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Saturday, 28 March 2020

Observer Leader Writer Caught Red Handed

You may not yet have heard of Sonia Sodha. But she is a Very Important Media Person Indeed. So important that she not merely a leader writer, but the chief leader writer, for the Observer, Sunday sister paper to the Guardian. She has also been caught indulging in a crude and gratuitous act of smearing, made worse by the flagrantly abusive way in which she has tried to excuse herself. The subject was, as ever, the Coronavirus pandemic.
Sonia Sodha

Turning her attention to Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, who has been vocal in his criticism of the Government’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak, she sniffed “Just been reminded Richard Horton was the Lancet editor who published the utterly discredited [Andrew] Wakefield paper that claimed a link between the MMR & autism, & which caused vaccination rates to plummet. He took *twelve years* to formally withdraw it”.
Dr Richard Horton

Do go on. “I’m a bit shocked he’s still editor to be honest! Anyway I think this is important context to the tone of his Lancet editorial. There are *undoubtedly* v tough qus to be asked about govt preparedness & how they wasted time in procuring ventilators/PPE/testing capacity. But there are more & less responsible ways to ask them”.
The smear used is “I can link him to something bad, therefore everything he does is bad”, not unlike the smear “Carole Cadwalladr had to issue a correction for one of her claims, therefore they’re all wrong”. Ms Cadwalladr writes for, er, The Observer. Perhaps Ms Sodha remembers her. Meanwhile, Peter Jukes of Byline Media wondered what the point of the attack actually was. “Who reminded you, Sonia? And why now?
Fair question. What say Ms S? “No one with dodgy motivations Peter, if that's what you're suggesting”. Just a little defensive. Jukes was more specific. “Nothing to do with the fact the Lancet has just published a damning account of NHS preparedness then? Oh good”. At which point Sonia Sodha sold the pass in no style at all. “Nope. From a fellow critic of the government. Sorry to crash your conspiracy theory”. Oh dear!
This is exactly the kind of accusation that the right-wing press, and especially their shock troops like the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, use in trying to discredit Byline Media - which, along with Byline Investigates, is picking up on an increasing number of stories that papers like the Observer can’t, or won’t, cover.
It’s very “we’re the establishment, we’re real journalists, you’re just a conspiracy site”. Very “we know and you don’t”. But one Tweeter was distinctly unimpressed. “No need for any conspiracy theory. Why would you be pointing that out now, at a time when he is making wholly valid criticisms of the govt, other than to back up the govt? There is no other possible reason. How thick do you think we are?” Well, quite. And there was more.
BTW pls can you name the person who wrote the pro Iraq invasion editorial in the Observer? Just so we can be clear? You know, the invasion that caused around half a million deaths?” What’s sauce for the goose, and all that. Yes, Wakefield’s paper was a shocker. So was the Observer’s blind advocacy for the Iraq adventure.

If Guardian Media Group is becoming a Government propaganda outlet, then perhaps its management should come clean and say so. And then leave real journalism to others.
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Tories Can’t Afford To Be Caught Lying

Seeing the interior of the ExCeL centre being fitted out as a 4,000 bed emergency hospital, to be known as NHS Nightingale, might have brought home the seriousness of the Coronavirus pandemic. That there were to be two morgues removed all doubt. The addition of field hospitals at Birmingham’s NEC and Manchester Central underscored the seriousness. As did another morgue, this time in a hanger at Birmingham Airport.
Anyone who did not take on board the observation “Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time” should now have woken up to the reality - that more than 180 Covid-19 related deaths were announced yesterday, these numbers are likely to double every three days or so, and by the time that deaths from the virus peak next month, thousands are likely to be dying every day. Which means one thing.

The wider public needs to be confident that the Government is taking every action it can to mitigate the pandemic, ease suffering, help as many as possible back to full health, and in doing so, bringing to bear all resources it can muster. People need to believe that, even when the news gets grim, and it is going to get yet more grim, those in power are levelling with them. There must be no evasion, and most certainly no dishonesty.

So the Tories need to address the claims made in a Guardian exclusive which has toldDocuments show that officials working under former health secretary Jeremy Hunt told medical advisers three years ago to ‘reconsider’ a formal recommendation that eye protection should be provided to all healthcare professionals who have close contact with pandemic influenza patients”. Covid-19 can attack the eyes.

Worse, they have to cut out any inclination to fib and suggest that the rotten Euro-doggie ate their homework: as the HuffPost has reported, “The EU has cast doubt on claims that an email mix-up was to blame for the UK failing to take part in a Europe-wide scheme for buying ventilators and medical supplies to tackle coronavirus”. There was more.

Brussels said the UK took part in meetings of the EU’s health security committee where medical supplies and procurement was discussed ‘several times’. The UK government also had the opportunity to signal its interest in joining joint procurements at these meetings … It is understood that officials believe they did not receive an email invitation to join the schemes in time to meet the deadline”. Did they now.
As Politics Home has observed, “Public support for the way the Government is handling the coronavirus outbreak has soared in the past week, according to a new poll. The YouGov survey found that 72% back Boris Johnson's approach - up 13 points on a week ago … Support for the Government's approach has also cut across traditional party lines, the poll found”. That support may not survive if there are any more whoppers.

Moreover, news likeThe UK’s credit rating has been downgraded to AA- from AA due to the budget impact of the coronavirus outbreak and Brexit uncertainty … Credit rating agency Fitch has forecast that the UK’s economic output would drop by almost four per cent for the year” will not help matters. That can’t be stopped. But the fibbing can.

You want the public’s support? Don’t tell lies. Not even the most craven press will excuse you. And once confidence is lost, you’ll be out. You’re welcome, Tory people.
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Covid-19 - Trump Screws Over The USA

Whatever one’s opinion of alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and his Government, they have to their credit taken the Coronavirus pandemic seriously - and have not used the crisis for political point-scoring. Moreover, they have put spokesmen out there to be grilled by a not always happy media, despite the entreaties of those who think they should just brand any difficult questions as insufficiently patriotic.
Donald, where's yer hairspray?

Compare and contrast with the USA, where the number of confirmed Covid-19 infections has now passed 100,000. That number is set to soar over the next few days. The country is now the epicentre of the pandemic. And in the midst of it all, Combover Crybaby Donald Trump is using the emergency to screw over those he deems insufficiently loyal to Himself Personally Now - by trying to deny some states vital resources.
That is how much of a Grade A, ocean-going, malevolent, preening, dysfunctional shit he is. And he’s the President. How screwed that makes the USA is clear from his defiance: “The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success. The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!
Citizens are dying in increasing numbers, and he wants to take actions that will kill a lot more of them. Worse, as Nahal Toosi of Politico has told, “We obtained the detailed National Security Council ‘pandemic response playbook’ left by the Obama team for the Trump team. It was, basically, ‘thrown onto a shelf.’” The Trump gang ignored it.
As Seth Abramson observed, “Trump Says That Due to the Democratic Governors of Washington (3,369 Coronavirus Cases) and Michigan (3,657 Cases) - the Latter of Whom He Calls ‘the Woman in Michigan’ - Not Being ‘Appreciative’ Enough of Him, He Has Told the Coronavirus Task Force Head ‘Not to Call Them’”. He did WHAT? Yes he did.
Another Tweeter put it this way: “Trump admits telling [Vice President] Pence not to call governors … Trump said he should not talk to them if they don't ‘treat you right.’” He wants them to be appreciative - “we’ve done a great job”, even though he hasn’t.
There has even been the spectacle of Rudy Giuliani going on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show and claiming this behaviour is OK, because Trump is “the boss”. One observer retorted “He’s a goddamn public servant. Those resources are ours, not his”. Parker Molloy of Media Matters was beyond exasperated, and it showed.
Here’s the thing: even if every governor tells him to go fuck himself, it’s his job to help anyway. This is fucking insane. He’s making decisions about who lives and who dies based on who kisses his ass the most. Fuck him. Honestly, I’m just fucking over it”. Joshua Potash noted “A reporter just asked Trump, ‘Can everyone who needs a ventilator get one?’ Trump: ‘Look, don’t be a cutie-pie, okay?’” Not in control. Even of himself.
So few would have been surprised to see Trump rage-Tweeting “General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!! FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!!” He’s so useless, he tagged the wrong General Motors.
Worse, he could get the same result by just invoking the Defense Production Act, which, fortunately, has now happened. But the problem of his questioning lockdowns and other social distancing measures, when so many diehard Trump fans take his every word as unvarnished truth, fuels a culture of denialism which will mean more deaths.
Added to which are all the delays, all the talking down of the pandemic, Trump’s pretence that it was not really happening, and you get a country that is becoming totally screwed. As Paul Krugman put it, “The politics of Covid denial are exactly like the politics of climate change denial, except accelerated by a factor of 100”.

Be careful who you elect to run your country. Their interests may not coincide with yours.
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Friday, 27 March 2020

Dan Wootton Blames Meghan For Crisis

The Murdoch Sun’s deeply unpleasant “executive editor” Dan Wootton noted last month that “A new poll suggests 90 per cent of the UK public believes the taxpayer should not pay for Harry and Meghan’s round-the-clock protection if they live abroad. Canada will cease to pay the bill from the end of this month”. But Hal and Megs were going to become independent, remember? No more taxpayer handouts for them.
There's never an Uzi available when you really need one

And that was surely what Wootton and all the other inmates of the Baby Shard bunker wanted. But he was sure in January they couldn’t cut it out there in the real world. “Is Harry REALLY prepared for life as a civilian, with no privilege, no security and no formal role? Is Meghan, who is not, as far as A-list celebrities go, particularly wealthy, REALLY prepared to work to fund an extravagant and very expensive lifestyle long-term?”.

Worse, their alleged role models supported the wrong party! “They want to model themselves on former US political couples like the Clintons and the Obamas (not coincidentally both Democrats) … And powerful showbiz friend Oprah Winfrey (another Democrat if you get the hint) has already secured them a TV show for Apple, a company with a stupid amount of money to spend on content”. More than Murdoch, you mean.

Sneering, preening Wootton made sure to tell readers “It didn’t work for Edward VIII and his ambitious American divorcee wife Wallis Simpson”. Yeah, boo hiss! But that was then, and this is now: the Duchess of Sussex has, it has been revealed by Disney, secured a role doing the voiceover for a new feature about the lives of elephants.

So the Sussexes are succeeding in their drive to become independent. What’s not to like? Well, for Wootton, just about everything. “GENUINELY mind-blowing. That is the reaction amongst royals and courtiers about Harry and Meghan’s decision to move to Los Angeles in the middle of an unprecedented international health crisis, rather than return to do their duty in Britain”. They no longer have any duties in Britain. Did Dan forget?
Bye Dan - see you and Becky in court!

Seems he did. “The Sussexes had an amazing opportunity to prove to the public here that when the going gets tough they will still be there for their family, the institution of the monarchy and their loyal subjects too. Instead, yet again, they’ve shown their priority is their new Hollywood mates and a lifestyle most of us can only dream of”. You wanted them to make their own money, they’re doing it. But the red mist has well and truly descended.

Just think about this for a moment: The Duke has decided to leave the Commonwealth to set up home in Hollywood at the exact moment his grandmother is trapped in self-isolation within Windsor Castle because of her age and his dad is in Scotland battling Covid-19”. “Leave the Commonwealth?” What difference would it have made, had they remained in Canada? You’d have slagged them off for extravagance, had they flown back to the UK.

The problem for our free and fearless press more generally, and Dan Wootton more specifically, is that they are used to just inventing any old drivel about the Royals and getting away with it. Moreover, the Royals have to sit there and let the press shit all over them. Hal and Megs have decided they’re not playing that game. And they’re suing the Murdoch mafiosi. Which makes the likes of Wootton sour as hell.

But don’t forget, elephants have long memories. And they can shit more than Murdoch.
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Toby Young Jumps The Virus Shark

Those out there on the right demonstrate their support for those of like mind by blindly supporting every article, every speech. Thus new blogs, columns, op-eds, broadcast media appearances are praised as “must-read”, “excellent”, and even “unmissable”, while the infinitely flexible principles of those doling out the praise mean they can then condemn anyone on the left doing likewise, because this is “obedient leftist groupthink”.
So it was that the loathsome Toby Young unthinkingly promoted an op-ed in the increasingly desperate and downmarket Telegraph yesterday, informing his adoring followers “The PM was panicked into abandoning a sensible Covid-19 strategy, and has plunged society into crisis, says Sherrelle [sic] Jacobs”. If only he had engaged brain first.
Sherelle Jacobs

What can one say about Ms Jacobs’ article, other than that it is exemplary only as a prime example of flagrantly irresponsible, intellectually bankrupt, contrarian drivel? She tells readers “Through this ‘herd immunity’ strategy, a resurgence of the virus after it had seemingly peaked would be avoided. Championed by Dominic Cummings, the approach was creepy, clinical and completely correct” [no citation].
She goes on to suggest “He [Boris Johnson] should pay heed to Trump, who is raring to get America up and running by Easter lest the cure be worse than the disease. Premature, perhaps, but at least he is forcing Americans frankly to debate the trade-offs: million of livelihoods versus thousands of lives”. More like two million lives, in fact.
The blame for the UK’s Coronavirus stance is laid at the “managerial elite”, “Liberal managerialism”, and of course “global elites”. The Imperial College research that has driven the Government into taking action is condemned: Ms Jacobs contends there is “no scientific consensus”, and that “Its recommendations also entail just as many risks and assumptions as the herd immunity strategy” [no citation].
This is indefensible claptrap. So what say Tobes in his defence? “I think the government were spooked by ICL’s modelling - but we don’t know how reliable that modelling is. It’s now beginning to look as if ICL exaggerated the risk of not adopting hard suppression measures. We’ll know more once we start widespread testing”. Talking down Imperial College’s work on the basis of what, exactly? Nothing. Just more hot air.
He also proffers “The experience of different countries is sufficiently different to not be much of a guide as to how best to respond. The key bit of data is the CFR and it varies from 0.3% to 9%. And to complicate matters, it’s by definition a variable”. All those hundreds of deaths in Italy, Spain and now the USA? Nah, let’s waffle a bit, eh Tobes?
In his defence, Toby Young will no doubt tell anyone still listening that this is all about FREEZE PEACH. But freedom of speech has its limits: what he is doing here is getting perilously close to the equivalent of shouting “Fire” in a crowded theatre.

Just as gobby and ignorant pundits may see their days numbered as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, the slavish circle jerk of the right wingers may be another of its casualties. Along with the demand that freedom of speech have no limits, or even responsibilities.

Sherelle Jacobs has ventured beyond the pale. And Toby Young is a credulous fool.
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The Sun’s Sick NHS Hypocrisy

Yesterday evening at 2000 hours, people up and down the land emerged from their front doors, on to their balconies, or merely opened an upper storey window to applaud NHS workers who are now on the front line of the battle to contain the Coronavirus outbreak. Some banged pan lids, others rang bells; the message was the same. At a time of national crisis, even the sceptics want the NHS to be there for them.
Sadly, though, not all that applause was sincere: in Downing Street, after making sure the broadcasters had been briefed and cameras were rolling, out into the still of a now-silenced central London came alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson to show that he too applauded the NHS. After all those years of voting through cut after cut after cut, and rubbing shoulders with NHS abolition enthusiasts.

And as Bozo could do, so could the Murdoch goons at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, who yesterday morning toldNHS honoured as landmarks turn blue tonight to salute doctors and nurses on coronavirus frontline”, and going on to tell “As a salute to the NHS and the courageous efforts of everyone involved in the nation’s healthcare system, places including the Royal Albert Hall and Lincoln Cathedral will turn blue”.

This morning’s Sun front page carries an item at the bottom right letting readers know “Nation joins in 8PM applause for NHS heroes”, another article declaringAt 8pm, grateful Brits obeyed government advice to stay indoors and instead showed their support from inside their homes, on balconies and in their gardens … Some set off fireworks as loud cheers rang across the UK to thank those risking their lives to fight the deadly virus”.

How different it all was to just four years ago, when a Sun editorial looked at junior doctors taking action in support of decent pay and conditions and thundered “Sack the docs” in response, frothing “The new all-out pay strike by junior doctors is a declaration of war on the Government using patients as cannon fodder. If any die, or even suffer, the young medics responsible must be struck off”. And there was more.
If these militants and their hard-left union intend to up the ante in what has become an infantile and politically-driven row over Saturday pay, so should the General Medical Council … Other doctors and NHS staff will handle emergencies during the walkout. If they are too stretched to save lives or ease suffering the GMC must show no mercy to those whose fault that will be”. And then came the ranting, slobbering peroration.

Doctors have no right to abandon emergency patients in order to swell their bank balances. Nor can they maintain the fiction of ‘saving’ patients when they are putting their lives at risk … If a few budding careers need to end abruptly before the rest finally understand their sworn duties as doctors, so be it”. Yeah, sack them all!

The dregs of journalism who have over the years gravitated to the Baby Shard Bunker must think that the public out there in the real world is as stupid as they are. But that public is wise to the stinking hypocrites who couldn’t give a stuff about the NHS.

We see you, Murdoch goons. You don’t care about the NHS. And we don’t care about you.
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Thursday, 26 March 2020

Virus Stats - Is Government Being Honest?

One way in which suspicion has fallen upon countries like China, and indeed Russia, over reporting infections and deaths due to the Coronavirus, is the way in which they have been open and honest about the numbers - or perhaps not. Our free and fearless press has found this most useful, as in the absence of Scary Muslims™, Rotten Lefties™ and anyone who is not white, they always need someone to blame, because, er, they do.
So it ill behoves our own Government to be less than totally open and honest themselves, and that is the distinct impression given during the past 24 hours. On Tuesday afternoon, the infection and death figures were issued via the Department of Health and Social Care Twitter account at 1551 hours. These told that 8,077 people had tested positive for Covid-19, while, overall, 422 had died. But yesterday, everything changed.
At 1416 hours yesterday, the DHSC Twitter feed told “Today's figures will be published later this afternoon. We are working hard to provide you with the latest information and will tweet this out as soon as possible”. But the figures did not appear until after 2300 hours, well after media sources had them. The number of those testing positive had leapt to 9,529, but cumulative deaths had increased to just 463.
However, the lockdown strategy should take at least two weeks to work through - maybe a little longer. Then the waters became yet more muddied, as Sienna Rogers of LabourList observed “Well, this is very interesting from [Nick Watt] – the government is changing the way it is releasing death figures, which ‘may not actually be the deaths that have taken place over the last 24 hrs’ as family consent is now required”. Eh?
LSE researcher Luke Cooper was sceptical. “It’s not true that consent is required if the data is anonymised. I’m sorry to say that this sounds an awful lot like govt is fiddling the figures”. And as we are given just the overall numbers of deaths, the date is indeed anonymised. Then came Rowena Mason at the Guardian. “No 10 says mortality rates were lower yesterday because it is a ‘crossover day’ as the way we report coronavirus deaths is changing - no clarity on why or how yet”.
They could be arguing in their spare time. Chris Smyth of the Times then chipped in “Death figures update: last night only 28 new fatalities [England] recorded. Alas this is not good news, it is because there are now so many deaths NHS using a 7.30am cut off instead of 1pm. So govt looking at changing how they are reported”. Oh? Do go on.
We may not get any death figures today, as they are looking at moving to publishing first thing in the morning. Aim is to give more time to collate NHS data and inform families before ages and locations made public”. Well, well. While hundreds of new deaths from both Italy and Spain are freely reported and picked up by media sources, the information that should be most relevant to those media sources has mysteriously dried up.
We are told that there is bad news coming down the track; a new NHS facility is being built at the ExCeL centre in London’s Docklands; that facility, NHS Nightingale, has provision for thousands of beds and two morgues; individual reports of deaths are everywhere; TfL staff report scores of their colleagues falling ill from the virus; and the numbers dry up.

This is the stuff from which conspiracy theories spring. Government must come clean.
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Brexiteer Says EU Gave Him Coronavirus

Still at somewhat of a loose end after his fortunately brief sojourn as an MEP finished at the end of January, David Bull, who you can tell as he’s a doctor, has discovered a way to dump on the hated EU and keep it current: he claims not only to have contracted the Coronavirus, but to have done so while serving as an MEP.
David Bull. No longer an MEP. Fortunately

Armed with this singularly dubious thesis, Bull has shipped his bull to the Daily Brexit, still called the Express, the one paper credulous enough to believe him. And so it came to pass that readers were told'I got coronavirus at European Parliament!' Former MEP says he caught COVID-19 in Brussels”. So! The EU was behind it all along!

Do go on. “FORMER MEP Dr David Bull believes he caught COVID-19 while at the European Parliament in Brussels - and thinks several of his colleagues did likewise … And he suggested the hustle and bustle of the centre of the EU's political machinery - and the vast number of visitors coming and going daily - offered the perfect environment for coronavirus to spread”. If only he’d self-isolated down the local Spoons.

But he does know Who Done It at the EP: “I think it's fairly clear is that virus was around a lot earlier than I think … And also, if you look at places like the European Parliament, it is a meeting place. There were definitely people from China there because they were lobbying … I know a number of Chinese companies were there at that time”. Yeah, right.

Have another go. “'And of course, you have all of those parliamentarians and the staff going back to their home countries’ … Describing his own experience, which prompted him to self-isolate, he said: ‘I started to feel really ill after we had left. In February I was really ill. And then I was ill again in March, two weeks ago’”. And he’s not finished yet.
I had all the symptoms - I had a persistent dry cough and a really high temperature. And I know some of my friends, MEPs or former MEPs now, also had symptoms”. Sadly, his former boss didn’t see it that way. “A spokesman for former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage was adamant Mr Farage had not had the virus, having displayed no symptoms”.

Plus this story does not add up, for a number of reasons. Bull and his fellow Brexit Party MEPs left the European Parliament at the end of January. By the middle of February - long enough for symptoms to have manifested themselves - he was back to banging on about how the EU was in turmoil and talking about an Australian-style trade deal (something that does not exist), but was not saying anything about feeling ill.

Had he experienced a “really high temperature” and a “persistent dry cough”, one might have expected him to at least mention it. Moreover, although Covid-19 has been known to cause a relapse in some who contract it, the idea that he gets it sometime before the end of January and it comes back at him in March, as he claims - no. Just no.

One hates to be uncharitable to David Bull, but the impression is given that he has experienced Covid-19 in the retelling as a way of blaming the EU. Worse, his reasoning hinges on China paranoia - “There were Chinese people there, it came from their country, therefore They Done It and I got it from them” - in addition.

No other paper has picked up David Bull’s claim. That’s because it’s probably bull.
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