Thursday, January 28, 2021

BCLC CEO Says Mike de Jong Said He Would 'Deal' With Potential Money Laundering Problem In 2015.


The following is an overview of the latest developments at the Cullen Inquiry, courtesy Global's Sam Cooper:

The CEO of the BC Lottery Corporation has told a public inquiry that he was concerned that raising bet limits in B.C. casinos to $100,000 per hand in 2014 could “open the door to larger scale money laundering” via high rollers from China using mysterious cash from underground banks, but that the corporation decided to do it anyway...


What did the good Mr. Lightbody do about it back in the BC Liberal gov't day?


...(Lightbody) said he became aware of increased risks following a casino review in 2011, and subsequently delegated risk mitigation to a Lottery Corp. vice-president named Terry Towns.

“I can’t recall specifics,” Lightbody told the inquiry. “I’m sure he did something.”...


Is that the sound of a vice presidentialish-type object being thrown under a proverbial bus that we just heard?


Mr. Lightbody went on to say that, at the time, he and his decided against even the small step of asking the high rollers to declare the source of their income because:

...Lightbody said he believed asking Chinese VIPs to declare their source of funds would have impacted Lottery Corp. revenue...

In fact, it wasn't until the Horsemen stepped in in 2015 that Mr. Lightbody was shocked (shocked I say!) to learn that something truly nefarious was going on (because apparently he previously thought garden variety money laundering was just fun and games?):

...“(The RCMP said) there was a potential tie-in with transnational terrorist financing,” Lightbody said. “I was blown away.”...

And then this happened:

...(Lightbody) said he was told that the BC Liberal minister responsible at the time, Mike de Jong, “would deal with this from an enforcement side.”...

Unfortunately, Mr. De Jong's 'deal' was not a full meal. Instead, it turned out that it was actually stuffed with rhetorical empty calories:

...(I)n 2016, when B.C.’s assistant deputy minister for gaming directed Lightbody to require gamblers to declare their source of funds, the Lottery Corp. decided not to apply the rule broadly to all large cash transactions, the inquiry heard.

Lightbody said he confirmed with Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland, the deputy minister for gaming at the time, that the “minister didn’t mean all cash transactions” needed a declaration on source of funds...


....As per usual with this kind of historical-type stuff, Sean Holman's 'Public Eye' archives have the goods!


But What About The Bleach?


From Dylan Goforth writing at the independent journalism website 'Frontier' (which looks solid):

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office has been tasked with attempting to return a $2 million stockpile of a malaria drug once touted by former President Donald Trump as a way to treat the coronavirus...


...The state purchased the hydroxychloroquine stockpile in early April (of 2020), days after Trump began to tout it as a treatment. While many acknowledged at the time that reports of the drug’s effectiveness were purely anecdotal, Trump said at a briefing in March, “What do we have to lose? I feel very good about it.”...


...(Oklahoma Governor Kevin) Stitt wasn’t alone in his support of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus. In August, Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, promoted hydroxychloroquine as a viable treatment after he had contracted COVID-19.

Though the drug had been widely discredited at that point, Humphrey, who has recently made news for seeking to establish a Bigfoot hunting season in Oklahoma and made waves in 2017 when he referred to pregnant women as “hosts,” encouraged Oklahomans to “take courage and begin treating COVID with Hydroxychloroquine.”

All snark aside, imagine if these fine folks had  just encouraged the local citizenry to undertake basic public health measures instead of pushing an already discredited treatment to score political points with a psychopath.


Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Tinker, Tailor, Prouder Guy


It may not be entirely surprising to those who have been paying attention that the current leader of the Proud Boys, Mr. Enrique Tarrio was previously a fraudster who ultimately had his prison sentence reduced:

...Tarrio on Tuesday acknowledged that his fraud sentence was reduced, from 30 months to 16 months, but insisted that leniency was provided only because he and his co-defendants helped investigators “clear up” questions about his own case...

But who would have thought that, in the interim between jail and insurrection the good Mr. Tarrio was also a police informant. Aram Roston of Reuters broke the story that the herd is now riding, hard, into the one news cycle sunset:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys extremist group, has a past as an informer for federal and local law enforcement, repeatedly working undercover for investigators after he was arrested in 2012, according to a former prosecutor and a transcript of a 2014 federal court proceeding obtained by Reuters...


...Tarrio, in an interview with Reuters Tuesday, denied working undercover or cooperating in cases against others. “I don’t know any of this,” he said, when asked about the transcript. “I don’t recall any of this.”...


One can only wonder how the Boys in the Band feel about that, especially given that Mr. Tarrio was 'denied' the ability to join them at the big insurrection gig after he was pre-emptively arrested and told to leave Washington just prior:

...Washington police arrested Tarrio in early January when he arrived in the city two days before the Capitol Hill riot. He was charged with possessing two high-capacity rifle magazines, and burning a Black Lives Matter banner during a December demonstration by supporters of former President Donald Trump. The D.C. Superior Court ordered him to leave the city pending a court date in June.

Though Tarrio did not take part in the Capitol insurrection, at least five Proud Boys members have been charged in the riot. The FBI previously said Tarrio’s earlier arrest was an effort to preempt the events of January 6...

Not to suggest that you should dive down a rabbit hole or anything but no one would hold it against you if you were to admit that that list bit had you wondering...

...At least a little.

With apologies to David Cornwell, otherwise known as John Le Carre, for the header.


COVID-19...The Race Against The Variants (ctd).


There will likely be all kinds of chatter, not to mention headlines in the popular prints, over the next few days about how effective the currently approved Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines are against the so called UK (B.1.1.7) and South African (B.1.351) variants.

The reason for this is the slew of new data that are coming out that have experimentally assessed the ability of specific antibodies directed at the viral spike protein to neutralaize the viral variants (don't forget that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines specifically target this protein).

The issue here are the specific mutations (i.e. changes) in the Spike proteins in each variant, which have now been mapped. 

Clearly there is a decrease in the ability of antibodies generated by the vaccines to neutralize both variants with the decrease being greater against the South African variant due to the specific location of the mutations in the latter. However, the decreases are not alarming at this point. 

The details of this are all thoroughly explained based on a thoughtful, critical, and fully cited, analysis of the new data by Derek Lowe in his latest post, here.

I'm super busy today so I'll get back to the details later, but I very much agree with Lowe's current conclusions (which will of course evolve as new data, especially of the clinical variety, come to light) which are the following:

"...What the data are telling us right now is that it definitely looks like vaccination can still handle the variant forms of the coronavirus that we are seeing – but that we also have to be on our guard, because there is no law that says that this protection can’t be breached. Taking public health measures to decrease the spread of the new variants is critical, as is getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible. If we mess either of those up, we are asking for serious trouble..."

Talk to you all later.

A separate concern, not noted above, is the fact that the antibodies produced by non-vaccinated folks who were previously infected with forms of the virus that are neither B.1.1.7 or B.153 showed a greater decrease in neutralizing activity against the variants...More on the specifics of that later, also, given that this could affect follow on immunity. 
A little off topic but... I want to apologize to those of you who have been frustrated recently by the fact that I've had the 'comment moderation' feature on for the last few weeks. I understand that this decreased discussion in the threads significantly but I've been dealing with a troll problem. This seems to have passed so I've taken the moderation off for now. We'll see how it goes but it  may have to go on again if the waves of conspiracy-driven gobbledy-gook and ad hominem attacks return...Thanks.


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The 'Other' Story Involving The Great Canadian Gaming Corporation.


While we have all been focused on the sensational story of 'former' Great Canadian Gaming Co. CEO Rodney Baker and his recent trip under to the Yukon under the cover of COVID, you may not have noticed that the Cullen Inquiry on Lotuslandian money laundering is up and running again.

And for the last couple of days another former Great Canadian executive has had his turn in the box.

Below are the lede and a little bit more from Sam Cooper's report for Global:

A former B.C. Lottery Corporation executive was in charge of compliance for a Richmond casino that under-reported suspicious transactions, B.C.’s inquiry into money laundering heard Tuesday.

It was the second day of cross-examination for Robert Kroeker, who was manager of compliance for Great Canadian Gaming from 2012 to July 2015. Kroeker left the Richmond casino and joined the Lottery Corp. in September 2015.

The inquiry has already heard that Asian-organized crime used loan sharks at River Rock Casino to provide “VIP” high-rollers from China with suspected drug cash to buy casino chips. And investigators believed the VIPs would often pay the gangs back in China.

This style of “transnational” money laundering became known as the Vancouver Model...


...Under examination from B.C. government lawyer Jacqueline Hughes, Kroeker acknowledged that from 2012 to 2015 — while he was responsible for compliance at River Rock Casino — the casino was not reporting suspicious transactions of under $50,000.

The inquiry has heard that this breached Canada’s anti-money laundering laws, and that Lottery Corp. investigator Ross Alderson believed River Rock staff may have warned VIPs to evade River Rock’s erroneous reporting threshold of $50,000.

“We have had some recent files where we have patrons buy-in for $49,960 and $49,980 in $20s and we have found out through investigation (that) River Rock are not reporting these as suspicious,” Alderson’s email said, the inquiry previously heard. “(We) feel it’s too much of a coincidence and the players must have been informed.”...


What was Mr. Kroeker's explanation for all this given that it was his job to see that the rules and regulations were followed in Great Canadian's casino?

Well, first there is this:

...Kroeker said he was not aware of the under-reporting problem while he was in charge at River Rock...

And then, if that is not enough, there is this:

...(H)e (Kroeker) said he believed River Rock staff made the under-reporting errors due to “confusion.”...


Given all these issue with 'compliance' why wouldn't the BC Lottery Corporation have used the revolving door to hire the good Mr. Kroeker as soon as he left Great Canadian in 2015?

Which has us wondering what, exactly, Mr. Kroeker's job was at the BCLC?


 According to a press release,  Mr. Kroeker was 'Vice-President for Legal, Security, Compliance & Chief Compliance Officer' when he left the Corporation in February of 2019.

Imagine that!

And just in case you were wondering,
according to Mr. Cooper '(i)n his final statement, Kroeker said he believes he and his staff have been unfairly attacked in media reports'...


Vaccines On The Run? Moderna Is Already On It.


Yesterday, a consortium of researchers from Moderna and the US National Institutes of Health posted a yet to be peer-reviewed 'pre-print' in which they conclude that the antibodies generated by their mRNA-based vaccine work just fine in 'neutralizing' the UK COVID variant in an experimental setting. However, the vaccine is not as good at generating such antibodies against the South African variant.

This, and I'm speculating a little here, is likely because of the significant changes in the viral 'spike' protein that occur in the South African variant.

The general scientific consensus so far, which Lauren Pelley of the CBC covers well here,  is that the vaccine will likely still have efficacy in people. I sure hope so, but only time and clinical data will really tell.

The upside to all of this is that Moderna is already working on re-engineering their mRNA payload (which is the bit of the vaccine that causes our cells to make their own spike protein that we then make protective 'neutralizing' antibodies against) in the hopes that it will then be effective against the variant concerned.

Essentially, this means that Moderna is already at work in making a new booster. Here is how Denise Grady et al. described this effort in the NY Times:

...As a precaution, Moderna has begun developing a new form of its vaccine that could be used as a booster shot against the variant in South Africa. “We’re doing it today to be ahead of the curve, should we need to,” Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, said in an interview. “I think of it as an insurance policy.”...

The technology here really is amazing and, from a technical point of view, it can be done quickly due to the process involved in producing these mRNA vaccines. 

But will this rapid fix actually work? Again, only time and both experimental as well as clinical data will tell. 

Rolling out yet another form of the vaccine, however, still poses all of the more mundane population health-based logistical issues as well as the supply and delivery problems we are all dealing with right now though in our race against the variants.


If you're interested in the specifics and some of the science of the 'variants', this Twitter thread by Mt. Sinai virologist Florian Krammer is really excellent.
Disclaimer: I am a cell and molecular biologist but I am not a virologist...Thus, I am not an expert in this field. However, I am paying attention...That said, please take my musings with a grain of salt...A real expert to follow is a fellow named Derek Lowe. 


Monday, January 25, 2021

Are One In Three People Infected With SARS-CoV-2 Asymptomatic?

Daniel Oran and Eric Topol from the Scripps Institute have done a massive review of multiple studies and have come to the following conclusion:

...At least one of three people infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, do not develop symptoms. That’s the conclusion of a review we just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. It summarizes the results of 61 studies with more than 1.8 million people...

Why does this matter to Oran and Topal?

Two reasons...

First, they argue that focusing testing on those folks that are symptomatic likely misses the boat when it comes to population-based viral spread:

...Even though knowledge about asymptomatic infection has greatly evolved, tactics for combating the pandemic have not. It is now obvious that testing only those with symptoms, as was common early in the pandemic, is a mistake because it ignores the invisible legions of infected people who have no symptoms...

Second, they argue that failing to test the asymptomatic could actually make things worse once more arms receive their dose(s) of vaccine:

...The rollout of Covid-19 vaccines brings with it the risk of a new wave of asymptomatic infections. The two vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration {from Pfizer and Moderna} have been proven to prevent illness, but not asymptomatic infection. Even after vaccination, the coronavirus may still temporarily take up residence in the lining of the respiratory tract, making it possible to infect others. Preliminary results from one vaccine trial seem encouraging, with an apparent two-thirds reduction in asymptomatic infection after the first dose. But many other studies are underway.

So what's the solution?

Oran and Topal suggest that we should go big with antigen testing widely applied and done repeatedly like, it turns out, has been successful at some American universities:

...What’s needed is a pivot to a different type of testing. Antigen tests, which look for a bit of coronavirus protein, cost just a few dollars each and can yield results in minutes. Like home pregnancy tests, they require minimal instruction. Antigen tests are ideal for spotting people who are infectious, rather than those who may be long past the infectious phase of Covid-19, or who harbor such low levels of the virus that they are unlikely to infect others.

Inexpensive rapid home tests would help infected people isolate themselves before they could spread the virus. Frequent testing — at least several times per week — is essential, as demonstrated by successful testing efforts at some universities, which have enabled students to return to campus...

Real food for thought, I reckon, as we race to get to vaccine-driven herd immunity before the variants catch us.

(more on the variant stuff tomorrow).

This story caught my attention because a good friend, colleague and guitar player is getting ready to send his eldest kid to one of the American schools concerned...It was he that first mentioned the succcesses they've had with rigorous, multi-pronged testing...I presume, but stand ready to be corrected, that the same might be said of our local Lotuslandian film industry?
And, to take this further, Topal and Oran conclude that this issue is even worse when you consider the folks who are infectious but 'pre-symptomatic...The piece cited above in STAT News is really worth a read if you are interested but don't want to wade through their scientific paper.


Covid Vaccine Updates...


Merck's two viral vector-based vaccines our out. As the company explains they both failed early at Phase I in that they did not initiate a robust immune response:

Merck (NYSE: MRK), known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, today announced that the company is discontinuing development of its SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 vaccine candidates, V590 and V591, and plans to focus its SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 research strategy and production capabilities on advancing two therapeutic candidates, MK-4482 and MK-7110. This decision follows Merck’s review of findings from Phase 1 clinical studies for the vaccines. In these studies, both V590 and V591 were generally well tolerated, but the immune responses were inferior to those seen following natural infection and those reported for other SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 vaccines...

We are still waiting on phase III results with the J&J so called 'one shot' vaccine* as our go-to drug development guy Derek Lowe notes:

...We’re still waiting on clinical trial data from J&J, and it’s still expected any day now. The efficacy numbers on their one-dose protocol are highly anticipated, and the news this morning that Merck’s two vaccine candidates have been shelved just adds to that. Anthony Fauci said on Friday that he would be surprised if a regulatory decision were not made on this one within two weeks. Frankly, it had better work – we need it...

I say 'one shot'
in air quotes, above, because it turns out that two shots of the J&J vaccine actually gives better neutralizing antibody numbers.
Have been super busy with a regular day job science geek panel the last couple of weeks...Only bonus was no cigar tube back-and-fort to Ottawash in one of those aging Mulroney-Schreiber creak machines...Should be returning to regular blogging over the next few days...


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

And He Didn't Even Need To Make The Trains Run On Time...

The US House of Representatives today voted to impeach Donald Trump for the second time.

The State of Washington has ten representatives in that house. All seven Democrats and even two of the three Republicans voted for impeachment.

The lone Republican hold-out was Cathy McMorris Rodgers of the 5th district which borders on, as you may have already guessed, Idaho.

Here is how Ms. McMorris Rodgers justified her vote on her website:


Ms. McMorris Rodgers recognizes Mr. Trump for what he is and yet she still refused to do the right thing because of all the 'great' things Trump has done, sans trains and the schedules and all that.

Which is interesting given that Mr. Trump's historical brethren didn't actually deal with all that train-time continuum stuff either.

Imagine that!


Friday, January 08, 2021

Jumping Off The Trump Train...


All kinds of very, very finest-of-the-finest folks are jumping off the Trump Train as it slows to a crawl to enter the inauguration station.

And Driftglass is keeping track of the 'former' members of the administration as they attempt to melt into the reasonable, resisting Republican crowd while hobbling away on ever so slightly sprained ankles.

But what of the enablers who have been shovelling nitrous-laden coal into the train's boilers, hand-over-digital-fist, from the very beginning?

Super-finest folks like, say, the good Mr. Zuckerberg?

Well, Marina Hyde of the Guardian weighs in brilliantly on that one:

...It was nice to hear from Mark Zuckerberg, who grandly announced he’d blocked Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. This is not so much a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted as doping the horse, whipping it into a frenzy, encouraging it to bolt, fostering a world in which humans are subjugated by horses, monetising every snort and whinny, allowing the very existence of “humans” and “horses” to become just one of a bunch of competing opinions, and then – only when that one particular horse has outlived its usefulness and seems destined for the glue factory – gently closing the stable door with a self-satisfied little “click”. That said, I very much enjoyed the photos of Zuckerberg’s wife enjoying a carefree surf in Hawaii, presumably taken as a man claiming to be prepared for a violent death was surfing on Nancy Pelosi’s desk...


Perhaps Ms. Chan, Mr. Zuckerberg and the Pelosi desk stomper will one day body surf the crowd, together, at an Ariel Pink concert.

Or some such thing.


COVID-19 Restrictions In BC - Doing The Right Thing.


So much of our time and energy these days are used to fuel outrage.

Personally, when possible I've been doing my best to dial that stuff back because I've come to realize that the great majority of folks are trying their best to follow the rules and do the right thing.

And that includes thirty-eight church leaders in British Columbia.

Here is their open letter to B. Henry and A. Dix, that was recently published by the Glacier Media Group:

Dear Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix:

We are faith leaders from across British Columbia and from multiple denominations within the province.

We wanted to publicly reach out to show our deep respect and appreciation for you, your staff and all those in leadership in this most challenging time. We fully support the work you have done throughout 2020 and appreciate your calm, considerate guidance and wisdom as you work to keep us all safe.

As faith leaders we have worked hard to keep our communities safe and connected in many imaginative ways. Some of us have remained online throughout this pandemic while others have followed clearly laid out protocols for in-person worship gatherings and events in the summer and early fall.

Each of us, along with our leadership, has prayerfully made decisions that we felt best cared for our congregations.Throughout all of these decisions it has been incredibly helpful to have strong guidance from the provincial health officer, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and the provincial government.

None of us have served in ministry through a global pandemic before, and we look to experts to help us through these times.Your work has been invaluable to us. We have been deeply disappointed in the multiple times that the voices of a particular group of faith leaders have been spotlighted and amplified publicly criticizing your work and your mandates. As you are already aware, those voices do not speak for all of us.

We want to publicly reiterate our gratitude and support for your work. We are deeply grateful that you have, from the beginning, taken time to be in conversation with faith leaders and have spoken publicly many times in support of the work we are doing. We are looking forward to working with Dr. Robert Daum [of SFU's Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue] to continue those conversations.

Thank you for your hard work. We continue to hold each of you, your staff, our government, B.C.’s front-line workers and all impacted by COVID-19 in our prayers.

Hard to argue with that, I reckon.



Thursday, January 07, 2021

Your Evening Audio... 'My Hometown' (Springsteen Cover)

Even though our dog, the Whackadoodle, is no longer with us, I still like to get up early on Saturday mornings and head down to where the Fraser river meets the ocean to go for a long walk out on the spit with the beach guitar in tow.

Mostly it's major chord, top of the neck stuff, as is my want and inclination.

Anyway, last weekend, as I was leaving before dawn's first light, I heard an instantly recognizable rhythmic whacking not far off in the distance.

It was a young kid up the street standing on his front porch banging his cleats together.

Boyhood winter days spent playing games on grass, with or without pads, came flooding back as I hopped into the car and headed first South and then West in what is now my Hometown...


Two Sets Of BC's COVID-19 Numbers That Are Difficult To Ignore.


There are a couple of graphs up on the BC Centre For Disease Control/Provincial Health Services Authority COVID-19 website that I've been unable to ignore for the past couple of weeks.

The first is the  'positivity' rate of samples tested, which has spiked stayed high recently:

The second is the number of tests performed which have dropped recently:

So, what do these graphs mean for our true public transmission rate given the plateauing of reported  case numbers coupled with our stubbornly high hospitalization numbers?

Well, as the CBC's numbers guy Justin McElroy notes, we will have to wait for more information which should be coming tomorrow:

...(S)ince Dec. 18, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has not issued its weekly situation report, which provides additional data, including the public testing positivity rate.

Its next report will be released on Friday, two weeks after Christmas. That information will come at the same time positive tests based on transmissions happening at Christmas gatherings will be fully known.

Those who track the numbers are hopeful that additional information will provide additional clarity...

But, in speaking to local mathematician and modeller Dan Coombs, Mr. McElroy tells us at least one thing that I did not personally know about testing rates in BC:

...According to Daniel Coombs, a UBC mathematician who has worked with the province on its pandemic modelling, the decline in testing can be attributed to three main factors.

The first is a sharp decrease over the holidays in testing by private organizations — which usually account for 20 to 30 per cent of overall tests — much of which is due to film productions going on pause.

The second factor is some people choosing not to get tested when they otherwise would due to personal holiday considerations — a point emphasized by Chief Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry last week.

But the third factor has less to do with the holidays, and more to do with the trend line B.C. was on before they began.

"Since a month ago, there's been a decline in the number of cases before testing went down," said Coombs.

"Not massive, but it has been going downward. And less cases means less contact tracing required, less testing of asymptomatic people."...

In my non-expert opinion, factors two and three are relatively self-evident, particularly for those who have been paying attention to publicly available graphs like the ones shown above. However, while I was aware of the 'private organization' testing thing,  I had no idea it accounted for 20 to 30 percent of overall tests.

Regardless, clearly (and I'm not being facetious here) we really do need more clarity to know where we stand re: public rate of transmission and whether or not the current public health restrictions on gathering, etc.,  are effective in decreasing said transmission.

Importantly, there are significant regional differences, particularly in amplitude, in the numbers buried in the graphs shown above - you can see those differences here.
Full disclosure....I know Prof. Coombs a little and might have learned about the private testing percentage directly from him if we were still riding our bikes to and from work  on the pretty much the same route everyday.
Friday 6:00pm (non-)Update...Unfortunately the BCCDC report was not released as scheduled today.


Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Insurrection Watch: The Worst Of The Worst.


Ari Fleischer helped gin up the war with Iraq back when he was the press secretary for then president George W Bush.

Later, he became a 'both sides do it' justifier of all things extremist Republican, including birtherism.

Today, as some very, very fine folks were getting ready to storm the US Capitol during a joint session of Congress Mr. Fleischer had this to say:

And that word 'insurrection'
in the title to this post? It is not mine. Instead, it is Mr. Biden's and Mr. Romney's.
Update: Perhaps I was wrong about that worst of the worst thing...