Jan 202021
 


Jean-Léon Gérôme Truth Coming Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind, 1896

 

Can We Stop a Super Coronavirus? (Spiegel)
New COVID Strain Reportedly Emerging Within Brazilian Amazon (ZH)
The New Domestic War On Terror Is Coming (Glenn Greenwald)
Comey Calls For the Republican Party To Be “Burned Down” (Turley)
Baghdad On The Potomac – Welcome To The Blue Zone (Escobar)
Media Cheers DC Under Military Occupation (Tracey)
Biden’s DHS Pick To “Study” Whether To Keep Trump’s Border Wall (PFW) /span>
US Bombs Somalia After Troop Withdrawal (Antiwar)
Pension Funds Plot Move On China’s $16 Trillion Sovereign Bond Market (R.)
Taming The Social Media Monster (K.)
Liberals Traumatized by Agreeing with Mitch McConnell (Borowitz)

 

 

Feeling numb this morning, as I’m sure many of you do. Not only because Trump failed to pardon Julian Assange, though that is a major letdown, but also because it’s more obvious than ever that nothing has changed. The same cabal is either still in power or is returning to it. And now they’re going to clean the US from everyone who rejected them and supported Trump. For clickbait, power and revenge. And I’m a bit tired of reading it all.

 

 

 

 

Tucker Carlson: Mitch McConnell “sent word over to the White House: if you pardon Julian Assange, we are much more likely to convict you in an impeachment trial.”

https://twitter.com/i/status/1351353063433408515

 

 

@KimDotcom
Julian Assange will get his freedom back this year, pardon or not.

 

 

A mutation a week.

Can We Stop a Super Coronavirus? (Spiegel)

Three different new mutants of the novel coronavirus have begun spreading at break-neck speed around the world. They have two things in common: a very specific mutation – and they are far more effective at infecting people than previous versions, with the new variants likely up to 56 percent more infectious. There are also worries that they could prove less susceptible to some vaccines and that people who have already had COVID-19 could get infected again. The cases that have been imported into the country so far demonstrate that it’s likely impossible to seal Germany off from the new variants. It’s probably just a matter of time before the super viruses begin spreading in Germany and Europe. And it’s quite possible that this has already happened.

For a long time, it seemed as if the world knew its enemy – a coronavirus that could be compared with its ancestor SARS and other coronaviruses like MERS. In small steps, we became more familiar with how the disease spreads and what we can do to best protect ourselves. We got to know the virus right down to the last molecule – so well that researchers were able to develop vaccines in record time, promising to help humanity out of the permanent lockdown. We would, it seemed, bring SARS-CoV-2 under control in 2021. Now, though, the virus is mutating – unfortunately in a direction that is likely to lead to many more victims. [..] German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who, as a physicist, has an in-depth understanding of numerical models, is deeply concerned about the current developments.

In recent days, she has been calling ministers, scientists and experts she trusts, asking for suggestions about what to do if the new virus mutants also spread in Germany. She doesn’t share the hope of some that the current lockdown can drive the numbers down any time soon. “Germany is facing eight to 10 very tough weeks,” Merkel said last Tuesday. The next day, during a meeting of her cabinet, Merkel discussed what would have happened had France not barred people from entering the country from Ireland. She said it might have become necessary for Germany to set up controls at the border with France.

[..] But the B.1.351 variant discovered in South Africa and the B.1.1.248 mutant found in Brazil and Japan are no less harmful than their British cousin. On the contrary. They contain another mutation in their genetic material – E484K – which could prove to be very dangerous. It’s likely that it weakens the human immune response – and could even render some of the newly developed vaccines less effective. Pharmaceutical companies are currently testing the efficacy of their vaccines against the new mutants. The mutation N501Y that is common to the new variants is located at a central position of the pathogen: on the spikes that are the source of the coronavirus’ name.

SARS-CoV-2 uses the spike protein’s receptor binding domain to latch on to the host cell and invade it. Scientists believe the mutation makes it easier for the virus to latch on to host cells. Once the new variants have infected the host, the disease proceeds just as it has in previous variants: They aren’t more lethal than the original coronaviruses. That, though, is hardly reassuring: Because the mutants are able to infect so many more people, they are capable of causing more fatalities than would a mutant that made people sicker but which was less contagious.

Read more …

“..more infectious, and deadlier..”

New COVID Strain Reportedly Emerging Within Brazilian Amazon (ZH)

As warnings about the hyper-infectious COVID strains first isolated in the UK and South Africa ring out across the US, Europe and, well, the rest of the world, too, at this point, authorities in Brazil fear they may have a new strain on their hands that’s more infectious, and deadlier, than anything the world has seen previously. According to a report published by Brazilian outlet Universo Online, a surge in cases and deaths, particularly among younger patients, in the hard-hit Amazonian city of Manaus (situated in northwestern Brazil, on the banks of the River Negro) has drawn the attention of health professionals working on the front lines of the pandemic in the hard-hit Latin American powerhouse.

Several officials with direct knowledge of the situation told UOL that a new “variant” – a mutated strain of the virus – may be responsible for harsher symptoms, and quicker onset times. But the most alarming shift has been a surge in deaths among younger people, who are dying now in greater numbers than in earlier waves of the outbreak in Manaus, which has long struggled with overburdened health-care resources. According to Manaus death records from the past 30 days cited by ULO, four out of ten deaths during that time involved patients under the age of 60 in the state.

The UOL analyzed the latest data Transparency Portal of the registry offices. There were 710 deaths in the state (since it may still increase), of which 285 were people under 60 years old – or 40.1% of the total. Before that period, this percentage was 36.5%. “Without a doubt many more young people are dying. We are not just talking about a risk group: this is in all age groups, affecting babies, children, teenagers even without comorbidity”, points out the infectologist Silvia Leopoldina, who also works in the state public networks and municipal of Manaus. The doctor says there were changes in the behavior of the disease in the state. “Before, the first symptoms of severity appeared around the tenth day onwards. Now there are patients who, with seven, eight days, are involved in 75% of both lungs.”.

One researcher told ULO that, while he couldn’t say for certain what it is, “something very different” is happening in Manaus right now. “Something very different is happening in Manaus. I don’t know if it is a new strain or if it is something different. But those on the front line are seeing an increase in the severity of the cases,” says infectologist and researcher Noaldo Lucena, who works in popular clinic, home care and public hospitals. The new infection and death numbers are so severe, he says, they go beyond the already known greater contagiousness of the new variant of the virus. “Clearly, we are facing an invisible being that is much more pathogenic and transmissible. Today whole families arrive with the symptoms at the same time, before it was one at a time.”

Read more …

Clickbait dreams.

The New Domestic War On Terror Is Coming (Glenn Greenwald)

The last two weeks have ushered in a wave of new domestic police powers and rhetoric in the name of fighting “terrorism” that are carbon copies of many of the worst excesses of the first War on Terror that began nearly twenty years ago. This trend shows no sign of receding as we move farther from the January 6 Capitol riot. The opposite is true: it is intensifying. We have witnessed an orgy of censorship from Silicon Valley monopolies with calls for far more aggressive speech policing, a visibly militarized Washington, D.C. featuring a non-ironically named “Green Zone,” vows from the incoming president and his key allies for a new anti-domestic terrorism bill, and frequent accusations of “sedition,” “treason,” and “terrorism” against members of Congress and citizens.

This is all driven by a radical expansion of the meaning of “incitement to violence.” It is accompanied by viral-on-social-media pleas that one work with the FBI to turn in one’s fellow citizens (See Something, Say Something!) and demands for a new system of domestic surveillance. Underlying all of this are immediate insinuations that anyone questioning any of this must, by virtue of these doubts, harbor sympathy for the Terrorists and their neo-Nazi, white supremacist ideology. Liberals have spent so many years now in a tight alliance with neocons and the CIA that they are making the 2002 version of John Ashcroft look like the President of the (old-school) ACLU. The more honest proponents of this new domestic War on Terror are explicitly admitting that they want to model it on the first one.

A New York Times reporter noted on Monday that a “former intelligence official on PBS NewsHour” said “that the US should think about a ‘9/11 Commission’ for domestic extremism and consider applying some of the lessons from the fight against Al Qaeda here at home.” More amazingly, Gen. Stanley McChrystal — for years head of Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq and the commander of the war in Afghanistan — explicitly compared that war to this new one, speaking to Yahoo News: “I did see a similar dynamic in the evolution of al-Qaida in Iraq, where a whole generation of angry Arab youth with very poor prospects followed a powerful leader who promised to take them back in time to a better place, and he led them to embrace an ideology that justified their violence. This is now happening in America….I think we’re much further along in this radicalization process, and facing a much deeper problem as a country, than most Americans realize.”

Read more …

75 million voters. Burn them all down?

Comey Calls For the Republican Party To Be “Burned Down” (Turley)

There is an interesting interview this week with former FBI Director James Comey. He states that he now believes that the infamous alleged “pee tape” may be real and makes other surprising statements while pitching his new book. One statement, however, stood out: “The Republican party needs to be burned down … It’s just not a healthy political organization.” Since the Republican National Committee was targeted with a pipe bomb in the recent riots, some could argue that this is incitement to arson or violence. I would not. I would call it free speech and hyperbole. The question is where the line is drawn given the impeachment of Donald Trump based on his speech and the allegations that others who used such hyperbolic language are actually guilty of incitement.

As I have previously stated, I condemned Trump’s speech in a series of tweets while it was being given and I called for a bipartisan vote of censure over his responsibility in the riots. However, I opposed the use of a snap impeachment by the House and raised concerns over the framing of the article of impeachment as an “incitement to insurrection.” Despite the chorus of legal experts insisting that the speech would constitute a strong case for criminal incitement (and the DC Attorney General said he may charge Trump), I believe such a prosecution would eventually collapse on free speech grounds if based solely on this speech and Trump’s other public statements.

Comey is not alone in the use of such rhetoric in today’s super-heated political environment. We previously discussed how conservatives have pointed to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) calling for people to confront Republican leaders in restaurants; Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) insisted during 2020’s violent protests that “there needs to be unrest in the streets,” while then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said “protesters should not let up” even as many protests were turning violent. They can all legitimately argue that their rhetoric was not meant to be a call for violence, but this is a standard fraught with subjectivity.

Read more …

“Only satire is capable of doing poetic justice to what is, de facto, the Potemkin inauguration of a hologram.”

Baghdad On The Potomac – Welcome To The Blue Zone (Escobar)

During the 2000s, I came face to face with Baghdad’s Green Zone multiple times. I always stayed, and worked, in the hyper-volatile Red Zone – as you may check in my 2007 book Red Zone Blues. We knew then that blowback would be inevitable. But still, we could never have imagined such a graphic simulacrum: the Green Zone fully replicated in the heart of imperial D.C. – complete with walls, barbed wire, multiple checkpoints, heavily armed guards. That is even more significant because it ends a full “new world order” geopolitical cycle: the empire started bombing – and cluster bombing – Iraq 30 years ago. Desert Storm was launched in January 17, 1991.

The Blue Zone is now “protected” by a massive 26,000 plus troop surge – way more than Afghanistan and Iraq combined. The Forever Wars – which you may now relieve through my archives – have come back full circle. Just like an ordinary Iraqi was not allowed inside the Green Zone, no ordinary American is allowed inside the Blue Zone. Just like the Green Zone, those inside the Blue Zone represent none other than themselves. And just like the Green Zone, those inside the Blue Zone are viewed by half of the population in the Red Zone as an occupying force. Only satire is capable of doing poetic justice to what is, de facto, the Potemkin inauguration of a hologram. So welcome to the most popular president in history inaugurated in secret, and fearful of his own, fake, Praetorian Guard. The Global South has seen this grisly show before – in endless reruns. But never as a homegrown Hollywood flick.

Meanwhile, trapped inside the Blue Zone, the White House has been busy compiling an interminable list of accomplishments. Multitudes will go berserk relieving the appalling foreign policy disasters, courtesy of American Psycho Mike Pompeo; debunking the official narrative partially or as a whole; and even agreeing with the odd “accomplishment”. Yet close attention should be paid to a key item: “Colossal Rebuilding of the Military”. This is what is going to play a key role beyond January 20 – as Gen Flynn has been extremely busy showing evidence to the military, at all levels, of how “compromised” is the new Hologram-in-Chief. And then there’s the rolling, never-ending November 3 drama. Blame should be duly apportioned. Impeachment, digital witch hunts, rounding up “domestic terrorists”, that is not enough. “Foreign interference” is a must.

Read more …

“..everyone with a brain by now should be able to recognize that the government was never at a greater than 0% risk of being overthrown that day..”

Media Cheers DC Under Military Occupation (Tracey)

Downtown Washington, DC is currently under what essentially amounts to military occupation. Streets are locked down, guarded by Army vehicles and blocked off by huge, garish checkpoints. Vehicular traffic is limited to motorists who can show papers demonstrating that, as one Guardsman told me, they are conducting “legitimate business.” (Apparently this includes Uber drivers and food delivery workers.) According to official estimates, 25,000 military personnel are now deployed to the area — on top of countless federal, state, and local law enforcement agents. Troops roam around carrying rifles with no ammo loaded. If you can manage to navigate on foot to the perimeter of the National Mall, you encounter an enormous fencing apparatus, complete with barbed wire.

Question: does anyone with a media job find this situation to be worthy of some further inquiry? Or in other words, worthy of questioning the premise of why such an extravagantly intensive military presence is allegedly necessary? Is it proportionate to the scale of the purported threat? Has the nature of the threat itself — whatever that might be, exactly — been adequately probed to determine whether it is grounded in reality? Already a bunch of purported threats initially trumpeted across the media with the usual five-alarm-five hysteria have dissipated in short order, so there is perhaps some reason for doubt in that regard. Instead of applying a modicum of skepticism to this gigantic show of military force, much of which appears to be “security theater” in its purest form, our vaunted media is doing little other than cheering it on.

And of course, inflating the threats being cited as justification for it. They can repeat over and over again that what occurred on January 6 at the Capitol was an “attempted coup,” and therefore everything and anything is justified to retaliate, but everyone with a brain by now should be able to recognize that the government was never at a greater than 0% risk of being overthrown that day. Fear-inducing terms like “insurrection,” “domestic terrorism,” “seditious conspiracy,” “armed rebellion,” and others have been marshaled intentionally to inure the public to extreme actions such as the swiftly-executed corporate censorship purge and now, the transformation of the country’s capital into a military fortress.

Read more …

Caravans are on their way, programs installed for large scale pardons. In a pandemic.

Biden’s DHS Pick To “Study” Whether To Keep Trump’s Border Wall (PFW) /span>

On the same day Trump extended an emergency declaration at the southern border, Biden’s pick for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, says that he will “study” whether the border wall constructed under the Trump administration will remain in place. “President-elect Biden has committed to stop construction of the border wall. It would be my responsibility to execute on that and I have not looked at the question of what we do with respect to the wall that has already been built,” Mayorkas said Tuesday during his Senate confirmation hearing. “I look forward to studying that question, understanding the costs and benefits of doing so, being open and transparent with you and all members of this committee, sharing my thoughts and considerations and working cooperative with you toward a solution,” he said.

The incoming DHS Sec. says that he plans to work on “harnessing innovation and technology” for future border security as he believes a border wall may not be the most effective way to stop people from entering the country. President-elect Biden has stated that he would not construct “another foot” of border wall between the U.S. and Mexico when he assumes office. “There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration, No. 1,” Biden said in August. “I’m going to make sure that we have border protection, but it’s going to be based on making sure that we use high-tech capacity to deal with it. And at the ports of entry — that’s where all the bad stuff is happening,”

As we highlighted earlier, President Donald Trump on Tuesday extended his declared emergency at the southern border to be in effect until February 2022. The order set in motion funding for the now 453 miles in length southern border wall after congress had folded on devoting money to the project in 2019.

Read more …

Back to normal.

US Bombs Somalia After Troop Withdrawal (Antiwar)

After announcing that the troop withdrawal from Somalia was completed on Sunday, the US carried out multiple airstrikes in the African country on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) said it launched an airstrike on a compound belonging to al-Shabab and did not report any casualties. On Tuesday, AFRICOM said it carried out two airstrikes in the vicinities of Jamaame and Deb Scinnele, Somalia, that killed three al-Shabab “operatives” with no other reported casualties. AFRICOM usually claims no civilians are killed in its Somalia airstrikes, but whenever journalists or human rights groups make it to the scene of a US airstrike in the country, they tell a much different story.


The airstrikes were likely a message to al-Shabab that despite the troop withdrawal, the US can still carry out airstrikes in Somalia. About 700 US troops were pulled out of Somalia, with many of them being shuffled around East African to neighboring Djibouti and Kenya, where the US drones are based that bomb al-Shabab. President Trump started sending troops to Somalia in 2017 and significantly escalated the drone war by loosening the rules of engagement. In 2020 alone, Trump bombed Somalia more than George W Bush and Barack Obama combined.

Read more …

Unintended consequences of ultra-low rates?! Dutch 10-year bond yields are -0.4%, Chinese 3%.

Under these circumstances, how much newly minted stimulus money will disappear into China?

Pension Funds Plot Move On China’s $16 Trillion Sovereign Bond Market (R.)

China’s $16 trillion sovereign debt market is the proverbial elephant in the investment room. But it’s becoming too big to ignore, even for the most risk-averse Western investors. A large, A+ rated market that pays 3% yields, with minimal volatility? It’s looking increasingly alluring for European pension funds swimming in sub-zero bond yields as aging populations stretch their finances. For some, the benefits are beginning to outweigh the political risks, and they are upping allocations to China, or considering doing so, according to Reuters’ interviews with half a dozen firms that advise and manage money for pension funds.


“Not all our clients invest in China’s bond market, but they are all looking into it,” said Sandor Steverink, head of Treasuries at APG, which manages a third of the assets of the 1.5-trillion-euro ($1.8 trillion) Dutch pension industry. Dutch 10-year bond yields are languishing at around -0.4%, spelling losses for any investor who holds them to maturity, a picture reflected across Europe. Such fund interest is a boon for Beijing, which is seeking to internationalize its financial markets and lure big-ticket overseas investors as its once-mighty trade surpluses dwindle. Europe’s pension industry alone is worth $4 trillion. China’s sovereign debt market is the world’s second-largest after the United States. Yet while foreigners own a third of the U.S. Treasury market, they hold just 9.7% of China’s sovereign debt, according to government data.

Read more …

“But doesn’t the problem run deeper than that? Does it not lie with the social media firms’ business model, which seeks to monopolize users’ attention to the benefit of their clients who advertise on their platform?”

Taming The Social Media Monster (K.)

Western democracies must win back control of the boundaries of public debate from social media giants, Marietje Schaake suggests in an exclusive interview with Kathimerini. Schaake, a former member of the European Parliament, is now international policy director at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center and international policy fellow at Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. She spoke to Kathimerini about outgoing US President Donald Trump, the digital footprint of the European Union, and how public policy can tame the monster that social media has turned into. Trump’s social media ban, Schaake tells the newspaper, “made many people realize the actual power of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other platforms.” The companies’ decision raises “many questions,” she says.

“Why, for example, did they ban the American president but not other international leaders that post very controversial or harmful content?” However, Schaake says, “the real question is not whether this was a good or bad decision, but why we allow privatized governance of our democratic debate.” How can the public sphere reassert control over this debate? “We must first of all demand that these firms be much more transparent with the policies on which their decisions are based. These [policies] cannot be a response to pressure or to outcry coming from their own employees. These policies must hinge on international or European standards regarding the freedom of speech and its limitations; and there must be independent monitoring that will certify the degree to which these companies fulfill their commitments.

“I was struck by the fact that Twitter has since January 8 deactivated more than 70,000 accounts associated with the QAnon [far-right conspiracy] – and that this happened after QAnon had been banned.” According to Schaake, this shows how hard it is to monitor a platform’s content on a rolling basis, as offshoots of banned groups keep coming into being. “The governments of democratic states must have a strong say in this,” says Schaake. “They must clarify what the rule of law means in the digital world and make sure that there are mechanisms in place to enforce it,” she says. She says authorities must have access to algorithmic methodologies and decide on clear sanctions against firms that fail to comply. “Regulatory authorities must have the knowledge, the staff and the resources they need to deal with the armies of lawyers that the companies bring to the table,” she says.

But doesn’t the problem run deeper than that? Does it not lie with the social media firms’ business model, which seeks to monopolize users’ attention to the benefit of their clients who advertise on their platform? Schaake does not challenge the claim. However, she stresses that if the situation has spun out of control, it is “due to a long period of basic inaction on the part of democratic governments, particularly in the US.” Bringing the anarchic landscape under control, she says, presupposes immediate action on a series of fronts: anti-trust policy, protection of privacy, personal data, and so on.

Read more …

“..a temporary condition..”

Liberals Traumatized by Agreeing with Mitch McConnell (Borowitz)

Millions of liberals were traumatized on Tuesday when they found themselves in agreement with Mitch McConnell, liberals are reporting. From Santa Monica, California, to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, liberals sought emergency counselling, complaining of a range of symptoms after realizing that they were on the same side as the senator from Kentucky. Carol Foyler, a liberal from Austin, Texas, said that she experienced lightheadedness and nausea after liking a Facebook post that detailed McConnell’s remarks in the Senate. “The room started spinning,” she said. Dr. Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota Medical School said that liberals who are traumatized by agreeing with McConnell should “not be concerned” and should recognize that it is a temporary condition. “They’re not going to wake up tomorrow and start agreeing with Devin Nunes,” he said.

Read more …

 

 

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Jan 122021
 


Alfred Wertheimer Elvis 1956

 

New Covid “Super Strain” is a Game-Changer for Schools and More (Parramore)
WHO Warns Of ‘Highly Problematic’ New Covid-19 Variants (F.)
An Epidemic of COVID Positive Tests (John Hunt)
Lockdown ‘Ineffective’ Against Spread Of Covid-19, May Even Increase Risk (RT)
French Government “Shocked” at Twitter Banning of Trump (SN)
Twitter Has Suspended More Than 70,000 Accounts Since Friday (ZH)
The Big Tech Backfire (Miller)
We Need a New Media System (Taibbi)
Insurrection Versus Insurrection (Kunstler)
The Rise and Fall of the ‘Steele Dossier’ (Maté)
Assange Is Still In Prison. And America’s Principles Are Still At Stake. (NBC)
50 Countries Commit To Protection Of 30% of Earth’s Land and Oceans (G.)
Economic Failures of the IPCC Process (Steve Keen)
Dutch Officials Seize Ham Sandwiches From British Drivers (G.)
‘Let’s All Remain Peaceful,’ Says Trump In Clear Incitement To Violence (BBee)

 

 

The B.1.1.7 COVID variant is starting to look as scary as the social media giant censorship.

 

 

A call on the US to close its borders to the UK. At present, dozens of flights arrive from London every day.

“I’ve never seen an epi curve like this. The B.1.1.7 variant is spreading like wildfire in the UK and Ireland. If it spreads here, it will make an already-bad situation even worse.”

 

 

Lynn Parramore taks to Phillip Alvelda, a former NASA & DARPA technologist.

New Covid “Super Strain” is a Game-Changer for Schools and More (Parramore)

LP: New, fast-spreading “super strains” are raising a lot of concerns, such as more infection among young people. You’ve been studying the U.K. variant, which has shown up in the United States. What do we need to know?

PA: We saw the U.K. strain coming for some time. All of a sudden there began to be dramatic upticks in infection rates, even without material changes in individual behavior en masse or the abatement measures enacted and observed. England has not been the most Johnny-on-the-spot responder to the coronavirus, and there has been a lot of confusion about what abatement measures should be observed, in which areas, etc. Of the developed nations, the U.S. and the U.K. have struggled the most as societies to communicate, plan and observe reasonable measures that other countries have more successfully applied. The U.K. variant, which has now spread across Europe and into several U.S. states, has what appear to be a couple of important mutations in the spike protein, which allows the virus to attach to the receptors in the lungs. Apparently, the new variant is stickier – better at binding to the receptors. That means that it takes less of the virus to get you sick, or the same viral load gets you sicker.

A big change is that the U.K. variant appears be somewhere between 40 and 70% more infectious. For a person who has this variant, they’re likely to infect 40% to 70% more people. If you think about what we have done to reduce the effectiveness of transmission, getting people to wear masks has been a successful campaign. But some masks are better at protecting people than others. A well-fitted N95 and KN95 masks will filter 95% of the virus particles from coming into your lungs, but there are also terrible masks that don’t protect people much at all. If you average mask-wearing over the population, it seems that the mask mandates reduce the infectiousness of the virus by about 40 to 50%. To put the U.K. variant in perspective, with its faster spread, we are effectively put back to where we once were without masks — even when we’re now wearing masks!

LP: The idea of young people under 20 getting infected at high rates is alarming, though there have been conflicting reports as to why those numbers are higher, such as behavior patterns. What’s your take?

PA: There is no doubt that the U.K. strain is infecting more young people than any prior variants. I think the conflicting reports may have more to do with where that variant is prevalent and where it is not. It would not be true to say that all of the hospitals in the U.K. are being overrun by younger patients. But in those regions where the new variant is prevalent, the hospitalization and case data now show that more than ever before, young people are having almost as many cases and hospitalizations as the older people. That is a substantial change. With older variants, symptoms were usually not bad enough to even bring the kids in to test — and we know there were a lot of asymptomatic carriers that were never tested or acknowledged.

With the new variant, symptoms are bad enough that kids need the testing and they’re being hospitalized. It’s probably premature to speculate on the lethality. There is some hope, for example, that the U.K. variant could be more infectious but less lethal. But we just don’t know. It’s likely going to be weeks before the case trend that is now beginning to translate into the hospitalization trend will translate into the mortality trend. Unfortunately, given what we’ve seen in the past from the virus, it’s our expectation that if the case data is showing more young people infected, and the hospitalization data is showing more of them hospitalized, in a matter of weeks we will see more deaths.

Read more …

They’re talking again about “immunity” provided by vaccines. But have we seen any proof of that?

WHO Warns Of ‘Highly Problematic’ New Covid-19 Variants (F.)

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday issued a dire warning about the new variants of Covid-19 that are emerging across the globe, noting that because those variants can be more contagious, the surge in cases they’re likely to cause could further stress hospitals and health workers already stretched to the brink. During a press briefing Monday, Ghebreyesus said that more contagious variants of the coronavirus “can drive a surge of cases and hospitalizations, which is highly problematic for health workers and hospitals already close to the breaking point.” The added strain on hospitals puts other essential health services at risk, he added, meaning that critical surgeries or procedures may become more difficult because hospital resources are more limited.

While these variants have been found to be more contagious, experts say they don’t appear to cause more severe sickness or increase the risk of death. Dr. Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned last week that the U.S. is “close to a worst-case scenario” because of the rapid spread of a new, highly contagious strain of Covid-19. New variants of Covid-19 have been found in the United Kingdom, the United States (where 63 cases have been detected), Canada, South Africa, and Nigeria, among other countries, the CDC says. Japan’s health authorities announced over the weekend that they had detected a new variant of the virus in four travelers from Brazil, Reuters reported.

Scientists are keeping track of new mutations as they emerge and studying how they will impact the effectiveness of vaccines. “I’m quite optimistic that even with these mutations, immunity is not going to suddenly fail on us,” Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, told the healthcare publication STAT. “It might be gradually eroded, but it’s not going to fail on us, at least in the short term.” A recent study from the University of Texas and pharma giant Pfizer found that Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine is still effective in protecting against new variants of the virus.

Read more …

Excellent analysis: “The more it is used wrongly, the more misinformation ensues.”

An Epidemic of COVID Positive Tests (John Hunt)

How does this same 95% sensitive/95% specific test work in this screening setting? The good news is that this test will likely identify the 5 people out of every 1000 with Relevant Infectious COVID! Yay! The bad news is that, out of every 1000 people, it will also falsely label 50 people as COVID-positive who don’t have Relevant Infectious COVID. Out of 55 people with positive tests in each group of 1000 people, 5 actually have the disease. 50 of the tests are false positives. With a Positive Predictive Value of only 9%, one could say that’s a pretty lousy test. It’s far lousier if you test only people with no symptoms (such as screening a school, jobsite, or college), in whom the up-front likelihood of having Relevant Infectious COVID Disease is substantially lower.

The very same test that is pretty good when testing people who are actually ill or at risk is lousy when screening people who aren’t. In the first scenario (with symptoms), the test is being used correctly for diagnosis. In the second scenario (no symptoms), the test is being used wrongly for screening. A diagnostic test is used to diagnose a patient the doctor thinks has a reasonable chance of having the disease (having symptoms like fever, cough, a snotty nose, and shortness of breath during a viral season). A screening test is used to check for the presence of a disease in a person without symptoms and no heightened risk of having the disease.

A screening test may be appropriate to use when it has very high specificity (99% or more), when the prevalence of the disease in the population is pretty high, and when there is something we can do about the disease if we identify it. However, if the prevalence of a disease is low (as is the case for Relevant Infectious COVID) and the test isn’t adequately specific (as is the case with PCR and rapid antigen tests for the COVID virus), then using such a test as a screening measure in healthy people is forcing the test to be lousy. The more it is used wrongly, the more misinformation ensues. Our health authorities are recommending more testing of asymptomatic people. In other words, they are encouraging the wrong and lousy application of these tests.

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“The proportion of COVID-19 deaths that occurred in nursing homes was often higher” under tough restrictions “rather than under less restrictive measures.”

Lockdown ‘Ineffective’ Against Spread Of Covid-19, May Even Increase Risk (RT)

A Stanford University study claims mandatory stay-at-home orders and business closures have “no clear, significant beneficial effect” on Covid-19 case growth and may even lead to more frequent infections in nursing homes. Researchers at Stanford University in California aimed to assess how tough lockdowns influence the growth in infections as compared to less restrictive measures. They used data from England, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, and the US, collected during the initial stages of the pandemic in the spring 2020. They compared the data from Sweden and South Korea, two countries that did not introduce tough lockdowns at that time, with that from the other eight countries.

They found that introducing any restrictive non-pharmaceutical interventions’ (NPIs) such as reduced working hours, working from home and social distancing helped curb the rise of infections in nine out of 10 study countries, except for Spain, where the effect was “non-significant.” However, when they compared epidemic spreads in places that implemented less restrictive measures with those opting for a full-blown lockdown they found “no clear, significant beneficial effect” of the latter on the number of cases in any country. The research goes on to suggest that empirical data from the later wave of infections shows that restrictive measures fail to protect vulnerable populations. “The proportion of COVID-19 deaths that occurred in nursing homes was often higher” under tough restrictions “rather than under less restrictive measures.”

It also says that there’s evidence suggesting that “sometimes under more restrictive measures, infections may be more frequent in settings where vulnerable populations reside relative to the general population.” The research admits that lockdowns in early 2020 were justified because the disease was spreading rapidly and overwhelming health systems, and scientists or medics did not know what the mortality data of the virus was. However, it points at the potential harmful health effects of tough restrictions, such as hunger, health services becoming unavailable for non-Covid diseases, domestic abuse and mental health issues, and the effects of these on the economy mean that the benefits of the tough restrictions might be overrated and need to be studied carefully.

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“..social media giants shouldn’t have the power to decide who has the right to free speech…”

French Government “Shocked” at Twitter Banning of Trump (SN)

The French government has echoed Angela Merkel’s sentiment in saying it is “shocked” at Twitter’s banning of President Trump, asserting that Big Tech is a threat to democracy. Junior Minister for European Union Affairs Clement Beaune said the decision to silence Trump proved the need for Big Tech platforms to be tightly regulated. “This should be decided by citizens, not by a CEO,” he told Bloomberg TV on Monday. “There needs to be public regulation of big online platforms.” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire also said that “the digital oligarchy” was “one of the threats” to democracy and should be reigned in by the state. As we highlighted earlier, the German government also warned that Big Tech’s deplatforming of Trump set a very dangerous precedent.

Communicating via a spokesman, Chancellor Angela Merkel called the move “problematic,” adding that social media giants shouldn’t have the power to decide who has the right to free speech.

“This fundamental right can be intervened in, but according to the law and within the framework defined by legislators — not according to a decision by the management of social media platforms,” said the statement. While Republicans were completely toothless in their efforts to control Big Tech during Trump’s administration, Poland could be set to pass a law that would fine social media companies $2.2 million a pop for censoring lawful free speech. “In the event of removal or blockage, a complaint can be sent to the platform, which will have 24 hours to consider it. Within 48 hours of the decision, the user will be able to file a petition to the court for the return of access. The court will consider complaints within seven days of receipt and the entire process is to be electronic,” reported Poland In.

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Anyone setting up a better alternative will be crushed.

Twitter Has Suspended More Than 70,000 Accounts Since Friday (ZH)

In a Monday night blog post, Twitter lays out all the latest details of a historic purge that started with the suspension of president Trump and has escalated into the ban of tens of thousands of conservative voices, or as Twitter puts it, “steps taken to protect the conversation on our service from attempts to incite violence, organize attacks, and share deliberately misleading information about the election outcome.” Odd how none of those considerations emerged during the summer when US cities were literally burning as a result of countless violent protests and frequent riots, but we digress. In any case, In twitter’s own delightfully ironic words, “It’s important to be transparent about all of this work as the US Presidential Inauguration on January 20, 2021, approaches.” Which is a probably a good idea in the aftermath of the biggest censorship purge in twitter history, one which sent Twitter stock tumbling. So this is what how twitter justifies “the purge”:


We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm. Given the violent events in Washington, DC, and increased risk of harm, we began permanently suspending thousands of accounts that were primarily dedicated to sharing QAnon content on Friday afternoon. And with tens of thousands of accounts suspended (most of them permanently), banned, or merely disappeared, it will hardly be a surprise that according to Tiwtter, “more than 70,000 accounts have been suspended”. What is the justification? “These accounts were engaged in sharing harmful QAnon-associated content at scale and were primarily dedicated to the propagation of this conspiracy theory across the service.”

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“Sunlight has always been the best disinfectant as a way of fighting radicalization.”

The Big Tech Backfire (Miller)

Some are excusing Big Tech’s foray into massive censorship by arguing that these are private companies and can choose who they provide service to. Anyone who has a problem with their behavior, they reason, should just create their own platforms. But that is exactly what Parler did, and it was subsequently crushed. Unfortunately, because Big Tech companies have grown so large and monopolistic, the only real way to have a viable competitor is to create an entirely new internet. Amazon’s hypocritical justification for banning Parler shows that these companies will do basically anything in order to destroy the competition. Amazon claimed that Parler is responsible for the content that it allowed users to publish, which is the exact same argument made by people who wish to remove Section 230 protections for social media companies.

Amazon thus introduced a moral and legal standard for a potential competitor that it would resist tooth and nail if applied to itself. The company notably used Section 230 as a defense in a recent court case to try to avoid liability for selling defective products. It’s worth noting that many conservatives do not believe that social-media companies should do away with all content moderation. The problem is that platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and now Amazon, do not enforce their policies equally. After suspending Trump, Twitter was still hosting virulent anti-Semites, Chinese Communist party propaganda, vaccine conspiracists and antifa glorification accounts like the New York Times. If these companies only enforce policies against accounts with certain political leanings, it will radicalize a base of the population even more.

The people who are targeted online by Twitter and Facebook’s increasingly wide nets will simply find deeper and darker holes to communicate. Sunlight has always been the best disinfectant as a way of fighting radicalization. Deleting the account of someone with a radical opinion does not stop that person from holding that opinion; in fact, it may cause them to dig in even deeper in retaliation. Meanwhile, people who are unfairly targeted by social media platforms may start to sympathize with the radicals.

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“Drifting apart into two separate tribes, with a separate set of facts and separate realities, with nothing in common except our hostility towards each other and mistrust for the few national institutions that we all still share.”

We Need a New Media System (Taibbi)

The moment a group of people stormed the Capitol building last Wednesday, news companies began the process of sorting and commoditizing information that long ago became standard in American media. Media firms work backward. They first ask, “How does our target demographic want to understand what’s just unfolded?” Then they pick both the words and the facts they want to emphasize. It’s why Fox News uses the term, “Pro-Trump protesters,” while New York and The Atlantic use “Insurrectionists.” It’s why conservative media today is stressing how Apple, Google, and Amazon shut down the “Free Speech” platform Parler over the weekend, while mainstream outlets are emphasizing a new round of potentially armed protests reportedly planned for January 19th or 20th.

What happened last Wednesday was the apotheosis of the Hate Inc. era, when this audience-first model became the primary means of communicating facts to the population. For a hundred reasons dating back to the mid-eighties, from the advent of the Internet to the development of the 24-hour news cycle to the end of the Fairness Doctrine and the Fox-led discovery that news can be sold as character-driven, episodic TV in the manner of soap operas, the concept of a “Just the facts” newscast designed to be consumed by everyone died out. News companies now clean world events like whalers, using every part of the animal, funneling different facts to different consumers based upon calculations about what will bring back the biggest engagement kick.

The Migrant Caravan? Fox slices off comments from a Homeland Security official describing most of the border-crossers as single adults coming for “economic reasons.” The New York Times counters by running a story about how the caravan was deployed as a political issue by a Trump White House staring at poor results in midterm elections. Repeat this info-sifting process a few billion times and this is how we became, as none other than Mitch McConnell put it last week, a country: “Drifting apart into two separate tribes, with a separate set of facts and separate realities, with nothing in common except our hostility towards each other and mistrust for the few national institutions that we all still share.”

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Jim holds on to the last straws.

Insurrection Versus Insurrection (Kunstler)

Mr. Trump is still president, and you’ve probably noticed he has been president for four years to date, which ought to suggest that he holds a great deal of accumulated information about the seditionists who have been playing games with him through all those years. So, two questions might be: how much of that information describes criminal acts by his adversaries — most recently, a deeply suspicious national election based on hackable vote-tabulation computers — and what’s within the president’s power to do something about it? I guess we’ll find out. Or, to state it a little differently, it is impossible that the president does not have barge-loads of information about the people who strove mightily to take him down for four years.

At least two pillars of the Intel Community — the CIA and the FBI — have been actively and visibly working to undermine and gaslight him, but you can be sure that the president knows where the gas has been coming from, and these agencies are not the only sources of dark information in this world. Also consider that not all the employees at these agencies are on the side of sedition. By its work this weekend, starring Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Zuck (Facebook), Tim Cook (Apple), and Jeff Bezos (Amazon and The WashPo), you know exactly what you would be getting with The Resistance taking power in the White House and Congress: unvarnished tyranny. No free speech for you!

They will not permit opposing voices to be heard, especially about the janky election that elevated America’s booby-prize, Joe Biden, to the highest office in the land. Now there’s a charismatic, charming, dynamic, in-charge guy! He’s already doing such a swell job “healing America.” For instance, his declaration Tuesday to give $30-billion to businesses run by “black, brown, and Native American entrepreneurs” (WashPo). Uh, white folks need not apply? Since when are federal disbursements explicitly race-based? What and who, exactly, comprise the committee set up to operate Joe Biden, the hypothetical, holographic President?

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If anything calls for a Special Counsel, it’s Russiagate. But with the Dems back in power, the chances are zero.

The Rise and Fall of the ‘Steele Dossier’ (Maté)

On January 10, 2017, BuzzFeed News published the “Steele dossier,” the collection of DNC-funded reports alleging a high-level conspiracy between Trump and Moscow. The catalyst had come four days earlier, when then–FBI Director Jim Comey personally briefed Trump on the dossier’s existence. Their meeting was then promptly leaked to the media, giving BuzzFeed the news hook to publish the Steele material in full. Despite its outlandish assertions and partisan provenance, Steele’s work product somehow became a road map for Democratic leaders, media outlets, and, most egregiously, intelligence officials carrying out the Russia investigation.

According to Steele, Trump and the Kremlin engaged in a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation.” Russia had, Steele alleged, been “cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years,” dating back to the time when Trump was merely the host of The Apprentice. Russia, Steele claimed, handed Trump “a regular flow of intelligence,” including on “political rivals.” The conspiracy supposedly escalated during the 2016 campaign, when then–Trump lawyer Michael Cohen slipped into Prague for “secret discussions with Kremlin representatives and associated operators/hackers.”

This purported plot was not just based on mutual nefarious interests but, worse, outright coercion. To keep their asset in line, Steele alleged, the Russians had videotaped Trump hiring and watching prostitutes “perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show,” in a Moscow Ritz-Carlton hotel room. This “kompromat” meant that the leader of the free world was not only a traitor but also a blackmail victim of his Kremlin handlers. If the Steele dossier’s far-fetched claims were not enough reason to dismiss it with ridicule, another obvious marker should have set off alarms. Reading the Steele dossier chronologically, a glaring pattern emerges: Steele has no advance knowledge of anything that later proved to be true, and, just as tellingly, many of his most explosive claims appear only after some approximate prediction has come out in public form.

Despite his supposed high-level sources inside the Kremlin, it was only after Wikileaks published the DNC e-mails in July 2016 that Steele first mentioned them. When Steele made the headline-consuming claim that “the TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue” in exchange for Russian help, he did so only after a meaningless Ukraine-related platform change at the RNC was reported (and mischaracterized) in The Washington Post. When Steele claimed that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was offered up to a 19 percent stake in the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft if he could get Trump to lift Western sanctions, it was only after the media had reported Page’s visit to Moscow.

In short, far from having access to high-level intelligence, Steele and his “sources” only had access to news outlets and their own imaginations.

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Support that comes way too late.

Assange Is Still In Prison. And America’s Principles Are Still At Stake. (NBC)

The Justice Department’s case against Assange raised serious press freedom concerns from the outset. This is partly because so much of the indictment is devoted to describing activity that journalists engage in routinely — like cultivating government sources, communicating with them confidentially, protecting their identities and publishing classified secrets. In defending the indictment, Justice Department spokespeople have insisted that the case does not implicate press freedom because Assange himself is not a journalist and because WikiLeaks, which Assange founded, is not a media organization. But this defense misses the point. The point is that Assange is being prosecuted for activities that national security journalists engage in every day — and that they need to engage in if they are to serve as a meaningful check on government power.

Of particular concern are three counts in the indictment that charge Assange with having violated the Espionage Act merely by publishing classified information. As the Justice Department knows, publishing government secrets is an important part of what American news organizations do. The Washington Post disclosed classified information when it revealed the CIA’s network of black sites. The New York Times disclosed classified information when it exposed the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. The truth is that there is no way that American news organizations could report responsibly about war, foreign relations or national security without sometimes disclosing classified information. Max Frankel of The New York Times famously made this point in an affidavit filed 50 years ago in the Pentagon Papers case, and the point is even more true today.

The ruling issued in London on Monday by Judge Vanessa Baraitser will forestall the Justice Department, at least for now, from pursuing Assange’s prosecution in U.S. courts. This is a significant thing. While the indictment certainly has a chilling effect on national security journalism, a successful prosecution of Assange under the Espionage Act would be even more oppressive — indeed, it would likely compel U.S. news organizations to radically curtail some of the most important work they do. The problem with Baraitser’s ruling, from the perspective of press freedom, is that it rejected the extradition request only because of concerns relating to Assange’s mental health and the conditions in which he would be imprisoned were he handed over to the United States. This aspect of Baraitser’s ruling appears to be well supported by the evidence, but, significantly, its protection does not extend beyond Assange.

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Really? The UK goverment will protect the planet? And Prince Charles makes a cameo? Fool me once, shame on you.

50 Countries Commit To Protection Of 30% of Earth’s Land and Oceans (G.)

A coalition of 50 countries has committed to protect almost a third of the planet by 2030 to halt the destruction of the natural world and slow extinctions of wildlife. The High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People, which includes the UK and countries from six continents, made the pledge to protect at least 30% of the planet’s land and oceans before the One Planet summit in Paris on Monday, hosted by the French president, Emmanuel Macron.
Scientists have said human activities are driving the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, and agricultural production, mining and pollution are threatening the healthy functioning of life-sustaining ecosystems crucial to human civilisation.

In the announcement, the HAC said protecting at least 30% of the planet for nature by the end of the decade was crucial to preventing mass extinctions of plants and animals, and ensuring the natural production of clean air and water. The commitment is likely to be the headline target of the “Paris agreement for nature” that will be negotiated at Cop15 in Kunming, China later this year. The HAC said it hoped early commitments from countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Pakistan and Canada would ensure it formed the basis of the UN agreement. The UK environment minister Zac Goldsmith said: “We know there is no pathway to tackling climate change that does not involve a massive increase in our efforts to protect and restore nature.

“So as co-host of the next Climate Cop, the UK is absolutely committed to leading the global fight against biodiversity loss and we are proud to act as co-chair of the High Ambition Coalition. “We have an enormous opportunity at this year’s biodiversity conference in China to forge an agreement to protect at least 30% of the world’s land and ocean by 2030. I am hopeful our joint ambition will curb the global decline of the natural environment, so vital to the survival of our planet.”

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A feature not a bug?!

Economic Failures of the IPCC Process (Steve Keen)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the premier international body collating the scientific assessment of climate change, and proposals for mitigation. A joint creation of the United Nations agencies the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), it brings together scientists from myriad disciplines to assess and summarize the current research on climate change, collating knowledge that is then used to inform governments and politicians. The scientists work on a volunteer basis. The IPCC relies upon its member governments and “Observers Organizations” to nominate its volunteer authors. This means that, subject to their willingness to volunteer, the most prestigious individuals specialising in climate change in each discipline become the authors of the relevant IPCC chapter for their discipline.


They then undertake a review of the peer-reviewed literature in their field (and some non-peer-reviewed work, such as government reports) to distil the current state of knowledge about climate change in their discipline. A laborious review process is also followed, so the draft reports of the volunteer experts is reviewed by other experts in each field, to ensure conformity of the report with the discipline’s current perception of climate change. The emphasis upon producing reports which reflect the consensus within a discipline has resulted in numerous charges that the IPCC’s warnings are inherently too conservative. But the main weaknesses with the IPCC’s methodology are firstly that, in economics, it exclusively selects Neoclassical economists, and secondly, because there is no built-in review of one discipline’s findings by another, the conclusions of these Neoclassical economists about the dangers of climate change are reviewed only by other Neoclassical economists. The economic sections of IPCC reports are therefore unchallenged by other disciplines who also contribute to the IPCC’s reports.

Given the extent to which economists dominate the formation of most government policies in almost all fields, and not just strictly economic policy, the otherwise acceptable process by which the IPCC collates human knowledge on climate change has critically weakened, rather than strengthened, human society’s response to climate change. This is because, commencing with “Nobel Laureate” William Nordhaus, the economists who specialise on climate change have falsely trivialized the dangers that climate change poses to human civilization. In his 2018 Nobel Prize lecture, William Nordhaus described a trajectory that would lead to global temperatures peaking at 4°C above pre-industrial levels in 2145 as “optimal” because, according to his calculations, the damages from climate change over time, plus the abatement costs over time, are minimised on this trajectory.


He estimated the discounted cost of the economic damages from unabated climate change — which would see temperatures approach 6°C above pre-industrial levels by 2150 — at $24 trillion, whereas the 4°C trajectory had damages of about $15 trillion and abatement costs of about $3 trillion. Trajectories with lower peak temperatures had higher abatement costs that overwhelmed the benefits. In a subsequent paper, Nordhaus claimed that even a 6°C increase would only reduce global income by only 7.9%, compared to what it would be in the complete absence of global warming.

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“Welcome to Brexit, sir, I’m sorry.”

Dutch Officials Seize Ham Sandwiches From British Drivers (G.)

Dutch TV news has aired footage of customs officers confiscating ham sandwiches from drivers arriving by ferry from the UK under post-Brexit rules banning personal imports of meat and dairy products into the EU. Officials wearing high-visibility jackets are shown explaining to startled car and lorry drivers at the Hook of Holland ferry terminal that since Brexit, “you are no longer allowed to bring certain foods to Europe, like meat, fruit, vegetables, fish, that kind of stuff.” To a bemused driver with several sandwiches wrapped in tin foil who asked if he could maybe surrender the meat and keep just the bread, one customs officer replied: “No, everything will be confiscated. Welcome to Brexit, sir, I’m sorry.”

The ban came into force on New Year’s Day as the Brexit transition period came to an end, with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) saying travellers should “use, consume, or dispose of” prohibited items at or before the border. “From 1 January 2021 you will not be able to bring POAO (products of an animal origin) such as those containing meat or dairy (eg a ham and cheese sandwich) into the EU,” the Defra guidance for commercial drivers states. The European commission says the ban is necessary because meat and dairy products can contain pathogens causing animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth or swine fever and “continue to present a real threat to animal health throughout the union”.

Dutch customs also posted a photograph of foodstuffs ranging from breakfast cereals to oranges that officials had confiscated in the ferry terminal, adding: “Since 1 January, you can’t just bring more food from the UK.” The customs service added: “So prepare yourself if you travel to the Netherlands from the UK and spread the word. This is how we prevent food waste and together ensure that the controls are speeded up.”

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“Let’s all remain peaceful,” he said, which clearly meant, “Go burn down the Capitol Building.”

‘Let’s All Remain Peaceful,’ Says Trump In Clear Incitement To Violence (BBee)

A review of Trump’s statements last week made it clear that he was inciting violence, as he very clearly told people to “remain peaceful” and not carry out any violence. The dangerous cult leader encouraged his followers to protest at the Capitol, but to remain peaceful, which is an obvious instance of inciting violence, according to leading language experts and journalists. “Let’s all remain peaceful,” he said, which clearly meant, “Go burn down the Capitol Building.” “No violence!” added the deranged lunatic, which, according to the New York Times, was a dog whistle for “Minions, attack!” “Go home,” he added, which meant, “Keep pressing the attack! We will not be defeated! Blow stuff up!” At publishing time, Trump had said, “I’ve always encouraged peaceful protesting,” which meant he wanted his followers to go ransack an Arby’s.

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 January 1, 2021  Posted by at 10:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  21 Responses »


Claude Monet Boulevard des Capucines 1873

 

Pfizer Vaccine First To Receive Emergency Use Authorization From WHO (RT)
New Coronavirus Variant May Have Been In US Since October (G.)
The Mutated Virus Is a Ticking Time Bomb (Atl.)
World Faces COVID19 “Vaccine Apartheid” (IC)
Over 100 Republicans Will Challenge Electoral College Results (SAC)
Pence Asks Judge To End GOP Suit To Expand His Powers (JTN)
‘Keep The Light On,’ Scottish PM Sturgeon Tells EU (RT)
A Festive Message for 2021 (Varoufakis)
The Kafkaesque Imprisonment of Julian Assange (Greenwald)

 

 

 

 

But what does it do? It doesn’t protect you from infection, and it doesn’t protect others around you from your infection.

Pfizer Vaccine First To Receive Emergency Use Authorization From WHO (RT)

The first vaccine against the novel coronavirus approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization is Comirnaty COVID-19 mRNA one produced by Pfizer/BioNTech, the WHO has announced. The world health body announced the emergency approval on Thursday, as 2020 came to a close. Its Emergency Use Listing (EUL) will enable countries to expedite their own regulatory approval of the vaccine, and allow UNICEF and the Pan-American Health Organization to buy it for distribution, the WHO said. “This is a very positive step towards ensuring global access to [Covid]-19 vaccines,” Dr Mariângela Simão, WHO’s assistant-Director General for access to medicines and health products, said in a statement. She added that “an even greater global effort” is needed to come up with enough of a supply to meet the needs of “priority populations everywhere,” however. The WHO is “working night and day to evaluate other vaccines that have reached safety and efficacy standards,” said Simão, urging other developers to “come forward for review and assessment.”

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There are multiple variants.

New Coronavirus Variant May Have Been In US Since October (G.)

A coronavirus variant carrying some of the same mutations as the highly contagious British variant may have been in the US since October and already be widespread, a re-analysis of more than 2m tests suggests. Genome sequencing to confirm whether the variant observed in Americans is the same as the so-called B117 variant currently circulating in the UK is under way. Results are expected within days but the revelations have prompted fresh questions about where the altered virus originated, including a small possibility that it began in the US, not the UK, or elsewhere altogether. The variant has also been found in at least 17 countries, including South Korea, Spain, Australia and Canada.

“It wouldn’t be at all surprising if at least some of the cases were B117,” said Eric Topol, head of Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California, who was not involved in the research, but whose team confirmed a Californian case of the B117 variant on Wednesday. “It has probably been here for a while at low levels – but you don’t see it until you look for it.” The existence of a new and highly transmissible Sars CoV-2 variant was announced by the UK’s health secretary on 14 December, after Covid-testing laboratories reported that a growing number of their positive samples were missing a signal from one of the three genes their PCR tests use to confirm the presence of the virus.

Further sequencing revealed that such “S gene dropout” was the result of mutations in the gene encoding the spike protein which the virus uses to gain entry to human cells. The variant is thought to have been circulating in the UK since September. News of the new variant has led to multiple countries restricting travel from the UK – or in the case of the US, requiring travelers to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test to be allowed into the country. However, it has been detected this week in Colorado and California, and the suspicion is it may already be widespread. To investigate, scientists at the California-based DNA testing company Helix examined the prevalence of S gene dropout among 2 million of the Covid tests the company has processed in recent months.

They observed an increase in S gene dropout among positive samples since early October, when 0.25% of positive tests exhibited this pattern. This has since grown, hitting 0.5% on average last week – although in Massachusetts, which has the highest number of such samples, it currently stands at 1.85%, although no cases of the B117 variant have been announced in that state yet. Further analysis revealed mutations in some of the same regions of the S gene which are also present in the B117 variant – although full sequencing of the viral genome is needed to confirm whether this is indeed the same variant, or something else.

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A lot of assumptions.

The Mutated Virus Is a Ticking Time Bomb (Atl.)

A new variant of the coronavirus is spreading across the globe. It was first identified in the United Kingdom, where it is rapidly spreading, and has been found in multiple countries. Viruses mutate all the time, often with no impact, but this one appears to be more transmissible than other variants—meaning it spreads more easily. Barely one day after officials announced that America’s first case of the variant had been found in the United States, in a Colorado man with no history of travel, an additional case was found in California. There are still many unknowns, but much concern has focused on whether this new variant would throw off vaccine efficacy or cause more severe disease—with some degree of relief after an initial study indicated that it did not do either.

And while we need more data to feel truly reassured, many scientists believe that this variant will not decrease vaccine efficacy much, if at all. Health officials have started emphasizing the lack of evidence for more severe disease. All good and no cause for alarm, right? Wrong. A more transmissible variant of COVID-19 is a potential catastrophe in and of itself. If anything, given the stage in the pandemic we are at, a more transmissible variant is in some ways much more dangerous than a more severe variant. That’s because higher transmissibility subjects us to a more contagious virus spreading with exponential growth, whereas the risk from increased severity would have increased in a linear manner, affecting only those infected.

Increased transmissibility can wreak havoc in a very, very short time—especially when we already have uncontrolled spread in much of the United States. The short-term implications of all this are significant, and worthy of attention, even as we await more clarity from data. In fact, we should act quickly especially as we await more clarity—lack of data and the threat of even faster exponential growth argue for more urgency of action. If and when more reassuring data come in, relaxing restrictions will be easier than undoing the damage done by not having reacted in time.

To understand the difference between exponential and linear risks, consider an example put forth by Adam Kucharski, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who focuses on mathematical analyses of infectious-disease outbreaks. Kucharski compares a 50 percent increase in virus lethality to a 50 percent increase in virus transmissibility. Take a virus reproduction rate of about 1.1 and an infection fatality risk of 0.8 percent and imagine 10,000 active infections—a plausible scenario for many European cities, as Kucharski notes. As things stand, with those numbers, we’d expect 129 deaths in a month. If the fatality rate increased by 50 percent, that would lead to 193 deaths. In contrast, a 50 percent increase in transmissibility would lead to a whopping 978 deaths in just one month—assuming, in both scenarios, a six-day infection-generation time.

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Billions in profits.

World Faces COVID19 “Vaccine Apartheid” (IC)

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla recently heaped praise on “the almost 44,000 people who selflessly raised their hands to participate in our trial.” “Each of you has helped to bring the world one step closer to our shared goal of a potential vaccine to fight this devastating pandemic,” Bourla wrote in an open letter to volunteers who took part in Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine research, which was conducted in Argentina, South Africa, Brazil, Germany, and Turkey as well as the U.S. His letter was published on November 9, the same day Pfizer announced that the vaccine was more than 90 percent effective at preventing the disease, and Bourla laid this considerable accomplishment at the feet of the medical volunteers: “You are the true heroes, and the whole world owes you a tremendous debt of gratitude.”

But Argentina, South Africa, Brazil, and Turkey will have to be satisfied with Pfizer’s gratitude, because (like most countries in the world) they won’t be receiving enough of the vaccine to inoculate their populations, at least not anytime soon. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Germany — along with Canada and the rest of the European Union — have contracted for enough doses of various Covid-19 vaccines to inoculate their populations several times over. While the U.S. is struggling with the logistics of its vaccine rollout — fewer than 3 million people have received the first dose so far — adequate supplies should eventually be available. The U.S. pre-purchased 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine for $1.95 billion in the summer (and reportedly passed on the opportunity to secure another 100 million doses).

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a deal to buy another 100 million doses of the vaccine by July 2021, and the government has the option to purchase an additional 400 million doses. The U.S. has also purchased 200 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, which is also extremely effective against Covid-19. Those doses are due by the second quarter of 2021, and the government may buy up to 300 million more doses. And the U.S. has contracts for additional vaccine doses from Ology, Sanofi, Novavax, and Johnson & Johnson, whose candidates are in earlier stages of development.

Pharmaceutical companies and individual executives are already profiting handsomely from their medical breakthroughs. On the same day that he sent his open letter, Bourla, whose net worth is estimated at more than $26 million, sold more than $5 million worth of his shares of Pfizer stock. Pfizer has already made an estimated $975 million from the vaccine this year and is expected to earn another $19 billion in revenue from the vaccine in 2021, according to Morgan Stanley. Pfizer’s profit margin on the vaccine is estimated at between 60 and 80 percent. Moderna is projected to make more than $10 billion from its vaccine next year.

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Of course they will.

Over 100 Republicans Will Challenge Electoral College Results (SAC)

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said Wednesday he believes more than 100 members of the GOP could challenge the Electoral College results when Congress certifies the electoral votes on Jan. 6. During an interview with Charlie Sykes on “The Bulwark Podcast,” Kinzinger said he thinks “upwards of 100” GOP lawmakers could challenge the Nov. 3 election results. “I hope I’m wrong,” Kinzinger said. “I’m guessing it could be upwards of 100.” He added, “I’m just over the undermining of democracy and the frankly massive damage that’s being done with this.” Joe Biden is expected to be certified as the 2020 presidential winner, but President Donald Trump has not conceded and is encouraging members of the GOP to challenge the results.


There has been an increasing number of GOP lawmakers who have said they will support Trump’s effort in overturning the election results, including most recently Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (R-N.J.)
“Somebody has to stand up here,” Hawley said in an interview with Fox News Wednesday. “You’ve got 74 million Americans who feel disenfranchised, who feel like their vote doesn’t matter, and this is the one opportunity that I have as a United States senator, this process right here, my one opportunity to stand up and say something and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

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“An 1887 federal law known as the Electoral Count Act has the vice president presiding over the congressional meeting. However the suit led by Gohmert tries to invalidate the law as an unconstitutional constraint on the vice president’s authority..”

Pence Asks Judge To End GOP Suit To Expand His Powers (JTN)

Vice President Mike Pence asked a federal judge Thursday to reject an attempt by Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert and other congressional Republicans to expand Pence’s official powers to allow him to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s Electoral College win. The lawsuit was filed earlier this week and attempts to expand Pence’s role in Congress’ meeting Wednesday to count states’ electoral votes and certify Biden’s victory over Trump, according to The Hill newspaper. Pence argued in a filing Thursday to U.S. District Judge Jeremy Kernodle that he was not the correct defendant to the suit.


“A suit to establish that the Vice President has discretion over the count, filed against the Vice President, is a walking legal contradiction,” a Justice Department attorney wrote in the filing, The Hill also reported. An 1887 federal law known as the Electoral Count Act has the vice president presiding over the congressional meeting. However the suit led by Gohmert tries to invalidate the law as an unconstitutional constraint on the vice president’s authority to choose among competing claims of victory when state-level election results are disputed. Republicans in several key battleground states have disputed Biden’s win and offered alternate “slates” of pro-Trump electors to be counted, also according to The Hill.

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WIll the UK fall apart next?

‘Keep The Light On,’ Scottish PM Sturgeon Tells EU (RT)

Within minutes of Brexit taking effect, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted a message to Brussels that Scotland would be rejoining the EU “soon,” responding to recent demand for another independence referendum. “Scotland will be back soon, Europe. Keep the light on,” Sturgeon said as the clock struck midnight in Brussels and the UK’s exit from the European Union became official on Friday. The United Kingdom’s divorce from the continental bloc after 45 years of membership was the result of a protracted process following the 2016 referendum, which the Tory government expected would fail. Instead, a narrow majority in England and Wales backed Brexit, while Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain – by 62 percent to 38 percent.

Sturgeon came to lead the Scottish National Party (SNP) after the failure of the first Scottish independence referendum, in 2014. Only 45 percent of Scots voted to leave the UK, with 55 percent choosing to remain, in part due to warnings from Brussels that an independent Scotland would not automatically become an EU member and would have to negotiate entry from scratch. That ratio has now been reversed, according to recent polls. Research by Ipsos MORI in October indicated that support for Scottish independence was at 58 percent – an all-time high. Other polls show support for secession at anywhere between 51 and 59 percent.

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“Because things are the way they are, things will not remain the way they are.”

A Festive Message for 2021 (Varoufakis)

I am Yanis Varoufakis with a message for the New Year from DiEM25. 2020 leaves behind much debris – pain, fear, broken lives, smashed dreams. But, we also owe a debt of gratitude to 2020: It has helped expose seven fundamental secrets. We used to think of governments as powerless. But since Covid-19 struck we know better: Governments have stupendous powers that they hitherto chose not to use, deferring to the exorbitant power of Big Business. Yes, the money-trey does exist after all. Except, of course, that is only harvested by the powerful on behalf of the oligarchy: Money created by the rich for the rich. Solvency is a political decision because power-politics, not markets, decide who is bankrupt and who is not.

Wealth has nothing to do with hard work or entrepreneurship. America’s billionaires made 931 billion dollars from the pandemic. They got richer in their sleep. Yes, 2020 was a vintage year for capitalists, but capitalism died! Liberated from any remaining competition, colossal platform companies like Amazon own everything. So, yes, during 2020, Capitalism morphed into an insidious Technofeudalism. Our Europe, its civilisation and power notwithstanding, continued to sell its soul in 2020. One word suffices: Moria, the refuges prison camp in Lesbos – a mirror reflecting Europe’s cruelty and lost soul.


Yes, it has been a difficult year. We lost too many people to the pandemic. We saw exploitation flourish, driving so many into the embrace of destitution. Civil liberties took a major hit. But, despite it all, 2020 let us in on a brilliant, hope-inspiring seventh secret: Everything could be different. If this pandemic proved anything, it is that Bertolt Brecht was right when he once said: Because things are the way they are, things will not remain the way they are. I can think of no greater source of hope than this. We must thank 2020 for it. Now, it is up to us to make 2021 a year of radical change in the interests of the many. Everywhere! Happy New Year and Carpe DiEM25!

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Assange may be in prison for many more years. Monday’s a big day. But after that, appeals are sure to follow.

The Kafkaesque Imprisonment of Julian Assange (Greenwald)

Persecution is not typically doled out to those who recite mainstream pieties, or refrain from posing meaningful threats to those who wield institutional power, or obediently stay within the lines of permissible speech and activism imposed by the ruling class. Those who render themselves acquiescent and harmless that way will — in every society, including the most repressive — usually be free of reprisals. They will not be censored or jailed. They will be permitted to live their lives largely unmolested by authorities, while many will be well-rewarded for this servitude. Such individuals will see themselves as free because, in a sense, they are: they are free to submit, conform and acquiesce. And if they do so, they will not even realize, or at least not care, and may even regard as justifiable, that those who refuse this Orwellian bargain they have embraced (“freedom” in exchange for submission) are crushed with unlimited force.


Those who do not seek to meaningfully dissent or subvert power will usually deny — because they do not perceive — that such dissent and subversion are, in fact, rigorously prohibited. They will continue to believe blissfully that the society in which they live guarantees core civic freedoms — of speech, of press, of assembly, of due process — because they have rendered their own speech and activism, if it exists at all, so innocuous that nobody with the capacity to do so would bother to try to curtail it. The observation apocryphally attributed to socialist activist Rosa Luxemburg, imprisoned for her opposition to German involvement in World War I and then summarily executed by the state, expresses it best: “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”

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