Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
November 30, 2020

Brexit Promoters Lament Predictable Brexit Results

It is only one month until the United Kingdom of Britain leaves the European Union. There is still no deal about the future relations between the two entities and the time is running out. But even if a deal about the economic issues is finalized and signed there will still be many changes and inconveniences.

One argument with which the British government promoted Brexit was the "end of free movement". Most people who voted for Brexit probably thought that this would mean the closing of a one-way street that only affects migrants to Britain from lower tier countries. Now they are waking up to the fact that Brexit is closing down a two way road.

Furious British expats blast EU's new post-Brexit travel rules which will ban them from spending more than three months at a time at their holiday home from January
  • Travel rules will change after end of the post-Brexit 'standstill' transition period 
  • After January 1 UK tourists visiting EU countries will be restricted to 90 day stays
  • The rules have prompted a backlash from Britons who own holiday home in EU 

These are not 'new' EU rules. Starting January 1 Britons will be allowed on vacation in the EU for a maximum of 90 days in every six month period. These are the long existing rules for non-EU citizens if their country has no agreement for bilateral free movement with the EU.

The Daily Mail, which now laments the issue, campaigned for years for the UK to become one of those countries. It is now outraged about the consequences.

There will be more such 'surprises' which Brexit promoters will lament about even when these were utterly predictable.

Now, as Brexit becomes reality, people are finally waking up to the myriad of problems it will create for UK car maker, farmers, logistics and everyone:

On Jan. 1, the free movement of goods across the English Channel is due to end for the first time in half a century. The change has sparked fears of severe bottlenecks at British ports and highways, where customs officers will inspect trucks amid an acute lack of staff that could rattle supply chains.

Some 10,000 trucks cross the channel on ferries each day, moving about half of all goods between the U.K. and the continent while dozens of daily sailings move freight mainly between Dover on the British side and the French ports of Calais and Dunkirk.

“The problem is that you have to stop things,” said Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, a trade body. “Both the driver and the cargo will require documentation and if you queue up, you would immediately face congestion and delays.”

Large parts of the businesses that define London as a global financial center are moving to the EU:

The London Stock Exchange's pan-European share trading platform, Turquoise, opened for trading on Monday, a spokeswoman for the exchange said, joining two rival operators.

The Amsterdam-based hub was set up to avoid disruption to the LSE's EU customers, who face having to trade euro-denominated shares inside the bloc from January because Britain's full access to the EU ends on Dec. 31.

Two other London-based share trading platforms, Cboe and Aquis Exchange, have opened so-called Brexit hubs in the EU to trade shares denominated in euros.

Goldman Sachs is also opening a platform in time for January.
...
While opening alternative trading platforms in the EU won't lead to many jobs leaving London, other trading-related activities, such as clearing and settlement, are also likely to move over time.

Many international banks in London have opened Brexit hubs in the EU and are under pressure from regulators to undertake activities such as stock, bond and derivatives transactions for EU clients from inside the bloc rather than in London.

Those are quite a number of high paying jobs and a lot of tax revenues that Britain will be missing:

[Consultancy] EY said in a report last month that the 7,500 roles and 1.2 trillion pounds ($1.6 trillion) in assets that have moved already may just be the beginning. It expects further shifts in personnel and assets once the U.K.’s transition period officially ends.

That bodes ill for the U.K., where finance employs more than one million people, makes up about 7% of the economy and accounts for more than a 10th of all tax revenue. Despite that, the industry has garnered little of the attention bestowed on fishing, which makes up just 0.1% of the U.K. economy, in the protracted Brexit negotiations.

The level of access between the markets of Britain and the EU is still not defined. The negotiations are still ongoing but hang on fishing rights, a level playing field to prevent unfair competition and the governance of the deal.

While the EU wants a deal no one is sure if Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson really wants to achieve one. He may be just play for time to achieve a hard Brexit without any EU agreement.

But even if a last minute deal gets done there will still be many changes and disruptions. Without a deal those will be tremendous and may damage Britain beyond repair.

Posted by b on November 30, 2020 at 16:19 UTC | Permalink | Comments (142)

November 29, 2020

The MoA Week In Review - Open Thread 2020-94

Last week's posts at Moon of Alabama:

---
Other issues:

Syria:

Civil War:

Covid-19 Transmission:

Opioid crimes:

> What's hilarious is that it looks like McKinsey gave Purdue advice between 2008-2010 on how to boost up opioid sales, when apparently both the client and firm knew that such a strategy would lead to overdoses, then came back in 2017 to essentially give Purdue a PR strategy on how to apologize for all the people they killed. This was when everyone and their mother knew that Purdue was facing an existential legal crisis. So you paid McKinsey to dig you a hole, then paid them to help you climb back out. <

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on November 29, 2020 at 13:59 UTC | Permalink | Comments (201)

November 27, 2020

Iran's Top Nuclear Scientist Assassinated As Israel Tries To Provoke War

Today the top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fahrizade was assassinated in a complex terror attack while driving on a highway in Absard, a small city just east of Tehran. An explosion stopped his car. Then shots were fired at him from two directions.


bigger

Between 2010 and 2012 four other nuclear scientist in Iran were assassinated in similar ways.

There is little doubt about who is responsible for this attack:

Fakhrizadeh was named by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 as the director of Iran’s nuclear weapons project.

When Netanyahu revealed then that Israel had removed from a warehouse in Tehran a vast archive of Iran’s own material detailing with its nuclear weapons program, he said: “Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh.”


bigger

According to the IAEA Iran did not and does not have a nuclear weapons program. More than 20 years back some Iranian scientists did an organizational study about what they would have to do to create a nuclear weapons program. But politics intervened and the program was never launched.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has since its establishment rejected all weapons of mass destruction out of religious reasons. Its leader Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa the prohibits any attempts to develop, produce or otherwise introduce such weapons.

While a terror attack against its top nuclear scientist can be seen as an act of war Iran is unlikely to openly take revenge for it. Doing such would only play into Netanyahoo's hands as he attempts to goad the U.S. into an attack on Iran.

The assassination of Mohsen Fahrizade does not aim at Iran's nuclear program. Its purpose is to assassinate the nuclear deal with Iran before president elect Joe Biden comes into office.

There are expectations, which I don't have, that Biden will rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran. The Trump administration had left the deal and had re-introduced severe sanctions against the country. President Trump retweeted news of today's assassination. If Biden really wants to revive the deal he should immediately condemn today's assassination. Obama did similar when the other scientist were killed.

There are still 55 days until Trump leaves the office. Netanyahoo will use that time to launch more provocation.

Posted by b on November 27, 2020 at 17:16 UTC | Permalink | Comments (328)

The Vaccine Competition Will Be Ruthless

Debs is dead writes:

[T]he pushback against AstraZeneca including the latest link which is all speculation mixed with the same trash talk wall st analysts have been making, is a blatant move by big pharma to edge AstraZeneca out of the market.

There is more testing to be done on the AstraZeneca vaccine. Yes the discovery of a half dose followed by a full dose seeming to be more efficacious was the result of a distribution accident in one particular cohort comprised of Englanders under 55, AstraZeneca have realised that and have undertaken to extend the 50/100 trial across all age groups and ethnicities in the next testing round.

Also despite the fact that the big pharma mRNA vaccines have published no peer reviewed results, AstraZeneca report that they have sent a peer reviewed study of their complete test results thus far, to the Lancet and they expect these to be published in the next edition of the journal - likely within the next few days.

However many people whine, bitch about all others, then salute the results of Russian & Chinese vaccines the simple fact is a great many communities will be denied access to Russian or Chinese vaccines - that is a reality. Some of these states are in no shape to subscribe to the mRNA vaccines without 'aid' (i.e. ripoff loans) because their health budgets are still having to cover the double Tamiflu scam (they had to sign contracts to replace 'expired' Tamiflu stocks used or not after 3 years) and the more recent Remdesivir scam, all perpetrated by Gilead.

In the real world that means if the AstraZeneca vaccine is more than 60% efficacious (which is better than any flu vaccine - 95% is new big pharma BS IMO) and has no major side effects (one case of MS tells us nothing for the reason I outlined above), then it will be that or nothing for a sizeable slab of the world's population.

If everyone falls for big pharma's transparent attempt to stop this possible vaccine in its tracks, prior to testing completion, then that will mean no vaccine for billions of our fellow humans, so rather than joining in the big pharma sabotage, it makes better sense to consider that vaccine more objectively than de Noli, that Harvard minion of corporations seems to do.

Of course for some theoretical Marxist whose crazed ramblings remind me of the immature garbage one could hear around any Lisbon praça, circa 1975, that will mean little. As the humans of Mozambique, Angola and in particular since I lost friends there , Timor Leste, discovered to their cost.

I agree with the above.

Sure, AstraZeneca has not communicated well. They should have published their trial protocols. They should have been more explicit about their dosing 'mistake'. But the results of their trials are encouraging and the explanation for the higher efficacy with a lower first dose, see below, makes sense.

The AstraZeneca vaccine uses an adenovirus as 'vector' to deliver a DNA sequence that human cells then use to create one specific (but harmless) SARS-CoV-2 protein. The immune system will then learn to attack that protein. Afterwards it should be able to protect against SARS-CoV-2 infections.

There are 57 different adenovirusus that usually occur in humans. Most of us have been infected by some of them, likely in our youth, and have developed some grade of immunity against them. An adenovirus that has been modified to become a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 may therefore be attacked by our immune system before it can achieve its purpose. We may have some 'vector immunity' against some of the adenovirus based vaccines.

In order to safeguard against cases where an already existing immunity to human adenoviruses may impede inoculation AstraZeneca is using a chimpanzee-originated version of an adenovirus as a vector. The Russian Sputnik V vaccine, hyped by Prof. de Noli on RT,  uses two doses with different human adenoviruses (Ad-26, Ad-5) as vectors to increase the chance of inoculation. Other vaccine developers, CanSino Biologics and Johnson & Johnson, are also using adenovirus vectors. Sinopharm's vaccine uses an inactivated SARS-CoV-2 virus.

AstraZeneca found by chance that its vaccine works best when the first dose is smaller than the second one. Vector immunity can explain why this is the case. A first high dose will create some immunity against the SARS-CoV-2 virus but also some immunity against the vector virus, the chimpanzee-originated adenovirus. When a first high dose has trained the immune system to fight the vector virus the second 'booster' vaccine dose using the same vector will become inefficient. A lower first dose can make sure that the second higher dose is not prematurely defeated by vector immunity but can still do its work.

The AstraZeneka vaccine was developed by Oxford University. It will be a no-profit vaccine as its development was financed by public money. The cost per dose will be below $3-4.

Both of the mRNA vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer are for-profit vaccines. They seem to be quite good (and no, they do not modify your DNA) but they will cost between $25 and $35 per shot. They also require an elaborate and expensive distribution chain as they can only be stored at very low temperatures. The adenovirus based vaccines can be stored in a normal refrigerator.

The mRNA vaccines hyped in the U.S. media are simply too expensive to be used around the world. If we want to limit the global effects of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic we will have to use the cheaper vector based vaccines.

That the AstraZeneka vaccine was immediately attacked in U.S. media by an unqualified writer quoting an investment bank and the U.S. pharma promoting (Remdesivir!) Antony Fauci is quite suspicious. Pfizer and Moderna expect to make billions of dollars with their vaccines. They will use all possible ways and means to defeat any potential competition.

None of the results of the ongoing trials under discussion have so far been published in a peer reviewed format. We will have to wait until the end of the trials and the reviewed publication of the results to judge about their real efficacy and potential side effects.

Until then we should be careful not to fall for misinformation from big pharma interests. Nor should we fall for the nonsense from the anti-vaccine crowd.

So far all of the vaccines under discussion seem to be safe and efficient enough to defeat the pandemic. I for one see no reason to reject any of them.

Posted by b on November 27, 2020 at 11:18 UTC | Permalink | Comments (141)

November 26, 2020

Open Thread 2020-93

News & views ...

Posted by b on November 26, 2020 at 15:19 UTC | Permalink | Comments (159)

November 25, 2020

Israel Is (Again) Pushing For War On Iran

There is a campaign to push U.S. president Donald Trump into attacking Iran before he leaves his office. It is likely that Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahoo, with the help of Secretary of State Mike Pompous, is the brain behind it.

The campaign started on November 16 with a New York Times piece which claimed that Trump had asked for options to bomb Iran:

President Trump asked senior advisers in an Oval Office meeting on Thursday whether he had options to take action against Iran’s main nuclear site in the coming weeks. The meeting occurred a day after international inspectors reported a significant increase in the country’s stockpile of nuclear material, four current and former U.S. officials said on Monday.

A range of senior advisers dissuaded the president from moving ahead with a military strike. The advisers — including Vice President Mike Pence; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Christopher C. Miller, the acting defense secretary; and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — warned that a strike against Iran’s facilities could easily escalate into a broader conflict in the last weeks of Mr. Trump’s presidency.

It is unlikely that Trump will want to ruin his legacy by launching another war in the Middle East. He will want to run again for president in 2024. 'America first', avoiding wars that are of no value for the U.S., was and is one of his major selling points.

There is precedence for such an Israeli campaign. Back in 2008 Netanyahoo had also tried to push the outgoing Bush administration towards a war on Iran:

During the last days of the Bush administration in 2008, Israeli officials, concerned that the incoming Obama administration would seek to block it from striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, sought bunker-busting bombs, bombers and intelligence assistance from the United States for an Israeli-led strike.

Vice President Dick Cheney later wrote in his memoir that he supported the idea. President George W. Bush did not, ...

While Israel has the capabilities to attack Iran it would never dare to do so without explicit U.S. backing.

Mike Pompous, the Cheney in the current attempt to drag the U.S. along, also wants to run for president - if not in 2024 then later. He is 56 years old and can wait a few more years. He is currently trying to catch the Evangelical vote and Zionist campaign support by pleasing Israel as much as possible:

On his recent visit to Israel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added new sanctions against Iran while also releasing a State Department statement defending Trump’s “maximum pressure” against the Islamic Republic. He boasted about the damage being done to the Iranian economy: “The Maximum Pressure campaign against the Iranian regime continues to be extraordinarily effective. Today, Iran’s economy faces a currency crisis, mounting public debt, and rising inflation. Prior to the Maximum Pressure campaign, Iran was exporting nearly 2.5 million barrels of oil per day. Now it struggles to export even a quarter of that volume.”

The Israeli campaign for a new war has come with several rather sensational 'leaks' pointing to such an event:

The United States this week rapidly deployed several heavy bombers to the Middle East this week in an apparent threat to Iran, amid swirling speculation that US President Donald Trump plans to take military action against Tehran before President-elect Joe Biden enters office.
...
In a highly irregular move, the B-52H Stratofortress planes were seen flying toward Israeli airspace on Saturday en route to the base where they will be stationed, likely in Qatar. The aircraft were spotted on civilian tracking software approaching Israel before they apparently turned off their transponders, rendering them invisible on those applications.

The rotation of B-52 bombers to Qatar is far from irregular:

It was the third time in the past year and a half that B-52 bombers, which are capable of carrying nuclear weapons and other powerful munitions, have been deployed to the region in tacit threats to Iran.

The base in Qatar is the B-52s' launching point for air support in Afghanistan. As the U.S. is currently reducing its troop numbers in Afghanistan amid a surge of Taliban activities the additional air support is called for to cover the retreat.

In typical Netanyahoo manner a recent 'secret meeting' between Pompous, Netayahoo and Clown Prince Muhammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia was leaked immediately after it had happened. The fact that it was intentionally leaked makes it unlikely that the meeting was about an imminent attack on Iran:

[T]he contradictory news on Monday about such a meeting — with unsourced Israeli media reports saying it had taken place clashing with a denial from the Saudi foreign minister — highlighted the domestic politics in each country and signaled how far apart the two countries remained from the prospect of exchanging ambassadors.
...
Mr. Netanyahu, who has often been accused of leaking reports for political gain, had ample reason to trumpet any incremental steps in building relations with Saudi Arabia. He is eager to improve his standing at home as a leader who can turn Israel’s foes into friends and to divert attention from corruption allegations.

The calculation is different for Prince Mohammed, who has told American visitors that he does not consider Israel an enemy but that opening official relations too quickly could inspire extremists and be used against him in a region where Israel remains unpopular.

Another Israeli 'leak' today is also designed to create the impression of an imminent attack on Iran:

The Israel Defense Forces have in recent weeks been instructed to prepare for the possibility that the U.S. will conduct a military strike against Iran before President Trump leaves office, senior Israeli officials tell me.
...
Senior Israeli officials tell me they expect Israel will get prior notice ahead of any U.S. strike against Iran. But they're concerned that won't be sufficient to fully prepare. Thus the order to the IDF to start taking preparatory steps under the assumption that such a scenario is possible.

Iran has responded to the Israeli campaign by highlighting that any attack on it would escalate into a wider war:

An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader who is a possible 2021 presidential candidate is warning that any American attack on the Islamic Republic could set off a “full-fledged war” in the Mideast in the waning days of the Trump administration.

Speaking to The Associated Press, Hossein Dehghan struck a hard-line tone familiar to those in Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, a force he long served in before becoming a defense minister under President Hassan Rouhani.

(Why is a warning of potential escalation, should Iran be attacked, characterized as a 'hard-line tone' instead of a matter of course?)

Iran also asked its 'resistance' allies to avoid provocations that could be used as an excuse for an attack:

Iran has instructed allies across the Middle East to be on high alert and avoid provoking tensions with the U.S. that could give an outgoing Trump administration cause to launch attacks in the U.S. president’s final weeks in office, Iraqi officials have said.

The order, delivered personally by IRGC foreign proxy commander Brigadier General Ismail Qaani, came a day after seven rockets had hit near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Publicizing the order allows to characterize any further incident as a false flag provocation.

During the last 20 years all of the many rumors about imminent attacks on Iran were products of Israeli propaganda. I do not see why this time is any different.

Israel is deterred and does not dare to attack Iran. Hizbullah, Iran's ally in Lebanon, has enough missiles to destroy Israel's industry. Then there is this:

Aᴍɪʀ @AmirIGM - 8:39 UTC · Nov 4, 2020

Iran shows off what is essentially a Clip for launching missiles in quick succession from its underground missile cities. This mitigates the low number of launch ports at these bases and adds more possibility of overwhelming ABM systems. - video


bigger

Attempts by Netanyahoo to goad the U.S. into attacking Iran have been manifold. But Trump's legacy is on the line. I doubt very much that he will risk it for an attack that would have wide ranging and unpredictable consequences. How would it benefit him?

Posted by b on November 25, 2020 at 18:08 UTC | Permalink | Comments (131)

November 24, 2020

Another Look At Joe Biden's Foreign Policy Team

The choices the incoming president Joe Biden has made so far are not great at all. The people he so far selected are staunch interventionists who will want to continue the wars they have started during their previous time in office.

Tony Blinken will become Secretary of State. (It was probably thought to be too hard to get Senate confirmation for the similar bad Susan Rice.) In 2013 the Washington Post described his high flying pedigree:

Blinken is deputy national security adviser to President Obama, who has also invoked the Holocaust as his administration wrestles, often painfully, with how to respond to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons. One of the government’s key players in drafting Syria policy, the 51-year-old Blinken has Clinton administration credentials and deep ties to Vice President Biden and the foreign policy and national security establishment in Washington. He has drawn attention in Situation Room photos, including the iconic one during the May 2011 raid of Osama bin Laden’s compound, for his stylishly wavy salt-and-pepper hair. But what sets him apart from the other intellectual powerhouses in the inner sanctum is a life story that reads like a Jewish high-society screenplay that the onetime aspiring film producer may have once dreamed of making. There’s his father, a giant in venture capital; his mother, the arts patron; and his stepfather, who survived the Holocaust to become of one of the most influential lawyers on the global stage. It is a bildungsroman for young Blinken — playing in a Parisian jazz band, debating politics with statesmen — with a supporting cast of characters that includes, among others, Leonard Bernstein, John Lennon, Mark Rothko, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Abel Ferrara and Christo.

The man is a war mongering psycho:

Blinken surprised some in the Situation Room by breaking with Biden to support military action in Libya, administration officials said, and he advocated for American action in Syria after Obama’s reelection. These sources said that Blinken was less enthusiastic than Biden about Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval for a strike in Syria, but is now — perhaps out of necessity — onboard and a backer of diplomatic negotiations with Russia. While less of an ideologue than Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (a job for which he was considered), he not surprisingly shares her belief that global powers such as the United States have a “responsibility to protect” against atrocities.

He has since shown no remorse about those foreign policy failures:

Blinken maintains that the failure of U.S. policy in Syria was that our government did not employ enough force. He stands by the false argument that Biden’s vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq was a “vote for tough diplomacy.” He was reportedly in favor of the Libyan intervention, which Biden opposed, and he was initially a defender and advocate for U.S. support for the Saudi coalition war on Yemen. In short, Blinken has agreed with some of the biggest foreign policy mistakes that Biden and Obama made, and he has tended to be more of an interventionist than both of them.

Jake Sullivan will become National Security Advisor. He is a Hillary Clinton figure:

If you can’t quite place Jake Sullivan, he’s was a long-serving aide to Hillary Clinton, starting with her 2008 race against Barack Obama, then serving as her deputy chief of staff and director of the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning when Clinton was Obama’s secretary of state. (...) In 2016, during her failed presidential campaign, Sullivan once again teamed up with Clinton, and he was widely expected to have been named to serve as her national security adviser or even secretary of state had she won.

Since 2016, and since the creation of NSA, Sullivan has emerged as a kind of foreign policy scold, gently — and sometimes not so gently — criticizing those who reflexively oppose American intervention abroad and who disparage the idea of American “exceptionalism.” Indeed, in an article in the January-February issue of The Atlantic, “What Donald Trump and Dick Cheney Got Wrong About America,” Sullivan explicitly says that he’s intent on “rescuing the idea of American exceptionalism” and presents the “case for a new American exceptionalism".

Sullivan send classified documents to Hillary Clinton's private email server. He wrote to her that Al Qaida is "on our side in Syria." He also hyped fake Trump-Russia collusion allegations.

It is yet unknown who will become Secretary of Defense. Michèle Flournoy is the most named option but there is some opposition to her nomination:

[B]ackers of Michèle Flournoy, his likely pick for defense secretary, are trying to head off a last-minute push by some left-leaning Democrats trying to derail her selection, with many progressives seeing her nomination as a continuation of what critics refer to as America’s “forever wars.”

I expect that the progressive will lose the fight and that either Flournoy or some other hawkish figure will get that weapon lobbyist position.

Progressives also lost on the Treasury position. Biden's nomination for that is Janet Yellen who is known to be an inflation hawk. She is unlikely to support large spending on progressive priorities.

As usual with a Democratic election win the people who brought the decisive votes and engagement, those who argue for more socialist and peaceful policies, will be cut off from the levers of power. 

In three years they will again be called upon to fall for another bait and switch.

Posted by b on November 24, 2020 at 16:32 UTC | Permalink | Comments (175)

November 23, 2020

Pandemic Freedom

On Thursday the U.S. will celebrate Thanksgiving. That will cause an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases and in the number of deaths.

The states could have intervened but did little to prevent this from happening. The politicians are reluctant to act because the U.S. public at large follows an ideology that is incompatible with a pandemic.

The CDC warns of Thanksgiving celebrations:

As cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with.

Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.

In my view that warning is not strong enough.

There should be more draconian measures and restrictions of freedom to prevent higher Covid-19 casualties.

In October Canada already celebrated its version of Thanksgiving. The result was a notable acceleration of the pandemic.


Source: George Rutherford, UCSF - bigger

More can be done and more should be done to prevent this from happening in the United States.

But there are people who argue even against stronger warnings:

This week, a survey reported that 38% of people planned to gather with 10 or more people for Thanksgiving, and just a third said they would wear a mask. Twitter reacted predictably. Public health experts and doctors pointed to rising COVID-19 case numbers in many states and scolded (often in all caps): DO NOT HAVE THANKSGIVING.

Of course, there is no doubt that large gatherings, indoors, and without masks is a recipe for the rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2, but at the same time, I worry that the abstinence-only approach -- the just-don't-have-Thanksgiving approach -- is not the right way for public health experts to respond.
...
I think public health experts should not just listen, but hear what people are saying. Americans are saying that despite all the damage done by COVID-19, despite the rising cases and at-capacity ICUs around the country, their desire for human connection is so great, that they are willing to take the risk and have Thanksgiving. Americans are, in effect, expressing the longing and desperation of their soul.
...
Instead of admonishing people to not gather, public health experts should begin from the starting point that people really want this -- correction, people are saying they need this. Given that the desire is so strong, what advice can we give to minimize the risk? How can we reduce -- not eliminate risk.

As Thanksgiving family meetings happen indoor with everyone talking and eating together in one room there is little one can do to reduce the risk and to avoid new infections except to call off the event.

That is why I think that the states should have intervened more by restricting travel and the size of private meetings.

That is not happening because for many people in the U.S. this is not about 'longing' or a 'need' but about a mistaken understanding of freedom:

Here's a question for all red-blooded liberty-loving American patriots: Who has a greater lived experience of freedom at the moment, citizens of Vietnam or the United States? Vietnam, of course, is a one-party Communist state, with fairly strict limitations on freedom of speech, the press, and so on, while the U.S. has (at least for now) a somewhat democratic constitution and (at least formally) some protections for civil liberties.

But in Vietnam, there is no raging coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to swift action from the government, that nation squelched its initial outbreak, and has so far successfully contained all subsequent infection clusters before they got out of hand.

Vietnam is free of Covid-19 and its people are mostly free to do what they want to do. The same goes for China were Covid-19 restrictions are now minimal. People are free to travel within the country and to live a normal life. The few local outbreaks that are still happening are rigorously hunted down. Still, the Associated Press depicts those interventions as an assault on the ever ephemeral 'freedom':

Chinese authorities are testing millions of people, imposing lockdowns and shutting down schools after multiple locally transmitted coronavirus cases were discovered in three cities across the country last week.
...
In Manzhouli, a city of more than 200,000 people, local health authorities are testing all residents after two cases were reported on Saturday. They also shut down all schools and public venues and banned public gatherings such as banquets.

China has resorted to its heavy, top-down approach each time new cases of local transmission are found — shutting down schools and hospitals, locking down residential communities and entire neighborhoods, and testing millions.

Tianjin authorities shut down a kindergarten and moved all the teachers, family and students to a centralized quarantine space. They also sealed the residential compound where the five cases were found.

China's approach to controlling the pandemic has been criticized for being draconian. It locked down the city of Wuhan, where cases were first reported, for more than two months to contain the virus, with the local government shutting down all traffic and confining residents to their homes. Domestically, however, China has called its strategy “clear to zero” and has boasted of its success.

China used science and strong public health measures to defeat the pandemic. Being draconian in doing that is the only way to really get a pandemic under control. The AP's negative tone about the anti-Covid-19 measures is typical for U.S. media:

Ninety one percent of stories by U.S. major media outlets are negative in tone versus fifty four percent for non-U.S. major sources and sixty five percent for scientific journals. The negativity of the U.S. major media is notable even in areas with positive scientific developments including school re-openings and vaccine trials.
...
Stories of increasing COVID-19 cases outnumber stories of decreasing cases by a factor of 5.5 even during periods when new cases are declining.

That may have been caused partially by anti-Trump sentiment in the media:

Among U.S. major media outlets, stories discussing President Donald Trump and hydroxychloroquine are more numerous than all stories combined that cover companies and individual researchers working on COVID-19 vaccines.

Trump surely could have done more. Still, he is now getting too little credit for his successful Operation Warp Speed which has created three reasonably good vaccine in record time.

But would the people in the U.S. really have followed Trump's or any others president's advice if he had called for or ordered more restrictions?

I find that unlikely because the preeminent ideology in the U.S. is this false understanding of 'freedom' which is incompatible with a pandemic:

Life for Vietnamese people has returned to normal, with a few sensible precautions. If their success holds for a few more months until a vaccine can be deployed, Vietnam will have dodged the pandemic nearly perfectly.
...
Meanwhile in the self-appointed "land of the free," on Sunday[, November 15,] the seven-day average of daily COVID-19 deaths was 1,148.
...
The bleak irony of American life is our boastful and hyperbolic national conception of liberty has left us as one of the most unfree peoples on the globe. There can be no freedom without government, a lesson currently being inscribed in blood, and stacked up in the mobile morgues that are overflowing with corpses in more cities around the country every day.
...
All the political freedoms I supposedly enjoy as an American citizen are useless in the face of this unending tsunami of death and misery. The plain fact is that the average resident of Vietnam — under a repressive dictatorship, let me emphasize — has more freedoms in the places where, for most people, it really counts: the freedom to leave the house, the freedom to see and touch one's family and friends, the freedom to go to a restaurant or a bar or a movie or a concert, and simply the freedom from constant grasping fear of invisible death.
...
In reality, as Vietnam demonstrates, the only way to have freedom during a pandemic is with a competent, aggressive state that does intrusive, coercive things on a hair trigger, the very instant they become necessary.

The U.S. and other 'western' societies have failed to understand that. Individual liberties are all fine. But they must stand back when the liberty of the general society is endangered.

Emergency medicine (triage) knows the concept of minimizing 'life years lost' when deciding to either save patient A or B. The patient who has more potential life years left is preferred to survive.

We may need a similar concept for 'freedom' where the aim is to maximize the amount of total freedom not for individuals but for the society as a whole, not within a short moment but over a considerable period of time.

This what China and Vietnam have done. Their draconian local measures have harshly restricted the freedom of relatively few but maximized the freedom their societies could allow themselves. In the end even those whose freedoms were restricted the most, the inhabitants of Wuhan for example, have gained more freedom than a runaway pandemic would have allowed them to have.

Posted by b on November 23, 2020 at 16:57 UTC | Permalink | Comments (349)

November 22, 2020

The MoA Week In Review - Open Thread 2020-92

Last week's posts at Moon of Alabama:

> It was a shock on arriving at the New York Times in 2004, as the paper’s movie editor, to realize that its editorial dynamic was essentially the reverse. By and large, talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called “the narrative.” We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line.

Reality usually had a way of intervening. But I knew one senior reporter who would play solitaire on his computer in the mornings, waiting for his editors to come through with marching orders. Once, in the Los Angeles bureau, I listened to a visiting National staff reporter tell a contact, more or less: “My editor needs someone to say such-and-such, could you say that?”

The bigger shock came on being told, at least twice, by Times editors who were describing the paper’s daily Page One meeting: “We set the agenda for the country in that room.” <

---
Other issues:

Lebanon:

Syria:

Covid-19:

> As of August 11, 24 of Kansas’s 105 counties did not opt out of the state mandate or adopted their own mask mandate shortly before or after the state mandate was issued; 81 counties opted out of the state mandate, as permitted by state law, and did not adopt their own mask mandate. After the governor’s executive order, COVID-19 incidence (calculated as the 7-day rolling average number of new daily cases per 100,000 population) decreased (mean decrease of 0.08 cases per 100,000 per day; net decrease of 6%) among counties with a mask mandate (mandated counties) but continued to increase (mean increase of 0.11 cases per 100,000 per day; net increase of 100%) among counties without a mask mandate (nonmandated counties). <

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on November 22, 2020 at 14:37 UTC | Permalink | Comments (132)

November 20, 2020

How 'Western' Media Select Their Foreign Correspondents

Did you ever wonder why 'western' mainstream media get stories about Russia and other foreign countries so wrong?

It is simple. They hire the most brainwashed, biased and cynical writers they can get for the job. Those who are corrupt enough to tell any lie required to support the world view of their editors and media owners.

They are quite upfront about it.

Here is evidence in form of a New York Times job description for a foreign correspondent position in Moscow:

Russia Correspondent

Job Description

Vladimir Putin’s Russia remains one of the biggest stories in the world.

It sends out hit squads armed with nerve agents against its enemies, most recently the opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. It has its cyber agents sow chaos and disharmony in the West to tarnish its democratic systems, while promoting its faux version of democracy. It has deployed private military contractors around the globe to secretly spread its influence. At home, its hospitals are filling up fast with Covid patients as its president hides out in his villa.

If that sounds like a place you want to cover, then we have good news: We will have an opening for a new correspondent as Andy Higgins takes over as our next Eastern Europe Bureau Chief early next year.


bigger

To be allowed to write for the Times one must see the Russian Federation as a country that is ruled by just one man.

One must be a fervent believer in MI6 produced Novichok hogwash. One must also believe in Russiagate and in the multiple idiocies it produced even after all of them have been debunked.

One must know that vote counts in Russia are always wrong while U.S. vote counting is the most reliable ever. Russian private military contractors (which one must know to be evil men) are 'secretly deployed' to wherever the editors claim them to be. Russia's hospitals are of course always much worse than ours.

Even when it is easy to check that Vladimir Putin (the most evil man ever) is at work in the Kremlin the job will require one to claim that he is hiding in a villa.

Most people writing for the Times will actually not believe the above nonsense. But the description is not for a position that requires one to weigh and report the facts. It is for a job that requires one to lie. That the Times lists all the recent nonsense about Russia right at the top of the job description makes it clear that only people who support those past lies will be considered adequate to tell future lies about Russia.

No honest unbiased person will want such a job. But as it comes with social prestige, a good paycheck and a probably nice flat in Moscow the New York Times will surely find a number of people who are willing to sell their souls to take it.

Interestingly the job advertisement does not list Russian language capabilities as a requirement. It only says that 'Fluency in Russian is preferred'. 

'Western' mainstream media are filled with such biased, cynical and self-censoring correspondents who have little if any knowledge of the country they are reporting from. It is therefore not astonishing that 'western' populations as well as their politicians have often no knowledge of what is really happening in the world.

 

h/t Bryan MacDonald

Posted by b on November 20, 2020 at 19:06 UTC | Permalink | Comments (170)

November 19, 2020

The Forever War In Afghanistan Will Soon Re-escalate

Recent headlines on Afghanistan:

Everyone wants the troops to leave Afghanistan except the Pentagon brass and the CIA. They have prevailed over two presidents and are now ready to manipulate a third one into intensifying the war.

Consider:

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump
Why are we continuing to train these Afghanis who then shoot our soldiers in the back? Afghanistan is a complete waste. Time to come home!
4:05 PM · Aug 21, 2012
Barack Obama @BarackObama
VP Biden on Afghanistan: "We are leaving in 2014. Period."
4:05am · 12 Oct 2012
Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump
I agree with Pres. Obama on Afghanistan. We should have a speedy withdrawal. Why should we keep wasting our money -- rebuild the U.S.!
9:59 PM · Jan 14, 2013
Barack Obama @BarackObama
President Obama: "By the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over."
3:58am · 13 Feb 2013
Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump
We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives. If we have to go back in, we go in hard & quick. Rebuild the US first.
8:10 PM · Mar 1, 2013
Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump
We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!
1:28 AM · Oct 8, 2020

M.K. Bhadrakumar explains why the Pentagon prevailed over two presidents:

Fundamentally, the contradiction lies here: Pentagon top brass is far from through with the 19-year old Afghan war. They never saw it quite the way Trump sees it — an “endless war” — because they still think they can win it and realise their key objectives. In fact, some amongst them still would think they could have won the Vietnam War if only the Pentagon had a free hand.

When the presidency of George W Bush ended and Barack Obama took over in 2009, the war in Afghanistan could have ended. Candidate Obama was very vociferous about the futility of the war. But the military commanders could anticipate that America’s first Black president was a babe in the woods in the Beltway, as his invitation to Robert Gates to continue as his defence secretary loudly proclaimed.

They sized up that Obama was indecisive and weak and they could change his mind. And they were proven right. They actually got him to approve the “Afghan surge,” which of course was projected persuasively as one last good push to defeat the Taliban conclusively.

Now, that push continued for the next seven years under Obama.
...
The military commanders again were lucky as Trump, although a white American, was a rank outsider to the US establishment.
...
Trump didn’t persevere — he was never “hands-on” — when it came to the Afghan war. He never once phoned Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, leave alone received him in the Oval Office. The military commanders could brilliantly string along Trump. They simply exhausted him in a waiting game right up to the home stretch of his 4-year term.

Now the military commanders are getting ready for a new president who is probably as close to their heart, as good as George Bush.

As Trump is too timid to order the Pentagon to remove ALL U.S. troops from Afghanistan the war will continue beyond his presidency.

Bhadrakumar thinks that Biden will let the military re-escalate the war:

What we can expect now is that the military commanders will hunker down with the 2500 troops in Afghanistan until Trump leaves. And then they will recreate a very good case for another “surge”. It isn’t difficult to do that.

That is indeed highly likely. But it is not just the Pentagon pressing for keeping the war alive. The CIA is historically known for its 'interest' in the drug business. That Afghanistan, while under U.S. occupation, became the largest producer of opium is not coincidental. It generates a lot of money that can be used for 'black' operations and other purposes.

The Doha agreement which Trump negotiated with the Taliban will likely be breached the U.S. side as soon as Biden is in office. He will blame the Taliban and will escalate the war from there.

There is one slight shimmer of hope that the situation might somehow change. Today Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan which is directing the Taliban, came to Kabul on a 'historic' first visit:

“You come with a with a series of very important messages ... but fundamental to this is that violence is not an answer, a comprehensive political settlement for an enduring peace within the framework of our values, our Constitution in the Islamic Republic is the way to the future,” [Afghan President Ashraf] Ghani told Khan at the presidential palace.

Khan acknowledged Pakistan had played a key role in getting the Taliban to the negotiating table and that Islamabad remains concerned that “despite the talks in Qatar, the level of violence is rising.”

“Whatever is possible, we will do to help reduce the violence,” and help move the Afghan-Taliban talks toward a cease-fire, Khan said. “The whole objective of this visit is to build trust, to communicate more. ... We will be helping you.”

That does not sound great yet but more communication between Kabul and Islamabad could eventual lead to some real compromise and an Afghan government both countries could live with.

But there are outside forces, mainly India and the U.S., who do want to see an agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan as that would diminish their role. They are more likely to sabotage one than to let it happen.

The nineteen year long war is therefore likely to continue. More war crimes will be committed in Afghanistan and more innocent people will die there. In four years more presidential candidates will have promised to finally end it.  But will any of them prevail?

Posted by b on November 19, 2020 at 18:55 UTC | Permalink | Comments (126)

November 18, 2020

How Not To Challenge China

The headline of a recent Bloomberg column by one Tyler Cowen is:

Covid Is Increasing America’s Lead Over China.

Its remarkable only for its fervent nationalistic delusion.

This paragraph stands out:

There is one other factor that people are loathe to discuss (with one exception). Yes, the U.S. has botched its response to Covid-19. At the same time, its experience shows that America as a nation can in fact tolerate casualties, too many in fact. It had long been standard Chinese doctrine that Americans are “soft” and unwilling to take on much risk. If you were a Chinese war game planner, might you now reconsider that assumption?

This comes at the same day as a similar delusional State Department policy planning paper sees the light.

The Elements of the China Challenge (pdf)

Axios calls it a "Kennan-style paper". In 1946 George Kennan, then Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States to the USSR, wrote his 'Long Telegram' that defined U.S. Cold War policy towards the Soviet Union for the next decades:

Kennan described dealing with Soviet Communism as "undoubtedly greatest task our diplomacy has ever faced and probably greatest it will ever have to face". In the first two sections, he posited concepts that became the foundation of American Cold War policy:
  • The Soviets perceived themselves at perpetual war with capitalism;
  • The Soviets viewed left-wing, but non-communist, groups in other countries as an even worse enemy of itself than the capitalist ones;
  • The Soviets would use controllable Marxists in the capitalist world as allies;
  • Soviet aggression was fundamentally not aligned with the views of the Russian people or with economic reality, but rooted in historic Russian nationalism and neurosis;
  • The Soviet government's structure inhibited objective or accurate pictures of internal and external reality.

Kennan later said that his paper was misunderstood and that the hostile containment policies that were based on it were wrong and self defeating.

But the China paper which the State Department published is not comparable to the 'Long Telegram'. It is a propaganda piece that reflects the naive views of the outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompous.

Pompous' premise is that the Chinese people hate the Communist Party of China that runs the country and that China is not a democracy. But that is not what the people of China believe:

Charted below are the survey results from 20 countries, and they illustrate some startling beliefs — not least that 73% of Chinese consider China to be democratic, whereas only 49% of Americans believe the same about the U.S.

Read this thread to find out why that is the case:

ShanghaiPanda @thinking_panda - 9:24 UTC · Sep 15, 2020

On twitter, as a Chinese, the most frequently asked question for me is, why don't you oppose the CPC? Why don't Chinese support western style democracy? Why do Chinese people support President Xi, who has no votes? Now, I'm going to tell them why.(1/N)

Also this one.

The recommendations of the State Department paper listed by Axios are not practical steps but pure ideology:

The blueprint: The paper lays out "ten tasks" for the U.S. to accomplish.

  1. Promoting constitutional government and civil society at home.
  2. Maintaining the world's strongest military.
  3. Fortifying the rules-based international order.
  4. Reevaluating its alliance system.
  5. Strengthening its alliance system and creating new international organizations to promote democracy and human rights.
  6. Cooperating with China when possible and constraining Beijing when appropriate.
  7. Educating Americans about the China challenge.
  8. Train a new generation of public servants who understand great-power competition with China.
  9. Reforming the U.S. education system to help students understand the responsibility of citizenship in a complex information age.
  10. Championing the principles of freedom in word and in deed.

Note especially the points 7 to 10.

They have nothing to do with China. They call for domestic propaganda, more domestic propaganda and even more domestic propaganda.

How brainwashing and stupidifying one's own people is supposed to challenge China is beyond me.

Posted by b on November 18, 2020 at 19:30 UTC | Permalink | Comments (154)

Open Thread 2020-91

News & views ...

Posted by b on November 18, 2020 at 18:12 UTC | Permalink | Comments (151)

November 17, 2020

Joe Biden's Foreign Policy Team

As this blog is often concerned with U.S. foreign policy and the damage it causes, a look at Biden's foreign policy team seems adequate.

In short - it is awful.

Susan Rice of Benghazi fame, National Security Advisor under Obama, is said to become Secretary of State.

Michele Flournoy, co-founder of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), will become Secretary of Defense. Flournoy is a hawk. CNAS is financed by donations from the who-is-who of the military industrial complex. She also co-founded WestExec Advisors, a consultancy that pulls strings to help companies to win Pentagon contracts.

Also at WestExec Advisors was Tony Blinken who is set to become the National Security Advisor. He was National Security Advisor for then Vice President Biden, Deputy National Security Advisor for Obama and Deputy Secretary of State.

All three, together with Joe Biden, promoted the 2003 war on Iraq and supported the wars the Obama administration launched or continued against some seven countries.

They will continue to wage those wars and will probably add a few new ones.

Biden has said that he will re-instate the nuclear agreement with Iran but with 'amendments'. A realistic analysis shows that Iran is likely to reject any modification of the original deal:

The Biden administration will face the harsh reality that the amendments to the JCPOA that it needs to make its return to the agreement politically viable are unacceptable to Iran. The new US administration will more than likely find itself in a situation in which sanctions, including those on oil exports, must be maintained in an effort to pressure Iran to yield to US demands to modify the JCPOA.

There will be much pressure from the liberal hawks to finish the war they had launched against Syria by again intensifying it. Trump had ended the CIA's Jihadi supply program. The Biden team may well reintroduce such a scheme.

Susan Rice has criticized Trump's Doha deal with the Taliban. Under a Biden administration U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan are therefore likely to again increase.

One possible change may come in the U.S. support for the Saudi war on Yemen. The Democrats dislike Mohammad bin Salman and may try to use the Yemen issue to push him out of his Crown Prince position.

Biden and his team have supported the coup attempt in Venezuela. They only criticized it for not being done right and will probably come up with their own bloody 'solution'.

After four years of Russiagate nonsense, which Susan Rice had helped to launch, it is impossible to again 'reset' the relations with Russia. Biden could immediately agree to renew the New START treaty which limits strategic nuclear weapons but it is more likely that he will want to add, like with Iran's nuclear deal, certain 'amendments' which will be hard to negotiate. Under Biden the Ukraine may be pushed into another war against its eastern citizens. Belarus will remain on the 'regime change' target list.

Asia is the place where Biden's policies may be less confrontational than Trump's:

China would heave a big sigh of relief if Biden picks Rice as his secretary of state. Beijing knows her well, as she had a hands-on role in remoulding the relationship from engagement to selective competition, which could well be the post-Trump China policies.

For the Indian audience, which is obsessive about Biden’s China policy, I would recommend the following YouTube on Rice’s oral history where she narrates her experience as NSA on how the US and China could effectively coordinate despite their strategic rivalry and how China actually helped America battle Ebola.

Interestingly, the recording was made in April this year amidst the “Wuhan virus” pandemic in the US and Trump’s trade and tech war with China. Simply put, Rice highlighted a productive relationship with Beijing while probably sharing the more Sino-skeptic sentiment of many of America’s foreign policy experts and lawmakers.

All together the Biden/Harris regime will be a continuation of the Obama regime. It's foreign policies will have awful consequences for a lot of people on this planet.

Domestically Biden/Harris will revive all the bad feelings that led to the election of Donald Trump. The demographics of the election show no sign of a permanent majority for Democrats.

It is therefore highly probable that Trump, or a more competent and thereby more dangerous populist republican, will again win in 2024.

Posted by b on November 17, 2020 at 18:16 UTC | Permalink | Comments (264)

November 16, 2020

The Great Revenge - How Tony Fauci F*cked Donald Trump

In January 2017 the CIA claimed that Russia had kompromat on Trump. Trump shot back at the CIA. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer then warned the incoming president:

"You take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday to get back at you," Schumer, a New York Democrat, told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. "So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he's being really dumb to do this."

As the years after the warning passed by it proved to have been valid. The CIA 'whistle blowers' put a great effort into sabotaging Trump's presidency. But they were largely unsuccessful.

The CIA failed to sabotaged Trump's reelection. It was the health community, including parts of Trump's administration, which did that.

Trump had especially angered Dr. Fauci, the well known infectious-disease expert and member of the government's coronavirus taskforce. Fauci's advise had been ignored and efforts were made to hold him back from making public pronouncements.

On November 1, two days before the election, Fauci gave a widely distributed interview to the Washington Post:

President Trump’s repeated assertions the United States is “rounding the turn” on the novel coronavirus have increasingly alarmed the government's top health experts, who say the country is heading into a long and potentially deadly winter with an unprepared government unwilling to make tough choices.

“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation,” Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading infectious-disease expert, said in a wide-ranging interview late Friday. “All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”

Fauci's interview was not the first intervention he made. In October two leading vaccine companies were ready to announce the success of their vaccine trials. But with at least the knowledge of Fauci and the Federal Drug Administration both companies deviated from their clinical protocols to intentionally move their success announcement to a date after the election.

During the summer Trump had been hopeful that a vaccine against the Covid-19 disease could be announced before the election. It would have been proof that his strategy to (not) fight the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic had at least one success. The announcement of a vaccine was part of President Trump's planned 'October surprises' to win the election.

Trump's summer hope that a vaccine success could be announced during October was not unreasonable. Two important vaccines candidate, one from Pfizer with BioNTech and one from Moderna, had been successfully tested in their first phases and were ready launch their large phase 3 trials.

In a phase 3 vaccine trial several ten thousand people are put into two groups. The people in one group receive the vaccine, the people in the other one a placebo. One then has to wait and see how many people will get the disease. At certain points a statistical team will look at those cases and check how many occurred in each group.  The differences of the number of people in each group who catch the disease is a scale for the vaccines efficacy. For a known group size one can estimate in advance after how many disease cases determinations should be made to show statistical significance.

Pfizer had published its clinical protocol for the phase 3 trial which foresaw four points of interim analyses (IA) during which it would become clear how well the vaccine was  working:

During Phase 2/3, 4 IAs are planned and will be performed by an unblinded statistical team after accrual of 32, 62, 92, and 120 cases. At each IA:
  • [Vaccine efficacy] for the first primary objective will be evaluated. Overwhelming efficacy will be declared if the first primary study objective is met. The criteria for success at an interim analysis are based on the posterior probability (ie,P[VE >30%|data]) at the current number of cases. Overwhelming efficacy will be declared if the posterior probability is higher than the success threshold. The success threshold for each interim analysis will be calibrated to protect overall type I error at 2.5%. Additional details about the success threshold or boundary calculation at each interim analysis will be provided in the SAP.

The time plan, on which Trump was certainly briefed, foresaw that the first interim analysis would likely occur in late September or early October.

However Pfizer did not publish any results when the first two interim analysis points were met. On November 9, after the election, Pfizer announced very positive results at the third interim analysis point:

Pfizer and partner BioNTech said Monday that their vaccine against Covid-19 was strongly effective, exceeding expectations with results that are likely to be met with cautious excitement — and relief — in the face of the global pandemic.

The vaccine is the first to be tested in the United States to generate late-stage data. The companies said an early analysis of the results showed that individuals who received two injections of the vaccine three weeks apart experienced more than 90% fewer cases of symptomatic Covid-19 than those who received a placebo.
...
The story of how the data have been analyzed seems to include no small amount of drama.
...
The first analysis was to occur after 32 volunteers — both those who received the vaccine and those on placebo — had contracted Covid-19. If fewer than six volunteers in the group who received the vaccine had developed Covid-19, the companies would make an announcement that the vaccine appeared to be effective. The study would continue until at least 164 cases of Covid-19 — individuals with at least one symptom and a positive test result — had been reported.

However, the announcement at the two first interim analysis points was never made.

[William Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development,] said that Pfizer and BioNTech had decided in late October that they wanted to drop the 32-case interim analysis. At that time, the companies decided to stop having their lab confirm cases of Covid-19 in the study, instead leaving samples in storage. The FDA was aware of this decision. Discussions between the agency and the companies concluded, and testing began this past Wednesday. When the samples were tested, there were 94 cases of Covid in the trial.

This means that the statistical strength of the result is likely far stronger than was initially expected. It also means that if Pfizer had held to the original plan, the data would likely have been available in October, as its CEO, Albert Bourla, had initially predicted.

In October Pfizer already knew from its first interim analysis that its vaccine was successful. But it intentionally held back on the announcement of its success. The FDA knew of this!

Today Moderna announced the success of its Covid-19 vaccine. This is a vaccine in which Dr. Fauci's organization is directly involved in. It seems that Moderna had, like Pfizer, held back its very positive results until after the election:

The drugmaker Moderna announced on Monday that its coronavirus vaccine was 94.5 percent effective, based on an early look at the results from its large, continuing study.

Researchers said the results were better than they had dared to imagine.
...
Moderna, based in Cambridge, Mass., developed its vaccine in collaboration with researchers from the Vaccine Research Center, part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the institute, said in an interview: ...
...
Moderna had planned a first interim analysis of its trial data when the number of Covid-19 cases among participants reached 53. But the recent surge in cases drove the number to 95, and it is likely to speed completion of the study.

Moderna, like Pfizer, skipped the announcement of the results at the first interim analysis point in its clinical protocol.

The FDA and Dr. Fauci were involved in Pfizer's as well as the Moderna's decision to deviate from their clinical protocols. Any change in these protocols must get the FDA's approval. If the companies had not changed their plans the announcement of the good efficacy of both vaccines'  would have come before the election.

Trump's well planed vaccine 'October surprise' was sabotaged by two pharmaceutical companies with at least the approval of Dr. Fauci and the FDA.

This might well have cost him his reelection.

It was the health community that really had 'six ways from Sunday' to get back at Trump.

Posted by b on November 16, 2020 at 19:54 UTC | Permalink | Comments (171)

November 15, 2020

The MoA Week In Review - Open Thread 2020-90

Last week's posts at Moon of Alabama:

---
Other issues:

On Ant's canceled initial public offering, China and money:

Ethiopia's Nobel Peace Price lauded dictator launched a civil war:

Six weeks before Brexit Britain's government is extremely busy:

Covid 19:

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on November 15, 2020 at 14:48 UTC | Permalink | Comments (215)

Al-Qaeda's Number 2 Killed In 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 ... 2017, 2020

From the mouth of Mossad:

The United States and Israel worked together to track and kill a senior al-Qaida operative in Iran earlier this year, a bold intelligence operation by the two allied nations that came as the Trump administration was ramping up pressure on Tehran.

Four current and former U.S. officials said Abu Mohammed al-Masri, al-Qaida’s No. 2, was killed by assassins in the Iranian capital in August. The U.S. provided intelligence to the Israelis on where they could find al-Masri and the alias he was using at the time, while Israeli agents carried out the killing, according to two of the officials. The two other officials confirmed al-Masri’s killing but could not provide specific details.

The story is laughable. If any important al-Qaeda guy had been killed last August Trump would have screamed about it during his campaign from the top of his lungs.

Twelve years ago we already joked about all the fake "Al-Qaeda No.2 killed" stories which appeared in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

There have since been quite a few more of these:

Being Al-Qaeda's number 2 is a dangerous job!

As No.2 one might be media-killed anytime the U.S. seeks a pretext to ramp up sanctions on Iran.

Posted by b on November 15, 2020 at 9:53 UTC | Permalink | Comments (108)

November 14, 2020

The Huge New Trade Deal 'Western' Media Do Not Like To Talk About

Tomorrow a new trade agreement between 15 Asian states will be signed. It will soon be seen as a milestone in the global economic history. But only very few 'western' media have taken note of it or of the huge consequences the new agreement will have.

The agreement is also a huge victory for China over U.S. hegemony in Asia:

Fifteen Asia-Pacific nations including China and Japan plan to sign the world’s biggest free trade deal this weekend. The FTA will cut tariffs, strengthen supply chains with common rules of origin, and codify new e-commerce rules.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is expected to be announced at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, which Vietnam is hosting virtually. It will involve the ten member states of the ASEAN bloc – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – as well as their trade partners Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

The new economic bloc will thus represent around a third of the world’s gross domestic product and population.

It will become the first-ever free trade agreement to include China, Japan, and South Korea – Asia’s first, second and fourth-largest economies.

The economies of the RCEP members are growing faster than the rest of the world. The agreement is likely to accelerate their growth.


bigger

India is the only country that was invited but is missing in the deal. Its Hindu-fascist Modi regime had bet on the U.S. led anti-Chinese QUAD initiative pressed for by Trump and Pompeo and thereby lost out in trade terms:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks at the 17th ASEAN-India Summit on November 12 makes sad reading. It comes in the specific context of the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership [RCEP] on Sunday — the mega free trade agreement centred on the ASEAN plus China, Japan and South Korea.

Modi avoided mentioning RCEP, although it signifies a joyful occasion in ASEAN’s life as much as Diwali is for an Indian. He instead took detours — ‘Make in India’, ‘Act East Policy’, ‘Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative’, ‘ASEAN centrality’.
...
To be sure, RCEP heralds the dawn of a new post-Covid regional supply chain. As a new RCEP supply chain takes shape, India has not only excluded itself but is unwittingly facilitating its “arch enemy” China to become the principal driver of growth in the Asia-Pacific.

On the other hand, extra-regional economic ties cease to be a priority for the ASEAN, in relative importance. There isn’t going to be any takers in the Asia-Pacific region for even a partial US-China “decoupling”. The RCEP is in reality an ASEAN-led initiative, which is built on the foundation of the six ASEAN+1 FTAs and it secures ASEAN’s position at the heart of regional economic institutions.

The U.S. Pivot to Asia, launched under the Obama administration, as well as the anti-Chinese 'decoupling' initiatives by the Trump administration have thereby failed.

One would have expected that such a gigantic trade agreement with its extensive geopolitical consequences would find some echo in the U.S. media. But a search for 'RCEP' on the site of the New York Times finds only one mention from 2017. It is about a letter five U.S. ambassadors had sent to warn of the demise of the Transpacific Trade Agreement, an Obama initiative that excluded China:

The partnership, called the TPP, was a hallmark of the Obama administration. It would have been one of the largest trade agreements in history, covering about 40 percent of the world’s economy and setting new terms and standards for trade for the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations. China was not included but would have been able to join.
...
In their letter, the ambassadors warn that “walking away from TPP may be seen by future generations as the moment America chose to cede leadership to others in this part of the world and accept a diminished role.”

“Such an outcome would be cause for celebration among those who favor ‘Asia for the Asians’ and state capitalism,” it added.

The Ambassadors were right. But domestic U.S. policies (and resistance to 'liberalization' from Asian countries) did not allow for such an agreement to happen:

The 2016 presidential race was shaped by anti-globalization trends. Donald J. Trump promised to destroy the pact if he became president. Hillary Clinton also denounced it, even though she supported a form of it as secretary of state.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said after the election in November that Congress would not take it up. That meant it was dead.

The RCEP is less controversial in Asia than the U.S. centric TPP would have been:

Unlike the TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership, and other U.S.-led trade deals, the RCEP doesn’t require its members to take steps to liberalize their economies and protect labor rights, environmental standards and intellectual property. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has called it a “very low-grade treaty” that lacks the scope of the TPP. But RCEP’s imminent implementation illustrates America’s diminished clout and could make it harder for U.S. businesses to compete in the vast region.

While it has less regulations and 'liberalization' requirements than the U.S. had wanted to sneak into the TTP deal the RCEP is still comprehensive enough to have huge effects:

Malaysian Trade Minister Azmin Ali, who told reporters the deal would be signed on Sunday, called it the culmination of “eight years of negotiating with blood, sweat and tears.”

First proposed in 2011, RCEP will eliminate as much as 90 percent of the tariffs on imports between its signatories within 20 years, and the deal will come into effect by early as next year. It will also establish common rules for e-commerce, trade, and intellectual property.

“China has pulled off a diplomatic coup in dragging RCEP over the line,” Shaun Roache, Asia-Pacific chief economist at S&P Global Ratings, told Bloomberg. “While RCEP is shallow, at least compared to TPP, it is broad, covering many economies and goods, and this is a rarity in these more protectionist times.”

Asian countries will now preferably trade with other Asian countries and every non-Asian country will have to trade with them on only secondary terms.

Yet a news search finds that the upcoming RCEP signing only got a short mention on CNBC, one Bloomberg explainer and a short Reuters piece.

It seems that U.S. media are unhappy to report on such an immense victory for China and the demise of the U.S. position in the world.

Posted by b on November 14, 2020 at 17:21 UTC | Permalink | Comments (132)

November 13, 2020

Deep State Member Admits Sabotage Of Trump's Policies

Katie Bo Williams @KatieBoWill - 11:46 UTC · Nov 13, 2020

In a particularly frank moment during an exit interview, departing Syria envoy Jim Jeffrey acknowledged to me that when it came to troop levels there, “We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there."

Jeffrey was always a part of the 'deep state' that tried to sabotage Trump's policies.

As Williams writes:

Four years after signing the now-infamous “Never Trump” letter condemning then-presidential candidate Donald Trump as a danger to America, retiring diplomat Jim Jeffrey is recommending that the incoming Biden administration stick with Trump’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

But even as he praises the president’s support of what he describes as a successful “realpolitik” approach to the region, he acknowledges that his team routinely misled senior leaders about troop levels in Syria.

“We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there,” Jeffrey said in an interview. The actual number of troops in northeast Syria is “a lot more than” the two hundred troops Trump agreed to leave there in 2019.
...
“What Syria withdrawal? There was never a Syria withdrawal,” Jeffrey said. “When the situation in northeast Syria had been fairly stable after we defeated ISIS, [Trump] was inclined to pull out. In each case, we then decided to come up with five better arguments for why we needed to stay. And we succeeded both times. That’s the story.”
...
Officially, Trump last year agreed to keep about 200 U.S. troops stationed in northeast Syria to “secure” oil fields held by the United States’ Kurdish allies in the fight against ISIS. It is generally accepted that the actual number is now higher than that — anonymous officials put the number at about 900 today — but the precise figure is classified and remains unknown even, it appears, to members of Trump’s administration keen to end the so-called “forever wars.”

That the Pentagon, the State Department and the various secret services were and are lying to Trump is not new. That one of their guys now openly admits this is refreshing.

As Trump now knows this, and recently installed his people in the Pentagon, he may draw the right conclusions from it not only for Syria but also for Afghanistan.

President Donald Trump’s decapitation strike on the Pentagon this week is raising fears that the U.S. will accelerate the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, putting newly installed leaders on a collision course with top generals and others who are urging a more deliberate drawdown.

Current and former administration officials say Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper Monday in part over his opposition to accelerating troop drawdowns worldwide, and especially in Afghanistan. The upheaval accelerated on Tuesday with the resignation of three high-level civilians and the installation of loyalists who are expected to ram through Trump's agenda, and continued on Wednesday when retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor, an outspoken critic of the war in Afghanistan, was brought on as senior adviser to new acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller.

Any move to accelerate withdrawals would set up a clash with the nation’s top generals and other civilians, who have argued publicly against leaving Afghanistan too quickly while the security situation remains volatile. It would also complicate President-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to leave a small number of troops in the country to guard against terror attacks.

“A precipitous and what appears to be near total withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan — not on a conditions-based approach advocated by our military, political and intelligence leadership but rather on an old campaign promise by President Trump now carried out by hyperpartisan Trump loyalists installed in a last-minute purge of DoD — is both reckless and will not make America safer,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a retired CIA senior operations officer.

The U.S. occupation of Afghanistan began on October 7 2001. Nineteen years and an obviously lost war later the removal of U.S. troops from the country is still 'precipitous'?

Macgregor and Sec Def Miller should draw up a direct order to the commanding general of U.S. Central Command that tells him to remove all troops from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq within the next 30 days. Trump must sign it. Should CentCom fail to follow the order by the Commander in Chief its leader must be replaced and court martialed.

That is how the chain of command should actually work. It would be nice to see it for once happening that way.

Posted by b on November 13, 2020 at 12:15 UTC | Permalink | Comments (185)

November 12, 2020

Open Thread 2020-89

News & views ...

Posted by b on November 12, 2020 at 14:26 UTC | Permalink | Comments (245)