Gordon Campbell on health promises, BP, and the White House correspondents furore

Remember that classic clip of Homer Simpson reacting to news of the government’s best effort at speed –roasting a buffalo?

Keep that impatience in mind. Because after nine years of media complacency about the systematic underfunding of the health system by the National government – as signified by the steady erosion since 2010, of the share of GDP devoted to Vote Health – we are now being invited to have a cow because the coalition government isn’t fixing all the problems in public health within nine months!

Yes, on the campaign trail last year Labour had aimed to make doctors’ visits cheaper by July 1st 2018. But because of the raft of other problems that National left behind them in public health, this aim may need to be delayed a tad by the coalition government until sometime later during its first term. At that rate, it will still be achieving in one term what its predecessor failed to do in triple that time.

Also worth noting by the ‘broken promise’ brigade: the doctors visits fee reduction had been a Labour campaign plank, and not a commitment ever made by the wider coalition government. Even so, and regardless….cheaper doctors visits, more funding for public health, higher pay for nurses, some relief for DHB debt, and more engagement with unmet need in the health system are still all on track for delivery during this government’s first three years. And to repeat: National was left to live happily in denial about the state of public health, for far longer. Its worth keeping in mind that these kind of stories used to be business as usual

and here and here.

The health-related reasons for the likely delay was explained at yesterday’s post-Cabinet press conference by PM Jacinda Ardern. The relevant exchange went like this:

Media : Do you regret promising cheaper GP visits?

PM : No. No, because we remain committed absolutely to the aspiration of more affordable and more accessible healthcare. What we’re talking about is also needing to make sure that we have an adequate number of GPs, that we have adequate hospitals that are able to treat people in acute need, that we have DHBs who aren’t seeking into further and further debt. These are all of the things we are now having to balance in our health

budget. We have a commitment to achieving these over time, but I think people will appreciate we can’t do everything in one single Budget.

Media : You’re saying this is because of infra-structure deficit.

PM : No, I’m not. No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’ve said the deficits as well, that our DHBs are facing, has outstripped some of my expectations as well.

We have now entered the grey zone of having to wait three weeks, until Budget Day May 17, to get the details of how and when the coalition plans to tackle the problems in public health. Like Homer, we may want the details now – but given the scale of the problems facing the health sector, asking for a bit of patience seems justified.

Market mania

When New Zealand dove headlong into ‘free’ market capitalism in the mid 1980s, it did so despite one fatal flaw: this country is far too small to enable markets to work competitively. All we’ve been landed with as a result (in banking, in supermarkets, and for a long time in telcos) have been virtual duoplies/oligopolies that tacitly agree on the price levels that captive groups of consumers have to pay.

Yesterday’s leaked BP email showed all of the flaws in our alleged ‘free’ market system. Apparently, cheaper petrol prices in areas around Otaki saw motorists heading out of town to fill up – which surely, is price competition at work, to the benefit of consumers. Yet instead of lowering its Otaki prices, BP chose to raise prices (and its margins) in those other towns, in the hope that its market position would convince other big firms to take the hint, see the mutual gains, raise their prices, and thereby extinguish the benefits to consumers of these futile flickerings of price competition. The full BP email is available here.

Somehow, such practices – euphemistically called price masking – are permissible under our competition law. Once again, the Commerce Commission finds itself in the position of sitting on its hands – until the government gives it the tools to regulate, and enables it to save market capitalism once more from its own anti-competitive natural instincts.

Outcry over Sanders

These days, the White House Correspondents Dinner looks like a hopeless anachronism. The custom dates from a lost age, when politicians and journalists worked all year in a climate of mutual tolerance – and then had one night a year when they would let their hair down, and journalists and politicians would josh each other unmercifully. How quaint. Such levity clearly has no place in an era where Donald Trump publicly mocks a disabled reporter, expresses his disdain for paralympians,

calls out Mexicans as rapists and people from Central America (“rape like you’ve never seen before”)

as even worse.

All the while as he daily uses the presidential office to deliberately undermine (“fake news”) public faith in the critical Fourth Estate role of an independent media.

To that end, the conservative right has whipped itself into a self-righteous froth over comedian Michelle Wolf’s routine at the latest White House Correspondents Dinner. This is part of a pattern. Time and again, rich and powerful white men (who enjoy ready access to the mainstream media) claim they are being cowed and intimidated by political correctness, even though the p.c. forces in question comprise only a few academics and marginalised minorities tired of being subjected to the same old shit. At the same time, the conservative right also tells millennials – you know, Generation Snowflake – to toughen up, and not expect the rest of us to respect their needs and tender feelings.

And yet.…these same socio-economic overlords are now feeling hurt, and besides themselves. Their sense of propriety has been offended by what that nasty comedian said. Essentially, Wolf dared to call out White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (a) for being a chronic liar (b) for playing a role akin to that of the enforcer Aunt Lydia on the Handmaid’s Tale TV series and (c) for burning the truth in a way akin to the smokey eyeliner effect i.e. for cosmetic deception. This reaction in particular struck me as priceless:

The White House adviser Mercedes Schlapp and her husband, Matt Schlapp, who chairs the American Conservative Union, walked out. He later tweeted: “Enough of elites mocking all of us.”

Enough of those elites and their mockery! I loved that phrase“ all of us”. Yup. Just a couple of ordinary working stiffs – one a White House consigliere, the other a well paid corporate lobbyist, and both of them fellow victims of liberal scorn. Predictably, the US President also declared himself incensed.

Less predictably… so were some good journalists, such as Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, who tweeted this fawning comment:

That @PressSec sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive.

In fact, Wolf hadn’t criticised Sanders’ appearance. She had used ‘smokey eye’ as a metaphor for Sanders’ blurring of truth for politically cosmetic purposes. Thankfully, Haberman has now been called on her bullshit by comedian Kumail Nanjiani of the TV show Silicon Valley and hit movie The Big Sick. The Twitter exchange between the two is worth reading.

Basically, Nanjiani nailed the main problem with Haberman’s defence of Sanders :

They call you liars. They call Mexicans rapists. They call Muslims murderers. They support white supremacists. But someone calls them out on what they do, & suddenly they’re heroes for not walking out.

Meanwhile, as the furore over Wolf’s alleged lack of politeness rages into its third day, the US Justice Department has quietly erased from its operating manual the entire section that had previously set out the need for a free press:

That section [had] read as follows: “Likewise, careful weight must be given in each case to the constitutional requirements of a free press and public trials as well as the right of the people in a constitutional democracy to have access to information about the conduct of law enforcement officers, prosecutors and courts, consistent with the individual rights of the accused. Further, recognition should be given to the needs of public safety, the apprehension of fugitives, and the rights of the public to be informed on matters that can affect enactment or enforcement of public laws or the development or change of public policy.”

No need for that sort of thing, plainly.

Footnote One: For the record, here’s what Wolf actually said about Sanders:

And, of course, we have Sarah Huckabee Sanders. We’re graced with Sarah’s presence tonight. I have to say I’m a little star-struck. I love you as Aunt Lydia in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Mike Pence, if you haven’t seen it, you would love it.

Every time Sarah steps up to the podium, I get excited because I’m not really sure what we’re going to get: you know, a press briefing, a bunch of lies or divided into softball teams. “It’s shirts and skins, and this time, don’t be such a little bitch, Jim Acosta.”

I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. Like, she burns facts, and then she uses the ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like, maybe she’s born with it; maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.

Footnote Two : Meanwhile this closing bit from Wolf’s routine deserves more airtime than it has received thus far:

You guys are obsessed with Trump. Did you used to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him. I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you. He couldn’t sell steaks or vodka or water or college or ties or Eric, but he has helped you. He’s helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off of him. And if you’re gonna profit off of Trump, you should at least give him some money because he doesn’t have any. Trump is so broke.

[AUDIENCE: How broke is he?]

He grabs pussies ’cause he thinks there might be loose change in them. All right, like an immigrant who was brought here by his parents and didn’t do anything wrong, I gotta get the fuck out of here. Good night. Flint still doesn’t have clean water.

Lena Platonos, Re-Discovered

Thanks to Bradford Cox of Deerhunter (who included Lena Platonos on one of his recent terrific mixes on Spotify) a lot of us have now become belatedly aware of the great Greek singer/experimental musician/ composer. (As a multi-threat, Lena Platonos is a bit like a Greek version of Arthur Russell.) Here are a couple of examples of her work – and while “Shadow of Blood” has been remixed, presumably this has been with her approval: