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Wed, 14 Apr 2021
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'Lockdown, not vaccine, is reason for drop in coronavirus cases and deaths' - Boris Johnson

boris

Lockdown main reason for drop in deaths - PM
The PM suggests the millions of jabs given over the past few months was not key to the reduction in COVID levels.

Boris Johnson has warned that the reduction in coronavirus infections, hospitalisations and deaths "has not been achieved" by the rollout of COVID vaccines.

The prime minister, speaking the day after the latest easing of lockdown restrictions, instead said it was the national shutdown that had been "overwhelmingly important" in driving down COVID rates.


Comment: Lockdowns have been in effect for nearly a year and apparently it's only now that they're working? Is there a more likely explanation? One might be that the coronavirus, and the flu, are seasonal and both will be in decline at this time of year in the UK.


Nearly 40 million vaccine doses have now been given across the UK, with those aged between 45 to 49 now able to book their jab appointments.

Comment: Lockdowns have no only had detrimental psycho-physiological effects on people, resulting in weaker immune systems, but by limiting contact with others they've potentially made next year's flu season worse: British Covid modellers predict 'severe flu next winter because lockdowns prevented usual herd immunity'


Bad Guys

Russian troops on Ukraine border 'ready to defend country' in event of war says Defense Minister Shoigu, warns of NATO buildup at Russia's borders

Shoigu
© Sputnik / Pavel Lvov
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu salutes as he visits the main submarine base of the Northern Fleet to inspect the construction site of facilities for Borei and Borei-A class submarines in Gadzhievo, Murmansk region, Russia.
Two detachments of the Russian Army, along with three airborne units, are ready to act in the event tensions with the West escalate into full-blown fighting, Moscow announced on Tuesday following a surprise inspection of troops.

After paying a visit to the soldiers, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told journalists that the personnel met the standards required for the situation. "The troops have shown full readiness and ability to fulfill the tasks of ensuring the country's military security," he said. "Currently, these associations and formations are engaged in drills and exercises."

Shoigu said that the redeployments had taken place "in response to the military activity of the alliance that threatens Russia." The move comes amid escalating tension with the US-led NATO bloc and after bloody fighting in eastern Ukraine between Kiev's forces and two breakaway republics.

Comment: See also:


Star of David

By sabotaging Iran's nuclear program, Israel has (once again) sabotaged world peace

natanz nuclear facility iran

Road to Iran's Natanz nuclear plant
Pentagon chief Austin's visit to Israel serves as a stark reminder that regardless of stated US policy goals, Israel almost always gets its way.

After a week of fruitful discussions between the parties to the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action - the JCPOA, better known as the Iranian nuclear agreement - and the United States (who, since May 2018, was no longer a party, and as such sat in as an observer), it looked as if the US and Iran had agreed to a mutually accepted outcome: the lifting of all nuclear-related sanctions imposed by the US in exchange for Iran returning to full compliance with its obligations under the terms of the JCPOA. The devil was in the details, however. And by week's end there was no agreed-upon formula regarding the sequence of events concerning the actions needed to be taken by both parties to fulfil their respective requirements. There was not even a timeframe.

Comment: At least one Israeli military figure was appalled at the sabotage operation:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should not have had the authority to approve the sabotage attack against Iran's Natanz nuclear facility, former Israeli Defence Force Head of Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin has said.

"Sensitive operational actions with political and security implications involving potential escalation must be approved by the government. The cabinet can authorise the security cabinet to decide, and the security cabinet can authorise the prime minister and the defence minister. These processes did not happen, and the decisions were made while excluding all the decision-making bodies. Knesset oversight has not existed for a long time," Yadlin wrote in a multi-part Twitter thread on Tuesday.
amos yadlin israel military intelligence
© Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
Former military intelligence head Amos Yadlin
According to the retired military officer, the Natanz attack served to carelessly stoke tensions with the Islamic Republic, without coordinating with Tel Aviv's American allies, and without actually improving Israel's national security situation.

"Over the years that I have participated in discussions...on the approval of Israeli actions in an enemy country, we have been faced with three main considerations: the expected achievement, the enemy's response and the potential for escalation, as well as implications for Israel's relations with its vital ally," Yadlin explained.

"48 hours after the explosion at Natanz, it has become clear that the attack did not result in the end of Iran's nuclear programme," the former official continued, adding that in the wake of media reporting on Israeli involvement in the sabotage, including "irresponsible leaks" from inside Israel, Tel Aviv should brace for Iranian retaliation. He added, however, that this response would be "measured," out of a desire on Tehran's part to avoid further escalation.

Of greater concern, Yadlin said, is that the Islamic Republic can now be expected to "take defiant measures" in the nuclear field, expanding enrichment with advanced centrifuges and reducing international supervision of its nuclear programme. "In the context of the negotiations, it is likely that Iran will harden its positions or even strengthen the hand of the Revolutionary Guards who have called on Iran not to return to the 2015 nuclear deal."

The officer also warned that even if Israel informed the US ahead of time about its plans to sabotage Natanz, the timing was "not conducive to building trust" with the Biden administration, trust which he said is "essential to coordinating positions and safeguarding Israel's interests."

Netanyahu, Yadlin alleged, probably does not have an up-to-date strategy for conducting its Iran sabotage campaign in the Biden era, "and without a doubt, in the shadow of the political crisis [facing Israel], the essential discussions have not taken place."

"Even taking a cautious view, it is doubtful whether we are not witnessing a political timing that influences the initiation of a security crisis with the goal of making it easier for Netanyahu to form another government. These are not the considerations that should inform such fateful decisions," the officer concluded.
Iran's retaliation may have already commenced:
"The Israeli ship was targeted at the Emirati port of Fujairah," the agency tweeted, adding that the number of the Israeli ship that was targeted is 9690559, it is called Hyperion, and it belongs to the Israeli PCC company which transports cars.

Israel has blamed the attack on Iran, Israeli Channel 12 reported, citing unnamed ​officials.

No casualties have been reported following the incident, the channel added. The attack was likely carried out with a missile or a drone, the Jerusalem Post reported, adding that the ship only suffered light damage.

The Hyperion is linked to the Israeli Ray Shipping company, which owned a vessel hit by an alleged Iranian attack on 28 February. An Israeli-owned ship was targeted in the Gulf of Oman while en route to Dubai - Prime Minister Netanyahu blamed the explosion on Iran, while Tehran rejected the accusations as "groundless."

Tuesday's attack comes amid spiralling tensions between Iran and Israel following the sabotage attack at the Natanz nuclear facility on Sunday, which disrupted the site's power grid. Tehran called the incident an "act of nuclear terrorism", while some Israeli and US media suggested that it was the results of a "classified Israeli operation."



Magnify

Turkish court orders release of 10 retired admirals who signed Motreux convention letter

black sea
© CC BY-SA 2.0 / Nikos Roussos / the canal
Over 100 retired Turkish admirals had published a letter highlighting the need for the country to stay in the Montreux convention amid plans to build a huge canal on the edge of Istanbul. Ankara has, however, stressed that the implementation of the Istanbul Canal project does not mean that Turkey wants to abandon the convention.

An Ankara court has ordered the release of ten retired Turkish admirals who were detained earlier this month for signing a declaration in defense of the Montreux convention, NTV reports.

The ten admirals are being released on a signature bond, NTV said on Tuesday.

Comment: See also:


Light Sabers

Russian-Ukrainian war: Tragedy for people, chance for elites

Ukraine army illustration
© Unknown
Ukraine army scenes
Against the backdrop of ongoing political provocations and bellicose rhetoric from all parties involved in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, military escalation is constantly growing. Local forces, as well as the OSCE observers, report about more and more ceasefire violations in the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics. There are daily statements on casualties on both sides of the conflict among the military and local civilians.

Now, when all the global media are closely following the situation in the eastern regions of Ukraine, the international community is wondering whether Donbass will become the point of the next military conflict, and what its scale will be. The main question is "Cui Prodest"?

The answer is unambiguous: the administration of Ukrainian President is a real stakeholder in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. In the current Ukrainian reality, there are plenty of circumstances that determine the pattern of conduct of Volodimir Zelensky.

Comment: Conflict ahead? The idea that war covers all sins and eradicates fundamental problems is a self-serving fallacy at the expense of a designated opponent.


Snowflake Cold

Cold War fever in Brussels

von der Leyen/Charles Michel
© Unknown
Ursula von der Leyen • Charles Michel
In recent months it has not been just Covid that raised the temperature in Europe's hotheads: Cold War fever has set in among the Brussels leadership, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel rallying the troops against public enemy number one, the Russian Federation.

In the United States, ignorance about and disinterest in the world at large influences the judgment of the Opposition just as it shapes the policies of those in power. The prevailing assumption among the tiny minority of public critics of US foreign policy is that the United States calls all the shots, that the positions on any given international issue taken by our European allies, for example, are dictated from Washington or, if developed on their own, serve the single purpose of gaining favor with Washington and bolstering the "special relationship" held by London or Paris or Berlin.

If only things were that simple. In this essay I argue why they are not. Nor have they been that simple for many years now. As I look over my writings going back a decade that I published in a succession of "non-conformist" books, I was calling out the home grown nature of Neoconservatism in Europe which arose in parallel with but independent from the movement in States that gave us the horrors of the Iraqi invasion and the viciously anti-Russian policies culminating in the Maidan in Ukraine, with the change of geopolitical course in Kiev as wished by the US, namely inimical to Russia.

Telephone

Biden invites Putin to crunch summit amid deteriorating US-Russian ties, as American warships chart course for Black Sea

Biden/Putin
© Yuri Cortez/Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi
US President Joe Biden • Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart, Joe Biden, have discussed tensions in Ukraine, security issues, and the need for nuclear arms control, with the White House proposing a formal meeting in "a third country."

In a statement published on Tuesday, American officials confirmed that the two leaders had spoken about "a number of regional and global issues." As part of the talks, Biden was said to have "voiced concerns over the sudden Russia military build-up" on the Crimean Peninsula and along the border with Ukraine, calling upon Moscow "to de-escalate tensions."

The exchange comes amid widespread fears that fighting in the Donbass region between Kiev's forces and fighters from Moscow-backed self-declared republics could spill over into a full-blown conflict. The new standoff follows a large-scale mobilisation of troops and materiel by Kiev, which prompted Russia to beef up its own military presence near its Western frontier.

Some in the West have asserted that Moscow may be planning to invade Ukraine, but such claims have been met with dismissal by Russian officials. Meanwhile, in a move widely interpreted as a show of support for Ukraine, Washington has reportedly dispatched two warships to the Black Sea.

Arrow Up

Ecuador runoff election: Conservative banker Guillermo Lasso leads

Guilllermo Lasso
© Gerardo Menoscal/Getty Images
Ecuador Presidential Candidate Guillermo Lasso
Voters in Ecuador appeared to turn to a conservative businessman in Sunday's presidential runoff election, rebuffing a leftist movement that has held the presidency for over a decade marked by an economic boom and then a yearslong recession, while in neighboring Peru a crowded field of 18 candidates was virtually certain to result in a second round of presidential voting in June.

Voters in Ecuador and Peru cast ballots under strict public health measures because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has recently strengthened in both countries, prompting the return of lockdowns and heightening concerns over their already battered economies. Peruvians also were electing a new Congress.

The Electoral Council in Ecuador had not declared an official winner in the contest to replace President Lenín Moreno next month, but results released by the agency showed former banker Guillermo Lasso with about 53% of votes and leftist Andrés Arauz at 47%, with just over 90% of votes counted. Arauz had led the first round of voting with more than 30% on Feb. 7, while Lasso edged into the final by finishing about a half a percentage point ahead of environmentalist and Indigenous candidate Yaku Pérez.

Comment: Voters elected the change candidate over more of the same stagnation exhibited throughout the last decade:
Outgoing president, Lenin Moreno, didn't run this time. His popularity dropped to single digits amid criticism that his benefits-slashing neoliberal policies and underwhelming response to the pandemic took a heavy toll on the poor.

Lasso, a career banker, promised to offset the economic damage done under Moreno by doing a better job in attracting foreign investment and creating jobs in a more open economy, as well as heavily investing in agriculture.

Whether he can do this remains to be seen. In 1999, he had a short stint as 'Super Minister' of the Economy under the government of Jorge Jamil Mahuad. That time was marked by significant economic turmoil and forced Ecuador to adopt the US dollar as its national currency, gaining stability in exchange for weakening the central bank's ability to conduct monetary policy.

Arauz offered a return to the times of his former boss, President Correa, whose decade in power brought forth a number of successful social programs to reduce poverty and otherwise help the poor.

Arauz's plan to alleviate the Covid-19 economic slowdown was to distribute $1,000 checks to a million poor families. He also wanted to overhaul a $6.5 billion loan that the Moreno government took from the International Monetary Fund. Lasso pledged not to disavow the financial agreement.

Lasso's surprise win came amid a massive protest campaign by the third-place candidate, Yaku Perez. A self-styled indigenous eco-activist and socialist, he was nevertheless highly critical of Correa and his preferred candidate. After the narrow defeat in the first round, he claimed that his spot in the run-off election was stolen from him through voter fraud. He called on supporters to protest this by spoiling ballots, and was apparently quite successful in his campaign.


According to the National Electoral Council data, 1.7 million ballots were nullified. The country has a mandatory universal voting system and roughly 13 million registered voters, of which 10 million fulfilled their civic duty on Sunday.

Critics call Perez a spoiler candidate, propped up to torpedo Arauz's candidacy by splitting the vote of the left. Notably, he endorsed Lasso for president in 2017, when the banker was running against Moreno, the incumbent leader of Ecuador. Moreno himself was a Correa-backed candidate at the time and was expected to govern as a leftist, but made a U-turn after taking power.



Question

What just happened in Jordan

Map of Jordan
Last weekend's arrest of several prominent people in Jordan, including the unofficial house arrest of former Crown Prince Hamzah, on suspicion of conspiring to destabilize the country in possible coordination with foreign intelligence agencies is more than likely a pre-emptive security operation aimed at thwarting a latent threat and not an urgent response to what some have feared was an imminent regime change attempt.

An Unexpected Conspiracy In The Heshemite Kingdom

Jordan is one of those few countries that's friends with everyone and enemies with no one, which is why the world paid attention last weekend after the arrest of several prominent people on suspicion of conspiring to destabilize the country in possible coordination with foreign intelligence agencies. This included the unofficial house arrest of former Crown Prince Hamzah, who subsequently released footage of himself condemning alleged corruption in the monarchy that he claimed was responsible for worsening his citizens' living standards, after which he pledged loyalty to King Abdullah II to de-escalate the crisis (presumably while under pressure). Former Crown Prince Hamzah had also reportedly met with some tribal leaders who've purportedly been unhappy with the stagnant - if not, according to some accounts, gradually deteriorating - socio-economic situation in the Kingdom. Amman has since banned all coverage of this palace scandal on traditional and social media in an attempt to quell the uncertainty that it provoked in this so-called "oasis of regional stability".

Comment: See also:


Footprints

Rand Paul calls for GOP to oust two senators for lying to Republican voters

Rand Paul
© unknown
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul
Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul is sounding the alarm on two Republican senators who are, as he claims, "lying" to conservative voters. While delivering remarks at the Save America Summit in Florida, Paul called for GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins to be "ousted" because they are a "problem" for the party.
"This is our problem. Seven Republicans voted to keep Obamacare. You remember John McCain doing it. But here's the thing: this is our problem. We know the Democrats want to have socialized medicine and nationalized health care. But Republicans say they're for it, we got to keep them honest. And you got to send home the ones that lie to you."