Category Archives: India

the pandemic & the ‘state of exception’: either you’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists…

I would have been called “a conspiracy theorist” at the beginning of the pandemic if had had predicted that countries in the heart of Europe like Austria would apply a lockdown purely for those who have not taken the vaccine… If I’d said that any of that would have taken place I would have been called “a conspiracy theorist” but now that I express criticism of it, I’m called “a conspiracy theorist”.

— Max Blumenthal

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The quote above is taken from a very recent interview [premiered on Sat 20th] with independent journalist Max Blumenthal when he joined host RJ Eskow on his show The Zero Hour – the full show is embedded below along with annotated segments of the conversation that I have transcribed beneath including relevant links, video uploads (with descriptions in Italics) and occasional disagreements:

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“Since we’ve been having these conversations for a few years, you can see that I’ve been branded “an antisemite” for my work on Israel-Palestine, and trying to understand and interrogate how the Israel lobby influences US politics. I’ve been called “an Assadist” for my critical reporting on the dirty war on Syria, which was largely kept from the US public by legacy and corporate media. I’ve been called “a Kremlin shill” or “Russian spy” or “asset” for challenging the narrative of Russiagate, which has just been exploded in broad daylight in recent weeks with the indictment of several key players in the construction and dissemination of the Steele Dossier.

“And so now, for using the same kind of techniques and applying the kind of critical thinking that I do to every major issue – and having you know been inspied to get into journalism because of the way 9/11 was exploited to consolidate this massive security state and carry out regime change across the Middle East – for just applying that same kind of thinking to the pandemic, yes, I’m branded “an anti-vaxxer” and large segments of the organised left, or the establishment left, are angry with my analysis, and according to them, you’re not really supposed to have an analysis: we just are supposed to  go along with the proclamations of public health officials which are constantly shifting.

“Just through my conversations with colleagues and people on the left; they all know something’s wrong, but many of them self-censor because they’re afraid of having this label applied to them which does have implications; disturbing implications when you consider that in September, around the anniversary of 9/11, the DHS issued a terror threat warning that there was no specific terror plot, but that people who are critical of vaccine policy in the US were “a terror threat”. In other words, the concept of being “an anti-vaxxer” – which according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary means anyone who even opposes mandates – is now being criminalised.” [from 3:05 mins]

Drawing upon Cold War comparisons, RJ Eskow broadens the conversation raising the point that the West has once again entered a period of Manichean ‘bi-polar’ thinking, to which Blumenthal responds:

“These terms are never fully explained. It’s just a way of, first of all, appealing to establishment prejudice against the dissenter, and applying a pejorative or label in order to shut down debate.

“And you’ll find that on this, even more than Russiagate, it is impossible to have a rational or reasoned kind of calm and measured debate on the issues, with particularly people who are to the left of Tucker Carlson. I mean it goes through the Democratic Party, all the way to the radical left. You have the almost, near blanket support, or silence in the face of so many violations of human rights, and obliteration of legal strictures, and concepts that we took for granted in an already weak liberal democratic system; that’s probably an understatement.

“The purpose of 9/11 – not the attack but the response to it – was to create a state of exception where international law and conventions around torture could be wiped away, because the public provided consent to the Bush administration and the Blair administration to do so because it was gripped with fear.

“You remember the days after 9/11: I remember people were concerned that Bin Laden was going to wage a dirty bomb attack; there was the anthrax – the very mysterious anthrax attacks – to keep the fear going. And the public gave full consent for the Bush administration to create what Carl Schmitt called the ‘state of exception’ where the laws of the past no longer apply, and you had to, in the words of Dick Cheney, ‘take the gloves off’; begin torturing people; establish the unitary executive, where congressional approval of wars was no longer of interest; the AUMF [2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force] “Emergency Authorisation” – we hear that word so much around the Vaccines, well it reminds me of the AUMF, which has never been sunsetted since 9/11.

“So now we have another ‘emergency situation’: the threat of the virus, which is real, has absolutely been exaggerated, and we’ve moved from ‘responsibility to protect’ – the R2P Doctrine where the US has to come in and save some civilian population after we’ve witnessed so much death – to witnessing death all around us, and the government has to simply do something, and the public has give their consent for the government to do something. It’s gone from R2P to R2V: Responsibility to vaccinate – and that means mandating vaccines – something that Anthony Fauci said the government would never do. Something Joe Biden and Jen Psaki said [here  and here] they would never do, because it seemed usually draconian to voters back in 2002. Now they’re doing it, Democrats have overwhelmingly supported it – even a slice of Republicans have – and we’re seeing restrictions and human rights violations take place that we never could have imagined.

“I would have been called “a conspiracy theorist” at the beginning of the pandemic if had had predicted that countries in the heart of Europe like Austria would apply a lockdown purely for those who have not taken the vaccine. I would have been called “a conspiracy theorist” if I’d said another country Slovenia is now refusing to allow the unvaccinated to buy gasoline – you have to present your health card there in order to buy gasoline.

BBC news finally reported on the full extent of protests across Europe including Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands last Sunday evening [Nov 21st]:

On Thursday [Nov 18th] British comedian Russell Brand uploaded his own report on developments in Australia where thousands of protestors are also gathering to demonstrate against legislation granting new government powers:

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“Germany will soon apply a lockdown of the unvaccinated, and lockdowns themselves, and the way we’ve seen them applied, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, where if there’s one or two cases an entire region or country locks down; and all the health effects that that has on the public are completely ignored in order to eradicate an airborne respiratory virus that’s simply impossible to eradicate and is endemic.

“If I’d said that any of that would have taken place I would have been called “a conspiracy theorist” but now that I express criticism of it, I’m called “a conspiracy theorist”. So there’s almost no way to win, but I think a large part of the public is starting to come to its senses and realising that the response to the pandemic is not necessarily about public health.

“It’s about private wealth, monetising the response, and militarising the response. The military-intelligence apparatus has been involved in this from the beginning… in a different way than it was involved in 9/11, and in some ways a more intimate way: in the way that censorship and surveillance are creeping into our lives on the grounds of a public health response.” [from 7:50 mins]

Responding to this last point, RJ Eskow says that he also recognises how governments can and do usefully regulate for public safety and worker protection and that as someone who suffers with health problems that have left his own immune system suppressed, he too desires freedom of movement. He feels that it is therefore understandable that a responsible government would encourage citizens to get a vaccine, adding however, that “a little alarm goes off” once he sees the state exercising its powers to impose enforced inoculation.

Eskow then references an article co-authored by Max Blumenthal and published by The Grayzone [Oct 19th] about the vaccine passport and who’s behind it, continuing:

“This to me is vitally interesting and you know I did a project for a think tank in Palo Alto fifteen years ago where I modelled future possible pandemics – and I found out, and very few people have written about it – back then that the federal government had already put plans in place to impose internal passports and internal restrictions on travel, military takeover of transportation hubs and things like that, and you know I thought ‘wow, that sounds dystopian’.

That’s a lot of what you’re describing and it and it seems to me we should be able to hold more than one thought in our head, which is that we want to reduce loss of life from this pandemic, but we also want to be concerned about not strengthening the mix of state and private forces that already have too much control over our lives. Do you get where I’m coming from?” [from 15:10 mins]

Blumenthal answers:

“Yes I do. I think that if there had never been mandates in the US where hundreds and hundreds of thousands of workers had a pink slip dangled in front of their face, if they did not want to take a vaccine – and we should talk about what they’re being asked to take – then there wouldn’t be this hysteria about “anti-vaxxers”.

“I mean you have people around the world – not just masses of people in Italy, in France, protesting vaccine passports: what’s called ‘the Green Pass’ in Italy where millions of workers are being told that they have to present this in order to get into their very jobs.

On Saturday [Nov 20th] thousands of protesters attended a demonstration to oppose the Green Pass in Rome. The certificate is mandatory in order to work and attend all public places and events, including public transport between cities. The protesters gathered in Rome’s Circus Maximus, after Italian authorities banned demonstrations against the Green Pass in historic or tourist sites. One protester says, “Between vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Are we all equal? We are equal human beings. We are equal.” Another tells the reporter, “Everyone makes their choice. I am not against the vaccine, I am here for freedom of choice”:

On the same day thousands also took to the streets in the Croatian capital Zagreb in the biggest demonstration the country has seen against Covid-19 measures since the beginning of the pandemic:

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“You have protests in the West Bank in Palestine. You have protests in Tehran. You have protests in Martinique. You have protests in Morocco – massive protests against their vaccine passport system. Now you have protests in Costa Rica and Colombia; all across the Global South protests are cropping up, as well as in New York City: there’s a massive protest this Saturday in Central Park, and all across the West.

“You wouldn’t have this if there hadn’t been mandates. If people hadn’t been forced and coerced: if they had simply been encouraged. And many people who were immuno-suppressed or who were in risk groups have mostly gone out and gotten the vaccine.

“And then we have another problem and it’s the intersection of these two problems that caused me to start raising issues about the pandemic response. First, the coercion and the attacks on workers, obliterating worker rights as [economist] Richard Wolff said: one of the core foundations of the labour struggle is that the boss should never have the power to decide what life decisions the workers make. It’s up to the workers. That’s why workers organise, and so that’s why they’re opposing these mandates.

“But the other issue is the vaccine itself. They were rolled out under emergency usage. The trials were shoddy at best.* They were approved then by the FDA under very suspect conditions – in one case, the Pfizer vaccine had the control group eliminated. I mean these aren’t real trials, so people are naturally suspicious of it. It is using a novel technology called mRNA, which is essentially a gene therapy…

[Warning: Before continuing I need to insert a few words of caution: a lot here hangs on the Max Blumenthal’s use of the word ‘essentially’. More assertive claims that the vaccines are gene therapy are widely discredited. Of course, this point is highly technical and well beyond my own scientific training, but here is an article that attempts to clear up the matter.

Regarding the claim that “the trials were shoddy at best”, this is a strong statement and I have found little evidence to directly support it. However, it is important to keep in mind that the Pfizer vaccine alone has yet to receive full FDA approval (restricted to people aged 16 and above and granted as recently as August) while the alternative vaccines remain under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) which means that clinical trials are ongoing. Moreover, The Lancet has acknowledged that “long-term safety issues might arise” due to the accelerated development under the Operation Warp Speed – see the footnote for further details.]

 “… and while it has been shown to reduce severe illness or death when people have antibodies, it does not prevent infection. And that’s something that everyone from Anthony Fauci to CDC Director, Rochelle Walensky, admitted; there’s a new study in The Lancet out this week: it’s called “Community transmission and viral-load kinetics of the SARS-Cov-2 delta variant in vaccinated and unvaccinated Individuals in the UK” [click here] and it clearly shows that the vaccines do not prevent viral transmission.

“So what does this mean? It means that the mandates are essentially unscientific. Because if the vaccines had prevented infection and transmission, then it would mean you are protecting others around you by taking it. And it would mean that there was a logic behind requiring people to take it to go into a workplace, or a logic behind vaccine passports requiring people to take it in order to mingle with others at a bar. But there is no logic there. So what is the point of the mandates and the passports? It feels like simply control. And people feel abused by this.

One of the inventors of mRNA vaccine technologies, Robert Malone, warned of the risks of the accelerated vaccine rollout and has subsequently been accused of misinforming the public on a few specific technical points. As a non-specialist it is difficult to gauge whether or not his expertise is fully reliable or we should just trust in government agencies and the powerful pharmaceutical lobby. In this interview he talks at length about many related topics, but I have cued the video to begin where he discusses the covid vaccine response:

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“Now the people who are ratioing Richard Wolff; that’s you know the laptop-left. They don’t have a whole lot of connection with workers. But if you go out and talk to workers, including those who have willingly taken the jab under threat of losing their job, they feel like there’s been no informed consent – that’s been violated. Their bodily autonomy has been violated. And their right as a worker has been violated.

“And all to take a vaccine that doesn’t prevent them from giving the virus to others. That’s why in Ireland right now, which has over 90% vaccination uptake, you’re seeing cases rise massively …

“The same thing is happening in Singapore which ended its long lockdown and is now being swamped with cases. They have about 85% of people over [the age of] twelve vaccinated. The most vaccinated place on earth, Gibraltar – close to 100% – is going to cancel Christmas; has announced plans to cancel public celebrations of Christmas because of the massive rise in cases.  [from 16:10 mins]

John Campbell [Nov 24th] confirms the recent surge in cases in Gibraltar but also finds dramatically lowered rates of death that supports the case that vaccines do provide protection against serious disease:

RJ Eskow then picks up on the points Max Blumenthal raised and summarises, pointing out that there are actually ‘two logics’ operating: one aims to reduce transmission, while the other and sounder reason aims to reduce cases of severe illness, hospitalisation and death. Following on, he says, this means there are correspondingly two moral arguments to consider: first, that it is your duty to your fellow citizens to be vaccinated so that you don’t infect them; and, separately, that you take the jab for your own personal good:

“We don’t want you to be hospitalised or die or get long covid, which is terrible. So we will mandate you take this vaccine so that doesn’t happen. Now, I would argue that the left has not sufficiently analysed the fact that there are two principles here… So when it becomes an issue of ‘for your own good I want to mandate that you take this’, if that is the only principle, then we need to have a debate about whether that is a valid reason for mandating.” […]

“Now, if the goal is to help other people, it’s interesting to ponder whether the mandate has in fact backfired because more people are resisting because of the mandate than would have taken the shot if it had been presented to them in a clear way why they should take it. So that’s my map of the moral landscape. Do you agree with it, disagree with it?” [from 22:40 mins]

Max Blumenthal replies:

“Well, the federal court has ruled that Biden’s mandate as applied to companies of one hundred workers or more that would be enforced by OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] is extraordinarily overbroad – in their words – and a point that the judges makes, which I think is salient, is that not all workers are the same.

“If you have a long-haul trucker who’s in the truck all day by his or herself, it’s very different from someone who’s working in a crowded office or a workplace where people are indoors together for long periods.

“Beyond that they raised the issue of natural immunity, which I think is another blow to the Achilles’ heel of the mandates and this biomedical security regime that’s being erected before our eyes.

“As we know from an August 2021 study by Tel Aviv University – the largest of its kind – comparing those who are vaccinated but have not been previously infected versus those who had been previously infected and not vaccinated, they found that immunity is something like twenty times stronger in those who had been previously infected, and much more durable.

As this report explains, the true figure is closer to thirteen times, but still significantly higher:

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“We’re seeing that bear our right before our eyes. I mean just look at the number of cases. Now who is most likely to have been previously infected? It’s the frontline workers. It’s the people who were out there while the laptop class was at home during the lockdowns that they seemed to enjoy. Those are the people who now face the mandates.

“I mean the mandates are coming down on the backs of frontline workers who were celebrated with pots and pans being banged out windows, and they’ve gone from heroes to zeroes. That’s who you’re seeing at the protests in New York City is EMS [emergency medical services] workers, firefighters, restaurant workers, healthcare workers; people who sacrificed throughout 2020 and are now facing the pink slip.

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“So natural immunity has to be recognised here and it’s a hard thing to demonstrate. So that’s another major issue.

“And then we have the issue of boosters. In lockstep, leaders across the West began making the case for boosters including Anthony Fauci, who said in an interview that the mRNA vaccines wane in efficacy over the course of six months. […]

“If you were vaccinated more than six months ago then you are considered unvaccinated in Israel. And not only that, you are not able to go to restaurants or the gym or a spa with your Green Pass anymore, even if you did your part and got vaccinated, because they’re already on their third jab and they’re making space for the fourth one.

Bloomberg has a piece out – you know citing various public health officials and supposed experts – on how no-one knows how many booster shots you will have to take. And so when you combine this fact with the mandates, and the vaccine passports, which are coming in in more and more draconian fashion around the world, you have to consider that for the rest of your life, every six months you will have to take a vaccine – [one] that in my view is still experimental because it usually takes around four to seven years to adequately test a vaccine and run it through trials and this one has just been rushed out. You will have to do that for the rest of your life in order to continue participating in society, or working.

“So that to me is unacceptable, and I think to many more people it’s unacceptable. And I wonder if boosters haven’t been rolled out so aggressively here and mandated is just to avoid the social catastrophe that’s inevitable if they are.” [from 24:25 mins]

Lastly, RJ Eskow brought the conversation around to concerns surrounding the organisations behind the vaccine passports. Max Blumenthal has already ready written extensively on this subject in the article already linked above and entitled “Public health or private wealth? How digital vaccine passports pave the way for unprecedented surveillance capitalism” that was published on October 19th by The Grayzone.

Back in October, Max Blumenthal carefully detailed a variety of initiatives spearheaded by such groups as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation [BMGF], Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization [GAVI] which is 25% funded by Gates, Microsoft, Accenture, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Omidyar Network, along with Australian Aid and UK Aid, concluding his piece with a statement made by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, who is best known for his work investigating Carl Schmitt’s concept of the state of exception:

Two days before anti-Green Pass protests exploded across Italy, the renowned philosopher Giorgio Agamben appeared before the Italian Senate’s Constitutional Affairs Commission to issue a dramatic statement of opposition to the Green Pass.

Agamben is most famous for his concept of Homo Sacer, or bare life, in which an individual is stripped of rights and reduced to their biological essence in an extra-legal regime justified by war or other emergencies. When Italian authorities declared the first lockdown in March 2020, the philosopher applied the theory to his own country’s heavy-handed restrictions.

“The defining feature…of this great transformation that they are attempting to impose is that the mechanism which renders it formally possible is not a new body of laws, but a state of exception – in other words, not an affirmation of, but the suspension of constitutional guarantees,” the philosopher explained in the foreword to his collection of 2020 writings on Covid-19, “Where Are We Now: The Epidemic As Politics,”

In his remarks before the Italian Senate, Agamben pointed to a sinister agenda behind the official rationale for vaccine passports: “It has been said by scientists and doctors that the Green Pass has no medical significance in itself but serves to force people to get vaccinated. Instead, I think we must say the opposite: that the vaccine is a means of forcing people to have the Green Pass. That is, a device that allows individuals to be monitored and tracked, an unprecedented measure.”

The philosopher concluded his address by taking aim at the supra-national forces – Bill Gates, the World Economic Forum, and Rockefeller Foundation, among others – determined to impose a system of digital identification and high-tech social credit as much of the human population as possible.

“I believe that in this perspective,” Agamben warned, “it is more urgent than ever for parliamentarians to consider the political transformation underway, which in the long run is destined to empty parliament of its powers, reducing it to simply approving – in the name of bio-security – decrees emanating from organizations and people who have very little to do with parliament.”

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To close their discussion, Max Blumenthal once again summarised his findings including the underreported consequences of the rollout of a biometric digital ID system called Aadhaar that led to a spate of deaths in rural India in 2017 as a direct result of starvation due to denial of access to basic food rations – systems of a kind that tech billionaires including Bill Gates are keen to install across the globe (and I direct readers again to read his article in full). In brief he reminded us that:

“Vaccine passports are now in the US essentially handwritten CDC cards, and I assume that they will eventually be digitised. And in fact, there is a long-standing agenda to produce a digital ID and link it to a central bank digital currency, which will be administered through your digital wallet, and it will also be connected to now, as we see, your biomedical history.

“So your ID is connected to your finance, your medical history, and it’s all required to participate in society under the current biomedical security regime, which has come into play through a state of legal exception.” [from 29:40 mins]

Finally, they talk about how society is being fractured over these issues. Max Blumenthal delineates as follows:

“The group that is not just resisting the vaccine, but resisting what I call ‘the new normal’, which is this entire biomedical security regime and propaganda apparatus that’s grown up against the backdrop of 9/11 and Russiagate in this ‘state of exception’ through the pandemic is more heterogeneous than the group that angrily and aggressively supports ‘the new normal’. That group is mostly uniform.

“And then you have another group that has decided ‘to go along to get along’, because generally they’re in an economically precarious situation and they can’t afford conflict. Or they just simply aren’t heavily politicised and don’t want to get involved in the ugliness and toxicity – especially in the US where everything has been framed through the lens of fears of populism and nationalism and you know in the course of a culture war.

“So that group that’s more heterogeneous is impossible to stereotype and you do have right-wingers in there who are there because they just see anything the government does is evil. You have a number of left-wingers who are concerned about monopoly capital gaining unprecedented control over everything including people’s biology. They don’t trust the government. Strangely, I thought there would be more. I’m kind of baffled by the reflexive obedience of large sectors of the left here.

“But it isn’t anymore just about unvaccinated versus vaccinated. I know many people who are fully vaccinated who now see the booster regimen coming in and see these bizarre and exotic restrictions like lockdowns exclusively for the unvaccinated, and they’re just disgusted on civil liberties grounds.

“Of course, the entire resistance to this programme is legitimate, but the idea that every single person in the entire world needs to take one of these vaccines – that has failed on so many of their promises – is to me unacceptable. And to many other people.

“It’s going to require so much coercion and we haven’t even talked about adverse effects. They do have adverse effects. And if you believe the CDC’s VAER’s system – the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting system – it’s harming people and injuring people every week. And that’s a concern people have. It’s a legitimate concern.

“I went to a press conference of American’s from all walks of life, many of them had testified in the Senate earlier that day – this was two weeks ago – and hearing their stories about being injured by the vaccines was shocking. Most people are not going to be injured by them – this appears to be uncommon – but it’s a concern that we have to recognise.

“But on a population level, the idea that we can vaccinate our way out of the pandemic has, in my view, been totally discredited. And that’s why we’re going to see in 2022, a focus on therapeutics, on pills people can take. The public health officials will finally accept early treatment after demonising Ivermectin – like your Youtube video could be taken down because I just said the word Ivermectin – it’s been called “horse paste”.

“And now we’re seeing what amounts to Pfizer-mectin and all these other pills – 2022 will be the year of therapeutics. So it’s a tacit admission that the vaccines failed to end the pandemic.

“So why keep pushing people into a corner and creating this kind of new, very heterogeneous resistance? When the vaccine uptake, in my view, has been pretty high across the board, and will continue to go up if people are simply encouraged through positive means, and if public health officials now finally accept the reality that it’s an individual’s choice to protect yourself against illness or death in some cases.

“And I want to make another point that I think is controversial, but I’ve made it before and it’s true [read my note below], which is that the death toll is being inflated – and that doesn’t mean covid is not a threat – but it’s being inflated and accounted in unusual ways to make us think that we’re living through some kind of genocide and to cut off our critical faculties. [from 39:00 mins]

Unfortunately, this is where my own views radically depart from Max Blumenthal’s. In the UK, where I have studied the excess death figures very carefully I have found zero evidence supporting this contention and have in fact presented contrary evidence that shows the British government did everything within its power to reduce the apparent death toll during the early months – for reasons that are blindingly obvious.

Although the system of accounting in many countries, including Britain, undoubtedly is misleading, since it does falsely include some number who have died from other causes, it also inevitably misses other cases that were not diagnosed and thus where cause of death was wrongly attributed for a counterbalancing reason. The only figures that I believe are wholly reliable are these two: the number of hospitalisations and of excess deaths. Considering the case for Britain again, excess deaths counted over the full period beginning from March 2020 approximately correlates with official covid deaths (within a margin of around 10%). Given the difference in methods a small discrepancy is to be expected.

For these and other reasons, I remain entirely suspicious of claims of this sort. Indeed, I view this whole argument about false accounting as a canard and an unnecessary distraction, although as a firm advocate of free speech I do accept that others like Max Blumenthal have the right to make contrary assertions even while I believe it weakens their otherwise sound case. I include this digression at the risk of interrupting the flow merely to stress that I do not agree with Max Blumenthal on all points.

However, Max Blumenthal does finish on a point that I’m in full agreement with:

“We’ve gone from the left advocating for ‘Medicare for All’, and calling for public healthcare, to at least quietly acquiescing as public health officials and pundits call for denying healthcare to the unvaccinated. We’ve even seen a Colorado hospital deny an organ transplant to a woman simply because she and her donor were unvaccinated. She had to go to Texas to save her own life. And that’s something that we are now accepting as triage.

“There’s so many lives that could be saved here by not cutting ICU beds – Andrew Cuomo, how many ICU beds did that guy cut throughout his tenure as governor? Thousands and thousands and thousands…

“And now we’re looking at the symptoms instead of the cause. The symptoms: there’s not enough beds and the unvaccinated are filling everything up. No, this is about neoliberalism; there should just be more beds.

“And then finally, so many people, because of the lockdowns and the fear, delayed routine treatments and many of them died because of that – I mean including chemotherapy. And now they’re coming in and they’re flooding hospitals – look at the reporting right now – the hospitals are full of people who have now decided that they can’t wait any longer to have their routine procedures done, but they waited because of the pandemic.

“So all the hospitals are flooding with people and they’re going to be even more full because of the flu this winter. So covid isn’t the only issue here. It’s the response to it that has been absolutely inhuman, and there needs to be some debate about it – and the critics who have criticised and critiqued every other response by the powerful; every other undemocratic overreaction to a crisis – many of them are absent.” [from 46:35 mins]

Please note: Although the transcript is mine, the views expressed above are not necessarily shared by Wall of Controversy. (My own views are expressed across a range of posts on the subject.)

Importantly, I have not been trained as a medical professional and do not claim to have expert knowledge of this subject. This article is in no way intended to provide medical advice of any kind.

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* From a report by The Lancet Commission on COVID-19 Vaccines and Therapeutics Task Force published in The Lancet (Vol 9, Issue 7, E1017–E1021), released March 26, 2021 entitled “Operation Warp Speed: implications for global vaccine security”:

OWS has accelerated the development of COVID-19 vaccine without compromising efficacy, safety, or quality.1 There are, however, long-term safety issues that might arise. For example, three Ad5-vectored vaccine trials for HIV showed excess HIV infections in vaccine recipients; could Ad5-based vaccines for COVID-19 enhance HIV infections? Similarly, the use of the AS03 adjuvant was thought by some to be associated with the development of narcolepsy.20 Rare events, such as intussusception after the use of oral rotavirus vaccines, might not be apparent, even in trials of 30 000–60 000 people.21 Vaccine-associated enhanced respiratory disease and antibody-dependent enhancement were reported in animals given vaccines against SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV;22 fortunately, these effects have not been reported in small animal, non-human primate, or human studies of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.23 However, a long-term effect, similar to the enhancement that was observed for the Sanofi dengue virus vaccine, cannot be ruled out.24 Disregarding safety can undermine public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines and decrease vaccination uptake.25 Strengthening of systems in LMICs to monitor, record, and report adverse events after immunisation will be important given the multiple vaccines in use.26

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(21)00140-6/fulltext

Interpretation of the study (quoted directly from the paper):

Vaccination reduces the risk of delta variant infection and accelerates viral clearance. Nonetheless, fully vaccinated individuals with breakthrough infections have peak viral load similar to unvaccinated cases and can efficiently transmit infection in household settings, including to fully vaccinated contacts. Host–virus interactions early in infection may shape the entire viral trajectory.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Austria, India, Ireland, Italy, police state, September 11th, USA

time for an open debate about the ‘green technologies’

Let’s imagine you have a virus on your computer. You didn’t know you had it until someone phoned you up out of the blue. However, it turns out that this isn’t a prelude to the usual scam: – no, on this occasion your computer really has contracted a virus. The person on the other end of the phone going on to explain how they have ample evidence to prove their case because, after all, they created the virus in question. Adding that they have phoned you to demand legitimate compensation. Compensation…?

Well, after all, you have stolen their proprietary software, haven’t you? Software that they had personally spent years developing in order to make computers run faster and more efficiently, or so they say. Obviously you protest your innocence. You didn’t ask for their software and in any case you haven’t noticed any improvement. In fact, you feel like the victim, since your computer had been rather less reliable and more sluggish, if anything. But it’s to no avail. They are intent on suing for patent infringement, and that’s that. Such a case would never stand up in court, of course…

Unless…, unless the product in question belonged perhaps to a huge multinational corporation. An organisation that has highly paid legal teams, and armed with the political clout to change patent laws altogether. And say it wasn’t software that was being spread this way, but something altogether more fundamental to your existence. The viral code having been embedded not in computers, but in the food supply, and the question becoming why you didn’t sign a licence needed to grow their invasive but patented crops.

Now obviously the seed from these patented crops might have accidentally drifted into many unlicensed fields. Whilst, on top of this, there is nothing to prevent the patented varieties from pollinating other crops, thereby reproducing further patented hybrids in turn. So if this corporation were to have its own teams of inspectors with powers to search, then it would be more than profitable to send them off to scout the whole land looking for patent violations. How could the farmers prove their innocence? With the patented crops now growing all across their land, they are caught red-handed.

Such an aggressive modus operandi sounds like a product itself of an overly fertile and altogether deranged imagination, yet sadly the scenario I have sketched is literally the product of an increasingly deranged world:

Percy Schmeiser, a canola breeder and grower in Bruno, Saskatchewan, first discovered Roundup-resistant canola in his crops in 1997.[4] He had used Roundup herbicide to clear weeds around power poles and in ditches adjacent to a public road running beside one of his fields, and noticed that some of the canola which had been sprayed had survived. […]

At the time, Roundup Ready canola was in use by several farmers in the area. Schmeiser claimed that he did not plant the initial Roundup Ready canola in 1997, and that his field of custom-bred canola had been accidentally contaminated. While the origin of the plants on Schmeiser’s farm in 1997 remains unclear, the trial judge found that with respect to the 1998 crop, “none of the suggested sources [proposed by Schmeiser] could reasonably explain the concentration or extent of Roundup Ready canola of a commercial quality” ultimately present in Schmeiser’s 1998 crop.[5]

This is taken directly from the wikipedia entry (with original references retained) about a Canadian court case between Monsanto (who else!) and a canola (or rapeseed) farmer called Percy Schmeiser. The same article continues:

In 1998, Monsanto learned that Schmeiser was growing a Roundup-resistant crop and approached him to sign a license agreement to their patents and to pay a license fee. Schmeiser refused, maintaining that the 1997 contamination was accidental and that he owned the seed he harvested, and he could use the harvested seed as he wished because it was his physical property. Monsanto then sued Schmeiser for patent infringement. Patents being in federal jurisdiction, the case went to federal court.

In 2009, Percy Schmeiser featured in a documentary film based around the case and entitled David Versus Monsanto:

Note that I will come back to review some of the later verdicts in the long-running Monsanto v. Schmeiser case at the end of the article.

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The issues surrounding the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are many and complex, but it is perfectly clear that new developments in genetics, like those in nuclear physics more than half a century ago, have automatically opened the door to some quite extraordinary possibilities. Possibilities that will most assuredly impact our future no less dramatically than the advent of atomic reactors and the hydrogen bomb impacted our very recent past – and still continue to affect us today.

The need for a proper debate is long overdue but, hardly surprisingly, the huge bio-tech corporations prefer to keep the debate closed down. Monsanto, for instance, who say that it is perfectly safe to release their GMOs directly into our environment, are also in the habit of claiming that their herbicide Roundup is so harmless you can drink it!1 But then why on earth would anyone (or at least anyone not in their pocket) trust such self-interested and deliberately compromised low risk assessments? The quick answer being that the precautionary principle has once again been overridden by money and influence.

This great debate about the use of genetic modification needs to be both open and public: a forum for discussion amongst leading experts (and especially those not associated with the powerful bio-tech firms); scientists from other fields, who though ignorant on specifics, might bring a detached expertise by virtue of familiarity with scientific procedures; alongside representatives from other interested parties such as ‘consumers’ (that’s the rest of us by the way – we all consume, and though I hate the word too, it at least offers a little better perspective on our role without the current system, since this is how the system itself defines us).

It also needs to be fully inclusive, welcoming all intelligent opinion, whether concordant or dissenting. No reasoned objections from any quarters being summarily dismissed as unscientific or anti-scientific, as is so often the case, because we must never leave it for technicians alone to decide on issues that so directly affect our common future. Relying on highly specialised experts alone – even when those experts are fully independent (as they so rarely are these days) – being as unwise as it is anti-democratic.

Genetic manipulation is already upon us. It is already helping in the prevention and treatment of diseases, and in the production of medicines such as insulin (although even here serious questions are arising with regards to the potentially harmful side-effects of using a genetically modified product). More controversial again is the development of pest- and drought-resistant strains of crops (such as the Roundup Ready canola that contaminated Schmeiser’s fields), developments that are claimed by their producers to have alleviated a great deal of human suffering already, but which seem to have brought misery of new kinds – I will come back to this later.

And then we come to the development of Genetic Use Restriction Technology (Gurt), better known as ‘suicide’ or ‘Terminator’ (to use the industry term) seeds, which are promoted by the industry as a ‘biosafety’ solution. Engineered sterility being a clever way of preventing their own genetically modified plants from causing unwanted genetic contamination – which we might think of as a new form of pollution. The argument goes that if modified genes (whether pharmaceutical, herbicide resistance or ‘Terminator’ genes) from a ‘Terminator’ crop get transferred to related plants via cross-pollination, the seed produced from such pollination will be sterile. End of problem.

But this is merely an excuse, of course, and if used in this way, the new technology will ultimately prevent over a billion of the poorest people in the world from continuing in their age-old practice of saving seeds for resowing, which will, as a consequence, make these same farmers totally dependent on a few multinational bio-tech companies. An excellent means for monopolising the world’s food, and a satisfactory solution only for the owners of companies like Monsanto.2

In any case, do we really wish to allow patents on specific genes, opening the door to the corporate ownership of the building blocks to life itself? The world renowned physicist and futurist visionary Freeman Dyson draws a direct comparison to earlier forms of slavery:

“The institution of slavery was based on the legal right of slave-owners to buy and sell their property in a free market. Only in the nineteenth century did the abolitionist movement, with Quakers and other religious believers in the lead, succeed in establishing the principle that the free market does not extend to human bodies. The human body is God’s temple and not a commercial commodity. And now in the twenty-first century, for the sake of equity and human brotherhood, we must maintain the principle that the free market does not extend to human genes.”3

Nor, I would quickly add, should it extend to the ownership of genes of other higher species of animal or plant life. Moreover, I personally have no wish whatsoever for apples, tomatoes, potatoes (or even tobacco) that provides the RDA of all my nutritional needs, or any other supposed improvement on the original designs – preferring to trust to apples, tomatoes and potatoes that evolved alongside my own human digestive system. Which is not merely a preference, but a human right. Since we all have the right not to eat GMO just as we have the right to be vegan (not that I’m a vegan, by the way).

Beyond this, we also need to consider the many perfectly serious and inescapable ethical issues that arise once you are tinkering with the primary source code of life itself. Take cloning as an interesting example.

Identical twins are essentially clones, having both developed from the same fertilised egg, and thus sharing the same DNA. But then nature sometimes goes one step further again:

A form of virgin birth has been found in wild vertebrates for the first time.

Researchers in the US caught pregnant females from two snake species and genetically analysed the litters.

That proved the North American pit vipers reproduced without a male, a phenomenon called facultative parthenogenesis that has previously been found only in captive species.4

Taken from a BBC article I accidentally came across only yesterday.

I have since learned that parthenogenesis (reproduction without fertilisation or “virgin birth”) is surprisingly common throughout the plant and animal kingdoms. Birds do it, bees do it… and even mammals have been induced to do it. So cloning is not inherently unnatural, and if carried out successfully (as it frequently is in nature), it may one day be no more harmful nor fraught with latent dangers to be a cloned individual than an individual produced by other forms of artificial reproduction. Furthermore, since we already know what human twins are like, then we already know what human clones will be like. Yet many ethical questions still hang.

Should anyone be allowed to clone themselves? Or more generally, who chooses which of us are to be cloned? Do we just leave it to the market to decide? And why would we ever want a world populated by identical (or rather, approximately identical – since no two twins are truly identical and there are sound biological reasons for believing clones will never be perfectly reproduced either) human beings? Such ethical questions are forced by the new biotechnologies. And there are many further reasons for why ordinary, intelligent public opinion needs to be included in the debate.

Here is Freeman Dyson again, summarising his own cautious optimism as we enter the age of the new ‘green technologies’:

“I see two tremendous goods coming from biotechnology in the next century, first the alleviation of human misery through progress in medicine, and second the transformation of the global economy through green technology spreading wealth more equitably around the world. The two great evils to be avoided are the use of biological weapons and the corruption of human nature by buying and selling genes. I see no scientific reason why we should not achieve the good and avoid the evil.

The obstacles to achieving the good are political rather than technical. Unfortunately a large number of people in many countries are strongly opposed to green technology, for reasons having little to do with the real dangers. It is important to treat the opponents with respect, to pay attention to their fears, to go gently into the new world of green technology so that neither human dignity nor religious conviction is violated. If we can go gently, we have a good chance of achieving within a hundred years the goals of ecological sustainability and social justice that green technology brings within our reach.”5

Dyson is being too optimistic no doubt. Many of the dangers of genetic modification are only now coming to light; more than a decade after Dyson uttered these words as part of his acceptance speech for the award of the Templeton Prize in 2000.

Meanwhile, last month, Greenpeace issued the following press release. It contains the summary of an open letter sent by nearly a hundred Indian scientists to the Supreme Court of India:

An official report submitted by the technical Expert committee set up by the Supreme Court of India comprising of India’s leading experts in molecular biology, toxicology and biodiversity – unanimously recommends a 10-year moratorium on all field trials of GM Bt [insecticide producing due to genes from Bacillus thuringiensis] food crops, due to serious safety concerns. The committee has also recommended a moratorium on field trials of herbicide tolerant crops until independent assessment of impact and suitability, and a ban on field trials of GM crops for which India is center of origin and diversity.

The report’s recommendations are expected put a stop to all field releases of GM food crops in India, including the controversial Bt eggplant, whose commercial release was put under an indefinite moratorium there last February 2010. Contrarily, the same Bt eggplant is currently being evaluated for approval in the Philippines.

“This official unanimous declaration on the risks of GMOs, by India’s leading biotech scientists is the latest nail on the coffin for GMOs around the world,” said Daniel M. Ocampo, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “It is yet another proof that GMOs are bad for the health, bad for the environment, bad for farmers and bad for the economy.”

Click here to read the full Greenpeace press release.

For though it would be foolish to fail to recognise the enormous potential benefits of some of the new ‘green technologies’, underestimating the hazards is sheer recklessness. And this is really where my own opinion differs significantly from enthusiasts like Dyson. This science is just so brilliantly new, and so staggeringly complex. The dangers are very real and our concerns entirely justified: whether these are concerns over safety, over the political implications, or anxieties of a more purely ethical kind.

But allow me to finish for once on a more positive note. Against all the odds and at considerable cost, financially and in terms of personal trauma, Percy Schmeiser, with the support of his wife Louise, eventually succeeded in their long-running legal battle against Monsanto. Beginning with the Federal Court judgement in March 2001:

Justice Andrew McKay upheld the validity of Monsanto’s patented gene which it inserts into canola varieties to make them resistant to their herbicide Round Up.

McKay dismissed Schmeiser’s challenge to the patent based on the claim Monsanto could not control how the gene was dispersed through the countryside.

In a key part of the ruling, the judge agreed a farmer can generally own the seeds or plants grown on his land if they blow in or are carried there by pollen — but the judge says this is not true in the case of genetically modified seed.

It was that part of the ruling that most upsets Percy Schmeiser. The implications are wide ranging and Schmeiser has launched an appeal that was heard on May 15 & 16, 2002 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The Federal Court of Appeal subsequently rejected Schmeiser’s appeal. Schmeiser then asked for leave from Canada’s Supreme Court to hear the case. Leave was granted in May 2003 and the case was heard on January 20, 2004.

The Supreme Court issued their decision in May 2004 and one can view the decision as a draw. The Court determined that Monsanto’s patent is valid, but Schmeiser is not forced to pay Monsanto anything as he did not profit from the presence of Roundup Ready canola in his fields. This issue started with Monsanto demanding Schmeiser pay the $15/acre technology fee and in the end, Schmeiser did not have to pay. The Schmeiser family and supporters are pleased with this decision, however disappointed that the other areas of appeal were not overturned.

And then, seven years on:

In an out of court settlement finalized on March 19, 2008, Percy Schmeiser has settled his lawsuit with Monsanto. Monsanto has agreed to pay all the clean-up costs of the Roundup Ready canola that contaminated Schmeiser’s fields. Also part of the agreement was that there was no gag-order on the settlement and that Monsanto could be sued again if further contamination occurred. Schmeiser believes this precedent setting agreement ensures that farmers will be entitled to reimbursement when their fields become contaminated with unwanted Roundup Ready canola or any other unwanted GMO plants.

On this occasion then, David didn’t kill Goliath, and in spite of huge personal effort and sacrifice. But he has undoubtedly helped to rein him in a bit, and Percy Schmeiser is just one of many Davids battling against the same Goliath. Collective actions that are also helping to open up the long overdue debate about the ‘green technologies’ and the future of life on our planet.

Both extracts above are quoted from Percy Schmeiser’s own website where you can find out more about his continuing fight against Big Agro.

*

Update:

A more recent Bloomberg article from November 28th reveals how another agro-giant DuPont is now employing the same strategy used by Monsanto:

DuPont Co. (DD), the world’s second- biggest seed company, is sending dozens of former police officers across North America to prevent a practice generations of farmers once took for granted.

The provider of the best-selling genetically modified soybean seed is looking for evidence of farmers illegally saving them from harvests for replanting next season, which is not allowed under sales contracts. The Wilmington, Delaware-based company is inspecting Canadian fields and will begin in the U.S. next year, said Randy Schlatter, a DuPont senior manager.

DuPont is protecting its sales of Roundup Ready soybeans, so called because they tolerate being sprayed by Monsanto Co. (MON)’s Roundup herbicide. For years enforcement was done by Monsanto, which created Roundup Ready and dominates the $13.3 billion biotech seed industry, though it’s moving on to a new line of seeds now that patents are expiring. That leaves DuPont to play the bad guy, enforcing alternative patents so cheaper “illegal beans” don’t get planted.

Click here to read the full article written by Jack Kaskey and entitled “DuPont Sends in Former Cops to Enforce Seed Patents”.

1 In 1996, the New York Times reported that: “Dennis C. Vacco, the Attorney General of New York, ordered the company to pull ads that said Roundup was “safer than table salt” and “practically nontoxic” to mammals, birds and fish. The company withdrew the spots, but also said that the phrase in question was permissible under E.P.A. guidelines.”[237]

Extract taken from wikipedia with original reference retained. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto#False_advertising

2 For further arguments against “Terminator Technology”, I recommend the following website: http://www.banterminator.org/content/view/full/233

3 From Freeman Dyson’s acceptance speech for the award of the Templeton Prize, delivered on May 16, 2000 at the Washington National Cathedral.

4 From an article entitled “Virgin births discovered in wild snakes” written by Jeremy Coles, published by BBC nature on September 12, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/19555550

5 Also taken from Freeman Dyson’s acceptance speech for the award of the Templeton Prize.

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