Saturday, September 25, 2010

Poverty does not make you happy

Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich

‘Money can’t buy me love,’ the Beatles once told us. Now economists like Jeffrey D. Sachs argue that money can’t buy you happiness, either.

In an opinion piece in Wednesday’s The Australian, the Columbia University professor recommended a closer look at the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. The Bhutanese attitude towards development and their government’s focus on happiness should inspire the West, he wrote.

Indeed, Bhutan is always held up by as the shining example in the quest to make the world a happier place. In the 1970s, the Bhutanese king decided that his subjects should strive to increase Gross National Happiness, not GDP. Ever since, this has been the country’s guiding principle. It is this principle that Sachs now recommends to more developed nations.

There is nothing wrong with happiness, of course. In fact, it was the Americans and not the Bhutanese who first declared the pursuit of happiness a national goal. But it’s nevertheless a bit odd to present Bhutan as the role model for global happiness and well-being.

Have the Bhutanese really reached a special stage of enlightenment the rest of the world should follow? There is reason for doubt if you believe reports in the country’s press. Not long ago, the Bhutan Times came to this harsh assessment:

"To the world beyond its borders, Bhutan is a sort of a fabled country. Happiness is the mantra of development here that has tickled the imagination of economists and social engineers near and far. Closer home, a microscopic view of things reveals that all is not so well. In the recent years, an overriding numbers of drug and substance abuse and an alarming suicide rate have been reported in the country, an indication that the pursuit of happiness is still a delusional journey for some."

Perhaps the Bhutanese are not so happy after all because they are poor. According to the country’s National Statistics Office, 23.2% of the total population are living below the poverty line of Nu 1,096 (approximately $25) a month.

Or maybe they are unhappy about their press freedom, which was ranked as one of the worst in the world in the 2009 ‘Freedom of the Press’ survey. That is, of course, only relevant insofar as they can read because Bhutanese literacy is below the South and West Asian average.

None of these figures featured in Professor Sachs’ rose-tinted survey of Bhutan. Such ignorance is a bliss that only Western tourists can afford. Maybe money can’t buy you happiness, but at least it can buy you a return ticket to Bhutan.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated Sept. 24. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Afghanistan-bound soldier pays $5000 to replace 'dodgy' army kit

Low quality equipment for soldiers is a disgrace but has been going on for decades. The government spends billions on submarines that it cannot even find crew for but "economizes" on how it equips men who are going into life-threatening situations

Though, mind you, sailing on a jerry-built Australian submarine is pretty life-threatening too. No wonder few men want to crew them

A SOLDIER soon to be deployed to "the badlands in Afghanistan" says he has paid almost $5000 to replace army-issue gear he says is "guaranteed to fail in the field". The 5RAR soldier is one of 100 being deployed to relieve Diggers from 6RAR in the region west of Tarin Kowt, where Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney was killed in the Battle of Derapet last month.

The soldier, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Advertiser that the battalion was undermanned and ill-equipped for the job. "It's not that we're not up to the task - Australian soldiers are some of the best in the world - but we are going in undermanned and poorly equipped," he said. "I've shelled out nearly $5000 of my own money to get the kit that will last me the whole trip."

His comments came at the end of a week of criticism of the army amid allegations Australia's soldiers are under-resourced in Afghanistan.

Despite being a veteran of the East Timor and Iraq conflicts, the young father said he had never been more nervous. "I've had mates die in Afghanistan this past year," he said. "We need the Government to listen to us, stop fobbing us off and give us what we need."

Among items bought by the soldier for his tour of duty are extra boots and a Sord rig - which is an ammunition and equipment vest "almost all Australians in Afghanistan purchase because the army-issue vests fall apart".

He said even spare army dog tags, used to identify soldiers killed in action, must be bought by soldiers at $30 a set.

The soldier said army officials would argue that buying a Garmin 401 wrist GPS for $320 was a luxury but he begged to differ. "We use GPS to call in mortar attacks and support," he said. "It could prove life-saving equipment."

The price of extra kit

Spare "dog tag" soldier identification - $30.

Sord ammunition rig, army issue "falls apart" - $600.

Desert boots, shortage of boots in army supplies - $400.

Garmin 401 wrist GPS, GPS used to call in mortar strikes - $320.

Minus 20C rated swag, to withstand the cold - $500


Corporate leaders stepping up to challenge a clueless government

Demanding that the government consult widely before acting -- which any governmenmt with brains would do anyway -- but Leftists think that they know it all

BIG business has warned Labor it will escalate a public campaign against the federal government to protect the economy from being damaged by vested interests.

A range of chief executives, chairmen and directors canvassed by The Weekend Australian said business leaders had a basic responsibility to step up to fill the policy vacuum left by the unstable political situation.

In the wake of last week's controversial call for a carbon tax by BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers, many believe there will be further public intervention in policy debates to set the agenda and ensure adequate consultation on reforms.

National Australia Bank and Woodside Petroleum chairman Michael Chaney said: "Several actions of the previous government left business with no choice about speaking out.

"Business leaders thus have a responsibility, not only to their shareholders, but to the public, to speak out where they believe business interests and the national interest is threatened."

He urged the government to see "the necessity of wide consultation before announcing fait accompli legislation".

Former BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus, who will be co-chairing the government's mining tax transition panel, said business people should be raising issues to provoke debate.

"The more you get a debate going, the better the outcome," Mr Argus said.

After an election where business was deeply frustrated by the lack of detailed policy discussion, it is now concerned about the prospects for economic reform in a range of areas. They include taxation, skills, infrastructure, climate change, the lack of an energy security policy, and an overloaded agenda before the Council of Australian Governments.

Many business leaders are particularly concerned the emergence of the Greens and the country independents could damage the prospects for crucial reforms and cause continuing uncertainty for local and international investors. They point to the inability of Julia Gillard to strike a deal with Tony Abbott on a new speaker as a bad omen for the new parliament.

There is also widespread concern about the government's refusal to conduct a cost-benefit analysis on the $43 billion broadband plan. Wesfarmers and Boral chairman Bob Every supported Telstra chief financial officer John Stanhope's questioning of Labor's refusal to build a business case for the NBN.

"I think we need to look at all the infrastructure areas - roads, rail and water - and prioritise. Obviously, there's only so much money to go around. So I think it needs to be looked it in that light," Mr Every said. "And it does need a cost-benefit analysis. I find it very impractical that we would roll it out . . . in the rural areas first, where there would be the least return and that would obviously then have the worst cash-flow effects."

Business Council of Australia president Graham Bradley said he had been encouraging business leaders to be more outspoken on public policy matters.

"I believe that one of the lessons of the resource tax debacle is that it is important for business leaders to speak up frankly and fearlessly on major issues to improve the quality of government decision-making and public understanding and debate," he said.

Brambles and BlueScope Steel chairman and Reserve Bank board member Graham Kraehe said business had thought it "more appropriate to be working inside the tent with government".

"But now we need to work outside the tent to raise the public awareness of issues. And that is even more important given the debacle over the RSPT consultation process."

Business groups and lobbyists are gearing up to negotiate with the independents, Greens and opposition on new legislation, as much of the government's program will have to be delicately handled in the new parliament.

"It is not just the relevant government minister we have to get our message across to now," said Australian Institute of Company Directors chief executive John Colvin. "Business needs to make sure that the opposition, the minor parties and independents and indeed the wider public hear what we are saying and understand our issues and concerns."

But opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said personal relationships between businesspeople and politicians would come to the fore in an era of uncertainty. "The greatest influence now will be through existing relationships with MPs," he said. "Don't contract out your relationship to a lobbyist or a junior employee. Experienced politicians on all sides of politics know that the people that they listen to or have the most influence with them are the ones they have had relationships (with) for some years."

A spokesperson for Wayne Swan declined to comment, but the Treasurer is said to be supportive of business becoming more involved in the policy debate.


Druggie doctor not stopped, infects patients with Hep C -- the druggie disease

One would think that of all regulatory regimes, medical regulation would be the strictest. It seems in fact to be just about the slackest. Turning hopeless doctors into taxi-drivers seems to be the great taboo for all concerned and Nelson's telescope is much in use. Too bad if patients suffer and die

TO THOUSANDS of women treated at the Croydon Day Surgery, James Latham Peters looked like any other clinician. But would they have agreed to enter an operating known of his past?

Peters had a history of illicitly injecting himself with painkillers, as well as a 1996 conviction for forging prescriptions for pethidine. Since 2006 he has faced urine tests to determine whether he was still abusing drugs.

A few years ago, a bout of throat cancer nearly killed Peters. Last year, he was under more strain when he was again charged by police — this time for possession of child pornography. Peters, 62, also has the potentially fatal virus hepatitis C.

Now, at least 35 of the women given an anaesthetic by Peters from 2006 to 2009 have the same strain of the virus. None of the women knew any of those details about their doctor.

The Medical Board — the ultimate doctors' watchdog — knew much about Peters's life, but not all. A crucial question to be answered is whether the board's screening of Peters's urine tested for the right drug. Did they test him for all the most likely drugs he had access to?

The lawyers behind a planned class action on behalf of the infected women will also be asking if Peters was abusing the very same drugs he used on his patients.

Last year, one of those patients, we'll call her Jane, looked in the mirror and knew she was getting sick. "I'd do my make-up, I'd notice my eyes were yellow, my skin was yellow," she says.

Weeks before, she had made one of the toughest decisions of her life, travelling to the Croydon Day Surgery for a termination. Then it had seemed like a medically seamless procedure, even if it was emotionally fraught.

"I lost hair from stress, I was a mess, and I got sick from it," says Jane. "I knew there was something wrong, from all the symptoms." With no medical knowledge, she turned to Google for answers, trying to diagnose her condition. Then the blood tests came back. "Oh no," said her GP, as he called up the results on his computer. "And I just sank in my chair," she says. "I was a mess. I was an absolute mess."

Hepatitis C can be fatal and is one of the leading reasons for liver transplants in most developed nations. But this cluster of hepatitis C infections is mired in a web of regulation, law and potentially criminal behaviour.

Wading through the mire is a veteran of the Victoria Police, Detective Superintendent Gerry Ryan, who's more used to following blood trails. This time he's tracing a more complex trail, left by a virus. Its genetic fingerprints have taken months to map, and its legal dimensions are so wide that more than six months on, investigators still haven't spoken with Peters. "No . . . we haven't spoken to him," says Superintendent Ryan, "but we've left the door open to him to make an approach to us if he wishes to do so."

Superintendent Ryan says he won't push Peters, the Medical Board or others, before his investigators are ready. "So when we get to talk to Dr Peters and anyone else we need to speak to . . . we can do the best interviews possible, because we're aware of all the facts and issues . . . so that if anyone is ever charged, they're not going to get out on a technicality."

The police have much to examine. Who should have known about Peters's past conviction? Who should have set the precise terms of his supervision once he was known to be an injecting drug user? The laws around who is obliged to keep an eye on him have changed over the past decade. Peters could be charged under a wide variety of laws, all of which need to be examined closely by police before a decision on any charges is made.

The police would never have been involved, and the women would never have known they were linked, if not for a particularly astute nurse working in the Lonsdale Street headquarters of the Victorian Health Department.

Every time someone tests positive for hepatitis C a bureaucratic red flag pops up. But this public health nurse saw that out of thousands of hepatitis C cases, three stood out. They didn't display the usual risk factors — such as injecting drug use — and all three women had been to the Croydon Day Surgery.

This case is so sensitive that the nurse will not speak to The Age about her analysis. But quickly, her information was relayed to Dr John Carnie, the chief health officer. His first hunch was that it was a mistake in infection procedures at the day surgery. "This sort of thing has happened, that there has been some slip-up in the infection control," he says.

The following morning Dr Carnie dispatched a team to the clinic. They checked surgical procedures, the cleanliness of their theatres and their internal regulations. They came up with nothing.

The next step was for Dr Carnie's team to ask the clinic staff for their hepatitis C status. Again this looked like turning up nothing. Except there was no immediate response from one of the clinicians, the anaesthetist James Latham Peters, who was then on holiday in New York. Asked by his employers about his hepatitis C status, he responded by undertaking a blood test at a local US clinic. When that result "turned out to be positive," Dr Carnie realised "we need to see this man immediately on his return".

The initial blood test for antibodies is only the first step in tracing a person's hepatitis C history. To put together more pieces of the puzzle, each blood sample is analysed to identify which strain of the virus caused the infection. Then finally, all the blood samples with the same strain are compared again, to see if they have the same genotype or genetic fingerprint.

Thus far, the department says 35 women have a virus closely linked to the strain carried by Dr Peters — the anaesthetist who was supposed to spare them the pain of their experience. He was suspended from practising medicine in February....

In February, the department was surprised when Peters revealed he had a "history of injecting drug use", according to Dr Carnie. He says that in his interview about the infected women, that revelation was “a significant and important thing for [Dr Peters] to admit to us, but the [false prescriptions] conviction I didn't know anything about; we didn't learn about that until much, much later."

Since 2006, while working at the Croydon Day Surgery, Peters has been subject to a range of sometimes regular, and sometimes random, drug tests.

When anaesthetists do end up abusing drugs they often use what is closest at hand. Pethidine can be an option, but so can a drug like fentanyl. Both are opiate analgesics — in the same class of drugs as morphine and heroin. Fentanyl is often used with terminations because its effects last 30-60 minutes. Because it has such a short-term effect on the body, fentanyl can be harder for drug testers to detect than pethidine.

Last year, Peters was charged with possessing child pornography. No one had a legal obligation to relay this to the board unless the charge became a conviction. There is an agreement between Victoria Police and the Medical Board to alert the board about such charges — but for some reason the news that Peters had been charged was not conveyed. Peters was convicted this year, after he'd already been suspended as a doctor.

The Medical Board won't comment on Peters's drug testing. But which drugs could and should have been tested for, and how often, could be part of the civil action.

It became an offence not to tell the board about a conviction only in 2007, and it was only in July that a new law decreed that doctors must report colleagues who significantly deviate from accepted professional standards.

It's a law Paul Henderson is keen to highlight. "If doctors are put in the position where they have knowledge [about their colleagues], they're required to report it," he says, "which means [Peters] might have been managed differently, which means these women might not have been put at risk."

Slater & Gordon can take aim at James Peters first, by trying to recover as much as $300,000 for each of the women seriously affected. That could total $15 million. But if he is charged and then convicted, his insurers would not be liable to pay out any compensation won in a civil court.

It's not clear where Peters is living, but police say they've taken steps to ensure he can't leave the country.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Doctors will Rarely report misbehaviour by colleagues. They are an extremely close-knit bunch, and on the rare occaision a whistleblower steps forward, they are made to feel the wrath of the profession for doing so.