in this ongoing conflict.

Below I offer a selection of blog posts outlining my own experiences while in Israel.

Blog links:

http://martinveart.blogspot.com/2009/01/little-story-of-shame.html
http://martinveart.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/day-trip-to-jerusalem.html
http://martinveart.blogspot.co.uk/2009/01/traveling-back.html
http://martinveart.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/distraction.html
http://martinveart.blogspot.com/2015/11/us-middle-east-and-bar-in-haifa.html
http://martinveart.blogspot.com/2015/09/drones.html

Campaign Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/martinveartedin/

Saturday, 13 May 2017

General Election 2017: Reply to Concerns on Animal Welfare and Fox Hunting

Thank you for your recent email on animal welfare. 

The Scottish Liberal Democrats are strong supporters of animal welfare and will continue to protect wildlife, pets and farm animals in the next parliament.

Up to 2015, Liberal Democrats at Westminster were able to make significant progress on improving animal welfare. Many of these achievements affect the whole of the UK, including the ending of housing hens in battery cages and tackling the smuggling and illegal trade of wildlife through the Border Force.  Previously, I have visited livestock farms in the Pentland Hills and seen best practice at work.  I know that animals can be both treated well and see farmers with a fair deal.

Wildlife crime remains a significant problem and I am pleased that, as part of the Coalition government, Liberal Democrats made the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) one of its wildlife crime priorities. However, further action is needed to ensure that penalties are properly applied and prosecutions, where necessary, are carried out. 

On your particular point on fox hunting, this is a retrograde step by Thesesa May’s Conservatives. I would have no problem supporting the views on the constituents of Edinburgh North and Leith in blocking the reintroduction of fox hunting from Westminster.  As an MP however and owing to the nature of devolution, I would have little power over Scottish legislation and therefore I suggest a direct approach to current SNP minister responsible, Roseanna Cunningham, at Holyrood.


In general though, I am willing to work across party lines to deliver improved conditions for all animals in the United Kingdom, whether they are domesticated or wild.

Kind regards,

Martin Veart
Edinburgh North and Leith
Scottish Liberal Democrats


Campaign Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/martinveartedin/ 

Friday, 12 May 2017

2017 Election Campaign: Refugees and the UK Arms Trade

[Original Post from https://www.facebook.com/martinveartedin/#]

Today Tim Farron announces LibDems plans to accept 50,000 Syrian refugees. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/may/11/tim-farron-lib-dems-pledge-uk-take-50000-more-syrian-refugees

I have no problem with the UK taking more refugees. The problem I have is the UK's role in creating refugees. We should not be supporting any side in the wars in the Middle East. I have worked and travelled in the region (and beyond) over the decades. My fear is, which have been confirmed by Michael Fallon on the Today Programme this morning, is that we are selling weapons purely for profit and, in doing so, enable the continuation of the wars. Saudi Arabia hasn't been threatened by Yemen but Fallon claimed this in order to justify the continued bombing of Yemeni cities using UK-made weapons.
The Second Gulf War started in 2003. There has been no peace in the region since then, despite being flooded by weapons from the USA and Europe, including the UK. After 14 years of continuous conflict, no one is speaking of peace. The language of politics is becoming increased more belligerent. 
Now the UK is the second largest arms manufacturer after the USA, but our armed forces continually complain of lacking equipment. So where is all these weapons going? If the wars stop, what will happen to our industries? What will happen to the US economy?
Continuous warfare is no basis for a long term economic strategy. It is a recipe for a long term refugee problem.

Campaign Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/martinveartedin/