Friday, October 30, 2020

Trump beats Biden or his predecessors

Says economic historian Martin Hutchinson

The Internet is currently full of so-called “conservatives” either promising to vote for Joe Biden or at best saying they would reluctantly vote for Trump even though in 2016 he was their least favorite of the Republican candidates. For me, the choice is easier. Trump was not my favorite candidate in 2016, but he was no worse than fourth or fifth of the 17 alternatives available. After four years, I have been favorably impressed by his presidency, except in the areas of fiscal and monetary policies. But then, look at the alternatives!

However, the other recent presidents also made both problems worse. George W. Bush appointed Ben Bernanke Fed chairman, despite his already-notorious “helicopter” monetary theories; Barack Obama reappointed him and then appointed the equally sloppy Janet Yellen. George W. Bush diverted the U.S. budget from the sound deficit-free position left by Bill Clinton, and Obama then made the deficit very much worse, also over-regulating the U.S. economy so that it never really recovered from the 2008-09 recession and budget deficits hovered near $1 trillion for a decade.

Today’s monetary and fiscal follies are the ultimate result of John Maynard Keynes. Fiscally, he advocated “stimulus” of more government spending every time the economy hit a hiccup. Monetarily, his fingerprints are less obvious, but his advocacy of a monetary system unlinked to the “barbarous relic” of gold and his belief that rentiers served no useful social purpose together led us to current monetary policy follies. In reality, Keynes said nothing new; there were politicians advocating “stimulus” and funny money opposing Lord Liverpool, 200 years ago (Henry Brougham and the 8th Earl of Lauderdale, to name two). Keynes merely codified the eternal urge of politicians to get something for nothing and pay for favorite boondoggles by looting savers.

We have established therefore that while Trump is in fiscal and monetary policy no better than the general unattractive run of today’s politicians, he is also no worse. We then come to a whole host of other policies, in which Trump is markedly better than other politicians, in some of which he has broken ground that had been thought impossible.

Perhaps of most consequence for the long-term, Trump has nominated three solidly conservative Justices to the Supreme Court. Ever since Dwight Eisenhower nominated Earl Warren in 1953, we have seen that Republican Presidents’ judgement of potential Supreme Court Justices is a very hit and miss affair.

Eisenhower’s two mistakes, Warren and William J. Brennan, ensured leftist control of the Supreme Court until at least 1986, with President Kennedy’s error in the opposite direction, Byron White, being insufficient to offset their effect (White is the only such error by a Democrat President since the New Deal era). Trump’s soundness on Justices would not have been shared by his alternatives; one need only think of George W. Bush’s attempt to nominate John Roberts and Harriet Miers, or his father’s nomination of David Souter, to see how error can easily creep in if a President does not have a sound grounding in principle.

In other areas also, Trump has been distinctly better than the alternatives. On immigration, he has not achieved enough to please Ann Coulter, but he has at least pointed the administration in the right direction, and largely ignored the siren songs of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Wall Street Journal. On foreign policy, he has been both more intelligent and more courageous than the alternatives. He has moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, which numerous Presidents had promised but wimped out of, and has thereby secured two useful Middle East Treaties, very likely with more to come. He has also greatly reduced the U.S. footprint in that misbegotten region, which had cost trillions of dollars, thousands of lives and the bulk of U.S. global credibility, for no significant economic or geopolitical gain.

Trump’s “Art of the Deal” approach to life leaves him over-optimistic, over-borrowed and over-leveraged in economic policy, but in foreign policy it works as well with the world’s thugs and dictators as it does with the shysters in New York real estate.

Two other areas where Trump beats his potential competitors are trade and de-regulation. On trade, Trump has for the first time identified the problems with the economists’ favorite model of globalization, and has taken steps to restore necessary grit to the machinery of the world trading system and thereby shut down the possibility of a totalitarian global state (both those struggles will outlive his time in office, needless to say). His deregulation has been notably more enthusiastic than that of any President since Ronald Reagan; in particular he has taken the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris agreement and ended several damaging “climate change” initiatives, for both of which we can be grateful. In both trade and regulation, the Bushes were far too prone to defer to leftist conventional wisdom perpetrated by the permanent bureaucracy.

“Never-Trumpers” complain that Trump is a man of bad character but compared to what? – these people are politicians! I find his tweets mostly funny and refreshing, and don’t object to his egomania, which is merely more visible than that of most leaders.


The Lockdown Left: socialists against society

There is no doubt that the virus has been a delicious opportunity for the Left. Their entire existence is devoted to finding thihgs to do that will oppress people under the cloak of good intentions

Then the coronavirus fell into their laps. Suddenly there was a golden excuse to oppress people more extensively than they could ever have dreamed of. So they pulled out all stops and adopted the policies of Communist China. Never before had huge lockdowns been imposed to deal with a virus. But the Chinese gave them the precedent they were salivating for

And only the lone figure of Mr Trump questioned the Chinese precedent

As Britain staggers from lockdown to lockdown, the cruelty, destructiveness and wanton irrationality of the policy grows ever more obvious. Yet as spontaneous social and civic resistance to rolling lockdowns continues to grow, it will inevitably fail to cohere into organised opposition without meaningful political representation. Polls that indicate strong public support for lockdown are riddled with inconsistencies, suggesting that respondents are themselves confused and torn in their views on our collective response to the pandemic.

One of the reasons for the failure to translate this simmering discontent into organised opposition, and to resolve the contradictions of public opinion, is that most ‘oppositional’ forces in the country today support lockdown. This is the Lockdown Left, the core of which is the Labour Party with its allies and flanking supporters within the unions, the media and the liberal professions.

It is worth considering what the absence of meaningful political opposition means in today’s context. For a start, it is difficult to overstate the calamitous consequences of the government’s policies. Boris Johnson’s Tories have overseen an economic collapse worse than what they themselves predicted under a Corbyn government. Their policies have devastated swathes of the service industry, especially in those very same northern English constituencies that lent Johnson their support in the 2019 election, and that the Tories had themselves earlier destroyed with Thatcherite policies of deindustrialisation in the 1980s. The Tories have shredded the civil liberties they supposedly cherish with the draconian Coronavirus Act. They have even sought to organise the population as informants and police auxiliaries, with state snitch lines and ‘Covid marshals’. The policy of ‘Protecting the NHS’ has asked the population to sacrifice its health on behalf of the public-health bureaucracy – a sacrifice whose grim toll has been registered in care-home deaths and countless delayed tests and treatments, the consequences of which we will all be living with for years to come. This is to say nothing of climbing rates of suicide and domestic abuse. One of the reasons the Tories can get away with this gruesome trail of devastation is that they have the support of the Lockdown Left.

Leading figures on the left were demanding a stringent lockdown long before the Tory government lurched into it. Owen Jones broke the bounds of irony itself when he publicly stated that he welcomed the establishment of a Tory police state. As public weariness with lockdown sets in, the Lockdown Left has started to notice the effects it is having, all while remaining committed to the policy. The mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, opposes the government’s punitive lockdown policies against the north, while at the same time demanding a national lockdown. Owen Jones laments the toll that lockdown has taken on our collective mental health, pathetically pleading for a ‘national conversation’ as a substitute for opposition – a conversation presumably for those who have the free time to pontificate online and don’t have to continue working as normal.

That those on the Lockdown Left continue to support the Tory lockdown exposes their deep callousness and misanthropy. For years they have criticised the Tories for the casual cruelty with which they have treated the vulnerable, for their vindictive and punitive economic policies. But when it came down to it, these leftists did nothing to counter the Tories’ grim view of society. The Lockdown Left has done its utmost to realise the old Thatcherite slogan, ‘There is no such thing as society’. While once upon a time Corbynistas would happily compose social-media rhapsodies to the virtues of collective solidarity, human warmth and compassion as the basis for social reorganisation in the wake of Tory rule, when the moment came precisely to maintain those values in opposition to a politics of fear led by a Tory government, they opted instead to collaborate with the Tories in destroying social and civic life and inflating state power.

How did so many self-avowed socialists end up being so hostile to society? If the pandemic has exposed the deep ineffectiveness of the British state, it has also exposed the absence of any genuine solidaristic politics on the left. That the majority of the left has supported lockdown speaks to the fact that many leftists’ politics are defined today not by any belief in our collective capacity to reshape social life, but rather in a vision of us all as fragile, isolated and vulnerable monads, who all threaten each other with our diseases, divergent opinions, toxic attitudes and unhealthy behaviours.

No social change will ever be achieved while we cower behind our laptops. But then again, a fully online society suits the middle-class base of the Lockdown Left very well: they don’t need to leave their home or present a public face to the world outside of the Zoom seminar, and they have a precarious, de-unionised workforce on hand to maintain their standard of living. The Conservative and coalition governments of the past decade must be held responsible for hollowing out public capacity, hobbling any effective response to the pandemic. But the Lockdown Left should also bear some responsibility for embracing the lockdown and the neoliberal, individuated attitude to society that underpins it.


Trump Executive Order Aims to Rein in Bureaucracy’s Role in Policymaking

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at making federal bureaucrats engaged in policymaking more accountable.

The order is intended to address what Trump administration officials say is a concern about the growth of the federal bureaucracy and about an increasing willingness by Congress to delegate policymaking authority to executive branch agencies.

Because of civil service protections, career federal employees essentially can make and design policy details and rules with little or no public accountability.

“President Trump is delivering on his promise to make Washington accountable again to the citizens it’s meant to serve,” Russ Vought, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told The Daily Signal in a statement. “This much-needed reform will increase accountability in essential policymaking positions within the government.”

Trump’s executive order creates a new category of federal employees involved in policymaking—Schedule F—for the personnel in agencies that write federal rules and regulations.

The federal government has political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president or agency head as well as career employees who cannot be removed without a lengthy civil service process.

The executive order gives federal agencies more flexibility and oversight over career employees in critical positions that affect policy. The new Schedule F will apply to federal employees serving in confidential, policy-determining, policymaking, or policy-advocating positions that don’t change when a presidential transition occurs.

The goal is to ensure that federal employees responsible for making policy decisions are held accountable, administration officials say.

The executive order also will make it easier for agency heads to address poor performance by policymaking employees. That’s intended to address the long-standing complaint—even among federal employees—that poorly performing federal workers aren’t held accountable.

Accountability is a major concern. The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey found that only one-third of respondents said proper steps are taken to address poor performers who cannot or will not improve.

Under the executive order, Cabinet secretaries and federal agency chiefs would make a determination which employees have a role in writing policy. The agency heads then would submit the list to the Office of Personnel Management for review.

The reform is reasonable, said Rachel Greszler, a research fellow in economics, budget, and entitlements at The Heritage Foundation.

“This commonsense change to insert some much-needed accountability could significantly improve the effectiveness of the federal government,” Greszler told The Daily Signal, adding:

Imagine if a CEO was prevented from disciplining or dismissing managers who refused to carry out her directives or who took actions to thwart her initiatives. That’s the case right now within the federal government, where it’s extremely difficult—sometimes seemingly impossible—to fire federal employees.

Federal workers who hold critical policy-related positions, with the power to significantly impact Americans’ lives, should not be immune from accountability. This change is long overdue. It will result in better stewardship of taxpayers’ money, and could improve morale as federal workers show high levels of dissatisfaction with a lack of accountability.

The president has sought to tame the bureaucracy since taking office in January 2017. Among the earliest bills he signed was one that made it easier to fire bad employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Just over a year ago, Trump signed an executive order to rein in actions of the administrative state.

Republican lawmakers, among them Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also have raised concerns about Congress ceding too much authority to the executive branch and offered proposals to reorganize the bureaucracy.

Under existing civil service law, federal agencies have greater flexibility to hire and fire employees in confidential positions that include determining, making, and advocating policy positions.

However, as Congress has delegated greater policy-related work to executive branch agencies, the interpretation of positions classified as “confidential, policy-determining, policy-making or policy-advocating” hasn’t been updated.

The executive order Trump signed Wednesday directs agencies to reclassify those employees.

The order primarily will apply to career employees with substantive involvement in creating government policy, such as employees who draft agency regulations and guidance. Line federal workers without policy-related duties will not be affected, officials said.




Thursday, October 29, 2020

Biden would finish what Obama started: the decline of US power

Within living memory, the coming US election is by far the world’s most important. It will determine whether we will continue to live in a world where the dominant power is so extraordinarily benevolent that at the end of World War II she made no territorial or financial demands but gave away a massive fortune to allow the defeated powers to restore their countries. Or a world where her predecessor was persuaded by small groups of Christians that slavery was so wrong that the institution was eventually abolished throughout her vast empire and that the task of the Royal Navy would be to end the trade on the high seas.

In their place will be a power which is unbelievably brutal even to its own citizens, forcing some into slave labour for no other reason than that they are Muslims, killing Falun Gong for a despicable on-call live organ trade, tearing down churches, suppressing the very rights she promised to keep in Hong Kong and flagrantly breaching international law to annex vast parts of the South China Sea.

This will be the result of the election of Joe Biden, who as vice-president for eight years was ­second-in-charge of an admin­istration dedicated to the man­aged decline of the US and whose foundation was declared not to be exceptional. This involved accepting and not fighting the transfer of manufacturing, declared never to come back, turning a blind eye to the theft of American IP as well as to currency manipulation and the breach of WTO rules, and going soft on annexations while running down the armed forces. In addition, the administration released massive funds to the world’s leading terrorist state on the basis it would develop a nuclear industry for peaceful purposes. Curious, then, that they would need ICBMs and resist inspections.

In addition, there is good reason to believe the Biden family has long been involved in the sale of access and influence to foreign oligarchs, including Communist China, at the very time they were being favoured by the administration. This was first revealed in two unchallenged books by Peter Schweizer, then by emails in a hard drive obtained by the New York Post. This was corroborated by emails in the possession of two former business partners of Biden’s son as well as his lawyer’s attempts to recover the hard drive. Apart from ludicrous attempts to claim this is a Russian smear, there has been no suggestion the emails are not genuine.

Worse, the Democratic Party is only the latest institution to be the subject of the long march by the left. It is no longer the party of JFK. And from segregation itself, Biden, a lifelong politician, has never demonstrated any strong and consistent belief. To obtain the nomination he agreed to a far-left manifesto with Bernie Sanders, an agenda so socialist it will only accelerate the very decline he and Obama began to preside over. His accession to the White House would soon lead to Beijing assuming world hegemony and woe betide any disobedient vassal. We can already see how we are to be punished for our insolence in thinking we can independently declare our foreign policy without suffering sanctions.

The alternative to Biden, Donald Trump, came to power with a superb agenda to make America great again. Unlike most politicians, he has fulfilled his agenda to an unprecedented degree. His foreign policy has been an extraordinary success with no new wars, peace breaking out in the Middle East and hitherto recalcitrant allies pulling their weight.

He is a law-abiding president, never using the taxation authorities or wire-tapping to undermine his enemies as others have. He is a federalist, which explains most of America’s failures in responding to COVID-19 — which occurred mainly in Democrat-run states. But little of the truth is reported in most of the mainstream media, which has become the propaganda arm of the Democrats. That’s why most of their polls should be ­ignored, not only because of their poor record but their agenda. The few reliable polls and the enthusiasm only Trump attracts indicate that, once again, he will prevail.


How deadly is covid-19?

September 2020 was the least deadly month in Swedish history, in terms of number of deaths per 100,000 population. Ever. And I don’t mean the least deadly September, I mean the least deadly month. Ever. To me, this is pretty clear evidence of two things. First, that covid is not a very deadly disease. And second, that Sweden has herd immunity.

When I posted this information on my twitter feed, the response from proponents of further lockdown was that the reason September was such an un-deadly month, was because everyone has already died earlier in the pandemic. To me, that seems like a pretty self-defeating argument. Why?

Because 6,000 people have died of covid in Sweden, a country with a population of 10,000,000 people. 6,000 people is 0,06% of the population. If it is enough for that tiny a fraction of a population to die of a pandemic for the pandemic to peter out so completely that a country can have its least deadly month ever, then the pandemic was never that deadly to begin with.

In August, I wrote an article where I proposed that the mortality for covid is only 0,12%, roughly the same as influenza. That number was based on a back-of-the-envelope calculation. I figured that, since the death rate had dropped continuously for months and was at very low levels, Sweden must have reached a point where it had herd immunity. And I figured that at least 50% of the population must have been infected for herd immunity to have been reached. 50% of Sweden’s population is five million people. 6,000 / 5,000,000 = 0,12%

At the beginning of October, one of the World Health Organisation’s executive directors, Mike Ryan, said that the WHO estimated that 750 million people had so far been infected with covid. At that point, one million people had died of the disease. That gives a death rate for covid of 0,13% . So the WHO said that the death rate is 0,13% . Not too far off my earlier back-of-envelope estimation. This of course begs the question why there are continued lockdowns for a disease that is no worse than the flu.

A short while later, the WHO released an analysis by professor John Ioannidis, with his estimate of the covid death rate. This analysis was based on seroprevalance data, i.e. data on how many people were shown to have antibodies to covid in their bloodstream at different times in different countries, which was correlated with the number of deaths in those countries. Through this analysis, professor Ioannidis reached the conclusion that covid has an overall mortality rate of around 0,23% (in other words, one in 434 infected people die of the disease). For people under the age of seventy, the mortality rate was estimated at 0,05% (in other words, one in 2,000 infected people under the age of 70 die of the disease).

As I’ve discussed before, I don’t think antibody data gives a very complete picture, since there are studies showing that a lot of people don’t produce measurable antibodies in their bloodstreams, but still have immunity, either thanks to a T-cell response, or thanks to local antibody production in the respiratory tract. So I think that the fatality rate is significantly lower than what the analysis by professory Ioannidis found, and more in line with what the WHO stated earlier in October.

But even if the antibody based number is the correct number, then covid still is not a very deadly disease. For comparison, the 1918 flu pandemic is thought to have had an infection fatality rate of 2,5%, i.e. one in forty infected people died. So the 1918 flu was 11 times more deadly than covid if you go by professor Ioannidis antibody based numbers, and 19 times more deadly than covid if you go by the fatality rate provided 12 days earlier by the WHO’s Mike Ryan.

And this is missing one big point about covid. The average person who dies from covid is over 80 years old and has multiple underlying health conditions. In other words, their life expectancy is very short. The average person who died in the 1918 pandemic was in their late 20’s. So each death in the 1918 pandemic actually meant around 50 years more of life lost per person than each death in the covid pandemic. Multiply that by the fact that it had a 19 times higher death rate, and the 1918 flu was in fact 950 times more deadly than covid, in terms its capacity to shorten people’s lives.

Ok, I’ve discussed the fatality rate of the 1918 flu pandemic, and compared that to covid. But what about the fatality rate of the common cold viruses that are constantly circulating in society? How does covid compare to them?

Many people think that the common cold viruses are harmless. But in fact, among elderly people with underlying health conditions, they are frequently deadly. A study carried out in 2017 found that, among frail elderly people, rhinovirus is actually more deadly than regular influenza. In that study, the 30 day mortality for frail elderly people admitted to hospital due to a rhinovirus infection was 10% . For frail elderly people admitted to hospital due to influenza, 30 day mortality was 7% .

What is my point? If you are old and frail, and have underlying health conditions, then even that most harmless of all infections, the so called “common cold”, can be deadly. In fact, it often is. Covid-19 is not a unique disease, and does not appear to have a noticeably higher mortality rate than the so called “common cold”.

There is one final aspect to all this that needs to be discussed. And that is the effect of covid on overall mortality. If it turns out that covid has no effect on overall mortality, then that really brings in to question why we are locking down, since we’re not actually preventing any deaths. So, what is the effect of covid on overall mortality?

Let’s look at Sweden, since that is perhaps the country that has taken the most relaxed approach of any to preventing spread, and which should therefore also reasonably be expected to have had the highest impact on its overall death rate. From January to September 2020, Sweden experienced 687 deaths per 100,000 population. The last time Sweden had a deadlier year was 2015. Personally, I don’t remember any big deadly pandemic happening in 2015.

In fact, 2020 is so far one of the least deadly years in Swedish history, and is largely in line with the average for the preceding five years. To be precise, it is 2,7% higher than the average for the preceding five years, which is well within the margin of error. In 2019, mortality was 6% lower than the average, so it should be expected that 2020 would have a slightly higher mortality than average, even without covid.

What does this mean? It means that covid, a supposedly deadly viral pandemic, has not killed enough Swedes to have any noticeable impact on overall mortality.

How can this be explained, when we know that 6,000 Swedes have died of covid?

As I see it, there are two possible explanations. The first is that most people who died “of” covid actually died with covid. In other words, they had a positive covid test and were therefore characterized as covid deaths, when the actual cause of death was something else. The second is that most people who died of covid were so old, and so frail, and had so many underlying health conditions, that even without covid, they would have died by now. There are no other reasonable explanations.

I am not saying that covid is nothing, or that it doesn’t exist. I am saying that it is a virus with a marginal effect on longevity. And yet, public policy in most countries has been driven by doomsday scenarios based on completely unrealistic numbers. To put it simply, we’ve acted like we’re dealing with a global ebola outbreak, when covid is much more like the common cold.

UPDATE (26th October 2020): After SCB updated their numbers it has become clear that September 2020 was in fact the second least deadly month in Swedish history, not the least deadly month. That award goes to June 2019.


SCOTUS Denies Wisconsin Request to Count Mail-in Ballots After Election Day

Mail-in votes that arrive in the hands of Wisconsin election officials after Election Day, regardless of when the ballots were postmarked, cannot be counted in the 2020 presidential election, according to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued on Monday.

Democrats in Wisconsin had requested a six-day extension to the mail-in deadline of November 3. In September, a federal judge granted the request. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit overturned that decision leading to a Supreme Court petition from the Democratic National Committee. The Supreme Court voted along party lines with the five conservative justices voting to block the extension. The three liberal justices dissented.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who voted to deny the extension, used the example that voters who "show up at midnight after the polls close on election night do not have a right to demand that the State nonetheless count their votes. Voters who submit their absentee ballots after the State's deadline similarly do not have a right to demand that the State count their votes."

In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said that blocking the deadline extension deprived Wisconsin residents of their "constitutionally guaranteed right to vote." "As the COVID pandemic rages, the Court has failed to adequately protect the Nation's voters," Kagan wrote, adding that voters in Wisconsin "deserve a better choice."

Wisconsin is seen as a battleground state in the November election. Donald Trump defeated Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin during the 2016 election, marking the first time a Republican presidential candidate had won the state since 1984.

Some Wisconsin voters have taken advantage of mail-in voting because of the threat of spreading the coronavirus at crowded public polling places. As of Monday, positive cases of the coronavirus had risen within the state. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, 3,251 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Monday to bring the statewide total to 201,477 positive cases.




Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Amy Coney Barrett confirmed on Supreme Court in big Trump win

The US Senate has officially voted to confirm Amy Coney Barrett as a new Supreme Court judge in a major victory for Donald Trump

Her appointment comes just a week before the Presidential election and is regarded as a major victory for Donald Trump as he celebrates his third conservative appointment to the court.

Despite the controversy over her nomination, polls show a majority of Americans support the Senate confirming her now. The Republican-dominated Senate voted 52-48 in favour of her appointment.

Amy Coney Barrett, 48 and mother of seven married to Jesse Barrett, was appointed to the federal court of appeals for the seventh circuit (Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois) by Donald Trump in 2017.

He nominated her to sit on the Supreme Court following the death in September if the iconic progressive Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

She will become the 115th judge of the 9-person Supreme Court since it was first convened in 1789.

She will be the fifth female justice in the court’s history and the seventh Catholic.

Conservatives believe she will tilt the ideological balance of the bench for decades — infuriating Democrats.

Mr Trump boasted of the victory hours earlier during a rally in Pennsylvania calling Judge Barrett “one of our nation’s most brilliant legal minds”.

“She will defend our rights, our liberties and our God given freedoms,” Mr Trump said. “We were all watching in great amusement as she was so-called grilled by the opposition. That was easy.

“I’m glad she’s not running for president. I’d much rather go against sleepy Joe.”

Democrats were furious, one Senator saying “there will be consequences”.


The danger of scientific dogmatism

Science that challenges the Covid orthodoxy is being too easily dismissed.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been treated as a Year Zero phenomenon. We were told this was a novel (indeed, an unprecedented) deadly disease that threatened millions of lives. This was the Big One, which demanded an extraordinary response, from lockdowns to the now mandatory wearing of masks.

Given how little we first knew about this new virus, and the ways it attacked the human body, this initial fearful reaction was perhaps understandable. But is it still? After all, we know so much more about Covid-19 now. Yes, it certainly is novel and deadly, particularly for the elderly and those with comorbidities. But unprecedented? Unlikely, if the historical record of other epidemics is taken into account. Indeed, almost every influenza epidemic in the past was, like Covid, initially understood to have been novel, but was later proved, through serological studies, to have had previous eras of prevalence long before its emergence.

Yet this novel coronavirus has been treated as something completely different, as an almost singular pestilence of Biblical proportions. It has been met with the kind of doom-laden fatalism with which Medieval man would have been all too familiar.

But we are not in Medieval times. Mankind is not at the beginning of the scientific revolution. There is a vast amount of accumulated scientific knowledge about past epidemics that we can draw on. And, while it may not provide easy answers, it might at least raise important questions about the wisdom of our response to Covid-19.

Take, for example, the key concept of direct spread through human interaction, which underpins many of the social restrictions in place to combat Covid. This idea has also been used to explain the emergence and transmission of influenza for hundreds of years. But in the late 1970s, the concept of direct spread as the sole mode of influenza transmission was challenged by Robert Edgar Hope-Simpson, a British general practitioner most famous for showing that shingles was a reactivation of the chicken-pox virus.

His highly accessible, pioneering study, The Transmission of Epidemic Influenza, was published in 1992 after a lifetime of study that began with the great epidemic of 1932-33, the years in which he entered general practice.

Hope-Simpson raised several key questions about influenza transmission. How, for example, could direct spread account for the simultaneous appearance of influenza in places far apart – especially before global travel was ubiquitous? The universally observed abruptness of the onset of some influenza epidemics and their equally abrupt endings – without any lockdowns or social distancing – underlined the most puzzling aspect of influenza: how could its seasonal character be explained?

Hope-Simpson’s challenge to the idea of direct spread was first published in 1979 in the Journal of Hygiene, and he published further evidence in support of his case over the next seven years. His key argument was that influenza epidemics are caused by a previous ‘seeding’ of the virus in the community. Symptomless carriers spread the virus around, until seasonal variations in solar radiation reactivate the virus in its human carriers, which allows the virus to emerge among the non-immune. He suggested that the influenza virus is seldom transmitted by the human host because the influenza illness rapidly adopts a persistent non-infectious mode – the ex-patient carries this persistent influenza infection for a year or two before it may be reactivated by seasonal changes.

Hope-Simpson further suggested that the speed of movement of epidemics is therefore unaffected by the speed and complexity of human communications (an idea that, if applied to a coronavirus, would also challenge the conventional tale of Covid-19’s spread from Wuhan in China through human travel).

Influenza epidemics, he contended, must have travelled at the same speed in previous centuries because they are determined by the seasonal stimulus underpinning all natural phenomena, rather than by direct human-to-human spread. The impressive empirical data he gathered from across the globe showed that novel influenza strains appear in different parts of the globe, and that they always spread annually south and then north through the world population. His data showed that tropical regions have very different triggering mechanisms to northern temperate regions, which generate two different prevalence curves.

Hope-Simpson’s challenge to the idea of direct spread was based on the antigenic shift of the influenza A virus and the recycling of its major serotypes. Antigenic shift is the process by which two or more different strains of a virus, or strains of two or more different viruses, combine to form a new subtype. This is what is triggered by the seasonally mediated reactivation of influenza genomes. He hypothesised that an individual person would only harbour the particular influenza A virus genome from their first ever infection. This would explain why only some, rather than all, people become infected when an epidemic is reactivated.

Hope-Simpson was not dogmatic. He was a scientist who made no claim that this was ‘the science’. He was the first to warn that ‘the hypotheses advanced in the new concept are likely to be superseded in part or altogether as more information is gathered. This is the destiny of all hypotheses.’ But he cautioned that ‘it seems certain that the current concept of direct spread is impeding our understanding of influenza’.

What really needs explaining is why the theory of direct spread has remained an orthodoxy, despite both the empirical data that challenges it and its inability to explain many features of influenza epidemics. Hope-Simpson provides a possible answer. In a passing reference, he mentions the research of a Dr John Haygarth, a general practitioner who undertook a detailed study of the spread of the 1775 influenza epidemic in Chester, in north-west England. Haygarth’s subsequent experience during the 1782 epidemic convinced him of its contagious nature. His findings were eventually published more than 20 years later, as Of the manner in which the Influenza of 1775 and 1782 spread by Contagion in Chester and its Neighbourhood. Haygarth writes:

‘But a contrary and, as I think, a very pernicious opinion has lately been supported by physicians of great respectability, and authors of the highest reputation, not, indeed, in this, but in other enlightened nations, have ascribed not only this but many other epidemics, even the plague itself, to a morbid constitution of the atmosphere, independent of contagion. To determine whether this doctrine be true or false, is of the highest importance to mankind. Knowledge, in this instance, is power. So far as it can be proved, that a disease is produced by contagion, human wisdom can prevent the mischief. But the morbid constitution of the atmosphere cannot possibly be corrected or controlled by man.’

This shows that the concept of direct spread was important because it reinforced a sense of human agency. Knowledge was indeed power – the power of mankind to ‘prevent the mischief’. The idea that ‘the constitution of the atmosphere’, rather than human interaction, underpins the seasonal reactivations of influenza was unthinkable. It challenged humanity’s capacity and aspiration to control nature. The concept of direct spread sustained a sense of control even in the face of ignorance about what was causing these epidemics. (It was only in 1933 that the ultramicroscopic parasite that causes flu was discovered.)

Knowledge still is power. But, as with all science, it can ossify and become an orthodoxy that bars the way to further study. And in the battle against Covid-19, there are similar examples of just this process of orthodoxy and dogmatism, which could be holding back our attempts to understand the virus.

For example, on 17 September 2020, the British Medical Journal published an article that received little attention, titled ‘Covid-19: Do many people have pre-existing immunity?’. This questioned whether Covid was a novel pandemic virus and whether there was no pre-existing immunity to it. It highlighted at least six studies that reported T-cell reactivity against Covid in 20 per cent to 50 per cent of people with no known exposure to the virus. These reactivity results were shown to exist in the US, the Netherlands, Germany, Singapore, Sweden and the UK. Evidence of Covid in human sewage was found to have existed in Brazil and in Spain in November 2019.

This is a remarkable finding that would throw much of the current approach to Covid-19 into a tailspin. Alessandro Sette, an immunologist from La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California, told the BMJ: ‘At this point there are a number of studies that are seeing this reactivity in different continents, different labs. As a scientist you know that is a hallmark of something that has a very strong footing.’

And he should know. In late 2009, months after the World Health Organisation declared the H1N1 ‘swine flu’ virus to be a global pandemic, he was part of a team working to explain why the so-called ‘novel’ virus did not seem to be causing more severe infections than seasonal flu. His answer was that pre-existing immunological responses in the adult population prevented its spread: B cells and, in particular, T cells were blunting the severity of the disease. This data forced the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to change position. Having assumed that most people ‘will have no immunity to the pandemic virus’, they now argued that ‘the vulnerability of a population to a pandemic virus is related in part to the level of pre-existing immunity to the virus’.

In 2020 this lesson seems to have been entirely forgotten. The recent past, let alone the past brought to life by Hope-Simpson, is truly another country.

While it is impossible to draw definitive conclusions from a small set of studies, they are still hard to dismiss. They raise the question and perhaps the exciting possibility that pre-existing immunity could be more protective than future vaccines. This suggests there are many different ways to deal with and react to the emergence of a novel virus. But because of the unquestioning focus on suppressing viral transmission there is very little research now being conducted into pre-existing immunity.

The reason Hope-Simpson’s book is so disquieting is that it raises serious doubts about a still current scientific orthodoxy. He didn’t claim to have all the answers – he was posing questions. But that is how knowledge advances. If there is a wider truth in Hope-Simpson’s influenza thesis that might also apply to a coronavirus, and we have seen in the T-cell immunity studies that there could be, then it raises serious questions about the current social-distancing approach to the pandemic.

But here’s the real concern. For the first time in history, draconian measures to restrict the spread of a virus have been in place throughout the summer, the period when, historically, a virus can circulate with very little mortality impact. This is precisely the period when more immunity and protection could have been built up. This could mean that the impact of Covid this winter could be worse than it needs to be. The rise in cases and hospitalisations globally suggests this is precisely what is happening.

The tragedy here is that mankind’s intervention might not have prevented ‘the mischief’. It could well have become part of the ‘mischief’, amplifying the ‘morbid constitution of the atmosphere’.

This is testament to a deeper problem – namely, that those in control of society no longer see humanity as problem-solvers but as part of the pestilence. Without a belief in human agency, society is left with no option but to hold on to existing knowledge – knowledge that may well now stand in the way of scientific progress.




Tuesday, October 27, 2020

What we can learn from Sweden

It may have made mistakes, but it has escaped our disastrous cycle of lockdowns.

No country has devised a perfect response to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite its growing list of admirers, Sweden is no exception.

Its state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, has admitted that Swedish authorities at first failed to combine their light social-distancing regime with proper safeguards against the virus in care homes. Talk of a ‘Swedish miracle’ risks overlooking such mistakes.

That said, Swedes have good reason to be proud of their government’s handling of the pandemic. As we haggle over local lockdowns and new proposals for a ‘national circuit-breaker’, Sweden continues its outlier policy of permitting most Swedes to get on with their lives.

For one thing, Swedes should be grateful to live under leaders who speak candidly about their own policy failures. Public Health England presided over its own care-homes catastrophe, advising hospitals to discharge elderly patients into care homes without testing them beforehand. This was official PHE guidance to hospitals until as late as 15 April, leading to a devastating outbreak in care homes that, far from being eased by lockdown, actually wrought most damage after the lockdown was introduced. The self-criticism of Anders Tegnell’s team stands in stark contrast with the relative silence of our ministers on the Covid blitzkrieg in the UK’s care homes.

Anyhow, the Swedes would be the first to admit they do not emerge from this crisis as the world’s public-health superpower. Still, they comfortably avoided the doom-laden prophecies of Professor Neil Ferguson, whose Imperial College model, when applied to Sweden by researchers at Uppsala University, predicted a punishing 85,000 deaths as a result of its non-lockdown policy. So far, Sweden has had just under 6,000 deaths. This is despite Ferguson’s insistence, a full week after Sweden’s daily deaths actually peaked, that fatalities would continue to ‘increase day by day’.

Critics of Sweden point out that it still trails neighbours like Norway and Finland in terms of Covid deaths per million. However, we should not be lured into thinking that Sweden sacrificed lives while its Scandinavian neighbours saved them with prudent, humane lockdown measures. Peru and Belgium, both of which top the coronavirus death charts, also imposed some of the most stringent lockdowns in the world.

The significance of government policy is the natural starting point of journalists and politicians in Whitehall. But a global perspective forces us to reconsider the importance of state interventions in favour of more enlightening factors, like each country’s age profile, underlying state of health and population density. This is consistent with research conducted by Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government back in May. Following the peak of the first wave in Europe, it found no correlation between the stringency of government measures and deaths from the virus.

In the case of Sweden, biochemical engineer Ivor Cummins has highlighted its lower than typical mortality rate throughout 2019 compared to its neighbours. Otherwise an undoubted blessing, this presented a problem as soon as the pandemic struck in 2020. It meant Sweden was home to a larger proportion of seriously frail elderly citizens than Norway and Finland, which, experiencing higher rates of mortality among the vulnerable in 2019, had fewer to lose through Covid.

This goes some way to explaining why Sweden trails its neighbours. However, it cannot completely absolve the Swedish approach. In a perfect world, the Swedes would have recognised their duty to the untypically large number of elderly citizens who survived 2019 and ensured they also made it through the plague year of 2020 – either by focusing their resources around care homes or emulating the highly sophisticated, Asian-style ‘track and trace’ regimes. Admirers of the Swedish approach will say that we do not live in a perfect world. But then they should stop lauding Sweden as a model of unparalleled excellence.

Indeed, Sweden is not only paralleled – it has also been decisively outperformed by numerous countries on the measure of Covid-19 deaths. However, that does not change the fact that Sweden has outperformed Britain. Most importantly, it has set a unique if imperfect example that poses serious questions – questions that politicians appear to be in no mood to answer as they rush hastily towards a panicked choice between either localised or national shutdowns.

Sweden has suffered 584 Coronavirus deaths per million, compared to Britain’s 633, Spain’s 710 and Belgium’s 884. It also managed this relatively low death rate without destroying the economic and social lives of its citizens through despotic lockdowns, as all these other countries did.

Today, Sweden does not live in perpetual fear of a second national shutdown, because its leaders never opted for a first. Swedes may even have reached an ‘endemic equilibrium’ – the point at which a disease ceases to spread through a population exponentially and simply becomes one of the many background risks to which individuals adapt. Belgium, Spain and the UK, on the other hand, after lifting their enforced lockdowns, have subsequently seen a sharp rise in cases since late July (though increased testing played a role here), along with a slower but visible rise in deaths.

Meanwhile, Sweden’s infection rate is stable and its seven-day rolling death average has not climbed higher than three since late August. So while we ponder another lockdown, ostensibly to kill the endless cycle of restrictions and re-openings, Sweden gives every impression of having foreclosed that same vicious cycle by avoiding lockdown in the first place.

Moreover, the ‘circuit breaker’ shutdown, recommended by SAGE and now by Labour leader Keir Starmer, has no discernible benefit in the immediate or long-term. Even the March Imperial College paper, which frightened us into lockdown, made clear that suppression alone cannot stop pandemics. It merely pushes cases and any resulting deaths into the future.

Sneering know-it-alls like to respond that medical professionals are supposed to postpone deaths, and that there is therefore a public-health imperative to impose another national lockdown to postpone as many as we can. Guardian columnist George Monbiot smugly tweeted: ‘Hands up everyone who doesn’t want their death postponed… Thought not.’

But lockdowns do not ‘postpone’ deaths in the same way that, say, life-saving cancer treatments do, by extending a patient’s life in years and even decades. Lockdowns merely postpone deaths for as long as they are in force – which, under Starmer’s proposal, would apparently be just two to three weeks – while also imposing significant costs. Unless policymakers can point to a game-changing treatment or vaccine that will be made available within that time frame, they have an extremely weak case for wrecking yet more jobs and livelihoods and suspending our everyday freedoms.

Even assuming a longer lockdown, using the criminal law to destroy personal freedoms is despotic and cannot go on forever. Responsible adults can decide for themselves if they wish to ‘postpone’ their risk of death in a state of self-isolated misery, as some petty tyrants would have them do by force of law. Even vulnerable groups of people should be free to socialise and work as they deem appropriate, unmolested by health secretary Matt Hancock’s poisonous network of Covid marshals and informants. Individuals can make these judgements according to their own varied circumstances – something that no top-down legal dictate can fully assess.

In reality, Britain faces a choice between a Taiwanese ‘Whack-a-Mole’ strategy and a Swedish-style herd-immunity approach, combined with a well-funded ‘focused protection’ strategy for vulnerable people.

The prospect of the first option seems bleak: the government has already spent £12 billion attempting to create a Taiwanese-style track-and-trace system, only without Taiwan’s success. No matter how sophisticated the system, it makes little difference if we continue to have extremely low rates of compliance with quarantine orders. Forcing vast numbers of people to isolate for their own good on the suspicion that they may be infected might work okay elsewhere. But governments need to work with the citizens they have, rather than with the citizens they wish they had.

The truth is that loss of life from Covid is vanishingly unlikely for most people. Support should be made available to those with serious physical vulnerabilities who can isolate themselves voluntarily. The rest of us should then be left to get on with our lives and with the task of rebuilding our broken economy. Sweden may not be flawless. But it is important to learn from Sweden’s stability and its avoidance of a Fergusonian plague.

There are many measures that countries can take to shield the eldery – policies that both Sweden and Britain, along with others, failed to implement properly in the spring. But unlike national or even local shutdowns, this approach is proportionate to the threat and consistent with liberty, leaving us with a choice that did not exist when the virus was new and rightly engendered caution.

Do we want this pandemic to change us into a permanently wretched and fearful nation? Or are we ready to return, albeit cautiously, to the free and happy conditions under which we once prospered?


An Agenda Worth Voting For

While the Biden team studiously avoids talking about their real agenda, President Trump has made it abundantly clear what he intends to get done in the next four years. You don’t have to like his tweets or prickly persona. His accomplishments are reason enough to earn your vote. His plans for the future should convince all real Americans to storm the polls for this guy!

Consider his agenda for the next four years that will build upon the amazing accomplishments in his first term. All achieved in spite of entrenched forces that have fought him every step of the way.

On jobs and the economy, he expects 10 million new jobs in the next ten months and to see one million small businesses reopen or be created. He wants to lower taxes on working Americans. He really believes we can spend and invest that money smarter than Washington can on our behalf. Reducing taxes and regulations while insuring abundant, affordable energy actually works. He’s proven that.

He will battle the globalists, pressing for additional trade deals, leveling the playing field for Americans. He will nix the notion that Big Tech oligarchs can abuse the H1B Visa by replacing Americans with lower-paid imported labor. President Trump will enlarge Opportunity Zones, creating jobs and expanding horizons for minorities in our inner cities.

We should expect a major infrastructure effort to rebuild our bridges, roads and waterways. Upgrading our pipeline network alone will create thousands of good paying jobs.

President Trump will continue to press China and the multinationals who have sold us out. He will offer tax credits to return 1 million manufacturing jobs from China. Companies that offshore jobs will be banned from federal contracts. We will win the race to build out 5G networks without depending on Chinese equipment.

Critical industries like pharmaceuticals and electronics will get tax incentives for coming home.

Unlike China Joe, President Trump understands that nations that export raw materials and import finished goods aren’t really countries. They are colonies.

He will continue to hold China fully responsible for unleashing this terrible virus. We deserve to know why international experts were not allowed to investigate how this all got started in Wuhan.

His Operation Warp Speed is yielding amazing results. The president expects vaccines to be approved before the end of the year. He is putting in place a plan that will allow every American to be vaccinated early next year. Our long dark lockdown will end. Imagine what a return to normal will do for our economy.

Notwithstanding Democrat demagoguery, President Trump will press for market-based healthcare reform that protects the poor, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. He will attack spiraling healthcare costs with a special focus on regulations and runaway prescription drug prices. Starting with Medicare and Medicaid, drug prices will be referenced to prices charged in other industrialized nations. This alone will save us over $50 billion a year.

The president has made clear that he will continue to protect Social Security and Medicare. He will demand that the VA provide the world-class care that our veterans deserve.

On the international front, President Trump expects more Middle Eastern nations to join the movement toward a lasting peace. His efforts to end endless wars and bring our forces home will continue. Allies in Europe will be required to shoulder their share of defense costs. America First will make the world safer.

Our military is midway through a complete rebuild. The Space Force will be fully established. Amazing technology and a modernized military will keep our adversaries’ expansionist aspirations at bay.

With or without Congressional help, the building of the wall will continue. The flood of illegals and drugs will dry up. Legal immigrants will be required to prove that they will not become “wards of the state.” The president will end free benefits for those who broke our immigration laws. Criminals and gang members will be tracked down and deported. Does anyone seriously think any of this would happen in a Biden Administration?

Poor kids who desperately need access to a good education will see a dramatic expansion of school choice options. The anti-American cultural curriculums will be replaced with a return to American exceptionalism.

President Trump will appoint judges that abide by the Constitution and mete out justice impartially. Donald Trump will make our streets safe again. He will not defund our police. He will support them. Violent anarchists like ANTIFA will be treated as terrorists. He will defend the 2nd Amendment, allowing us to defend ourselves. Perhaps just as importantly, this president will insist that bad cops, including conspirators at the highest levels of our FBI and the CIA, be held fully accountable. We will finally learn the origins of Operation Crossfire Hurricane.

The choice is crystal clear. Only one candidate offers an agenda worth voting for.

Storm the polls!




Monday, October 26, 2020

If Trump loses, Trumpism will live on

Some excerpts below from a Leftist hate screed. In their own way they recognize that Trump has revived basic conservatism

He has lost some voters in the course of four years. He won 46 per cent of the popular vote in 2016 and today has about 43 per cent on the average of the polls.

But he is still President unimpeached. He is still supported overwhelmingly by the Republican Party. And he is still a real chance of winning re-election, with the betting markets giving him about a 40 per cent chance of victory. Another way of expressing this probability is that if the election were held under the same circumstances 100 times, Trump would win 40 times. In spite of everything.

"They say I have the most loyal people – did you ever see that?" He said that four years ago, and it remains true.

"That's the thing that's most distressing," Francis Fukuyama tells me. "He still has the support of more than 40 per cent of American voters and they love him – they love the fact that he's wrecking the US government," says the world's most famous political scientist.

Or, as the election analyst Charlie Cook of The Cook Political Report puts it, "Voting for Trump is a cultural statement." It's not subject to events.

The pandemic has exposed the limits of Trump's nonsense populism. Fukuyama says Trump would be easily re-elected if not for the plague. But it also has revealed the power and persistence of his appeal.

Even if Trump loses, it's "scary because Trumpism survives Trump," says Fukuyama. The movement lives on even if he's voted out at the November 3 election.

"The core of Trump's support is still going to be there. He will be encouraging them. A lot of Republicans [in Congress] have thrown their lot in with him." He would become ex-officio leader of the opposition.


Oxford coronavirus vaccine 'works perfectly' and builds strong immunity to virus, researchers find

But only in the lab so far

The Covid-19 vaccine developed at Oxford University works perfectly and builds strong immunity to the virus, a study shows.

Great hopes rest on the vaccine, which is a global frontrunner and has been shown to safely trigger an immune response in volunteers given it in early trials.

But, unlike traditional vaccines which use a weakened virus, or small amounts of it, the innovative Oxford jab causes the body to make part of the virus itself.

Now researchers led by the University of Bristol have found this daring technology works for the coronavirus, just as it has for similar viruses in the past.

A study using cells in the laboratory found the vaccine effectively delivers the instructions for the Covid protein, which cells copy thousands of times to produce it in large amounts.

This means a person's immune system is then primed to recognise the disease and fight it off without them falling ill.

Dr David Matthews, from Bristol's School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine (CMM), who led the research, said: 'Until now, the technology hasn't been able to provide answers with such clarity, but we now know the vaccine is doing everything we expected and that is only good news in our fight against the illness.'

While the world waits for the results of trials on whether the Oxford vaccine actually works, the new findings are the next step forward.


What the lockdown lobby gets wrong

There has been uproar over the past week or so over the Great Barrington Declaration, an initiative that puts the case for an alternative and less destructive approach to dealing with Covid-19 than the current cycle of lockdowns. In response, a group of academics, medics and policy wonks has put forward a response – the John Snow Memorandum. Though the memorandum claims the veneer of scientific authority, the arguments are dubious.

The memorandum begins with some relatively uncontroversial statements. ‘SARS-CoV-2 spreads through contact (via larger droplets and aerosols) and longer-range transmission via aerosols, especially in conditions where ventilation is poor. Its high infectivity, combined with the susceptibility of unexposed populations to a new virus, creates conditions for rapid community spread.’ Certainly, this is a serious and nasty disease that kills a significantly higher proportion of those infected than seasonal influenza. Unpleasant, even debilitating symptoms can continue for months after, even among the young and relatively healthy.

The authors argue that it is ‘unclear’ how long post-infection immunity lasts for and that there appear to be cases of reinfection, as with other coronaviruses. They say the spread of the virus is slowed down by measures of social distancing, face coverings, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, plus good hand and respiratory hygiene.

Ongoing debates about masks aside (I think they may be useful where distancing is difficult or for people with symptoms, as the World Health Organisation suggests), there would be few disagreements so far from those who want to take a different approach.

But one clear difference would be over the assumption that lockdowns were ‘essential to reduce mortality, prevent healthcare services from being overwhelmed and buy time to set up pandemic-response systems to suppress transmission following lockdown’.

We seem now to be at a point with cases rising again where we need to make policy choices that could have hugely damaging impacts if we get it wrong. One, suggested in the original Imperial College modelling report back in March, led by Professor Neil Ferguson, would be to have a cycle of lockdown and release to keep a lid on case numbers and to protect healthcare.

The authors of the John Snow Memorandum clearly believe that this cycle may not be necessary:

‘Continuing restrictions will probably be required in the short term to reduce transmission and fix ineffective pandemic-response systems in order to prevent future lockdowns. The purpose of these restrictions is to effectively suppress SARS-CoV-2 infections to low levels that allow rapid detection of localised outbreaks and rapid response through efficient and comprehensive find, test, trace, isolate and support systems so life can return to near-normal without the need for generalised restrictions.’

This all sounds very reasonable, apart from the fact that in many countries (including the UK), attempts to implement test, trace and isolate (TTI) systems have been a failure, despite enormous investment. Suggesting that continued generalised restrictions, or one more ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown, could buy enough time to fix the problems with TTI seems very optimistic. Realistically, we will likely end up going back into lockdown and kicking the can down the road in the hope of a vaccine arriving sooner rather than later.

The alternative, epitomised in the Great Barrington Declaration, but a view that is by no means exclusive to its promoters, is to protect the most vulnerable members of society while allowing the virus to spread. There seems to be a fairly strong correlation between advancing age and the risk of severe illness. Children seem to get serious illness very rarely while the vast majority of deaths are in older people, with risks rising for every additional year of life.

By isolating only those sections of the population at greatest risk, the damage from Covid-19 could be greatly reduced even while allowing the majority of society to return to something like normality. At some point, when most of the less-vulnerable population has been infected, the spread of the virus will decline to a trickle. This is how epidemics throughout history have ended, even if infections continue at a much lower rate as populations change.

But the memorandum authors simply dismiss the idea. ‘Proponents suggest this would lead to the development of infection-acquired population immunity in the low-risk population, which will eventually protect the vulnerable. This is a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence.’ This is a bizarre claim. This is exactly the approach suggested by the government’s scientific advisers until mid-March, when lockdown fever took over.

Their first argument is that there would be ‘widespread’ morbidity and mortality among younger people. These risks are real, but the memorandum exaggerates them. The vast majority of younger people suffer at most a mild illness.

As of 14 October, the UK government coronavirus dashboard states that 153,163 people have been hospitalised with Covid-19 – or 0.23 per cent of the population. One study examining the period up to 18 April, based on figures from 166 UK hospitals, suggested that the median age of hospital admission was 72. Of the 16,749 patients covered, over half had an existing comorbidity. The median age of death was 80. If we can protect both older people and those with existing chronic illness, the risks to the rest of the population are relatively small.

Another argument put forward in the memorandum is that ‘there is no evidence for lasting protective immunity to SARS-CoV-2 following natural infection, and the endemic transmission that would be the consequence of waning immunity would present a risk to vulnerable populations for the indefinite future’.

This is just silly. Naturally acquired immunity has always been the way that epidemics have ended. The idea of turning around a vaccine in just a year or so, on the other hand, is entirely new. Achieving durable herd immunity will probably require a vaccine, but we need to act now and we don’t have a vaccine that has been proven to be safe and effective as yet. Indeed, continuing to impose harsh restrictions only adds to the pressure to rush out a vaccine without going through the necessary trials.

Indeed, naturally acquired immunity could result in a lower herd-immunity threshold than could be achieved through a vaccine. The most connected people are also the ones most likely to get the disease earliest. They are the ones most likely to pass it on to a higher-than-average group of contacts. When these people achieve immunity, they break more potential chains of transmission than others who have fewer contacts. A vaccine programme, on the other hand, would (rightly) prioritise the most vulnerable people, with less impact on transmission. As for people being reinfected, this still seems to be very unusual. It is hardly cause to reject a herd-immunity approach.

The third argument in the memorandum is about practicalities and ethics:

‘Prolonged isolation of large swathes of the population is practically impossible and highly unethical. Empirical evidence from many countries shows that it is not feasible to restrict uncontrolled outbreaks to particular sections of society. Such an approach also risks further exacerbating the socioeconomic inequities and structural discriminations already laid bare by the pandemic. Special efforts to protect the most vulnerable are essential but must go hand-in-hand with multi-pronged population-level strategies.’

Threatening vulnerable people who do not abide by isolation rules would clearly be unethical. But that is exactly what ‘population-level’ strategies are doing to everyone. So narrowing those measures to specific sections of society would seem to be better.

Nonetheless, compulsion must be avoided. We must allow everyone to decide for themselves what measure of risk they are willing to accept, with ample support and advice for vulnerable groups to enable them to avoid social contact if they choose to do so. The memorandum authors are right to point out that there are practical difficulties. They are wrong to dismiss the possibility. We need to apply thought and resources to the issue, not simply wave it away.

In any event, how is it ethical to cause businesses to close, students to be imprisoned in halls of residence, free movement to be restricted and basic rights like free association and the freedom to protest to be junked? The authors’ understanding of ethics is very one-sided.

What about the ethics of the smear operation in progress against those who are putting forward a herd-immunity strategy? The fact that the Great Barrington Declaration was coordinated by an American libertarian think tank has been used to dismiss it with feeble ‘who funds you?’ arguments, claiming it is simply a callous attempt to put profit before lives. If we are to make progress, the first step must be a more sophisticated level of debate, conducted in good faith.

John Snow, whose early epidemiological work pointed to the true means by which cholera was spreading in Victorian London, contradicting the scientific consensus of his time, would surely have been appalled at this approach to scientific debate. The authors of the John Snow Memorandum are taking his name in vain.




Sunday, October 25, 2020

Alan Jones: COVID causes a global crisis of freedom

Comment from Australia: Sky News host Alan Jones says COVID-19 is not, and has never been, a pandemic:

I am forever an optimist. But there is certainly a crisis in this country and, indeed, in the Western world. It’s a crisis of trust, because we also face an economic crisis, a mental crisis, an unemployment crisis, business viability crisis, an aviation crisis, a crisis in the arts industry — the list is endless, all a derivative of strategies addressing a virus which are utterly out of all proportion to the nature of the problem.

As a result, we learn this week that Millennials in democracies throughout the world are more disillusioned with their system of government than any young generation in living memory. This is a survey of nearly five million people.

Roberto Foa, the study’s lead ­author from the Centre for the Future of Democracy at Cambridge Uni­versity, was quoted as saying: “This is the first generation in living memory to have a global majority who are ­dissatisfied with the way democracy works …”

David Kemp is a former federal Liberal MP, a colleague of mine in a Prime Ministerial office, and one of the most formidable defenders of liberal traditions. He wrote recently: “The corrupting effect of political power and self-interest has so clearly outed itself. The pandemic has highlighted some simple and sometimes harsh truths about ourselves, our leaders and our democracy … The most important truth is that, as individuals, we suffer, and some of us die, not from the virus, but from the lack of freedom to express and achieve our values and pursue our dreams.”

Rightly, argues David Kemp: “These disturbing occurrences underline how vital our civil liberties, democratic processes and constitutional constraints are to our wellbeing as a people and a nation.”

Well may we ask if we will ever get them back. Section 92 of the Constitution guarantees that intercourse among States should be “absolutely free”. No section of our Constitution was more rigorously debated leading up to Federation in 1901 than Section 92. Our Federal government refuses to go to the High Court to defend our Constitution. If our national government won’t, who will?

The “science” is thrown back at us to justify what is nothing more than totalitarian behaviour.

John Tierney, in City Journal, a publication of the Manhattan Institute of Policy Research, which is a leading free-market think tank, wrote recently of lockdowns and of Anthony Fauci, the White House adviser, whom Donald Trump has roundly criticised: “He and politicians like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, profess to be following the science. But no ethical scientist would conduct such a risky experiment without carefully considering the dangers and monitoring the results …”

When a politician says that this is all because of “the science”, why you can only have 10 here and 20 there and 300 there, and you can’t stand, you can only sit and you can’t sing, and you can’t shake hands — never has a single piece of paper been presented that provides an epidemiological justification for what we are being told to do.

Yet, the World Bank estimates that the coronavirus recession could push 60 million people into extreme poverty, which inevitably means more disease and death.

President Trump argued this week: “People are tired of COVID. I have the biggest rallies I have ever seen ... ­people are saying “whatever, just leave us alone.”

As Henry Ergas wrote, clinically this month: “Every new case leads the evening news, reinforcing its image as the Grim Reaper. One might have hoped that the experts would set the picture straight.” Well, despite my protestations, no politician in this country has ever, and I repeat ever, quoted the World Health Org­anisation’s daily statistics — 99 per cent of cases are mild, 1 per cent serious or critical.

Indeed, as I write, in the whole of Australia, there are 17 people in hospital. But lockdowns persist. Everywhere. Not just Victoria.

No debate, no justification. Just do as you’re told or cop the consequences. Seriously, what country are we living in? Politicians should hang their arrogant heads in shame.

Mind Medicine Australia has put together a report, documenting the consequences of the response to this virus. And, among other things, it ­argues that, over the next five years, the additional cost to the Australian economy from those suffering from heightened psychological distress who remain employed, but at reduced productivity, is estimated at $114 billion; that modelling from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre suggests the COVID-19 pandemic will contribute to a major surge, 25 per cent in suicides with an increase of up to 30 per cent among young people aged 15 to 25.

The greatest metaphor of the alarmism, fear and hysteria that has overtaken our country and, indeed the world, is the use of the word “pandemic”. This is not a pandemic. It was never a pandemic.

It doesn’t matter which country you take — the US, with 328 million ­people, Sweden with 10 million people, or outfits like Italy, France, the UK, Spain and Australia in between — the statistics of people who are said to have died from coronavirus, (and remember, many of these people may have died with it not from it) nonetheless, the percentage of the population who have died is basically the same in all of these countries is 0.07 per cent.

Australia is an island continent with 25 million people. If we had not had Ruby Princess and international travellers, we could have easily ­escaped the whole show. But even so, deaths are 0.0035 per cent and look at the price we are now paying.

I have, for months, cited one international authority after another, who has argued the strategy is wrong.

Professor Joe Kettner, from Manitoba University, who said: “I have seen pandemics, one every year. It’s called influenza and other respiratory illness viruses. I have never seen this reaction and I’m trying to under­stand why.”

Professor John Ioannidis, the Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health at Stanford University (and think of those mortality figures I have cited) has said: “If we had not known about a new virus out there and had not checked individuals with PCR tests, the number of total deaths due to “influenza-like illness” would not seem unusual this year.

“At most, we might have casually noted that flu this season seems to be a bit worse than average. The media coverage would have been less than for an NBA game between the two most indifferent teams.”

We are in a social, economic and moral sewer, because we have failed to listen to world authorities.

A fed-up and disillusioned Australia is cheering when Professor Kemp ­argues: “The authoritarianism of those whose philosophies are based on ­centralised power and imposed conformity has been unmistakeable … it’s time for the Prime Minister to recognise … that giving priority to his relations with those who abuse their power and disrespect their citizens is not consistent with the strong lead that the ­nation needs.”

Our collective plea is, get out of our way, leave us alone and give our country and our freedoms back to us.


The great Joe Biden cover-up as election heats up

No one is disputing the authenticity of the emails detailing potential corruption by the Biden family in China and Ukraine, but the press is doing their best to cover for Joe

As if the US election could get any more bizarre, now Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop is being ­accused of being an agent of Russian disinformation.

To sum up, last week the New York Post published a story about incriminating emails found on a MacBook of the troubled 46-year-old son of presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter.

In the 20,000 emails, documents and photos on the laptop is new evidence that Biden’s family has been monetising his name from shady companies overseas, and that Joe participated in the cash-for-influence scheme when he was vice president.

Coming two weeks before the election, the Post’s stories demand ­answers, because Joe has spent years denying he knows anything about his son’s business dealings overseas.

You would think he would have called a press conference the day the bombshell appeared, either to declare his innocence or apologise for misleading the American people.

It wasn’t until Friday night at ­Detroit airport, that Joe briefly stopped for questions and CBS ­reporter Bo Erickson asked about the damning emails on Hunter’s laptop, which was left at a Mac repair shop in Delaware last April.

“I have no response,” snapped Joe. “Another smear campaign. Right up your alley.” A video of Joe’s vituperative ­remarks on Erickson’s Twitter ­account has been viewed more than six million times.

Joe has done his best to dodge ­reporters ever since. Yesterday he called a “lid” on his campaign for four days. That means no public appearances.

It’s extraordinary for a presidential campaign, especially when President Donald Trump has sprung back from COVID-19 and is crisscrossing the country doing speeches and rallies. The past two days he has been to Las Vegas, Nevada, Newport Beach, California, Carson City, Nevada, Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona.

He plans to continue the frenetic activity up to November 3 while Joe seems to believe he can coast to the finish line without being accountable to the voters. He figures he can get away with it because the rest of the media will run cover for him. And he’s right.

He ventured out to get ice cream on Sunday and the big question was: “What flavour did you get?”

Neither Joe nor Hunter has disputed that the abandoned MacBook belongs to Hunter. Nor have they denied that the documents and photos we have published are genuine.

The signature on the work order authorising the repair shop to fix the laptop matches Hunter’s signature on court papers in a paternity suit.

Fox News has verified the provenance of at least one message with a third party included in the email chain.

The computer repair man, John Paul Isaac, has told Giuliani’s lawyer Bob Costello that Hunter’s lawyer, George Mesires, phoned him last Tuesday night, hours before the Post went to print, and asked for the return of his client’s laptop and hard drive.

I have seen Mesires’ follow up email to Isaac at 7.28pm confirming his identity.

In summary, the Post has published emails showing Hunter charged $10 million for “introductions alone” to a Chinese businessman while his dad was VP and that he reserved a 10 per cent stake in ­another lucrative Chinese deal for “the Big Guy”.

Fox News since has confirmed with a recipient of one of the emails that “the Big Guy” refers to Joe.

In Ukraine, an email shows Hunter arranged a meeting in 2015 ­between his VP father and Vadym Pozharskyi, one of his senior colleagues at the corrupt Ukrainian ­energy company Burisma, which was paying the chronic drug addict up to $83,000 a month.

A separate email, dated November 2, 2015, from Pozharskyi to Hunter, outlines what is required of him: to ­organise powerful US policymakers to pressure the Ukrainian government to “close down for [sic] any cases/pursuits” against Burisma.

That’s bad enough. But there is also evidence American foreign policy was distorted as a result.

In China, Joe went easy on President Xi’s aggressive militarisation of islands in the South China Sea.

In Ukraine, he threatened to withhold $1 billion aid in December 2015 unless the government fired Viktor Shokin, the top prosecutor investigating Burisma for corruption.

By February Shokin was gone. Smells like a quid pro quo.

But the Democratic party and Biden’s allies in the left-wing media are running protection for Joe. Hours after the Post story ­appeared, Facebook throttled its distribution pending “fact-checking”.

For the past six days Twitter has locked the @nypost account because it decided our story was based on “hacked” material. It’s not. Hunter abandoned his laptop and after 90 days, per the form he signed, the ­computer became the property of the repair shop.

Now the old Russiagate playbook deployed against Trump is being re-run against the Post’s evidence-based news stories by the same shady ­characters.

House chairman Adam Schiff ­declared on Monday that the stories were a smear “from the Kremlin”.

Last night 50 of the same former spooks who pushed Russiagate signed a letter saying they suspect a Russian disinformation campaign, although they admit they “do not have ­evidence of Russian involvement [and] don’t know if the emails, provided to the New York Post by President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, are genuine or not”.

In other words, it’s a pathological fantasy.

Meanwhile, new material has emerged which bolsters our stories.

A business partner of Hunter’s named Bevan Cooney — in jail for fraud — has turned over 20,000 emails to Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer at Breitbart. One email published yesterday indicates a delegation of Chinese Communist Party officials secured a private, off-the-books meeting with then-VP Biden.

Trump is not letting the scandal go to waste, telling reporters yesterday: “Joe Biden is, and always has been, a corrupt politician. You know that, and a lot of people knew it for a long time. But now you have the laptop, it’s all over.”

We’ll see at the last presidential debate on Thursday night if Trump has any luck putting Joe on the spot, or if the former VP manages to play for sympathy for his wayward son.