Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Free Speech Under Attack - How the Government’s Prevent Programme was used to Cancel Meeting on Israel in Portsmouth

Palestine Solidarity Meeting with Tom Suarez is Cancelled Twice by Portsmouth Council Because it is ‘Controversial’


Tom Suarez has, on the basis of research in the Government’s archive written a book documenting the terrorist beginnings of the Israeli state. I have yet to read and review the book but by all accounts it is an impeccably documented book. (Review by Tony Greenstein of Tom Suarez' book - 'State of Terror')

Tom Suarez has, on the basis of research in the Government’s archive written a book documenting the terrorist beginnings of the Israeli state. I have yet to read and review the book but by all accounts it is an impeccably documented book.

What is also clear is that the research in this book, which is based on over 400 documents from the government’s own archives is unacceptable to the Zionist lobby in this country. The Board of Deputies of British Jews, an overtly Zionist body, which calls itself the representative body of Jews in this country has done its best to stop its author Tom Suarez speaking to meetings about his findings.

The Board of Deputies incidentally is elected by nobody. It is based on synagogue membership. It doesn’t represent Britain’s secular Jews, about half of all British Jews, the most cultured and educated section of British Jews but narrow minded businessmen and middle class Zionist bigots. Many of the synagogues elect their representatives on an all male electorate. Others are simply rotten boroughs where there is no election.

On the basis of the squeals of Britain’s Israel lobby, which doesn’t want the truth about Israel to be known, a campaign has been mounted to stop Tom Suarez speaking. One wonders what they have to fear?

What is worse is that this is being done under the cover of the government’s Prevent programme. Prevent was introduced on a mandatory basis under the government’s Counter Terrorism & Security Act 2015. Purportedly designed to prevent terrorism it operated on the theory that people become terrorists because they are ‘radicalised’. This absurd theory misses out small things like the fact that people became terrorists because the government in alliance with the United States went and bombed the hell out of Iraq and Afghanistan killing over 1 million people. Some people wrongly believed that the attack on these countries was because they were Muslim.

The Prevent strategy assumes that people become ‘radicalised’ on the basis of ‘extremist’ political views. What are ‘extremist’ views? Anything which doesn’t subscribe to ‘British values’. Presumably Marxism, subversion, going on strike even, can in certain circumstances be held to be anti-British. Under this all encompassing rubric, the government has forced universities to vet speakers for public meetings because their young audiences may be susceptible to being unduly influenced by ideas which are not normative and conservative. Anti-imperialist ideas, Palestine solidarity and anything else outside the mainstream can be considered ‘extremist’ and thus akin to terrorism. This is the climate we are dealing with. That is also why we need to fight back.

Suarez’s book attacks Israel as a terrorist state. It is therefore outside the political mainstream. It therefore gives a license to pathetic pipsqueaks like Portsmouth’s Prevent Officer Charlie Pericleous to go around trying to close political meetings they don’t like. Of course this doesn’t excuse in any way the cowardly owners of venues – whether it is the Quaker’s Meeting House in Cambridge which cancelled a talk by Suarez or the Friendship Centre in Portsmouth. A similar meeting at the Friends Meeting House in Brighton which I spoke at with Jackie Walker was the subject of similar attempts to stop the meeting by the Board of Deputies. Fortunately in our case the Friends had a stiffer backbone than their counterparts in Cambridge. In Nottingham another meeting by Jackie and myself also had to be moved at the last minute.

We are facing a concerted attack by the Conservative government and the Israel/Zionist lobby in this country on Free Speech. It needs a robust campaign in response because this is a defence of the very essence of freedom and basic democratic liberties.

Britain’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign has kept its head down and done virtually nothing in response to this attack on the rights of Palestine supporters and anti-Zionists. At the moment PSC is incapable of punching its way out of a paper bag, still less mounting a political fightback against government and state attacks. It even half-welcomed the government’s new International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism until I threw a fit.

Ben Jamal’s advice to Portsmouth PSC is extremely inadequate. What is needed are not apologies after the event by Council bureaucrats but a determined campaign to ensure that no Council anywhere or any University tries to ban speakers that the Establishment in this country doesn’t like. Universities are under a legal obligation to defend free speech. Councils have to be made to if necessary.

Moar words!

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A Waiting Room of One’s Own

Silicon Valley gives you health care without all the sick people


FORWARD, THE STARTUP TOUTED by Bloomberg as “The Doctor’s Office of the Future,” doesn’t call itself a medical clinic. Instead, it bills itself as a “health membership,” like a gym. When I entered its office in San Francisco’s Financial District, the logic behind this turn of phrase began to reveal itself. Its medical robes for patients are designed by Lululemon, a brand that embodies the notion of wellness as a capitalist enterprise, in which the self, like an operating system, is primed for upgrades. More talismans of the self-improvement industrial complex are displayed somewhat conspicuously on the reception desk. On one side are bottles of the sleep supplement melatonin and assorted vitamins; on the other are rows of Aesop products and vials of anti-ageing serums by a company called SkinCeuticals (brand motto: “Skincare backed by science”) that can cost over $100 for a fluid ounce. A glass cabinet gleams with self-tracking gadgets like Wi-Fi-connected “body cardio” scales, blood pressure cuffs, and Fitbits. The promise of self-optimization lurks in the company’s slogan, “Design Your Health,” which is emblazoned in capital letters on the waiting room walls and on posters hanging in the shopfront window, accompanied by photos of lithe specimens in activewear.

The premise of Forward, founded by ex-Google employee Adrian Aoun and early Uber employee Ilya Abyzov, is that software can encourage a greater emphasis on preventative health care and solve the intractable structural problems and perverse incentives beleaguering an ailing system. Among its investors is real estate scion Joshua Kushner (brother of Jared), the co-founder of a health insurance startup that rewards customers who meet their step goals with Amazon credit, and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.

Forward’s aims are ambitious. It is betting that its use of body scanners, machine learning algorithms, and sensors can help lower the cost of primary health care by drastically shortening consultation times and improving the accuracy of diagnoses. Members enjoy unlimited visits, attention from a primary care physician, nurse, and “health coach,” and 24-7 access to the startup’s services through an app. In consultation rooms, your vital statistics are displayed on a flatscreen TV while conversations with your physicians are recorded—no need for them to take notes. In case you’re wondering, Forward does not accept health insurance—its $149 monthly fee (slightly cheaper than a membership at Equinox) is paid directly to the company. Patients will, however, need health insurance for specialist services (surgery, dermatology, psychiatry) that are not provided by Forward.

When I visit, there’s no waiting room queue or patients in sight, bar one woman who wanders in out of curiosity. One co-founder described this vision to Forbes as “a doctor’s office that feels more like an Apple Store . . . an Apple Store that learns so it gets better with more data.” It’s an idea that runs counter to the conventional experience of a physician’s waiting room, which is a kind of unpleasantness. This is hardly surprising, given that waiting rooms are sites of illness and unconfirmed diagnosis, not to mention desperation; most of us are reluctant to visit the doctor unless we really need to.

At Forward, however, wellness appears to be a guiding ideology, in which individual responsibility for one’s health is spun as a form of empowerment. This is borne out in its aesthetics, which could be mistaken for a coworking space. The room is minimalist. It combines utilitarianism with the aspirational longing of a Pinterest board. There is a smattering of replica mid-century modern chairs, unadorned walls, polished timber floorboards, and plants in glass bowls. A report in Quartz gushes that Forward’s bathrooms have vestibules that allow you to deposit your urine samples without the threat of prying eyes. It’s one of many flourishes that makes Forward seem oddly squeamish about the business it’s in. That it is resolutely committed to erasing any association with sickness illustrates its profound misunderstanding of the obstacles impeding access to health care. It seems all the more inexcusable in the context of the GOP’s onslaught on health access that these Silicon Valley technocrats do not realize that it is the prohibitive cost of accessing services, rather than a clinic’s ambience, that actually matters.

But whether we like it or not, we’re likely to see more sleek schemes like Forward’s over the coming years. Forward’s accumulation of physiological data is a mere extension of the wholesale aggregation of data that has already taken place on smartphones and wearable devices. On the one hand, Forward’s access to such data may well mean that health plans can be tailored more accurately, or that patients can plan for better health in the long-term. Used judiciously, such data could fill the gaps in health care research. On the other, there’s something unnerving about subjecting oneself to a constant regime of granular diagnostic surveillance, even if the choice to opt in to the medical panopticon is a conscious one. Forward is cashing in on the story we tell ourselves in a neoliberal world: that we alone are the determinants of our self-interest.

The practice of logging our physiological signs and symptoms isn’t novel; its origins are as old as the Roman Stoics. The philosopher Seneca the Younger is said to have kept meticulous logs of his dietary habits and dreams. Self-tracking technologies, once the preserve of the Quantified Self movement, are easily found on the shelves of Walmart. Yet the proliferation of self-tracking is symptomatic of a more insidious sickness: the fixation with the body as an entrepreneurial project. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking an active role in improving your health—cutting back on booze and processed foods will give an overworked liver a hard-earned break. But I wonder how much of self-tracking is concerned with wellbeing. Performing health has become the ultimate humblebrag: being on top of your stats is as important as improving them. More troubling, though, is that good health is often seen as a matter of moral responsibility, which falls squarely on the individual. That Forward’s messaging deliberately resembles a high-tech gym aligns with this vision, where the pursuit of good health is often an expression of one’s tax bracket. Being equipped with the ability to constantly monitor and analyze our health metrics is framed as a productive enterprise. To “Design Your Health,” as Forward’s exhortation demands, is to exert control over your bodily destiny—that is, if you can afford it. For others, health is a literal matter of life and death.

Forward’s business model is a tech-driven, somewhat more affordable version of the concierge medicine movement that began in the nineties when Howard Maron, a former doctor for a professional sports team, launched a medical care program that caters to “fifty select families” who pay a retainer of more than $25,000 a year. The problem with concierge medicine is not so much its aims of personalized, preventative care and lower physician-to-patient ratios, but how it achieves them. It’s difficult to see the practice as promoting anything other than a starkly unequal two-tiered system, which only heightens existing imbalances in access to affordable health care.

Source.