Thursday, February 19, 2004

Dealing With/To the Elderly.

I know election time is still a way off but I can’t resist this one as I know there’s probably a political party or two that would love to do this if they thought they could get away with it. I refer to that eternal election topic; healthcare.

NZ, as like many western nations, is burdened with an aging population that is placing increasing pressure on health services and superannuation. Around 30 years ago there were 25 taxpayers for every beneficiary. Latest figures put that ratio at around four to one. Scary stuff if you happen to be one of those four taxpayers, and even scarier if you’re the beneficiary as your money tree is beginning to look a little wilted. The scenario is pretty simple as the population gets older it needs more care. The larger this population is the more expensive it becomes. For decades politicians have known about the problem, now it’s on us and they are struggling to come up with a solution.

Well I have one. And what’s more it’ll resolve both health costs and superannuation at the same time … neat eh! I’ll confess the idea isn’t entirely mine. A former US State Governor who delivered a lecture at Canterbury University last year inspires it, to a certain degree. This gentleman (who actually came across as quite a placid and pleasant individual which was bit of a surprise given the concept he was promoting) espoused targeted healthcare as a way of saving money. His philosophy was both simple and stark. Spend your health dollars on the people that will benefit the most. In effect this means no more heart transplants for the over 70s, I mean what’s the point? They’re only going to die soon anyway. Instead spend that money on a hip replacement for a 30 year old. At least he’s got more chance of having a job and contributing back to society if he or she is fully able. Ruthless stuff, in fact I believe it was trialled in a certain central European country during the 1930s and 1940s.

My concept goes a step further. Instead of practicing targeted health care on the over 65s let’s cut it off entirely. In fact why not institute mandatory euthanasia at the age of 65. Pretty soon (in fact immediately!) you’d have hugely reduced health budgets and no money to pay in superannuation meaning there’d be tax cuts and more cash left for the rest of us.

Admittedly it does have a few drawbacks. Christmas would be pretty bad for the grandkids with no Granddad or Grandma to spoil them with lavish gifts. It’d also destroy a potential supply of babysitters meaning parents would be stuck with their offspring for at least 16 years (I maintain you can kick them out at 13 but my significant other disagrees). Mind you the days of adult diapers and the faint odour of urine that’s common to rest homes would also be over too so maybe it balances out.

Now I’ve floated this theory and it’s garnered its fair share of gasps, concerned stares, and the occasional slap. But it’s also got a few knowing nods which I freely admit is a little worrying. I even got a call from someone in political circles who demanded to know how I’d obtained ACT’s health and super policies. That same person also indicated the National Party has policies which follow a similar philosophy only they’re directed at Maori and the unemployed.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Judge of Character

Part of what I do involves covering Court. By this I mean Court proceedings. Here I get to see the detritus, the lowest members of my community, in all their dismal glory. Obviously there are times when you come across good people who have done bad things that are out of character but predominantly it's a continual procession of the same sort of offenders. Drugs, drunks, thugs, and thieves sort of sums it up. Every day the District Court is submerged in a tidal wave of shoplifters, drunk drivers, drug possessors, wife beaters etc etc. Most of them have offended before and most will offend again regardless of what penalty the Judge hands down.

As an example there was a young man the other day that admitted stealing three jackets from a local store. The value was about $150. He was 18 years old (looked about 14) and had only just got out after serving a six-month prison sentence. His lawyer made the usual request for the matter to be dealt with by way of a fine. That's what he got but only after the Judge questioned the value of imposing a fine on someone who already owed $5000 in fines. She also pointed out he had an unenviable record having regularly appeared before the Youth Court and was now ending up in adult jurisdiction on a regular basis. The only thing that saved him was a favorable report from his probation officer. That's what life is like everyday in District Court One. That story could be applied to many of those that appear; lots of priors, outstanding fines, and promises that they're committed to changing their ways. Odds are that young man hasn't had his last Court appearance.

It's a bleak and depressing environment and one can only wonder at the resilience of the duty solicitors that have to deal with this endless depressing parade every working day. I'm lucky, I just report on it and can escape easily. They don't have that luxury.

Now let's deal with the so-called "popular opinion" on what to do with these offenders. It’s no secret that there’s a large body of the public that are of the attitude “lock ‘em up and throw away the key”. An understandable sentiment but is it one that would return a net benefit to the community? I think not. From what I’ve observed (and a lot of lawyers will probably back me on this) what our prisons are best at doing is breeding worse criminals. Offenders come out much nastier than they were than when they went in. Spend enough time observing the goings on in a District Court and you’ll see what I mean. Put a person in a cage and he’ll behave like an animal. Studies have been done that prove it’s actually cheaper to rehabilitate an offender than just let him rot in a cell. A prison stay is quite costly to the taxpayer so if you can stop the buggers from offending you actually end up saving money in the long run. Don’t get me wrong I’m not preaching a liberal attitude towards all offenders, as there are some genuinely evil people who do need to be locked up. What I’m saying is let’s just dial back a little on the knee-jerk reactions.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

State of the Nation

If you'd asked me a year ago what I level of maturity my nation had achieved I problem would have given you a pretty positive response. This time last year NZ was like a teenager in late adolescence. Sure it was a bit splotchy, over-eager, brash, and prone to the occasional outbursts. But it had gone beyond the stages of squalling and drumming its heels fitfully upon the bedroom floor every time the ethnic neighbour next door was mentioned.

My, what a difference a few weeks makes. Thanks to the sterling efforts of the National Party we have managed, as a nation, to regress to about the stage of a two year old. Right now we're sitting in the corner, sulking, with a earthy aroma of discontent wafting invidiously from our collective nappy. Basically we're in the shit and if the opinion polls are right the vast majority of us actually enjoy that smelly squishy sensation that is the racist poo we are sitting in.

I refer of course to "that" speech made by National leader Don Brash in Orewa. On first examination his platitudes about "one standard for all NZers" comes across as trite and shallow electioneering. It's been done before and I can handle it. Then the references to the Treaty and special treatment for Maori started appearing ... you know the usual redneck bullshit you'd expect to hear from the likes of ACT. I assumed that most people would see it for the shallow vote-grabbing shite it was and dismiss it accordingly. Boy was I wrong! All of a sudden a party that was dead and buried in the polls has risen Lazarus like from the grave. The fact that this Lazarus happened to be jumpstarted back to life on a unhealthy jolt of bias, racial hatred, twisted information, and out and out lies (I refer here to the infamous "tangi leave" remark) doesn't seem to bother all that many people. It doesn't say a lot for us as a nation that an appeal to our baser side has evoked such a response.

I won't debate the whole Maori rights issue here. Those who know what I'm talking about will have heard all the arguments ad infinitum ad nauseam so I won't bore you with a repeat. I will say this though; next time Doctor Brash opens his mouth to talk about race issues consider these few points:
1) He's the guy who made a former woodwork teacher from St Bedes the Minister of Maori Affairs. (a white middle class Catholic no less)
2) Where's Brash's previous connection with Maori and Maori issues. (Maybe his role as Reserve Bank Governor was more diverse than I thought).
3) When dealing with issues of race always consult a financial expert (and next time you're arrested by police may sure you get a plumber to represent you in Court!)

Finally for the Brash supporters who're probably dismissing me as one of the loony left right now. In his defence, at least we know where we stand with him. I'll give him that. Unlike Bill English (who was all over the goddamn place) we know where Doctor Brash's position is. I'll respect him for that but not for the message he's pushing. A message based on fear and jealousy can only breed festering hatred.