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Racism, Magical Thinking & the Coronavirus

Rather than quarantining travelers, our leaders chose a course of action that led to entire countries being locked down. 

January 28th article, published in Canada’s largest circulation newspaper; click for source
By Donna Laframboise | Big Picture News | May 25, 2020

By the third week of January, the entire world knew the Chinese government was so spooked by a lethal, never-before-seen virus that it had locked down Wuhan. That city is home to 10 million people, about the same number as reside in Paris, London, and Chicago.

Back in January, Wuhan had a shortage of hospital beds and a shortage of doctors. Medical personnel from other parts of the country had been deployed, but the caseload remained overwhelming.

In January, the entire world knew flights from Wuhan to other parts of China had been halted. Highways were being closed. Soldiers wearing face masks were barricading the train station. Because the virus was raging in a particular locale, it was eminently sensible try to prevent its spread within China.

Elsewhere, governments watched these events unfold. Rather than safeguarding their own citizens and their own economies, rather than taking immediate, concrete steps to prevent the virus from spreading beyond China, they indulged in magical thinking.

If only they avoided doing anything discriminatory, all would be well. If only they walked on eggshells, careful not to fuel anti-Asian stereotypes, this infectious disease would apparently evaporate of its own accord.

January 28th article, disseminated by Canada’s national, publicly-funded broadcaster; click for source

Thus, a medical problem connected to a specific geographical location was transformed, reconfigured, and repackaged. Journalists, left wing media outlets, and petty politicians accomplished this in a trice.

Politically correct thought is rote dogmatism. It is non-thought. It is knee-jerk, censorious, and uncharitable. But its grip is compelling. In January 2020, among Canada’s political class, fear of being labelled a racist far outweighed anyone’s fear of a deadly virus. Please read that sentence again. We desperately need to learn this lesson.

Juanita Nathan, the chair of a north Toronto school board (whose left wing, community activist credentials are described here), lectured parents about “demonstrating bias and racism”:

while the virus can be traced to a province in China, we have to be cautious that this not be seen as a Chinese virus…At times such as this, we must come together as Canadians and avoid any hint of xenophobia, which in this case can victimize our East Asian Chinese community…Situations such as these can regrettably give rise to discrimination based on perceptions, stereotypes and hate. [bold added; see here, here, and here]

Heaven deliver us from elected officials who imagine their job is to instruct taxpayers on how to think or speak about any issue. In the Canadian political system, school trustees are bottom of the barrel. This is a part-time job in which budgets are overseen, and parental concerns are addressed. Trustees are not priests, and have no business preaching morality to anyone.

Concerned parents, many of whom were Asian, were told by Nathan not to send their children to school with face masks, even though classmates had just returned from visits to China. Parents were told mask wearing “heightens anxiety.” In the words of Nathan:

Wearing a mask really singles out some kids in the classroom when they don’t need to and that’s what we’re addressing at the moment – just having those conversations to give knowledge to the parents why they don’t need to at this moment.

And so it went. Leaders of the world’s most advanced economies assured the public the risk was low. We were told to wash our hands, that seasonal influenza was more dangerous, that everything was under control.

But things weren’t under control. Flights from China were not halted. Nor were flights from other hot spots. Travelers returning home weren’t required to self-quarantine until it was far too late.

An information sheet published by the Canadian government on February 24th didn’t instruct returning travelers to self-quarantine. Rather, these people were asked to monitor themselves for “fever, cough and difficulty breathing” and to “avoid places where you cannot easily separate yourself from others if you become ill.”

Self-isolation was recommended only if they developed symptoms. Since many infected people suffer no symptoms, mild symptoms, or symptoms other than those listed by the Canadian government, such measures were wholly inadequate.

Weeks ticked by. Thousands of international flights continued to take off and land. People visiting China, Iran, and Italy brought the virus back home with them. To Seattle. To New York City. To Brazil, IndiaSouth Africa, Australia, and to Canada (see here, here, here, and here).

By the time they were diagnosed, some of these people had infected those who’d shared the same flight or the same airport shuttle. They’d spread the virus at their workplaces, on public transit, at houses of worship, birthday parties, and funerals. As late as March 22nd, the Times of London ran a story about Heathrow airport, headlined Coronavirus: Flights from Italy, Iran and China still landing.

Today, four months after the lockdown of Wuhan, a grim milestone will be achieved. The number of Americans who’ve died of the coronavirus is expected to surpass 100,000.

Here in Canada, 6,400 people have perished so far (back in 2003, SARS claimed 44 Canadian lives).

Between them, Italy, Spain, and France have lost 90,000 souls.

In Brazil, where the virus is still gathering steam, the death toll exceeds 22,700 already.

Public health officials, including the World Health Organization, let this happen. Politicians let this happen. There was a time to take targeted action. There was a time to respond strategically and decisively. They failed.

The sorrow associated with those hundreds of thousands of corpses is just the beginning of this disaster. Entire populations have spent weeks to months confined to their homes, harassed by the police for walking their dog. The economic damage is monstrous – for individuals, business, and nations.

Disruption. Job loss. Home repossession. Despair.

Rather than shutting down a few flights, our leaders chose a course of action that led to virtually all flights, everywhere, being grounded. For goodness knows how long.

Rather than quarantining a subset of travelers for a couple of weeks, our leaders chose a course of action that led to entire populations being locked down. For goodness knows how long.

This is where politically correct thought leads. This is where our ugly, destructive preoccupation with hints of xenophobia takes us.

Legitimate concern about the spread of a pernicious virus was silenced. Leaders who wanted to do the right thing faced serious social disincentives. No one wants to be called a racist.

Going forward, we can live in a community in which our leaders think clearly and act sensibly. Or we can stifle other important discussions – and pay a terrible price.

May 25, 2020 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science | | Leave a comment

Canada’s record on Palestinian rights should disqualify it from Security Council race

By Yves Engler · May 21, 2020

Canada’s anti-Palestinian voting record should disqualify it from a seat on the UN Security Council. Hopefully when member states pick amongst Ireland, Norway and Canada for the two Western Europe and Others positions on the Security Council they consider the international body’s responsibility to Palestinians. If they do it will be a rebuke to Canada’s embarrassing history of institutional racism against the Palestinian people.

Compared to Canada, Ireland and Norway have far better records on upholding Palestinian rights at the UN. According to research compiled by Karen Rodman of Just Peace Advocates, since 2000 Canada has voted against 166 General Assembly resolutions critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Ireland and Norway haven’t voted against any of these resolutions. Additionally, Ireland and Norway have voted yes 251 and 249 times respectively on resolutions related to Palestinian rights during this period. Canada has managed 87 yes votes, but only two since 2010.

In maybe the most egregious example of Ottawa being offside with world opinion, Canada sided with the US, Israel and some tiny Pacific island states in opposing a UN resolution supporting Palestinian statehood that was backed by 176 nations in December 2017.

The only time since the end of the colonial period Canada has somewhat aligned with international opinion regarding Palestinian rights was in the 1990s and early 2000s under Jean Chretien. In the early 1990s Norman Finkelstein labeled Canada “probably Israel’s staunchest ally after the United States at the United Nations” while a 1983 Globe and Mail article referred to “Canada’s position as Israel’s No. 2 friend at the UN.” In the early 1980s Ottawa sided with Israel on a spate of UN resolutions despite near unanimity of international opposition. In July 1980 Canada voted with the US and Israel (nine European countries abstained) against a resolution calling on Israel to withdraw completely and unconditionally from all Palestinian and Arab territories occupied since 1967. On December 11, 1982 the Globe and Mail reported that the “United Nations General Assembly called yesterday for the creation of an independent Palestinian state and for Israel’s unconditional withdrawal from territories it occupied in 1967. Israel, Canada, the United States and Costa Rica cast the only negative votes as the assembly passed the appeal by 113 votes to 4, with 23 abstentions.”

Canada’s voting record on Palestinian rights at the UN is an abomination. It’s made worse by the fact that Canada contributed significantly to the international body’s role in dispossessing Palestinians. Canadian officials were important players in the UN negotiations to create a Jewish state on Palestinian land. Lester Pearson promoted the Zionist cause in two different committees dealing with the British Mandate of Palestine. After moving assiduously for a US and Soviet accord on the anti-Palestinian partition plan he was dubbed “Lord Balfour of Canada” by Zionist groups. Canada’s representative on the UN Special Committee on Palestine, Supreme Court justice Ivan C. Rand, is considered the lead architect of the partition plan.

Despite owning less than seven percent of the land and making up a third of the population, the UN partition plan gave the Zionist movement 55% of Palestine. A huge boost to the Zionists’ desire for an ethnically based state, it contributed to the displacement of at least 700,000 Palestinians. Scholar Walid Khalidi complained that UN (partition) Resolution 181 was “a hasty act of granting half of Palestine to an ideological movement that declared openly already in the 1930s its wish to de-Arabise Palestine.” Palestinians statelessness seven decades later remains a stain on the UN.

Over the past year the Canadian government has devoted significant energy and resources to winning a seat on the Security Council. In recent days, Canada’s foreign affairs minister has taken to calling individual UN ambassadors in the hopes of convincing them to vote for Canada.

To combat this pressure, a small group of Palestine solidarity activists have organized an open letter drawing attention to Canada’s anti-Palestinian voting record. Signed by dozens of organizations, the letter will be delivered to all UN ambassadors in the hope that some of them will cast their ballots with an eye to the UN’s responsibility to Palestinians.

Please sign and share this petition against Canada’s Security Council bid: https://www.foreignpolicy.ca/petition

May 21, 2020 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , | 1 Comment

Ottawa’s ties with far right Colombian president undermines human rights rhetoric regarding Venezuela

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By Yves Engler · May 13, 2020

A week ago a former Canadian soldier instigated a harebrained bid to kidnap or kill Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Launched from Colombia, the plot failed spectacularly with most of the men captured or killed.

Still, the leader of the invasion Jordan Goudreau, a veteran of the Canadian military and US special forces, has been remarkably forthright about the involvement of opposition figure Juan Guaidó. A leaked contract between Guaidó’s representative in Florida and Goudreau’s Silvercorp USA describes plans for a multi month occupation force, which after ousting Maduro would “convert to a National Asset Unit that will act under the direction of the [Guaidó] Administration to counter threats to government stability, terror threats and work closely” with other armed forces. Apparently, Goudreau was hoping for a big payday from Venezuela’s opposition. He also had his eyes on the $15 million bounty Washington put up in March for Maduro’s capture as well as tens of millions dollars for other members of the government.

As the plot has unraveled, Ottawa has refused to directly criticize the invasion launched from Colombia. The military has also refused to release information regarding Goudreau’s time in the Canadian forces. What’s more, since the plot began Canada’s foreign affairs minister has reached out to regional opponents of Maduro and reasserted Ottawa’s backing for Guaidó. The PM also discussed Venezuela with his Colombian counterpart.

The Trudeau government’s reaction to recent events suggest the global pandemic has not deterred them from brazenly seeking to overthrow Venezuela’s government. In a bid to elicit “regime change”, over the past couple years Ottawa has worked to isolate Caracas, imposed illegal sanctions, took that government to the International Criminal Court, financed an often-unsavoury opposition and decided a marginal opposition politician was the legitimate president.

The day after the first phase of the invasion was foiled foreign minister François-Philippe Champagne spoke to his Colombian, Peruvian and Brazilian counterparts concerning the “Venezuela crisis and the humanitarian needs of Venezuelans.” Four days later Champagne tweeted, “great call with Venezuela Interim President Juan Guaidó. Canada will always stand with the people of Venezuela in their desire to restore democracy and human rights in their country.”

On Monday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Colombian President Iván Duque Márque. According to the official release, they “discussed the crisis in Venezuela and its humanitarian impact in the region which is heightened by the pandemic. They underscored the need for continued close collaboration and a concerted international effort to address this challenging situation.” Over the past 18 months Trudeau has repeatedly discussed Venezuela with a Colombian president who has offered up his country to armed opponents of Maduro.

The Trudeau government has been chummy with Duque more generally. After he won a close election marred by fraud allegations then Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland “congratulated” Duque and said, “Canada and Colombia share a commitment to democracy and human rights.” In August 2018 Trudeau tweeted, “today, Colombia’s new President, Ivan Duque, took office and joins Swedish PM, Norway PM, Emmanuel Macron, Pedro Sánchez, and others with a gender-equal cabinet. Iván, I look forward to working with you and your entire team.” A month later he added, “thanks to President Ivan Duque for a great first meeting at UNGA this afternoon, focused on growing our economies, addressing the crisis in Venezuela, and strengthening the friendship between Canada & Colombia.”

But, Duque is from the extreme right — “le champion du retour de la droite dure en Colombie”, according to a Le Soleil headline. The Colombian president has undercut the peace accord the previous (right, but not far right) government signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end Colombia’s 50-year civil war, which left some 220,000 dead. Duque’s policies have increased violence towards the ex-rebels and social activists. Seventy-seven former FARC members were killed in 2019. Even more human rights defenders were murdered. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights found that at least 107 Colombian, mostly Indigenous, rights defenders were killed in 2019.

Through the first part of this year the pace at which social leaders and demobilized FARC members have been killed has increased. According to the UN observer mission in Colombia, 24 demobilized guerrillas have already been assassinated and a recent Patriotic March report on the “The other pandemic lived in Colombia” details 95 social leaders, human rights defenders and former guerrillas killed in the first four months of 2020.

Trudeau’s dalliance with Duque is difficult to align with his stated concern for human rights in Venezuela.

The same can be said for Ottawa’s failure to condemn the recent invasion attempt. The Trudeau government should be questioned on whether it was involved or had foreknowledge of the recent plot to invade Venezuela.

May 14, 2020 Posted by | War Crimes | , , , , | Leave a comment

Trudeau makes Covid-19 aid intended to ‘save Canadian jobs’ conditional on meeting climate change goals

RT | May 11, 2020

Adding insult to the injury of Covid-19 closures, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that businesses seeking emergency payroll funding will have to demonstrate their compliance with ‘climate charge’ guidelines.

Citing the need to protect “Canadian middle-class jobs and safeguard our economy,” Trudeau on Monday rolled out the expansion of the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF), intended to provide bridge liquidity to companies unable to meet their payroll due to the shutdown.

There is, of course, a catch. Among the standard safeguards listed in the government announcement – limits on stock buybacks, verification of a company’s tax status, protections for unions and pensions, among other things – there was this as well:

“In addition, recipient companies would be required to commit to publish annual climate-related disclosure reports… including how their future operations will support environmental sustainability and national climate goals.”

Asked whether the aid would be given to oil and gas companies, Trudeau said the government expects them to “put forward a frame within which they will demonstrate their commitments to reducing emissions and fighting climate change,” and that many have already made commitments to net-zero emissions by 2050.

The climate requirement is the only one on the list that has nothing to do with preventing the funding from going to companies that don’t need it, or being abused. The ideological requirement seems particularly onerous given that bridge liquidity is needed in the first place because of government-mandated closures to counter the spread of the coronavirus.

Trudeau’s conditioning of LEEFF funding on climate change compliance closely resembles the measures proposed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in late March, when they scuttled the Senate-approved coronavirus aid bill in favor of their own. US Congressman James Clyburn (D-South Carolina) called the pandemic “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision” at the time.

With a Republican in the White House and the GOP majority in the Senate, they could only do so much, however, and mainly managed to delay the aid by several weeks. Trudeau has no such constraint, and he apparently took Clyburn’s words to heart.

In addition to pushing climate change measures, Trudeau invoked the Democrats’ rhetoric to impose a sweeping ban on “assault-style firearms designed for military use” via the Canadian equivalent of executive orders earlier this month. The list of prohibited weapons is so extensive that it includes an airsoft pellet gun and even a blend of coffee made by the US-based Black Rifle Coffee Company.

May 11, 2020 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science | | Leave a comment

Palestinians and the ‘Security’ Narrative

By Marion Kawas | Canadian Dimension | May 4, 2020

May 2020 will focus attention on the many dangers and challenges facing the future of Palestine.

First, Nakba72 will commemorate the continuing dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Second, the COVID-19 pandemic is showing the fragility of the living conditions and the lack of security for Palestinians, especially those in Gaza and in refugee camps. And third, the Israeli government is preparing to officially legitimize its de facto annexation of large swaths of the occupied West Bank.

Yet, the dominant narrative in most Western countries regarding any right of Palestinians to live in security is fundamentally flawed, and contains many layers of pro-Israel protectionism, so much so that it is difficult for many people to appreciate the threat Palestinians live under on a daily basis.

Put simply, this narrative upholds as sacrosanct that Israel always has a right to security, to defend itself, and to decide when, where and how its ‘security’ is threatened. This principle is so ingrained and so fundamental to statements and reporting on the region that pro-Palestinian advocates are often forced into the position of having to prove their ‘non-violent’ credentials before being taken seriously.

In Canada, the stated and official foreign policy on “key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” (as described on the Global Affairs Canada website) even begins with this principle, entitled “Support for Israel and its Security”. This lead point “recognizes Israel’s right to assure its own security, as witnessed by our support during the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah and our ongoing support for Israel’s fight against terror.” In contrast, the second principle is entitled only “Support for the Palestinians”, and mostly consists of the standard lip service paid to the non-existent and debunked two-state solution.

Not only is the Canadian government highlighting that, above all else, Israel’s “right to security” is inviolable, it justifies Israel’s actions to “assure” that right. The brief mention of Palestinian security that Canada officially embraces is limited to financial support for the Palestinian Authority to monitor and control their own population. To break down the diplomatic doublespeak, that means assisting Palestinian security inasmuch as it helps to guarantee Israeli security. This is why every time the Palestinian Authority announces it is (once again) breaking off bilateral relations with Israel, security coordination is never impacted.

Is there any circumstance in which a Palestinian facing the Israeli military or an Israeli settler or any other branch of the Israeli government would be entitled to the right of self-defence? This is not just a rhetorical question. Similar to the experiences of black people in the United States during the Jim Crow era, this double standard is the backbone of the oppressive system Palestinians are forced to endure.

Canadian politicians are quick to reinforce this hypocrisy. Recent history gives us multiple examples. In December 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated:

We will continue to stand strongly against the singling out of Israel at the UN. Canada remains a steadfast supporter of Israel and Canada will always defend Israel’s right to live in security.

And back in May 2018, when Trudeau was finally obliged after the shooting of Palestinian-Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani to offer a more nuanced view on Israel’s killing spree on the Gaza border, he still refused to call out Israel by name and even referenced “incitement” on the part of the Palestinians. Then, just a few days later, he opposed an official United Nations investigation into the killings.

Earlier this year, the Trudeau government sent a letter to the International Criminal Court, arguing against its jurisdiction to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes against Palestinians. Former Canadian justice minister, Irwin Cotler, also weighed in and filed an official legal brief to the ICC in support of Israel. This is the same Irwin Cotler who the Jerusalem Post described as “one of the staunchest defenders that Israel has around the world”, and a figure who Trudeau insists on quoting during his defamatory attacks against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

What is the message here? State violence is condoned but not popular resistance; Palestinians have no rights to self-defence unless bequeathed by the colonialist forces; and Israel’s security is privileged above all other considerations.

Sadly, these attitudes are so prevalent that they have also filtered down to civil society in the West, even amongst large sections of pro-Palestinian supporters.

The elevation of non-violence as the only tactic beneficial to the Palestinian struggle has taken hold in much of the support movement, and it is of course an easier ‘sell’ that other forms of resistance. In fact, many supporters in Western countries will adamantly argue, and genuinely believe, that non-violent struggle is the best mechanism by which Palestinians can achieve their rights. Before we evaluate the accuracy of that position, let us clearly state that only the Palestinian people themselves can decide the course of their struggle and which tactics fit best at which point in time. That is because the lived experience of Palestinians must determine their priorities, not a viewpoint expressed from a position of privilege and naivete.

Non-violent tactics are of course part of a broader program of struggle and may indeed be the preferred strategy in certain situations. But recognizing that fact does not indicate a rejection of armed resistance against military targets. The right to resist foreign military occupation with armed struggle is recognized internationally and even honoured in many circumstances.

Many liberation movements were deemed “terrorist” by various oppressors and imperialist forces, from South Africa to Algeria. Parallels are often drawn between the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and the Palestinian experience, both in the context of how apartheid rule operates institutionally and also how it demonizes resistance. The African National Congress (ANC) was labelled as a terrorist organization by both the United States and the United Kingdom. Today, many Western countries including Canada now attach that label to Palestinian resistance groups. Canadians would be better served by following the example of Sweden’s aid to the ANC during the darkest hours of its struggle against apartheid, support that reportedly helped to save lives and hastened the demise of a racist and vile system.

Palestinians have been highly effective in their use of civil disobedience campaigns, from the general strike of 1936, the Beit Sahour tax strike during the First Intifada to the more recent Great Return March. But most Palestinians will tell you that had it not been for the armed struggle of certain decades, the whole Palestinian tragedy would be nothing more than a footnote in today’s history books. The first generation of Palestinians after 1948 spent many years appealing unsuccessfully to the United Nations and various world governments before successive generations took up arms to show that they were not going to be erased from history, similar to what had happened to so many other colonized peoples.

Palestinians have long understood that no matter what type of struggle they are engaged in, the reaction from the Israeli military is always the same–killing, maiming and destruction. The Israeli government continues to respond with excessive force to all forms of Palestinian protest, because the only thing that will satisfy their objectives is for Palestinians to abandon any hope of national independence and full rights. This is something that will never happen.

Marion Kawas is a long-time pro-Palestinian activist and writer, and a member of Canada Palestine Association.

May 6, 2020 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | Leave a comment

Asymptomatic Spreaders, Typhoid Mary, SARS, MERS and COVID

By Christopher Brett – Fossils of Lanark – April 30, 2020

“The next pandemic virus will be present in Canada within 3 months after it emerges in another part of the world, but it could be much sooner because of the volume and speed of global air travel.  …  Given the increase, different patterns and speed of modern travel, a  new virus once arriving in Canada could spread quickly in multiple directions throughout the country. … The first peak of illness in Canada could occur within 2 to 4 months after the virus arrives in Canada. The first peak in mortality is expected to be approximately 1 month after the peak in illness.”

The Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan for the Health Sector, 2006
Dr. Theresa Tam and Karen Grimsrud, Co-Chairs

At the beginning of February I was surprised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s assertions that it was safe to continue to fly to China, that we would only  be testing those who self-reported symptoms, and that his plan for testing was science based. I was also surprised that Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam asserted that there was no risk from asymptomatic spreaders. It has come as no surprise to me that we have now closed our borders to China and most other countries, that we have stepped up our testing and begun contact tracing, and that studies have shown that asymptomatic spreading of COVID-19 is the norm.

I had six  main reasons for objecting to Canada continuing passenger flights to China:

– First, we were the only country continuing to fly to China.
– Second, it was all over the news that by the time Wuhan was placed under quarantine over half the population of Wuhan had fled to other parts of China.
– Third, the virus had spread to many other parts of China, including most major cities, by February 1st
– Fourth, we were not testing people when they got on the planes in China for coronavirus, we were not testing the passengers when they disembarked from the planes, there were no penalties for breaking the quarantine,  there no checks being made of the passengers to ensure that they were adhering to the quarantine, and there were no spot tests of the people coming from China. A few people arriving from China were advised to self-quarantine, but not everyone.
– Fifth, in November, 2014 during the Ebola crisis, Prime Minister Stephen Harper banned people  from Ebola-stricken West Africa from traveling to Canada. As a consequence of his actions no Ebola case arose in Canada. The USA did not ban people from West Africa and confirmed a case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States in a man who traveled from West Africa to Dallas, Texas. That patient died. Earlier Saudi Arabia had announced a travel ban aimed at preventing Liberians, Sierra Leoneans and Guineans from visiting Islam’s holy sites. No Ebola case arose in Saudi Arabia.
– Sixth, a ban works.

My main concern with  Dr. Theresa Tam’s assertion  that there was no risk from asymptomatic spreaders is that I have been aware of Typhoid Mary for over fifty-five years as she was often mentioned in side bars and fillers in newspapers when I was young. Typhoid Mary is the poster child for  asymptomatic spreaders. Her real name was Mary Mallon. She was employed as a cook in various households and kitchens in the New York area over the period from 1907 to 1915. She was the first person in the United States identified as an asymptomatic carrier of  typhoid fever and is believed to have infected 51 people, at least  three of whom died. (Some estimates put the death total at fifty.) Eventually she was arrested and put in quarantine to stop her working and spreading the disease. Interestingly, Marineli et al. (2013) mention that “By the time she died New York health officials had identified more than 400 other healthy carriers of Salmonella typhi.”

Intriguingly there is a fair amount of information on diseases having been transmitted by  asymptomatic carriers of diseases.    In addition to typhoid, Wickipedia mentions  C. difficile, influenzas,  tuberculosis, and HIV. Transmission of diseases by asymptomatic carriers appears to be the norm,  rather than the exception, for infectious diseases.

Dr. Theresa Tam stated that she followed and implemented The Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan for the Health Sector , 2006 (“Canada’s Pandemic Plan”), of which she was the co-author. If she had followed the plan she should have noticed that “Transmission by asymptomatic persons is possible but it is more efficient when symptoms, such as coughing, are present and viral shedding is high (i.e. early in symptomatic period).” and that the “potential for asymptomatic infection and spread from asymptomatic individuals greatly limits the effectiveness and feasibility of most traditional public health control measures.”

If she had done a bit of research Dr. Tan might also have located an article by Fraser  et al. (2004) discussing factors that make an infectious disease outbreak controllable, in which they argue that “Direct estimation of the proportion of asymptomatic and presymptomatic infections is achievable by contact tracing and should be a priority during an outbreak of a novel infectious agent.” noting that “no confirmed cases of transmission from asymptomatic patients have been reported to date in detailed epidemiological analyses of clusters of SARS cases, which suggests that, for SARS, there is a period after symptoms develop during which people can be isolated before their infectiousness increases. Actions taken during this period to isolate or quarantine ill patients can effectively interrupt transmission.”

She might also have noted a paper by Myoung-don Oh et al. (2018) analyzing the 2015 MERS coronavirus outbreak in Korea in which they mention that “the potential for transmission from asymptomatic rRT-PCR positive individuals is still unknown. Therefore, asymptomatic [persons who test] positive for MERS-CoV should be isolated and should not return to work until two consecutive respiratory-tract samples test negative.”

Another paper that Dr. Tan might have located without much trouble is a 2018 report by the World Health Organization providing guidance for asymptomatic persons who test positive for Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). She should have noted the paper in part because Katherine Defalco, Public Health Agency of Canada, Ottawa, Canada contributed to the WHO’s report. In this report WHO state that the potential for transmission from asymptomatic  positive MERS-CoV  persons is currently unknown  but still recommended that “asymptomatic RT-PCR positive persons should be isolated , followed up daily for development of any  symptoms and tested at least weekly – or earlier, if symptoms develop – for MERS-CoV. The place of isolation (hospital or home) shall depend on the  health – care system’s isolation  bed capacity, its capacity to  monitor asymptomatic RT- PCR positive persons daily outside a health-care setting, and  the  conditions of the household and its occupants.” WHO also recommended that “When providing home isolation of asymptomatic RT-PCR  positive persons, the person and family  should be provided with clear instructions on:

•  adequate physical separation from potential householdor social contacts, especially those with risk conditions for severe MERS-CoV illness (e.g. separate room and toilet);
•  having  food in the room and avoid sharing food or  being in the same room with others as much as possible;
•  avoidance of visitors and travel; …

WHO also cautioned that “sometimes it is difficult to classify a case as ‘asymptomatic’ because although the person may not have any symptoms at the time of testing, he or she may develop illness during the course of infection.”

In contrast to WHO’s recommendations for asymptomatic MERS-CoV coronavirus persons, Canada did no testing to find asymptomatic COVID-19 coronavirus carriers. Instead we were told that they posed no threat, and that it was only those that developed symptoms who required testing. As noted above, recent studies have shown that asymptomatic spreading of COVID-19 is the norm. More importantly, Lai et al. (2020) report that “the transmission of COVID-19 through asymptomatic carriers via person-to-person contact was observed in many reports” citing reports published on the web by Rothe on January 30, 2020; by Liu on February 12, 2020; by Yu on February 18; and by Bai on February 21, 2020. Surprisingly, despite these warnings no effort was made in Canada in February or March to test for asymptomatic carriers.  In fact, we still don’t test for asymptomatic carriers.

There have been further reports of asymptomatic spreading. On March 23 Qian et al. reported a COVID-19 family cluster in China caused by a presymptomatic case. On April 1st Wei et al, reported on an investigation of all 243 cases of COVID-19 reported in Singapore during January 23–March 16 and identified seven clusters of cases in which presymptomatic transmission is the most likely explanation for the occurrence of secondary cases. Ten of the cases within these clusters were attributed to presymptomatic transmission and accounted for 6.4% of the 157 locally acquired cases reported as of March 16.

Dr. Tam was on the CBC News the other night reporting that only ten cases in Canada could be traced to origins in China. However, we only tested those who self-reported symptoms. As we never  tested for  asymptomatic spreaders , we will never know how many asymptomatic spreaders from China (or other countries) were in Canada. Further, we have only traced a fraction of those who have developed the disease, and will only know that many people contracted the disease while in Canada, without knowing the source for their disease.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

References and Suggested Reading

Anonymous, 2003
Learning from SARS – Renewal of Public Health  in Canada. A report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health October 2003. 234 pages https://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/sars-sras/pdf/sars-e.pdf

Anonymous, 2020a
Asymptomatic carrier
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asymptomatic_carrier

Anonymous, 2020b
Mary Mallon
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Mallon

Anonymous, 2020c
Subclinical infection
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subclinical_infection#List_of_subclinical_infections

Y. Bai, L. Yao, T. Wei, F. Tian, D.Y. Jih, L. Chen, et al., 2020 Feb 21
Presumed asymptomatic carrier transmission of COVID-19
J Am Med Assoc (2020 Feb 21), 10.1001/jama.2020.2565

Filio Marineli, Gregory Tsoucalas, Marianna Karamanou, and George Androutsos, 2013
Mary Mallon (1869-1938) and the history of typhoid fever.  Ann Gastroenterol. 2013; 26(2): 132–134.   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3959940/

Fraser C, Riley S, Anderson R et al. 2004
Factors that make an infectious disease outbreak controllable. Proc Natl Acad  Sci USA 2004;101(16):6146–51.
https://www.pnas.org/content/101/16/6146

Lai, Chih-Cheng; Liu, Yen Hung; Wang, Cheng-Yi; Wang, Ya-Hui; Hsueh, Shun-Chung; Yen, Muh-Yen; Ko, Wen-Chien; Hsueh, Po-Ren (2020-03-04).
Asymptomatic carrier state, acute respiratory disease, and pneumonia due to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2): Facts and myths”. Journal of Microbiology, Immunology and Infection. doi:10.1016/j.jmii.2020.02.012. ISSN 1684-1182.

Y.C. Liu, C.H. Liao, C.F. Chang, C.C. Chou, Y.R. Lin , 2020 Feb 12
A locally transmitted case of SARS-CoV-2 infection in Taiwan.
New England J Med (2020 Feb 12), 10.1056/NEJMc2001573

Myoung-don Oh, Wan Beom Park, Sang-Won Park, Pyoeng Gyun Choe, Ji Hwan Bang, Kyoung-Ho Song, Eu Suk Kim, Hong Bin Kim, and Nam Joong Kim, 2018
Middle East respiratory syndrome: what we learned from the 2015 outbreak in the Republic of Korea.  Korean J Intern Med. 2018 Mar; 33(2): 233–246.
Published online 2018 Feb 27. doi: 10.3904/kjim.2018.031

Qian G, Yang N, Ma AHY, et al. Epub March 23, 2020
A COVID-19 Transmission within a family cluster by presymptomatic infectors in China. Clin Infect Dis 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32201889

C. Rothe, M. Schunk, P. Sothmann, G. Bretzel, G. Froeschl, C. Wallrauch, et al. (2020 Jan 30)
Transmission of 2019-nCoV infection from an asymptomatic contact in Germany
N Engl J Med, 10.1056/NEJMc2001468

Theresa Tam and Karen Grimsrud, Co-Chairs, 2006
The Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan for the Health Sector.  Public Health Agency of Canada.
550 pages. https://www.longwoods.com/articles/images/Canada_Pandemic_Influenza.pdf

W. E. Wei; , Z. Li; C. J. Chiew, S. E. Yong, M. P. Toh, V. J. Lee,  2020, April 10& April 1
Presymptomatic Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 — Singapore, January 23–March 16, 2020
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 69(14);411–415. On April 1, 2020, this report was posted online as an MMWR Early Release.
https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6914e1.htm

World Health Organization,   2018
Management of asymptomatic persons who are RT-PCR positive for Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV): Interim guidance . 3 January  2018
WHO/MERS/IPC/15.2 Rev.1 Geneva:
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P. Yu, J. Zhu, Z. Zhang, Y. Han, L. Huang, 2020 Feb 18
A familial cluster of infection associated with the 2019 novel coronavirus indicating potential person-to-person transmission during the incubation period
J Infect Dis (2020 Feb 18), 10.1093/infdis/jiaa077

Peter Zimonjic, Rosemary Barton, Philip Ling, 2020
‘Was it perfect? No’: Theresa Tam discusses Canada’s early pandemic response. ‘Could we have done more at the time? You can retrospectively say yes,’ Canada’s top doctor says CBC News Posted: Apr 27, 2020

May 1, 2020 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science | | Leave a comment

Hopefulness Despite 2.9 Billion Lost Birds

By Jim Steele | Watts Up With That? | May 1, 2020

What’s Natural

In 2019 bird researchers published Rosenberg et al “Decline of the North American Avifauna”, reporting a decline in 57% of the bird species. They estimated a net loss of nearly 2.9 billion birds since 1970, and urged us to remedy the threats, claiming all were “exacerbated by climate change”, and we must stave off the “potential collapse of the continental avifauna.” Months before publication the researchers had organized an extensive media campaign. Typical doomsday media like the New York Times piled on with “Birds Are Vanishing From North America” and Scientific American wrote, “Silent Skies: Billions of North American Birds Have Vanished.”

As I have now been sheltering in place, I finally had ample time to thoroughly peruse Rosenberg’s study. I had a very personal interest in it, having professionally studied bird populations for over 20 years and had worked to restore their habitat. I also had conducted 20 years of surveys which were part of the study’s database. Carefully looking at their data, a far more optimistic perspective is needed. So here I join a chorus of other ecologists, as reported in Slate, that “There Is No Impending Bird Apocalypse”. As one ecologist wrote, it’s “not what’s really happening. I think it hurts the credibility of scientists.”

First consider since 1970 many species previously considered endangered such as pelicans, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, trumpeter swan, and whooping crane have been increasing due to enlightened management. Despite being hunted, ducks and geese increased by 54%. Secondly, just 12 of the 303 declining species account for the loss of 1.4 billion birds, and counterintuitively their decline is not worrisome.

Three introduced species – house sparrows, starlings and pigeons – account for nearly one half billion lost birds. These birds were pre-adapted to human habitat and are considered pests that carry disease and tarnish buildings and cars with their droppings. Across America, companies like Bird-B-Gone are hired to remove these foreign bird pests. Furthermore, starlings compete with native birds like bluebirds and flickers for nesting cavities, contributing to native bird declines. The removal of starlings is not an omen of an “avifauna collapse”, but good news for native birds.

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When European colonists cleared forests to create pastures and farmland or provide wood for heating, open-habitat species “unnaturally” increased. Previously confined to the Great Plains, brown‑headed cowbirds quickly invaded the newly opened habitat. Unfortunately, cowbirds parasitize other species by laying its eggs in their nests. A cowbird hatchling then pushes out all other nestlings, killing the parasitized species’ next generation. The loss of 40 million cowbirds only benefits our “continental avifauna”.

Several bird species had evolved to colonize forest openings naturally produced by fire, or floods or high winds. Those species “unnaturally” boomed when 50% to 80% of northeastern United States became de-forested by 1900. Still, eastern trees will reclaim a forest opening within 20 years, so open habitat species require a constant supply of forest openings. However as marginal farms and pastures were abandoned, fires were suppressed and logging reduced, forests increasingly reclaimed those openings. With a 50% decline in forest openings, their bird species also declined; now approaching pre-colonial numbers. Accordingly, birds of the expanding forest interior like woodpeckers are now increasing.

White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos quickly colonize forest openings but then disappear within a few years as the forest recovers. Those 2 species alone accounted for the loss of another quarter of a billion birds; not because of an ecosystem collapse, but because forests were reclaiming human altered habitat. Nonetheless those species are still 400 million strong, and juncos remain abundant in the open habitat maintained by suburban back yards. If environmentalists want to reclaim the abundance of their boom years, they must manage forest openings with logging or prescribed burns.

Insect outbreaks also create forest openings. For hundreds of years forests across Canada and northeastern US have been decimated every few decades by spruce bud worm eruptions. So, forest managers now spray to limit further outbreaks. Today there are an estimated 111 million living Tennessee Warblers that have specialized to feed on spruce bud worms. But the warbler’s numbers have declined by 80 million because insect outbreaks are more controlled. Still they have never been threatened with extinction. Conservationists must determine what is a reasonable warbler abundance while still protecting forests from devastating insect infestations.

The grassland biome accounted for the greatest declines, about 700 million birds. Indeed, natural grasslands had been greatly reduced by centuries of expanding agriculture and grazing. But in recent times more efficient agriculture has allowed more land to revert to “natural” states. However fossil fuel fears reversed that trend. In 2005 federal fuel policies began instituting subsidies to encourage biofuel production. As a result, 17 million more acres of grassland have been converted to corn fields for ethanol since 2006.

Although still very abundant, just 3 species account for the loss of 400 million grassland birds: Horned Larks, Savannah Sparrows and Grasshopper Sparrows. Horned Larks alone accounted for 182 million fewer birds due to a loss of very short grass habitats with some bare ground. To increase their numbers, studies show more grazing, mowing or burning will increase their preferred habitat.

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It must be emphasized that the reported cumulative loss of 2.9 billion birds since 1970, does not signify ecosystem collapses. But there are some legitimate concerns such as maintaining wetlands. And there are some serious human-caused problems we need to remedy to increase struggling bird populations. It is estimated that cats kill between 1 to 3 billion birds each year. Up to 1 billion birds each year die by crashing into the illusions created by window reflections. Collisions with cars and trucks likely kill 89 to 350 million birds a year. Instead of fearmongering ecosystem collapse, our avifauna would best be served by addressing those problems.

Questioning Bird Models

Population estimates for most land birds are based on data from the US Geological Surveys Breeding Bird Surveys (BBS). I conducted 2 BBS surveys on the Tahoe National Forest for 20 years. Each survey route consists of 50 stops, each a half‑mile apart. At each stop for a period of just 3 minutes, I would record all observed birds, the overwhelming majority of which are heard but not seen. Many birds can be missed in such a short time, but the BBS designers decided a 3-minute observation time allowed the day’s survey to cover more habitat. Each year on about the same date, the BBS survey was repeated.

Each BBS route surveys perhaps 1% the region’s landscape. To estimate each species’ population for the whole region, the survey’s observations are extrapolated and modeled. However, models rely on several assumptions and adjustments, and those assumptions can inflate final estimates. For example, in 2004 researchers estimated there were 6,500,000 Rufous Hummingbirds. By 2017, researchers estimated there were now 21,690,000. But that larger population cannot be deemed a conservation success. That tripling of abundance was mostly due to new adjustments.

Because singing males account for most observations, the number of observed birds is doubled to account for an unobserved female that is most likely nearby. Furthermore, it is assumed different species are more readily detected than others. The models assume that each stop will account for all the birds within a 400‑meter radius. Because a crow is readily detected over that distance, no adjustments are made to the number of observed crows. But hummingbirds are not so easily detected. The earlier surveys assumed a hummingbird could only be detected if it was within an 80‑meter radius. So, to standardize the observations to an area with a 400‑meter radius, observations were multiplied by 25. Recent survey models now assume hummingbirds can only be detected within 50 meters, so their observations are now adjusted by multiplying by 64.

Thus, depending on their detection adjustments, one real observation could generate 50 or 128 virtual hummingbirds. That number is further scaled up to account for the time‑of‑day effects and the likely number of birds in the region’s un-surveyed landscapes.

Setting aside assumptions about the regional homogeneity of birds’ habitat, one very real problem with these adjustments that has yet to be addressed. If one bird is no longer observed at a roadside stop, the model assumes that the other 127 virtual birds also died.

Survey routes are done along roadsides and up to 340 million birds are killed by vehicles each year. Many sparrows and warblers are ground nesters and will fly low to the ground. Many seed eating birds like finches will congregate along a roadside to ingest the small gravel needed to internally grind their seeds. Every year I watched a small flock of Evening Grosbeaks ingesting gravel from the shoulder of a country road, get picked off one by one by passing cars. Roadside vegetation often differs from off-road vegetation. Roads initially create openings that are suitable for one species but are gradually grown over during the lifetime of a survey to become unsuitable habitat. So, it should never be assumed that the loss of roadside observations represents a decline for the whole region.

The larger the models’ detectability adjustments are for a given species, the greater the probability that any declining trend in roadside observations will exaggerate a species population loss for the region. The greatest population losses were modeled for warblers and sparrows and most warbler and sparrow data are adjusted for detectability by multiplying actual observations 4 to 10-fold. It is worth reporting good news from recent studies in National Parks that used a much greater density of observation points and were not confined to roadsides. Their observation points were also much closer together and thus required fewer assumptions and adjustments. Of the 50 species they observed, all but 3 populations were stable.

Pushing a fake crisis, Rosenberg et al argued that declining numbers within a species that is still still very abundant doesn’t mean they are not threatened with a quick collapse. He highlighted the Passenger Pigeon was once one of the most abundant birds in North America and they quickly went extinct by 1914. That doomsday scenario was often repeated by the media. But comparison to the Passenger Pigeon’s demise is a false equivalency. Passenger Pigeons were hunted for food when people were suffering from much greater food insecurity.

Rosenberg et al summarized their study with one sentence: “Cumulative loss of nearly three billion birds since 1970, across most North American biomes, signals a pervasive and ongoing avifaunal crisis.” But it signals no such thing. Wise management will continue. With better accounting of the natural causes of each species declines, plus more accurate modeling, it will be seen that Rosenberg’s “crisis” was just another misleading apocalyptic story that further erodes public trust in us honest environmental scientists.

Jim Steele is director emeritus of the Sierra Nevada Field Campus, SFSU and authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism.

May 1, 2020 Posted by | Environmentalism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , , | 5 Comments

Globalization in the Widening Gyre of COVID-19

Excerpts from the COVID-19 Series by Maximilian Forte, April 27, 2020

Borders and Distancing

Typically over the past 20-30 years, anyone who openly worried about the prospect of international passenger jets carrying contagion, would likely have been called a reactionary Luddite, a xenophobic demagogue, or even a racist for implicitly linking “the foreign” with “danger”. This crisis must be exceedingly embarrassing and inconvenient for the orthodox scribes who attend to the upkeep of the once dominant narrative. We are waiting to be reminded of how globalization has made the world more stable, and made our lives better. Behold how peaceful and prosperous is a world shut down and quarantined by capitalist globalization. Let’s hear three more cheers for capitalism, how it has made everyone safer, and remember: “capitalism works”. The coronavirus also works, and without any of the armies which capitalism used to annihilate alternatives.

The virus respects no borders”—this is what we heard from both the World Health Organization early on, and governments such as those of Canada, France, etc., that is until they did a radical about face. If borders really did not matter, then why self-isolate? Why the quarantines? Those are border-making processes. The neoliberal option was to transfer the principle of borders from the society-level, down to the individual level, in conformity with the neoliberal dictum that there is no society. Self-responsibilization was thus emphasized, as it too is a cornerstone of the neoliberal ethic. Thus we saw an ideologically-driven commitment to keeping borders open, even while imposing borders between individuals and sites within the society. The virus did not move magically across borders because it had some sort of contempt for borders, as if COVID-19 had been a regular participant at Davos gatherings. The virus had only to move inside people who were allowed to pass through borders. Saying that shutting down travel and restricting entry would be “ineffective” manifested the determined paralysis and deliberate inaction that purposefully sought to undermine basic principles of national sovereignty—at least for as long as it seemed politically feasible (not long at all). If restricting movement was truly ineffective, then so would quarantines and self-isolation.

Neoliberals such as Justin Trudeau did not shut down borders until the virus had been allowed ample entry into Canada, through multiple ports. Only when the virus began to rapidly escalate, and when other countries began restricting travel, did Canada follow suit. In any case, it didn’t matter: keeping borders open to countries that restricted travel made little sense. However, what was detectable for a couple of weeks was the neoliberal preference for open borders, and a society broken down into confined pockets. The primary goal was not in preventing people from getting sick, but preventing them from getting sick all at the same time. Political leaders are the technocratic managers of the transnational capitalist class, so their decisions in a time of crisis are instructive. Trudeau instructed Canadians that the length of the shutdown would “depend on the choices that Canadians make,” thus making individuals responsible for the policies imposed on them. He said so explicitly when he spoke of how Canadians needed to make “responsible choices”. This is the neoliberal idealization of agency. Canadians would need to automate their ability to act as a rational choice calculators, to deploy as informed and vigilant consumers, and to show deference to authority.

Yet in another respect, neoliberal management failed itself, because there is no winning in a crisis such as this one. The failure to enforce borders directly resulted in a shutdown of economic activity—a cardinal sin for any good neoliberal. “Creative destruction” is one thing, but this is starting to look like just destructive destruction. Stocks plunged to the most dramatic degree since the Great Depression, with unemployment skyrocketing to an extent also not seen in many decades. This was neoliberal mismanagement: a combination of dogma and indecision, of being actively deployed in a state of paralysis. There was no better example of this active paralysis than a quarantined prime minister and his infected wife, remaining in seclusion in his residence even after his wife’s recovery, pretending to operate the country via remote control.

One of the additional features of active paralysis has been absentee governance, or something approximating an absence of government at the federal level in Canada in terms of the reluctance to have elected parliamentarians sitting in the legislative assembly in Ottawa to do their jobs. Meanwhile, minimum-wage cashiers in supermarkets are required to risk their lives to serve the public. It is not just fear that would have a ruling party or head of government virtually or actually suspend parliament: it was out of a desire to avoid having to answer for their actions and decisions. Israel has now become a fully fledged dictatorship. Trump wanted to “adjourn” Congress—i.e., suspend parliament—while declaring that his power is total. (Next, he will cancel elections.) In Canada, Trudeau rules from isolation and digs his heels into the ground when it comes to having parliament sit.

What has become painfully evident to all of us is at least two things. One is that globalization, and the globalism that upholds it, have literally sickened people. All have been put in danger, many have already died, and more will die. Such a system cannot be allowed to continue, as a practical matter of survival. Concerns for “cost” and “efficiency” will necessarily have to be tossed aside. Goods may cost more, but it would also mean more local employment, and hopefully at higher rates of return. Emphasizing cheap costs means emphasizing low wages, which in turns means poverty creation and thus the production of a class of people who become especially vulnerable to viruses and to spreading them.

The second facet involves greater reflection on the wasteful, needless nature of the incessant travel that has occurred worldwide in ever increasing volumes over the past years and decades. People were jetting and cruising around as if it had been an ordinary, routine necessity of living—and now the reality that has exploded in everyone’s faces is just how harmful were such consumption patterns. In academia hopefully this will spell an end to the extreme travel culture that has taken hold, with many tens of thousands of academics jetting to-and-fro every week of the year to attend any of the countless conferences in dozens of disciplines, or to appear as guest speakers. Huge amounts of publicly funded research grants have been extinguished as exhaust in the atmosphere, by travellers who directly exposed themselves and their societies to needless exposure to actual or prospective viral outbreaks.

It is important that we become accustomed to Zoom video conferencing, or whatever alternative platform emerges. Personally, I would also recommend that universities move towards a greater mix in the delivery of courses, allowing some to be delivered online, or allowing some faculty (those who wish) to do all of their teaching online. Perhaps the latter move could reduce costs to students: a reduced tuition should follow from lessened demand on space and the various overhead expenses needed to maintain physical spaces. For cash-strapped universities, greater online teaching could free up enough physical space that whole buildings could be sold, or refitted and rented, immediately generating new revenue either way. Every university student and professor in North America today has had direct and recent experience with online teaching—so at least the very concept is no longer unthinkable. Online teaching has just entered the tried and tested column.

Distance Annihilates Globalization

Those in power have done something interesting by introducing the distancing ethic. Distancing is the exact opposite of the ethic of globalization. In Canada some in the media quibble over whether the better term is “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing,” when they amount to the same thing. Liberal Canadian media like to downplay the social impacts, reducing everything to individual human interest stories—they pretend that mediated “togetherness” is what counts most, and in-person distance is merely “physical”. The point is, however, that globalization promised an end to all distancing, particularly physical distancing. How “physical distancing” can become useful to the authorities is by reinforcing some other lessons: that your health is your responsibility; public health is a matter of individual decisions and individual practices. Physical distancing could emphasize individualism, if it magnifies and isolates the “I” and obliterates the “us”. On the other hand, individual distancing, motivated by a concern for the common good, would instead introduce a collectivist principle. In other words, little is really clear-cut in a crisis which has every social sector losing something. What is interesting to see is that globalization itself is proving to be one of the biggest of all the losers.

Among the famous phrases purporting to explain globalization, were ones such as “time-space compression,” and how “time had annihilated distance”. Globalization itself is projected to become one of the main “losers” of the coronavirus, both in the immediate and near-terms. That the new ethics of distancing and isolation, coupled with national self-supply, both mean the annihilation of globalization, is a fact that is now recognized by too many writers for all of them to have been lifelong, hard core anti-globalists. Outlines of the next economic model have come into focus.

However, to be clear not everything one may associate with globalization in all of its multiple forms, will just vanish. Some aspects may be strengthened, particularly the advance of digitization, Internet communication, and automation. Travel, hotels, airlines, international car rentals, AirBnB, all of these may suffer a deep and irreparable decline, and one can reasonably expect some businesses to fail utterly, including AirBnB. While travel and tourism can be expected to go into a deep and enduring decline, the value of the Internet has been enhanced. Thus de-globalization will be as partial and selective as globalization itself was.

Note also how the epicentres of the pandemic were most often the centres of the world economy: China, the US (particularly New York state), Italy and Spain in the EU, the UK. On the other hand, most of the periphery—minus major exceptions like Iran—still remains peripheral to the outbreak. COVID-19 is a disease that follows the pattern of global capitalist integration. The lesson here is a reverse of the globalist dogma taught in development studies for the past 30 plus years: now it’s those with fewer linkages that fare better. That does not mean that Africa, for example, has remained untouched—on the contrary, even the initial effects of the crisis have already been severe.

The new buzzwords in the North American media—still shy about calling it de-globalization—are “onshoring” (instead of the “offshoring” of companies, capital, and jobs), or “reshoring” (as in “bringing it back home” with reference to the production of strategic supplies). “De-coupling” is a rather oblique term, fashionable among Financial Times writers, for essentially speaking of de-globalization: a breaking off of linkages that rendered one country dependent on another. Suddenly it is common to hear about “supply chains,” particularly since it became evident that even supposedly major economies went into this crisis totally naked, without their own production and supply of masks, gloves, and medical gowns, let alone their own domestic supply of key pharmaceuticals. At the very least on the medical front alone, the post-COVID world will be remarkably altered, and it is already altering rapidly. This is not a hypothesis as much as an observation. We can expect that in academia new life will be breathed into Dependency Theory, which now seems much more relevant and useful than four decades of fluffy globalization theories.

As we now collectively begin to speak of national self-reliance, and look to ourselves and our own resources, skills, and abilities in meeting our own needs, another old realization will come back to the fore: we do not need any foreign master. We do not need any foreign master, whether new or old, whether it is China or the US. Some think (wishfully, not analytically) that it is only China’s alleged plan to become the centre of global power that will be harmed from this pandemic—but it is US hegemony that will now meet its fullest and most visible decline.

As an anthropologist I want to challenge readers to stop thinking of the world necessarily being polar, whether uni-polar, bi-polar, or multi-polar. The fact of the matter is that for the vast majority of the time that humans have existed on this planet, our planet was non-polar. Global “poles” are an invention of the last 500 years—not a particularly good invention, rarely a welcome invention, and clearly not a sustainable invention. As we increasingly turn into a New Old World, let’s hope that the “old” part is really old.

Part 3 of this series turns squarely to questions of geopolitical dominance, especially where the two contending powers—China and the US—have both rooted their power in a highly deficient process: globalization.

April 27, 2020 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | | 1 Comment

Is the United States About to Engage in Official State Piracy Against China? Strong Precedent Points to Worrying Trend

By A. B. Abrams | The Saker Blog | April 18, 2020

The Coronavirus crisis appears set to herald a new era of much poorer relations between China and the Western world, with Western countries having borne the brunt of the fallout from the pandemic and, particularly in the United States, increasingly blaming China at an official level for the effects.[1] Looking at the U.S. case in particular, at first responses to the virus were if anything optimistic – the fallout in China was seen as a ‘correction’ which would shift the balance of global economic power back into Western hands. Indeed, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross stated on January 30th that the fallout from the virus in China “will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America” with millions at the time placed under lockdown in Wuhan and elsewhere.[2] Western publications from the New York Times to the Guardian widely hailed the virus as potentially bringing an end to China’s decades of rapid economic growth – with a ‘rebalancing’ of the global economy towards Western power strongly implied.[3],[4] Against North Korea, the New York Times described the virus as potentially functioning as America’s “most effective ally” in achieving the outcome Washington had long sought – “choking the North’s economy.” [5]

The result, however, has if anything been strong resilience to the virus across much of East Asia, with Vietnam and South Korea being prime examples of successful handling alongside Macao, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Chinese mainland – in contrast to a very sluggish and often ineffective response in the West.[6] From rot filled and broken emergency supplies in the U.S. national reserve[7] to nurses wearing bin bags due a lack of protective equipment,[8] the commandeering of supplies heading to other countries, [9] and the enlistment of prison labour to build mass graves in New York City[10] – signs have unanimously pointed to chaos. It should be pointed out that the U.S. reported its first case on the same day as South Korea – which had the virus fully under control several weeks earlier due to more effective handling and a lack of complacency.[11] The U.S. and wider Western world had a major advantage in its warning time over China in particular, but effectively squandered it.[12]

The results of the fallout from the Coronavirus in the Western world, and in the U.S. in particular, could be extremely serious given the context of escalating American pressure on China in the leadup to the outbreak. Blaming China for the virus across American press and in the White House itself – despite it having reached America primarily from Europe rather than Asia[13] – has heralded mass hate crimes against the Asian American community of unprecedented seriousness and scale since the targeting of Japanese-Americans in the 1940s.[14] Perhaps even more seriously, however, the official American response as public opinion is directed against China appears set to place the world’s two largest economies on a potentially catastrophic collision course. On April 14th U.S. Senator Josh Hawley unveiled highly provocative legislation which would strip China of its sovereign immunity in American courts and allow Americans to sue China’s ruling Communist Party directly for the damages caused by the coronavirus crisis.[15] Such legislation relies heavily on growing anti-Chinese sentiments and depictions of China as directly responsible – and contradicts evidence from the World Health Organisation among others that China’s response effectively stalled the global spread of the virus at its own expense with its lockdown.[16]

An unbiased analysis shows that the disproportionate fallout in the Western world relative to East Asia is overwhelmingly due to poor preparation – and had effective South Korean style measures been implemented from the outset America would have seen only a small fraction of the cases it currently suffers from.[17] Nevertheless, calls from the U.S. and to a lesser extent from within other Western states[18] to make China foot the bill are manifold. Scholars from the American Enterprise Institute and Stanford University’s Hoover Institution among others have made direct calls for Western states to unilaterally “seize the assets of Chinese state-owned companies,” cancel debts to China and expropriate Chinese overseas assets “in compensation for coronavirus losses.”[19] The Florida based firm the Berman Law Group has already filed two major lawsuits suing China calling for compensation for the outbreak – and the situation looks set to worsen considerably with many more suits to follow. Regarding how the crisis could play out, and how the U.S. could act on its massive claims against China over the virus which are expected to be in the hundreds of billions at least, there is an important precedent for American courts providing similar compensation to alleged victims of an East Asian government and the American state taking action accordingly – that of the Otto Warmbier case in 2018. Assessment of the Warmbier case sets a very important precedent with very considerable implications for the outcome of a Sino-American dispute.

Otto Warmbier was an American student arrested in North Korea in 2016 for stealing a poster and violating a restricted high security area in Pyongyang. The student was returned to the U.S. the following year in a comatose state, with his parents alleging that his teeth had been artificially rearranged and his body showed signs of torture. This was strongly contradicted by medical analyses, with the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office carrying out an external examination of Warmbier’s body and dismissing the claim by his father that his teeth had been pulled out and rearranged by the North Koreans. “The teeth are natural and in good repair,” the office concluded, after Warmbier’s father had sensationally claimed that “his bottom teeth look like they [the Koreans] had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged them.” Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Kode Sammarco stated addressing the claim of forced rearranging of Otto’s teeth: ”I felt very comfortable that there wasn’t any evidence of trauma. We were surprised at the [parents’] statement.” She said her team, which included a forensic dentist, thoroughly evaluated the body and assessed various scans of his body.[20] Medical assessments showed no signs of mistreatment or any trauma to the student’s head or skull, with a blood clot, pneumonia, sepsis, kidney failure, and sleeping pills were also cited as potential causes of death.[21] Nevertheless, Warmbier’s parents would continue to claim against all available evidence that their son had been tortured to death – filing a lawsuit against the North Korean government. Where a full autopsy could have provided data to more completely undermine their claims, and was strongly recommended by doctors, they were adamant in their refusal and no autopsy was carried out. Forensic scientists were highly critical of this unusual and unexpected decision in this critical case.[22]

In response to the Warmbiers’ claim against the North Korean state, which amounted to a staggering $1.05 billion in punitive damages and around $46 million for the family’s suffering in a motion filed in U.S. District Court in Washington in October 2018, Pyongyang was asked to pay the couple $500 million.[23] This was despite no evidence for the couple’s claims of Korean culpability, but at a time when public opinion was strongly against North Korea and would have supported the motion. To seize the Warmbiers’ compensation, the United States Navy would later that year commandeer a North Korean cargo ship, the Wise Honest, and escort it to American territory where it was subsequently sold at auction. The couple was provided with a part of the ship’s value, and future seizures of Korean merchant shipping to meet the remainder of the American family’s claim remain possible under U.S. law.[24] The seizure of the ship, one of North Korea’s largest, represented a considerable loss to its fleet and complemented the effects of ongoing Western sanctions to undermine the country’s economy.

The significance of the Warmbier case is that it provides a strong precedent for the U.S. Military, should China inevitably refuse to pay the hundreds billions expected to be demanded in compensation, to engage in effective state level piracy against Chinese merchant shipping to provide funds for its increasingly struggling economy.[25] With trade war having failed to significantly slow Chinese economic growth and foreign trade, which had been its primary goal,[26] more drastic means may be adopted for the same end using the Coronavirus crisis as a pretext. Other similar recent cases do exist, including unilateral seizure and sale of Iranian government owned properties by the Canadian government in 2019 to compensate alleged victims of terror of conflicts with Hezbollah and Hamas. This was despite neither of these being UN recognised terrorist organisations and Iran’s support for these non-state actors being entirely legal under international law.[27] The fact that these properties were on Canadian soil and governed under Canadian law however, rather than in international waters, makes this a considerably less provocative case than the Warmbier case or than what is being proposed against China.

Further evidence that the U.S. would consider unilateral commandeering of shipping against China was provided by the U.S. Naval Institute, which in April published an important paper titled ‘Unleash the Privateers’ highlighting that it remained legal under American law for U.S. security firms to be tasked with commandeering and either sinking or capturing and selling Chinese merchant ships in the event of conflict. It highlighted that China was the largest trading nation in the world with a merchant fleet several times the size of its American counterpart – and that this provided a vulnerability the U.S. should be willing to exploit.[28] Taken together, the circumstances surrounding claims against China and moves to strip it of its sovereign immunity, the Warmbier precedent, the well timed and extremely radical naval institute paper and above all America’s need to reverse its losses and undermine China’s growing trade and economic prosperity to perpetuate its own hegemony, between them point to a high possibility of the U.S. adopting state level piracy against Chinese shipping as a future policy. While evidence strongly contradicts claims that China is responsible for the Coronavirus and the massive fallout the U.S. is now experiencing – much as evidence from American coroners and forensic scientists contradicted the claims of the Warmbier family – these inconvenient facts are highly unlikely to prevent the U.S. from taking action to secure its perceived rightful place as the leader of the global economy by seizing what it sees as its rightful property through attacks on Chinese trading vessels.

It is by no means a certainty that the United States will engage in such an escalatory course of action, and the nature of the overall Western response beyond the current harsh rhetoric and unfounded accusations is yet to be seen. It is important at this stage, however, to highlight the not insignificant possibility such a course will be taken by the U.S. and other Western parties to reverse the trend towards a decline in their economic positions relative to China. Repercussions from such seizures will almost certainly be far more severe than the relatively muted global response to the seizure and sale of a commandeered North Korean ship two years prior. While China’s Navy is concentrated in the Western Pacific and is poorly placed to defend its trade routes from the global reach of Western warships, Beijing and its allies have a wide range of means to retaliate which could deter the Western powers from taking such a course of action.

  1. ‘Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak,’ New York Times (accessed April 16, 2020). ↑
  2. Staracqualursi, Veronica and Davis, Richard, ‘Commerce secretary says coronavirus will help bring jobs to North America,’ CNN, January 30, 2020. ↑
  3. Bradsher, Keith, ‘Coronavirus Could End China’s Decades-Long Economic Growth Streak,’ New York Times, March 16, 2020. ↑
  4. Davidson, Helen, ‘Coronavirus deals China’s economy a “bigger blow than global financial crisis,”’ The Guardian, March 16, 2020. ↑
  5. Koettl, Christoph, ‘Coronavirus Is Idling North Korea’s Ships Achieving What Sanctions Did Not,’ New York Times, March 26, 2020. ↑
  6. Graham-Harrison, Emma, ‘Coronavirus: how Asian countries acted while the west dithered,’ The Guardian, March 21, 2020.Inkster, Ian, ‘In the battle against the coronavirus, East Asian societies and cultures have the edge,’ South China Morning Post, April 10, 2020. ↑
  7. Chandler, Kim, ‘Some states receive masks with dry rot, broken ventilators,’ Associated Press, April 4, 2020. ↑
  8. Glasser, Susan B., ‘How Did the U.S. End Up with Nurses Wearing Garbage Bags?,’ The New Yorker, April 9, 2020. ↑
  9. ‘US Seizes Ventilators Destined for Barbados,’ Telesur, April 5, 2020.Willsher, Kim and Holmes, Oliver and. McKernan, Bethan and Tondo, Lorenzo, ‘US hijacking mask shipments in rush for coronavirus protection,’ The Guardian, April 3, 2020.

    Lister, Tim and Shukla, Sebastian and Bobille, Fanny, ‘Coronavirus sparks a ‘war for masks’ as accusations fly,’ CNN, April 3, 2020. ↑

  10. Crane, Emily, ‘Workers in full Hazmat suits bury rows of coffins in Hart Island mass grave as NYC officials confirm coronavirus victims WILL be buried there if their bodies aren’t claimed within two weeks after death toll rises to 4,778,’ Daily Mail, April 9, 2020. ↑
  11. ‘Special Report: How Korea trounced U.S. in race to test people for coronavirus,’ Reuters, March 18, 2020.‘Once the biggest outbreak outside of China, South Korean city reports zero new coronavirus cases,’ Reuters, April 10, 2020. ↑
  12. Johnson, Ian, ‘China Bought the West Time. The West Squandered It,’ New York Times, March 13, 2020. ↑
  13. ‘New York coronavirus outbreak originated in Europe, studies show,’ The Hill, April 9, 2020. ↑
  14. De Souza, Alison, ‘Asian Americans tell harrowing stories of abuse amid coronavirus outbreak in the US,’ Straits Times, April 1, 2020.Chapman, Ben, ‘New York City Sees Rise in Coronavirus Hate Crimes Against Asians,’ Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2020. ↑
  15. Schultz, Maarisa, ‘Sen Hawley: Let coronavirus victims sue Chinese Communist Party,’ Fox News, April 14, 2020. ↑
  16. Wang, Yanan, ‘New virus cases fall; WHO says China bought the world time,’ Associated Press, February 15, 2020.Johnson, Ian, ‘China Bought the West Time. The West Squandered It,’ New York Times, March 13, 2020. ↑
  17. ‘Special Report: How Korea trounced U.S. in race to test people for coronavirus,’ Reuters, March 18, 2020.‘Once the biggest outbreak outside of China, South Korean city reports zero new coronavirus cases,’ Reuters, April 10, 2020. ↑
  18. Cole, Harry, ‘China owes us £351 billion: Britain should pursue Beijing through international courts for coronavirus compensation, major study claims as 15 top top Tories urge “reset” in UK relations with country,’ Daily Mail, April 5, 2020. ↑
  19. Stradner, Ivana and Yoo, John, ‘How to Make China Pay,’ American Enterprise Institute, April 6, 2020. ↑
  20. Nedelman, Michael, ‘Coroner found no obvious signs of torture on Otto Warmbier,’ CNN, September 29, 2017. ↑
  21. Lockett, Jon, ‘Tragic student Otto Warmbier ‘may have attempted suicide’ in North Korean prison after being sentenced to 15 years for stealing poster,’ The Sun, July 28, 2018.Basu, Zachary, ‘What we’re reading: What happened to Otto Warmbier in North Korea,’ Axios, July 25, 2018.

    Tingle, Rory, ‘Otto Warmbier’s brain damage that led to his death was caused by a SUICIDE ATTEMPT rather than torture by North Korean prison guards, report claims,’ Daily Mail, July 25, 2018.

    Fox, Maggie, ’What killed Otto Warmbier?’ NBC News, June 20, 2017.

    Tinker, Ben, ‘What an autopsy may (or may not) have revealed about Otto Warmbier’s death,’ CNN, June 22, 2017.

    Nedelman, Michael, ‘Coroner found no obvious signs of torture on Otto Warmbier,’ CNN, September 29, 2017. ↑

  22. Tinker, Ben, ‘What an autopsy may (or may not) have revealed about Otto Warmbier’s death,’ CNN, June 22, 2017.Nedelman, Michael, ‘Coroner found no obvious signs of torture on Otto Warmbier,’ CNN, September 29, 2017. ↑
  23. Brookbank, Sarah, ‘Family of Otto Warmbier awarded $500 million in lawsuit against North Korea,’ USA Today, December 24, 2018. ↑
  24. Lee, Christy, ‘U.S. Marshals to Sell Seized North Korean Cargo Ship,’ VOA, July 27, 2019.‘Seized North Korean cargo ship sold to compensate parents of Otto Warmbier, others,’ Navy Times, October 9, 2019. ↑
  25. Blyth, Mark, ‘The U.S. Economy Is Uniquely Vulnerable to the Coronavirus,’ Foreign Affairs, March 30, 2020.Schulze, Elizabeth, ‘The coronavirus recession is unlike any economic downturn in US history,’ CNBC, April 8, 2020.

    Schwartz, Nelson D., ‘Coronavirus Recession Looms, Its Course “Unrecognizable,”’ New York Times, April 1, 2020.

    Davies, Rob, ‘Coronavirus means a bad recession – at least – says JP Morgan boss,’ The Guardian, April 6, 2020.

    Lowrey, Annie, ‘Millennials Don’t Stand a Chance,’ The Atlantic, April 13, 2020. ↑

  26. Wei, Liu, ‘Trump’s Trade War on China Is About More Than Trade,’ The Diplomat, July 20, 2018. ↑
  27. Bell, Stewart, ‘Iran’s properties in Canada sold, proceeds handed to terror victims,’ Global News, September 12, 2019. ↑
  28. Cancian, Mark and Schwartz, Brandon, ‘Unleash the Privateers!,’ U.S. Naval Institute, vol. 146, no. 2, issue 1406, April 2020. ↑

 

April 18, 2020 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , | Leave a comment

Intelligence agencies fail to protect us from pandemic

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CSIS and CSE headquarters
By Yves Engler · April 16, 2020

With millions forced out of work and many more stuck at home, Canadians need to ask tough questions of organizations receiving billions of dollars to protect them from foreign threats. The country’s intelligence/security sector has done little to respond to the ongoing social and economic calamity. Even worse, their thinking and practices are an obstacle to what’s required to overcome a global pandemic.

A recent Canadian Press article highlights the failure of intelligence agencies to warn of the COVID-19 outbreak. They largely ignore health-related threats despite receiving huge sums of federal money.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s (CSIS) has more than 3,000 employees and a $500 million budget, which is nearly equal to that of the lead agency dealing with the pandemic. The Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) budget is $675 million and it has 2,200 employees. For its part, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) employs 2,500 and receives over $600 million annually. In 2011 Department of National Defence run CSE moved into a new $1.2 billion, 110,000 square metre, seven-building, complex connected to CSIS’ main compound.

CSE is but one component of DND’s intelligence juggernaut. Not counting CSE, the Canadian Forces has greater intelligence gathering capacities than any organization in the country. While their budget and size are not public information, the government’s 2017 Defence Policy review notes that “CFINTCOM [Canadian Forces Intelligence Command] is the only entity within the Government of Canada that employs the full spectrum of intelligence collection capabilities while providing multi-source analysis.” The Defence Policy Paper called for adding 300 military intelligence positions and expanding CFINTCOM’s scope.

CFINTCOM has a medical intelligence (MEDINT) cell to track how global health trends and contagions impact military operations. Apparently, they reported on the coronavirus outbreak in January but it’s unclear who received that information.

The $2 billion spent on CSIS/CSE/CFINTCOM annually — let alone the more than $30 billion devoted to DND/Veterans Affairs — could have purchased a lot of personal protective equipment for health care workers. It could have paid for many ventilators and it could also have been used to raise the abysmally low wages of many who work in long-term care and nursing homes.

But, it’s not only that CSIS/CSE/CFINTCOM resources could be better used. Their ideology and structures are an obstacle to avoiding/overcoming a global pandemic. Two weeks ago, CSE put out a statement warning Canadian coronavirus researchers to beware of malign international forces seeking to steal their research. A Canadian Centre for Cyber Security statement noted, “these actors may attempt to gain intelligence on COVID-19 response efforts and potential political responses to the crisis or to steal ongoing key research toward a vaccine or other medical remedies.” But, wouldn’t it, in fact, be great if our ‘enemies’ in Russia, China, Iran, or anywhere else employed Canadian research to develop a cure or vaccine for COVID-19? Who, except extreme right-wing ideologues could believe a vaccine or cure should be patented and profited from?

It won’t be easy to shift their orientation to include pandemics. In a recent commentary, prominent intelligence agency insider Wesley Wark notes, “our security and intelligence agencies have never seen health emergency reporting as part of their core mandate, despite a plan laid down in the National Security Policy announced after SARS that unfortunately went nowhere.” For a time after the 2003 SARS outbreak the CSIS-based Integrated Threat Assessment Centre reported regularly on pandemic dangers, but the unit was soon collapsed into the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre. For the intelligence agencies “terrorism” is appealing because it justifies militarism and a ‘security’ state. Health emergencies, on the other hand, justify better work conditions for long-term care providers.

The CSIS/CSE/CFINTCOM definition of ‘security’ is heavily shaped by corporate Canada, state power projection and ties to the US Empire. In criticizing Canadian intelligence agencies’ failure to warn/protect us from the pandemic, Wark highlights the dangerously narrow outlook of the intelligence community. He suggests CSIS/CSE/CFINTCOM could have helped prevent the calamity by gathering better intelligence on China. But, if Beijing hid early information on COVID-19, it’s at least partly because China is locked in a destructive geopolitical competition with the US empire, which was instigated by Washington and its allies (from 1949 to 1970 Canada refused to recognize China and in 1950 sent 27,000 troops to Korea largely to check Chinese nationalism). In recent months CSIS/CSE/CFINTCOM have sought to identify China as a threat.

Wark’s thinking must be rejected. Avoiding and overcoming global pandemics requires a free exchange of health information. It also requires international solidarity.

After the COVID-19 crisis dies down, progressives should renew their push to devote intelligence agencies’ resources towards initiatives that protect ordinary Canadians’ security, rather than the interests of the rich and powerful.

April 16, 2020 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , | 1 Comment

Ottawa dances with the Saudi kingdom

By Yves Engler · April 11, 2020

As Canadians focus on the coronavirus pandemic the Trudeau government announced it was lifting its suspension of arms export permits to Saudi Arabia. It has also renegotiated the government’s $14 billion armoured vehicle deal with the belligerent, repressive, monarchy.

This is not surprising. The government set the stage for this decision with its September review that found no evidence linking Canadian military exports to human rights violations committed by the Saudis. The Global Affairs review claimed there was no “credible” link between arms exports to the Saudis and human rights abuses even though the April 2016 memo to foreign minister Stéphane Dion originally approving the armoured vehicle export permits claimed they would assist Riyadh in “countering instability in Yemen.” The five year old Saudi led war against Yemen has left 100,000 dead. Throughout their time in office the Liberals have largely ignored Saudi violence in Yemen.

Despite a great deal of public attention devoted to a diplomatic spat, after Riyadh withdrew its ambassador over an innocuous tweet from the Canadian Embassy in August 2018, the Liberals have sought to mend relations and continue business as usual. In December 2018 HMCS Regina assumed command of a 33-nation Combined Maritime Forces naval coalition patrolling the region from Saudi Arabia. Last September foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said, “Saudi Arabia is an important partner for Canada and we continue to work with Saudi Arabia on a number of different issues at a number of different levels.” For its part, the Canadian Embassy’s website continues to claim, “the Saudi government plays an important role in promoting regional peace and stability.”

According to an access to information request by PhD researcher Anthony Fenton, Freeland phoned new Saudi foreign minister Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf in January 2019. In briefing notes for the (unannounced) discussion Freeland was encouraged to tell her counterpart (under the headline “points to register” regarding Yemen): “Appreciate the hard work and heavy lifting by the Saudis and encourage ongoing efforts in this regard.”

After Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s (MBS) thugs killed and dismembered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, Trudeau treaded carefully regarding the murder. Ten days after the Canadian Press reported, “the prime minister said only that Canada has ‘serious issues’ with reports the Washington Post columnist was killed by Saudi Arabian operatives inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Turkey.” Six weeks later the Liberals sanctioned 17 Saudi nationals over the issue but none of them were in positions of significant authority.

Foreign minister Freeland looked the other way when Saudi student Mohammed Zuraibi Alzoabi fled Canada last year — presumably with help from the embassy — to avoid sexual assault charges in Cape Breton. While Freeland told reporters that Global Affairs was investigating the matter, Halifax Chronicle Herald journalist Aaron Beswick’s Access to Information request suggested they didn’t even bother contacting the Saudi embassy concerning the matter.

In April 2019 the Saudis beheaded 37 mostly minority Shiites. Ottawa waited 48 hours — after many other countries criticized the mass execution — to release a “muted” statement. The Trudeau government stayed mum on the Saudi’s effort to derail pro-democracy demonstrations in Sudan and Algeria in 2018/19 as well as Riyadh’s funding for Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar’s bid to seize Tripoli by force.

While they implemented a freeze on new export permit approvals, shipments of Canadian weaponry continued. The year 2018 set a record for Canadian rifle and armoured vehicle sales to the Saudis. Over $17 million in rifles were exported to the kingdom in 2018 and a similar amount in 2019. Canada exported $2 billion worth of “tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles” to the Saudis in 2019. In February Canada exported $155.5 million worth of “Tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles” to Saudi Arabia.

The Global Affairs review that claimed there was no “credible” link between Canadian weapons exports to the Saudis and human rights abuses noted there were 48 arms export permit applications awaiting government approval.

As Fenton has documented in detail, armoured vehicles made by Canadian company Streit Group in the UAE have repeatedly been videoed in Yemen. Equipment from three other Canadian armoured vehicle makers — Terradyne, IAG Guardian and General Dynamics — was found with Saudi-backed forces in Yemen. Fenton has shown many examples of the Saudi-led coalition using Canadian-made rifles as well.

The Trudeau government arming the monarchy’s military while saying little about its brutal war in Yemen should be understood for what it was: War profiteering and enabling of massive human rights abuses.

April 11, 2020 Posted by | War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment

Canadian Government’s Response to COVID-19 Has Been Terrible – WEXIT Alberta Founder

Sputnik – April 7, 2020

While the number of coronavirus cases in Canada has risen from zero to 17,046 in just two months, some politicians are becoming increasingly critical of Justin Trudeau’s “globalist” approach in countering the pandemic.

Peter Dowining, the founder of WEXIT Alberta – a secession movement, which is part of the broader network of organizations calling for the independence of the Prairie Provinces – Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba, from the rest of Canada, said in an interview with Sputnik, that from the moment when Canada saw its first COVID-19 patient in January this year, the country’s citizens have been receiving mixed messages from Ottawa.

“We’ve been told very early on that there was very low risk of contracting COVID-19 or coronavirus. Then we were told there was no reason to shut down airports or international flights, or borders, because that’s somehow “racist”. And then we are being told that this is the “worst new crisis”, we have to go into “world war spending mode”, ”you’re going to have to accept austerity”, we are going to accept the stripping of our freedoms and our civil liberties.”

According to the WEXIT Alberta founder. “not everything that Trudeau’s government is saying is coming from the Canadian government independently”, since, in his opinion, instead of using domestic expertise in evaluating the coronavirus threat, Ottawa was relying on advice from international organizations:

“The Canadian government’s response [to COVID-19] has been terrible. If more people have contracted the coronavirus, it’s simply because of the government’s inaction and unwillingness to take independent values-based action.”

Downing’s position on the matter is similar to the opinion of another Canadian politician – the leader of the People’s Party of Canada Maxime Bernier, who doubted that Ottawa should have been following the advice from the World Health Organization on the excessive character of travel restrictions at the early stage of the pandemic in January.

​Downing says that the overall mood in Canada is being affected by the negative messages in the media and is certain that when the pandemic is over, the country’s voters will start asking questions.

“Right now people are very-very scared, we’ve been hearing nothing but “doom and gloom and COVID-19” 24/7 on our news channels, and our corporations are getting involved in promoting these messages as well.” – says Peter Downing. – “Maybe some of the corporations are receiving bailouts, I’m not quite sure. But it’s going to come to when people really ask the questions “what happened here?”

According to WEXIT Alberta founder, the political aftermath of the pandemic might eventually affect in a negative both Canada’s federal and provincial branches of power:

“I think people are going to be very-very angry at what the federal and provincial governments have been doing to them.”

Canadian provincial authorities have been recently taking their own steps in thwarting the pandemic, with Quebec establishing police checkpoints to limit “non-essential travel” at the border with Ontario, and with Ontario hitting locals with heavy fines for outdoor activities

​Justin Trudeau’s government is planning to spend 275 million Canadian dollars on coronavirus research and medical countermeasures, allocating a total of more than $1 billion to a COVID-19 Response Fund.

According to data by Johns Hopkins University, by 7 april Canada has 17,046 registered coronavirus cases and 344 COVID-19-related deaths.

April 7, 2020 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science | , , | Leave a comment