corona marginalia: track-and-trace

Boris Johnson tells Britain that our test-and-tracing system will be “world-beating”. Here’s what I’ve witnessed from the inside.

Writes an anonymous whistleblower [I am calling “Ann”] in a piece published in today’s Guardian. This is what happened shortly after she applied to an online ad for a temporary “customer service adviser”, which read:

You must have your own computer and high-speed internet to download our software and communicate with our customers … Don’t let lockdown stop you getting your dream job.

“The training was very basic”, Ann says, going on to describe in detail the extremely cursory “online training course” each of the candidates had to sit through:

We saw some slides about our role – the public health website we will use, and a script for what we had to say to people. We were told do not go off-script, and if there was anything we could not answer, we should ask our supervisor.

The training was wrapped up early, and we were asked if we felt prepared. There was a chorus of no from many people. Some said yes, but I didn’t see how anyone could be prepared for something they’d only found out about a couple of hours ago, plus we hadn’t even accessed the specific programmes. I checked my schedule and saw that I was due to start the next day at 9am. Panic set in.

The trainer told us there was a further seven and a half hours of self-led training that we had to complete before “going live”. This seemed a little unfair, if not impossible to achieve by the next morning. We were reassured that we could probably get through the training in two to three hours – but we would be paid for all seven and a half.

The trainer declared the training over and was immediately inundated with more questions from those anxious about what to do and when. The chatroom was then closed by the trainer, and were left on our own.

The self-led courses were very basic – with some generic dos and don’ts about customer data, security and so on. I completed it all in less than one and a half hours, with a score of 95%+.

The entirety of Ann’s first day of “work” was then spent waiting for entry into a chatroom. Her online colleagues were similarly left out in the cold. The second day was little different: “The day passed as we waited, re-attempted training, and wrote messages to supervisors and got no response.” This went on for the whole week and by the weekend, she tells us: “I had clocked up 40 hours of key worker pay for doing absolutely nothing.”

Ann continues:

Over the next few days I learned more about my job from watching the news than I did from those who were supposed to supervise me. I still did not feel qualified to do it. Then it was announced by [Matt] Hancock that we were going live the next day. On my chat there was a message from a supervisor asking the more experienced members of our chat to help those who needed help. The blind leading the blind! How were people who started the same day as me, and who had the same short and basic training as I had, supposed to help me do my job?

Ann concludes her account of the whole experience philosophically:

To this day I remain a “key worker”, paid £10 an hour to sit in a chatroom – alone, lost, without support or help. Despite what the government is saying, it seems the relentless problem “with the system” is another pandemic without a cure. Motivated as I am to help out during this difficult time – and after two weeks of doing “pretend” work on the track-and-trace programme – I have decided to quit and try to find a real way to help people.

Click here to read the full story entitled “Why I quit working on Boris Johnson’s ‘word-beating’ test-and tracing system”, published by the Guardian on May 30th.

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Those who have worked anywhere within the service sector are rather too familiar with these sorts of ‘online training courses’. The whole industry is basically a racket and of course every racket is driven by the profit motive. The question that immediately arises therefore is which private company was contracted by the government on this occasion. And it will come as little surprise that the trail soon leads to the outsourcing giant Serco:

Serco is overseeing the crucial track-and-trace system that has been launched today. But people it has recruited to work as contract tracers have already complained about a lack of training and guidance.

Earlier this month, Serco was condemned after it accidentally shared the contact details of 300 contact tracers. The error has led to calls for an urgent investigation into the “alarming” incident.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, wrote to Michael Gove, her counterpart in government, that it was “particularly troubling that a company that is being trusted with some of the most sensitive work in our national effort against the virus seems to struggle with the most basic aspects of data privacy”.

The contract-tracing data breach was not the first fiasco in Serco’s contributions to the government’s pandemic response. In April the company was in the news over concerns about delays at the drive-in COVID-19 test centres that it was managing. At one test site, key workers were left waiting for two hours in hot weather, unable to leave their vehicle or even open the windows.

From an exposé published by OpenDemocracy on May 28th entitled “Revealed: Serco under fire over fresh £90m COVID-19 contract”

Click here to read an earlier post about Serco’s subcontracting role in the fingerprinting of British schoolchildren.

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a thinking person’s response to Peter Hitchens’ stance over Covid-19

A Library of Useful Links on the Virus Panic, for Thinking People

Here is a small library of useful links to various articles and websites. Their appearance here does not mean I fully endorse every word in them. I leave it to my readers to decide whether such things are useful or not, and to make their own minds up. Several of them express opinions I don’t fully share, but all, including government documents, will help in intelligent sceptical inquiry into the Virus Panic. They are in no particular order:

This is the title and introduction to Peter Hitchen’s latest blog post published by Mail Online and here is my response (an unedited version of which was posted as a comment):

As a thinking person (and one with scientific training) I feel compelled to draw attention to a deep flaw in Hitchen’s position that is illustrated by the very library of links he has just endorsed.

Of these links, only one connects to an actual scientific study determining a reliable estimate for the infection fatality rate (IFR) for Covid-19 – IFR is the most important factor here by far.

The link is this one:

Research on the IFR (Infection Fatality Rate)

https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.03.20089854v2

If you read the abstract to this paper you will see that the authors summarise their own findings as follows:

“Results After exclusions, there were 25 estimates of IFR included in the final meta-analysis, from a wide range of countries, published between February and May 2020. The meta-analysis demonstrated a point-estimate of IFR of 0.64% (0.50–0.78%) with high heterogeneity (p<0.001).”

The value quoted above corresponds very closely with other studies including the earliest one based on data from S Korea, another from New York and a more recent one in Spain.

All of these separate studies (and there are many others including those comprising the meta-study in question) have come up with IFRs in the range of 0.5% to 1%. This is well above seasonal flu rates of 0.1%.

If you do the simple maths and multiple their actual point-estimate of 0.64% (i.e., most likely value) by the herd immunity requirement (at minimum) of 60% infection spread across the UK population (66 million) you find the answer comes to 250,000 deaths. Try it – just multiple the 3 numbers together.

This number is precisely the one forecast by the UK govt scientific experts back in March when they were advocating herd immunity.

In short, I fail to see how the comparatively high figure of 0.64% (which I believe is likely to be a reliable estimate too) substantiates Peter Hitchen’s repeated claims that Covid-19 is low in severity. According to a study he actually links to, left to spread uncontrollably we should expect a quarter of a million extra deaths.

When you are cherry picking your facts, it is wise to cherry pick them carefully. Hitchens here is hoisted by his own petard.

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Please note: As many previous posts attest, I actually share Peter Hitchens’ outlook on a variety of separate issues and I greatly admire his courage and conviction in the defence of whistleblowers and in holding authority to account. His stance on this single issue does not diminish my respect for Hitchens in other regards.

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the united colours of Bilderberg — a late review of Montreux 2019: #4 the weaponisation of social media

Important note: As we approach the period spanning the end of May and beginning of June when Bilderberg meetings are ordinarily scheduled, it should be observed that the home page of the official Bilderberg website currently declares in bold capitals:

THE MEETING 2020 IS POSTPONED.

It does not say for how long.

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Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you

— Joseph Heller 1

This is the fourth of a sequence of articles based around the ‘key topics’ at last year’s Bilderberg conference discussed here in relation to the prevailing political agenda and placed within the immediate historical context.

This piece focuses on issues relating to the weaponsation of social media and cyber threats:


A schematically enhanced version of last year’s ‘key topics’

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Trolls R’ Us

JTRIG was in the business of discrediting companies, by passing “confidential information to the press through blogs etc.”, and by posting negative information on internet forums. They could change someone’s social media photos (“can take ‘paranoia’ to a whole new level”, a slide read.) They could use masquerade-type techniques – that is: placing “secret” information on a compromised computer. They could bombard someone’s phone with text messages or calls.

JTRIG also boasted an arsenal of 200 info-weapons, ranging from in-development to fully operational. A tool dubbed “Badger” allowed the mass delivery of email. Another, called “Burlesque”, spoofed SMS messages. “Clean Sweep” would impersonate Facebook wall posts for individuals or entire countries. “Gateway” gave the ability to “artificially increase traffic to a website”. “Underpass” was a way to change the outcome of online polls.

The Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) is a unit attached to Britain’s GCHQ. The summary above is based on a slides leaked by Edward Snowden. It outlines the sorts of disinformation tactics being deployed against targets across the world (including domestic ones) as far back as 2013. Of course, this is long before mainstream reports of Russian troll farms and the consequent calls for active internet censorship to save us from the ever-present threat of “fake news”.

Entitled “Inside the British Army’s secret information warfare machine”, the same Wired report devotes its main attention to the slightly better known UK disinfo operation, the 77th Brigade, that was founded officially in January 2015, although its establishment had in actuality involved the rebranding of a different agency formerly known as the “Security Assistance Group” 2:

Walking through the headquarters of the 77th, the strange new reality of warfare was on display. We’ve all heard a lot about “cyberwarfare” – about how states could attack their enemies through computer networks, damaging their infrastructure or stealing their secrets. But that wasn’t what was going on here. Emerging here in the 77th Brigade was a warfare of storyboards and narratives, videos and social media. An engagement now doesn’t just happen on the battlefield, but also in the media and online. A victory is won as much in the eyes of the watching public as between opposing armies on the battlefield. Warfare in the information age is a warfare over information itself.

A few paragraphs down, we also learn that:

Inside the base of the 77th, everything was in motion. Flooring was being laid, work units installed; desks – empty of possessions – formed neat lines in offices still covered in plastic, tape and sawdust. The unit was formed in a hurry in 2015 from various older parts of the British Army – a Media Operations Group, a Military Stabilisation Support Group, a Psychological Operations Group. It has been rapidly expanding ever since.

In 2014, a year before the 77th was established, a memo entitled “Warfare in the Information Age” flashed across the British military. “We are now in the foothills of the Information Age” the memo announced. It argued that the British Army needed to fight a new kind of war, one that “will have information at its core”. The Army needed to be out on social media, on the internet, and in the press, engaged, as the memo put it, “in the reciprocal, real-time business of being first with the truth, countering the narratives of others, and if necessary manipulating the opinion of thousands concurrently in support of combat operations.” 3

Click here to read the full article in Wired magazine.

In March 2018, James Corbett foreshadowed the Bilderberg group with a broadcast of his own show entitled “The Weaponization of Social Media”:

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New America

The New America Foundation has received more than $21 million from Google; its parent company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt; and his family’s foundation since the think tank’s founding in 1999. That money helped to establish New America as an elite voice in policy debates on the American left and helped Google shape those debates.

According to a New York Times article from August 2017 entitled “Google Critic Ousted From Think Tank Funded by the Tech Giant”. The critic in question was a scholar working for New America called Barry Lynn who posted a statement on the think tank’s website applauding European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager for levying a fine of 2.4 billion euros against Google for breaching EU antitrust laws.

The same NYT report continues:

“New America financial supporters have no influence or control over the research design, methodology, analysis or findings of New America research projects, nor do they have influence or control over the content of educational programs and communications efforts,” [New America’s executive vice president] Ms. [Tyra] Mariani said. She added that Mr. Lynn’s statement praising the European Union’s sanctions against Google had been temporarily removed from New America’s website because of “an unintentional internal issue” unrelated to Google or Mr. [Eric] Schmidt.

Ms. Mariani and Ms. [Riva] Sciuto [a Google spokeswoman] said Google is continuing to fund New America.

Hours after this article was published online Wednesday morning, Ms. [Anne-Marie] Slaughter announced that the think tank had fired Mr. Lynn on Wednesday for “his repeated refusal to adhere to New America’s standards of openness and institutional collegiality.”

Ms. Slaughter also wrote on Twitter that the article was “false,” but was unable to cite any errors. New America would not make Ms. Slaughter available for an interview. 4

So what? Why am I writing about this hand-in-glove relationship between tech giant Google and the Executive Chairman of its parent company Alphabet Inc., Eric Schmidt, with a think tank formerly known as New America Foundation but since renamed simply New America? The short answer is one man: Peter Warren Singer.

A strategist for America Foundation, P.W. Singer specialises in 21st century warfare. In a few years he has published nothing short of a small library of books on related topics ranging from the post-9/11 rise of the mercenary armies, child soldiers, military robotics, cybersecurity and cyberwarfare. Amongst his most recent publications, LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media (2018) is already regarded as a seminal work.

If “CyberWar” is about hacking networks, “LikeWar” is about hacking the people on the networks, driving ideas viral through a mix of “likes” and lies. And in these battles for virality, which can generate real world power, generating a sense of authenticity has become an important milestone for any online operation, be it selling an album, a political campaign, or an information warfare operation designed to cause your enemies army to run away (as in the #AllEyesOnISIS operation). 5

From an article by P.W. Singer and co-author Emerson Brooking entitled “What Taylor Swift Teaches Us About Online War” published around the time of the book launch by Defense One in October 2018.

Funnily enough, and only a few months later, Singer was invited to the 2019 Bilderberg gathering in Montreux, when one of the key topics happened to be “The weaponisation of social media”.

I wonder whether he contributed to the discussion at all, and found the time to chew the cud with Bilderberg warhorse and his New America Foundation benefactor and Chairman Emeritus, Eric Schmidt.

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(Everything is) LikeWar

The pattern of military hardware silhouettes above welcomes visitors to P.W. Singer’s official website. To judge from his CV, he very probably has the same wallpaper up in his bedroom.

In a recent interview he told Lauren Hepler:

Social media is not just a communication space and a marketplace. It’s also a battle space. You have sides that go back and forth. They use tactics and strategies to achieve their goals. We’ve seen its weaponization to target elections, to target military units. We’ve seen it used to target corporations to try to sabotage their share price, to harm the rollout of a new product. We’ve also seen it have a real and very sad impact on public health.

This is now a matter of life and death. The deliberate spread of misinformation on coronavirus didn’t just shape a laggard Trump administration response, but also shaped individual-level decisions that were irresponsible and dangerous. It cost lives.

Singer calls a response at all levels: individual, governmental and, importantly, corporate:

Then we had coronavirus breakout, and all of them [‘the platform companies’] again implemented things [forms of censorship] that were unthinkable, impossible for them to do just a few months earlier. They should be applauded for doing it, but as they take on more and more of a political role, they are forced to play politics. For example, when someone posts information about a medical treatment that is not effective and maybe even dangerous, they knocked offline certain individuals for doing that, but not others because they’re a little bit too prominent, and if we do, then it will look like we’re playing politics.

Singer’s view is that playing politics is fine, indeed something the tech giants “should be applauded for doing”, however in western democracies, maintaining appearances is of the utmost importance. He continues:

I’m incredibly empathetic toward these companies, because they’re being forced to play this role in the U.S. essentially because we have not updated our election rules. In other nations, the companies have more guidance.

Incredibly empathetic… well, you’re hardly going to bite the hand that feeds you! But what is Singer’s role here? As a former Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute and current Strategist for New America, whose major donors besides Eric and Wendy Schmidt also include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the US State Department, Singer is clearly in the business of shaping US government policy on behalf of corporate interests. In this instance, enjoining the government to issue “guidance” on censorship such that the tech giants are then able to distance themselves from policies deliberately brought in to marginalise dissident voices.

A Washington Post article published in late 2016 entitled “Why Facebook and Google are struggling to purge fake news” made the matter plain:

Facebook, Google and other Web companies have sought to walk a fine line: They don’t want to get into the practice of hiring human editors, which they believe would make them vulnerable to criticisms of partisan bias and stray from their core business of building software. Yet outsiders, as well as some within Silicon Valley, are increasingly clamoring for technology giants to take a more active role in policing the spread of deceptive information.

“It is very difficult for Facebook to say they are not a gatekeeper when they drive such an enormous share of the attention of most news consumers across the world,” said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. “They need to figure out some editorial mechanism; with their scale comes responsibility.” 6

Singer admits:

A few weeks ago, there was a blast of kind-of-weird content moderation happening. It was because the platform companies had to send many of their people home, and they were using more and more AI that was understandably squirrelly. People were looking for conspiracy, when it was just AI doing its thing. 7

As an esteemed expert in his field Singer must know very well, of course, that this excuse of ‘squirrelly AI’ is actually a red herring. After all, the internet clampdown and “kind-of-weird content moderation” didn’t spring forth inadvertently on the back of the coronavirus lockdown a few weeks ago, but has been incrementally ratcheted up even before the first stirrings of the “Russiagate” hoax four years ago. As I pointed out in an earlier piece, fears of the fabled internet “kill switch” are a distraction, as the volume of dissident voices is being steadily turned down and the internet is slowly shut down by stealth.

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Project Birmingham: Alabama’s ‘fake news’ false flag

At least 1,100 Russian-language accounts followed Republican U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore’s Twitter account over the past few days. Moore’s team says they want to know why.

So begins an article in local newspaper the Montgomery Advertiser entitled “Russian invasion? Roy Moore sees spike in Twitter followers from land of Putin”

Caption retained:
A screen cap of Republican U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore’s Twitter followers on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. Moore’s campaign accounts was followed by thousands of Cyrillic-language accounts in the days prior. The Moore campaign says they have asked Twitter to investigate. (Photo: Twitter)

Beneath a composite image showing just a few examples of this huge army of Russian Twitter bots (see above), the same report into the stormy Alabama 2017 senate race between Republican Roy Moore and rival Democrat Doug Jones continues:

“We had absolutely nothing to do with this,” said Drew Messer, a spokesman for the campaign, on Monday. “We’ve never purchased followers or dummy ads on Twitter. We’ve asked Twitter to look into this.”

The increase helped push Moore’s following on Twitter from about 27,000 accounts on Friday to over 47,000, ahead of Democratic nominee Doug Jones, who has about 39,000 followers on Twitter.

Adding:

The Jones campaign Monday evening said Moore was “embarrassing the people of Alabama with another disgusting and pathetic lie.”

“Maybe Moore should check with Vladimir Putin, who shares his views on depriving people of their civil rights,” the statement said.  8

Although Moore had been leading in the polls by six to eight points, it was finally Democrat Jones who went on to win the election. So had the disclosure of Russian influence during the campaign finally affected the result? Very possibly, although in the fullness of time something more extraordinary was revealed by an internal report. Those thousands of bots meddling in the campaign had not been Russian at all and had no connection whatsoever to Putin. Instead they were part of “an experiment”:

One participant in the Alabama project [aka ‘Project Birmingham’], Jonathon Morgan, is the chief executive of New Knowledge, a small cyber security firm that wrote a scathing account of Russia’s social media operations in the 2016 election that was released this week by the Senate Intelligence Committee. […]

The project’s operators created a Facebook page on which they posed as conservative Alabamians, using it to try to divide Republicans and even to endorse a write-in candidate to draw votes from Mr. Moore. It involved a scheme to link the Moore campaign to thousands of Russian accounts that suddenly began following the Republican candidate on Twitter, a development that drew national media attention.

“We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet,” the report says.

The same piece includes a number of statements for Morgan, including this explanation:

Mr. Morgan said in an interview that the Russian botnet ruse “does not ring a bell,” adding that others had worked on the effort and had written the report. He said he saw the project as “a small experiment” designed to explore how certain online tactics worked, not to affect the election.

“The research project was intended to help us understand how these kind of campaigns operated,” said Mr. Morgan. “We thought it was useful to work in the context of a real election but design it to have almost no impact.” 9

Click here to read the full New York Times article published in December 2018 entitled “Secret Experiment in Alabama Senate Race Imitated Russian Tactics”.

Jonathan Morgan’s New Knowledge is a Texas-based cybersecurity firm, and behind it we find far larger concerns in the shape of American Engagement Technologies (AET) and for-profit investment management firm Investing In US. This is a trail I shall return to below.

However, it turns out that this phoney Russiagate operation was only part of the information warfare strategy. A separate effort had involved an elaborate fake campaign intended to convince voters of Republican candidate Moore’s supposed plans to reintroduce alcohol prohibition:

The “Dry Alabama” Facebook page, illustrated with stark images of car wrecks and videos of families ruined by drink, had a blunt message: Alcohol is the devil’s work, and the state should ban it entirely.

Along with a companion Twitter feed, the Facebook page appeared to be the work of Baptist teetotalers who supported the Republican, Roy S. Moore, in the 2017 Alabama Senate race. “Pray for Roy Moore,” one tweet exhorted.

In fact, the Dry Alabama campaign, not previously reported, was the stealth creation of progressive Democrats who were out to defeat Mr. Moore — the second such secret effort to be unmasked.

So who was behind these disinformation campaigns? The same NYT piece continues:

The revelations about the first project, run in part by a cybersecurity company called New Knowledge, led Facebook to shut down five accounts that it said had violated its rules, and prompted Senator [Doug] Jones to call for a federal investigation. There is no evidence that Jones encouraged or knew of either of the deceptive social media projects. His spokeswoman, Heather Fluit, said his legal advisers were preparing to file a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission. […]

The first of the Alabama efforts was funded by Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn, who apologized and said he had been unaware of the project and did not approve of the underhanded methods. The second was funded by two Virginia donors who wanted to defeat Mr. Moore — a former judge accused of pursuing sexual relationships with underage girls — according to a participant who would speak about the secret project only on the condition of anonymity and who declined to name the funders.

The two projects each received $100,000, funneled in both cases through the same organization: Investing in Us, which finances political operations in support of progressive causes. Dmitri Mehlhorn, the group’s managing partner, declined to comment on whether he approved of the tactics he had helped pay for. 10

For the record, Investing in US was co-founded by Reid Hoffman and Dmitri Mehlhorn, a former senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute.

Click here to read the full NYT report entitled “Democrats Faked Online Push to Outlaw Alcohol in Alabama Race”.

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Pulling the strings back at Bilderberg

Reid Hoffman may be a name that is unfamiliar to you, even though he was co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn. As we learn from a NYT puff piece from 2011, after a shaky start, Hoffman was fortunate enough to have some well-connected associates:

In 1985, Mr. Hoffman enrolled at Stanford, where he majored in symbolic systems, the study of the relationship between computing and human intelligence. He soon befriended a fellow student, Peter Thiel, who would go on to found PayPal.

When his own social media start-up SocialNet flopped, Hoffman was invited to rejoin his old pal as Thiel was setting up PayPal:

As an executive vice president, it was up to Mr. Hoffman to manage external relations. “He was the firefighter in chief at PayPal,” Mr. Thiel says. “Though that diminishes his role because there were many, many fires.” 11

Click here to read the full NYT article entitled “A King of Connections Is Tech’s Go-To Guy”

Peter Thiel and Reid Hoffman today sit at the high table as Bilderberg regulars alongside Eric Schmidt – the trio of techies have each attended every conference during the last four years: Thiel going under the title President of Thiel Capital; Hoffman more self-effacingly as a ‘Partner’ at Greylock Partners; and Schmidt, evidently the most modest of the three, declaring himself a mere ‘Technical Advisor’ to Alphabet Inc.

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Please note: I started constructing this article as part of a larger review (that was subsequently broken down into this series of smaller pieces) many months prior to the current coronavirus crisis and lockdown.

1 Though it is not referenced by Wikiquote, there are a wide variety of sources including articles published by the Guardian and The Atlantic magazine that have attributed Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 as the original source of this quote. Variations of the same quote are also misattributed to American singer, songwriter, and musician, best known as the guitarist and frontman of the rock band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain.

2 https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2015-02-24/225283/

3 From an article entitled “Inside the British Army’s secret information warfare machine” written by Carl Miller, published in Wired on November 14, 2018. https://www.wired.co.uk/article/inside-the-77th-brigade-britains-information-warfare-military

4 From an article entitled “Google Critic Ousted From Think Tank Funded by the Tech Giant” written by Kenneth P. Vogel, published in The New York Times on August 30, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/30/us/politics/eric-schmidt-google-new-america.html?_r=0

5 From an article entitled “What Taylor Swift Teaches Us About Online War” written by Peter W. Singer & Emerson T. Brooking, published in Defense One on October 2, 2018. https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2018/10/what-taylor-swift-teaches-us-about-online-war/151634/?oref=d-river

6 From an article entitled “Why Facebook and Google are struggling to purge fake news” written by Elizabeth Dwoskin, Caitlin Dewey & Craig Timberg, published in the Washington Post on November 15, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/why-facebook-and-google-are-struggling-to-purge-fake-news/2016/11/15/85022897-f765-422e-9f53-c720d1f20071_story.html

7 From an article entitled “A futurist on Covid-19 and business: Pandora’s box is now open” written by Lauren Hepler, published in Protocol on April 19, 2020. https://www.protocol.com/cyberwar-expert-pw-singer-coronavirus

8 From an article entitled “Russian invasion? Roy Moore sees spike in Twitter followers from land of Putin” written by Brian Lyman, originally published in the Montgomery Advertiser on October 16, 2017 (updated December 12, 2019) https://eu.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/politics/southunionstreet/2017/10/16/roy-moores-twitter-account-gets-influx-russian-language-followers/768758001/

9 From an article entitled “Secret Experiment in Alabama Senate Race Imitated Russian Tactics” written by Scott Shane & Alan Blinder, published in The New York Times on December 19, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/19/us/alabama-senate-roy-jones-russia.html

10 From an article entitled “Democrats Faked Online Push to Outlaw Alcohol in Alabama Race” written by Scott Shane & Alan Blinder, published in The New York Times on January 7, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/07/us/politics/alabama-senate-facebook-roy-moore.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

11 From an article entitled “A King of Connections Is Tech’s Go-To Guy” written by Evelyn M. Rusli, published in The New York Times on November 5, 2011. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/business/reid-hoffman-of-linkedin-has-become-the-go-to-guy-of-tech.html?pagewanted=all

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corona marginalia: techno-tyranny

“How do we really use new technology in the economy of tomorrow? And that’s the lesson that we’re all learning right: work from home; telemedicine; tele-education. It’s all about technology, and a better use of technology, and really incorporating the lessons into that. And probably the best mind in this country, if not on the globe to do this, is I believe a true visionary, especially in the field of technology, and that’s Eric Schmidt.”

This is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s effusive welcome to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt when he joined him for the daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday May 6th. Cuomo continues:

“[Schmidt] saw a future that no-one else envisioned and then developed a way to get there. And we’ve asked him to come work with us to bring that kind of visionary aspect to government and society. Let’s look at what we just went through. Let’s anticipate a future through that lens. And tell us how we can incorporate these lessons. And Mr Schmidt who has tremendous demands on his talent and his time has agreed to help us and head an effort to do this.”

Eric Schmidt, no less lavish in his praise for Cuomo, says:

“Thank you Governor. You have been doing an incredible job for our state and frankly for the nation, and I’m really pleased to help. The first priorities of what we’re trying to do are focused on telehealth, remote learning and broadband. We can take this terrible disaster and accelerate all of those ways that will make things much, much better.”

The author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein begins her latest article entitled “Screen New Deal” with reflections on this video meeting and Cuomo’s announcement that Schmidt “will be heading up a blue-ribbon commission to reimagine New York state’s post-Covid reality, with an emphasis on permanently integrating technology into every aspect of civic life”:

This is a future in which, for the privileged, almost everything is home delivered, either virtually via streaming and cloud technology, or physically via driverless vehicle or drone, then screen “shared” on a mediated platform. It’s a future that employs far fewer teachers, doctors, and drivers. It accepts no cash or credit cards (under guise of virus control) and has skeletal mass transit and far less live art. It’s a future that claims to be run on “artificial intelligence” but is actually held together by tens of millions of anonymous workers tucked away in warehouses, data centers, content moderation mills, electronic sweatshops, lithium mines, industrial farms, meat-processing plants, and prisons, where they are left unprotected from disease and hyperexploitation. It’s a future in which our every move, our every word, our every relationship is trackable, traceable, and data-mineable by unprecedented collaborations between government and tech giants.

She continues:

If all of this sounds familiar it’s because, pre-Covid, this precise app-driven, gig-fueled future was being sold to us in the name of convenience, frictionlessness, and personalization. But many of us had concerns. About the security, quality, and inequity of telehealth and online classrooms. About driverless cars mowing down pedestrians and drones smashing packages (and people). About location tracking and cash-free commerce obliterating our privacy and entrenching racial and gender discrimination. About unscrupulous social media platforms poisoning our information ecology and our kids’ mental health. About “smart cities” filled with sensors supplanting local government. About the good jobs these technologies wiped out. About the bad jobs they mass produced.

And most of all, we had concerns about the democracy-threatening wealth and power accumulated by a handful of tech companies that are masters of abdication — eschewing all responsibility for the wreckage left behind in the fields they now dominate, whether media, retail, or transportation.

That was the ancient past known as February. Today, a great many of those well-founded concerns are being swept away by a tidal wave of panic, and this warmed-over dystopia is going through a rush-job rebranding. Now, against a harrowing backdrop of mass death, it is being sold to us on the dubious promise that these technologies are the only possible way to pandemic-proof our lives, the indispensable keys to keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe.

Adding:

Thanks to Cuomo and his various billionaire partnerships (including one with Michael Bloomberg for testing and tracing), New York state is being positioned as the gleaming showroom for this grim future — but the ambitions reach far beyond the borders of any one state or country.

And at the dead center of it all is Eric Schmidt.

Klein notes: “Lest there be any doubt that the former Google chair’s goals were purely benevolent, his video background featured a framed pair of golden angel wings.”

Click here to read Naomi Klein’s full article published on May 8th by The Intercept.

*

Eric Schmidt and the NSCAI

“[D]ata is the new oil. And China is just awash with data. And they don’t have the same restraints that we do around collecting it and using it, because of the privacy difference between our countries. This notion that they have the largest labeled data set in the world is going to be a huge strength for them.”

— Chris Darby, President and CEO of In-Q-Tel, an investment arm of the CIA and member of NSCAI. *

The second part of Klein’s article moves on to discuss the Sidewalk Labs division of Google’s parent company Alphabet and specifically their “smart cities” Toronto project. This is a topic I have addressed in my last post published as it happened on the eve of the project being shut down following what Klein describes as “two years of ceaseless controversy relating to the enormous amounts of personal data that Alphabet would collect, a lack of privacy protections, and questionable benefits for the city as a whole.”

But central to her article is an investigation into Schmidt’s other roles both as Chair of the Defense Innovation Board, which advises the Department of Defense on increased use of artificial intelligence in the military, and as Chair of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) which advises Congress on “advances in artificial intelligence, related machine learning developments, and associated technologies.”

Specifically, Klein draws attention to slides from a presentation made by Schmidt’s NSCAI back in May 2019, that have since been released following a Freedom of Information request made by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

In fact a week prior to Klein’s excellent piece, independent journalist Whitney Webb had already brought attention to the same document release; the presentation in question is titled “Chinese Tech Landscape Overview”.

Webb writes:

This document suggests that the U.S. follow China’s lead and even surpass them in many aspects related to AI-driven technologies, particularly their use of mass surveillance. This perspective clearly clashes with the public rhetoric of prominent U.S. government officials and politicians on China, who have labeled the Chinese government’s technology investments and export of its surveillance systems and other technologies as a major “threat” to Americans’ “way of life.”

In addition, many of the steps for the implementation of such a program in the U.S., as laid out in this newly available document, are currently being promoted and implemented as part of the government’s response to the current coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis. This likely due to the fact that many members of this same body have considerable overlap with the taskforces and advisors currently guiding the government’s plans to “re-open the economy” and efforts to use technology to respond to the current crisis.

Webb then highlights Eric Schmidt’s “similar concerns about ‘losing’ technological advantage to China”:

[Schmidt] argued in February in the New York Times that Silicon Valley could soon lose “the technology wars” to China if the U.S. government doesn’t take action. Thus, the three main groups represented within the NSCAI – the intelligence community, the Pentagon and Silicon Valley – all view China’s advancements in AI as a major national security threat (and in Silicon Valley’s case, threat to their bottom lines and market shares) that must be tackled quickly.

Naomi Klein likewise draws attention to the NYT op-ed headlined “I used to Run Google. Silicon Valley Could Lose to China”, in which Schmidt had called for “unprecedented partnerships between government and industry” and is, in Klein’s words “once again, sounding the yellow peril alarm”. She then quotes the salient passages:

A.I. will open new frontiers in everything from biotechnology to banking, and it is also a Defense Department priority. … If current trends continue, China’s overall investments in research and development are expected to surpass those of the United States within 10 years, around the same time its economy is projected to become larger than ours.

Unless these trends change, in the 2030s we will be competing with a country that has a bigger economy, more research and development investments, better research, wider deployment of new technologies and stronger computing infrastructure. … Ultimately, the Chinese are competing to become the world’s leading innovators, and the United States is not playing to win.

On this pretext of regaining competitive advantage over China, the NSCAI presentation goes on to cite the kinds of “structural factors” that need to be altered.

Here is Whitney Webb again:

Chief among the troublesome “structural factors” highlighted in this presentation are so-called “legacy systems” that are common in the U.S. but much less so in China. The NSCAI document states that examples of “legacy systems” include a financial system that still utilizes cash and card payments, individual car ownership and even receiving medical attention from a human doctor. It states that, while these “legacy systems” in the US are “good enough,” too many “good enough” systems “hinder the adoption of new things,” specifically AI-driven systems. […]

The document also defines another aspect of government support as the “clearing of regulatory barriers.” This term is used in the document specifically with respect to U.S. privacy laws, despite the fact that the U.S. national security state has long violated these laws with near complete impunity. However, the document seems to suggest that privacy laws in the U.S. should be altered so that what the U.S. government has done “in secret” with private citizen data can be done more openly and more extensively. The NSCAI document also discusses the removal of “regulatory barriers” in order to speed up the adoption of self-driving cars, even though autonomous driving technology has resulted in several deadly and horrific car accidents and presents other safety concerns.

Who are NSCAI? Webb provides us with a list of members and their interests:

Other members of the NSCAI are as follows:

  • Safra Catz, CEO of Oracle, with close ties to Trump’s top donor Sheldon Adelson
  • Steve Chien, supervisor of the Artificial Intelligence Group at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Lab
  • Mignon Clyburn, Open Society Foundation fellow and former FCC commissioner
  • Chris Darby, CEO of In-Q-Tel (CIA’s venture capital arm)
  • Ken Ford, CEO of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
  • Jose-Marie Griffiths, president of Dakota State University and former National Science Board member
  • Eric Horvitz, director of Microsoft Research Labs
  • Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services (CIA contractor)
  • Gilman Louie, partner at Alsop Louie Partners and former CEO of In-Q-Tel
  • William Mark, director of SRI International and former Lockheed Martin director
  • Jason Matheny, director of the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, former Assistant director of National Intelligence and former director of IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Project Agency)
  • Katharina McFarland, consultant at Cypress International and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition
  • Andrew Moore, head of Google Cloud AI

As can be seen in the list above, there is a considerable amount of overlap between the NSCAI and the companies currently advising the White House on “re-opening” the economy (Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Lockheed Martin, Oracle) and one NSCAI member, Oracle’s Safra Katz, is on the White House’s “economic revival” taskforce. Also, there is also overlap between the NSCAI and the companies that are intimately involved in the implementation of the “contact tracing” “coronavirus surveillance system,” a mass surveillance system promoted by the Jared Kushner-led, private-sector coronavirus task force. That surveillance system is set to be constructed by companies with deep ties to Google and the U.S. national security state, and both Google and Apple, who create the operating systems for the vast majority of smartphones used in the U.S., have said they will now build that surveillance system directly into their smartphone operating systems.

Click here to read Whitney Webb’s full article entitled “Techno-tyranny: How the US National Security State is using Coronavirus to Fulfill an Orwellian Vision” published on May 4th at her official website Unlimited Hangout.

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Tele-everything!

In her article for The Intercept, Naomi Klein supplies an update and a glimpse of the headway already made by the tech giants in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Responding to a subsequent op-ed by Eric Schmidt [passages in Italics], Klein writes:

Less than two weeks into New York state’s lockdown, Schmidt wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that both set the new tone and made clear that Silicon Valley had every intention of leveraging the crisis for a permanent transformation.

Like other Americans, technologists are trying to do their part to support the front-line pandemic response. …

But every American should be asking where we want the nation to be when the Covid-19 pandemic is over. How could the emerging technologies being deployed in the current crisis propel us into a better future? … Companies like Amazon know how to supply and distribute efficiently. They will need to provide services and advice to government officials who lack the computing systems and expertise.

We should also accelerate the trend toward remote learning, which is being tested today as never before. Online, there is no requirement of proximity, which allows students to get instruction from the best teachers, no matter what school district they reside in. …

The need for fast, large-scale experimentation will also accelerate the biotech revolution. … Finally, the country is long overdue for a real digital infrastructure…. If we are to build a future economy and education system based on tele-everything, we need a fully connected population and ultrafast infrastructure. The government must make a massive investment—perhaps as part of a stimulus package—to convert the nation’s digital infrastructure to cloud-based platforms and link them with a 5G network.

Indeed Schmidt has been relentless in pursuing this vision. Two weeks after that op-ed appeared, he described the ad-hoc homeschooling programing that teachers and families across the country had been forced to cobble together during this public health emergency as “a massive experiment in remote learning.” The goal of this experiment, he said, was “trying to find out: How do kids learn remotely? And with that data we should be able to build better remote and distance learning tools which, when combined with the teacher … will help kids learn better.” During this same video call, hosted by the Economic Club of New York, Schmidt also called for more telehealth, more 5G, more digital commerce, and the rest of the preexisting wish list. All in the name of fighting the virus.

His most telling comment, however, was this: “The benefit of these corporations, which we love to malign, in terms of the ability to communicate, the ability to deal with health, the ability to get information, is profound. Think about what your life would be like in America without Amazon.” He added that people should “be a little bit grateful that these companies got the capital, did the investment, built the tools that we’re using now, and have really helped us out.”

Click here to read Naomi Klein’s full article published on May 8th by The Intercept.

*

* From an article entitled “In-Q-Tel President Chris Darby on the intelligence community’s innovation challenges” written by Olivia Gazis, published in CBS News on April 24, 2019. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/intelligence-matters-in-q-tel-president-chris-darby-on-the-intelligence-communitys-innovation-challenges/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, mass surveillance, USA

the united colours of Bilderberg — a late review of Montreux 2019: #3 smart era

This is the third of a sequence of articles based around the ‘key topics’ to last year’s Bilderberg conference discussed in relation to the prevailing political agenda and placed within the immediate historical context.

*

Welcome to the machine

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been?
It’s alright we know where you’ve been.

— Roger Waters 1

More than a century ago, E M Forster wrote an eerily prophetic science fiction novella entitled “The Machine Stops” (1909). The machine in the novel is vast and seemingly omnipotent. It services all the needs for a global civilisation that has long since abandoned the Earth’s surface and retreated underground; all citizens now inhabiting highly luxurious, fully automated, and secluded subterranean quarters, which are compared in the book to the geometrical cells of a beehive.

Although travel is permitted in this future world, it is seen as a bothersome hindrance on the perfectly understandable basis that every settlement in every country is exactly alike every other. Moreover, being accustomed to air-conditioned atmospheres and artificial illumination, once cast into daylight, travelers are likely to experience an urgent need to shield their eyes, the sun to them a distressing aggravation.

For these and other reasons, human interaction is usually limited to minute by minute communication via screens instead. It is here that all ideas are shared, and this is largely how people prefer to occupy themselves. Nevertheless, this is a free society and so there is no active censorship of ideas, although notions about anything that is ‘unmechanical’ have become essentially incomprehensible (just as witchdoctory is incomprehensible to the average twenty-first century westerner today and so we don’t talk about it much).

So this is Forster’s world, and it is in some respects a forerunner to Huxley’s later vision. Clean, efficient, clinical, and absolutely impersonal. Of course it also shares a great deal with our own world and in ways that Huxley did not envision. As many have commented before, it is as if Forster dreamt up the internet, and then afterwards also imagined all the ways such miraculous interconnectedness would soon begin to isolate humanity.

More specifically, we can also recognise ‘the machine’ as not so much the internet as it exists, but actually a foreshadowing of the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), where everything that isn’t ‘unmechanical’ is what nowadays we call ‘smart’. Forster’s entire world is ‘smart’ in this most fundamental sense.

But Forster also poses this question and makes it the title of the book: what if the machine stops? To the future citizens of his world this is not actually a question at all, of course, being unutterably ‘unmechanical’. As unthinkable to them as when we try to imagine the sun not rising tomorrow; not that such comparison would be remotely comprehensible to these future humans who descended to dwell within the sunless realms of Forster’s abysmal, yet extraordinary, premonition:

The original upload was taken down, so here’s a different version:

*

The Technetronic tranformation

In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or it might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies—the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction. — Aldous Huxley 2

President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, the late Zbigniew Brzezinski is remembered today for two main reasons. Firstly, he was the principle architect of Operation Cyclone, a successful US strategy to bog down the Soviets in Afghanistan thanks to the help of covertly supplied and trained Mujahideen fighters; the precursors to al-Qaeda.

His other notable and less clandestine claim to fame is the authorship of two works of particular note: The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (1997), a blueprint for US primacy; and, almost three decades prior, his remarkably prescient Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era (1970). It is in this perhaps lesser known work that Brzezinski too envisions a future:

“that is shaped culturally, psychologically, socially and economically by the impact of technology and electronics – particularly in the arena of computers and electronics”: 3

Indeed, a society that is under rapid construction today:

Alphabet Inc. is best known for its signature product, the Google search engine. But it is useful to think of it as a company that builds platforms – software that serves as a foundation for a growing array of technologies and services that people use every day.

It practically owns the web advertising market through its search platform, it is a leading player in the smartphone ecosystem with its Android platform, it is a large player in the cloud-computing platform, not to mention playing significant roles in the race to build an autonomous-vehicle platform and with high hopes to do the same in the artificial-intelligence space.

With the announcement on Tuesday that its subsidiary Sidewalk Labs would develop a whole new district of Toronto as a working model of a new type of smart city, it’s no stretch to say the company is trying to build a platform for the construction and organization of cities. 4

From an article published by Globe and Mail in October 2017 about plans to transform Toronto into a state-of-the-art “smart city”.

The same piece continues:

Google intends to build a traffic-sensing network that will collect data from smartphones, embedded sensors and cameras to identify areas that could use more bike-sharing slots, or where a self-driving vehicle should be routed, or where a future pop-up store could find a market for its wares.

It’s hoping to be the private garbage collectors of the data that describe what makes Toronto tick and recycle that data into solutions for how this and other cities can be run more effectively.

Now let’s compare this with the ‘Technetronic era’ envisioned by Brzezinski at the beginning of the 70s. Incidentally, Brzezinski’s words might be read as a warning or a blueprint… a deliberate ambiguity that remains unresolved because he hesitates to make his own position clear. 5:

“In the Technetronic society the trend seems to be toward aggregating the individual support of millions of unorganized citizens, who are easily within the reach of magnetic and attractive personalities, and effectively exploiting the latest communication techniques to manipulate emotion and control reason.” […]

“Another threat, less overt but no less basic, confronts liberal democracy. More directly linked to the impact of technology, it involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled and directed society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite whose claim to political power would rest on allegedly superior scientific knowhow. Unhindered by the restraints of traditional liberal values, this elite would not hesitate to achieve its political ends by using the latest modern techniques for influencing public behavior and keeping society under close surveillance and control.” 6

It is somewhat of an understatement to say that Brzezinski was well-connected. He was a former member of the Atlantic Council, the National Endowment for Democracy, and had remained a member of the Council on Foreign Relations until his death in 2017. On the back of his thesis, Between Two Ages, he had also been invited in 1973 to co-found The Trilateral Commission with David Rockefeller, and alongside, Rockefeller, was a high profile and regular Bilderberg attendee. 7

Nowadays Bilderberg is dominated mostly by the tech giants and the person whose star is most in the ascendant appears to be Alphabet chief, Eric Schmidt, who has attended the annual conferences every year since 2007 (with the sole exception of 2009):

If you look around the current conference for people with enough substance — enough ideological meat on their bones to drive Bilderberg forward, you won’t find it in finance, and you certainly won’t find it in politics, because for the last few decades the really smart people have gone into engineering and tech. And that, surely, is where the center of gravity within Bilderberg will end up.

Writes Charlie Skelton, summing up his thoughts after last year’s conference in Montreux, and adding more concretely:

The two figures at Bilderberg who seem to have an aura of influence about them are Schmidt and Thiel. Over the years, Schmidt has been gently aligning himself as the heir to Kissinger, and has populated recent conferences with Google executives. The Libertarian Thiel has already engineered his lieutenant, Alex Karp, onto the steering committee. 8

Click here to read Skelton’s full article published by Newsweek.

As Schmidt’s business model appears set to engender the sort of ‘technetronic’ transformation that Brzezinski outlined, it should hardly come as a surprise that Schmidt takes a less circumspect position on the whole reason for building “smart cities”. A naked ambition that Jathan Sadowski, lecturer in ethics of technology at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands, discusses in a Guardian op-ed:

There is much at stake with this initiative – and not just for Toronto and Alphabet, but for cities globally. With a high-profile project like this one, the kind of deals and terms set here could become a template for similar projects in other cities.

Mayors and tech executives exalt urban labs as sites of disruptive innovation and economic growth. However, this model of creating our urban future is also an insidious way of handing more control – over people, places, policies – to profit-driven, power-hungry corporations.

As the Globe and Mail reports, Eric Schmidt said at the announcement: “The genesis of the thinking for Sidewalk Labs came from Google’s founders getting excited thinking of ‘all the things you could do if someone would just give us a city and put us in charge’.” Ambition alone is not a sin, yet desires like these should evoke suspicion, not celebration.

Sadowski concludes his piece with this warning:

It is easy for city leaders to step aside and allow technocrats and corporations to take control, as if they are alchemists who can turn social problems and economic stagnation into progress and growth. […]

When Sidewalk Labs was chosen to develop Quayside, Schmidt said his reaction was: “Now, it’s our turn.” While this was a joyous exclamation for him, it’s an ominous remark for the rest of us.

There’s no doubt that urban labs can help in the design of powerful, useful technologies. But building the smart urban future cannot also mean paving the way for tech billionaires to fulfill their dreams of ruling over cities. If it does, that’s not a future we should want to live in. 9

Click here to read the full article entitled “Google wants to run cities without being elected. Don’t let it”.

*

5G and the Internet of Things (IoT)

More and more personal and household devices are connecting to the internet, from your television to your car navigation systems to your light switches. CIA Director David Petraeus cannot wait to spy on you through them.

So begins a report entitled “CIA Chief: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher” published by Wired magazine back in March 2012.

The same eye-opening piece tells us with no less candour how General Petraeus (Rtd), another regular high-profile Bilderberg attendee [every year since Copenhagen 2014 – although curiously Wikipedia only lists 3 of these in its main entry], was licking his lips at the prospect of routinely hacking into the lives of every “person of interest”:

Earlier this month, Petraeus mused about the emergence of an “Internet of Things” – that is, wired devices – at a summit for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm. “‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,” Petraeus enthused, “particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft.”

All those new online devices are a treasure trove of data if you’re a “person of interest” to the spy community. Once upon a time, spies had to place a bug in your chandelier to hear your conversation. With the rise of the “smart home,” you’d be sending tagged, geolocated data that a spy agency can intercept in real time when you use the lighting app on your phone to adjust your living room’s ambiance.

“Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters – all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing,” Petraeus said, “the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.”

Petraeus allowed that these household spy devices “change our notions of secrecy” and prompt a rethink of “our notions of identity and secrecy.” All of which is true – if convenient for a CIA director. 10

That’s not the end of the whole article by the way, though it might look like an excellent way to conclude it. To read the whole piece click here.

Embedded below is another fascinating episode of The Corbett Report that follows up his How Big Oil Conquered the World. Again he explores the concept of technocracy and now asks, if “Data is the New Oil” then what does that tell us about the 21st Century oligarchy and the world that the plutocrats are busily creating?

*

The vision of the future offered by the proponents of this next-generation cellular technology is one in which every object that you own will be a “smart” object, communicating data about you, your movements and your activities in real time via the ultra-fast 5G network. From the grandiose—self-driving cars and remote surgery—to the mundane—garbage cans that let garbage trucks know when they’re full—everything around us will be constantly broadcasting information through the Internet of Things if the 5G boosters get their way.

But beyond the glossy sci-fi fantasy presented in the slick advertisements for this “smart” world of the future is a creepy and unsettling glimpse into a technological dystopia. One in which “social experiences” are “shared” by strapping VR goggles to your face and interaction with humans is reduced as much as possible in favor of interaction with machines, gadgets and personal assistants that are there to cater to your every whim . . . for a price. And, as some are only now starting to realize, the price that one pays for this world of robotic comfort and convenience is control. Control over our data. Control over our security. And control over our lives. 11

From the transcript of another in-depth episode of the Corbett Report entitled “The 5G Dragnet” written and presented by James Corbett and broadcast last June – the full episode (#358) is also embedded below:

Having provided a few cautionary examples of how smart homes and other smart technology is constantly at risk of being hacked, the Corbett Report continues

It isn’t hard to see why these smart technologies, and the 5G network that enables them, are a security concern. And, in that context, it isn’t hard to see why Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE are now being targeted as potential national security threats and barred from developing 5G network infrastructure in country after country. After all, with access to that much data and information—let alone the ability to communicate with, hack into, or disable everything from our “smart” TV to our “smart” door locks to our “smart” car—a potential adversary with control of the 5G network would have nearly limitless power to surveil and control a target population.

But given that these powers—the ability to access our most intimate data and to take control of our homes and personal appliances—are not bugs but features of the 5G-connected Internet of Things, the question is: Why is there such a headlong rush to connect this network? Is demand for smart dishwashers and smart toothbrushes and smart baby monitors really so overwhelming that it requires us to put the security of our homes, our possessions and our families at risk? What is really driving this frenzy for a world where every new object we buy presents another potential vulnerability, another device that can be hacked into to steal our information, to track our location, to record our conversations and to disable our appliances?

One answer to this question lies in the fact that intelligence agencies—whether Chinese or Russian, CIA or MI6, Mossad or CSIS—will make use of the vast amounts of data flowing through these networks to spy on the public. In fact, the members of the so-called “intelligence community” do not even hide this fact; they openly gloat about it.

[Note that here I have edited out a further reference to the same Petraeus statement already quoted above.]

Lest there be any doubt about the intelligence community’s intentions to use these devices to spy on the population, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed this approach in a report to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2016:

“Smart” devices incorporated into the electric grid, vehicles—including autonomous vehicles—and household appliances are improving efficiency, energy conservation, and convenience. However, security industry analysts have demonstrated that many of these new systems can threaten data privacy, data integrity, or continuity of services. In the future, intelligence services might use the IoT for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.

Whistleblowers from within the intelligence establishment—whistleblowers like Russ Tice and Bill Binney, who are actively shunned by the same mainstream media that breathlessly reported on Edward Snowden—have already laid out in exhaustive detail how the NSA is collecting all data flowing through the internet as we know it. Every phone call. Every email. Every web search. Every file stored to the cloud. Everything that passes from one computer or phone to another is being stored, catalogued, data-based and data-mined to construct detailed profiles of ordinary citizens.

But now the 5G network is promising to deliver us not an internet of phones and computers but an internet of things, from cars and watches to fridges and hats to milk jugs and floor tiles. When every manufactured object is broadcasting information about you and your activities to the world at large by default, and when it is discovered that opting out of this surveillance grid is not an option, the true nature of this 5G panopticon will finally begin to dawn on the public. But by that point it will already be too late.

[The following part of the transcript is all about the Quayside project in Canada discussed above]

NARRATOR: Cities use data every day, everything from showing you when your next train will arrive to measuring the air quality in different neighborhoods. Typically all this information is spread out across a ton of different agencies and companies in a bunch of different file formats and spreadsheets. But at Quayside we have the chance to start from scratch and build a single unified digital platform that’s transparent, open, and accessible for everyone working to make our cities better.

SOURCE: Meet Sidewalk Toronto: Kristina and Craig Talk Open Urban Data

TINA YAZDANI: The leaders behind Toronto’s first data-driven smart city are under fire tonight after yet another resignation. This time, a member of Waterfront Toronto’s digital advisory panel quit and wrote a strongly worded letter on her way out, sharing her deep concerns about privacy and data control.

SOURCE: Sidewalk Labs advisory panel member resigns, highlights privacy concerns

STEVE PAIKIN: I want to get some feedback now from the former information and privacy commissioner from the province of Ontario, who, when you were here discussing this very topic, you were kind of bullish about it. And then I just couldn’t happen but help notice that you’ve resigned from your involvement in all this. What happened?

ANA CAVOUKIAN: And I didn’t. . . I didn’t do it lightly. I wanted to draw attention to the fact that we had to make sure that all the personal data that was being collected automatically by the sensors and other technologies were de-identified at source—anonymized at source—

PAIKIN: “De-identified” meaning . . .?

CAVOUKIAN: Meaning no personal identifiers. You wouldn’t know it’s Ana Cavoukian walking, or you [walking], or this is my car, or anything. And the reason that was critical is unlike most uses of what I call operational data, where the individual—the data subject—can exercise some control over the use—the operation of that data. They can consent to it, they can revoke consent, they can choose not to consent. They have some sense of control with the data. Here you have no control. It’s all being collected automatically with the emerging technology sensors all picking up data.

SOURCE: A Year of Planning Quayside

[James Corbett again…]

But it is not just the intelligence agencies or the Big Tech conglomerates who are set to profit from the creation of this newer, stickier world wide web. In fact, the 5G-enabled Internet of Things is a necessary part of the creation of the system of total control—physical, financial and political—that the technocrats have been lusting over for a century now.

Click here to read the full Corbett Report transcript

And here to read an earlier post entitled “the panopticon: a potted history of mass surveillance”

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Addendum: the known health risks of RF radiation

During recent weeks there has been a strange spate of attacks on mobile phone masts. The apparent justification for these sporadic acts of vandalism relates to a claim that the ongoing rollout of 5G technology is the real cause of the deaths now being falsely attributed to coronavirus.

This is nonsense, of course, and yet another example of the mind-numbing idiocy promoted by high priest of flat-earthery David Icke, who is renowned for repeated claims that the world is ruled by shape-shifting lizards, and once advised everyone to wear turquoise to reduce the chance of earthquakes – that was on the same outing of BBC’s Wogan when he effectively declared himself the messiah!

The youtube video below is cued up:

There is a common train of reasoning that goes as follows: since X is rather obviously not doing Y, all those who suspect X of anything at all must be crazy “conspiracy theorists” like David Icke. Technically this is known as ‘guilt by association as an ad hominem fallacy’, which is a highly effective debating tactic that can be used to discredit otherwise valid and well-formulated arguments and opinions. 12

At the risk of hammering this point, I have already noticed how this fallacy is being used to dismiss growing concerns about the rapid rollout of 5G, when in fact there are extremely solid grounds for adopting the precautionary principle based on past research, just as there are legitimate health concerns over our current use of 4G and other RF technologies like Wifi.

In fact there have been quite a number of studies looking into the health risks of existing 4G technologies and many of the results from these studies pose very serious concerns. A quite comprehensive overview of the research can be found in a comparatively short review published by the Guardian in July 2018, which discusses in detail “how the wireless industry has “war-gamed” science, as a Motorola internal memo in 1994 phrased it”:

For a quarter of a century now, the industry has been orchestrating a global PR campaign aimed at misleading not only journalists, but also consumers and policymakers about the actual science concerning mobile phone radiation. Indeed, big wireless has borrowed the very same strategy and tactics big tobacco and big oil pioneered to deceive the public about the risks of smoking and climate change, respectively. And like their tobacco and oil counterparts, wireless industry CEOs lied to the public even after their own scientists privately warned that their products could be dangerous, especially to children.

War-gaming science involves playing offence as well as defence – funding studies friendly to the industry while attacking studies that raise questions; placing industry-friendly experts on advisory bodies such as the World Health Organisation and seeking to discredit scientists whose views differ from the industry’s.

Funding friendly research has perhaps been the most important tactic, because it conveys the impression that the scientific community truly is divided. Thus, when studies have linked wireless radiation to cancer or genetic damage – as [George] Carlo’s [industry-financed Wireless Technology Research project] WTR did in 1999; as the WHO’s Interphone study did in 2010; and as the US government’s NTP did earlier this year – the industry can point out, accurately, that other studies disagree.

How the industry has repeatedly tried to mislead governments and the public over the reporting of these studies is also a matter I have covered in previous posts.

Before continuing, it always needs to be stressed that based on the latest findings, authorities in France, Belgium, Israel, Spain, Australia, Italy and elsewhere took action to limit Wifi use in schools and nurseries. 13 Moreover, mobile phones generally come with a warning in the fine print, cautioning users to hold the device away from the body. 14 In short, there is abundant evidence that ought to raise concerns over the health effects of 4G technology.

The upgrade to 5G that is required for the Internet of Things relies on a network of masts transmitting RF radiation at higher frequencies than 4G. Since radiation at these frequencies is less penetrating, the array of masts also needs to be more densely packed. Finally, it is important to understand that the radiation is less penetrating because it is more highly absorbed by objects including buildings, trees and, of course, people. As the same Guardian piece explains:

The industry’s neutralisation of the safety issue has opened the door to the biggest prize of all: the proposed transformation of society dubbed the Internet of Things. Lauded as a gigantic engine of economic growth, the Internet of Things will not only connect people through their smartphones and computers but will also connect those devices to a customer’s vehicles and appliances, even their baby’s nappies – all at speeds much faster than can currently be achieved.

There is a catch, though: the Internet of Things will require augmenting today’s 4G technology with 5G technology, thus “massively increasing” the general population’s exposure to radiation, according to a petition signed by 236 scientists worldwide who have published more than 2,000 peer-reviewed studies and represent “a significant portion of the credentialled scientists in the radiation research field”, according to Joel Moskowitz, the director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California, Berkeley, who helped circulate the petition. Nevertheless, like mobiles, 5G technology is on the verge of being introduced without pre-market safety testing. 15

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “The inconvenient truth about cancer and mobile phones”.

Please note: I started constructing this article as part of a larger review (that was subsequently broken down into this series of smaller pieces) many months prior to the current coronavirus crisis and lockdown.

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1 Opening lyrics to the Pink Floyd track Welcome to the Machine written by Roger Waters from the 1975 album Wish You Were Here.

2 Quote taken from Brave New World Revisited (1958), Chapter 4, by Aldous Huxley.

3 From Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, reprinted by Greenwood Press, December 20, 1982., p. 9.  You can find it quoted in a review of the book by Stephen McGlinchey, published by e-International Relations on July 22, 2011. http://www.e-ir.info/2011/07/22/review-between-two-ages-america%E2%80%99s-role-in-the-technetronic-era/

4 From an article entitled “With Toronto, Alphabet looks to revolutionize city-building” written by Shane Dingnam, published in The Globe and Mail on October 17, 2017. https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/with-toronto-alphabet-looks-to-revolutionize-city-building/article36634779/ 

5

The Technetronic age is that which is created by the (theoretical) Technetronic Revolution. It is always fairly ambiguously presented as to whether Brzezinski is actually predicting this revolution based on observation/trends, or whether he is abstractly philosophizing. It certainly is not a work of political science. With this in mind, his concluding line in the book, ‘In the technetronic era, philosophy and politics will be crucial’ serve to confuse the reader further rather than give some closure.

Taken from a rather favourable review of Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, written by Stephen McGlinchey and published July 22, 2011. The full review can be found here: http://www.e-ir.info/2011/07/22/review-between-two-ages-america%E2%80%99s-role-in-the-technetronic-era/

6 Quotes from Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, published in 1970 (although out of print since 1982).

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Incidentally, the names of Bilderberg attendees I have picked out above were all drawn from what is only a partial and a highly abbreviated list provided by wikipedia. A list that surprisingly fails to record even the name of Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser, and another serial warmonger I have featured many times before on this blog. The funny thing is that although Brzezinski’s name is missing from the main list, it is nevertheless registered in one of the many footnotes. A footnote (currently number 83) which reads:

“Western Issues Aired”. The Washington Post. 24 April 1978. “The three-day 26th Bilderberg Meeting concluded at a secluded cluster of shingled buildings in what was once a farmer’s field. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser, Swedish Prime Minister  Thorbjorrn Falldin, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and NATO Commander Alexander M. Haig Jr. were among 104 North American and European leaders at the conference.”

Alternatively, and if you decide to visit the main wikipedia entry for Zbigniew Brzezinski you’ll see there is a direct link back to Bilderberg. The same goes for Donald Rumsfeld and also Paul Wolfowitz, who though missing from the main list of attendees is actually described on his own page as a former steering committee member of the Bilderberg group. But then the main wikipedia entry for Bill Clinton fails to record his ties to the group and the same goes for Margaret Thatcher – both invited to Bilderberg gatherings prior to becoming national leaders.

8 From an article entitled “Silicon Valley in Switzerland: Bilderberg 2019 and the High-Tech Future of Transatlantic Power” written by Charlie Skelton published in Newsweek on June 1, 2019. https://www.newsweek.com/silicon-valley-switzerland-bilderberg-2019-and-high-tech-future-transatlantic-1441259

9 From an article entitled “Google wants to run cities without being elected. Don’t let it” written by Jathan Sadowski, published in the Guardian on October 24, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/24/google-alphabet-sidewalk-labs-toronto

10 From an article entitled “CIA Chief: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher” written by Spencer Ackerman, published in Wired magazine in March 2012. https://www.wired.com/2012/03/petraeus-tv-remote/

11 From the transcript of Episode 358 – The 5G Dragnet of the Corbett Report broadcast on June 21, 2019. https://www.corbettreport.com/5g/

12 Which goes as follows: A makes a particular claim, and then B, which is currently viewed negatively by the recipient, makes the same claim as A, causing A to be viewed by the recipient of the claim as negatively associated with B.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_fallacy#Guilt_by_association_as_an_ad_hominem_fallacy

13

France has banned wifi from nursery schools (the younger the child, the greater the danger), and restricted its use in teaching children up to the age of 11.

It has also banned mobile phones from all schools, partly because they are socially disruptive. But the country’s official Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety has recommended that tablets and other wifi devices should be regulated as phones are.

Cyprus has also banned wifi from kindergartens, and only permits it in the staff offices of junior schools for administration purposes. Israel also prohibits it in pre-schools and kindergartens, and allows it only to be gradually introduced in class as children get older. The Israeli city of Haifa has hardwired its school system so children can used computers that don’t need wifi to connect to the internet.

Frankfurt, meanwhile, hardwired 80 per cent of all its schools more than a decade ago, while the school authorities in Salzburg, Austria, wrote to headteachers officially advising them not to use wifi as long ago as 2005.

Ghent in Belgium has banned wifi in pre-schools and daycare centres, while individual local authorities in Spain and Italy have removed it from all their schools. Even faraway French Polynesia has prohibited it in nursery schools and limits it in primary ones. And so the list goes on.

From an article entitled “As more countries ban iPads and mobile phones from the classroom, could wifi be giving our children cancer?” written by Geoffrey Lean , published in The Daily Mail on June 21, 2018. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5872001/Could-wifi-giving-children-cancer.html

14

If you receive texts or calls while the phone is on your body (in a pocket or tucked into the waistband of your pants, or wherever) you are exceeding radiation exposure guidelines established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

So, how many of you have seen this warning??? […]

It appears in the ‘fine print’ of the user manual packaged with most cell phones. Is it in yours? It’s important to take the time to look.

Here’s a quote from the website of BlackBerry’s manufacturer, Research in Motion (RIM):

If you do not use a body-worn accessory supplied or approved by RIM when you carry the BlackBerry device, keep the device at least 0.98 inches (25 mm) from your body when the BlackBerry device is turned on and connected to a wireless network.”

Translated this means: You’re NEVER supposed to hold the BlackBerry Pearl (and possibly other BlackBerry devices) closer than 1 inch from your body when it’s turned on!

https://www.consumers4safephones.com/check-your-cell-phone-see-if-you-can-find-the-warning-label/

15 From an article entitled “The inconvenient truth about cancer and mobile phones” written by Mark Hertsgaard & Mark Dowie, published in the Guardian on July 14, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jul/14/mobile-phones-cancer-inconvenient-truths

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Canada, Charlie Skelton, mass surveillance

corona marginalia: timeline of failures

Despite previous claims by the government that it was well-prepared for the coronavirus, Britain is now expected to have one of the highest death tolls in the world. In a video released by Novara Media on April 10th, Aaron Bastani examined precisely what happened in recent months, and how public authorities – broadly unchallenged by the media – let a tragedy unfold:

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Here’s a timeline that refutes Michael Gove and the government’s attempts to shift blame on to Beijing:

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I have added a complementary timeline constructed around notable press reports, TV news and social media items that also focuses on the UK government response throughout the same period and brings the story up to date with today’s revelations in the Sunday Times.

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January 24th

On the third Friday of January a silent and stealthy killer was creeping across the world. Passing from person to person and borne on ships and planes, the coronavirus was already leaving a trail of bodies.

The virus had spread from China to six countries and was almost certainly in many others. Sensing the coming danger, the British government briefly went into wartime mode that day, holding a meeting of Cobra, its national crisis committee.

But it took just an hour that January 24 lunchtime to brush aside the coronavirus threat. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, bounced out of Whitehall after chairing the meeting and breezily told reporters the risk to the UK public was “low”.

This was despite the publication that day of an alarming study by Chinese doctors in the medical journal, The Lancet. It assessed the lethal potential of the virus, for the first time suggesting it was comparable to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed up to 50 million people.

From today’s Sunday Times article entitled “Coronavirus: 38 days when Britain sleepwalked into disaster” written by Jonathan Calvert, George Arbuthnott and Jonathan Leake.

The same piece continues:

Unusually, Boris Johnson had been absent from Cobra. The committee — which includes ministers, intelligence chiefs and military generals — gathers at moments of great peril such as terrorist attacks, natural disasters and other threats to the nation and is normally chaired by the prime minister. […]

That afternoon his spokesman played down the looming threat from the east and reassured the nation that we were “well prepared for any new diseases”. The confident, almost nonchalant, attitude displayed that day in January would continue for more than a month.

Johnson went on to miss four further Cobra meetings on the virus.

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February 3rd

Boris Johnson speaking in Greenwich:

We are starting to hear some bizarre autarkic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other.

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February 25th 

Bruce Aylward – the epidemiologist who led the recent WHO mission to China – returned from Wuhan, where the crisis began, and gave a warning to the world. China, Aylward explained, had done something extraordinary. It had managed to wrest control of an exponentially expanding epidemic. “When you spend 20, 30 years in this business,” Aylward said, holding up a graph that showed the improbable slowdown in cases across China, “it’s, like, ‘Seriously, you’re going to try and change that [curve] with those tactics?’”

From an article entitled “Government documents show no planning for ventilators in the event of a pandemic” written by Harry Lambert, published in the New Statesman on March 16th.

Here’s Dr Bruce Aylward advising the world to follow China’s example:

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March 3rd

Boris Johnson: “I can tell you that I’m shaking hands continually. I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were actually a few coronavirus patients, and I shook hand with everybody you’ll be please to know, and I continue to shake hands. And I think that it’s very important that – people obviously can make up their own minds” continuing, “… but I think the scientific evidence is… well, I’ll hand over to the experts.”

[Quickly turning and directing attention to Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance who was standing to his left.]

Patrick Vallance: “Wash your hands”

BJ: “Our judgement is washing your hands is the crucial thing.”

The same footage is also available here.

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March 10th

Editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton tweeted:

The UK government – Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson – claim they are following the science. But that is not true. The evidence is clear. We need urgent implementation of social distancing and closure policies. The government is playing roulette with the public. This is a major error.

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March 11th 

[T]he day before Boris Johnson told the nation that the coronavirus sweeping the UK could no longer be contained and that testing for Covid-19 would stop except for the seriously ill in hospital, the head of No 10’s “nudge unit” gave a brief interview to the BBC.

At the time it was barely noticed – it was budget day, after all. With hindsight, it seems astonishing.

“There’s going to be a point, assuming the epidemic flows and grows as it will do, where you want to cocoon, to protect those at-risk groups so they don’t catch the disease,” said Dr David Halpern. “By the time they come out of their cocooning, herd immunity has been achieved in the rest of the population.”

From an article entitled “‘Absolutely wrong’: how UK’s coronavirus test strategy unravelled” written by Sarah Boseley, published in the Guardian on April 1st.

The same article continues:

It was a window into the thinking of the political strategists directing the UK response to Covid-19, who claimed to base what they were doing on scientific evidence. We would let the disease spread among the healthy. So no need to test.

If there was a moment when the UK turned its back on the traditional public health approach to fighting an epidemic, this was it.

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March 12th

[S]peaking after Thursday’s emergency Cobra meeting, the government’s chief scientific officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, said the true total [of cases of coronavirus] was likely to be between 5,000 and 10,000. He said 20 people were being treated for Covid-19 in intensive care units and that the UK was on a trajectory about four weeks behind that of Italy, which has had more than 1,000 deaths.

Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said that worst-case scenario planning projected that 80% of the country would contract the virus, with a 1% mortality rate. This equates to more than 500,000 deaths.

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, said: “We have all got to be clear, this is the worst public health crisis for a generation. Some people compare it to seasonal flu. Alas, that is not right. Due to the lack of immunity this disease is more dangerous.

“It is going to spread further and I must level with you, I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”

From a report entitled “Johnson: many more people will love loved ones to coronavirus” written by Heather Stewart, Kate Proctor and Haroon Siddique, published in the Guardian.

The same article continues:

Johnson said schools would not close and neither did he join Scotland in banning gatherings of more than 500 people, though he warned that major events may be cancelled in future because of the burden they placed on public services during the outbreak.

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March 13th

The World Health Organization has stepped up its calls for intensified action to fight the coronavirus pandemic, imploring countries “not to let this fire burn”, as Spain said it would declare a 15-day state of emergency from Saturday.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general, said Europe – where the virus is present in all 27 EU states and has infected 25,000 people – had become the centre of the epidemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined apart from China. […]

Tedros stressed that countries should take a comprehensive approach. “Not testing alone,” he said. “Not contact tracing alone. Not quarantine alone. Not social distancing alone. Do it all. Find, isolate, test and treat every case, to break the chains of transmission … do not just let this fire burn.”

As reported by the Guardian in an article entitled “‘Do not let this fire burn’: WHO warns Europe over Covid-19” written by Jon Henley and Sam Jones.

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March 17th

Sam Coates [from 17:40 mins]: Some people came away from yesterday’s briefing more confused for instance about guidance for the elderly. Do you accept that the buck stops absolutely with you in this crisis? And do you take responsibility for the actions of your father? [after Boris Johnson’s father Stanley had publicly vowed to ignore official government advice]

Johnson: Right, umm, I think I’ve got a bit of a… Patrick [Vallance] why don’t you go first?

Having had plenty of time to think, he then replies at 21:55 mins:

“Of course the buck stops with me and I take full responsibility for all the actions that this government is taking. Decisions we’re taking, difficult though many of them are. And all the advice we’re giving to everybody. What I’d say to people who are thinking about… [inaudible] the more we follow the advice of our scientific and medical advisors, and the more closely we do what they tell us to do, the better our chances collectively of slowing the disease, of protecting the NHS, and of saving life. And also, of course, the better we can protect our NHS, umm, the less economic damage there will ultimately be. And of course people care about pubs, and have a right to care about pubs, and restaurants, but that is why we’re announcing the package, the extraordinary package, that Rishi [Sunak] has just unveiled today. That is the way we should be working to look after our economy.”

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March 21st

Nurses forced to wear binbags at Northwick Park Hospital in London:

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March 22nd

Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s senior aide, became convinced that Britain would be better able to resist a lethal second wave of the disease next winter if Whitty’s prediction that 60% to 80% of the population became infected was right and the UK developed “herd immunity”.

At a private engagement at the end of February, Cummings outlined the government’s strategy. Those present say it was “herd immunity, protect the economy and if it means some pensioners die, too bad”.

At the Sage meeting on March 12, a moment now dubbed the “Domoscene conversion”, Cummings changed his mind. In this “penny-drop moment”, he realised he had helped to set a course for catastrophe. Until this point, the rise in British infections had been below the European average. Now they were above it and on course to emulate Italy, where the picture was bleak. A minister said: “Seeing what was happening in Italy was the galvanising force across government.” 1

Click here to read the full article published by The Sunday Times on March 22nd.

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March 22nd

Channel 4 News spoke with Prof. Helen Ward, Clinical Professor of Public Health at Imperial College, University of London. She began by talking about the latest advice coming from the government:

“Well, there’s a lot of public health specialist senior leaders who’ve been discussing this over the weekend, and I think most of them, like me, will be very disappointed. It seems to me that there are mixed messages. I know that the Prime Minister said that people should reduce their social contacts outside of the home, but has not done anything yet to enforce that.

“Going back to the science, which he says is guiding everything they do, the work that came out of Imperial College said that those social contacts outside the home have to reduce by 75 percent, if this is going to work. Now it’s clear from what’s being shown today that is not happening yet, and therefore closures – of some of the shops that are not necessary, some of the parks, etc – are going to have to be enforced. But more importantly, I think making some restrictions on travel and unnecessary travel.

“At the moment it’s all voluntary and unfortunately people are not sure that they want to do that.” [from 5:10 mins]

Asked whether she was “surprised he didn’t take a tougher stance”, Ward continued:

“I was surprised, because I think that the evidence from elsewhere in the world is that you have to take a really tough stance, and you have to take it early. The places that have actually got this under control and got numbers of cases starting to go down – of new cases – like South Korea; they have had a major investment in testing: very, very widespread testing, contact tracing, and reduction in social contacts.

“If you think you’re going to put these measures in place in four days time, if it doesn’t work now; four days is a lot of extra cases. So I think last week when we had the pubs and clubs and ‘don’t go to them’ not enforced, we lost four days, and then they enforced it. I think we are urging the Prime Minister and the government to take the bold steps that are necessary now, and not wait another four days.” [from 6:40 mins]

In response to the question why Johnson is so slow in enforcing these restrictions, she says:

Well, he actually poses it in terms of a Draconian clampdown, as opposed to people enjoying themselves, and I think that’s the wrong message to be giving to people. That it’s one or the other.

“I think you have to say ‘this is an emergency, we have to get people to comply with this, and we have to do that at a local level’. And I think local authorities are quite right to be taking these measures, and they need to have the backing of the government to enforce them. But it’s not just that.

A lot of communities, and shops, and other things, are actually doing the right thing. They are closing down and shifting towards supporting the most vulnerable. We’ve got hotels saying they’re going to be available, [providing] extra capacity, whether it’s for the NHS, or some have suggested for refuges for people suffering domestic violence as a result of the isolation. There’s many things that could be done, but the Prime Minister does seem to want to be one step behind.” [from 8:15 mins]

With regard to whether Johnson really is, as he repeats, ‘being led by the science’, or in fact driven more by political ideology and his antipathy towards ‘the nanny state’, Ward says:

“I think that the science that is informing this has been good. I do think there’s a lack of experience in public health leadership in helping the government to make those decisions. We do have the CMO and the Scientific Advisor, but there is a huge network of public health expertise around the country that I don’t think is being drawn on enough. People that were communicable disease control experts, who have been planning for epidemics and pandemics for years. I don’t hear their voices enough influencing government.” [from 9:20 mins]

Finally, asked if it is already too late to avoid the crisis now faced by Italy, she says:

“If we want to stop this, if we’re two weeks behind, then we have two weeks to stop that in a sense and we have to start today, because it’s the infections that are occurring today that are spreading in Columbia [Road] Flower Market for example. Those are the infections that in two weeks’ time will be causing deaths and intensive care use, and that’s what we have to try and stop now.

“I think there has to be clearer messaging. It is different in different parts of the world. It’s not just about limiting contact between individuals and [stopping] the spread that way: it’s also between hot spots like London and other parts of the country, and I think we need to look carefully about limiting travel between areas…

“But it takes time, so we need to start that now. Not say we’re going to think about it and maybe do it next week. Next week is another several tens of thousands of cases and more pressure on the NHS and more deaths.” [from 10:05 mins]

 

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March 24th

Johnson and the UK government finally issued stricter instructions that initially called on everyone with the single exception of “key workers” to stay at home:

However, within hours their advice substantially altered following a second tweet which lowered restrictions advising “to go to work (but work from home if possible)”:

 

In additional to this softening of restrictions which left both employers and employees at a loss to understand the new guidelines, the government then issued further instruction to workers on construction sites, who were advised to continue working but practice social distancing – the completely impractical advice that they must keep two metres apart.

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March 31st

BuzzFeed News has spoken to health experts in the UK and across Europe to find out why. The answer, they said, stemmed from Britain’s controversial initial strategy of mitigation of the virus (rather than suppression), rendering testing a secondary concern — an approach which has also contributed to a lack of preparedness and the capacity to carry out tests at scale.

The UK’s mitigation approach was devised by England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance. According to a person who has spoken to Whitty and Vallance, they took the view that the UK should not attempt to suppress the outbreak entirely, but rather prioritise protecting the elderly and vulnerable and ensuring the NHS did not become overwhelmed, while allowing the rest of population to build up “herd immunity”.

This strategy meant that widespread testing of every coronavirus case was not a priority for the UK, the person said, since the government’s scientists were assuming that between 60% and 80% of the population would become infected.

Accordingly, no preparations were made to increase manufacturing or imports of testing kits, nor to expand the UK’s laboratory capacity. Imports of testing kits are now extremely difficult as other nations seek more than ever to keep them for their own use. […]

The government has publicly insisted that herd immunity is not the UK’s policy. But the person familiar with Whitty and Vallance’s thinking said they believed it privately remains a long-term objective.

They said they thought the government would continue to prioritise increasing intensive care unit capacity to prevent the NHS from becoming overwhelmed, rather than widespread testing of the population, because they had accepted that a large percentage of the country will become infected in the next 12 to 18 months, before a vaccine is found. 2

Click here to read the full report by Buzzfeed entitled “Even The US Is Doing More Coronavirus Tests Than The UK. Here Are The Reasons Why.”

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April 1st

The failure to obtain large amounts of testing equipment was another big error of judgment, according to the Downing Street source. It would later be one of the big scandals of the coronavirus crisis that the considerable capacity of Britain’s private laboratories to mass produce tests was not harnessed during those crucial weeks of February.

“We should have communicated with every commercial testing laboratory that might volunteer to become part of the government’s testing regime but that didn’t happen,” said the source.

The lack of action was confirmed by Doris-Ann Williams, chief executive of the British In Vitro Diagnostics Association, which represents 110 companies that make up most of the UK’s testing sector. Amazingly, she says her organisation did not receive a meaningful approach from the government asking for help until April 1 — the night before Hancock bowed to pressure and announced a belated and ambitious target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of this month.

The same delay happened with the procurement of PPE.

The NHS could have contacted UK-based suppliers. The British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) was ready to help supply PPE in February — and throughout March — but it was only on April 1 that its offer of help was accepted. Dr Simon Festing, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “Orders undoubtedly went overseas instead of to the NHS because of the missed opportunities in the procurement process.”

Also from today’s Sunday Times article: “Coronavirus: 38 days when Britain sleepwalked into disaster

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April 6th

The government has been accused of missing an opportunity after it failed to deploy 5,000 contact tracing experts employed by councils to help limit the spread of coronavirus.

Environmental health workers in local government have wide experience in contact tracing, a process used to prevent infections spreading and routinely carried out in outbreaks such as of norovirus, salmonella or legionnaires’ disease. But a spokesperson for Public Health England (PHE), which leads on significant outbreaks, said the organisation did not call upon environmental health workers to carry out contact tracing for coronavirus, instead using its own local health protection teams.

According to an article entitled “UK missed coronavirus contact tracing opportunity, experts say” written by Rachel Shabi, published in the Guardian.

The same piece continues:

The institute’s Northern Ireland director, Gary McFarlane, said government health bodies “absolutely should be drawing on the skills set of EHOs [environmental health officers] and if they aren’t, it’s a missed opportunity”. He said: “There is significant capacity that is sitting there for this kind of work to be done.”

PHE’s contact tracing response team was boosted to just under 300 staff, deemed adequate for the containment phase of handling the Covid-19 virus up to mid-March. In that time the team, working around the clock, traced 3,500 people and supported the 3% of contacts found to be infected to self-isolate. Tracing was scaled back when the UK moved to the delay phase of tackling coronavirus in mid-March. It is now carried out in limited form, mainly for vulnerable communities.

Rachel Shabi adds:

The government decision to all but abandon contact tracing is not consistent with WHO guidelines, which urge a test-and-trace approach. At a WHO media briefing on Covid-19 in March, director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Tracing every contact must be the backbone of the response in every country.”

*

April 19th

Speaking on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge, Michael Gove initially insisted a Sunday Times article detailing failures during this period had numerous inaccuracies and would be corrected. But in a subsequent interview on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show, Gove conceded that Boris Johnson missed five consecutive emergency COBR meetings in the buildup to the coronavirus crisis, saying this was normal for a PM:

For the record: The composition of a ministerial-level meeting in COBR depends on the nature of the incident but it is usually chaired by the Prime Minister or another senior minister, with other key ministers as appropriate, city mayors and representatives of relevant external organisations such as the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Local Government Association.

*

1 From an article entitled “Coronavirus: ten days that shook Britain – and changed the nation forever” written by Tim Shipman and Caroline Wheeler, published in The Sunday Times on March 22, 2020. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/coronavirus-ten-days-that-shook-britain-and-changed-the-nation-for-ever-spz6sc9vb

2 From an article entitled “Even The US Is Doing More Coronavirus Tests Than The UK. Here Are The Reasons Why”, written by Alex Wickham, Alberto Nardelli, Katie J. M. Baker & Richard Holmes, published in Buzzfeed News on March 31, 2020. https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexwickham/uk-coronavirus-testing-explainer

Extract from Wikipedia entry as of April 19th. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabinet_Office_Briefing_Rooms

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the betrayal of Corbyn and the left by Labour HQ: newly leaked document confirms suspicions

As someone who devoted a great deal of time and effort during the 2017 General Election, delivering leaflets, canvassing on doorsteps, and generally working hard in the hope of a Corbyn-led Labour victory, it comes as no surprise whatsoever to learn that a faction within our party were actively working to stop Corbyn.

I have written many previous articles discussing the manufactured smear campaigns and how these were upheld and further amplified by the so-called liberal media which managed to portray a man who has spent his entire life fighting against racism as a racist.

And amongst so many rumours, we also knew with certainty about one of the plots being hatched behind the scenes: the secret weekend gatherings of twelve MPs at a luxury retreat in Sussex, whose number included Liz Kendall, John Woodcock, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, and Gavin Shuker. It was always evident therefore that a sizeable faction within the PLP would have preferred to spilt the party (as three of the above attempted to do shortly afterwards) than accept the twice elected leader.

However, fresh evidence which is encyclopaedic in scope, comes to our attention thanks to a leaked release of a 860-page internal report innocuously entitled “The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014 – 2019” that was published back in March and intended for submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It shows a level of treachery by Labour headquarters (HQ) including the governance and legal unit (GLU) when Iain McNicol served as general secretary that is frankly sickening.

To sift through all of the revelations will take considerable time, and we must anticipate new findings coming to light as the document is more carefully scrutinised. Reprinted below is just a single extract drawn from just one summary section that runs from pages 29– 32: be aware that LOTO refers to ‘the office of the Leader of the Opposition’ (i.e. Jeremy Corbyn and his advisors). But you could drop your finger anywhere randomly and find sections equally or still more inflammatory.

If the Labour Party is to move forward, then it must hold a full and transparent inquiry into the evidence presented in this suppressed report.

*

Labour Party staff, who are employed by the Party rather than as political advisers to politicians, are expected to act impartially and serve the Party, regardless of the current Leader, much as the civil service is expected to serve the Government under whichever political party is in power. However, this section shows that much of the Labour Party machinery from 2015-18 was openly opposed to Jeremy Corbyn, and worked to directly undermine the elected leadership of the party. The priority of staff in this period appears to have been furthering the aims of a narrow faction aligned to Labour’s right rather than fulfilling the organisation’s objectives, from winning elections to building a functioning complaints and disciplinary process.

Labour Party staff based at Labour HQ were not obeying secret directives from LOTO. On the contrary, all of the available evidence points to the opposite conclusion – that Labour Party staff based at Labour HQ, including GLU, worked to achieve opposing political ends to the leadership of the Party. This included work to remove supporters of the incumbent leader during the 2016 leadership election, and work to hinder the leader’s campaign in the 2017 General Election. The attitude in HQ towards LOTO could be summed up in one comment from a senior staff member, who said “death by fire is too kind for LOTO”.

Labour officials, including senior staff, expressed hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn and his staff, towards Labour MPs including Andy Burnham, Ed Miliband, Sadiq Khan, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler. Staff described “most of the PLP” as “Trots” or called them “totally useless” in 2015 for not having yet launched a coup against Corbyn. As one staff member commented, “everyone here considers anyone left of [Gordon] Brown to be a trot.”

Staff repeatedly used abusive and inappropriate language about the leader, MPs, Labour members and about other staff. For example, staff discussed “hanging and burning” Jeremy Corbyn, calling Corbyn a “lying little toerag”; said that any Labour MP “who nominates Corbyn ‘to widen the debate’ deserves to be taken out and shot”; and stated that a staff member who “whooped” during Corbyn’s speech “should be shot”. Senior staff also said they hoped that one Labour member on the left of the party “dies in a fire”. Senior Labour staff used language that was considerably more abusive and inappropriate than that cited as justification for suspending many Labour members who supported Jeremy Corbyn in 2016.

In August 2015 senior staff explored delaying or cancelling the ongoing leadership election when it looked like Jeremy Corbyn was going to win. When Corbyn was elected staff discussed plans for a coup; one staffer said “we need a POLL – that says we’re like 20 points behind”; another suggested a silver lining for Remain losing the 2016 European referendum would be that Corbyn could be held responsible; and another hoped that poor performance in the May 2016 local elections would be the catalyst for a coup.

Staff described “working to rule” when Corbyn was elected and “coming into the office & doing nothing for a few months.” During the 2017 general election, staff joked about “hardly working”, and created a chat so they could pretend to work while actually speaking to each other – “tap tap tapping away will make us look v busy”. Senior staff coordinated refusing to share basic information to LOTO during the election, such as candidates’ contact details. Labour HQ operated “a secret key seats team” based in Labour’s London region office in Ergon House, from where a parallel general election campaign was run to support MPs associated with the right-wing of the party. The description of the workload and budget involved in this “secret” operation contrasts with the go slow approach described by other staff regarding work on the official general election campaign which the leadership was running to return a Labour government.

One senior staff member implied that he would support the Conservatives over Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, saying “who votes for JC? If it’s a choice btwn him & TMay how do WE vote for him?”. Staff sent messages expressing their wish that Labour would perform badly in the 2017 general election, saying “with a bit of luck this speech will show a clear polling decline” and “I CANNOT WAIT to see Andrew Neil rip [Jeremy Corbyn] to pieces over it tonight”. Senior staff commented that the huge rallies for Corbyn late in the election made them “feel ill”, and they reacted to the polls narrowing with dismay, rather than optimism.

On election night on 8 June 2017, when the exit poll predicted a hung parliament, General Secretary Iain McNicol, Executive Director for Governance, Membership and Party Services Emilie Oldknow (who was responsible for overseeing GLU) and other senior staff discussed hiding their reactions, saying “everyone needs to smile” and “we have to be upbeat. And not show it”. Oldknow also described Yvette Cooper and other Labour MPs’ support for Corbyn after the election as “grovelling and embarrassing”.

In January 2017, Iain McNicol, Emilie Oldknow and other senior staff discussed preparing for a leadership election if Labour lost the Copeland and Stoke-on-trent by-elections, and setting up a “discrete [working group]” to determine the rules and timetable. Iain McNicol discussed this with Tom Watson and told him “to prepare for being interim leader”. During the 2017 general election the Director of GLU John Stolliday then drew up these plans, including a rule change to replace the one member one vote system with an Electoral College system to help ensure that a MP from the party’s left could not win.

GLU staff talked openly with each other about using the party’s resources to further the aims of their faction. The Director of the Unit John Stolliday described his work in GLU as “political fixing”, and described overhauling selections of parliamentary candidates and overturning CLP AGM results to help the right of the Party. Emilie Oldknow and GLU staff discussed keeping Angela Eagle MP’s CLP suspended, at Eagle’s request, in order to give her team more time to organise against left-wing members before the AGM. Staff also discussed organising NEC Youth Representative elections on a different election cycle to other NEC elections, to ensure a left-wing candidate would not win, and noted that this was signed off by GLU’s Director.

Staff applied the same factional approach to disciplinary processes. One staff member referred to Emilie Oldknow expecting staff to “fabricate a case” against people “she doesn’t like/her friends don’t like” because of their political views. During the 2015 leadership election GLU and other Labour staff described their work as “hunting out 1000s of trots” and a “Trot hunt”, which included excluding people for having “liked” the Greens on Facebook. One prominent GLU staffer, Head of Disputes Katherine Buckingham, admitted that “real work is piling up” while she and other staff were engaged in inappropriate factional work.

Factional loyalty also determined key recruitment decisions, including in GLU, where people were appointed to senior roles with few apparent relevant qualifications. This had a severe impact on the Party’s ability to build a functioning disciplinary process over the following years.

This section demonstrates that the party machine was controlled by one faction which worked against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and to advance the interests of their faction, and that LOTO did not have authority or influence over GLU or the party machinery more broadly. Factional work appears to have come at the expense of work the staff were being paid to do, including – as will become apparent in Sections 3–6 – building and maintaining a functioning complaints process.

*

A helpful summary of some details contained in the report can be found at LabourList.org. Reprinted below are summaries of the actions taken with regard to some of the more prominent Labour activists who were wrongly suspended and dispelled during the witch hunt:

Jackie Walker

 

There is also a section on Walker, a party member who was first accused of antisemitism in 2016.

  • The report says it was decided in May 2016 that Walker had not breached party rules when expressing a belief that there was a “Jewish particularism” about antisemitism. It was recommended that her suspension should be lifted.
  • Walker then attended party conference as a member and made comments about Holocaust Memorial Day that attracted press attention.
  • The report asserts that Walker’s case was “deliberately delayed by GLU staff until Jennie Formby became general secretary, and then again by the NCC”.

Walker was ultimately expelled from the party in March 2019.

Moshe Machover

The report confirms that in the case of Moshe Machover, a Jewish academic who was auto-expelled rather than suspended by the party, LOTO actively raised concerns – as opposed to other cases where LOTO was approached by HQ.

It says that LOTO raised concerns with HQ about the auto-exclusion, which was later reversed. It concludes that the case was mishandled because, among other reasons, expertise was sought but not used.

The report says the Community Security Trust was consulted for the cases of both Walker and Machover, but this advice was not shared with LOTO, the NEC or the party staffer who made the decision to lift Walker’s suspension initially.

It says the “GLU could have subsequently brought disciplinary proceedings on the basis of antisemitism allegations [against Moche Machover] but chose not to.”

Chris Williamson

 

On the case of Chris Williamson, who had been a Labour MP, the report specifies that Corbyn-aligned general secretary Jennie Formby said in 2019 that he had brought the party into disrepute.

Formby told staffers that she had personally warned Williamson that it was “completely inappropriate for him as an elected MP to campaign with Labour Against the WitchHunt”.

Williamson was suspended and removed as a parliamentary candidate at the 2019 general election.

*

Important update:

The original statement released by campaign group Labour Against the Witchhunt (which is maintained below) has since been replaced with a “Joint statement by Labour Against the Witchhunt and the Left Labour Alliance”.

The new statement reads:

We demand a full investigation into the witch-hunt and the election campaigns!

Now all disciplinary cases of the last five years must be reviewed!

As experienced activists in the Labour Party, we knew that the right in the party was plotting against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters from day one. We knew, because we were the victims of their wrongful suspensions, their expulsions and their public smears and lies, all based on the flimsiest of evidence.

The report ‘The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014 – 2019’,  produced in response to the investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, now gives us irrefutable proof of the plotting and outright sabotage committed against Corbyn and the hundreds of thousands who joined the party to fight for socialist and democratic change.

It is a crying shame that this report was produced only in the last days of Corbyn’s leadership. It is based upon primary evidence showing serious wrong-doing by senior party officials. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the left to radically transform the Labour Party and effect progressive change was ruined by the right in the party.

At the same time, supporters of Corbyn were vilified and slandered, their voices silenced and their votes nullified. Unfortunately, it appears that this was sometimes done with the knowledge and occasionally even with the participation of the Corbyn leadership, as in the expulsions of Jackie Walker and Chris Williamson.

Keir Starmer must ensure the immediate publication of the report and a full enquiry into the facts:

*** The report describes how “the pro-Corbyn left decisively won” at Brighton CLP’s annual general meeting (AGM) in July 2016. Afterwards, two high-ranking Labour officials discussed how to overturn the result: “I say act now and worry about [rules and legal issues] later, so long as we don’t do something that’ll end up f[***]ing everything else up.” Party officials then overturned the AGM’s decisions, the old executive was restored and the local party split into three separate CLPs. (p113)

*** Labour officials discussed how to continue the unlawful suspension of Wallasey CLP, where the left “are properly organised” – in order to save the local right-wing MP, Angela Eagle, from being challenged. (p114)

*** We read that, “in many cases party members at all levels request the suspension of another party member as a way of escalating or indeed resolving a dispute. There is a wrongly-held view that political opponents can be ‘taken out’ of a contest or stopped from attending meetings by making a complaint with the intention of achieving a suspension of that member.” (p533) Clearly, this is exactly what has been taking place, even as recently as during the March 2020 NEC by-election. Half a dozen of the candidates were suspended in the middle of the contest, before any investigation was launched.

*** Sam Matthews, then head of Disputes, was able to single-handedly suspend Glyn Secker (secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour) as recently as 2018 – the case was so weak that he had to be reinstated almost immediately: Following on from a report produced by the disgraced right-wing Corbyn critic David Collier into the Facebook group ‘Palestine Live’ (of which Corbyn was a member), “documentary evidence shows that it was only because James Schneider, Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesperson, urged [Sam] Matthews to take action, that the report was examined at all. Of all the examples of extreme antisemitism in the report, GLU picked Glyn Secker, even though the report did not contain allegations of antisemitic comments by Secker and the report stated ‘Glyn Secker has had minimal interaction on the site’.” (p428)

*** The ‘Disputes’ unit desperately looked for reasons to expel the prominent Israeli Jew Moshé  Machover. Because of his background, they found it difficult to charge him with racism: “The anti-Semitism stuff just clouds it in my view”. (p373) Instead, they decided to auto-expel him over his alleged membership of the “Communist Party of Great Britain Marxism-Leninism” (they got the wrong CPGB, incidentally) – but he was able to quickly disprove this claim. As party officials “found themselves inundated with emails about the case, including from Jewish socialist groups”, there was pressure to drop the case and rescind his expulsion. Many other, less prominent members, found it much more difficult to challenge their auto-expulsions.

*** We learn that despite some reforms under Jennie Formby, there are huge, ongoing problems with the way the party handles disciplinary cases. For example, the Governance and Legal unit uses a list of “investigatory search terms” to “vet” members, which includes words like ‘Atzmon’ and “a list of 57 (later 68) Labour MPs and their Twitter handles”. In other words, staff “initiate cases themselves by proactively investigating social media comments by Party members” (p17) to create a body of evidence where no basis for a case exists. The report also makes various positive references to Dave Rich from the Community Security Trust (CST), whose views are still being routinely sought as “expert opinion”. But the CST is not a neutral body – it is a pro-Israel charity, which the Tory government started funding in 2015 and has given at least 65 million pounds since.

*** Jackie Walker’s case was deliberately delayed by McNicol and his staff. They were determined to get rid of Tony Greenstein and Marc Wadsworth first in order to build a campaign to justify Jackie’s expulsion. However, the report also states that, “LOTO [Leader of the Opposition’s Office] wanted Walker to be suspended and had briefed the media to that effect”. (p366) In April 2018, “Jeremy Corbyn and Jennie Formby met with the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and the Community and Security Trust” and agreed to their demand that “the Party should expedite Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker’s cases. LOTO and Jennie Formby agreed”. The report quotes questionable evidence by Dave Rich, which implies that Jackie’s views are similar to those of Louis Farrakhan, but omits evidence given by black Jewish Professor Lewis Gordon, a world-leading academic on Jewish/black relations, which contradicts every claim by Dave Rich and supports Jackie’s case.

*** In the case of Chris Williamson, it appears that Jennie Formby was the one driving his expulsion. The report approvingly quotes her long chart sheet against him: “Several of these [complaints], if taken as an isolated incident, may have resulted in no action. However, taken together they add up to a pattern of behaviour that is not only reckless, it has brought the party into disrepute. I would also add that I personally spoke with Chris only two weeks ago and asked him to stop aligning himself with Labour Against the Witchhunt and speaking about antisemitism in the way that he is, because as an MP he does not have the privilege of behaving in the same way as an ordinary lay member does.” (p826)

These examples show just how futile it was of Corbyn and his allies to try and appease the right by going along with some of these injustices – when they should have taken them on in a decisive manner. There can be no compromise, no unity with those who would rather sabotage our party than see a radical Labour movement.

We demand that:

  • Keir Starmer must officially publish this report and condemn the campaign to undermine and sabotage Jeremy Corbyn and the left.
  • All disciplinary cases processed during the last five years have to be overturned, pending unbiased re-examination.
  • We urgently need a radical overhaul of the party’s disciplinary system. Disciplinary procedures should be carried out in accordance with the principles of natural justice, and be time-limited: charges not resolved within three months should be automatically dropped. An accused member should be given all the evidence submitted against them and be regarded as innocent until proven guilty. Those aspects of the Chakrabati report must finally be implemented.
  • All those mentioned in the document who took part in this sabotage and who are still in their post must be immediately investigated for gross misconduct. That must include Emilie Oldknow (Executive Director for Governance, Membership and Party Services), who is being touted as Keir Starmer’s preferred choice as new general secretary and who is shown to have actively taken part in the witch-hunt against Corbyn and his supporters.
  • All those involved who have jumped ship and now enjoy well-paid positions in different companies must be named and shamed. They include:
    • Iain McNicol, formerly General Secretary, now a member of the House of Lords
    • Sam Matthews, formerly head of Disputes
    • John Stolliday, formerly Director of the Governance and Legal Unit

*

Here is the initial statement released by campaign group Labour Against the Witchhunt:

The 860-page report concluded factional hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn amongst former senior officials contributed to “a litany of mistakes” that hindered the effective handling of the issue.

The investigation, which was completed in the last month of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, claims to have found “no evidence” of antisemitism complaints being treated differently to other forms of complaint, or of current or former staff being “motivated by antisemitic intent”.

The examples from chat archives published in the document include:

– Conversations in 2017 which appear to show senior staff preparing for Tom Watson to become interim leader in anticipation of Jeremy Corbyn losing the election
– Conversations which it is claimed show senior staff hid information from the leader’s office about digital spending and contact details for MPs and candidates during the election
– Conversations on election night in which the members of the group talk about the need to hide their disappointment that Mr. Corbyn had done better than expected and would be unlikely to resign
– A discussion about whether the grassroots activist network Momentum could be ‘proscribed’ for being a ‘party within a party’
– A discussion about ‘unsuspending’ a former Labour MP who was critical of Jeremy Corbyn so they could stand as a candidate in the 2017 election
– A discussion about how to prevent corbyn-ally Rebecca Long-Bailey gaining a seat on the party’s governing body in 2017
– Regular references to corbyn-supporting party staff as “trots”
– Conversations between senior staff in Lord McNicol’s office in which they refer to former director of communications Seamus Milnes as “dracula”, and saying he was “spiteful and evil and we should make sure he is never allowed in our Party if it’s last thing we do”
– Conversations in which the same group refers to Mr. Corbyn’s former chief of staff Karie Murphy as “medusa”, a “crazy woman” and a “bitch face cow” that would “make a good dartboard”
– A discussion in which one of the group members expresses their “hope” that a young pro-Corbyn Labour activist, who they acknowledge had mental health problems, “dies in a fire”

*

Update:

With the honourable exception of Sky News which reported on this story from the beginning, most other media outlets have shown incredible reluctance to even acknowledge the leak of this very serious document. When the BBC did quietly publish an article the following day [Monday 13th], it appeared on the ‘politics’ page of their website and tucked away as a secondary item.

But there is more to consider about the BBC piece, which I would say is even titled in deliberately confusing way as: “Opposition to Corbyn ‘hindered’ anti-Semitism action”. Reading this the first time, one wonders, who is ‘hindered’? And why the quotation marks?

It gets much worse, however, before we reach the unashamedly politicised ending. Having failed to reference a single iota of the main content regarding the machinations against Corbyn by Labour HQ, or to offer much insight into the kind of chicanery which ranged from the misallocation of funds to instances of actual bullying, the piece abruptly concludes as follows:

Ongoing row

Labour has been plagued with allegations since 2016.

Mr Corbyn held an internal investigation early on in his tenure, but it was widely criticised by Jewish members of the party, with a number – including MPs – leaving over his handling of the row.

The party’s new leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has apologised to the Jewish community for the ongoing issue.

He has been praised by leaders for “achieving more in four days” than Mr Corbyn did “in four years” on tackling anti-Semitism.

Any excuse, of course, to raise the spectre of Labour as an incurably anti-Semitic party, but in this context the same allegation is repurposed in order to sideline the report itself, presenting it merely as a ploy that in turn is intended to divert attention from the more fundamental issue of Labour’s deep-seated racism. In short, this article is actually a textbook example of the kind of devious meta-reporting which the BBC now unfortunately excels in.

*

Novara Media seems to be providing the most detailed scrutiny of the report I have come across so far, and Monday’s Tyskie Sour show includes an interview with founder of Momentum Jon Lansman.

However, I have paused the video to begin at an earlier point where we learn that members of Labour HQ actively conspired with C4 News reporter Michael Crick in attempts to bully Diane Abbott. This incident apparently happened after Abbott had broken down in tears in the aftermath of receiving really disgusting racist abuse:

I would also recommend reading Aaron Bastini’s own initial response to the leak, which is entitled “‘It’s going to be a long night’ – How members of Labour’s senior Management Team Campaigned to Lose”. It includes the following revelation:

“It’s going to be a long night” was the reaction of the party’s general secretary [Iain McNicol], after Labour had deprived the Tories of a governing majority and seen their highest share of the popular vote in twenty years. While an outrageous comment, given McNicol’s elevated status within the party, it is perhaps outdone by Julie Lawrence – former director of the general secretary’s office – who appears to have actively feared Labour entering government. Meanwhile, Emily Oldknow, now assistant General Secretary at UNISON, apparently saw a silver lining, saying: “at least we have loads of money now”.

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lions led by donkeys: heroes and villains in our war against Covid-19

Heroes

Heroic is a word that tends to be thrown around rather casually these days, with the unfortunate and inevitable consequence that it has become somewhat cheapened and degraded. There are times, however, when ‘heroic’, overworked as it is, becomes appropriate again. When searching for ways to describe acts of wholehearted self-sacrifice, it remains perhaps the only word that conveys this meaning with sufficient gravity.

The staff on the frontline in our hospitals, especially those working in intensive care, daily tending to the essential needs of critically ill patients, under extreme pressure because the wards they serve are already understaffed, are worthy of such a title even during ordinary times but it is during exceptional times of crisis when they truly earn the respect (if not the wage) that they fully deserve. Today’s sympathetic applause in countries and regions all throughout Europe is a spontaneous outpouring of gratitude and deep public support; even here in Britain, where a weekly ritual has been somewhat stage-managed, the applause is no less heartfelt.

Because even the everyday heroic commitment of our hospital workers, seldom remembered by most of us in ordinary times, is now exceeded each and every day, as those same doctors and nurses who continue to tend to the sick patients, do so at serious risk to their own lives.

The consequence of a long-term lack of investment and mismanagement of the NHS has become very apparent resulting in inadequate supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that leaves staff highly vulnerable to infection. In response nurses and doctors are posting photographs of the sorts of makeshift alternatives they have been forced to rely on. In response to this, some have even received official gagging notices for reporting such vital information:

For example, A&E staff at Southend hospital in Essex have been warned that they could face disciplinary action if they raise the issue of PPE publicly.

In a memo on 26th March they were told: “The posting of inappropriate social media commentary or the posting of photographs of staff in uniform who are not complying with IPC [infection prevention and control] standards and social distancing requirements is unacceptable. Such behaviour will be considered under the disciplinary policy.

“Now, perhaps more than ever, NHS staff are in the public eye and we have a responsibility to convey a professional image and to role model positive messages about social distancing. It would be very sad for moments of inappropriate or unprofessional behaviour to undermine the respect that we and our colleagues have from the public.”

Others who speak out are being bullied with threatening emails or more formally threatened with disciplinary action:

  • An intensive care doctor who voiced unease about facemasks was told by their hospital that “if we hear of these concerns going outside these four walls your career and your position here will be untenable”.
  • Another intensive care specialist was called into a meeting with their bosses and disciplined after raising concerns.
  • A GP working at Chase Farm hospital in London was sent home for voicing unease.
  • A consultant paediatrician in Yorkshire was told in an email from their hospital that their social media output was being monitored and they should be careful.
  • A GP who appealed to her community on social media for more supplies of PPE was then barred by her local NHS clinical commissioning group from speaking out. “I was being warned I wasn’t toeing the party line,” she said. 1

Consecutive governments abandoned them, failing to supply essential equipment, or to even run systematic screening today, but in spite of this they have not abandoned us, carrying out their duties irrespective of the additional risks, and this again is why we pay tribute to their heroism.

On April 8th, RT’s ‘Going Underground’ featured an extended interview with journalist and film-maker John Pilger, who began by reminding us of the suppressed finding of Exercise Cygnus, a pandemic simulation run by the British government as recently as October 2016, which revealed the country’s health system to collapse from a lack of resources including “inadequate ventilation”. Pilger also speaks to the damage done to the NHS caused by underfunding and stealth privatisation of services and the shifting of blame for current government failures on to the Chinese:

Healthcare workers in America have also been left exposed to the risk of infection due to lack of essential equipment. Last Thursday [April 2nd], nurses and doctors at Montefiore medical center in the Bronx protested over the lack of PPE. “Every day when I go to work, I feel like a sheep going to slaughter,” said Dr Laura Ucik, a third-year resident at the centre:

*

In homage, I could now embed a whole sequence of video clips featuring medical professionals working on the frontline in Italy, Spain, America, and Britain’s NHS. They would all tell you how desperate the situation has already become; how unprepared their own health service is; and how fearful they are for the wellbeing of the patients and themselves. But there is little point in doing this, since the stories they tell are widely available across most media platforms. So I shall include just a single example: Dr David Hepburn, a Critical Care Consultant, who had been infected with Covid-19, but soon after recovering from the illness at home, returned to work – as countless other healthcare professionals have selflessly done.

Last week, Hepburn had told C4 News about how the intensive care wards at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport where he works had run out of space, so patients were moved into operating theatres. And, on April 3rd, Channel 4 News interviewed him again at length:

Asked to paint a picture of the current situation inside the critical care unit, Hepburn told us:

“It’s controlled chaos at the moment… the difference at the moment is that everybody is desperately unwell, everybody is on a ventilator, so the acuity or the severity of illness is very high”

Whilst regarding the demographics of the patient population, he says:

“There are a lot of people who are in work, there are a lot of people who are younger, the pattern of illness that we’ve seen in Gwent, and I can’t speak for anywhere else, is much younger patients that we were expecting; you know when the reports were coming out of Wuhan we were led to believe that this was something that was particularly dangerous for the more elderly patients, but I would say that all of the patients we have got on intensive care are in their 50s or younger at the moment.”

Hepburn’s account is now the repeated one. Please keep his testimony in mind as we come to the villains of the story in the next part, and not because it is extraordinary or exceptional, but because it is so very ordinary and fact-based. He has no reason to distort the truth and nor do any of the other healthcare professionals courageously struggling behind the scenes to save people like us.

On April 7th, John Campbell provided a summary of 4th April audit by Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre 9 (ICNARC) based on data collected from 210 ITUs in the U. The report shows that the median age for admission for critically ill patients is just 61 years old, and that the first quartile is 52 years old (coincidentally my own age), which means a quarter of those admitted are younger than I am. Three-quarters were men and 62.9 percent of all patients required mechanical ventilation in the first 24 hours:

Meanwhile, if the heroes of this pandemic are easy to see, they are also easy to support.

Founded by Cardiology Registrar, Dr Dominic Pimenta, you can offer support at HelpThemHelpUs, which is a independent forum for volunteering.

Novara Media welcomed Dominic Pimenta on to their March 31st broadcast to talk about the government’s plan and to outline the ideas behind his own HelpThemHelpUs initiative:

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Villains

Whereas the heroes are few, the villains abound. Let’s begin with the idiots because these are the lesser villains, even though the media often likes to portray them as a more tremendous threat to our lives.

We have the daft ones who are hoarding all the toilet rolls (fighting off competitors in a raw Darwinian struggle for survival as they grab their stash), presumably in order to pile them high as a monument to their own craven stupidity. The still more selfish are those who bought so much perishable food that they have already discarded most of it in rubbish bins. If we want a law against stupidity then I would begin by charging these people first of all.

A special dishonourable mention must also go to those hiding behind online aliases and spreading a different kind of rubbish whether on social media platforms or within comment sections. Incendiary drivel to the effect that ‘China’s day of reckoning must come’; as if they committed a crime or an act of war, when we still don’t know for certain the origins of this virus – despite the repeated though wholly unsubstantiated claims that its origins must have been that Wuhan wet market. The underlying message is an old one: beware the yellow peril!

And I wonder how much of this dog-whistle warmongering might actually be the product of our own military or intelligence units; the output of Brigade 77 for instance, or other more clandestine psychological operations such as GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) with its remit that includes “posting negative information on internet forums” all paid for with British taxpayer money. (Obviously, if these were foreign agents we would call them ‘troll farms’ but those are all spewing out bad Russian disinformation, not the good dishonest British stuff!)

From this array of lesser fools, however, we must turn upwards to consider those above. And according to the original government strategy, based solidly on ‘the science’ (lots more on that as we continue), the nation required around 60% infection of the population, in accordance with Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty’s assessment, to ensure ‘herd immunity’. Herd immunity, which meant letting the spread of the virus continue unchecked, was now the answer to tackling Covid-19. Taking his hands off the wheel entirely being Johnson’s first big plan!

If this approach still sounds like it might have been scientifically informed (as it was obviously meant to), then unfortunately you are mistaken. Herd immunity certainly helps to protect a population from the spread of infectious disease, however, ordinarily, this is acquired through programmes of vaccination, which are presumed to be safe. By encouraging ‘herd immunity’ to tackle the spread of a novel pathogen on the other hand, requires the infection of millions with a disease of unknown severity – what are the lasting health effects; what is the lethality? Such a policy is clearly reckless in the extreme. In fact, we still do not even know for sure that immunity to Covid-19 will be lasting, so there is a chance that herd immunity cannot be achieved at all.

But we are slowly learning how the lights had been blinking red for months and Boris Johnson’s inability to lead a coordinated response was unravelling before it had even started:

In the medical and scientific world, there was growing concern about the threat of the virus to the UK. A report from Exeter University, published on February 12th, warned a UK outbreak could peak within four months and, without mitigation, infect 45 million people.

That worried Rahuldeb Sarkar, a consultant physician in respiratory medicine and critical care in the county of Kent, who foresaw that intensive care beds could be swamped. Even if disease transmission was reduced by half, he wrote in a report aimed at clinicians and actuaries in mid-February, a coronavirus outbreak in the UK would “have a chance of overwhelming the system.”

With Whitty stating in a BBC interview on February 13th that a UK outbreak was still an “if, not a when,” Richard Horton, a medical doctor and editor of the Lancet, said the government and public health service wasted an opportunity that month to prepare quarantine restriction measures and a programme of mass tests, and procure resources like ventilators and personal protective equipment for expanded intensive care.

Calling the lost chance a “national scandal” in a later editorial, he would testify to parliament about a mismatch between “the urgent warning that was coming from the frontline in China” and the “somewhat pedestrian evaluation” of the threat from the scientific advice to the government.

This same ‘special report’ from Reuters published on April 7th, also discloses why there was so little preparedness:

According to emails and more than a dozen scientists interviewed by Reuters, the government issued no requests to labs for assistance with staff or testing equipment until the middle of March, when many abruptly received requests to hand over nucleic acid extraction instruments, used in testing. An executive at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Oxford said he could have carried out up to 1,000 tests per day from February. But the call never came.

“You would have thought that they would be bashing down the door,” said the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. By April 5th, Britain had carried out 195,524 tests, in contrast to at least 918,000 completed a week earlier in Germany.

Nor was there an effective effort to expand the supply of ventilators. The Department of Health told Reuters in a statement that the government started talking to manufacturers of ventilators about procuring extra supplies in February. But it was not until March 16th, after it was clear supplies could run out, that Johnson launched an appeal to industry to help ramp up production.

Charles Bellm, managing director of Intersurgical, a global supplier of medical ventilation products based outside London, said he has been contacted by more than a dozen governments around the world, including France, New Zealand and Indonesia. But there had been no contact from the British government. “I find it somewhat surprising, I have spoken to a lot of other governments,” he said. 2

Click here to read the full article published by Reuters, which is apologetically entitled “Johnson listened to his scientists about coronavirus – but they were slow to sound the alarm”. (Pushing the blame from the government onto its scientific advisors won’t wash, however the report contains some valuable insights nonetheless.)

Notable by its absence from this Reuters’ account of events is the advice and guidance of the World Health Organisation (WHO). This is important because for a while Britain had stood entirely alone, having taken its decision to act in brazen defiance to the directives of WHO, whose chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued his starkest warning on March 13th: “do not just let this fire burn”.

One day earlier Prime Minister Johnson was still solemnly reminding us “many more families are going to lose loved ones” – my own father saying to me afterwards, I suddenly realised “that means me”. But then, at the eleventh hour, Johnson and his government embarked on an astonishing U-turn. And hallelujah for that!

The reason was the maths: 60% of 66 million is very nearly 40 million, and, assuming a case-fatality rate of 0.7% (the best estimate we had – based on S Korean figures), that makes 280,000 deaths. No need for sophisticated epidemiological modelling or a supercomputer, the back of any old envelope will do.

As the sheer scale of the predicted death toll began to dawn on Johnson and his advisors, out of the blue came a highly convenient “leak”. Seemingly it fell upon Dominic Cummings to assume the role of scapegoat as fresh justifications were sought for a swift and sudden change of policy, purportedly based on the findings of ‘new modelling’ – reading between the lines, someone had to take the bullet and quite frankly Cummings was already the most detested of the principle actors.

Here’s how that “leak” was reported by The Sunday Times:

Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s senior aide, became convinced that Britain would be better able to resist a lethal second wave of the disease next winter if Whitty’s prediction that 60% to 80% of the population became infected was right and the UK developed “herd immunity”.

At a private engagement at the end of February, Cummings outlined the government’s strategy. Those present say it was “herd immunity, protect the economy and if it means some pensioners die, too bad”.

At the Sage meeting on March 12th, a moment now dubbed the “Domoscene conversion”, Cummings changed his mind. In this “penny-drop moment”, he realised he had helped to set a course for catastrophe. Until this point, the rise in British infections had been below the European average. Now they were above it and on course to emulate Italy, where the picture was bleak. A minister said: “Seeing what was happening in Italy was the galvanising force across government.” 3

Click here to read the full article published by The Sunday Times on March 22nd.

(Or perhaps he really did have that “Domoscene conversion”! In which case, we must conclude that government policy was actually concocted more on the basis of Cummings’ whims, which is not exactly “following the science” either, is it?)

Incidentally, anyone who continues to deny the government’s rapid and complete U-turn (including Julia Hartley-Brewer, who I’ll come back to later), I direct to an article featured on Buzzfeed News from March 31st, which reads:

BuzzFeed News has spoken to health experts in the UK and across Europe to find out why [Britain has done comparatively little testing for coronavirus]. The answer, they said, stemmed from Britain’s controversial initial strategy of mitigation of the virus (rather than suppression), rendering testing a secondary concern — an approach which has also contributed to a lack of preparedness and the capacity to carry out tests at scale.

The UK’s mitigation approach was devised by England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance. According to a person who has spoken to Whitty and [Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick] Vallance, they took the view that the UK should not attempt to suppress the outbreak entirely but rather prioritise protecting the elderly and vulnerable, and ensuring the NHS did not become overwhelmed, while allowing the rest of population to build up “herd immunity”.

This strategy meant that widespread testing of every coronavirus case was not a priority for the UK, the person said, since the government’s scientists were assuming that between 60% and 80% of the population would become infected.

Accordingly, no preparations were made to increase manufacturing or imports of testing kits, nor to expand the UK’s laboratory capacity. Imports of testing kits are now extremely difficult as other nations seek more than ever to keep them for their own use. 4

[Bold emphasis added]

Click here to read the full article entitled “Even The US Is Doing More Coronavirus Tests Than The UK. Here Are The Reasons Why.”

However, the government and its advisors, although nominally in charge of matters, and accordingly as reprehensible as they are, should not be too isolated once it comes to attributing responsibility. The media must take a considerable share of any blame too.

*

From the outset, the whole story surrounding coronavirus was completely politicised. For months it was all about Chinese mismanagement and repression, following which, after China slowly regained control of the situation in Wuhan, press attention and opprobrium switched to Iran.

Oh, how we all chortled when the Iranian Deputy Health Minister, Iraj Harirchi, was seen sweating out a fever as he tried to deliver a speech – in what sort of a tinpot regime does a Health Minister end up contracting the infection he is supposed to be fighting, hey? But shoe, other foot, media reframing… you get the picture:

Indeed, when Johnson himself was admitted to hospital and shortly afterwards moved to intensive care, a newspaper-led campaign encouraged people to gather outside again for a standing ovation to keep his spirits up. Of course, along with thousands of unfortunate victims still struggling for breath beside him, we wish him a full and speedy recovery, but this isn’t North Korea, and so, besides a handful of the party faithful, most of the country respectfully declined this nationwide call to lavish praise on the glorious leader.

On Good Friday, when another 980 deaths in hospitals alone were recorded – surpassing Spain and Italy’s worst recorded daily totals (figures for care homes are harder to establish), this was the headline in The Sun:

Only when Covid-19 gained a foothold in Europe was the tone adjusted, so that rather than peddling rumours about incompetence, due sensitivity was given instead to the suffering of the people – in this case, the Italian people.

Prior to the first European cases, there was also a lack of key information, and so it wasn’t until March that we first began to learn the full facts about the disease itself: how extremely virulent it is and not like flu at all, but SARS; how it doesn’t only attack the old and the vulnerable; how it is easily transmitted by asymptomatic spreaders and has a comparatively long incubation period; how between 5–10 percent of the victims require oxygen or mechanical ventilation, and many are left with irreparable lung damage. Suddenly China’s urgent need to construct new hospital facilities overnight became totally understandable.

Why were we left in the dark so long? Up until March Covid-19 still remained a blunt tool to beat the old enemies with, so presumably delving into cause of the crisis distracted too much from this propagandistic exercise. Yet this failure to fact-find – a routine matter for proper journalism – soon came back to haunt us.

Finally, a lack of widely available information accounts, at least in part, for why, three months on, Britain is desperately converting conference centres into thousand-bed hospitals: an impressive feat but one that also speaks to prior failures and a total lack of preparedness. China was our warning but the media was too sidetracked to stress this.

On April 5th, Sky News Australia released a “SPECIAL REPORT: China’s deadly coronavirus cover-up”, except that it isn’t and scarcely presents any evidence at all from China. Instead, it offers a montage of coverage from around the world, political talking heads, that are interspersed with images from a wet market (somewhere, presumably in South East Asia), overlaid with a breathless commentary and an ominous soundtrack. Today this passes for journalism apparently:

If the press instead had focussed more on the virulence of the disease, rather than always seeking a political angle, the public and governments of the West might have had greater cause to introduce tighter measures from the beginning, recognising the urgency of taking appropriate action to avoid suffering the same fate as the inhabitants of Wuhan. We could have closed our borders in time (yet they remain open even today) and made preparations for testing and contact tracing as they did in South Korea. But why take such drastic precautions if the problem is mostly one with the Chinese politburo and Iranian mullahs?

Indeed, as Rachel Shabi astutely reminds us in a more recent Guardian article, Britain is already blessed with teams of environmental health officers employed by local government who “have wide experience in contact tracing, a process used to prevent infections spreading and routinely carried out in outbreaks such as of norovirus, salmonella or legionnaires’ disease.”

As one of the environmental health workers she spoke to said, he was “struggling to figure out” why they hadn’t been given the go-ahead from the start. Another told her: “We are pretty good at infection control and contact tracing, it’s part of the job. We thought we’d be asked and were shelving other work.” In response, a spokesperson for Public Health England (PHE), said “the organisation did not call upon environmental health workers to carry out contact tracing for coronavirus, instead using its own local health protection teams.” 5

Hats off to Rachel Shabi for doing the legwork to expose this vital ‘missed opportunity’ by PHE and the government – examining the reasons behind this decision is now on the table for a public inquiry.

Unfortunately, much that passes for journalism today relies on scant research and little to no investigation at all. Instead it is informed by a diet of press conferences, press releases and press packs – all more or less pre-digested, all PR, and all oven-ready (as Johnson would say). Many reporters are the embedded and approved members of a press corps who grant their sources ‘quote approval’. Compounding this there is the groupthink and the self-censorship that has always existed.

In a well-known BBC interview with Noam Chomsky in 1996, Andrew Marr – who afterwards went on to become the BBC’s Political Editor – famously rebutted Chomsky’s accusation of a ubiquitous lack of media impartiality and journalistic integrity, demanding:

“How can you know that I’m self-censoring? How can you know that journalists are…”

Chomsky’s reply clearly rocks him: “I don’t say you’re self-censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is, if you believed something different you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.” 6

It is understandable therefore (although not excusable) that those in the press and media have fallen into the easier habit of propagating and sanctioning accepted narratives, advocating official policy and being apologists for government mistakes and state crimes – after all, if you hold your nose, much of the job is done for you – readymade copy to cut and paste. And a climate of crisis furthers these temptations, cultivating this already indifferent attitude towards truth, and fostering journalistic practice that is non-confrontational on grounds of “national interest”.

By contrast, true journalism shares a lot in common with real science, which is similarly fact-based and objective. But to be fact-based and objective requires research and investigation, and this is tiresome and time consuming, so it’s easier not to bother.

Today, we see another consequence of this as the government shields itself behind ‘the science’, and the media once again provides it with cover. For instance, here is Sky News‘ Thomas Moore informing his audience as recently as March 27th that: “one of the government’s key advisors hazarded a guess this week that between half and two-thirds of those dying would probably have done so soon anyway.” [from 0:45 mins]:

How very Malthusian of him, you may think. How very: “herd immunity, protect the economy and if it means some pensioners die, too bad.”

It would be nice to stop right there. This kind of pseudoscientific validation for ideologically-informed policy is hardly worthy of closer examination. In this instance it is simply insulting, not only to the vulnerable and elderly whose existence Moore is quite literally attempting to delete but to anyone with an ear for propaganda. (And so for this secondary reason, let us parse his words just a little.)

Key advisor…? CMO for England, Chris Whitty; or former President of R&D of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) recently appointed government CSA, Sir Patrick Vallance; or Chief Executive of NHS England and former senior executive of UnitedHealth Group, Sir Simon Stevens, or some otherwise anonymous, faceless, quite possibly, non-existent advisor: who knows? Perhaps it was Matt Hancock…? Or was this again, Dominic Cummings?

Hazarded a guess… Really, can you get any vaguer than this? On what distant planet could Moore’s statement be considered remotely journalistic?

Not to be outdone on April 2nd, the BBC issued a Twitter stream along very similar lines:

 

 

Such Malthusian talking points are also echoed throughout a wide range of publications but found most especially on the shelves reserved for opinions of the libertarian right. As an outstanding example of this, I refer readers to a column written by Dr John Lee that was published in The Spectator as recently as March 28th: the day after the Sky News broadcast above, and just a fortnight ago.

Dr Lee is one of those pundits who love to cherry pick statistics; a talent so honed that upon first reading anyone could be forgiven for thinking that not only have we all been dreadfully deceived by our lying eyes but also by all the hysterical staff working in our NHS hospitals who incessantly talk nonsense about a crisis.

“The moral debate is not lives vs money,” Lee decides on the basis of the numbers, adding emphatically, “It is lives vs lives.” In fact, boiling Dr Lee’s argument down more literally, he is balancing risk to the economy against number of deaths, although doubtless it sounds more reasonable and more dramatic too, when you say “lives vs lives”. Not that the economy doesn’t matter, but that evidently from Lee’s viewpoint it sits high above mere lives and behind a huge ‘greater than or equal to’ sign. That said, his main proposal is a fittingly modest one:

Unless we tighten criteria for recording death due only to the virus (as opposed to it being present in those who died from other conditions), the official figures may show a lot more deaths apparently caused by the virus than is actually the case. What then? How do we measure the health consequences of taking people’s lives, jobs, leisure and purpose away from them to protect them from an anticipated threat? Which causes least harm?

Incidentally, the ultimate question here – “Which causes the least harm?” – sheds interesting light on Dr Lee’s own personal morality, or at least the ideas that underpin and inform it. Those who have studied philosophy will indeed recognise his stance, and place it under the technical heading ‘Consequentialism’: that the ultimate basis for a moral judgment should be founded on whether any action (or inaction) will produce a good or bad outcome, or consequence. Another way of saying this is “the ends justify the means”.

Consequentialism is essentially a rerun and a quite fashionable version of Utilitarianism, where Utilitarianism, in turn, values human behaviour according to some measure of usefulness. Once you understand this, it becomes a lot easier to comprehend why someone with Dr Lee’s outlook might share Cummings’ preference to “protect the economy and if it means some pensioners die, too bad”. The sacrifice of a few “useless eaters” (a phrase rightly or wrongly attributed to Kissinger) for the sake of the greater good. If I am being unkind to Dr Lee, then forgive me, but his words turn my own thoughts to Thomas Malthus again, who so eloquently justified the economic need for poor people to starve.

But I have digressed. The vital point to understand and remember here, as the establishment gatekeepers and government stenographers all insist, is that Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan-Smith and the rest of the Conservative crew have always acted in strict accordance with the best scientific advice available. And that never at any stage were decisions taken with callous indifference even when it came to their original decision to pursue a quasi-scientific policy of ‘herd immunity’ by letting a few of our loved ones die:

Governments everywhere say they are responding to the science. The policies in the UK are not the government’s fault. They are trying to act responsibly based on the scientific advice given. But governments must remember that rushed science is almost always bad science.

That’s also Dr John Lee’s opinion by the way, as he reaches for a conclusion to his piece. The case he makes fails throughout to acknowledge any government accountability whatsoever; not even when it comes to deciding which advice to listen to. A case that he set out as follows:

In announcing the most far-reaching restrictions on personal freedom in the history of our nation, Boris Johnson resolutely followed the scientific advice that he had been given. The advisers to the government seem calm and collected, with a solid consensus among them. In the face of a new viral threat, with numbers of cases surging daily, I’m not sure that any prime minister would have acted very differently. 7

It’s the science, stupid – just so you know.

By the way, I call Dr John Lee, Dr Lee because this is how his article is attributed. And I think he wants you to recognise his expertise because he describes himself as “a recently retired professor of pathology and a former NHS consultant pathologist”. There is nothing wrong, of course, in highlighting your own professional credentials. That said, the entire emphasis of his piece is that the government places trust in expertise as should you too. Thus, signing off in this fashion is a very effective way to pull rank on his readership. (Trust me on this, I’m a doctor too – I just don’t make a point of flaunting my PhD at every opportunity.)

If Dr John Lee wants you to get the message because he knows better, then for those who prefer to be browbeaten rather than condescended to, and as a quite different alternative, I offer the latest outpourings of small-‘c’ conservative rent-a-mouth Julia Hartley-Brewer.

Brewer is in fact the daughter of a GP, although happily she is otherwise as unqualified to proffer expert analysis on any subjects at all basically – unhappily, this doesn’t stop her and thanks to a public platform called Talkradio those unqualified and largely unsought opinions are broadcast across the nation on a weekly basis.

Recently she’s been doing a lot of Tweeting too, fulfilling her other obligation as a leading light amongst the commentariat. Here is one of her more recent efforts:

Yes, that’s right: the only thing that matters is whether Boris Johnson is following scientific advice. And he is – can’t you understand that? Now just shut up. I paraphrase, just a little; hardly at all really.

This brings me to reflect, finally and once again, on the dismal state of so much of today’s journalism and media more broadly, characterised, as it is, by wilful ignorance and woeful submissiveness to authority. Rigidly confined within an ever-tightening Overton Window, it speaks up for almost no-one, whether on the pressing question of how to fight coronavirus, or on most other vital issues of the day.

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1 From a report entitled “NHS staff ‘gagged’ over coronavirus shortages” written by Denis Campbell, published in the Guardian on March 31, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/mar/31/nhs-staff-gagged-over-coronavirus-protective-equipment-shortages

2 From a ‘Special Report’ entitled “Johnson listened to his scientists about coronavirus – but they were slow to sound the alarm” written by Stephen Grey and Andrew MacAskill, published in Reurters on April 7, 2020. https://uk.mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/idUKKBN21P1X8

3 From an article entitled “Coronavirus: ten days that shook Britain – and changed the nation forever” written by Tim Shipman and Caroline Wheeler, published in The Sunday Times on March 22, 2020. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/coronavirus-ten-days-that-shook-britain-and-changed-the-nation-for-ever-spz6sc9vb

4 From an article entitled “Even The US Is Doing More Coronavirus Tests Than The UK. Here Are The Reasons Why”, written by Alex Wickham, Alberto Nardelli, Katie J. M. Baker & Richard Holmes, published in Buzzfeed News on March 31, 2020. https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexwickham/uk-coronavirus-testing-explainer

5 From an article entitled “UK missed coronavirus contact tracing opportunity, experts say” written by Rachel Shabi, published in the Guardian on April 6, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/apr/06/uk-missed-coronavirus-contact-tracing-opportunity-experts-say

6 Interviewed for The Big Idea, BBC2, February 14, 1996. A complete transcript is available here: http://scratchindog.blogspot.com/2015/07/transcript-of-interview-between-noam.html

The broadcast has also been uploaded on Youtube in full and is embedded below:

7 From an article entitled “How deadly is the coronavirus? It’s still far from clear?” written by Dr John Lee, published in The Spectator on March 28, 2020. https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/The-evidence-on-Covid-19-is-not-as-clear-as-we-think

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, China, Iran, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky

the fix is in, or how the DNC robbed Bernie Sanders all over again

Court grants DNC the right to rig primaries

In June 2016, a class action lawsuit was filed against the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz for violating the DNC Charter by rigging the Democratic presidential primaries for Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders. Even former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid admitted in July 2016, “I knew—everybody knew—that this was not a fair deal.” He added that Debbie Wasserman Schultz should have resigned much sooner than she did. The lawsuit was filed to push the DNC to admit their wrongdoing and provide Bernie Sanders supporters, who supported him financially with millions of dollars in campaign contributions, with restitution for being cheated.

On August 25, 2017, Federal Judge William Zloch, dismissed the lawsuit after several months of litigation during which DNC attorneys argued that the DNC would be well within their rights to select their own candidate. “In evaluating Plaintiffs’ claims at this stage, the Court assumes their allegations are true—that the DNC and Wasserman Schultz held a palpable bias in favor Clinton and sought to propel her ahead of her Democratic opponent,” the court order dismissing the lawsuit stated. This assumption of a plaintiff’s allegation is the general legal standard in the motion to dismiss stage of any lawsuit. The allegations contained in the complaint must be taken as true unless they are merely conclusory allegations or are invalid on their face.

From an article published by The Observer in August 2017 entitled “Court Concedes DNC Had the Right to Rig Primaries Against Sanders”.

The same piece concludes:

Jared Beck, one of the leading attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit told The Observer, “The standard governing the motion to dismiss requires the Court to accept all well-pled allegations as true for purposes of deciding the motion. Thus, the Court recited the allegations of the Complaint that it was required to accept as true, and in so doing, acknowledged that the allegations were well pled. Indeed, if you look at the Complaint, you will see that all of these allegations accepted by the Court specifically rely on cite materials that are readily available in the public record, and they support the inference that the DNC and the DWS rigged the primaries.” 1

Click here to read Michael Sainato’s full article.

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Anyone but Bernie

Joe Biden is very evidently not fit for office and everyone knows it. I do not write this because of the nepotism that secured his son Hunter an appointment to the board of Ukrainian natural gas giant Burisma Holdings Ltd. Nepotism and cronyism is just par for the course in US politics. Remember for instance, that George H W Bush provided son and future POTUS with a sufficient financial leg-up to establish an entire oil company, the aptly named Arbusto Energy. After it went belly up and was swallowed up by Harken Energy, Bush Jr was transferred to the board making a tidy sum in the process – it helps to be well-connected. The present incumbent of the White House is arguably more shameless still, appointing daughter Ivana his senior advisor alongside Ivana’s husband and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who had been previously brought in to develop and run Trump’s digital media strategy.

Nor does Biden’s creepy behaviour around women, very young woman in particular, diminish his ‘electability’, if again we judge from recent history. Bill Clinton’s proclivities are hardly less scandalous while in the previous campaign The Donald was eventually forced to make a confession of his own “locker room” antics. As close acquaintances of convicted child trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein, both Clinton and Trump obviously share a great deal with own disreputable HRH Prince Andrew. Judging on the basis of popularity – the main measure of ‘electability’ – the US electorate evidently cares very little in this regard.

But today Biden, a seasoned political campaigner, has an altogether different and insurmountable impediment, since no amount of disarming political slickness can disguise it. Not long ago, Biden, as unprincipled and seedy as he always has been, nevertheless maintained a rather sharp intellect, whereas in recent months he increasingly cuts the figure of a sad, confused and incoherent old man who is repeatedly caught off guard and otherwise seen humiliating himself in virtually every public appearance he makes. Time has swiftly caught up with Joe Biden and everyone knows it.

Sky News host Rita Panahi says “no matter how hard the Democrats and their allies in the media try, Biden’s cognitive issues can no longer be ignored”.

How then did he win out in the Democratic race to be nominated for presidential candidate? Put differently, how on earth did Bernie Sanders, who has lost none of his intellectual acuity, to say nothing of his boundless energy and enthusiasm, manage to lose badly enough in the earlier contests of the Democratic Primaries to be forced to step aside now?

The short answer is that Sanders was robbed – and every conceivable tactic to undermine his campaign has been deployed as we shall see – just as the candidacy was also stolen from him during the 2016 campaign (as DNC lawyers freely conceded in their bid to defeat the class action lawsuit).

The message from the DNC and the liberal media (which also backed Biden and deliberately marginalised Sanders) is loud and clear. Letting Trump be returned to office in the upcoming November contest is an outcome they have practically guaranteed with Biden’s nomination. So they have thrown the towel in, preferring to have Trump re-elected than run any risk of America choosing President Sanders.

*

Rigging in plain sight

In an article published in Counterpunch on April 9th, the founder of the website VotePact.org, Sam Husseini points to multiple manoeuvres by both the DNC and fellow Democrat candidates, especially the so-called progressives, used to stymie Sanders’ campaign. Husseini says the “Bloody Monday” move — when Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar both endorsed Biden just after his South Carolina win and just before ‘Super Tuesday’ — was only the tip of the iceberg, and to support this he offers a list of further examples to consider:

* Kamala Harris and Cory Booker pulled out of the race before South Carolina, paving the way for Biden’s win there. Jim Clyburn of course endorsed Biden just before South Carolina. Tragically, Jesse Jackson only endorsed Sanders after.

* Warren split the progressive ranks throughout and ultimately refused to endorse Sanders.

* Even the choices of the candidates was useful to stopping Sanders. Pete Buttigieg was from Indiana and the net effect of his campaign was to deny Sanders a clear win in not-so-far-away Iowa. Amy Klobuchar was from Minnesota and so the net effect of her campaign was to throw that state to Biden so that Biden won something substantial outside of the south on Super Tuesday, making his rise appear national and therefore plausibly inevitable.

* Ostensibly antiwar candidate Tulsi Gabbard throughout refused to meaningfully criticize the war addicted Biden — even when she had a clear shot to do so during the debates on his Iraq war lies. Meanwhile, Sanders just kept saying Biden voted for the Iraq war while Sanders didn’t. Sanders never meaningfully made the case that Biden played key role in making the Iraq invasion happen and never really tore into his lies.

* Mike Gravel — who might have really tore into Biden — was excluded from the debate stage throughout.

* Julián Castro was marginalized shortly after he attacked Biden.

* Bloomberg coming in had the net effect of Warren going after him — for things she could well have gone after Biden about but didn’t. His demise effectively gave the base a sense of weird relief that Biden is the nominee: “Well, at least we didn’t get stuck with Billionaire Bloomberg”.

You couldn’t have planned it better for Biden if you tried. And lots of forces — from the DNC to the establishment media did try in thousands of ways. 2

Click here to read Sam Husseini’s full piece.

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Iowa, four years ago

“Based on this work, Election Justice USA has established an upper estimate of 184 pledged delegates lost by Senator Bernie Sanders as a consequence of specific irregularities and instances of fraud. Adding these delegates to Senator Sanders’ pledged delegate total and subtracting the same number from Hillary Clinton’s total would more than erase the 359 pledged delegate gap between the two candidates. EJUSA established the upper estimate through exit polling data, statistical analysis by precinct size, and attention to the details of Democratic proportional awarding of national delegates. Even small changes in vote shares in critical states like Massachusetts and New York could have substantially changed the media narrative surrounding the primaries in ways that would likely have had far reaching consequences for Senator Sanders’ campaign.”

This is the conclusion of a 96-page report entitled “Democracy Lost: A Report on the Fatally Flawed 2016 Democratic Primaries” published by Election Justice USA. (Note that I reprinted part of the report as an addendum to this earlier post.)

Here’s what the same report said about irregularities in the Iowa Caucus:

The Des Moines Register Editorial Board was so disgusted with the irregularities that they witnessed with their own eyes, and the Democratic establishment’s refusal to respond to them transparently, that it penned an editorial entitled: “Something Smells in the Democratic Party.” It notes that the whole process produced a “whiff of impropriety” and said that the Party response “reeks of autocracy.”

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A funny thing happened (again) on the way to the caucus

Iowa is a place that few people outside America could quickly locate on the map. A hop and a skip to the west of the Great Lakes, squeezed in neatly above and between the confluence of the great Missouri and Mississippi rivers, Iowa briefly came to the world’s attention earlier this year, when its population of a little over 3 million turned out to vote in the first of this season’s Democratic Party primaries.

Results are usually totted up overnight, but not on this occasion. Following delay after delay, and correction after correction, the numbers slowly trickled in, before it was eventually announced that outsider candidate Pete Buttigieg had narrowly defeated Bernie Sanders in terms of delegates (also the final tally still confirmed that Sanders won the popular vote). Curiously, although Sanders had entered the contest as clear favourite, it was Buttigieg alone of all the candidates who proclaimed victory in the midst of the Iowa meltdown:

Before discussing the ensuing fiasco of the Iowa Democratic 2020 caucuses, and “the app” behind the chaos, it is perhaps helpful to give a quick overview of how the archaic system of voting known as caucuses actually works. Dotted to cover each precinct across the state, people gather at designated venues including libraries, churches, schools and sometimes just private houses, not to cast paper ballots, but to physically divide into “preference groups” for the candidate they came to support. Once an initial count has been done, a complicated procedure then goes as follows:

Caucus participants have up to 30 minutes to join a preference group. After the caucus chairman determines which groups are viable, participants have another 30 minutes to realign, or join a different caucus group.

Throughout this process, members of a preference group may attempt to persuade other caucus-goers, especially members of non-viable groups, to join their preference group. Non-viable groups may merge to gain enough members to meet the viability threshold. Or members of non-viable groups may choose to join the uncommitted preference group. Or they can choose not to join any group.

When the preference groups are set, the caucus chairman will determine the number of county convention delegates each preference group is entitled to elect. When those numbers are totaled at the state level, the “winner” of the Democratic caucus is the one with the most delegates. 3

At this year’s caucuses, the Iowa DNC took the understandable decision to introduce an app to simplify the counting process, but instead “an unspecified ‘coding issue’ with the software [that] led to it producing only partial and unreliable results”. Officially this is the end of the story, however, the same Associated Press report quoted above then delves deeper:

[The makers of the app] Shadow Inc. was launched by ACRONYM, a nonprofit corporation founded in 2017 by Tara McGowan, a political strategist who runs companies aimed at promoting Democratic candidates and priorities. McGowan sought to distance herself from Shadow’s IowaReporterApp on Monday night, characterizing the app developer as an “independent” company. In a separate statement, an ACRONYM spokesman said the nonprofit organization is an investor in several companies, including Shadow, but was “eagerly awaiting more information from the Iowa Democratic Party with respect to what happened.”

But business and tax records show ACRONYM and Shadow are registered at the same Washington, D.C., street address, which belongs to a WeWork co-working location. Shadow CEO Gerard Niemira previously served as the chief operating officer and chief technology officer at ACRONYM, according to an online resume.

And if as it wasn’t bad enough that Tara McGowan, the founder of the company behind the app, the wife of Michael Halle, a senior strategist for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, and that Buttigieg’s campaign also paid Shadow Inc. $42,500 for software, it also transpires that:

[O]n Sunday [the eve of the Iowa caucus], McGowan tweeted pictures from a birthday celebration that included her husband and Troy Price, the chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. 4

Click here to read the full article published by Associated Press on February 4th.

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California purging, then and now

This is what the EJUSA reported from the California Democratic Primary with regard to evidence of voter suppression back in 2016, in which tremendous efforts we made to disqualify “no-party-preference” voters (NPP) – a subject I shall return to shortly:

Voter suppression by California elections officials targeting no-party-preference (NPP) voters: 1) Refusal to include NPP presidential voting options on regular ballots; 2) Refusal to mail presidential ballots to NPP vote-by-mail voters unless explicitly requested; 3) Refusal to provide mandatory notices to vote-by-mail NPP voters of their right to a Presidential Preference ballot; 4) Refusal to inform NPP voters at the polls of their right to a Presidential Preference ballot; 5) Refusal to provide adequate ballots and/or voter indexes, despite the State Law requirement of 75% voter roll coverage; 6) Refusal to clarify to voters that American Independent is a political party and does not signify “independent” (NPP) status. We filed a lawsuit in an attempt to address these issues, but relief was not granted.

Testimonies and statistics detailing voter suppression in California:

1) Testimony from CA voters who were given provisional ballots by pollworkers despite their names being on the Democratic voter rolls.

2) Testimony from CA Democratic voters who received the wrong ballot type in the mail.

3) Testimony/video evidence from CA Democratic voters who were given provisional ballots instead of being directed to a recently-changed polling location.

4) Testimony from poll inspectors about a shortage of ballots: in some cases, fewer than 39% of registered voters would have been covered by the number of ballots provided for Los Angeles

County precincts, despite a CA State Law requirement that 75% coverage be guaranteed. We also have testimony from voters who were forced to use provisional ballots due to ballot shortages.

5) Poll workers did not count or keep a roster of provisional ballots in CA, hence no chain of custody is possible.

With regards to registration tampering, which “involves changes made to party affiliation or registration status without a voter’s knowledge or consent”:

We have also received testimony and affidavits from over 700 California voters who experienced voting and registration problems. Of these respondents, 84 were switched to another party without their knowledge or consent. In some cases, these changes were back-dated such that they were listed as made before the voter initially registered.

Of illegal voter purging:

We have received testimony and affidavit material from more than 700 CA voters who experienced problems voting, 78 of which had been purged or were not on the poll books of their polling place. These accounts are corroborated by hard evidence in the form of document scans.

And lastly, of fraudulent or erroneous voter machine tallies:

A well-controlled California early voter exit poll (Capitol Weekly/Open CA) consisting of 21,000 data points matched early returns for down-ballot races, but was off by ~16% for Sanders v. Clinton, with the discrepancy in Clinton’s favor. According to the L.A. County elections chief, Dean Logan, early/mail-in votes are reported first, strongly suggesting a miscount of mail-in ballots.

Do please note that the same report from 2016 cites evidence of serious irregularities in at least 16 other states including Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and New York.

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Bringing us back up to the present investigative journalist Greg Palast, an expert in the field having covered voter suppression and other forms of election rigging for the past two decades for the Guardian, Rolling Stone magazine and the BBC’s Newsnight, has again published many reports from this season’s Democratic Primaries.

The following is an extract from just one of those reports in which he explains how “California’s arcane and complex voting system is [my note: again] stealing hundreds of thousands of votes from Bernie Sanders”:

Sanders, as expected, won the plurality of California’s votes, but he could well be shorted out of hundreds of thousands of votes and scores of delegates.

How did this happen? While Californians, including independent voters, vote overwhelmingly for Democrats in general elections, and 5.3 million Golden State voters register “NPP”, no party preference.

These 5 million independents legally have the right to vote in the Democratic primary, but the Democratic party created an inscrutable obstacle course for them to do so, one that amounts to another type of voter suppression.

The problem begins with a postcard.

Last autumn, all 5 million NPP voters were mailed a postcard allowing them to request a ballot with the Democratic party presidential choices. However, as many states have learned, postcards with voter information largely look like junk mail and get thrown out.

If the independents don’t respond to the postcards, they get a ballot without presidential choices. But they have one more chance to vote for a candidate in the primaries: at the ballot box.

At the polling station, though, things remain confusing. According to rules set by the national Democratic party, the independent voters have to bring in their NPP ballot to the polling station and request to exchange it for a “crossover Democratic” ballot that lists the candidates.

However, if the voter fails to ask for the “crossover” ballot by its specific name, the poll worker is barred from suggesting it and they won’t receive it. 5

Click here to read Greg Palast’s full report entitled “Bernie kost 553,000 Votes to California Dem Party Rules”.

Such “disenfranchisement by postcard” which exploits loopholes in the rule for “no-party-preference” is just one of many ploys that have once again enabled voter suppression both in the 2016 and 2020 Democratic Primaries.

However, beyond the overwhelming evidence of major voter suppression, there are once again widespread and significant statistical discrepancies that are recognised indicators of direct election fraud – in this regard it is important to point out that correlations between exit polls and official vote counts provide one of the crucial and standard checks carried out by election observers across the world to ensure legitimacy (read the part below about recent historical precedents).

To find evidence of statistically significant exit poll versus official vote count mismatches in the latest Primaries (as were also discovered in 2016) I recommend an excellent website called TDMS|Research, where a comprehensive series of reports makes direct mathematical comparisons for many of the state primary results. Reproduced below is an extract of analysis for just the 2020 California primary – for ease of reference a table of results for all candidates is also provided with attached notes explaining the meaning of data for each of the columns:

Election results from the computerized vote counts of the 2020 California Democratic Party presidential primary differed significantly from the results projected by the exit poll conducted by Edison Research and published by CNN at poll’s closing. According to the exit poll Sanders won big in CA (by 15%). The unobservable computer counts cut his lead by half (to 7.3%). […]

The combined discrepancies between the exit poll and the vote count for candidates Sanders and Biden currently totals 7.7%; more than double the 3.1% margin of error for the exit poll difference between the two. Warren’s and Biden’s discrepancies totals 5.6%, double the 2.5% margin of error. All margin of errors calculated at 95% confidence interval (CI).  See table note 5.  Values greater than the margin of error are considered statistically significant. The discrepancies in favor of Biden in California as in many of the other states to date, substantially exceed the margin of error at 99% (CI).

The discrepancies between the exit poll and the vote count for candidates Sanders and Bloomberg totals 6.7%; more than double the 2.6% margin of error for the exit poll difference between the two. Warren’s and Bloomberg’s discrepancies totals 4.6%, about double the 2.1% margin of error. To date, California computers totaled 250,600 less votes for Sanders and Warren than projected by the exit polls and 236,700 more votes for Biden and Bloomberg.

The discrepancies between the exit polls’ projections of each candidate’s vote share and the vote shares derived from unobservable computer counts have a considerable impact on the apportionment of delegates to each candidate. The apportionment of delegates is, after all, the main reason for these state primaries. 6

[1] Exit poll (EP) downloaded from CNN’s website by TDMS on election night, March 3, 2020 at 11:00 PM ET. Candidates’ exit poll percentage/proportion derived from the gender category. Number of EP respondents: 2,350. As this first published exit poll was subsequently adjusted towards conformity with the final computerized vote count, the currently published exit poll differs from the exit poll used here and available through the link below.

[2] Candidates’ percentage/proportion of the total computer-generated vote counts derived from reported counts (94% reporting) updated on March 6, 2020 and published by The New York Times. Total number of voters: 3,290,429

[3] The difference between the exit poll proportion and reported vote proportion for each candidate (subtracting values in column two from the values in column three). A positive value indicates the candidate did better and received a greater share of the total reported count than projected by the exit poll. For example, candidate Biden, reported percentage/proportion of the total vote increased by 4.5% compared to his exit poll share.

[4] This column shows the percentage increase or decrease from the candidate’s exit poll projection (difference in column four divided by exit poll proportion in column two).  Shown only for candidates with 4% or more share in the exit poll.

[5] This column presents a distinct Margin of Error (MOE) of the exit poll (EP) for the differences between candidate Biden and each of the other candidate’s EP results. The exit poll MOE, for example, between Biden and Sanders is 4.0% and the MOE between Biden and Warren is 3.9%.  For simplicity MOE not shown for candidates with less than 4% share in the EP.  MOE calculated at 95% CI according to multinomial formula in:  Franklin, C. The ‘Margin of Error’ for Differences in Polls. University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin. October 2002, revised February 2007. Available at:  https://abcnews.go.com/images/PollingUnit/MOEFranklin.pdf 

[6] The disparities between the exit poll and the reported computer-generated vote counts comparing Biden and each of the other candidates (subtracting each candidate’s difference between exit poll and computer count from Biden’s difference of 4.5%.). Disparities for candidates Sanders and Warren are double their respective MOE. For example, candidate Biden’s unverified computerized vote count exceeded his EP projected vote proportion by 4.5% while Sander’s computerized count understated his EP projected vote proportion by 3.7% for at total discrepancy of 8.2%. This 8.2% disparity, greatly exceeding the statistical 4.0% margin of error based on their exit poll proportions, is significant as it cannot be attributed to the MOE.

Click here to read the full article published by TDMS|Research on March 9th.

Analysis of many other state primaries is also available at TDMS|Research including for Michigan, Massachusetts, Missouri, Vermont, Texas, South Carolina and New Hampshire.

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Election fixes past: as American as ‘hanging chads’

Exit polls are the standard by which the US State Department measures the honesty of foreign elections. Exit polling is, historically, deadly accurate. The bane of pre-election polling is that pollsters must adjust for the likelihood of a person voting. Exit polls solve the problem.

But three times in US history, pollsters have had to publicly flagellate themselves for their “errors.”  In 2000, exit polls gave Al Gore the win in Florida; in 2004, exit polls gave Kerry the win in Ohio, and now, in swing states, exit polls gave the presidency to Hillary Clinton.

From an article by Greg Palast published two days after Trump’s victory on November 11th 2016 that was entitled “The Election was Stolen – Here’s How…” He continued:

So how could these multi-million-dollar Ph.d-directed statisticians with decades of experience get exit polls so wrong?

Answer:  they didn’t.  The polls in Florida in 2000 were accurate.  That’s because exit pollsters can only ask, “How did you vote?”  What they don’t ask, and can’t, is, “Was your vote counted.”

In 2000, in Florida, GOP Secretary of State Katherine Harris officially rejected 181,173 ballots, as “spoiled” because their chads were hung and other nonsense excuses.  Those ballots overwhelmingly were marked for Al Gore.  The exit polls included those 181,173 people who thought they had voted – but their vote didn’t count.  In other words, the exit polls accurately reflected whom the voters chose, not what Katherine Harris chose.

In 2004, a similar number of votes were invalidated (including an enormous pile of “provisional” ballots) by Ohio’s GOP Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.  Again, the polls reflected that Kerry was the choice of 51% of the voters.  But the exit polls were “wrong” because they didn’t reflect the ballots invalidated by Blackwell.

Gore Vidal was prominent amongst those who spoke out about the serious discrepancies uncovered during the 2004 election in Ohio:

Notably, two weeks after the 2004 US election, the US State Department refused to recognize the Ukraine election results because the official polls contradicted the exit polls.

And here we go again. 2016: Hillary wins among those queried as they exit the polling station—yet Trump is declared winner in GOP-controlled swings states. And, once again, the expert pollsters are forced to apologize—when they should be screaming, “Fraud!  Here’s the evidence the vote was fixed!” 7

Click here to read Palast’s full article.

Palast afterwards released a documentary The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and this companion piece.

Click here to read an earlier post which includes Palast’s BBC Newsnight reports on the US election in 2000 and 2004.

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Nothing to see here…

The evidence presented by Greg Palast and a few independent journalists back in 2016 was solid and warranted serious investigation and widespread news coverage, but instead the liberal media were hugely distracted as they force-fed their audience a fantastical nothing-burger known as ‘Russiagate’. As Palast wrote in a separate report for Democracy Now!:

Officially, Donald Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes. But a record 75,335 votes were never counted. Most of these votes that went missing were in Detroit and Flint, Michigan, majority-black cities.

How could this happen? Did the Russians do it? Nyet. You don’t need Russians to help the Michigan GOP. How exactly do you disappear 75,000 votes? They call them spoiled votes. How do you spoil votes? Not by leaving them out of the fridge. Most are lost because of the bubbles. Thousands of bubbles couldn’t be read by the optical scanning machines.

This is a single example of the plethora of irregularities that eventually led Green candidate Jill Stein to call for recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania – states where Donald Trump narrowly beat Hillary Clinton. But, as Palast explained on Democracy Now!, the recounts in turn were just another travesty:

Instead of allowing that eyeball count of the votes that are supposedly blank, they said, “Oh, we’ll just run them back through the machines.” It’s like betting on an instant replay. It’s the same game. They just put them through the bad machines again. This is not just a bad way to count the ballots; it’s a way to not count African-American ballots.

As Palast’s investigation also revealed, Black voters already most affected by faults in the machines were being further disenfranchised by methods of voter suppression including, most notably, a system called Crosscheck:

After reading my report on the Kobach/Koch/Trump operation, which has removed tens of thousands of minority voters from the rolls in the swing states that surprisingly shifted to Trump, former federal judge (and now Congressman) Alcee Hastings told me Crosscheck is a criminal violation of federal law. Hastings has called for criminal indictments and written an official Congressional member letter to ask for investigation. 8

As Palast said on Democracy Now!:

Well, you know, people are looking for Russians, but what we had is a real Jim Crow election. Trump, for example, in Michigan, won by less than 11,000 votes. It looks like we had about 55,000 voters, mostly minorities, removed by this racist system called Crosscheck. In addition, you had a stoppage—even before the courts ordered the complete stop of the vote in Michigan, you had the Republican state officials completely sabotage the recount. […]

There were 87 machines in Detroit that were—that didn’t function. They were supposed to count about a thousand ballots each. You’re talking about a massive blockade of the black vote in Detroit and Flint, enough votes, undoubtedly, to overturn that election.

And you saw a mirror of this in Wisconsin, where, for example, there were many, many votes, thousands of votes, lost in the Milwaukee area, another African-American-heavy area.

But the question is: Where are these ballots not counted? They are not counted in African-American areas, in Dearborn, where there’s a heavy Arab-American community, in Latino communities. So, while we’re discussing hacking the machines, a lot of this was old-fashioned Jim Crow tactics, you know, from way back. And by the way, a lot of this is the result of the destruction and the gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which this is the first election post the Voting Rights Act. So, we saw—and Jill Stein said it correct—she expected to see a lot of hacking. What she found was, as she said, a Jim Crow election.

It is unsurprising, of course, that the Republicans and Trump actively opposed the recounts. The behaviour of Obama and the liberal media, not to mention Clinton herself, is harder to understand. For rather than backing Jill Stein’s efforts – the only action that could have successfully challenged the final election result – they instead chose to distract the public by demonising Russia with their nonsensical CIA concoction about hacking.

Click here to read a full transcript and to watch the report and follow-up interview on the Democracy Now! website.

On December 13th, Greg Palast was interviewed by Thom Hartmann on RT’s The Big Picture about evidence he has uncovered of vote rigging and the role of Kris Kobach, “Crosscheck” and the Koch Brothers in alleged voter suppression:

Palast said: This is a criminal conspiracy – that’s what Hastings said – by Republican operatives for Trump, particularly Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State of Kansas, and his cronies, the Secretaries of State in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Arizona too.

I spoke to Jill Stein about this the other night. She says, “Okay, if there is, like you say, evidence that the Russians picked our president for us, we want to know it – show the evidence, let’s stop getting distracted by it.” She’s worried that people are going to forget that in fact what happened here is what she calls ‘a Jim Crow election’. And that’s what happened, we had a Jim Crow election.

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1 From an article entitled entitled “Court Concedes DNC Had the Right to Rig Primaries Against Sanders”, written by Michael Sainato, published in the Observer on August 26, 2017. (Updated on August 29, 2017.) https://observer.com/2017/08/court-admits-dnc-and-debbie-wasserman-schulz-rigged-primaries-against-sanders/ 

2 From an article entitled “Sanders Suspends: What Happened? What Now?” written by Sam Husseini, published in Counterpunch on April 9, 2020. https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/04/09/sanders-suspends-what-happened-what-now/

3 From an article entitled “What happens at a caucus?” written by James Q Lynch, published in The Gazette on November 19, 2007. https://web.archive.org/web/20071222142101/http://www.iowacaucus.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=%2F20071119%2FIOWACAUCUS%2F71119004

4 From an article entitled “Maker of glitch Iowa caucus app has Democratic Party ties” written by Michael Biesecker and Brian Slodysko, published in Associated Press on February 4, 2020. https://apnews.com/5232ce5601996c1de440806ad30fa4fb

5 From an article entitled “Bernie kost 553,000 Votes to California Dem Party Rules” written by Greg Palast, published on March 9, 2020. https://www.gregpalast.com/bernie-lost-553000-votes-to-california-dem-party-rules/ 

6 From an article written by Theodore de Macedo Soares, published in TDMS|Research on March 9, 2020. https://tdmsresearch.com/2020/03/09/california-2020-democratic-party-primary/

7 From an article entitled “The Election Was Stolen – Here’s How…” written by Greg Palast, published on November 11, 2016. https://www.gregpalast.com/election-stolen-heres/

8 From an article entitled “Crosscheck Is Not Just Crooked, It’s Criminal” written by Greg Palast, published on December 5, 2016. http://www.gregpalast.com/crosscheck-not-just-crooked-criminal/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, election fraud, Greg Palast, USA

corona marginalia: white man’s burden

During a debate on French TV channel LCI, Camille Locht, head of research at Inserm health research group, was talking about a vaccine trial in Europe and Australia.

Jean-Paul Mira, head of intensive care at Cochin hospital in Paris, then said: “If I can be provocative, shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation?

“A bit like it is done elsewhere for some studies on Aids. In prostitutes, we try things because we know that they are highly exposed and that they do not protect themselves.”

Mr Locht nodded in agreement at this suggestion, and said: “You are right. We are in the process of thinking about a study in parallel in Africa.”

Click here to read the full BBC News report from April 6th.

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In the same BBC report we learn that:

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has condemned as “racist” the comments by two French doctors who suggested a vaccine for the coronavirus could be tested in Africa.

“Africa can’t and won’t be a testing ground for any vaccine,” said Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. 1

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Meanwhile, in another completely unrelated story:

Former national security adviser John Bolton is joining mounting calls for the director of the World Health Organization to resign, calling him an “accomplice to China’s massive coverup” as the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has faced calls for his resignation from American politicians and others who link the group to China’s lack of transparency regarding the severity of COVID-19.

“The @WHO is an accomplice to China’s massive coverup of Covid19,” Bolton tweeted late Monday. “That’s why I support efforts by @marcorubio & @tedcruz pushing for resignation of WHO director general.”

He added: “He misled the world by blindly trusting a communist regime intent on deception.” 2

This is the same John Bolton who allegedly ‘put the squeeze on’ Jose Bustani, a former head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), warning him “we know where your kids live”:

In early 2002, a year before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration was putting intense pressure on Bustani to quit as director-general of the OPCW — despite the fact that he had been unanimously re-elected to head the 145-nation body just two years earlier. His transgression? Negotiating with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to allow OPCW weapons inspectors to make unannounced visits to that country — thereby undermining Washington’s rationale for regime change.

In 2001, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had penned a letter to Bustani, thanking him for his very impressive work. By March 2002, however, Bolton — then serving as under secretary of state for Arms Control and International Security Affairs — arrived in person at the OPCW headquarters in the Hague to issue a warning to the organization’s chief. And, according to Bustani, Bolton didn’t mince words. “Cheney wants you out,” Bustani recalled Bolton saying, referring to the then-vice president of the United States. “We can’t accept your management style.”

Bolton continued, according to Bustani’s recollections: “You have 24 hours to leave the organization, and if you don’t comply with this decision by Washington, we have ways to retaliate against you.”

There was a pause.

“We know where your kids live. You have two sons in New York.” 3

Click here to read the full article entitled “‘We know where your kids live’: how John Bolton once threatened an international official” published by The Intercept.

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1 From a report entitled “Coronavirus: Africa will not be testing ground for vaccine, says WHO” published by BBC News on April 6, 2020. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-52192184

2 From an article entitled “Bolton joins calls for WHO director’s resignation: ‘Accomplice to China’s massive coverup’” written by Brooke Singman & Tyler Olson, published in Fox News on April 7, 2020 https://www.foxnews.com/politics/bolton-joins-calls-for-who-directors-resignation-accomplice-to-chinas-massive-coverup

3 From an article entitled “‘We know where your kids live’: how John Bolton once threatened an international official” written by Mehdi Hasan, published in The Intercept on March 29, 2018. https://theintercept.com/2018/03/29/john-bolton-trump-bush-bustani-kids-opcw/  

4 Comments

Filed under France, Sub-Saharan Africa