Tag Archives: Covid-19

corona marginalia: Facebook v. the BMJ

“We should all be very worried that Facebook, a multibillion dollar company, is effectively censoring fully fact checked journalism that is raising legitimate concerns about the conduct of clinical trials. Facebook’s actions won’t stop The BMJ doing what is right, but the real question is: why is Facebook acting in this way? What is driving its world view? Is it ideology? Is it commercial interests? Is it incompetence? Users should be worried that, despite presenting itself as a neutral social media platform, Facebook is trying to control how people think under the guise of ‘fact checking.’”

— Kamran Abbasi, The BMJ’s editor in chief

“I worry about the amount of power placed in the hands of these third party groups. There’s no accountability structure. There’s no democratic process to this. And so, while I do see a role for fact checking and think it’s far superior to the alternative—which is Facebook just taking down content—I still worry about the effect that it can have on legitimate sources.”

— Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation

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The British Medical Journal (BMJ) is a weekly peer-reviewed journal. Starting out as the Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal, it began publishing in 1840 and is one of the oldest and most prestigious medical journals in the world:

Over the decades, news of many important medical advances was broken in the pages of the journal. In 1847/48, the PMSJ carried a number of reports from pioneering anaesthetist Sir James Young Simpson urging the adoption and correct preparation and administration of undiluted chloroform for maximum benefit. Twenty years later, in 1867, The BMJ published the first of many seminal papers on antisepsis by Joseph Lister.

In October 1948, The BMJ published the first centrally randomised controlled trial (‘Streptomycin Treatment of Pulmonary Tuberculosis’— one of the authors being FRG Heaf of Heaf Test fame, which remained in use until 2005).

The journal also carried Richard Doll’s seminal papers on the causal effects of smoking on lung cancer and other causes of death in 1950 and 1954.

Click here to read more about the BMJ’s past achievements on its official website.

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Reputation notwithstanding, The BMJ has recently fallen foul of Facebook’s ever-vigilant arbiters of truth who are lodged deep in the bowels of FB’s infallible ‘fact checking’ HQ:

Beginning on 10 November, The BMJ’s readers began reporting a variety of problems when trying to share its investigation on Facebook. Some reported being unable to share it. Many others reported having their post flagged with a warning about “Missing context… Independent fact-checkers say this information could mislead people.” Facebook told posters that people who repeatedly shared “false information” might have their posts moved lower in its news feed. In one private Facebook group, of people who had long term neurological adverse events after vaccination, group administrators received a message from Facebook informing them that a post linking to The BMJ’s investigation was “partly false”

Readers were directed to a “fact check” performed by Lead Stories, one of the 10 companies contracted by Facebook in the US, whose tagline is “debunking fake news as it happens.” An analysis last year showed that Lead Stories was responsible for half of all Facebook fact checks.

Taken from The BMJ’s formal refutation of Facebook as published on January 19th, which continues:

The Lead Stories article, though it failed to identify any errors in The BMJ’s investigation, nevertheless carried the title, “Fact Check: The British Medical Journal Did NOT Reveal Disqualifying and Ignored Reports of Flaws in Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Trials.”

The first paragraph wrongly described The BMJ as a “news blog” and was accompanied by a screenshot of the investigation article with a stamp over it stating “Flaws Reviewed,” despite the Lead Stories article not identifying anything false or inaccurate. Lead Stories did not mention that the investigation was externally peer reviewed, despite this being stated in the article, and had published its article under a URL that contained the phrase “hoax-alert.”

The BMJ contacted Lead Stories, asking it to remove its article. It declined. The author of the article, Dean Miller, replied to say that Lead Stories was not responsible for Facebook’s actions.

John Campbell picked up the story and offered his own thoughts on Feb 7th:

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The same BMJ piece also goes on to consider related and equally erroneous Facebook ‘fact checks’ that have resulted in a similar censorship drive against the no less prestigious British medical research organisation Cochrane:

Cochrane, the international provider of high quality systematic reviews of medical evidence, has experienced similar treatment by Instagram, which, like Facebook, is owned by the parent company Meta.

A Cochrane spokesperson said that in October its Instagram account was “shadowbanned” for two weeks, meaning that “when other users tried to tag Cochrane, a message popped up saying @cochraneorg had posted material that goes against ‘false content’ guidelines”. Shadowbanning may lead to posts, comments, or activities being hidden or obscured and stop appearing in searches.

After Cochrane posted on Instagram and Twitter about the ban, its usual service was eventually restored, although it has not received an explanation for why it fell foul of the guidelines in the first place.

The spokesperson said, “We think Cochrane was reported as it had published a review on ivermectin and was ironically supporting a campaign about spreading misinformation. It seems sometimes automation and artificial intelligence get it wrong. And user reporting and mechanisms can be used to block the wrong people.”

In response, BMJ editors Fiona Godlee and Kamran Abbasi wrote an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg calling Lead Stories’ fact checking “inaccurate, incompetent, and irresponsible” and asking Meta to review the warning placed on The BMJ’s article and the processes that led to it being censored.

Lead Stories is taking an editorial position on vaccination, York [Jillian York, director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation] says, one that echoes Facebook’s own position. “The broader issue at hand is that companies like Facebook and some of the traditional media establishments are reasonably concerned about vaccine misinformation but have swung so far in the opposite direction as to potentially shut down legitimate questions about major corporations like Pfizer,” she said. The medical industry has a history of suppressing certain information, and citizens need to be able to question it, she added.

Click here to read the full BMJ article entitled “Facebook versus the BMJ: when fact checking goes wrong” written by Rebecca Coombes and Madlen Davies.

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corona marginalia: myocarditis risk?

An article in Israel National News reports findings of a recent study published by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showing the risk of myocarditis after mRNA covid vaccination is around 133 times greater than the background risk in the population:

A recent study published on January 25, 2022, on JAMA Network, has shown that the risk of myocarditis following mRNA COVID vaccination is around 133 times greater than the background risk in the population.

The study, conducted by researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as well as from several U.S. universities and hospitals, examined the effects of vaccination with products manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The study’s authors used data obtained from the CDC’s VAERS reporting system which were cross-checked to ensure they complied with CDC’s definition of myocarditis; they also noted that given the passive nature of the VAERS system, the number of reported incidents is likely to be an underestimate of the extent of the phenomenon.

Click here to read the full article entitled “New study: 133x risk of myocarditis after COVID vaccination” written by Y Rabinovitz, published in Israel National News (Arutz Sheva) on January 27th.

The study compared reported rates of myocarditis across different age and sex strata following vaccination against comparative averages for the pre-covid period 2017–2019.

The findings are published in a paper entitled Myocarditis Cases Reported After mRNA-Based COVID-19 Vaccination in the US From December 2020 to August 2021 published on January 25th in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

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John Campbell provides a thorough overview of the paper and its findings. He estimates the figure may be closer to 84 times the background rate, although he says the true figure is likely to be significantly higher because of difficulties in reporting cases using the VAERS system:

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Additional: vaccine aspiration

Back in December, John Campbell spoke with Niels Høiby, a physician, Professor of Bacteriology at the University of Copenhagen and briefly a Danish MP for the Liberal Alliance. They discussed growing evidence of damage caused by inadvertent intravascular administration of both adenoviral vector vaccines (AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sputnik V, Convidecia) and mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna).

On the basis of animal studies as well as his own comparison of rates of myocarditis between Norway and Denmark – rates in Norway where vaccines are not aspirated were 3 times higher – Niels Høiby presents statistically significant evidence that vaccine damage is caused by failure to aspirate prior to pushing in the injection. He is calling for changes to vaccine administration guidelines worldwide to ensure precautionary aspiration:

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Please note: 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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Boris Johnson deserves to be cut down, but why are the knives wielded today instead of years ago?

Back in early 2020, when the nation faced the threat of a novel pathogen of unknown transmissibility and virulence, Johnson’s response was both swift and characteristic – he very promptly vanished.

At the time WHO announced the pandemic, Johnson was busy holidaying on the Caribbean island of Mustique, all-expenses paid by Carphone Warehouse co-founder David Ross, where he continued to holiday uninterrupted to the end of his stay. Upon return, he then skipped five Cobra meetings and soon after contracted covid himself; before buggering off again to Chevening, a 115 room Grade II-listed 17th Century mansion in Kent, to recuperate.

We will fight them on the beaches

Under Johnson’s “leadership”, government policy has lurched shambolically one way and then another. Following an initially cautious response, and for no given reason, Britain soon reopened its borders, discontinued the testing of suspected cases and generally hampered public health agencies that were already best placed to track the spread of disease.

Having thus overseen the more or less unchecked spread of the virus for some two months, Johnson’s supposed “libertarian” government U-turned and imposed a sequence of tight lockdowns bolstered by its constantly shifting hokey-cokey of ad hoc covid rules. As I wrote in late March 2020, not only were the lockdowns a direct consequence of government delays and incompetence, but taking such drastic measures potentially paved the way to lasting restrictions on civil liberties.

Notwithstanding these catastrophic failures, however, Johnson remained a lucky general and was eventually saved when the cavalry turned up in the form of the NHS vaccine rollout. It also helped immeasurably that the responses of the majority of western nations had been no better than Britain’s.

Throughout the pandemic the establishment media has also played a crucial role by parroting the official line and in general deflecting attention from the ensuing fiasco that has cost so many lives and “spaffed up the wall” literally hundreds of billions of pounds of public money – billions a day just on private consultants and contractors for track-and-trace alone.

But then along came “partygate”. And if Johnson’s is finally brought down by “partygate” (as I believe he will be) then it is akin, as someone already said (I forget who), to Al Capone being imprisoned for tax evasion.

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“Wherever you stand on this issue – the severity of it, the medications, the mandates, all of that stuff – put that aside for a minute and just think about what do you want from the people who govern you – is this it?”

That’s the rhetorical question Russell Brand poses and adroitly contextualises below – with strong language throughout:

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In December 2020, Craig Murray wrote a post entitled “Sorry, Johnson Will Not Disappear” which begins:

It is currently popular among those who make money writing media articles about politics, to argue that Boris Johnson will implode next year and be replaced as Tory leader by someone more rational and conventional. I very much doubt this: the most important reason for that doubt being the power of the atavistic English nationalist forces that Johnson has unleashed in British politics. Astonishingly, despite the UK government’s hideously inept performance in the Covid crisis, and the corruption and looting of the public purse on a massive scale for which the pandemic has been used, the Conservatives still lead Labour in the UK opinion polls.

In the same piece, he concludes:

My prediction is this: Boris will agree his thin deal and at the end of January the Brexiteers will be gloating that the predicted disaster did not happen. Effects on economic growth and employment will take some time to be plainly identified, and it will be mortifying how readily the Tories will twist the narrative to blame the EU, and also to obtain English nationalist support for the notion that this gradual pain is worth it in pursuit of a purer country, with less immigration. That may sound crazy to you. But is it not crazy to you that the Tories are still ahead in UK polls after the last year? Mark my words; hope that Boris Johnson will simply vanish is very misplaced.

Murray is not entirely wrong, of course, and his damning verdict on Keir Starmer (which you can read in the original post) holds up a little better, but my point here isn’t actually to judge and criticise the lack of foresight of Craig Murray as to point to my own analysis ahead of time, since this can be read further down the same page in a comment (reprinted as a footnote below ):

comment about Johnson posted on Craig Murray's website 18-12-20

My comment was posted on December 18th 2020, so permitting myself an error margin of plus-or-minus a month my forecast is essentially accurate.

How did I recognise that Johnson’s days were numbered when others, including those with more direct political knowledge and experience like Craig Murray, were unable to see what was coming? Simply by remaining objective and nothing more: judging from facts rather than on the basis of preferences and biases.

I’ve always hated Johnson too, of course. I hated him long before most people did. But I also knew I wasn’t alone in my hostility! Johnson has accumulated entire legions of enemies; battalions just within the Conservative Party. How many colleagues has he thrown under that damned bus (and different buses!) since the referendum?

His premiership was precarious right from the start and politicians with so many enemies seldom survive for long. Motives for sticking in the knife abounded, but there remained still the delicate question of opportunity. Meanwhile, closets lay stacked to the rafters with skeletons, all just waiting patiently to be unlocked.

Though make no mistake, had Her Majesty’s opposition remained under the stewardship of Jeremy Corbyn, then the fickle attention of our establishment media might more easily have been distracted over and over (as it previously has been) whether by means of prefabricated allegations of “antisemitism” or with alternative smears perpetually cooked up to undermine his tenure. “Partygate” only becomes a major scandal once the opposition is back securely on its leash. Take a bow Sir Keir! (Or should that be a peerage?)

On Tuesday 18th ‘Double Down News’ released a statement by Jeremy Corbyn outlining the reasons why he opposes vaccine mandates and passports and is concerned by the rise of centralised power:

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Like the press (who must have heard some rumours at the very least – we presume they didn’t get invites), the Metropolitan Police evidently paid no attention to the non-stop Downing Street shenanigans and despite the fact that a number of these events happened live on their CCTV cameras. Will this lack of police oversight be a matter for a future inquiry? I shouldn’t think so. But involving the police now makes Johnson’s position even less tenable. Imagine what might have happened had they acted with vigilance and propriety at the time. They didn’t, and again, I wouldn’t expect them to. It would be remarkably naive to seriously believe “nobody is above the law”.

That said, evidence of serious misconduct in office emerges all the time, whereas public indignation wanes quickly. It’s only when the press and the broadcast media help to whip up full-blown public fury by tenaciously sticking to the one story and repeating it over and over when the pressure eventually becomes insurmountable. Which happens, of course, only when the time is ripe.

Just ask former Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, who was eventually fired after it was revealed he was having an extramarital affair with his friend from university, Gina Coladangelo. He and Gina, Hancock’s self-appointed Special Advisor (something else he’d failed to declare!) were caught in the act: snogging after school and captured on leaked parliamentary CCTV tapes – not a very edifying spectacle! Who leaked the kompromat? Who cares! (Nobody seems to.)

Prior to Hancock’s “breach of social distancing restrictions”, he had been caught breaching other drinking curfews but, and far, far more importantly, he had been in flagrant violation of conflict of interest rules on countless occasions; perhaps most notoriously, doing deals for covid test equipment with a mate who runs the local pub.

But the trouble with Hancock was not his unprincipled behaviour or his recidivism, but his utter ineptitude; so much so that he became a constant source of embarrassment for Johnson and the Tories. When Dominic Cummings stepped up to accuse him of “criminal, disgraceful behaviour” adding that he should have been fired as Health Secretary for “at least fifteen to twenty things including lying to everyone on multiple occasions”, Hancock’s sacking finally became an inevitability.

Nevertheless, timing is absolutely key to these types of disclosures and following Cummings’ damning accusations, Hancock still managed to stagger on as Health Secretary for nearly a whole month before “snogging-gate” nailed him. That’s when it also came to light that Gina’s brother, Roberto Coladangelo, the Director of Partnering Health Limited (PHL Group) – a firm specialising in the provision of urgent and primary care services to NHS patients – had also won a whole string of NHS contracts during Hancock’s incumbency. You scratch my back…

Coming back to “partygate”, and considering again the endless waves of government incompetence and the unholy stench of corruption, the biggest question clearly has to be why now? The probable answer being, of course, the one already provided in my comment above: that Johnson’s time is up.

As wrote back then, it was effectively up ever since Brexit was signed off, except that the covid crisis had kept him temporarily secure as PM. After all, nobody wishes to pick up a poisoned chalice; a problem hugely exacerbated by such egregious levels of government incompetence and corruption happening under his charge.

Because any prospective leadership contender – at least anyone serious about electoral success – needs to make a clean break: the chance to pass the buck to Johnson wholesale and excuse and/or limit their own perceived participation in past administrative failures under the reliable cover of plausible deniability. (Confident that once the deed is done, the party and most of the press will instantly have their back.)

For instance, here is Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, trying hard to defend his partner-in-crime Boris – while keeping a respectful distance from any blame sharing – during a press conference on Tuesday 18th:

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So why now? Simple – and more or less explained above. The unstoppable spread of this thankfully mild omicron variant is doing what the vaccine rollout has largely failed to do and inoculating the entire population. By lucky chance, the pandemic is essentially over – and though the media has tried to say otherwise, this good news comes out regardless. Thus, with covid behind us, a clean political break becomes a viable option, which is presumably why Johnson’s enemies are suddenly so eager to strike, and determined to do so while the iron’s still hot. Politics is a perennially dirty business…

Following the accusations of parliamentary blackmail, ‘Novara Media’ delved into BBC archives (Westminster’s Secret Service 1995) to present footage of interviews with former Tory whips William Whitelaw and Tim Fortescue revealing how old school arm-twisting was done:

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What will happen next? Frankly, I do not pretend to know. Who replaces Johnson is anyone’s guess – although the bookies already have their favourites. If you asked me off-the-cuff I’d say the name most loudly touted is Chancellor Rishi Sunak, but another prospective candidate may be that other ex-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has assiduously distanced himself from the government’s failures throughout the crisis. Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is apparently the bookies’ second favourite and on the same basis Tom Tugendhat (with his Bilderberg connections) appears to a bit of a dark horse too.

Whoever comes to the fore and whoever ultimately wins the race, I am quietly confident that – to quote Craig Murray in the negative – s/he will be “someone more rational and conventional”. That is, they will not be – in contradiction to Murray’s prediction again – anyone closely allied with “the atavistic English nationalist forces that Johnson has unleashed in British politics”. Those days have passed, just as the days of Labour under Corbyn and a revitalised left have passed. Johnson’s undoing means the ‘centrists’ are firmly back in charge again.

In short, and contrary to so much liberal hysteria (which passes itself off under the guise of “progressive”), the present threat to society remains the well-established one. It is the grinding menace of neoliberalism in the form of ‘austerity’ and stealth privatisation that ensures the relentless transfer of wealth upwards to the billionaires and the further impoverishment of the poorest, mixed in with a highly combustible neoconservatism that seeks to perpetuate the forever wars, guaranteeing steady profits for the military-industrialists.

Johnson has already played his useful part for both causes, but he frequently played it without finesse, just as Trump did in America. But coming soon, we can expect to see a safer pair of hands: a candidate literally better prepared to pursue the same old, same old ‘new normal’ plutocratic special interests. Someone better in the business of building false dreams: “building back better” for business as usual… consolidation after a bit of a glitch in the matrix!

A spoof episode of ‘Line of Duty’ by the satirical artists ‘Led By Donkeys’ was posted on Twitter on Tuesday 18th and swiftly retweeted by the ‘Line of Duty’ writer Jed Mercurio with the words “brilliant work”:

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Which is why I find “partygate” mostly a bore and irrelevance. The daily ‘did-he-didn’t-he?‘,‘will-he-won’t-he?’ soap opera. Yes, Johnson is being ritually humiliated as he deserves to be. It’s the death of a clown by a thousand custard pies. And the schadenfreude is quite delicious, so I shan’t pretend I don’t take pleasure from the sight of that smug grin being wiped off his supercilious face. It certainly makes for great pantomime.

Short of war with Russia (absit omen), nothing can save him now. Not the unshakeable born-to-rule haughtiness and entitlement of an Eton-educated Bullingdon boy with his nauseating never-say-sorry shamelessness. But still, nothing of real political – let alone historic significance – is actually happening here. Johnson will surely resign – but then, the road for him ran out long ago.

And all the while, Johnson appears oddly oblivious to his fate, incapable of understanding that he has become a total liability to the Tories; almost pitiful, it’s like watching a big shaggy dog being carted off to the vets for the last time! Blinkered by narcissism to the bitter end, even when former Conservative allies like David Davies are as forthright as this:

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Not that I have any real sympathy for Johnson. That instead goes out to the victims. To those forcibly separated from their loved ones who were left to die in isolation while these Tory chumps were boozing it up day after day. As I listen to their moving stories, I want to put a comforting arm around the shoulder and whisper “I hate them too”. Those feckless champagne charlies and their self-serving talentless mates who are running our societies into the ground. So yes, thank god this is unspeakable object is being tossed aside by unstoppable forces.

But I also hate, and with no less passion, the Blairite saboteurs so deeply ensconced in Labour HQ who worked tirelessly and in cahoots with the establishment media to defeat their own leader, giving Johnson and his wrecking crew a firm leg up to secure his electoral victory. The relentless smear campaign against Corbyn surely provides more than enough proof that today the fourth estate has been actively transformed and is operating as a fifth column:

Meanwhile, I had been calling out Johnson – “Boris” to his chums – long before he ever became PM (a depressing eventuality I also saw coming a mile away), and during decades when the whole establishment media loved to fawn over his foppish buffoonery. Now they are all sticking the knife in, but only because…

And once the circus has left town? Unfortunately, nothing of benefit will come from Johnson’s dishonourable discharge. The damage done remains and will not be undone whether in this parliament or the next; and worst, a raft of similar policies are certain to be rolled out by whoever supplants him. Meanwhile, “partygate” is exactly the sort of scandal that modern media thrives on, because it’s all about personalities and human interest. Beginning and ending on emotive issues of bad behaviour, it serves deflect public attention from where it ought to be placed: on the plutocratic interests pulling the strings and the open but unspoken class war continually waged against the ninety-nine percent.

Look! Finally, this is nothing more than a ‘changing of the guard’. A piece of political theatre. Were Johnson and the government to be genuinely held to account for their criminal negligence and brazen corruption during the last two years, they would soon be facing prosecution and the prospect of jail terms. Instead, there is no likelihood of a truly independent inquiry into the mishandling of the covid crisis and nobody in government will be seriously held to account. If anyone doubts this, then have four short words to offer: arise Sir Tony Blair!

As I wrote a year ago: “Given historical precedents I reckon he’s got a year at best, but we shall see.” That much was rather obvious, and it is no less obvious that it hardly matters who comes next. Why? Because if, in the remote chance, a genuine political contender did arise and attain the level of a perceived threat to the establishment, then the enforcers working inside parliament, inside the civil service, inside the intelligence agencies, and for the press and major broadcasters can again be coordinated in an orchestrated response to crush the upstart just as they did the last.

The ex-leader of Labour of just two years ago, Jeremy Corbyn, is now de facto ousted from his own party, and yet this extraordinary story of betrayal and skulduggery gets scarcely a passing mention from any of the mainstream news outlets.

Johnson fully deserves everything he gets and a whole lot more. But in about ten years time it’s more than likely he’ll receive a knighthood instead. That’s how it works in Britain – in other places the powers-that-be dish out comparable rewards for services rendered. So, that’s my final prediction: Arise Sir Boris!

You can mark my words and tell me I’m wrong presuming we ever make it as far as 2032.

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My comment to Craig Murray

Sorry Craig but I believe you are blindsided by your own love affair with the EU and so find it hard to acknowledge that you share this strange affection with a significant majority of Tory MPs who were and presumably still are (beneath the thin veneer of party loyalty) fellow remainers. Certainly I don’t doubt you are right when you say they will continue to stick by BoJoke for so long as his popularity assures their own re-election, but I believe you fail to factor in the numerous and powerful enemies who are now swarming around him. In effect he becomes a lame duck after January and securing any kind of Brexit deal will only cover his blatant lack of competency for a few months. Meanwhile there will be plenty who are now relishing this midterm opportunity to stick it to him, and some have been sharpening their knives ever since he led the referendum campaign. Given historical precedents I reckon he’s got a year at best, but we shall see.

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corona marginalia: the pro-choice doc

Dr Steven James is a consultant anaesthetist at King’s College Hospital in London where he has been working in the ICU since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. During a visit on January 7th by the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, Dr James made the case that the science isn’t strong enough to support the government policy of mandatory vaccination for all NHS staff. A video recording (embedded below with transcript) of their conversation subsequently went viral:

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Sajid Javid: “What do you what do you think of the new rule to require vaccination of all NHS staff?”

Dr Steven James: “I’m not happy about that.”

Sajid Javid:  “So you’re not happy with that?

Dr James: “So I’ve had covid at some point.”

Sajid Javid: “Yes.”

Dr James: “I’ve got antibodies. I’ve been working on covid ICU since the beginning. I have not had a vaccination. I did not want to have a vaccination.

“The vaccine is reducing transmission only for eight weeks with delta – with omicron it’s probably less – and for that I would be dismissed if I don’t have a vaccine. The science isn’t strong enough.”

Sajid Javid: “That’s your view… [turning to other NHS staff] and your views? Do you have any view on that? [then following no replies, turning back to Dr James] I respect that but there’s also many others with different views.”

Dr James: “Yeah, I understand that there are other views, but there’s another colleague who’s also in the same position.”

Sajid Javid: “Yeah, I understand that obviously and obviously we had to weigh all that up for both health and social care. And there will always be a debate about it.”

Dr James: “But maybe there’s an opportunity to reconsider with omicron and the changing picture, or at least the nuance that will allow doctors who’ve had antibody exposure, who’ve got antibodies, who haven’t had the vaccination to not have it, because the protection I’ve got from transmission is probably equivalent to someone who’s vaccinated.”

Sajid Javid: “Yeah, but at some point that will wane as well.”

Dr James: “But if you want to provide protection with the booster, you’d have to inject everybody every month. If it’s worn off by two months… If the protection’s worn off for transmission after two months, then after a month you’ve still got a bit of protection, so you want to maintain protection you’re going to need to boost all staff members every single month, which you’re not going to do.

Sajid Javid: “Yeah, we take advice on when – how much – you may need…”

Dr James: “But it’s not going to achieve a practical benefit.”

Sajid Javid: “Well we take the very best advice that we can.”

Dr James: “[I] understand but..”

Sajid Javid: “From the people that are vaccine experts.”

Having run out of answers Sajid Javid ends the discussion with a sneaky and deliberate slight. Unaccustomed to receiving push back and especially from someone with specialist training, he finally resorts to an appeal to authority, a logical fallacy known as argumentum ad verecundiam.

The incident has since been hijacked and misrepresented by people within two opposing camps, so it is important to emphasise that Dr James does not hold “an anti-vaxx” position, nor is he expressing one. Instead, he is straightforwardly pointing out that fact that the emergence and spread of the omicron variant has dramatically changed the situation. He is also highlighting the comparatively low protection that vaccines offer to those like himself who already enjoy natural immunity, as well as pointing to the scientifically established waning efficacy of both the vaccines and boosters.

In short he says nothing particularly controversial here and so it is a sign that we are living through exceptional and worrying times that even moderate and well-informed opinions are routinely marginalised as extreme and, in the case of the response to covid, characterised as “anti-vaxx”.

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On Wednesday 12th, Dr James was invited by ITV’s breakfast show Good Morning Britain, to explain why he refuses to be vaccinated. Once again, there was no attempt at all to debate the issue seriously, but a rather blatant effort to shame Dr James and also to set a trap they hoped he might fall into – and which he didn’t.

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Host Richard Madeley began by asking bluntly, “Dr Jones, [this video]’s made you ‘the poster doc’ for the whole ‘anti-vaxx movement’ but that’s not a kind of hat that you want to wear and you’ve come on Good Morning Britain to try and put the record straight so where exactly do you stand on vaccination?”

Dr Steve James responded: “If I’m the voice of anything I’m the voice of a hundred thousand NHS staff, who’ve already lost their jobs. People whose voice hasn’t been heard.

Continuing after an interruption: “Well I’m not ‘anti-vaxx’ because I’ve seen a great, great benefit from vaccines. There’s been a huge reduction in the number of seriously ill patients who’ve come into hospital and vaccination has probably made – or it’s almost certainly made – the largest contribution to that.”

Richard Madeley interrupts again, pressing him about “why did you say that to Javid?” and Dr James continues:

“So there’s a difference between me giving my own personal opinion about why I wouldn’t have a vaccine and whether vaccines in general are good. So you know as a doctor, I’m not anti-surgery, it doesn’t mean that surgery is what I need to have. So for a population it’d be good to offer certain treatments, [but that] doesn’t mean that everybody needs to have those treatments.”

Richard Madeley again: “So why haven’t you been vaccinated?”

Dr James: “Personally I’m a fit and well man. I’m not elderly. I was exposed to covid on multiple occasions in hospital settings and I wasn’t getting sick, and I thought, ‘well the vaccines are out there now, they’ll go to the elderly and the vulnerable’. And I was surprised to see that there wasn’t a point where instead of offering it to everyone, we’re now going to start offering it to people in a more nuanced way.”

Richard Madeley: “But being fit and young and well is no defence against covid. Young, fit people have died from it.

Dr James: “I haven’t seen anyone who’s young and fit and well and has died of covid. Now, there are always going to be exceptions, but young, fit and healthy people also die at other things. So I thought I would just sit and wait and see.

“Yesterday, the Director of the CDC [Rochelle Walensky] announced that more than 75 percent of deaths in the US have been in people with four or more comorbidities, so at about 25 percent, a lot of them have got three, have got two, have got one. * I still haven’t seen anybody who’s died in my hospital – not saying it hasn’t happened – but [no-one] who hasn’t got any comorbidities or any issues.

Co-host Susanna Reid then asks: “You won’t get vaccinated and you’ve explained why you believe you don’t need to. Just want to establish: you say you’ve been exposed to covid. Have you actually had covid?”

Dr James responds: “I haven’t had a symptomatic episode that I know to be covid… but I’ve got antibodies that show…”

Continuing after a few clarifications regarding how the antibody test had been conducted privately and was not something offered by the NHS: “If you’re carrying antibodies to a virus you’ve developed an immune system’s memory. You develop that memory because you’ve been exposed to it.”

Susanna Reid replies: “So it’s the kind of Novak Djokovic defence against vaccination isn’t it?”

This is an odd statement. First, it is irrelevant. Second, how can the word ‘defence’ be applicable in these cases? Defence implies guilt!

Susanna Reid then cuts him off as he tries to make a reply and continues: “Dr James, you are not going to get vaccinated. You’ve said. You’ve had that argument with the Health Secretary. Of course that comes with a penalty within the NHS, because from April if you aren’t vaccinated you’ll lose your job. Are you prepared to simply lose your work for the sake of taking a vaccination which we know, and you have explained, is enormously beneficial?”

Here again, there is an implicit presumption of guilt, since the prospect of punishment is tacitly endorsed. And I find this staggering. If at the beginning of the pandemic you had said western governments will introduce programmes of mandatory vaccination you would have been labelled a “conspiracy theorist” and dismissed, which is also measure of just how far and how swiftly the Overton Window is being expanded. Returning to the discussion…

Dr James: “So the benefit is for people who are likely to have a serious consequence. So the benefit isn’t there for me.”

Continuing: “For me it’s a point of principle that a hundred thousand members of my profession, who have made careful and valued assessments for themselves in the majority of cases, that they are now being forced to have a vaccine – to have a medical intervention which up until the current epidemic was outlawed in public health acts – even in health crises these things weren’t going to be allowed; and now the government’s changed its mind… but the government’s reports from the House of Commons Select Committees from the House of Lords, they say the scientific evidence isn’t strong enough.

Richard Madeley: “Well, are you arguing this purely from, if you like, a civil rights point of view, or are you also suggesting, as I think you might have done in that exchange with Javid, that you don’t trust the vaccine all the way: you don’t think it’s been researched fully enough. Am I right to summarise it that way?

In fact, Madeley is simply putting words in his mouth with a leading question presumably in the hope of eliciting a decisive if unintentional anti-vaxx statement. But again he fails.

After a further clarification of the question, Dr James says: “So my concern is the civil liberties side. I think the vaccines prove to be very safe, however very safe over the period of time we’ve looked at it. So I’d like to look at it for a longer period of time.”

Adding: “But as my mum said to me last night – she said, ‘you know if Kings [College Hospital] is going to lose 1400 members of staff then how’s the NHS going to survive?’

“And you’ve got to look at the practicality of…”

Susanna Reid cuts him off again, and says: “Dr James, what I don’t understand is you’re prepared to lose your job and put your department under pressure, as a result of you losing a job – because I don’t know how easy it can be to get an anaesthetist with your sort of training and qualifications in there – despite the fact you believe the vaccine is safe and effective.  I’m not sure I understand it.”

She then turns to GMB’s resident medical expert, Dr Hilary Jones, prompting him with this intentionally loaded question, “Dr James says he doesn’t want to be a poster boy for ‘the anti-vaxx’ movement, I can’t see how he avoids that frankly.”

Following a pre-scripted “telling off” in which Dr Jones then overlooks entirely the central issue of civil rights and government overreach in order to heap shame on Dr James, even to the point of castigating him for contracting the virus and inadvertently spreading it to patients when it was already established that he had worked on a covid ICU throughout the pandemic which means his initial infection had very probably occurred long before any vaccines were manufactured and made available.

And rather than permitting Dr James the opportunity to rebut the accusations directly, Richard Madeley finally turns to him and says: “That was an effective telling off from one of your fellow professional doctors. He says that your behaviour is, if you like, selfish. What you’re doing is for your own interests and good and to support your political views in terms of human rights and civil rights, but you’re putting patients at risk. You’ve actually put patients at risk.”

Dr James replies: “Ten percent of the NHS staff are essentially in the same position as me. I’m not a fringe person. I’m having an expression of my voice – a voice which hasn’t been heard. I’ve got thousands and thousands of positive comments from people. Hundreds of doctors and nurses have contacted me saying thank you.

“Let’s open this debate up. The debate has not been held. Many groups of doctors [and] of other politicians have said the science isn’t strong enough and you know if we don’t have a debate, if it’s a single story, it’s a single narrative, that’s not science. Science is questioning…” [final words are cut off.]

I would like to add my own praise and support for Dr Steven James. As a highly-trained medical professional, it actually takes tremendous courage to speak out freely and to address these vital matters head on with equanimity and authority. A lack of debate only further inflames an already febrile political climate in which public attitudes are becoming ever more deeply divided and entrenched.

Moreover, the tightening clampdown on free speech, which is detrimental both to civil liberties and democracy, is being exacerbated by establishment press and mainstream media outlets that hold monolithic and dictatorial lines whether about covid or other related and unrelated issues. As Dr James says, “Science is questioning…” before being abruptly cut off. As a scientist myself, I’d add that inherently this is the nature of science.

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Additional:

On the same day as ITV’s Good Morning Britain took Dr James to task for defying official government policy, an alternative interview with Freddie Sayers from UnHerd was also uploaded on Youtube and is embedded below.

The contrast between the two approaches is illuminating. Avoiding conflict and cheap manipulative tricks, Sayers manages to come across as impartial and respectful. But this isn’t a softball interview and many of the questions really do probe awkwardly in James’ broader opinions and motives:

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* Please note: The announcement made by Rochelle Walensky on ABC’s breakfast show Good Morning America on Tuesday 11th has since been updated. Speaking with host Cecilia Vega, Walensky says in the original clip: “The overwhelming number of deaths — over 75 percent — occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities. So really, these are people who were unwell to begin with. And yes: really encouraging news in the context of omicron.”

However, her statement caused outrage amongst some groups, and the CDC then accused the broadcaster ABC of omitting this crucial context. In response ABC has since replaced its online clips with an unedited version of the same interview: “In that one, the CDC director prefaces her reply to Vega by touting “a really important study of 1.2 million vaccinated people, which found that only a minuscule fraction of them — 0.003 percent — died of covid-19. Of the small number who did die, she noted, most of them had underlying health conditions.”

From an article entitled “A Rochelle Walensky interview sparked outrage. But the CDC says ABC omitted crucial context” written by Paul Farhi, published in the Washington Post on January 12, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/media/walensky-abc-interview/2022/01/12/b5744ad4-73be-11ec-bc13-18891499c514_story.html

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2021 was brought to you by Pfizer

Update:

In a move that should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, CNN Business has chosen to honour Pfizer’s Albert Bourla as the network’s “CEO of the Year.” Pfizer has enjoyed more than $30 billion in profits thanks to the coronavirus vaccine, and has spent plenty of those gains on advertising, much of it on CNN:

But no doubt this selection had nothing to do with that. In his puff piece, Paul R La Monica of CNN Business writes:

CNN Business considered several other influential CEOs for this year’s honor, including Lisa Su of AMD (AMD), Ford’s (F) Jim Farley, Marvin Ellison of Lowe’s (LOW), David Solomon of Goldman Sachs (GS), Alphabet’s (GOOGL) Sundar Pichai and, yes, Time Person of the Year Elon Musk of Tesla (TSLA)/SpaceX.

But Bourla was our choice for all that Pfizer has done in a year where Covid vaccines went mainstream (vaccine was even named word of the year by Merriam-Webster) and helped stabilize America’s economy — and the world’s for that matter.

“Pfizer did a lot of good [for] humanity and we are very, very proud of it,” Bourla said in an interview with CNN Business. “Not only were we able to save so many lives … but we are enjoying high levels of corporate reputation right now. People like us.”

Unintentionally hilarious, the same piece adds that:

Bourla also acknowledged that there are cynics who question whether Pfizer is just trying to make as much money as possible from the vaccine.

Original post begins below the asterisk

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Pfizers revenue from Q1 2010 to Q3 2021

In 2020, Pfizer generated total revenues of over $41.9 billion. This compares to its reported revenue of over $24 billion U.S. dollars during the third quarter of 2021, mostly driven by its covid-19 vaccine which was developed in cooperation with German company BioNTech. It is the highest quarterly revenue during the whole period shown above.

Based on report by Matej Mikulic, November 25th from Statistica.

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Meanwhile…

While AstraZeneca agreed to sell its vaccine at cost during the pandemic, Pfizer wanted to secure its profits. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which now has the brand name Comirnaty, will be one of the most lucrative drugs in pharmaceutical history.

[A] Channel 4 investigation reveals analysis by one biological engineering expert claiming the Pfizer vaccine costs just 76p to manufacture for each shot. It is reportedly being sold for £22 a dose to the UK government.

From an article entitled “‘Wall of secrecy’ in Pfizer contracts as company accused of profiteering” written by Jon Ungoed-Thomas published in The Observer on December 5th.

Click here to watch the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary entitled “Vaccine Wars: Truth About Pfizer” first broadcast on Friday December 10th.

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And here’s the news you didn’t hear:

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Additional:

Dinah Fuentesfina, Campaigns Manager at ActionAid International, writes:

“More than 200 million people have been infected during this pandemic, more than 4.5 million people have died, and at least nine new billionaires have been minted thanks to COVID.

“This truly is the inequality virus. We create vaccine billionaires but fail to vaccinate billions of people in desperate need. Given the vast public investment in the development of these vaccines and the overwhelming public health need throughout the world, these life-saving vaccines must be global public goods.”

Click here to read the full statement posted by ActionAid International on September 15th.

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corona marginalia: a lucky break?

John Campbell presents the latest available data from South Africa relating to the spread and virulence of the omicron variant. Based on the most recent studies, he says it appears extremely likely that hospitalisations will remain remarkably low with very few patients requiring oxygen and far less again requiring ventilation.

His conclusion from these admittedly early findings is that we may have been incredibly lucky with the emergence of this new omicron strain, since although it is highly transmissible, it appears to be comparatively benign. Making a cautious but optimistic assessment, he forecasts that with the rapid spread of the omicron variant – something he believes is now unstoppable across Europe and America – we may soon achieve herd immunity but with greatly diminished loss of life or further suffering compared to earlier variants.

Let’s hope he is correct:

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Updates:

In contrast to the UK government’s elevated concern, John Campbell remains extremely optimistic about prospects arising from the inevitable spread of the omicron variant.

This is his report from Monday 13th:

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In a later report on Friday 17th, with the spread of omicron in the UK escalating, John Campbell continues to be optimistic although he wonders why the UK government has closed its service that provides Vit-D free to people with an elevated risk of disease (also includes updated reports from South Africa):

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how data-driven government and the ‘Internet of Bodies’ are poised to transform smart sustainable cities into social impact prisons | Alison McDowell

Introduction (reposted in full):

Alison McDowell is a mother and an independent researcher based in Philadelphia, PA. She blogs at the intersection of race, finance, nature, and technology at wrenchinthegears.com.

Her activism began fighting to slow the privatisation of public education in her city. These efforts eventually led her to an examination of globalized poverty management, euphemistically known as social impact investing. This new form of capitalism – biocapitalism or stakeholder capitalism – aims to turn humans into data commodities.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which has been planned out by Klaus Schwab and the World Economic Forum, seeks to replace human labor with artificial intelligence and robotics, a problem has arisen as to how life can be made profitable for transnational global capital interests once the poor have no buying power and are drowning in debt. The solution?

Human capital bond markets, but first everyone must be tagged and trackable for “impact.” That’s where biometric Covid health passports come in. Alison welcomes curious engagement and fellow travelers. You can follow her on Twitter at @philly852.

Alison McDowell’s presentation embedded above was part of an online forum, Politics In And Out Of Europe, hosted by Rutgers University’s Center for European Studies on Monday October 26th 2020. There were two panels followed by an hour of discussion. Alison McDowell was the second presenter, and framing remarks and response was provided by Naomi Klein. A full transcript is provided in the addendum below.

Click here to read the transcript in its original form interspersed with slides from the full presentation with comments beneath as it was published by Alison Hawver McDowell on her official website Wrench in the Gears on October 27th 2020.

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To mark ten year’s blogging, reproduced below is the sixth of my re-uploads from the WoC archive. Originally posted on August 7th 2011, if you tolerate this… looked into the creeping rollout of biometrics in society, in particular in schools thoughout the United Kingdom, and the central role played by Serco.

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My eldest nephew is very excited at the moment. He has just turned eleven and is about to move to his new secondary school. Anyway, a few weeks ago, my sister showed me a letter she’d received via the assistant head at her son’s new school. It read:

“Dear Parent/Carer,

I am pleased to inform you that we will be installing biometric fingerprint readers at the – – – School as part of the catering system.”

“Pleased to inform you… as part of the catering system!”, I parroted back, as my sister read on from the briefing, my own voice rising with incredulity. “They’re fingerprinting the kids to help with the catering?!”

“Yes, but he’s not going to have his fingerprints taken”, she assured me, “they’re not going to treat him like a prisoner. It’s not compulsory…” And she then read on:

“This will enable students to get their dinners more quickly by speeding up the payments process. It will also mean that they can put cash into the system (via paying in machines, like a ticket machine) whenever it suits them so that they do not have to carry cash around with them all day…”

I interrupted again: “But you could do that with a card or something.”

“Yes, I know,” she said, “that’s the alternative option…” And then continuing from the letter:

“Swipe cards can be issued as an alternative to the finger scanning however these can obviously be lost, forgotten or stolen.”

“So what are the other parents thinking?” I asked her.

“There are a few of us refusing but mostly they think it’s just a good idea.”

“Do you know what company’s behind it?” I asked.

“No, but there are some notes on the back…” And she turned the letter over to show me, adding: “perhaps you can check it out”.

On the back of the letter, there is indeed “information” about the biometric system being installed. Information that explains why: “students, parents and staff can rest assured that the fingerprint images cannot be used by any other source for identification purposes”, because “the software turns your child’s fingerprint into a mathematical algorithm” and about how “the image of the fingerprint is then discarded”.

What the notes fail to mention, however, is that this kind of “processing” is standard procedure when recording any kind of digital biometrics. With “image capture” followed by “feature extraction” leading finally to “digital representation”, data compression is an inevitability, but that’s okay so long as in this processing the “vital information” isn’t lost. The important thing is that “the encoded information is functionally as unique as the original, and as easily processed, i.e., compared.”

How do I know this? In part because I’ve just read through Chapter 8 of the Defense Science Board Task Force report on biometrics (p35–6) published in September 2006. Not that a report from the US Department of Defense has anything to do with the installation of a catering system at a school in Sheffield, obviously…

So the fact that “the information stored cannot be used to recreate an image of the child’s fingerprint”, as the notes on the back of the letter explain, is actually beside the point. The actual point being that they can be used to identify the child, because the information is still “as functionally unique as the original”. To put all this another way, a photograph cannot be used to reconstruct a perfect 3-D likeness of your head. There is a loss of information. But that obviously doesn’t mean a photograph can’t be used to identify you. It can, and even when still more information is removed, by let’s say photocopying it a few times, a photo will still retain a sufficiently detailed likeness to identify you. Biometrics are just the next step down. The original photo can be deleted, just so long as sufficient details are retained of, for example, how wide your mouth is and how close together your eyes are. With enough of the right pieces of information, they can distinguish one person from another, reliably and consistently. Which is how biometrics works.

All of this biometric information, “the unique digital signatures” are then held in the database, as the notes on the letter from school also explain. Less clear is who actually owns this database. And skipping through the other details on the back of the letter, I can’t immediately find the name of the company involved, but it does give the brand name of their “cashless catering system”, which is IMPACT. So I looked up IMPACT:

“A million users in over 1700 schools throughout the UK.

We design, build and maintain industry leading, reliable and functional cashless payment systems under the brand name IMPACT…”

Here begins the sales pitch on the homepage of CRB Solutions. Never heard of them? Nor had I. Well, it turns out that they are a “Serco Learning Partner”, one of many. Indeed, Serco have more than 20 current “Learning Partners” offering “solutions” to “clients” (i.e., schools and colleges across the country), which means they have access to a lot of biometric and other kinds of data on school pupils and college students. For instance, listed directly above CRB Solutions, there is Aurora Computer Services, who are:

“The UK market leader in face recognition. faceREGISTER is designed for sixth form registration or whole school lateness. faceREGISTER enables students to register automatically in school, college or university.”

Gone are the days, apparently, when teachers simply remembered their student’s faces. Now whenever a student is late:

“they will be asked for a reason why they are late and these marks are fed back to Serco Facility via our administration software faceMANAGER.”

Those of a more curious disposition are perhaps wondering what other kinds of personal information is downloaded at the “Serco Facility”. In fact, what other kinds of information more generally, since Serco already offers its services in sectors as diverse as environmental services, health, science, transport, local government, welfare to work, defence and nuclear. Nuclear? Yes, nuclear:

“We support the operation of over 20 nuclear reactors, and serve as the lead nuclear safety advisor to Westinghouse, designer of the AP1000 nuclear reactor currently under assessment for the UK’s new civil nuclear programme.” 1

That and the management of the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), which Serco says is the leading nuclear technology services provider in the UK, “with expertise across the full range of nuclear technology, including waste management, nuclear safety and non-proliferation, materials and corrosion and plant inspection.” So that’s pretty comprehensive. Aside from this, Serco also manages the UK Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) as part of a consortium with Lockheed Martin and Jacobs. So the company behind the introduction of school biometrics systems across the country is also responsible for managing the UK atomic power and weapons programmes:

“Serco has a reputation for being a tad secretive. This is perhaps not surprising, as it manages the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire, where nuclear weapons are made, and runs the ballistic missile early warning system.

There are parts of AWE that even the head of the company, Kevin Beeston, can’t go into. Other secrets, too, are kept from him, such as where the company stores evidence on behalf of the National Crime Squad. “I don’t need to know or want to know,” he says.” 2

So begins an article entitled “Serco thunders down the tracks: Traffic lights, rail services, atomic weapons, the time of day. This secretive company manages them all” from the Independent on Sunday, published in March 2002. The article goes on:

“While many people haven’t heard of Serco, almost everyone in this country will have come across its services. It is Serco that runs the speed cameras on the M25, and maintains the traffic signals on a third of motorways in the UK. Half of London’s traffic lights are run by Serco, as are all the signals in Dublin. Manchester’s tram service, Metrolink, and London’s Docklands Light Railway (DLR) are both Serco-operated. When you ring National Rail Enquiries, you will speak to a Serco employee. The company has also built hospitals and prisons.

“In fact, Serco is so ubiquitous, it even sets the time. It manages the National Physical Laboratory, which owns the atomic clock that gives us Greenwich Mean Time.

“You’d be forgiven for thinking Serco was a government ministry.”

This article was published almost a decade ago and yet Serco‘s involvement in running public services was so large and far-flung that comparison is already being made to “a government ministry”. So just how did Serco manage to expand so rapidly and yet so inconspicuously? Well, here’s a brief overview of their rise and rise, taken from the same article:

“As well as having a novel corporate culture, Serco also has an intriguing history. It started out in 1929 as the UK maintenance division of RCA, at the time a cinema and radio equipment company. In the late Fifties it got its first taste of top-secret government contracts. The Ministry of Defence needed a radio equipment specialist to design, build and run the four-minute warning system for nuclear attacks. RCA got the job and has been maintaining it since.

“But it was in the early Eighties that the government-related business really started taking off. Beeston takes up the story: ‘Mrs Thatcher had come in power in 1979 and began reducing public sector costs on a tax-reduction agenda and carrying out privatisation. One of biggest areas that was first turned to contractualisation was the Ministry of Defence.’

“Happily for Serco, Thatcher’s successors, John Major and Tony Blair, both exhibited a fondness for getting the private sector involved in the public sector.”

Click here to read the full article by Heather Tomlinson.

Four years later and Serco were already being talked of as “probably the biggest company you’ve never heard of”, as a glowing profile of their CEO Christopher Hyman in the Guardian explained:

“Have you recently travelled on a train in northern England? Or on London’s Docklands Light Railway? Or perhaps been caught by a speed camera?

“If the answer to any of these questions was yes — or you have spent any time in custody or the armed forces — chances are you have dealt with the support services company Serco. With almost 48,000 people helping to service 600 largely public-sector contracts around the world, Serco is probably the biggest company you’ve never heard of.” 3

No longer a small British subsidiary of a little known American corporation, by 2006, when the article above was published, Serco had gone global. Here, for instance, is taste of what Serco are already running in Canada, Ireland, Dubai, and Australia these days:

Taken from ABC Australia’s Hungry Beast. [Link has since been removed]

Rebranded with Olympian titles, we are familiar with the names of most of our new gods: Blackwater and DynCorp, gods of war and reconstruction; Monsanto, god of harvests; Nokia, god of messages; Walmart, god of convenience; Aviva, god of life (insurance); but then, above and beyond all of these, there is Serco, the god of all the things the other gods don’t already do. A god without portfolio, and although not quite omnipresent, Serco is certainly “highly maneuverable”. As their own bragging PR likes to put it: “Serco has a finger in many pies”.

Now, having reached this point I realise that I have drifted well away from the original issue. My initial response to reading the letter from my nephew’s school having been to wonder at the kind of country we are living in. Already the most surveilled society in history, and now face-scanning and fingerprinting our children on a routine basis. In the process, as my sister says, we are already treating them as if they’re little criminals. Is it really necessary to hammer home the point here?

For we may believe this data can and will never be retrieved for uses beyond the bounds of the schools and colleges involved, but in permitting such licence we are nevertheless inculcating a sense of naïve trust in the next generation, which will normalise them to accept adult life in a surveillance society. We are teaching them to submit to authority. The word Orwellian is very overworked, but what other word can be applied in this instance? We are fingerprinting our children and entrusting that information to the major government defence contractor. And there is barely a raised eyebrow. Parents are mostly thinking that this is “helpful”. So please, if you haven’t done so already, read Nineteen Eighty-Four (not that Orwell has anything to say about fingerprint or face recognition systems, because back in the 1940s such hi-tech digital biometrics had yet to be imagined, let alone invented).

So what kind of a world awaits my nephew and his friends when he finally leaves school in five years time? Well, that will depend.

The road ahead is already laid. As our national assets and provision of our state sector were stolen away, Serco, and a few other giant corporations, absorbed the new workforce and took over. And now, as ours and other economies around the world begin to splutter and flail, they are about to suck up whatever remains at bargain prices. Finally, they will put up their toll-booths at every turn of our daily lives, and in the envisaged “cashless society”, these toll-booths will also be our checkpoints — logging every transaction and every movement.

History ought to have taught us to beware, its overriding message being that the rise of tyranny needs to be constantly guarded against. But those, like Thatcher and Reagan, who rushed us away from more direct forms of centralised government (supposedly to save us from a Soviet style tyranny) have delivered us instead into the talons of an unregulated and monopolised market. Any distinction between interests of the state and the corporations having thus been eroded, the takeover by multinationals such as Serco has been unstoppable. After all, someone has to be in charge of things. Serco then (and the pantheon of other corporate gods we must increasingly bow to) amounts to governance by another title, and not merely at a national scale, but transnationally — a few corporations becoming, in effect, arms of an unelected and largely unaccountable “global governance”.

This shift away from democracy and towards neo-feudalism is happening in plain sight. You even get the picture from Serco‘s own PR  material — the closing overlapping mosaic of corporate heads in their latest video simultaneously and hypnotically announcing: “we are Serco”; with the eerie subtext being that “resistance is futile”. But resistance isn’t futile, not yet…

If you’d like further information about this widening programme of school biometrics then I direct you to a worthwhile campaign group called Leave Them Kids Alone (LTKA) that is calling for a stop to this latest encroachment upon our civil liberties, or rather, the civil liberties of our children.

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Addendum: The full transcript of Alison McDowell’s presentation

We’re living in tumultuous times with polarizing political theater and pandemic providing ample cover for the roll out of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. From the World Economic Forum’s outpost at San Francisco’s Presidio, the tentacles of dispossession triggered by Klaus Schwab’s “Great Reset” are rapidly encircling the globe.

We are witnessing the culmination of a century of machinations by western social engineers. We see predatory philanthropy using such euphemistic framing as “Living Cities,” “Healthy Cities,” “Resilient Cities,” and “Build Back Better” to package the profoundly anti-human and anti-life initiatives coming out of Davos as aspirational goals for “smart” living.

The oligarch class asks us to play along and overlook the fact that all of this smartness rests on a foundation of continued growth, fossil-fuel expansion, child labor, toxic waste, and space pollution. They demand we overlook the insatiable energy requirements needed to run the augmented reality Internet of Things illusion. That we put out of our minds the existence of vast data centers cooled 24/7 with the water of a thirsty, poisoned world.

They’ve outdone themselves propagandizing youth to cheer on transnational global capital’s plans to implement a final “green” solution. Though my hope is after months of digital alienation people’s spirits will stir in time to derail the intentions of this cruel biocapitalist regime to push us away from our rightful connection to natural systems and one another and into isolated virtual realms. The spell of faux ICT sustainability must be broken.

Predatory debt-finance got a spit and polish makeover, rebranded as circular economies and stakeholder capitalism to make it more palatable. Post-Covid, vast poverty mining enterprises will emerge from the ashes. Smart city sensor networks, predictive policing, and public-private partnerships will latch onto shell-shocked families trying to pick up the pieces.

And while Bitcoin-loving Agorists dream of liberation on Blockchain, central bankers have an entirely different vision in mind. They are conjuring a future of data flowing through digital wallets, fuel for an emergent social impact economy, one carefully plotted out for Third Sector, now Fourth Sector, implementation by Social Finance and Sir Ronald Cohen, Harvard Business School graduate and father of UK venture capital.

Bloomberg Philanthropies Digital Innovation Project and the Global Parliament of Mayors based out of The Hague will ensure gov-tech and open data platforms are ready to deliver all the data that is needed. Conveniently, a new “operating system for government” developed by Neil Kleiman of NYU’s GovLab and Stephen Goldsmith of Harvard Kennedy School’s Data-Smart City Solutions, will permit politicians to deftly shift accountability for devastating policies onto faceless cadres of analysts. Dashboards are effective weapons to sway populations conditioned for compliance. It’s difficult to effectively direct public sentiment against something as ephemeral as an algorithm.

The war on terror has been swapped out for pandemic preparedness, which should work out well for the World Bank’s efforts to grow their vaccine and pandemic bond markets. We all pose threats to state security simply by living in a human body. Robot police dogs, drones, facial recognition cameras, wearable sensors, and biometric tracking are framed vital investments needed to keep communities “safe” in what is rapidly becoming a global open air prison. Track and trace free-range humans; look to industrial farming; look to wildlife management; look to Gaza; look to The Commons Project.

CommonPass isn’t their only venture. Not by a long shot.

It’s not just air travel that the Rockefeller Foundation and the World Economic Forum intend to regulate. In their imagined future, presentation of tokenized credentials will be required to go to work, to school, to the store, to access public buildings and events. Such micro-management was unfathomable mere months ago, at least to everyone not in on the scheme.

When we speak of politics, when we speak of citizens’ rights this is THE game changer. Who voted in Common Pass? Who decided individual liberties will now be governed by apps advanced by corporations that stand to profit from population management?

How relevant will national borders be in an age of real-time geo-fencing? Pass laws have long been used to control targeted populations: on Indian reservations, in Nazi Germany, in Apartheid South Africa. Now we have Serco. Now we have legal discrimination based on health status? In the global biosecurity state on any given day the border could very well end up being your front door.

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If we don’t object, moving forward blockchain tokens representing all sorts of digital assets, including rights and privileges, will be held in digital accounts. Social entrepreneurs need these biometric identity systems in place in order to install their planned impact economy. Using health status as an issue of national security, our hijacked governments plan to impose this upon us, not for our own good, but because the biocapitalist agenda must proceed.

Few realize it, but the Covid drama is providing cover for a far more insidious program of perpetual tracking and tracing tied to health management and Sustainable Development Goal 3. Health data will create new equity markets meaning more and more wearable tech surveillance. The Impact Management Project’s practitioners, the asset holders whose greed led to a world beset by chronic illness, have structured profit centers in Internet of Things preventative care – social determinants of health weaponized.

What we are living through is not a public health emergency but a reset of the global economy managed from Davos on behalf of the finance, technology and defense sectors. This “new normal” is totalitarianism wrapped up in a shiny “green” bow.

The post-Covid world will be characterized by welfare dependency on a scale heretofore unimaginable, justifying the creation of innovative human capital debt products. Portfolios of people, poor people, will emerge as a new asset class enabled by pay for success government contracts.

Education, training, healthcare, counseling, nutrition, and housing services all aligned to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals to generate the metrics needed to satisfy contractual obligations. The richness of life narrowed to fit the stingy confines of a data analyst’s worldview.

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This is a diagram featuring a digital wallet where food assistance funds are stored on blockchain with coded nudges guiding a recipient’s food purchase behaviors.

The State of Illinois Blockchain Task Force developed this thought experiment, but similar digital food payment programs are in use to manage the displaced. UK company IrisGuard’s is a major player in that space. Additional NHS has made arrangements to purchase DNA nudge bands tied to Covid Testing. Makes you wonder where the DNA from the testing is going, doesn’t it? Likely into academic tech-transfer hubs. Such is biocapitalism.

Stakeholder capitalists can’t profitably mine poverty without biometric identification that can be used to aggregate interoperable data. Vaccine registries are central to this program. GAVI is a key player with Gates sitting at the pinnacle of the Stakeholder Capitalist pyramid. ID2020 efforts running through the United Nations will ensure no one “gets left behind,” but few are aware the US Department of Homeland Security bankrolled much of the World Wide Web Consortium’s work in the digital identity space.

As I prepared these remarks I couldn’t help but mull over the intelligence communities’ interest in signals intelligence, weaponized narrative, simulation, predictive modeling, and social contagion. How will our collective voices ripple through this militarized cloud architecture into the general consciousness and beyond? Such are the thoughts that haunt the corners of a Zoom consciousness – Bluffdale and the NSA always out on the horizon, you know?

But those with eyes to see have the duty to speak.

So I am here today as a mother.

I am here as a mapper of geographies of power, as a voracious LinkedIn profile reader, and a viewer of obscure government webinars.

I am here as a resident of Philadelphia, a “smart” city set up for predatory “what works” “data-driven” government.

I am here to shine a light on municipal nudge units funded by self-interested foundations seeking to replace civil servants with apps that manage citizens as agents in behavioral economic equations.

I am here as a human relative living among a multitude of non-human beings on this beautiful earth, not yet remade as a planetary computer to profit social impact investors.

I am here as a lover of stars who opposes the weaponization of space, the atmosphere, and our weather systems.

I am here as a voice for peace who views 5G and the planned 6G installation as a domestic military occupation.

I am here to speak of Davos’s plans to deny us the opportunity to communally atone for and begin to remedy the devastation capitalism has wrought against nature and indigenous people.

I am here because we have entered a cyborg era in which sociopathic billionaires and defense contractors want to fundamentally alter what it means to be human, tapping nano-technology and morally bankrupt scientists to do their dirty work.

To the wealth hoarders, the masses exist as nodes in the Internet of Bodies, nodes that must be separated from the cosmic dance through force of law, hydro-gel biosensors, and blockchain.

Will you own your ledger or will your ledger own you? We are looking at a future where the masses will forfeit their innate human freedoms in exchange for the behavioral currency needed to survive within the panopticon.

Human capital bonded. Each life calculated according to its perceived burden on the coming robot society, at least in the eyes of hedge fund traders as they place their bets.

Don’t worry there’s safety on the “continuum of care” pathway. Just do as you’re told and keep your social credit score where it needs to be.

Every move in every country advances lockstep – a playbook aligned to strategic investments made over decades by philanthro-capitalists like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Pierre Omidyar, Steve Ballmer, and Marc Benioff.

Will human rights mean anything once financiers, faith community endowments, health insurers, pensions, and even sovereign wealth funds hold our futures in escrow?

Rockefeller Foundation-funded think tank change agents have cleared the way for life to be railroaded into virtual space – for our own good, the good of the planet, in service of the World Bank’s One Health initiative.

The oligarchs will use the UN Sustainable Development Goals to justify imprisoning the planet using sensor networks. Once the electrical engineers have nature and humanity firmly in their grasp, transnational global capital can channel its concentrated wealth through our bodies, our social relationships, and our non-human kin.

As we stand on this threshold questions must be asked.

Who intends to rule life on Earth?

To what end?

On whose authority?

John Trudell, visionary leader of the American Indian Movement, poet and prophet, expressed that it is our responsibility to use the intelligence gifted to us by the creator to be thinkers who will go up against the machine of tech-no-logic.

So today I am here to declare on behalf of the women of the world to say we do not consent to Davos’s Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In this battle of sacred and profane we stand ready to defend the children and the earth from further predation and to strive towards a future of reciprocity and abundance and spirit.

We stand firm in our power full of love and light, ready to face off against Klaus Schwab’s PharmaColonial Technocracy of Necromancers.

Click here to read the same article interspersed with slides from the full presentation and comments published on Alison Hawver McDowell’s official website Wrench in the Gears on October 27th 2020.

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1 http://www.serco.com/markets/nuclear/index.asp

2 From an article entitled “Serco thunders down the tracks: Traffic lights, rail services, atomic weapons, the time of day. This secretive company manages them all” by Heather Tomlinson published in the Independent on Sunday on Sunday 10th March 2002 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/serco-thunders-down-the-tracks-653444.html

3 From an article entitled “Happy, touchy-feely and driven by God: The Serco chief Christopher Hyman is unusual for his values of doing business, with staff and customers coming first and profit last” by Jane Martinson, published in the Guardian on Friday 24th February, 2006. http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2006/feb/24/columnists.guardiancolumnists

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media is mostly silent as across Europe and beyond anti-restriction protests continue to grow

Every weekend mass protests are now taking place in cities throughout Europe and far beyond with spontaneous demonstrations involving thousands, tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of people carrying banners and marching with demands to bring an end to the increasingly draconian anti-covid measures.

The legacy media pays little to no attention to this rising tide of largely peaceful dissent and for these and other reasons, reports are generally restricted to just a few non-mainstream outlets. I have gathered together clips for the last fortnight wherever footage is available. The compilation below is presented alphabetically in order of nationality.

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Australia

An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 protesters gathered in the streets of Melbourne on Saturday to protest against further lockdowns and restrictions due to the covid-19 pandemic. One topic of focused anger was the recent bill passed by the Victorian government, which gives power to the state’s premier and health minister to enforce further restrictions. Australia reported its first Omicron case in Sydney this Friday after reopening its borders for the first time in months. Anti-vaccination protests have now become a weekly event, drawing in thousands of protesters.

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Austria

Thousands of protesters marched through Vienna on Saturday, denouncing the government’s covid-19 policies.

More than 40,000 people hit the streets to protest against an extended lockdown and plans by the government to make vaccinations compulsory starting from February 2022. A reported 1,500 staged a counter-protest against the rally. More than 1,000 police were deployed to prevent an escalation of the event.

The protest came as Austria issued an extension of the lockdown to 20 days instead of the initial 10 days. A parliamentary committee approved the measure earlier in the week.

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Belgium

Tens of thousands of people marched in Brussels to protest against tightened covid restrictions. Demonstrators are mainly opposed to the use of covid passes, which stop the unvaccinated from entering venues such as restaurants or bars.

Marchers came to protest the measures that were announced Friday, the third week in a row that the government has tightened its rules. One demonstrator brought along her pet alpaca to Sunday’s protest in Brussels.

A small faction within the protest clashed with police some throwing stones and fireworks at a police line. The police deployed tear gas and water cannons in response.

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Catalonia

Thousands demonstrated in Barcelona against the introduction of covid passports in the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia. Restrictions came into effect on Saturday after the courts authorised a request made by the regional government to introduce the measure.

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Czech Republic

A fortnight ago, thousands gathered in Prague’s Old Town Square to demonstrate against after the Czech government imposed a lockdown for the unvaccinated.

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Denmark

Hundreds marched through Copenhagen on Saturday, in protest over COVID19 restriction. Led by the ‘Men in Black’ activist group, the protesters carried torches and chanted slogans while marching through the city. A large police presence was deployed to prevent an escalation of the event.

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France

A new round of Gilets Jaunes protests against French President Emanuel Macron’s covid-19 policies took place in Paris on Saturday, with police deployed in large numbers. Several thousand protesters dressed in the movement’s characteristic yellow clothing or vests could be seen marching through the city centre, while chanting slogans or drumming. A large contingent of police in riot gear monitored the procession.

The protesters gathered in defence of the public health and social services system, according to local media. Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, France has experienced a shortage of medical staff, with many employees resigning, taking sick leave, or being refused work due to not being vaccinated.

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Georgia

Huge demonstrations took place in Tbilisi on Sunday against a covid passport system. Protesters could be seen marching with posters and Georgian flags, passing by the parliamentary building. A ‘passport’ system has been implemented in Georgia since December 1st, where citizens and tourists can only visit public places, restaurants, entertainment and shopping centers, with a QR-code proving vaccination or recovery from the virus or with a negative PCR test result.

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Germany

Dozens of protesters marched through Erfurt on Sunday, protesting against the government’s restrictions. Protesters lit candles and carried banners reading “We need nursing personnel”, among others, as they marched through Erfurt’s city centre. The protest comes after Thuringia’s authorities have imposed restrictions on public life since November to curb the spread of covid-19, including 2G rules in retail, hotels and restaurants and nightly curfews for the unvaccinated, among other measures.

Hundreds marched in Freiberg yesterday protesting against tightened covid restrictions, despite the current regional ban for any gathering of more than ten people, the protesters marched for almost an hour, until encircled by the police. The unauthorised march took place on the day when the Saxon parliament declared a regional state of emergency amidst record number of covid cases.

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Israel

Anti-restriction protesters gathered in Tel Aviv last Saturday to denounce new stringent measures and the government’s drive towards mandatory vaccination:

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Italy

A fortnight ago, 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 “If you want to kick me out of here, you have to kill me.” Another: “Between vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Are we all equal? We are equal human beings. We are equal.” Another says: “Everyone makes their choice. I am not against the vaccine, I am here for freedom of choice.”

This weekend a smaller demonstration against the ‘Green Pass’ went ahead in Trento without police permission. The main protest took place in Piazza Dante.

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Martinique

France has postponed the covid vaccine mandate for healthcare workers in Martinique after widespread social unrest took place in Forte-de-France last Saturday night. Footage shows streets and vehicles on fire amid violent unrest. There have been protests in Martinique and another nearby French island Guadeloupe as the French government imposed stricter measures ostensibly to limit the spread of the virus.

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Netherlands

Thousands gathered in the city of Utrecht this Saturday to protest new government measures aimed at controlling the spread of covid-19. Demonstrators can be seen holding signs and lighting smoke grenades in a local park, before marching through the streets.

Participant Jim Schardijn warned that “our freedom is in danger,” regarding the requirement to show a QR code as proof of vaccination when entering various public venues. The protest marked the first major gathering in the country against the new regulations, which include night-time curfews on all non-essential businesses.

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Northern Ireland

Hundreds of protesters flooded the streets of Belfast this Saturday, as the Northern Irish government introduces vaccine passports. Protesters held signs and made speeches as they rallied against the new regulations. The certification scheme, which makes proof of vaccination or a negative covid-19 test obligatory in licensed premises was introduced by the Northern Irish government on Monday.

One protester said of the new restrictions: “I honestly feel like these vaccines are not useful and vaccine passports are nothing to do with health and are all to do with control.”

But that upload was then removed (as you can see) for reasons I can only guess. So here is a different report on the same protest:

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Slovenia

Protesters gathered in Ljubljana’s Republic Square on Saturday to voice their opposition to the government’s most recent covid-19 measures to curb the epidemic, as well to the proposal for a new anti-covid law.

Several demonstrators were physically detained by the police as they attempted to march through the city centre. Police stopped the rally in Adjovscina Square and urged protesters to leave the site. Protesters clashed with police on Miklosiceva Street, where police blocked the road and dispersed the unannounced rally shortly after that.

As the rallies were unannounced and the organisers did not take security measures, police officers, dog handlers, and cavalry were also involved to maintain order. According to the Ljubljana Police Directorate, they prevented endangering people and property, maintained public order and ensured road traffic safety by calling and directing the participants of the rally.

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ACLU and vaccine mandates – an object lesson in the slippery slope to authoritarianism

The lessons from history should be kept in mind whenever we are told by government officials that “tough,” liberty-limiting actions are needed to protect us from dangerous diseases… Not all public health interventions have been benign or beneficial… Too often, fears aroused by disease and epidemics have encouraged abuses of state power. Atrocities, large and small, have been committed in the name of protecting the public’s health.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) 2008

While vaccine mandates are not always permissible, they rarely run afoul of civil liberties when they involve highly infectious and devastating diseases like Covid-19… Covid-19 vaccine mandates — much like mask mandates — are public health measures necessary to protect people from severe illness and death.

— ACLU 2021

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Back in May 2020 when Donald Trump was still in office, the ACLU released a statement entitled “Coronavirus ‘Immunity Passports are not the Answer’” with the strapline “A system of immunity passports in the United States threatens to exacerbate racial disparities and harm the civil liberties of all”, which summarised the issue as follows:

As tempting as immunity passports may be for policymakers who want a quick fix to restart economic activity in the face of widespread suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, they present both public health and civil rights concerns that cannot be overlooked. Immunity passports incentivize vulnerable people to contract the disease, and raise the prospect of another hierarchical system, separating us into two categories — those with COVID-19 immunity, who are given preferential access to employment, housing, or public accommodations — and those without. This division would likely worsen existing racial, disability, and economic disparities in America and lead people struggling to afford basic necessities to deliberately risk their health.

Click here to read the full ACLU statement written by Esha Bhandari and ReNika Moore, published on May 18th 2020.

However, by late March 2021 with Biden now in charge, the stance of the ACLU was beginning to soften. In an article entitled “There’s a Lot That Can Go Wrong With ‘Vaccine Passports” and a strapline that reads “Any proposal for vaccine credentials must be primarily paper-based, decentralized, and protect privacy”, Senior Policy Analyst, Jay Stanley, wrote that:

There is a difference between a standardized system for presenting proof of vaccination, and a digital system for doing so. With more and more of our credentials being displayed through apps on our phones — from airline boarding passes to concert tickets to gym memberships — it strikes many people as an obvious and overdue step to create a similar digital credential for those occasions when a person has to prove that they’ve been vaccinated. But digital credentials present a number of new potential problems, and we would oppose a vaccination credential system that does not meet three crucial criteria[.]

According to the ACLU, these “three crucial critera” are 1) It’s not exclusively digital; 2) It is decentralised and open source; and, and 3) It does not allow for tracking or the creation of new databases. What is missing, of course, is any concern over the limitation of civil liberties or violation of human rights due to the already creeping rollout of a universal mandatory vaccination regime.

The same piece published on March 31st concludes:

We don’t oppose in principle the idea of a requiring proof of vaccination in certain contexts. But given the enormous difficulty of creating a digital passport system, and the compromises and failures that are likely to happen along the way, we are wary about the side effects and long-term consequences it could have. We will be closely watching developments in this area.

But then, come September, the debate had significantly moved on from vaccine mandates (or ‘passports’) to demands for outright compulsory vaccination and the ACLU responded with the release of a new statement entitled “Civil Liberties and Vaccine Mandates: Here’s Our Take” above the extraordinary strapline “Far from compromising civil liberties, vaccine mandates actually further them…”:

At the ACLU, we are not shy about defending civil liberties, even when they are very unpopular. But we see no civil liberties problem with requiring Covid-19 vaccines in most circumstances.

With this staggering volte-face, the ACLU then goes on to say:

Here’s why civil liberties objections to Covid vaccine mandates are generally unfounded.

Vaccines are a justifiable intrusion on autonomy and bodily integrity. That may sound ominous, because we all have the fundamental right to bodily integrity and to make our own health care decisions. But these rights are not absolute. They do not include the right to inflict harm on others.

Concluding:

Even though the F.D.A. and independent medical experts have found Covid-19 vaccines to be extremely safe and highly effective, a sizable portion of the eligible population has chosen not to be vaccinated. In this context, Covid-19 vaccine mandates — much like mask mandates — are public health measures necessary to protect people from severe illness and death. They are therefore permissible in many settings where the unvaccinated pose a risk to others, including schools and universities, hospitals, restaurants and bars, workplaces and businesses open to the public.

Curiously, the ACLU piece had been originally released as an op-ed in The New York Times that you can find here except that it is hidden behind a paywall. Now, I refuse to pay the NYT but especially so to read the opinions of a non-profit civil rights advocacy group, which ought to be acting transparently in the public interest. But independent journalist, Glenn Greenwald, who quotes directly from the original NYT piece in his own article about it (more below), draws my attention to a line that the ACLU is evidently reluctant to repost on its own website (since I do not find it reproduced there):

Where a vaccine is not medically contraindicated, however, avoiding a deadly threat to the public health typically outweighs personal autonomy and individual freedom.

So it seems that “personal autonomy and individual freedom” are now of limited concern only to America’s self-appointed “civil liberties union”. And this fundamental shift, at least in their public stance, is made still more apparent once we reflect upon an earlier ACLU report specifically about pandemic response produced little more than a decade earlier.

Glenn Greenwald writes:

What makes the ACLU’s position so remarkable — besides the inherent shock of a civil liberties organization championing state mandates overriding individual choice — is that, very recently, the same group warned of the grave dangers of the very mindset it is now pushing. In 2008, the ACLU published a comprehensive report on pandemics which had one primary purpose: to denounce as dangerous and unnecessary attempts by the state to mandate, coerce, and control in the name of protecting the public from pandemics.

The title of the ACLU report, resurfaced by David Shane, reveals its primary point: “Pandemic Preparedness: The Need for a Public Health – Not a Law Enforcement/National Security – Approach.” To read this report is to feel that one is reading the anti-ACLU — or at least the actual ACLU prior to its Trump-era transformation. From start to finish, it reads as a warning of the perils of precisely the mindset which today’s ACLU is now advocating for COVID.

In 2008, the group explained its purpose this way: “the following report examines the relationship between civil liberties and public health in contemporary U.S. pandemic planning and makes a series of recommendations for developing a more effective, civil liberties-friendly approach.” Its key warning: “Not all public health interventions have been benign or beneficial, however. Too often, fears aroused by disease and epidemics have encouraged abuses of state power. Atrocities, large and small, have been committed in the name of protecting the public’s health.”

Indeed (as Greenwald quotes in the same article), the 2008 ACLU report explicitly warns against use of “coercion and brute force”:

The lessons from history should be kept in mind whenever we are told by government officials that “tough,” liberty-limiting actions are needed to protect us from dangerous diseases. Specifically: coercion and brute force are rarely necessary. In fact they are generally counterproductive—they gratuitously breed public distrust and encourage the people who are most in need of care to evade public health authorities. On the other hand, effective, preventive strategies that rely on voluntary participation do work.

Continuing perceptibly:

Lessons from History: American history contains vivid reminders that grafting the values of law enforcement and national security onto public health is both ineffective and dangerous. Too often, fears aroused by disease and epidemics have justified abuses of state power. Highly discriminatory and forcible vaccination and quarantine measures adopted in response to outbreaks of the plague and smallpox over the past century have consistently accelerated rather than slowed the spread of disease, while fomenting public distrust and, in some cases, riots.

Click here to read Glenn Greenwald’s full article entitled “The ACLU. Prior to COVID, Denounced Mandates and Coercive Measures to Fight Pandemics”, published on September 7th.

From forthright distrust in the potential abuses of state power drawn from historical precedents, to dithering concerns over the appropriate form that vaccine passports might take, to full-blown advocacy for the introduction of forcible programmes of vaccination; the ACLU’s growing assent to authoritarianism has been an exceedingly rapid one. And this is how tyranny has always arisen: step-by-step, measure-by-measure, with every encroachment on rights habituating the public to the next, and every violation of freedom justified by the last.

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inside the belly of the beast: Steven Donziger reports from prison

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Further Update:

On Thursday December 9th after more than forty days in jail, the prison administration took the decision to release Steve Donziger and permit him to serve out the rest of his sentence under home confinement. Upon his return, he gave the following interview with independent journalist and activist Marianne Williamson:

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Update:

Today, Steven’s legal team will urge a three-judge panel to reverse Judge Preska’s Chevron-financed “conviction” after he dared to stand up to the fossil fuel industry. His family and our movement need your help to bring him home.

Steven Donziger is the first lawyer in U.S. history to be imprisoned for the misdemeanor crime of contempt. It is no coincidence he is one of our nation’s most successful environmental justice advocates. For the last ten years, Chevron and its 60 law firms have done everything in their power to weaponize the legal system to target Steven after he helped Indigenous peoples in Ecuador win a historic $9.5 billion pollution judgment against Chevron.

It is both unethical and despicable that Chevron and its allies in the fossil fuel industry have abused our courts to target Steven — especially after the U.N. last September determined his detention was “arbitrary” and ordered the U.S. government to release him because of a “staggering” lack of impartiality by the Chevron-linked judges in his case. The five esteemed jurists from the U.N. found the bias against Steven by Judges Preska and Kaplan violated his right to a fair trial. Anyone at the trial last May could see it for the farce that it was: Judge Preska denied Steven a jury of his peers and read the newspaper during witness testimony.

Today, Steven is on the 34th day of his maximum six-month prison sentence for the lowest-level federal offense possible under the legal code. Let’s remember why: Steven was the person who helped hold Chevron accountable for deliberately poisoning the Amazon and decimating five Indigenous peoples — the Secoya, Cofán, Guarani, Quechua, and Siona. Steven also was sent to a federal prison after already serving more than two years under house arrest prior to trial. His pre-trial detention alone is more than seven times longer than the longest sentence ever imposed on a lawyer for the same charge.

We also had a major breakthrough this week. Nine Congresspersons, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, sent the Biden Administration a blistering letter demanding the DOJ finally take action to both free Steven and take control of his case from Chevron law firm Seward & Kissel. Private corporate prosecutions cannot happen in any country that purports to adhere to the rule of law. As Rep. Tlaib said: “This is a test case for corporate polluters. They think they found a path for escape justice, but they’ve only just awoken our people.”  

We cannot allow this miscarriage of justice to continue. We cannot stand by and watch a supposed liberal democracy like the United States of America lock up its human rights lawyers — and descend into the ranks of a notorious club of rogue states that includes China, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Belarus. Steven is the first major test case of a fossil fuel industry playbook to try to intimidate those who challenge the fact that extractive industries are destroying the planet for our children and grandchildren.

Judge Preska’s “conviction” of Steven is not only a violation of international law, it brazenly undermines the U.S. Constitution. Steven was prosecuted privately by a Chevron law firm after the regular federal prosecutor rejected the case. Steven’s lead lawyer in his argument today, the great U. of Texas professor Stephen Vladeck, will be before three judges appointed by President Trump. We are urging these judges to resist falling into Chevron’s and Preska’s demonization trap and take the legal issues seriously: we simply cannot have private corporate prosecutions in this country.

Today’s argument represents a major chance to bring Steven home. If we win the decision, it will be game over for the nightmare orchestrated by Judges Kaplan and Preska to try to silence Steven, and he will be released. 

The original post begins below the asterisk.

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On the eve of his appellate argument [Nov 30th] to overturn Judge Preska’s “conviction” in a trial found to violate international law, I am reposting letters sent by international human rights and environmental lawyer Steven Donziger from his prison cell in Connecticut (with original emphasis retained throughout).

Message received Fri 19th:

I am finally able to write directly from inside the belly of the beast: the federal prison in Danbury, CT. I am now on day 23 of my incarceration, and the experience has been nothing short of mind-blowing. I am living with another person in a 54 sq ft cell; next door is a 37-year-old man, one of the kindest people I have ever met. He was sentenced to a 35-year term for gang violence when he was 19. Three people in my unit of 80 or so men are lifers and have over 30 years in the system.

The length of the sentences for various crimes is astounding. We are unique as a country for the extraordinarily punitive nature of our criminal justice system. And it sickens me to see it from the inside. All of us here are simply raw material for a business built largely on money and politics that has virtually nothing to do with rehabilitation (although there are staff here working miracles against all odds to help inmates adjust to the outside).

This is considered a “low” security prison, but the conditions are extremely limiting. No Internet, almost no newspapers, limited phone calls and email, and almost no contact with the outside world. The food is scarce; no fresh vegetables, little fruit, extremely small portions which forces the mostly impoverished inmates to supplement their diets by buying junk food at the commissary where prices can be 50% higher than the corner store in New York City. It can take weeks for a visitor to get approved; one man has not seen his kids (now aged 5 and 7) in two years because of COVID restrictions. There is a total shortage of staff, programming, and no way to get a college degree. I will only be able to write very infrequently, if at all.

Having said that, please consider this: Chevron and Judges Preska and Kaplan thought they could snuff out my advocacy by dumping me into this place. They could not be more wrong. Not only is the prison bubbling with humanity and kindness, the likes of which one rarely sees on the outside, but the support for me and the affected communities of Ecuador both in my unit and around the world has literally exploded as a result of this obvious act of corporate persecution. I am becoming stronger, more resilient, and more understanding as a person. And I have almost boundless energy to continue the fight as a result of sharing this largely miserable experience with so many people from all walks of life.

I am getting dozens of letters a day from around the world. My friends in the unit love it when the letters come. Some read them and slap their knees with incredulity. How can one prisoner get so much mail? Others remove the stamps to use as “currency,” an off-the-books economic system that allows inmates the autonomy to trade goods and services among themselves.

In the meantime, here is a concrete update on case developments:

  • My appellate argument to overturn Judge Preska’s “conviction” of me in the Chevron-financed non-jury contempt trial will take place on Nov. 30. This is an extremely accelerated schedule which shows the concern of the court that a great injustice might be taking place. That said, I believe judges in New York generally are closing rank behind Kaplan and Preska because our campaign has been so effective that it has challenged the institutional credibility of the federal judiciary as a whole. While I am always optimistic, I fully expect to lose this appeal and spend the balance of my six-months sentence in prison. That said, my legal team already has decided it is likely we will take the issue off the nation’s first corporate prosecution to the US Supreme Court if necessary.
  • Our support in Congress is growing by leaps and bounds. A new letter organized by Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Chuy Garcia demanding my immediate release is gathering signatures as we speak. The letter urges The Biden administration to “send a clear signal that it stands with communities harmed by pollution and environmental destruction and the lawyers courageous enough to represent them and not the corporations that benefit from polluting the water, air, and land of local people.”
  • Law students nationwide are preparing to organize a work boycott of the two corporate law firms (Seward and Gibson Dunn) that Chevron has used to try to demonize and prosecute me. The Seward law firm should really be ashamed; that firm has been held by the United Nations to be in violation of multiple provisions of international law by prosecuting me.
  • Several human rights organizations are launching a campaign on Nov. 29 to demand President Biden pardon me — both because it is the right thing to do to correct the injustice, and also to bring the US government into conformity with international law consistent with the ruling from the United Nations.

Now, the money question. We need more funds to carry forward with these and other important activities. We need to pay people to support themselves to do this vital work. While I am locked up, the campaign must not just continue but also get stronger and more effective. Because of the incredible efforts of so many people, including my wife Laura and legal assistant Matt Burton, we are succeeding. In fact, the day I reported to prison, we gained 20,000 new followers on Twitter and many more on Instagram.

I know many already donated on the financial end. If you are not in a position to help now, please don’t worry; your support is being expressed in so many other ways and is deeply appreciated. But if you can dig deep and match your previous donation, please do. If you have not given, please consider making a donation. We are building this big with the ultimate goal of not only getting me out of this institution as soon as possible but also to put our human rights legal team in a position to finally hold Chevron fully accountable and force it to pay the full amount of the pollution judgment to the Indigenous peoples and farmers in Ecuador’s Amazon.

Thanks again to everybody for jumping into this extraordinary campaign and building this collective action that is literally changing the paradigm of the fossil fuel industry and helping to wake up the world to the promise of what citizen action can accomplish. I wake up each day in prison with a hop in my step because of you and the possibilities we have created together.

In solidarity,

Steven Donziger

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Message received Wed 24th:

My prison experience is getting even tougher: yesterday, the Danbury prison went on a total lockdown due to a COVID breakout. That means we cannot get out except for two hours per week. About 80 men are crammed into our unit, where two people occupy cells meant for one. Social distancing is impossible, few wear masks, there is no COVID testing, people are sick, nobody knows who has COVID, and word on the prison street is that the rate of vaccination among the guards is less than 50%. Medical staff appears so overwhelmed it often takes ten days or more to see a doctor, even when exhibiting severe symptoms.

I’m not going to lie: I actually feel if I get seriously ill inside this place, I could die.

I’m not alone in that feeling among my new friends inside. To know you are so at the mercy of others if an emergency were to arise is a heavy and awful emotional burden. Worse, it is sometimes hard to get the professionals here to acknowledge the validity of how your body feels to you. Most of my fellow residents (“inmates”) say staff here often accuse them of faking symptoms when they ask to see a doctor.

That said, it is Thanksgiving which is my favorite holiday of the year in the United States. I think of Native Americans who had their territory overrun by a conquering government that manufactured laws to steal land and distribute it to white settlers. I think of the Cherokee, the Cheyenne, the Choctaw, and so many others. The bravery and the courage. Survivors all. And I think of my family, friends, and all those I love — and all of those who stand behind the Ecuadorian Indigenous peoples who, against all odds, won the historic pollution judgment against Chevron.

It helps to both give thanks to our triumphs and to remember the unpleasant truths.

It is almost unfathomable to me what people are going through here and how they still keep going. The human spirit is really hard to snuff out. Some have spent 30 consecutive Thanksgivings in the federal prison system. When I came, there were three frail men with walkers in my unit (one has since been released). Some inside have not had a visit in years. Others get no mail. Many mark the years by remembering Thanksgiving when the cookies were baked fresh, when they were from a box, and when there were no cookies at all.

The food supposedly will be better on Thursday, but the mess hall has closed because of the lockdown. We will be eating turkey out of styrofoam boxes in our tiny cells, looking at an open-air toilet. That said, I can’t tell you how positive I feel about getting through this and back to the other side to continue our important work.

I am asking again for everybody who can step up and donate to this extraordinary and paradigm-shifting campaign to please do so during the holiday season. We need resources to keep our legal team working full steam and our broader global advocacy operating on all cylinders, especially while I am locked up. And, of course, we need resources to get me out of here as soon as possible.

Specifically, several human rights groups are organizing a global drive to demand the Biden Administration pardon me both because it is the just thing to do and to comply with the United Nations decision ordering my immediate and unconditional release. You will be hearing more about this in the coming days. We also need funds to continue to build a legal infrastructure needed to take on new and similar cases to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable and ultimately to save our planet.

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Donate today to help Steven and the Amazon communities continue their fight for freedom and to hold Chevron accountable for its “Chernobyl” ecological disaster

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