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Saturday, 27 October 2018

Public healtcare in hospitals isn’t an entrepreneurial thingamajig, but a necessary requirement for people in need. The simultaneous demise of two commercial hospital groups shows that to the Dutch public.

In The Netherlands two commercially run hospital groups – with in total five branches – filed for bankruptcy last Thursday. This happened after large commercial health insurance companies threw the towel and refused to further finance the mounting debt and unsolvable issues of these hospitals, that already had a reputation for enduring problems and alleged mismanagement. Het FD wrote the following snippets about this:

For personnel and patients the bankruptcy of the MC Slotervaart hospital in Amsterdam and the MC IJsselmeerziekenhuizen [hospitals] in Lelystad came almost overnight. The healthcare institutions of entrepreneur Loek Winter will be dismantled and the patients will be transfered to other hospitals. The two hospitals filed for a “Chapter 11” situation (i.e. not being able to pay expenses) on Tuesday, Octobre 23. The official bankruptcy was announced on Thursday, Octobre 25.  

On Friday, all patients of these hospitals were litterally rushed to other hospitals with ambulances, leaving a nearly empty shell with just enough money to cover a few weeks of polyclinical appointments and treatments for patients that had nowhere else to go for the time being. After that, the old casino expression is applicable: “Rien ne va plus! The hospital is not from you… anymore!”

Dozens of doctors and surgeons and hundreds of auxiliary medical personnel, janitors, cleaners and security employees were without a job overnight. And the patients are left on their own, without the doctors and healthcare services that they need and that some of them already visited for years and years in a row.

Patients in capital Amsterdam, but especially in Lelystad and three other cities in the Flevoland polder with formerly a local hospital closeby, now have to drive much farther in order to receive their necessary healthcare. Not even to mention when a real life-threatening emergency occurs. In that case the so-called ‘golden minutes’ might pass while driving on the roads to the nearest hospital.

And all of them now have to arrange new contracts with new hospitals and new doctors and go through the whole administrative mumbo-jumbo in order to receive the same healthcare they already had.

This situations seems to be the moral low of ‘public healthcare as a market’, which started so jauntily and over-confident in 2005. It was all based upon the empty government promise of offering the Dutch citizens the best healthcare at the lowest price. In reality it all turned out to be (still very) good healthcare, but at a price that is soaring by the year without an end in sight.

Where did it go wrong?

There is a whole bunch of causes for this phenomenon, among which the aggressively profit-seeking behaviour of pharmaceutical companies – especially regarding life-saving, high-end medicine – is one of the most important. This behaviour let the expenses for patented medicine go through the roof and is costing society billions of euros in extra cost for healthcare.

Other causes are the ever-growing possibilities to cure people from diseases and illnesses – or keep their situation stable for a long,long time – via new, high-tech medical equipment and treatment methods of which the purchase price amounts to dozens of millions of euros per hospital.

This, in combination with the spillage coming from excessively administered drugs and expensive, personal medical equipment that is not repaired, but simply written off after the patient has stopped using it, makes that the national costs of healthcare are going through the roof.

At the other end of the same medal, the healthcare insurance companies have become extremely powerful. So powerful in fact that hospitals, health centres, doctors and paramedical service providers (physio therapists, dieticians, obstetricians etc.) are sometimes almost in “a race to the bottom” in order to get the required annual contracts that makes it possible for them to declare their bills automatically. This automatical declaration is of paramount importance in order to stay in the business.  

And when these medical professionals tried to unite themselves in order to get a more level playing field against the big insurers, they were accused of forming an illegal cartel. The latter was of course a rubbish argument to these eyes, as the healthcare insurance companies are a kind of unbeatable oligopoli themselves.

Personnel of such hospitals and medical institutions that was sick and tired of the disappointing salaries, the long and irregular hours of working, as well as the massive amount of medical administration that was required for their job, took the slightly more lucrative option of become a freelance medical professional. 

They kept the same work and profession, but had the opportunity to gain a few extra bucks at the side, by becoming a better-paid professional at the expense of their employer.

This increase in personnel and organizational expenses for hospitals and medical institutions, in combination with the push downwards regarding the medical rates demanded by the health insurers, acted a double whammy eroding the profits and incomes at two ends. This was a big problem for non-commercial hospitals that were operated by a non-profit foundation, but a much bigger problem for commercially run hospitals, that had to yield profits for their owners and/or shareholders.

Het Financieel Dagblad wrote the following snippets in a though-provoking comment about the situation in Amsterdam and Lelystad yesterday:

With it came that all four [hospitals] had financial problems at the moment they were taken over by a.o. Loek Winter. The healthcare entrepreneur wanted to offer his services cheaper and better, but did not succeed in it.

Due to the sturdy competition in Amsterdam, he had to operate MC Slotervaart with much lower rates [for medical services] in order to close deals with health insurers. This kept the margins low and left little money to invest and deal with drawbacks. Also in Lelystad new investment lagged. This caused the inhabitants of Amsterdam and Lelystad to find their hospitals less attractive.

[…] This showed that the market in healthcare is slowly starting to function as planned: whoever does not attract the patient, has no raison d’etre!

These lines and the remainder of the article, albeit correct and though-provoking by itself, made me angry...

In an ideal world, the customer has a choice whenever he want to visit a hospital and a doctor or surgeon for a certain health problem. He chooses the best hospital, based upon hard data about recoveries and/or medical errors, personal experiences and experiences shared by others. So he or she can make an objective decision about where to go to.

The thing is, however, that patients are not regular customers that can make an objective or subjective choice, as if they go shopping or visit a restaurant. No, they are often in serious problems: either very sick, very old, (partially) disabled or even in danger of getting in a coma or to be dying. Patients often don’t have this choice to make.

They often must be rushed to the nearest hospital in order to save their life or save them from a massive amount of pain and misery. The farther the hospital is away, the bigger the risk is of serious after-effects. That is a no-brainer.

So of course it is bad news that these regional hospitals either disappear now or will be continued in a much more basical form.

And it is said that another 14 regional hospitals run the risk of going bankrupt within a limited span of time. Will the Dutch government and the healthcare insurers save these hospitals from their demise? I seriously doubt it!

To me this proves the moral bankruptcy of the market in national and regional healthcare. I hope that we can stop this bankrupt system within a decade and nationalize healthcare again, in spite of the obvious drawbacks that a government-run system offers too.

Public healtcare in hospitals and medical centres isn’t an entrepreneurial thingamajig, but a necessary requirement for people in jeopardy of dying or remaining seriously ill. And healthcare insurers are not there to please their share- or stakeholders, but to deliver a public utility service to the citizens of The Netherlands. A role that they can do much better, when they don’t feel the ‘carrot and stick of the market place’!

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Now it is official: The Netherlands IS the mailman of China! And Prime Minister Mark Rutte is the head of the mail department! But we should ask ourselves if that is what we really want!

Prime Minister Rutte is old-fashionedly begging Jack Ma of Ali Baba to build his behemoth distribution centre close to Maastricht Aachen Airport in The Netherlands. And guess what?! It won’t yield a lot of jobs and it won’t bring much innovation to The Netherlands.

Probably the only thing it does is making the Dutch landscape uglier, while flooding The Netherlands and other European countries with a tidal wave of cheap products with a very limited lifespan and a high “near-future waste”-factor. When will the government leaders stop with aiming on low quality distribution and service jobs for the sake of it…?!

It was the news of last weekend. The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was “smooching and sweet-talking” to founder Jack Ma of Alibaba, in order to make him establish his new, behemoth distribution centre in The Netherlands, close to the Maastricht Aachen Airport. To achieve this, PM Rutte has to make a better ‘bid’  than the earlier bid from Belgium, which thought it already made a winning one with its offer for Zaventem Airport as place of establishment.

The following snippets are from Het Financieele Dagblad:

Belgium thought to have won the battle, but The Netherlands surely hopes it didn’t. As PM Mark Rutte himself has interfered in the battle: winning the bid for the establishment location for the European distribution centre of Alibaba. It is the glittering prize this year for countries that want to put themselves on the map as logistic strongholds. The battle seems to have become in a decisive stage.

The Chinese powerhouse Alibaba is very much challenging the throne of Amazon as largest webstore in the world. This requires six enormous hubs, of which one will be located in Europe. And there is big money involved. For the development of the six global distribution centres, Alibaba reserved a total of $16 billion. 

Both The Netherlands and Belgium have deployed ‘heavy artillery’  in order to lure the Chinese. PM Rutte is said to have received an executive-laden delegation of Alibaba in his official office, Het Torentje (i.e. the tiny tower) in The Hague. The nature of this visit is not disclosed. Next to Jack Ma, founder and withdrawing executive of Alibaba, also the Executive Officer of the ‘Global Business Group’, Angel Zhao, and the CEO of Alibaba Europe, Terry von Bibra, were part of the delegation.

I appreciate it when the Dutch Prime Minister does his utmost to lure interesting companies to The Netherlands, especially when large numbers of high-quality jobs are involved. And Alibaba and its founder Jack Ma are definitely some of the biggest names in the business. Nevertheless, I still don’t get it. I really don’t understand this international battle for this distribution centre.

Yes, it will become big and it will arguably become one of the biggest distribution centres in the world. But will it become a big driver of jobs? I really doubt that…!

At the beginning of my career, I have worked at the factory and distribution centre/warehouse of a local milk plant. Even though the automation of processes already became more prominent then (i.e. end Eighties / early Nineties) and the early deployments of robotization had already started, it was still a labour-intensive plant.

Packing roll-in dairy containers, putting crates of bottles and packages from pallets into distribution carts was still heavy physical work, that required quite a few workers. And of course there were the jobs of forklift truck and pallet truck driver and all those other logistical jobs that kept the clockwork of a modern factory running.

But that all changed quite dramatically… The same milk factory, with relativity small branches spread all over the country is now condensed into a few mega-factories and warehouses that are strongly automized and robotized, enabling the same turnover as those smaller plants, but with a fraction of the people involved. Hundreds of jobs had vanished due to the robotization in those factories.

A few years ago I had the chance to look into the “slow mover” distribution centre of my own employer, PLUS Retail in The Netherlands. PLUS is a chain of 250+ supermarkets and it operates four distribution centres at strategic places in The Netherlands. 

Although the distribution centre already used a modern robotized collection machinery for small articles, there was still quite a lot of manual labour involved. Yet, those workers consisted for a large share of Polish and Bulgarian workers, who were ‘operated’ by a computerized voice on their headsets. The machine speaks and the people collect. This is not interesting work anymore and it doesn’t require a large level of skills and trainings.

Yet, PLUS is now developing a new, even more modern distribution centre, which – albeit much, much smaller – can be very well compared to the distribution centre that Alibaba wants to develop. Keywords of this distribution centre are: fully automized, fully robotized and labour-extensive to a degree that only a limited number of operators is required to operate it 24 – 7 (in theory). May there work 50 to 75 people when it is fully operational, then I am probably on the upside of labour requirement.

I don’t expect the Alibaba distribution centre to require many more workers, as I also expect that to be fully automized and robotized, to a degree that – in spite of its mammoth size – probably less than 100 people suffice to operate it. And I’m afraid I also expect the establishment and development of this distribution centre to be mainly a Chinese affair, with probably very limited involvement for Dutch companies and Dutch construction jobs.

What remains then is an extremely large, box-shaped and blind building in the Dutch landscape, that offers a few dozen medium and high-qualified jobs and a lot of extra, logistical traffic on the Dutch highways, ports and airports. Of course those logistical activities are all jobs, but it is not the kind of job that I would like my country to have.

In past articles I have called my country sarcastically The Mailman of China, as it continues focussing on logistical and distribution jobs related to the so-called ‘mainports’ Schiphol and the ports of Rotterdam/Amsterdam; all on behalf of massive imports, exports and transit freight to and from the European continent and the British isles. This way of working is fully using the Dutch logistical network of waterways, railways and highways, with all the drawbacks that it brings.

Unfortunately, all these activities bring a lot of pollution and they clot up the Dutch infrastructure with endless stacks of trucks, trains and inland waterway vessels.

With this massive distribution centre of Alibaba, the inland and foreign logistics will be intensified to much higher levels. And the increased distribution of Alibaba products will lead to a surge in low-cost, low-quality products with a lifecycle of less than a year. Near-future electronic waste, in other words.

When I say that I would wish that the Dutch economy would invest more in high-qualified, labour and research-intensive jobs, I probably start to sound like a broken record.

Companies like ASML, Philips, (formerly) Akzo/Organon, NXP and many others can bring and maintain The Netherlands at the forefront of Research & Development, in cooperation with the Dutch universities and tech infrastructure. 

Those are great jobs and jobs that cannot be easily taken over by other European countries, as they would be lagging in knowledge and skills.
Distribution and transport is relatively easy and doesn’t require special skills. 

Besides that, it deteriorates the environment and air in the very dense populated country The Netherlands, due to the pollution and excess traffic it produces. Another factor that is increasing in influence is the ‘trashification’ of the Dutch landscape, with countless large and ugly buildings, like distribution centres, data centres and large warehouses.

Everybody who traveled to Northern France via the ‘Route du Soleil’, knows what the devastating and depressing influence can be of the countless ugly warehouses at the side of the road that one sees there. The surroundings become ugly and depressing for the people who live there.

Is that what we want for our small country? Or is that a development we need to avoid at all costs?!

I made my choice! Let Belgium have Jack Ma and his giant distribution company and let The Netherlands focus on companies and jobs that really matter for the world!

Monday, 15 October 2018

Nederland heeft een betere premier nodig. Eén die we kunnen vertrouwen en die ons niet in de luren legt met taalkundige spitsvondigheden, die uitsluitend dienen om zijn nietszeggendheid, zijn politieke leegte en zijn tomeloze cliëntelisme te maskeren!

De volgende woorden zijn letterlijk uitgesproken door premier Mark Rutte, in zijn praatje tegen de pers waarmee hij het intrekken van zijn voorstel tot afschaffing van de dividendbelasting (fragment afkomstig van BNR) aankondigt:

Jaah, we zijn eruit.  We hebben besloten om niet door te aan met de afschaffing vd dividendbelasting.

Niet omdat we dat ooit voor één bedrijf deden..., maar wél omdat een belangrijke testcase van het succes van zo’n maatregel vorige week niet goed ging... toen één bedrijf besloot om het besluit naar Nederland te komen, uit te stellen.

Dus we hebben gezocht naar een goed pakket voor het bedrijfsleven… wat meer draagvlak heeft en wat zowel tegemoet komt aan het investeringsklimaat als aan het vestigingsklimaat en wat zowel gericht is op het grotere als het kleinere bedrijfsleven. Vanwege de relatie met de kamer beperk ik mij nu tot de opmerking, dat het gaat om – na de herweging – om een opnieuw samengesteld pakket voor het bedrijfsleven, waarin dus niet meer die maatregel staat over de afschaffing van de dividendbelasting…".

Na het vervolgens maken van een taalgrap dat hij naar Minister Menno Snel moest ‘snellen’, beende de premier weg van de verslaggever van BNR Nieuwsradio die deze woorden opving.

Soms moet je iets uitschrijven om een scherpe blik te krijgen op hetgeen iemand uitkraamde…

In dit geval was deze persoon premier Mark Rutte, nadat hij officieel de wellicht grootste nederlaag uit zijn politieke carrière leed. En dat op een dag waarin hij door een tweetal hoogleraren beschuldigd werd van “de schijn van belangenverstrengeling door zijn vertrouwensband met zakenman Ben Verwaaijen”. Hier volgen de belangrijkste fragmenten uit het verhaal, zoals vastgelegd in Welingelichte Kringen:

Tot 2014 had Verwaaijen geen zakelijke belangen in Nederland, maar dat veranderde toen hij en zijn zoon middels investeringsbedrijf Keen Venture Partners miljoenen gingen investeren in jonge internetbedrijfjes, zogenoemde ‘scale-ups’. Verwaaijen Junior drong in 2015 bij Rutte aan om de belastingregels voor deze bedrijven te versoepelen. Die oproep belandde letterlijk in het VVD-verkiezingsprogramma.

Hoogleraren Muel Kaptein en Leo Huberts, gespecialiseerd in integriteit in het openbaar bestuur, vinden dat de ‘mogelijke schijn van belangenverstrengeling’ daardoor wordt gewekt. “Een cruciale vraag is of de mogelijkheid van oneigenlijke invloed vanuit privécontacten en -betrokkenheid onderdeel uit maakt(e) van het politieke (en morele) netvlies van de premier en zijn partij met betrekking tot belangenverstrengeling,” aldus de hoogleraren.

Ik heb acht jaar mijn best gedaan om premier Mark Rutte van de VVD op zijn merites te beoordelen en om oog te houden voor de goede dingen die hij voor het land heeft gedaan. Maar ik kan niet meer…

Ik kon mij heenzetten over Mark Rutte’s gekoketteer met zijn gebrek aan visie, dat hij vergeleek met nutteloze vergezichten, omdat hij een goede ‘beheerder voor de winkel’ was in de ogen van anderen.

Hoewel het mij heel veel moeite kostte, kon ik mij nog heenzetten over zijn gedoogkabinet met CDA en PVV.

Ik kon mij heenzetten over zijn kwartetkabinet met de PvdA, waarbij standpunten uitgeruild werden naargelang de prioriteit het hoogst was voor VVD of PvdA. En zonder dat er ooit werkelijk sprake leek te zijn van een door beide partijen gedragen visie, die door beide partijen volmondig werd verdedigd en werd nagestreefd tijdens de looptijd van het kabinet.

Ik kon mij zelfs over de lange lijst van stuntelende, rookgordijnen ophangende en soms zelfs ronduit liegende ministers en staatssecretarissen van VVD-huize heenzetten, die Rutte’s drie kabinetten bevolkt hebben.

En ik was zelfs bereid Rutte’s “laatste klusje” voor Nederland – Kabinet Rutte III – wederom op zijn merites te beoordelen.

Ook Rutte’s rode loper en privé-audiënties voor de CEO’s en President-Commissarissen van Nederland en zijn nauwelijks verhulde vriendendiensten aan Unilever en Shell zou ik nog door de vingers kunnen zien… met een brok in de keel!

En zelfs… misschien zelfs dat hij door zijn belasting-, accijns- en heffingsverhogingen de koopkracht van de Nederlandse middenklasse zodanig heeft uitgehold, dat de gemiddelde Nederlander er de laatste acht jaar vrijwel uitsluitend in koopkracht op achteruit is gegaan. Zelfs dat…

Maar na het onnavolgbare taalgegoochel van vandaag bij BNR en na het verhaal in HP/De Tijd is de maat vol! Voor mijzelf en hopelijk voor vele Nederlanders met mij!

Nederland heeft een betere premier nodig. Eén die we kunnen vertrouwen en die ons niet in de luren legt met taalkundige spitsvondigheden, die uitsluitend dienen om zijn nietszeggendheid, zijn politieke leegte en zijn tomeloze cliëntelisme te maskeren!

Ik roep de leden van zijn kabinet op om te zeggen tegen Mark Rutte en te doen dat “genoeg ook werkelijk genoeg is”! Omdat dit “arme volk” zoveel beter verdient!

Saturday, 13 October 2018

The case Jamal Khashoggi is unprecedented and a benchmark for the brutality of undemocratic regimes against “rogue” citizens.

Well, he'll offer you a cigarette
He'll offer you a light
Oh but he hasn't finished with you yet
On another long knife night

If anything, 2018 has perhaps been the year of the ruler: the democratically chosen or unelected leader of a country, who leaves little doubt that he is the man in charge.

Everybody can name a few rulers that left a lasting impression on the world during the last few years. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un are a few names that come to mind, when the topic is ‘rulers’. And of course the leader who is on everybody’s retina currently: President Donald Trump of the United States.

A less common choice for an ill-reputed ruler would perhaps be Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of the secretive kingdom Saudi Arabia and ‘son of’ of the current, old king Salman. However, his relative mysteriousness might change quite soon. And that is due to one man: journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

During the last few years the world became used to brutal killings of people that stood up against questionable regimes all over the world. Iran, Russia (i.e. the Skripal affair) and Egypt were countries that showed little compassion with their political opponents and former ex-intelligence people gone ‘rogue’. And the number of journalists that have been killed in the line of duty lately is depressingly long.

Still, there is hardly a case that made such a lasting impression on me as the unfortunate case of Jamal Khashoggi. The journalist and critical follower of the new unofficial ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who probably walked in a lethal trap at the least conspicuous of places. 

This is caused by the truly weird circumstances and the gruesome details of this murder and especially the outrageous denial of the people who are responsible for this “possible” killing.

The story is short and relatively simple. Khashoggi, who wanted to divorce from his former wife and wanted to marry his new, Turkish girlfriend, walks into the Saudi Arab consulate in Istanbul, in order to arrange some divorce papers, and never comes out of it alive anymore.

Rumours (or are it already facts) are that a fifteen(!) people death squad, including a forensic medic, were waiting in the consulate for Khashoggi and “arrested”(or captured) him. Afterwards, they brutally tortured and killed him and dismembered his body with a surgical saw, before bringing him outside in a blinded bus and reporting to the consul that the job was done successfully. 

Against his more and more impatient and worried wife-to-be and other people, the consulate stated that he left the consulate alive and well. Only… nobody saw that happen and nobody heard of him ever again in the days after the presumed murder.

I am not naive and I know that various regimes do anything to get rid of the unwelcome voices in their society, even if these voices left their country a long time ago. Yet, that a country has the guts and bluntness to (allegedly) kill a political opponent in their own consulate in a foreign country is totally new for me, in spite of my middle aged life. 

And it shocked me beyond belief that Saudi Arabia had the nerve to do this and then deny that it ever happened. Nevertheless, this is what all the signs seem to point at.

The whole idea of embassies and consulates is that they represent their country: not only for their own citizens abroad, but also as a meeting point for their allies and adversaries, in order to keep negotiations and communication channels open in good and in dire times. 

This is the reason for the concept of diplomatic immunity and for the fact that countries virtually always leave ambassadors, consuls and other diplomats of their visiting countries at peace, in spite of their (sometimes) conflicting interests and (in some cases) the mounting hardship between countries. These are the foundations of international diplomatic traffic.

It is definitely true that embassies and consulates are the starting point of most intelligence operations all over the world and that not all inhabitants of such residences have the interests of their hosting country in mind; rather to the contrary. This is the reason that spying and eavesdropping of diplomatic residences is an international sport. Everybody knows this and everybody does their best to ignore this with a straight face, while maintaining the friendship and/or good relations. 

The advantages of diplomatic residences simply outweigh the drawbacks and that is the main reason that most countries “play by the book” with respect to the do’s and don’ts of international diplomacy.

It is exactly this circumstance that makes the Saudi attack against Jamal Khashoggi – when proven beyond doubt – such an outrageous and unprecedented incident. In possibly or deliberately lethal inteligence operations ‘deniability’ is of utmost importance, in order to curtail diplomatic damage when an operation goes awry and perpetrators get caught by the police of their hosting country.

That deniability, however, is totally gone when a Saudi Arab citizen enters the consulate of his country in Turkey on camera and is never seen alive again. 

There is simply no way denying that the consulate was under control of the Saudi Arab government. There is consequently no way denying that this must have been an officially approved kidnapping or murder operation; approved by the very highest ranks of the country, meaning either King Salman or (almost certainly) the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman are involved in it.

And to make the diplomatic damage for Saudi Arabia even worse, Khashoggi allegedly made audio recordings with his smart watch, while being arrested, tortured and murdered by the 15 man hit squad that had been flown in.

That idea alone is gruesome and might give a clue why the Turkish government knew so quickly that Khashoggi was murdered indeed, even though evil tongues could state that the Turkish government already had top notch eavesdropping and video equipment in the Saudi residence.

In spite of the shocking nature of this incident, it is hard to say what the consequences will be for the Middle Eastern Kingdom in the long run, if any.

POTUS Donald Trump openly stated that the $110 billion in Saudi investments in the US counted more for him than the life of one journalist. And the fact that some of the captains of industry, like Richard Branson or Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, canceled their visit to the Saudi Future Investment Initiative conference could have more to do with political, mood-driven opportunism than with sheer shockedness about this “unfortunate incident”, albeit it an outrageous one.

Saudi Arabia has not changed much during the last hundred years – ask the poor people of Jemen or the thousands of imprisoned people, who live in fear of being decapitated on Chop Chop Square. And the chance that ‘MBS’ will bring that desperately wanted change is minute in my humble opinion, since the world and I learned about his ‘Night of the Long Knives’ of last year.

Nevertheless, money talks! And virtually nowhere it talks louder than in Saudi Arabia, where the massive flow of oil yielded immeasurable fortunes during the 20th and 21st Century. Unfortunately, all this happened in a country that lives closer to medieval times than to modern times, in spite of their countless Bugatti’s, Ferrari’s and Rolls Royces and other symbols of conspicuous wealth. 

In spite of it all, this has never been a factor that stopped people, like King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands, and countries from doing massive business with the desert state.

So when all this blows over in a few weeks or months, I expect that the roads, luxurious skyscrapers and countless palaces of the enormous royal family become overcrowded again with the same powers-that-be and same captains of industry that now take a raincheck for a few months.

The Dutch government will be a perfect testcase for this slightly cynical concept of mine: it already organized a trade mission to Saudi Arabia from November 18 – 21st and did so well before the Khashoggi case emerged. I would really be surprised if the Dutch government actually ponders for one moment about abandoning this trade mission. 

You don’t slaughter the goose with the golden eggs, don’t ya?!

Saturday, 6 October 2018

“Dear Mr. Bolton. What are you so afraid of and what triggers your war against the ICC?? Open letter to US National Security Advisor John Bolton…

Dear Mr. Bolton,
There is little doubt that the United States is still the most powerful country in the World...

It is arguably still the largest economy in the World and its military force is second to none, with vast amounts well-equipped soldiers and with the help of the best and most sophisticated arms arsenal ever to win every battle in every situation and on every terrain. On top of that your country maintains the largest nuclear apparatus in the World, with enough strategical and tactical nuclear weapons to destroy our planet many, many times over.

I even believe that your ambitions stretch out to winning the battle for outer space within the coming decades. I have little doubt that you will fullfil these ambitions, when you put your country’s energy in it.

As you call it yourself: your country is the greatest country in the World and it stands on the forefront of civilization. The events enrolling after the Second World War made that your country has turned into the “policeman of the World”: a role that your country has played well. Sometimes reluctantly and sometimes overenthusiastic with your trademark gung ho attitude. But always as a reliable partner for your country’s allies in the Western World and in the Middle East.

Perhaps it is there – in your role as policeman of the World – that the trouble begins.

A policeman has special privileges, granted to him by the government and the law, that common citizens don’t have. He may carry weapons at all time and has a special permit when it comes to the usage of lethal force against civilians: where normal citizens have no right to kill other people, a policeman has that right when he has to maintain the law and when the situation requires this.

Looking at this, your country also have been granted those special privileges in global politics and in military operations, by its grateful allies after the Second World War: not so much de jure, but de facto. The rest of the World was looking for a sheriff and your country was willing to play that role. 

Your country is a permanent member of the security council and your military fleet is sailing across the oceans to maintain peace and quiet all over the globe. No country is really challenging your military might! Not even China, although they are making great progress in building up their military apparatus.

One of the finest expressions from the Marvel Spiderman Saga is: “With great power comes great responsibility!”.

This means in your case that the special privileges that your country enjoys lead to a special responsibility to use them wisely and to the benefit of the human race and the planet as a whole. Not just for your own purposes and benefit. In most situations the USA stuck to these principles and played a pivotal role in maintaining the peace indeed.

However, the distance between being the school’s sheriff and the school bully is remarkably thin. The only difference is that the school’s sheriff uses his force restrainedly and for the greater good, while the school bully uses force exuberantly and for his own good. But I know that you are very much aware of that, Mr. Bolton. And so is the rest of the world.

Although accidents can always happen, the school sheriff should be open about the necessity of his usage of force and – when things went wrong – he would be willing in the end to face the consequences when his usage of force was beyond legal boundaries, if such is decided by justice.

In this case “justice” is represented by either the United Nations security council or (since roughly twentyfive years) the International Criminal Court in The Hague, lying in The Netherlands. The ICC is not a vague ‘hobby’ from a few utopian countries, but an official, legal institute that is acknowledged by a substantial majority of the countries in the world (i.e. 124). That is an undeniable fact.

Countries that did not acknowledge the ICC or that withdrew their confirmation are a.o. China, India, Russia, some of the Arab states, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and… Israel and the United States. Your country, Mr. Bolton.

As a matter of fact, it is a tell-tale and worrisome signal that the largest and most powerful countries in the world did not acknowledge (or did, but in a later stage withdrew their acknowledgement) such an important institute as the ICC.

Most of these countries’ fear for the ICC is based upon the assumption that the ICC could be prone to politicized trials, spurred by the enemies and political adversaries of these countries. Perhaps they have a point. Isn’t that so, Mr. Bolton?

And people who state that the ICC is a warrant for virtually endless and extremely expensive trial cases definitely might have a point. The court is a very bureaucratic and relatively powerless institution that is rather based upon good intentions than on a proven trackrecord.

Nevertheless, it is quite remarkable and even worrisome that an international court that is considered to be “perfectly capable” of dealing with local African and former Yugoslavian ‘quarrels’ – which are harmless for the powers that be – is considered to be too politically biased to deal with f.i. Russian, Chinese or Israelian and American disputes. Yet, that is what such powerful countries, including the United States, claim.

There is a blatant double standard in this way of thinking, discriminating between those countries in power and the countries at the other end of the power scale, whom nobody really listens to. The powerful countries are seemingly out of bounds for the ICC, while the powerless countries aren’t. I am sure that you are aware of this, Mr. Bolton.

And where other countries simply deny that the ICC has the jurisdiction to deal with trials against their militaries and/or countrymen, the USA takes this to the next level. They did so with a series of laws and other countermeasures that hinder possible interference against their militaries by the ICC.  I believe that you are the main architect behind some of these laws, Mr. Bolton. Aren’t you? The most infamous of these laws is the American Service-Members’ Protection Act, jokingly called the The Hague Invasion Act. Although my country does not fear (yet) that this law might become reality, its aggressiveness is nevertheless worrisome.

Yet, that legislation was not enough for you, as the current chief for National Security Affairs for the United States. You recently held a speech in which you promised “doom and gloom” for every ICC official who dared to incriminate American soldiers and other officials for their role in the various American wars, battles and peace operations of the last decades.

I quote here your own words from The Guardian:

 “The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court,” Bolton said.

He said the Trump administration would “fight back” and impose sanctions – even seeking to criminally prosecute ICC officials – if the court formally proceeded with opening an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by US military and intelligence staff during the war in Afghanistan or pursued any investigation into Israel or other US allies.

Bolton vowed that the United States would retaliate by banning ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the US, imposing sanctions on any funds they had in the States and prosecuting them in the American court system.

 “If the court comes after us, Israel, or other US allies we will not sit quietly,” he said, also threatening to impose the same sanctions on any country that aided the investigation.

He condemned the inquiry into war crimes in Afghanistan as an “utterly unfounded, unjustifiable investigation” and the court as illegitimate.

“We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead,” Bolton said.

He said the US would negotiate more binding, bilateral agreements to prohibit countries from surrendering Americans to the court in The Hague.

There is not a single unclear word in your speech here and if anybody still would expect that the policeman of the world would allow a serious investigation into its own warcrimes, then this message by you is a clear wake-up call to these eyes.

Yet, after your swollen statement, I would like say to you: “Hey Mr. Bolton, what are you so afraid of?! Are Abu Ghraib and the rendition flights with American prisoners-of-war to US-supported torture camps all over the globe still haunting you? Is the often excessive violence of the US airforce, navy and US ground troops against their adversaries and enemies still keeping you awake at night? Are you afraid that the American warcrimes might be exposed in the open, visible to the rest of the world?! Thus exposing that the US is not holier than the rest of the world?!

It better be!

If the United States really wants to behave itself as the policeman of the world and not as the school bully, it should make its troops object of scrutiny with regards to clean warfare! In every war there are bloody mistakes and acts of sheer violence, but the only way to deal with that is to expose such crimes and try to mitigate the damage done”

But that is not how you or President Donald Trump see things, Mr. Bolton…

America First has become the mantra of you and your “gang in the White House” and the American military apparatus is rather becoming your personal enforcer and hitman than the policeman for the world. Is that a worrisome development in these times of mounting tensions and aggression from countries like China, Russia, Saudi-Arabia and Iran, to name a few? You bet, it is!

The relatively powerless countries in Europe with their high moral standards, their naivety and their poorly equipped armies feel squeezed between the US, Russia and China: countries that they can’t really trust anymore and that are all much, much stronger than the European countries themselves. China, Russia, but also the USA with President Donald Trump at the helm, have their own agendas and their own ways of influencing politics and the national political climate in Europe.

On top of that, these EU countries have to deal with mounting political tensions in their own societies, with increasing tensions between left and right populists and the moderate parties at the other side, leading to a more poisonous political climate.

Yet, the silence of the rest of the Western world after your speech – which was almost like a declaration of war against the ICC on your behalf – was deafening. The whole Western world and especially the EU seemed to act as if your statement was just “a figment of their own imagination”, that had reached them in a bad dream.

“If we all do as if we did not hear it, we can deny that Bolton and Trump actually said it. And then it didn’t happen, did it?!!”.

With such friends and sponsors, the ICC is dead or at least in a deep coma! And that was exactly what you wanted to achieve with your speech, right?!

And while this European way of thinking is in fact quite pragmatic and perhaps even sensible as a policy, it reinforces for me personally the notion that your United States have indeed recently turned from the world’s policeman in the world’s schoolbully. This is the consequence of your aggressive politics, your crude president and your uncooperative foreign policies that seem to tear the Western world apart. I have serious doubts whether that is to the advantage of the USA in the long run or not.

The ICC, albeit not ideal and decisive yet for making the world a better and safer place, does not deserve your almost personal war – your vendetta – against its sheer existence, as it tries to do the good things and make the world safer and more balanced in power.

And it also deserves a much better defence than this lackluster reaction by the rest of the world. But such a defence is not likely to happen for the time being. And that is a real shame…

I am sure that I can’t convince you, Mr. Bolton, and I can’t make you change your convictions. You have God at your side and your country is the shining city on the hill. You think that America should come first and that the opinions and interests of other countries are subordinate to your own countries’ interests.

But, as my country’s – the host country for the ICC – politicians do not dare to say you in the open that your statement was an aggressive, blunt and utterly wrong statement, I want you to hear it from me. Because it was…

And I truly hope that the American administration will soon change for the better. As I don’t trust the Americans anymore at this moment. I even consider the United States to be an adversary of The Netherlands, rather than an ally, as long as your gang is occupying the White House.

Yours sincerely,