Category Archives: Europe

lockdown on laughter: UK govt determined to crackdown on corona clowning

The government issued a statement on Wednesday calling for members of the public to refrain so far as possible from open air laughter and joking. It has also issued new guidelines to police forces to encourage officers to dampen down instances of high spirits and excessive ebullience in order to try to perpetuate a generally more sombre air.

This fresh initiative follows on from previous trials to curb non-essential amusement including the decision by Derbyshire Police to pour black dye into the waters of a pool near Buxton known locally as the Blue Lagoon to deter bathers, and police in other regions of the country who have been cautioning shopkeepers to stop selling non-essential Easter eggs.

There are as yet no plans to introduce on-the-spot fines to discourage public jesting, a government spokesman told us, adding that if at some point in the future such measures are deemed necessary, the likelihood is that a sliding scale will rank offences from minor infractions such as mild punning and casual witticisms, up to more serious charges of careless quipping and grievous wisecracking.

In another move, tech giants Facebook and Twitter have been asked to remove content that may be considered unduly humorous or just excessively light-hearted. We cannot be too careful, the spokesman said, as he unveiled the latest government message, a reworking of the vintage British poster from World War Two.  The new hygiene etiquette warns us bluntly: “Jokes and wheezes spread diseases.”

Click here if you must to read the full story.

‘Wheeze’ is informal British meaning a clever or amusing scheme, idea, or trick. The double entendre is accidental and unfortunate, the spokesman added, but nobody at the Home Office could provide an alternative synonym for ‘jokes’ that rhymes with ‘sneezes’ as in the original “coughs and sneezes spread diseases”.

2 Comments

Filed under Britain, police state

Covid-19 vs. freedom and democracy: let us not sacrifice one to defeat the other

A primer: ‘The clairvoyant ruling class’

“The ruling class exists, it’s not a conspiracy theory. They operate as a class, too. They share the same values, the same sensibility and in Europe and North America they are white. They act in accordance with their interests, which are very largely identical. The failure to understand this is the single greatest problem and defect in left discourse today.”

— John Steppling, Author, Playwright

“This report is crucial reading for anyone interested in creatively considering the multiple, divergent ways in which our world could evolve.”

— Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation

*

Scenario planning for corporate strategy was pioneered by Royal Dutch Shell in the 1970s. [Further reading on scenario planning: The Art of the Long View] The following excerpts are highlights from the May 2010 “Scenarios for the Future of Technology & International Development” report produced by The Rockefeller Foundation & Global Business Network.

Please note: The excerpts below are from the “Lock Step” scenario, but excerpts from all four scenarios are available in the original article published by Wrong Kind of Green.

“In 2012, the pandemic that the world had been anticipating for years finally hit. Unlike 2009’s H1N1, this new influenza strain — originating from wild geese — was extremely virulent and deadly. Even the most pandemic-prepared nations were quickly overwhelmed when the virus streaked around the world, infecting nearly 20 percent of the global population and killing 8 million in just seven months, the majority of them healthy young adults. The pandemic also had a deadly effect on economies: international mobility of both people and goods screeched to a halt, debilitating industries like tourism and breaking global supply chains. Even locally, normally bustling shops and office buildings sat empty for months, devoid of both employees and customers.” […]

“The pandemic blanketed the planet — though disproportionate numbers died in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central America, where the virus spread like wildfire in the absence of official containment protocols. But even in developed countries, containment was a challenge. The United States’s initial policy of “strongly discouraging” citizens from flying proved deadly in its leniency, accelerating the spread of the virus not just within the U.S. but across borders. However, a few countries did fare better — China in particular. The Chinese government’s quick imposition and enforcement of mandatory quarantine for all citizens, as well as its instant and near-hermetic sealing off of all borders, saved millions of lives, stopping the spread of the virus far earlier than in other countries and enabling a swifter postpandemic recovery. [p 18]

“China’s government was not the only one that took extreme measures to protect its citizens from risk and exposure.  During the pandemic, national leaders around the world flexed their authority and imposed airtight rules and restrictions, from the mandatory wearing of face masks to body-temperature checks at the entries to communal spaces like train stations and supermarkets. Even after the pandemic faded, this more authoritarian control and oversight of citizens and their activities stuck and even intensified. In order to protect themselves from the spread of increasingly global problems — from pandemics and transnational terrorism to environmental crises and rising poverty — leaders around the world took a firmer grip on power.” […]

“At first, the notion of a more controlled world gained wide acceptance and approval. Citizens willingly gave up some of their sovereignty — and their privacy — to more paternalistic states in exchange for greater safety and stability. Citizens were more tolerant, and even eager, for top-down direction and oversight, and national leaders had more latitude to impose order in the ways they saw fit. In developed countries, this heightened oversight took many forms: biometric IDs for all citizens, for example, and tighter regulation of key industries whose stability was deemed vital to national interests. In many developed countries, enforced cooperation with a suite of new regulations and agreements slowly but steadily restored both order and, importantly, economic growth.” [p 19]

Click here to read the full article entitled “The Clairvoyant Ruling Class” published by Wrong Kind of Green.

*

Fighting the invisible enemy today

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Benjamin Franklin 1

In the fight against Covid-19, the government of South Korea has arguably shown a way for other democracies to follow. First and foremost it established a comprehensive system of testing to confirm positive cases. This was backed up by contact tracing, targeted isolation and quarantine. Imposing sensible restrictions on travel also helped to slow and limit the spread of the outbreak. By acting promptly and enacting the precise measures called for by the scientists at the World Health Organisation, the Koreans managed to swiftly and effectively control the spread of Covid-19 infection and thereby averted a developing crisis.

One criticism of the South Korean approach surrounds its intrusive use of mobile phone technology to track movement and contacts. Though understandable perhaps (given cultural differences), such an infringement of privacy was non-essential, and there is really no need or justification whatsoever for western democracies to follow a similar course. That GCHQ in Britain and the NSA in America are already able to access and record private digital information including personal communications, metadata and location is actually an open secret. Of course, the opportunity now presents itself for such covert practices to be rolled out very publicly and given full legal sanction; moves that ought to be opposed. In other regards, however, the Korean model is surely exemplary.

The graph below is a snapshot of an interactive chart that you can access here.

Snapshot taken on March 28th

In stark contrast to Korean efficiency that halted the spread of infection, government responses across the western world have been comparatively slow to act, muddled, and in some respects negligent. The unfolding situation in Italy tragically illustrates a clear lack of preparedness on the part of the authorities there, where in spite of several weeks advantage over the Koreans, an initially lax approach allowed community-spread of the infection. It was not until a full-blown public health crisis emerged that increasingly draconian and sometimes overnight emergency measures were put in place.

On this Sky News report from March 11th, which was recorded prior to the full lockdown, many Italians were already asking why so little, so late:

Virtually all other European countries have failed to learn the lessons from Italy.

A fortnight later on March 27th, Sky News reported from Spain, where once again action to prevent and slow the spread of the virus came too late:

In France and Britain, where the clampdown has been more gradual and less severe up to now, the implementation of restrictions has been similarly confused and inexplicably overdue. Who knows how many more people became infected in the days and weeks leading up to the eventual (and inevitable) closure of sporting events, entertainment venues, gyms and pubs, let alone during the time lost as schools, offices and building sites continued to operate; the government’s preference for business as usual.

On the other hand, the overreach shown by North Derbyshire police who decided to fly their drones over The Peak District last week in order to shame anyone out walking the dog or just taking a quiet stroll was not just unwarranted, but entirely counterproductive. In a time of national crisis, you have to ask why our news media chose to broadcast this footage and reinforce such a stark police state message:

The situation facing America is set to be worse, with its lack of social safety nets and a system of healthcare provision that makes it a privilege millions simply cannot afford. Compounding these problems, the response so far has been more complacent and shambolic than our own governments in Europe; Trump theatrical as ever, recently telling everyone that it’ll all be over by Easter. Meanwhile, after weeks of non-intervention and exponential rates of infection (a terrible spike in numbers in New York especially) with other states like Florida taking no actions at all to check the spread of disease, one indication of the growing desperation is the panic-buying not just of toilet rolls, but of firearms.

On March 26th, ‘Democracy Now!’ interviewed New York City emergency room doctor Craig Spencer, a survivor of Ebola, which he contracted while fighting its outbreak in Africa. He says: “I think, in a week, we will be Italy. At least here in New York City, we’re already seeing that” [at 15:30 mins]:

Behind the scenes, on the other hand, dramatic moves are now being taken to tackle the pandemic, including ones that will sideline constitutional rights altogether. Indeed, there are clear parallels with actions taken during immediate aftermath of 9/11, its shadow lengthened by the coincidentally mysterious anthrax attacks, which enabled then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to fast-track the Patriot Acts. Likewise, today’s Justice Department is in the process of launching a raft of new legislation that further undermines civil liberties and chips away at fundamental human rights:

Documents reviewed by POLITICO detail the department’s requests to lawmakers on a host of topics, including the statute of limitations, asylum and the way court hearings are conducted. POLITICO also reviewed and previously reported on documents seeking the authority to extend deadlines on merger reviews and prosecutions. […]

In one of the documents, the department proposed that Congress grant the attorney general power to ask the chief judge of any district court to pause court proceedings “whenever the district court is fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation.”

The proposal would also grant those top judges broad authority to pause court proceedings during emergencies. It would apply to “any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings,” according to draft legislative language the department shared with Congress. […]

The request raised eyebrows because of its potential implications for habeas corpus — the constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest and seek release.

“Not only would it be a violation of that, but it says ‘affecting pre-arrest,’” said Norman L. Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “So that means you could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. I find it absolutely terrifying. Especially in a time of emergency, we should be very careful about granting new powers to the government.” 2

Click here to read the full article published by Politico.

In an article published by Mint Press News a few days later, Whitney Webb picked up where Politico left off, highlighting plans for ‘Continuity of Government’ (COG) and the use of a controversial database known simply as ‘Main Core’ that lists American dissidents and “potential troublemakers”:

Though Main Core was reportedly in use after September 11 to target “unfriendly” individuals for increased domestic surveillance, concern that COG plans in the age of coronavirus could take a more drastic turn and involve the detention of Americans included in that database now seems more plausible than ever. On Saturday, Politico reported that the Department of Justice has demanded new “emergency powers” during the current pandemic and these powers include being able to indefinitely detain Americans without trial. Politico also noted that the DOJ’s controversial new requests “span several stages of the legal process, from initial arrest to how cases are processed and investigated.” Per the DOJ’s requests, indefinite detention would emerge through a new ability whereby the Attorney General or a judge could pause court proceedings whenever courts are “fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation.”

What Politico did not include in its report is that current Attorney General William Barr has spent the past several months fine-tuning and implementing a “pre-crime” program. Officially known as the “National Disruption and Early Engagement Program” (DEEP), it aims to “identify, assess and engage” potentially violent individuals “before they strike.” Barr first announced this program last October in an official memorandum and therein stated that the program was to be implemented sometime over the course of 2020 and would involve “an efficient, effective and programmatic strategy to disrupt individuals who are mobilizing towards violence, by all lawful means.”

Whitney Webb continues:

In his memorandum, Barr further notes that the program’s “early engagement tactics” were “born of the posture we adopted with respect to terrorist threats” following the September 11 attacks, essentially stating that this pre-crime program will utilize methods from the “War on Terror” domestically and on a massive scale.

Adding:

Furthermore, with the FBI having recently flagged “conspiracy theorists” (and by extension those who distrust or question government narratives of both past and present) as a “domestic terror threat,” the DOJ could even make the case that failure to blindly trust government narratives presents a threat to the public order. Given that the Main Core database in its current form contains bulk surveillance gathered from social media, phone conversations/messaging apps and even financial information (i.e. purchasing history, etc.) on Americans deemed unfriendly “often for the slightest and most trivial reason,” this unprecedented power grab by the DOJ has an authoritarian and Orwellian potential to target legitimate dissent like never before. 3

Click here to read Whitney Webb’s full article entitled “Coronavirus: What Newsweek Failed to Mention About ‘Continuity of Government’”.

Moreover, under the pretext of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, Washington recently extended FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), and specifically the three Patriot Act provisions:

With the nation’s attention fixed on the rapidly spreading coronavirus, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation to extend FBI surveillance powers that were set to expire on March 15.

The bill, formally titled the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act, cleared the House by a vote of 278 to 136, with 152 Democrats and 126 Republicans voting yes. View the full roll call here.

The legislation, strongly opposed by civil liberties groups and privacy advocates, is the product of bipartisan negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio.).

Attorney General William Barr voiced his support for the measure in a statement on Wednesday.

If passed by the Senate, advocacy group Free Press warned, legislation would “reauthorize abusive government surveillance powers.”

“The bill would reauthorize Section 215 powers Congress established under the USA Patriot Act in 2001,” Free Press noted. “Section 215 is the provision national security agencies cited in the past to support their unwarranted collection of phone records of hundreds of millions of people in the United States.” 4

Click here to read the full report published by Common Dreams.

There has been a terrible recent history when it comes to the emergency management of disasters in America. These legislative preparations and the tightening of lockdowns to tackle coronavirus recall not only the power grab after 9/11 but also, and just as alarmingly, the institution of de facto martial law when New Orleans was flooded by Hurricane Katrina.

When Hurricane Katrina forced New Orleans poet Shelton Alexander to evacuate his home, he took his truck and video camera to the Superdome. He escaped the chaotic shelter a few days later with a truckload of people and video documentation of history:

It is rather too easy to take our rights and democratically enshrined freedoms for granted, when in fact these are constantly under attack. And during times of crisis, when an opportunistic executive is able to avoid scrutiny, when lawmakers can retreat into the shadows to begin reshaping long-held constitutional rights, democracy is especially vulnerable. In abandoning its democracy principles, all in the name of protecting its citizens from this new invisible enemy, America seems to be trailing the way as it did after 9/11 (Israel too – see the video below), and the rest of the world would do well to pay attention.

On March 25th, Greg Wilpert, host of ‘The Real News Network’, spoke with Antony Loewenstein, author of ‘Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe’, about how the Israeli government’s state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic is being used to shut down political debate and the right to protest:

*

Update: New coronavirus law ‘bestows unlimited powers’ on Orbán government

On the same day I posted this article [March 30th] Amnesty International issued the following press release:

Following a decision by the Hungarian parliament to pass a new law that will allow the Government to rule by decree – without a clear end date or periodic reviews – under an extended state of emergency, David Vig, Amnesty International’s Hungary Director, said:

“This bill creates an indefinite and uncontrolled state of emergency, and gives Viktor Orbán and his Government carte blanche to restrict human rights.

“This is not the way to address the very real crisis that has been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need strong safeguards to ensure that any measures to restrict human rights adopted under the state of emergency are strictly necessary and proportional in order to protect public health. This new law bestows unlimited powers to the government to rule by decree beyond the pandemic.

“During his years as Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán has overseen a rollback of human rights in Hungary, stoking up hostility towards marginalised groups and attempting to muzzle Hungary’s critical voices. Allowing his government to rule by decree is likely to speed up this rollback.”

Rule by decree

The new law will allow Hungary’s Government to rule by decree without a sunset clause or any other provision that would guarantee parliament can exercise proper oversight. It also creates two new crimes which would mean that anyone who publicises false or distorted facts that interfere with the “successful protection” of the public, or that “alarm or agitate” the public, could be punished by up to five years in prison. Anyone who interferes with the operation of a quarantine or isolation order could also face a prison sentence of up to five years, a punishment that increases to eight years if anyone dies as a result.

Amnesty is warning that these measures are inconsistent with international human rights law and standards. Plans for the new law were criticised last week by the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the International Press Institute, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Click here to read the same press release on the Amnesty International website.

*

1 Quote originally used by Benjamin Franklin for the Pennsylvania Assembly in its “Reply to the Governor” (November 11, 1755).

2 From an article entitled “DOJ seeks new emergency powers amid coronavirus pandemic” written by Betsy Woodruff Swan, published in Politico on March 21, 2020. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/21/doj-coronavirus-emergency-powers-140023

3 From an article entitled “Coronavirus: What Newsweek Failed to Mention About ‘Continuity of Government’” written by Whitney Webb, published in Mint Press News on March 23, 2020. https://www.mintpressnews.com/coronavirus-what-newsweek-failed-mention-continuity-government/265954/ 

4 From an article entitled “152 House Democrats Join GOP to Reuathorize ‘Abusive Government Surveillence Powers’” written by Jake Johnson, published by Common Dreams on March 12, 2020. https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/03/12/152-house-democrats-join-gop-reauthorize-abusive-government-surveillance-powers

Leave a comment

Filed under analysis & opinion, Europe, Hungary, Israel, Korea (North and South), mass surveillance, police state, USA

corona marginalia: “Operation Last Gasp”

It is ten days since the UK government took its first steps to tackle the shortage of NHS ventilators, when Boris Johnson, along with Michael Gove, “joined a conference call with more than 60 manufacturing businesses to rally them in a national effort to produce more equipment.”

Politico reported at that time that the government’s aim was to have the necessary ventilators “on stream” within two weeks. We also learned that Johnson had joked about how this request to build more life-saving ventilators might be remembered as “Operation Last Gasp.” 1

Yesterday another reason behind the government’s delay in the procurement of essential medical equipment was revealed by the Guardian, when it reported (initially at least):

Downing Street has declined to take part in an EU scheme to source life-saving ventilators to treat coronavirus because the UK is “no longer a member” and is “making our own efforts”.

Critics accused Boris Johnson of putting “Brexit over breathing” after No 10 said it did not need to participate in the EU effort to procure equipment to fight coronavirus.

The EU has said it is open to the UK taking part in the programme, which seeks to use its bulk-buying power to get new ventilators at the best price.

The UK has instead chosen to source ventilators from British manufacturers who have never made the products before, ordering 10,000 machines from the household appliance firm Dyson.

Asked why the UK was not taking part, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We are no longer members of the EU.” He also stressed that the UK was “making our own efforts” in this area. 2

However, this Guardian article was quickly reedited, and replaced with a different version that retains the same URL whilst providing (as of writing) no notification of any update.

According to the revised account, the government’s failure to cooperate with the EU scheme had never been a policy decision, but was simply “a mix-up” over an email and that the government “would consider participating in future”:

Downing Street has claimed it failed to take part in an EU scheme to source life-saving ventilators to treat coronavirus because it accidentally missed the deadline.

No 10 initially said it did not take part because the UK was “no longer a member” and was “making our own efforts”.

But after critics accused Boris Johnson of putting “Brexit over breathing”, a No 10 spokesman clarified that it had missed out because of an error and would consider participating in future. It is understood the UK claims not to have received an email from the EU asking it to participate.

The mix-up means the UK has missed out on benefiting from the collective buying power of the EU. The bloc is seeking to use its clout to source large numbers of ventilators and protective equipment.

A UK government spokesperson said: “Owing to an initial communication problem, the UK did not receive an invitation in time to join in four joint procurements in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“As the commission has confirmed, we are eligible to participate in joint procurements during the transition period, following our departure from the EU earlier this year.

“As those four initial procurement schemes had already gone out to tender, we were unable to take part in these, but we will consider participating in future procurement schemes on the basis of public health requirements at the time.” 3

Click here to read the revised Guardian article freshly titled “No 10 claims it missed deadline for EU ventilator scheme”.

*

Update: Proof that the government lied

Shortly after posting this it came to my attention that Health Secretary Matt Hancock had already confessed to knowing about the EU ventilator scheme because he drew attention to it on last week’s BBC1 Question Time (March 19th). So it wasn’t “a mix-up” after all – that was just fake news:

*

Further evidence has since come to light “that heap doubt on government claims of missing an email” in a subsequent Guardian article published on March 30th:

EU minutes seen by the Guardian show that a British official joined eight out of 12 EU health security committee meetings dedicated to the Covid-19 outbreak since the group was set up earlier this year, shortly before China’s Hubei province was put into lockdown.

At least four of those meetings discussed EU procurement schemes on: 31 January, 4 February, 2 March and 13 March.

While the government marked Brexit day on 31 January, a British representative joined EU member states and commission officials to discuss what was then called “the cluster of pneumonia cases associated with novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China”.

At this meeting, four EU member states said the virus could require increased stocks in Europe of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, masks and goggles, and the commission said it was ready to help if asked.

The EU executive stated it was ready to help countries bulk-buy medical equipment on 4 February. By 2 March, officials at the commission’s health department reported that 20 EU countries wanted to join a procurement scheme for personal protective equipment, such as overalls, gloves and face-shields. Later that month, on 13 March, EU officials discussed the combined purchase of ventilators.

Peter Liese, a German MEP and medical doctor who sits on the European parliament’s public health committee, said there had also been telephone calls between British and EU officials about the EU procurement scheme. “I know that they [British officials] were at a working level interested in joint procurement,” he told the Guardian.

The veteran German MEP dismissed UK government claims they missed an email. “It was not that they were not aware, but it was a decision not to participate,” he said. “If you are interested you don’t wait for an email.”

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “UK discussed joint EU plan to buy Covid-19 medical supplies, say officials” written by Jennifer Rankin, published on March 30th.

*

1 From an article entitled “POLITICO London Playbook: The age of corona – Rishi leads the fightback – Commons rule change” written by Jack Blanchard, published in Politico on March 17, 2020. https://www.politico.eu/newsletter/london-playbook/politico-london-playbook-the-age-of-corona-rishi-leads-the-fightback-commons-rule-change/

2 From an article entitled “No 10 accused of putting ‘Brexit over breathing’ in Covid-19 ventilator row” written by Rowena Mason and Lisa O’Carroll, published in the Guardian on March 26, 2020 (10:31 EDT) https://web.archive.org/web/20200326170654/https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/26/no-10-boris-johnson-accused-of-putting-brexit-over-breathing-in-covid-19-ventilator-row

3 From an article entitled “No 10 claims it missed deadline for EU ventilator scheme” written by Rowena Mason and Lisa O’Carroll, published in the Guardian on March 26, 2020 (18.25 GMT) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/26/no-10-boris-johnson-accused-of-putting-brexit-over-breathing-in-covid-19-ventilator-row

7 Comments

Filed under Britain

lobby your MP: lift sanctions on Iran immediately!

The COVID-19 virus has had an unprecedented effect on the entire world and Iran is no exception. Iran is being ravaged by the virus and now has more cases than any other country in the world with the exception of China and Italy.

Millions in Iran are likely to die, not just because of the virus but because US imposed sanctions are preventing countless innocent people from accessing vital medical care.

Write to your MP to force the British government to put public pressure on Trump’s administration to end inhumane sanctions at this desperate time.

Click here to find a template letter to send to your MP.

*

Update:

The United States sent Iran a blunt message this week: the spread of the coronavirus will not save it from U.S. sanctions that are choking off its oil revenues and isolating its economy.

Iran is the Middle Eastern nation worst hit by coronavirus, with its death toll climbing to 1,284 and one person dying from it every 10 minutes and 50 becoming infected every hour, the health ministry said.

The United States, which argues that its “maximum pressure” campaign to curb Iran’s nuclear, missile and regional activities does not stop the flow of humanitarian goods, imposed new sanctions this week.

The Trump administration blacklisted five companies based in the United Arab Emirates, three in mainland China, three in Hong Kong and one in South Africa for trade in Iran’s petrochemicals.

“Washington’s increased pressure against Iran is a crime against humanity,” an Iranian official told Reuters. “All the world should help each other to overcome this disease.”

Click here to read the full Reuters report

*

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif accused the US of taking its policy of “maximum pressure” on Tehran to a “new level of inhumanity” by imposing new sanctions on Iran as it struggles to cope with a huge surge of Covid-19 cases.

Zarif tweeted on Friday that The Trump administration was “gleefully” taking pride in “killing Iranian citizens” on Nowruz, the Persian New Year, celebrated on March 20 this year. He said US policy betrayed an “utter contempt for human life.”

His rebuke comes shortly after the US blacklisted five companies based in the United Arab Emirates for trading in Iranian petrochemicals. Three companies in China, three in Hong Kong and one in South Africa were also added to the list this week, as Washington attempts to choke off Tehran’s oil revenues.

Click here to read the full report on RT.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, campaigns & events, Iran, USA

let’s get serious: John Campbell updates on the spread of Covid-19 infection and measures implemented/required

There is no real need for any introduction to this video, so I shall simply add that Dr John Campbell (a nurse and a teacher) has now been putting out straightforward, no nonsense updates of this kind as matter of a public service for many months. Please support his work if you can and if only by forwarding links to others:

*

Important update:

Based on the latest research recently published in a scientific paper entitled Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1 (NEJM, 17 March), John Campbell finds information for helping to limit the spread of the new virus and also explains why the rate of infection is so much higher than for the original SARS virus, SAR-Cov-1.

Here is my own brief summary of the findings:

1) The virus can be semi-aerosolised (i.e., partially airborne) and is able to remain suspended in comparatively small droplets for a few hours, so try to keep out of enclosed spaces where there are crowds or large groups of people

2) These droplets stick to surfaces and the virus can survive for up to about 3 days depending on the type of surface (plastic is especially bad) – John gives precise details. My additional advice is that you should try to quarantine your supplies.

3) Like the SARS virus, this new virus can survive in higher temps although both prefer cooler ones like other coronaviruses – the upshot is that the appearance and spread of these viruses cannot be said to be due to global warming. Looking forward, we can expect that summer will bring some respite.

Click here to find the paper in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Leave a comment

Filed under analysis & opinion, around the world, Britain

coping with corona: assessing the NHS, the UK govt and Eurogroup responses

Last night’s episode of Novara Media’s Tyskie Sour, with hosts Michael Walker and Aaron Bastani, who were joined by NHS doctor Rita Issa, was such an excellent broadcast that I have decided to post it without further description other than to say it covers all the relevant questions about the coming crisis, focussing on the NHS, but also considering the economic implications in the medium and longer term. Near the end of the show they compare the West’s inadequate response to what has been done in South Korea.

[Warning: strong language]

*

To complement the analysis above, which very much centres around the situation facing Britain, I have decided to republish below the latest piece by Yanis Varoufakis (published today) in which he criticises the failures of the Eurogroup and offers his own solutions.

[All highlights are preserved as in the original.]

*

The Eurogroup fails Europe once again. Brace for a hideous EU recession | Yanis Varoufakis

The Eurogroup met yesterday, Monday 16th March, to hammer out its coordinated fiscal response to the massive recession already in progress following the lockdown of much of Europe’s society. The task they faced is enormous: If sales, tourism, services etc. fall by 50% for just one month (which is certain), and then by 25% for only two more months (i.e. the best-case scenario), then annual growth will be -10%. Across Europe!

So, what was the Eurogroup’s duty to announce? An immediate massive fiscal boost, its purpose being to reassure people that they will not be poorer. E.g. the government of Hong Kong that ploughed $10 billion immediately into the economy by ordering the tax office to credit every household’s bank account with $1250 immediately.

Not expecting such swift action from the Eurogroup, the fact remains that nothing short of a 5% fiscal injection was needed to reduce the calamity from -10% of GDP to, say, -3% (assuming a very large multiplier effect).

So, what did the Eurogroup decide?

Here is their official communique, announcing some impressive numbers. Commentators spoke of a bazooka aimed at the recession. In reality, the bazooka was a pathetic water pistol. Once again, the Eurogroup proved itself to be, not just dysfunctional, but a clear and present danger for Europeans.

The first thing to note is what they did not do. As everyone knows, eurozone governments live in the straitjacket of the so-called fiscal compact that allows next to zero room for fiscal expansion. This fiscal compact does, however, contain a clause that can be activated in times of emergency that released, temporarily, governments and allows them to throw money at an unexpected crisis. Before yesterday’s meeting, almost everyone expected the Eurogroup to announce the triggering of this clause. THEY DID NOT!

What they did do was to announce two things:  First, a bevy of loans for the private sector. Secondly, they referred to the utilisation of the so-called automatic stabilisers and also on unspecified measures of 1% of GDP. Let’s take these two separately:

LOANS

  • The European Investment Bank will offer €8 billion of working capital lending for 100,000 European firms, promising to try to this sum to €20bn
  • The Eurogroup toyed with the idea of calling upon the bailout fund (the European Stability Mechanism) to use its unused lending capacity of €410 billion

Before losing ourselves in the detail of this €430 billions of potential loans, it is crucial that we stick to the important point: Loans are useless when the problem is, not illiquidity but, insolvency. It is a pointless gift to lend money to a firm whose customers have disappeared and which know that, when the customers return, it will be next to impossible to repay the new and old debts. What companies need now is either the government to act as a buyer of last resort or a haircut of their liabilitiesnot new loans.

Looking now at the particulars, the EIB loans are a drop in the ocean. Moreover, they fail the speed test, as anyone who has had to apply to the EIB loan knows. As for the ESM, this would be a joke if the situation were not so serious. Why a joke? Because any loan by the ESM comes with so-called ‘conditionalities’. What are these? The government receiving it will need to sign an MoU (like Greece did in 2010) that involves massive future austerity and, thus, become even more of a vasal state of Brussels. Can anyone seriously see the Italian government signing up to its own decapitation by signing such an MoU?

TAX DEFERMENTS plus a 1% of GDP FISCAL ADJUSTMENT

The headline number that newspapers today lead with is a 1% of EU GDP fiscal measures. But when we look at these measures, we find that they lack any detail. The only tangible thing they mention is tax deferments: letting businesses and households not pay VAT and other taxes until the end of the year. But this is also, like the loans to business, a failed policy. Even when the lockdown ends, and business-as-almost-usual returns, Europeans will not earn enough to pay belatedly the deferred taxes plus the new ones. Especially given that many businesses and jobs will have disappeared by then.

In short, Europeans needed a tax haircut. Instead they got a deferment, a kind of state loan by which to repay their taxes later. Yet more spectacular proof that the Eurogroup has not learned its lesson from the 2010 euro crisis: Loans to the bankrupt do not help!

DiEM25’s answer to: What should they have done?

At the very least, the Eurogroup should have recommended to the European Council that the European Investment Bank is given the green light to issue EIB bonds worth €600 billion with the stipulation that, as part of its ongoing and recently enhanced quantitative easing program, the European Central Bank will support the value of these bonds in the bond markets. That €600 billion should be spent directly to support national health services and also be invested in sectors of the economy badly hit by the lockdown – while also nudging our economy toward greener forms of transport, energy generation etc. Additionally, the fiscal compact should be immediately side-lined and governments should effect a tax haircut for small and medium sized firms, households etc.

The above would probably be enough not to avert but to contain the recession to something like between -1% and -2% of GDP. To avert it completely, the Eurogroup should have decided to mimic Hong Kong and have the European Central Bank mint an emergency fund from which every European household is given between €1000 and €2000.

SUMMARY

Those of us who know how the Eurogroup works were not holding much hope yesterday. Nevertheless, Europe’s finance ministers managed to do even less than what we feared: They failed to use the fiscal compact’s proviso for loosening up fiscal policy across the euro area. They continued with the tragic error of treating a crisis of insolvency as a crisis of liquidity. And they failed to recognise that some countries, in particular those savaged by the never-ending euro crisis, need a great deal more support than others.

In short, the Eurogroup’s bazooka is no more than a pathetic waterpistol. It is time that Europeans pushed for something better than this. It is time that we organise at a transnational, paneuropean level to replace this instrument of austerity-driven recession, the Eurogroup, with an institution that can work for a majority of Europeans everywhere.

APPENDIX: The Eurogroup’s telling reference to “automatic stabilisers”

The Eurogroup communique referred to the “full use of automatic stabilisers”. What did they mean?

Here is an example of an ‘automatic stabiliser’: When people lose their job, they go on unemployment benefit. This means a transfer of money from the better off to the worse off. As the worse off, who are now unemployed, save nothing and, therefore, more of the money of the better off enters the markets. That’s what economists refer to as an ‘automatic stabiliser’ (‘automatic’ because no government decision was needed to activate it – the loss of jobs does it automatically | and ‘stabiliser’ because the higher portion of spending relative to savings boosts GDP ).

Can you see dear reader what the Eurogroup are really saying when confessing to relying to the ‘automatic stabilisers’ in the absence of concerted fiscal expansion? They are saying: Don’t worry folks. While it is true we, the finance ministers, are doing almost nothing to avert the disaster, when the disaster comes your job losses and poverty will trigger some automatic mechanism that will break the economy’s fall. A little like consoling the victims of the plague with their thought that their death will, through shrinking the labour supply, boost future wages…

Click here to read the same piece on Yanis Varoufakis’ official website.

Note that: Not all of the views expressed above are ones necessarily shared by Wall of Controversy.

*

Update:

If you would like regular information on the spread of Covid-19 and the measures being taken in countries across the world, then I very much recommend the down-to-earth daily updates provided by Dr John Campbell. Today he begins by reading one of the most heart-rending letters imaginable from a nurse working on the frontline in Italy:

*

On March 15th, George Galloway invited NHS Consultant, Dr Ranjeet Brar, to speak about the threat posed by a rapidly accelerating number of coronavirus cases and difficulties now facing the health service. He also talks at length about the Malthusian ethos informing the government initial decision to sacrifice numbers of our elderly and infirm for the sake of developing ‘herd immunity’ (something that may not even be achievable for a coronavirus outbreak):

*

On March 18th, Going Underground invited Professor Rupert Read, Associate Professor of Philosophy and spokesman for Extinction Rebellion (an organisation I do not have a great deal of time for – for the record) to discuss the British government’s lamentable response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Read also expresses his dismay at Boris Johnson’s decision to adopt a ‘herd immunity’ response knowing it would inevitably result in hundreds of thousands of Britons dying. They also talked about how the UK government response is completely at odds with the rest of the world and how the British population is actually leading the government in terms of its own response to tackling the spread of coronavirus infection:

*

On March 18th, Novara Media invited Steve Turner, Assistant General Secretary (AGS) of Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union, Unite the Union, to join them in an extended discussion about the potential economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, how it impacts working class people, and how organised labour needs to respond:

*

On April 8th, Yanis Varoufakis joined Aaron Bastani and Michael Walker on Novara Media’s Tysky Sour to discuss what he calls “the tragedy of errors”:

Leave a comment

Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, Europe, Korea (North and South)

in search of the truth about this new coronavirus, Covid-19

Like most people, when it comes to coronavirus Covid-19, I’m no expert on the relevant scientific fields of microbiology, infectious diseases or epidemiology. Complete absence of knowledge in such a highly technical issue can seem like a good reason not to enter into the debate at all and why, until now, I have chosen to avoid writing on this subject. The change of heart happens because, like you too, I have a serious, since vested interest, not only in trying to determine the truth, but also in sharing the fruits of my own investigations.

Before I come to the science or discuss the UK government’s response, I wish to make clear that although I believe the government has acted recklessly by playing down the seriousness of SARS-CoV-2 (the technical name for the virus itself), parts of the media have been reckless in a different way: rushing around like a clucking flock of Chicken-lickens (dare I add) with their heads cut off, all clamouring in that ostentatious 24/7 rolling news coverage way of theirs to reinforce the opinion that “the sky is falling in”. Some of this febrile media panic has become so bad that other more reserved news reports have actually confirmed that a mass hysteria is being irresponsibly (if fortunately to great extent ineffectively) whipped up:

University of California, Irvine associate professor E. Alison Holman, who has published research on media exposure to mass-trauma events, said the toilet paper scare appeared to have originated with articles about stocking up before the virus’ spread.

“A week ago, there were a handful of articles in major newspapers saying, here’s what you should do to prepare for the coronavirus. And one of the top things that was listed on at least two or three websites — major media outlets — was: Buy toilet paper,” Ms. Holman said. “I think some of the freak-out about getting toilet paper has to do with that.”

She described the media-fueled worry as “a little overblown,” while others have gone so far as to accuse the press of sensationalizing the virus to juice ratings. 1

Liberally mixed into this whole confusion is the swirling uncertainty of an aggregate of internet information, misinformation and disinformation (or ‘fake news’ if you must – as if propaganda is only the product of our internet age). It ought to go without saying really that you shouldn’t automatically trust anything you read, with the original source of the story key to understanding any subsequent interpretation of it – a caveat that in no way excludes the articles on my own blog, but also applies to mainstream broadcasters and newspapers.

I try to take great care with the inclusion of references wherever relevant, always doing my best to navigate a course to avoid any deliberate lies and well-intentioned misunderstandings and errors. Sometimes this puts me at odds with the stance taken by other researchers, journalists and bloggers whose views I ordinarily subscribe to. Right now, there are many who justifiably are alerting their own audiences to the danger that measures rolled out to contain this disease ranging from increased surveillance and the introduction of cashless exchange 2 to lockdowns, curfews, and arrest and detainment, which may be difficult or impossible to rollback. In the notorious words of Rahm Emanuel: “Never let a crisis go to waste”. Not wishing to downplay this very real alternative danger, I therefore encourage readers to follow the work of investigative reporter Whitney Webb who explains in her latest article:

The decision to classify government coronavirus preparations in mid-January, followed by the decision to coordinate the domestic response with the military and with intelligence deserves considerable scrutiny, particularly given that at least one federal agency, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), will be given broad, sweeping powers and will work closely with unspecified intelligence “partners” as part of its response to a pandemics like COVID-19.

The CBP’s pandemic response document, obtained by The Nation, reveals that the CBP’s pandemic directive “allows the agency to actively surveil and detain individuals suspected of carrying the illness indefinitely.” The Nation further notes that the plan was drafted during the George W. Bush administration, but is the agency’s most recent pandemic response plan and remains in effect.

Though only CBP’s pandemic response plan has now been made public, those of other agencies are likely to be similar, particularly on their emphasis on surveillance, given past precedent following the September 11 attacks and other times of national panic. Notably, several recent media reports have likened coronavirus to 9/11 and broached the possibility of a “9/11-like” response to coronavirus, suggestions that should concern critics of the post-9/11 “Patriot Act” and other controversial laws, executive orders and policies that followed. 3

Click here to read the full article entitled “US Intel Agencies Played Unsettling Role in Classified and ‘9/11-like’ Coronavirus Response Plan” published by Mint Press News.

I would also point you to the research of John Whitehead who writes of the current crisis:

Don’t go underestimating the government’s ability to lock the nation down if the coronavirus turns into a pandemic, however. After all, the government has been planning and preparing for such a crisis for years now.

The building blocks are already in place for such an eventuality: the surveillance networks, fusion centers and government contractors that already share information in real time; the government’s massive biometric databases that can identify individuals based on genetic and biological markers; the militarized police, working in conjunction with federal agencies, ready and able to coordinate with the federal government when it’s time to round up the targeted individuals; the courts that will sanction the government’s methods, no matter how unlawful, as long as it’s done in the name of national security; and the detention facilities, whether private prisons or FEMA internment camps, that have been built and are waiting to be filled.

Now all of this may sound far-fetched to you now, but we’ve already arrived at the dystopian futures prophesised by George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report. 4

Click here to read the full article entitled “Coronavirus vs. Mass Surveillance State: Which Poses the Greater Threat?” published in Counterpunch.

It is wise to be cautious. The remedy can often be worse than the disease; however, this is no excuse whatsoever to downplay the threat once we understand that the threat is real.

*

Science, what science?

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.5

[bold highlight added]

Click here to read the full Guardian report published on Friday entitled “‘Do not let this fire burn’: WHO warns Europe over Covid-19”.

Having completed what Boris Johnson and the UK government have comically, bordering on the self-satirical, described as the “containment” phase – a period in which countless people who arrived in Britain from infected areas were permitted entry without quarantine and never tested or traced – we have now reached the “delay” phase, which will, they say, “flatten the curve” to slow up the rate of hospital admissions, whilst permitting the development of herd immunity.

On paper, such a lassez-faire approach might have merits. In the long run, it will certainly mean the population becomes resistant to this particular strain of virus, lessening concerns of another outbreak once the current one has passed. Meanwhile, any slowing down of transmission of the virus will save lives. In fact, this approach would be commendable for an outbreak of flu, but unfortunately what we are dealing with isn’t flu. It isn’t even the same virus; this is a SARS-like virus and comparisons to flu are misleading for many reasons (pictures sometimes tell a better story than words):

Now for some figures: as of March 9th, South Korea had tested 190,000 people, with 7,478 confirmed cases and 51 deaths. 6 That equates to a 0.7% mortality rate, which matches what has also been reported outside of Wuhan in China. This is the best estimate of the mortality rate we currently have – for comparison, the rate is around 0.1% for seasonal flu. That represents a hugely significant difference. Of course, the death rates and hospitalisation rates can only be based on confirmed cases, which means that the recorded figures can be high because there is insufficient testing of non-serious cases. The positive here is quite obvious, but there is also a negative to consider: that the spread of this disease is already far more widespread than any current data indicates.

On top of this, Covid-19 is highly transmissible. Best estimates indicate that is may be 3-4 times more infectious. As the spread is exponential and this is the base multiplier, the rise in the number of cases can be expected to far exceed a typical rise in cases of flu, putting an enormous extra strain on any health service. It accounts for why China has locked down a city, constructed new hospitals and flown in some 50,000 extra medics. It also explains how the situation in Italy has become so desperate.

Indeed, if transmission in the UK or elsewhere is not sufficiently slowed, then we can expect to see scenes like those in Italy where the health system has been overwhelmed with so many serious cases requiring intensive care. So what measures have we taken that Italy did not? Or Spain (which is also beginning to see a dramatic spike in cases)?

Richard Horton is the Editor of ‘The Lancet’. This is just one of many tweets he has recently put out highly critical of government inaction:

 

There are two further points about the threat posed by this new coronavirus that really need clearing up. Firstly, it continues to be intimated that just the elderly and those with underlying conditions should be concerned about contracting the disease, which is true up to a point. Thankfully, children and very young adults seem to be hardly affected at all. Although again this presents another risk since these asymptomatic groups can also be carriers, spreading the disease within communities. It should also be stressed however that the median age of fatality is 65 years old (this seems to be confirmed across all regions). Median means that half of the cases are below 65, with many of the victims sadly in their 50’s and younger. For some as yet unknown reason, they are also disproportionately male.

Secondly, although the mortality rate is below 1% (high nonetheless), what we are slowly learning is that about 10% of cases suffer a very severe form of pneumonia which can leave serious and long-term damage. To reiterate: this is not flu. I have included interviews with medics working on the frontline in Italy in an addendum below.

The government’s official stance is very obviously contrary to the stringent measures that were enforced by China and more humanely in Singapore and South Korea, where coronavirus epidemics have been quite rapidly contained; it is also in outright defiance to current World Health Organisation guidelines, as summarised above. The fact that there is no testing of anyone who doesn’t present symptoms and no contact tracing whatsoever means we cannot accurately keep track of the disease, and in the words of Tedros, “you can’t fight the virus if you don’t know where it is”.

In the same briefing statement given on March 12th, Tedros also said this: “To save lives we must reduce transmission. That means finding and isolating as many cases as possible, and quarantining their closest contacts. Even if you cannot stop transmission, you can slow it down and protect health facilities, old age homes and other vital areas – but only if you test all suspected cases.” 7

And here again, the UK government is completely remiss. As of now, the government is making no efforts to find and isolate anyone at all. From one perspective, this also looks like it is being deliberately allowed to spread, or rather more generously and less conspiratorially, that it is a clear dereliction of duty to protect its citizens.

The bewildering aspect of this clear failure to comply with WHO guidelines is that Johnson insists he is just following ‘the science’. Well, if Johnson’s advisors disagree with WHO then surely it is incumbent on them to acknowledge and justify their variance, rather than simply ignoring it.

On BBC’s Question Time broadcast on March 12th, Professor John Ashton, former Director of Public Health, was also highly critical of the government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak which he described as “paternalistic, old-fashioned and top-down”:

Moreover, and despite how Boris Johnson and the UK government have chosen to present and justify their current strategy, as always flanked by medical and scientific experts, there is far more to address here than simply ‘the science’ (as if the definite article somehow makes it more scientific). Thankfully, we do not as yet live in a technocracy, and potential crises like the one we may now face provide another good reason to avoid ever becoming one. Why? Because the approach we adopt to tackle any public health issue, and especially one that is urgent and potentially serious, is inherently political – it is immediately informed by what government and to a lesser degree our society values most, which are seldom the same given that our governments are beholden more to special interests than the electorate. There is no single scientific answer; no technocratic short-cut. Do we care more about people or profits? It is a question the government ought to be asked more often.

Here is Health Secretary, Matt Hancock speaking yesterday on BBC’s ‘The Andrew Marr Show’ appearing to be completely out of his depth and making no real sense:

Remarkably the upload has been removed already (within 24 hours!) – but you can still watch the whole interview on BBC iplayer here.

*

Final thoughts

There is no question the banksters and the rest of the vulture capitalist class are rubbing their hands at the prospect of fire sales and super-charged deregulation – that is the nature of disaster capitalism. And more immediately, public hand out for emergency contracts that always pay above the odds. I also see every reason to be suspicious that two of the countries most affected right now are China and Iran – the origins of this disease remain a mystery. It is also the case that the media is hyping this. Why the hell do people panic buy in the first place, except when they start seeing images of empty shelves? On top of all that, there is every reason to be suspicious of a UN body like the WHO.

Embedded below is a powerful investigative documentary entitled ‘trustWHO’ (available on Vimeo for a small rental fee) made by filmmaker Lilian Franck, who went on a quest to discover what lies behind the altruistic façade of the world’s largest public health body. What she uncovers is an alarming picture of corruption and opacity. She also covers the recent change to the classification of what  a pandemic is and when the WHO should announce a pandemic, an announcement that triggers a world wide pandemic response by nation states, the kind of which we have been seeing in recent days since the WHO finally announced it:

Assuredly Covid-19 is not as virulent as the Spanish Flu which I believe had an estimated death rate of about 20% (there is an interesting article on how Wikipedia recently altered their entry to reduce this figure). It is now evident, however, that it is far more deadly than regular flu. It should also be noted that many more people are made seriously ill than this death rate. Lastly, the infectiousness of Covd-19 is also much higher than flu – possibly as much as 3-4 times higher. For all these reasons it is entirely misleading to compare Covid-19 to flu.

The NHS here in Britain barely copes with the annual winter flu rise. To be honest, although originally I dismissed this as merely media hype, I am now anticipating that Britain will be hit by a crisis the NHS is unprepared to deal with: a situation at least as dire or possibly worse than the one happening in Italy. My hunch is that this will likely happen within the next fortnight (we shall see – fingers crossed that I’m wrong). I would also be concerned about the same situation subsequently happening in America – not because Covid-19 is as deadly as Spanish Flu but because it is bad enough, spreads astonishing rapidly and none of our terribly under-funded public health systems are ready for it. Of course, I really hope this turns out to be wrong and yes, the vultures are already circling whatever happens.

*

Addendum

Giacomo Grasselli, a senior Italian government health official who is coordinating the network of intensive care units in Lombardy, spoke about the “critical” situation in Italy on C4 News broadcast March 10th:

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Giovanni Guaraldi discusses lessons being learned by Italian doctors about the new virus on CTV News broadcast on March 4th:

On March 14th Sky News interviewed anaesthetist Marco Vergano who works in Turin, Italy:

*

Additional: What are the origins of Covid-19?

The world has been given to believe that this novel form of coronavirus Covid-19 is an entirely accidental mutation. To begin with, at least in the West, we were also expected to swallow the unsubstantiated but widely publicised assertions that its occurrence was due to the bizarre eating habits of the Chinese and cross-contamination from a wet market. Unsettling images of ghastly bowls of bat soup were featured across the newsstands – pictures almost certainly not taken in China but never mind.

Beneath the frankly xenophobic headlines, there is another side to the story that has received considerably less attention: just how strikingly novel the new virus really is. This is from an article entitled “Why COVID-19 is more insidious than other coronaviruses” published by Salon magazine in late February:

While there are many known viruses in the same class of coronavirus as COVID-19, some of its peculiarities — including its infectivity — are perplexing researchers. Now, a recent research paper viewable on the Chinese research site Chinaxiv.org and previously reported on by the South China Morning Post notes that the new coronavirus has an “HIV-like mutation” that gives it novel properties.

“Because of this mutation, the packing mechanism of the 2019-nCoV may be changed to being more similar to those of MHV, HIV, Ebola virus (EBoV) and some avian influenza viruses,” the English abstract of the paper states.

The same article continues:

Though the paper is yet to be peer-reviewed, the scientists involved hail from Nankai Unviersity in Tianjin, one of the top universities in the world’s most populous nation.

The paper adds to the crucial body of research around COVID-19, which still includes more unknowns than knowns. Currently, scientists still do not know COVID-19’s origin, though suspect it is zoonotic, meaning it likely started in an animal before spreading to humans. As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note on their website, COVID-19 is an “emerging disease,” and much of what we do know is “based on what is known about similar coronaviruses.” 8

Keeping this in mind, I recommend listening to a short interview with esteemed human rights lawyer and Professor of International Law at the University of Illinois, Francis Boyle. It is important to understand that Boyle has significant expertise in this field having drafted legislation for the Biological Weapons Convention, known as the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989.

Boyle is adamant that Covid-19 is a leaked bioweapons agent and given his standing, one might imagine that informed opinion of this kind with the submission of supporting evidence, deserves a more public platform. Instead, as he says, no mainstream journalists have come forward to speak with him. I do not, of course, leap to the conclusion that his account is the correct one; only find it curious that most journalists, who for their part invariably have little to no expertise in this field, are so eager to either ignore him altogether or undermine his authority in hit-pieces that consistently dismiss Boyle merely as “a lawyer”.

Furthermore, there is an additional piece of evidence that appears to be in favour of Boyle’s claims. It appeared in an article published by the highly respected scientific journal Nature back in November 2015. Entitled “Engineered bat virus stirs debate over risky research”, the piece begins:

An experiment that created a hybrid version of a bat coronavirus — one related to the virus that causes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) — has triggered renewed debate over whether engineering lab variants of viruses with possible pandemic potential is worth the risks. 9

For the record, the bats in question were Chinese horseshoe bats.

I shall not reproduce a larger extract because there is an ominous ‘rights & permissions’ caution, and so for the purposes of fair use I will also reprint in full the editors’ cautionary note prefacing the article:

Editors’ note, March 2020: We are aware that this story is being used as the basis for unverified theories that the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 was engineered. There is no evidence that this is true; scientists believe that an animal is the most likely source of the coronavirus.

Having no expertise in this field, I merely present evidence for others to judge.

Click here to read the full Nature article.

And here and here to read articles published in 2013 about attempts by scientists based in The Netherlands to weaponise bird flu.

Correction:

In the original version of this article I incorrectly stated that SARS-CoV-2 was “the technical name for the disease itself”. It is instead the name of the virus whereas Covid-19 is the name of the disease; just as HIV is the name for the virus that causes the disease AIDS.

*

1 From an article entitled “’Inducing panic’: Media under fire for driving coronavirus hype to epidemic levels” written by Valerie Richardson, published in The Washington Times on March 11, 2020. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/mar/11/media-fueling-coronavirus-panic-under-fire/

2 Arguably this is purely for hygienic reasons right now and not intended as a long term plan – a measure to protect workers on the frontline such as those needed on supermarket checkout. Obviously they do not need coronavirus to enact such regulation.

3 From an article entitled “US Intel Agencies Played Unsettling Role in Classified “9/11-like” Coronavirus Response Plan” written by Whitney Webb, published in Mint Press News on March 13, 2020. https://www.mintpressnews.com/us-intelligence-unsettling-role-classified-9-11-like-coronavirus-response/265687/

4 From an article entitled “Coronavirusvs, the Mass Surveillance State: Which Poses the Greater Threat” written by John W. Whitehead, published in Counterpunch on March 12, 2020. https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/03/12/coronavirus-vs-the-mass-surveillance-state-which-poses-the-greater-threat/

5 From an article entitled “’Do not let this fire burn’: WHO warns Europe over Covid-19” written by Jon Henley and Sam Jones, published in the Guardian on March 13, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/13/european-countries-take-radical-steps-to-combat-coronavirus

6 Based on figures reported in an article by New Scientist entitled “Why is it so hard to calculate how many people will die from Covid-19?” written by Michael Le Page, published in New Scientist on March 11, 2020. https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24532733-700-why-is-it-so-hard-to-calculate-how-many-people-will-die-from-covid-19/  Here is a fuller extract of the piece:

Last month, a study estimated that the fatality rate when infected people without symptoms are included in the case count is around 1 per cent, and this is still thought to be in the right ball park.

It is clear that some countries, including the US and Iran, are missing cases as so few people are being tested. South Korea, by contrast, had tested 190,000 people as of 9 March, with 7478 confirmed cases and 51 deaths.

This means 0.7 per cent of reported cases in South Korea have died so far, which matches what we have seen in China outside of Wuhan. If these places are detecting most cases, the fatality rate will not be much lower than this, though it could be higher if many recently infected people die.

The fatality rate for covid-19 isn’t fixed, and will vary based on many factors. Age is one, with the rate rising from around age 50 and reaching 15 per cent in over-80s, according to data from China. Countries like Niger, with many younger people, may fare better than Japan, where more than a quarter are aged over 65.

7 https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-mission-briefing-on-covid-19—12-march-2020

8 From an article entitled “Why COVID-19 is more insidious than other coronaviruses” written by Nicole Karlis, published by Salon magazine on February 28, 2020. https://www.salon.com/2020/02/27/why-covid-19-is-more-insidious-than-other-coronaviruses/

9 From an article entitled “Engineered bat virus stirs debate over risky research” written by Declan Butler, published in Nature on November 12, 2015. https://www.nature.com/news/engineered-bat-virus-stirs-debate-over-risky-research-1.18787

5 Comments

Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, China, Italy, police state

‘Your Man in the Public Gallery’ – Craig Murray’s report from day 1 of the Assange hearing

The following report was published on Tuesday 25th by Craig Murray.

Woolwich Crown Court is designed to impose the power of the state. Normal courts in this country are public buildings, deliberately placed by our ancestors right in the centre of towns, almost always just up a few steps from a main street. The major purpose of their positioning and of their architecture was to facilitate public access in the belief that it is vital that justice can be seen by the public.

Woolwich Crown Court, which hosts Belmarsh Magistrates Court, is built on totally the opposite principle. It is designed with no other purpose than to exclude the public. Attached to a prison on a windswept marsh far from any normal social centre, an island accessible only through navigating a maze of dual carriageways, the entire location and architecture of the building is predicated on preventing public access. It is surrounded by a continuation of the same extremely heavy duty steel paling barrier that surrounds the prison. It is the most extraordinary thing, a courthouse which is a part of the prison system itself, a place where you are already considered guilty and in jail on arrival. Woolwich Crown Court is nothing but the physical negation of the presumption of innocence, the very incarnation of injustice in unyielding steel, concrete and armoured glass. It has precisely the same relationship to the administration of justice as Guantanamo Bay or the Lubyanka. It is in truth just the sentencing wing of Belmarsh prison.

When enquiring about facilities for the public to attend the hearing, an Assange activist was told by a member of court staff that we should realise that Woolwich is a “counter-terrorism court”. That is true de facto, but in truth a “counter-terrorism court” is an institution unknown to the UK constitution. Indeed, if a single day at Woolwich Crown Court does not convince you the existence of liberal democracy is now a lie, then your mind must be very closed indeed.

Extradition hearings are not held at Belmarsh Magistrates Court inside Woolwich Crown Court. They are always held at Westminster Magistrates Court as the application is deemed to be delivered to the government at Westminster. Now get your head around this. This hearing is at Westminster Magistrates Court. It is being held by the Westminster magistrates and Westminster court staff, but located at Belmarsh Magistrates Court inside Woolwich Crown Court. All of which weird convolution is precisely so they can use the “counter-terrorist court” to limit public access and to impose the fear of the power of the state.

One consequence is that, in the courtroom itself, Julian Assange is confined at the back of the court behind a bulletproof glass screen. He made the point several times during proceedings that this makes it very difficult for him to see and hear the proceedings. The magistrate, Vanessa Baraitser, chose to interpret this with studied dishonesty as a problem caused by the very faint noise of demonstrators outside, as opposed to a problem caused by Assange being locked away from the court in a massive bulletproof glass box.

Now there is no reason at all for Assange to be in that box, designed to restrain extremely physically violent terrorists. He could sit, as a defendant at a hearing normally would, in the body of the court with his lawyers. But the cowardly and vicious Baraitser has refused repeated and persistent requests from the defence for Assange to be allowed to sit with his lawyers. Baraitser of course is but a puppet, being supervised by Chief Magistrate Lady Arbuthnot, a woman so enmeshed in the defence and security service establishment I can conceive of no way in which her involvement in this case could be more corrupt.

It does not matter to Baraitser or Arbuthnot if there is any genuine need for Assange to be incarcerated in a bulletproof box, or whether it stops him from following proceedings in court. Baraitser’s intention is to humiliate Assange, and to instill in the rest of us horror at the vast crushing power of the state. The inexorable strength of the sentencing wing of the nightmarish Belmarsh Prison must be maintained. If you are here, you are guilty.

It’s the Lubyanka. You may only be a remand prisoner. This may only be a hearing not a trial. You may have no history of violence and not be accused of any violence. You may have three of the country’s most eminent psychiatrists submitting reports of your history of severe clinical depression and warning of suicide. But I, Vanessa Baraitser, am still going to lock you up in a box designed for the most violent of terrorists. To show what we can do to dissidents. And if you can’t then follow court proceedings, all the better.

You will perhaps better accept what I say about the Court when I tell you that, for a hearing being followed all round the world, they have brought it to a courtroom which had a total number of sixteen seats available to members of the public. 16. To make sure I got one of those 16 and could be your man in the gallery, I was outside that great locked iron fence queuing in the cold, wet and wind from 6am. At 8am the gate was unlocked, and I was able to walk inside the fence to another queue before the doors of the courtroom, where despite the fact notices clearly state the court opens to the public at 8am, I had to queue outside the building again for another hour and forty minutes. Then I was processed through armoured airlock doors, through airport type security, and had to queue behind two further locked doors, before finally getting to my seat just as the court started at 10am. By which stage the intention was we should have been thoroughly cowed and intimidated, not to mention drenched and potentially hypothermic.

There was a separate media entrance and a media room with live transmission from the courtroom, and there were so many scores of media I thought I could relax and not worry as the basic facts would be widely reported. In fact, I could not have been more wrong. I followed the arguments very clearly every minute of the day, and not a single one of the most important facts and arguments today has been reported anywhere in the mainstream media. That is a bold claim, but I fear it is perfectly true. So I have much work to do to let the world know what actually happened. The mere act of being an honest witness is suddenly extremely important, when the entire media has abandoned that role.

James Lewis QC made the opening statement for the prosecution. It consisted of two parts, both equally extraordinary. The first and longest part was truly remarkable for containing no legal argument, and for being addressed not to the magistrate but to the media. It is not just that it was obvious that is where his remarks were aimed, he actually stated on two occasions during his opening statement that he was addressing the media, once repeating a sentence and saying specifically that he was repeating it again because it was important that the media got it.

I am frankly astonished that Baraitser allowed this. It is completely out of order for a counsel to address remarks not to the court but to the media, and there simply could not be any clearer evidence that this is a political show trial and that Baraitser is complicit in that. I have not the slightest doubt that the defence would have been pulled up extremely quickly had they started addressing remarks to the media. Baraitser makes zero pretence of being anything other than in thrall to the Crown, and by extension to the US Government.

The points which Lewis wished the media to know were these: it is not true that mainstream outlets like the Guardian and New York Times are also threatened by the charges against Assange, because Assange was not charged with publishing the cables but only with publishing the names of informants, and with cultivating Manning and assisting him to attempt computer hacking. Only Assange had done these things, not mainstream outlets.

Lewis then proceeded to read out a series of articles from the mainstream media attacking Assange, as evidence that the media and Assange were not in the same boat. The entire opening hour consisted of the prosecution addressing the media, attempting to drive a clear wedge between the media and Wikileaks and thus aimed at reducing media support for Assange. It was a political address, not remotely a legal submission. At the same time, the prosecution had prepared reams of copies of this section of Lewis’ address, which were handed out to the media and given them electronically so they could cut and paste.

Following an adjournment, magistrate Baraitser questioned the prosecution on the veracity of some of these claims. In particular, the claim that newspapers were not in the same position because Assange was charged not with publication, but with “aiding and abetting” Chelsea Manning in getting the material, did not seem consistent with Lewis’ reading of the 1989 Official Secrets Act, which said that merely obtaining and publishing any government secret was an offence. Surely, Baraitser suggested, that meant that newspapers just publishing the Manning leaks would be guilty of an offence?

This appeared to catch Lewis entirely off guard. The last thing he had expected was any perspicacity from Baraitser, whose job was just to do what he said. Lewis hummed and hawed, put his glasses on and off several times, adjusted his microphone repeatedly and picked up a succession of pieces of paper from his brief, each of which appeared to surprise him by its contents, as he waved them haplessly in the air and said he really should have cited the Shayler case but couldn’t find it. It was liking watching Columbo with none of the charm and without the killer question at the end of the process.

Suddenly Lewis appeared to come to a decision. Yes, he said much more firmly. The 1989 Official Secrets Act had been introduced by the Thatcher Government after the Ponting Case, specifically to remove the public interest defence and to make unauthorised possession of an official secret a crime of strict liability – meaning no matter how you got it, publishing and even possessing made you guilty. Therefore, under the principle of dual criminality, Assange was liable for extradition whether or not he had aided and abetted Manning. Lewis then went on to add that any journalist and any publication that printed the official secret would therefore also be committing an offence, no matter how they had obtained it, and no matter if it did or did not name informants.

Lewis had thus just flat out contradicted his entire opening statement to the media stating that they need not worry as the Assange charges could never be applied to them. And he did so straight after the adjournment, immediately after his team had handed out copies of the argument he had now just completely contradicted. I cannot think it has often happened in court that a senior lawyer has proven himself so absolutely and so immediately to be an unmitigated and ill-motivated liar. This was undoubtedly the most breathtaking moment in today’s court hearing.

Yet remarkably I cannot find any mention anywhere in the mainstream media that this happened at all. What I can find, everywhere, is the mainstream media reporting, via cut and paste, Lewis’s first part of his statement on why the prosecution of Assange is not a threat to press freedom; but nobody seems to have reported that he totally abandoned his own argument five minutes later. Were the journalists too stupid to understand the exchanges?

The explanation is very simple. The clarification coming from a question Baraitser asked Lewis, there is no printed or electronic record of Lewis’ reply. His original statement was provided in cut and paste format to the media. His contradiction of it would require a journalist to listen to what was said in court, understand it and write it down. There is no significant percentage of mainstream media journalists who command that elementary ability nowadays. “Journalism” consists of cut and paste of approved sources only. Lewis could have stabbed Assange to death in the courtroom, and it would not be reported unless contained in a government press release.

I was left uncertain of Baraitser’s purpose in this. Plainly she discomfited Lewis very badly on this point, and appeared rather to enjoy doing so. On the other hand the point she made is not necessarily helpful to the defence. What she was saying was essentially that Julian could be extradited under dual criminality, from the UK point of view, just for publishing, whether or not he conspired with Chelsea Manning, and that all the journalists who published could be charged too. But surely this is a point so extreme that it would be bound to be invalid under the Human Rights Act? Was she pushing Lewis to articulate a position so extreme as to be untenable – giving him enough rope to hang himself – or was she slavering at the prospect of not just extraditing Assange, but of mass prosecutions of journalists?

The reaction of one group was very interesting. The four US government lawyers seated immediately behind Lewis had the grace to look very uncomfortable indeed as Lewis baldly declared that any journalist and any newspaper or broadcast media publishing or even possessing any government secret was committing a serious offence. Their entire strategy had been to pretend not to be saying that.

Lewis then moved on to conclude the prosecution’s arguments. The court had no decision to make, he stated. Assange must be extradited. The offence met the test of dual criminality as it was an offence both in the USA and UK. UK extradition law specifically barred the court from testing whether there was any evidence to back up the charges. If there had been, as the defence argued, abuse of process, the court must still extradite and then the court must pursue the abuse of process as a separate matter against the abusers. (This is a particularly specious argument as it is not possible for the court to take action against the US government due to sovereign immunity, as Lewis well knows). Finally, Lewis stated that the Human Rights Act and freedom of speech were completely irrelevant in extradition proceedings.

Edward Fitzgerald then arose to make the opening statement for the defence. He started by stating that the motive for the prosecution was entirely political, and that political offences were specifically excluded under article 4.1 of the UK/US extradition treaty. He pointed out that at the time of the Chelsea Manning Trial and again in 2013 the Obama administration had taken specific decisions not to prosecute Assange for the Manning leaks. This had been reversed by the Trump administration for reasons that were entirely political.

On abuse of process, Fitzgerald referred to evidence presented to the Spanish criminal courts that the CIA had commissioned a Spanish security company to spy on Julian Assange in the Embassy, and that this spying specifically included surveillance of Assange’s privileged meetings with his lawyers to discuss extradition. For the state trying to extradite to spy on the defendant’s client-lawyer consultations is in itself grounds to dismiss the case. (This point is undoubtedly true. Any decent judge would throw the case out summarily for the outrageous spying on the defence lawyers).

Fitzgerald went on to say the defence would produce evidence the CIA not only spied on Assange and his lawyers, but actively considered kidnapping or poisoning him, and that this showed there was no commitment to proper rule of law in this case.

Fitzgerald said that the prosecution’s framing of the case contained deliberate misrepresentation of the facts that also amounted to abuse of process. It was not true that there was any evidence of harm to informants, and the US government had confirmed this in other fora, eg in Chelsea Manning’s trial. There had been no conspiracy to hack computers, and Chelsea Manning had been acquitted on that charge at court martial. Lastly it was untrue that Wikileaks had initiated publication of unredacted names of informants, as other media organisations had been responsible for this first.

Again, so far as I can see, while the US allegation of harm to informants is widely reported, the defence’s total refutation on the facts and claim that the fabrication of facts amounts to abuse of process is not much reported at all. Fitzgerald finally referred to US prison conditions, the impossibility of a fair trial in the US, and the fact the Trump Administration has stated foreign nationals will not receive First Amendment protections, as reasons that extradition must be barred. You can read the whole defence statement, but in my view the strongest passage was on why this is a political prosecution, and thus precluded from extradition.

For the purposes of section 81(a), I next have to deal with the question of how this politically motivated prosecution satisfies the test of being directed against Julian Assange because of his political opinions. The essence of his political opinions which have provoked this prosecution are summarised in the reports of Professor Feldstein [tab 18], Professor Rogers [tab 40], Professor Noam Chomsky [tab 39] and Professor Kopelman:-
i. He is a leading proponent of an open society and of freedom of expression.
ii. He is anti-war and anti-imperialism.
iii. He is a world-renowned champion of political transparency and of the public’s right to access information on issues of importance – issues such as political corruption, war crimes, torture and the mistreatment of Guantanamo detainees.

5.4. Those beliefs and those actions inevitably bring him into conflict with powerful states including the current US administration, for political reasons. Which explains why he has been denounced as a terrorist and why President Trump has in the past called for the death penalty.

5.5. But I should add his revelations are far from confined to the wrongdoings of the US. He has exposed surveillance by Russia; and published exposes of Mr Assad in Syria; and it is said that WikiLeaks revelations about corruption in Tunisia and torture in Egypt were the catalyst for the Arab Spring itself.

5.6. The US say he is no journalist. But you will see a full record of his work in Bundle M. He has been a member of the Australian journalists union since 2009, he is a member of the NUJ and the European Federation of Journalists. He has won numerous media awards including being honoured with the highest award for Australian journalists. His work has been recognised by the Economist, Amnesty International and the Council of Europe. He is the winner of the Martha Gelhorn prize and has been repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, including both last year and this year. You can see from the materials that he has written books, articles and documentaries. He has had articles published in the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the New Statesman, just to name a few. Some of the very publications for which his extradition is being sought have been refereed to and relied upon in Courts throughout the world, including the UK Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights. In short, he has championed the cause of transparency and freedom of information throughout the world.

5.7. Professor Noam Chomsky puts it like this: – ‘in courageously upholding political beliefs that most of profess to share he has performed an enormous service to all those in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy and who therefore demand the right to know what their elected representatives are doing’ [see tab 39, paragraph 14]. So Julian Assange’s positive impact on the world is undeniable. The hostility it has provoked from the Trump administration is equally undeniable. The legal test for ‘political opinions’

5.8. I am sure you are aware of the legal authorities on this issue: namely whether a request is made because of the defendant’s political opinions. A broad approach has to be adopted when applying the test. In support of this we rely on the case of Re Asliturk [2002] EWHC 2326 (abuse authorities, tab 11, at paras 25 – 26) which clearly establishes that such a wide approach should be adopted to the concept of political opinions. And that will clearly cover Julian Assange’s ideological positions. Moreover, we also rely on cases such as Emilia Gomez v SSHD [2000] INLR 549 at tab 43 of the political offence authorities bundle. These show that the concept of “political opinions” extends to the political opinions imputed to the individual citizen by the state which prosecutes him. For that reason the characterisation of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence agency” by Mr Pompeo makes clear that he has been targeted for his imputed political opinions. All the experts whose reports you have show that Julian Assange has been targeted because of the political position imputed to him by the Trump administration – as an enemy of America who must be brought down.

Tomorrow the defence continue. I am genuinely uncertain what will happen as I feel at the moment far too exhausted to be there at 6am to queue to get in. But I hope somehow I will contrive another report tomorrow evening.

With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible.

This article is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation, and I very much hope people will do so actively. Truth shall set us free.

Click here to read the same report on Craig Murray’s official website.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, Craig Murray, Noam Chomsky

Julian Assange will face a show trial in the United States says UN Special Rapporteur Nils Melzer

[The current hearing is] about whether this show trial should go ahead, because there’s going to be nothing else than a show trial in the US. There’s no chance he’s going to get a fair trial.

It’s not just about Julian Assange. This really is a battle over press freedom, over the rule of law, over the future I would say even of democracy. Because democracy, which means that the people control governmental power; this cannot exist with secrecy. You deprive the public of the right to know, and you deprive them of the tools to control the government.

—  Nils MelzerUN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

*

When Nils Melzer visited Julian Assange in Belmarsh Prison during May last year, he afterwards reported that “Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma”, describing the evidence as “overwhelming and clear”. He also made an official appeal to the British Government not to extradite Assange directly to the United States or to any other State failing to provide reliable guarantees against his onward transfer to the United States.

Melzer concluded: “In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law,” adding simply, “The collective persecution of Julian Assange must end here and now!”

Embedded above is a short interview with Nils Melzer broadcast on today’s ‘Going Underground’. The full transcript below is mine:

Afshin Rattansi: Special Rapporteur welcome back to Going Underground. Before we get to issues around the court case at Woolwich Crown Court – the Belmarsh crown court – we are hearing from people from the Labour Party, pretty mainstream, now coming onboard to support Julian Assange. Is what you have been saying since your report into the alleged persecution of Julian Assange becoming more mainstream?

Nils Melzer: I think that’s a fair assessment, yes. I’m actually surprised to see, compared to last June, which is about a month after my visit when I tried to place an op-ed on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture [June 26th] in the mainstream press around the world, I was unable to place an op-ed demasking the torture of Julian Assange: after having visited and examined him with medical experts.

I contacted The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Australian mainstream media, the British mainstream media. It was impossible to place it.

Today what we see is really that the mainstream press starts to realise through publications in alternative media that they probably got it wrong. And so they get more interested in discovering the truth about the story.

AR: Less face saving and more they know that if Assange is convicted, the next people could be them?

NM: Well, we do have indicators of that and perhaps they start to, as we say, smell the coffee. After the raids on the ABC headquarters and after Glenn Greenwald was arrested in Brazil and is being accused, you know according to the same kind of playbook that we see playing out with Assange. And also public funds being cut from mainstream broadcasters. Perhaps they start realising that they really did first come for Assange, then for Greenwald, and now they may be coming for the BBC.

AR: Okay, but Boris Johnson is on the record for saying it is only right that Julian Assange finally faces justice. That was when he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy and thrown into jail here.

NM: I think we all agree it would be about time for him to face justice, it’s just that what he’s facing here in Britain is not justice. And what he would be facing in the US is not justice.

AR: Well, Johnson went on to say, “It was a credit to Foreign Office officials who worked tirelessly to secure this outcome” meaning the dragging of him [out of the embassy] the pictures of which were caught by Ruptly, the news agency. I mean are you saying every one of those Foreign Office officials has facilitated what could amount to torture and arbitrary detention?

NM: You see Julian Assange has been expelled from the embassy based on a decision made by the President perhaps even with the support of the parliament in Ecuador. But it was communicated to him on the morning that he had been deprived of asylum status and deprived of his citizenship, because the Ecuadorian Constitution does not allow the extradition and expulsion of nationals, without any due process. And the British police just went in and dragged him out without any…

AR: So what do you make of the now Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying ‘credit to foreign officials’ for that?

NM: Well he’s crediting that because he likes the outcome. It certainly has nothing to do with the rule of law.

AR: Well, Amnesty International, they’ve refused to make him a Prisoner of Conscience. Why do you think there are still other NGOs who refuse to take onboard the Julian Assange cause?

NM: I very much support Amnesty International when they try to protect people by declaring them Prisoners of Conscience. But when they use their worldwide influence to exclude individuals from that category, I think then it becomes very problematic. Especially when we are talking about a journalist who has been exposing grave violations of human rights, and who is prosecuted precisely because he has exposed violations of human rights.

AR: And this is political? I mean in your view you don’t think that if a whistleblower exposed alleged crimes say in the Russian government who had found asylum here, there would be no chance of extraditing them to Moscow?

NM: Well the first issue is the one of the whistleblower. There’s Snowden who’s now in Russia, or if you have an equivalent, let’s say a Russian whistleblower who has asylum in the West – and there are people like that. But Julian Assange is not a whistleblower. He did not leak information. It was leaked to him.

AR: Okay. You don’t think this anymore has anything to do with what you call ‘fabricated rape allegations’. In fact, you believe those allegations could be linked to the Afghan war logs: revelations of Anglo-American/Nato troops in Afghanistan.

NM: Yes, well, I’m not in a position to you know confirm or deny whether there has been some kind of a sexual offence at some point between the women and Julian Assange. All I can say [is] I have seen the original Swedish police documents where the women are not claiming to have been raped.

But you can see even the woman sitting in the police station sending a text message to her friend saying ‘I don’t want to accuse Assange of anything – I just want him to take an HIV test’. But the police wants to get their hands on him. So I mean who would write a message like that? Not a raped woman.

Then you see a consecutive series of grave violations of due process in the Swedish case. And all of this happens within a month of the publication of the Afghan leaks. So where the US has asked their allies to initiate prosecutions against Assange wherever possible.

So you know the choreography of this – how it plays out and how Sweden actually at no stage in the proceedings really tries to protect the women’s interests, refuses to question Assange when he is still in Sweden, and offers and actually demands to be questioned, but the day he leaves Sweden, and he receives written permission by the prosecutor to leave Sweden, they issue an arrest warrant against him for trying to evade justice.

So there is a series of contradictions that is clear.

AR: Which was acted upon by the now supposedly leading candidate to take over from Jeremy Corbyn in this country: the then- Director of Public Prosecutions, Kier Starmer.

NM: Yeah, I’m not aware of who exactly acted at the time, but clearly that plot then played to push Assange into corner where everybody had this image of him. And I was influenced by this image as well, beginning with this narrative of him being a suspected rapist, being a hacker, being a narcissist, being a spy. And as soon as you scratch the surface a bit of this case, you realise, there is nothing to back it up.

AR: Okay, you also discovered the trail that led to Swedish Justice Minister, Thomas Bodström, the former Justice Minister, who you claim effectively supervised a kind of rendition/torture that was perhaps documented by Wikileaks.

NM: Well, he was the Justice Minister when Sweden, and the security police of Sweden, kidnapped two people – who were registered asylum-seekers in Stockholm – and handed them over to CIA without any due process. And they were immediately ill-treated on the airport territory and then flown to Egypt where they were tortured and detained arbitrarily.

Of these two people we know because they survived. Both of them filed complaints with the United Nations, and Sweden was obliged to pay them, I think, each of them about half a million dollars in compensation.

AR: So you think that when the rape allegation was used to smear Assange, it was an admission of guilt on the part of Sweden when it dropped all the allegations?

NM: Well they admitted that they never had any evidence that was sufficient to even press charges against him. Five days later, the leading prosecutor of Stockholm closed the case saying ‘I believe these women, but nothing they said indicates a crime’.

There could be an explanation but when I asked Sweden formally in a formal letter as I am mandated to do by the United Nations – I submitted all the contradictory evidence to them and said please make sense of this; explain to me how this complies with human rights law before I draw my conclusions – and now the first response of Sweden was ‘you’re criticising the judiciary which is independent from us and we’re the government so we can’t comment of this’.

I wrote back to them and said please, you know, you’re my counterpart but please transmit my concerns to the judiciary and let them answer to me. On which they then responded in a one-page letter saying ‘we have no further observations’.

My experiences where states don’t want to respond to my questions, then probably they have something to hide.

AR: As the court case gets underway here in London in two parts – another part in May – Chelsea Manning, who was let out early by President Obama, a source for Wikileaks, has been virtually bankrupted by the United States for refusing to testify against Julian Assange. So UK authorities here, are they basically deciding on whether a show trial should go ahead?

NM: Absolutely, yes. It’s about whether this show trial should go ahead, because there’s going to be nothing else than a show trial in the US. There’s no chance he’s going to get a fair trial.

It’s not just about Julian Assange. This really is a battle over press freedom, over the rule of law, over the future I would say even of democracy. Because democracy, which means that the people control governmental power; this cannot exist with secrecy. You deprive the public of the right to know, and you deprive them of the tools to control the government.

AR: But you know we have a supposedly independent judiciary here. Having said that, the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, newly-elected Prime Minister, has previously expressed reservations about the conduct of the Iraq War and wars after 9/11. Can you even call on Boris Johnson to do anything in the case of Julian Assange?

NM: The Home Secretary of the previous government [Sajid Javid] signed the extradition request, and granted it. And that was now challenged at the court, and that’s why it’s with the court. If it had not been challenged he’d just be extradited.

AR: Although that tends to be just a formality when it’s the United States, one of Britain’s closest international partners.

NM: Well, I think to be fair there have been individuals that have not been extradited to the United States by Britain. Which I believe is one reason why they wanted to go through Sweden, because Sweden has a track record of extraditing just about anybody to the United States, with or without due process. Now that is obviously off-the-table with the case being closed in Sweden, and now they’ll just go through the British system.

AR: Special Rapporteur, thank you.

NM: Thank you.

*

Additional:

Also broadcast to coincide with the start of this week’s hearing in London, The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté spoke with political satirist, broadcaster and a friend of Assange, Randy Credico, who issued a stark warning:

“The message is, if this were to work: if, in fact, he’s extradited here. That particular case leans into fascism; if they can bring a journalist over here and put him in jail. I mean you get to that point, that long reach of the US government where the laws internally don’t apply to the people externally. This is something like in Rome – the citizens of Rome, they enjoyed the laws that protected them, but nobody in Egypt did, in Mesopotamia did, nobody throughout their empire did except for the citizens in Rome.

“I mean if this happens, I’m telling you that it’s just put most of the nose inside the camel’s tent and people had better stand up for Julian Assange. You know, I’m not a Julian Assange fanatic, but I’m a free speech and First Amendment fanatic. This is bigger than Julian Assange. This is about protecting free speech and the First Amendment… This is the First Amendment at stake. The very core of this democracy, what’s left of it, really functions on a free press. Without a free press there is no chance, no hope of a democracy continuing.” [from 1:05 mins]

*

And from Craig Murray’s latest post published on his official website yesterday and entitled “Roger Waters on Julian Assange”:

Roger Waters has become one of the most eloquent and persistent supporters of Julian Assange. He is prepared to challenge the propagandists of the mainstream media head-on in a way that many more people should do.

For yesterday’s rally for Assange Roger had prepared a talk putting Julian’s persecution in a global context. He did not have time to give the whole speech, and so I asked him if I could publish it:

WE ARE HERE TODAY FOR JULIAN ASSANGE.

But I have four names on this piece of paper.

The First and last of course is Julian Assange, A Journalist, a courageous shiner of light into the dark places from which the powers that be would dearly like to have us turn away.

Julian Assange. A name to be carved with pride into any monument to human progress.

Julian is why we are here today, but this is no parochial protest. We are today part of a global movement, a global movement that might be the beginning of the global enlightenment that this fragile planet so desperately needs.

Ok. Second Name. Sent to me by my friend VJ Prashad.

Second name is Aamir Aziz, Aamir is a young poet and activist in Delhi involved in the fight against Modi and his rascist Citizenship law.

Everything Will Be Remembered

Kill us, we will become ghosts and write
of your killings, with all the evidence.
You write jokes in court;
We will write ‘justice’ on the walls.
We will speak so loudly that even the deaf will hear.
We will write so clearly that even the blind will read.
You write ‘injustice’ on the earth;
We will write ‘revolution’ in the sky.
Everything will be remembered;
Everything recorded

This out pouring of the human spirit from India is taking place in a time of revolt, when the fetters of propriety are set aside.

As we meet here in London, across the Atlantic in Argentina thousands of women are taking to the streets to demand the legalization of abortion from President Fernandez.

It’s not just Argentina. This last year we have seen major protests erupt across the whole world against neoliberal/fascist regimes. In Chile, The Lebanon, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti,France and now, of course also in Bolivia fighting the new US imposed military dictatorship there.

When will we see the name of England appended to that noble list? I sense the scratching of heads in drawing rooms across the home counties, “What’s he talking about, the man’s a bloody pinko pervert, bloody antisemite, what’s he talking about? We don’t live in a dictatorship, this is a free country, a democracy, with all the finest traditions of fair play, pah!”

Well, I’ve got news for you Disgruntled of Tunbridge Wells. We’d like to think this is a free country, but are we really free? Why, when Julian Assange is brought to the dock in the tiny magistrates court inside Belmarsh prison are so many seats occupied by anonymous American suits, whispering instructions into the attentive ear of the prosecution’s lead barrister, James Lewis QC?

Why?

Because we don’t live in a free country, we live in a glorified dog kennel and we bark and/or wag our tails at the bidding of our lords and masters across the pond.

I stand here today, in front of the Mother of Parliaments, and there she stands blushing in all her embarrassment. And just upstream from here is Runnemede, where in 1215, we, the English, laid out the rudiments of common law. Magna Carta, ratified in 1297 article 29 of which gave us Habeus Corpus. Or did it? It stated:

“The body of a free man is not to be arrested, or imprisoned, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way ruined, nor is the king to go against him or send forcibly against him, except by judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”

Sadly, Article 29 is not enforceable in modern law. Magna Carta is only an idea, and in this propaganda driven modern world, it provides no check in principle to Parliament legislating against the rights of citizens.

We do however have an extradition treaty with the USA and in the first paragraph of article 4 of that treaty it states. “Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense.” Julian Assange has committed no crime but he has committed a political act. He has spoken truth to power. He has angered some of our masters in Washington by telling the truth and in retribution for the act of telling the truth they want his blood.

Yesterday in front of Battersea Power Station I did a TV interview for SKY news to promote this event, there was no visual link, so my only contact with the lady asking me questions was via an ear bud on a curly wire. I learned something about telling truth in the phrasing of her questions to me. She came at me like some crazed Don Quixote every question laced, thick with the smears and innuendo and the false accusations with which the powers that be have been trying to blacken Julian Assange’s name. She rattled off the tired, but well prepared narrative, and then interrupted constantly when I made reply. I don’t know who she is, she may mean well. If she does, my advice would be to stop drinking the Kool-aid, and if she actually gives a fig for her chosen profession get her sorry ass down here and join us.

So England. I call upon our prime minister, Boris Johnson, to declare his colours, does he support the spirit of Magna Carta? Does he believe in, democracy, freedom, fair play, free speech, and especially the freedom of the press? If the answer to those questions is yes, then come on Prime Minister be the British Bulldog you would have us all believe you are? Stand up to the bluster of American hegemony, call off this show trial, this charade, this kangaroo court. “The evidence before the court is incontrovertible.” Julian Assange is an innocent man. A journalist doing very important work for “we the people” by exposing the crimes of powerful sociopaths in the corridors of power.

I call on you to free him today.

I cannot leave this stage without mention of Chelsea Manning, who provided some of the material that Julian published.

Chelsea has been in a federal prison for a year incarcerated by the Americans for refusing, on principle, to give evidence to a grand jury specifically convened to make an example of Julian Assange. What courage. They are also fining her $1,000 a day. Chelsea yours is another name to be carved in pride, I’ve been reading the latest on your case, it looks as if your legal team are finding light at the end of the tunnel, please god, you get out soon back to your loved ones, you are a true hero.You exemplify the bulldog spirit that I was talking about a few moments ago.

Also Daniel Hale

Daniel is a whistle-blower you may not know yet. He was in a great documentary movie National Bird, made by my good friend Sonia Kennebeck. He was part of the US drone program targeting Afghans in their own country from some mobile command center in Navada. When his stint in the USAF was over. Daniel’s good heart refused to edit out the burden of remorse he carried and he very bravely decided to tell his story. The FBI/CIA have pursued Daniel remorselessly ever since and he is now in prison awaiting trial. Daniel’s is another name to be carved in pride. Those of us who have never compromised our liberty in the cause of freedom, who have never picked up the burning torch and held it trembling over the crimes of their superior officers, can only wonder at the extraordinary courage of those who have.

There are other speakers here, so I will make way, I could stand here all day railing against the dying of the light should we not stand Bulldog like, with arms linked, ranks closed in front of our brother and comrade Julian Assange. And when the lackies of the American Empire come to take him, to destroy him and hang him in the hedge as a warning to frighten future journalists, we will look them in the eye and steadfast with one voice we will intone.

“Over our dead fucking bodies.”

Roger Waters Feb 22nd 2020

You can see Roger delivering the truncated version, with force but still self-deprecation, on this video of yesterday’s event. You can also see great speeches including by Yanis Varoufakis and Brian Eno.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s piece in full.

2 Comments

Filed under Britain, Craig Murray, internet freedom, Sweden

solidarity with Julian Assange on the eve of his extradition hearing: journalism is not a crime

“The broad and vague nature of the allegations against Julian Assange, and of the offences listed in the indictment, are troubling, as many of them concern activities at the core of investigative journalism in Europe and beyond. Consequently, allowing Julian Assange’s extradition on this basis would have a chilling effect on media freedom, and could ultimately hamper the press in performing its task as purveyor of information and public watchdog in democratic societies.”

— Dunja Mijatović, Commissioner for Human Rights for the Council of Europe.

“Will the Prime Minister agree with the Parliamentary report that’s going to the Council of Europe that this extradition should be opposed and the rights of journalists and whistleblowers upheld for the good of all of us?”

— Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition in response to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons.

“I think this is one of the most important and significant political trials of this generation, in fact, longer. I think it is the Dreyfus case of our age, the way in which a person is being persecuted for political reasons for simply exposing the truth of what went on in relation to recent wars.”

— John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor.

“When we speak about dictatorships, we call this brainwashing: the conquest of minds. It is a truth we rarely apply to our own societies, regardless of the trail of blood that leads back to us and which never dries.

WikiLeaks has exposed this. That is why Assange is in a maximum security prison in London facing concocted political charges in America, and why he has shamed so many of those paid to keep the record straight. Watch these journalists now look for cover as it dawns on them that the American fascists who have come for Assange may come for them, not least those on the Guardian who collaborated with WikiLeaks and won prizes and secured lucrative book and Hollywood deals based on his work, before turning on him.”

— John Pilger from a recent article entitled Julian Assange Must Be Freed, Not Betrayed.

*

Australian citizen Julian Assange’s extradition hearing is set to start at Belmarsh Prison, London, on Monday 24th February.

The United States government wants to extradite the journalist and whistleblower to face charges under the Espionage Act for conspiracy to receive, obtain and disclose classified information. Much of the prosecution’s case relates to files released that exposed crimes committed by the US in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and which Australia was, and is, a willing participant.

Below is a list of the protests being organised in Australia, USA and Britain.

Friday 21st February
Darwin:
Parliament House, 11am
Melbourne: State Library, 6.30pm

Saturday 22nd February
London: Australia House, 71 Aldwych WC2B 4HN at11:30am, march 12:30pm to Parliament Square

Sunday 23rd February
Perth:
US Consulate, 3pm

1st Week of Assange’s Hearing: Monday 24th February

Australia

Adelaide: Parliament steps, 5pm
Brisbane: British Consulate, 100 Eagle Street, 12pm
Hobart: Parliament Lawns, 12.30pm
Nowra: 59 Junction St (Cnr Berry Street), 12pm
Melbourne: British Consulate, 10am-5pm
Sydney: Martin Place Amphitheatre, 12pm

USA

New York City: Global Protest at the UK Consulate in NYC to mark the beginning of Julian Assange’s full extradition hearing on February 24th.

Britain

HMP Belmarsh: Protest in front of Belmarsh Prison each day of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing, February 24-28th

Protests commence at 9:30am

HMP Belmarsh
4 Belmarsh Road
Thameshead,
London SE28 OHA

For a list of the global events visit FreeAssangeGlobalProtest on Facebook.

Click here to find upcoming events on the Defend Wikileaks website.

And here for further information and resources from DontExtraditeAssange.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Britain, campaigns & events, internet freedom, John Pilger, USA