Democrats Brace For ‘Defund The Police’ Movement To Damage Party Into Midterms

Democrats Brace For ‘Defund The Police’ Movement To Damage Party Into Midterms

In the wake of George Floyd’s death and several other high-profile incidents between black Americans and police, calls rang out across the country to defund the police – a movement which Democratic lawmakers largely supported.

Yet, after several cities did just that, crime rates soared, and demoralized cops quit or retired early after what seemed like half of the country vilified them – leaving police forces spread thin as BLM and Antifa riots led to widespread looting, arson, and property damage throughout the country.

Both Minneapolis and Portland, for example, woefully regretted defunding their police departments.

And while the Democrats won both the White House and retook the Senate in the 2020 election, the impact of defunding the police took its toll, contributing to their very narrow majorities in both chambers.

Democrats lost seats in the House and lost Senate races in states where they thought they had a chance, including North Carolina and Montana. At least some officials blame those losses on the defund the police debate.

Republicans believe the defund the police narrative is a political gift they can use again to win over swing voters and to energize their own political base. -The Hill

Now, with the George Floyd trial in full swing – and the very real possibility that former officer Derek Chauvin will be acquitted of his murder – as well as brewing protests over the recent Minneapolis shooting death of a 20-year-old black suspect by a white female officer who says she meant to grab her Taser, moderate Democrats are bracing for another round of calls to defund the police, and the violence which is sure to follow.

And while the far-left contingent in Congress openly supports defunding the police – such as Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who says she’s “done with those who condone government funded murder,” moderate Dems realize this may come back to bite them during the 2022 midterm elections.

Via The Hill:

But while most Democrats share the outrage over the deaths of Floyd, Daunte Wright, Breonna Taylor and a seemingly ever-growing list of Black Americans killed by police, they diverge sharply over whether defunding the police is the solution — or simply a phrase that will cost Democrats elections and leave them without the power to foment change.

“I mean, this defund the police was just a terrible drag on the Democratic Party. It really was. Don’t kid yourself,” veteran Democratic strategist James Carville told Bill Kristol in an interview for the Weekly Standard earlier this month.

“This is music to the Republican minority’s ears in Washington,” according to GOP strategist, Ford O’Connell. “That is more powerful for Republicans than any perfectly scripted message.”

Meanwhile, GOP Senators homed in on an op-ed written by Biden’s Justice Department nominee for the civil rights division – in which she’d advocated for defunding the police.

“You just said you don’t support cutting funds from police,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), adding “I find that astonishing and, Ms. [Kristen] Clarke, frankly not credible because I’m holding the article you wrote.”

Clarke replied that she doesn’t support defunding police departments, and that the headline of the Op-Ed was poorly worded.

Democrats recognize the threat that the ‘defund’ movement poses.

“The one thing we cannot allow is for Republicans to use this as a weapon of mass distraction,” said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright in a statement to The Hill. “Or as a weapon of mass political destruction as they have done in the past,” whatever that means.

“I think the ability — using terms like defund the police have led to Democratic losses in this last year,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) in November. Warner was joined by fellow Virginia Democrat Abigail Spanberger, who pointed to progressive proposals to reallocate police funds as the reason more than a half-dozen moderate lawmakers lost their seats in the last election.

According to polls, defunding the police does not have widespread support. According to a recent USA Today-Ipsos poll, just 20% of Americans support the movement. That said, polling last year in the wake of George Floyd’s death revealed that over half the country, 58%, say that changes are needed to policing.

“We can’t allow them, meaning the opposition, to try to paint this picture that we are anti-police. We’re just pro-good policing,” said Seawright. “We have to do something at the federal level, for certain.”

The Biden administration, meanwhile, falls on the side of ‘reform’ but not ‘defund.’

““The president’s view is that there are necessary, outdated reforms that should be put in place; that there is accountability that needs to happen; that the loss of life is far too high; that these families are suffering around the country; and that the Black community is exhausted from the ongoing threats they feel,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, adding: “But he also believes that there is a forum for putting in place legislation, the George Floyd Act, that can help put many of these necessary reforms in place, and that part of what needs to happen is rebuilding trust in communities in order to get to a better place.”

Apparently some Democrats realize that virtue signaling has consequences.

Tyler Durden
Fri, 04/16/2021 – 22:40

The Military Origins Of Facebook, Part 1

The Military Origins Of Facebook, Part 1

Authored by Whitney Webb via UnlimitedHangout.com,

Facebook’s growing role in the ever-expanding surveillance and “pre-crime” apparatus of the national security state demands new scrutiny of the company’s origins and its products as they relate to a former, controversial DARPA-run surveillance program that was essentially analogous to what is currently the world’s largest social network.

In mid-February, Daniel Baker, a US veteran described by the media as “anti-Trump, anti-government, anti-white supremacists, and anti-police,” was charged by a Florida grand jury with two counts of “transmitting a communication in interstate commerce containing a threat to kidnap or injure.”

The communication in question had been posted by Baker on Facebook, where he had created an event page to organize an armed counter-rally to one planned by Donald Trump supporters at the Florida capital of Tallahassee on January 6. “If you are afraid to die fighting the enemy, then stay in bed and live. Call all of your friends and Rise Up!,” Baker had written on his Facebook event page.

Baker’s case is notable as it is one of the first “precrime” arrests based entirely on social media posts—the logical conclusion of the Trump administration’s, and now Biden administration’s, push to normalize arresting individuals for online posts to prevent violent acts before they can happen. From the increasing sophistication of US intelligence/military contractor Palantir’s predictive policing programs to the formal announcement of the Justice Department’s Disruption and Early Engagement Program in 2019 to Biden’s first budget, which contains $111 million for pursuing and managing “increasing domestic terrorism caseloads,” the steady advance toward a precrime-centered “war on domestic terror” has been notable under every post-9/11 presidential administration.

This new so-called war on domestic terror has actually resulted in many of these types of posts on Facebook. And, while Facebook has long sought to portray itself as a “town square” that allows people from across the world to connect, a deeper look into its apparently military origins and continual military connections reveals that the world’s largest social network was always intended to act as a surveillance tool to identify and target domestic dissent.

Part 1 of this two-part series on Facebook and the US national-security state explores the social media network’s origins and the timing and nature of its rise as it relates to a controversial military program that was shut down the same day that Facebook launched. The program, known as LifeLog, was one of several controversial post-9/11 surveillance programs pursued by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that threatened to destroy and civil liberties in the United States while also seeking to harvest data for producing “humanized” artificial intelligence (AI). 

As this report will show, Facebook is not the only Silicon Valley giant whose origins coincide closely with this same series of DARPA initiatives and whose current activities are providing both the engine and the fuel for a hi-tech war on domestic dissent.

DARPA’s Data Mining for “National Security” and to “Humanize” AI

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, DARPA, in close collaboration with the US intelligence community (specifically the CIA), began developing a “precrime” approach to combatting terrorism known as Total Information Awareness or TIA. The purpose of TIA was to develop an “all-seeing” military-surveillance apparatus. The official logic behind TIA was that invasive surveillance of the entire US population was necessary to prevent terrorist attacks, bioterrorism events, and even naturally occurring disease outbreaks. 

The architect of TIA, and the man who led it during its relatively brief existence, was John Poindexter, best known for being Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor during the Iran-Contra affair and for being convicted of five felonies in relation to that scandal. A less well-known activity of Iran-Contra figures like Poindexter and Oliver North was their development of the Main Core database to be used in “continuity of government” protocols. Main Core was used to compile a list of US dissidents and “potential troublemakers” to be dealt with if the COG protocols were ever invoked. These protocols could be invoked for a variety of reasons, including widespread public opposition to a US military intervention abroad, widespread internal dissent, or a vaguely defined moment of “national crisis” or “time of panic.” Americans were not informed if their name was placed on the list, and a person could be added to the list for merely having attended a protest in the past, for failing to pay taxes, or for other, “often trivial,” behaviors deemed “unfriendly” by its architects in the Reagan administration. 

In light of this, it was no exaggeration when New York Times columnist William Safire remarked that, with TIA, “Poindexter is now realizing his twenty-year dream: getting the ‘data-mining’ power to snoop on every public and private act of every American.”

The TIA program met with considerable citizen outrage after it was revealed to the public in early 2003. TIA’s critics included the American Civil Liberties Union, which claimed that the surveillance effort would “kill in America” because “every aspect of our lives would be catalogued,” while several mainstream media outlets warned that TIA was “fighting terror by terrifying US citizens.” As a result of the pressure, DARPA changed the program’s name to Terrorist Information Awareness to make it sound less like a national-security panopticon and more like a program aiming specifically at terrorists in the post-9/11 era. 

The logo for DARPA’s Information Awareness Office, which oversaw Total Information Awareness during its brief existence

The TIA projects were not actually closed down, however, with most moved to the classified portfolios of the Pentagon and US intelligence community. Some became intelligence funded and guided private-sector endeavors, such as Peter Thiel’s Palantir, while others resurfaced years later under the guise of combatting the COVID-19 crisis. 

Soon after TIA was initiated, a similar DARPA program was taking shape under the direction of a close friend of Poindexter’s, DARPA program manager Douglas Gage. Gage’s project, LifeLog, sought to “build a database tracking a person’s entire existence” that included an individual’s relationships and communications (phone calls, mail, etc.), their media-consumption habits, their purchases, and much more in order to build a digital record of “everything an individual says, sees, or does.” LifeLog would then take this unstructured data and organize it into “discreet episodes” or snapshots while also “mapping out relationships, memories, events and experiences.”

LifeLog, per Gage and supporters of the program, would create a permanent and searchable electronic diary of a person’s entire life, which DARPA argued could be used to create next-generation “digital assistants” and offer users a “near-perfect digital memory.” Gage insisted, even after the program was shut down, that individuals would have had “complete control of their own data-collection efforts” as they could “decide when to turn the sensors on or off and decide who will share the data.” In the years since then, analogous promises of user control have been made by the tech giants of Silicon Valley, only to be broken repeatedly for profit and to feed the government’s domestic-surveillance apparatus.

The information that LifeLog gleaned from an individual’s every interaction with technology would be combined with information obtained from a GPS transmitter that tracked and documented the person’s location, audio-visual sensors that recorded what the person saw and said, as well as biomedical monitors that gauged the person’s health. Like TIA, LifeLog was promoted by DARPA as potentially supporting “medical research and the early detection of an emerging epidemic.”

Critics in mainstream media outlets and elsewhere were quick to point out that the program would inevitably be used to build profiles on dissidents as well as suspected terrorists. Combined with TIA’s surveillance of individuals at multiple levels, LifeLog went farther by “adding physical information (like how we feel) and media data (like what we read) to this transactional data.” One critic, Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, warned at the time that the programs that DARPA was pursuing, including LifeLog, “have obvious, easy paths to Homeland Security deployments.” 

At the time, DARPA publicly insisted that LifeLog and TIA were not connected, despite their obvious parallels, and that LifeLog would not be used for “clandestine surveillance.” However, DARPA’s own documentation on LifeLog noted that the project “will be able . . . to infer the user’s routines, habits and relationships with other people, organizations, places and objects, and to exploit these patterns to ease its task,” which acknowledged its potential use as a tool of mass surveillance.

In addition to the ability to profile potential enemies of the state, LifeLog had another goal that was arguably more important to the national-security state and its academic partners—the “humanization” and advancement of artificial intelligence. In late 2002, just months prior to announcing the existence of LifeLog, DARPA released a strategy document detailing development of artificial intelligence by feeding it with massive floods of data from various sources. 

The post-9/11 military-surveillance projects—LifeLog and TIA being only two of them—offered quantities of data that had previously been unthinkable to obtain and that could potentially hold the key to achieving the hypothesized “technological singularity.” The 2002 DARPA document even discusses DARPA’s effort to create a brain-machine interface that would feed human thoughts directly into machines to advance AI by keeping it constantly awash in freshly mined data. 

One of the projects outlined by DARPA, the Cognitive Computing Initiative, sought to develop sophisticated artificial intelligence through the creation of an “enduring personalized cognitive assistant,” later termed the Perceptive Assistant that Learns, or PAL. PAL, from the very beginning was tied to LifeLog, which was originally intended to result in granting an AI “assistant” human-like decision-making and comprehension abilities by spinning masses of unstructured data into narrative format. 

The would-be main researchers for the LifeLog project also reflect the program’s end goal of creating humanized AI. For instance, Howard Shrobe at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and his team at the time were set to be intimately involved in LifeLog. Shrobe had previously worked for DARPA on the “evolutionary design of complex software” before becoming associate director of the AI Lab at MIT and has devoted his lengthy career to building “cognitive-style AI.” In the years after LifeLog was cancelled, he again worked for DARPA as well as on intelligence community–related AI research projects. In addition, the AI Lab at MIT was intimately connected with the 1980s corporation and DARPA contractor called Thinking Machines, which was founded by and/or employed many of the lab’s luminaries—including Danny Hillis, Marvin Minsky, and Eric Lander—and sought to build AI supercomputers capable of human-like thought. All three of these individuals were later revealed to be close associates of and/or sponsored by the intelligence-linked pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who also generously donated to MIT as an institution and was a leading funder of and advocate for transhumanist-related scientific research.

Soon after the LifeLog program was shuttered, critics worried that, like TIA, it would continue under a different name. For example, Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told VICE at the time of LifeLog’s cancellation, “It would not surprise me to learn that the government continued to fund research that pushed this area forward without calling it LifeLog.”

Along with its critics, one of the would-be researchers working on LifeLog, MIT’s David Karger, was also certain that the DARPA project would continue in a repackaged form. He told Wired that “I am sure such research will continue to be funded under some other title . . . I can’t imagine DARPA ‘dropping out’ of a such a key research area.” 

The answer to these speculations appears to lie with the company that launched the exact same day that LifeLog was shuttered by the Pentagon: Facebook.

Thiel Information Awareness

After considerable controversy and criticism, in late 2003, TIA was shut down and defunded by Congress, just months after it was launched. It was only later revealed that that TIA was never actually shut down, with its various programs having been covertly divided up among the web of military and intelligence agencies that make up the US national-security state. Some of it was privatized.

The same month that TIA was pressured to change its name after growing backlash, Peter Thiel incorporated Palantir, which was, incidentally, developing the core panopticon software that TIA had hoped to wield. Soon after Palantir’s incorporation in 2003, Richard Perle, a notorious neoconservative from the Reagan and Bush administrations and an architect of the Iraq War, called TIA’s Poindexter and said he wanted to introduce him to Thiel and his associate Alex Karp, now Palantir’s CEO. According to a report in New York magazine, Poindexter “was precisely the person” whom Thiel and Karp wanted to meet, mainly because “their new company was similar in ambition to what Poindexter had tried to create at the Pentagon,” that is, TIA. During that meeting, Thiel and Karp sought “to pick the brain of the man now widely viewed as the godfather of modern surveillance.”

Peter Thiel speaks at the World Economic Forum in 2013, Source: Mirko Ries Courtesy for the World Economic Forum

Soon after Palantir’s incorporation, though the exact timing and details of the investment remain hidden from the public, the CIA’s In-Q-Tel became the company’s first backer, aside from Thiel himself, giving it an estimated $2 million. In-Q-Tel’s stake in Palantir would not be publicly reported until mid-2006

The money was certainly useful. In addition, Alex Karp told the New York Times in October 2020, “the real value of the In-Q-Tel investment was that it gave Palantir access to the CIA analysts who were its intended clients.” A key figure in the making of In-Q-Tel investments during this period, including the investment in Palantir, was the CIA’s chief information officer, Alan Wade, who had been the intelligence community’s point man for Total Information Awareness. Wade had previously cofounded the post-9/11 Homeland Security software contractor Chiliad alongside Christine Maxwell, sister of Ghislaine Maxwell and daughter of Iran-Contra figure, intelligence operative, and media baron Robert Maxwell. 

After the In-Q-Tel investment, the CIA would be Palantir’s only client until 2008. During that period, Palantir’s two top engineers—Aki Jain and Stephen Cohen—traveled to CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia, every two weeks. Jain recalls making at least two hundred trips to CIA headquarters between 2005 and 2009. During those regular visits, CIA analysts “would test [Palantir’s software] out and offer feedback, and then Cohen and Jain would fly back to California to tweak it.” As with In-Q-Tel’s decision to invest in Palantir, the CIA’s chief information officer during this time remained one of TIA’s architects. Alan Wade played a key role in many of these meetings and subsequently in the “tweaking” of Palantir’s products.

Today, Palantir’s products are used for mass surveillance, predictive policing, and other disconcerting policies of the US national-security state. A telling example is Palantir’s sizable involvement in the new Health and Human Services–run wastewater surveillance program that is quietly spreading across the United States. As noted in a previous Unlimited Hangout report, that system is the resurrection of a TIA program called Biosurveillance. It is feeding all its data into the Palantir-managed and secretive HHS Protect data platform. The decision to turn controversial DARPA-led programs into a private ventures, however, was not limited to Thiel’s Palantir.

The Rise of Facebook

The shuttering of TIA at DARPA had an impact on several related programs, which were also dismantled in the wake of public outrage over DARPA’s post-9/11 programs. One of these programs was LifeLog. As news of the program spread through the media, many of the same vocal critics who had attacked TIA went after LifeLog with similar zeal, with Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists telling Wired at the time that “LifeLog has the potential to become something like ‘TIA cubed.’” LifeLog being viewed as something that would prove even worse than the recently cancelled TIA had a clear effect on DARPA, which had just seen both TIA and another related program cancelled after considerable backlash from the public and the press. 

The firestorm of criticism of LifeLog took its program manager, Doug Gage, by surprise, and Gage has continued to assert that the program’s critics “completely mischaracterized” the goals and ambitions of the project. Despite Gage’s protests and those of LifeLog’s would-be researchers and other supporters, the project was publicly nixed on February 4, 2004. DARPA never provided an explanation for its quiet move to shutter LifeLog, with a spokesperson stating only that it was related to “a change in priorities” for the agency. On DARPA director Tony Tether’s decision to kill LifeLog, Gage later told VICE, “I think he had been burnt so badly with TIA that he didn’t want to deal with any further controversy with LifeLog. The death of LifeLog was collateral damage tied to the death of TIA.”

Fortuitously for those supporting the goals and ambitions of LifeLog, a company that turned out to be its private-sector analogue was born on the same day that LifeLog’s cancellation was announced. On February 4, 2004, what is now the world’s largest social network, Facebook, launched its website and quickly rose to the top of the social media roost, leaving other social media companies of the era in the dust. 

Sean Parker of Founders Fund speaks during the LeWeb conference in 2011, Source: @Kmeron for LeWeb11 @ Les Docks de Paris

A few months into Facebook’s launch, in June 2004, Facebook cofounders Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz brought Sean Parker onto Facebook’s executive team. Parker, previously known for cofounding Napster, later connected Facebook with its first outside investor, Peter Thiel. As discussed, Thiel, at that time, in coordination with the CIA, was actively trying to resurrect controversial DARPA programs that had been dismantled the previous year. Notably, Sean Parker, who became Facebook’s first president, also had a history with the CIA, which recruited him at the age of sixteen soon after he had been busted by the FBI for hacking corporate and military databases. Thanks to Parker, in September 2004, Thiel formally acquired $500,000 worth of Facebook shares and was added its board. Parker maintained close ties to Facebook as well as to Thiel, with Parker being hired as a managing partner of Thiel’s Founders Fund in 2006.

Thiel and Facebook cofounder Mosokvitz became involved outside of the social network long after Facebook’s rise to prominence, with Thiel’s Founder Fund becoming a significant investor in Moskovitz’s company Asana in 2012. Thiel’s longstanding symbiotic relationship with Facebook cofounders extends to his company Palantir, as the data that Facebook users make public invariably winds up in Palantir’s databases and helps drive the surveillance engine Palantir runs for a handful of US police departments, the military, and the intelligence community. In the case of the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Palantir was also involved in utilizing Facebook data to benefit the 2016 Donald Trump presidential campaign. 

Today, as recent arrests such as that of Daniel Baker have indicated, Facebook data is slated to help power the coming “war on domestic terror,” given that information shared on the platform is being used in “precrime” capture of US citizens, domestically. In light of this, it is worth dwelling on the point that Thiel’s exertions to resurrect the main aspects of TIA as his own private company coincided with his becoming the first outside investor in what was essentially the analogue of another DARPA program deeply intertwined with TIA. 

Facebook, a Front

Because of the coincidence that Facebook launched the same day that LifeLog was shut down, there has been recent speculation that Zuckerberg began and launched the project with Moskovitz, Saverin, and others through some sort of behind-the-scenes coordination with DARPA or another organ of the national-security state. While there is no direct evidence for this precise claim, the early involvement of Parker and Thiel in the project, particularly given the timing of Thiel’s other activities, reveals that the national-security state was involved in Facebook’s rise. It is debatable whether Facebook was intended from its inception to be a LifeLog analogue or if it happened to be the social media project that fit the bill after its launch. The latter seems more likely, especially considering that Thiel also invested in another early social media platform, Friendster

An important point linking Facebook and LifeLog is the subsequent identification of Facebook with LifeLog by the latter’s DARPA architect himself. In 2015, Gage told VICE that “Facebook is the real face of pseudo-LifeLog at this point.” He tellingly added, “We have ended up providing the same kind of detailed personal information to advertisers and data brokers and without arousing the kind of opposition that LifeLog provoked.” 

Users of Facebook and other large social media platforms have so far been content to allow these platforms to sell their private data so long as they publicly operate as private enterprises. Backlash only really emerged when such activities were publicly tied to the US government, and especially the US military, even though Facebook and other tech giants routinely share their users’ data with the national-security state. In practice, there is little difference between the public and private entities.

Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, notably warned in 2019 that Facebook is just as untrustworthy as US intelligence, stating that “Facebook’s internal purpose, whether they state it publicly or not, is to compile perfect records of private lives to the maximum extent of their capability, and then exploit that for their own corporate enrichment. And damn the consequences.”

Snowden also stated in the same interview that “the more Google knows about you, the more Facebook knows about you, the more they are able . . . to create permanent records of private lives, the more influence and power they have over us.” This underscores how both Facebook and intelligence-linked Google have accomplished much of what LifeLog had aimed to do, but on a much larger scale than what DARPA had originally envisioned.

The reality is that most of the large Silicon Valley companies of today have been closely linked to the US national-security state establishment since their inception. Notable examples aside from Facebook and Palantir include Google and Oracle. Today these companies are more openly collaborating with the military-intelligence agencies that guided their development and/or provided early funding, as they are used to provide the data needed to fuel the newly announced war on domestic terror and its accompanying algorithms. 

It is hardly a coincidence that someone like Peter Thiel, who built Palantir with the CIA and helped ensure Facebook’s rise, is also heavily involved in Big Data AI-driven “predictive policing” approaches to surveillance and law enforcement, both through Palantir and through his other investments. TIA, LifeLog, and related government and private programs and institutions launched after 9/11, were always intended to be used against the American public in a war against dissent. This was noted by their critics in 2003-4 and by those who have examined the origins of the “homeland security” pivot in the US and its connection to past CIA “counterterror” programs in Vietnam and Latin America. 

Ultimately, the illusion of Facebook and related companies as being independent of the US national-security state has prevented a recognition of the reality of social media platforms and their long-intended, yet covert uses, which we are beginning to see move into the open following the events of January 6. Now, with billions of people conditioned to use Facebook and social media as part of their daily lives, the question becomes: If that illusion were to be irrevocably shattered today, would it make a difference to Facebook’s users? Or has the populace become so conditioned to surrendering their private data in exchange for dopamine-fueled social-validation loops that it no longer matters who ends up holding that data?

Part 2 of this series on Facebook will explore how the social media platform has grown into a behemoth that is much more extensive than what LifeLog’s program managers had originally envisioned. In concert with military contractors and former heads of DARPA, Facebook has spent the last several years doing two key things: (1) preparing to play a much larger role in surveillance and data mining than it currently does; and (2) advancing the development of a “humanized” AI, a major objective of LifeLog.

Tyler Durden
Fri, 04/16/2021 – 22:20

White House Dedicates $1.7 Billion To Tracking COVID Mutations Across US

White House Dedicates $1.7 Billion To Tracking COVID Mutations Across US

As President Biden’s COVID advisory team scrambles to turn the “fearmongering” dial about the threat posed by mutant strains of the virus that causes COVID-19, the White House is dedicating $1.7 billion in COVID relief funds to tracing the “variant” strains. This comes after Dr. Anthony Fauci and others have struggled to explain why the US lagged behind other western countries, such as the UK, in detecting and tracing the spread of these variants, which require more advanced analysis to identify.

The money, taken from last month’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, will help the CDC and individual states monitor emerging variants by boosting the country’s capacity to sequence the virus’s genome and detect mutations, the White House said. It comes as the B.1.1.7 variant, also known as “the Kent strain” from where it was first sequenced in the UK, is raising alarms as it is now one of – if not the most – common strains in hotspots like Michigan and NYC.

B.1.1.7 and other variants are increasingly infecting younger children, prompting at least one respected epidemiologist – the University of Minnesota’s Michael Osterholm – to warn the press about a “brand new ball game” for fighting COVID (fortunately, Pfizer has been making swift progress in trials of its COVID-19 vaccine on increasingly youonger children).

The money will be used for collecting COVID-19 samples, sequencing their genomes to identify the strain, and sharing the data, according to a fact sheet provided by the White House, which pointed to these “new and potentially dangerous strains” in its statement. The investment also includes $400MM to establish six “Centers of Excellence in Genomic Epidemiology,” a partnership between state health departments and academic institutions for research and development of the new strains, while also providing $300MM to create a national bioinformatics system to share and analyze sequencing data. The administration will dole out the first portion of the money in early May, with a second tranche expected to be invested over the next several years.

“At this critical juncture in the pandemic, these new resources will help ensure states and the CDC have the support they need to fight back against dangerous variants and slow the spread of the virus,” White House COVID-19 Testing Coordinator Carole Johnson said in a statement.

The administration published a factsheet with a complete breakdown of funding by state.

* * *

Funding from American Rescue Plan will help CDC and Governors monitor, track, and defeat emerging variants that are currently threatening pockets of the country.

The original strain of COVID-19 comprises only about half of all cases in America today. New and potentially dangerous strains of the virus make up the other half. In order to improve the detection, monitoring, and mitigation of these COVID-19 variants, the Biden Administration is rapidly investing $1.7 billion from the American Rescue Plan to help states and other jurisdictions more effectively fight these mutations.

An essential component of the response to the emerging COVID-19 variants is increasing the country’s genomic sequencing — the process by which COVID DNA is decoded and potentially deadly mutations in the virus are detected. Today’s funding, allocated through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will help the CDC, states, and other jurisdictions more effectively detect and track variants by scaling genomic sequencing efforts. With the information from sequencing, the CDC and state and local public health leaders can implement known prevention measures to stop the spread.

In early February, U.S. laboratories were only sequencing about 8,000 COVID-19 strains per week. Since then, the rate of sequencing has increased substantially, strengthening the country’s ability to detect and respond to emerging and more contagious COVID-19 strains, like the variants currently sweeping through the Midwest and parts of the East Coast. The Biden Administration has already made a nearly $200 million investment to help increase genomic sequencing to 29,000 samples per week. Thanks to today’s funding from the American Rescue Plan, states and the CDC will expand that even further and, importantly, provide states with more resources to expand their own efforts to increase geographic coverage of sequencing to better detect emerging threats like variants. This will mean that both existing and any new COVID variants could be detected faster, before they grow prevalent.

Today’s announcement includes:

  • $1 billion to expand genomic sequencing: This funding will help CDC, states, and other jurisdictions improve their capacity to identify COVID mutations and monitor circulation of variants. Specifically, it will allow CDC and jurisdictional health departments to conduct, expand, and improve activities to sequence genomes and identify mutations in SARS-CoV-2. Much of this work is done through CDC partnerships with the laboratory community and through state laboratories, and the funding will support the collection of COVID specimens, the sequencing of COVID viruses, and the sharing of the resultant data. A state-by-state breakdown of the initial $240 million in jurisdictional funding support is below.
  • $400 million to support innovation initiatives including the launch of new innovative Centers of Excellence in Genomic Epidemiology: The funding will establish six Centers of Excellence in Genomic Epidemiology. These centers of excellence will operate as partnerships between state health departments and academic institutions, and today’s funding will fuel cutting-edge research into genomic epidemiology. For example, the partnerships could focus on developing new genomic surveillance tools to better track pathogens of public health interest with the objective of developing surveillance methods to be used more widely in the public health system. Areas of focus will likely include bioinformatic workflows and the critical integration of genomic and epidemiologic data.
  • $300 million to build and support a National Bioinformatics Infrastructure: One of the challenges of building out the nation’s sequencing capacity is having the data system necessary to quickly and effectively access information and turn it into concrete actions to prevent the spread of viruses. Experts use bioinformatics and complex computing to connect the dots between how pathogens spread and mutate to help solve outbreaks. This investment will support bioinformatics throughout the U.S. public health system, creating a unified system for sharing and analyzing sequence data in a way that protects but allows more informed decisionmaking. This funding also will support training to increase sequencing in clinical settings and expand CDC’s Bioinformatics Fellowship program.

USA Today pointed out that the US ranks 33rd in the world for its rate of sequencing, falling between Burkina Faso and Zimbabwe, according to COVID CoV Genomic, a group led by researchers at Harvard and MIT. The top three nations (Iceland, Australia and New Zealand) sequenced viral genomes at a rate 55 to 95 times greater.

Notably, the money is being announced one day after Pfizer CEO Albert Bourlas told reporters that Americans would “likely” need a third vaccine shot within 12 months (and as soon as six months) after their second dose, and possibly annual jabs every year after that. But how will the public know to be afraid of the new mutant strains if the US can’t monitor their spread?

Tyler Durden
Fri, 04/16/2021 – 22:00

The US Air Force Has Big Plans For The Hexa “Flying Car”

The US Air Force Has Big Plans For The Hexa “Flying Car”

Submitted by South Front,

The Hexa is an electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) wingless multicopter. It is developed by LIFT Aircraft, a Texas-based company. In May, the Air Force will start testing the “flying car” that was designed for the commercial market to be used in military missions, including rescuing troops, delivering cargo and conducting security checks over an airfield.

In late March, one of the flying cars was loaded on a HC-130J and was transported from Ohio to Texas. This was a test to prove that eVTOL aircraft fit to be transported by U.S. military cargo planes.

The initial test was with a single eVTOL, while a C-130H could carry up to four Hexa platforms, with newer C-130J models potentially able to transport five or six at a time.

The first eVTOL prototype was unveiled in February 2021, and the first production units were delivered to the US Air Force for testing and air-worthiness certification.

The Hexa isn’t exactly a flying car, it’s better described as a multi-rotor drone, which is considered an ultralight aircraft that doesn’t need a pilot’s license to fly.

Such eVTOL capable of landing without a runway could be used to ferry troops and supplies needed to stand up operations, while also providing a platform for crisis response. The Hexa will undergo tests for all of these.

Right now, Hexa’s abilities are limited and geared toward the commercial recreation market. The aircraft has room for one person and can fly for about 10-15 minutes and cover a range of 10-15 miles, depending on the payload. A person can learn to fly Hexa quickly because many of the flight systems are automated, but Lift plans to develop a fully automated version.

In the future, the platform could potentially serve as an armed overwatch aircraft to protect ground troops. Even in its current, limited capability, the Hexa could be useful. While it can’t carry as much weight as required to satisfy certain logistics missions, it could transfer smaller cargo.

eVTOL platforms with quiet electric engines and simple sustainment footprints could become key to the Air Force as it figures out how to operate away from large airfields, a concept known as agile combat employment, or ACE.

In a war situation against China or Russia, it is likely that US bases in Europe would quickly be destroyed, for a while or permanently. In response, the US Air Force wants to be able to shift to a disaggregated style of fighting, where discrete packages of aircraft are temporarily deployed to smaller airfields across the globe that may not have large runways or established amenities.

Tyler Durden
Fri, 04/16/2021 – 21:40

Chinese Aluminum Price Soar To 11-Year Highs As Decarbonization Efforts Slash Energy To Smelters 

Chinese Aluminum Price Soar To 11-Year Highs As Decarbonization Efforts Slash Energy To Smelters 

Chinese aluminum prices moved higher Friday, hitting an 11-year high, exchange data showed, as Beijing embarks on the road to decarbonization, a move that has reduced energy to the power-hungry smelting hub located in Inner Mongolia, even as new capacity came on online, according to Mining.com

The benchmark price for aluminum on the Shanghai Futures Exchange stood at 18,025 yuan ($2,764) per metric ton, an 11-year high. 

In terms of dollars, SHFE aluminum futures printed at 2,800 per metric ton, a critical resistance level dating back more than a decade ago. 

Analysts believe the price surge in aluminum is due to Bejing’s curb on aluminum output in the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. 

According to Mining.com,

Primary aluminum output in the world’s top producer was up 8.5% year-on-year at 3.28 million tonnes in March, the National Bureau of Statistics said, beating the previous monthly high of 3.27 million tonnes reached in December 2020.

High prices are incentivizing production, with Shanghai aluminum mostly holding above 17,000 yuan a tonne in March.

Prices hit an 11-year high of 18,460 yuan on Friday.

In July, aluminum for delivery was down 0.35% on Friday morning after futures touched $2.355 a tonne on the Comex market in New York.

Meanwhile, the output of a group of 10 nonferrous metals – including copper, aluminum, lead, zinc, and nickel – rose 12.7% year-on-year in March to 5.48 million tonnes, the bureau said.

However, daily aluminum output eased in March from the previous two months, Reuters calculations based on official data showed, dropping to around 105,800 tonnes per day versus 109,300 tonnes per day for January/February, a record.

“March’s record output is due to a 500,000 tonne per year ramp-up of new capacity in the first quarter, offsetting the Inner Mongolia curbs,” CRU analyst Wan Ling told Reuters.

“Some idle capacity has restarted or is going to restart, April production should be still a bit higher compared with March,” Wan said.

“Data do indicate that China still has a considerable appetite for commodities,” Commerzbank analyst Daniel Briesemann said in a note.

Consultancy AZ China estimates 279,000 tonnes of annual aluminum capacity across seven smelters were shut due to the energy curbs, exceeding its estimate of 130,000 tonnes of new capacity launched in China last month, all in Yunnan.

China’s two-decade run as an aluminum juggernaut is running out of road. Decarbonization initiatives have reduced power to smelters as some are having trouble keeping up with demand as the country’s manufacturing sector experiences a growth spurt. 

Domestic supply-chain stress are certainly developing in China as green policies start to kick in. 

… and the one question we have is how will base metals react if China’s credit impulse begins to slip?

A slowdown in credit creation would have dire consequences for commodity prices that have experienced a rip roar rally for nearly a year since the pandemic began following global central banks and countries pumping trillions of dollars into the respective economies. 

Tyler Durden
Fri, 04/16/2021 – 21:20

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