Tim Cook’s Sunlit Path

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc
Image by Andy Ihnatko via Flickr

Tim Cook has “made the difficult decision” to “come out as gay”.

Mr Cook is Chief Executive of Apple, so the media listen to him.

I have to say that my first reaction on reading that was, “So what?” I suspect that would be the reaction of most people nowadays.

It is a measure of how far we have come as a society towards accepting people’s differences that really nobody will care about this. Not in Britain, anyway. Perhaps things are different in the United States, and despite all their posturing about “diversity” they are actually less tolerant over there.

Apple is important. Hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of jobs depend on that mighty company. They make a big contribution to setting the direction in IT generally. And of course huge numbers of people own shares in the company and their wealth, their comfort in old age and so on, depend on the performance of the company.

Yes, being Chief Executive of Apple is a big deal. Not many people can claim to have a role so important.

“Coming out as gay” is not a big deal. So many people have done it, that now it almost seems like a big deal to come out as straight.

I am fully aware that 50, 40 or even 30 years ago it was indeed a big deal to be gay. That was the time when “Section 28” (which outlawed the promotion of homosexuality in schools) was being hotly debated in Britain. Section 28 is long gone and nobody cares any more. Crikey, we have gay marriage now and nobody cares! (And a good thing too.)

On one level, then, my reaction to Mr Cook’s announcement is a shrug of the shoulders.

Except that… it does seem to me that there is a little bit of an unpleasant aftertaste to it. Nothing to do with Mr Cook’s sexuality – just a suspicion that he was rather enjoying the status of “victim”.

“When I arrive in my office each morning, I’m greeted by framed photos of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy. I don’t pretend that writing this puts me in their league. All it does is allow me to look at those pictures and know that I’m doing my part, however small, to help others. We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick.”

Yeah, right, Tim. You don’t pretend that you are in the league of Dr King and Robert F Kennedy but you decided to gratuitously mention them anyway. You are, after all, “paving a sunlit path towards justice”.

And there was me thinking you were “only” Chief Executive of Apple.

“Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life,” he added.

“It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry. It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple.”

“Tough and uncomfortable”. Welcome to life, Mr Cook. Do you really think that just because many people are not gay, they don’t ever have tough and uncomfortable times?

Meanwhile Mr Cook earned $74 million in 2013. I trust that softened the blow a little bit.

Being gay just doesn’t cut it any more. If you want to be a victim, you need something much more powerful. In the Victimhood Poker stakes, being gay is about to be downgraded to a deuce.

Sadly for Mr Cook, he is a white middle-aged male, rich and powerful. Not a good hand to play. He needs to find a Native American ancestor or something.

Alternatively, he could stick to talking about the latest iPhone.

Human Rights are So Important That it is Better to Let Migrants Drown

The British government has announced that it will no longer support search and rescue operations in the Mediterranian. The operations concerned are to stop illegal immigrants from drowning as they try to cross from North Africa to Europe.

The background to this is that

About 150,000 migrants – mostly from northern Africa and the Middle East – have been rescued by Italian ships over the past 12 months.

This year alone, some 3,000 migrants have drowned.

Even with that Italian search and rescue mission in place, 1 in every 50 migrants who attempt the crossing are drowned.

That Italian operation is now going to be wound down and replaced by a much more limited EU operation with only one third of the budget.

In a House of Lords written answer earlier this month, explaining that the government would not be supporting future search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, Lady Anelay said they have an “unintended ‘pull factor'”.

She said this could encourage more “to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths”.

She added: “The government believes the most effective way to prevent refugees and migrants attempting this dangerous crossing is to focus our attention on countries of origin and transit, as well as taking steps to fight the people smugglers who wilfully put lives at risk by packing migrants into unseaworthy boats.”

The Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, unsurprisingly, does not support the new approach. He said this morning

People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them life rings.

Boarding a rickety boat in Libya will remain a seemingly rational decision if you’re running for your life and your country is in flames.

Ah yes, And why is Libya in flames? Were we not involved in creating that situation by helping undermine and destroy the Libyan government? I suppose that was what Lady Anelay meant by “focussing our attention on countries of origin and transit”.

Perhaps our government thinks that being tough on drowning migrants will help win back votes from UKIP. It will not. People in Britain do not want people to be left to drown.

So what should happen? In a sane world, the answer is entirely obvious. The migrants would be rescued from the sea – and then returned to the countries from which they came.

Lady Anelay claimed that search and rescue missions have an unintended pull factor. I beg to differ. What has a pull factor is the fact that once those migrants reach EU shores, they are rarely sent back.

Unfortunately EU governments (including our own) have a problem with returning people to their countries of origin. They get upset about “human rights”. They cite the European Convention on Human Rights (or the Human Rights Act) and whinge that their hands are tied. They cannot infringe those migrants’ rights by sending them back to their own countries. So now they will let them drown instead.

Incidentally, leaving those people to drown is also against international law if you believe in such a thing (the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue).

Vladimir Putin’s Speech – Well Worth Reading Even if the BBC Did Not Think it Worth Reporting

I mentioned in my last post that in their report of the Ukrainian election the BBC had included a mention of Vladimir Putin:

On Friday Russian President Vladimir Putin said for the first time that Moscow had helped Mr Yanukovych flee.

Mr Putin’s whole speech, translated into English, is on the Kremlin website. It is well worth reading. It is a very calm statement of the Russian position, not only on Ukraine, but on global affairs in general.

After all, from our own news media, we normally hear only the position of the Whitehouse.

As far as I can see the BBC did not see fit to report Mr Putin’s speech, apart from that minor part about Russia having given sanctuary to Mr Yanukovich. Even that was reported as though it was somehow an admission of wrongdoing.

The rest of the speech, as I said, is definitely worth reading if you really want a balanced picture.

Despite the BBC Reports, the Ukrainian Tragedy is Rolling On

The BBC reports the Ukrainian elections that are taking place today.

The report gives the impression of a normal election, albeit with parts of the country – the rebel held areas in the East, and Crimea which is now part of Russia – not able to take part.

The situation is not quite as reported by the BBC.

Here is what they say:

The main parties vying for seats are:

  • Mr Poroshenko’s Poroshenko Bloc, comprising his own Solidarity party and Udar, led by boxer Vitali Klitschko
  • Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front
  • Oleh Lyashko’s nationalist Radical Party
  • Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party

Most are nationalist and pro-Western, and ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions is not running.

Don’t you just love that “nationalist and pro-Western”? As though being “pro-Western” is the same thing as being a Ukrainian nationalist?

And what about that thing about the Party of Regions “not running”, eh?

Let’s check on that party’s website, with the help of Google translator. On that website is an interview with the party’s leader, and he talks among other things about why the Party of Regions is not participating:

We do not oppose the nomination of our party members in majority districts. Moreover, if someone wants to go through lists of other opposition forces – we do not mind. But the Party of Regions, as a party, believes the elections under the proportional system as illegitimate, and I think it will be proven and in international courts. There are seven million people in them are not able to participate, and this is a direct violation of the Constitution and with respect to the voters, and in relation to the candidates.

So the Party of Regions is doing a little more than “not running”. It is in fact denouncing the elections themselves as illegitimate and unconstitutional.

The Party of Regions has, by the way, expelled and denounced Mr Yanukovich, so it is no longer “ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions”.

That BBC article cannot even resist, at the end, hinting darkly that yet again Vladimir Putin of Russia is to blame for everything:

On Friday Russian President Vladimir Putin said for the first time that Moscow had helped Mr Yanukovych flee.

What would the BBC have preferred? That the Russians had turned him back to Kiev to be killed?

To be honest I do not have detailed knowledge of today’s Ukrainian politics. However, it is clear that the Party of Regions has significant support in Ukraine, even outside its power base in the rebel East. And here it is – a significant player in Ukrainian politics – denouncing the general election as illegitimate.

This is not normal democracy that we are seeing in Ukraine. The country is hopelessly divided and there is a civil war going on in the East. This is not democratic business as usual. And this is the result of the “ousting” of President Yanukovich – which took place, you will remember, in a violent putsch.

I am sure that the BBC are not deliberately spinning their reporting of the situation in Ukraine. Yes, really I am sure of that, despite the bad words that I often have for the organisation. But their journalists need to get out more. Sitting in a hotel in Ukraine and talking to Ukrainian government politicians does not provide an adequate picture of what is going on.

What is actually going on is a national tragedy for Ukraine, which has been triggered by outside interference in the country.

Before the overthrow of President Yanukovich, yes, Ukraine’s democracy was corrupt and not very open. But the country was relatively peaceful and life was going on. Even in Crimea, where the people have always thought of themselves as Russian rather than Ukrainian, there was an acceptance of their place within Ukraine.

Now, there is a civil war in the country; one of the main Opposition parties is denouncing the general election as illegitimate; Crimea has been lost and is now part of Russia; and, as the BBC article mentions, the Ukrainian economy will contract by 7-10% this year. (To give a flavour of what that means, that is more than the British economy contracted during the credit crunch.)

Violent overthrow of a democratically elected government rarely has a good result.

The Western Campaign to Undermine the Russian Government

Interesting article here on a website called Russia Insider, drawing attention to the campaign in the Western media against the Russian government.

The article reckons the CIA is behind it. Who knows. But anyone who reads Western media will recognise the picture they paint of a childish campaign to demonise Vladimir Putin and his government.

The EU Wants Another £1.7 Billion – Or Does It?

The EU wants another £1.7 billion of our money, apparently because our economy is going well(!) so we should help out our less fortunate neighbours. Amazingly, Greece is also down to pay more on the basis that their economy has done better than was expected since 1995. (In their case, it is just £70 million.)

The BBC this morning was saying that the political timing of this was inept (with the Rochester and Strood by-election due in a couple of weeks), and that the whole affair showed a lack of political awareness amongst the EU Commission and its leader José Manuel Barroso.

Apparently the Commission could find nobody to talk about the issue to the BBC, despite being asked repeatedly to do so.

I have a horrible suspicion that the Commission is not inept at all, and that Mr Barroso is more wily than the media think he is.

I have a horrible suspicion that we are about to see “Hero Cameron” riding to duff up those euro-Johnnies and bring back the bacon. I have a horrible suspicion that this extra payment will be abandoned, quite coincidentally, just before the Rochester by-election.

We are already seeing the beginnings of this:

“Mr Cameron interrupted a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels to express dismay…he told Commission boss José Manuel Barroso he had no idea of the impact it would have, Downing Street said.”

What a tough leader! Interrupting his fellow EU leaders, who apparently are unconcerned about the problem and were not planning to discuss it, not even the Dutch who have been asked for an extra £506 million. And he told Mr Barroso what’s what! No doubt he was standing up and wagging his finger. Perhaps he was shouting in righteous anger for his beloved country.

This is not bad timing for Mr Cameron. It is fantastic timing, because it gives him the opportunity to “fight for British interests” in Brussels. It is such fantastic timing that I suspect it is not coincidence.

It is interesting that Mr Barroso has been visiting the UK recently. Pure coincidence, obviously. Just a little tour before he gives up as leader of the Commission at the end of November. Nothing at all to do with British politics, no, of course not. On Monday he was at pains to tell us very publically that he did not think that Europe should move towards an EU superstate. (Oh look, there’s a porker flying past the window.)

And now this news about the £1.7 billion.

I suspect that the Commission are trying to help their friend Mr Cameron to deal with the difficult electoral position in which he finds himself. All these by-elections, the UKIP surge and the forthcoming general election are putting British membership of the EU in serious doubt for the first time in decades.

Remember that Mr Barroso and his friends have an Opposition to contend with within the EU, namely the Eurosceptic parties, of which UKIP is one of the most prominent. They will certainly do what they can to damage Euroscepticism and help those who are fighting it – including our Europhile Prime Minister David Cameron. If they can help him beat off the UKIP challenge in Rochester, that will be a great boost for the cause of Eurofanatics like Mr Barroso.

So you read it here first: if I am right, this extra EU contribution will be abandoned between now and the Rochester by-election, and David Cameron will be trying to claim the credit for getting our money back.

If that is right, I trust the voters of Rochester and Strood will be bright enough to see through it.

Is Yet More Money Really the Fix the NHS Needs?

A new report about the future of the NHS is issued today.

It tells us that the NHS will face a £30 billion shortfall by 2020 if it does not change. The report identifies savings of £22 billion that it says can be achieved by new ways of working, leaving a shortfall of £8 billion that will be needed in additional spending. The report does not make this clear, but I would assume that means a “real terms” increase of £8 billion, over and above inflation increases.

I don’t want to be too negative about the NHS. It has many good features, and of course many thousands of well trained and devoted front line staff.

But consider this: Labour, when they were in power, doubled spending on the NHS. When they first came to power, the NHS had been cash-strapped for years. Indeed, people came from other countries to see how we could provide our healthcare so cheaply. Labour therefore set about remedying that. They pumped money into the NHS in huge quantities, and over their time in office, spending on it doubled. I believe that most British people supported that.

What we saw though was the NHS becoming much less efficient. Even Labour themselves have acknowledged that much of the extra money was swallowed up by “the system”. Sure, services did improve. They certainly did not become twice as good though. The money shortage was removed, and the only remaining issues really were internal to the NHS.

Here we have this report, claiming that yet more extra money is needed. I am not convinced. NHS spending does need to be kept up. Demands on the service are rising due to the ageing population and higher expectations from patients, and those pressures will I am sure eat up any efficiency savings that can be achieved.

Any organisation though should be continuously finding ways to improve. Private businesses do that all the time, or they go out of business. The NHS needs to do that too – and that is the £22 billion the reports talks about I suppose.

But do they really need that extra £8 billion on top? Frankly, I do not believe it.

Just three months ago we had the Nuffield Trust warning that

another £2 billion a year may be needed to keep pace with demand.

£2 billion, £8 billion, £30 billion… name a figure. They just want more cash.

The BBC report unwittingly gives us a glimpse of what the problem is here:

The report – produced by NHS England, Public Health England, the regulator Monitor, the NHS Trust Development Authority, Care Quality Commission and Health Education England…

That is the NHS in a nutshell. Lots of overlapping bureaucratic bodies, with unclear remits, all trying to work together. I bet there had to be a large number of committee meetings between all those bodies to produce this report!

All those organisations have chief executives, personnel departments, finance people, office buildings, car fleets with maintenance budgets, glossy strategy documents and annual reports and the rest.

How have we ended up here?

The NHS started life in the 1940s as a monolithic hierarchical organisation. That did have disadvantages, notably the lack of incentive to improve over time. But it had one key advantage: it eliminated the waste that is inherent in competition, and it made responsibilities very clear. It also enabled the government to mandate a certain standard of healthcare, which was then delivered relatively uniformly around the country.

Over time, the disadvantages of this approach began to weigh heavily. NHS efficiency began to fall, at the same time as demands rose inexorably.

Margaret Thatcher’s Tories wanted to cut public spending. The NHS was a large component, and it was clear that there were efficiency savings to be had. But how to deliver them? They began the process of introducing the NHS Internal Market. That was an attempt to introduce the pressures to improve that come from a free market, without removing the “free” healthcare delivery.

Tony Blair’s Labour party hated that idea – the word “market” was anathema to them. I remember during the 1979 election campaign Tony Blair saying in a speech:

The NHS is not a supermarket! It is a public service.

On coming to power, Labour swept away the internal market. There would not be competition between hospitals to provide operations for example. But they kept what they called the “purchaser-provider split”. We ended up with “commissioning bodies” buying services from monopoly providers, and all within the same NHS organisation – overseen by regulators, strategy bodies and the Department of Health.

In other words, Labour made the deliberate decision to abolish the market and all its advantages, but to keep all the disadvantages of a market. I suspect that was because they never really understood what a free market was, or what the NHS internal market was designed to achieve.

Be that as it may, the result is the dog’s dinner that we now have. The NHS is completely fragmented in its organisation – and yet also still a monopoly without competition, internal or external.

Yes, it certainly does need “new ways of working”. There is a problem though: the NHS is run by the same bureaucrats half of whom need to be swept away.

I wrote a long time ago on this blog that Andrew Lansley’s NHS reorganisation was the last chance to save the NHS. That reorganisation was designed to put GPs clearly in the driving seat, and introduce competition between health providers for the GPs’ business. It was an amended version of that original Tory “NHS internal market”.

Unfortunately, Andrew Lansley did not have the sheer nastiness that was needed to drive the changes through in the way that was intended. The reorganisation was hijacked by the bureaucrats. Most of the people who used to run the old bureaucratic bodies invented new ones and put themselves in to run those new bodies.

The CCG’s (which were originally intended to be autonomous groups of GPs) have ended up looking remarkably like the old Primary Care Trusts that they replaced. Bodies like NHS England exist to “oversee” them. And NHS England acts a lot like the old Health Authorities. Far from GPs being in the driving seat, those centralised bodies commission GP services, and are in control.

In short, nothing has changed. The NHS is now beyond repair – and we are hearing ominous rumblings about private companies coming in to provide healthcare in Britain. Under the TTIP proposals being discussed by the EU with the United States, many of those private companies may be American.

There is one other way forward that is still open to us. We could localise the NHS, driving management responsibility down to local level. County Councils are steadily losing their responsibility for education, but they already exist as democratic bodies with considerable capability to deliver services. They are already taking on responsibilities for public health, and as that beds in, the need for national strategy bodies like Public Health England will be increasingly questioned.

Why not, over time, give County Councils responsibility for actual healthcare delivery too?

That is (roughly) what UKIP have proposed, with their elected local health boards. I think it is likely to become the new consensus on healthcare, as few in Britain have the apetite for moving to an American-style private healthcare system. There is now no alternative, in truth.

As in so many things, UKIP are blazing a trail that others will follow in coming years.

There is one caveat: we have to stop all the nonsense about “postcode lotteries”. Locally managed health services means health services that are different in different places. You might as well bemoan the “postcode lottery” in food distribution that means there is a larger range of food on sale in London than there is in a typical market town. A locally-managed health service means that the service available will differ from place to place. That is as it should be, after all, because the services that are needed differ from place to place.

The prize of this new type of NHS would be that the NHS would actually be accountable to the people whom it serves. And about time too.