Monday, 25 May 2020

Coronavirus and the violation of rights

The "lockdown" measures introduced to deal with the alleged risk posed by the coronavirus have violated rights on an unprecedented scale. The measures have resulted in:


the suspension of juries,
the cancellation of elections,
the suppression of the right to freedom of expression,
the denial of the right to assembly,
the suspension of the right to protest,
the limitation of the right to engage in legitimate economic transactions,
the removal of the right to receive or refuse medical attention,
the limitation of the right to freedom of movement within the country,
the limitation of the right to practise religion,
the suspension of the right to an education,
the violation of the right to family life,
the denial of the right to a livelihood,
the institution of a police state by giving the police and others the right to detain indefinitely on mere suspicion,
the removal of the right to privacy,
the undermining of the rule of law;
and, if all that were not enough, the Coronavirus Act 2020 Part 2 Section 90 gives a minister of the Crown the power to extend these powers indefinitely and to change any power by mere fiat.
None of this was subjected to parliamentary scrutiny; indeed parliament passed the act and associated regulations without scrutiny or division, sent itself on holiday and decided to reconvene on a digital basis, ie, turned itself into a pretend parliament. The Coronavirus Act 2020 is our Enabling Act 1933. Fascism has been implemented without even a hint of organised opposition.

Monday, 18 May 2020

Coronavirus legislation is unlawful

Last week the Supreme Court ruled that the detention of Gerry Adams in the 1970s had been unlawful. Mr Adams had been detained in Long Kesh on the basis that the authorities had suspected him of belonging to an unlawful organisation. The court found his detention had been unlawful on the ground that he had been detained on the basis of the authorities' suspicion. Whilst Mr Adams' case dates back to the 1970s, it is of much wider contemporary significance.

The coronavirus measures (The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020) introduced without parliamentary scrutiny or division provide the authorities with the power to detain people indefinitely on the basis of mere suspicion. This power is clearly incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998, and equally clearly violates the European Convention on Human Rights. Last week's ruling by the Supreme Court reinforces that judgement and provides an obvious precedent for action to be taken against the government.

The violation of human rights enshrined in this legislation was obvious. Yet parliament made no protest. And the corporate media are deafeningly silent on this abuse of state power; indeed, they support it. The usual army of human rights lawyers, who only months ago we busily warning of Boris Johnson's totalitarianism, are only noticeable by their silent acquiescence.

It seems fear of the coronavirus, which has been whipped up by an hysterical corporate media campaign, has driven many to the point where they are prepared to sacrifice any right or liberty in the hope that it will provide security from the virus. There do not appear to be any limits to this willingness to trade rights for a specious sense of security. The coronavirus measures violate right after right. In the name of combatting a virus, elections have been cancelled, juries have been suspended, the right to assembly has been violated, the right to protest has been removed, the right to a family life has been limited, the right to an education has been suspended, the right to practise one's religion has been limited, the right to earn a livelihood has been removed, the right to freedom of movement in the country has been violated, the rule of law has been undermined, a police state has been instituted, the right to receive or refuse medical attention has been abandoned, and parliament has been turned into a digital pretence. Public policy is being made by a select group of ministers in conjunction with hand picked experts. Taken as a whole, these measures constitute fascism. And yet this was achieved without any organised opposition. The only dissent has come from unorganised, isolated voices, who have been easy to ignore or suppress, as the corporations have enthusiastically colluded with the censorship of dissident voices.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Coronavirus: a case of collective madness

It was predictable that the government's "lockdown" measures would cause more harm than the virus. Predictable that is to anyone adopting a rational approach to this issue. However, it was not predictable to the government. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, admitted on 10 April 2020 at the Coronavirus Daily Update that the government had not made any attempt to assess the number of people who would die as a result of the government's "lockdown" measures. This was an admission that the government had adopted an irrational, irresponsible and incompetent approach to policy-making on this issue.

This irrationality is also revealed in the constantly reiterated assertion that the government is simply following the "science". There is no way that science can determine policy. Science cannot tell you what your values should be; nor can it tell you what your priorities should be; nor can it tell you how to weigh competing demands and needs. If science could do these things, we would have a government of scientists. We don't, and we don't because policy-making is always about values, preferences, choices: ie, policy-making is always and inevitably a political process. The claim that the policy is just a matter of science is an obvious, blatant falsehood. A falsehood that is designed to rhetorically hide a set of value judgements and to protect those value judgements from political, democratic accountability.

You weren't asked if you wanted the "lockdown" measures. You weren't told that if implemented they would save X amount of lives but cost Y amount of lives. You weren't told which lives were to be prioritised and which were to be sacrificed. You weren't offered a chance to express your preference. What you were told was: Stay Home [in order to] Protect the NHS [in order to] Save Lives. But this was so simplistic as to be not just misleading, but essentially wrong, as it leaves out of the equation many very important variables.

I have no idea what motivated the government to introduce its "lockdown" measures. But I do know that the policy is not rational when judged on the criterion the government provides: ie, to save lives. There is also the government's track record, which to say the least, casts doubt on the claim that the government values lives above the economy - I am thinking here of the fact that the government's austerity policies have (perfectly predictably) resulted in hundreds of thousands of premature deaths. That track record has led many to claim that the government has a secret plan. Variations on this theme suggest the measures were introduced to protect and promote the interests of finance and corporate capitalists; to promote the interests of Big Pharma; to impose compulsory vaccination; to make all economic transactions electronic; to introduce a global police state, etc. These arguments are all based on a search for a rational explanation for a set of measures that are plainly irrational, inconsistent and clearly not going to achieve their stated objective. This search is, in my opinion, a fool's errand. The response to the coronavirus is nothing more than just another case of collective madness.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Corporate media spin "lockdown" deaths, blame public

The Office for National Statistics weekly death figures are both valid and reliable. For this year, they have shown there were fewer deaths than the five yearly average for the corresponding period, until the week ending 3 April 2020. That week and the following week both showed more deaths than the five yearly average for the corresponding weeks. These two weeks are the first weeks covering the government's "lockdown" measures. Looking at the figures in detail, even taking the (inflated) coronavirus related death figures at face value, it is clear that thousands of these above average deaths were the result of the government's anti-coronavirus measures.

The corporate media would, of course, have liked to have presented the increase in these death figures as being the result of the virus. However, as this was impossible, they were forced to seek an alternative narrative. They could hardly be expected, after all, to have attributed the above average non-coronavirus deaths to their own hysterical fear-mongering, which had bounced the government into implementing its draconian "lockdown" measures. They have, therefore, settled on the narrative that these above average deaths have been caused by members of the public failing to seek medical attention when needed (which even if that were the sole cause would anyway lead immediately back to their fear-mongering).

This narrative, not only absolves the corporate media, it maintains their representation of health care workers as heroes, and deflects attention away from the entirely predictable harmful effects of the "lockdown." These are significant propaganda benefits. They enable the corporate media to continue to push for the maintenance of the "lockdown" measures (which are killing people), and enable them to continue with their wall to wall sensationalist fear-mongering (which even according to their own position has stopped people from seeking medical attention and is killing people); the narrative also enables them blame an actor (the general public) who has no platform from which to reply, particularly as the "lockdown" measures have removed the right to assembly and protest and parliament is reduced to a digital pretence, where MPs have effectively formed a one party state that merely confers a specious aura of democratic legitimacy.

However, in pushing this new narrative, the corporate media have had to acknowledge that many health care facilities are virtually empty and some are even completely empty. These facts, of course, run completely counter to the earlier claims of the health service being over-stretched, with its heroic staff having to work ridiculously long (and obviously dangerously long) shifts to cope with the alleged crisis.

To say that the coronavirus propaganda narrative is creaking at the seams would be a gross understatement. The corporate media's narrative is hardly a narrative at all; it is a series of makeshift ad hoc rationalisations, which are barely coherent and lack any consistency. The corporate media are attempting to hide the falling apart of the narrative by resort to mere emoting and the hope that the public cannot remember what it is told from one day to the next, and if they can, then the hope that they will be fooled by the claim that "the science" is constantly changing.

The meme that the policy is the result of "the science" and that as the science changes so must the policy has been pushed from the outset. However, it was never more than specious and the longer this continues the less plausible it becomes. First, no policy is ever simply the result of science. Any policy is a value judgement. Any policy decision has to weigh risks and potential benefits; it has be based on a consideration of its effects across all aspects of policy-making. In terms of the decision to introduce the "lockdown" measures: a rational policy-maker would have considered how many lives the measures might save and weigh this against (at least) how many deaths the measures might cause. Yet, as Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, admitted at the Coronavirus Daily Update (10 April 2020) the government made no attempt to estimate the number of deaths the measures would cause.

The second way in which the notion that the policy is the result of the science is shown to be a sham is the way in which the assertions and exhortations change. The propaganda claim is that this is because the science has changed. Yet the science is never presented. Take the social distancing claims for instance. The scientific basis for this claim is computer modelling. However, any scientifically literate person knows that the results of computer models are not evidence. They are simply the Mathematically inevitable result of the assumptions. Another example of this - the science has changed nonsense - can be seen on the issue of the public wearing masks. For months the government and the corporate media were in lock step in asserting that there was no scientific evidence to suggest that wearing masks would be beneficial. Now the corporate media are trying to force the government into adopting a wearing masks position (because in order to maintain the fear, they have to constantly demand that something be done). So they are rolling out "experts" to say that there is scientific evidence that wearing masks works. Yet they never presented any evidence for their initial claim and so they are not even in a position to show research that over turns that position.

Indeed, in all the rhetoric around the coronavirus, "the science" has never been anything more than a rhetorical device designed to prevent criticism of the narrative. There is nothing scientific about the "lockdown" measures. Indeed, the measures are the result of an irrational, irresponsible and incompetent approach to policy-making, as Matt Hancock's admission revealed.

Friday, 17 April 2020

Corporate media lie about dolphins, and everything else

It is strange how people “read” the news media. Any scientist reading a corporate media news report about something in their field knows just how terrible the corporate media is. Yet the same person will generally assume that in other areas media coverage is accurate. During the miners’ strike of 1984, I met many miners who could see how terrible the media’s coverage of the strike was, but they (with very few exceptions) still took all other areas at face value. Unfortunately, most people, most of the time, consume “news” in a passive, acritical manner, simply accepting the narrative frame and assuming the facts must be accurate and the judgements authoritative. The corporate media know this and so know they can get away with virtually any lie.
I selected it because it was a global story, covered by all the mainstream outlets and everything about it was false. Everything. The story was allegedly a report of scientific research. But it seems a journalist (at Discovery.com) fixated on the term “bisexual philopatry” (apparently having no idea of what it meant) and decided to make up a story of sex and violence, and the rest of the corporate media regurgitated the narrative.
What the study was actually about was a test of two hypotheses concerning pod formation. The study found that neither of the hypotheses was supported. The study had nothing to do with sexual or violent behaviour, as can be readily seen by just reading the study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22456886 Yet either none of these journalists had bothered to read the study or they did read it and decided to go with the rapist, bisexual, violent dolphins story instead.
Now I picked the dolphin example because it is relatively trivial – it does not involve global politics, the economy, human rights and liberties, the wealth, power and influence of the elites, etc. So, if the corporate media are prepared to lie for nothing more that clickbait, how much more motivated to lie will they be when the vital interests of the corporate, financial, political elite is at stake?

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Coronavirus policy-making

On Friday, 10 April 2020, at the Coronavirus Daily Update press briefing, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, made a startling admission. He was asked how many people would die due to the economic harm resulting from the government's response to the coronavirus. Hancock admitted that the government did not know, or even have a ball park figure. However, he was quick to reassure us that "as an economist" he took this very seriously, and he and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would (future tense) be looking into this. In other words, the government decided on a policy that could potentially cause hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths without weighing those lost life years against the potentially saved life years of the adopted policy. This is the very definition of irrational policy-making. However, the situation is even worse than Matt Hancock's admission implies.

In an earlier interview with LBC radio, Jeremy Hunt explained that in 2016 the government had conducted an exercise on an infectious pandemic. The exercise showed that the NHS was likely to be overwhelmed by a pandemic. Hunt explained that as a result of the exercise the government drafted emergency legislation. What Jeremy Hunt, who had been the Health Secretary at the time, conspicuously did not say was that the government had sought to increase the NHS's capacity. He also did not say, but it was implicit, that the drafted legislation became the three hundred and twenty page Coronavirus Bill that parliament passed without scrutiny or division before voting to recess indefinitely. That Act of parliament, as my previous post explains, gave the government the power to do anything, for ever.

In these few facts we clearly see the government's priorities. The government's concern, notwithstanding the spin, is not saving lives. It is providing the government with unlimited power. The government knew, from the 2016 exercise, that the NHS had insufficient capacity to deal with a pandemic, but made no attempt to increase that capacity, until the leadership contest that brought Boris Johnson to power. Furthermore, we know from the experience of the government's post financial crisis austerity measures just how lethal economic harm can be, and it was obvious when the government announced its coronavirus measures that the harm to the economy would be substantial. Yet, as Hancock's admission reveals, the government adopted those measures without any thought as to the deaths they would cause: something no rational politician or administrator would do, as there is no point in adopting a policy that would save a few thousand lives if it would also kill hundreds of thousands of people. The only conclusion I can draw is that the ruling elite have gone collectively mad.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Coronavirus fascism

The Coronavirus Act 2020 was passed into law on the 25th of March. The House of Commons approved the legislation without scrutiny or division. Having done so, the House voted for its own indefinite suspension (actually, it voted for recess until the 21st of April, but the recall is subject to it being deemed to be safe). And this is how easily fascism is instituted.

The Coronavirus Act contains two clauses that are of particular significance. They are tucked away in Part 2 Section 90 of the Act. The first states that a national authority may by regulation alter the expiry date. The second states that a national authority may by regulation alter any power. A national authority is a minister of the Crown. These two clauses provide the government with the power to do anything, for ever. The Coronavirus Act 2020 is our Enabling Act 1933.

In the space of a few weeks, the government has ended jury trials, abrogated the right to assembly, cancelled elections, curtailed the right to family life, ended freedom of movement within the country, restricted the right to freedom of expression, given the police arbitrary powers to arrest and detain, and provided itself with the power to control or prohibit any economic activity. The Coronavirus Act provides the legal fig leaf for these draconian measures and lays the basis for further, and unlimited, violations of our rights and liberties.

It is shocking to think that fascism could be implemented so easily and with so little opposition. The corporate media, far from attempting to hold the state to account, has been leading the call for ever more draconian measures. Piers Morgan, using ITV's Good Morning Britain, has emotively demanded, day after day, ever more restrictions on our liberties. Hardly a voice of scepticism, let alone dissent, has been heard on the platforms of the corporate media. Notable exceptions have been Peter Hitchens, using his blog at the Mail and Lord Sumption in an interview on the BBC Radio 4's World at One.

The lack of challenge from the corporate media is hardly surprising. However, that so many in the alternative media have supported this lurch to fascism is seriously depressing. It appears that the simple tactic of frighten the people and then offer a solution has worked like magic. Whilst many people may be sceptical (as can be seen on websites such as OffGuardian or the Blogmire), the lack of a platform for critical voices, the speed of the changes, the apparent unanimity of authority figures, the atomisation of the public imposed by social distancing, and fear of the unknown, has ensured that there is no organised opposition.

This is a significant difference between the introduction of fascism in Germany in 1933 and the introduction of fascism here in 2020. In Germany there was considerable organised opposition, from communists, socialists and trade unionists. Here there is nothing more than the isolated voices of individuals, who are either ignored or insulted. Their arguments and concerns are treated as acts of betrayal; they are construed as traitors and monsters; as mad, bad and dangerous. They are construed as idiots, who the authorities should treat harshly. Just as the Gestapo did not need to search for dissidents because ordinary Germans informed on their friends and neighbours, their colleagues and family, so now ordinary people are informing on anyone they suspect of not following the constantly changing, ever more draconian rules.

Everyone points to Nazi Germany and says we should learn the lesson of history, but apparently very few learnt that Hitler introduced fascism by parliamentary, legal means by offering a solution to exaggerated hysterical fears.