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Confused in Afghanistan: The Biden Administration’s Latest Trick

The Biden administration continues to engage in that favourite activity White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki can only describe as “circling back”. And much circling is taking place in the context of Afghanistan.

The cupboard of calamities is well stocked, with the US facing an emboldened Taliban keen to hold Washington to its word in withdrawing the last troops by May 1. In doing so, there is little chance that the US sponsored government in Kabul would survive. But dithering past the date will also be an open invitation to resume hostilities in earnest.

As things stand with the Afghanistan Peace Agreement, the Taliban have every reason to chortle. “There is little sign that this particular peace process,” opines Kate Clark of the Afghan Analysts Network, “has blunted the Taliban’s eagerness, in any way, to pursue war.” Not only have they been brought into any future power sharing arrangements with Kabul; they are also entertaining a new constitution with a good dose of Islamic policing. A powerful Islamic Jurisprudence Council with veto powers over laws is contemplated. All of this comes with the departure of US troops provided the Taliban prevent Al Qaeda and other designated terrorist groups from operating within the country’s borders.

Cadres of the security establishment in Washington are worried at easing the imperial footprint. Left with few options, the Biden administration has resorted to delaying tactics, hoping for the creation of an interim power-sharing government that would lead to a more comprehensive peace settlement.

Policy wonks are not impressed. Madiha Afzal and Michael E. O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute take a withering view of the Taliban: they are not to be trusted on any reduction in violence or constructive power sharing. The only question for them is whether US forces remain, or leave. As with previous justifications for keeping up the pretence for foolish, bloody and failed interventions, the argument is a familiar hoary old chestnut: to extricate yourself from the nightmare would see the perpetration of a bigger one. “As difficult as it is to remain in this longest war, the most likely outcome of pulling out of Afghanistan would be very, very ugly, including ethnic cleansing, mass slaughter and the ultimate dismemberment of the country.”

Afzal and O’Hanlon acknowledge the bill to be considerable, though they do so with cool regret: the cost to the US taxpayer could be up to $10 billion annually; 10 to 20 casualties would also be added to the accounts “if the Taliban resumes its previous use of force against US forces.” Not taking up the burden would encourage the troops of other countries to leave while seeing conflict move to the cities, “which have generally remained under government control throughout the past two decades.”

With the interim government plan taking shape, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has decided to further baffle allies in Kabul. In a letter to Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani seen by TOLOnews, Blinken states that, “Although we have not yet completed our review of the way ahead, we have reached an initial conclusion that the best way to advance our shared interests is to do all we can to accelerate peace talks and to bring all parties into compliance with their commitments.”

To this waffle, Blinken has a suggestion: “pursuing a high-level diplomatic effort with the parties and with regional countries and the United Nations.” The Foreign Ministers of Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and the United States should be convened by the UN. Written proposals to the Taliban and Ghani are also promised “aimed at accelerating discussions on a negotiated settlement and ceasefire.” While they are not meant to “dictate terms to the parties,” the Afghans have every reason to assume the opposite, given that they involve “foundational principles that will guide Afghanistan’s future constitutional and governing arrangements,” “a new inclusive government” and “terms of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”

Then comes the insertion of Turkey, which would have come as a delight to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, busily shredding the remnants of liberal democracy in his country. Senior-level meetings of both sides would take place in Turkey “in the coming weeks to finalize a peace agreement.” Hardly a vote of confidence for supporters of constitutional strength and sobriety, and striking coming from an individual who enjoys berating states such as China for their human rights blemishes.

The rest of Blinken’s points resemble a counselling session: a revised proposal for a Reduction-in-Violence strategy that will take 90 days; the need for all Afghan leaders to remain united and, in doing so, “build consensus on specific goals and objectives for a negotiation with the Taliban about governance, power-sharing, and essential supporting principles.” Blinken then falls into that unfortunate habit prevalent in the advertising school of thought in US foreign policy. Tactics and “public messaging that will demonstrate unity of effort and purpose” should be pursued. Public relations should do it.

The tone of the note, with its Quiet American theme, did not impress various Afghan advocates. Kabul-based lawyer Kawun Kakar found the “prescriptive nature and context of the letter disturbing.” He acknowledged that the US was “frustrated by the ‘endless war’” and the lengthy talks in Doha but imposing “complicated substantive” and “procedural conditions” and “deadlines do not seem realistic.” The parties, as things stood, were simply too far apart to guarantee any durable peace, while letting in other major powers into an already messy picture was ill-considered.

Vice President Amrullah Saleh did little to hide his dissatisfaction. “They [the Americans] have the right to decide on 2,500 US soldiers and sign deals with the Taliban as they please. But it is also our right to make decisions about 35 million people of Afghanistan not based on anyone else’s calendar.”

Biden’s Afghanistan policy risks fouling up even before anything solid is minted. “US forces will stay,” worries Eli Lake, “risking a new round of attacks from the Taliban. But they will not stay long, depriving the US of its already dwindling leverage to force the Taliban to adhere to the 2020 deal.” The worst of all worlds.

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The trouble with AstraZeneca… Bugger the quality of the research, choice or supply

The trouble with AstraZeneca goes beyond blood clotting. Lack of trial data to show efficacy or safety in older people, blood clotting in women under 55, poor operational controls in research resulting in the controversy of a half dose being more effective when all along the independent variable may have been the interval between doses – 3 months not one month. Oops doesn’t inspire confidence in their research if they can’t get that right!

And it doesn’t stop there. Supply issues, broken contracts, vested national interests, protectionism, political interference and even questions surrounding the reliability and accuracy of information AstraZeneca is providing about its ‘baby’ – evidence that information and data may be being withheld.

The US has not yet completed its report on its phase 3 mass trial and rumours circulating AstraZeneca haven’t been providing up to date information. Efficacy is 30% lower than its rivals at 62%. So what are we not seeing here? What is AstraZeneca hiding? Why are so many countries and their regulators deliberating while host countries like UK and Australia (well in the minority), who have most to gain out of all this play politics with orders and supply, and ultimately people’s lives-willing to obfuscate their national public health messaging, information and choice?

One thing’s for sure, it is a dangerous game they are playing, when this all should be well above politics – but it ain’t is it, Messrs Morrison and Johnson? It is one step away from being weaponised and another to hide the truth from your general public.

We are being told it is safe, but clearly not for some, and for others there is an absence of data to support it. But the spin doctors are already out there ramming the public health safety slogan down our throats. And here in Australia, if you are eligible on medical grounds or concerns for an alternative, there is only one – Pfizer-BioNTech, and already it is not available to the general public, but most don’t know this.

The US also has Moderna and Johnson and Johnson, all three of which are more effective, arguably safer, and none of which so far, have thrown up any of the troubles of AstraZeneca.

So in Australia, the general population have just one vaccine which has been badly managed. Many unanswered questions. If you have no medical conditions or family history, having the vaccine evidently poses less risk than not taking it, little doubt about that. But until the US study is reported with its larger and broader sample, with latest reliable data and independent analysis, which we are told is soon, the truth about its effectiveness and safety in the elderly is yet to be properly established. But if you have a blood clotting disorder, serious heart condition, receiving medication and family history, you may be at higher risk than either AstraZeneca or the government is telling; and the government has failed to provide an alternative. That is probably what is compromising their willingness to tell the truth, so they are resorting to dumbed down public health messaging and guesswork.

So, what can we learn from all this?

  1. The research needs to be conducted on a reliable and independent footing, sound methodologies, rigorous, no compromises.
  2. The public need to be told the truth from the start, no guesswork for the sake of politicians sleeping in their beds at night. Do not mislead the public. The biggest threat to public confidence and consenting to vaccination is being lied to or misled, unsupported claims, and of course overzealous politicians who don’t know what they are talking about, covering up for their incompetence.
  3. Cautions, contraindications, risks must be labelled on the product and all product information; and for reasons we won’t go into that has been overlooked in the packaging and promotion of AstraZeneca; shortcuts, omissions and excuses unacceptable.
  4. There needs to be a choice, an alternative if there are medical contraindications and risks. That choice must be based on medical advice, case by case, not a bureaucrat or politician.
  5. Our government needs to address the order and supply problem – One for all is not acceptable.
  6. Don’t even think about travel passes and restrictions until you get this stuff right.

We can do better than this unless you like the sound of our master’s voice (I don’t and I don’t like his attitude), frankly he, like Boris doesn’t know what he is talking about either, other than pulling the wool over our eyes every day, pretty much on everything. But I would have expected better from the Chief Medical Officer in Australia than his one size fits all, dumbing down, and bugger the quality of the research, choice or supply.

References:

Missteps plague AstraZeneca’s Vaccine Rollout, The Washington Post, 22 March 2021.

Reputation of AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine marred by missteps, Modern Healthcare, 23 March 2021.

WHO says AstraZeneca vaccinations should continue as some nations halt rollout amid concerns, The Washington Post, 13 March 2021.

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Was COVID-19 born in the United States? (part 11)

Continued from: Was COVID-19 born in the United States? (part 10)

By Outsider

President Trump’s political future could be bet on toxifying any discussion about COVID-19 and China – no matter how insane and reckless. The simplistic aim was to rally American voters behind the flag and paint China as the nation’s enemy.

It did not really matter that, as Pompeo had just agreed, there was no reliable intelligence concerning the origin of the virus. This would not have been the first time that United States ‘intelligence’ would fabricate history by concocting lies for wars. The memory of the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 was too close to be forgotten.

Pompeo himself, as former head of the C.I.A., had openly boasted about lying and cheating as a professional attribute of him. In fact, America’s ‘top diplomat’ has zero credibility, much like his bleach-prescribing president. (F. Cunningham, Pompeo: US Knows Nada, Information Clearing House, 02.05.2020).

The dossier stated that to the “endangerment of other countries” the Chinese government had covered-up news of the virus by silencing or “disappearing” doctors who spoke out, destroying evidence of it in laboratories, and refusing to provide live samples to international scientists who were working on a vaccine.

According to the dossier, China had been ‘refusing’ to let W.H.O. take part in COVID-19 investigation.

The dossier also purported to reveal that the Australian government had trained and funded a team of Chinese scientists who belong to a laboratory which went on to modify genetically deadly coronaviruses which could be transmitted from bats to humans and had no cure, and “was not the subject of a probe into the origins of Covid-19.”

As ‘intelligence’ agencies investigated whether the virus inadvertently leaked from a Wuhan laboratory, still according to The Saturday Telegraph, “the team and its research led by scientist [Dr.] Shi Zhengli featured in the dossier prepared by ‘western’ governments which pointed to several studies they conducted as areas of concern.” Dr. Shi was the director of the Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The dossier cites their work discovering samples of coronavirus from a cave in the Yunnan province with striking genetic similarity to COVID-19, along with their research “synthesising a bat-derived coronavirus that could not be treated.” Its major themes include the “deadly denial of human-to-human transmission”, the silencing or “disappearing” of doctors and scientists who spoke out, the destruction of evidence of the virus from genomic studies laboratories, and “bleaching of wildlife market stalls”, along with the refusal to provide live virus samples to international scientists working on a vaccine.

Key figures of the Wuhan Institute of Virology team, who feature in the dossier, were either trained or employed in the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory where they conducted foundational research on deadly pathogens in live bats, including SARS – Severe acute respiratory syndrome, as part of an ongoing partnership between the C.S.I.R.O. and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

This partnership was continuing, according to the website of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, despite concerns that the research is too risky.

Politicians in the Morrison government were recorded as speaking out about the national security and bio-security concerns of the relationship in that the controversial research into bat-related viruses had come into sharp focus during an investigation by the Five Eyes intelligence agencies of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

In Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province, not far from the suspected Wuhan wet market, Dr. Shi and her teamwork in high-protective gear in level-three and level-four bio-containment laboratories studying deadly bat-derived coronaviruses.

At least one of the ­estimated 50 virus samples Dr. Shi has in her laboratory is said to be a 96 per cent genetic match to COVID-19. When Dr. Shi heard the news about the outbreak of a new ­pneumonia-like virus, she spoke about the sleepless nights she suffered worrying whether it was her laboratory which was responsible for the outbreak.

At this point the story about the dossier becomes rather complicated. There is the view of The Saturday Telegraph: “As she told Scientific American magazine in an article published this week: “Could they have come from our lab?” Since her initial fears, Dr. Shi has satisfied herself the genetic sequence of COVID-19 did not match any her lab was studying.” And then there is the view presented by F.R.N. – Fort Russ News in an article by J. White, titled “Renown coronavirus expert Dr. Shi Zhengli provides PROOF – SARS COV-2 NOT an accidental release from Wuhan.” The latter article carries the following Editor’s Note (4/24/20): This article was originally published online on March 11. It has been updated for inclusion in the June 2020 issue of Scientific American and to address rumours that SARS-CoV-2 emerged from Shi Zhengli’s lab in China.”

Nevertheless, The Saturday Telegraph insisted on writing: “Yet, given the extent of the People’s Republic of China’s lies, obfuscations and angry refusal to allow any investigation into the origin of the outbreak, her laboratory is now being closely looked at by international intelligence agencies,” as if The Saturday Telegraph were sufficient evidence of anything.

The Australian government’s position is that the virus most likely originated in the Wuhan wet market but that there is a remote possibility – a 5 per cent chance – it accidentally leaked from a laboratory.

The United States’ position, according to reports as at early May 2020, was that it is more likely the virus leaked from a laboratory but it could also have come from a wet market which trades and slaughters wild animals, where other diseases including the H5N1 avian flu and SARS originated.

The position of the ‘Western governments’ research paper’ was said to be similar. There is reference to a 2013 study conducted by a team of researchers, including Dr. Shi, who collected a sample of horseshoe bat faeces from a cave in Yunnan province, China, which was later found to contain a virus 96.2 per cent identical to SARS-CoV-2, the virus which caused COVID-19.

The dossier also makes reference to work done by the team to synthesise SARS-like coronaviruses, to analyse whether they could be transmissible from bats to mammals. This – The Saturday Telegraph observed – means they were altering parts of the virus to test whether it was transmissible to different species.

A November 2015 study, done in conjunction with the University of North Carolina, concluded that the SARS-like virus could jump directly from bats to humans and there was no treatment which could help.

The dossier acknowledges the incredible danger of the work the scientists were conducting.

“The potential to prepare for and mitigate future outbreaks must be weighed against the risk of creating more dangerous pathogens,” the dossier pointed out. The extreme danger presented by the work seems to be contained in the following technical passage: “To examine the emergence potential (that is, the potential to infect humans) of circulating bat CoVs, we built a chimeric virus encoding a novel, zoonotic CoV spike protein – from the RsSHCO14-CoV sequence that was isolated from Chinese horseshoe bats – in the context of the SARS-CoV mouse-adapted backbone.”

One of Dr. Shi’s co-authors of that paper, Professor Ralph Baric from North Carolina University, said in an interview with Science Daily at the time: “This virus is highly pathogenic and treatments developed against the original SARS virus in 2002 and the ZMapp drugs used to fight ebola fail to neutralise and control this particular virus.”

A few years later, in March 2019, Dr. Shi and her team, including Dr. Peng Zhou, a research affiliated with the Wuhan Institute Of Virology, who had worked in Australia for five years, published a study ­titled ‘Bat Coronaviruses in China’ in the open-access medical journal Viruses, where they wrote that they “aim to predict virus hot spots and their cross-species transmission potential”, describing it as a matter of “urgency to study bat corona­viruses in China to understand their potential of causing another outbreak.” Their review stated: “It is highly likely that future SARS or MERS like coronavirus outbreaks will originate from bats, and there is an increased probability that this will occur in China.” The review examined which proteins were “important for interspecies transmission.”

Despite ‘intelligence’ probes into whether her laboratory may have been responsible for the outbreak, Dr. Shi plans to head a national project systemically to sample viruses in bat caves, with estimates that there are more than 5,000 coronavirus strains “waiting to be discovered in bats globally.” “Bat-borne coronaviruses will cause more outbreaks,” she told ScientificAmerican. “We must find them before they find us.”

Dr. Shi spent time in Australia as a ­visiting scientist for three months from 22 February to 21 May 2006. She worked at the C.S.I.R.O.’s top-level Australian Animal Health Laboratory, which has recently been renamed.

The C.S.I.R.O. would not comment on what work Dr. Shi undertook during her time in Australia, but an archived and translated biography on the Wuhan Institute of Virology website states that she was working with the SARS virus. “The SARS virus antibodies and genes were tested in the State Key Laboratory of Virology in Wuhan and the Animal Health Research Laboratory in Geelong, Australia,” it states.

TheSaturday Telegraph had obtained two photographs of Dr. Shi working at the CSIRO laboratories, including in the level-four laboratory, in 2006.

Dr. Shi’s protégé, Dr. Peng Zhou – now the head of the Bat Virus Infection and Immunity Project at the Wuhan Institute of Virology – spent three years at the bio-containment facility Australian Animal Health Laboratory between 2011 and 2014. He was sent by China to complete his doctorate at the C.S.I.R.O. from 2009-2010.

During this time, Dr Zhou arranged for wild-caught bats to be transported alive by air from Queensland to the laboratory in Victoria where they were euthanised for dissection and studied for deadly viruses.

Dr. Linfa Wang, while an Honorary Professor of the Wuhan Institute of Virology between 2005 and 2011, also worked in the C.S.I.R.O. Office of the Chief Executive Science Leader in Virology between 2008 and 2011.

Federal Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson said it was “very concerning” that Chinese scientists had been conducting research into bat viruses at the C.S.I.R.O. in Geelong, Victoria, in jointly funded projects between the Australian and Chinese governments. “We need to exercise extreme care with any research projects involving foreign nationals which may compromise our national security or bio-security.” she said.

While the United States has cut all funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the C.S.I.R.O. would not respond to ­questions about whether it is still collaborating with it, saying only that it collaborates with research organisations from around the world to prevent diseases.

“As with all partners, C.S.I.R.O. undertakes due diligence and takes security very seriously,” a spokesperson said. “C.S.I.R.O. undertakes all research in accordance with strict bio-security and legislative requirements.”

The United States withdrew funding from controversial experiments which make pathogens more potent or likely to spread dangerous viruses in October 2014, concerned it could lead to a global pandemic.

The pause on funding for 21 ‘gain of function’ studies was then lifted in December 2017.

Despite the concerns, the C.S.I.R.O. continued to partner and fund research with the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The C.S.I.R.O. refused to respond to questions from The SaturdayTelegraph about how much money went into joint research collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Science and its Wuhan Institute of Virology. The Wuhan Institute still lists the C.S.I.R.O. as a partner while the United States has cut ties since the coronavirus outbreak.

The argument is whether it is worth developing these viruses to anticipate and prevent a pandemic when a leak of the virus could also cause one. Debate in the scientific community is heated.

There have also been serious concerns about a lack of adequate safety practices at the Wuhan Institute of Virology when dealing with deadly viruses.

A ‘‘sensitive but unclassified’’ cable, dated 19 January 2018, obtained by The Washington Post, revealed that United States embassy scientists and diplomats in Beijing visited the laboratory and sent warnings back to Washington about inadequate safety practices and management weaknesses as it conducted research on coronaviruses from bats.

“During interactions with scientists at the [Wuhan Institute of Virology] laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” the cable stated.

The dossier declares: “Scientific consensus is that the virus came from a wetmarket. But the US’s top spy agency confirmed on the record for the first time [on 1 May 2020] that the United States intelligence committee is investigating whether Covid-19 was the result of an accident at a Wuhan laboratory.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence acting director Richard Allen Grenell said that the virus was not created in a laboratory.

“The entire Intelligence Community has been consistently providing critical support to US policymakers and those responding to the COVID-19 virus, which originated in China,” he said.

“The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified. As we do in all crises, the Community’s experts respond by surging resources and producing critical intelligence on issues vital to US national security. The [Intelligence Community] will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”

Despite Mr. Grenell’s statement and scientific consensus that the virus was not created in a laboratory, based on its genome sequence the governments’ research paper obtained by The Saturday Telegraph notes a study which claims it was created.

South China University of Technology researchers published a study on 6 February which concluded: “the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan. Safety level may need to be reinforced in high-risk biohazards laboratories.”

“The paper is soon withdrawn because it ‘was not supported by direct proofs’, according to the author, professor Botao Xiano,” the dossier noted, continuing to point out that: ‘“No scientists have confirmed or refuted the paper’s findings’, scholar Yanzhong Huang wrote on March 5.”

TheSaturday Telegraph did not claim that the South China University of Technology study is credible, only that it has been included in the government research paper produced as part of the case against China.

The dossier obtained by The Saturday Telegraph deals with “the suppression and destruction of evidence” and points to “virus samples ordered destroyed at genomics labs, wildlife market stalls bleached, the genome sequence not shared publicly, the Shanghai lab closure for ‘rectification’, academic articles subjected to prior review by the Ministry of Science and Technology and data on asymptomatic ‘silent carriers’ kept secret.”

The Saturday Telegraph intended to paint a picture of how the Chinese government deliberately covered up the coronavirus by silencing doctors who spoke out, destroying evidence from the Wuhan laboratory and refusing to provide live virus samples to international scientists working on a vaccine.

The United States, along with other countries, has repeatedly ­demanded a live virus sample from the first batch of coronavirus cases. This is understood to have not been forthcoming despite its vital importance in developing a vaccine while potentially providing an indication of where the virus originated.

Out of all the doctors, activists, journalists and scientists who have reportedly disappeared after speaking out about the coronavirus or criticising the response of Chinese authorities, no case is more intriguing and worrying than that of Huang Yan Ling. (See: J. Little, How We Got Here, Part 1: The Tragic Tale of Huang Yan Ling and COVID-19, OmegaShock.com, 27.04.2020).

While Dr. Huang Yan Ling was a researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the South ChinaMorning Post reported rumours swirling on Chinese social media that she was the first to be diagnosed with the disease and was ­‘patient zero.’

Then came her reported disappearance, with her biography and image deleted from the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s website.

On 16 February 2020 the Institute denied that she was ­‘patient zero’ and said that she was alive and well; but there has been no proof of life since then, fanning speculation.

On 31 December 2019 Chinese authorities started censoring news of the virus from search engines, deleting terms including “SARS variation, “Wuhan Seafood market” and “Wuhan Unknown Pneumonia.”

On 1 January 2020, without any investigation into where the virus originated from, the Wuhan seafood market was closed and disinfected.

It has been reported in The New York Times that individual animals and cages were not swabbed “eliminating evidence of what animal might have been the source of the coronavirus and which people had become infected but survived.” The Hubei Health Commission ordered genomics companies to stop testing for the new virus and to destroy all samples. On 3 January 2020, China’s leading health authority, the National Health Commission, ordered Wuhan pneumonia samples be moved to designated testing facilities or destroyed, while instructing a no-publication order related to the unknown disease.

Doctors who bravely spoke out about the new virus were detained. Their detentions were splashed across the Chinese-state media with a call from Wuhan Police for “all citizens not to start rumours, not spread rumours, not believe rumours.”

A tweet from the Global Times on 2 January 2020 stated: “Police in Central China’s Wuhan arrested 8 people spreading rumours about local outbreak of unidentifiable #pneumonia. Previous online posts said it was SARS.” This had the intended effect of silencing other doctors who may have been inclined to speak out.

So – according to the dossier – the truth about the outbreak in China has remained shrouded in secrecy, with President Xi Jinping aggressively rejecting global calls for an inquiry.

The dossier is damning China’s constant denials about the outbreak.

“Despite evidence of human-human transmission from early December, People Republic of China’s authorities deny it until January 20,” it states.

“The World Health Organisation does the same. Yet officials in Taiwan raised concerns as early as 31 December, as did experts in Hong Kong on 4 January.”

The dossier exposes ‘the hypocrisy of China’s self-­imposed travel bans’ while condemning those of Australia and the United States, and declaring: “Millions of people leave Wuhan after the outbreak and before Beijing locks down the city on January 23.” “Thousands flew overseas. Throughout February 2020, Beijing’s authorities pressed the United States, Italy, India, Australia, Southeast Asian neighbours and others not to protect themselves through travel restrictions, even as the People’s Republic of China was imposing severe restrictions at home. According to the dossier, the western governments were busy “pushing back at what they call an assault on international transparency.”

“As European Union diplomats were preparing a report on the pandemic, the People’s Republic of China was successfully pressing Brussels to strike language on P.R.C. disinformation,” the dossier said.

“As Australia calls for an independent inquiry into the pandemic, the P.R.C. threatens to cut off trade with Australia. The P.R.C. has likewise responded furiously to United States calls for transparency.”

Chair of Australia’s Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security Andrew William Hastie, a Liberal Party member of the Australian House of Representatives, said that after ‘the cover-up and disinformation campaign from China’, the world needed transparency and an inquiry. “So many Australians have been damaged by the mismanagement of Covid-19 by the Chinese government, and if we truly are as close as Beijing suggests we are then we need answers about how this all started,” he said.

The dossier provided a list of the following ‘key dates in COVID-19 cover-up’:

“November 9, 2015: Wuhan Institute of Virology publish a study revealing that they created a new virus in the lab from SARS-CoV.

December 6, 2019: Five days after a man linked to Wuhan’s seafood market presented pneumonia-like symptoms, his wife contracts it, suggesting human to human transmission.

December 27: China’s health authorities told a novel disease, then affecting some 180 patients, was caused by a new coronavirus.

December 26-30: Evidence of new virus emerges from Wuhan patient data.

December 31: Chinese internet authorities begin censoring terms from social media such as Wuhan Unknown Pneumonia.

January 1, 2020: Eight Wuhan doctors who warned about new virus are detained.

January 3: China’s top health authority issues a gag order.

January 5: Wuhan Municipal Health Commission stops releasing daily updates on new cases. Continues until January 18.

January 10: P.R.C. official Wang Guangfa says outbreak “under control” and mostly a “mild condition”.

January 12: Professor Zhang Yongzhen’s laboratory in Shanghai is closed by authorities for “rectification”, one day after it shares genomic sequence data with the world for the first time.

January 14: P.R.C. National Health Commission chief Ma Xiaowei privately warns colleagues that the virus is likely to develop into a major public health event.

January 24: Officials in Beijing prevent the Wuhan Institute of Virology from sharing sample isolates with the University of Texas.

February 6: China’s internet watchdog tightens controls on social media platforms.

February 9: Citizen-journalist and local businessman Fang Bin disappears.

April 17: Wuhan belatedly raises its official fatalities by 1290. (S. Markson, Coronavirus NSW: Dossier lays out case against China bat virus program. (The Daily Telegraph, 02.05.2020).

To be continued…

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Coming to the Playing Field: Biden Puts Australia First

It has gotten tongues wagging in the diplomatic corps of Beijing, Washington and distant Canberra. The opening session of the two-day summit between China and the United States in Anchorage, Alaska was ill-tempered. “We do not seek conflict,” insisted White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan from the outset, “but we welcome stiff competition, and we will always stand up for our principles, for our people, and for our friends.” There was little doubt that what followed was stiff.

Particular concern was expressed regarding claims of economic coercion exerted by Beijing towards US allies, with Australia featuring. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was all reiteration, outlining a list of sins to add to accusations of coercion: China’s policy towards Tibet and the Uighurs in Xinjiang; actions in Hong Kong and the stance on Taiwan; assertiveness in the South China Sea; and cyber-attacks on US targets. “Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability,” stated a grave Blinken. “That’s why they’re not merely internal matters and why we feel an obligation to raise these issues here today.”

The “rules-based international order” proved to be the stubborn fixation. “That system is not an abstraction,” lectured Blinken. “It helps countries resolve differences peacefully, coordinate multilateral efforts effectively, and participate in global commerce with the assurance that everyone is following the same rules.” Sullivan attempted to rub matters in, talking about the Quad leaders’ summit “that spoke to the can-do-spirit of the world’s democracies and committed to [realizing] the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.” Beyond the ritualistic cant of order and rules, Sullivan was convinced that the US approach to China benefited “the American people and protects the interests of our allies and partners.”

Given that rules-based-orders have been forged by guns, bombs and steel, along with a good measure of coercion of the military and economic sort, this was mighty rich indeed. It was certainly too rich for China’s highest ranking diplomat, Yang Jiechi. Himself no slouch in the field of history, he spoke of the “United Nations-centred international system and the international order underpinned by international law, not what is advocated by a small number of countries of the so-called ‘rules-based’ international order.” He suggested that the US “change its own image” and “stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world.” As for human rights, the US had its own backyard problems. “They did not just emerge over the past four years, such as Black Lives Matter.”

On the subject of interference, Yang was unsparing and accurate. In certain cases, he argued, the “problem is that the United States has exercised long-arm jurisdiction and suppression and overstretched the national security through the use of force or financial hegemony.”

State Councillor Wang Yi sought clarification and a more nuanced view. Why see China’s relationship with Australia and Japan as identical to that of the US? “I don’t think we could know from all being together because for all of those instances, they each have their own set of issues and different positions are involved.” Were the US to “indiscriminately protest and speak up for those countries just because they are your allies or partners” the development of international relations would be “very difficult”.

Undeterred, Sullivan moved into the register of US exceptionalism, claiming that “a confident country is able to look hard at its own shortcomings and constantly seek to improve.” Oddly, he called this “the secret sauce of America.” Taking much of it, he praised the US for its constant reinventions, collaborations and producing “the kind of progress that benefits all of us, and is rooted in a concept of human dignity and human rights that is truly universal that every man, woman, and child in this world aspires to.” At that point, a bucket should have been passed to the sauce-filled advisor.

The unfortunate consequence of the buttering up of allies and rebuking China is a certain big-headedness, one encouraged by the recent remarks of the White House Indo-Pacific coordinator, Kurt Campbell that “we are not going to leave Australia alone in the field.” Campbell’s reputation in the Australian security establishment is “Mr Asia in Washington,” to use the words of the Lowy Institute’s Michael Fullilove, has caused spells of giddy excitement in Canberra. He, extols the Sydney Morning Herald, “understands not only Australia’s geopolitical significance but is well-versed in its domestic politics.”

This has caused an outbreak of Australian fawning, with Canberra content that its own bellicose, and self-damaging approach to China, has been sound, justifiable diplomacy. Trade Minister Dan Tehan, speaking to reporters in Canberra, was prostrate in gratitude. “I think all Australians should be reassured by the fact that the Americans have come out and they’ve got our back, and they won’t leave us alone on the playing field.” Foreign Minister Marise Payne was delighted by Campbell’s remarks, which was a “very clear and unequivocal statement of the importance of allies and partners, and is very much acknowledged and appreciated.”

Neither Blinken nor Sullivan seemed acquainted or cared to acknowledge Australia’s own China policies, which featured, as economist Percy Allan ably points out, a range of provocations after signing a free trade and investment agreement with Beijing in 2015. A few of the seven grounds he mentioned can be cited: the blocking of over 100 Chinese imports by resorting to anti-dumping provisions found inappropriate by the Productivity Commission under WTO rules; the crusade against Huawei and 5G technology; the selective condemnation of Chinese human rights abuses without noting those of other states in the region (Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia) including Australia’s own policy towards refugees; and publicly requesting an investigation by the World Health Organisation into the origins of COVID-19 having consulted the Trump administration but not Beijing.

All of this wrangling troubles a few sane voices, including Stan Grant of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “Make no mistake: we are now in a phase of preparation for war. China is becoming more aggressive in tone and actions, while the US is strengthening its regional alliances.” And Australia found itself in the “crosshairs of this new great power rivalry” in which Canberra had made a choice. “We are paying a price with a deteriorating relationship with China and our exporters are suffering.”

Former Australian diplomat Bruce Haigh was less glum, finding the talks refreshingly revealing. “Today, in my opinion, marked a turning point in international relations; China drew a line in the sand, did not bend at the knee nor tug its forelock.” Its significance remains undigested.

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House of Saxony

By Robert Stygall

‘On tonight’s show I’d like to welcome all the way from Mel-born, Australia – Robert and Liz.’

‘Hi, Oprah – we’re excited to talk to you.’

‘Now we’re speaking to you tonight because you are making an amazing claim – you say that you are the rightful King and Queen Consort of the United Kingdom.’

‘That’s right. I can trace my ancestry directly back almost a thousand years to the original Saxon Kings. In fact, back to Harold the Second in 1066. Whilst the current usurpers only go back as far back as Edward the Seventh in 1901 with the so-called House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. You got to admit that doesn’t sound very British does it. Look a hundred years ago rebranding your name to the House of Windsor to disguise your Germanic origins, may have worked on the plebs, but surely today people are too sophisticated and well educated to believe such contrived mythology – setting aside Donald Trump supporters of course?’

‘I think we’ll leave Donald to one side – so how did you end up missing out?’

‘Well, my Great, Great, Great etc etc Father had the throne illegally stolen from him by William the Conqueror. And as we know he was about as British as garlic snails. So, the end result is we have had close to a thousand years of various usurpers and families stealing the monarchy from the previous thieving incumbents. So, I am here to restore the purity of English monarchy and to re-establish the link back to the true and original Kings and Queens of England, the Saxons.’

‘So, you are sure you can prove your direct lineage to Harold the Second.’

‘Yes, my DNA matches perfectly with the DNA recently recovered from the arrow in the eye that killed him. I now have the best constitutional lawyers in the world supporting my claim. As a consequence, I will shortly be serving notice on the present usurpers the House of Windsor, to vacate my numerous residences.’

‘So, what will you do with these newly acquired properties?’

‘Well, Oprah, mention is often made of the people’s palace, well I will return Buckingham Palace to the people. It will be converted to a theme park and entertainment centre. I have already booked the headline acts for the first concert ‘Queen’ and ‘The Pretenders’ – lets Ruck the Buck, oh yes.’

’Windsor Castle I will retain for my own use but of course it will be renamed Saxonia Castle.’

‘Robert, isn’t there a problem, with you living in Australia and being King of the United Kingdom?’

‘Well, Oprah, for over a hundred years the Australian head of state has been a Windsor King or Queen located in Britain, so I can’t see how they can complain when we reverse the situation.’

‘What about Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales?’

‘Let’s face it. They are a vestige of Colonisation. I will give them Independence and ironically, they will then most likely cede autonomy by re-joining the EU. However, I know I speak for many when I say we will miss the many cultural contributions, these countries have made to the British way of life. For example, deep fried Mars bars, sectarian tribalism and massed male choirs.’

‘Robert do you think you and your family have the moral authority to rule England.’

’Well, Oprah no family is perfect, but I can assure you no-one in the House of Saxony, as we will be known, has been a Nazi sympathiser, exploited and sexually abused young girls or boys, lived a luxurious and decadent lifestyle off the taxpayer via Royal stipends, made racist and insensitive remarks on an ongoing basis, had multiple extra-marital affairs, or exhibited mad or bizarre behaviour as a result of generations of in-breeding; so I think that is a good start.’

‘What about the system of honours – will you keep them?’

’Firstly, all existing honours will be cancelled. However, you have to admit they are a very clever way of allowing power and influence to be exerted at virtually no actual cost. No, instead, we will have a lottery each year and Knighthoods and the like will be randomly drawn out. To be honest this will probably result in more worthy recipients than the current system. Rolf Harris, I rest my case. By the way, when I say randomly drawn out, we will of course ensure there will be an appropriate representation of aged, female, physically handicapped, LGBTIQ, left-handed and racially diverse recipients.’

‘Well thank you, Robert, we have to leave it there and good luck with your claim.’

‘Thank you, Oprah, and God Bless The House of Saxony.’

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Green Passes and Dark Inequalities: The Push for COVID Immunity Passports

Sensible, ideal, wonderful – if you happen to be in the European Union. This is the air of confidence surrounding the March 17 proposal for a digital COVID immunity passport, or what is officially being called the Digital Green Certificate.

The Digital Green Certificate is actually a bundle of three: vaccination certificates stating the brand of vaccine used, data and place of inoculation and number of doses administered; negative test certificates (either a rapid antigen test or a NAAT/RT-PCR test); and medical certificates for those who have recovered from COVID-19 in the last 180 days.

The measure is discrimination made sound, preference made prominent. The essential requirement to obtain such a pass is evidence that you have been vaccinated by a jab with a vaccine approved by the European Medicines Agency. But the European Commission did append a qualification to this requirement. Member states could decide whether to accept vaccines that the EMA had yet to approve. Not in itself reassuring, given the varied approaches European states have taken to the international vaccine market.

Such administrative and bureaucratic impositions are the stuff of nightmares for ethicists and philosophers. For those in economics, business and management, it is an eminently sensible idea that will enable people to move within Europe, preferably in time for summer.

The director of Eagle Travel, David Reculez, put the case for the defence. “For us, the travel agencies, the new certificate is really a good hope because it will definitely help people to travel again.” People wanted to travel in a safe way without being hampered by “hard rules or quarantine”.

Countries with tourist-heavy economies – Greece, Spain and Croatia, for instance – are enthused. On February 23, Greece’s Digital Governance Minister Kyriakos Pierrakakis announced the use of vaccination passports. Agreements have been struck with Israel, Cyprus and Serbia to enable a generous flow of vaccinated residents this summer. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has had the ear of the EU President Ursula von der Leyen, pushing for a unified EU position on the matter, despite his country’s separate bilateral efforts.

France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium are, to various degrees, opposed and sceptical. France’s minister of state for tourism, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne thought “the idea of restricting movement to only people who are vaccinated” a “premature” debate given that only “4 to 5% of the European populace had been vaccinated.” The country’s minister for European Affairs Clément Beaune found it “shocking, while this vaccination campaign is still underway in Europe, that there would be more rights for some people than for others. This is not our conception of protection and access to vaccines.”

A number of health practitioners and bioethicists hold similar concerns. Sarah Chan of the Usher Institute for Population Health Sciences and Informatics in Edinburgh makes a convincing case for the prosecution. “I think vaccine passports have the potential to be unnecessarily divisive. It’s likely to lead to negative consequences, particularly in being unfair and creating inequalities.”

In February, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that “there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination” including combating variants of SARS-CoV-2; the duration of protection following vaccination; the timing of booster doses and whether vaccination offered protection against asymptomatic infection.

Prioritising vaccinations for travel “could result in inadequate supplies of vaccines for priority populations considered at high risk of severe COVID-19 disease.” To introduce “a requirement of vaccination as a condition for travel has the potential to hinder equitable global access to a limited vaccine supply and would be unlikely to maximize the benefits of vaccination for individual societies and overall global health.”

We can already see the green pass concept deployed in Israel. The incentive to do so is clear. “With the green pass,” encourages the voiceover of an advertisement promoting the idea, “doors simply open in front of you…We’re returning to life.”

The country has been using an app to show who has been fully inoculated against coronavirus or those who have recovered from infection. For both vaccinated individuals and recovered coronavirus patients, the pass is valid till June 6, 2021. It acts as a form of exclusive access, a mark of approval should you wish to go to concerts, theatres, gyms and hotels. Hoteliers such as Armin Grunewald, whose establishment can be found near the Sea of Galilee, told the Guardian that, “People were looking happy and liberated”.

Cryptographers and students of information security were less merry. The Ramzor app has been blighted by problems since it was launched. In the view of computer scientist Orr Dunkelman, based at Haifa University, it unnecessarily reveals information such as the date a person recovered from COVID-19 or received a vaccine. It also employs an old encryption library susceptible to security breaches. Ran Bar Zik, software columnist for Haaretz, goes so far as to call it “a catastrophe in the making,” suggesting a paper vaccination form instead.

In February, the Knesset approved a law allowing the Health Ministry to provide the name, national identification number, phone number and address of any citizen who can be vaccinated but has not received a jab, to a range of authorities. These include the Education Ministry and the Welfare Ministry. At the time of its passage, Tamar Zandberg of the Meretz party suggested that, “Disclosing such information is a slippery slope, and damage’s people’s privacy.”

An uncomfortable spectre is unfolding. While paperwork certifying good health has been a feature of transport and travel – the WHO’s Yellow card showing certified vaccinations for such infections as cholera, plague and typhoid being a most known example – COVID-19 green certificates are another matter. Epidemiologist Christopher Dye and sociologist Melinda C. Mills, writing in Science, remark that, “The greatest risk is that people for whom vaccination is unacceptable, untested, inaccessible, or impossible are denied access to goods and services.” They consider the various instances where inequity can manifest: ethnic minorities reluctant to take the jab; a lack of data on vaccine efficacy for people at risk (pregnant women for instance); unreachable, undocumented migrants; the digital technological divide; and eligibility requirements.

In a global sense, the unvaccinated in the COVID-19 age risk becoming the great modern unwashed, derided or ignored, socially and politically excluded. The effect is analogous to depriving people of passports, alienating them from citizenship citing biomedical grounds. Dye and Mills are optimists confident that such passports can “be guided by exemplary science, appropriate technologies, and fair use for all.” But as with previous categories of the invisible and the undocumented, verifiable vaccination passes loom as rigid hierarchies of compliance, surveillance and division.

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Was COVID-19 born in the United States? (part 10)

Continued from: Was COVID-19 born in the United States? (part 9)

By Outsider

Quam parva sapientia regitur mundus! (With how little wisdom is the world governed!)

On 4 May 2020 the United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there “is a significant amount of evidence” that the COVID-19 outbreak originated from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Mr. Michael Richard Pompeo is a qualified attorney at law, as well as a businessman, politician and diplomat who, since April 2018, has been serving as the seventieth United States Secretary of State. He is a former United States Army officer and was Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from January 2017 until April 2018, when he was chosen as Secretary of State.

Behold Mike Pompeo chuckling with his audience at the Texas A&M University, on 15 April 2019: “When I was a cadet [at West Point] our motto was: ‘You will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do.’ [And when] I was the C.I.A. director, we lied, we cheated, we stole. It was like we had entire training courses. It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.

He was a member of the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017, a Republican from Kansas. Within the Republican Party, Mr. Pompeo was a prominent member of the Tea Party movement, a very conservative branch. But he is by training a lawyer, and as such he should be familiar with the strictures of the law of evidence. (‘Significant evidence’ virus came from Wuhan lab: Pompeo, The New Daily, 04.05.2020).

There are several sources which would condition Mr. Pompeo’s last statement.

Writing in September 2020, Mr. Peter Andrews, an Irish science journalist and writer based in London, who has a background in the life sciences, and graduated from the University of Glasgow with a degree in genetics, brought to life a new study from the United States which indicated that people were falling ill with ‘coronavirus-like’ symptoms in December 2019, but doctors at the time dismissed it as ordinary flu.

A team of doctors from Los Angeles scouring the hospital records from the previous winter had discovered a series of smoking gun clues which almost guarantee that COVID-19 was present in America well before the end of December 2019.

Scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles had analysed over 10 million hospital records from 1 December 2019 to 29 February 2020. Comparing that winter to previous ones, they noticed a 50 per cent increase in ‘coughing’ as a symptom on admission forms. In addition, 18 more people than would ordinarily be expected were hospitalised with acute respiratory failure.

In fact, the scientists estimate that there may have been 1,000 or more COVID-19 sufferers in Los Angeles alone during the previous winter – and presumably those were just the symptomatic minority. At the time, of course, all of this was put down to a moderately bad flu season. Officially, COVID-19 did not turn up in Los Angeles until 22 January, when a traveller in Los Angeles International Airport fell ill. He was from Wuhan, and was identified as Covid-positive four days later.

This bombshell fits an emerging body of evidence on an earlier coronavirus timeline. Many people may remember the reports of a strange vaping-related illness which ravaged Americans towards the end of last year. (CDC raises alarm after mystery vaping-linked lung disease kills 5, sickens 450+ across U.S.; CDC raises alarm after mystery vaping-linked lung disease kills 5, sickens 450+ across US, 07.09.2019).

There was a good deal of study on it. Scientists at first thought it was the oils in the e-cigs congealing in people’s lungs, but soon debunked that hypothesis. In hindsight, it is difficult to look past COVID-19 as the real culprit. Pneumonia-like symptoms, ordinarily fit people falling severely ill. It was COVID-19 all over.

These revelations came hot on the heels of a very different story from England, which nonetheless points to the same conclusion. One Peter Attwood died at the age of 84 on 30 January, having been sick for over a month. But in subsequent weeks, an autopsy confirmed that he died of COVID-19, with which he was probably infected in 2019. Underlining this, Attwood’s daughter was sick with similar symptoms two weeks earlier still.

All of this happened in Kent, a county in South East England. But, according to the government there, the first COVID-19 death in the United Kingdom did not happen until March. Afterword Attwood’s family wanted answers from the Chinese government on why they did not tell the W.H.O. earlier about the coronavirus, which, as it commonly known from leaked memos, was identified in mid-November at the latest. (C. Pollard, Daughter’s anguish. Brit was first to die of Covid outside of China last Xmas – daughter says ‘he’d still be here if Beijing hadn’t lied’, The Sun, 08.09.2020).

If coronavirus burned a track through the United States and the United Kingdom towards the end of 2019, is there any reason to suspect it was not doing the same everywhere else? In July, reports came in of coronavirus DNA being found in Spain, Italy and South America as long ago as the spring of 2019. (Plot twist! The coronavirus is NOT CHINESE, says famed British epidemiologist but his reputation precedes him, rt.com, 07.07.2020).

How far back does this story go? One will probably never know.

Nor will one ever be able to track the precise journey of the novel coronavirus around the globe, despite being nearly certain of its origin in Wuhan. But when the inquiry is done, surely findings like these have to be taken seriously, and built into the retrospective model of the pandemic. And if the coronavirus was spreading freely in 2019, the questions are: What was the point in beginning lockdowns sometime in March 2020? Is it really credible that they could have made a blind bit of difference, coming as late as they did?

This whole mess demonstrates the problem with relying on official data and records, as they are bound to be incomplete and tardy, particularly at this stage. Despite such understandable failings in government information, people have an unfortunate habit of treating it like the gospel truth. This is absurd, and yet thinking of this quality seems to inform so much COVID-19. (Was Covid-19 spreading freely worldwide BEFORE last Christmas? The evidence keeps stacking up, rt.com, 11.09.2020).

At mid-November 2020 it appeared that the COVID-19 virus had been active in Italy months before it was first officially detected, new research has found, raising further questions about the true origins, extent and actual duration of the ongoing pandemic.

The new ground-breaking study, conducted by scientists within Milan Institute of Cancer and the University of Siena, was published at mid-November 2020 by the Tumori Journal. (G. Apolone, E. Montomoli, A. Manenti, Unexpected detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in the prepandemic period in Italy, 11.11.2020).

The research is based on the analysis of blood samples from 959 people, collected during lung cancer screening tests conducted between September 2019 and March 2020.

More than 11 per cent of the tested – 111 people – turned out to have had coronavirus-specific antibodies. All the tested people were asymptomatic and were not showing any signs of the disease. Some 23 of the positive results date back to September 2019, suggesting that the virus was actually present in the country as early as during 2019 summer – some six months before the pandemic ‘began’ and ‘reached’ Italy.

The new research is poking new holes in the already well-battered belief that the novel coronavirus emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan around December 2019 and that it turned into pandemic in January 2020. The data from Italian researchers are particularly valuable, as they are based on actual blood samples, as compared to the earlier, less conclusive findings which also suggested that the established pandemic timeline could be wrong.

The study’s conclusions appear to be consistent with the reports of severe respiratory symptoms and ‘atypical flu’rampant among Italy’s elderly late in 2019. Another study, published by Italian scientists back in June, showed that traces of the coronavirus were found in sewage water analysed as early as December 2019.

Similar findings have been made by scientists from other countries as well. Spanish researchers have claimed that they have traced coronavirus in sewage samples taken as early as March 2019.

Analysis of hospital records from late 2019 in the United States has also suggested the unusual amount of ‘flu’ patients, many of whom experienced heavy ‘coughing’ and other severe respiratory symptoms.

Globally, the number of registered COVID-19 cases had gone past the 54-million mark, while more than 1.3 million people have perished, the latest figures as available from the Johns Hopkins University. With the mounting evidence that the outbreak began well before its ‘official’ start, it was becoming more likely the true extent of the pandemic will one day be revised. (Covid-19 was present in Italy as early as September 2019, study of lung cancer screenings shows, rt.com, 15.11.2020).

Confirmation, of sort, came from an unusual source: the World Economic Forum, the international N.G.O. based in Cologny, Geneva Canton, Switzerland, and founded in 1971. It issued a fairly cryptic information: (Ryan, W.E.F admits COVID was around in mid-2019 & it is admitted the vaccine will not return us to normal, posted on 16.11.2020).

Mr. Pompeo’s declaration differed from that of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said on 1 May 2020 that he had seen no evidence suggesting a laboratory was the likely source and the most likely scenario was a Wuhan wildlife wet market. Mr. Morrison has no medical and/or legal qualifications; before entering politics he was an advertiser.

President Trump had announced the week before Mr. Pompeo spoke that he had a high degree of confidence that the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The president’s statement prompted the World Health Organization to reiterate its view that the new coronavirus was of natural origin.

United States intelligence agencies confirmed that they were still examining the claim that COVID-19 started in the Wuhan laboratory – but Mr. Pompeo was more definite. “I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan,” Mr. Pompeo told America’s ABC TV network on 3 May 2020.

 

The Wuhan Institute of Virology. Photo Getty

 

Mr. Pompeo said that China “has a history of infecting the world and they have a history of running substandard laboratories.” “These are not the first times that we’ve had a world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab,” he said.

He also briefly contradicted a statement issued the previous week by the top United States spy agency. “The best experts so far seem to think it was man-made. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point,” Mr. Pompeo said.

When the interviewer pointed out that that was not the conclusion of United States intelligence agencies, Mr. Pompeo retreated saying: “I’ve seen what the intelligence community has said. I have no reason to believe that they’ve got it wrong.”

His statement came in a four-page U.S. Department of Homeland Security report obtained by The Associated Press, which claimed that Chinese leaders “intentionally concealed the severity” of the pandemic from the world in early January.

The report, which is dated 1 May, stated that, while downplaying the severity of the COVID-19, China increased imports and decreased exports of medical supplies. It attempted to cover up doing so by “denying there were export restrictions and obfuscating and delaying provision of its trade data,” the analysis stated.

The report said that China held off informing the World Health Organization of the full extent of the outbreak so it could continue to order medical supplies from abroad.

Mr. Pompeo told the ABC TV network that he had no reason to believe that the COVID-19 was deliberately spread but said that China had a poor record on viruses. “Remember, China has a history of infecting the world, and they have a history of running substandard laboratories,” he said.

He said that the Chinese government could have prevented the spread of COVID-19, but instead used disinformation and concealment, with the help of the W.H.O., to hide and confuse the world. He said that the world was united in wanting to understand how the outbreak began – and supported a call from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for a global inquiry into the COVID-19 outbreak. (A. Hamblin, Australia calls for probe into WHO and China amid questions over coronavirus ‘transparency’, The New Daily, 20.04.2020).

“The Australians agree with that,” Mr. Pompeo added, as if the agreement of the Australians were necessary. “You hear the Europeans beginning to say the same thing. I think the whole world is united in understanding that China brought this virus to the world,” with A.A.P.

The United States determination to pin the blame – and probably the bill too – on China for the COVID-19 pandemic had been collected in a 15-page dossier compiled by intelligence agencies, which had been leaked, according to reports.

The dossier, amply described by The (Sydney) Saturday Telegraph, had been prepared by “concerned Western governments.”The publication reported that the Five Eyes intelligence agencies of the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom were investigating China. (S. Markson, Coronavirus NSW: Dossier lays out case against China bat virus program, 04.05.2020).

The authors of the research found some quite unusual ways to paint China’s response to the outbreak – a negative and even sinister way. For instance, despite a presumed requirement for brevity in such a short paper, it refers to a study which claimed the killer coronavirus had been created in a laboratory.

The scientific community’s consensus held a different view, and spoke otherwise, while United States intelligence is on the record agreeing with the dossier’s position. The work itself had been withdrawn because there was no direct proof to support the theory, as its author, now professor, Botao Xiao acknowledged. But the ‘China dossier’ found a warm spot for a mention, it appears.

A large portion of the dossier is apparently dedicated to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and one of its top researchers, Dr. Shi Zhengli, who has a long and distinguished career of studying SARS-like coronaviruses and bats as their natural reservoirs. It seems that the dossier is not interested in the database of bat-related viruses Dr. Shi helped create but rather in the claim that the COVID-19 pandemic started as a leak from her laboratory.

The dossier points to the so-called gain-of-function research in which Dr. Shi was involved. Such studies are aimed at identifying possible mutations in infectious agents which may occur naturally and make them much more dangerous to humans. Creating stems with such mutations in the laboratory allows to prepare for a possible outbreak, though whether such research is worth the risk of accidental release or even bioterrorism attacks has been subject to much debate.

In the contents of the dossier however the implications seem clear: what if China lost control of one of its dangerous samples and then did everything it could to cover it up? The alleged obfuscation seems to be the main focus of the damning document. It claims that Beijing was engaged in “suppression and destruction of evidence”including by disinfecting the food market believed to be the ground zero of the COVID-19 pandemic. China is also accused of hypocrisy because it imposed a ban on internal travel from the Hubei province while arguing against a ban on international flights.

“Millions of people leave Wuhan after the outbreak and before Beijing locks down the city on January 23.” the newspaper cited the dossier as saying. “Thousands fly overseas. Throughout February, Beijing presses the United States, Italy, India, Australia, Southeast Asian neighbours and others not to protect themselves via travel restrictions, even as the [People’s Republic of China] imposes severe restrictions at home.”

The leaked dossier is yet to be made public for independent scrutiny. But the dramatic tone of the quotes in TheSaturdayTelegraph and the far-fetched implications indicate that it is along the lines of infamous intelligence assessments and media leaks by anonymous officials, which have been the staple of western foreign policy for decades. One could remember the story of how Saddam Hussein was said secretly to have obtained yellowcake uranium and to be ready to strike Europe with his missiles in 45 minutes, or the Russian bots which swayed the 2016 election with memes. If true, one should have expected many ‘revelations’ in months to come. (CIA & MI6 put together ‘scientific’ dossier ‘targeting China’s Covid-19 cover-up’ – as West readies to demand Beijing COMPENSATION, rt.com, 03.05.2020).

In fact, all the Secretary of State’s bluster blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic appeared as empty posturing. He had admitted it on public TV on the same week.

Mr. Pompeo was asked about the origin of the virus and, specifically, United States’ claims about it being leaked from a laboratory. He told Fox News: “This virus originated in Wuhan, China. We don’t know the precise location.” [Emphasis added] (Secretary Pompeo: We know the Covid-19 crisis began in Wuhan and the Chinese government tried to cover it up. 30.04.2020). And that was the best that Mr. Pompeo could do. He was simply “repeating what the rest of the world already knows: that the new coronavirus had emerged in the city of Wuhan.” Mr. Pompeo had no further detail on an alleged laboratory release, and openly said so himself.

He was quite generous with innuendos and inanities, but an indirect information could be gathered from Mr. Pompeo’s admission that the United States simply knew nothing about “the precise location” from which the virus had come. And that was a damning remark, because Secretary of State Pompeo and President Trump, among others, had been claiming that United States intelligence indicated that the virus somehow leaked out of a laboratory in Wuhan, the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

While Mr. Pompeo was accidentally telling the truth about American ignorance, President Trump had unashamedly been claiming that intelligence was coming in and “we are not happy”, implying that the Americans had something incriminating on China. (N.P.R., The coronavirus crisis, Virus Researchers Cast Doubt On Theory Of Coronavirus Lab Accident, 23.04.2020).

However, Mr. Pompeo’s professed lack of knowledge about the origin of the virus also had not stopped him from asserting that China is recklessly running other laboratories creating dangerous pathogens. (T. Korso, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claims multiple labs in China are working in contagious pathogens, 29.04.2020). Ominously, he had vowed that the United States would convince other nations that China is responsible for the global outbreak and that Beijing should be held liable for financial compensation. That suggested that the United States was deeply engaged in ‘finding evidence’ to fit a predetermined conclusion blaming China.

The allegation of the virus escaping from a laboratory has been roundly rejected by international scientific assessment. (K. G. Andersen, A. Rambaut, W. I. Lipkin, E. C. Holmes and R. F. Garry, The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2, 26 Nature Medicine, 450-452, 2020). The scientific consensus is overwhelmingly that the virus might have originated in nature, possibly in bats from where it passed into humans. And that is a biological accident, so to speak, for which China is not and should not be made liable. The scientific assessment concurs with the position of the Chinese government. (J. Bowler, Scientists Are Tired of Explaining Why The COVID-19 Virus Was Not Made in a Lab, Science alert, 20.04.2020).

China has repeatedly denounced the allegations made by the Trump Administration as “preposterous disinformation.” The World Health Organization has also concluded that the virus originated in wildlife and was not due to a laboratory release or bioengineered. But with the toxic politics flying in the United States, the W.H.O. had been vilified as the “Wuhan Health Organization” working in cahoots with the Chinese Communist Party.

So there was little chance of reason or objectivity prevailing in American discussions. That toxic politicisation of the pandemic would allow people like Pompeo to propagate his China bogeyman story and to try to blame all of America’s woes on Chinese Communists.

Given that the number of Americans infected by COVID-19 represents about one-third of the global total, it is understandable that the Trump Administration was desperate to find a scapegoat for its own abysmal failings. The period of end-of-April-beginning-of-May saw the United States death toll exceed 60,000 – more than all the American military deaths incurred during the Vietnam war.

It was thought that the presidential election in November could have shaped up as a referendum on Trump’s botched mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, that some regarded as ‘criminal’.

The only way for President Trump to try and salvage his re-election bid was to redirect anger on to China. Hence, China was being accused of releasing the virus from a laboratory or ‘covering up’ the severity of the outbreak. Neither of these claims had any substance. It was just a hoax – or “fake news”, as President Trump liked to rail against when it suits his offended monumental ego.

Hoax aside, President Trump and his unpleasant enabler Mike Pompeo were going to keep pressing the propaganda smear – even at the risk of starting a war. President Trump was going to make an election campaign out of it, and his Democrat rival, former Vice-President Joe R. Biden Jr. would be portrayed as “Beijing Biden” and branded “soft on China.”

To be continued…

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The University Deception: Rankings and Academic Freedom

Forget the global university rankings of any list. The global university promotion exercise is filled with snake oil and perfumed refuse, an effort to corrupt the unknowing and steal from the gullible. The aim here is to convince parents, potential students and academics that their institutions of white-collar crime are appealing enough to warrant enrolment and employment at.

Writing in 2019, Ellen Hazelkorn, who has had an eye on the rankings system for some years, observed that 18,000 university-level institutions could be found across the globe. “Those ranked within the top 500 would be within the top 3% worldwide. Yet, by a perverse logic, rankings have generated a perception amongst the public, policymakers and stakeholders that only those within the top 20, 50 or 100 are worthy of being called excellent.”

Rankings are complicated by a range of factors: methodological problems in arriving at the figure, what institutions themselves submit, their wealth (endowments, well moneyed donors, grants received) and age (old ties, networks), and, fundamentally, what is being asked of that institution. Such grading systems have been found, as Nancy Adler and Anne-Wil Harzing describe it, to be “dysfunctional and potentially cause more harm than good.”

One factor that does not find itself into the rankings bonanza is that of academic freedom. This surely would be one of the primary considerations in what is irritatingly called the “knowledge economy.” None of the three most consulted registers – the QS rankings, Times Higher Education or the Shanghai Academic Rankings of World Universities – makes mention of it.

This has obvious implications. Higher education institutions in countries where repression, censorship, surveillance and punishment of academics are condoned do not need to worry about being compromised in the climb up the ladder. An obvious example is the application of the Chinese National Security Law to Hong Kong, which has seen entities such as the Chinese University of Hong Kong sever ties with the freshly elected student union. Campus events at both CUHK and the University of Hong Kong have also been cancelled for fears of violating the NSL.

The PRC is merely an obvious example. Countries supposedly romping home in any academic freedom contest also face questions. In Australia, thuggish administrators and academic turncoats are moving in on crushing the contrarians, reducing the entire teaching syllabus and research agenda to the drool of wonky projections and outcomes. The idea is simple: You must be decent and liked, boringly acceptable in discourse and compliant in observing directives from management. The project is guaranteed through such slime-coated documents as the “code of conduct,” which is meant to make everyone good by keeping education and incompetence in the higher echelons of university governance safe. Discomfort is eschewed; different thoughts suppressed.

Australian learning and research institutions, as in other developed countries, have been tempted by various powerful financial incentives – money from Chinese sources, for instance – to make any campus criticism difficult. Last year, the University of Queensland took a dim view of the protest efforts of student activist, Drew Pavlou citing 11 allegations of misconduct in a bulky 186-page document befitting any show trial process. Pavlou was suspended for “prejudicing” the university’s reputation by, in his words, “using my position as an elected student representative to express support for Hong Kong’s democratic protesters.” UQ’s Vice Chancellor Peter Høj was damning in silence, telling the university’s alumni in a July 17, 2020 email that UQ lived and breathed “an ongoing commitment to the protection and promotion of free speech every day.”

A number of scholars and activists have suggested an institutional corrective to the deceptive picture of rankings. The Academic Freedom Index is one such proposal, developed by members of the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi), the Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), the Scholars at Risk Network and the V-Dem Institute.

In their report Free Universities: Putting the Academic Freedom Index Into Action, Katrin Kinzelbach, Ilyas Saliba, Janika Spannagel and Robert Quinn hope to “bring a rights and freedoms perspective into debates on higher education governance and policy.” They make the point that academic excellence and reputation are currently considered mere functions of outputs in the current scheme. “As a result, institutions in repressive environments have climbed the reputation ladder and now occupy the top ranks.” Confidently, the authors make the claim that featuring an adjusted rank “would lower the chances for institutions constrained by such restrictive environments to improve their international reputations and attract academic talents.”

The AFi is also drawn from 2,000 experts who were asked to contribute on various indicators “in the de facto realization of academic freedom”: the freedom to teach and research; freedom of academic exchange and dissemination; institutional autonomy; campus integrity; and freedom of academic and cultural expression.

As with any index, questions will be asked about what is left out. There is also something inherently artificial in the exercise of correcting a ranking using the AFi measure. Even the contributors to the report admit to not knowing “enough about academic freedom and the factors that sustain or threaten it.” Declining levels of academic freedom are noted in Belarus, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka and Zambia; Gambia is earmarked as being stellar for permitting scholars’ freedom to collaborate and disseminate their findings.

As Saliba explained, most states which had witnessed a deterioration of academic freedom relative to 2019 were those implementing “novel regulations that limit freedom to research, teach and publish” and initiated “repressive political acts against pro-democracy movements with a strong base among students and faculty.” These are conventional measures, and do not consider the more subtle forms of suppression and regulation to be found in various Western states. Australian institutions, for instance, maintain their undeservingly high rankings, suggesting that much more needs to be done to make the index accurate.

A recommendation to the collective can be suggested. One of the most potent threats to the academy lies in the commercial and corporate bureaucratisation of the university, suggesting that the very notion of rankings, drawn from a global knowledge economy parcelled in the language of outcomes, is not only misplaced but deeply flawed. The AFi has merit on some level, but does not shed light on the more sinister policies focused on reputation management. In its current form, the index risks becoming a tool for managers keen to show they are making changes which leave no substantive effect.

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Are we really making progress?

Here in the NT, Andrew Liveris is, without a doubt, the driving force behind current plans to speed up progress in developing industry and creating jobs.

Is he a competent person to be in this position?

Wrong question.

Try again.

At this point in time, is he the right person to be in this position.

NO!

Why not?

Because, while development of the production and use of gas has been one of his major concerns, we are now at a point in our history when it is critical that we move away, ASAP, from using fossil fuels.

Yes – Mr Liveris is an astute businessman, and he has accumulated a considerable fortune in the course of his lifetime.

But – no – continuing to develop fossil fuel resources is the totally wrong thing to be doing now!

Changes in the world’s climate are becoming increasingly evident, and lives, livelihoods AND the environment are paying the price.

The sooner we divest from fossil fuels, the better.

We need to concentrate on renewable energy, develop the production of electric vehicles, establish charge up stations in all remote areas, by establishing solar and wind ‘farms’, with associated apparatus to store the energy which is generated, and ensure that these developments are made the top priority.

If we have an election this year, we need to ensure that whoever gains a majority, is prepared to develop the programs needed for the Australian people to be more likely to move into an era where their needs are given top priority.

At the moment, Australia is a pariah state, due entirely to the failure of the Coalition government to take effective action to recognise that the world is changing and life on Mars is far from imminent!

Scott Morrison might have been a moderately successful salesman – he has certainly bamboozled his political peers into buying into his pseudo policies – but his realistic concern for people’s needs is absolutely non-existent and every policy he announces is doing more and more damage to our future.

He and his cronies MUST GO!

As must our dependence on fossil fuels.

COME ON AUSTRALIA!

PULL YOUR FINGER OUT AND VOTE IN A COMPETENT POLITICAL TEAM!

AND START BY PUTTING PRESSURE ON MORRISON TO CALL AN ELECTION!

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‘Let the birds go free’ – A grand and tragic soap opera served to the masses

Some say Meghan and Harry are bucking tradition, cutting their own way, not for the first time nor will it be the last. Oprah Winfrey’s American soap opera may be a welcome dramatisation from the ravages of the pandemic and legacy of Trump.

Some say us, and they who have nothing better to do, some fume with indignation and storm out of the studio in a fugue, some say very little, some don’t care, some have far greater worries, where’s the catch?

Railing against the tide of consumerism, celebrity, populism, pomp and ceremony, and of course the British Royal family again. Where the wealthy elite scoff at everyone beneath them, as does a true Republican or tourist clown like prosperity ‘theologue’ Morrison and Liberal-Conservatives, who think the jobless consider it their duty and right to sit on a couch all day and watch Netflix instead of work. No less productive or entertaining surely than what the Liberal Nationals do in Parliament (or he in Hawaii and every other weekend; and we once did Bali) for which they receive State welfare in far greater procurement and royalty than a grand old couch potato or duke deserves. That reminds me, what exactly does the GG do? Well now, the jobless can do that too, breathe the life and fantasy of rebels or prosperity royals and imagine pennies and pizza raining from Heaven.

The Royals, not unlike Morrison, bathe in the arrogance and divine right of office and sell us their platitudes of peace and prosperity, unity and friendship, the importance of family and economy like it were a religious institution proclaimed by God or Calif, when in front of a camera for all those rotten and hungry couch potatoes; proving that mundane populism and fascination with celebrity and virtual reality isn’t dead at all, far less the news. Not when the media, gambling and entertainment moguls and religious fanatics too can ride the wave of income windfall, donations, arms, gratuitous violence and abuse generated from the masses and feed the frenzied crowds like the Romans herded slaves, lions and spectators into the Colosseum – okay you don’t get the blood and sweat, the poverty and fear, the angel of death, the valiant slayer on a horse in shining armour as he slaughters the magnificent roaring captive lion (should be a dragon) to thunderous applause in the name of God, the Emperor, King and country, El Presidente, every war lord and drug baron; Ah but duty calls, loyalty, devotion, pennies in heaven like Pavlov’s puppies we all conform.

But you have a real world all around you for that level of gratuitous public violence and civil entertainment. Kuwait, Myanmar, North Korea, Russia, Streets of USA, Washington DC, Hong Kong, the Uighur, Sudan, Africa, Belarus, Taliban, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, refugees, women, old people, the young, the homeless and jobless in this witch-maid sunburnt country of ours, on the ABC or world news channel. Our virtual Colosseum is everywhere, hourly at the flick of a remote control served up with Menulog, Uber Eats and Deliveroo cuisine by smart phone, thanks to the tireless effort and efficiency of modern-day slavery, don’t forget to throw the slave a bone as they walk out the door. Hell, even they exploit that dream in the commercials, and so, we too can all pretend we are Royals with our entitlements and sex slaves projecting fake disgust and horror at the scandals. Hmmm… I wonder what cousin Andrew, Christian and George are doing right now, if not plotting how they can dutifully rule the world after the royal, party or papal horses have bolted? Oh, stop it before my voyeurism turns pink or yellow.

Wash it all down with a beer or glass of bubbly why don’t you, a little bit of public sympathy, watch don’t touch served on a stainless-steel tabloid platter by the gutless press – Oooh, that’s me on telly!

Tears for the Queen as her grandchildren succumb to the dark side and a hero’s welcome, may your god go with you, so Dave would say.

I wonder how the comic-tragic flute would play, an air of romance perhaps, a touch of Fidelio, let the birds go free?

… and the article below, oh that – No worries, that’s just leftie soft propaganda and cannon fodder.

‘Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness ends with its protagonist, Kurtz, declaring, “The horror! The horror!”, as his verdict on all that he has done and seen, and on the general devastation wrought by imperialism on the African continent.’

Gosh that sounds like Dante in exile dreaming of Florence and other things in 1302 with the poem to come! Alas no, ‘Harry and Meghan firing their latest broadside against the House of Windsor’, World Socialist Web Site, 8 March 2021 – What a come down, for God’s sake how could I?

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Eyes on China: The Quad Takes Scattered Aim

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue has had its fits and starts, but nothing encourages such chats than threats, actual or perceived. In 2017, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono felt that it was time that a strategic dialogue between Japan, the United States, Australia and India should be revived. The Quad, as it was termed, was on the way to becoming a more serious forum, having had its tentative origins in the cooperative efforts of the four countries in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. Formally launched in 2007, the initiative petered out.

The evolution of such a forum typically begins at senior official level, followed by a ministerial upgrade. Levels of seniority get roped in until the leaders of the countries take the reins. But at its inception, brows creased in Beijing. These were not, however, meant to reach the level of full-blown frowns.

The prospect of this somewhat misnamed “Asian NATO” was not to be taken too seriously, though officials in the Trump administration did contemplate a collective with teeth and persuasiveness. In October 2020, then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was all about using the grouping to combat China. “This is for the soul of the world. This is about whether this will be a world that operates … on a rules-based international order system, or one that’s dominated by a coercive totalitarian regime like the one in China.” At the time, Pompeo had to settle for a more mild-mannered proposal – that of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific – an idea advanced by former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2016.

Nonetheless, the four powers have been painting a picture that will not find cheer in President Xi Jinping’s quarters. At a press conference in September last year, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, when asked about the government’s views on the upcoming October Quad meeting, curtly spoke of being against the “forming of exclusive cliques.” The “targeting of third parties or undermining third parties’ interests” was surely less preferable to conducive cooperation towards “mutual understanding and trust between regional countries.”

Last month, the Quad’s four foreign ministers met. Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi described “candid talks about cooperation toward the free and open Indo-Pacific and on regional and global issues.” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price noted in a statement that discussion also included “the priority of strengthening democratic resilience in the broader region” and maintaining “support for freedom of navigation and territorial integrity.”

The Biden administration is also making an effort to elevate the status of the Quad. The president intends holding a virtual meeting on March 12 with the prime ministers of Japan, Australia and India. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki rolled out the now frequent message that such meetings demonstrated Biden’s keenness to take allies and partnerships seriously. According to the press secretary, topics to be discussed will include “the threat of COVID,” “economic cooperation” and the “climate crisis.” Only the dimmest of dolts could avoid the prospect that China would not come up in the virtual chat feast.

A senior administration was more forthcoming in telling Reuters that, “This sends a very strong signal of common cause and purpose. And the goal here is basically to introduce the Quad as a new feature of regular diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific.” Similarly, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke of the Quad becoming “a feature of Indo-Pacific engagement,” a gathering of “four leaders four countries” and not “a big bureaucracy with a big secretariats.” And just to make the point of a counterweight to Chinese power clear, without naming Beijing, Morrison envisaged the arrangement as an “anchor of peace and stability in the region.”

Each of the nations, however, have their individual differences in how to deal with China. Australia remains obsessed with foreign interference and Chinese moves into regional Pacific politics, piggy backing on US power in order to stem that influence. Japan considers good relations with China important, while still happy to concede ground to the US as being the dominant Asian-Pacific power.

India remains the most cautious participant. Its foreign policy harks back to the days of non-alignment maintained during the Cold War. Unlike Japan and Australia, there is no fondness for the idea of having one dominant bully in the playground, dressed up in the clothing of strategic primacy. But its relationship with China remains fractious. The border dispute in the Himalayan region, which also features a competition to build infrastructure, turned bloody in June 2020 in a Galwan Valley clash that left over 20 Indian soldiers dead. Accusations about provocations by both sides have been traded with increasing frequency since last year, with a mutual disengagement between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army from disputed points yet to take place.

In November 2020, New Delhi invited Australia to participate in the annually held Malabar naval exercises, frequented by US and Japan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seemed to be turning. This week, India confirmed that he would be attending the virtual conference, with the Ministry of External Affairs revealing that discussions would cover the ground traversed by the foreign ministers in February. “The leaders will discuss regional and global issues of shared interest, and exchange views on practical areas of cooperation towards maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.”

Despite much common ground, the prospects of the Quad flowering into a security arrangement that will ring-fence China seem unlikely. Provocative as it may well be, the more measured sages in Beijing will consider the differences between the four powers and deal with each of them accordingly. The cannier ones might even choose to manipulate them.

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Was COVID-19 born in the United States? (part 9)

Continued from: Was COVID-19 born in the United States? (part 8)

By Outsider

On 9 September 2020 Bob Woodward released recordings of telephone calls with President Trump, making clear that the White House, despite its public efforts to downplay the threat of COVID-19, was fully aware in as early as January of the massive danger posed by the deadly new disease.

The tapes establish that the Trump Administration lied to the public about the threat while it deliberately implemented a policy which has led to the deaths of more than 250,000 people.

During the critical period of January through March, when timely actions, similar to those taken in China, would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives in the United States and internationally, President Trump made a cold-blooded decision: to lie to the public, in an unprecedented crime, in a plot against the people of the United States and of the world.

On 7 February 2020, President Trump told Woodward that he had just had a conversation with Chinese President Xi Xinping, who had provided him with a clear and blunt assessment of the dangers posed by the pandemic. President Trump had been impressed, and transmitted: “This is deadly stuff.” He had obviously been advised, for he added: “It’s also more deadly that even your strenuous flu this is five per cent [case fatality rate] versus one per cent and less than one per cent.”

These words were in clashing, flagrant contradiction to the statements President Trump would make in public over the following weeks and months, during which he equated the pandemic with the seasonal flu, promised it would “disappear,” and claimed that cases were “going down.”

Eschewing the antiscientific demagogy of his public statements, President Trump demonstrated a clear understanding of the spread of the disease in his discussion with Woodward. “It goes through air, Bob. That’s always tougher than the touch,” the president said – a description fully in line with the scientific consensus.

On 28 January, according to Woodward’s account, Trump was told by his national security adviser, Robert Charles O’Brien Jr.: “This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency… This is going to be the roughest thing you face.”

The fact that Woodward withheld information which could have saved tens of thousands of lives, makes him, for all intents and purposes, an accessory to the crime committed by President Trump.

If Woodward released the tapes in September, after concealing them for so many months, it is because the crisis over the November election had massively exacerbated divisions within the state. That in the process he would implicate himself as an accomplice in Trump’s crime is of no importance.

Nor would President Trump and his cabinet have been the only ones to receive intelligence briefings on the pandemic – and in their silence become accomplices. Leading members of Congress, from both parties, regularly receive briefings from the American intelligence agencies, and former presidents continue to receive access to intelligence information. These briefings, through the “anonymous sources” so often cited by TheNew York Times and TheWashington Post, would have become known to the editors of the leading American newspapers.

Moreover, it is inconceivable that Woodward, having in his possession tapes which would have meant life or death for tens of thousands of people, would not have discussed them with his colleagues at the Post and other major news outlets.

In other words, Trump was not the only party to this conspiracy. The tapes constitute direct evidence that the media were aware of the dangers but refused to alert the American people.

The questions fundamental to the Watergate scandal, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” remained – if slightly enlarged: “What did the government, Congress and the media know, and when did they know it?”

In a subsequent call on 19 March, Trump explained to Woodward why he was seeking to downplay the danger of the disease: “I always wanted to play it down… I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

What “panic” was Trump speaking about? Whose panic, anyway? He was essentially concerned with containing a stock market selloff before the bailout of Wall Street had been prepared. Furthermore, with workers in factories increasingly uneasy about the spread of the disease, he was afraid of mass working class walkouts, such as those which ultimately led to the closure of the auto plants in March.

Instead of alerting the public to what it knew in January, the government set to work preparing for an eruption of the pandemic, not through measures to deal with the disease, but through the largest bailout of major corporations in world history, which was prepared in silence, with the public unaware.

When it became clear that lockdowns were unavoidable after the markets went into freefall in February and March, the Trump Administration was ready with a $6 trillion bailout, approved in record time. Then, with the bailout secured, it began the campaign to herd millions of workers into the factories and children into the schools. (B. Dyne and A. Damon, The plot against America and the world: How the US government and the media suppressed the truth about the COVID-19 pandemic, wsws.org, 10.09.2020).

Clearly, the Trump Administration and its intelligence-gathering agencies understood by the first days of 2020 – perhaps even earlier, by the second half of December 2019 – that the world stood on the very brink of a health care catastrophe.

The protection of the banks, of the large corporations and of the powerful interests of Wall Street became the sole concern of President Trump and his cabal. The one-per-cent of the economy, representing the governing elite, became the only value of the Trump Administration.

America’s 651 billionaires have accumulated so much wealth during the COVID-19 pandemic that they could fully pay for one-time $3,000 stimulus cheque for every person in the United States and still be better off than they were before the crisis.

That is the conclusion, according to new research released on 09.12.2020 by the Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies, which have been tracking the ‘pandemic profits’ of United States billionaires since mid-March. (J. Johnson, ‘Pandemic Profits’ of Billionaires Could Fully Fund $3,000 Stimulus Checks for US Workers, Common Dreams, 09.12.2020).

In the nearly nine-month period between 18 March and 7 December 2020, American billionaires added more than $1 trillion in wealth as people across the United States lost their jobs, their businesses, their homes, and their lives to the pandemic. The collective net worth of American billionaires now amounts to more than $4 trillion, nearly double the combined wealth owned by the bottom 50 per cent of the American population.

 

 

It did not matter that in the process thousand upon thousand would lose their life to COVID-19. Such was the final decision of President Trump – with the connivance of the Democratic Party.

To be continued…

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Monty Python Life of Scotty: “But I’m the Prime Minister” from flying slime to the ridiculous

Warning – Truisms, delusions, flatulence and satire; not to be confused with news, fiction or entertainment, and this is not a joke.

“I’m the Prime Minister.”

… and I’m the President of Beeblebrox Prime – What a brainless Jurassic dodo Morrison is!

“Aged care is complex … Life is complex.”

“No I don’t agree with that, nor the premise of your question.”

“This is Australia.”

“If you have a go, you get a go.”

“If you want to do business here, you work according to our rules.” When in Rome huh

Whose rules? My aunt cockatoo – the ‘Rule of Law’ of course.

“Where the bloody hell are you?” – If only Morrison would make up his mind!

“I think I can speak for the people of Australia” – If you haven’t heard this one it is the arrogant pseudo-democratic subscript of rampant Ministerial Liberalism, the voice of entitlement and abuse of power.

“This is coal. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be scared! It won’t hurt you.”

Life isn’t as simple as Morrison makes out, but simplicity, ‘people-games’ and ridicule are his bread and butter, as obfuscation, deceit and lies his cue. Rule by lawfulness, statue, common law, case law, due process, natural justice, balance of probability, fair go where punishment or consequence fits the crime or is it much simpler than this – A Morrison interpretation and decree, absolute?

As the fossil record also tells us, survival isn’t always brighter – Here on earth in the Anthropocene it just gets dumber and dumber as we buckle down into the oblivion of banal arrogance, truisms, slogans, assumptions, generalisations, rationalisations and rebuffs; the gobsmacking repetition of Liberal media grabs, lies and dogma, when there is no substance left to spew from the Prime Minister’s heaving ‘mad cow’ disease gutless Mesozoic mouth, other than endless COVID-19 announcements and economy boasters for the light headed, those with short concentration spans, poor memories, recall, disbelief or general ignorance; before diversity of thought, living and human civilisation crashes (Take a breath).

Diversity and originality diminish and the toxic soup gets thicker and slimier as it engorges itself on the powerless overwhelmed suffocating discourse of public life. Opposition becomes futile and toothless, like a muffled voice in the wilderness as Morrison and News Corp press on with their rape, pillage and plunder of the moral, political, social, cultural, economic, and indeed personal landscape. Then we crash just like the Romans did, as have many others through history.

Here we are sitting on the great galactic rim of Morrison’s lips and cognitive insensibilities, where the next slogan pours out the vast desert of his backside like a dark solar prominence on (a)steroids in hyperspace, another magical leap of faith from a dying star in the Delta Quadrant. Like the endless self-righteous entitled groans, pestilence and murmurings of an entombed Egyptian mummy waiting to wow us with the natural wonders of revenge and the hidden talents of flea swarming goggle-eyed gumless beaming age cured cloak of the Scotty and Murdoch duo. Oh sorry, did I forget a few truculent cabinet ministers, sycophants and alleged sex abusers.

Betelgeuse is burning here on earth as Scotty plans his next holiday in downtown Hawaii Centauri sniffing in Trump’s lately dumped golden shit infested knickers. Yes, we have to put up with his daily poop and ‘tribal’ ramblings on the ABC who seem to think news, weather, business and ‘Rule of Law’ is about giving Morrison and his gutless wonders free to air publicity, broadcasting his mind-numbing truths and meaningless, thankless announcements ad nauseum. Nothing else to watch, the corporate channels, Seven, Nine and Ten (Christ, it’s all numeric labels and breakfast commandments) don’t make any sense in the real world as they prattle on from their virtual worlds and ivory towers, throwing out more slime and populist garbage than a Russian Mafia boss in between a mountain of dumb arse paid for advertising and programming, guaranteed to blow up your mind on knickerbocker glories, unreal life insurance and breathless testicle cupped macho underpants masquerading as boneless bras. Did anyone say KFC? That wasn’t me.

Back here on earth, in the land of Oz we once believed in something. It wasn’t a dream and there was no Dorothy or yellow brick road.

A democratic government in a civil society that would never say ‘never’ gag its press, when faced with mindless questions from a goggle-eyed bleeding press gallery. The reporter just doing her job called by the Immigration Minister a “mad fucking witch” as the microphone crackles to the background funnel-web cackle and natter of distant galaxies in ‘Question Time’ (okay that was an old one). A young woman who is allegedly raped in the Defence Minister’s office called a “lying cow” (note: fucking was dropped but not the gender) as ‘she and her partner are run out of town’ – that alien bitch of a parasitic institutional bubble we once called the Australian Parliament, walls riddled with vocational Liberal National slime and free speech dripping from the corridors and walls of ridicule, abuse and power. Morrison calls this democracy, which he seems to confuse also with free speech, representation, truth, facts, national security, law and leadership if not a host of other things which are belted like farts into a shitting bowl, a lethal and toxic mix, not to mention smelly!

The Prime Minister quick with faecal rhetoric calls the AFP and NSW police to order, like men in black neuralysing the minds of ABC viewers and the general public with nothing to see here, as if we weren’t already stupefied by the gormless babble and poisonous religious breath and sales pitch of the serpent’s tongue – Yes, you Morrison and, ‘we’ (where the shoe fits) your mummified tomb raiders, conspirators, dreamless pumpkin pen pushers and consumerised zombies of the Austral-American Liberal-Republican inter-continental clueless Kluxy clan.

Increasingly mesmerized, deluded and despotic just like Trump, the Prime Minister with his cabinet of knuckle-headed abusers and invocations of bogus conception have made us a laughing-stock ‘kiss and cuddle USA’ worldwide, not just in China. Whatever abuse of human rights overseas, we are called out as hypocrites and liars as we gringel and gobble at our own anal meanderings, gazing into our subcultural empty souls, indigenous and colonial toxic lethal rags or get caught with our pants down providing military arms and aide to criminal juntas, abusers and traffickers of human suffering. We find ourselves on the other side of everything we once stood for, or at least some of us did.

It runs deeper than the devil or a bag of serpents in Daniel’s den, and our Parliament is the devil’s den, where once the lion raged and feasted off the remains of elders, staffers, public servants, women, migrants, refugees, jobless, cashless, bludgers, pensioners, the old, the young, the toothless fairies, the unbelievers, convicts transported to the colony for stealing a loaf of bread (I’m sure I’ve missed a few). Did I say or imply ‘once did?’ Ah yes, little has changed in 250 years of colonisation, federation, ‘liberal democracy’ where the greedy club of present-day lions feed in fewer numbers on the unrecognisable culture and carcass of Australian life, but the economy is booming as we bleed profusely into the surrounding Great Barrier Reef, Pacific, Indian and Antarctic oceans – looking so pale and rickety.

“I’m the Prime Minister?” of this great vast land, this wilderness, this burning wasteland that Scotty is selling to the lowest bidders and gangs in town; our Public Service already thoroughly fucked over (so who are you going to call apart from some government funded help line, if you make it through the night on call waiting – That’s also what you get with Telstra and NBN, two other notable behemoths, legacy of our wacko Liberal-National zealot privatisation program).

… and we are the Borg, resistance is futile.

This Neolithic narcotic serpent Morrison leads us down the psychotic delusional path and Pythonesque parody ‘life of Brian’; not of fictional or divine comedy you’ll understand, but false prophet, myth and tragedy. Tragedy for Australia and all who sail in her bushfire, solar bleached, coal dusted, bronchitic, government raped womb of a giant burning wreck, half way between the starry flagged shores of the South China Sea and ravaged prehistoric Trump infested Mississippi swamps of Gondwanaland.

Australia is indeed a beautiful country, but Morrison’s gang from out of town are picking off all the flowers, raping and pillaging our country, laughing in our faces on national television and social media like big fat balls of slime. Rule of Law, democracy, fair go – long gone according to the book of revelation and the silent annals of our sublime constitution; all that’s left is the ridiculous.

The serpent has landed and he fully intends to stay unless another little spoilt and rotten spud, half as grotesque again, grows wings and repeatedly neuralyses us with national security legislation or we are serendipitously invaded by centaurean pigs from outer space. Whichever way these Liberals fall or land, they are sure to have inoculated themselves against this current self-inflicted bubonic plague and live off the fat of their ill-gotten wealth, investments, capital and government super they have bequeathed themselves in their promised land, behind giant walls of steel or somewhere far away, gloating, farting and salivating safe offshore. But it won’t be another planet, we only have this one.

Courtesy of President of Beeblebrox Prime, a Borg Cube somewhere in the Delta Quadrant sipping coal-digger pineapple Neros, donkey-faced cocktails; and all very ugly because there is nowhere else in the galaxy to go that we haven’t already fucked up and assimilated, 9 March 2021.

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COVID-19 Vaccines, Access and the Intellectual Property Wars

By now, anybody speaking about vaccine equality and equity of access must surely be coming across as slightly deranged. In the field of COVID-19, traditional proprietorial instincts remain. Add to this the disparity in terms of manufacture, bureaucracy and the nasty flavour of politics, and we would all be entitled to long draughts of cynicism.

The COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility) scheme, supposedly a levelling measure in ensuring global equitable and cheap access to vaccines, risks looking like a rhetorical bauble. Co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO), these collaborators seek to “accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.” The aim of the group is to supply 2 billion doses by the end of 2021. Last month, the WHO reported that 130 countries, comprising 2.5 billion people, had yet to receive a single dose.

The project has hit a rather large snag. Many countries are not willing to play along. If they do, they are doing so in two-timing fashion. WHO senior adviser, Bryce Aylward, is worried that “some countries are still pursuing deals that will compromise the COVAX supply.” This lack of fidelity to the cause is also of concern to the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We can’t beat COVID without vaccine equity. Our world will not recover fast enough without vaccine equity, this is clear.”

A suggestion of dealing with the problems of accessing COVID-19 vaccines has been put forth by several states and international bodies. Last Friday, the WHO called for an agreement dealing with the waiver of intellectual property rights to vaccines. “If not now, when?” asked Ghebreyesus.

 

 

In October 2020, India and South Africa submitted a proposal for waiving “certain provisions of the TRIPS [Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights] agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19.” The waiver would be granted to WTO members so that they would not have to apply or enforce certain provisions under Part II of the TRIPS Agreement, namely section 1 (copyrights and related rights), 4 (industrial design), 5 (patents), and 7 (protection of undisclosed information). The waiver would be in place for a duration agreed to by the General Council and till widespread global vaccination had taken place, with the majority of the world’s population rendered immune.

A briefing document on the proposal, authored by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), merely confirms that the proposed waiver was specific, applicable only to COVID-19 and not “all TRIPS obligations, nor does it suggest a waiver beyond what is needed for COVID-19 prevention, containment and treatment.” Were the waiver to be granted, patents would not be enforced or granted on “all COVID-19 drugs, vaccines, diagnostics, and other technologies, including masks and ventilators, for the duration of the pandemic.” Collaboration in research and development (R&D), manufacturing, scaling up and supplying COVID-19 tools could also take place.

In discussions held by WTO members at the TRIPS Council over October 15-16 last year, the opponents nailed their colours to the mast. Australia, Brazil, Canada, EU, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States were either formally opposed to the measure, or not in support of it. The COVID-19 vaccine world had been clearly demarcated: the wealthy and the rest.

The justifications from such states do not make for pretty reading. All centre on one essential theme: the importance of maintaining an ironclad IP system in the name of innovative practice. An EU spokesman suggested somewhat speciously that no evident nexus could be shown between access to vaccines and IP barriers. “There is no evidence that IP rights in any way hamper access to COVID-19 related medicines and technologies.” The UK government decided to upend the cart with its reasoning, underlining the importance of having strict IP rules if access to new products to battle the pandemic were to be made available. The chair of the WHO Solidarity Trial of COVID-19, John-Arne Røttingen insists that “IP is the least of the barriers” relative to necessary facilities for production, knowledge and infrastructure.

South Africa sought to address such claims on October 16 at the TRIPS Council meeting and again at the Council Meeting on November 20. Examples included the manufacturers of monoclonal antibody therapeutics, such as Regeneron and Eli Lilly, which had restricted their capacity via bilateral arrangements. Specifically, on vaccines, South Africa could point to the struggle between MSF and Pfizer being waged in India over the pneumococcal vaccine, protected by a patent effectively blocking the development of alternatives.

As if further proof was needed about efforts by pharmaceutical behemoths to freeze and halt both innovation and access in the field of vaccines with generous IP shields, one need look no further than the case of South Korea’s SK Bioscience. The company was embroiled in patent litigation with Pfizer in developing a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PVC) by the name of Skypheumo. SK Bioscience lost the suit, with the Supreme Court ruling that it could not sell Skypheumo until 2026, when Pfizer’s composition patent for Prevenar 13 expires.

Given that WTO decisions tend to be made through consensus, the waiver proposal has been stuck in diplomatic purgatory in the TRIPS Council. Requests from Chile, Australia and Canada for evidence that the waiver would achieve increased capacity for vaccine manufacturing and assist ameliorate shortages have not helped. Burcu Kilic, research director for access to medicines at Public Citizen sees the unfolding of a crude agenda. “What [high-income countries] are hoping is that they can discuss and drag the issue out that things will be OK by the summer.”

The WTO General Council meeting held at the start of this month did not see a change of heart from high-income countries towards the South African-Indian proposal. Neither the US nor EU wished to even discuss it. What instead kept delegates busy was the proposal by WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to pursue a meek third way alternative. That option would involve, according to Okonjo-Iweala, the licensing of manufacturing to countries ensuring “adequate supplies while still making sure that intellectual property issues are taken care off.”

Ahead of officially commencing her duties as Director-General, she reiterated the idea that there was a way of increasing access “through facilitating technology transfer within the framework of multilateral rules” and for pharmaceutical giants to make licensing arrangements permitting other manufacturers to produce vaccines. Music, no doubt, to representatives of Big Pharma.

To date, the doses-ordered per capita read as a comparison of states looks stark. The US has 10.2 doses per person, the UK 7.6, the EU 6.5, and Australia 5. David Legge and Sun Kim, both of the People’s Health Movement, note that the African Union (AU), in sharp contrast, has deals covering a mere 970 million doses for 1.34 billion people. Vaccine coverage, at this point, looks meagre.

Some 115 European Parliamentary members, on February 24, issued a declaration pleading for the European Commission, and the European Council to review their opposition to the TRIPS waiver proposal. Certain EU member states and the European Commission had spoken about COVID-19 medical products “as global goods” but there were no “actionable realities.” A waiver, the members urged, would not only cast aside onerous legal barriers to production but enable “the sharing of know-how and technologies with GMP manufacturers from third countries.” EU strategy had, however, been tribal, emphasising domestic production with the potential to exacerbate “a dangerous North-South divide when it comes to affordable COVID-19 diagnostics, personal protective equipment, treatment and vaccines.”

The vaccine fault lines suggest different timetables and differently filled pockets. Regions of the world risk remaining unvaccinated, with infections and deaths set to continue. Legge and Kim rightly see this as an abandonment by wealthier countries to chance, death and despair in favour of self-interest. Should low- and middle-income countries have to wait another year or two in the face of wealthier states “commandeering the vaccines, there will be about 40-50 million more cases of infections and perhaps 2 to 3 million additional deaths.” A good number on those charts of mortality will be health workers.

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The beauty of AIMN

Hi to all the writers and readers who associate with AIMN. I have been involved with AIMN as a writer and supporter for roughly seven years now. What a personal blessing for me that has turned out to be.

Michael and Carol Taylor have set up this wonderful platform. It hosts the pithy (and she even swears now and then) political commentary of Kaye Lee. It runs the Rossleigh discourse on everything that is crazy in this world. It gives many other intelligent people and bloggers the space to express their opinion and analysis of events that are currently happening in our society.

Just because I carry traumatic legacies and rarely comment on things … that does not mean that I am not paying attention to the writings that appear on AIMN. I am paying attention. The rare thing about AIMN is that, while it might carry strong critical analysis of political happenings etc … the Articles that appear on AIMN are not hate-driven or mindlessly ideological in content. Now what a refreshing change that makes from the fodder that is presented from the Mainstream Press.

I am proud to be associated with this platform. I am mortified that nobody liked my ‘Eating Tomatoes in Portugal‘ article, but I easily toss that one aside and say … this platform, which gives a voice to so many people, is beyond value.

Regards Keith

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