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Brownstone Institute

The Predictable Wastes of Covid Relief

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7 minute read

From the Brownstone Institute

BY Daniel NuccioDANIEL NUCCIO  

As documented in a 2023 report from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, more than seventy local governments used ARPA funds to expand surveillance programs in their communities

If you ever had the vague sense that Covid relief funding worked in a manner akin to US aid packages in failed Middle Eastern dictatorships, your instincts weren’t wrong.

First off, there were cases of just outright fraud nearing the $200 billion mark with drug gangs and racketeers collecting Covid unemployment benefits from the US government, with some recipient fraudsters not even having the common decency of being honest American fraudsters.

Even worse, though, were some legitimate uses of Covid funds that actually counted as legitimate despite being laughably frivolous or clearly unrelated to nominal goals connected to public health or helping communities deal with the economic impact of the virus – or, more accurately, the lockdowns.

One of the most should-be-satirical-but-actually-real examples of a legitimate use of Covid cash was a researcher at North Dakota State University being awarded $300,000 by the National Science Foundation through a grant funded at least in part through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to aid her in her 2023 efforts to reimagine grading in the name of equity. (If none of that makes sense, please don’t hurt yourself with mental pirouettes.)

Other more mundane projects pertained to prisons and law enforcement using Covid relief money for purposes that extended well-beyond simply paying salaries or keeping the lights on. In 2022 The Appeal and The Marshall Project  reported on how large sums of Covid money went to prison construction and expansion projects and to outfit police departments with new weaponry, vehicles, and canines. Regardless of how you feel about law enforcement or our prison system, these probably did little to stop the spread of Covid or keep out-of-work bartenders afloat while public health bureaucrats consulted horoscopes or goat entrails or their equally useful models to divine the proper time to let businesses reopen safely at half-capacity to diners willing to wear a mask between bites but too afraid to leave their homes.

Yet, of course, that didn’t stop people from trying to make the case that these expenditures absolutely were essential to slowing the spread. Often coming off like precocious children explaining to their parents how a new puppy would help teach them responsibility or an overpriced pair of sneakers would facilitate their social-emotional development by ensuring the cool kids would like them, local sheriffs and city managers were reported as claiming prison expansions could help prisoners social distance from each other, new tasers would help officers social distance from suspects, and new vehicles would allow officers to take their cars home with them rather than share one with another officer who might end up contaminating it with their Covid cooties.

But even worse than the funds that were outright plundered or just snatched up as part of a cash grab were those that were used on projects that helped further erode the freedoms of American citizens.

As documented in a 2023 report from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, more than seventy local governments used ARPA funds to expand surveillance programs in their communities, purchasing or licensing gunshot detection systems, automatic license plate readers, drones, social media monitoring tools, and equipment to hack smartphones and other connected devices.

Sometimes EPIC reported that this was done with little, if any, public debate over the civil liberties and privacy concerns inherent to these tools. In one case from a town in Ohio, approval for ARPA-funded ALPRs – cameras that can create a searchable, time-stamped history for the movements of passing vehicles – came after only a 12-minute presentation by their police chief.

Similarly, schools also likely used money from ARPA, as well as the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, for their own surveillance purposes, although documentation of how schools used their Covid money is said to be somewhat spotty at best.

Vice News in 2021 reported how Ed Tech and surveillance vendors such as Motorola SolutionsVerkada, and  SchoolPass marketed their products as tools to help reduce the spread of Covid and allow schools to reopen safely.

Some attempts such as Vice’s description of SchoolPass presenting ALPRs as a means to assist with social distancing come off like police departments explaining the social distancing benefits of tasers.

Others, however, such as Motorola plying schools with lists of behavioral analysis programs that “monitor social distancing violations” and room occupancy while “automat[ing] the detection of students who are not wearing face masks,” seem to offer a glimpse of the dystopian future into which we are heading – as do the other surveillance tools bought with Covid cash.

Maybe at some point Disease X, about which our ruling class has been warning us, will hit and the additional drones, ALPRs, and social media monitoring tools bought by the law enforcement agencies reported on by EPIC will be used to monitor adults for social distancing violations and automatically detect who isn’t wearing a mask. Maybe those tools will just be used to keep a digital notebook of the daily activities of everyone while police reassure us that they promise only to look at it when they really really need to.

In either case, though, if you currently have the vague sense that post-Covid America is a little more like a Chinese surveillance state than in the Before Times, your instincts are dead-on.

Author

  • Daniel Nuccio

    Daniel Nuccio holds master’s degrees in both psychology and biology. Currently, he is pursuing a PhD in biology at Northern Illinois University studying host-microbe relationships. He is also a regular contributor to The College Fix where he writes about COVID, mental health, and other topics.

Brownstone Institute

Tedros Must Face Reality

Published on

From the Brownstone Institute

BY David BellDAVID BELL 

It would be easier to ignore the World Health Assembly’s (WHA) deliberations in Geneva this week, but the  opening address of the Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, deserves a response. Both the WHO and its director are completely divorcing themselves from reality, illustrating how dangerous and unfit for purpose the WHO has become. There is clearly no way that any vote should proceed on anything of importance that the WHO may be required to implement in the coming week of WHA deliberations.

Tedros’s emphasis was on pandemics, and the faltering agreements intended to address their risk, the new Pandemic Agreement, and amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR). While these are watered down and the Pandemic Agreement may not even get to a vote, his continued justification for centering greater coordination and power at the WHO speaks volumes about the problem we face.

The Covid-19 period has resulted, as Tedros notes in his address, in up to 20 million additional deaths. WHO-supported policies achieved this, for a virus whose mortality mostly occurred in chronically sick people over 75 years of age. The WHO notes that a little over 7 million are directly attributable to the virus. Many of these other 13 million occurred in low- and middle-income countries, in populations where less than 1% of people are over 75 years old and half are under twenty, such as those of sub-Saharan Africa.

This is a staggering, appalling, incompetent, and entirely predictable achievement. However, it is going to get much worse. The policies the WHO promoted closed supply lines, shut down the workplaces of tens of millions of day laborers, stopped travel and tourism income on which millions of low-income people rely, closed markets, and pushed over hundreds of millions into severe poverty. They increased the indebtedness of nations globally, with direct effects on child mortality and the ability to grow future economies.

As predicted by the WHO itself, malaria and tuberculosis deaths have increased, and they will stay higher as the impact of increased poverty bites. Funding for essential sanitation and nutrition programs has dropped as the WHO pushed for a shift in funding to mass vaccination in countries with young populations for a disease of the elderly to which they were already immune, supported with frankly idiotic slogans with more to do with advertising than public health, such as “No one is safe until everyone is safe.”

In closing schools, for up to two years in some countries, the world has cemented in intergenerational poverty and inequality, overwhelmingly harming hundreds of millions of children at most future risk. Child labor has increased, and up to ten million additional girls are being forced into child marriage with the poverty and abuse that entails. When Tedros states in his opening WHA speech that “the whole world was taken hostage,” this should be what he is referring to. The world was taken hostage by the appalling people who took over public health, used the WHO as a tool with its leadership’s consent, and made hundreds of billions of dollars in profit through these harms foisted on others. Indeed, as Tedros notes, “covid has affected everybody.

Amidst all this rhetoric, the WHO is completely ignoring, and knowingly misrepresenting, what their own data tells them on the risk of natural pandemics. Whilst deliberately misleading countries and the media with claims that the risk of pandemics is rapidly increasing, they are fully aware that deaths from infectious diseases, and pandemics, have decreased over past centuries and are decreasing now. The databases and citations of reports from the WHO, the World Bank, and G20 High Level Independent Panel attest to this.

The causes of infectious disease deaths predominantly revolve around poor nutrition, sanitation, and supply lines for basic medicines. All these, improving before 2020, are now put at risk. Pretending that new diagnostic technologies that allow us to distinguish small virus outbreaks from the declining background constitute increased risk is a public health fallacy that must surely be deliberate. When Tedros states that the drafting teams of the pandemic texts “operated amid a torrent of mis- and disinformation,” he is correct, but it was not from the source he suggests.

So, when we are told that the “world was unprepared” for Covid-19, we should understand that we were unprepared for the hijacking of the WHO and public health policy, not for a virus that had an infection fatality rate in most countries little different than influenza. Pretending that deaths from ‘lockdowns’ were due to Covid adds to the current denial of reality. Lockdown was and should remain a term describing imprisonment. In public health it has been promoted by those who ended up gaining from the Covid debacle; private and corporate funders and their followers. There is a reason why public health previously stressed honest messaging and individual choice.

If the world is to actually address the risk presented by a repeat of Covid, then it had better address its cause – which looks increasingly likely to have been a laboratory leak from gain-of-function research. Nothing in the texts of the proposed Pandemic Agreement or IHR amendments even refers to this. Spending tens of billions per year on a surveillance network for natural threats will impoverish millions and divert funds from diseases of far higher burden, but do nothing to address the problem of research laboratories being paid to enhance virus virulence in humans. The proposed PABS scheme in the Pandemic Agreement in which the WHO will oversee increased passage of pathogens between laboratories and WHO-partnered pharmaceutical companies will likely do more to raise risk than reduce it.

We can all be relieved that the proposed pandemic texts are watered down from their egregious original versions and the Pandemic Agreement is unready for this WHA session. However, any increased coordination of power in the hands of the WHO, in its current state, is dangerous. The world has undergone enough damage in the past four years through misdirection and deliberate misinformation from an international agency that always knew better. Until the root causes of this are addressed, including ever-increasing influence on the organization of private individuals and corporate entities, and the glaring conflicts of interest in related public-private partnerships such as Gavi and CEPI, the world does indeed remain at increasing risk of the repeat of the disaster to which it was recently subjected.

We must first address the reasons why international public health is now about profit and centralization, rather than the health of populations. This won’t happen under the current version of the WHO, and does not appear on the WHA agenda. We are facing a mass denial of reality by the WHO and its leadership. Until this is rectified, any WHA votes that grant further powers or oversight to the WHO are unlikely to be in the interests of the world’s population, or the countries within which they live.

Author

  • David Bell

    David Bell, Senior Scholar at Brownstone Institute, is a public health physician and biotech consultant in global health. He is a former medical officer and scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), Programme Head for malaria and febrile diseases at the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) in Geneva, Switzerland, and Director of Global Health Technologies at Intellectual Ventures Global Good Fund in Bellevue, WA, USA.

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Brownstone Institute

BMJ Exposes Scientific American’s Editor-in-Chief

Published on

From the Brownstone Institute

BY Paul ThackerPAUL THACKER

In a shot across the bow against Scientific American’s continued descent into unscientific twaddle, a BMJ investigation documented over a dozen social media posts by editor-in-chief Laura Helmuth promoting transgender care for children, despite scientific evidence showing such treatment has had “devastating consequences” for minors.

“Laws preventing trans kids from getting gender-affirming treatment are dangerous and abusive, as well as against all medical evidence,” Helmuth posted on X in late 2022, one of many examples that the BMJ sent to Scientific American and its publisher Springer Nature, asking them to explain Helmuth’s trans advocacy which runs contrary to medical evidence.

In other social media posts, Helmuth has labeled critics of dangerous transgender medicine for children “biased,” “bigoted,” “antiscience,” “misinformation,” “cruel,” and compared them to Nazis.

Last year, Helmut promoted false news in Scientific American that argued, “The research is clear and all the relevant medical organizations agree: Gender-affirming care is evidence-based & medically necessary & leads to much better outcomes for trans kids than refusing them care.”

Six days later, the BMJ released an investigation of new research finding that the evidence for transgender care for children lacked evidence and that medical authorities were urging caution.

England, Scotland, Wales, and Sweden have all ceased prescribing puberty blockers for children, except for research studies, and the Finnish psychiatrist who first founded the field of transgender care for children now calls it “dangerous.” Many countries’ medical authorities have concluded that studies promoting trans treatment for children were either biased or of low quality.

The BMJ’s targeting of Laura Helmuth was a warning, of sorts—an admonition that Helmuth should focus on science, cease the advocacy, and stop saying stupid things. But if you continue to read Scientific American, expect Helmuth to continue saying stupid things.

Last month, Harvard’s Steven Pinker labeled Helmuth a “woke fanatic” on X and promoted an article discussing Scientific American’s descent into progressive ideology. “Another noble American institution run into the ground when clueless trustees handed over the keys to a woke fanatic,” Pinker posted.

The article Pinker promoted appeared in City Journal (“Unscientific American”) and carefully documented the magazine’s decline into a political rag since Helmuth took the reins in early 2020. Other outlets have also cast a disapproving eye on Helmuth’s political crusades.

The Wall Street Journal noted that Helmuth tweeted last year that “sparrows have four different chromosomally distinct sexes,” forcing the community notes on X to correct Helmuth’s error.

“It’s just incredible how far @sciam — a periodical I admired — has fallen from its mission to provide accurate, clear, and vivid coverage of science,” Yale professor and physician Nicholas Christakis, posted on X.

“EXCLUSIVE: unScientific American! Popular magazine is slammed by experts over ‘woke’ article titled ‘Why Human Sex is Not Binary’,” reported the Daily Mail, a few months prior to Christakis’ criticism of Helmuth. Dr Carole Hooven, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, told the Daily Mail that Scientific American’s unscientific claims could put women in danger.

“On average, men are bigger and stronger than women, and commit the overwhelming majority of rapes and murders. Most men could kill most women with their bare hands,” Hooven explained. “These facts have informed the establishment of laws and social policies that protect female spaces, particularly those where women are in vulnerable positions such as where they sleep or shower (prison cells and locker rooms, for example).”

Chicago University emeritus professor of ecology and evolution, Jerry Coyne, has written several times about Helmuth promoting factually inaccurate claims in Scientific Americanwhich he labeled “Scientific Pravda.”

Somebody called my attention to three new articles and op-eds in Scientific American that have no science in them, but are pure ideology of the “progressive” sort.  I agree with some of the sentiments expressed in them, as in the first one. But my point is, as usual, to show how everything in science, including its most widely-read “popular” magazine, is being taken over by ideology. Not only that, but it’s ideology of only one stripe: Leftist “progressive” (or “woke,” if you will) ideology, so that the “opinion” section is not a panoply of divergent views, but gives only one view, like a Scientific Pravda.  Remember that the editor refused when I offered to write an op-ed expressing different (but of course not right-wing) views.

In a previous City Journal article in 2022, science writer Nicholas Wade called Scientific American’s shift away from science a “new Lysenkoism” referring to the Soviet doctrine that forced biologists to ignore evolution and the genetics of plants to conform to political ideology.

And in an investigation I conducted for the BMJ (“The covid-19 lab leak hypothesis: did the media fall victim to a misinformation campaign?”) I noted that Helmuth harassed CDC Director Robert Redfield for telling CNN he thought the Covid virus may have come from a Wuhan lab:

The growing tendency to treat the lab leak scenario as worthy of serious investigation has put some reporters on the defensive. After Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, appeared on CNN in March, Scientific American’s editor in chief, Laura Helmuth, tweeted, “On CNN, former CDC director Robert Redfield shared the conspiracy theory that the virus came from the Wuhan lab.” The following day, Scientific American ran an essay calling the lab leak theory “evidence free.”

In short, Helmuth is a political fanatic who doesn’t care much for science, unless it’s science that fits her personal politics.

The BMJ’s investigation highlighted the Cass Review which found little evidence to support Helmuth’s claims that the puberty blockers or other trans therapy for children are safe, including surgery. Dr. Hilary Cass is a British physician and former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who spent three years examining the evidence for treating gender-questioning young people.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Dr. Cass said that doctors in the United States are “out of date” with understanding trans care for children. “But what some organizations are doing is doubling down on saying the evidence is good,” Dr. Cass told the New York Times. “And I think that’s where you’re misleading the public.”

And in podcast for the BMJ, Dr. Cass noted that of the 100 studies for puberty blockers and hormone treatment, only two were of passable quality. She also dismissed claims by activists such as Helmuth that trans care lowers risk of suicide in children.

“There, unfortunately, is not evidence that gender affirming treatment in its broadest sense reduces the suicide risk,” Dr. Cass said, during the BMJ podcast.

Below are several social media posts by Laura Helmuth crusading for trans care for kids—many of them dangerous messages for children, all lacking quality medical evidence.

To find the latest quality medical evidence on trans care for children, please read The Cass Review, which NHS England commissioned to improve NHS gender identity services, and ensure that children and young people who are questioning their gender identity or experiencing gender dysphoria receive a high standard of care, that meets their needs, is safe, holistic, and effective.

Republished from the author’s Substack

Author

  • Paul Thacker

    Paul D. Thacker is an Investigative Reporter; Former Investigator United States Senate; Former Fellow Safra Ethics Center, Harvard University

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