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4 July, 2005
ID-Card PR – The UK government claims that new biometric ID cards (which require fingerprinting/eye-scanning of the population) will prevent terrorism and benefit fraud. But there's little evidence to support this claim.

According to a recent study by Privacy International (2004), there's no evidence to suggest that identity cards can combat terrorism. Their report states: "The presence of an identity card is not recognised by analysts as a meaningful or significant component in anti-terrorism strategies." Meanwhile, US Department of State figures show terrorism at its lowest levels for 35 years.

As for benefit fraud, the government admits that false identity represents only a tiny fraction of benefit fraud – only £50 million out of an estimated £2 billion yearly total. (ID cards could cost £19 billion according to recent estimates – nearly 400 times the cost of identity fraud in the benefits system).

Sources:
http://www.privacyinternational.org/issues/idcard/uk/id-terrorism.pdf (PDF file)
http://tinyurl.com/7vlxp (LSE estimate of ID card cost)
http://www.no2id.net/IDSchemes/faq.php (Good FAQ on ID cards)
http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/pgtrpt/2003/31751.htm (terrorism figures)

I sent the following letters to various UK newspapers:
(STOP PRESS: the second letter – on comparative cost of ID cards – was published in the Guardian newspaper on 6 July 2005)

Dear Editor,

The only research ever conducted on the relationship between ID cards and terrorism (by Privacy International, 2004) found no evidence to support the claim that identity cards can combat terrorist threats. Meanwhile, US Department of State figures show terrorism at its lowest levels for 35 years. What is the point of ID cards?

Dear Editor,

The cost of identity fraud in the benefits system is 400 times less than the potential cost of ID cards, according to recent estimates - ie £50 million (DWP identity-fraud estimate) compared with £19 billion (LSE ID-card estimate). Is this good value for the taxpayer?

(For a list of newspaper email addresses, please see our Letters to Newspapers page.)

5 May 2005
Sections of the media (eg BBC and ITN) failed to highlight the following over recent leaks on Iraq:

The Attorney-General's (7/3/03) legal advice to Tony Blair says: "regime change cannot be the objective of military action". (From section 36 of the advice – http://tinyurl.com/9mrmx [693KB pdf])

This is confirmed in a high-level leaked memo published by the Sunday Times: "The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action." http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1593607,00.html

And it's confirmed in a civil service briefing paper: "Regime change per se is not a proper basis for military action under international law."
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1592724,00.html

The same briefing paper reveals that Blair had decided on regime change by April 2002: "When the prime minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April, he said that the UK would support military action to bring about regime change."

"What is important is that whatever action we take is done in accordance with international law" – Tony Blair

11 January 2005
A correspondent of ours complained to the BBC that the number of tsunami death-counts reported by the BBC over a few days exceeded the total number of Iraqi death-counts reported since 2003. The BBC's director of news, Helen Boaden, replied as follows:

"I think the real problem is that the estimates of Iraqi civilian dead are so divergent and so open to challenge that we find it very hard to quote them in brief news items."

Well, the claims of Saddam's WMD threat were also "divergent" and "open to challenge", but that didn't stop the BBC reporting such scary claims frequently.

9th December 2004
Neuromarketing is a term for the ways marketers use knowledge of the brain to sell you stuff – and to manipulate you. An example of a neuromarketer is Clotaire Rapaille, head of Archetype Discoveries Worldwide – a marketing consultancy that has some big corporate clients. Rapaille's work involves identifying "unconscious codes" that access the "reptilian brain". He also seems to be involved in political PR. I'm reminded of a line from the political novel, Primary Colors:

"You want to use value words. You connect midbrain, subcortical – you want to hit them down in their lizard brains... where they don't think – where they just, y'know, react..."

Interview with Rapaille >

11th November 2004
Official accounts say it took several armies, $100 billion and thousands of civilian deaths to remove a national leader (Saddam Hussein).

Official accounts also say it took one man, unaided and with a budget of $1 (for bullets), to remove a national leader (JFK).

Saddam Hussein's security must've been 100 billion times better than JFK's. Or maybe inflation has been higher than reported since 1963.

6th October 2004
See if you can figure out "free market" economics from the following media snippets:

"Soap. 24p. See, the more we sell the less we charge."
(Tesco soap ad, 17/9/04)

"A rail operator is withdrawing a range of cheap tickets because too many people were using them. Central Rail is ending its cheap day returns... it found they were too popular" (Ceefax, 18/9/04)

1st September 2004
UK Politician Adam Price has launched a campaign to impeach Tony Blair for misleading us over Iraq (http://impeachblair.org). In a BBC Newsnight interview with Price, presenter Gavin Esler seemed determined to dismiss the evidence against Blair as "political differences". I sent him the following email:

Dear Gavin,

In the first 15 seconds, Adam Price mentioned the "compelling evidence" that Blair "misled" the country. You interrupted:

"...You're trying to criminalise political differences – we've gone over this endlessly on the programme... we know the political differences." [Esler on Newsnight, 25/8/04]

Ironically, many see Newsnight reducing a catalogue of factual evidence to the status of "political difference". Take one example: the student thesis masquerading as a dossier – hardly a "political difference". And no "endless" coverage by Newsnight there. Wouldn't you agree there might be a case for impeachment when a government publishes a fraudulent document to support its case for war?

In the inquiries, Blair appointed his own judges and juries. Nothing but respectful sighs from Newsnight. But when someone outside of Blair's circle attempts to hold him accountable, your first question is: "This isn't just a stunt is it?"

3rd August 2004
You don't expect logical argument from politicians, but you expect at least a crude, kindergarten level of logical analysis from the "respectable" media (eg BBC). But apparently that's too much to ask. Tony Blair was widely reported making the following "argument":

"The war removed Saddam Hussein. Removing Saddam Hussein was a good thing. Therefore the war was justified."

Logically, this argument is equivalent to saying: "Robbing a bank helps pay the rent. Paying the rent is a good thing. Therefore robbing a bank is justified".

Maybe Blair could attempt to construct a less flawed argument if pressed (eg add premises/qualifications, insert logical steps on the way to his conclusion, etc). But he isn't pressed. BBC reporters and commentators seem incapable of even the most elementary logical criticism (which is an entirely different matter than issues of so-called "political neutrality", etc.)

10th May 2004
A "mystery shopper" bought a store's entire stock of Mars bars, costing GBP 2,131 (10,656 bars). The woman took advantage of a "five bars for a pound" offer at a London Woolworths. She was reportedly non-white, and Saddam Hussein is fond of Mars bars, so you'd think that, at the very least, there'd be a terrorist alert. (The Sun, 5/5/04)

1st February 2004
Monopoly irony: Ghettopoly, a new game (roll a six, collect $50 "for services your hoe provided") has attracted legal action from Hasbro, owner of rights to Monopoly. But Ghettopoly's UK promoter claims Hasbro stole Monopoly from the Quakers.

Monopoly originated as "The Landlord's Game", created by Quaker Lizzie Magie to promote the ideas of "alternative" economist Henry George – to demonstrate the extortion and wealth-monopolisation inherent in the landlord system.
http://shopping.guardian.co.uk/games/story/0,1587,1127547,00.html

12th January 2004
Work kills more than war. The ILO* estimates that approximately two million workers lose their lives annually due to occupational injuries and illnesses – equivalent to 5,000 workers dying each day. This is more than double the figure for deaths from warfare (650,000 deaths per year). According to the ILO's SafeWork programme, work kills more people than alcohol and drugs together.
(*ILO: United Nations' International Labor Organisation, 24/4/02)
http://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/inf/pr/2002/18.htm

14th December 2003
Development of the Eurofighter aircraft (a UK/European military project) went over budget by £30 billion, with a total cost of £50 billion. It's a decade overdue – some defence experts say it's already an obsolete "dinosaur". The total cost to UK taxpayers was £20 billion – approximately £1,000 per household.

These large sums mean little without comparison, so compare the yearly cost of "Jobseekers Allowance" (unemployment welfare) for the whole UK: £2.3 billion (latest government figure).

(Source: 'Eurofighter: Weapon of Mass Construction', BBC2, 11/11/03)

26th October 2003
It's reported that Rupert Murdoch meets Tony Blair regularly, visiting Downing Street at least every 6 months. Murdoch's empire includes UK newspapers The Times, Sun, Sunday Times and News of the World. Newscorp Investments is Murdoch's main holding company in the UK. Its accounts reportedly show profits of billions since 1987, yet it has effectively paid no tax in the UK since 1988 – receiving tax rebates in some years that have cancelled out payments in others.

Corporate tax avoidance costs Britain £85 billion a year, according to estimates in the Guardian (12/4/02). That's enough to pay the total cost of unemployment benefits (about £5 billion a year) for 17 years.

16th August 2003
Arnold Schwarzenegger told the Financial Times: "I am more comfortable with an Adam Smith philosophy than with Keynesian theory."

Arnie sounds like the latest in a line of politicians, business-folk and economic conservatives bowing to Adam Smith, without having read his work. I hope "the public" eventually gets the joke, which is that Smith, in many ways, seems like the kind of "whining leftist" that fiscal conservatives (like Arnie) loathe. For example, Smith wrote that markets lead to a type of labour which dehumanises workers. He also wrote of the merchant class "conspiring" against, "deceiving" and "oppressing" the public.

1st August 2003
Road traffic congestion is a major problem. The UK government recently announced that its "solution" is to widen roads. Meanwhile, a survey of British Telecom home-workers estimated that 3,149 miles a year, on average, were saved per person working at home (compared with travelling to the office). Most of these miles would have been by car rather than by public transport.
(Source: MOTORS AND MODEMS REVISITED, a report by National Economic Research Associates)

According to Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation: "If each employee could work from home just one day per week we would see a 20% cut in [road] traffic."
http://www.flexibility.co.uk

Presumably working from home would also reduce fossil fuel consumption and pollution. Government policy (to repeat): widen roads; ignore reason.

8th July 2003
A UK sex-toys chain recently won a legal battle to overturn a ban on it advertising vacancies in job centres. Since the unemployed must accept any available job (or risk losing their benefits), I foresee embarrassing moments for job centre bureaucrats.

Ironically, the ban was supposedly to protect jobseekers, not bureaucrats, from humiliation. Funny, I always thought the general policy was to create maximum humiliation for the unemployed.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,4501-717979,00.html

19th June 2003
The inept "historian" Andrew Roberts, in one of his numerous media appearances (does he give sexual favours to TV chiefs, or is he related, or both?), described the war on Iraq as "brilliant". Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that Iraqi civilian deaths may number upto 10,000. "Appalling", "tragic", "criminal" or "brilliant"? – take your pick of adjectives. But maybe I'm misinterpreting Roberts – perhaps he merely thought the soldiers' uniforms were brilliant.

1st June 2003
Bush says "have patience" in the search for WMD, unless it's Hans Blix doing the searching, in which case "have no patience". Rumsfeld suggests Iraq deviously destroyed WMD before the war. Well, that's what he told Iraq to do before the war; that's what Iraq said they'd done before the war; that's what Blix was trying to confirm before the war.

7th May 2003
Many people compare western democracies to dictatorial regimes. This is unfair and unpatriotic. It's true that western governments hold bogus elections, break international laws, start wars, forge intelligence, bug diplomats, broadcast lies and censor the media...

...But they are entitled to, because they're democracies. And dictatorships aren't. That is the difference.

13th April 2003
“Baghdad’s joy at being liberated” (as BBC news presenter Peter Sissons put it) was communicated to the world via TV pictures of "jubilant scenes" accompanying the symbolic toppling of a statue of Saddam Hussein. Baghdad has a population of 5 million; only a few hundred people were involved in the jubilation scenes. A long-shot photo of the event gives a very different impression from the TV hype: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article2842.htm

20th March 2003
Hans Blix stated (BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ 20/3/03) that Iraq cooperated in the inspections process this year. He also stated that no WMD has been found, that US intelligence on WMD was poor and sometimes bogus. He said that lack of accounting of destruction of WMD wasn’t evidence of existence of WMD.

The BBC, believed by many to be politically impartial, has consistently misreported Blix’s reports. More than once I’ve heard BBC news claim that the inspectors report no cooperation from Iraq.

I’ve seen a parade of politicians and media-pundits assert that Iraq has 10,000 litres of anthrax. This ignores and contradicts Blix’s reports, yet is unchallenged by BBC presenters.

A case for war based on endlessly repeated assertions, unsupported by evidence, unquestioned by the media, unmitigated by common sense, unconvincing to most people, and unspeakable to the thousands of Iraqis about to be slaughtered.

5th March 2003
Robert Kagan, co-chair of Project for the New American Century (PNAC – a rightwing think-tank), has coined the slogan “Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus” from his theory about power-loving Americans v. peace-loving Europeans. He argues that we need the “American way” (military might) when operating in the “jungle” (ie the Third World).

It looks like a ‘Mickey Mouse’ theory, yet Kagan is getting a lot of media attention (Guardian article, BBC Newsnight interview, etc).

Of course, it’s not about “Europeans” and “Americans”, it’s about politics. In which case, a better slogan might be: “US politics are from Arse and Euro-politics are from Anus”.

For more about PNAC, see:
http://www.observer.co.uk/comment/story/0,6903,905978,00.html
http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0302/S00204.htm

22 December 2002
Had the following letter published in The Guardian (on 19/12/02):

Dear Editor,
So, no public money to improve pensions, no money for public-sector wage increases, no money for students, precious little money to improve public transport. But didn’t productivity rise dramatically during the technological revolution? Didn’t national wealth soar? So where is all the money going, and what happened to the dream of increased leisure?

18th December 2002
The Independent and The Daily Express printed the following letter of mine on 13/12/02:

Dear Editor,
The government has overlooked an obvious way to tackle road congestion: give employers financial incentives to allow staff to work from home. If only 10% of office staff worked one day a week at home, we’d notice a significant reduction in road traffic (and pollution).

The Sun (surprisingly) printed another letter of mine on 28/11/02:

Dear Editor,
If Tony Blair thinks we can’t afford the firefighters’ 16% pay rise, maybe it’s time to close the tax loopholes exploited by the super-rich. That should generate around £85 billion (according to previous press reports) – more than enough to fund generous public sector pay rises.

(For a list of newspaper email addresses, please see our Letters to Newspapers page.)

28 November 2002
If anyone is confused with all the economic talk about inflation and deflation, etc (I certainly am), it might help to remember two simple laws: F.L.E.E.C.E. and S.L.E.A.Z.E., which, together, underlie the whole intellectual edifice of conventional economics:

F.L.E.E.C.E. (First Law Explaining Everything Concerning Economics) states:
“Never give the peasants a reason to believe they should be better off than they already are”.

S.L.E.A.Z.E. (Second Law Explaining Apostolic Zeal in Economists) states:
“The more economists obey the first law, the more they get paid”.



 
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