Category Archives: Korea (North and South)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The link is this one:

Research on the IFR (Infection Fatality Rate)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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

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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]

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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.]

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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.

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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:

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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):

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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:

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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:

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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”:

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the madness of King Donald is nothing new

On the day Trump was inaugurated as the 45th POTUS, I couldn’t help noticing something odd as the banner rolling at the bottom of BBC’s rolling news coverage momentarily froze. The letters B.R.E.A… had already scrolled left off the screen so we were left with a message that began …KING DONALD. Yes, imperial America has crowned the emperor it always wanted!

Unsurprisingly, the coronation of Trump caused many liberals and quite a few leftists to scratch their heads until their scalps were bleeding, such was the floundering search for answers. How on earth did this happen? Where did America suddenly go so wrong?

Such questions are perfectly good ones but ought to have been asked more than two decades ago. No useful answers can be gleaned when the inquiry begins with outright denial. The unpalatable fact is that America did not go off the rails all of a sudden about eighteen months ago, any more than its demise is the fault of the crafty Russians. America has been sick for a very, very long time and Trump is just the worst symptom so far.

It wasn’t Trump who attacked Iraq on a whim and slaughtered a million people. Nor did he first sanction the bombardment of Yemen now suffering the worst cholera outbreak in history.

It wasn’t Trump who opened Gitmo and the other ‘black sites’ where prisoners are held indefinitely in contravention to human rights and the Geneva Convention. Nor did he introduce ‘the free world’ to medieval throwbacks like extraordinary rendition (kidnap and torture), waterboarding (torture) and “rectal feeding” (torture and rape). And though soon after taking office he did direct the extrajudicial murder of American citizens, he was only following an earlier precedent set by Obama.

Trump is truly the heir and successor to Obama, who pursued the Afghan war into Pakistan, bombed the people of Libya to provide air cover for Islamist terrorists and future warlords, and expanded the “Global War on Terror” throughout the benighted continent (in his words “S-hole”) of Africa; who replaced torture with extrajudicial killings by drone attack, and who reneged on his promise to close Gitmo. But then, Obama was the fulfilment of Bush jr, who in turn should be prosecuted both for the illegal invasion of Iraq and for his gloating admission of America’s use of torture. Instead, Obama gave Bush his blessing and moved on.

Nor was Trump in office when the US covertly backed the coup d’état in Honduras in 2009 which saw the democratically elected leader President Manuel Zelaya ousted by a military takeover (that was Obama again), or when the White House provided support for the failed Venezuelan coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002 (Bush jr.), Nor did Trump instigate the overthrow of President Salvador Allende in Chile on September 11th 1973 (that was Nixon). Nor did he open the School of the Americas where during 1980s (especially under Reagan) Latin American despots trained their own thugs in torture techniques. He didn’t carpet bomb Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, nor has he yet used chemical weapons such as napalm and Agent Orange against civilians (LBJ and Nixon). So it wasn’t Trump who made America sick, any more than it was simply Obama, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, LBJ and Bush I and II combined. The rot set in long, long ago.

In fact US foreign policy has been unremittingly hawkish ever since it dropped atomic bombs on Japan at the end of the Second World War. Within a decade it was engaged in total war on the Korean Peninsula and had carried out clandestine regime change operations against the democratic governments of Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954). Regarding the Korean War, Gen. Curtis LeMay afterwards said:

“We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, some way or another, and some in South Korea, too.”

Proudly he also boasted:

“Over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure?” 1

Today when Trump shakes his fist at Pyongyang, there is no context. North Korea remains part of Bush jr’s declared “axis of evil” and presumably we are expected to believe that its people still hate our freedoms.

But then such obvious continuity in US foreign policy is unsurprising once we turn our attention to the powers behind the throne. Let’s begin with the CIA which was formed under the National Security Act of 1947 as a peacetime, non-military intelligence agency. Under Eisenhower, the agency’s first civilian head, Allen Dulles, worked alongside Secretary of State and rabid anti-Communist brother John Foster Dulles, and began with the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran and of President Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala. The toppling of Árbenz was done on behalf of the United Fruit Company for whom Allen Dulles was on the company’s board of directors, and brother John had worked as a lawyer. Allen Dulles remained in charge of US intelligence until 1961 when he was forced to resign after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. He was then succeeded by John McCone who continued the policy of coups and assassinations in the Dominican Republic, Laos, Ecuador, British Guiana and, more famously, against Castro in Cuba.

Later, when America made its second “pivot to Asia” in the 70s, it was Henry Kissinger who operated as the invisible hand behind Nixon’s dirty wars in Indochina. Shortly afterwards Kissinger turned those same genocidal talents to organising campaigns of state terror carried out throughout Latin America. Guilty of so much bloodshed, Kissinger is another who should be prosecuted for war crimes but instead at the age of 94 he now lingers like a putrid smell, visiting Trump twice already ‘to provide advice’ to the Oval Office.

Back in May, Kissinger met for a “bizarre unscheduled meeting” the day after Trump fired FBI Director, James Comey, and more recently in mid-October Kissinger popped by again. On this occasion the old warmonger told journalists “I’m here at a moment when the opportunity to build a constructive, peaceful world order is very great.” 2

When Kissinger talks about peace and the construction of a “world order” we have good cause to be alarmed. Investigative journalist, Philip Giraldi, a former intelligence officer in the CIA and founding member of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), wrote in 2007 a detailed piece published by antiwar.com entitled “Henry Kissinger: Realist, or Neocon?” Giraldi says:

Kissinger is reported to be a frequent visitor to the White House, most particularly to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, and has been a driving force to confront Iran. According to at least one source, he is the principal architect of the new policy to create a regional alliance of Arab states opposed to Iran while at the same time increasing direct pressure on the government in Tehran. President George W. Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have adopted another recommendation from Kissinger that in effect abandons the “freedom agenda” for Iraq and the Arab Middle East in favor of focusing on Iran as a strategic menace to the entire region. The shift in emphasis means that during Bush’s last year there will be a major effort to resolve the Iranian nuclear challenge using whatever means are necessary. As diplomacy so far has consisted of shouting matches staking out adversarial positions, the only options that would be viewed as viable by the White House are military in nature. 3

Click here to read Giraldi’s full article.

America’s foreign policy has never been the preserve of the Commander-in-Chief but driven from behind by the Dulles brothers, Kissinger Associates, and now the neo-con faction who moved in to the White House under Ford – the first man appointed Vice President under the terms of the 25th Amendment, and the only person to have served as both Vice President and President without being elected to either office. The self-appointed neo-cons took complete charge of US foreign policy in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and have effectively never moved out.

Tom Lehrer famously quipped that “Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize”. 4 So where is satire now that Obama has been made a fellow peace laureate? Where is it now that the incumbent US President talks of America being “locked and loaded” and retweets obscene fascist propaganda?

That said King Donald is the emperor without any clothes whatsoever. For his presidency represents the final unmasking of American imperialism. The Palestinians have long known that US peacemaking was a farce. Most Iranians knew it too. For North Koreans the war against America never ended in the first place. Now finally, we can all laugh out loud whenever America says it comes to broker peace.

*

Update:

In an article entitled “Trump Isn’t Unique” published the next day [Tuesday 16th] by Counterpunch, Ted Rall extends the same point and applies it to all of the presidents in American history beginning with George Washington, including Lincoln and FDR, and then finishing with Obama.

Rall writes:

Folks are already saying: “Barack Obama will be inducted into the league of Great Presidents.” Obama, most Democrats have already forgotten, broke his promise to try for a “public option” in the Affordable Care Act. He went on languid vacations while the global economy was collapsing, handed trillions to bankers no strings attached and did nothing to help the unemployed and people whose homes were stolen by the banks. And he slaughtered thousands of innocent civilians with drones — people who represented zero threat to anyone — just for fun.

If that’s a great president, give me a shitty one.

Click here to read the full article.

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1 From Strategic Air Warfare: An Interview with Generals (1988). https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Curtis_LeMay

2 From a transcript published in an article entitled “Henry Kissinger to President Trump: This Is ‘A Moment When The Opportunity To Build A Constructive, Peaceful World Order Is Very Great” written by Tim Hains, published in Real Clear Politics on October 10, 2017. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2017/10/10/henry_kissinger_to_president_trump_this_is_a_moment_when_the_opportunity_to_build_a_constructive_peaceful_world_order_is_very_great.html

3 From an article entitled “Henry Kissinger: Realist, or Neocon?” written by Philip Giraldi, published in antiwar.com on September 11, 2007. http://original.antiwar.com/giraldi/2007/09/11/henry-kissinger-realist-or-neocon/

4 Reported in an article entitled “Stop clapping, this is serious” published in the Sydney Morning Herald on March 1, 2003. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/02/28/1046407753895.html

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