Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Well now, Lord Hutton has released his report. Without having seen the full text, and with little more than the embargo-breaking Sun report to go by, what have we learned?

* First up, and most important for me, the Beeb is not now, is no longer, the reliable and independent news source that I believed it to be. What a great shame that is.
* Second major point is that Tony Blair and his bureaucracy had not “doctored” (I prefer that to “sexed-up”) the evidence favouring the invasion of Iraq.

I suppose that on the global scale the first will be of fairly small beers to most people. I know that I can get over it.

Before I start on the remainder of this, I must also state that I do not see any evidence of a conspiracy in the outcome of the Hutton enquiry. There were a number of pieces of evidence given publicly to the enquiry, which have to be accepted as truth and which clearly pointed to the likely outcome. So on that basis alone I am happy.

But there are a number of questions which arise now, and the most important of these revolve around the principles of government accountability.

The obvious inference of the enquiry finding that the evidence and reports were not doctored is that Tony Blair received that information from British Government intelligence sources. Again, no conspiracy here – it is in line with relevant evidence given to the enquiry.

So it seems there is another conundrum here. Tony Blair was entitled to use (in good conscience had to use) the evidence he was given to “protect the interests of Great Britain”.

One of the principal “facts” presented to Blair by British Intelligence was debunked within days of the announcement; that SH had attempted to purchase U (yellow cake) from West Africa. Since the invasion, most, many, if not all, of the justifications for the invasion of Iraq (other than that Saddam is a very bad man and probably guilty of genocide) have been proven to be either untrue or mistaken.

The conundrum is; who is going to face the music for what have become patently obvious failures in the gathering, analysis, and confirmation of information gathered?

That, ironically, is the very same failing for which the Beeb has been found guilty by the Hutton enquiry.
[ Mon Jan 26, 09:08:46 AM | bob renner | edit ]
The political silly season is past its climax - I usually measure that from the annual "State of the Union" speech from the U.S. President but in New Zealand here it is the four weeks prior to parliament reconvening.

And once again we have connections all over the place - apart from the State of the Union Address;

The release of the Hutton Report in London later this week.
Winston Peters had a free dinner with the Simunovichs.

To explain the latter, Winston Peters is "leader" of one of the minor political parties represented in our Parliament. Known as "New Zealand First" , it really should carry the name "The Winston Peters Party". He is a mildly charismatic, Maori, and I will confess not a person that I like at all. Despite that he has my grudging admiration as a political survivor. Most of all, he suffers politically from not having the resources to chase effectively those issues from which he can gain the most mileage.

His first real "tilt at the windmills" became known as "The Winebox Affair". It involved a multi-million dollar tax scam perpetrated through the use of valid but worthless tax certificates issued by the Cook Island government. Winston conducted his part in this, and was instrumental in getting the government to establish a full and formal enquiry into most aspects of the scam.

The latest imbroglio involves a "free lunch" from a restaurant here in Auckland. Politically there should be absolutely zero mileage in a free lunch except that in this instance the restaurant is owned by a fishing company, central to another parliamentary enquiry involving naughty dealings with the allocation of fishing quota. Mr Peters is a senior and leading member of the parliamentary committee undertaking the enquiry.

But to go back to the beginning again...

The State of the Union Address was notable, not for what President Bush said but (as many commentators have already pointed out) for what was left unsaid. It was "a very forward looking" address. It did not canvas the past at all; well, certainly not any of the "history" that could damage his prospects for re-election come November.

"Weapons of Mass Destruction"? Not a word. The subsequent statement from David Kay has done President Bush no favours at all, by once again drawing attention to the gaps between prediction and outcome, between justification and reality.

That is obviously the link to the Hutton Report as well. That promises to be either a total whitewash, or an effective closure to Tony Blair's political career. If it does turn out to be a bucket of white stuff (as distinct from brown) then there will be far less credence in the parliamentary process in Britain as well. So from that point of view Lord Hutton is carrying a very heavy responsibility.


Now the connection...

Winston Peters is one pugnatious little bugger. His response to the revelations of the "free lunch" on television news has been to respond with defamation proceedings against the broadcaster. It seems, on this occasion, that he is very likely to be in the clear. To make matters worse, it looks like the news report was prompted by political enemies with an eye to the elections.

Not so, President Bush and Tony Blair.

But why is it that politicians universally can not take that step of saying, "Sorry folks, it looks like we stuffed up on that one. What is there that we can do to repair the damage?"

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Well, this is relatively early Sunday morning, and I had intended to go flying but it looks like that might be going onto the back burner.

Why? Well it is a bit draughty (up around 40kph) outside and easterly which is not helping because of the horse stud over the road from the flying field. I have my daughter and her partner with us for the weekend and while I have been brewing up a double batch of pancake and lemon, I have been listening to a feature programme on the radio about the modern drug industry.

Factoid 1 - Between 1979 and 1999 some 1400 drugs were approved for general use. Of those, only 13 were for the treatment of tropical diseases. Of those 14, only 2 were for the treatment of drugs that were unlikely to be contracted by people outside of the third world.

Factoid 2 - The "greatest advances" in drug development of the past 20 years have been in response to "manufactured diseases".

To illustrate -

More people suffer from and are killed by malaria than heart disease, diabetes and lung cancer combined. The only treatments available are palliative; they minimise the symptoms not cure the disease. There are no treatments for most of the severe tropical diseases - sleeping sickness, elephantiasis, trichanosis(sp?) and so on.

Why? Well it all has to do with the cost of research, the cost of proving, but most important of all the ability of the market to pay for the approved drug.

So as a result it is far better business to "manufacture" a disease like "prostate disease" and to then develop a drug to cure it. "Prostate disease"? Men over the age of about 50 have been getting up in the middle of the night for thousands of years - it is not a disease.

Osteoporosis? According to the FDA (as reported on the programme), the "proof" of osteoporosis was the result of combining bone density study statistics for 50 to 90 year old women into one statistical group.

Think of the investment in viagra as another example. Anyone ever considered that erectile failure might be more generally the consequence of aging than of a "disease" requiring treatment? Or could it be caused by "over-use"? Or "under-use" even?

Think of children with "behaviour problems". Oh NO!!!!! They got a "disease" called "Attention Defective Hyperactivity Disorders"!! Within a very short time we have a series of very powerful psychotropic drugs all ready and waiting to treat each and every one of them. Does it matter that Ritalin and another of its derivatives was found to cause liver damage with extended treatment. Fifty years back, probably 90% of those kids would have been "cured" by the application of simple punishments - like a good smack or three on the bum, or a clip on the ear.

The current one - in this country at least - is "Type 2 Diabetes". It is expected that millions will be needed for the treatment of this "disease", most of which by far will go to the drug companies. What is the cause? Too much of a poor diet. What might happen if those millions of dollars were spent on school lunches and teaching unfashionable subjects like nutrition and home management in our schools? Not, mind you, as electives but as compulsory subjects.

On the other side of the coin is the drug companies' attitude to supplying drugs to treat HIV/AIDS to the third world, Africa in particular, How long did it take, and what was the threat level applied before it was "agreed" to supply at a cost that those countries (actually their first world beneficiaries) were prepared to pay.

On reflection, it is not limited to drugs. One of the most debilitating medical problems that the third world suffers is eye cataracts. Until Fred Hollowes came on the scene, a very simple operation to remove the cataract and replace the lens could cost US100 to US200. Of that cost probably 90% was the cost of the artificial lens. Hollowes realised this and solved the problem by encouraging third world nations to establish their own lens factories. Now, due to his work, the cost of eye cataract surgery is a small fraction of what it was. As a side benefit, the operation is now an out-patient procedure instead of full hospitalisation.

Now I can hear loud and clear the turbine like sound of good capitalists spinning, in their graves and not. Well I am big enough to admit that there is a problem here. Do I have a solution? No. It is another of the challenges that our society is going to have to solve.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

It has been the same Christmas break for me as for so many others of the western world. But in my love for connections, the highlight came on New Years Day.

On of the regular commentators in our "Granny" Herald is Garth George, a comparitively mild right wing American who, from time to time, makes very pertinent comment on things New Zealand.

So, the first of my "connections" is the Garth George column published New Years Day, in which he draws attention to his experience of life (he is in his seventies), and his qualifications as a long time "committed Christian" to relate his life to the experiences of history. He also reveals himself as the essential weekly columnist with a holiday week block. His "column" is really limited to a brief intro pointing out as a matter of history that the august Wall Street Journal has published the same editorial every year since 1949 in its Christmas / New Year edition. He then quotes said editorial in full, and concludes with a little homily.

I have now to move to third hand quotation because I have been unable to track this editorial into the 'net. Mind you I am sure that if Garth George is right then it will be a classic of US journalism. If it is, then please forgive me for not quoting the actual words, but what I recollect.

Essentially, it is the story of Paul of Tarsus, his conversion to Christianity, and ending with a quote from the Bible giving the strength of faith to those subjected to oppression.

Garth George's little homily on the end drew the attention to the importance of resisting oppression in all forms, and how fortunate The United States is to be free.

Now I want to leave Garth George at that point and move to the "second leg" of this particular double. It was published by the Herald, on the same "op-ed" pages as the Garth George column.

It comes in the form of an editorial from another august American newspaper, the New York Times. While fairly brief, the central paragraphs tell the story of a Phillipine cotton grower. He is not rich. He has difficulty selling his product on the world market, and hardship making a living from it.

He is convinced that President George Bush is also a cotton grower. Why else would the American government give so much money to the American cotton growers?

Now without in anyway denigrating this cotton farmer's lack of knowledge of things American we can point out that President Bush is not a cotton grower. We can also acknowledge that the federal subsidies that allow American cotton growers to sell their product on the world market at only a fraction of the actual cost are the product of influential Members of Congress who owe their position to Old King Cotton.

So, where is the connection?

Well, let us return to the story behind the New Testament. We need to recall that Israel at the time of Christ was ruled, governed and taxed by Rome. The WSJ editorial makes much of this and the iniquities of the Roman Empire, and also of the position of Christ in history as the prophet and leader who led the people of Israel at least to a spiritual freedom from the "yoke of oppression" (the words are used several times).

And here we arrive at the crux which is ignored by so many of us in this "western civilisation", and by Garth George in his column...

Does the Phillipine cotton farmer consider himself free from economic oppression?