In these last days, the Australian government has tried the ol’ “press clean-out” trick again and didnt bargain for some gripes over its “battler” budget undermining its cleverness; An AIDS prevention drug gets closer to market, with the world’s poor likely to be unable to afford it; Sudan’s dictator gets given a free kick by the UN and the US; Same sex marriage gets wedded to the mainstream, but not everywhere and; two Hollywood stars get real – in one case allegedly – on the great unwashed with vastly different reactions.
The Gillard government has tried pretty much all the tricks in the book to look like its not making policy wearing a rubber nose and big floppy boots. The latest is to squeeze out the much awaited Front Page-worthy Fair Work Australia report into the Health Services Union and (former) ALP back-bencher Craig Thomson’s role in the apparent rampant graft at the discredited organisation (it’s not enough apparently that hospital staff are under-paid and over-worked and, as recently happened in Queensland, don’t get paid at all for long periods, they have to suffer representation by what looks like a horde of Charlie Sheens).
The trick was to throw it out less than 24 hours before the “battler’s budget”, where Swan – doing his best Willie Wonka impersonation – hurled out various sweet-meats to the band-aided and dwindling Australian middle class, seemingly taken straight out the deep pockets of the mining and resources industries. A promised 1% cut in company taxes was withdrawn and the corporate sector, predictably, dug its own yawning grave deeper as it ranted about how it would bring the private sector to its knees, or at least force its members to go easy on the escargot at lunch in future.
Giving to the poor and drawing the rich out to complain about it is a neat diversion and possibly clever politics. But the numbers are as fake as Julia Gillard’s hair colour. While the booming corporates still snigger to the bank, the government has cut foreign aid increases by some $2.9 billion, thus rather inviting the suits to attack their off-shore supply chains with impunity as they seek to grab back the benefits they had already plotted on their Excels. Now further away from the great white hope of 0.7% of GDP going to foreign aid, as the UN hoped aloud would be an international standard some years ago, Australia has now dropped to somewhere south of half of that.
All this a scandal has broken out in the UK over the fact the more than half of its foreign aid spending goes to countries who don’t need aid. It’s always worth remembering that aid and trade rhyme and are often confused.
Much kudos for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but this too may be shifty politics as it appears the mainly Coalition states have to come to that party for this music to play out in full.
Among those abandoned by the Australian government are sufferers of diseases like HIV/AIDS. Marginalised for decades and a drain on poor countries’ social capital and economic aspirations, HIV victims have been crying out for the developed world to get cracking and to focus on a cure for the disease. Too focussed on big ticket items like cancer, heart disease, weight loss and stress relief, proven sellers in the rich world, Big Pharma’s efforts on an AIDS drug have been less than enthusiastic. As with malaria and other poor world ailments, there’s no money in AIDS.
Currently, there are around 35 million people in the world living with the virus, the vast majority in sub-Saharan Africa, where an average of 5% of the adult population carry the disease. Complicated treatment drug cocktails have decreased the death toll and AIDS is no longer a death sentence. But, high costs, an inability to produce copy-cat drugs (known as generics) in some countries and gradual immunity to treatments create something of a moving feast.
A new drug has appeared. It appears the thrust of the drug will be in the US, where something like $11,000/year will be needed per patient for the new drug, if approved. With around 1.2 million HIV/AIDS carriers in the US, a 50% take-up would mean over $7 billion in revenue for the manufacturers. And that’s the market. Sub-Saharan Africa won’t get a sniff of it for years. But there appears to be a possibilty the company behind it, Gilead, has been testing the drug on some victims, er, trialists, under some ethically marginal circumstances. On whom? Africans and Asians. Drug users, sex workers, gays…perhaps the same ones our national aid might have helped move out of poverty and beyond the need to get paid a pittance by big drug companies to test products out for rich Americans…(just coincidentally, such an issue is at the centre of my novel “Virus”. Watch this space…)
And we just took our aid away. The likely equation: Aid out – AIDS in…
Sudan has been an aid recipient for years and the happy-clappy moment that heralded the Republic of South Sudan’s independence on July 9, 2011 was supposed to be the first step out of the basket and into stability. But, war, the region’s old scourge, has charged in again, waving scimitars and hooping big-time.
The secession of the south, despite plenty of good, practical human rights reasons to do so, was always going to be fraught. Predictions at the time were that the Christian and animist south’s massive oil reserves – for decades exploited rapaciously by the Muslim north – would be rather problematic given that the north has the only capacity for refining it. Pipelines running north-south, owned by Khartoum, haven’t been the connection they symbolise and the north has been charging exorbitant fees to the south for the privilege of piping their crude northwards. Forces from the impoverished and understandably pissed off south, led by JR-of-Dallas fan Salvar Kiir Mayardit militarily occupied a northern refinery, repercussions, and war is again afoot.
How was this meant to work? Sudan, a faux country built on the cartographic proclivities of its British colonial masters, has never worked. The cultural rift between the north and south has never been healed. The south needs a great deal more support from those very colonial powers – ie Britain – and the world to help it find the place in the world of nations it deserves. Yet, we have the UN and the US saying its all South Sudan’s fault, cosying up to the north’s leader Bashir like he really isnt the mass-murdering, International Criminal Court-targetted psychopath he is. Go figure.
Clearly what the world needs now love, sweet love. Barack Obama has walked with his basketball roll out of the closet, figuratively speaking, to announce his support for same-sex marriage. Less a revolutionary social statement and more the first shot of the Obama v Romney presidential campaign where the former looks set to pit his touchy-feely social approach with the hard-edged, Bain Capital Bastards of the Universe approach of the latter, it created an awed hush over America.
But, gay marriage’s time has come. Let’s not beat around the bush anymore. Oh, but Julia Gillard doesnt like it. Despite the polls – her government is at 30%, thats the only one she should be worried about…30% – Ms Gillard has gone neo-con on us. Is she trying to out right the right? Bringing politics to bear on what should be a no-brainer issue is an insult to all of us. I’ver heard all the arguments as to why same sex couples should be discriminated against. But I haven’t heard a good one yet. Why shouldn’t same sex couples have the same rights as everyone else?…Anyone?… Why are we even having this debate?
I have good sources tell me is gay – not that there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t care if he is or isn’t, but John Travolta has not done much for his image if he has groped three (and counting) male masseurs, as has been alleged. If true, I’m not sure Hollywood needs to reach out to the public quite so, um, intimately.
Dustin Hoffman has the right idea. Save a lawyer. Always good to have a legal eagle in your debt. Not that he did much really, just called for help, There’s been a bit of a spate of heroic celebrities lately. Maybe is it all just a movie, or perhaps its a very elaborate movie trailer.
Such was the news as it appears, in these, the last days.