Tag Archives: Dr Julien Mercille

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From top: UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with Rabbi Pinter after delivering a speech on anti-semitism at the weekend: Dr Julien Mercille

How sound are claims that antisemitism is rampant within the British Labour under leader Jeremly Corbyn?

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

Any pretext appears to be valid to justify attacks on Jeremy Corbyn on the part of the media and his right-wing political opponents.

The Daily Telegraph criticised him by comparing him and his beard to his supposedly over-grown garden while the Daily Mail had a headline  saying that Corbyn “sits silently in meetings munching noodles and granola bars”—OMG. (Ronan Burtenshaw wrote an excellent piece here  on how the British media demonises Corbyn).

But another loud criticism that has surfaced periodically over the last few months is that under Corbyn, the Labour party has become more antisemitic.

Media commentators have said  that Labour is now attracting “antisemites like flies to a cesspit”, has “become a cold house for Jews”, and within the party these are “difficult times to be a Jewish member”.

In short, “Labour is a racist party now”.

But in fact, when one investigates the actual evidence, if any, one finds nothing of the sort. Jamie Stern-Weiner, a dual British-Israeli national based in the UK, wrote several outstanding articles on the subject (here, here and here) in which he carefully researched every allegation of antisemitism in the Labour party under Corbyn.

His conclusion:

“Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have been blamed for rising antisemitism in the Labour party. These claims are baseless”.

His articles are systematic and comprehensive and should be read in full, but below I summarise some of his points.

The core evidence for claims that antisemitism is rampant within Labour comprise of statements made on Facebook and Twitter by eight low-to-mid-level members and an MP, as well as allegations of antisemitism in a university Labour club.

To put this in perspective, recall that Labour now has hundreds of thousands of members, so even if the above were true, it would apply to a very small minority of members.

But when one looks at the actual tweets and Facebook posts, the evidence is laughable. Sure, some contain inaccurate or inappropriate language towards Jews or about Israel.

But if those standards of evidence were applied to tweets and Facebook posts regarding other ethnic or religious groups, a lot of social media users would be found guilty to say the least.

A few examples: a Labour party member posted on Facebook, “ISIS is run by Israel” and shared a picture of a rat with a Star of David and the caption, “the real plague”.

Another one tweeted “Zionist scum”. One could discuss the appropriateness of such posts, but to elevate that claims that the Labour party is antisemitic is to create a storm in a teacup.

Also, Naz Shah, a Labour MP, shared on Facebook an image suggesting to relocate Israel into the United States (the image and caption can be seen here.  Again, a storm in a teacup.

The claims surrounding alleged antisemitism in the Labour club at Oxford University, as far as we can tell, seem to be of the same order as the above – if they can even be verified as true.

The accusations of antisemitism were made by the club’s vice-chair, Alex Chalmers, in February 2016, when he resigned. But Chalmers is a former intern at BICOM, an Israel lobby group, so there might have been ulterior motives at play.

Nevertheless, in every case that allegations of antisemitism were made against a Labour member under Corbyn, they were immediately suspended or expelled, and therefore it cannot be said that Labour is too tolerant (on the contrary, one could make a case that it reacts too harshly).

In any case, the above allegations motivated Labour to commission a report to investigate the claims.

The report of the Chakrabarti Inquiry was released a few days ago. It basically concludes exactly what you would expect: there is no significant racism in the Labour party against any minority groups, but the party should nevertheless make efforts to be careful in its use of certain words, expressions, and stereotypes—a conclusion that would hold for virtually any institution in Britain or elsewhere.

For example, the report recommends that “there must be greater inclusion and representation of black and minority ethnic people on the staff and at every elected level within the Party”, and “racist epithets” should not be used in the party.

One wonders how much harsher such conclusions would have been if the report had been about the Conservative party?

Also, as Israel/Palestine Jewish expert Norman Finkelstein reminds us, we should not believe that antisemitism is rampant in Britain – other ethnic or religious groups suffer much more discrimination, yet there is no equivalent scandal about that.

Indeed, opinion polls show that only about 7-10% of Britons don’t like Jews. In contrast, 40% of Britons don’t like Muslims and nearly 60% don’t like Roma.

Finally, while a few Labour members have been suspended over social media messages, many Labour and other MPs have actively defended and facilitated Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands with all the oppression that comes with it.

But calling to suspend or expel them would probably be decried as being antisemitic…

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille

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From top: Jeremy Corbyn; Dr Julien Mercille

UK Labour Party rivals blame leader Jeremy Corbyn for the referendum vote.

But they helped create the conditions for a Brexit victory.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

We are witnessing an attempted “coup” on Jeremy Corbyn by a “cabal” led by the right-wing of the Labour Party – those are the words of the Financial Times, which doesn’t like Corbyn at all.

We’ve heard over and over that Corbyn “lacks ideas” or “has the wrong ideas for Britain” or “is not a good leader”.

And that, by implication, those seeking to remove him would provide “good leadership” and “a strong opposition to the Conservatives”.

Really?

A quick look at the policies espoused by Corbyn and his allies versus those supported by the anti-Corbyn gang should settle the debate quickly.

Let’s compare how the Corbyn camp voted on the Iraq War, Trident nuclear renewal, and austerity, key policies for Britain.

I’ve chosen to compare, on one hand, Corbyn and two of his strong allies (John McDonnell and Diane Abbott) and those leading the charge against him and who are trying to convince us they’d be better leaders for Labour (Hilary Benn, Yvette Cooper, Angela Eagle, Margaret Hodge, Liz Kendall, Owen Smith, Tom Watson).

First, let’s take the Iraq War, a criminal enterprise by any account.

In March 2003, a vote was taken in the British Parliament to go to war with Iraq. The Corbyn team all voted NO to war on Iraq, while the anti-Corbyn team all voted YES to war on Iraq:

Corbyn: NO
Diane Abbott: NO
John McDonnell: NO

Hilary Benn: YES
Yvette Cooper: YES
Angela Eagle: YES
Margaret Hodge: YES
Tom Watson: YES
Liz Kendall: not an MP yet
Owen Smith: not an MP yet

The Chilcot investigation on the British government’s involvement in Iraq will be released this Wednesday. Hopefully it will strongly attack Tony Blair and the Labour MPs such as those who now want to oust Corbyn for taking the country into an illegal and immoral war.

The Chilcot report should act as a cold shower on the anti-Corbyn team’s efforts to pretend they’re sensible leaders.

It is also plausible that they launched their coup ahead of the report’s release, hoping to unseat Corbyn before the bad press of Chilcot tarnishes their reputations.

Second, the British government has sought to replace the Trident nuclear system based on submarines with a modernised system, at a cost evaluated at anywhere between £25 billion and £100 billion. Think of what could be done with those funds if they were not spent on nuclear weapons.

The Corbyn team has opposed the replacement of Trident, while the anti-Corbyn team has supported it. For example, let’s look at this vote on 20 January 2015 to scrap Trident:

Corbyn: YES, scrap Trident
Diane Abbott: YES
John McDonnell: YES

Hilary Benn: (absent for this vote but voted to renew Trident in other votes)
Yvette Cooper: NO, renew Trident
Angela Eagle: NO
Margaret Hodge: (absent for this vote but voted to renew Trident in other votes)
Tom Watson: (absent for this vote but voted to renew Trident in other votes)
Liz Kendall: NO
Owen Smith: NO

Third, on economics, Corbyn’s team has a strong record of opposing senseless and cruel austerity, while the anti-Corbyn team has endorsed it to a greater extent.

For example, in 2015 the David Cameron government proposed a big austerity bill to cut £12 billion in welfare.

The bill sought to reduce the household welfare cap from £26,000 to £23,000, abolish legally binding child poverty targets, and cut child tax credits, cut housing benefits for young people, and cut the Employment and Support Allowance.

The Labour Party leadership (Hariett Harman was interim leader at that time) directed its MPs not to oppose the Tory bill in order to show that Labour understood that government had to restrain spending.

But 48 out of 216 Labour MPs rejected that directive and voted against the austerity bill while the other Labour MPs did not oppose it (they abstained). The vote was as follows:

Corbyn: OPPOSED austerity bill
Diane Abbott: OPPOSED
John McDonnell: OPPOSED

Hilary Benn: ABSTAINED
Yvette Cooper: ABSTAINED
Angela Eagle: ABSTAINED
Margaret Hodge: ABSTAINED
Liz Kendall: ABSTAINED
Tom Watson: ABSTAINED
Owen Smith: ABSTAINED

In other words, the anti-Corbyn team blames Corbyn for the Brexit victory, but in fact, it is those who have supported austerity who have created the conditions for the Brexit victory.

Indeed, Brexit was driven in large part by anti-immigrant feelings which could only take root in a climate of economic recession where people are more likely to blame immigrants for lack of employment opportunities and public services.

At the time of the vote, John McDonnell, annoyed by the speeches in Parliament trying to justify the cuts, declared:

“I would swim through vomit to vote against this bill. And listening to some of the nauseating speeches in support of it, I might have to”

The above exercise of comparing the record of Corbyn’s team to that of the anti-Corbyn team can be replicated for other policies to obtain a more systematic picture. In this short article, I’ve chosen a few that were central to governing Britain.

But the lesson seems clear. Next time you hear in the media that “Corbyn has the wrong ideology” but that its challengers are “impressive” and “level-headed”, ask yourself this question:

Should we support team Corbyn, or those who sided with war criminals, the tools of war, and austerity?

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille

Top pic: Reuters

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From top: Omar Mateen, Pulse nightclub, Orlando, Florida; Dr Julien Mercille

A culture of violence continues to haunt the United States.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

Yesterday, a killer entered a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida and shot 50 people dead and injured at least as many. It is reportedly the worst shooting in decades in the US.

This is what we know so far:

  • The shooter was a 29 year-old man named Omar Mateen, of Afghan origin but born in the United States.
  • He also reportedly didn’t like to see two men kissing.
  • He had a violent past: his ex-wife said he beat her repeatedly.
  • He allegedly pledged allegiance to ISIS, the so-called Islamic State group, before going on his killing spree.

Of course, people like Donald Trump who come rather short of good arguments to convince people to vote for them quickly resorted to the tough approach blaming “radical Islam” and America’s “weak leaders”.

However, there have been many shootings in the US and the overwhelming majority of them are not carried out by Muslims, so blaming a religion makes little sense.

The shooting is not surprising. Such events have actually increased in recent years in the United States, according to studies (see figure).

1

The United States, in fact, is a clear outlier compared to other OECD countries for the number of assault deaths per capita.

The figure below shows the United States in blue and the other OECD countries in red over the last few decades.
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One problem is the lack of tight regulations on gun sales and ownership. Indeed, in US mass shootings since the 1980s, most killers obtained their weapons legally.

Further, as many as 31% of households own a gun, down from 40% in the 1970s (see figure).

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At the root of all this as well is the culture of violence that haunts the United States. Anybody who has spent some times there should have anecdotes confirming this.

I’ve lived there for six years and it’s indeed hard to miss. The military is such a large institution that virtually everybody has a member of their extended family who is or has been in the armed forces. Some families even describe themselves as a “military family”–an expression I’ve never heard in Ireland, for example.

This is all fed by US militarism in general, which has been busy for years attacking and otherwise trying to intervene in other countries’ affairs, while spending more than any other nation on “defense” spending, which really means “offense”.

But violence goes further than the military. The police are notoriously violent too. I lived in Los Angeles for a few years and one cannot fail to notice. For instance, there was a police helicopter constantly hovering over my house, surely “patrolling for our safety”.

Also, I was stopped by the police about 3-4 times while there, never having been stopped before in my life.

Once was for not stopping at a stop sign on my bike on a university campus. Another time was for asking why the police had surrounded my street with “do not cross” tape (it was because of yet another fake bomb alert).

If I had insisted a little more to cross the line and go home, which was still far from the alleged bomb, I’m not sure what they would have done with me. I wouldn’t be surprised that if I had been black or Latino I would have received a more aggressive reaction—it’s that bad.

The direct cause of the Orlando shooting seems to be homophobia, which demonstrates once again that anti-gay feelings are still very much part of this world.

It should also bring to mind the importance of events like the same-sex marriage referendum of last year and all the social movement work that laid the ground for its passage. Its significance goes way beyond the freedom to marry for gays. In fact, that is probably the most minor part.

The most important part is that it contributes to shifting attitudes away from homophobia in all its forms and minimises the likelihood that events such as what happened in Orlando will happen. But clearly, there is still work to be done.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow Julien on Twitter: @JulienMercille

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From top; Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald; Dr Julien Mercille

The government is now using the pretext of gangland crime to boost its own powers.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

The wave of gangland crime continues. As expected, the government is now using this situation to further increase its powers over citizens. It’s called building a “Big Brother” State.

Indeed, last week, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, outlined a series of worrying policies that the government intends to push through.

The measures include:

(1) Steps to facilitate the interception of communications and for covert electronic surveillance

This is exactly what Edward Snowden has been campaigning against to protect our privacy against governments that seek to snoop in our personal conversations and communications.

As of now, we already have a Big Brother State in Ireland because the government and the police can access at will the metadata about all our emails and phone calls, which are conserved for two years.

Karlin Lillington has written truly excellent reports on this in the Irish Times here and here, just like Digital Rights Ireland’s TJ McIntyre .

(2) Boost Garda powers by giving them more money and spreading their institutional reach: “all necessary financial resources will continue to be made available” to the police and international links with Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands will be explored to address international dimensions of crime.

Also, An Garda Síochána will establish a special Task Force focusing on criminals.

The problem with all this is that they’re the most ineffective ways to deal with drug problems, as I explained in previous articles here and here.

The most effective solutions are to provide adequate treatment to addicts, along with prevention campaigns. Reducing the demand for drugs will decrease the number and gravity of criminal acts that are caused by drug trafficking.

(3) It will now be easier for the Criminal Assets Bureau to seize assets and cash held by those suspected of crimes.

This called “civil forfeiture” and is used in some other countries as well. The significant part of this policy is that assets and cash can be seized before someone has been formally indicted in a formal trial. The proposed measures will lower the value of property and cash that may be seized from €13,000 to €5,000 (property) and from €6,500 to €1,000 (cash).

The danger with civil forfeiture is that it opens the door to abuse by law enforcement agents. They can use suspicions as a pretext to seize goods and cash from vulnerable people.

This is exactly what happened in the US, where the practice is used. There, police have literally stopped people on flimsy pretexts and taken their cash, cars and houses, which are then sold in an auction. The proceeds go back to the police departments, who use this practice as a good way to increase their own budgets.

There is an excellent article here on the subject. Of course, it is usually minorities that are arrested and have their property confiscated. Sure they can always launch lawsuits against the police to recover their property, but it is often prohibitively expensive, so that people tend to give up.

Such behavior on the part of Irish enforcement authorities may not be as extreme as in the US, but the Justice Department specified that the proposed measures would allow the Criminal Assets Bureau to target “the proceeds of crime held by middle to lower level actors in localised organised crime activity”, in addition to the assets of higher level actors.

It thus sounds like small dealers who got involved in drugs because of unemployment, and who are not responsible for orchestrating trafficking, will now be targets.

(4) A second Special Criminal Court will be established

The problem here is that Ireland’s Special Criminal Court has been denounced by a range of international and humanitarian organisations, including the United Nations and Amnesty International.

Special Criminal Courts open the door to abuses by the government in the appointment of judges for example, which can be political. The courts also can be less transparent and arbitrary.

In summary, the government is now using the pretext of gangland crime to boost its own powers.

There are well-known, effective ways to address drug violence, including treatment of addicts and decriminalisation of drugs, but the government is not interested in them—in other words, it is not interested in seriously addressing the problems.

It is more concerned with increasing its own (arbitrary) powers.

Of course, all of the above measures could be defended in theory.

For example, we could imagine, in theory, a government truly dedicated to the well-being of Irish people, which would only seize assets of dangerous criminals without formally finding them guilty of anything; which would establish Special Criminal Courts only in very specific circumstances while using them sparingly and impartially.

We can also imagine a police force truly dedicated to tackling white-collar crime as much as petty crime. And we can imagine a government that only snoops on emails and phone calls made by real criminals.

If all that was the case, one could argue that those measures would make some sense.

However, the real world teaches very different lessons.

Why open the door to governmental abuses of power? Why do so especially when there are well-known solutions to the problems we face that do not involve giving any more arbitrary powers to the government?

It is interesting that politicians who regularly claim to be in favour of “small government” and “cutting government waste” have become cheerleaders for more government bureaucracy and more government power over our lives.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille

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From top: Graham Linehan and Helen Linehan; The couple on the Ray’ D’Arcy show on Radio One, October 19, 2015; Dr Julien Mercille

Talk of ‘balance’ is usually used to push the media further toward the conservative end of the spectrum.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

Last week, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) upheld a complaint against RTÉ’s The Ray D’Arcy Show over an interview on abortion.

In October, Ray D’Arcy interviewed the creator of Father Ted, Graham Linehan, and his wife Helen. The couple talked about their decision to have an abortion because their foetus had a fatal abnormality.

Two people made formal complaints to the BAI that the show was not “balanced” because anti-abortion views were not given enough weight.

It’s not the first time such complaints were made.

This brings up again the issue of “balance” in journalism. Do we need it? Should it be something that is measured by an authority like that BAI, with powers to sanction broadcasters that do not balance their shows with two opposing viewpoints when an issue is discussed?

In Ireland, those matters are regulated by the BAI’s Code of Fairness, Impartiality and Objectivity  that draws on the Broadcasting Act 2009.

It is stipulated that broadcasters must present news in a way that is “impartial”, “independent” and “objective”. In other words, when a viewpoint is presented, it needs to be balanced with an opposing view.

However, it is not difficult to show that such rules are completely misplaced. The job of journalists is not to report in a “balanced” way—it’s to report the truth, as far as possible.

Think about it. Imagine RTÉ broadcasts a one-hour show on World War 2 and insisted on the inclusion of 30-minutes on the pro-Nazi view.

Or, during a hour-long show on nature, do we need 30 minutes about creationism so that we are told how the Bible understands the evolution of species to provide “balance” to the scientific consensus on evolution? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

Opposite viewpoints should be presented when there is a legitimate debate to be had on a given topic, but that’s in cases where the truth is disputed or murky.

In any case, there’s no balance at all in the media. It presents mostly viewpoints that reflect the interests of economic and political elites. This is why it was strongly pro-austerity and never bothered questioning the housing bubble seriously.

And by the way, you don’t need to be a so-called “radical” to observe this. Journalist Pat Leahy said not so long ago in the Sunday Business Post exactly the same.

He wrote:

“Newspaper proprietors are usually rich men whose chief political agenda is to see governments make the world safe for rich men to become richer.”

But the BAI won’t hold the media to account because it doesn’t present enough progressive viewpoints. In fact, talk of “balance” is usually used to push the media further toward the conservative end of the spectrum.

In any case, two other issues are rather outrageous about the Broadcasting Act 2009. It states that broadcasters should not present anything (1) that “undermine[s] the authority of the State” or (2) anything that is “likely to promote, or incite to, crime”.

The first is beyond belief.

It amounts to saying that broadcasters cannot challenge what the State does (sure, you’ll hear all sorts of denials that “no, journalists can still challenge the government”, but just read the line above again, it’s plainly obvious).

So here the whole rhetoric of “an aggressive media holding the government into account” crumbles. It’s amazing that the State is arrogant enough to state explicitly that it doesn’t allow journalists to challenge it.

The second is also dangerous when one considers that what is deemed “legal” and “illegal” is in many respects decided by the powerful.

The implications are revealing. It means, for example, that the media cannot promote abortion, since it is a crime in Ireland. It cannot either promote illegal drugs, I suppose. Nor can it promote any form of civil disobedience such as challenging the water charges.

Sure, you’ll hear that in practice, we do hear all sorts of views about abortion and illegal drugs. But the principle that the media must uphold the law across the board is very revealing about the sheepish character that is expected of journalists.

In short, codes of conduct like the BAI’s have a chilling effect on media organisations and journalists who would like to take a more dissenting stance toward the establishment.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille

Top Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

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From top: Leo Vardkar and Simon Harris; Dr Julien Mercille

The government has been moving fast to reform our healthcare system.

But it’s doing it in the wrong direction.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

We start today’s column with two simple, yet revealing, questions.

Question 1: What is the most important issue for Irish people?

Answer: Healthcare. Opinion polls show that free universal health care is priority number one.

Question 2: What is the most misrepresented issue in public discourse?

Answer: Healthcare.

Coincidence?

There is for sure a lot of media reporting on healthcare and much attention paid to it within government. However, so much of it is pure sensationalism that explains nothing about what’s really going on.

We hear scare stories of bugs and superbugs in hospitals, of people being parked on trolleys, of people dying because a doctor didn’t spot a fatal disease on time, of hospital managers being incompetent, of the HSE being a bureaucratic dinosaur, of hospital building plans being suspended for years, of potential strikes by nurses or other health professionals, along with so many other tabloid-type high-impact stories.

Yet we learn nothing about what the real problems are and how to fix them.

Another strand of reporting claims that “nothing gets done” in the HSE, or that “nobody in government has the energy to reform healthcare”. But that’s complete rubbish too.

The truth is this: the government has been moving rather fast to reform our healthcare system. But it’s doing it in the wrong direction entirely, namely, it’s going towards privatisation.

That’s been very clear since James Reilly became Health Minister, and the same plans have been pursued under Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris.

But in healthcare, the facts are very clear and the solutions very obvious and easy to understand. The problem is that almost nobody ever talks about them.

We have progressive activist groups on housing, finance, homelessness, migrants’ rights, education, abortion, sex work, anti-racism… but as far as I’m aware, there is no campaign for a public healthcare system funded by general taxation, which is the best system because it’s (1) cheaper, (2) more egalitarian, and (3) better for health.

Understanding these three points allows anybody to win any debate about healthcare against those who claim that a privatised, market-based, for-profit system is better.

(1) Cheaper

The United States has by far the most privatised system in the world. Accordingly, the two graphs show that it is twice as expensive as other developed countries’ systems, which are largely public.

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Why are for-profit systems so expensive? One reason is that they need to generate profits and pay bonuses for executives, taking funds away from care. Another is bureaucratic waste.

Privatised systems involve a lot of paperwork to assess insurance claims, to code and price hospital services, to record all transactions taking place in the market, and so on. In Ireland, there are now over 400 insurance plans available.

This makes it extremely complicated to manage and involves armies of private bureaucrats to process.

The US has the highest administration expenditures among developed countries, accounting for 25% of total hospital spending, compared to 12% in Canada and 16% in England (which have public systems). The US would save $150 billion a year if it reduced its administrative expenses to Canada’s level.

(2) More egalitarian

That’s easy. Access to public systems doesn’t depend on how well off you are—everybody has the same access. You are treated according to your health needs, not according to your wallet, and this is how it should be.

(3) Better for health

The fact that less well off people have a hard time accessing healthcare results in poorer health outcomes. But there’s a second aspect as well. For-profit hospitals tend to provide care of lesser quality and mortality rates are higher in them because they dedicate fewer resources to doctors and nurses. There’s no surprise here: they want to cut their costs to boost their profits, so they cut in the services they give you.

This is why the editor of The Lancet, the world’s leading medical journal, blasted market-based reforms in Britain, putting it bluntly: “People will die because of the Government’s decision to focus on [market] competition rather than quality in health care”.

Recall also that the US has some of the developed world’s worst health outcomes, even if it spends much more money than other countries on health.

For example, life expectancy in the US is only 78.7 years whereas all other developed countries are above 80.0 years. Also, infant mortality is at 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births in the US, the worst among developed countries.

Government strategy

In sum, the government’s strategy is this. First, cut funding to the public healthcare system, which will then become chaotic and incapable of delivering good healthcare.

The media will then join in and publish all sorts of horror stories about our hospitals. A mood will set in: “public healthcare = bad”.

Then, surprise surprise, the private sector will come in and say “hey, you see how bad the public system is? You need the private sector to save you and we should therefore establish a more private system!”

This is what has been happening. Public spending on health has been reduced by 12% since 2009.

Staff numbers have fallen by 14,000, or 13% of total staffing since 2007.

We have the scare stories all over the place in the media with trolleys and bad ambulance response time, etc.

Then we have the government’s plans to push further the system towards privatisation, including creating hospital groups, a purchaser-provider split, activity-based funding, and greater “autonomy” for hospitals. I talk about this at greater length in chapter 7 of my latest book.

For example, Leo Varadkar said this explicitly recently:

“Where hospitals consistently under perform in terms of clinical outcomes, patient experience and financial management, it should be open to the provider to transfer management of the hospital for a period of time to a private provider”.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), which represents doctors in Ireland, strongly criticised Varadkar and stated that his idea that profit-minded private businesses could take over public hospitals was “grossly insensitive and ill conceived”—it “will downgrade public service and pave the way for privatisation of our essential health services”.

The IMO recalled that for-profit medicine “has been a disaster in other countries”, most evidently in the US.

Therefore, we need to start taking action to reclaim and improve our public healthcare system. It will be better for health and more efficient financially.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille

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Garda Commissioner Noiriin O’Sullivan and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald; Dr Julien mercille

The O’Higgins report and the prosecution of water charges protesters illustrate the double standards in policing in Ireland.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

Last week, the O’Higgins report was released. It marked the culmination of an investigation into garda practices emerging out of allegations made by whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

The report details instances of incompetence and failings by gardai in handling a number of cases under their remit. Of course, those who ultimately paid the price were the victims of the crimes and operations described in the report.

The report is important because it brings a modicum of accountability to the police. Yet, as a number of observers have noted, while the report pointed to a number of failings, in essence, the leadership of our police forces walk away absolved, unfortunately.

As the Sunday Business Post summarised it, the O’Higgins report “establishes what we already knew — several garda investigations in the Cavan/Monaghan division were mishandled”.

Yet, no findings of corruption were made. “The former garda commissioner Martin Callinan and former justice minister Alan Shatter walk away absolved. Senior gardai emerge broadly unscathed”.

Fintan O’Toole also noted that we are yet again paying the price for the lack of accountability in our country as the O’Higgins report concludes that disciplinary proceedings that might arise out of its findings “would not be helpful”.

Really? Why?

Reports of police corruption surface every now and then. On one hand, they are important because they highlight malpractice or incompetence within the police.

However, one thing should be underlined. It is that whatever “failings” and “corruption” one can find by individual guards, their superiors, or politicians overseeing them, there is a more fundamental issue. It is the fact that in many respects, the police forces are used by the State to control and repress dissent.

The behavior of those who challenge power is invariably closely scrutinised. But a blind eye is often turned to crimes committed by those in power, such as their involvement in war crimes by allowing US military aircraft to go through Shannon airport, or “failings” such as cutting funding to women’s shelters, rape crisis centres, and a range of vital support services on which we depend. There’s also little accountability for those who have completely mishandled the chaos in the health care system, which leads to deaths.

A few examples of the ongoing cases related to the prosecution of water charges protesters illustrate the double standards in policing.

Sean Doyle and Eamon McGrath are two elderly men who took part in a water protest in Kilcoole last Monday.

The two men, who are in their 70s, went to court, both on crutches, and were put in custody until they appear before Cloverhill District Court on 24 May.

We thus have a situation where two men with health issues are detained by the “Justice” bureaucracy for protesting austerity measures.

A few politicians have issued a statement condemning the imprisonment of the two men. They are Clare Daly TD, Cieran Perry (Deputy Lord Mayor), Mick Wallace TD, Eoin O’Broin TD, David Cullinane TD, Gino Kenny TD, Jonathan O’Brien TD, Thomas Pringle TD, Joan Collins TD, Richard Boyd Barrett TD and Catherine Connolly TD.

Their statement reads: “We condemn the criminalisation of protesters and the imprisonment of two elderly people who were the victims in this incident”.

Moreover, only a few days ago, a 16-year-old boy became the first Jobstown protester to be jailed, for 6 months. He was 15 at the time of the Jobstown protest.

There have been other arrests of water charges protesters, including the case of Joan Collins TD and a group of nine others. Joan Collins’ case was recently dismissed; the judge rejected the State’s charges and criticised gardaí’s handling of the protest.

But the charges against the remaining defendants continue.

This comes on top of the prosecution of Paul Murphy TD and 17 other protesters in relation to the events at Jobstown when Joan Burton remained stuck in her care for two hours in November 2014. Their trial is set for May 2017 and will then take place over four weeks.

This means that the whole process will have lasted at least two and a half years.

Think about all the money, energy and human resources spent on that. Yet, our politicians constantly call for “efficiency” and “belt tightening” while in fact the government is big waster of resources. Prosecuting water protestors is political and there is never any shortage of money to repress dissent.

In short, inquiring about garda corruption and failings is one important task, but we must also understand the role of police forces in protecting this country’s power structure.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille

Rollingnews

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From top: Cabinet group shot; Dr Julien Mercille

The make up of the new government is terrifying for any progressives.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

We have a new government and it is, once again, a right-wing government. It almost makes you miss Labour.

In fact, Ireland now has the distinction of being the first Eurozone country to re-elect an austerity leader, Enda Kenny. Other countries understood that a leader who attacks its own population with austerity cuts is better thrown out of office.

The shape of this government fulfills the long-term goals of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to dominate government and alternate in power.

Now, they control both the government and the opposition, as was recognised across the political spectrum, from People Before Profit to Michael McDowell  They will implement right-wing policies, from housing and health care to education and labour.

A quick look at the listof Ministers drives the point home directly, and will be frightening for any progressive.

Fine Gael will now control, for example, Education and Social Protection, which had not happened for years.

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The media reacted by welcoming the new government with a mixture of relief and fanfare. The Irish Times editors warned Independents that they would have to toe the line and support right-wing policies.

Indeed, Independents “will have to curb their populist instincts” because “to govern is to make choices which involves taking tough and unpopular decisions in the national interest”.

In other words, according to this, to govern is to ignore the population and do things that elites want, while being ready to push policies against popular opposition. Politicians should not be “populist”—they should be “elitist”.

As Vincent Browne wrote, the new government will be all continuity with the previous one, not change. It will make a few symbolic moves here and there towards vulnerable groups like the elderly, the sick and children, even though their sorry condition was created in the first place by the establishment parties themselves.

Other than that, the fundamental blocks on which this country is governed will stay the same.

Ireland will remain a tax haven, the health care system will move further on the road towards privatisation, tax policy will favor the corporate sector and the rich, etc.

However, there is still reason to be optimistic. There are now many good progressive politicians in the Dáil and Senate, including from the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit, Sinn Féin and Independents.

They will have a stronger voice than before and will have to use it to move progressive ideas into mainstream discourse, which is key to social change.

In this respect, my take is that progressive Independents in the Dáil who are not members of a party should seek to form one.

Clare Daly, Joan Collins, Mick Wallace, Thomas Pringle and others are all doing excellent work, but separated they can’t reach their potential as a progressive force.

The Irish establishment loves Independents, because they are relatively weak and divided and cannot challenge elites as much as if they were united and more coordinated. T

his party, of course, would coordinate closely with PBP/AAA and Sinn Féin, but at least it would focus progressive forces to a greater extent than at present.

Secondly, the counterpart to this parliamentary coordination has to be, as always, the development of progressive forces in communities. The water charges movement has been very inspiring in this respect and must give rise to a mushrooming of similar activity. Much is already going on and hopefully more activity will spring up and develop.

In other words, the pieces of the puzzle are largely all there in the country. What is needed is more coordination between like-minded individuals and groups.

Parliamentary coordination must interact with coordination in the communities and the streets. Those two aspects of politics must be constantly talking to each other and act towards loosely agreed objectives. They must feed on and reinforce each other.

Those in Parliament must give voice to communities and be responsive to them.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille

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From top” Ryan Tubridy; Dr Julien Mercille

Ryan Tubridy and other RTÉ stars are paid enormous salaries to defend the establishment and quell dissent.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

Gemma O’Doherty, the investigative journalist fired by the Irish Independent for being too investigative, gave a recent speech about the state of journalism in Ireland.

She emphasised how the media has become numb and unwilling to challenge the establishment, declaring that “press freedom and the ability of the media to hold power to account is more compromised today than at any other time in the history of the state”.

We have just had yet another example of how the media represses voices of dissent and glorifies those who police the airwaves.

Indeed, comedian Oliver Callan was on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show with Ryan Tubridy  when he shook the comfy Irish establishment by daring to mention the “elephant in the room”, Denis O’Brien. He was referring to the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal and Siteserv among other things.

It is not so important what Oliver Callan said exactly. The crucial point is that as soon as he challenged politicians and powerful figures (he also criticised the Healy-Raes and Michael Lowry), Ryan Tubridy started interrupting him.

Tubridy said that Denis O’Brien was not there to defend himself, so that no mention should be made of him. He underlined how all what those individuals did was apparently “legitimate”, “very legitimate”, “just legitimate”, etc.

This is very revealing of the mindset in the media: we cannot talk critically on any news programme about anybody who is not also physically present on the same programme. This is precisely the type of convention that results in a media that challenges virtually nothing.

The event shows why Ryan Tubridy is paid so handsomely, half a million euros in 2014 and three-quarters of a million euros in 2012, when austerity was biting the rest of us.

It is to defend the establishment and provide them with a sympathetic public tribune on the radio and television to voice their ideas and interests.

Here is the latest list of salaries of RTÉ’s “top talent”:

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But the media machine doesn’t stop there. Not only does it exclude dissenting voices, it also presents endless rosy accounts of those who police what may and may not be said.

For example, a few days after Tubridy interrupted Oliver Callan on his show, the weekend edition of the Irish Times featured, front page, a long piece about Tubridy and the Late Late Show.

Patrick Freyne, who wrote the article, followed The Late Late Show team for a full week as they prepared the show on which Oliver Callan would appear.

What does the piece reveal? The subtitle states:

“We went behind the scenes at one of the world’s longest-running chatshows to see how they choose guests, plan interviews, and squeeze celebrity, tragedy and line-dancing into a single two-hour programme”.

Cutting-edge investigative stuff indeed.

The piece is very long, 5,200 words. In it, we learn a lot of small details, such as the fact that Tubridy likes to choose his ties, what he eats for dinner, how long he sleeps before a show, etc.

There’s only one small paragraph about Oliver Callan mentioning Denis O’Brien on the show. It states that as Callan started talking about O’Brien and media timidity,

“Tubridy trie[d] to intervene for the sake of balance”.

Conclusion: thank God we have people like Tubridy to rectify the balance on television, i.e., to make sure no one talks about Denis O’Brien.

But what should be done to counter this state of affairs in the media? It’s very simple: build an alternative media. By that I mean a quality media that tells the truth and provides good stories about what matters.

The problem in Ireland is that there is virtually no alternative media. Many people don’t even know what the concept refers to.

Instead, we’ve adopted the “headless chicken” strategy. This consists in a few scattered people blogging here and there, but with no coordination whatsoever. Some of those blogs are excellent, but they’re isolated and it often takes time to learn they even exist.

Many people are also busy writing furiously on Facebook and Twitter and actually believe that this is what an “alternative media” is.

But it’s not. It’s very easy to tweet a million things and argue on Facebook and feel good about ourselves, but we’re not going to get very far with that. In fact, it distracts from the real work that must be done, whether it is to establish a good progressive quality news outlet or doing some activist projects or actually investigating something.

I would therefore argue that the more pressing task ahead is not so much to criticise the mainstream media, but to build alternative outlets.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille

Related: More Pricks Than Kicks

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From top: A room for refugees at a shelter in an abandoned government building in Athens, Greece; Dr Julien Mercille

In Athens, Greece the author visits a shelter for refugees displaced by conflicts in the Middle East.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

There are currently 53,000 refugees stuck in Greece, but you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t look for them.

So I decided while in Athens this week to see what the current situation was.

I heard about a volunteer-run project in the city providing accommodation for refugees and made my way there to check it out.

When I get there, two or three Afghan and Syrian families are at the reception desk and want to check in. The place is  a makeshift hotel in a former government building.

The hotel’s receptionist is a middle-aged woman of the authoritarian, don’t-mess-with-me type, who constantly looks at you over her glasses. She communicates with the migrants through a younger female Middle Eastern volunteer who translates whatever goes on in the lobby.

The atmosphere is a bit chaotic but gives a good idea of how difficult it is to deal with a massive influx of refugees.

One Afghan family of eight (or two families of four, I’m not sure) is asking for a room. The receptionist is trying all possible combinations on the large spreadsheet on her desk.

“Room C6? No, there’s too many Syrians in that one. Room D11? No, there’s already three babies in there and only one mattress. Room B9? No, the Afghans there are already taking up all the space.”

The translator asks, “What about C6?”

“No, I told you—it’s full of Syrians in there!” replies the receptionist.

“What about B9 with the Afghans?”

“No, it’s too crowded, I just told you!”

The receptionist loses it easily, but they eventually find a room. Everybody is relieved.

Next is a Syrian couple.

The receptionist lets them know that they’re now full for tonight and that there are no rooms left. But the Syrians are determined and proceed to go down the list of progressively crappier options.

“Can we get a tent then?”

“No, the tents are all occupied for tonight”.

“Can we get the couch so?”

“No, the couch is already full for tonight”. I wonder how many people they can really pile up on that couch anyway.

“Can we get sleeping bags and sleep on the floor?”

The exasperated receptionist calls a volunteer who, a few minutes later, comes back miraculously with two sleeping bags. Sorted.

It’s now my turn. The receptionist is now in a sensitive state, and I’m suddenly reminded that it’s not only Broadsheet commenters who don’t like me.

I say I’m a journalist and I’m here to have a look around. Her reaction is instantaneous: “Journalists, no way! You have to leave! No journalists inside, the mass media is bad!”

I tell her not to worry, I write for Ireland’s least read mainstream publication,

It doesn’t work.

“Journalists are not allowed in, they have hurt what we do.”

I’m asked to leave without knowing what journalists have written about the place. I wonder if they insinuated there were terrorists in the place, or drugs, or something else. It could be any of those things. But if one needed an example of how low people’s trust in the media has sunk, regarding refugees or anything else, this is it.

As I walk back to my hotel I decide to go through the Parliament’s park for a change of scenery.

I see a few people walking their dogs and their weasels. Yes, weasels.

A weasel walker explains that there is a weasel party organised in the park today.

Life goes on in Athens.

Julien Mercille specialises in US foreign policy and terrorism and is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille

Top pic: Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera