Florida Fires COVID-19 Public Data Guru as Private Firm Takes over Atlanta’s Data Dashboard

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/05/2020 - 6:27am in


News, Florida, georgia

Rebekah Jones doesn’t expect her replacement at Florida’s DOH’s Division of Disease Control and Health Protection (DDCHP) to provide “the same level of accessibility and transparency” that she had been committed to providing as geographic information system (GIS) manager and architect of the state’s lauded COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard.

Jones blames that very commitment to data accessibility and transparency as the motivating factor for her reassignment on May 5. In an email to a local CBS news affiliate in Tallahassee, she made the explosive allegation that superiors at the DDCHP had asked her to cook the books and “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.” When she refused, Jones was taken off the job and offered a settlement with the option to resign.

Just fifteen days before news of the Syracuse University graduate’s removal broke, Dr. Deborah Birx – a member of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force – went out of her way on national television to praise the system Jones had built, suggesting Americans visit the “extraordinary” website to see how Florida had been able to display information about COVID-19 cases and tests at a granular level, “district by district, county by county”.

Birx, who has not yet commented on the Jones firing, said yesterday that she was “encouraged” by “clinical, laboratory data and surveillance data” showing a 50 percent decline in new COVID-19 cases throughout the U.S. over the last month. Meanwhile, the data dashboard Birx had extolled on “Face the Nation” has crashed several times since Jones’ firing, limiting access to the underlying data sheets, and, according to Jones, still has not yet been “fully repaired.”


Political Fodder

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ spokeswoman, Helen Aguirre Ferré, blamed Jones’ firing on “insubordination” in an email communication issued after a press conference in which DeSantis claimed not to know who Jones was. Ferré’s email accused the former GIS manager of making “unilateral decisions to modify the Department’s COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors,” effectively turning the tables on Jones’ narrative and adding fuel to the fire of what looks to be the beginning of a political battle at the state level.

Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, the lone Democrat holding office at the state level, addressed Governor DeSantis in an open letter decrying Jones’ firing as undermining “trust in our government,” and warning that such actions are “extraordinarily dangerous to public health.” The chair of Florida’s Democratic Party followed suit by calling for an independent investigation of Jones’ allegations of data manipulation and going as far as labelling these actions as potentially “criminal.” U.S. Representatives Lois Frankel and Kathy Castor also joined in condemning DeSantis and called attention to Florida’s “troubling pattern” of withholding data as it regards overall mortality rates in the state.

Despite the obvious political fodder inherent in the Jones controversy, exclusive insight provided this the author about a parallel event that recently took place across state lines in Georgia might reveal a more disturbing picture as coronavirus containment protocols open the door for draconian surveillance measures and increasing concentration of information in less and less hands.


Emergency Meeting

On May 12, a week after Rebekah Jones had been reassigned, an emergency meeting was called at Grady Health Systems – a major hospital network serving greater Atlanta to announce to the staff of telemedicine workers that the data dashboard they use to track cases of COVID-19 was being taken over by a new team of cybersecurity experts.

According to confidential sources, the meeting was a highly emotional affair as Grady’s in-house IT department was let go after more than two decades managing the hospital network’s cybersecurity operations. Outgoing members of Grady’s IT department had barely been given the news a day earlier. The new team from a private cybersecurity firm called IT-CNP was introduced to the staff at the meeting.

Founded in November 2001, IT-CNP has a longstanding relationship with the Department of Health and Human Services. In 2017, it was awarded a Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) contract by HHS to “provide Next Generation IT Services (NGITS) application hosting, FedRAMP certified cloud, and associated managed services”. IT-CNP’s President, Sal Baldwin, asserted this contract would advance efforts around “artificial intelligence in service automation and operational efficiencies in direct support of rapidly evolving HHS mission objectives.”

Given the revelations contained in a multi-part investigative series co-authored by this author with Whitney Webb, this development at Grady Health Systems coupled with the recent events surrounding access to COVID-19 case data in Florida could point to a broader national effort to clamp down on reliable and transparent information about coronavirus cases across the country, in order to manipulate the message as we move towards reopening. It is also worth noting that none of the existing coverage of Jones’ ouster makes it clear who exactly was put in charge of Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard.


Controlling the Data

Limiting access to raw COVID-19 case data has direct repercussions on everything from how states implement reopening protocols to how many resources are allocated through federal government programs to fight the healthcare crisis that is unfolding. Jay Wolfson, a Senior Associate Dean at the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine, attributes two possible motives for restricting access to raw data. One revolves around the data being deemed “too flawed” and the other is that it might “reveal information that could be disturbing or contrary to stated narratives.”

Even more disturbing was an assessment made by Asal M. Johnson, assistant Professor of Public Health at Stetson University, who pointed out that “racial and ethnic data has been consistently excluded from Florida’s line listing of cases”, speculating that this was being done to “undermine evidence-based decision making” to further particular economic interests.

Ultimately, the ability to control the data available to both the public and the scientific community in the throes of a pandemic has far reaching implications for the future of democracy in the United States, and the fact that control over said data is being handed over to private concerns – in the case of IT-CNP – and unknown actors within the Florida DOH should be a serious concern to us all.

We would be remiss not to pay close attention to Rebekah Jones’ story and heeding the advice she gave in an email to subscribers of a COVID data listserv: “They are making a lot of changes,” warned Jones. “I would advise being diligent in your respective uses of this data.”

Feature photo | Health workers conduct COVID-19 tests at a drive through coronavirus testing site at a community center, April 27, 2020, in Sanford, Florida. John Raoux | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post Florida Fires COVID-19 Public Data Guru as Private Firm Takes over Atlanta’s Data Dashboard appeared first on MintPress News.

Palast & David Cay Johnston: How Trump Stole 2020 — A Warning!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 10/05/2020 - 2:38am in

They don’t steal votes to steal elections. They steal votes to steal the money. If you can steal an election, you’ve stolen the keys to the treasury — our treasury. In this conversation, award-winning investigative reporters and authors Greg Palast and David Cay Johnston follow the (stolen) money, and expose the billionaires and ballot bandits who are systematically stripping the United States of its assets, just as a vulture fund would with a corporate entity caught in its talons.

Palast & Hartmann: How Trump Stole 2020 — A Warning!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/04/2020 - 8:29pm in

Trump & Co are stealing the election right now, but we can steal it back. We can beat the ballot bandits. Watch this video of my conversation with constitutional expert and broadcaster Thom Hartmann — then pre-order my new book, How Trump Stole 2020, to find out how!

Cartoon: The Dead Thatchers – Eton Uber Alles

Hi, and here’s another of my cartoons satirising the Tories and their utterly reprehensible politicos and other members. In this case, the cartoon takes the form of a sleeve image for a non-existent punk band, the Dead Thatchers, and an equally non-existent song, ‘Eton Uber Alles’. It shows David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith, Boris Johnson and George Osborne in front of the gates of Auschwitz, which bears the infamous slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ and the cartoon’s punchline, as you can see, is ‘You will row for the master race’. It’s a reference to the Eton boating song,which itself got poached and revamped in the 1980s by Paul McCartney into the Frog Chorus.

The cartoon’s inspiration is the American punk outfit, The Dead Kennedys, and their song, ‘Kalifornia Uber Alles’. As punks, the Kennedys really hated hippies, and so the song’s just a rant about how California is some kind of hippy Third Reich. I was never a fan of the Dead Kennedys, but I do remember the song had the lines ‘Hippy Nazis will control you, you will jog for the master race!’ Which in the context of a Britain dominated by Eton would obviously be boating.

Now there’s a lot that can be said about hippies both pro and con, but they definitely weren’t Nazis. There was, apparently, a Hippy Nazi party, but they were in Florida, and from their name sound like a rather tasteless joke. They sound like an attempt to wind up the straights, rather than any serious Fascist organisation. Unfortunately, with the way so many of the British ruling class were initially very sympathetic towards Nazi Germany, flocking to organisations like the Anglo-German Fellowship, it’s probably a fair bet that the fathers or grandfathers of many of the boys now at Eton really were Nazi sympathizers. Though I’m not, of course, claiming that those of the four depicted above were.

And there is a serious point for my placing them in front of the slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, and it’s the same reason people have scrawled it on the walls of Jobcentres and put up photoshopped images of the same. The pro-Israel fanatics and Tories attacked those images and graffiti as anti-Semitic, claiming that they were somehow turning the Holocaust into a joke. However, as Mike explained in his piece last Saturday about the appearance of the slogan on another Jobcentre, this certainly isn’t a case. The phrase translates into English as ‘Work Makes (You) Free’. According to Tony Greenstein, the slogan was on the gates of all the Nazi camps, including those housing gentile prisoners. It was not used exclusively for the Jews, and first appeared on a concentration camp for non-Jews. It’s been applied to the Tories and their administration of the DWP, particularly by Iain Duncan Smith, because they really do seem to have a very Fascistic attitude to the poor and disabled.

The Tories have a mantra about ‘making work pay’, and have deliberately adopted a policy of ‘less eligibility’ towards the disabled and the unemployed in order to deter and punish them for claiming benefit. It takes five weeks after someone has signed on before they receive their first payment under Universal Credit. This is also less than the amount they would have received under the previous, benefit systems. There is an extensive system of sanctions, in which claimants can be thrown off their benefits on the flimsiest of excuses. The disabled are subjected to work capability tests, in which a certain percentage are always found fit work, even when the poor souls are severely disabled and even in several cases terminally ill. Grieving relatives and friends have even found their loved one’s receiving letters from the DWP informing them that they have been found fit for work, and so no longer liable for incapacity and related benefits after they’ve died. It has also been revealed that Maximus, the organisation responsible for administering the tests, like its predecessor Atos, has regularly falsified the results in order to get claimants thrown off benefits.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/03/14/firms-that-falsified-thousands-of-benefit-assessments-set-to-get-contracts-to-falsify-thousands-more/

Mike in his article on Sunday, 8th March 2020 put up this meme reminding everyone how IDS started an article for the online edition of one of the papers actually praising the slogan and defending it against its use by the Nazis. The offending paragraph disappeared soon after, but not before shocked and horrified people had taken screenshots of it and put them back up so everyone could see just how low Iain Duncan Smith is. Here’s the meme:

As one tweeter, Paula Peters, quoted by Mike in his article points out, the language used by the Tories about the disabled is very much the same the Nazis used in the Third Reich. They’re denounced as ‘useless eaters’ and scroungers. The term ‘workshy’, used to describe the long-term unemployed, is also taken from the Nazis. It’s the English translation of ‘arbeitscheu’. And the habitually or long-term unemployed were also branded ‘asocial’ and placed in the concentration camps.

The Tories do this because they have a fundamentally eugenicist view of the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. They are biologically inferior, ‘dysgenic’, who threaten the healthy purity of the rest of the human race and particularly the biologically superior. Who are naturally the rich, especially the heads of big business. Hence the Tory policy of forcing them off benefits, even if it means the deaths of hundreds of thousands. It’s estimated that about 120,000 people have been killed by Tory austerity. But there is no apology nor any attempt to alter or improve conditions despite continuing revelations of the hardship inflicted on millions of people. Instead the Tories merely double down, repeated their lies about how, under them, the economy was booming and more people were in work than ever before. As for the deaths, they have done everything they can to hide the figures and prevent disability rights activists and carers, like Mike, from obtaining them. Hence putting the Tories in front of that slogan is very appropriate.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/03/08/hypocrisy-over-language-used-to-describe-dwp-oppression-of-benefit-claimants/

Here’s the cartoon. As always, I hope you enjoy it. And please, don’t have nightmares. It’s only Iain Duncan Smith!


The Government That Cried Wolf

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 23/03/2020 - 10:37pm in

For as long as anyone can remember, the United States government has wallowed in fear mongering. Now there’s actually a real legitimate threat to the national health, and many people, especially the young, aren’t listening to warnings.