Pandemic – what kind of society?

(The following article by Paul Komesaroff appeared in The Age on 15 January. I’m running it here without permission in order to promote further discussion. Please read it at the original AGE site and make comments there too)

January 15, 2022

Now that the disaster is upon us we can start to analyse how it happened.

I am a frontline health worker, lying listlessly in bed battling an infection with the Omicron variant. My illness has provided me with the opportunity to reflect on our current predicament and what lessons can be learnt from it.

Healthcare workers have been pushed to the limit by the crisis.

We do need to be clear, however: this is a true disaster. Unprecedented numbers of people have been admitted to our hospitals, which are now full. Deaths are mounting rapidly. Ambulances sit in line for hours waiting to discharge their sick patients to overrun emergency departments. Patients with serious non-COVID illnesses, like heart attacks and cancers, struggle to find doctors to treat them.

In the health services up to 10 per cent of workers are away sick, and many, unable to cope with the stress, have given up and resigned. Food and other essential services are failing. The frantic determination to avoid lockdowns has produced a de facto lockdown, more intense than the official ones because of its unplanned, chaotic nature and the absence of safety nets.

Admittedly, not all the news is bad. Even if the vaccines are imperfect at preventing infections and hospitalisations, they do greatly reduce the risk of death – and they may well have saved my life. Healthcare staff – doctors and nurses, young and old – are working tirelessly, often to the point of exhaustion, in heroic efforts to keep the system going.

But it is still a disaster. How did we get here? For nearly two years we had struggled to work together and protect each other. In Victoria, respected political and public health leadership provided reliable information and a determined and clearly argued plan. There were lapses – like hotel quarantine – that were subjected to ruthless public scrutiny, but overcoming the challenges and setbacks heightened the sense of solidarity and mutual caring.

But then it all unravelled. It seemed quick but in reality the forces had been in play all along. An unrelenting campaign to undermine the collective purpose, to oppose all restrictions, had worn away at confidence in public health measures. Campaigns of disinformation and conspiracy theories stimulated the rise of fringe Trump-like groups. The incessant talk about how injunctions to support the vulnerable were in reality a device to undermine prized individual “freedoms” hit home.

A concerted effort by the federal government, supported by the NSW government, attacked the few strategies that had been shown to work. Ballooning numbers in NSW quickly led to the spread of infections across the country.

Then, exactly as Omicron emerged, as health workers looked on with incredulity and horror, even the most minimal remaining restrictions were lifted.

It was widely acknowledged that this decision would produce disastrous consequences and would need quickly to be reversed. And it was true: the disaster happened and the restrictions were reversed. But the damage had been done and the effects were irreversible.

The policy that produced this decision was not the result of simple incompetence. It embodied a fully coherent, and carefully articulated, ethical world-view, on which we as a society now need to make a decision.

The “let it rip” strategy is a potent statement that health and human life should be held to be of little value; that individual “freedom” is directly opposed to collective action and mutual care; and that our society is richer and better if we and our governments repudiate responsibility to weaker members, to those fleeing persecution, and to future generations.

Through the clouds of my delirium I fancy that this understanding of society as a war of all against all had long been discredited. I imagine that most of us have become aware that freedom is enhanced when the structures of mutual support and opportunity remain intact. I muse that there is abundant evidence that the safety of our children and grandchildren can only be assured if we work collectively and co-operatively to protect and care for each other and for our planet.

The reality is that we are in the middle of a war – not just against the “invisible enemy” of the virus but also a new culture war, or more precisely, an ethics war. What is at stake is the vision we wish to have for our society: is it that of a collection of individuals opposed to each other, where security is limited to the powerful and the privileged?

Or is it of a world of shared values, where collective resources can be applied to those in most need, where each of us is prepared from time to time to defer our own comfort to assist and care for our fellow citizens?

In my fevered state, waiting for my clearance from infection control to return to the fray, I try to remind myself of the heroism of the young doctors, nurses and other essential workers. But I am not confident about the outcome.

Professor Paul Komesaroff is a Melbourne physician, ethicist and writer.

Tiananmen Square 1989 – an American Marxist-Maoist’s view from the ground

William Hinton (1919-2004) was an American Marxist who lived and worked in China before and after the revolution of 1949. In 1966, he wrote up his experiences and observations of daily life, class struggle, strategic planning and social transformation in Long Bow village. The book, ‘Fanshen‘, remains a classic. (‘Fanshen’ broadly means overturning something).

As a Marxist and ‘Maoist’, Hinton naturally rejected the ascendancy of the capitalist-roaders, such as Deng Xiaoping, and pulled no punches in his 1983 book, ‘Shenfan’ (meaning the opposite of Fanshen).

The account of what happened at Tiananmen Square in Hinton’s book is here.

I’m posting this because, incredibly, there are still people around who claim to be leftists but regard the rebellion as a foreign plot, its suppression as justified, and the massacre as fake news.

********

‘Blame it on the USA’ – a rock song for the 20th anniversary of September 11

This rock song was written by my close friend, Peter Gelling (1960-2018) – and me – long ago. I’ve decided to ‘release’ it now to mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack on the US.

The explanatory text below accompanies the song on youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUjseopCioc

****

‘Blame it on the USA’ was co-written by Peter Gelling (1960-2018) and yours truly in response to the knee-jerk anti-Americanism we experienced among our friends in the weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the USA.

We found it strange that nearly all of our friends, including those who identified as being on the Left, were either gloating about what had happened or automatically blaming the US. They had not looked into the nature of Al Qaeda, the Islamo-fascist* outfit behind the attacks. It was as though all one needed to understand was that America was always wrong.

As one of many who had opposed the US war in Vietnam, I couldn’t see any similarity between the Vietnamese struggle for national liberation and the targetting of civilians by a reactionary religious fundamentalist terror group who hated modernity. One of the first things I did, at the time, was to google ‘Bin Laden’ to see what he believed in. What I found wasn’t pretty and essentially medievalist.

Fortunately, there were left-wing individuals who spoke up about all this while certainly recognizing that decades of US foreign policy – the backing and arming of hated dictators such as Saddam Hussein – had led to America being a dirty word among the masses in the Middle East and elsewhere.

But to blame the US for September 11, in an unqualified way, was to overlook the nature of those behind the attack.

Peter and I embraced the notion that there is a ‘pseudo-left’. Content is what matters and when ‘anti-imperialism’ serves fascism, it is not an anti-imperialism worth supporting. Especially when most people around the world who lived under tyranny were fighting for freedom. And still are.

I don’t remember when we wrote the song’s lyrics but I know the original idea was mine. I wanted the song to have a distinctively American rock sound and Peter, the master musician and multi-instrumentalist, laid down a great Chuck Berry riff. (It doesn’t get much more American than Chuck Berry).

The song has never been released to the public before, but I know Peter would be happy to have it shared on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attack.

The lyric “Maccas and Coke are just fine by me” will offend some people but none more than those who still want to turn the clock back to pre-modern times. The religious fascists rely on violence and terror because they know they will never win the consent of the majority in modern bourgeois-democracies. That is also why they hate things like free speech, women’s liberation, elections – and rock music.

*I rarely use this term as it can be misunderstood to mean that all Islamists are fascists but in the context of Al-Qaeda I regard it as fair usage. It was coined, I think, by the late great anti-fascist, Christopher Hitchens, whose absence is felt now more than ever.

Afghanistan, the Taliban and women/girls – and a poem

(contribution by Tom Griffiths)

With the Afghan government’s ignominious defeat on the tail of the US government’s humiliating withdrawal, a lot – and I mean a lot – of gloating has been in evidence on Farcebook by ostensible leftists, some of whom are former comrades, celebrating another defeat for good ole US imperialism.

Pointing out the defeat and the role of the US in effectively setting up this situation is not the problem. What the problem is is the total (this might be an exaggeration, but not by much) silence on the fate of the Afghan people, in particular Afghan women.

Nowhere amongst my former comrades do I see an ‘ok, now the Yanks and their lackeys have gone the main enemy of the people is the Taliban and the most likely means of defeating them will be through armed struggle.’ Instead, there is silence. If this continues for more than a nanosecond this silence transforms into collusion. Left in form, right in essence we could call it.

A year or so ago I wrote a poem celebrating the bravery and example of a 15 year old girl in regional Afghanistan who, in response to her parents being gunned down before her sought out her father’s machine gun and killed the murderers, at least one of whom was Taliban. I reprint it below:

Qamar Gul and a father’s teaching

As others forgot to question

And rushed to defend the

Old verities and

Inherited wisdom.

As others remained fast

Confusing darkness for light

The old spell began to break

And its truths began to decay

As others panicked

Shielding themselves

From the revealing light

Confusion spread and freedom beckoned.

From the depths ghouls and false healers emerged

Screaming and cajoling

Harnessing death and instilling fear

Settling old scores and new alike.

Such times are indeed dangerous.

How was this man to protect his family?

What if he should fall?

Can friend still be seen from foe?

What if he should fall?

Tradition dictates his daughter’s marriage

The past may still protect…

But what if these ways are not enough?

What if they should fail?

He placed his gun into her hands

He’ll teach her what to do

If fall he should and well he may

Let new ways show the way.

When death came bursting through the door

Stealing her parents from her

This father’s girl knew what to do

And didn’t fail to do it.

Conquering fear

Harnessing anger

She honored her father’s teachings

And moved into the light.

Postscript:

I wrote this poem a year ago when news of Qamar Gul’s actions made international news. I was very impressed by her bravery and the example she was setting – and worry about her safety now given that the Taliban are back in control. When I completed the poem I sent it to a young Afghani colleague and asked her to check the accuracy of its ‘line’ and suggest corrections if necessary. She gave it the thumbs up.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-22/afghan-girl-kills-two-taliban-after-they-killed-her-parents/12479568

covid-19 Pandemic of the unvaccinated

This is the third of a series of articles on covid-19 promised on May 25 in “Ongoing disaster from Shambolic Clots”:

0. https://c21stleft.com/2021/05/25/covid-19-ongoing-disaster-from-shambolic-clots/

I will link back to an update of this complete list each time a new article is published.

  1. https://c21stleft.com/2021/08/09/covid-19-none-shall-let-another-fall/
  2. https://c21stleft.com/2021/08/11/covid-19-draft-emergency-legislative-instrument/
  3. https://c21stleft.com/2021/08/15/covid-19-pandemic-of-the-unvaccinated/

The danger from Shambolic Clots in NSW is greater today than ever before.

After seeding the virus throughout Greater Sydney and regional NSW the government has announced just enough steps for an intensified lockdown of the whole State to delay action against it. Contact tracing has already broken down completely with the source of 345 mystery cases “under investigation” out of 466 total. That means most of the infected people who infected today’s cases are still not in isolation and still spreading infection. Recovery from that requires a far more rigorous lockdown with full curfews and rostered hours for collecting supplies and exercise. Each day’s delay is likely to add another week to the necessary lockdown

But the strategy remains unchanged. Instead of aggressively suppressing the virus to eliminate community transmission like every other State in Australia, the NSW Government still intends to just keep vaccinating while the virus keeps infecting. Then they can announce that they have reached 70% “fully vaccinated” in a couple of months and then go to “phase B” and then “phase C” where we no longer bother about infections and only look at the number of deaths.

This is intended to force the rest of Australia into the same policy of opening up like the UK instead of stamping out each outbreak until it is safe to open up because the whole world has been vaccinated, like New Zealand.

If they are very lucky they may “succeed” by avoiding the hospitals being overwhelmed. Vaccination DOES dramatically reduce the death rate at present and so far the UK has been able to avoid mass deaths despite complete collapse of contact tracing and mass infection as is starting now in NSW.

Can they be stopped? Yes. New Zealand has reaffirmed its policy of elimination despite the fact that “allies have thrown in the towell”. Most of the public support the New Zealand policy rather than the media death cult’s campaign.

Public pressure could win in the long run. But we don’t have a long run.

Infections are already growing exponentially and will not be slowed much by today’s steps. If the numbers infected double every week it only takes 10 weeks to multiply by one thousand. Delta can double much faster than that.

There is no way for public pressure to force an unwilling State Government to change policy quickly. It takes many months to organize. A large majority in the UK against the Government policy were unable to prevent it going ahead.

The only people who can stop the NSW Government quickly are the Chief Health Officers (CHOs) of the other jurisdictions. They form the Australian Health Protection Principals Committee (AHPPC) responsible for fighting the pandemic.

They are busy trying to suppress outbreaks in their own States and Territories spread from NSW. But they have not yet done anything to actually support NSW. Instead State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers have merely criticized at two successive weekly meetings of “National Cabinet” and the national “Chief Medical Officer” (who does not actually run any public health system) still describes vaccines as a “circuit breaker” when there is simply no way vaccinations can stop infections faster than Delta can spread them.

It is not clear whether the CHOs on the AHPPC know that it is actually possible for them to intervene in NSW. Most people simply assume it is politically impossible because the Federal Government has no authority over State public health systems and no desire to intervene against a coalition government. If they have time to think about it at all, it is likely that many CHOs have the same assumption. All they can do is close the borders as tightly as they can.

But it is possible for them to intervene. The Federal Health Minister can simply issue a decree under the Biosecurity Act. Formal advice to do so from the AHPPC would be hard to ignore. If the government did ignore them it would have even less chance of surviving the next elections than it does now. That Act provides the same dictatorial powers that CHOs have exercised in their own jurisdictions (including detentions of tens of thousands of people) to overide all other Australian law during a Biosecurity emergency. See my “draft 0” in the second article of this series:

covid-19 Draft Emergency Legislative Instrument

We need lawyers to draft the necessary “legislative instrument” (and perhaps some memos about the penalties for wilful neglect of duties by public officers) and medical doctors and scientists to ensure the CHOs promptly take action to insist on its prompt implementation (and second the necessary officers to lead the NSW public health response).

Everybody knows a doctor and pretty well any doctor is only 2 degrees of separation from a CHO. We can talk to doctors and persuade them to study the relevant documents carefully enough to pick up a phone and persuade a colleague closer to the CHO to do the same. Then it is just one more phone call to reach the local CHO and get them to take the time.

Something similar should be possible to find lawyers who know lawyers that could do the drafting.

A good starting point for reading by doctors and lawyers is the New Zealand Government’s position. Here it is:

https://covid19.govt.nz/reconnecting-new-zealand-to-the-world/

Click on “Expand all” and read the speech by the main author of the NZ Government report recommending that they continue to “stamp out” each outbreak as it occurs. Then also download pdfs of the report.

Here’s an excerpt:

Many people argued that elimination was impossible. Well, they were wrong. New Zealand did eliminate COVID-19, and so did several other countries — including China.

There’s no doubt that our elimination strategy has served us well. I often compare us with Scotland, which also has just over 5 million people. New Zealand has had a total of 26 deaths during the pandemic. Scotland has had over 10,000 deaths, and more Scots have suffered chronic illness — the so-called ‘long Covid’. We dodged a bullet — and our social and community life has flourished, in comparison with countries where repeated lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings have made the past 16 months a time of frustration and grief.

But what about the future? Can we maintain elimination, as we re-open our borders (as we must do)? High levels of vaccination should make it easier to stamp out clusters of COVID-19, but new variants like Delta will make it more difficult. If we have to give up on elimination, and allow the virus to become endemic, many New Zealanders will end up in hospital and a sizeable number will die — though a lot fewer than if we had let the virus spread last year.

Our group wrestled with the question. We concluded that, at this stage of the pandemic, the elimination strategy is not only viable, but also the best option. It allows us to enjoy a lifestyle that is relatively unaffected by the ravages of COVID-19, and to protect our health service and our economy.

The UK, after a disastrous year, has had a great vaccination roll-out: 94% of English adults now have antibodies arising from vaccination or past infection, or both. Yet last week they still had 627 deaths from COVID — the equivalent of about 48 deaths a week in our population. And most British people are avoiding contacts with others: social contacts are still down on last summer, and are barely a quarter of pre-pandemic levels. Many people work at home, and about 90% are still wearing a mask when outside the house.

Look at this crowded room. None us of us is wearing a mask, and we are not fearful of contagion. This would be unthinkable in most countries. I hope not to spend the rest of my life shielding from others, especially in winter, and looking at faces covered by masks.

https://covid19.govt.nz/reconnecting-new-zealand-to-the-world/

Next, to understand the full horror of the term “Pandemic of the Unvaccinated” it is necessary to understand that most of the world is unvaccinated and that a report to the 94th meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies of the UK Government (SAGE) described:

Scenario One: A variant that causes severe disease in a greater proportion of the population than has occurred to date. For example, with similar morbidity/mortality to other zoonotic coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV (~10% case fatality) or MERS-CoV (~35% case fatality).

SAGE considered this report and officially confirmed that it has “high confidence” and is “almost certain” of “higher rates of transmission creating more opportunities for new variants to emerge” and that more severe disease is a “realistic possibility”. (See paragraph 37 and 39 of Minutes below).

The Minutes omit the reference to up to 35% case fatality but that is what was described as a “realistic possibility”.

These documents can be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/sage-meetings-july-2021

This includes the SAGE 94 minutes: Coronavirus (COVID-19) response, 22 July 2021
Published 6 August 2021:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sage-94-minutes-coronavirus-covid-19-response-22-july-2020

and an updated version of the report on long term evolution discussed in those minutes:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/long-term-evolution-of-sars-cov-2-26-july-2021

That report includes a succinct summary of latest virology, immunology and phylodynamics from p6 to end at p15.

A summary of the report was published in the business executives magazine, “Forbes” on August 4:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamhaseltine/2021/08/04/a-warning-about-the-future-of-covid-19-from-the-scientific-advisory-group-for-emergencies-of-the-united-kingdom/

The UK Government opened up the UK to unlimited infection on July 19 (“Freedom Day”) in the full knowledge that this is likely to unleash a “Pandemic of the Unvaccinated” both in the UK and worldwide.

They expect that pretty well everybody will get infected since Herd Immunity is unfeasible and that there is a “realistic possibility” that up to 35% will die. That’s more than 2 billion people!

The UK Government’s crime has been denounced by more than a thousand medical doctors and scientists in a politely worded statement:

The UK Government must reconsider its current strategy and take urgent steps to protect the public, including children. We believe the government is embarking on a dangerous and unethical experiment, and we call on it to pause plans to abandon mitigations on July 19, 2021.

https://www.johnsnowmemo.com/

Although politely worded the accusation of “unethical experiment” on humans happens to be considered a “crime against humanity” over which courts in many countries exercise “universal jurisdiction” regardless of where and by whom such crimes are committed.

We can leave aside consideration of what motivated the UK Government and what motivates the NSW Government until they are put on trial either by their own courts for “reckless endangerment” and “misconduct in public office” or by the courts of other countries affected by their crimes against humanity.

The point right now is to stop them by doing whatever we can to prevent mass infections while vaccinating the world (and developing a future “sterlizing vaccine” that actually eradicates the virus).

Below is the authoritative minutes from SAGE.

But there is more that doctors and lawers should be studying closely and that science journalists should be explaining to a wider public. Here is a starting point:

Assessing the risk of vaccine-driven virulence evolution in SARS-CoV-2
Ian F. Miller, Jessica E. Metcalf
https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.01.20241836

It explains clearly the precise mechanism by which “vaccine-driven” virulence evolution has a realistic possibility of killing 2 billion unvaccinated people while being “unlikely” to threaten immunized populations.

Abstract

How might COVID-19 vaccines alter selection for increased SARS-CoV-2 virulence, or lethality? Framing current evidence surrounding SARS-CoV-2 biology and COVID-19 vaccines in the context of evolutionary theory indicates that prospects for virulence evolution remain uncertain. However, differential effects of vaccinal immunity on transmission and disease severity between respiratory compartments could select for increased virulence. To bound expectations for this outcome, we analyze an evo-epidemiological model. Synthesizing model predictions with vaccine efficacy data, we conclude that while vaccine driven virulence evolution remains a theoretical risk, it is unlikely to threaten prospects for herd immunity in immunized populations. Given that this event would nevertheless impact unvaccinated populations, virulence should be monitored to facilitate swift mitigation efforts.

Significance statement

Vaccines can provide personal and population level protection against infectious disease, but these benefits can exert strong selective pressures on pathogens. Virulence, or lethality, is one pathogen trait that can evolve in response to vaccination. We investigated whether COVID-19 vaccines could select for increased SARS-CoV-2 virulence by reviewing current evidence about vaccine efficacy and SARS-CoV-2 biology in the context of evolutionary theory, and subsequently analyzing a mathematical model. Our findings indicate that while vaccine-driven virulence evolution in SARS-CoV-2 is a theoretical risk, the consequences of this event would be limited for vaccinated populations. However, virulence evolution should be monitored, as the ramifications of a more virulent strain spreading into an under-vaccinated population would be more severe.

Rather more than “monitoring” is required, we have to vaccinate the world.

Doctors and scientists should be able to find the relevant technical literature from seeing what recent papers have referenced the earlier papers listed in that preprint.

Lawyers should be able to prepare the necessary criminal indictments – but first we need the legislative instrument that helps NSW rejoin the rest of Australia in following the New Zealand path of maintaining elimination instead of the UK path of spreading infection.

Below is the relevant part of SAGE 94 minutes: Coronavirus (COVID-19) response, 22 July 2021
Published 6 August 2021

Long-term viral evolution

  1. It is almost certain that the emergence of new variants of SARS-CoV-2 is related to the amount of circulating virus, with higher rates of circulation and transmission creating more opportunities for new variants to emerge (high confidence).
  2. There are a number of possible scenarios which could lead to the emergence of a variant which is more transmissible, causes more severe disease, or has a degree of immune escape.
  3. A variant which causes more severe disease could emerge through recombination, where it is produced in an individual infected with two separate variants or acquire other genetic material from other viruses or the host (realistic possibility). Current vaccines are highly likely to continue to provide protection against serious disease for such new variants. However, since no vaccine is completely effective, there would likely still be an increase in morbidity and mortality from such a variant.
  4. An immune escape variant could emerge in several ways. This includes through antigenic shift, where natural recombination events change the spike glycoprotein of the virus (realistic possibility). It could also emerge through animals becoming infected, the virus mutating within that population and then later this new variant infecting humans (realistic possibility). A new variant could also emerge through antigenic drift, where antigenic variation eventually leads to current vaccine failure (almost certain). These could occur over different timeframes. It is unknown how levels of immunity change the risk of the establishment of such a variant.
  5. Reducing transmission, increasing vaccination levels, monitoring new variants and preparing to update vaccinations would mitigate the risks of such new variants.
  6. A new variant could emerge that evades current antiviral strategies. Reducing the likelihood of such a variant emerging requires careful use of antivirals. This includes taking particular care in the treatment of immunocompromised people, or others infected for a long period, in whom viral evolution is more likely to happen. In particular, those working with infected immunocompromised individuals should take extra precautions to prevent onwards transmission.
  7. Although unlikely in the short term, in the long term it is a realistic possibility that variants will arise that are more transmissible but with reduced virulence. This reduced virulence, along with high population immunity, could eventually lead to the virus causing a much less severe disease.
  8. As antiviral drugs become available it will be very important to use them in a way that does not induce viral escape from their effects, for example using them in combinations.

Impact of international vaccination

  1. The biggest threat to the UK’s health security and response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is the emergence (and establishment within the UK) of variants that either have increased transmissibility, increased severity, escape prior immunity or a combination of these characteristics (high confidence). At this point in the epidemic, with a high degree of population immunity, an immune escape variant would be of particular concern (high confidence).
  2. Substantial global circulation of SARS-CoV-2 will lead to the evolution of new variants and continued risk of importation to the UK (medium confidence). Reducing prevalence globally will therefore reduce the risk to the UK. Multilateral coordination will be important in achieving this.
  3. Increased international vaccination (for example by sharing of doses or supporting increased manufacture) has the potential to reduce the appearance and establishment of variants internationally, as well as the risk of their importation to the UK (medium confidence). There are also strong ethical reasons for supporting international vaccination efforts. Targeting international vaccination efforts (for example to countries where there are higher numbers of immunocompromised people, for example due to HIV infection) may be particularly beneficial.
  4. The choice of vaccine is likely to be important and may change over time. Although using single doses would allow more people to be reached with limited supply, it may also result in more people having partial immunity which may increase the risk of an immune escape variant developing or spreading.
  5. Border measures may also reduce the risk to the UK, though these will delay rather than prevent the importation of variants. Reducing global prevalence may lessen the need for border measures. Strengthening global surveillance of variants (as well as continued surveillance in the UK) will be important in understanding the risk. SAGE strongly supports the need for effective surveillance systems in the UK (UKHSA) and the presence of a global surveillance system as envisioned in the G7 communique. In addition to sequencing, studies on biology including transmission fitness and antigenicity will be required to understand which variants may become dominant.

covid-19 Draft Emergency Legislative Instrument

I am sure lawyers could produce a much better draft, along with any appropriate backup drafts for a referendum to amend the Australian Constitution and the composition of the High Court.

But the following ought to establish that any failure to prevent NSW falling is not due to lack of legal powers to intervene.

Consequently at any future trials for misconduct in public office or incitement of such misconduct it should not be assumed that only officers of NSW would be defendants.

Of course before actually exercising in NSW the dictatorial powers that the Chief Health Officers of the other States are already exercising in their own jurisdictions (including detention orders for tens of thousands of people), the AHPPC should first spell out what it requires NSW to do and what assistance other jurisdictions will provide to do it.

They are the only people in a position to decide what is necessary and how to go about it.

I would assume that an out of control Delta outbreak that has already been allowed to reach half the level of Victoria’s second wave would require a much more drastic “stage 5” lockdown than was needed for several months in Victoria. Essentially a 24 lockdown curfew with rostered hours for exercise and distribution of essential supplies. Supermarkets would be stocked from interstate. That would give hope within a couple of weeks and could be eased back to “stage 4” levels within a month or so.

My assumptions are irrelevant as are those of any other commentator. But the CHO of NSW stated weeks ago that there was a national emergency and the people who will be held responsible for failing to implement the measures that only they are competent to decide on are the CHOs of the other States.

This is the second article in the series I promised on “shambolic clots”. In later articles I will explain the significance of including the W.H.O. recommendations numbered 3 and 9. The failure to enforce in NSW necessary measures specified in recommendation 1 should be self-explanatory. The CHOs of the AHPCC and ATAGI should already know the relevance of recommendation 3 to the disgraceful behaviour of both Commonwealth and NSW governments. I doubt that they have thought about the possible use of powers under recommendation 9 to counter the massive public misinformation campaign that their opponents ae engaged in.

Anywhere here is “draft 0”:

Whereas the Governer General has determined that a Human Biosecurity Emergency with respect to covid-19 exists under section 475 and the Health Minister is satisfied under section 477 of the Human Biosecurity Act 2015 [1] that the emergency requirements specified in the attached schedule 1 are necessary under the following subsections:

(1) (a) to prevent or control: (ii) the spread of the covid-19 listed human disease from parts of New South Wales to all other parts of New South Wales and other Australian territory (b) to prevent or control the spread of covid-19 from Australia to any other country; and (c) to give effect to the recommendations identified as "critical for all countries" that have been given by the World Health Organization under Part III of the International Health Regulations[2] by decision of the eighth meeting of the W.H.O. Emergency Committee regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic which took place on Wednesday, 14 July 2021 [3] as follows:

1. Continue to use evidence-informed PHSM [Public Health and Social Measures] based on real time monitoring of the epidemiologic situation and health system capacities, taking into account the potential cumulative effects of these measures. … The use of established public health measures in response to individual cases or clusters of cases, including contact tracing, quarantine and isolation, must continue to be adapted to the epidemiological and social context and enforced.

3. Achieve the WHO call to action to have at least 10% of all countries’ populations vaccinated by September 2021. Increased global solidarity is needed to protect vulnerable populations from the emergence and spread of SARS CoV-2 variants. Noting that many countries have now vaccinated their priority populations, it is recommended that doses should be shared with countries that have limited access before expanding national vaccination programmes into lower risk groups…

9. Address community engagement and communications gaps at national and local levels to reduce COVID-19 transmission, counter misinformation, and improve COVID-19 vaccine acceptance, where applicable. This will require reinforcing messages that a comprehensive public health response is needed, including the continued use of PHSM alongside increasing vaccination coverage.

(2) The requirements specified in schedule 1 are determined as a legislative instrument that is not subject to disallowance under section 42 of the Legislation Act 2003 [4]

(3) These requirements apply to:

(a) persons, goods or conveyances when entering or leaving any place in New South Wales;
(b) the movement of persons, goods or conveyances in or between any place in New South Wales and any other place in New South Wales or anywhere else in Australia or elsewhere;
(c) the evacuation of any place in New South Wales;
(d) and any measure required for the purposes of giving
effect to the International Health Regulations recommendations specified in 1(c)

(4) The Health Minister is satisfied of all of the following:
(a) that the requirement is likely to be effective in, or to
contribute to, achieving the purpose for which it is to be
determined;
(b) that the requirement is appropriate and adapted to achieve the purpose for which it is to be determined;
(c) that the requirement is no more restrictive or intrusive than is required in the circumstances. The circumstances that require the sudden and immediate exercise of extreme and intrusive restrictive dictatorial powers are that failure to aggressively suppress covid-19 in New South Wales would result in catastrophic collapse of hospital systems throughout Australia with massive deaths;
(d) that the manner in which the requirement is to be applied is no more restrictive or intrusive than is required in the
circumstances;
(e) that the period during which the requirement is to apply is only as long as is necessary.

(5) The requirements determined apply despite any provision of any other Australian law and in particular apply despite the provisions of sections 479(5)[4] and 545(2)[5] of the Human Biosecurity Act 2015 and any provision of any law of New South Wales[4] and any provision of any law that gives jurisdiction to any Court or Tribunal to hear and determine any matter.

Schedule 1.

  1. The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) shall take charge of all aspects of the public health response to covid-19 in New South Wales and shall draft directions from the Minister under s478 of the Human Biosecurity Act 2015 to aggressively suppress community transmission of covid-19 in New South Wales and to implement the specified recommendations of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee.
  2. The Governor of New South Wales, the Ministers of the NSW Government, both houses of the legislature of NSW, the courts of NSW and all other officers and employees of New South Wales shall actively implement all such directions by all means available to them including legislation, legislative instruments, appointments and dismissal of officers and employees and directions under NSW law.
  3. All States and Territories of Australia shall provide maximum assistance to the people of New South Wales by emergency supplies of essential goods and services at the expense of the Commonwealth.
  4. No person may enter or leave any place in New South Wales for any purpose except in accordance with the public health directions drafted by the AHPCC and given by the Health Minister under section 478 of the Human Biosecurity Act 2015.[6]

References:

  1. https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2017C00303
  2. International Health Regulations 2005, Third edition
    https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241580496
  3. https://www.who.int/news/item/15-07-2021-statement-on-the-eighth-meeting-of-the-international-health-regulations-(2005)-emergency-committee-regarding-the-coronavirus-disease-(covid-19)-pandemic
  4. s479(5) would otherwise prevent a direction under subsection s479(1) to an officer or employee of a State, Territory or State or Territory body unless the direction is in accordance with an agreement between the Commonwealth and the State, Territory or body.
  5. s545(2) would otherwise not permit the Director of Biosecurity to authorise an officer or employee of a State or Territory body to be a biosecurity officer unless an arrangement is in force under section 547 in relation to the officer or employee.
  6. The penalty under section 479 for not complying is five years imprisonment or 300 penalty units or both.

covid-19 – None Shall Let Another Fall

We face a global pandemic. Excess mortality was 3 million last year and will be much greater this year. The attack rate is still growing.

Given that Observation we must first Orient, then Decide and Act. This “OODA loop” has to be repeated continuously. Events are moving too rapidly for our decisions and actions to keep up.

But first comes basic Orientation. Are we going to join together to fight this common enemy of all humanity?

One way a community binds together is by singing.

We have a suitable global anthem, from Paul Robeson’s “Hymn to Nations” sung to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, the anthem of the European Union:

Build the road of peace before us
Build it wide & deep & long
Speed the slow & check the eager
Help the weak & curb the strong
None shall push aside another
None shall let another fall
March beside me, o my brothers
All for one & one for all.

Superficially, the final amendment to Australia’s “National Plan” has been made more consistent with that. Instead of promoting a competition between the Australian States as to who can open up fastest, it specifies vaccination thresholds that must be reached by all States before any one of the States that have reached that threshold can move to a lower level of restrictions.

The point is to speed the slow and check the eager – with none letting another fall.

But that same “National Plan” pretends that Australia can be safe while a global pandemic rages through the rest of the world. It rests on seeking to push aside other nations that more desperately need vaccines, in a mad scramble to get to “the head of the queue”. Every available dose of AstraZeneca must be shoved into Australian arms, whether willing or not, lest it be “wasted” by donation to other countries.

The plan to stop worrying about infections after phase A is simply ludicrous and would contribute to more deadly variants emerging more rapidly. It isn’t even a thought bubble without a thought like the “Labor” party plan. It is just a Trumpian expression of utterly childish self-absorbed thoughtlessness.

Supposedly we can let India and Indonesia fall while Qantas resumes tourist trips to Bali! Even from the most narrow viewpoint Australia is within swimming distance of New Guinea which has a border with Indonesia.

I will leave a detailed analysis of this “plan” to a later article. There is a more urgent problem. The situation in New South Wales means Australia is on the brink of abandoning its existing “phase A” achievements. We must act fast to not let NSW fall.

Because this “National Plan” does promote vaccination and that does save lives, many public health people have remained silent about the global situation so as to focus on getting “more jabs in arms”. They have not sounded the alarm at the absurdity of NSW proposing to rely on vaccinations rather than tighter Public Health and Social Measures (PHSMs) to deal with the slow exponential growth in cases not contained by Test, Trace, Treat, Isolate and Quarantine (TTTIQ). Also they can take comfort from the fact that the plan advocates whatever level of PHSMs are needed to avoid collapse of the hospital system, rather than simply announcing a “Freedom Day” like the UK.

By now public health experts should not just be critical of the fact that the New South Wales government is still promoting delivery in September of “freedoms” that could only result in collapse. If they did their duty they should have already stepped in to fix the “national disaster” already announced from NSW. The NSW Premier told the National Cabinet meeting last Friday that NSW would not take the necessary action. But the other States did nothing at all about this direct threat to the whole country

Australia is currently in the same position as New Zealand and China. Proposing that the aim of vaccination is to ABANDON that hard won achievement so that we can enjoy MORE infections and MORE deaths is so utterly bizarre that the media has to breathlessly report “the conversation” among politicians and pundits advocating it non-stop and simply pretends there is no other view.

But what goes around, comes around. New South Wales was held up as the “gold standard” for opening up faster than other States. It rushed ahead eagerly and nobody checked it. Now it is on the edge of falling and the other States are letting it fall. That will come back around to those who let another fall.

If New South Wales falls then Victoria and Queensland will be subject to almost continuous lockdowns to suppress repeated incursions of infection across the border. Perhaps Tasmania and Western Australia could maintain the same level of covid elmination as New Zealand but it would be very hard for South Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT.

But its worse than that.

The media death cultists are actively campaigning for New South Wales to fail, precisely because they actually WANT to bring down Victoria and Queensland and thus restore “calm and reason” to Australia as a whole . Here’s Chris Kenny, Associate Editor of “The Australian” in the weekend’s edition (p16-17 August 7-8):

Some readers were dismayed when I wrote last month that it might be a good thing if the NSW lockdown failed because it would force the nation to learn to live with the disease. That seems to be what is playing out – incrementally and reluctantly perhaps – but it is happening.

The lockdown fetishists portray this as welcoming sickneses and deaths, as though there is another option. The day the virus arrived on our shores from Wuhan we were going to have to deal with these morbid realities, it is all about picking a sustainable, least worst path. As I have argued in this column for more than a year, there is no option but to find a way to live with Covid.

He is right, that is playing out “incrementally and reluctantly perhaps – but it is happening.” Most processes require incremental responses so decision makers are naturally slow to respond “disproportionately” and “suddenly”. Public health officials with the same outlook are dangerous. Any incremental growth of an epidemic has to be dealt with disproportionately and suddenly. That is the hardest concept to get across even when people claim to understand exponential growth. There simply is no such thing as holding steady. It is either fizzling, exploding or teetering between the two. Two out of three of those possibilities require immediate and disproportionate action to avoid disaster.

Actually of course most of the virus arrived here from the USA and UK where governments followed the policies promoted by the Wall Street Journal and its local affiliates, the Daily Telegraph and The Australian (now joined by Channel 9 Entertainment’s newspapers and the ABC). The US and UK responded incrementally and reluctantly so they are now “living with” with the highest global death rates from covid-19 while the fascist regime in Wuhan, like the New Zealand government, stamped it out and are again stamping it out after Delta arrived from Europe.

We are very lucky not to have been defeated long ago by the incremental and proportionate responses favoured by Commonwealth Chief Medical Officers. Fortunately they do not actually run any of the public health systems in Australia and all State Chief Health Officers that actually do had a better understanding, except for NSW which was repeatedly praised by the Commonwealth for taking risks that eventually resulted in a “national disaster”.

Australian States did stamp out each outbreak until now, despite the Commonwealth’s and NSW’s ineptness. Like New Zealand and China we can keep doing that provided we don’t let NSW fall. There is another option instead of “welcoming sicknesses and deaths”. If it requires stamping on death cultists like Chris Kenny, so be it.

I’m not a lawyer but I do have sufficient knowledge of the law relating to incitement to have been able to “remain at large” despite numerous trials for incitement to riot or to assault police during the Vietnam war.

The people who breached public health orders by protests recently suppressed by NSW police would certainly take comfort from the ideas promoted in The Australian and it’s fleet of tabloids. But I am sure there is no case that these newspapers “incited, urged, aided or encouraged” them.

But what about “misconduct in public office”?

According to wikipedia that is:

“… a criminal offence at common law which dates back to the 13th century.[2][3]

The offence carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. It is confined to those who are public office holders, and is committed when the office holder acts (or neglects to act) in a way that constitutes a breach of the duties of that office.[4]

The (UK) Crown Prosecution Service guidelines on this offence[2] say that the elements of the offence are when:

A public officer acting as such.
Wilfully neglects to perform one’s duty and/or wilfully misconducts oneself.

To such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder.[5]

Without reasonable excuse or justification.”

Isn’t that precisely what Chris Kenny and his publisher are urging, aiding and encouraging?

It is the duty of the public health officers in every State to protect the public from infectious disease. It is the duty of the Ministers to see to it that they do so. Wilfully neglecting to perform those duties “because it would force the nation to live with the disease” is clearly criminal.

The victim of that crime is “the nation” against whom deadly force is being advocated. We have the legal means to deal with such attacks – forcefully by imprisonment.

The Earl of Strafford was beheaded for proposing to “reduce this Kingdom”. After signing his death warrant, Charles I himself waged war against the people and was duly tried for treason by the High Court of Parliament. His head was removed from his shoulders with the Crown still on it, but without the Royal assent.

Lawyers are not usually as relevant to policy issues as some might think.

For stamping out the virus world wide, virologists developing a sterilizing vaccine will be central. They need to be publicly funded like basic research since private research by Big Pharma is naturally more attracted to ongoing sales to “live with” an ongoing disease than to actually ending the disease.

After all, what contribution does smallpox make to anybody’s “bottom line”, now that it has been stamped out?

Also very relevant in the meantime are pharmaceutical and other engineers to rapidly accelerate vaccine manufacturing capacity to reduce deaths and infections and prevent emergence of more deadly variants. I will write about that too in a later article.

But right now there is locally an urgent need for lawyers.

New South Wales is on the brink of falling because its government does not intend to actually carry out the agreed phase A of aggressive suppression to eliminate community transmission.

It would be difficult to prove the conduct is “wilful” rather than merely incompetent. As Chris Kenny slyly points out, what they are doing is being done “incrementally and reluctantly perhaps”. The level of incompetence is so extreme that a jury might be convinced by expert evidence that they were not merely reluctant and slow to do their duty. But as Chris Kenny hints with the coy ‘perhaps’ there must be a reasonable doubt. How could any Australian jury unanimously have no reasonable doubt that some Australian politicians were not “perhaps” simply incompetent shambolic clots?

Fortunately it might not be necessary to prove that the responsible Ministers are committing a crime in order to prosecute Chris Kenny and his newspaper for urging and encouraging that crime.

Nor need it be necessary to accuse the Ministers of crime in order to remove them from office. The simple fact that they are failing to aggressively suppress the virus is sufficient. Necessity trumps everything else when people recognize in time that something has to be done. Removal of obstacles to what HAS to be done is only “impossible” afterwards when the necessity was not understood at the time.

My understanding is that legally the duty of removing the incompetent NSW Minister’s from office falls on the Governor of NSW whoever that might be (I have no idea and do not believe it matters). In practical political terms the initiative must come from elsewhere (and it should not come from the Commonwealth government).

Perhaps a formal request from the Chief Health Officers of the other States, backed by declaration of various regions of NSW as biosecurity threats and appointment of regional biosecurity commanders by the Commonwealth? The Commonwealth does have constitutional responsibility for “Quarantine” and TTTIQ which includes Quarantine is breaking down in NSW. It would be better if the initiative was led by States with Coalition governments – South Australia and Tasmania.

Already the degree of damage done will require much more intense restrictions on essential work and other movement and for much longer than has been needed elsewhere. Curfews and rostered hours for exercise and collection of essential supplies may be necessary. Neigbourhood committees will be needed to help support people in isolation, organize supplies and tactfully encourage compliance with extremely onerous public health orders in their districts. Other States will need to provide both essential supplies and competent leadership staff for the NSW health service.

Of necessity this process of extending support to prevent failure will have to grow into replacing the functions of the current NSW government. Early involvement of lawyers is merely to make the transition as smooth as feasible.

Anyway, the processes will take some time, so lawyers should get to work on it right now. The virus moves fast. Exponential growth starts gradually and then explodes suddenly.

Unless we can first prevent New South Wales falling we cannot contribute to the world wide fight to prevent other countries falling.

Dr W.H.O.

There is a worldwide fight and it does have a global leadership – the World Health Organization. W.H.O.’s “International Health Regulations” are binding international law agreed to by all 194 member States.

That isn’t much, but it’s what we’ve got, and what we have to build from in dealing with a global pandemic. Its strength resides in the respect that people everywhere have for public health officials as opposed to politicians and pundits.

W.H.O. and the various agencies coordinating global vaccination have put out a clear warning and call to action:

“No one is safe until everyone is safe”

Everybody can and should follow what they say unfiltered by the local media by going directly to the W.H.O. web site for guidance on all aspects of fighting the pandemic. Here’s the regular media briefings regularly ignored in Australian media:

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/media-resources/press-briefings

Here is the most recent transcript:

https://www.who.int/multi-media/details/who-press-conference-on-coronavirus-disease-(covid-19)—4-august-2021

It spells out that the developed countries are following an exactly opposite policy to W.H.O. They will use all available manufacturing capacity to give additional “booster” shots to their “fully vaccinated” people as new variants become increasing virulent in a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” raging throughout the rest of the world where not even the front line health workers and the 10% most vulnerable have been vaccinated.

Here is the WHO Director-General with the very minimal request to just postpone booster shots for another two months so that some supplies can reach the 10% that need vaccines most desperately. His message is “None shall push aside another”.

Here is the replacement for Donald Trump rejecting that polite request, but with more “inspiring” verbiage than the previous “leader of the Free world”:

https://mobile.twitter.com/i/broadcasts/1OdJrVzWoOYJX

Whereas Trump prohibited all exports of vaccines and raw materials from the USA, Biden will condescendingly “donate” a few hundred million NEXT YEAR to a world that needs billions of doses RIGHT NOW.

In direct opposition to the warning promoted by WHO, Australia’s Government is running a vaccination campaign with the slogan:

“We’re not safe until we’re all safe”

Find out when it’s your turn and where you can be vaccinated at australia.gov.au

COVID-19
VACCINATION

KEEPING AUSTRALIA COVIDSAFE

This explicitly replaces “everyone” with “we” and explicitly defines “we” as “Australia”.

Here’s an “Explainer” from Australia’s national broadcaster:

“If you’re vaccinated against COVID-19, how protected are you from catching the virus?”

After a cheery introduction pretending that the whole world is being vaccinated, “our ABC” explains that “we” will be “safe” because “we” will join the US, Israel and UK by simply no longer worrying about the number of infections (that lead to more deadly variants) and only focus on the number of Australians in hospital (reduced by vaccines):

It enthusiastically “explains” that:

“In the US the CDC has so little concern about these (rapidly increasing) cases that they aren’t even counting them any more…” [at 5’18”]

“Driven by the Delta virus, cases in the UK have actually been increasing, and they’ve been increasing sharply. However authorities there are not that worried. Contact tracing has been done away with and reports of daily case numbers are a thing of the past.” [at 7’0″]

Here’s a warning about what happens if we follow the ABC and other media’s siren song and just allow NSW to fall:

https://mobile.twitter.com/ravish_chawla/status/1391458239879938050

Book review: ‘Radicals’ – struggle between the lines pushed things forward

Here is my review of ‘Radicals’ by Meredith Burgmann and Nadia Wheatley, just published in the Melbourne Labour History Society’s newsletter ‘Recorder’ (July 2021, No 301).

Iran – where there is repression, there is resistance

My only disagreement with this article is the author’s use of the word ‘leftists’ to describe those in alliance with the Iranian clericalist regime. She should use the term ‘pseudo-leftists’, as that is accurate…. B York

Iran: A New Wave of Mass Protests and Strikes

(written by Frieda Afary, reprinted from her blog ‘Iranian progressives in translation’)

Iran is experiencing another wave of mass protests and strikes as economic, social, political, environmental and health problems make it impossible for the large majority of the population to have the bare minimums needed to live.

Petrochemical Strikes, Protests Against Water Shortage

A new wave of mass protests over severe water shortage in the mainly ethnic Arab province of Khuseztan began on July 15.   Protesters’ slogans have included: “Down with Dictatorship.”,  “Down With Khamenei”, “We Don’t Want An Islamic Republic”, “The People Want the Regime to Fall.”  Government security forces have shot and killed at least 8 protesters and injured and arrested many others.   However, solidarity protests have started in Azarbaijan, Kurdistan, Isfahan, Sistan & Baluchistan and Tehran.  Iranian filmmakers, teachers and writers’ groups have co-signed a joint statement in support of the protests. (https://iranwire.com/en/features/9985)

In the words of a statement of solidarity by the Tehran Bus Workers’ Syndicate:  “The lack of water in Khuzestan today is rooted in the unprofessional, rapacious and profit-centered policies of the prior decades of capitalism in oil extraction and use of water for the steel industry, the income from which does not go to the people.  These insatiable policies have deprived the people of Khuzestan of safe drinking water.  Water is shut off for long hours and it is lacking for basic needs.  Farmers and cattle growers have also been damaged and lost their livelihoods.”  (https://www.akhbar-rooz.com/%d8%b3%d9%86%d8%af%db%8c%da%a9%d8%a7%db%8c-%d8%b4%d8%b1%da%a9%d8%aa-%d9%88%d8%a7%d8%ad%d8%af-%d8%b3%d8%b1%da%a9%d9%88%d8%a8-%d9%88-%da%a9%d8%b4%d8%aa%d8%a7%d8%b1-%d9%85%d8%b1%d8%af%d9%85-%d8%ac%d8%a7/)

The latest protests have followed a series of nationwide strikes of temporary contract workers in Iran’s oil and gas industry which is also heavily based in Khuzestan.   The strikes which began on June 19 and have spread to a hundred production sites,  are demanding permanent employment status, a $500 monthly wage, safe working conditions and the right to organize and be free of police surveillance.  Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers on strike in Khuzestan are also asking for COVID vaccination and expressing solidarity with protests against the lack of water.

Economic Crisis and COVID Pandemic

Iran continues to suffer from a massive economic crisis  brought about by the costs of its regional imperialist  interventions in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, its nuclear and missile programs and the effects of U.S. economic sanctions.   The official  minimum wage is approximately $120 per month in a country where the cost of bare necessities for a family of 4 is  $500 per month.   Electricity is shut off for several hours on a daily basis.  Access to the internet is becoming more limited or impossible for many because of the cost and government repression.

In this situation the COVID pandemic has been wreaking havoc on the population.    The Delta variant of COVID continues to spread widely.   Over 95% of the population is not vaccinated and has no access to any vaccines, much less safe ones.  (https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/countries-and-territories/iran/) The official number of deaths is approximately 88,000, but the real numbers are much higher. (https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-maps-and-cases/ ) A large part of the population of 83 million has been infected.  However, no accurate figures exist because of government repression.

COVID is spreading rapidly in Iran’s prisons, which have an official population of 190,000. Women prisoners are also suffering from and dying from COVID. They include journalists, teachers, feminist and labor  activists,  students, environmentalists, Kurdish and Arab civil right activists, as well as  Baha’i and Sufi women.

Women Prisoners and Afghan Refugees

Nasrin Sotoudeh, imprisoned feminist human rights attorney and defender of the “Girls of Revolution Avenue” is suffering from a variety of health problems in addition to COVID. Narges Mohammadi, feminist activist against the death penalty who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was released last year after a long prison sentence, only to receive another prison sentence which also includes  80 lashes for continuing to oppose the death penalty and “endangering national security.”  She has been fighting  this sentence, and has attended protests in solidarity with the people of Khuzestan,  striking workers and the families of political prisoners.  In a recent interview, she called Iranian women’s struggles “the Achilles heel of the Iranian regime”. (https://www.facebook.com/voicesofwomenforchange/videos/241864884051720)  Sepideh Gholyan, feminist labor activist , imprisoned in Khuzestan, continues to write about the plight  of ethnic Arab women  prisoners. She has been savagely beaten in prison and is now on hunger strike.

Afghan migrants and refugees who number approximately 3 million in Iran continue to be expelled ( 450,000 expelled since 2020).  The Iranian regime has been holding negotiations between Taliban and the Afghan government under the direction of Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif  (https://www.radiozamaneh.com/676068/) and is helping the Taliban strengthen their  power even though the Taliban have been killing members of the Shi’a Hazara population in Afghanistan.  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/afghanistan-hazara-taliban/2021/06/30/fae16a60-d815-11eb-8c87-ad6f27918c78_story.html)

Iran’s Continuing Regional Ambitions and U.S. Imperialism’s “Solutions”

In the midst of all these crises and protests, the Iranian government maintains its regional imperialist interventions in Syria, Iraq, and  Lebanon.   It promotes its plots to kidnap and assassinate opposition activists in exile. (https://iranhumanrights.org/2021/07/foiled-kidnapping-of-dissident-part-of-irans-ramped-up-campaign-to-crush-dissent/) It continues to develop its nuclear and missile programs and has stopped its negotiation with the U.S. Biden administration  on returning to the JCPOA nuclear agreement.

The “election” of Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s next president had the lowest rate of mass participation even by Iran’s standards which were very low to begin with.  Raisi was previously the head of Iran’s judiciary and immediately prior to that,  the head of GHORB, the construction conglomerate  of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).    He is infamously known as a member of the “Death Commission” which ordered the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.  Under his watch,  approximately 1500 people were killed by government forces during the November 2019 uprising. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-protests-specialreport/special-report-irans-leader-ordered-crackdown-on-unrest-do-whatever-it-takes-to-end-it-idUSKBN1YR0QR)   Amnesty International has condemned him for committing crimes against humanity (https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/06/iran-ebrahim-raisi-must-be-investigated-for-crimes-against-humanity/)

U.S. New York Times columnist, Thomas Freedman reveals imperialist inhumanity in his recent column on Iran where he offers a “solution”  that is “the best anyone can hope for with Iran.”  (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/15/opinion/iran-biden-nuclear-deal.html?searchResultPosition=1) He argues that the U.S. with the help of Gulf states  should give more financial aid to the Assad regime to kick Iran out of Syria, maintain Russia and Turkey as dominant powers and assure the continuation of the Assad regime. This he says would reduce Iran’s danger and satisfy the U.S. and Israel.  To him, the people of the region, the Syrian Arabs and Kurds and the Iranian population, are mere pawns on the U.S. and global Imperialist chessboard.

Needed Progressive Solidarity with Struggles inside Iran

No less cynical are those leftists and so-called socialists around the world who support the Iranian regime as “anti-imperialist” or refuse to criticize it.

Those who limit their solidarity to calling for the removal of U.S. sanctions,  refuse to recognize the complexity of the problems in Iran.  They do not address the fact that these problems are rooted both in the external imperialism of the U.S.,  Russia. China and  internal capitalist militarism and religious fundamentalism.

Any effort to engage in solidarity with the struggles inside Iran begins not only with  calling for the removal of U.S. sanctions and an end to Israel’s attacks,  but also simultaneously holding the Iranian regime accountable for its repression and  exploitation of  the people and environment of the region.     That recognition demands calling for the immediate release of political prisoners, expressing solidarity with striking workers, feminist and environmental struggles, oppressed ethnic, sexual and religious minorities,  and demanding Iran’s withdrawal from Syria, Iraq  and an end to its interventions in Afghanistan, Lebanon and Yemen.

Frieda Afary

July 25, 2021

What is capitalism and why should we be against it? – panel discussion featuring Rory Dufficy, Arthur Dent and Rjurik Davidson, Melbourne 22 May 2021

On Saturday, May 22nd, 2021, the Melbourne chapter of the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted an in-person panel discussion at the Clyde Hotel in Carlton, Australia on the question: “What is Capitalism, and why should we be against it?”

The present is characterized not only by a political crisis of the global neoliberal order but also by differing interpretations of the cause of this crisis:

Capitalism. If we are to interpret capitalism, we must also know how to change it.

– What is capitalism? – Is capitalism contradictory? If so, what is this contradiction and how does it relate to Left politics?

– How has capitalism changed over time, and what have these changes meant politically for the Left?

– Does class struggle take place today? If so, how, and what role should it play for the Left?

– Is capitalism in crisis? If so, how? And how should the Left respond?

– If a new era of global capitalism is emerging, how do we envision the future of capitalism and what are the implications of this for the Left?

Panelists: – Rory Dufficy (Scholar of Avante-Garde politics and teaches Marx’s Capital at the Melbourne School Of Continental Philosophy) – Rjurik Davidson (Marxist writer, editor & speaker. Former Associate Editor of Overland magazine) – Arthur Dent (Unreconstructed Maoist and contributor at c21stleft.com)

[ Unfortunately 20 seconds of Dufficy’s opening remarks were lost due to an internet drop-out. However, his remarks are complete in the transcript expected to be published in an upcoming issue of The Platypus Review ]