Gordon Campbell on the tension between health and defence spending, and Batman v Superman

What is the more rational use of taxpayer money? In one instance, we have New Zealanders with orthopedic problems living in pain until they can get access to the surgery they need.

For many, their condition is being allowed to deteriorate to the point where they may belatedly qualify for more complex, and less effective, surgery. A few million dollars would fix this problem. Instead, a policy of “explicit rationing” of joint replacement surgery appears to be in place.

“Patients undergoing primary elective total hip and knee replacement in Otago in 2014 are more severely disabled than between 2006-2010. Patients currently being returned to a GP would have qualified for publicly-funded surgery during that period.”

[Dunedin hospital orthopaedic surgeon Associate Professor David Gwynne-Jones] also said that it had been predicted that the demand and projected numbers of hip and knee replacement would rise significantly, because of the ageing population.

“It is unclear how this can be funded. While the Budget announcement of increased numbers of total joint replacement from 2016 onwards is welcome, the numbers are inadequate to match demand.”

Or on the other hand, should we spend hundreds of millions of dollars instead on new submarine spotting equipment for the military’s Orion airplanes, to enable them to operate in regions far from New Zealand, and in a threat environment where the actual threat to this country is acknowledged to be currently so low as to be virtually non-existent. Now, guess which of these options is more likely to be funded.

The Ministry of Defence’s outgoing deputy director of acquisitions, Des Ashton, said the current equipment was past its use-by date. Defence spending was a matter of priorities and he expected a decision in the next few months. “The strategic assessment that was carried out in the 2010 White Paper identified that this was a requirement that we needed to have. “The old equipment has outlived its day and the new equipment that’s available is far more capable and matches contemporary threats.”

It is as if Defence operates in a vacuum that is immune to rational scrutiny. Because it has had certain roles dating back to the Cold War – Defence “ needs” to keep on playing such roles, and it must be funded accordingly, regardless of the minimal threat environment in the real world, and regardless of this country’s existing social problems. The usual experts are weighing in on the grave necessity of pouring scarce money down this particular sinkhole:

Victoria University professor of strategic studies Robert Ayson said the upgrade was necessary. “The South Pacific is not a heavy submarine area but New Zealand also operates further afield.” China and other Southeast Asian nations were increasing their underwater capabilities, he said.

Do we really think that China and ‘other Southeast Asian nations’ – Vietnam? Malaysia? Indonesia? – pose such an existential threat to this country that we have to underfund the pressing health needs of New Zealanders in order to purchase military gear that is (a) fantastically expensive and (b) prone to obsolescence shortly after it is bought. (The Orions themselves are set for replacement early next decade. Will this hideously expensive gear even be transferable to whatever aircraft we buy to replace them?)

Yes, we “need” to spend all this money on Defence if we assume we still operate in a Cold War environment – in which our main trading partner (China) poses a significant threat to our very survival. Most of us don’t live on that planet. But we do live on the planet where the health system is being systematically starved of the resources it needs. To repeat : this thriftiness is being enforced to sustain the spend envisaged on anti-submarine war-fighting that is little more than a videogame delusion dreamed up by our allies in Canberra and Washington. In reality, the defence threats we actually face – to the national interest and to corporate wellbeing – are emanating from state and private sector cyber hackers, not from Asians in submarines. Purely taken on its own terms, the Defence spend seems entirely misdirected.

Still, if it does nothing else, the extravagance of the spend on new defence equipment – estimated to be $NZ11 billion over the next decade – gives the lie to the claim that government spending on social services has to be rationed. Plainly, that is not the case. Because when it comes to the pursuit of business as usual in Defence, the sky is the limit.

Talcum powder can kill

This week’s other medical horror story is this one, which traces the links between the prolonged use of Johnson and Johnson’s talcum powder, and ovarian cancer.

For a different kind of horror story, here’s an analysis of how the very survival of the Warners studio (those nice people who brought you The Hobbit and the related degradation of workers’ right in this country) will hinge on the box office performance of Batman v Superman.

Despite the critical drubbing the film has received, the first week’s returns brought good news for Warners. Currently though, Box Office Mojo indicates that the film is making most of its money offshore: 60.5% to 39.5% in American theatres.

So the mooted $US1.15 billion domestic box office return being sought still looks a long way off. One hates to feel ill will towards Warners, but it would be nice to think that sometime, somehow, the era of comic book superhero movies might be coming to an end.

And as for the political subtext. Hmmm. How relevant to the presidential campaign of 2016 could a choice possibly be between two would-be superheroes – neither of whom are likeable, and one of whom seems psychotic? In an against-the-critical-tide article, Salon focused on the film’s (stunted) political subtext:

Aside from shots of anti-Superman protesters carrying protest signs modelled after the anti-Mexican rhetoric that contaminates our discourse today, there isn’t much of an exploration of xenophobia vis-à-vis Superman’s origin story (a missed opportunity in any ostensibly politicized Superman parable). There are similarly fleeting references to drone strikes and civil liberties violations, all dutifully ticked off as vestiges of a security state run amok before quickly forgotten. The movie does include commendably strong female characters like Lois Lane and Wonder Woman, but they receive such insufficient attention that they barely make an impact (a shortcoming more likely attributable to its cluttered narrative than outright sexism).

At the same time, there is actually something very intelligent, even subversive, about a superhero film that is so brazen in challenging the political legitimacy of those who would-be superheroes. It is the central conflict that drives the narrative and keeps the audience engaged in the on-screen action, even if the flat characters make it hard to invest on a deeper level. This isn’t a movie that simply includes those elements to make itself seem more profound; without that political subtext, the film barely exists at all.

Frightened Rabbit return

For years, the Scottish band Frightened Rabbit have made music about the darker, danker aspects of romantic obsession, without leader/songwriter/vocalist Scott Hutchison ever losing track of his self-flagellating sense of decency. From the striking early tracks (“The Modern Leper” and “The Twist”) on through the political stuff ( “Scottish Wind”) to the sincerely romantic (“Candelit”, “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” ) the band has steadily worked its way towards ever more symphonic versions of their dour Scottish idealism. This process culminated in 2013’s Pedestrian Verse album – which was a brilliant dead end, but a dead end just the same.

The group has now regrouped, stripped things right back, and released a new album this month called Painting of A Panic Attack. As that title suggests, Frightened Rabbit are still as obsessive as ever, but this is definitely a new sonic direction for them. Online there’s a good clip of them doing the “Get Out” song on the Colbert show, but here is the official video, some of it shot near the huge Motherland Monument in Kiev, Ukraine:

Typical Scott Hutchison lyric too, in the precision of the torment involved:

I’m in the arch of the church
Between her thumb and her forefinger

I’m a worshipper…
Get out of my heart
She won’t, she won’t
Get out of my heart
She won’t, she won’t

I saw a glimmer in the dark
And now I know she won’t get out of my heart
She won’t….

Poor old Scott. It just doesn’t seem to get any easier for him. And for old times sake, here’s “The Twist”:

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19 Comments on Gordon Campbell on the tension between health and defence spending, and Batman v Superman

  1. There always seems to be money for weapons. Even worse when a conservative government is in power.

  2. There does not need to be any tension between health needs and weaponry.
    Money does not grow on trees, it is created by private banksters from nothing(worse than nothing really, debt). There really is no scarcity .
    The banking cabal want people to believe in these bankster money myths and to keep willingly giving away their authority to the foxes they put in the hen houses.

    Vote for foxes (all you chickens).
    The illegitimate Crown (NZ govt) is heavily invested in war.

  3. New Zealand’s main role post the second world war was clearly as a static aircraft carrier for bombers and anti submarine aircraft to defend Australia’s shipping, cities and military bases from submarine missile and torpedo attack and to a lesser extent defend New Zealand as an air base and a few capable airfields and civilian airports from invasion.
    Since WW2 it remains doubtful, if significant conventional surface ship defence against any competently handled and reliable submarine is possible. In the last months of WW2 in 1945 half a dozen 300 ton Type 23 Nazi U Boats were operating around the United Kingdom and with the Type 23 having a submerged speed of 13 knots, 4 times previous submarines, it was clear that anti submarine escorts of advanced WW2 frigate type like the Loch type used by the RNZN from 1949-65 were useless against modern submarines, because their sonars and the turbulence produced by their hull moving through the water at even 10 knots was such the streamlined U Boats couldnt be tracked or followed by the Loch frigates, the Nazi U Boats disappearing on the sonar screens , like visitors like outer space. During the Cuban missile crisis, 4 Soviet diesel submarines of the 1960 era Foxtrot era, penetrated the NATO sonar net in the GUIK gap and other points and operated around the US Fleet in the Caribean for a month, before being detected by an old US destroyer, due to the eyeball detection of a submarine antenna above the water. Most submarine detection during the cold war was due to finding a submarine by surface radar or eye, with an antenna or snorkel above the surface, due to the need for air, communication or a shallow passage as thru the straights of Gibraltar. The Falklands war raised furthur doubt about the ability of surface warship to find even modern diesel submarines and engage them, as the Royal Navy despite knowing pretty accurately the five mile box where the Argentinean Type 209, German provided modern U Boat was hiding, could not find it, or sink it. The performance of the the RNZN Type 12 frigates ( in the RN the Yarmouth, Plymouth and Bachantee were equivalent) proved particularly disappointing for the RN Commanders like Woodward and Captain John Howard, effective communication was impossible because the old T12s lacked data link, their helicopter deck lacked the space to land a helicopter large enough to refuel helicopters needed to drop heavy weight torpedoes and the T12s orginal anti sub weapon the limbo mortar proved useless and simply a danger to the RNs own divers.
    Post 1960 Soviet diesel submarines were double hulled and invulnerable to conventional mortars and rockets and these included the missile and torpedo firing Juliets and Foxtrots that might have operated in the Tasman in the 1960s to strike Australian targets. It is doubtful that the Soviet Unions ICBM fields in Central Asia had the numbers and range from their missiles to hit East Coast Australian and NZ targets before 1971 which is why the USA insisted NZ acquire 5 rather than an inadequate force of 3 Orions in 1966. The high cost of the Orions produced a cabinet crisis for National in 1966 with intense diplomatic activity, Lockheed Martin going to the extend of a full page advertisement for the P-3 in the Dominion and the Cabinet reconvened and agreed.
    New Zealands Type 12 frigates and their Leander follow ons did provide some capabilites of value to the US Navy, the Type 12 design offered exceptionally fast quiet speed matched only by a few Canadian designs. The British sonars used by the RNZN were not much use however as the 177 was a half spectrum sonar, difficult to read and interpret off the screen and both with Australian frigates off Vietnam in 1970 and the RN frigates in the Falklands proved useless, constantly wrongly detecting, suspected submarines, HMS Yarmouth detected 9 false echos on the day HMS Sheffield was hit. (S. Woodward, Memoirs of a Falklands Battlegroup Commander, USNI ed Annapolis).
    Increasingly during the 1980s it became obvious that powerful NATO active sonars on frigates simply indicated to every Soviet sub withing a hundred miles, the location of the frigate while better silenced Russian and third world subs could no longer be heard on passive sonar.
    So effective anti submarine operations were only really possible from long range anti sub aircraft or short ranged helicopters.

  4. Never quite understood how rightwingers who witter on at great lengths on the evils of state spending on stuff that actually benefits us seem to have an open slather attitude to state spending when its for buying useless war stuff. Do they think the money fot such things comes from a different source…grows on trees?

    It’s several times worse here in Aus with a significant and growing debt, yet both major parties locked into willing vassalhood with Uncle wsams war plans are positively enthusing over a massive sub building programme and an equally colossal share in the worst aircraft scam in history – the F35.

    Is there a conservative commenattor who can please explain the contradiction in some credible way?

  5. Explain the hypocrisy of ” rightwingers” ?
    Two words comes to mind… delusional (if they believe their own lies)and corrupt if they know what they are doing.
    Politics is a profession of spinning lies. The name of the game is to get the people believe the lies to further the agenda of the corporations.
    These “rightwingers” that say there is a ton of money in subsidies for the corporations( and wars)and at the same time talk about imposing austerity and a recession for the people are mind conditioned muppets serving the interests of the Oligarchy ( Crown’s corporations, banksters and the Washington war machine).

  6. The last two Labour Governments have been very large capital spenders on Defence and restricted Health and Welfare spending. The Lange / Palmer Government purchased the Anzac frigates, 18 Aermacchi light fighters and renewed the obsolete Skyhawks with F-16 systems.
    While Jim Anderton justified the Anzac frigates on the grounds they were a necessary trade off for the nuclear free deal and Clark seemed to think they were useless anyway and jobs for the proles and engineers, I thought they were the wrong ships and planes. It is true i somewhat supported the F-16 deal in 1998 but that was a tradeoff needed to defeat the 3rd Anzac frigate and if it had gone through would have created a variety of high tech trade offs and jobs and raised the skill level needed to enter the Air Force as past equipment options of say Hunter fighters or Mirage ground attack fighters brought by Australia and favoured by many in the NZMOD were rejected because the work on their engines was too finky and skilled was beyond the low ability people the politicians wrong saw as the job of the RNZAF to train. My main point was always to reject that sort of approach in the military and nursing etc.
    The recent Rand report into Australian shipbuilding confirmed Australian shipbuilding costs were 40% higher. My view was the Anzac frigates were goldplated targets with no useful weapons an old plugging 5 inch and 8 cell sea sparrow for 500 million and a slower less sophsiticated hull than the Leanders and Type 12s capable of 31 knots the RAN Anzacs are utlity AA frigates probably incapable of 26 knots now. it is worth reading the report of the strangelove corporation, Rand in Santa Monica into Australian shipbuilding and the notorious Collins class submarine disarmament project for noisy slow submarines which will undoubtedly break down in North Korean waters soon.
    Clarks purchase of the 105 LAV tank thingees only really useful for internal security was outrageous as the money could have been spent on new Hercules rather than the inflated attempts to refit the old rattlers.

  7. We have covered the defence spending issue quite recently in this blog. But just to refresh.

    The expenditure, which covers more than a decade is primarily about replacing aircraft that are basically 60 years old, that is the Hercules, a transport aircraft and the Orion, a maritime surveillance aircraft.

    Any likely govt of New Zealand is going to do that, since both capabilities are essential for the expected tasks of govt; just dealing with disasters, the Antarctica, and knowing what is happening in our region.

    Defence spending will stay around 1% of GDP, which is pretty low internationally.

    If we don’t keep this level of capability, we effectively will not be able to do the normal things that we routinely do within our region. As for an ANZAC relationship, well you could forget it.

    Gordon, you are trying to drum up some war mongering scandal, but it simply does not hold water, which is why your campaign is going nowhere.

    Most New Zealanders look at our defence force and see that is pretty well optimized for our situation. It is also structured in such a way that it is appropriate for foreign policy goals of either a National or Labour led govt.

    Even a Green led govt should not have too many problems with the basic configuration of the NZDF, except they would probably prefer Offshore Patrol Vessels as opposed to ANZAC class frigates (or their replacement).

  8. Obviously National Governments credibility would be rather greater if like Wayne Mapp they didnt argue, that Orions and frigates are justified for resource protection, maritime accidents, the likes of relief for earthquakes etc.Clearly world class anti submarine and surface warfare platforms capable of carrying any level of land or sea attack missile like the Orions and Frigates are not for those reasons. Obviously such tasks could be carried out by forces considerably less shophsiticated than the Protector OPVs and Canterbury L421 which oculd be viewed more as minimal level frigates carrying missile armed Sea Sprites and a mini aircraft carrier for NH70 or several anti submarine aircraft. Indeed if you simbly bolted 4 modern oerilikon and a few twin 30mm aa guns onto the Canterbury you would for $20 million have increased its capability to more than 90% of the RN Warships the UK send to the Falklands which were generally less capable than the Diadem or Royalist in their original 1944 kit, so far had the UK disarmed, only temperorarily abandoining relentless disguised disarmament in the Thatcher period.
    The Orions were our only sensible weapons during the l966-1984 period, but to be in any way effective would have needed nuclear armament. All New Zealand’s later cold war equipment, Canberra’s, A-4s, Leanders and Orions were designed with only token old conventional armament and the only real armament was the potential nuclear armament. According to Harrisons book on ‘Kiwi Orions’ (2006) full plug in equipment to arm and trigger nuclear depth charges dropped by Orions were available at RNZAF bases, p105 Harrison to at least 1983. Only nuclear weapons could possibly have been effective against Soviet submarines which were allready regularly running under US carriers at speeds of 32 knots by 1962 given that the fastest US torpedoes for anti submarine engagement could not exceed 30 knots before 1975 Mk 37/47 and had very limited engagement and lock on homing range. All sorts of speeds are claimed for torpedoes and their in no greater area of confidentiality in defence, but it is clear according to most authorities before the heavyweight MK 48 was provided for US subs in the late 1970s engaging anything more than diesel subs was impossible.
    It is claimed that today the speed of modern anti sub torpedoes enables them to deal with nuclar subs, but such claims are always made and pure speed does not mean. The Japanese had superb 50 knot extreme long rang long lance torpedoes in WW2 and while they counted for all the ten USN cruisers sunk by Japan and may well have taken Halseys battle fleet in the Battle of Leyete gulf, if he ran futhur into the trap, the actual success of the torpedos was not paricularly spectacular and actual engagement of submarines is another matter.
    Nevertheless carriers will probably require nuclear defence to survive and Russian submarines equally can only be contained by a nuclear threat as can China. Conventional defence against China seems impossible and limited nuclear weapon use would probably be required in any major encounter.
    China’s building off enlarged air bases and reefs with airstrips throughout the South China sea and their abandonment of the one child policy per family effectively amounts to a declaration of war against the west. The view of the leading ANU Australian defence advisors that the rise of China cannot be challenged and must be accepted ,is a hopeless view, as if a cat is large enough it will always use its power over man.
    My own view is that given these nuclear realities it is wiser to concentrate on the defence of the South Pacific and control of sea food and fish resources and sub antarctic with say 10 Holland class OPVs and four Boeing based P-8 Orion replacements with good radar and more modern missiles than Harpoon. Assuming the world has twice the sustainable population, control and conservation of these resources many be the essential battleground of the future. But if Mapp like Muldoon would not dare venture that nuclear tactical and limited strategic nuclaar weapons were essential to western defence and without accepting that reality and that we were western not part of Asia, we oould play no useful role, their was no point in the National Party as defeating the left required the soft utopian communists, to be challenged and provoked to the limit.

  9. @ Wayne but it is scandalous!
    We are having our health and social needs cut, our public housing privatized. Yet in the bankster’s “austerity ” economy have an extra $11 billion for defense when we do not have an enemy( except those creating such idiotic budgets).

    .

  10. Anabel,

    Education, health and social expenditure make up 70% of all govt expenditure, in contrast defence is just 3%.

    You won’t fix education, health, and social expenditure (assuming they need fixing) by reducing defence expenditure. The amount is simply too small.

    The $11 billion is spread over more than twenty years, so not so much each year. It is also the capital spend, which is paid for by depreciation and capital charge which is part of the annual expenditure.

    More significantly if it is not spent, New Zealand will have no long range cargo planes and no maritime surveillance. Robert M, near the end of his post which was about a more modest defence force, referred to getting four P8’s for maritime surveillance.

    But this is what the defence review is likely to propose, in fact the NZDF will be pretty much like Robert M thinks should be the ideal defence force. As I noted further up, even the Green Party can’t have too many objections to the structure of the NZDF, except perhaps for the frigates. But even Offshore Patrol Vessels are hardly bargain basement options, unless they are deigned to never go out of our EEZ.

    The reason why Robert M goes for the the P8 is that it is the only aircraft that can cover our full EEZ and our search and rescue zone. There is literally no other aircraft that can do that.

  11. Wayne its delusional spending $11 billion on the needless simultaneously talking about not having enough health funding( shutting down a needed birthing unit!).

    So where is NZ’s “enemy”?
    Paranoid much?

  12. The $11 billion for “defense” , defense against the imaginary enemy, otherwise known as the Washington “jihardly” .
    NZDF’s imagined enemy is but an assortment of fictitious bogeymen.
    And the extra $11 billion earmarked to be spent on defense is close to what they say they spend on health” and “education . “Health: $14.7 billion Education: $13.5 billion”
    So you see $11 Billion is not a small amount.

  13. Anabel and GR,

    I can only assume that neither of you want any form of defence force. And if so, just say so.

    As I have been pretty clear the money is primarily to replace the 50 year old C130 aircraft and the 50 year old P3 maritime surveillance aircraft. And the frigates and there will be a choice for Offshore Patrol Vessels, instead of frigates.

    The $11 billion is spent over 20 years, the health and education figures you use are annual.

    None of these capabilities have much to do with ISIS, but are mostly about our region.

  14. Wayne we all know what happens when you assume.

    $11 billion is not a “small amount” the facts are that health and social needs remain unmet (obligations of the Crown NZ govt).Kiwi’s are not getting the healthcare and support they need.
    Where in ” austerity” does an extra $11 billion come from.

    We have no enemies in our region. (*not counting the Crown NZ govt that continues to borrow money in our name )

  15. Yeah the warmongers looking for justification appear to be as mad as hatters.
    Defense by way of “surveillance” of imaginary enemies.

  16. Robert M and some others on here appear not to let facts get in the wayof a story. If you are going to cite history, especially WW2 history and NZs part in it, I strongly suggest that you check your facts before posting. During WW2 we had enemy ships and submarines operating in NZ waters. Most of the ships were German Kriegsmarine and the submarines Imperial Japanese Navy. There are recorded instances of a torpedo attack on shipping off Auckland, plus over flights of Wellington and Auckland by Japanese naval aircraft. The NZ ship Niagara was sunk by a mine laid by a German surface raider in NZ waters.

    A defence force protects a state from acts of aggression by enemies foreign and otherwise. In NZs case the NZDF also provides humanitarian and disaster relief capabilities for the government. We are an isolated island nation that is dependent upon foreign trade for our economic survival and 99.5%of that trade is seaborne. We also have, from memory, the fifth largest EEZ in the world plus resource monitoring, HADR and defence responsibilities for the Pacific Islands. Our trade is totally dependent upon our Sea Lanes Of Communication (SLOC) which extend all the way through Oceania, Australasia and into Asia. If those SLOC are interfered with or severed in any way then we will be in deep trouble.

    We don’t have the resources to field a large defence force hence we cannot afford the expense and luxury of armed neutrality nor non alignment. Therefore we have to seek alliances with stronger nations with whom we have similar outlooks and values, plus historic links. In such alliances each nation is expected to provide a certain level of forces and capabilities. If they will not, then the other nations see no need to expend blood andttreasure to help them because they won’t help themselves.

    Who are we in danger from? There are both state and non state actors who are not willing to accept or live by the rules based international order that has been operating for the last 70 years. They are intolerant of others views, rights and beliefs and when these nations have weapons, in some cases nuclear weapons, and the non state actors have weapons and may have access to weapons of mass destruction (e.g., chemical and / or biological weapons), then we have a responsibility as a nation to be prepared. It is the same as having insurance for your home, contents and car etc.

  17. Extra defense spending ( $11 billion) in NZ against imaginary enemies at a time of bankster ” austerity ” health and social needs cuts is not comparable with insurance Mr warmonger.
    If USA, Russia or China wanted to nuke NZ the extra $11 billion spent would not stop or provide any defense of NZ Mr fear-mongerer.

    Warmongering is never based on facts or truths.

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