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As ever, it would be easy to become convinced that the entirety of 2020 is a faeces-filled pit of despair in which we’re all treading water trying to keep our heads above the shit. But, as the economy continues to collapse and US unemployment creeps towards 25%, we bring you: GOOD NEWS! Inspiring stories are emerging in the UK of the roles the furloughed or newly-unemployed are taking on, many of them voluntary. Take the example of Cornelius Wilson the BA pilot working as a volunteer ambulance driver, or Kayleigh Easton, the glamping site worker who’s started driving trucks delivering food. Now back to the doom…

Listen to the audio version of this week’s blog.

The Internet

Freedom of Hate Speech? 

The USA seems increasingly to be taking measures to effectively troll itself, such is the ridiculousness of this story. The US State Department has been found to be funding an Armenian website which is spreading misinformation about Covid-19. The website was supposedly to spread information about democracy, but instead has been advertising the pandemic as a hoax.

But this is tricky surely, the State Department funded an NGO in good faith and they’ve gone off the rails? Well… the website’s founder Gevorg Grigoryan has been a vocal critic of government vaccination policies, and the LGBT community, including a 2014 Facebook post saying “gays should be burnt and in a public place”. Although in his defense, he later said this was a joke (lol) and a reference to the film Pulp Fiction (I personally can’t remember that amusing gay-burning scene). Probably the sort of background check the State Department should have done before handing him thousands of dollars.

Fact Check yourself, before you wreck yourself

Oh Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO and waffle in human form, you do not have an easy task ahead. Earlier in the week, in a time with less pervasive race riots, Trump was tweeting about how allowing people to vote by mail-in-ballot will lead to widespread corruption and damage to the integrity of the democratic process. You know, the watertight American democracy where ~55% of the Voting Age Population go out to vote and the person who gets 3 million less votes (2.1% of the popular vote) than the other major candidate ends up as the president? Yeah that watertight democracy. If you disagree, I encourage you to take to twitter (@wjhblog) and explain how the Electoral College works to me… 

Anyhow, lot’s of countries practice elections involving mail-in ballots. 

I might be biased here, since I live in Oregon where state level voting has been exclusively mail based since 1998. However, it certainly isn’t obvious to me how mailed in ballots are less secure than notoriously unsophisticated and insecure voting machines mostly made by one company… that’s another story in it’s own right and one any concerned citizen should find particularly unsettling. Seriously though, what seems more likely, stealing mail out of people’s mail-boxes before they get a change to open it – USPS workers stalked simultaneously across the nation… – or a systematic bug in half the nations voting machines being exploited by a single party… since many of these machines are connected to the internet (despite common belief).

So what happened? 

Twitter flagged Trump’s tweets, which were plainly undermining the credibility of mail-in ballots, with a link to an explainer of the various unsubstantiated claims being made. This is the landscape of 21st century information. We have a better chance of getting reliable information from companies motivated by turning an ever growing profit than we do from people paid handsomely by the taxpayer to uphold their interests. Whack.

Like a spoiled child indignant at being called out for their petty juvenile bullshit, Trump wasted no time in signing an executive order ‘On Preventing Censorship’. The reader can decide if linking to sources is an appropriate practice to enforce: especially regarding claims (made to Trump’s 80 million followers) which fundamentally impact the quality of democracy as reflected by ease of engagement in the voting process and the extent of voter suppression….

Anyhow, Twitter are clearly unperturbed and doubled down after this weak-as-watered-Budweiser attempt at state level intervention in Twitter’s power over it’s own platform; as evidenced by their flagging Trump’s tweet (as you’ll see below) including the words “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” 

If that isn’t the presidential equivalent of yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater during a race riot then I’m really not sure what is. 

The World

Honk Kong

The ~7 million residents of Hong Kong are now significantly less legally protected from China’s authoritarian government than they were a week ago. ‘Security’ focused legislation is set to be fleshed out after an initial draft resolution passed China’s National People’s Congress in Beijing this week. 

The expectation is that the new law will grant Chinese security forces the right to operate in Hong Kong and effectively end the autonomy of Hong Kong as a special administrative region distinct from China. 

The language in the draft resolution sets a tone similar to that in mainland China whereby charges are brought against dissidents relating to any activities that undermine Chinese national security. 

It is about to get significantly more dangerous to be a pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong and I hope the UK offers their former subjects asylum. There are almost 2.9 million British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders in Hong Kong and it appears the UK government is considering extending them a path to UK citizenship, should Beijing press ahead with the legislation. Which they are doing, so the UK should follow through on this offer.

The US

Like Taking Candy from a Bear Cub

Holy shit, there are no depths of depravity to which the Trump administration will not reach. In the same week that US deaths from Covid-19 hit the monumental total of 100,000, the administration found time to push ahead with stripping back Obama-era regulations which banned a variety of ‘controversial’ hunting practices on public lands.

The new rules will allow you to – steel yourself, this is going to be rough – shoot bears and wolves, including their cubs and pups, within their dens. It includes using bait and artificial light to lure the young from safety, so that you can kill them. Not only that, you can also, because why f*ucking not, shoot swimming Caribou from motorboats. 

Minnesota Burning or The Twin Cities Towering Infernos

A white policeman (Derek Chauvin, since charged with murder) with well over a dozen complaints formally logged against him kills an unarmed black man by kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes. George Flyod repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe and pleaded “don’t kill me” as other officers and pedestrians watched. Killed by the state in the street, in front of bystanders and a 17 year old recording the murder while tragically witnessing it, all for the crime of using money. The police say Floyd was suspected of using counterfeit money…

I don’t think anybody seriously doubts the existence of racism in the US. It’s prevalence is often underappreciated, not least because of the extent of the segregation that persists today. 

I necessarily can’t do this topic justice. I refer the reader to James Baldwin’s speech at Cambridge University in 1965 on the motion the the American dream has been at the expense of the American Negro. In a spine-tinglingly lucid dismantling of American racism, today’s problems are placed in some historical setting. 

The twin cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul) are among the most segregated in the states. With black people twice as likely to find themselves unemployed as their white neighbours (10% unemployment compared to 4%) and receiving less than half the income per household (). Though of course the term ‘neighbours’ is not meant literally here as black and white folks live in different areas of town – owing to explicitly racist ‘redlining’ policies in the 20th century preventing black people from buying in certain areas.

Protestors in Minneapolis overran a police station and set it on fire as police fled the building by car and helicopter. This hasn’t really happened in US riots before, not in LA in the 90’s nor Ferguson more recently. A confused and grim marker of progress befitting the pseudo-apocalyptic dystopia many find themselves in these days? 

In a moment that gives us soppy lefties a real shuddering fear of fascism: watch CNN reporters get arrested by the Minneapolis police, despite being friendly and cooperative. Also, while we’re sticking to a theme, here’s a short documentary film about a 1939 Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City called ‘A Night at the Garden’. 

There’s also the issue of police training… Does anyone think anything good is going to happen if you take the high-school bully and put them through 14-weeks of paramilitary training (to quote the Minneapolis Police recruiting website) before they’re an officer patrolling the streets with a gun? Granted this is significantly better than many incredibly lax officer training regiments across the United States. The type of training is also obviously important. Many states, including Minnesota don’t require routine ‘de-escalation’ training. Which perhaps goes some way to explaining the ability of American cops to routinely kill unarmed black people. In the UK, where such training is essential (for obvious reasons), you’ll see incredible scenes like this where officers disarm a (presumably rather mentally ill) man with a machete (get this, Americans) without shooting him to death! 

In the UK, in 2019, the British Police Force (in their silly hats) killed 3 people… one of whom was wearing a fake suicide vest and stabbed five people around London Bridge. In the United States, in 2019, the police killed over 1,000 people.

As of Saturday the national guard have been fully mobilized in Minnesota, a first for the state in it’s 170 year history. 13,000 troops are now available to try and restore public order. Trump is talking about troublemakers from other states coming and getting involved. Minnesota’s Commissioner of the Department of public Safety John Harrington, has reportedly said links to white supremacy groups are being investigated for some of those arrested. Obviously Trump would be quiet about that since it hits pretty closely to his father’s lived experience (Fred Trump was arrested at a KKK rally in 1927).

The UK

Radioactive Profiteering 

It’s been hard to make light of the ridiculousness of the 5G conspiracy theorists whilst they were burning down masts, abusing workers, and hiding razors behind posters. Well admittedly that’s all still going on, but amusingly they’re now also getting completely ripped off. 

The BBC posted a brilliant tech review on an anti-5G USB stick, available for the princely sum of £339 (although you can save by buying 3 for £958, bargain). The 5GBioshield claims to be a “wearable holographic nano-layer catalyser” powered by “quantum technology”. 

The stick was recently recommended to residents by a member of the Glastonbury Town Council 5G Advisory Committee, member being the operative word, who would also like to investigate if a large-scale alternative can be used to protect the entire town.

On closer inspection, the 5GBioshield appears to be an 128Mb USB memory stick, with a round paper sticker attached. One security expert who took the stick apart said: “Now, we’re not 5G quantum experts but said sticker looks remarkably like one available in sheets from stationery suppliers.” Somehow, the whole exercise seems even more amusing given the 1990’s sized capacity of the memory stick, given you can pick up one with 500x the space on Amazon for about a fiver.

Cummig on a Bit Strong

(Summary for those of us fortunate enough to have escaped this story thus far) Dominic Cummings is an unofficial and un-elected advisor to Boris Johnson and the UK government. He has a number of edgy political convictions and wasn’t very popular among those paying attention before a recent scandal in which he ignored lock-down rules incumbent on the peasantry (as defined by everyone not in the conservative government or their 1-degree separated network) by driving hundreds of miles around the UK in various trips to lay his eggs somewhere warm and safe as the weather changes.

There’s really no need to rehash the ‘Cummings is a scumbag’ story any further, by this point we all know that the egg-lizard is demonstrably above the law and that PM Johnson is willing to sacrifice his government’s credibility entirely in order to save the job of the man without whom he’d be a fleshy dictionary in a poorly fitted suit. 

That said, we really found it amusing that Twitter’s anti-porn keyword filters have stopped his name from trending, leading to a variety of miss-spellings taking their place. Highlights include: #cumnings, #cummimgs, and #cummigs.

It’s apparently known in computer science as ‘The Scunthorpe Problem’, a name derived from the tendency for the Lincolnshire town to be filtered as spam due to its spelling.

If we did want to rehash the ‘Cummings is a scumbag’ story though, we’d probably focus on UK attorney general Suella Braverman, and why exactly she felt it was proper to back a Downing Street tweet that Cummings had “behaved reasonably and legally”, thus politicising a police investigation that hadn’t even been announced yet. Labour’s shadow AG summed it up succinctly: “Mr Cummings has got away with breaking the lockdown because the prime minister, with the backing of the attorney general, said he did not break the law.” That’s not the way that law or democracy works.

If only though… if only I could get Boris and Cummings to sign off on my annexation of Westminster and the instantiation of the sovereign territory of ‘Technocracy is the only way forward’ featuring an educational amusement park; in which, among myriad other bizarre attractions, there is a mock parliament where the government are represented by insects and the opposition by bearded dragons.

Just some light institutionalised corruption

Back in January, when the government was busy dismissing Covid-19, housing secretary Robert Jenrick decided to engage in some full-on corruption. He unlawfully pushed through approval of a London housing development, which had been rejected by local planners. He did so because if approval were to wait more than 24 hours, it would be subject to a different tax scheme and would have cost the developer an additional £40m. And who was the developer? Conservative party donor Richard Desmond (share your thoughts with him on Twitter here).

If anybody ever thinks the UK isn’t corrupt, this is the sort of deep-rooted, consequence-free corruption which pervades our society. You might not be able to buy a driving license from the local police here, but if you have enough money and line the pockets of the correct political party, you can have the run of the place.

Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next week, get in touch with the authors Will Marshall and Alistair Simmonds on Twitter and let us know what you did and didn’t like.

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