Day: 4 May 2022

Is China’s ‘Great Firewall’ About to Collapse?

China has turned online censorship into a domestic industry, employing two million apparatchiks to suppress dissent. Yet Shanghai’s dystopian Zero-Covid lockdown policy is testing the ‘Great Firewall’ to its limits. Wired has more.

If you search the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo for “Shanghai lockdown” (“上海封城”), you’ll find plenty of videos of deserted streets and emergency workers delivering food. There are fewer signs of the collective outrage, anger, and desperation that has gripped the city’s 26 million residents, who have been confined to their homes since April 5th and are struggling to get hold of food and medicine. You probably won’t find, for instance, a shocking video of pandemic workers clubbing a pet corgi to death after its owners were taken away to be quarantined, although there are references to the infamous incident, which became a symbol of the harsh lockdown conditions.

The situation became desperate as supplies of food ran short days after the lockdown was enforced, and some people were denied access to medical care. In response, residents are dodging China’s notorious online censorship system to document their experiences and vent their anger on sites that include Twitter-equivalent Weibo, the ubiquitous messaging app WeChat, and the Chinese version of TikTok, Douyin.

China has one of the world’s most advanced internet filtering and censorship apparatuses, known as the Great Firewall. Back in 2013, state media said around 2 million people were employed to track content posted online, and Yaqiu Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, says censorship has become stricter since then. But the Shanghai lockdown is demonstrating the cat-and-mouse dynamics that are central to social media censorship, even in a country that devotes huge resources to wiping the internet clean from dissent.

“No censorship apparatus is airtight,” says Guobin Yang, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies contemporary China. “Social media censorship in China still relies a lot on human labour. It’s entirely possible that not all censors were motivated to keep up with their job at full speed.”

One video that went viral on Chinese social media, despite censorship efforts to stop it, was entitled the “Voices of April” and was originally posted by a user calling themselves Strawberry Fields Forever. The video combines aerial shots of Shanghai with audio recordings claiming to be made by distressed residents. A man pleads for his sick father to be allowed to go into a hospital; children in quarantine centres cry after being separated from their parents; residents shout from their compounds for the Government to provide them with supplies.

“It went so viral that the censors had trouble censoring it,” says the cofounder of Great Fire, an organisation that tracks censored posts on Chinese social media platforms, who asked to use the pseudonym Charlie Smith. He suggests the video, which was taken down and uploaded several times by different users, could have been viewed millions of times. “The Chinese understand there’s a limit to free expression,” Smith says, especially when it comes to politics. But he believes the Shanghai lockdown goes beyond the usual political debate because so many people are personally affected. That means people are willing to push the limits of free expression they would normally accept, he adds.

Worth reading in full.

As Vaccine Demand Collapses, U.K. Faces £4 Billion of Waste With 80% of its 650 Million Dose Stockpile Unused

The U.K. has used just 142 million of the stockpile of 650 million vaccine doses it purchased, leaving an estimated £4 billion worth of vaccines unused and, at current levels of take-up, likely going to waste. The vaccines typically have an expiration date of six to 12 months after manufacture – though it’s not clear how many of the 650 million doses have already been manufactured and put in storage and how many are on order for future manufacture and delivery.

Officials have not revealed exactly how much was paid for the Pfizer vaccines, which comprise nearly a third of the total ordered, but the U.S. Government is reputed to have paid around $20 (£16) a dose.

The Moderna vaccine is said to have cost a bit less, perhaps about $15 (£12) per dose, and the Astra Zeneca considerably less, perhaps as low as $4 (£3) per dose as it was sold at cost. There are no data on the other five types ordered, all of which are as yet completely unused.

If an average price of $10 (£8) per dose is assumed, the total bill for all the unused vaccine doses will amount to around $5 billion or £4 billion. Will the public be forgiving of this massive waste of public funds on account of it occurring with good intentions during a state of emergency? That remains to be seen.

It is however far from the only example of pandemic profligacy. The losses due to fraud and delinquent business loans are colossal, with City AM reporting that the Treasury’s £4.3bn fraud write-off is likely to be eclipsed by £20bn of Covid loan defaults. The Government has also written off £8.7bn it spent on protective equipment bought during the pandemic, with £673m of equipment unusable, £750m not used before its expiry date, £2.6bn of equipment judged to be unsuitable for use in the NHS, and £4.7bn being due to the Government paying more for it during the acute global shortage than it is now worth. The Government also spent £569m buying 20,900 ventilators, of which only 2,150 (10%) were used, the rest being left idle in a Ministry of Defence warehouse.

Does the EU’s Oil Embargo Make Sense?

This morning, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the EU’s sixth ‘sanctions package’ against Russia. The proposed measures include banning Russian media from broadcasting in Europe and disconnecting more Russian banks from the SWIFT payment system.

However, by the far the most consequential measure announced was a complete embargo on Russian oil.

“We will make sure,” von der Leyen explained, “that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion.” Specifically, crude oil imports are to be phased out “within six months”, while imports of refined products will stop “by the end of the year” – so that’s the end of October for crude oil and the end of December for refined products.

Although von der Leyen didn’t mention any exemptions, an “EU source” told Reuters that Hungary and Slovakia – two countries that are heavily dependent on Russian oil – will have until the end of 2023 to phase out imports. (Slovakia currently gets 96% of its crude oil from Russia.)

Does this far-reaching policy make sense? Perhaps. But there are several potential downsides that need to be factored in.

First, given the proposed timeframe, it won’t have much impact on the war itself – unless the fighting continues past the end of 2022. In my podcast debate with Konstantin Kisin, he argued the only realistic goal for sanctions is reducing Russia’s capacity to wage war (prompting a withdrawal or fomenting regime change simply aren’t on the cards.)

So even if you believe sanctions are the right approach (something of which I’m sceptical), an embargo that’s phased in over six to eight months isn’t going to have much impact.

The stated reasons for this extended timeframe were twofold: allowing EU countries to “secure alternative supply routes”, and minimising “the impact on the global market” (i.e., making sure the price of oil doesn’t skyrocket). Of course, by the same token, it leaves Russia with plenty of time to find alternative buyers.

Indian Supreme Court Rules Vaccine Mandates Unlawful as Courts Around the World Push Back Against Pandemic State Overreach

It’s been over two years since waves of ever tightening restrictions, including wholesale house arrests, began to be placed on healthy citizens who had committed no crime. One by one, the world’s democracies buckled to the herd panic about the Covid pandemic sweeping the world and their governments increasingly took on hues of totalitarian regimes in telling people when, where, how far, how long and with whom and how many they could go out or even sleep with; what businesses could operate and under what conditions; what medications doctors could and could not prescribe irrespective of their own professional judgement and knowledge of their patients; and mandatory mask and vaccine requirements for an array of social and professional interactions.

Many directives lacked scientific basis and some were downright wacky – there really is no better word for it. The apotheosis of executive overreach came in Canada with the truckers’ Freedom Convoy in Ottawa and in the Australian state of Victoria. In both, MPs betrayed the people, the country and the constitution by putting their own careers first, the party second and the country last. The unchecked growth of the administrative state and centralisation of authority, power and decision-making in prime ministers’ and premiers’ offices fused seamlessly into the rise of the biofascist state. Complicity by the media in propagating fear porn, social media censorship of alternative voices and threats of disciplinary proceedings including dismissal and deregistration by professional governing bodies ensured there’s been a stifling conformism.

£10,000 Lockdown Fine Case Collapses – “Hundreds” More to Follow, Says Lawyer

Hundreds of restaurants and gyms hit with lockdown fines could see their fixed penalties revoked in the courts, a leading lawyer has suggested. MailOnline has more.

Twenty-three such cases have already collapsed so far, with more than 800 more having “strong cases” for potential appeals, solicitor advocate Lucinda Nicholls, of Nicholls & Nicholls explained.

Ms. Nicholls said gyms were particularly susceptible to fines due to confusing official guidelines – including regulations that said those with a BMI higher than 40 were “entitled to go to a gym for exercise”.

“Therefore gyms were allowed to be open for that category of customer,” she told the Times. 

Now legal experts across the country have accused official bodies of showing ignorance for the exceptions to lockdown restrictions that saw businesses wrongly hit with financial penalties.

The developments come after a gym owner who faced a £10,000 fine for keeping his gym open during the second lockdown saw the “flimsy” and “inept” case against him dropped.

Alex Lowndes, who owns Gainz Fitness and Strength in Bedford and St Neots in Cambridgeshire, refused to close his gym in November 2020 after COVID-19 restrictions were imposed. Mr Lowndes’ establishment was subsequently raided by police and he was charged with a breach of lockdown regulations, which he denied.

The businessman failed to pay the fixed penalty notice and was due to stand trial last March, however his case, defended by Ms. Nicholls, collapsed after the authority failed to gather sufficient evidence to prosecute.

Bedford Borough Council said the case was in the “public interest”, they enforced the rules at the time and that there was “ample evidence for a successful prosecution”. 

The CPS has said each lockdown fine would be considered on its individual merits. 

Mr Lowndes told the BBC: “They [the council] should have looked at it even six months in and gone ‘this is a waste of time’. But they kept going and they kept going, they brought in an external barrister, they kept spending money, and it just got out of control.”

He added: “[Contesting the case] was based on principle. We should never have shut in the first place and we stand by what we did at the time.”

Worth reading in full.

Lancet Vaccine Study Author Says Her Data Show “Danger Signal” of Vaccine Heart Deaths – But the “Powers” Don’t Want to Know

The lead author of a pre-print study in the Lancet examining all-cause mortality in the Covid vaccine trials has said that her work shows a “potential danger signal” for heart-related deaths connected to the mRNA vaccines that “warrants further scrutinisation”.

Speaking to UnHerd‘s Freddie Sayers, Professor Christine Stabell-Benn from the University of Southern Denmark added that there is “major pushback” to her efforts to investigate the effects of vaccines on all-cause mortality and many regulators and companies simply don’t want to know.

While stressing that the numbers in her study are often too small to provide statistical significance and ground firm conclusions, Prof. Stabell-Benn observes that “there is an overweight of cardiovascular deaths in the Pfizer group” which is “a potential danger signal that warrants further scrutinisation”.

Addressing the wider context of safety signals from the mRNA vaccines, she adds (from 22’50”):

I think there are danger signals in relation to cardiovascular deaths and diseases. We know that now with certainty for the mRNA vaccines with respect to myocarditis and pericarditis. But also anecdotally, I would say there are reports of cardiovascular deaths which I think deserve further scrutinisation. This is just a piece in the puzzle, but it adds to the evidence that suggests this is something which should be investigated further for the mRNA vaccines.

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