Deflation – where things don’t add up any more

Front pages from two of today’s papers illustrate where we’ve got to on our journey to a post industrial society.

Metro runs with the NHS story that’s been at the top of the agenda since Christmas:

Metro newspaper headline - A&E is now worse than a ware zone

The Independent posts a cheer-leading headline that looks awfully like the pharma-oncology complex trying to stage a fightback against a recent outbreak of common sense stories about treating incurable cancer:

Independent headline - Deaths from cancer to be 'eliminated'
I’m old enough to know, or have known, several people who did or didn’t survive encounters with cancer. Aside from one case of prostate cancer, the survivors all received treatment for breast cancer. The non-survivors died from liver, bowel, lung, brain and breast cancers.

The striking thing about the fatal cases was how many of the people were treated to round after round of chemo or radiotherapy after their cancer was clearly diagnosed as incurable. In some cases, a terminal diagnosis came within days or weeks of the cancer been confirmed. Yet the medical establishment did everything it could to persuade the patient and their families to endure what was – medically at least – a hopeless course of action.

Sometimes people need to buy time to put their affairs in order, of course. Some just want to live as long as possible by any means available. But others I knew felt that the last weeks or months of their life were subordinated to the establishment’s desire to gather data about survival time or try out new drugs, instead of their being helped to die with as much dignity and little pain as possible.

Meanwhile, the funding crises consequent on our long-term steady-state-to-shrinking economy are playing havoc with services like A&E. Something has to give and, reading the recent spate of suddenly-realistic stories about treating imminently-fatal cancer cases, it’s been looking as though common sense was getting the upper hand.

Hence the Indy’s front page banner proclaiming the imminent arrival of unicorns sliding down rainbows with cures for every kind of cancer in the next 30 years – if only we keep on taking money away from every other sector of health and giving it to the cancer arm of Big Pharma and the (doubtless well-intentioned) charities more or less tied to it.

One has to ask whether the pharma companies and the increasingly-privatised health service are really trying to recreate the US model over here: where vast sums are extracted from citizens by pointlessly prolonging their final weeks into final months with endless interventions and resuscitation. If so, they’ve probably left it too late although one should not underestimate the clout their vast advertising and lobbying budgets buy with politicians and the mainstream media (or ‘govermedia’ as they’ve become).

But cheerleading has its limits. A dozen pages in from its blue skies ‘n’ roses puff coverage of the cancer investment story, the Indy carries a damning report from an under-resourced, under-funded, overstretched A&E department. Staff are coping with the fallout from the closure of two nearby casualty departments while the funding that was promised to expand their facility never materialised.

That’s the way things are in an advanced industrial economy when the indispensable tide of energy it floats on starts to ebb. There are tough choices and tougher choices.

I’m no expert

A couple of months ago, the BBC accidentally got a real expert to discuss Boko Haram on the Today programme.

Unlike the comical Steve Emerson, the Boko Haram guy did seem to know what he was talking about. He outlined the widely-discussed idea that Boko Haram has been co-opted by elements in Nigeria’s government to serve their own political ends.

It’s an impressively murky situation. Some accuse ‘separatist’ politicians in Boko Haram’s northern Nigerian stamping grounds of backing the terrorists as a way of pressuring the main government. Others accuse southern politicians, high up in the national government, of funding Boko Haram to discredit the notherners while strengthening their own ambitions though fear.

Meanwhile the Western politicians and media (increasingly two sides of the same coin) can’t get past Boko Haram’s Islamist roots, so they funnel moral and financial support to the very elements in Nigerian politics who are allegedly secretly using Boko Haram for their own ends.

None of this narrative sits comfortably with the BBC’s default framing for content involving Islamic extremist groups, which is that ‘we’ are their ultimate target. Muddying the waters with messy details is to be avoided – especially when the details tend to show that a situation isn’t about ‘us’ except to the extent that our Governments are unwittingly (or otherwise) channelling support to one set of bad guys who wear combat fatigues via another set of bad guys who wear expensive suits.

Which is why the BBC’s main news platforms rarely give airtime to informed sources who are close to the action. Whether the topic is HS2, the NHS or terror groups, the Beeb almost invariably aims for its default framing device of two high-level talking heads – either political, corporate, or one of each. They ritually state their more-or-less opposing viewpoints before getting down to the usual arguments about who’s best at delivering growth, healthcare or security.

Imagine the BBC getting a lower-middle grade officer from a health service trust into the studio to describe the mounting monthly payments to Private Finance Initiative companies – some of which receive millions of pounds from taxpayers but don’t even have an address or web site. Ask them how they might do it less expensively. But that would imply that the pundits and politicians don’t know best. That our job as voters is to do more than accept the narrow ‘choices’ they present us with (often so narrow as to be no choice at all) and pick a ‘winner’.

That’s the myth of progress in action. ‘Make the right choice and we’ll deliver more progress, more quickly. Make the wrong one and the Tories/Labour/Lib Dems/UKip/the Greens will hold you back’.

As the Nigeria guy patiently explained, sometimes no one wins. It’s unlikely that Boko Haram and the other militias will go quietly into the good night once the politicians who think they control these groups’ loyalty have achieved their own goals.

They’ll become fully-fledged quasi-criminal, quasi-jihadist, quasi-political armies, funded and protected by members of the corrupt elites whose UK counterparts so often turn up on our TV and radio for the ritual ding-dongs that cover up for lack of action to tackle the grievances that give rise to discontent in the first place.