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The Saker
A bird's eye view of the vineyard

offsite link Why doesn?t Syria retaliate to Israeli attacks? Nasrallah?s response Sun Jan 17, 2021 22:35 | The Saker
source: https://resistancenews.org/... Interview with Hezbollah Secretary General, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, on May 26, 2020, on the occasion of the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Liberation of South Lebanon,

offsite link China Newsbrief and Sitrep Sun Jan 17, 2021 15:39 | amarynth
By Godfree Roberts ? selected from his extensive weekly newsletter : Here Comes China You can get it here: https://www.herecomeschina.... We start the regular sitrep with Godfree’s new book Why

offsite link The American Brumaire Sun Jan 17, 2021 11:34 | amarynth
by Francis Lee for the Saker Blog During the late nineteenth century, theUnited Stateswas the world?s most advancedcapitalistcountry. According to orthodox (and I emphasise orthodox) Marxist theory this should have

offsite link Washington?s Bastille Sat Jan 16, 2021 18:13 | amarynth
by Jimmie Moglia for the Saker Blog Trump?s supporters, having found the vanity of conjecture and inefficacy of expectations, resolved to prove their own existence, if not by violence, at

offsite link Joe Biden?s War Sat Jan 16, 2021 14:27 | amarynth
Written by J.Hawk exclusively for SouthFront The 2000 presidential race being done and over, except for the tens of millions of Americans who believe the election was stolen and a

The Saker >>

Public Inquiry
Interested in maladministration. Estd. 2005

offsite link Mainstream media: Failing to speak truth to power

offsite link David Quinn’s selective tolerance Anthony

offsite link A Woulfe in judges clothing Anthony

offsite link Sarah McInerney and political impartiality Anthony

offsite link Did RTE journalists collude against Sinn Fein? Anthony

Public Inquiry >>

Human Rights in Ireland
A Blog About Human Rights

offsite link Right to Water Mon Aug 03, 2020 19:13 | Human Rights

offsite link Human Rights Fri Mar 20, 2020 16:33 | Human Rights

offsite link Turkish President Calls On Greece To Comply With Human Rights on Syrian Refugee Issues Wed Mar 04, 2020 17:58 | Human Rights

offsite link US Holds China To Account For Human Rights Violations Sun Oct 13, 2019 19:12 | Human Rights

offsite link UN Human Rights Council Should Address Human Rights Crisis in Cambodia Sat Aug 31, 2019 13:41 | Human Rights

Human Rights in Ireland >>

Spirit of Contradiction

offsite link The Party and the Ballot Box Sun Jul 14, 2019 22:24 | Gavin Mendel-Gleason

offsite link On The Decline and Fall of The American Empire and Socialism Sat Jan 26, 2019 01:52 | S. Duncan

offsite link What is Dogmatism and Why Does It Matter? Wed Mar 21, 2018 08:10 | Sylvia Smith

offsite link The Case of Comrade Dallas Mon Mar 19, 2018 19:44 | Sylvia Smith

offsite link Review: Do Religions Evolve? Mon Aug 14, 2017 19:54 | Dara McHugh

Spirit of Contradiction >>

Sam Jones - Sun Jan 17, 2021 03:57

Swiss campaigners have triggered a referendum to strip the government of new legal powers to impose lockdowns and curtail public life as the country battles the pandemic.

Campaign group Friends of the Constitution on Wednesday handed in a petition of 86,000 signatures collected over the past three months — well in excess of the 50,000 required — to formally initiate a nationwide vote to repeal the 2020 Covid-19 Act under Switzerland’s highly devolved democratic system.

The outcome will be legally binding, with a vote scheduled for as early as June.

While the pandemic has exposed social and political fractures across Europe over the rights of citizens, in Switzerland — where individuals’ rights are often treated as culturally sacrosanct and government powers are sharply proscribed by law — the strains have become particularly evident.

“In our opinion, the [government] is taking advantage of the pandemic to introduce more control and less democracy,” Christoph Pfluger, a board member of Friends of the Constitution, told the Financial Times.

He added: “The long-term problems that will arise from this kind of approach will be grave. We are a movement that says crisis management cannot be done without the will of the sovereign — the people. You cannot govern without the people.”

Mr Pfluger said Switzerland would be the first and perhaps the only country to give its citizens a direct vote on coronavirus restrictions.

Until late December, Bern’s governing Federal Council had been reluctant to impose restrictions during the second wave of the pandemic.

Staunch opposition from many Swiss to further curbs and dire warnings from several of the country’s most powerful and influential lobbying groups about the economic consequences of another shutdown forestalled action in the run-up to Christmas, even as case numbers rocketed.

A poll conducted by Switzerland’s Sotomo Research Institute for state broadcaster SRF in November found that 55 per cent of Swiss were concerned about their individual freedoms being restricted by government measures. The same survey found that even an 11pm curfew for bars and restaurants was considered too restrictive by a third of Swiss respondents.

Mr Pfluger said his campaign had been “astonished” by the level of support from volunteers it had gained in recent weeks and the speed with which it had been able to gather signatures.

The Swiss government’s laissez-faire approach exploded into a diplomatic stand-off in early December as the country refused to force its ski resorts to close, to the anger of its Alpine neighbours.

On December 18, however, Bern was forced to order a nationwide shutdown of restaurants, bars and leisure facilities that will remain in force until the end of February. On Wednesday the shutdown was extended to cover shops selling non-essential goods.

The referendum triggered on Wednesday takes aim at the legislation that underpins such curbs.

The Covid-19 Act, approved by lawmakers in September, gives Swiss authorities a continuing legal basis to impose restrictions to handle the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Before the legislation, Bern only had the power to curb public life through unilateral emergency decrees under Switzerland’s Epidemics Act. Those powers were strictly time-limited and subject to onerous parliamentary oversight.

Critics of the campaign to repeal the new laws note that by the time the referendum is held, not only will the pandemic likely be in remission, but many of the legal provisions granted under the Covid-19 Act will automatically have lapsed according to sunset clauses written into the legislation.

The Friends of the Constitution say they are battling to ensure a precedent is not set for future emergencies. “On a purely objective level, the [Covid-19] law is not that important,” said Mr Pfluger. “But it is one part of a bigger puzzle.”

According to the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, the country recorded 3,001 new infections on Tuesday, a rate of 477 per 100,000 citizens. Numbers have been slowly but steadily falling since the new year, and are sharply down from a peak of 10,558 daily new cases recorded on November 2.

Source: Financial Times

Swiss campaigners have triggered a referendum to strip the government of new legal powers to impose lockdowns and curtail public life as the country battles the pandemic.

Campaign group Friends of the Constitution on Wednesday handed in a petition of 86,000 signatures collected over the past three months — well in excess of the 50,000 required — to formally initiate a nationwide vote to repeal the 2020 Covid-19 Act under Switzerland’s highly devolved democratic system.

The outcome will be legally binding, with a vote scheduled for as early as June.

While the pandemic has exposed social and political fractures across Europe over the rights of citizens, in Switzerland — where individuals’ rights are often treated as culturally sacrosanct and government powers are sharply proscribed by law — the strains have become particularly evident.

“In our opinion, the [government] is taking advantage of the pandemic to introduce more control and less democracy,” Christoph Pfluger, a board member of Friends of the Constitution, told the Financial Times.

He added: “The long-term problems that will arise from this kind of approach will be grave. We are a movement that says crisis management cannot be done without the will of the sovereign — the people. You cannot govern without the people.”

Mr Pfluger said Switzerland would be the first and perhaps the only country to give its citizens a direct vote on coronavirus restrictions.

Until late December, Bern’s governing Federal Council had been reluctant to impose restrictions during the second wave of the pandemic.

Staunch opposition from many Swiss to further curbs and dire warnings from several of the country’s most powerful and influential lobbying groups about the economic consequences of another shutdown forestalled action in the run-up to Christmas, even as case numbers rocketed.

A poll conducted by Switzerland’s Sotomo Research Institute for state broadcaster SRF in November found that 55 per cent of Swiss were concerned about their individual freedoms being restricted by government measures. The same survey found that even an 11pm curfew for bars and restaurants was considered too restrictive by a third of Swiss respondents.

Mr Pfluger said his campaign had been “astonished” by the level of support from volunteers it had gained in recent weeks and the speed with which it had been able to gather signatures.

The Swiss government’s laissez-faire approach exploded into a diplomatic stand-off in early December as the country refused to force its ski resorts to close, to the anger of its Alpine neighbours.

On December 18, however, Bern was forced to order a nationwide shutdown of restaurants, bars and leisure facilities that will remain in force until the end of February. On Wednesday the shutdown was extended to cover shops selling non-essential goods.

The referendum triggered on Wednesday takes aim at the legislation that underpins such curbs.

The Covid-19 Act, approved by lawmakers in September, gives Swiss authorities a continuing legal basis to impose restrictions to handle the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Before the legislation, Bern only had the power to curb public life through unilateral emergency decrees under Switzerland’s Epidemics Act. Those powers were strictly time-limited and subject to onerous parliamentary oversight.

Critics of the campaign to repeal the new laws note that by the time the referendum is held, not only will the pandemic likely be in remission, but many of the legal provisions granted under the Covid-19 Act will automatically have lapsed according to sunset clauses written into the legislation.

The Friends of the Constitution say they are battling to ensure a precedent is not set for future emergencies. “On a purely objective level, the [Covid-19] law is not that important,” said Mr Pfluger. “But it is one part of a bigger puzzle.”

According to the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, the country recorded 3,001 new infections on Tuesday, a rate of 477 per 100,000 citizens. Numbers have been slowly but steadily falling since the new year, and are sharply down from a peak of 10,558 daily new cases recorded on November 2.

Source: Financial Times

Paul McLeary - Sat Jan 16, 2021 13:48

The Navy will have to walk a tightrope in the coming decade,  balancing the divestment of older ships with the introduction of new designs  — and its dismal acquisition track record has left Congress frustrated and distrustful.

If the Navy continues its trend of major delays and cost overruns on new classes of ships, it could fall so far behind the modernization curve the fleet might not recover, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told reporters. The solution, the CNO said, is to make sure new technologies are thoroughly developed and matured before trying to integrate them onto a new class of ships — instead of packing unproven tech into equally unproven hulls.

“I don’t mean to be dramatic, but I feel like if the Navy loses its head, if we go off course and we take our eyes off those things we need to focus on, I think we may not be able to recover in this century,” he said. “Based on the trajectory that the Chinese are on right now — and again, I don’t mean to be dramatic — I just sense that this is not a decade that we can afford to lose ground.”

For months, Gilday has been pointing to the extremely expensive failures of the Littoral Combat Ship, Ford-class carrier, and Zumwalt destroyer — all of which are years behind schedule and billions over budget — as a cautionary tale for what is to be avoided in building new ships.

Much of the problem rests with decisions made to develop new technologies at the same time as the new hulls, a complex juggling act where one dropped ball puts the whole project in jeopardy. Speaking at the annual Surface Navy Association symposium Monday, Gilday pledged that those days are over.

“We’ve decoupled new technology development from building ships,” he said. “Instead, we’re designing them with program-of-record systems in their baseline and margins to insert future technologies when they’re tested and ready.”

The admiral said the new Constellation-class frigate program will model this approach, and will use a range of existing technologies and phased upgrades in order to get the first whip in the water in 2026.

The admiral’s new plan comes weeks after the Navy unveiled its long-awaited 30 year shipbuilding plan and its Future Naval Force Structure paper, both of which are meant to provide a blueprint for modernization over the next few decades.

Gilday today released his Navigation Plan, which calls for the “divestment of experimental Littoral Combat Ship hulls [i.e. the first four LCS ships built], legacy Cruisers [the Ticonderoga class, which the Navy’s been trying to retire for years], and older Dock Landing Ships [LSDs]. It also includes divesting non-core Navy missions like Aegis-ashore. Transferring shore-based Ballistic Missile Defense sites to ground forces enables Sailors to focus on their core missions at sea and frees up resources to increase our lethality.”

The Navy currently operates one Aegis Ashore system in Romania, with another under construction in Poland. Japan was slated to buy two systems but canceled them last year.

Overall, the plan is looking to focus shipbuilding on the Navy’s core tasks, Gilday said.

“If it doesn’t drive us to a place where we can better control the seas and project power, we ought to question why we’re making that investment. We ought to think about divesting, because it’s not core to what we really need to do. There are ships that we’ve invested in in the past, or capabilities that we’ve invested in in the past, that haven’t necessarily enhanced our ability to do those two fundamental missions.”

Source: Breaking Defense

The Navy will have to walk a tightrope in the coming decade,  balancing the divestment of older ships with the introduction of new designs  — and its dismal acquisition track record has left Congress frustrated and distrustful.

If the Navy continues its trend of major delays and cost overruns on new classes of ships, it could fall so far behind the modernization curve the fleet might not recover, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told reporters. The solution, the CNO said, is to make sure new technologies are thoroughly developed and matured before trying to integrate them onto a new class of ships — instead of packing unproven tech into equally unproven hulls.

“I don’t mean to be dramatic, but I feel like if the Navy loses its head, if we go off course and we take our eyes off those things we need to focus on, I think we may not be able to recover in this century,” he said. “Based on the trajectory that the Chinese are on right now — and again, I don’t mean to be dramatic — I just sense that this is not a decade that we can afford to lose ground.”

For months, Gilday has been pointing to the extremely expensive failures of the Littoral Combat Ship, Ford-class carrier, and Zumwalt destroyer — all of which are years behind schedule and billions over budget — as a cautionary tale for what is to be avoided in building new ships.

Much of the problem rests with decisions made to develop new technologies at the same time as the new hulls, a complex juggling act where one dropped ball puts the whole project in jeopardy. Speaking at the annual Surface Navy Association symposium Monday, Gilday pledged that those days are over.

“We’ve decoupled new technology development from building ships,” he said. “Instead, we’re designing them with program-of-record systems in their baseline and margins to insert future technologies when they’re tested and ready.”

The admiral said the new Constellation-class frigate program will model this approach, and will use a range of existing technologies and phased upgrades in order to get the first whip in the water in 2026.

The admiral’s new plan comes weeks after the Navy unveiled its long-awaited 30 year shipbuilding plan and its Future Naval Force Structure paper, both of which are meant to provide a blueprint for modernization over the next few decades.

Gilday today released his Navigation Plan, which calls for the “divestment of experimental Littoral Combat Ship hulls [i.e. the first four LCS ships built], legacy Cruisers [the Ticonderoga class, which the Navy’s been trying to retire for years], and older Dock Landing Ships [LSDs]. It also includes divesting non-core Navy missions like Aegis-ashore. Transferring shore-based Ballistic Missile Defense sites to ground forces enables Sailors to focus on their core missions at sea and frees up resources to increase our lethality.”

The Navy currently operates one Aegis Ashore system in Romania, with another under construction in Poland. Japan was slated to buy two systems but canceled them last year.

Overall, the plan is looking to focus shipbuilding on the Navy’s core tasks, Gilday said.

“If it doesn’t drive us to a place where we can better control the seas and project power, we ought to question why we’re making that investment. We ought to think about divesting, because it’s not core to what we really need to do. There are ships that we’ve invested in in the past, or capabilities that we’ve invested in in the past, that haven’t necessarily enhanced our ability to do those two fundamental missions.”

Source: Breaking Defense

Marko Marjanović - Sat Jan 16, 2021 11:01

110 deaths of children under 15 in the US since January 1st "involved COVID". 154 "involved influenza", 460 "involved pneumonia".

The black death? Not so much. Not only was COVID involved in substantially fewer U-15 deaths, but influenza deaths still outnumbered COVID deaths despite the fact that since March 2020 the flu has dropped off from the face of the Earth.

Ie in just the first three months of 2020 more children died with flu (and it wasn't even a bad flu year) than did with COVID in the entire year.

For the U-15s COVID is only one-sixth as dangerous as the flu, and a mild flu strain in an unremarkable flu year at that.

In fact despite the COVID black death, overall 2,000 fewer children died in 2020 than in prior years, for a very statistically significant 7 percent drop.

Between January and mid-November, about 2,500 fewer children in the U.S. died last year compared with the average of the three years prior—a drop of about 9%. However, demographers caution that the 2020 tally is almost certainly undercounted due to lags in reporting. As the death records get updated in the coming weeks, the second half of 2020 will likely start to look more like the first half of the year, which clocked a 7% drop. That would put the yearly deficit at about 2,000 deaths below the 2017 to 2019 average.

For children trading in the flu for the pantsy COVID has been a massive win.

Or better put, it would have been a massive win but for the reaction of their parents to sacrifice them to their idiotic fear and virtue-signaling:

The problem, though, is that, in future years, we may see child mortality increase on a global scale due to the pandemic lockdowns of 2020 (and, perhaps, 2021). For instance, water safety advocates say that declined enrollment in swim programs coupled with a surge in demand for private pools could lead to more drownings. Also, delays in vaccinations for things like measles, fueled by school closures and suspended immunization campaigns in dozens of countries, could cause outbreaks of serious but otherwise preventable diseases. And reduced access to prenatal care during the shutdown could negatively affect fetal health.

On top of those concerns, stressors such as income losses, social isolation and ongoing health problems also could have lasting effects. “One cannot rule out the fact that the economic and social consequences of the pandemic on women of reproductive ages and their children had a detrimental impact on their health,” says Barbieri, whose preliminary research suggests that child mortality around the time of the 2008 economic recession increased among the poorest segments of the population.

110 deaths of children under 15 in the US since January 1st "involved COVID". 154 "involved influenza", 460 "involved pneumonia".

The black death? Not so much. Not only was COVID involved in substantially fewer U-15 deaths, but influenza deaths still outnumbered COVID deaths despite the fact that since March 2020 the flu has dropped off from the face of the Earth.

Ie in just the first three months of 2020 more children died with flu (and it wasn't even a bad flu year) than did with COVID in the entire year.

For the U-15s COVID is only one-sixth as dangerous as the flu, and a mild flu strain in an unremarkable flu year at that.

In fact despite the COVID black death, overall 2,000 fewer children died in 2020 than in prior years, for a very statistically significant 7 percent drop.

Between January and mid-November, about 2,500 fewer children in the U.S. died last year compared with the average of the three years prior—a drop of about 9%. However, demographers caution that the 2020 tally is almost certainly undercounted due to lags in reporting. As the death records get updated in the coming weeks, the second half of 2020 will likely start to look more like the first half of the year, which clocked a 7% drop. That would put the yearly deficit at about 2,000 deaths below the 2017 to 2019 average.

For children trading in the flu for the pantsy COVID has been a massive win.

Or better put, it would have been a massive win but for the reaction of their parents to sacrifice them to their idiotic fear and virtue-signaling:

The problem, though, is that, in future years, we may see child mortality increase on a global scale due to the pandemic lockdowns of 2020 (and, perhaps, 2021). For instance, water safety advocates say that declined enrollment in swim programs coupled with a surge in demand for private pools could lead to more drownings. Also, delays in vaccinations for things like measles, fueled by school closures and suspended immunization campaigns in dozens of countries, could cause outbreaks of serious but otherwise preventable diseases. And reduced access to prenatal care during the shutdown could negatively affect fetal health.

On top of those concerns, stressors such as income losses, social isolation and ongoing health problems also could have lasting effects. “One cannot rule out the fact that the economic and social consequences of the pandemic on women of reproductive ages and their children had a detrimental impact on their health,” says Barbieri, whose preliminary research suggests that child mortality around the time of the 2008 economic recession increased among the poorest segments of the population.

Ilya Feoktistov - Sat Jan 16, 2021 09:22

In 2003, terrorism was a more immediate national danger than infectious diseases. Dr. Anthony Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) had just redirected $117 million from infectious diseases to fund a new anthrax vaccine effort in response to the anthrax attacks that happened a week after 9/11.

The millions were just a small part of the $1.8 billion Fauci had poured into defense from bioterrorist attacks over the preceding two years. More than half of those funds were devoted to anthrax and smallpox alone. In 2004, Fauci launched the $5.6 billion “Project Bioshield,” the National Institutes of Health’s biggest outlay for a single research issue until then.

Some microbiology researchers at the time, however, according to the journal Nature, were concerned that Fauci’s actions would ultimately “distort priorities in infectious-disease research, sucking money away from work to understand and counter natural disease outbreaks that ultimately pose a greater threat to public health.” The 2003 Nature article cited a Stanford University microbiologist saying “that diseases such as influenza and other respiratory-tract infections routinely kill far more people than would die in a bioterrorist attack, and therefore deserve a greater share of the NIAID budget.”

The criticism turned out to be warranted. In 2007, after spending billions under the opposite premise, Fauci admitted that “at the end of the day, you’re not going to kill as many people [with an anthrax attack] as you would if you blasted off a couple of car bombs in Times Square.” His anthrax vaccine effort had failed, having been “sunk by lobbying.”

The anthrax vaccine failure followed on the heels of Fauci’s controversial leadership of the nation’s AIDS response in the 1980s and ‘90s. According to “Good Intentions,” a 1990 book by investigative author and innovation expert Bruce Nussbaum, Fauci started his career as “a lackluster scientist,” who “found his true vocation—empire building” when he took the reins at NIAID in 1984.

To ensure that AIDS would be his exclusive demesne within the federal government, Fauci “started the most important bureaucratic battle in the history of the fight against AIDS,” squeezing out more scientifically competent, but less conniving administrators. According to Nussbaum, if Fauci had not won the battle, “many people who died might have lived.”

Having won his monopoly over AIDS within the federal government, Fauci, by training an immunologist who focuses on how the body fights infections itself, favored a vaccine approach in the fight against the then-terminal illness. This understandable professional bias came at the expense of research into the anti-retroviral drugs that ultimately reduced AIDS from a death sentence to a chronic disease in remission. As Nussbaum wrote in 1990:

Tony Fauci’s managerial incompetence had exacted a staggering cost. By 1987, more than a million Americans were infected by the AlDS virus. Not a single drug treatment had come out of the government’s enormous biomedical research system. In the end, Fauci barely survived by handing over control of the government’s only AIDS drug trial program [to a pharmaceutical company].

As a result, a single drug, AZT, was the only AIDS treatment that came out of Fauci’s government research system, and only after help from the private sector. In 1988, the playwright and prominent AIDS activist Larry Kramer published an “Open Letter to Dr. Anthony Fauci” in the Village Voice, writing, in part:

You admitted that you are an incompetent idiot. Over the past four years, $374 million has been allocated for AIDS treatment research. You were in charge of spending much of that money. . . . Yet after three years you have established only a system of waste, chaos, and uselessness.

According to “Good Intentions,” in “an attempt to salvage his reputation, if not his career,” Fauci coopted Kramer, becoming the well-connected activist’s top ally within the federal government’s public health apparatus. Kramer, in turn, was Fauci’s “vector” into elitist American society, perfectly positioning the technocrat for his favorite role as “a hit-the-front-page-every-day kind of guy,” according to an unnamed health official Nussbaum quotes.

With the AIDS treatment research strategy continuing to face setbacks, Fauci focused on developing an HIV vaccine. This quest, however, offered less and less glory as the 1990s progressed. Starting in 1995, private industry began developing effective drug therapies that would drastically reduce AIDS mortality in the developed world by the turn of the millennium, making the HIV vaccine much less of a potential game-changer. While the bioterrorism threat restored Fauci’s prominence in national politics, neither the bioterrorism threat nor the anthrax vaccine ever materialized.

Things got even worse for Fauci before they became better. On Feb. 3, 2020, the journal Science reported that, after almost four decades, Fauci’s “failure-ridden search for a vaccine that can stop the AIDS virus has delivered yet another frustrating defeat.” According to the scientist heading the study in South Africa, “[t]here’s absolutely no evidence of efficacy” from the $104 million study. “Years of work went into this. It’s a huge disappointment.”

Fauci admitted to Science that all those years and millions were spent on an effort that he knew was very unlikely to succeed: “We were struggling for years and years, and so we grabbed onto the slightest positive effect, a potential correlate of immunity, and it looked interesting.” Fauci, however, had had just become unfireable, with the first U.S. COVID-19 patient diagnosed only a week prior.

“I was always saying [a respiratory illness like COVID-19] would be my worst nightmare,” he claimed in June. Yet, only a few months earlier, Fauci was telling Americans that, far from being his biggest fear, the danger from the Wuhan virus was “just minuscule,” so “there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to wear a mask.” The media buried long-standing scientific concerns that Fauci had been “sucking money away from work to understand and counter natural disease outbreaks.”

A March 2020 hagiography published in the Washington Post’s Style section noted how the dapper doctor is, once again these days, a hit-the-front-page-every-day kind of guy, who “seems to transcend time and space, appearing in all media at all times.” The newspaper quoted House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer lamenting: “It’s a shame that at the first hint of this we didn’t just say to Tony Fauci, ‘You’re in charge, you have all the power you need, tell us what needs to be done.’”

The first COVID-19 vaccine granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was developed by scientists at Pfizer, which took no funding from Fauci’s NIAID. “All the investment for R&D and manufacturing has been made by Pfizer at risk,” says the company.

Thirty years ago, Nussbaum correctly diagnosed the primary cause of Fauci’s many setbacks:

[T]he best scientists do not become administrators. The best scientists do not become coordinators of programs for other scientists in medical schools around the country. The best scientists stay in the labs, they don’t push paper.

Fauci is an excellent politician who survived four decades and five presidents — two Democrats, and three Republicans. Considering the mental acuity of the country’s incoming president, and the ongoing anxiety among its citizens, it appears the politically skilled but scientifically inept Fauci administration is not going anywhere soon.

Source: The Federalist

In 2003, terrorism was a more immediate national danger than infectious diseases. Dr. Anthony Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) had just redirected $117 million from infectious diseases to fund a new anthrax vaccine effort in response to the anthrax attacks that happened a week after 9/11.

The millions were just a small part of the $1.8 billion Fauci had poured into defense from bioterrorist attacks over the preceding two years. More than half of those funds were devoted to anthrax and smallpox alone. In 2004, Fauci launched the $5.6 billion “Project Bioshield,” the National Institutes of Health’s biggest outlay for a single research issue until then.

Some microbiology researchers at the time, however, according to the journal Nature, were concerned that Fauci’s actions would ultimately “distort priorities in infectious-disease research, sucking money away from work to understand and counter natural disease outbreaks that ultimately pose a greater threat to public health.” The 2003 Nature article cited a Stanford University microbiologist saying “that diseases such as influenza and other respiratory-tract infections routinely kill far more people than would die in a bioterrorist attack, and therefore deserve a greater share of the NIAID budget.”

The criticism turned out to be warranted. In 2007, after spending billions under the opposite premise, Fauci admitted that “at the end of the day, you’re not going to kill as many people [with an anthrax attack] as you would if you blasted off a couple of car bombs in Times Square.” His anthrax vaccine effort had failed, having been “sunk by lobbying.”

The anthrax vaccine failure followed on the heels of Fauci’s controversial leadership of the nation’s AIDS response in the 1980s and ‘90s. According to “Good Intentions,” a 1990 book by investigative author and innovation expert Bruce Nussbaum, Fauci started his career as “a lackluster scientist,” who “found his true vocation—empire building” when he took the reins at NIAID in 1984.

To ensure that AIDS would be his exclusive demesne within the federal government, Fauci “started the most important bureaucratic battle in the history of the fight against AIDS,” squeezing out more scientifically competent, but less conniving administrators. According to Nussbaum, if Fauci had not won the battle, “many people who died might have lived.”

Having won his monopoly over AIDS within the federal government, Fauci, by training an immunologist who focuses on how the body fights infections itself, favored a vaccine approach in the fight against the then-terminal illness. This understandable professional bias came at the expense of research into the anti-retroviral drugs that ultimately reduced AIDS from a death sentence to a chronic disease in remission. As Nussbaum wrote in 1990:

Tony Fauci’s managerial incompetence had exacted a staggering cost. By 1987, more than a million Americans were infected by the AlDS virus. Not a single drug treatment had come out of the government’s enormous biomedical research system. In the end, Fauci barely survived by handing over control of the government’s only AIDS drug trial program [to a pharmaceutical company].

As a result, a single drug, AZT, was the only AIDS treatment that came out of Fauci’s government research system, and only after help from the private sector. In 1988, the playwright and prominent AIDS activist Larry Kramer published an “Open Letter to Dr. Anthony Fauci” in the Village Voice, writing, in part:

You admitted that you are an incompetent idiot. Over the past four years, $374 million has been allocated for AIDS treatment research. You were in charge of spending much of that money. . . . Yet after three years you have established only a system of waste, chaos, and uselessness.

According to “Good Intentions,” in “an attempt to salvage his reputation, if not his career,” Fauci coopted Kramer, becoming the well-connected activist’s top ally within the federal government’s public health apparatus. Kramer, in turn, was Fauci’s “vector” into elitist American society, perfectly positioning the technocrat for his favorite role as “a hit-the-front-page-every-day kind of guy,” according to an unnamed health official Nussbaum quotes.

With the AIDS treatment research strategy continuing to face setbacks, Fauci focused on developing an HIV vaccine. This quest, however, offered less and less glory as the 1990s progressed. Starting in 1995, private industry began developing effective drug therapies that would drastically reduce AIDS mortality in the developed world by the turn of the millennium, making the HIV vaccine much less of a potential game-changer. While the bioterrorism threat restored Fauci’s prominence in national politics, neither the bioterrorism threat nor the anthrax vaccine ever materialized.

Things got even worse for Fauci before they became better. On Feb. 3, 2020, the journal Science reported that, after almost four decades, Fauci’s “failure-ridden search for a vaccine that can stop the AIDS virus has delivered yet another frustrating defeat.” According to the scientist heading the study in South Africa, “[t]here’s absolutely no evidence of efficacy” from the $104 million study. “Years of work went into this. It’s a huge disappointment.”

Fauci admitted to Science that all those years and millions were spent on an effort that he knew was very unlikely to succeed: “We were struggling for years and years, and so we grabbed onto the slightest positive effect, a potential correlate of immunity, and it looked interesting.” Fauci, however, had had just become unfireable, with the first U.S. COVID-19 patient diagnosed only a week prior.

“I was always saying [a respiratory illness like COVID-19] would be my worst nightmare,” he claimed in June. Yet, only a few months earlier, Fauci was telling Americans that, far from being his biggest fear, the danger from the Wuhan virus was “just minuscule,” so “there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to wear a mask.” The media buried long-standing scientific concerns that Fauci had been “sucking money away from work to understand and counter natural disease outbreaks.”

A March 2020 hagiography published in the Washington Post’s Style section noted how the dapper doctor is, once again these days, a hit-the-front-page-every-day kind of guy, who “seems to transcend time and space, appearing in all media at all times.” The newspaper quoted House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer lamenting: “It’s a shame that at the first hint of this we didn’t just say to Tony Fauci, ‘You’re in charge, you have all the power you need, tell us what needs to be done.’”

The first COVID-19 vaccine granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was developed by scientists at Pfizer, which took no funding from Fauci’s NIAID. “All the investment for R&D and manufacturing has been made by Pfizer at risk,” says the company.

Thirty years ago, Nussbaum correctly diagnosed the primary cause of Fauci’s many setbacks:

[T]he best scientists do not become administrators. The best scientists do not become coordinators of programs for other scientists in medical schools around the country. The best scientists stay in the labs, they don’t push paper.

Fauci is an excellent politician who survived four decades and five presidents — two Democrats, and three Republicans. Considering the mental acuity of the country’s incoming president, and the ongoing anxiety among its citizens, it appears the politically skilled but scientifically inept Fauci administration is not going anywhere soon.

Source: The Federalist

The Daily Mail - Sat Jan 16, 2021 08:21

Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, has been revealed as the biggest private owner of farmland in the US, after buying up 242,000 acres in 18 states.

The tech mogul, who is the fourth richest person in the world with a net worth of $121billion, according to Forbes, has quietly built up a massive agriculture portfolio.

The 65-year-old's largest holdings include 69,071 acres in Louisiana, 47,927 acres in Arkansas, 25,750 acres in Arizona, 20,588 acres in Nebraska and 16,097 in Washington state.

But even with his big new agricultural holdings, Gates still doesn't rank in the Top 100 of private landowners overall in the U.S. - when considering owners of land of all types, not just agricultural.

The title for largest landholdings overall goes to US businessman John Malone, chairman of Liberty Media, who owns 2.2million acres.

It is unclear why Gates, better known as a self-confessed computing 'nerd', has invested in farmland so heavily, and details of the land are scarce, as revealed in The Land Report. 

The acquisitions are held directly, as well as through Gates' personal investment entity, Cascade Investments.

In 1994 Bill and Melinda Gates are said to have hired Michael Larson to help them diversify their property portfolio.

A 2014 Wall Street Journal profile of Larson, Cascade's chief investment officer, hinted at the beginning of that portfolio, after the piece noted that the firm owns 'at least 100,000 acres of farmland in California, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana and other states — or an area seven times bigger than Manhattan.'

In six years that number has more than doubled.

In 2014, he reportedly purchased more than 4,500 acres in Suwannee County, Florida, for nearly $28 million.

In 2018 Gates reportedly bought about 16,000 acres in his home state of Washington, including a 14,500-acre tract in the Horse Heaven Hills region that was purchased for nearly $171 million from an insurance company that had paid $75million for it in 2010.

It was the highest priced land sale in the US that year.

Dr. Alan Busacca, professor emeritus at Washington State University, told Land Report at the time that the fertile land in the area was used for growing 'apples, cherries, carrots, dryland and irrigated wheat, and row and field crops'.

He added: 'In addition, the state’s oldest winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, has two of its largest vineyards in that AVA: Canoe Ridge Vineyard and Columbia Crest Vineyard.'

Cascade did not elaborate on the agricultural land purchases other than to say that the company is 'very supportive of sustainable farming.'

Gates hasn't just invested in farmland.

In total he owns 268,984 acres of land of all types in 19 states, including a suburb up for development - as a so-called 'smart city' - outside Phoenix, Arizona.

Since 2017 he reportedly holds a significant stake in 24,800 acres of land on the west side of Phoenix.

The area off Interstate 10, called Belmont, has space for 80,000 homes as well as more than 4,000 acres for schools, offices, and stores; and 3,400 acres of open space.

When fully developed the area could be home to 200,000 residents and be similar in size to the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, The Land Report said.

Last year, Cascade Investment made a second major investment in Arizona by acquiring more than 2,800 acres known as Spurlock Ranch in Buckeye for $25 million, that could be built out to include 8,500 homes.

The couple also snapped up an oceanfront home in San Diego County, California, last year,  for a record making $43 million.

The six-bed Del Mar home, which boasts a ten-person jacuzzi and swimming pool overlooking the ocean, was bought by the couple in late March as the international coronavirus pandemic began to take hold.

Purchased from Madeleine Pickens, the former wife of Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, the property deal is one of the largest ever recorded in the area, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Although the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is not directly connected with Cascade or its investments, it also has a farmland initiative: Gates Ag One, established in the Greater St. Louis area, with a mission to help 'smallholder farmers adapt to climate change and make food production in low- and middle-income countries more productive, resilient, and sustainable.'

In 2008, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced $306 million in grants designed to boost the yields and incomes of millions of small farmers in Africa as well as 'other parts of the developing world so they can lift themselves and their families out of hunger and poverty.'

Behind Gates in terms of investment in farmland are the cofounders of the Wonderful Company, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, with 190,000 acres.

Source: The Daily Mail

Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, has been revealed as the biggest private owner of farmland in the US, after buying up 242,000 acres in 18 states.

The tech mogul, who is the fourth richest person in the world with a net worth of $121billion, according to Forbes, has quietly built up a massive agriculture portfolio.

The 65-year-old's largest holdings include 69,071 acres in Louisiana, 47,927 acres in Arkansas, 25,750 acres in Arizona, 20,588 acres in Nebraska and 16,097 in Washington state.

But even with his big new agricultural holdings, Gates still doesn't rank in the Top 100 of private landowners overall in the U.S. - when considering owners of land of all types, not just agricultural.

The title for largest landholdings overall goes to US businessman John Malone, chairman of Liberty Media, who owns 2.2million acres.

It is unclear why Gates, better known as a self-confessed computing 'nerd', has invested in farmland so heavily, and details of the land are scarce, as revealed in The Land Report. 

The acquisitions are held directly, as well as through Gates' personal investment entity, Cascade Investments.

In 1994 Bill and Melinda Gates are said to have hired Michael Larson to help them diversify their property portfolio.

A 2014 Wall Street Journal profile of Larson, Cascade's chief investment officer, hinted at the beginning of that portfolio, after the piece noted that the firm owns 'at least 100,000 acres of farmland in California, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana and other states — or an area seven times bigger than Manhattan.'

In six years that number has more than doubled.

In 2014, he reportedly purchased more than 4,500 acres in Suwannee County, Florida, for nearly $28 million.

In 2018 Gates reportedly bought about 16,000 acres in his home state of Washington, including a 14,500-acre tract in the Horse Heaven Hills region that was purchased for nearly $171 million from an insurance company that had paid $75million for it in 2010.

It was the highest priced land sale in the US that year.

Dr. Alan Busacca, professor emeritus at Washington State University, told Land Report at the time that the fertile land in the area was used for growing 'apples, cherries, carrots, dryland and irrigated wheat, and row and field crops'.

He added: 'In addition, the state’s oldest winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, has two of its largest vineyards in that AVA: Canoe Ridge Vineyard and Columbia Crest Vineyard.'

Cascade did not elaborate on the agricultural land purchases other than to say that the company is 'very supportive of sustainable farming.'

Gates hasn't just invested in farmland.

In total he owns 268,984 acres of land of all types in 19 states, including a suburb up for development - as a so-called 'smart city' - outside Phoenix, Arizona.

Since 2017 he reportedly holds a significant stake in 24,800 acres of land on the west side of Phoenix.

The area off Interstate 10, called Belmont, has space for 80,000 homes as well as more than 4,000 acres for schools, offices, and stores; and 3,400 acres of open space.

When fully developed the area could be home to 200,000 residents and be similar in size to the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, The Land Report said.

Last year, Cascade Investment made a second major investment in Arizona by acquiring more than 2,800 acres known as Spurlock Ranch in Buckeye for $25 million, that could be built out to include 8,500 homes.

The couple also snapped up an oceanfront home in San Diego County, California, last year,  for a record making $43 million.

The six-bed Del Mar home, which boasts a ten-person jacuzzi and swimming pool overlooking the ocean, was bought by the couple in late March as the international coronavirus pandemic began to take hold.

Purchased from Madeleine Pickens, the former wife of Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, the property deal is one of the largest ever recorded in the area, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Although the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is not directly connected with Cascade or its investments, it also has a farmland initiative: Gates Ag One, established in the Greater St. Louis area, with a mission to help 'smallholder farmers adapt to climate change and make food production in low- and middle-income countries more productive, resilient, and sustainable.'

In 2008, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced $306 million in grants designed to boost the yields and incomes of millions of small farmers in Africa as well as 'other parts of the developing world so they can lift themselves and their families out of hunger and poverty.'

Behind Gates in terms of investment in farmland are the cofounders of the Wonderful Company, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, with 190,000 acres.

Source: The Daily Mail

Planet Moron - Fri Jan 15, 2021 08:59

Big Health and Big Tech coming together as one to ensure our safety and well-being?

That's hardly terrifying at all.

It's called, "The Vaccination Credential Initiative."

The only way they could have made that sound more authoritarian is if they said it in German. Let's see what that would look like.

"Die Impfung Berechtigungsnachweis Anstrengung."

Yep! There's that chill down the spine I was looking for.

In fairness, German makes ordering potatoes sound sinister.

"Ich hätte gerne Kartoffeln!"

Health and technology groups are working together to create a digital vaccination passport in the expectation that governments, airlines and other businesses will require proof people have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

Companies don't invest enormous amounts of time, effort, and money, on an "expectation."

This is coming. They've been laying the groundwork for some time.

The Vaccination Credential Initiative, a coalition of organisations including Microsoft, Oracle and the US healthcare non-profit Mayo Clinic, aims to establish standards to verify whether a person has had their shot and prevent people falsely claiming to be protected against the disease.

According to a press release announcing the formation of the initiative,

Coalition partners include CARIN Alliance, Cerner, Change Healthcare, The Commons Project Foundation, Epic, Evernorth, Mayo Clinic, Microsoft, MITRE, Oracle, Safe Health, and Salesforce.

"The Commons Project Foundation?" What is that you ask?

This onion is going to require some peeling.

The Commons Project is a globalist initiative headquartered in Switzerland, land of chocolate, watches, and not fighting Nazis.

We are passionate technologists, entrepreneurs, public servants, academics, scientists, industry leaders, people and advocates from across the globe who have gathered to use our collective knowledge and expertise for the common good.

For some reason, this popped into my head.

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. - C.S. Lewis

Moving on, The Commons Project was established by The Rockefeller Foundation, According to Influence Watch,

The Rockefeller Foundation is a major funder of liberal advocacy and public policy efforts, providing major support to New America, a left-of-center think tank; the Urban Institute, a left-of-center hybrid civil rights group and policy advocacy organization; and the Funders Committee on Civic Participation, a project coordinating left-of-center advocacy on Census and electoral issues, among other left-of-center interests.

Sounds legit.

Let's go a layer in the other direction. The Commons Project, established by the Rockefeller Foundation, is the sponsor of "The CommonPass," and early coalition with a similar goal to The Vaccine Credentials Initiative.

For global travel and trade to return to pre-pandemic levels, travelers will need a secure and verifiable way to document their health status as they travel and cross borders.

"Will need," say the globalists.

Countries will also need the flexibility to update their health screening entry requirements as the pandemic evolves and science progresses. Airlines, airports and other travel industry stakeholders will need the same.

As science progresses, and with all the systems, protocols, infrastructure and enforcement apparatus in place and people accustomed to the process of health verification, they can "update their health screening entry requirements."

If you give a mouse a cookie...

We have one more layer:

The Commons Project together with The World Economic Forumis working to initiate the CommonPass framework...

Yes, that World Economic Forum.

By the way, if you repeat the words "The Great Reset," which you just read on the World Economic Forum website, and then suggest they believe that...

As we enter a unique window of opportunity to shape the recovery, this initiative will offer insights to help inform all those determining the future state of global relations, the direction of national economies, the priorities of societies, the nature of business models and the management of a global commons.

...which you also just read on the World Economic Forum website, you are a conspiracy nut so get off the Intertubes already and go back to your Holiday Inn to await further instructions.

Back to The Financial Times:

The pass developed by the non-profit, established with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, is now being used by all three major airline alliances.

This will happen in Europe and much of the rest of the world, giant multinational corporations, foundations, and alliances all working hand in hand with sovereign governments to build enormous databases of your private health information to determine where, when, and under what circumstances you can travel, work, attend a theater, and countless other activities and control the documents you will need to verify your status.

That's all!

Can't happen here, the more optimistic among you might say?

The survey was designed by Eric Jones, a mathematics and statistics professor, who sounded as surprised as anyone at the results.

"Three out of every four people would agree to documentation telling airlines and authorities their vaccine status and test results. In an era of privacy concerns, this is an astoundingly high percentage."

Okay, maybe it was the way the question was worded.

That does not strike me as a trick question.

Yes, by all means, require I take a vaccine and subject myself to an intrusive certification process so that I can demonstrate my personal health status to the satisfaction of authorities in order to travel.

It's worth it, so long as it makes it more likely that I can draw a few more sweet breaths of life!

Hey, everyone else is doing it, why not join in on the fun!

Remember this guy?

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

– Patrick Henry

It's okay if you don't, all his statues have probably been torn down by now.

Source: Not the Bee

Big Health and Big Tech coming together as one to ensure our safety and well-being?

That's hardly terrifying at all.

It's called, "The Vaccination Credential Initiative."

The only way they could have made that sound more authoritarian is if they said it in German. Let's see what that would look like.

"Die Impfung Berechtigungsnachweis Anstrengung."

Yep! There's that chill down the spine I was looking for.

In fairness, German makes ordering potatoes sound sinister.

"Ich hätte gerne Kartoffeln!"

Health and technology groups are working together to create a digital vaccination passport in the expectation that governments, airlines and other businesses will require proof people have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

Companies don't invest enormous amounts of time, effort, and money, on an "expectation."

This is coming. They've been laying the groundwork for some time.

The Vaccination Credential Initiative, a coalition of organisations including Microsoft, Oracle and the US healthcare non-profit Mayo Clinic, aims to establish standards to verify whether a person has had their shot and prevent people falsely claiming to be protected against the disease.

According to a press release announcing the formation of the initiative,

Coalition partners include CARIN Alliance, Cerner, Change Healthcare, The Commons Project Foundation, Epic, Evernorth, Mayo Clinic, Microsoft, MITRE, Oracle, Safe Health, and Salesforce.

"The Commons Project Foundation?" What is that you ask?

This onion is going to require some peeling.

The Commons Project is a globalist initiative headquartered in Switzerland, land of chocolate, watches, and not fighting Nazis.

We are passionate technologists, entrepreneurs, public servants, academics, scientists, industry leaders, people and advocates from across the globe who have gathered to use our collective knowledge and expertise for the common good.

For some reason, this popped into my head.

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. - C.S. Lewis

Moving on, The Commons Project was established by The Rockefeller Foundation, According to Influence Watch,

The Rockefeller Foundation is a major funder of liberal advocacy and public policy efforts, providing major support to New America, a left-of-center think tank; the Urban Institute, a left-of-center hybrid civil rights group and policy advocacy organization; and the Funders Committee on Civic Participation, a project coordinating left-of-center advocacy on Census and electoral issues, among other left-of-center interests.

Sounds legit.

Let's go a layer in the other direction. The Commons Project, established by the Rockefeller Foundation, is the sponsor of "The CommonPass," and early coalition with a similar goal to The Vaccine Credentials Initiative.

For global travel and trade to return to pre-pandemic levels, travelers will need a secure and verifiable way to document their health status as they travel and cross borders.

"Will need," say the globalists.

Countries will also need the flexibility to update their health screening entry requirements as the pandemic evolves and science progresses. Airlines, airports and other travel industry stakeholders will need the same.

As science progresses, and with all the systems, protocols, infrastructure and enforcement apparatus in place and people accustomed to the process of health verification, they can "update their health screening entry requirements."

If you give a mouse a cookie...

We have one more layer:

The Commons Project together with The World Economic Forumis working to initiate the CommonPass framework...

Yes, that World Economic Forum.

By the way, if you repeat the words "The Great Reset," which you just read on the World Economic Forum website, and then suggest they believe that...

As we enter a unique window of opportunity to shape the recovery, this initiative will offer insights to help inform all those determining the future state of global relations, the direction of national economies, the priorities of societies, the nature of business models and the management of a global commons.

...which you also just read on the World Economic Forum website, you are a conspiracy nut so get off the Intertubes already and go back to your Holiday Inn to await further instructions.

Back to The Financial Times:

The pass developed by the non-profit, established with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, is now being used by all three major airline alliances.

This will happen in Europe and much of the rest of the world, giant multinational corporations, foundations, and alliances all working hand in hand with sovereign governments to build enormous databases of your private health information to determine where, when, and under what circumstances you can travel, work, attend a theater, and countless other activities and control the documents you will need to verify your status.

That's all!

Can't happen here, the more optimistic among you might say?

The survey was designed by Eric Jones, a mathematics and statistics professor, who sounded as surprised as anyone at the results.

"Three out of every four people would agree to documentation telling airlines and authorities their vaccine status and test results. In an era of privacy concerns, this is an astoundingly high percentage."

Okay, maybe it was the way the question was worded.

That does not strike me as a trick question.

Yes, by all means, require I take a vaccine and subject myself to an intrusive certification process so that I can demonstrate my personal health status to the satisfaction of authorities in order to travel.

It's worth it, so long as it makes it more likely that I can draw a few more sweet breaths of life!

Hey, everyone else is doing it, why not join in on the fun!

Remember this guy?

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

– Patrick Henry

It's okay if you don't, all his statues have probably been torn down by now.

Source: Not the Bee

Sebastian Rushworth MD - Fri Jan 15, 2021 05:54

Three separate covid vaccine trials have now had their results published in peer-reviewed journals (Astra-Zeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna), and the vaccines have already been approved for use in multiple countries. In light of that, I think it’s time to look in to how effective and safe the vaccines are, especially considering that many of us are about to be given the option to take them (and some of us already have).

First out of the gate was the Astra Zeneca vaccine, for which trial data was published in The Lancet on the 8th of December. All vaccines have the same underlying principle – to activate a person’s immune system so that it develops immune memory to a specific disease, without actually causing the person to have the disease you want to protect against. But there are multiple ways in which that goal can be achieved. The Astra Zeneca vaccine is a so called “adenoviral vector” vaccine.

In order to understand how this vaccine works, you first need to understand how a virus works. In general, a virus consists of two main parts, a shell made of protein, and inside the shell, a string of nucleotides that make up the viral genome (which can be DNA or RNA depending on the type of virus). The shell latches on to a target cell that it’s going to infect, and then it injects the genome in to the cell. The target cell has a hard time telling the difference between the virus’s genome and its own DNA or RNA, so it treats the viral genome like its own, and starts using it as a blueprint to produce new viruses.

Luckily our ancestors have been dealing with viruses for hundreds of millions of years, so our bodies have some tricks up their sleeves to deal with them. One of those tricks is to take proteins that are being produced inside the cell, and present them on the surface of the cell. This allows the immune system to detect unusual proteins that aren’t normally produced by the body, and to mount an immune response.

The adenovirus vector vaccine uses this as the basis for creating immunity to covid. Adenoviruses are common, and frequently cause disease in humans. In an adenovirus vector vaccine however, one of the viral genes has been deleted, which means that the virus can infect a cell, but it can’t get the cell to start producing new copies of itself. Thus, it can’t generate a real infection. While removing a gene, another gene is also added – a gene that is normally produced by the virus that you want to create immunity against. In the case of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, the gene that has been added codes for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which is the part of the virus that attaches to the target cell.

What happens when you inject the vaccine in to a person is that the adenovirus infects cells, and injects its genome in to them. Those cells then start producing the proteins that the viral genome codes for, including the specific protein that you want the immune system to react to. These proteins then get expressed on the surface of the infected cells, and this results in activation of the immune system, and hopefully long term immunity.

Ok, now we know how the Astra-Zeneca vaccine is supposed to work (this is also how the Russian Sputnik vaccine is supposed to work, but I’m not discussing that vaccine in this article because no phase three trial data have yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal). Let’s get in to the details of the trial.

This was a randomized controlled trial, split in to three separate arms, a British arm, a Brazilian arm, and a South African arm. The work was financed by Astra-Zeneca, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, the British government, and a couple of other private and public organizations.

The three arms varied somewhat in terms of the methodology used. The British and Brazilian arms were single-blind, while the South African arm was double-blind. In other words, in both the British and the Brazilian arm, the researchers knew who was in the vaccine group and who was in the control group. This is strange, and really quite unforgivable, because it makes it much easier for the researchers to manipulate the results in lots of little ways when they know who is in which group. There is no reason why a big, well-financed study like this shouldn’t use a double-blind methodology across all trial arms.

A second oddity about the study is that the control group in both the British and Brazilian arm wasn’t getting a placebo. It was getting another vaccine, for meningococcus. The South African arm however did get a proper placebo consisting of saline (salt water). The researchers motivate the use of another vaccine in the control group by saying that it decreases the risk of the participants being “unblinded”, in other words that they will realize whether they are in the vaccine group or in the control group. This is true to an extent. If you develop a fever shortly after getting the vaccine, you’ll probably deduce that you’ve been given a real vaccine, not a placebo. But many people don’t develop a fever after getting a vaccine, so not getting a fever isn’t going to tell you that you’re in the placebo group. Therefore I really don’t see why the researchers were so concerned about unblinding of participants, especially considering that they didn’t bother to blind themselves to the group allocation.

The main problem with not giving the control group a placebo is that it makes it harder to determine the extent to which the vaccine causes side effects, and it will tend to make the vaccine look more harmless than it is. Overall, the South African arm is therefore the one with the soundest methodology, since it is the only arm that is double-blind, and also the only arm that has given the control group a placebo rather than an active drug. Unfortunately, the South African arm had barely accrued any cases when the researchers decided to push ahead with getting their results published, so the published data actually only includes results from the UK and Brazilian arms.

All three arms gave two doses of the vaccine, although the amount of vaccine in the doses varied somewhat, and the time that was allowed to pass between the first and second dose also varied somewhat (it is common with vaccines to give one dose first, and then give a second “booster” dose a few weeks or months later, since this has been shown to increase the probability of developing long lasting immunity).

The published data include results from 12,000 participants (half from the UK, and half from Brazil), and the total amount of follow-up after receiving two doses is 29,000 months, so an average of 2,4 months of follow-up per participant (if you instead go by when participants received their first dose, the average follow-up period is 6,4 months). Of the 12,000 participants, 87% were aged 18-55. None were aged below 18. 8% were between 56 and 70, and only 4% were over 70. This is a problem. Even though we know that people under 70 years of age are at very low risk of severe disease, and the only real reason to even bother making a vaccine is that there is some risk to people over 70, this group made up only a tiny portion of the total population being studied.

This is in my opinion the biggest weakness of the study, bigger than not blinding the researchers, and bigger than using another vaccine for the control group instead of a placebo. It is well known that older people are less likely to respond favorably to vaccines than younger people, because they have less well functioning immune systems. In other words, the probability that an 80 year old is going to develop immunity after a vaccine is often much lower than the probability that a 40 year old is going to develop immunity. And yet this study was done almost entirely in young people below the age of 55.

This study is not even close to being powered to answer the question of whether people over 70 will develop effective immunity after taking the vaccine. As you probably noticed, children were also excluded from the study, so the study doesn’t tell us anything about what effect the vaccine might have on children either, or whether it’s safe for them.

Additionally, the average BMI (Body Mass Index) of the participants was pretty ideal, around 25, which is pretty much the healthiest BMI you can have. Again, this is a problem, because the people most at risk from covid are the seriously obese, and this study tells us nothing about whether the vaccine works for them. Just as with older people, people who are obese have less well functioning immune systems, and are probably less likely to develop immunity after receiving a vaccine.

Participants in the study were in general pretty healthy in other ways too. Only 11% had underlying cardiovascular disease. Only 12% had underlying respiratory disease. And only 2% had diabetes. So, even before we get to the results, we know one thing – this study cannot tell us anything about the ability of the vaccine to protect the people who are most at risk of severe disease. And it cannot tell us whether the vaccine is safe for these people either.

As mentioned earlier, follow-up was on average only 2,4 months per participant. This should be enough to catch most side-effects, since vaccine side-effects tend to develop within the first days and weeks after injection, but it is still very much on the short side. It means for example that a side-effect that develops three months after getting the shot won’t be detected in the study. Apart from that, the results that were published on December 8th only included 12,000 people, which is quite small for a vaccine trial. It means that the study is likely to detect common side and even quite uncommon side effects, but rare side effects that only affect say 1 in 10,000 people, won’t be detected.

Rare side-effects don’t matter so much for normal drugs that are used to relieve symptoms of existing diseases. But they do matter with vaccines, because you’re essentially giving a healthy person something that they don’t need, in order to slightly lessen their risk of catching a disease at some point in the future. Because the benefit from a vaccine to an individual is generally much smaller than for drugs that are used for treatment of existing conditions, the side effects that are considered acceptable also have to be much less common.

The primary endpoint for the trial was PCR confirmed symptomatic covid-19. If participants developed symptoms that could be suggestive of covid, they were supposed to get in touch with the organizers of the trial, and they would then be tested for covid with a PCR test.

I think this endpoint is problematic, because to me the important thing isn’t whether the vaccine prevents young people getting a cold, it’s whether it prevents frail elderly people dying. And the design chosen makes that question impossible to answer.

If it had been up to me, the trial would only have included people over 70 years of age with underlying co-morbidities, and the primary end point would have been death, a nice hard end point with little scope for manipulation. Unfortunately Astra-Zeneca never asked me for my opinions on the subject, so now this very flawed and limited study is what we have. Anyway, let’s get to the results.

Among the participants who got the vaccine, 0,5% developed symptomatic covid over the course of follow-up. Among the control group, 1,7% developed symptomatic covid. This is a 70% relative risk reduction in favor of the vaccine, and it is statistically significant. This is actually a pretty good result, for what it is. If you’re a young, otherwise relatively healthy adult, then the vaccine reduces the probability that you will develop symptomatic covid by around two thirds.

Having said that, we don’t really care about preventing colds (at least I don’t). What matters is preventing severe disease requiring hospitalization, and death. This study was too small to have any chance of seeing a significant effect on deaths in such an otherwise healthy group of participants, but not too small to see an effect on hospitalizations.

It generally takes a few weeks after receiving the vaccine until robust immune memory has developed, so it makes sense to start looking for an effect on hospitalizations a few weeks after immunization. From three weeks after receiving the first dose of vaccine, there were 10 hospitalizations for covid in the control group and zero in the vaccine group.

That is impressive. To me, it’s far more impressive than the 70% reduction in symptomatic covid, because it’s the reduction in severe disease that really matters.

Of course, it’s not just the effectiveness of the vaccine that matters. We also want to know that it is likely to be safe. So let’s look at the safety data. Overall, 0,7% of individuals in the vaccine arm had a serious adverse event after at least one dose of vaccine, compared with 0,8% in the control arm. Of course, the control arm wasn’t receiving a placebo, it was getting a meningococcal vaccine, so it’s actually impossible to say what the risks of the vaccine are in relation to placebo. All we can say is that the covid vaccine overall doesn’t appear to cause more adverse events than the meningococcal vaccine.

In total, there were 79 serious adverse events in the group getting the vaccine, and those adverse events are evenly spread out among lots of different types of event, the vast majority of which could not possibly have anything to do with the vaccine.

The only really worrying thing is that two people in the covid vaccine group developed transverse myelitis a few weeks after getting the vaccine, an extremely rare and serious neurological condition that normally affects about one in 200,000 people per year. One of those people had an underlying undiagnosed multiple sclerosis, a condition which strongly predisposes to development of transverse myelitis, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t the vaccine that triggered the myelitis.

So, it is possible that the covid vaccine causes transverse myelitis in a small proportion of those vaccinated. At present it seems like the risk of developing transverse myelitis after getting the vaccine is about one in 3,000, but it could be much higher or much lower. We won’t know until many more people have received the vaccine.

Would I take this vaccine personally? No, because I’m young and healthy and I therefore estimate that the risk of me getting severe covid is infinitesimal, and I’m not convinced that the benefits outweigh the potential harms, considering the possible risk of transverse myelitis. If there wasn’t that possible signal of harm, then I’d probably be willing to take the Astra-Zeneca covid vaccine.

On balance, the benefits probably outweigh the harms for older adults, who are at greater risk of severe disease. I say that even though they were not really included in this study to any great extent. Even if the vaccine is less effective in older adults than in younger adults, which it probably is, this group is also at much higher risk of severe disease, so the risk/benefit ratio probably favors getting the vaccine.

Would I let my children have it? No way. Not until there are studies showing that it’s safe and effective in children. It’s only little over a decade since an influenza vaccine (pandemrix) was rushed through and given to children based on limited evidence, causing hundreds in Europe to develop narcolepsy, a debilitating lifelong disease.

There is one final thing about the Lancet article that is odd, and that is that the exclusion criteria are not listed anywhere in the text. Normally inclusion and exclusion criteria are listed clearly in the method section, but as far as I can tell, they’re not there. This is very strange. It’s possible that they’re buried somewhere in the book-length appendix, but I wasn’t personally able to find them there either. We know that children were excluded from the data, but we don’t know if there were any other groups that were intentionally excluded. Were people with previous allergic drug reactions excluded? Were people with autoimmune diseases excluded? What about pregnant women? Until this is clarified, people who belong to these groups should think twice about taking the vaccine.

Let’s move on, and look at the next vaccine. Two days after the Astra Zeneca vaccine data was published in The Lancet, the Pfizer vaccine data was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The Pfizer vaccine is an mRNA vaccine (as is the Moderna vaccine, which we’re going to discuss after we’ve finished going through the data on the Pfizer vaccine). This is a new vaccine technology, that hasn’t been used previously. Fundamentally though, the technology isn’t that different in practice from the previously described adenoviral vector vaccine. The mRNA vaccine consists of two parts – a sequence of RNA nucleotides that code for a specific protein, and an outer “shell” that is in this case made of lipids, known as a lipid nanoparticle.

After being injected into the body, the lipid nanoparticles are taken up by cells through a process known as endocytosis (a standard method through which cells take things up from the outside environment). The RNA sequence is then released inside the cell. Just as with the viral vector vaccine, the cell is unable to tell the difference between this imported RNA and its own RNA, so it uses it as a blueprint and produces proteins based on it. These proteins are then presented on the cell surface, and this results in activation of the immune system, which recognizes them as foreign. As with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine cause the body’s cells to start producing the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

Ok, now we understand how the mRNA vaccine works. Let’s get into the details of the Pfizer study. This was a randomized controlled trial with a total of 44,000 participants, in which 22,000 people received two doses of the Pfizer covid vaccine and 22,000 people received an inert placebo. Just from this, two things are obvious. First, the results from Pfizer involve many more people than those discussed above from Astra-Zeneca. And second, Pfizer have actually given the control group a placebo (consisting of saline) instead of another vaccine. Just those two things make me like this study a lot more before knowing anything else about it.

In order to be included in the study you had to be at least 16 years old and you had to be fundamentally healthy. Chronic health conditions were ok if they were deemed to “stable”. You were excluded from the study if you were receiving immunosuppressive therapy or if you had an immune compromised state for any other reason, if you had ever had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine, if you were pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you had an auto-immune disease.

So this study says nothing about whether the vaccine is safe and effective for children. It doesn’t say anything about whether the vaccine is effective or safe for pregnant women and breastfeeding women. It doesn’t say anything about whether the vaccine is safe and effective for people with weakened immune systems.

The study doesn’t say anything about whether the vaccine is safe and effective for people with auto-immune diseases. This is a problem, as we’ve already seen with the Astra Zeneca vaccine and the participant with undiagnosed MS who developed transverse myelitis less than two weeks after receiving the vaccine. People with known auto-immune diseases are more likely to develop auto-immune complications after taking a vaccine.

And the study doesn’t say anything about whether the vaccine is safe and effective for people who tend to have strong allergic reactions. In fact we now know it isn’t safe for this group, since a couple of people in the UK did develop anaphylaxis after getting the Pfizer vaccine. If this group had been included in the study, the problem would have been discovered before the vaccine started being rolled out to large numbers of people outside of studies.

So, there’s a pretty extensive group of people we know, even before getting into the results, that this study cannot provide useful information for. In fact, the list of people excluded is so extensive that I wouldn’t be surprised if more than half of all the people on the planet would be excluded for one reason or another. If you belong to one of these groups, then this study cannot tell you whether the vaccine is safe and effective for you.

Apart from the long list of exclusion criteria, it is of course a problem that people needed to be fundamentally healthy to be included in the study. As we’ve already discussed, the people who get really sick and risk dying of covid are not fundamentally healthy. The average person who dies of covid has three known underlying conditions. And those are the people we need the vaccine to be safe and effective for. Unfortunately, the design of this trial, just like with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine trial, makes it very hard to answer that question.

The primary endpoint of the study was, similarly to the Astra-Zeneca trial, reduction in symptomatic covid-19, defined as a positive PCR test and at least one symptom suggestive of the disease. As mentioned before, 22,000 people were recruited to each group, so there were 44,000 people in total. That’s a pretty good number, and should be enough to detect all but the most uncommon side effects. The participants were recruited at a number of different sites around the world (USA, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Germany, Turkey).

The median follow-up period after the second shot was only two months, which is short, but should be enough to catch the vast majority of side effects. The two cases of transverse myelitis that occurred with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine both happened within two weeks of vaccination, and as far as I am aware pretty much every single case of narcolepsy occurring after the Pandemrix vaccine disaster also happened within a few weeks.

35% of participants were obese, which is excellent, since this is a group that is at risk of severe disease, and we want to know if the vaccine protects them. Less good is that the study had a very small proportion of elderly people. As with the Astra-Zeneca study, less than 5% of participants were 75 years or older.

Ok, let’s get to the results. Among those getting the placebo, 0,9% developed symptomatic covid. Among those getting the vaccine, 0,05% developed symptomatic covid. That is a 95% relative risk reduction and it is highly statistically significant. That is an impressive result, much better than I ever would have thought would be possible in such a short space of time.

The result appears, at first sight, to hold up even for the people aged 75 years and older, with 5 cases among those getting placebo and zero cases among those getting the vaccine. Unfortunately, due to the small size of that group, the result is not statistically significant, so we can’t actually say based on this study that the vaccine protects people aged 75 and older.

With that said, the vaccine does seem to protect most people against infection. However, just as with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, we don’t care about whether the vaccine decreases the number of people experiencing a cold, we want to know whether the vaccine protects against severe disease. After having gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, one person in the vaccine group developed severe covid, while nine people in the placebo group developed severe covid. The reduction in relative risk after getting at least one dose of vaccine is 89%, which is again very impressive. So the Pfizer vaccine does seem to protect against severe covid, just like the Astra-Zeneca vaccine does.

But is it safe?

Overall there were 240 events in the vaccine group that were classified as severe, compared with 139 in the placebo group. That is concerning. Severe adverse events were 73% more common in the vaccine group than in the placebo group. The vaccine should ideally decrease severe adverse events (by decreasing the number of people experiencing severe covid). It certainly shouldn’t increase them. Unfortunately Pfizer aren’t kind enough to provide a breakdown of what the adverse events were, so it’s impossible for us to figure out whether the drastic increase in severe adverse events after vaccination is something we need to be concerned about, and whether it should cause us to avoid the vaccine.

Note that, when it comes to adverse events, severe and serious are not the same thing. A severe adverse event is something that causes a lot of symptoms, but not necessarily something that is serious in terms of its consequences for the patient. A serious adverse event is, on the other hand, well, serious.

If we instead look at serious adverse events, the difference is much smaller. 0,6% developed a serious adverse event in the vaccine group, compared with 0,5% in the placebo group. However, it’s not great that there were more serious adverse events in the vaccine group. If anything, that number should be lower in the vaccinated group, not higher. And again, Pfizer are not telling us what those adverse events were.

Would I personally be willing to take the Pfizer vaccine? No, not until Pfizer publishes a detailed breakdown of what the adverse events were, so I can tell if there’s something in there that I should be worried about or not. If Astra-Zeneca hadn’t provided a breakdown of adverse events, it would have been impossible to see that there is a signal that their vaccine might cause a seriously increased risk of transverse myelitis.

Having said that, the proportion of people experiencing a severe or life-threatening adverse event in the vaccine group was only 1,2%, so 98,8% didn’t experience one. If you are over 70 years old or otherwise belong to a risk group, it’s likely worth taking the vaccine even without having the adverse event information, just due to the fact that the vaccine is clearly highly effective against covid, and so the benefit/risk calculation becomes quite different than it is for someone who is young and healthy.

Let’s move on to the final trial, of the Moderna vaccine. I’m going to run through this one a little bit more quickly, because in many respects it is similar to the previous two trials. The results were published in The New England Journal of Medicine at the end of December. The technology used for this vaccine is identical to the technology used for the Pfizer vaccine, so it’s reasonable to expect that the results would be similar. This was a randomized controlled trial involving 30,000 participants, who were recruited from a large number of sites across the United States. The study was primarily funded by the US government and by Moderna. Half the participants received two doses of the Moderna covid vaccine one month apart, and half received two doses of a placebo injection (consisting of saline). The median length of follow-up after receiving the second dose was two months.

As with the previous two trials, the primary objective of the study was to see if there was a reduction in cases of covid-19, which in this study was defined as at least two symptoms suggestive of covid-19 plus a positive covid PCR test.

The study included adults over the age of 18. As with the previous studies, participants had to be healthy or “stable” in terms of any underlying chronic conditions. The study excluded pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with allergies, and people who were immunosuppressed. The average BMI was 29. Only 5% of participants were over the age of 75, so as with the other two studies the proportion of participants in the oldest category was low. 5% had chronic lung disease. 5% had significant cardiac disease. 7% were obese. And 10% had diabetes.

Ok, so what were the results?

Among those who had received the placebo injections, 1,3% developed covid. Among those who had received the vaccine, 0,07% developed covid. That represents a 94% reduction in cases, and it is highly statistically significant. If we look at those over 65 (average age 70), then we see an 86% reduction in cases, so the vaccine seems to be highly effective even for older people (although unfortunately no data is provided for the very oldest people, aged 80+).

The results are even more impressive if we look only at people with severe covid. Among those getting the placebo, there were 30 cases. Among those getting the vaccine, not a single person developed a severe case of covid. So, just as with the previous two vaccines, the Moderna vaccine appears to be highly effective against covid-19.

What about safety?

1,0% of participants in the placebo group experienced a serious adverse event and 1,0% of participants in the vaccine group experienced a serious adverse event. Ideally we would like to see fewer serious adverse events in the vaccine group, but there weren’t enough cases of severe covid-19 for the vaccine to have any noticeable positive effect on the overall number.

If we look through the list of serious adverse events (yes, unlike Pfizer, Moderna actually provided this information), we see that there is nothing that could reasonably be thought to have been caused by the vaccine (unlike the transverse myelitis seen in the Astra-Zeneca study), and there is nothing that sticks out as being more common in the vaccine group than in the placebo group.

Overall, the Moderna vaccine does appear to be both effective and safe. Would I be willing to take it? Yes, I would, actually. There is a strong signal of benefit, and zero signal of harm. Considering that there were 15,000 people in the vaccine group, any serious side effects that can happen as a result of the vaccine are likely to be very rare (in those groups that were included in the study).

Ok, let’s wrap up. So all three vaccines appear to be highly effective at preventing covid-19, although both the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine are clearly more effective than the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. In terms of safety, I have significant concerns about the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, considering that there is a signal suggesting that it increases your risk of developing transverse myelitis by a hundredfold or more. Future research will have to show whether that is a real risk or not. I also have concerns about the Pfizer vaccine, since there was a 60% increase in severe adverse events among those taking the vaccine, an issue that Pfizer hasn’t bothered to address at all, and I am also concerned about the fact that Pfizer does not provide a detailed breakdown of adverse events, which makes it impossible to see if there is anything in there that we should be worried about. The Moderna vaccine does appear to be safe however, based on the data available up to now.

One final point. None of these studies tell us whether the vaccines are safe and effective for children. It would be unethical to start vaccinating children without first having made sure that it’s safe, especially considering that the risk to children from covid is infinitesimal. The same applies to pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with immune disorders, and people with severe allergies. If you belong to one of these groups, you should probably think extra long and hard before getting vaccinated, because these groups were not represented in the studies, and it is therefore not clear that the benefits outweigh the harms.

Source: Sebastian Rushworth M.D.

Three separate covid vaccine trials have now had their results published in peer-reviewed journals (Astra-Zeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna), and the vaccines have already been approved for use in multiple countries. In light of that, I think it’s time to look in to how effective and safe the vaccines are, especially considering that many of us are about to be given the option to take them (and some of us already have).

First out of the gate was the Astra Zeneca vaccine, for which trial data was published in The Lancet on the 8th of December. All vaccines have the same underlying principle – to activate a person’s immune system so that it develops immune memory to a specific disease, without actually causing the person to have the disease you want to protect against. But there are multiple ways in which that goal can be achieved. The Astra Zeneca vaccine is a so called “adenoviral vector” vaccine.

In order to understand how this vaccine works, you first need to understand how a virus works. In general, a virus consists of two main parts, a shell made of protein, and inside the shell, a string of nucleotides that make up the viral genome (which can be DNA or RNA depending on the type of virus). The shell latches on to a target cell that it’s going to infect, and then it injects the genome in to the cell. The target cell has a hard time telling the difference between the virus’s genome and its own DNA or RNA, so it treats the viral genome like its own, and starts using it as a blueprint to produce new viruses.

Luckily our ancestors have been dealing with viruses for hundreds of millions of years, so our bodies have some tricks up their sleeves to deal with them. One of those tricks is to take proteins that are being produced inside the cell, and present them on the surface of the cell. This allows the immune system to detect unusual proteins that aren’t normally produced by the body, and to mount an immune response.

The adenovirus vector vaccine uses this as the basis for creating immunity to covid. Adenoviruses are common, and frequently cause disease in humans. In an adenovirus vector vaccine however, one of the viral genes has been deleted, which means that the virus can infect a cell, but it can’t get the cell to start producing new copies of itself. Thus, it can’t generate a real infection. While removing a gene, another gene is also added – a gene that is normally produced by the virus that you want to create immunity against. In the case of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, the gene that has been added codes for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which is the part of the virus that attaches to the target cell.

What happens when you inject the vaccine in to a person is that the adenovirus infects cells, and injects its genome in to them. Those cells then start producing the proteins that the viral genome codes for, including the specific protein that you want the immune system to react to. These proteins then get expressed on the surface of the infected cells, and this results in activation of the immune system, and hopefully long term immunity.

Ok, now we know how the Astra-Zeneca vaccine is supposed to work (this is also how the Russian Sputnik vaccine is supposed to work, but I’m not discussing that vaccine in this article because no phase three trial data have yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal). Let’s get in to the details of the trial.

This was a randomized controlled trial, split in to three separate arms, a British arm, a Brazilian arm, and a South African arm. The work was financed by Astra-Zeneca, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, the British government, and a couple of other private and public organizations.

The three arms varied somewhat in terms of the methodology used. The British and Brazilian arms were single-blind, while the South African arm was double-blind. In other words, in both the British and the Brazilian arm, the researchers knew who was in the vaccine group and who was in the control group. This is strange, and really quite unforgivable, because it makes it much easier for the researchers to manipulate the results in lots of little ways when they know who is in which group. There is no reason why a big, well-financed study like this shouldn’t use a double-blind methodology across all trial arms.

A second oddity about the study is that the control group in both the British and Brazilian arm wasn’t getting a placebo. It was getting another vaccine, for meningococcus. The South African arm however did get a proper placebo consisting of saline (salt water). The researchers motivate the use of another vaccine in the control group by saying that it decreases the risk of the participants being “unblinded”, in other words that they will realize whether they are in the vaccine group or in the control group. This is true to an extent. If you develop a fever shortly after getting the vaccine, you’ll probably deduce that you’ve been given a real vaccine, not a placebo. But many people don’t develop a fever after getting a vaccine, so not getting a fever isn’t going to tell you that you’re in the placebo group. Therefore I really don’t see why the researchers were so concerned about unblinding of participants, especially considering that they didn’t bother to blind themselves to the group allocation.

The main problem with not giving the control group a placebo is that it makes it harder to determine the extent to which the vaccine causes side effects, and it will tend to make the vaccine look more harmless than it is. Overall, the South African arm is therefore the one with the soundest methodology, since it is the only arm that is double-blind, and also the only arm that has given the control group a placebo rather than an active drug. Unfortunately, the South African arm had barely accrued any cases when the researchers decided to push ahead with getting their results published, so the published data actually only includes results from the UK and Brazilian arms.

All three arms gave two doses of the vaccine, although the amount of vaccine in the doses varied somewhat, and the time that was allowed to pass between the first and second dose also varied somewhat (it is common with vaccines to give one dose first, and then give a second “booster” dose a few weeks or months later, since this has been shown to increase the probability of developing long lasting immunity).

The published data include results from 12,000 participants (half from the UK, and half from Brazil), and the total amount of follow-up after receiving two doses is 29,000 months, so an average of 2,4 months of follow-up per participant (if you instead go by when participants received their first dose, the average follow-up period is 6,4 months). Of the 12,000 participants, 87% were aged 18-55. None were aged below 18. 8% were between 56 and 70, and only 4% were over 70. This is a problem. Even though we know that people under 70 years of age are at very low risk of severe disease, and the only real reason to even bother making a vaccine is that there is some risk to people over 70, this group made up only a tiny portion of the total population being studied.

This is in my opinion the biggest weakness of the study, bigger than not blinding the researchers, and bigger than using another vaccine for the control group instead of a placebo. It is well known that older people are less likely to respond favorably to vaccines than younger people, because they have less well functioning immune systems. In other words, the probability that an 80 year old is going to develop immunity after a vaccine is often much lower than the probability that a 40 year old is going to develop immunity. And yet this study was done almost entirely in young people below the age of 55.

This study is not even close to being powered to answer the question of whether people over 70 will develop effective immunity after taking the vaccine. As you probably noticed, children were also excluded from the study, so the study doesn’t tell us anything about what effect the vaccine might have on children either, or whether it’s safe for them.

Additionally, the average BMI (Body Mass Index) of the participants was pretty ideal, around 25, which is pretty much the healthiest BMI you can have. Again, this is a problem, because the people most at risk from covid are the seriously obese, and this study tells us nothing about whether the vaccine works for them. Just as with older people, people who are obese have less well functioning immune systems, and are probably less likely to develop immunity after receiving a vaccine.

Participants in the study were in general pretty healthy in other ways too. Only 11% had underlying cardiovascular disease. Only 12% had underlying respiratory disease. And only 2% had diabetes. So, even before we get to the results, we know one thing – this study cannot tell us anything about the ability of the vaccine to protect the people who are most at risk of severe disease. And it cannot tell us whether the vaccine is safe for these people either.

As mentioned earlier, follow-up was on average only 2,4 months per participant. This should be enough to catch most side-effects, since vaccine side-effects tend to develop within the first days and weeks after injection, but it is still very much on the short side. It means for example that a side-effect that develops three months after getting the shot won’t be detected in the study. Apart from that, the results that were published on December 8th only included 12,000 people, which is quite small for a vaccine trial. It means that the study is likely to detect common side and even quite uncommon side effects, but rare side effects that only affect say 1 in 10,000 people, won’t be detected.

Rare side-effects don’t matter so much for normal drugs that are used to relieve symptoms of existing diseases. But they do matter with vaccines, because you’re essentially giving a healthy person something that they don’t need, in order to slightly lessen their risk of catching a disease at some point in the future. Because the benefit from a vaccine to an individual is generally much smaller than for drugs that are used for treatment of existing conditions, the side effects that are considered acceptable also have to be much less common.

The primary endpoint for the trial was PCR confirmed symptomatic covid-19. If participants developed symptoms that could be suggestive of covid, they were supposed to get in touch with the organizers of the trial, and they would then be tested for covid with a PCR test.

I think this endpoint is problematic, because to me the important thing isn’t whether the vaccine prevents young people getting a cold, it’s whether it prevents frail elderly people dying. And the design chosen makes that question impossible to answer.

If it had been up to me, the trial would only have included people over 70 years of age with underlying co-morbidities, and the primary end point would have been death, a nice hard end point with little scope for manipulation. Unfortunately Astra-Zeneca never asked me for my opinions on the subject, so now this very flawed and limited study is what we have. Anyway, let’s get to the results.

Among the participants who got the vaccine, 0,5% developed symptomatic covid over the course of follow-up. Among the control group, 1,7% developed symptomatic covid. This is a 70% relative risk reduction in favor of the vaccine, and it is statistically significant. This is actually a pretty good result, for what it is. If you’re a young, otherwise relatively healthy adult, then the vaccine reduces the probability that you will develop symptomatic covid by around two thirds.

Having said that, we don’t really care about preventing colds (at least I don’t). What matters is preventing severe disease requiring hospitalization, and death. This study was too small to have any chance of seeing a significant effect on deaths in such an otherwise healthy group of participants, but not too small to see an effect on hospitalizations.

It generally takes a few weeks after receiving the vaccine until robust immune memory has developed, so it makes sense to start looking for an effect on hospitalizations a few weeks after immunization. From three weeks after receiving the first dose of vaccine, there were 10 hospitalizations for covid in the control group and zero in the vaccine group.

That is impressive. To me, it’s far more impressive than the 70% reduction in symptomatic covid, because it’s the reduction in severe disease that really matters.

Of course, it’s not just the effectiveness of the vaccine that matters. We also want to know that it is likely to be safe. So let’s look at the safety data. Overall, 0,7% of individuals in the vaccine arm had a serious adverse event after at least one dose of vaccine, compared with 0,8% in the control arm. Of course, the control arm wasn’t receiving a placebo, it was getting a meningococcal vaccine, so it’s actually impossible to say what the risks of the vaccine are in relation to placebo. All we can say is that the covid vaccine overall doesn’t appear to cause more adverse events than the meningococcal vaccine.

In total, there were 79 serious adverse events in the group getting the vaccine, and those adverse events are evenly spread out among lots of different types of event, the vast majority of which could not possibly have anything to do with the vaccine.

The only really worrying thing is that two people in the covid vaccine group developed transverse myelitis a few weeks after getting the vaccine, an extremely rare and serious neurological condition that normally affects about one in 200,000 people per year. One of those people had an underlying undiagnosed multiple sclerosis, a condition which strongly predisposes to development of transverse myelitis, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t the vaccine that triggered the myelitis.

So, it is possible that the covid vaccine causes transverse myelitis in a small proportion of those vaccinated. At present it seems like the risk of developing transverse myelitis after getting the vaccine is about one in 3,000, but it could be much higher or much lower. We won’t know until many more people have received the vaccine.

Would I take this vaccine personally? No, because I’m young and healthy and I therefore estimate that the risk of me getting severe covid is infinitesimal, and I’m not convinced that the benefits outweigh the potential harms, considering the possible risk of transverse myelitis. If there wasn’t that possible signal of harm, then I’d probably be willing to take the Astra-Zeneca covid vaccine.

On balance, the benefits probably outweigh the harms for older adults, who are at greater risk of severe disease. I say that even though they were not really included in this study to any great extent. Even if the vaccine is less effective in older adults than in younger adults, which it probably is, this group is also at much higher risk of severe disease, so the risk/benefit ratio probably favors getting the vaccine.

Would I let my children have it? No way. Not until there are studies showing that it’s safe and effective in children. It’s only little over a decade since an influenza vaccine (pandemrix) was rushed through and given to children based on limited evidence, causing hundreds in Europe to develop narcolepsy, a debilitating lifelong disease.

There is one final thing about the Lancet article that is odd, and that is that the exclusion criteria are not listed anywhere in the text. Normally inclusion and exclusion criteria are listed clearly in the method section, but as far as I can tell, they’re not there. This is very strange. It’s possible that they’re buried somewhere in the book-length appendix, but I wasn’t personally able to find them there either. We know that children were excluded from the data, but we don’t know if there were any other groups that were intentionally excluded. Were people with previous allergic drug reactions excluded? Were people with autoimmune diseases excluded? What about pregnant women? Until this is clarified, people who belong to these groups should think twice about taking the vaccine.

Let’s move on, and look at the next vaccine. Two days after the Astra Zeneca vaccine data was published in The Lancet, the Pfizer vaccine data was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The Pfizer vaccine is an mRNA vaccine (as is the Moderna vaccine, which we’re going to discuss after we’ve finished going through the data on the Pfizer vaccine). This is a new vaccine technology, that hasn’t been used previously. Fundamentally though, the technology isn’t that different in practice from the previously described adenoviral vector vaccine. The mRNA vaccine consists of two parts – a sequence of RNA nucleotides that code for a specific protein, and an outer “shell” that is in this case made of lipids, known as a lipid nanoparticle.

After being injected into the body, the lipid nanoparticles are taken up by cells through a process known as endocytosis (a standard method through which cells take things up from the outside environment). The RNA sequence is then released inside the cell. Just as with the viral vector vaccine, the cell is unable to tell the difference between this imported RNA and its own RNA, so it uses it as a blueprint and produces proteins based on it. These proteins are then presented on the cell surface, and this results in activation of the immune system, which recognizes them as foreign. As with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine cause the body’s cells to start producing the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

Ok, now we understand how the mRNA vaccine works. Let’s get into the details of the Pfizer study. This was a randomized controlled trial with a total of 44,000 participants, in which 22,000 people received two doses of the Pfizer covid vaccine and 22,000 people received an inert placebo. Just from this, two things are obvious. First, the results from Pfizer involve many more people than those discussed above from Astra-Zeneca. And second, Pfizer have actually given the control group a placebo (consisting of saline) instead of another vaccine. Just those two things make me like this study a lot more before knowing anything else about it.

In order to be included in the study you had to be at least 16 years old and you had to be fundamentally healthy. Chronic health conditions were ok if they were deemed to “stable”. You were excluded from the study if you were receiving immunosuppressive therapy or if you had an immune compromised state for any other reason, if you had ever had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine, if you were pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you had an auto-immune disease.

So this study says nothing about whether the vaccine is safe and effective for children. It doesn’t say anything about whether the vaccine is effective or safe for pregnant women and breastfeeding women. It doesn’t say anything about whether the vaccine is safe and effective for people with weakened immune systems.

The study doesn’t say anything about whether the vaccine is safe and effective for people with auto-immune diseases. This is a problem, as we’ve already seen with the Astra Zeneca vaccine and the participant with undiagnosed MS who developed transverse myelitis less than two weeks after receiving the vaccine. People with known auto-immune diseases are more likely to develop auto-immune complications after taking a vaccine.

And the study doesn’t say anything about whether the vaccine is safe and effective for people who tend to have strong allergic reactions. In fact we now know it isn’t safe for this group, since a couple of people in the UK did develop anaphylaxis after getting the Pfizer vaccine. If this group had been included in the study, the problem would have been discovered before the vaccine started being rolled out to large numbers of people outside of studies.

So, there’s a pretty extensive group of people we know, even before getting into the results, that this study cannot provide useful information for. In fact, the list of people excluded is so extensive that I wouldn’t be surprised if more than half of all the people on the planet would be excluded for one reason or another. If you belong to one of these groups, then this study cannot tell you whether the vaccine is safe and effective for you.

Apart from the long list of exclusion criteria, it is of course a problem that people needed to be fundamentally healthy to be included in the study. As we’ve already discussed, the people who get really sick and risk dying of covid are not fundamentally healthy. The average person who dies of covid has three known underlying conditions. And those are the people we need the vaccine to be safe and effective for. Unfortunately, the design of this trial, just like with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine trial, makes it very hard to answer that question.

The primary endpoint of the study was, similarly to the Astra-Zeneca trial, reduction in symptomatic covid-19, defined as a positive PCR test and at least one symptom suggestive of the disease. As mentioned before, 22,000 people were recruited to each group, so there were 44,000 people in total. That’s a pretty good number, and should be enough to detect all but the most uncommon side effects. The participants were recruited at a number of different sites around the world (USA, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Germany, Turkey).

The median follow-up period after the second shot was only two months, which is short, but should be enough to catch the vast majority of side effects. The two cases of transverse myelitis that occurred with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine both happened within two weeks of vaccination, and as far as I am aware pretty much every single case of narcolepsy occurring after the Pandemrix vaccine disaster also happened within a few weeks.

35% of participants were obese, which is excellent, since this is a group that is at risk of severe disease, and we want to know if the vaccine protects them. Less good is that the study had a very small proportion of elderly people. As with the Astra-Zeneca study, less than 5% of participants were 75 years or older.

Ok, let’s get to the results. Among those getting the placebo, 0,9% developed symptomatic covid. Among those getting the vaccine, 0,05% developed symptomatic covid. That is a 95% relative risk reduction and it is highly statistically significant. That is an impressive result, much better than I ever would have thought would be possible in such a short space of time.

The result appears, at first sight, to hold up even for the people aged 75 years and older, with 5 cases among those getting placebo and zero cases among those getting the vaccine. Unfortunately, due to the small size of that group, the result is not statistically significant, so we can’t actually say based on this study that the vaccine protects people aged 75 and older.

With that said, the vaccine does seem to protect most people against infection. However, just as with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, we don’t care about whether the vaccine decreases the number of people experiencing a cold, we want to know whether the vaccine protects against severe disease. After having gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, one person in the vaccine group developed severe covid, while nine people in the placebo group developed severe covid. The reduction in relative risk after getting at least one dose of vaccine is 89%, which is again very impressive. So the Pfizer vaccine does seem to protect against severe covid, just like the Astra-Zeneca vaccine does.

But is it safe?

Overall there were 240 events in the vaccine group that were classified as severe, compared with 139 in the placebo group. That is concerning. Severe adverse events were 73% more common in the vaccine group than in the placebo group. The vaccine should ideally decrease severe adverse events (by decreasing the number of people experiencing severe covid). It certainly shouldn’t increase them. Unfortunately Pfizer aren’t kind enough to provide a breakdown of what the adverse events were, so it’s impossible for us to figure out whether the drastic increase in severe adverse events after vaccination is something we need to be concerned about, and whether it should cause us to avoid the vaccine.

Note that, when it comes to adverse events, severe and serious are not the same thing. A severe adverse event is something that causes a lot of symptoms, but not necessarily something that is serious in terms of its consequences for the patient. A serious adverse event is, on the other hand, well, serious.

If we instead look at serious adverse events, the difference is much smaller. 0,6% developed a serious adverse event in the vaccine group, compared with 0,5% in the placebo group. However, it’s not great that there were more serious adverse events in the vaccine group. If anything, that number should be lower in the vaccinated group, not higher. And again, Pfizer are not telling us what those adverse events were.

Would I personally be willing to take the Pfizer vaccine? No, not until Pfizer publishes a detailed breakdown of what the adverse events were, so I can tell if there’s something in there that I should be worried about or not. If Astra-Zeneca hadn’t provided a breakdown of adverse events, it would have been impossible to see that there is a signal that their vaccine might cause a seriously increased risk of transverse myelitis.

Having said that, the proportion of people experiencing a severe or life-threatening adverse event in the vaccine group was only 1,2%, so 98,8% didn’t experience one. If you are over 70 years old or otherwise belong to a risk group, it’s likely worth taking the vaccine even without having the adverse event information, just due to the fact that the vaccine is clearly highly effective against covid, and so the benefit/risk calculation becomes quite different than it is for someone who is young and healthy.

Let’s move on to the final trial, of the Moderna vaccine. I’m going to run through this one a little bit more quickly, because in many respects it is similar to the previous two trials. The results were published in The New England Journal of Medicine at the end of December. The technology used for this vaccine is identical to the technology used for the Pfizer vaccine, so it’s reasonable to expect that the results would be similar. This was a randomized controlled trial involving 30,000 participants, who were recruited from a large number of sites across the United States. The study was primarily funded by the US government and by Moderna. Half the participants received two doses of the Moderna covid vaccine one month apart, and half received two doses of a placebo injection (consisting of saline). The median length of follow-up after receiving the second dose was two months.

As with the previous two trials, the primary objective of the study was to see if there was a reduction in cases of covid-19, which in this study was defined as at least two symptoms suggestive of covid-19 plus a positive covid PCR test.

The study included adults over the age of 18. As with the previous studies, participants had to be healthy or “stable” in terms of any underlying chronic conditions. The study excluded pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with allergies, and people who were immunosuppressed. The average BMI was 29. Only 5% of participants were over the age of 75, so as with the other two studies the proportion of participants in the oldest category was low. 5% had chronic lung disease. 5% had significant cardiac disease. 7% were obese. And 10% had diabetes.

Ok, so what were the results?

Among those who had received the placebo injections, 1,3% developed covid. Among those who had received the vaccine, 0,07% developed covid. That represents a 94% reduction in cases, and it is highly statistically significant. If we look at those over 65 (average age 70), then we see an 86% reduction in cases, so the vaccine seems to be highly effective even for older people (although unfortunately no data is provided for the very oldest people, aged 80+).

The results are even more impressive if we look only at people with severe covid. Among those getting the placebo, there were 30 cases. Among those getting the vaccine, not a single person developed a severe case of covid. So, just as with the previous two vaccines, the Moderna vaccine appears to be highly effective against covid-19.

What about safety?

1,0% of participants in the placebo group experienced a serious adverse event and 1,0% of participants in the vaccine group experienced a serious adverse event. Ideally we would like to see fewer serious adverse events in the vaccine group, but there weren’t enough cases of severe covid-19 for the vaccine to have any noticeable positive effect on the overall number.

If we look through the list of serious adverse events (yes, unlike Pfizer, Moderna actually provided this information), we see that there is nothing that could reasonably be thought to have been caused by the vaccine (unlike the transverse myelitis seen in the Astra-Zeneca study), and there is nothing that sticks out as being more common in the vaccine group than in the placebo group.

Overall, the Moderna vaccine does appear to be both effective and safe. Would I be willing to take it? Yes, I would, actually. There is a strong signal of benefit, and zero signal of harm. Considering that there were 15,000 people in the vaccine group, any serious side effects that can happen as a result of the vaccine are likely to be very rare (in those groups that were included in the study).

Ok, let’s wrap up. So all three vaccines appear to be highly effective at preventing covid-19, although both the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine are clearly more effective than the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. In terms of safety, I have significant concerns about the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, considering that there is a signal suggesting that it increases your risk of developing transverse myelitis by a hundredfold or more. Future research will have to show whether that is a real risk or not. I also have concerns about the Pfizer vaccine, since there was a 60% increase in severe adverse events among those taking the vaccine, an issue that Pfizer hasn’t bothered to address at all, and I am also concerned about the fact that Pfizer does not provide a detailed breakdown of adverse events, which makes it impossible to see if there is anything in there that we should be worried about. The Moderna vaccine does appear to be safe however, based on the data available up to now.

One final point. None of these studies tell us whether the vaccines are safe and effective for children. It would be unethical to start vaccinating children without first having made sure that it’s safe, especially considering that the risk to children from covid is infinitesimal. The same applies to pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with immune disorders, and people with severe allergies. If you belong to one of these groups, you should probably think extra long and hard before getting vaccinated, because these groups were not represented in the studies, and it is therefore not clear that the benefits outweigh the harms.

Source: Sebastian Rushworth M.D.

Nick Cater - Thu Jan 14, 2021 14:06

Few images better capture the idiocy of Australia in a time of plague than the snapshot of a Fiat 500 parked outside an outback hotel last week, halfway along the Birdsville Track.

The 320-mile stock-route from Birdsville in Queensland to Marree in South Australia crosses three Australian deserts. No sane person would tackle it in the heat of summer without a four-wheel drive, two spare tires, a stack of jerry cans, two days food and water and a long-handled shuffle.

Yet scores of stranded citizens from the state of Victoria have been risking their lives to drive home from Queensland on this tortuous and dangerous route to avoid the nonsensical border closure with New South Wales imposed by their panicky state government.

Residents of locked down Britain might be wondering what level of transmission nanny is prepared to tolerate before leaving us to live our lives in peace. The disappointing news from Australia is that for health bureaucrats risk is ever present, even when the number of new cases reported each day falls to zero, the hospitals are empty and no one has been killed by the wretched thing for months.

The existence of 100 or so so mild cases of Covid in NSW, none of which occupy an intensive-care hospital bed, was enough for the Victorian government to evoke emergency powers to declare its borders with NSW shut in the middle of the Christmas holiday.

While it is doubtful if this iron-fisted measure made on the run will have prevented a single case of infection, the misery of innocent, healthy citizens barred from re-entering their home state is immense and entirely predictable.

Cloddish bureaucrats have made matters worse. Passengers flying home to Melbourne from airports in NSW were declared Red Zone arrivals and inexplicably detained in gate lounges for hours. Questions about how long they would stay there or where they might apply for an exemption were met with shrugs. One young couple made the brave decision to leave the terminal and make a run for the border. They later handed themselves to police in NSW, and are now subject to $38,000 in fines.

Victorian state bureaucrats, incompetent on a good day, have been granted extraordinary powers under Victoria’s much-abused emergency provisions allowing them to detain or fine at will. Hapless arrivals at Melbourne Airport have discovered that they have taken on the role of sentries with relish.

A friend reports that she was held in arrivals for five hours, before sitting on a stationary bus for another three waiting to be taken to detention. She tells me she had to beg to be allowed to go to the toilet, and even then suffered the indignity of an escort in the manner of a child on preschool outing.

It should come as no surprise that a decision made at 3.30pm on New Year’s Eve should find a system so woefully unprepared. The deceptively named Public Health and Wellbeing Act, under which they are detained, says appeals against detention decisions should be made in writing to the chief health officer, but he was on holiday and his office failed to respond to emails. The official response from the Department of Justice is that the Department of Health and Human Services is in charge, while the DHHS refers inquiries to the Department of Justice.

My friend was detained against her wishes for a week in an airport hotel, the ironically named Holiday Inn as it happens, for the crime of wanting to return to her own home after a Christmas with relatives in another state.

The callous disregard for the right of habeas corpus in the name of fighting the plague is not unique to Australia. In few other jurisdictions, however, has the brutality of the measures imposed been so disproportionate to the level of the threat. With a mere 35 deaths per million, Australia is the 132nd least dangerous place to sit out the coronavirus. Yet the extreme lengths to which state governments have been prepared to go in a futile attempt to stamp out every trace of Covid-19 puts Aussies up there with the best of them. In the state of Queensland at the weekend, for example, there were just 28 locally acquired cases. Yet residents of the capital Brisbane risked fines if they were caught without masks, even if they were driving their own cars or stepping to the edge of their front lawns to check the mailbox.

What makes it stranger is that as recently as last March, the Queensland health authorities were advising the very opposite. ‘There is no evidence that wearing a face mask will prevent you from catching a virus like the novel coronavirus Covid-19’, they assured us. Such inconsistencies would once have demanded an explanation, but in times of plague no one in a position of authority feels the need to apologise.

The level of compliance with these ridiculous rules might seem strange in the nation that gave the world Crocodile Dundee. But there is little use in complaining when the sun is shining and the pubs are mostly open. In most states it is currently against the rules to imbibe alcohol while standing up for some obscure reason. But for now, at least, masks may be removed for the purposes of drinking.

Source: Spiked

Few images better capture the idiocy of Australia in a time of plague than the snapshot of a Fiat 500 parked outside an outback hotel last week, halfway along the Birdsville Track.

The 320-mile stock-route from Birdsville in Queensland to Marree in South Australia crosses three Australian deserts. No sane person would tackle it in the heat of summer without a four-wheel drive, two spare tires, a stack of jerry cans, two days food and water and a long-handled shuffle.

Yet scores of stranded citizens from the state of Victoria have been risking their lives to drive home from Queensland on this tortuous and dangerous route to avoid the nonsensical border closure with New South Wales imposed by their panicky state government.

Residents of locked down Britain might be wondering what level of transmission nanny is prepared to tolerate before leaving us to live our lives in peace. The disappointing news from Australia is that for health bureaucrats risk is ever present, even when the number of new cases reported each day falls to zero, the hospitals are empty and no one has been killed by the wretched thing for months.

The existence of 100 or so so mild cases of Covid in NSW, none of which occupy an intensive-care hospital bed, was enough for the Victorian government to evoke emergency powers to declare its borders with NSW shut in the middle of the Christmas holiday.

While it is doubtful if this iron-fisted measure made on the run will have prevented a single case of infection, the misery of innocent, healthy citizens barred from re-entering their home state is immense and entirely predictable.

Cloddish bureaucrats have made matters worse. Passengers flying home to Melbourne from airports in NSW were declared Red Zone arrivals and inexplicably detained in gate lounges for hours. Questions about how long they would stay there or where they might apply for an exemption were met with shrugs. One young couple made the brave decision to leave the terminal and make a run for the border. They later handed themselves to police in NSW, and are now subject to $38,000 in fines.

Victorian state bureaucrats, incompetent on a good day, have been granted extraordinary powers under Victoria’s much-abused emergency provisions allowing them to detain or fine at will. Hapless arrivals at Melbourne Airport have discovered that they have taken on the role of sentries with relish.

A friend reports that she was held in arrivals for five hours, before sitting on a stationary bus for another three waiting to be taken to detention. She tells me she had to beg to be allowed to go to the toilet, and even then suffered the indignity of an escort in the manner of a child on preschool outing.

It should come as no surprise that a decision made at 3.30pm on New Year’s Eve should find a system so woefully unprepared. The deceptively named Public Health and Wellbeing Act, under which they are detained, says appeals against detention decisions should be made in writing to the chief health officer, but he was on holiday and his office failed to respond to emails. The official response from the Department of Justice is that the Department of Health and Human Services is in charge, while the DHHS refers inquiries to the Department of Justice.

My friend was detained against her wishes for a week in an airport hotel, the ironically named Holiday Inn as it happens, for the crime of wanting to return to her own home after a Christmas with relatives in another state.

The callous disregard for the right of habeas corpus in the name of fighting the plague is not unique to Australia. In few other jurisdictions, however, has the brutality of the measures imposed been so disproportionate to the level of the threat. With a mere 35 deaths per million, Australia is the 132nd least dangerous place to sit out the coronavirus. Yet the extreme lengths to which state governments have been prepared to go in a futile attempt to stamp out every trace of Covid-19 puts Aussies up there with the best of them. In the state of Queensland at the weekend, for example, there were just 28 locally acquired cases. Yet residents of the capital Brisbane risked fines if they were caught without masks, even if they were driving their own cars or stepping to the edge of their front lawns to check the mailbox.

What makes it stranger is that as recently as last March, the Queensland health authorities were advising the very opposite. ‘There is no evidence that wearing a face mask will prevent you from catching a virus like the novel coronavirus Covid-19’, they assured us. Such inconsistencies would once have demanded an explanation, but in times of plague no one in a position of authority feels the need to apologise.

The level of compliance with these ridiculous rules might seem strange in the nation that gave the world Crocodile Dundee. But there is little use in complaining when the sun is shining and the pubs are mostly open. In most states it is currently against the rules to imbibe alcohol while standing up for some obscure reason. But for now, at least, masks may be removed for the purposes of drinking.

Source: Spiked

Glenn Greenwald - Thu Jan 14, 2021 10:30

Critics of Silicon Valley censorship for years heard the same refrain: tech platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter are private corporations and can host or ban whoever they want. If you don’t like what they are doing, the solution is not to complain or to regulate them. Instead, go create your own social media platform that operates the way you think it should.

The founders of Parler heard that suggestion and tried. In August, 2018, they created a social media platform similar to Twitter but which promised far greater privacy protections, including a refusal to aggregate user data in order to monetize them to advertisers or algorithmically evaluate their interests in order to promote content or products to them. They also promised far greater free speech rights, rejecting the increasingly repressive content policing of Silicon Valley giants.

Over the last year, Parler encountered immense success. Millions of people who objected to increasing repression of speech on the largest platforms or who had themselves been banned signed up for the new social media company.

As Silicon Valley censorship radically escalated over the past several months — banning pre-election reporting by The New York Post about the Biden family, denouncing and deleting multiple posts from the U.S. President and then terminating his access altogether, mass-removal of right-wing accounts — so many people migrated to Parler that it was catapulted to the number one spot on the list of most-downloaded apps on the Apple Play Store, the sole and exclusive means which iPhone users have to download apps. “Overall, the app was the 10th most downloaded social media app in 2020 with 8.1 million new installs,” reported TechCrunch.

It looked as if Parler had proven critics of Silicon Valley monopolistic power wrong. Their success showed that it was possible after all to create a new social media platform to compete with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And they did so by doing exactly what Silicon Valley defenders long insisted should be done: if you don’t like the rules imposed by tech giants, go create your own platform with different rules.

But today, if you want to download, sign up for, or use Parler, you will be unable to do so. That is because three Silicon Valley monopolies — Amazon, Google and Apple — abruptly united to remove Parler from the internet, exactly at the moment when it became the most-downloaded app in the country.

If one were looking for evidence to demonstrate that these tech behemoths are, in fact, monopolies that engage in anti-competitive behavior in violation of antitrust laws, and will obliterate any attempt to compete with them in the marketplace, it would be difficult to imagine anything more compelling than how they just used their unconstrained power to utterly destroy a rising competitor.


The united Silicon Valley attack began on January 8, when Apple emailed Parler and gave them 24 hours to prove they had changed their moderation practices or else face removal from their App Store. The letter claimed: “We have received numerous complaints regarding objectionable content in your Parler service, accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the illegal activities in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 that led (among other things) to loss of life, numerous injuries, and the destruction of property.” It ended with this warning:

To ensure there is no interruption of the availability of your app on the App Store, please submit an update and the requested moderation improvement plan within 24 hours of the date of this message. If we do not receive an update compliant with the App Store Review Guidelines and the requested moderation improvement plan in writing within 24 hours, your app will be removed from the App Store.

The 24-hour letter was an obvious pretext and purely performative. Removal was a fait accompli no matter what Parler did. To begin with, the letter was immediately leaked to Buzzfeed, which published it in full. A Parler executive detailed the company’s unsuccessful attempts to communicate with Apple. “They basically ghosted us,” he told me. The next day, Apple notified Parler of its removal from App Store. “We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content,” said the world’s richest company, and thus: “We have now rejected your app for the App Store.”

It is hard to overstate the harm to a platform from being removed from the App Store. Users of iPhones are barred from downloading apps onto their devices from the internet. If an app is not on the App Store, it cannot be used on the iPhone. Even iPhone users who have already downloaded Parler will lose the ability to receive updates, which will shortly render the platform both unmanageable and unsafe.

In October, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law issued a 425-page report concluding that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google all possess monopoly power and are using that power anti-competitively. For Apple, they emphasized the company’s control over iPhones through its control of access to the App Store. As Ars Technica put it when highlighting the report’s key findings:

Apple controls about 45 percent of the US smartphone market and 20 percent of the global smartphone market, the committee found, and is projected to sell its 2 billionth iPhone in 2021. It is correct that, in the smartphone handset market, Apple is not a monopoly. Instead, iOS and Android hold an effective duopoly in mobile operating systems.

However, the report concludes, Apple does have a monopolistic hold over what you can do with an iPhone. You can only put apps on your phone through the Apple App Store, and Apple has total gatekeeper control over that App Store—that's what Epic is suing the company over. . . .

The committee found internal documents showing that company leadership, including former CEO Steve Jobs, "acknowledged that IAP requirement would stifle competition and limit the apps available to Apple's customers." The report concludes that Apple has also unfairly used its control over APIs, search rankings, and default apps to limit competitors' access to iPhone users.

Shortly thereafter, Parler learned that Google, without warning, had also “suspended” it from its Play Store, severely limiting the ability of users to download Parler onto Android phones. Google’s actions also meant that those using Parler on their Android phones would no longer receive necessary functionality and security updates.

It was precisely Google’s abuse of its power to control its app device that was at issue “when the European Commission deemed Google LLC as the dominant undertaking in the app stores for the Android mobile operating system (i.e. Google Play Store) and hit the online search and advertisement giant with €4.34 billion for its anti-competitive practices to strengthen its position in various of other markets through its dominance in the app store market.”

The day after a united Apple and Google acted against Parler, Amazon delivered the fatal blow. The company founded and run by the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, used virtually identical language as Apple to inform Parler that its web hosting service (AWS) was terminating Parler’s ability to have AWS host its site: “Because Parler cannot comply with our terms of service and poses a very real risk to public safety, we plan to suspend Parler’s account effective Sunday, January 10th, at 11:59PM PST.” Because Amazon is such a dominant force in web hosting, Parler has thus far not found a hosting service for its platform, which is why it has disappeared not only from app stores and phones but also from the internet.

On Thursday, Parler was the most popular app in the United States. By Monday, three of the four Silicon Valley monopolies united to destroy it.


With virtual unanimity, leading U.S. liberals celebrated this use of Silicon Valley monopoly power to shut down Parler, just as they overwhelmingly cheered the prior two extraordinary assertions of tech power to control U.S. political discourse: censorship of The New York Post’s reporting on the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, and the banning of the U.S. President from major platforms. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find a single national liberal-left politician even expressing concerns about any of this, let alone opposing it.

Not only did leading left-wing politicians not object but some of them were the ones who pleaded with Silicon Valley to use their power this way. After the internet-policing site Sleeping Giants flagged several Parler posts that called for violence, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked: “What are @Apple and @GooglePlay doing about this?” Once Apple responded by removing Parler from its App Store — a move that House Democrats just three months earlier warned was dangerous anti-trust behavior — she praised Apple and then demanded to know: “Good to see this development from @Apple@GooglePlay what are you going to do about apps being used to organize violence on your platform?”

The liberal New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg pronounced herself “disturbed by just how awesome [tech giants’] power is” and added that “it’s dangerous to have a handful of callow young tech titans in charge of who has a megaphone and who does not.” She nonetheless praised these “young tech titans” for using their “dangerous” power to ban Trump and destroy Parler. In other words, liberals like Goldberg are concerned only that Silicon Valley censorship powers might one day be used against people like them, but are perfectly happy as long as it is their adversaries being deplatformed and silenced (Facebook and other platforms have for years banned marginalized people like Palestinians at Israel’s behest, but that is of no concern to U.S. liberals).

That is because the dominant strain of American liberalism is not economic socialism but political authoritarianism. Liberals now want to use the force of corporate power to silence those with different ideologies. They are eager for tech monopolies not just to ban accounts they dislike but to remove entire platforms from the internet. They want to imprison people they believe helped their party lose elections, such as Julian Assange, even if it means creating precedents to criminalize journalism.

World leaders have vocally condemned the power Silicon Valley has amassed to police political discourse, and were particularly indignant over the banning of the U.S. President. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, various French ministers, and especially Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador all denounced the banning of Trump and other acts of censorship by tech monopolies on the ground that they were anointing themselves “a world media power.” The warnings from López Obrador were particularly eloquent:

Even the ACLU — which has rapidly transformed from a civil liberties organization into a liberal activist group since Trump’s election — found the assertion of Silicon Valley’s power to destroy Parler deeply alarming. One of that organization’s most stalwart defenders of civil liberties, lawyer Ben Wizner, told The New York Times that the destruction of Parler was more “troubling” than the deletion of posts or whole accounts: “I think we should recognize the importance of neutrality when we’re talking about the infrastructure of the internet.”

Yet American liberals swoon for this authoritarianism. And they are now calling for the use of the most repressive War on Terror measures against their domestic opponents. On Tuesday, House Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) urged that GOP Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley “be put on the no-fly list,” while The Wall Street Journal reported that “Biden has said he plans to make a priority of passing a law against domestic terrorism, and he has been urged to create a White House post overseeing the fight against ideologically inspired violent extremists and increasing funding to combat them.”

So much of this liberal support for the attempted destruction of Parler is based in utter ignorance about that platform, and about basic principles of free speech. I’d be very surprised if more than a tiny fraction of liberals cheering Parler’s removal from the internet have ever used the platform or know anything about it other than the snippets they have been shown by those seeking to justify its destruction and to depict it as some neo-Nazi stronghold.

Parler was not founded, nor is it run, by pro-Trump, MAGA supporters. The platform was created based in libertarian values of privacy, anti-surveillance, anti-data collection, and free speech. Most of the key executives are more associated with the politics of Ron Paul and the CATO Institute than Steve Bannon or the Trump family. One is a Never Trump Republican, while another is the former campaign manager of Ron Paul and Rand Paul. Among the few MAGA-affiliated figures is Dan Bongino, an investor. One of the key original investors was Rebekah Mercer.

The platform’s design is intended to foster privacy and free speech, not a particular ideology. They minimize the amount of data they collect on users to prevent advertiser monetization or algorithmic targeting. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, they do not assess a user’s preferences in order to decide what they should see. And they were principally borne out of a reaction to increasingly restrictive rules on the major Silicon Valley platforms regarding what could and could not be said.

Of course large numbers of Trump supporters ended up on Parler. That’s not because Parler is a pro-Trump outlet, but because those are among the people who were censored by the tech monopolies or who were angered enough by that censorship to seek refuge elsewhere.

It is true that one can find postings on Parler that explicitly advocate violence or are otherwise grotesque. But that is even more true of Facebook, Google-owned YouTube, and Twitter. And contrary to what many have been led to believe, Parler’s Terms of Service includes a ban on explicit advocacy of violence, and they employ a team of paid, trained moderators who delete such postings. Those deletions do not happen perfectly or instantaneously — which is why one can find postings that violate those rules — but the same is true of every major Silicon Valley platform.

Indeed, a Parler executive told me that of the thirteen people arrested as of Monday for the breach at the Capitol, none appear to be active users of Parler. The Capitol breach was planned far more on Facebook and YouTube. As Recode reported, while some protesters participated in both Parler and Gab, many of the calls to attend the Capitol were from YouTube videos, while many of the key planners “have continued to use mainstream platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.” The article quoted Fadi Quran, campaign director at the human rights group Avaaz, as saying: “In DC, we saw QAnon conspiracists and other militias that would never have grown to this size without being turbo-charged by Facebook and Twitter.”

And that’s to say nothing of the endless number of hypocrisies with Silicon Valley giants feigning opposition to violent rhetoric or political extremism. Amazon, for instance, is one of the CIA’s most profitable partners, with a $600 million contract to provide services to the agency, and it is constantly bidding for more. On Facebook and Twitter, one finds official accounts from the most repressive and violent regimes on earth, including Saudi Arabia, and pages devoted to propaganda on behalf of the Egyptian regime. Does anyone think these tech giants have a genuine concern about violence and extremism?

So why did Democratic politicians and journalists focus on Parler rather than Facebook and YouTube? Why did Amazon, Google and Apple make a flamboyant showing of removing Parler from the internet while leaving much larger platforms with far more extremism and advocacy of violence flowing on a daily basis?

In part it is because these Silicon Valley giants — Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple — donate enormous sums of money to the Democratic Party and their leaders, so of course Democrats will cheer them rather than call for punishment or their removal from the internet. Part of it is because Parler is an upstart, a much easier target to try to destroy than Facebook or Google. And in part it is because the Democrats are about to control the Executive Branch and both houses of Congress, leaving Silicon Valley giants eager to please them by silencing their adversaries. This corrupt motive was made expressly clear by long-time Clinton operative Jennifer Palmieri:

The nature of monopolistic power is that anti-competitive entities engage in anti-trust illegalities to destroy rising competitors. Parler is associated with the wrong political ideology. It is a small and new enough platform such that it can be made an example of. Its head can be placed on a pike to make clear that no attempt to compete with existing Silicon Valley monopolies is possible. And its destruction preserves the unchallengeable power of a tiny handful of tech oligarchs over the political discourse not just of the United States but democracies worldwide (which is why Germany, France and Mexico are raising their voices in protest).

No authoritarians believe they are authoritarians. No matter how repressive are the measures they support — censorship, monopoly power, no-fly lists for American citizens without due process — they tell themselves that those they are silencing and attacking are so evil, are terrorists, that anything done against them is noble and benevolent, not despotic and repressive. That is how American liberals currently think, as they fortify the control of Silicon Valley monopolies over our political lives, exemplified by the overnight destruction of a new and popular competitor.

Source: Substack

Critics of Silicon Valley censorship for years heard the same refrain: tech platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter are private corporations and can host or ban whoever they want. If you don’t like what they are doing, the solution is not to complain or to regulate them. Instead, go create your own social media platform that operates the way you think it should.

The founders of Parler heard that suggestion and tried. In August, 2018, they created a social media platform similar to Twitter but which promised far greater privacy protections, including a refusal to aggregate user data in order to monetize them to advertisers or algorithmically evaluate their interests in order to promote content or products to them. They also promised far greater free speech rights, rejecting the increasingly repressive content policing of Silicon Valley giants.

Over the last year, Parler encountered immense success. Millions of people who objected to increasing repression of speech on the largest platforms or who had themselves been banned signed up for the new social media company.

As Silicon Valley censorship radically escalated over the past several months — banning pre-election reporting by The New York Post about the Biden family, denouncing and deleting multiple posts from the U.S. President and then terminating his access altogether, mass-removal of right-wing accounts — so many people migrated to Parler that it was catapulted to the number one spot on the list of most-downloaded apps on the Apple Play Store, the sole and exclusive means which iPhone users have to download apps. “Overall, the app was the 10th most downloaded social media app in 2020 with 8.1 million new installs,” reported TechCrunch.

It looked as if Parler had proven critics of Silicon Valley monopolistic power wrong. Their success showed that it was possible after all to create a new social media platform to compete with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And they did so by doing exactly what Silicon Valley defenders long insisted should be done: if you don’t like the rules imposed by tech giants, go create your own platform with different rules.

But today, if you want to download, sign up for, or use Parler, you will be unable to do so. That is because three Silicon Valley monopolies — Amazon, Google and Apple — abruptly united to remove Parler from the internet, exactly at the moment when it became the most-downloaded app in the country.

If one were looking for evidence to demonstrate that these tech behemoths are, in fact, monopolies that engage in anti-competitive behavior in violation of antitrust laws, and will obliterate any attempt to compete with them in the marketplace, it would be difficult to imagine anything more compelling than how they just used their unconstrained power to utterly destroy a rising competitor.


The united Silicon Valley attack began on January 8, when Apple emailed Parler and gave them 24 hours to prove they had changed their moderation practices or else face removal from their App Store. The letter claimed: “We have received numerous complaints regarding objectionable content in your Parler service, accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the illegal activities in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 that led (among other things) to loss of life, numerous injuries, and the destruction of property.” It ended with this warning:

To ensure there is no interruption of the availability of your app on the App Store, please submit an update and the requested moderation improvement plan within 24 hours of the date of this message. If we do not receive an update compliant with the App Store Review Guidelines and the requested moderation improvement plan in writing within 24 hours, your app will be removed from the App Store.

The 24-hour letter was an obvious pretext and purely performative. Removal was a fait accompli no matter what Parler did. To begin with, the letter was immediately leaked to Buzzfeed, which published it in full. A Parler executive detailed the company’s unsuccessful attempts to communicate with Apple. “They basically ghosted us,” he told me. The next day, Apple notified Parler of its removal from App Store. “We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content,” said the world’s richest company, and thus: “We have now rejected your app for the App Store.”

It is hard to overstate the harm to a platform from being removed from the App Store. Users of iPhones are barred from downloading apps onto their devices from the internet. If an app is not on the App Store, it cannot be used on the iPhone. Even iPhone users who have already downloaded Parler will lose the ability to receive updates, which will shortly render the platform both unmanageable and unsafe.

In October, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law issued a 425-page report concluding that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google all possess monopoly power and are using that power anti-competitively. For Apple, they emphasized the company’s control over iPhones through its control of access to the App Store. As Ars Technica put it when highlighting the report’s key findings:

Apple controls about 45 percent of the US smartphone market and 20 percent of the global smartphone market, the committee found, and is projected to sell its 2 billionth iPhone in 2021. It is correct that, in the smartphone handset market, Apple is not a monopoly. Instead, iOS and Android hold an effective duopoly in mobile operating systems.

However, the report concludes, Apple does have a monopolistic hold over what you can do with an iPhone. You can only put apps on your phone through the Apple App Store, and Apple has total gatekeeper control over that App Store—that's what Epic is suing the company over. . . .

The committee found internal documents showing that company leadership, including former CEO Steve Jobs, "acknowledged that IAP requirement would stifle competition and limit the apps available to Apple's customers." The report concludes that Apple has also unfairly used its control over APIs, search rankings, and default apps to limit competitors' access to iPhone users.

Shortly thereafter, Parler learned that Google, without warning, had also “suspended” it from its Play Store, severely limiting the ability of users to download Parler onto Android phones. Google’s actions also meant that those using Parler on their Android phones would no longer receive necessary functionality and security updates.

It was precisely Google’s abuse of its power to control its app device that was at issue “when the European Commission deemed Google LLC as the dominant undertaking in the app stores for the Android mobile operating system (i.e. Google Play Store) and hit the online search and advertisement giant with €4.34 billion for its anti-competitive practices to strengthen its position in various of other markets through its dominance in the app store market.”

The day after a united Apple and Google acted against Parler, Amazon delivered the fatal blow. The company founded and run by the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, used virtually identical language as Apple to inform Parler that its web hosting service (AWS) was terminating Parler’s ability to have AWS host its site: “Because Parler cannot comply with our terms of service and poses a very real risk to public safety, we plan to suspend Parler’s account effective Sunday, January 10th, at 11:59PM PST.” Because Amazon is such a dominant force in web hosting, Parler has thus far not found a hosting service for its platform, which is why it has disappeared not only from app stores and phones but also from the internet.

On Thursday, Parler was the most popular app in the United States. By Monday, three of the four Silicon Valley monopolies united to destroy it.


With virtual unanimity, leading U.S. liberals celebrated this use of Silicon Valley monopoly power to shut down Parler, just as they overwhelmingly cheered the prior two extraordinary assertions of tech power to control U.S. political discourse: censorship of The New York Post’s reporting on the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, and the banning of the U.S. President from major platforms. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find a single national liberal-left politician even expressing concerns about any of this, let alone opposing it.

Not only did leading left-wing politicians not object but some of them were the ones who pleaded with Silicon Valley to use their power this way. After the internet-policing site Sleeping Giants flagged several Parler posts that called for violence, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked: “What are @Apple and @GooglePlay doing about this?” Once Apple responded by removing Parler from its App Store — a move that House Democrats just three months earlier warned was dangerous anti-trust behavior — she praised Apple and then demanded to know: “Good to see this development from @Apple@GooglePlay what are you going to do about apps being used to organize violence on your platform?”

The liberal New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg pronounced herself “disturbed by just how awesome [tech giants’] power is” and added that “it’s dangerous to have a handful of callow young tech titans in charge of who has a megaphone and who does not.” She nonetheless praised these “young tech titans” for using their “dangerous” power to ban Trump and destroy Parler. In other words, liberals like Goldberg are concerned only that Silicon Valley censorship powers might one day be used against people like them, but are perfectly happy as long as it is their adversaries being deplatformed and silenced (Facebook and other platforms have for years banned marginalized people like Palestinians at Israel’s behest, but that is of no concern to U.S. liberals).

That is because the dominant strain of American liberalism is not economic socialism but political authoritarianism. Liberals now want to use the force of corporate power to silence those with different ideologies. They are eager for tech monopolies not just to ban accounts they dislike but to remove entire platforms from the internet. They want to imprison people they believe helped their party lose elections, such as Julian Assange, even if it means creating precedents to criminalize journalism.

World leaders have vocally condemned the power Silicon Valley has amassed to police political discourse, and were particularly indignant over the banning of the U.S. President. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, various French ministers, and especially Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador all denounced the banning of Trump and other acts of censorship by tech monopolies on the ground that they were anointing themselves “a world media power.” The warnings from López Obrador were particularly eloquent:

Even the ACLU — which has rapidly transformed from a civil liberties organization into a liberal activist group since Trump’s election — found the assertion of Silicon Valley’s power to destroy Parler deeply alarming. One of that organization’s most stalwart defenders of civil liberties, lawyer Ben Wizner, told The New York Times that the destruction of Parler was more “troubling” than the deletion of posts or whole accounts: “I think we should recognize the importance of neutrality when we’re talking about the infrastructure of the internet.”

Yet American liberals swoon for this authoritarianism. And they are now calling for the use of the most repressive War on Terror measures against their domestic opponents. On Tuesday, House Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) urged that GOP Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley “be put on the no-fly list,” while The Wall Street Journal reported that “Biden has said he plans to make a priority of passing a law against domestic terrorism, and he has been urged to create a White House post overseeing the fight against ideologically inspired violent extremists and increasing funding to combat them.”

So much of this liberal support for the attempted destruction of Parler is based in utter ignorance about that platform, and about basic principles of free speech. I’d be very surprised if more than a tiny fraction of liberals cheering Parler’s removal from the internet have ever used the platform or know anything about it other than the snippets they have been shown by those seeking to justify its destruction and to depict it as some neo-Nazi stronghold.

Parler was not founded, nor is it run, by pro-Trump, MAGA supporters. The platform was created based in libertarian values of privacy, anti-surveillance, anti-data collection, and free speech. Most of the key executives are more associated with the politics of Ron Paul and the CATO Institute than Steve Bannon or the Trump family. One is a Never Trump Republican, while another is the former campaign manager of Ron Paul and Rand Paul. Among the few MAGA-affiliated figures is Dan Bongino, an investor. One of the key original investors was Rebekah Mercer.

The platform’s design is intended to foster privacy and free speech, not a particular ideology. They minimize the amount of data they collect on users to prevent advertiser monetization or algorithmic targeting. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, they do not assess a user’s preferences in order to decide what they should see. And they were principally borne out of a reaction to increasingly restrictive rules on the major Silicon Valley platforms regarding what could and could not be said.

Of course large numbers of Trump supporters ended up on Parler. That’s not because Parler is a pro-Trump outlet, but because those are among the people who were censored by the tech monopolies or who were angered enough by that censorship to seek refuge elsewhere.

It is true that one can find postings on Parler that explicitly advocate violence or are otherwise grotesque. But that is even more true of Facebook, Google-owned YouTube, and Twitter. And contrary to what many have been led to believe, Parler’s Terms of Service includes a ban on explicit advocacy of violence, and they employ a team of paid, trained moderators who delete such postings. Those deletions do not happen perfectly or instantaneously — which is why one can find postings that violate those rules — but the same is true of every major Silicon Valley platform.

Indeed, a Parler executive told me that of the thirteen people arrested as of Monday for the breach at the Capitol, none appear to be active users of Parler. The Capitol breach was planned far more on Facebook and YouTube. As Recode reported, while some protesters participated in both Parler and Gab, many of the calls to attend the Capitol were from YouTube videos, while many of the key planners “have continued to use mainstream platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.” The article quoted Fadi Quran, campaign director at the human rights group Avaaz, as saying: “In DC, we saw QAnon conspiracists and other militias that would never have grown to this size without being turbo-charged by Facebook and Twitter.”

And that’s to say nothing of the endless number of hypocrisies with Silicon Valley giants feigning opposition to violent rhetoric or political extremism. Amazon, for instance, is one of the CIA’s most profitable partners, with a $600 million contract to provide services to the agency, and it is constantly bidding for more. On Facebook and Twitter, one finds official accounts from the most repressive and violent regimes on earth, including Saudi Arabia, and pages devoted to propaganda on behalf of the Egyptian regime. Does anyone think these tech giants have a genuine concern about violence and extremism?

So why did Democratic politicians and journalists focus on Parler rather than Facebook and YouTube? Why did Amazon, Google and Apple make a flamboyant showing of removing Parler from the internet while leaving much larger platforms with far more extremism and advocacy of violence flowing on a daily basis?

In part it is because these Silicon Valley giants — Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple — donate enormous sums of money to the Democratic Party and their leaders, so of course Democrats will cheer them rather than call for punishment or their removal from the internet. Part of it is because Parler is an upstart, a much easier target to try to destroy than Facebook or Google. And in part it is because the Democrats are about to control the Executive Branch and both houses of Congress, leaving Silicon Valley giants eager to please them by silencing their adversaries. This corrupt motive was made expressly clear by long-time Clinton operative Jennifer Palmieri:

The nature of monopolistic power is that anti-competitive entities engage in anti-trust illegalities to destroy rising competitors. Parler is associated with the wrong political ideology. It is a small and new enough platform such that it can be made an example of. Its head can be placed on a pike to make clear that no attempt to compete with existing Silicon Valley monopolies is possible. And its destruction preserves the unchallengeable power of a tiny handful of tech oligarchs over the political discourse not just of the United States but democracies worldwide (which is why Germany, France and Mexico are raising their voices in protest).

No authoritarians believe they are authoritarians. No matter how repressive are the measures they support — censorship, monopoly power, no-fly lists for American citizens without due process — they tell themselves that those they are silencing and attacking are so evil, are terrorists, that anything done against them is noble and benevolent, not despotic and repressive. That is how American liberals currently think, as they fortify the control of Silicon Valley monopolies over our political lives, exemplified by the overnight destruction of a new and popular competitor.

Source: Substack

Reagan Rose - Thu Jan 14, 2021 09:30

Love that warm sense of security you get from being forced to wear a face-diaper every time you leave the house? Well, The New York Times wants you to know you could be even more safer if you wear two masks at once.

Yes.

Seriously.

Two masks.

"Football coaches do it. President-elects do it. Even science-savvy senators do it. As cases of the coronavirus continue to surge on a global scale, some of the nation's most prominent people have begun to double up on masks"

Biden does it. Oh, well if the geriatric-elect is doing it... I guess we all should.

And while we're at it why not three or four? Or 5? Or mandatory hazmat suits? Or giant hamster balls so we can roll around the city without human contact in a beautiful, germ-free, depressed dystopia.

We must be safe, even if it kills us!

Of course, there's a trade-off: At some point, "we run the risk of making it too hard to breathe," she said. But there is plenty of breathing room before mask-wearing approaches that extreme.

LOL!

Oh, yeah... Shoot! Forgot about oxygen. Wouldn't want to go overboard!

Goodness gracious. 🤦‍♂️

What a time to be alive.

Source: Not the Bee

Love that warm sense of security you get from being forced to wear a face-diaper every time you leave the house? Well, The New York Times wants you to know you could be even more safer if you wear two masks at once.

Yes.

Seriously.

Two masks.

"Football coaches do it. President-elects do it. Even science-savvy senators do it. As cases of the coronavirus continue to surge on a global scale, some of the nation's most prominent people have begun to double up on masks"

Biden does it. Oh, well if the geriatric-elect is doing it... I guess we all should.

And while we're at it why not three or four? Or 5? Or mandatory hazmat suits? Or giant hamster balls so we can roll around the city without human contact in a beautiful, germ-free, depressed dystopia.

We must be safe, even if it kills us!

Of course, there's a trade-off: At some point, "we run the risk of making it too hard to breathe," she said. But there is plenty of breathing room before mask-wearing approaches that extreme.

LOL!

Oh, yeah... Shoot! Forgot about oxygen. Wouldn't want to go overboard!

Goodness gracious. 🤦‍♂️

What a time to be alive.

Source: Not the Bee

Anti-Empire >>

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