Private health

I was happy when told that I was going to have a spinal injection. Sciatica has been torturing me since October of last year. Walking has been reduced to a painful hobble. I wake multiple times every night with pains shooting down my leg. My fiancee and I are going travelling soon and I worry that we won’t be able to enjoy it if I can’t get around.

The NHS could not perform the operation. Instead I was referred to a private hospital on the Sussex/Surrey border. I was surprised by the hospital. And a little unnerved. The reception desk was busy with people who looked like they should be on the reception desk of upper class hotels. I was directed upstairs. The corridors were wide and empty save for a cleaner and a mother and daughter who were talking amongst themselves. When upstairs I was shown to my room and given spa-style flip flops and a dressing gown. I had the room to myself. I also had a TV but couldn’t be bothered to look for the remote and partly scared that I would hit another button by accident which would send the staff running.

A lady promptly came by and asked what sandwich I would like to have after my procedure. Coffee or tea? I gave my order and sat down to read while I waited. A nurse came in and took my vitals. She was chatty, which was nice, but it slowly dawned that where I was used to care, I was experiencing something like customer service.

Half an hour later I was shown to the surgery room. There were five or six nurses talking and checking equipment at a leisurely pace. The procedure started. I felt the pressure in my spine for a few minutes and then it was all done. I was rolled onto a wheelie-bed and taken back to my room.

I was in there for two minutes before my sandwich and coffee was bought in. Along with bourbon biscuits and a glass bottle of water with the hospital’s insignia on it. Twenty minutes later I was bored so I got up and changed back into my civvies. I walked to the ward desk and asked to be discharged. The lady obliged and five minutes later I was out.

I don’t understand private health care. It has done great things for people by giving them quick access to procedures and treatments which would otherwise have taken months or longer.

But what does that say about how we are treating our NHS? I say our NHS because we pay for it. It is a service of our financial outgoing and therefore we have a vested interest in its welfare.I would rather have doctors and nurses treat me as a patient with genuine care and compassion, than be treated like a customer using a service for the benefit of a survey – which arrived on my phone via text two days later.

Perhaps I am bringing bias to the entire experience. After all my time in the private hospital was pleasant. But care should not be costly. Care should be free to all (yes, through taxes) and it should never be abused through privatisation (which is statistically proven to provide worse service in terms of overall health.)

In an unchecked market, privatisation breeds competition at the cost of care levels as companies try to save money.

The NHS might be a money pit. But it is meant to have money poured into it for the betterment of treatment. Anything else would be negligent to our health. If someone wants to increase my tax to fully fund our public services; take my money.

Privatisation

The public services are the heart of this country. We rely on the police to uphold the law when we become victims and when others do wrong. We rely on the NHS to save our lives, cure our ailments and provide care. When we have a child, the doctors and nurses of the NHS bring it into the world. When our relatives die, doctors and nurses make sure that they go with dignity. Could we ask for anything more?

Indisputably, Austerity has done incalculable damage to the public services. Police budgets have fallen by 19% since 2010 despite a (albeit sometimes slowly) rising GDP. Police numbers have been slashed and the remaining numbers are stretching themselves across an expanding population. Because of this, the standard of policing is going down along with morale within forces throughout the U.K. This means that the quality in policing is in decline.

There are fewer bobbies on the beat thus reducing community policing effectiveness. This would usually be apparent by a reduction in the levels of gang affiliation and thus criminal acts such as knife and moped attacks. Community policing is also speculated to help in the war against terrorists.

It has now emerged in the ‘i weekend’ that businesses are now paying for police paroles. Easyjet, ASDA, development giant the Berkeley Group and the Westfield Shopping Centres are a few.

Whilst this might seem innocuous at first glance, it is indicative of the pursuit of private interests in what should be a publicly financed, impartial and equal policing system. To bring in corporate interest is to essentially allow bias into the process as well as taking members of the police away from communities that would be better served by community police initiatives.

There is no widespread collective effort to battle the privatisation of public services because the change is happening incrementally. That is the evil of gradualism; people are less likely to notice or even care about change if it happens slowly. It stops becoming the evil you see and more about the evil you had no idea existed until you are being asked to provide medical insurance forms when you go into A&E.

In 2012 the Health and Social Care Act was passed which allowed “any contract over £615,000” to be tendered out to private companies. As Paul Gallagher writes, the process of privatisation has been aided with the passing out of multiple contracts worth around £128m under the watch of Health Secretary, Matt Hancock.

It is not hyperbole to suggest that we might be seeing the Americanisation of our public sector.

A New Cold War?

The Cold War was a war of information and misinformation. Intelligence and counter-intelligence. The ideologies of communism and liberal democracy head to head in a bid to win the hearts of the world whilst doing their best to manoeuvre people and warheads like chess pieces across the globe.

To be able to know your enemy’s next move is to be prepared and to feed your enemy misinformation is to throw your adversary off balance. When the mind is diverted one way, you can move the other and potentially gain the advantage. Russia, America and Europe were all embroiled in this war of secrecy and spy-craft.

The methods of warfare have changed. Where once troops were sent in to stomp the ground, wipe-out enemy placements or just generally shake the hornet nest, we hack phones, use drones and wipe out our enemies with cold efficiency.

During the Brexit referendum and the presidential election campaign of 2016 we were witness to a campaign of misinformation the likes of which we have never seen. Bot related activity increased tweeting and retweeting far-right stories, many of which were not even true. Bots threw ludicrous promises into the cloud where they landed and formed puddles of disinformation. The old saying that a lie can get half way around the world before the truth can get its pants on has never been so apt.

Lies are fast and easy. Seeking the truth is a more tricky and dastardly affair. Russian bots launched disinformation in high volumes, essentially flooding social media with content that was aimed at directing people’s anger and fear toward anyone that wasn’t Leave or Trump, especially Muslims, Mexicans and foreigners in general.

During the span of the 2016 presidential elections and the referendum to leave the European Union, Russian bot activity was at its highest. Twitter handles like NovostiKirov, (Novosti is Russian for “news”) @RussialsBeauty were among those quickly pointed out. Other bots gave themselves American titles in the hope of coming across as nationals or else giving themselves an air of authenticity. DailyNewsDenver, DallasTopNews and JackieCowboy are only a few.

The fact that most of the twitter accounts went dark after the referendum and presidential campaign is evidence that these accounts were not owned by people in the fight for long-haul change but instead had a simple one-track directive. To not see this kind of intervention for what it is would be catastrophic as it would mean that our political processes are being interrupted and swayed by outside forces, essentially mean that those people who talk of championing national pride were, in fact, aided by foreign superpowers.

That is a worrying prospect indeed.

Robert Mueller’s report has been a long sought after document and it recently showed that there was no conclusive evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia. This is a good sign (though yet to be completely verified) but it does not change the fact that Russian intervention in our democratic processes is still taking place. URL’s of the bots were tracked back to the IRA (Internet Research Agency) based in St. Petersburg. The IRA is a branch of the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate) whose digital fingerprints can be found on “Kremlin-ordered operations around the world.”

It is clear that we are seeing a new war of being waged. But it is a one-sided war of counter-intelligence. A bombardment of (I hate to say it) Fake News.

While the Cold War was a war of intelligence and counter-intelligence we are now living in the post-truth era where narrative (real or imagined) clings with stronger fingers than fact. That is how the war is being waged. Not with the threat of nuclear war, but with the erosion of intelligence and the altering of perception.

Disinformation is lethal. Without truth we are unable to make concise decisions. If we believe in “alternative facts”, post truths and outright lies or worse yet, if we ignore experts like Michael Gove would have it, any truth can become reality. Like believing that Trump was good for the nation despite being aided, directly or indirectly, by Vladimir Putin.

Russia wanted the U.S to pick Donald Trump. Russia wanted the U.K to vote for Brexit. Russia has been proven to have been involved in these processes and sought after the two very outcomes that the U.K and the U.S.A chose in the pivotal year of 2016.

We need to ask ourselves why it is that Russia wanted these outcomes. And when we look at the outcome, that our people are divided, that we are entrenched in our political spheres and no longer considering bipartisanship as a way forward and that we cannot singularly agree on any way forward…well… I think we have our answer.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/how-russias-military-intelligence-agency-became-the-covert-muscle-in-putins-duels-with-the-west/2018/12/27/2736bbe2-fb2d-11e8-8c9a-860ce2a8148f_story.html

The War on Journalism

“It is often said that journalism is the first rough draft of history; by contrast, investigative journalism provides the first rough draft of legislation. It does so by drawing attention to failures within society’s system of regulation and to the ways in which those systems can be circumvented by the rich, the powerful and the corrupt.”
Hugo de Burgh; Investigative Journalism, Context and Practice

“Democracy Dies in Darkness”
Washington Post

When disinformation is rife the world suffers. Truth and understanding are the foundations of sound decision making. Without information and the knowledge of what is going on around us we, the population, are powerless.
We all have the capability to double check and triple check everything we are told, and we should. The mantra: “question everything” has never been more necessary. And it is this mantra that leads me to put more and more faith in journalism.

Journalists and media outlets have been hounded since news was conceived, and sometimes they deserve it. False claims, conjecture and low-level reporting have often lead to news organisations having to print redactions, apologies and sometimes face lawful action as a result of their claims and how they go about collecting evidence. News of the World’s phone hacking scandal is the obvious case that comes to mind. But the wayward actions of the few should not taint the legitimate, decent work of the many.

People go into journalism because they want to tell the truth. Some just want to break a story and achieve a level of fame. Some people want to attend parties, drink champagne and hang out with the elite. Some journalists make money from commenting on food and drink or art and movies. Journalists report on everything. Their job is to comment on the world, hold a mirror up to society and, if you still believe there is decency in the world of journalism, to shine a light into dark places and hold those who have wronged to justice. As journalist Robert Rosenthal states in his TED X talk on 2nd April, 2011 regarding reporting that it has a role “as a watchdog facing the abuses and the lies and the threats of the government.”

The more we know what is going on in the world around us, the better.
It was investigative journalism that blew open the case of fourteen assassinations on U.K soil by Russian agents by Heidi Blake and her team at Buzzfeed. The story is a mind-blowing piece that goes from Russian actions to potential cover ups by the then Home Secretary, Teresa May. Investigative journalism podcast, The Tip-Off, gives a profound insight into how this particular story was broken (link below).

When the public first heard about Russian interference in western democratic processes many believed that it was unsubstantiated nonsense from the mouths of liberal fanatics.

The weight of Russian interference in western affairs first came to my notice in another podcast, News Roast, when guest, John Sweeney told of multiple sources corroborating the claim (link below). Since then it has emerged that Russian interference through the sharing of supposed confidential information, hacking and the sharing of fake news through social media platforms has been substantiated by the heads of Facebook and Twitter as well as by MI5, the C.I.A and the F.B.I.

The only people that seem to be denying this claim are President Donald Trump, the far-right, and the Kremlin.

Russia aside, it is journalism that shines light on things that we do not see on a day-to-day basis. Louis Theroux is an exemplary figure to look at when it comes to delving into the stranger aspects of life. Actor turned documentarian Ross Kemp is another shining example looking at crime, immigration, drug abuse etc.

These people dive into the worlds that are only on the fringes of our conscious and bring them roaring onto our television screens. Because of this kind of reporting we become more knowledgeable about what is going on around the globe. It makes the struggles we hear about in faraway lands and in other communities more personable, something we can relate to.
But for all its triumphs, journalism is under threat.

When Donald Trump rose to power throughout the presidential campaign of 2016, he aimed a direct attack at journalists screaming “fake news” and claiming that he wanted to open up libel laws so that journalists would be more susceptible to being sued for their work. But that was not all. He was provoking such a hostile environment at his rallies that reporters and news crews were under physical threat from frenzied mobs who screamed at, and tried to attack them. Members of the press were often put in sectioned off areas where crowds could locate and hound them.

Bob Woodward, the man who broke the Watergate scandal, recently released a book: FEAR – Trump in the White House. Trump has already slandered the book putting it under the “fake” banner but the volume is one of a few that have surfaced since he took office.

One person’s claims against Trump does not necessarily mean that he has done something wrong. What does, however, bring doubt regarding his suitability for the role of president of the United States is when multiple sources of information consistently corroborate with one-another, bringing into question his actions and his ethics. So it is through the corroboration of evidence where weight gathers on the scales of truth.

Trump is the most obvious example because he is hot topic and has been since he put his name forward as a candidate for the presidency. But aside from Nigel Farage and recently Jacob Rees-Mogg, he is one of the biggest threats to truth in the western world. Through belittling and an almost child-like rebuttal of news stations, he becomes impervious to truth’s grasp. It is quite extraordinary.

Let’s move on. The reason why I trust journalists is because good investigative journalism does its best to sit outside the usual spheres of influence. Good investigative journalism is not a mere opinion piece or a work of speculation. Investigative journalism is the digging for hard evidence to support claims. This kind of work can take weeks, months, or years. But it is diligent and is often of such quality that it becomes evidence in courts of law. The only real difference between an investigation undertaken by police and one undertaken by journalists is one of method.

We all want the truth. But sometimes flying close to the truth puts journalists in peril. Daphne Caruana Galizia, former journalist, writer and anti-corruption activist in Malta was killed by car bomb after receiving multiple threats about her work investigating Malta’s Labour party, organised crime, money laundering and the liberal providing of European passports to wealthy individuals.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was a prolific journalist and blogger whose online publications often received more readership than Malta’s own newspapers. Despite the tragic fate that befell Daphne her son – Matthew – is a Pulitzer prize winning journalist and part of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). This is a true testament to the determination to find truth.

Three Russian journalists (Alexander Rastorguev, Kirill Radchenko and Orkhan Dzhemal) were killed in the Central African Republic in July of 2018 whilst investigating private military company – Wagner – that had supposed ties to the Kremlin. At least 58 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992. The world of journalism, especially in places where unethical practices have been undertaken, is a dangerous environment.

We read newspapers. We watch the news. We rely on providers for information to inform us about the state of affairs from sport to politics and global trends. If we did not have some form of news we would have absolutely no idea what exactly it is that government is up to, what legislature is passed and how that legislature is going to affect us. It is our right to have access to this information. It is right to know when corruption or unethical actions are taking place.

It is our right to be informed. It is our right to know and to be holders of the truth. In a constantly shifting world to have truth is to know your place. Know your stance, and know the next steps you wish to take.

And that is why the war on journalism must stop.