Tag Archives: WHO

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

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

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Welcome to the machine

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

— Roger Waters 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Technetronic tranformation

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

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

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

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

Indeed, a society that is under rapid construction today:

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

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

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

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

The same piece continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadowski concludes his piece with this warning:

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

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

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

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

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5G and the Internet of Things (IoT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCE: A Year of Planning Quayside

[James Corbett again…]

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

Click here to read the full Corbett Report transcript

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

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Addendum: the known health risks of RF radiation

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

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

The youtube video below is cued up:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5

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

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

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

7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13

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

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

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

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

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

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

14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

corona marginalia: timeline of failures

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

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

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

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January 24th

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

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

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

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

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

The same piece continues:

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

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

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

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February 3rd

Boris Johnson speaking in Greenwich:

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

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February 25th 

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

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

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

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March 3rd

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

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

Patrick Vallance: “Wash your hands”

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

The same footage is also available here.

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March 10th

Editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton tweeted:

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

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March 11th 

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

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

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

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

The same article continues:

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

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

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March 12th

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

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

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

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

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

The same article continues:

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

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March 13th

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

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

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

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

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March 17th

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

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

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

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

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March 21st

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

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March 22nd

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

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

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

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

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March 22nd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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March 24th

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

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

 

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

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March 31st

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April 1st

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

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

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

The same delay happened with the procurement of PPE.

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

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

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April 6th

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

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

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

The same piece continues:

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

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

Rachel Shabi adds:

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

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April 19th

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Villains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Bold emphasis added]

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

corona marginalia: white man’s burden

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

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

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

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

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

*

In the same BBC report we learn that:

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

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

*

Meanwhile, in another completely unrelated story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was a pause.

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

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

*

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

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

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

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Filed under France, Sub-Saharan Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

Science, what science?

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

Tedros stressed that countries should take a comprehensive approach. “Not testing alone,” he said. “Not contact tracing alone. Not quarantine alone. Not social distancing alone. Do it all. Find, isolate, test and treat every case, to break the chains of transmission… do not just let this fire burn.5

[bold highlight added]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Final thoughts

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

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

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

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

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Addendum

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

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

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

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Additional: What are the origins of Covid-19?

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

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

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

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

The same article continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the full Nature article.

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

Correction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the rollout of 5G potentially endangers all life: so why have we ditched the precautionary principle?

Lack of definitive proof that a technology is harmful does not mean the technology is safe, yet the wireless industry has succeeded in selling this logical fallacy to the world. In truth, the safety of wireless technology has been an unsettled question since the industry’s earliest days. The upshot is that, over the past 30 years, billions of people around the world have been subjected to a massive public-health experiment: Use a cell phone today, find out later if it causes cancer or genetic damage.

From an article published by The Nation magazine in March 2018 (more on this later).

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Prior evidence of the dangers of RF radiation

In 2011, the World Health Organisation classified cell phones (then 4G) as Category 2B agents, which means that radiofrequency (RF) radiation from mobile phone technology has been officially categorised as “possibly carcinogenic” to humans for nearly a decade. The WHO decision was based on the findings by its own panel, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), following a wide-ranging review of existing studies. News of the new classification was quietly reported at the time, although little serious attention was paid to the WHO’s findings or to consideration of their potential ramifications. For instance, the New York Times’ report contained the following reassurance:

“This I.A.R.C. classification does not mean cellphones cause cancer,’’ John Walls, vice president for public affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, an industry group, said in a statement. Mr. Walls noted that both the Federal Communications Commission and the Food and Drug Administration have concluded that the weight of the scientific evidence does not link cellphones with cancer or other health problems. 1

Click here to read the full article.

On the other hand, Japanese Broadcasting Corporation NHK decided that the new IARC report was significant enough to run as its headline:

Cancer experts at the World Health Organization have for the first time found evidence that the heavy use of mobile phones may increase the risk of developing brain tumors. The announcement was made on Tuesday during a meeting of scientists at WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France…

The researchers advised that cellphones be placed in the third highest cancer-risk category on the agency’s 5-scale classification system. That category also includes lead and chloroform.

The scientists said research indicates that the risk for developing brain cancer increases by 40 percent among people who use mobile phones for 30 minutes a day for at least 10 years. They added that more research should be conducted. One scientist advised taking practical measures to reduce exposure, such as using hands-free devices or texting.

It was the first time WHO has reported that electromagnetic waves emitted by mobile phones pose a cancer risk. 2

The IARC panel, which consisted of 31 scientists from 14 countries, had been led by Dr. Jonathan M. Samet, a member of President Obama’s National Cancer Advisory Board. Another adviser to the IARC was Dr. Anthony Miller, Professor Emeritus with the University of Toronto, who is now calling for RF radiation to be reclassified to the same level as cigarettes, X-rays and asbestos:

“Many scientists worldwide now believe that radiofrequency radiation should be elevated to a Class One human carcinogen, on the same list as Cigarettes, X-Rays, and Asbestos.” 3

On May 30th Dr Anthony Miller joined a panel of experts in Toronto to deliver a new statement on the health effects of RF radiation:

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War-gaming the science for the big wireless cover-up

This article does not argue that cell phones and other wireless technologies are necessarily dangerous; that is a matter for scientists to decide. Rather, the focus here is on the global industry behind cell phones—and the industry’s long campaign to make people believe that cell phones are safe.

write Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie in a very detailed investigative report that was published by The Nation magazine back in March 2018. Their piece continues:

That campaign has plainly been a success: 95 out of every 100 adult Americans now own a cell phone; globally, three out of four adults have cell-phone access, with sales increasing every year. The wireless industry is now one of the fastest-growing on Earth and one of the biggest, boasting annual sales of $440 billion in 2016.

Before returning to this excellent article I wish to add a brief aside based on an off-the-cuff rebuttal by my (at the time) 18-year-old nephew, who once said abruptly “I’d rather have a phone and get cancer”. In one way, of course, this was simply an offhanded instance of youthful bravado and trust in one’s inherent invulnerability. We were all bulletproof once upon a time. However, it also brings into the open a more widespread attitude that has been unconsciously adopted by anyone who depends on today’s mobile technology. Just like the smokers of old, we have no wish to be cautioned against the product we love, and so when it comes to convincing customers (who in the West now make up 90-plus percent of the adult population), the approach of flat-out denial is akin to pushing against an open door. Small wonder therefore that, as Hertsgaard and Dowie go on to point out, “Like their tobacco and fossil-fuel brethren, wireless executives have chosen not to publicize what their own scientists have said about the risks of their products”:

This Nation investigation reveals that the wireless industry not only made the same moral choices that the tobacco and fossil-fuel industries did; it also borrowed from the same public-relations playbook those industries pioneered. The playbook’s key insight is that an industry doesn’t have to win the scientific argument about safety; it only has to keep the argument going. That amounts to a win for the industry, because the apparent lack of certainty helps to reassure customers, even as it fends off government regulations and lawsuits that might pinch profits.

Central to keeping the scientific argument going is making it appear that not all scientists agree. Again like the tobacco and fossil-fuel industries, the wireless industry has “war gamed” science, as a Motorola internal memo in 1994 phrased it. War-gaming science involves playing offense as well as defense: funding studies friendly to the industry while attacking studies that raise questions; placing industry-friendly experts on advisory bodies like the World Health Organization; and seeking to discredit scientists whose views depart from the industry’s.

Funding friendly research has perhaps been the most important component of this strategy, because it conveys the impression that the scientific community truly is divided.

They then cite examples to show how this tried-and-tested strategy has been adopted by the wireless industry:

Thus, when studies have linked wireless radiation to cancer or genetic damage—as [George] Carlo’s WTR [the industry-financed Wireless Technology Research project] did in 1999; as the WHO’s Interphone study did in 2010; and as the US National Toxicology Program did in 2016—industry spokespeople can point out, accurately, that other studies disagree. “[T]he overall balance of the evidence” gives no cause for alarm, asserted Jack Rowley, research and sustainability director for the Groupe Special Mobile Association (GSMA), Europe’s wireless trade association, speaking to reporters about the WHO’s findings.

A closer look reveals the industry’s sleight of hand. When Henry Lai, the professor whom Carlo tried to get fired, analyzed 326 safety-related studies completed between 1990 and 2005, he learned that 56 percent found a biological effect from cell-phone radiation and 44 percent did not; the scientific community apparently was split. But when Lai recategorized the studies according to their funding sources, a different picture emerged: 67 percent of the independently funded studies found a biological effect, while a mere 28 percent of the industry-funded studies did. Lai’s findings were replicated by a 2007 analysis in Environmental Health Perspectives that concluded industry-funded studies were two and a half times less likely than independent studies to find a health effect. 4

Click here to read the full article entitled “How big Wireless Made Us Think That Cell Phones Are Safe: A Special Investigation” published by The Nation magazine.

Embedded below is a presentation given by Dr Martin Pall, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Basic Medical Sciences at Washington State University, on research into the cellular effects of electromagnetic field exposure on humans:

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5G means the weaponisation of cellphone technology

In order to transmit the enormous amounts of data required for the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G technology, when fully deployed, will use millimetre waves, which are poorly transmitted through solid material. This will require every carrier to install base stations every 100 metres 5 in every urban area in the world. Unlike previous generations of wireless technology, in which a single antenna broadcasts over a wide area, 5G base stations and 5G devices will have multiple antennas arranged in “phased arrays” 6 7 that work together to emit focused, steerable, laser-like beams that track each other.

Each 5G phone will contain dozens of tiny antennas, all working together to track and aim a narrowly focused beam at the nearest cell tower. The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted rules 8 permitting the effective power of those beams to be as much as 20 watts, ten times more powerful than the levels permitted for current phones.

Each 5G base station will contain hundreds or thousands of antennas aiming multiple laser-like beams simultaneously at all cell phones and user devices in its service area. This technology is called “multiple input multiple output” or MIMO. FCC rules permit the effective radiated power of a 5G base station’s beams to be as much as 30,000 watts per 100 MHz of spectrum, 9 or equivalently 300,000 watts per GHz of spectrum, tens to hundreds of times more powerful than the levels permitted for current base stations.

From an international appeal calling for a moratorium on 5G which outlines in a subsequent section of its report how “5G is qualitatively and quantitatively different from 4G” and in consequence, why the hazards are far greater for both human and animal populations [with all footnotes retained]:

The idea that we will tolerate tens to hundreds of times more radiation at millimetre wavelengths is based on faulty modelling of the human body as a shell filled with a homogeneous liquid. 10 11 The assumption that millimetre waves do not penetrate beyond the skin completely ignores nerves,12 blood vessels 13 14 and other electrically conducting structures that can carry radiation-induced currents deep into the body. 15 16 17 Another, potentially more serious error is that phased arrays are not ordinary antennas. When an ordinary electromagnetic field enters the body, it causes charges to move and currents to flow. But when extremely short electromagnetic pulses enter the body, something else happens: the moving charges themselves become little antennas that reradiate the electromagnetic field and send it deeper into the body. These reradiated waves are called Brillouin precursors. 18 They become significant when either the power or the phase of the waves changes rapidly enough.19 5G will probably satisfy both criteria.

In addition, shallow penetration in itself poses a unique danger to eyes and to the largest organ of the body, the skin, as well as to very small creatures. Peer-reviewed studies have recently been published, predicting thermal skin burns 20 in humans from 5G radiation and resonant absorption by insects, 21 which absorb up to 100 times as much radiation at millimetre wavelengths as they do at wavelengths presently in use. Since populations of flying insects have declined by 75-80 per cent since 1989 even in protected nature areas, 22 5G radiation could have catastrophic effects on insect populations worldwide. A 1986 study by Om Gandhi warned that millimetre waves are strongly absorbed by the cornea of the eye, and that ordinary clothing, being of millimetre-size thickness, increases the absorption of energy by the skin by a resonance-type effect. 23 Russell (2018) reviews the known effects of millimetre waves on skin, eyes (including cataracts), heart rate, immune system and DNA. 24

The full list of dangers (of which I have presented only extracts) is less surprising once we consider the fact that the proposed 5G microwave transmitters will be operating in ranges previously used only to defrost and cook food in microwave ovens. It is a region of the electromagnetic spectrum that has, as the authors of the appeal also rightly point out, been deployed in directed-energy weapon systems used in military operations and crowd control. 25

Click here to read the full statement of the international appeal and a list of initial signatories that includes Annie Sasco, former Chief of Research Unit of Epidemiology for Cancer Prevention at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Lyon and former Acting Chief, Programme for Cancer Control of the World Health Organization; and Martin Pall, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Basic Medical Sciences, Washington State University.

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Cell phones are mostly harmless, probably

At the time of WHO’s reclassification of RF radiation back in 2011, I posted an article that, for whatever reason, remains one of the least viewed of any posts. In that piece I drew attention to the precedents set by the tobacco, asbestos and nuclear power industries:

But the mobile phone industry is hanging tough of course. Like the asbestos industry, the tobacco companies and the nuclear lobby, it is demanding further proof, whilst reminding us that there is still no established mechanism that links microwave radiation to cancer, which is perfectly correct. Basically, we’ll just have to wait and see, because as Professor Lawrie Challis, an expert in the field and Chairman of the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR), told The Times in an interview back in 2007:

“You can look at almost any cancer where you know what the cause was. You find absolutely nothing for ten years,” he says. The groundbreaking study proving the link between lung cancer and smoking showed a similar delay, he says. “You look at what happened after the atomic bomb. Nagasaki, Hiroshima. You find again a long delay, nothing for ten years. The same for asbestos disease.” So although the many existing studies into mobile phone safety have shown no dangers does not deter him. “The people who’ve done these studies have been cautious. They say, ‘We can’t rule out the possibility’. But I want to know whether it’s there.” 26

Click here to read full article.

In the same post entitled “cellphones are mostly harmless, probably”, I concluded sardonically:

As NHK reports, this is the first time WHO has warned that mobile phones pose any risk of cancer, and it may very well be that the dismal data needed to make their judgement conclusive will arrive in future years, just as it did with atomic radiation, asbestos, and smoking. Or perhaps the men from the industry were right for a change, and so who knows, regularly microwaving the brain might not cause cancer, or a whole range of other suspected neurological disorders. Maybe instead it will turn out to boost intelligence, promote feelings of well-being and happiness, and generally increase life expectancy. Crazier discoveries have been made, probably.

What we can be sure, is that if and when cellphone users begin suing for damages, the industry will fight any claims to the bitter end. Their defence, as usual, will depend upon plausible deniability. Meanwhile, with the release of this week’s report, WHO have put themselves in the clear. They’re not taking any chances. And though their announcement might well be too little, too late, at least you can’t say they didn’t warn you.

Click here to read my full post.

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Back to the precautionary principle

In the years since the WHO investigation, evidence has further compounded that RF radiation poses a serious threat not only to human health, but also to wildlife. As Dr Anthony Miller said in his recent statement delivered in Toronto on May 30th warning of healthcare costs of the proposed 5G rollout:

“Many scientists including myself now believe that the evidence is such that if IARC (the International Agency for Research on Cancer) were to re-evaluate radiofrequency radiation it would be placed in Class One (i.e., a human carcinogen) and governments could not possibly ignore that. In fact, fortunately for us an advisory committee the International Agency for Research on Cancer has recommended that radiofrequency radiation be re-evaluated with high priority. So we are hoping this will occur very shortly.”

[read a full transcript below]

For these reasons it is as a matter of urgency that we must press our governments and local authorities to act in accordance with the well-established ‘precautionary principle’. As Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie concluded in their excellent investigative report for The Nation magazine:

The wireless industry’s determination to bring about the Internet of Things, despite the massive increase in radiation exposure this would unleash, raises the stakes exponentially. Because 5G radiation can only travel short distances, antennas roughly the size of a pizza box will have to be installed approximately every 250 feet to ensure connectivity. “Industry is going to need hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of new antenna sites in the United States alone,” said Moskowitz, the UC Berkeley researcher. “So people will be bathed in a smog of radiation 24/7.”

There is an alternative approach, rooted in what some scientists and ethicists call the “precautionary principle,” which holds that society doesn’t need absolute proof of hazard to place limits on a given technology. If the evidence is sufficiently solid and the risks sufficiently great, the precautionary principle calls for delaying the deployment of that technology until further research clarifies its impacts. The scientists’ petition discussed earlier urges government regulators to apply the precautionary principle to 5G technology. Current safety guidelines “protect industry—not health,” contends the petition, which “recommend[s] a moratorium on the roll-out of [5G]…until potential hazards for human health and the environment have been fully investigated by scientists independent from industry.” 27

The link to the petition above is now broken and so I redirect readers to the more recent international appeal and petition which is available here.

And I encourage readers again to read Hertsgaard and Dowie’s report published by The Nation magazine in full.

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Addendum: transcript of Dr Anthony Miller’s full statement

I was associated with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that recommended the World Health Organisation list all radiofrequency radiation – that is the radiation that powers cell phones and wifi – as a possible carcinogen. The classification was officially designated as 2B. 2B is a list of possible carcinogens that also includes lead and DDT. That was back in 2011.

This classification was based on the epidemiology and other evidence that was available then, but since then a lot has changed. New science has emerged, both human and animal [studies], human by analysis of some of the studies that were performed before including the Canadian participation in what was called Interphone.* New updated analyses of the studies in Sweden – Sweden being one of the first countries to introduce cell phones and therefore having people with the longest exposure; and they have demonstrated that the longer the exposure, the greater the risk. But equally important there have been two very large animal carcinogenicity studies. Now we learnt, more than twenty years ago – thirty years ago – I was involved in some of this in Canada, that we should not allow companies to introduce new chemicals without them first being tested for the possibility of carcinogenicity. There is every reason why such a requirement should be placed on companies that propose to introduce new radiation which will expose all of us.

The two studies that have been conducted in the last ten years but reported only last year were run by the National Toxicology Program [NTP] in the United States – a very large animal study – and another by the prestigious Ramazzini Institute in Italy. Both of them showed that prolonged exposure to radiofrequency radiation increases the risk of cancer. And indeed they also showed that the cancers are similar to some of the cancers that are being observed in humans, and they showed that this sort of radiation increases the damage to our DNA; and if our DNA is damaged then our risk of cancer increases substantially.

Many scientists including myself now believe that the evidence is such that if IARC (the International Agency for Research on Cancer) were to re-evaluate radiofrequency radiation it would be placed in Class One (i.e., a human carcinogen) and governments could not possibly ignore that. In fact, fortunately for us an advisory committee the International Agency for Research on Cancer has recommended that radiofrequency radiation be re-evaluated with high priority. So we are hoping this will occur very shortly.

In the meantime, we all must take care. We all must recognise that we are being exposed to radiofrequency radiation. We must do our best through our MPs, through our discussions with our municipalities, to prevent the introduction of 5G, which will only make matters worse.

[the transcript is my own]

*

1 From a New York Times article entitled “Cellphone Radiation May Cause Cancer, Advisory Panel says”, by Tara Parker-Pope and Felicity Barringer, published Tuesday 31st May. well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/cellphone-radiation-may-cause-cancer-advisory-panel-says/

2 From NHK World news headlines “WHO panel warns cellphones may cause cancer” published Wednesday 1st June. www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/01_35.html

3 From a press release entitled “Ontario Doctors Warn of Rising Health Care Costs after 5G Roll Out” published on May 30, 2019. https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/ontario-doctors-warn-of-rising-health-care-costs-after-5g-roll-out–845905505.html

4 From an article entitled “How big Wireless Made Us Think That Cell Phones Are Safe: A Special Investigation” written by Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie, published in The Nation magazine on March 29, 2018. https://www.thenation.com/article/how-big-wireless-made-us-think-that-cell-phones-are-safe-a-special-investigation/

5 De Grasse M. AT&T outlines 5G network architecture. RCR Wireless News, Oct. 20, 2016. https://www.rcrwireless.com/20161020/network-infrastructure/att-outlines-5g-network-architecture-tag4. Accessed July 9, 2018.

6 Hong W, Jiang ZH, Yu C, et al. Multibeam antenna technologies for 5G wireless communications. IEEE Tr Ant Prop. 2017;65(12):6231-6249. doi: 10.1109/TAP.2017.2712819.

7 Chou H-T. Design Methodology for the Multi-Beam Phased Array of Antennas with Relatively Arbitrary Coverage Sector. Conference paper: 2017 11th European Conference on Antennas and Propagation; Paris, France. doi: 10.23919/EuCAP.2017.7928095.

8 47 CFR § 30.202 — Power limits.

9 Hong W, Jiang ZH, Yu C, et al. Multibeam antenna technologies for 5G wireless communications. IEEE Tr Ant Prop. 2017;65(12):6231-6249. doi: 10.1109/TAP.2017.2712819.

10 Technical Report. European Telecommunications Standards Institute; 2007:7. http://www.etsi.org/deliver/etsi_tr/125900_125999/125914/07.00.00_60/
tr_125914v070000p.pdf
. Accessed June 10, 2018. “The Specific Anthropomorphic Mannequin (SAM) is used for radiated performancemeasurements [and is] filled with tissue simulating liquid.”

11 Research on technology to evaluate compliance with RF protection guidelines. Electromagnetic Compatibility Laboratory, Tokyo. http://emc.nict.go.jp/bio/phantom/index_e.html. Accessed July 18, 2018.“SAR is measured by filling phantom liquid that has the same electrical properties as those of the human body in a container made in the shape of the human body, and scanning the inside using an SAR probe.”

12 Becker RO, Marino AA. Electromagnetism and Life. Albany: State University of New York Press; 1982:39.“The evidence seems to be quite conclusive that there are steady DC electric currents flowing outside of the neurones proper in the entire nervous system.”

13 Nordenström B. Biologically Closed Electric Circuits. Stockholm: Nordic Medical Publications; 1983.

14 Nordenström B. Impact of biologically closed electric circuits (BCEC) on structure and function. Integr Physiol Behav Sci. 1992;27(4):285-303. doi:10.1007/BF02691165.

15 Devyatkov ND, ed. Non-Thermal Effects of Millimeter Radiation. Moscow: USSR Acad. Sci.; 1981 (Russian).

16 Devyatkov ND, Golant MB, Betskiy OV. Millimeter Waves and Their Role in the Processes of Life. (Millimetrovye volny i ikh rol’ v protsessakh zhiznedeyatel’nosti). Moscow: Radio i svyaz’ (Radio and Communication); 1991 (Russian).

17 Betskii OV. Biological effects of low-intensity millimetre waves (Review). Journal of Biomedical Electronics. 2015(1):31-47. http://www.radiotec.ru/article/15678. Accessed July 31, 2018.

18 Albanese R, Blaschak J, Medina R, Penn J. Ultrashort electromagnetic signals: Biophysical questions,safety issues and medical opportunities,” Aviat Space Environ Med. 1994;65(5 Supp):A116-A120. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a282990.pdf. Accessed June 18, 2018.

19 Pepe D, Aluigi L, Zito D. Sub-100 ps monocycle pulses for 5G UWB communications. 10th European Conference on Antennas and Propagation (EuCAP). 2016;1-4. doi: 10.1109/EuCAP.2016.7481123.

20 Nasim I, Kim S. Human exposure to RF fields in 5G downlink. arXiv:1711.03683v1. Accessed June 17, 2018.

21 Thielens A, Bell D, Mortimore DB. Exposure of insects to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields from 2 to 120 GHz. Nature/Scientific Reports. 2018;8:3924. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-22271-3.pdf. Accessed June 17, 2018.

22 Hallmann CA, Sorg M, Jongejans E. More than 75 per cent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLOS One. 2017;12(10):e0185809. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0185809&type=printable. Accessed June 17, 2018.

23 Gandhi O, Riazi A. Absorption of millimeter waves by human beings and its biological implications. IEEE Trans Microw Theory Tech. 1986;34(2):228-235. doi:10.1109/TMTT.1986.1133316.

24 Russell CL. 5G wireless telecommunications expansion: Public health and environmental implications. Environ Res 2018;165:484-495. https://zero5g.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/5-G-wireless-telecommunications-expansion-Public-health-and-environmental-implications-Cindy-L.-russell.pdf. Accessed November 1, 2018.

25 Active Denial Technology. Non-Lethal Weapons Program. https://jnlwp.defense.gov/Press-Room/Fact-Sheets/Article-View-Fact-sheets/Article/577989/active-denial-technology/. Published May 11, 2016. Accessed June 10, 2018.

26 From an article entitled “Could these be the cigarettes of the 21st century?… ‘Absolutely’” by Alice Miles and Helen Rumbelow, published in The Times on 20th January 2007. www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1294717.ece?token=null&offset=0&page=1

27 From an article entitled “How big Wireless Made Us Think That Cell Phones Are Safe: A Special Investigation” written by Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie, published in The Nation magazine on March 29, 2018. https://www.thenation.com/article/how-big-wireless-made-us-think-that-cell-phones-are-safe-a-special-investigation/

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Two wireless trade associations contributed $4.7 million to the Interphone study launched by the WHO’s International Agency for Cancer Research in 2000. That $4.7 million represented 20 percent of the $24 million budget for the Interphone study, which convened 21 scientists from 13 countries to explore possible links between cell phones and two common types of brain tumor: glioma and meningioma. The money was channeled through a “firewall” mechanism intended to prevent corporate influence on the IACR’s findings, but whether such firewalls work is debatable. “Industry sponsors know [which scientists] receive funding; sponsored scientists know who provides funding,” Dariusz Leszczynski, an adjunct professor of biochemistry at the University of Helsinki, has explained.

To be sure, the industry could not have been pleased with some of the Interphone study’s conclusions. The study found that the heaviest cell-phone users were 80 percent more likely to develop glioma. (The initial finding of 40 percent was increased to 80 to correct for selection bias.) The Interphone study also concluded that individuals who had owned a cell phone for 10 years or longer saw their risk of glioma increase by nearly 120 percent. However, the study did not find any increased risk for individuals who used their cell phones less frequently; nor was there evidence of any connection with meningioma.

When the Interphone conclusions were released in 2010, industry spokespeople blunted their impact by deploying what experts on lying call “creative truth-telling.” “Interphone’s conclusion of no overall increased risk of brain cancer is consistent with conclusions reached in an already large body of scientific research on this subject,” John Walls, the vice president for public affairs at the CTIA, told reporters. The wiggle word here is “overall”: Since some of the Interphone studies did not find increased brain-cancer rates, stipulating “overall” allowed Walls to ignore those that did. The misleading spin confused enough news organizations that their coverage of the Interphone study was essentially reassuring to the industry’s customers. The Wall Street Journal announced “Cell Phone Study Sends Fuzzy Signal on Cancer Risk,” while the BBC’s headline declared: “No Proof of Mobile Cancer Risk.”

From an article entitled “How big Wireless Made Us Think That Cell Phones Are Safe: A Special Investigation” written by Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie, published in The Nation magazine on March 29, 2018. https://www.thenation.com/article/how-big-wireless-made-us-think-that-cell-phones-are-safe-a-special-investigation/

A second large study has found tumors in the Schwann cells —schwannomas— in the hearts of male rats exposed to cell phone radiation.

The new finding comes from the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy.

The malignant schwannomas of the heart seen in the Italian study are the same as those described by the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) earlier this month as the basis for their concern that cell phone radiation, both GSM and CDMA, can lead to cancer. Ramazzini embarked on its RF project in 2005, about the same time as the NTP effort was taking off.

A paper detailing the Ramazzini experiment is expected to be published in Environmental Research, a peer-reviewed journal, within a week. [Update: Now available here.]

“It is a positive study and will buttress the findings from the NTP rat study,” Tony Miller told Microwave News. Miller, an emeritus professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto, is serving as the guest editor for a special issue of the journal, which will include the Ramazzini paper. Miller declined to offer any other details prior to publication.

Fiorella Belpoggi, the Ramazzini Institute’s director of research, presented preliminary results of the study last fall. Speaking at the annual symposium of the Collegium Ramazzini, known as “Ramazzini Days,” in late October, Belpoggi reported finding schwannomas in the heart of male rats exposed to GSM cell phone radiation, according to a number of those who were at the meeting. (The abstract of Belpoggi’s paper is available here.)

This is “more than a coincidence,” was a typical response from close observers of cell phone toxicology studies who had heard or were told of the new results. No one wanted to speak for attribution until they had a chance to read the new Ramazzini paper. “It’s amazing given that malignant schwannoma of the heart is a super rare cancer,” said one of those interviewed.

In an e-mail exchange, Belpoggi confirmed that her paper would be available online within days. She would not comment further.

From an article entitled “New Large Animal Study, Like NTP’s, Links RF to Schwannoma of the Heart”, published by Microwave News on February 20, 2018. https://microwavenews.com/news-center/more-coincidence

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cellphones are mostly harmless, probably

As an undergraduate studying in London about twenty years ago, I can still recall a few details of a guest lecture given on hertzian dipole emission, which sounds complicated and is, but bear with me… When radio waves are produced by an antenna, the lecturer explained, those waves radiate away with a characteristic directionality. They spread out into an expanding doughnut, with most of the power transmitted directly away from the centre of the aerial. Then, and to illustrate this point, he told us about an increasing health problem that police officers were suffering from as a result of using their walkie-talkies. Apparently, the design was leading to a higher incidence of eye tumours – the centre of the aerials being located close to eye-level.

Now, I have just searched the internet for evidence of a connection between eye tumours and walkie-talkies but I can find none at all, so why did the guest lecturer ever make such a claim? It’s not that he was talking about health and safety in the first case, but merely trying to support the established electromagnetic theory of hertzian dipole emission by providing a little supporting evidence – he told us, in other words, because he thought it was interesting and relevant. So he was simply misinformed, presumably.

Nowadays, of course, many of us carry the state of the art equivalent to walkie-talkies, pressing them to our ears on a daily, if not hourly, basis. About 40 per cent of the microwave energy produced being absorbed directly into our heads. So should we be worried?

Well the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), having just completed an extensive review of a range of existing studies, has concluded that cellphones are indeed “possibly carcinogenic’’, recategorising them as a potential threat to human health alongside certain dry cleaning chemicals and pesticides:

The finding, from the agency’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, adds to concerns among a small but growing group of experts about the health effects of low levels of radiation emitted by cellphones. The panel, which consisted of 31 scientists from 14 countries, was led by Dr. Jonathan M. Samet, a physician and epidemiologist at the University of Southern California and a member of President Obama’s National Cancer Advisory Board.1

The New York Times article continues:

The W.H.O. panel ruled only that cellphones be classified as Category 2B, meaning they are possibly carcinogenic to humans, a designation the panel has given to 240 other agents, including the pesticide DDT, engine exhaust, lead and various industrial chemicals. Also on the list are two familiar foods, pickled vegetables and coffee, which the cellphone industry was quick to point out.

“This I.A.R.C. classification does not mean cellphones cause cancer,’’ John Walls, vice president for public affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, an industry group, said in a statement. Mr. Walls noted that both the Federal Communications Commission and the Food and Drug Administration have concluded that the weight of the scientific evidence does not link cellphones with cancer or other health problems.

Click here to read the full article.

The Japanese Broadcasting Corporation NHK decided that the new IARC report was significant enough to run as its headline:

Cancer experts at the World Health Organization have for the first time found evidence that the heavy use of mobile phones may increase the risk of developing brain tumors. The announcement was made on Tuesday during a meeting of scientists at WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France…

The researchers advised that cellphones be placed in the third highest cancer-risk category on the agency’s 5-scale classification system. That category also includes lead and chloroform.

The scientists said research indicates that the risk for developing brain cancer increases by 40 percent among people who use mobile phones for 30 minutes a day for at least 10 years. They added that more research should be conducted. One scientist advised taking practical measures to reduce exposure, such as using hands-free devices or texting.

It was the first time WHO has reported that electromagnetic waves emitted by mobile phones pose a cancer risk.2

Click here to read the full text.

But the mobile phone industry is hanging tough of course. Like the asbestos industry, the tobacco companies and the nuclear lobby, it is demanding further proof, whilst reminding us that there is still no established mechanism that links microwave radiation to cancer, which is perfectly correct. Basically, we’ll just have to wait and see, because as Professor Lawrie Challis, an expert in the field and Chairman of the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR), told The Times in an interview back in 2007:

 “You can look at almost any cancer where you know what the cause was. You find absolutely nothing for ten years,” he says. The groundbreaking study proving the link between lung cancer and smoking showed a similar delay, he says. “You look at what happened after the atomic bomb. Nagasaki, Hiroshima. You find again a long delay, nothing for ten years. The same for asbestos disease.” So although the many existing studies into mobile phone safety have shown no dangers does not deter him. “The people who’ve done these studies have been cautious. They say, ‘We can’t rule out the possibility’. But I want to know whether it’s there.”3

Click here to read full article.

As NHK reports, this is the first time WHO has warned that mobile phones pose any risk of cancer, and it may very well be that the dismal data needed to make their judgement conclusive will arrive in future years, just as it did with atomic radiation, asbestos, and smoking. Or perhaps the men from the industry were right for a change, and so who knows, regularly microwaving the brain might not cause cancer, or a whole range of other suspected neurological disorders. Maybe instead it will turn out to boost intelligence, promote feelings of well-being and happiness, and generally increase life expectancy. Crazier discoveries have been made, probably.

What we can be sure, is that if and when cellphone users begin suing for damages, the industry will fight any claims to the bitter end. Their defence, as usual, will depend upon plausible deniability. Meanwhile, with the release of this week’s report, WHO have put themselves in the clear. They’re not taking any chances. And though their announcement might well be too little, too late, at least you can’t say they didn’t warn you.

From a New York Times article entitled “Cellphone Radiation May Cause Cancer, Advisory Panel says”, by Tara Parker-Pope and Felicity Barringer, published Tuesday 31st May. well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/cellphone-radiation-may-cause-cancer-advisory-panel-says/

2  From NHK World news headlines “WHO panel warns cellphones may cause cancer” published Wednesday 1st June. www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/01_35.html

3  From an article entitled “Could these be the cigarettes of the 21st century?… ‘Absolutely’” by Alice Miles and Helen Rumbelow, published in The Times on 20th January 2007. www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1294717.ece?token=null&offset=0&page=1

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nuclear madness?

Following Obama’s commitment to expand the future use of nuclear power, Democracy Now! hosted a debate yesterday between British journalist George Monbiot and Australian physician and environmentalist Dr. Helen Caldicott.

Caldicott, who was author of Nuclear Madness (1979) and Nuclear Power is Not the Answer to Global Warming or Anything Else (2006), insists that there is “an unholy alliance” between the IAEA and WHO to deliberately cover up the health impact of previous nuclear accidents and the dangers of low-level radiation.

Click here to watch the same debate on the Democracy Now! website.

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