Archive | Health

“I Am Greta” isn’t About Climate Change. It’s About the Elusiveness of Sanity in an Insane World

BY JONATHAN COOK

Photograph Source: Nick from Bristol – CC BY 2.0

Erich Fromm, the renowned German-Jewish social psychologist who was forced to flee his homeland in the early 1930s as the Nazis came to power, offered a disturbing insight later in life on the relationship between society and the individual.

In the mid-1950s, his book The Sane Society suggested that insanity referred not simply to the failure by specific individuals to adapt to the society they lived in. Rather, society itself could become so pathological, so detached from a normative way of life, that it induced a deep-seated alienation and a form of collective insanity among its members. In modern western societies, where automation and mass consumption betray basic human needs, insanity might not be an aberration but the norm.

Fromm wrote:

“The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.”

Challenging definition

This is still a very challenging idea to anyone raised on the view that sanity is defined by consensus, that it embraces whatever the mainstream prefers, and that insanity applies only to those living outside those norms. It is a definition that diagnoses the vast majority of us today as insane.

When Fromm wrote his book, Europe was emerging from the ruins of the Second World War. It was a time of reconstruction, not only physically and financially, but legally and emotionally. International institutions like the United Nations had recently been formed to uphold international law, curb national greed and aggression, and embody a new commitment to universal human rights.

It was a time of hope and expectation. Greater industrialisation spurred by the war effort and intensified extraction of fossil fuels meant economies were beginning to boom, a vision of the welfare state was being born, and a technocratic class promoting a more generous social democracy were replacing the old patrician class.

It was at this historic juncture that Fromm chose to write a book telling the western world that most of us were insane.

Degrees of insanity

If that was clear to Fromm in 1955, it ought to be much clearer to us today, as buffoon autocrats stride the world stage like characters from a Marx Brothers movie; as international law is being intentionally unravelled to restore the right of western nations to invade and plunder; and as the physical world demonstrates through extreme weather events that the long-ignored science of climate change – and much other human-inspired destruction of the natural world – can no longer be denied.

And yet our commitment to our insanity seems as strong as ever – possibly stronger. Sounding like the captain of the Titanic, the unreconstructed British liberal writer Sunny Hundal memorably gave voice to this madness a few years back when he wrote in defence of the catastrophic status quo:

If you want to replace the current system of capitalism with something else, who is going to make your jeans, iPhones and run Twitter?

As the clock ticks away, the urgent goal for each of us is to gain a deep, permanent insight into our own insanity. It doesn’t matter that our neighbours, family and friends think as we do. The ideological system we were born into, that fed us our values and beliefs as surely as our mothers fed us milk, is insane. And because we cannot step outside of that ideological bubble – because our lives depend on submitting to this infrastructure of insanity – our madness persists, even as we think of ourselves as sane.

Our world is not one of the sane versus the insane, but of the less insane versus the more insane.

Intimate portrait

Which is why I recommend the new documentary I Am Greta, a very intimate portrait of the Swedish child environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=i74n4BUYgHI%3Ffeature%3Doembed

Before everyone gets started, let me point out that I Am Greta is not about the climate emergency. That is simply the background noise as the film charts the personal journey begun by this 15-year-old girl with Asperger’s syndrome in staging a weekly lone protest outside the Swedish parliament. Withdrawn and depressed by the implications of the compulsive research she has done on the environment, she rapidly finds herself thrust into the centre of global attention by her simple, heart-felt statements of the obvious.

The schoolgirl shunned as insane by classmates suddenly finds the world drawn to the very qualities that previously singled her out as weird: her stillness, her focus, her refusal to equivocate or to be impressed.

Footage of her father desperately trying to get her to take a break and eat something, if only a banana, as she joins yet another climate march, or of her curling up in a ball on her bed, needing to be silent, after an argument with her father over the time she has spent crafting another speech to world leaders may quieten those certain she is simply a dupe of the fossil fuel industries – or, more likely, it will not.

But the fruitless debates about whether Thunberg is being used are irrelevant to this film. That is not where its point or its power lies.

Through Thunberg’s eyes

For 90 minutes we live in Thunberg’s shoes, we see the world through her strange eyes. For 90 minutes we are allowed to live inside the head of someone so sane that we can briefly grasp – if we are open to her world – quite how insane each of us truly is. We see ourselves from the outside, through the vision of someone whose Asperger’s has allowed her to “see through the static”, as she too generously terms our delusions. She is the small, still centre of simple awareness buffeted in a sea of insanity.

Watching Thunberg wander alone – unimpressed, often appalled – through the castles and palaces of world leaders, through the economic forums of the global technocratic elite, through the streets where she is acclaimed, the varied nature of our collective insanity comes ever more sharply into focus.

Four forms of insanity the adult world adopts in response to Thunberg, the child soothsayer, are on show. In its varied guises, this insanity derives from unexamined fear.

The first – and most predictable – is exemplified by the right, who angrily revile her for putting in jeopardy the ideological system of capitalism they revere as their new religion in a godless world. She is an apostate, provoking their curses and insults.

The second group are liberal world leaders and the technocratic class who run our global institutions. Their job, for which they are so richly rewarded, is to pay lip service, entirely in bad faith, to the causes Thunberg espouses for real. They are supposed to be managing the planet for future generations, and therefore have the biggest investment in recruiting her to their side, not least to dissipate the energy she mobilises that they worry could rapidly turn against them.

One of the film’s early scenes is Thunberg’s meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron, shortly after she has started making headlines.

Beforehand, Macron’s adviser tries to pump Thunberg for information on other world leaders she has met. His unease at her reply that this her first such invitation is tangible. As Thunberg herself seems only too aware when they finally meet, Macron is there simply for the photoshoot. Trying to make inane small talk with someone incapable of such irrelevancies, Macron can’t help but raise an eyebrow in discomfort, and possibly mild reproof, as Thunberg concedes that the media reports of her travelling everywhere by train are right.

Cynically insane

The third group are the adults who line the streets for a selfie with Thunberg, or shout out their adulation, loading it on to her shoulders like a heavy burden – and one she signally refuses to accept. Every time someone at a march tells her she is special, brave or a hero, she immediately tells them they too are brave. It is not her responsibility to fix the climate for the rest of us, and to think otherwise is a form of infantilism.

The fourth group are entirely absent from the film, but not from the responses to it and to her. These are the “cynically insane”, those who want to load on to Thunberg a burden of a different kind. Aware of the way we have been manipulated by our politicians and media, and the corporations that now own both, they are committed to a different kind of religion – one that can see no good anywhere. Everything is polluted and dirty. Because they have lost their own innocence, all innocence must be murdered.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=NatCounterPunch&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1176513294686982145&lang=en&origin=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.counterpunch.org%2F2020%2F11%2F20%2Fi-am-greta-isnt-about-climate-change-its-about-the-elusiveness-of-sanity-in-an-insane-world%2F&siteScreenName=NatCounterPunch&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=500px

This is a form of insanity no different from the other groups. It denies that anything can be good. It refuses to listen to anything and anyone. It denies that sanity is possible at all. It is its own form of autism – locked away in a personal world from which there can be no escape – that, paradoxically, Thunberg herself has managed to overcome through her deep connection to the natural world.

As long as we can medicalise Thunberg as someone suffering from Asperger’s, we do not need to think about whether we are really the insane ones.

Bursting bubbles

Long ago economists made us aware of financial bubbles, the expression of insanity from investors as they pursue profit without regard to real world forces. Such investors are finally forced to confront reality – and the pain it brings – when the bubble bursts. As it always does.

We are in an ideological bubble – and one that will burst as surely as the financial kind. Thunberg is that still, small voice of sanity outside the bubble. We can listen to her, without fear, without reproach, without adulation, without cynicism. Or we can carry on with our insane games until the bubble explodes.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jonathan-cook.net/

Posted in Environment, Health, UK0 Comments

UN climate report calls out global elite as cause of the crisis

Tina Landis

Download PDF flyer

The UN Emissions Gap Report released on Dec. 9, shows how far off the mark we are for averting complete climate catastrophe. Current global emissions reduction policies have us on track for 3.5 C warming by 2100, which would be catastrophic for life on Earth. An average increase of 1.5 C globally is the line that must not be crossed — with current temperatures at an average of nearly 1 C warming. 

The report takes a surprisingly class perspective by pointing out that the one percent richest people on the planet are responsible for emissions equal to that of the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population. This group would need to reduce its carbon footprint 30 fold just to meet the Paris Agreement commitments. 

Hottest year on record

2020 will likely be the hottest year on record following the record breaking hot decade of the 2010s. With unprecedented monsoon rains, wildfires, hurricanes and tropical cyclones, we are witnessing the unraveling of life on Earth as we know it. And let’s not forget the pandemic, which is the result of the changing climate and human encroachment on wildlands, with official reports of nearly 70 million globally contracting the virus and more than a million dead. 

Arctic ice loss has accelerated so much that scientists are predicting that a new Arctic climate is emerging — moving from one of snow and ice to one of open water and rain. Similarly, scientists are alarmed by the rapid deterioration of the Antarctica ice sheet. Ice loss triggers a positive feedback loop as open water and land absorb more heat, unlike ice and snow that reflect the sun’s rays — meaning ice loss creates more warming, which accelerates more ice loss, and so on. 

A 2015 consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions study of the San Francisco Bay Area — home of Big Tech and the highest concentration of billionaires on the planet — confirms the UN assertion and shows that the areas where the super rich live have by far the highest share of emissions. The study looked at the life-cycle GHG emissions of all products used and consumed within the Bay Area — from production, shipping, use and disposal of those products. This is key in order to assign the appropriate responsibility for emissions, and in turn the crisis that humanity is facing. Instead of pointing the finger at the poorer countries where U.S. corporations have outsourced production to, or poor communities within wealthier nations, tying the emissions back to the source of the highest consumption rates shows a more accurate picture of who truly holds more responsibility for the problem.

Individual behavior change not the solution

The corporate media frames solutions as one of individual behavior change, which really takes the blame off the producers and puts it onto individual lifestyle choices — in essence a mass marketing campaign for “green” products and electric vehicles. This gives the illusion that if we all just fly less, recycle more, and go vegan, the crisis will be averted. While having more environmentally-conscious practices is good, the majority of the population that is just struggling to survive often doesn’t have access to “green” options. This scapegoating of the individual diverts attention away from the true culprit, the capitalist system itself — just 100 companies responsible for 71 percent of emissions since 1988.

What you personally do, doesn’t solve the unsustainability of the production model of capitalism. For instance, the UN report goes on to point out that the dip we have seen in global emissions during the pandemic will not have a positive effect in the long run. The solution goes way beyond driving less for a few months. We need an uprooting of the capitalist production model that is based on the whims of the market rather than sustainable planning. 

The very nature of capitalism that allows billionaires to exist by hoarding the wealth created by the exploited working class, is the source of the problem. A system that requires endless growth and ever increasing profits can never be sustainable. 

The “one percent” are the ruling class of the world — the ones who truly call the shots — controlling corporations and to a large degree, government policy. These capitalists are always looking for ways to profit off of any situation. Whether an investment is good for humanity and the environment is irrelevant. Making the highest profits possible is the only concern. For instance, Wall Street recently began trading water futures making a basic need for human survival into a cynical betting game. This is a perfect example of “disaster capitalism” and reveals the complete disregard for the survival of our species and a complete disinterest in truly addressing the climate crisis. 

We cannot solve this crisis within the trajectory of global imperialism

There are a few relatively simple actions that could be taken that if implemented on a comprehensive scale could lower global temperatures, increase the water table in drought-plagued areas, and increase biodiversity and ecosystem resilience to the changes underway. Restoring forests, wetlands, and grasslands, along with a shift to regenerative agriculture and an end to fossil fuel use, could stem the unraveling of our climate in just decades. Humanity has the tools to save ourselves, but the “one percent” and the system of capitalism that their police, military, courts and prisons protect, is literally driving us off the cliff. 

One glaring omission that the UN climate reports and summits never address is the issue of imperialism. How can we lower global emissions when the imperialists — who are the biggest per capita polluters — consistently block any binding commitments at the climate summits, despite pressure from the Global South? How can we globally work together for our survival when the U.S. and their European allies constantly undermine and reduce to rubble any nation that doesn’t bow to their demands?

For instance, Libya, prior to its destruction in 2011 by the US and NATO, had the highest standard of living on the African continent. Libya had nearly completed the “Great Man-Made River,” the world’s largest irrigation system that was greening the desert, and were creating a Pan-African banking system and currency to bring the continent out of indebtedness to the imperialist-controlled IMF and World Bank. That could have meant true independence for African nations and development based on sustainability. But, the imperialists wreaked total destruction upon Libya, cheered on the lynching of its leader, and bombed the irrigation system, creating a failed state that today has open slave markets trading Black Africans.

We cannot solve the global climate crisis within the current trajectory of world imperialism. We must uproot the system of capitalism and move to a socialist system built on cooperation and sharing of resources. The wealth of the “one percent” must be seized to fund an ecological and social revolution and put the power into the hands of the majority to determine what is needed for the benefit of both people and planet. 

We need to organize ourselves across borders, get educated on the issues, and build a mass militant people’s movement to realize this goal. The time to act is now, to seize control of the car — of the production system — before the capitalists drive us off the cliff. We have the power to stem the climate crisis and take an evolutionary leap forward to a socialist society that meets all of our needs for an equitable and abundant future. 

Posted in Environment, UNComments Off on UN climate report calls out global elite as cause of the crisis

Aldi flouts mandatory PPE for staff.

Jenny JupeCannon Hill and Highbury

Aldi flouts mandatory PPE for staff. Shopped in Aldi opposite the cricket ground for the first time in six months. Won’t be going back! Security guard and shop assistant wandering round the store with no PPE, as mandated by Government and agreed by the City Council. Their excuse – I can’t breathe if I wear a mask and giggled! What’s wrong with a visor?

Spoke to the area manager and insisted they do something about it to protect their customers. Birmingham could be on the edge of tier three – who knows? Cases in Edgbaston, in particular, are high. Aldi – you need to comply!

Posted in Crime and Safety 

Posted in Health, UKComments Off on Aldi flouts mandatory PPE for staff.

Covid Ignoramuses

BY EVE OTTENBERG

Photograph Source: michael_swan – CC0

On election night, one exit poll revealed that 48 percent of respondents believed the government had done a good job, including coping with Covid-19. In other words, 48 percent of respondents are imbeciles who approved of what happened that day: 1100 coronavirus deaths and 94,000 new cases. Only four in 10 voters ranked the pandemic as their top concern. If the election disclosed one thing it’s that about half of all Americans have their heads in the sand regarding the pandemic and are likely blithely, provincially unaware that no other country on earth has failed as miserably as the U.S. to contain the disease.

It’s also a good bet that most of those Trump voters would guffaw in belligerent disbelief at the news that countries like left-governed New Zealand, semi-socialist Vietnam, vaguely communist China and other non-white countries like South Korea and Taiwan eradicated this plague and that people in those lands get to lead normal lives. Their children go to school, they go to work, they frequent bars and restaurants, their hospitals are not swamped by critically ill patients, nor do they run the risk of contracting a potentially lethal, chronic and disabling disease every time they visit the supermarket. How to account for such American ignorance, stupidity and insularity? Well, back in the early twentieth century, H. L. Mencken dubbed the U.S. a boobocracy. He was right then, and his verdict holds up today. American morons are everywhere. Their views on covid prove it.

On November 4, while all eyes were riveted on election results, this plague killed over 1600 Americans, and there were over 100, 000 new cases. Two days later, there were 121,000 new cases. Later, over 135,000 new cases in one day. And new infections and deaths zoomed up and up at that pace, or faster, thereafter. At this rate, according to one medical expert, we could have one million dead by late February. For that you can thank Trump’s mass murdering policy of herd immunity, and the one third of voters who told pollsters that they believed the economy’s urgency drubbed the pandemic’s. Roughly 50 percent of Americans wear masks; that’s not enough to stop the virus. But those unmasked multitudes don’t care, so long as their God-given right to infect others is not infringed.

With over 10 million U.S. covid cases, this pestilence has now killed over 240,000 Americans. A month ago, experts cited excess deaths statistics to prove the true number was then over 300,000 dead, so by now it’s more. Whichever it is, it’s too many. It far exceeds the covid death rate of any other country. Indeed, the world gapes in horror as the U.S. fumbles the pandemic, just as it watched in dismay as the U.S. fumbled Hurricane Katrina. In fact, covid is Trump’s Katrina. Not just because it cost him votes, but because apparently, like Bush with the hurricane, Trump was far too incompetent to do anything about the catastrophe other than make it worse. Bush’s ineptness let a great American city drown. Trump’s ignorance and abysmal instincts have cost the U.S. even more, and 10 months into it, the debacle just roars on.

Why? Well, this is the country where, in August, as covid percolated poisonously through the Midwest, 250,000 bikers converged on Sturgis, South Dakota, for a summer shindig. They didn’t wear masks, and they didn’t socially distance. And lots of them got sick. Now they have angry, acrid regrets. According to the New York Times, “Sturgis council members who approved the rally have been bombarded with death threats.” The event caused roughly 250,000 coronavirus infections nationwide. All of this was completely predictable. The bikers who went to Sturgis behaved like irresponsible children. Some of them paid the price. So did plenty of other people.

The bikers’ fecklessness mirrored Trump’s. After he hosted a super-spreader soiree for his radical right-wing supreme court nominee, numerous guests contracted covid, including Trump and Chris Christie. They knew they could get sick, but they couldn’t resist the fantasy that things would “go back to normal.” How stupid is that? This virus has made blindingly clear its power to relegate normal to paradise lost, as any adult knows. Normal is over for the foreseeable future, until we get a good, tested, reliable vaccine. The Trump regime’s infantile “I want, I want, I want, gimme parties, gimme cameras, gimme glitzy, crowded blow-outs,” had a perfectly foreseeable outcome. It’s a miracle none of those overgrown toddlers were intubated and died. Or maybe some were. If so, you can be sure we won’t hear about it.

So now what can Biden do? He can negotiate with the lame-duck Trump regime for a national mask mandate tout de suite. He has also named his coronavirus task force. Otherwise, he probably must wait till January. His moves then will hopefully include finally revving up the National Defense Authorization Act to its fullest potential to produce protective gear for medical workers – most of them reusing masks in the covid-crammed hospitals of Trump country. He should assure that vaccine distribution plans are ready and not enfeebled by the malicious neglect that plagued testing. He should fix testing and contact tracing once and for all.

Regarding economic impacts, Biden should back up those states and localities that have to impose targeted lockdowns, as Utah just did, by releasing funds to support workers and small businesspeople thus idled, by executive order if necessary. He must try to pass another stimulus with unemployment dollars, basic income, money for cities and states and a full-fledged rent and mortgage moratorium, and even rent forgiveness. And to atone for his wretched 1994 crime bill, which he now acknowledges was a mistake, Biden should do everything possible to release nonviolent and elderly felons from those disease-infested pits – the prisons. These are only some of the weapons in a president’s arsenal against this plague. It is high time, past time they were deployed.

Posted in USA, HealthComments Off on Covid Ignoramuses

The Scourge of Herd Immunity

BY EVE OTTENBERG

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Covid-19 kills, and its kill rate is significantly higher than the flu. Some who recover develop insufficient immunity to prevent getting infected again. Some don’t appear to recover. They are stuck with debilities that last months, maybe longer. And it’s possible that this disease is chronic and lingers in some people, like herpes, a virus that can reactivate – that possibility is unknown. All of these aspects of covid bode poorly for a vaccine. But they are utterly fatal to the notion of herd immunity achieved not through vaccination, as responsible doctors would do, but through letting a population contract the disease.

This novel approach to herd immunity is a pipe dream currently entertained by fanatics in the white house – regarding which, William Haseltine of ACCESS Health International recently said, “herd immunity is another word for mass murder.” If covid spreads widely, which this type of herd immunity advocates, “we’re looking at two to six million American dead not just this year, but every year,” Haseltine added. This is the policy of the Trump regime: millions of dead Americans.

Dr. Scott Atlas is Trump’s herd immunity guy. He’s not an epidemiologist, he’s a neuroradiologist and so knows little about infectious disease. He’s also an ideologue from the radical right-wing Hoover Institution. Apparently, he has had a most malign effect on Trump’s thinking. Trump may have decided not to protect himself from covid because he agrees with Atlas that everyone will get covid, so why fight it? Trump calls exposing himself to the plague leadership, but other forms of leadership are on display in places like China, Vietnam, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan. There the leaders focused on one thing: killing the virus. And they have, by and large, succeeded, saving hundreds of thousands of their citizens’ lives. Meanwhile Americans die from covid by the thousands, over 221,000 so far.

Sweden famously opted for herd immunity. Death statistics for Scandinavian countries are instructive here. As of October 6, Denmark had 663 covid deaths, Finland 346, Norway 275 and Sweden 5892, according to Statista. Sweden also had by far the most covid cases, 96,677. Sweden didn’t lock down as other Scandinavian countries did, nor did it impose a mask mandate. It relied on people to use their judgment. While this succeeded in crashing the economy, as cautious citizens stayed home, it still resulted in many more dead than neighboring countries, which systematically locked down and mandated masks.

In early June, Turkey chose herd immunity. According to the World Socialist Website, cases and deaths are on the rise. The government, however, has continued promoting keeping people at work and in school. According to one medical association official, “as of last month, a total of 900 health care workers had resigned from their jobs during the pandemic.” President Recep Erdogan’s determination to avoid lockdowns is not popular, but he is a strongman, reportedly admired by Trump, and he has decided to let the virus tear through the Turkish population.

Another place where covid rages out of control is Moscow. Restaurants and bars have been open and there’s been little social distancing. One could say Russia has experimented with de facto herd immunity. However, conservative President Vladimir Putin has never advocated it. On the contrary, according to Tass, Russia will try to use vaccination to achieve herd immunity this autumn, not through letting the disease run rampant. Meanwhile the mayor of Moscow clamps down with measures to promote contact tracing and to limit hours for restaurants and bars.

At the beginning of the outbreak, the UK also briefly opted for herd immunity. But the results were so disastrous that even a radical right-winger like Boris Johnson had to renounce it. Then he contracted the disease and had a horrible time with it, thus doubtless dooming any more talk of herd immunity as a policy in the U.K.

Thanks to a “miracle cure” derived from aborted fetuses, which will, one presumes, be hushed up so as not to offend evangelicals, though remaining available sub rosa to select oligarchs, Trump’s bout with covid was not as ghastly as Boris Johnson’s. And now the Trump regime tilts toward herd immunity. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar denies this, as well he might, given that herd immunity would cause mass death. One expert, Dr. Chris Murray recently confirmed to CNN that yes, that would be the result. And on October 13, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, called using herd immunity – when achieved by a policy of deliberate exposure to the disease – “unethical.”

In addition to causing mass death, such herd immunity to covid would leave millions disabled. And again, herd immunity might never be reached with an illness that can reinfect people or which becomes chronic. So herd immunity is a fool’s errand. But don’t tell that to Scott Atlas or others in the Trump regime. Indeed, last month the CDC drafted an order for all public and commercial transportation passengers and employees to wear masks. The white house blocked it.

Then on October 6, Politico reported that Atlas met with three infectious disease doctors: Harvard medical professor Martin Kulldorff, Stanford medical professor Jay Bhattacharya, and Oxford epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta. This trio – who give a professional gloss to Atlas’ herd immunity quackery – “favors moving aggressively to reopen the economy while sidelining broad testing and other fundamental public health measures.”

Gupta later told radical right-wing Fox propagandist Laura Ingraham that “three months, maybe six is sufficient time for enough immunity to accumulate…that the vulnerable could resume normal lives.” Politico also reported that fewer than 10 percent of Americans had covid antibodies. Herd immunity requires 60 to 70 percent to stop the disease. With 10 percent we have 221,000 dead and climbing. Some experts say we really have closer to 300,000. Do the math. There aren’t as many corpses as Haseltine predicts, but there are still plenty.

Then on October 13, Ghebreyesus made a video, specifically pointing out that historically herd immunity has always referred to a population’s immunity to a virus achieved THROUGH VACCINATION. This idea of deliberately exposing people to a potentially lethal, chronic and disabling disease is new. It’s also a fringe idea, the QAnon of epidemiology. And as Ghebreyesus said, ethically questionable.

This WHO statement came the same day that the white house endorsed herd immunity. The New York Times reported that the Trump regime embraces “The Great Barrington Declaration,” something signed by Atlas’ three infectious disease experts and also by numerous practical jokers, such as I. P. Freely and other concocted signatures. This declaration calls for letting the pandemic run rampant among millions of Americans.

It should come as no surprise that right-wing, neoliberal leaders who worship at the altar of a ruthless capitalist religion have been unable to cope with covid. Hatred of public health is encoded in their DNA. Indeed, public health in these countries – the U.S., Brazil, India, the U.K., Russia – is stunted or non-existent, because health care is treated as a commodity only available to the affluent. Countries with more mixed economies and more respect for the efficacy of government, like New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Vietnam, have dealt with this pestilence much better. They have tried to extirpate it. That approach, the opposite of herd immunity, has succeeded. It has saved multitudes of lives.

If the Trump regime continues down the path favored by neoliberalism – rampant exposure to the disease to achieve herd immunity – there will be millions of excess deaths. This is not unexpected for those who regard unfettered capitalism as a death cult and herd immunity in the face of a wildly contagious, lethal disease as its favored response. Right-wing neoliberal governments will not invest in public health. They want economies open regardless of how many people that kills. This is the logical conclusion of their extreme capitalist religion.

It is also the logical conclusion of a political-economic system of organized banditry that has plundered the globe for 500 years, enslaving millions and in the process unleashing a planet-killing climate catastrophe. Its ideologues gravitate to herd immunity like flies to excrement. They will countenance mass death to keep their corporations profitable. Herd immunity fits with lethal capitalism like a hand in a glove. Therefore the Trump regime, openly or covertly, will continue to pursue herd immunity, which will allow aristocrats like Trump and Chris Christie to get top-of-the-line medical care, including the scarce, aforementioned miracle cures, while the average covid-stricken American, gasping for breath, is lucky even to snag a hospital bed.

Posted in USA, HealthComments Off on The Scourge of Herd Immunity

Industrial Food Production and the Pandemic

BY EVE OTTENBERG

Photograph Source: Gene Alexander, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service – Public Domain

Covid-19 comes from the primary forest, from bat caves. In a world without industrial agriculture encroaching on that forest, in a world without the corporatization of a wild-food industry, Covid-19 would probably never have left those caves. The pandemic was not caused by small-holder agriculture, and the virus probably did not escape from a lab. As it becomes endemic, it may become unstoppable. But not so the next pestilence. If we revamp our food production system now, maybe the pathogens lurking in primeval forest viral reservoirs will stay there, instead of hopping onto planes to London, New York, Beijing, Moscow and other metropolises.

A new book by Rob Wallace, Dead Epidemiologists: On the Origins of COVID-19, argues just that. According to Wallace, industrial agriculture pushes “capitalized wild foods deeper into the last of the primary landscape, dredging out a wider variety of potentially protopandemic pathogens.” And that’s only half the story. The other half traces the threat of avian and swine flus posed by factory farms and their peculiarly unethical forms of monoculture. Wallace focuses on how those monocultures remove immune firebreaks.

This book argues that in addition, factory farms may force “corporatized wild food companies to trawl deeper into the forest,” getting new pathogens, “while reducing the kind of environmental complexity with which the forest disrupts transmission chains.” So several threats: factory farms themselves; the push into forests for wild foods picks up new pathogens; that push also disrupts a web of life that kept those pathogens in check. And that’s before Wallace even touches on the broader topic of industrial crop farming and its planetary destruction.

Dead Epidemiologists thus links novel viruses to agribusiness and deforestation, which release them, causing them to spill “over into local livestock and human communities.” He cites this happening with Ebola, Zika, Makona, the coronaviruses, yellow fever, avian influenzas and African swine fever, for starters. Many of these “previously held in check by long-evolved forest ecologies are being sprung free, threatening the whole world.” For agribusiness, however, “a virus that might kill a billion people is treated as a worthy risk,” a cost of doing business paid not by that business, but by humanity at large, aka an externality. The food industry is only too happy to socialize this cost onto the rest of us, to infect and kill millions of people, as it rakes in its privatized profits.

Wallace’s solutions include ending monoculture by introducing livestock and crop varieties, and rewilding, as has been done somewhat with buffalo in the American west. That’s long-term. In the shorter term, he denounces herd immunity based on letting covid run rampant as “let’s do maximum damage,” and describes how the staggering U.S. failures to cope with this plague were “programmed decades ago as the shared commons of public health were simultaneously neglected and monetized.” Instead of Malthusian herd immunity, “we need to nationalize hospitals, as the Spanish did. We need to supercharge testing…as Senegal has. We need to socialize pharmaceuticals.” And I would add, where there are lockdowns, the government should subsidize idled workers and small businesspeople. All of this, of course, is anathema to the Trump regime.

According to Wallace, 40 percent of our planet’s ice-free surface is covered with its largest biome, agriculture, while 72 percent of animal biomass is poultry and livestock. He decries the “geologic scale” of industrial agriculture and how it geologically transforms “vast swaths of Earth’s surface into solar factories, carbon mines, and manure lagoons, an alien landscape hostile to most life forms outside the interest of capital, save a subset of suddenly opportunistic pathogen and pest stowaways.” In short industrial, chemical agriculture takes up too much space, is killing the planet and will ultimately kill us, too.

Wallace observes that three Iowa watersheds, “home to 350,000 people…host the waste equivalent of Tokyo, New York City and Mexico City combined.” This phenomenal pollution derives from our livestock and poultry cruelly crammed together in filthy, disease-ridden cages to produce protein for human consumption. When this factory farming produces diseases, standard operating procedure is to blame small holders; that’s now part of the agriculture “industry’s standard outbreak crisis management package.” But of course, it’s really the big industrial factory farms, with all their horrors of animal torture, that are to blame.

In this connection, however, Wallace argues convincingly against the extremes some may rush to – lab-grown meat and advocating global veganism. He cites the massive quantities of carbon burned to produce tiny portions of lab-grown meant, so massive as to outweigh any environmental benefit of vegetarianism based upon it. As for veganism, much of the world, the non-first world, is pastoral. People live with their animals and eat some of them. Imposing veganism on pastoral herders is ridiculous, a kind of colonial stupidity.

Instead, this book champions regenerative agriculture based on use value, not food produced as a commodity, and argues that such an approach is incompatible with capitalism. Small farms with variegated livestock and crops, worked by families are what’s needed. Wallace advocates the peasant agriculture promoted by the organization, La Via Campesina, and for planning agriculture that self-regulates “in such a way that the deadliest pathogens are far less likely to emerge.” He has little use for commercial pesticides and GMO crops. They simply destroy too much of the natural world; besides farming can proceed quite successfully without them.

Before covid, such plans were often dismissed as left-wing fantasy. Now they look like our last chance to save ourselves from collapsing ecosystems, novel, deadly plagues and a fatally warming planet. The official U.S. covid body count is over 226,000. Experts say it’s closer to 300,000. It will probably go much higher. The disease, some medical scientists believe, will become endemic and may require a yearly vaccine, like the flu. That vaccine may only be 50 percent effective, like the flu vaccine. So people will be wearing masks for a long time. Better to be inoculated and masked and survive, than suffocate to death from a virus released from a remote bat cave by an out-of-control food production system. We can’t bottle covid back up in its subterranean den, but we sure can prevent the next disease from escaping.

Posted in HealthComments Off on Industrial Food Production and the Pandemic

Coronavirus: Cabinet to meet as PM considers England lockdown

The SPI-M document that shows the projections of daily death numbers by the different modellers, compared with the first wave
image captionThis key document shows several UK daily death projections by different modellers, compared with the first wave. The black line represents the government’s predicted “reasonable worst-case scenario”

The PM will meet his cabinet later as he considers a month-long lockdown across England – in the hope that measures could be eased by Christmas.

A new “stay at home” order could be announced on Monday, with schools, colleges and universities exempt.

Documents seen by the BBC suggest the UK is on course for a much higher death toll than during the first wave unless further restrictions are introduced.

Deaths could reach more than 4,000 a day, one of the models suggests.

This figure is based on no policies being brought in to slow the spread of the disease, but most of the models peak at about 2,000 a day.

Downing Street said Boris Johnson will chair a cabinet meeting at 13:30 GMT to discuss the government’s coronavirus response.

At the height of the pandemic during the spring, deaths in the UK reached more than 1,000 a day.

Infection rates are currently soaring across much of Europe, prompting new forms of lockdown in Belgium, France and Germany.

Timeline to exceeding capacity
image captionAnother document, a Cabinet Office analysis, shows projections for hospital capacity in England

The papers, understood to be part of a presentation by the government’s pandemic modelling group SPI-M shown to Boris Johnson, feature several different projections of the likely course of the disease.

All models predict that hospitalisations are likely to peak in mid-December, with deaths rising until at least late December before falling from early January.

And a separate document circulating in government – based on NHS England modelling from 28 October – warns that the NHS would be unable to accept any more patients by Christmas, even if the Nightingale hospitals are used and non-urgent procedures cancelled.

The document warns that south-west England and the Midlands will be the first to run out of capacity, potentially within a fortnight.

2px presentational grey line
Analysis box by James Gallagher, health and science correspondent

It feels like history is repeating itself.

In March, the government was trying to slow rather than stop the virus. Then modelling said huge numbers of people would die and we ended up in lockdown.

A key difference this time is the government’s science advisers called for a circuit-breaker six weeks ago.

The price of delay is cases are higher and we have missed the boat for doing it at the same time as school holidays for extra impact. It means we may have to lockdown for longer.

The spring lockdown did bring cases down. A lockdown now would be expected to do the same.

There is an ambition to keep schools open, but there are growing doubts about secondaries where Covid cases are “increasing steeply”.

Deaths will continue to rise throughout a suggested November lockdown, but the hope is driving levels of the virus low enough would allow the struggling NHS Test and Trace programme to become effective again.

The driving motivation here is saving lives and not overwhelming the NHS. There is no guarantee it will deliver a normal Christmas, too.

2px presentational grey line

These latest papers come after official documents from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) revealed that Covid is spreading much faster in England than the predicted “worst case” scenario.

This scenario had estimated 85,000 deaths from Covid during winter.

But in the Sage documents – dated 14 October and published on Friday – scientists estimated that, by mid-October, there were between 43,000 and 74,000 people being infected with coronavirus every day in England.

Their report said: “This is significantly above the profile of the reasonable worst-case scenario, where the number of daily infections in England remained between 12,000-13,000 throughout October.”

Scientists advising the government have been arguing for a short, planned lockdown – called a “circuit-breaker” – since 21 September, when there were around 5,000 confirmed cases a day.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) said lockdowns were “not sustainable” and should be “limited in duration” due to their “severe economic, social and broader health impacts”.

While the WHO acknowledged that during the pandemic “there have been times when restrictions were necessary and there may be other times in the future”, it said lockdowns are “best used to prepare for longer-term public health measures”.

‘Too late’

Labour’s shadow business minister Lucy Powell told BBC Breakfast suggestions of a national lockdown had come “too late”.

She accused the government of “dithering” as she argued a circuit-breaker over half-term would have “had most impact” and “saved more of the economy”.

But UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said a national lockdown would be “absolutely devastating” for her industry.

She told the programme the sector would need “significant additional help”, adding: “There is no spare capacity in the tank to be able to fund a lockdown – even for three to four weeks.”

Chart shows daily deaths are continuing to rise

Her concerns were echoed by Federation of Small Businesses chair Mike Cherry, who said another lockdown would be “incredibly frustrating” as small businesses and businesses across the UK had “spend thousands” in making sure their premises are safe for employees and customers.

And Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, has called on the government to urgently set out “a clear plan” if ministers are planning another national lockdown – “rather than allow business and market confidence to be further eroded by speculation”.

Presentational grey line
Analysis box by Laura Kuenssberg, political editor

A government source said that the country is at a “crunch point”.

No final decisions have yet been taken, and not all cabinet members have yet been consulted on the next steps.

But it seems that Mr Johnson is likely to take the national action that he swore he would do everything to avoid.

Read more here.

Presentational grey line

Sage scientist Prof John Edmunds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the only way to have a “relatively safe” Christmas is to take “stringent” action now to bring the incidence of the virus “right down”.

Asked if restrictions would have to be more severe than the circuit-breaker previously proposed by scientists, Prof Edmunds said “putting off” decisions only “makes them more difficult”.

“If we are going to put the brakes on the epidemic now, then we’re going to have to put the brakes on harder and longer to bring the cases down to what might be an acceptable level,” he said.

Fellow Sage member Prof Calum Semple told BBC Breakfast that a national lockdown, with full compliance, “would see a dramatic fall in hospital admissions” in four weeks’ time.

Prof Semple suggested there should be a review at four weeks and there could be a “bit of easing around the festive activities” but that a lockdown would give officials “time to get test, trace and isolate processes really up to scratch”.

R rate regional chart

The current estimate of the R number in the UK – the number of people each infected person passes the virus on to on average – is between 1.1 and 1.3, indicating that cases are still growing.

On Friday, 274 deaths were announced, meaning that since the start of the pandemic 46,229 people have died within 28 days of a positive test.

Every area of England is now in one of three coronavirus alert categories – medium (tier one), high (tier two) or very high (tier three). Scotland has five levels of restrictions.

Banner

Scotland’s new tiered system of restrictions will come into force at 06:00 on Monday, and Wales remains under a 17-day “firebreak” lockdown until 9 November.

Pubs and restaurants in Northern Ireland were closed for four weeks starting on 16 October, with the exception of takeaways and deliveries. Schools were closed for two weeks.

Posted in HealthComments Off on Coronavirus: Cabinet to meet as PM considers England lockdown

Ending the Nuclear Age

BY OLIVIA ALPERSTEIN

With all the urgent global crises right now, from climate change to the Covid-19 pandemic, it may seem as though the world is hovering on the edge of destruction. But despite the odds, humanity just took a major step back from the brink.

On October 24, the historic U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (a.k.a. the nuclear ban), officially received its fiftieth ratification, clearing the threshold to enter into force. Nuclear weapons make the world less, not more, safe, and with this critical milestone, they will now be treated as prohibited weapons of mass destruction.

None of the nuclear-armed nations are parties to this treaty, and although it will carry the force of law, the country with the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, the United States, has not only announced that it won’t abide by the treaty but has actively encouraged other nations to withdraw their ratifications.

That should come as no surprise. The United States remains the only nation in the world to have used nuclear weapons in an act of war, and the current administration has shown a frightening willingness to risk future nuclear conflict.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Now is the perfect time for the United States to recognize the spirit of the nuclear ban treaty and take concrete steps towards not only preventing the future use of nuclear weapons, but also reducing and eliminating our nuclear arsenal.

We’ve come within minutes of nuclear war in the past, and we all have a vested interest in preventing the end of humanity as we know it. Famine and a global plummet in temperatures due to fallout in the event of a nuclear strike would result in the death of millions. As the late President Ronald Reagan said, “A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.”

Yet, 75 years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, under the Trump administration, we’ve withdrawn from most international treaties that reduce or limit the potential for nuclear war and we’re now considering re-engaging in live nuclear testing for the first time in decades.

Like the scheming villain in a James Bond movie bent on the destruction of humanity, the United States is happily reheating the Cold War and seeking to further destabilize the precarious hard-won international agreements that have thus far prevented us from engaging in a future nuclear conflict. Several generations of communities around the United States are still dealing with the fallout of nuclear testing and nuclear storage facilities from our bid to win the nuclear arms race.

Our nation has been locked in the world’s most idiotic game of chicken for decades, and it’s putting all our lives at risk.

I’m a millennial, part of a younger generation that will inherit a world full of nuclear weapons, enough to destroy the earth thousands of times over. I’m one of many young people around the world who refuse to accept that status quo, who recognize that nuclear weapons pose one of the gravest existential threats to humanity.

In the past, the United States recognized the horrors that nuclear war could bring and took concrete steps to prevent a future nuclear conflict. We can do so again.

According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock, we’re currently at just 100 seconds to midnight, thanks in part to the Trump administration’s reckless, systematic dismantling and undermining of vital international arms control agreements. The United States can play a major role in turning back the clock. Our government owes it to Americans and to other nations to do so

Posted in Health, Human Rights, PoliticsComments Off on Ending the Nuclear Age

Rare earths: renewables, rivalry and resource war

 by Toby Harbertson

Bayan Obo rare earth processing plant, Inner Mongolia

In 1992 China’s outgoing leader Deng Xiaoping stated: ‘The Middle East has oil; China has rare earths’. In this he recognised the key strategic role of rare earths, and China’s potential advantage in the resource wars of the future. Rare earths are a number of similar chemical elements essential for a wide variety of electronics and other commodities. ‘Green’ technologies depend on rare earths, and demand is skyrocketing as economies attempt to ‘transition’ away from fossil fuels. They are also essential for the production of advanced weaponry. US dominance in the rare earths industry in the 1970s and 1980s gave way to a virtual Chinese monopoly by 2000. As the China-US rivalry accelerates, the US is scrabbling to counter the threat this poses by reviving its own rare earths industry, irrespective of the waste and environmental destruction caused. 

‘Rare earths’ is a term which refers to seventeen metallic elements: scandium, yttrium and lanthanum, along with the 14 other ‘lanthanides’. Some of the most important are neodymium and praseodymium, which are essential for electronic magnets. Rare earth minerals, rare earth metals and rare earth ores are terms often used without precision to refer to these elements or compounds of them. These elements have become invisibly and inextricably woven into the fabric of modern life. 26% go into glass production, followed by 21% for magnets, 19% for catalysts and 11% for batteries (2017 figures – FT 14 September 2020). Rare earth magnets and rechargeable batteries are essential for most existing ‘green’ technologies. Over 90% of electric and hybrid vehicles use rare earth magnets in their motors, and many wind turbines rely on rare earths. Many consumer electronics use rare earths, including hard disk drives and mobile phones. Europium was essential in the development of colour television, and continues to be used in the production of computer and television screens. Every US F-35 fighter jet needs nearly 200kg of rare earth elements, and advanced missile systems, lasers and drones also require them.

Rare earths are not rare – even the rarest are 200 times more common than gold (The Economist 17 September 2010). They are found in small concentrations all over the world, with about one-third of proven reserves in China – mainly Inner Mongolia. The US, Australia, Brazil, Russia, India, Afghanistan and countries in south-east Asia (notably Vietnam) also have significant reserves. It is predicted that major reserves may be found in southern Africa, Kazakhstan, Canada and Greenland (China’s Global Times mocked Trump’s 2019 proposal to buy Greenland from Denmark as driven by the US’s desire for rare earths). The government of North Korea (DPRK) also claims it has reserves. California’s Mountain Pass mine used to provide most of the world’s supply, with the US also dominant in the whole processing chain from the 1960s to the early 1990s. However, Chinese governments from Deng Xiaoping’s onwards have invested in developing mining, refining and manufacturing. China produced 90% of the world’s rare earths by the late 1990s. The US stopped production in 2003.

USGS rare earth oxides production graph min

Global rare earth oxide production trends – graph and interpretation from US Geological Survey

China’s strategy of developing the higher end of the processing chain, to avoid the ‘resource curse’ of many areas rich in raw materials, has been so successful that in the last two years it imported more unrefined rare earth elements than it exported. Production and export is controlled by a state quota, and changes in this quota have been used to maintain dominance in the industry. Embargos and threatened embargos have been major political weapons. Rare earths shot into the news in July 2020 when China threatened to impose sanctions on US arms company Lockheed Martin (the manufacturer of the F-35) over a deal with Taiwan (which China does not recognise). The US has seen the need to restart extraction and manufacture domestically as rivalry has increased. The Pentagon, eager to secure the resources needed for its obscene supply of military hardware, has funded companies such as MP Minerals and Lynas which are restarting the US rare earths industry. Mountain Pass restarted extraction of unrefined rare earths in 2018. However, the US is yet to restart refining and has had to rely on China to process its unrefined resources. The Trump administration has budgeted $209m to support the sector this year. US processing plants are due to be operational by the end of 2020.

The mining of rare earths involves the extraction of tiny amounts of the sought-after elements from huge areas. This process is wasteful and environmentally damaging but ecological concerns are always trumped by profits. China’s rare earth mining has created lakes of toxic effluent, caused sulphuric acid poisoning (a byproduct of cerium processing) and concentrations of cancer diagnoses (LMD July 2020). The government has faced pressure from local communities and from within the Communist Party to reduce pollution. Environmental damage at Mountain Pass mine contributed to its closure. In a world of capitalist mass consumption rare earths are a throwaway resource like any other – electronics are produced to rapidly become obsolete, whether through design or fashion. Recycling of rare earth elements from waste electronics is possible but is not yet commercially viable. As resources are finite this may change. In a socialist global system of production, where people are put before profits, it may be possible to value and use such resources in ways which are socially and ecological sustainable. However, in an imperialist world there can be no production of rare earths which is sustainable for the Earth and the majority of its people.

Posted in EnvironmentComments Off on Rare earths: renewables, rivalry and resource war

Cuba: The vaccine vs the media blockade

 by Will Harney

A volunteer is administered the Soberana-01 vaccine

On 20 August the video streaming site YouTube, owned by tech giant Google, suspended the accounts of Cuban media – just as they were reporting rare good news in the Covid-19 global pandemic: the beginning of clinical trials of Cuba’s Soberana-01 vaccine, the first such trials in Latin America. Though the accounts were restored a day later, this censorship is a symptom of the US blockade which has reached fever pitch under the current US administration. Facing an uncertain re-election poll on 3 November, US President Donald Trump is depending more than ever on the support of the right-wing Cuban exile lobby to swing the vote in the key state of Florida. WILL HARNEY reports.

Soberana-01

Cuba has sent 3,700 medical personnel to work in 39 countries to combat the pandemic. Even in an economic crisis brought on by the US blockade, Cuba’s own public health response has been outstanding: at the time of writing, total infections in Cuba stood at 5,270 with 118 deaths and 4,462 recoveries; a death rate of 1 per 100,000 population. Britain’s rate is 63 per 100,000. At the same time, Cuban scientists have been working flat-out to produce a vaccine.1

On 17 July 2020, just five months after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak of Covid-19 a pandemic, scientists at the Finlay Vaccine Institute in Havana produced the first doses of a vaccine candidate they dubbed ‘Soberana-01’ (‘Sovereign-01’). The Finlay Institute, named after influential Cuban epidemiologist Dr Carlos Finlay (1833-1915), is a biomedical centre founded in 1991 by doctors who were instrumental in developing a 1988 vaccine against meningitis B which helped eliminate the disease from the island.

As of 20 August, there were 30 Covid-19 vaccine candidates in the world approved for clinical trials according to the WHO. The Soberana-01 vaccine candidate contains receptor-binding domain (RBD) protein, which is used by the S-protein ‘spikes’ on the surface of coronaviruses (which give the viruses their crown-like appearance under a microscope, hence the name ‘corona’) as a ‘key’ to allow it to enter human and bat respiratory cells. Besides a Chinese vaccine candidate, Soberana-01 is the only one to use RBD as an antigen; recent Chinese studies identify RBD as ‘as the most likely target for the development of virus attachment inhibitors, neutralizing antibodies, and vaccines’.2

As Cuba was prevented by the US blockade from buying various recombinant proteins vital to testing the vaccine, the Centre for Molecular Immunology (CIM) had to produce these domestically as well as isolating the RBD protein. CIM is equipped with the technology necessary for this work, and for mass production of a vaccine, because Cuba has spent decades investing in its biotechnology sector to be more self-sufficient in the production of medicine.3 The blockade makes it more vital that Cuba produces its own vaccine so that its strategy to fight the virus in Cuba and elsewhere is not dependent on agreements with other countries. Given Cuba’s internationalist approach to healthcare, the creation of a vaccine would benefit not only Cubans but people throughout the world.

In a mere seven weeks, Cuban scientists designed and produced a vaccine ready to be assessed for human trials. The phase I trials will administer Soberana-01 to 40 volunteers between 19 and 80 years old to establish whether it is safe. Phase II trials will establish if the antigen is producing sufficient antibodies in 676 volunteers, due to be complete by end of November. If these trials are successful, the trials will move to phase III, testing in a population of thousands of volunteers to see if it is effective in stopping the spread of the disease. If it is, the vaccine can be officially approved for use. In pre-clinical trials, Soberana-01 was observed to successfully produce an immune response in mice and rabbits. If Cuba develops the first, safest or most effective Covid-19 vaccine, US sanctions which prevent US citizens and others in the world from benefiting from it will look increasingly unsustainable.

Full-spectrum blockade

US imperialism can count on the traditional news media, including the British media, to both attack Cuba and ignore its achievements. Few will have heard of Soberana-01 from mainstream news outlets – instead we are told only of shortages, queues and other difficulties afflicting Cuba, problems which are rarely placed in the context of an intensifying blockade. On 5 September Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez denounced on Twitter the deafening silence of the media, particularly on the development of the first vaccine candidate for clinical trials in Latin America, the world’s worst-affected region with around 8.4 million coronavirus cases, and over 314,000 deaths: ‘Cuban scientists share their progress with the world, show protocols against the pandemic and results of their own vaccine candidate. However, little information about this is shared. The [coverage of Cuba] is biased. Ignoring or censoring successes is part of the media blockade’.

The internet and social media is a different battleground, both a threat and an opportunity in which the US state has invested heavily in order to dominate.4 Cuba has been developing its network infrastructure – in partnership with Google – allowing Cubans to access sites like YouTube affordably. Both Cubans and an international audience can watch Cuban media programmes on YouTube, including the three whose Google accounts were suddenly suspended on 20 August because, according to the messages they received from Google, they ‘violate export laws’: CubaDebate’s Mesa Redonda programme; the channel of Granma (newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party); and state channel Cubavisión Internacional. These outlets, which between them have 35,000+ subscribers, have provided regular updates on the Cuban government’s response to Covid-19.

This comes as a Washington DC- based PR firm, CLS Strat­egies, was found operating a disinformation network on Facebook and Instagram undermining Cuba’s allies in Latin America (The Grayzone, 6 September). CLS Strategies created fake accounts to promote Venezuela’s right-wing opposition and the fascist coup administration of Jeanine Añez in Bolivia. It is staffed by officials with links to the US government including a former director of Latin American policy in the Obama administration. It spent $3.6m on targeted ads to promote its propaganda on Facebook. A partner in the firm, Juan Cortiñas, has links to Florida’s Cuban exile lobby which is pushing Trump to suffocate Cuba further.

Satisfying the exile lobby

Minimising Cuba’s achievements and isolating it from the rest of Latin America are part of Trump’s strategy to strengthen US imperialism’s hold over ‘its hemisphere’. On 9 September, Trump, with a flick of his presidential pen, renewed the provisions of the Trading With the Enemy Act until 14 September 2021. Socialist Cuba is the only country in the world currently sanctioned under this 1917 law, resurrected in 1962, that allows the president to restrict trade with enemies in wartime. The six-decade US blockade of Cuba is like a constant state of warfare, but Trump’s presidency, itself up for expiry soon, has taken this to a new pitch (see FRFI 270). A Trump win in 2020 could see further tightening of the US blockade for at least another four years.

Trump is counting on the support of the right-wing Cuban exile lobby to win over Hispanic voters in Florida, a key swing state. Although he did not choose her in the end, Trump’s latest gesture to the exile kingmakers was to consider Barbara Lagoa as a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg who died on 18 September. Lagoa, a Court of Appeals judge, is a first-generation Cuban-American whose parents fled to the US following the socialist revolution; when appointed to the Florida Supreme Court in 2019, Lagoa told reporters that her father had to give up his ‘dream of becoming a lawyer’ because of Fidel Castro. She was on the legal team that worked pro bono on behalf of the exile lobby – unsuccessfully – to prevent six-year-old Elián González being returned to his family in Cuba in 2000 (see FRFI 153). ‘She’s an extraordinary person,’ Trump says. Mauricio Claver-Carone, another right-wing Cuban American, was nominated by Trump then elected on 12 September as president of the Inter-American Development Bank – the first US citizen to run the development finance institution in its 60-year history.

Isolate imperialism!

Democrat contender Joe Biden promises to ‘promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.’ In two interviews with Americas Quarterly (14 December 2018 and 4 March 2020), Biden set out his position on Cuba as just another version of the Monroe Doctrine, characterised by a concern that the US is isolating itself and should adopt a softer foreign policy to maintain exclusive ‘leadership in the Western Hemisphere’: ‘Our geopolitical rivals [China and Russia] are eagerly filling the vacuum of leadership as the United States pulls back’ … ‘It is the current absence of American leadership in the Western Hemisphere that is the primary threat to US national security.’

Due to Cuba’s committed internationalism, especially in the fight against Covid-19, Trump’s hostility and sanctions are not winning friends in the region or the world at large. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said of Cuba: ‘They are lifesavers. In some Caribbean countries, they constitute the backbone of the response to the pandemic.’ For 28 consecutive years, the UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to condemn the US blockade of Cuba; though this year’s vote has been postponed until March 2021 due to alarming rates of Covid-19 in New York where the Assembly meets.

While a Biden win cannot be relied upon to halt other forms of attack on Cuba, such as sanctions against its ally Venezuela that started under the Obama administration, it might alleviate the economic and commercial blockade. But as long as Cuba remains socialist, the US will never respect its right to self-determination regardless of which ruling class party holds the White House. The best weapon against the media blockade is to spread information on Cuba’s achievements in fighting Covid-19 and defend its example of a socialist society wherever we can.


1. This article draws on information from OnCubaNews.com, 25 August 2020.
2. ‘Characterization of the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of 2019 novel coronavirus: implication for development of RBD protein as a viral attachment inhibitor and vaccine’ Cellular & Molecular Immunology volume 17, pages 613–620 (2020) cited at OnCubaNews.com, 25 August 2020.
3. For more information on Cuba’s biotechnology sector, see Helen Yaffe, We Are Cuba! Yale University Press (2020) available to order at www.frfi.org.uk
4. See ‘As Cuba goes online, the US plans subversion’, 27 May 2018 on our website.

Posted in CUBA, HealthComments Off on Cuba: The vaccine vs the media blockade

Shoah’s pages

www.shoah.org.uk