Crying Wolf


Yet another terror scare story in the Times:


AL-QAEDA leaders in Iraq are planning the first “large-scale” terrorist attacks on Britain and other western targets with the help of supporters in Iran, according to a leaked intelligence report.

Spy chiefs warn that one operative had said he was planning an attack on “a par with Hiroshima and Nagasaki” in an attempt to “shake the Roman throne”, a reference to the West.

Let's take a look at it. It seems like hype, and deliberately leaked hype as well. for a start there's a key phrase 'one operative'. Hmm, that does sound a tad dubious. Who was this man? Under what circumstances did he make this claim? What else did he say? We're left in the dark.

Do the intelligence services really expect us to believe that al Qaeda are going to let off two atom bombs?

“It could be just a reference to a huge explosion,” said a counter-terrorist source. “They [Al-Qaeda] have got to do something soon that is radical otherwise they start losing credibility.


Or in Britain?

The report says there is “no indication” this attack would specifically target Britain,

And Iran's support? Note the words I've put in bold

There is no evidence of a formal relationship between Al-Qaeda, a Sunni group, and the Shi’ite regime of President Mah-moud Ahmadinejad, but experts suggest that Iran’s leaders may be turning a blind eye to the terrorist organisation’s activities.

More clumsy spin designed, not to inform, but to spread fear, only this time it's Iran not Iraq in the frame.

The Legacy


Tony's been assuring us that his legacy will last, but strangely didn't mention:

Iraq and leaving his party with a record low in membership and on the verge of bankruptcy.

Worst Brown Smear Yet


It comes as no surprise that the inevitable coronation of Gordon Brown is accompanied by a series of suspiciously well-ordered stories in the press damaging to his reputation and character.  Todays is probably the worst:

Gordon Brown has said he "got on very well" with US President George W Bush, after the pair met for the first time in Washington DC on Friday. source

It's hard to imagine anything more damaging to the man's professional reputation at this critical time, really.

[with thanks to Beau Bo D'Or]

NuLab on YouTube


I've just discovered that New Labour has launched a channel on YouTube. You can . As you'd expect, it's a collection of videos by the most loyal of the NuLab junta and it's full of patronising, gut churning guff about how fantastic they've been over the last ten years (for those with a strong stomach, I recommend the contributions from Patricia Hewitt and Hazel Blears). Strangely enough, despite searching thoroughly, I couldn't find any contributions from Margaret Beckett or Des Browne explaining the successes in British foreign policy. I was perplexed by this because I would have thought that they'd have wanted to tell everyone about introducing freedom, stability and democracy in Iraq and, indeed, the whole region which is now so much safer than it was ten years ago. Anyway, I left a polite comment asking this very question (no sign of it yet). The other thing I noticed is that judging by the ratings system YouTube uses (the little red stars), their videos are nowhere near as popular as, say, which were mostly taken at demonstrations against Blair's wars.

The comments I've read so far on the channel (or rather on Tony Blair's contribution on the front page) are mixed but judging by some of them I wouldn't be surprised if the comment feature gets disabled in the future. From experience I know just how murky YouTube comment threads can get. With the drubbing New Labour is likely to get in the coming elections, it will be interesting to hear what (if anything) these party stalwarts will have to say.

Exporting Our Values


What does the Home Office do when a teenage Zimbabwean asylum seeker, who was married to a member of the persecuted opposition party and claims to have been raped by a senior ally of the Mugabe regime, exposes a major sex-for-asylum scandal in the Immigration Service in which she herself was a victim and which resulted in a Home Office minister being moved from his post?

Answer: It deports her to Zimbabwe.

Despite Tony Blair calling what is happening in Zimbabwe "appalling, disgraceful and utterly tragic", he is still prepared to deport hundreds of Zimbabweans and to try and convince hundreds more to return to that ruined country.

What was that about "our values" again Tony?

Blair, Brown And Inequality


Tony Blair likes talking about inequality. It's something he does rather a lot of. He uses inequality as part of his argument for 'reforms' in public services which mean more 'choice' for consumers. For example, in this short speech from 2004 he uses the word four times: Here's an excerpt:

There are those who believe that the very idea of choice, of diversity and competition, of giving people a greater say in the services they receive must drive inequality of provision and outcome. But this is wrong on three counts.

First, it ignores the fact that the old monopolistic, paternalist model of public services failed to address inequalities, indeed in some cases worsened them. The privileged have always had choices.

Second, it is a view that patronises poorer people, says for example that they are not capable of choosing to invest in their own higher education, or aspire to the best school for their children - the evidence shows that this is simply wrong.

Third, it fails to see that by tackling exclusion, by supporting people through the system we can make choice and personalisation work for everyone. It is no accident that at the heart of many of our reforms - Job Centres, the Connexions service, to name two - is the development of the personal adviser role, a trained professional understanding the full needs of service users and helping them get the most of the system. We are exploring how we can apply the model of personal adviser to enhance the choices and rights we are providing to NHS patients.

There are plenty of other examples but the point is that Blair tries to persuade us that his policies reduce inequalities when in fact the opposite seems to be the case. How else could we explain this?

Rise in UK's child mortality rate is linked to inequality

Britain has the second highest child death rate among the 24 richest countries in the world, with infants in the UK twice as likely to die before the age of five as children in Sweden, a study has shown.

The researchers, from Dundee University, who link relatively high infant mortality with income inequality, found that in the UK the gap between the haves and the have-nots was the third biggest among the 24 countries. They calculated that the top 20 per cent of people in the UK have more than 2.5 times the income of the bottom 40 per cent, almost double the difference in Japan.

Their work, which is reported this week in the Journal of Public Health, analysed Unicef data on child mortality and income inequality. The study comes 14 years after the UK and other "Anglo-American" rich countries were strongly criticised in a Unicef study on child neglect in wealthy nations. That study did not report on child death rates but at that time the UK ranked 15th for child mortality;the new research shows it has now dropped to joint 22nd, just above the US.

Read on


After ten years in office he can hardly blame the Tories can he? Last week we learned that child poverty is increasing, last month we learned that according to a UNICEF report, Britain's children are the unhappiest, most neglected and poorly educated among the world's 21 richest countries. In another report we discover that Britain has one of the worst records for social mobility in the developed world. And yet rather than change direction, Gordon Brown is refusing to improve things and wants to carry on with the same disastrous policies which have caused such misery. Meanwhile, the party leaders are attempting to stifle any choice in the change of leadership which means we'll be stuck with the same problems and the same patronage as we have now. No wonder so there is so much apathy. It really instills a sense of pride doesn't it? We don't need to look just at Iraq to find evidence of Blair's glorious legacy, it's right here in Britain too - and it looks set to continue.

Spinning the Lancet, Redux.


Richard Horton writing in Comment is Free gives his response to the BBC's uncovering of the lies and spin that came out of our Government upon publication the Lancet figures for deaths in Iraq.

Immediately after publication, the prime minister's official spokesman said that The Lancet's study "was not one we believe to be anywhere near accurate". The foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that the Lancet figures were "extrapolated" and a "leap". President Bush said: "I don't consider it a credible report".

Scientists at the UK's Department for International Development thought differently. They concluded that the study's methods were "tried and tested". Indeed, the Hopkins approach would likely lead to an "underestimation of mortality".

The Ministry of Defence's chief scientific advisor said the research was "robust", close to "best practice", and "balanced". He recommended "caution in publicly criticising the study".

When these recommendations went to the prime minister's advisers, they were horrified. One person briefing Tony Blair wrote: "are we really sure that the report is likely to be right? That is certainly what the brief implies?" A Foreign Office official was forced to conclude that the government "should not be rubbishing The Lancet".

The prime minister's adviser finally gave in. He wrote: "the survey methodology used here cannot be rubbished, it is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones".

How would the government respond?

Would it welcome the Hopkins study as an important contribution to understanding the military threat to Iraqi civilians? Would it ask for urgent independent verification? Would it invite the Iraqi government to upgrade civilian security?

Of course, our government did none of these things. Tony Blair was advised to say: "the overriding message is that there are no accurate or reliable figures of deaths in Iraq".

His official spokesman went further and rejected the Hopkins report entirely. It was a shameful and cowardly dissembling by a Labour - yes, by a Labour - prime minister.

Credit has to go to the BBC for uncovering this, but where has the 'story gone' - and why was it kept so quiet for the 'Unhappy Aniversary' of the Liberation of those dead lucky Iraqis?

The BBC ran the story online on Monday the 26th of March, after 'Iraq Week', after the Question Time Iraq Special and all those Newsnight segments on the cost of the war.

Yet the BBC tell us they received the information on 14 March 2007 - Twelve days before they broadcast it.

- Wouldn't all that debate and discussion that took place on the BBC throughout "Iraq Week", in the 12 days between receiving the information and publishing it have been better framed against the context of what appears to be the most accurate estimate of civillian deaths in Iraq?

- Isn't the obvious parallel between the spinning of the Lancet Report and the spinning  of what the government was being told by it's own experts about the intelligence on WMD [as opposed to what they told us] worth pursuing?  One is, after all, the consequence of the other...

- Shouldn't the relevant Government Ministers be hounded untill they come before parliament, or on camera to account for the discrepancy between what their own experts were telling them about the validity of the Lancet study, and the lies and spin they fed us?

It would appear not. 

More from medialens on 'Burying the Lancet' here and here.
[via anon, in the comments on the previous post.]

Blair And Bush Hit By Friendly Fire


Poor old Tony (and poor old Dubya).  Having bravely come out back in October 2006 pooh-poohing the estimate of 655,000 excess deaths since the Iraq invasion claimed in the Lancet report [PDF] (a pooh-poohing echoed wildly by the insanosphere over in the US) it must come as something of a shock to be on the receiving end of some friendly fire from the MOD today:

[T]he Ministry of Defence's chief scientific adviser said the survey's methods were "close to best practice" and the study design was "robust".  source

Well, so far what we know - only a few people ever disagreed with that and they were discredited, insane or (usually) both.  Talking of which, here's the Prime Minister's Official Smokescreen from just after publication (12/10/2006).

more important was the view of the Iraqi government, which, as recently as October, had said that the Lancet report numbers method was far from the correct. The Iraqi health ministry was the place to get the relevant figures. The problem with this was that they were using an extrapolation technique, from a relatively small sample, from an area of Iraq which was not representative of the country as a whole. We had questioned that technique from the beginning and we continued to do so. The Lancet figure was a greater order of magnitude than of any other figure. It was not one we believed to be anywhere near accurate.  source

In short, a strong case of cognitive dissonance, given that the BBC's FoIA request now reveals that they were being told internally that the method was sound *at the time* (well, the day after, on the 13th).  We know Blair and the other inmates of the Fuhrerbunker are unscientific - the faith schools/evolution argument and the technical/engineering illiteracy over ID cards and NHS IT give it away - but this is cast-iron proof - one of the tests of good scientists is not discarding eye-opening results merely because to do so risks having your eyes opened.  Sadly, our Prime Minister is happy to lead the country with his eyes firmly shut to the consequences of his criminal folly.

Other bloggage:
Lenin's Tomb
New Uber-Blogger Craig Murray

Is this why Blair wasn't interviewed under caution...?


From today's Telegraph:

Police officers investigating the cash-for-honours scandal wanted to interview Tony Blair under caution but backed off after being warned that it could lead to his resignation, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

Allies of Mr Blair indicated to Scotland Yard that his position as Prime Minister would become untenable if he were treated as a suspect, rather than simply as a witness.

Detectives had hoped to question the Prime Minister under caution during the second of two interviews at No 10. It is understood that they wanted Mr Blair to clarify comments he had made during his first interview about an alleged cover-up by his senior aides.

Sources close to the inquiry said that there were difficult discussions before a political intermediary made senior detectives aware of the serious implications of treating the Prime Minister as a suspect.

"Make no mistake, Scotland Yard was informed that Mr Blair would resign as Prime Minister if he was interviewed under caution," said a source. "They were placed in a very difficult position indeed."

Blairwatch Exclusive: Interview with Adam Curtis


Following on from the earlier syonopses of The Trap which you can read here and here, we have managed to get a short interview with Adam Curtis so we could discuss some of the issues he raises in the films. Here is the transcript.

Blairwatch: Okay, can I start by talking about the name, why The Trap?

Adam Curtis: Well, basically what the series is trying to say is that what we think of as the natural order, and that somehow this is what we call freedom, is actually a particular version of freedom and also a narrow version of freedom and by assuming that it is the only version of freedom we have led ourselves into somewhat of a trap. That is what it's about.

Blairwatch: I see, and what would you say the difference was between freedom then, say, pre Cold War and freedom now as we perceive it?

Adam Curtis: Well, the last film in the series goes and examines that, it looks at the other ideas of freedom. The point is that freedom is not just one particular narrow idea. What I'm trying to argue is that we have adopted, both our politicians and ourselves to an extent a narrow economic idea of what freedom means and that's based on the idea that the individual is free once his or her wants or needs are simply satisfied and is free just do what he or she wants.

Other Ideas of freedom are actually about changing the world both individually or collectively and transforming it and having the power to do that which is freeing yourself from the constraints, I don't know, scarcity or political oppression, all sorts of things. But really there are many, many different ideas, and much wider ideas of freedom. That's what I was trying to say.

Blairwatch: Would you say that politicians are consciously trying to limit freedoms using Game theory formula?

Adam Curtis: No, I don't agree with that at all. I don't think politicians are trying to limit our freedoms. What I think is that politicians have adopted a model of human beings and a model of how human beings behave in society which is a very limiting and narrow one and that, through unforeseen consequences, has led them into this rather limited world that we have today.

No, I don't think they are trying to control us at all. Politicians always try to manage things but I don't think that they're trying to limit our freedom. If anything, the irony of all this is that freedom is the mantra of our time, from Mrs Thatcher through to Tony Blair as I illustrate at the front of the films, they talk about freedom. And I think, to give them credit, to give them the benefit of the doubt, they genuinely do believe that they are going to achieve freedom, but what I'm trying to say is without realising it, because they haven't examined the roots of the ideas that they are using, it's a very narrow idea of freedom and I think actually it probably may have a purpose and function in times or war but now in a much more complicated world it's actually leading them to the very opposite of freedom which is a limiting thing.

For example, if you take the present government's obsession with mathematical managerial techniques, they adopted that because they thought it was an alternative to arrogant, elitist bureaucrats and others in power telling us what to do. They simply thought that this would be an objective system because it would be a way of defining what people should do for the greater good of the National Health Service or education, and then they could set those targets and that would be it.

In fact what happened was that it led to a very narrow and limited view of what they were doing but they genuinely thought it was going to be a better way of managing. Really what I'm saying in these films is that today's politicians have a very limited historical understanding of the ideological roots of the ideas they are dealing with. That's the real problem with New Labour. What's really fascinating about New Labour is it's a-historical. I think one of the reasons for that it so much wanted to define itself in the early 1990s as being against Old Labour so therefore anything that was historical was 'bad' but in the process of doing that they have neglected to look at the roots of the models of society and the models of human beings that they adopted and by doing that and just assuming that this is the natural way human beings are they've led themselves into a trap. That's what I'm arguing.

Blairwatch: So what would you make of, say, when Tony Blair talks of his third way, for example? How would you see that?

Adam Curtis: In the film I portray him as a sort of tragic character torn between two ideas of freedom; one is that idea of freedom which is the narrow one which the first two films of the series talk about which he and Gordon Brown adopted when they came to power which is a narrow economic vision of you and me.

They see us as primarily motivated by our own self interest, we may have a bit of sympathy for our nearest and dearest but that's about it - we don't have wider concerns. That's the model of freedom that he adopted. Blair is a very complicated character, obviously. He hankers after a wider, grander ideal. If you take him at his own words, he wants to spread freedom around the world, and that is another kind of freedom, and it's a revolutionary idea of freedom; it's saying "I can free people from tyrants and despots".

The only problem, which is what the last film says, is that when they then try and do that, the only thing they can offer, whether it be the Russian people or the Afghani people or Iraqi people, is a narrow economic idea of freedom which has no meaning or purpose if you are a complicated society divided along nationalist religious and political religious lines.

The thing that I find fascinating about the whole Iraq venture, which is really what I look at in the last film, is the way that they went into Baghdad with an economic plan which basically said that you get rid of all the elitist institutions that have ruled this society and spontaneously then people will rise up as these individuals in the marketplace. That was the idea, they had no other idea, and that's a very narrow idea of freedom. I see Blair's tragedy as a man who wanted to try and change the world but the sort of freedom he then tried to bring with him was too narrow and limited to cope with the complexities.

Blairwatch: In the films you suggest that this narrow idea of freedom and the economic theories used stem from game theory…

Adam Curtis: They stem from right wing economists like Friedrich Hayek, that's the sort of utopian vision as an alternative to communism. What Game theory provides is what seemed to be scientific proof that this vision would work because what Hayek is saying is instead of having planning we should just allow people to behave as they wanted and out of that would come order. That was his vision. What Game theory suggested was, well, that's true… and that's what I try and say.

Blairwatch: Game theory, starting as a mathematical formula seemed to be spread into so many other areas of research, from genetics to economics to war planning etc.

Adam Curtis: It seems to offer an explanation of how you can have complexes, create stability without having to have elites that guide them and so it explains how the natural world creates stability.

Blairwatch: And were there other Game theories that didn't assume that people were naturally selfish?

Adam Curtis: Well, the real problem with Game theory is that its fundamental assumption is that human beings are self interested. I mean they only did that to make their models work to begin with. People like Nash (who was one of the originators of all this) didn't actually assume that that's what people were like; he made that assumption in order to make his mathematical models work. What then shifted towards economists is they began to assume that really is how human beings are and actually in my second film I show that Nash has now recanted or believed that things are much more complicated than that.

Blairwatch: Yes, I was fascinated by that.

Adam Curtis: It was a shift towards that assumption, but the really interesting story, I always felt the key to all this is that when they tried to play on these games with the secretaries at the Rand corporation, really early on I think in something like the early 1950s, none of them behaved as one predicted, they just co-operated. And actually, there have been people subsequent to this who have done research in Game theory where you that if you play it over and over again (particular games) people very quickly learn that co-operation is by far the most efficient way of doing things.

But no, the fundamental assumption that Game theory brought with it was that people are self interested. This is what I'm trying to show in these films; that behind our everyday world are certain basic assumptions about human beings and the fundamental one is that we are what economists call 'rational utility maximisers' and we pursue rationally what we want, and that's it.

Blairwatch: When this was brought into economics, I think it's in the second film, you mention the perceived breakdown of the British public services. What would you attribute to this perceived breakdown other than the obvious financial stresses that were around at the time in the 70s?

Adam Curtis: There was obviously an economic crisis in the 70s which was leading to chaos, but also within that failure of that post war project, people had no goals any longer in their bureaucracies and they began to pursue their own self interest. The question then is whether that then means that you then create a world totally based on self interest because you think that's what human beings are like or whether actually things are much more complicated than that but if you actually have an organisation where morale is low people do become rather self-interested because they haven't got any one else.

Blairwatch: So would you say that we were (or are) sleepwalking into a nightmare or waking up from one?

Adam Curtis: No, I think you're trying to put words in my mouth…

Blairwatch: Oh no, I'm not, really…

Adam Curtis: What I'm trying to do in these films is show that behind the way you think about yourself and the way those who govern you think about you, there are ideas. There are specific ideologies… What I'm really trying to say is that the world we experience both personally and politically today is not the natural order. Many people think that, but maybe they think "oh this is it, we got there" because there aren't alternatives, and what I'm trying to say is "no, hang on. The way we think and the way we feel and the way those who govern us think and feel comes from very specific ideologies" and I was trying to dramatically share those conclusions.

Blairwatch: I see, and how would we get out of the trap?

Adam Curtis: That's not my job. I'm not a politician. My job simply to as best I can to analyse and dissect and show people, make people step back and look at it and hopefully people will start to think what are the alternatives, but that's not my job, you know I'm as much in the trap as everyone else.

Blairwatch: I was just wondering if you had an idea of where we went from here.

Adam Curtis: Personally I think there is just a mood around at the moment of disquiet. Slightly incoherent, at the back of people's minds, there is this "is this all there is, is this it?" and they're beginning to question that and I'm just trying to give a little more articulation to that.

Blairwatch: Thank you very much for your time.

Khalid Sheik Mohammed


Craig Murray writes:

Secret Confessions and Torture

Mohammed Sheikh Khalid has now, voluntarily and of his own free will, admitted he masterminded every significant event from the Norman Invasion through the bubonic plague, fall of Constantinople, and Great Fire of London, to the Battle of Little Big Horn, assassination of JFK and the Oklahoma bombing.

Or he might as well have. The extraordinarily comprehensive list of terrorist outrages for which he claims responsibility would be beyond the capacity of any but the most brilliant and inspired mortal; Khalid, I fear, is a more run of the mill thug.

But in truth, we have absolutely no idea what, if anything, he has confessed at all. The BBC brazenly reported all of yesterday that while Khalid did allege he had been tortured during his four years of secret detention by the CIA in various locations around the globe, he is now freely confessing under no duress and does not retract any of his confession.

Who says? The proceedings being held in Guantanamo Bay, and which the BBC report so uncritically, are held behind barbed wire, machine guns, gun emplacements, reinforced steel and concrete and combination locks, before an exclusively military panel. Khalid does not even have a lawyer present. For all we know, his confession could be an entire fabrication. The blandness of the BBC reporting in these circumstances is one of the worst examples of the appalling desertion of the principles of that once worthwhile institution.

The readiness of the rest of the media to push the "instil fear" button on behalf of the Orwellian government is predictable. They report as fact that Khalid also planned to blow up Heathrow, Canary Wharf, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and any other British building the Pentagon had heard of.

If Khalid really is freely and openly confessing all of this stuff, then what possible reason can there be to deny him a lawyer, and not allow public and media access to his trial? The atrocities he allegedly confesses - the Twin Towers, Madrid, Bali - left thousands of bereaved families. They have a right to see justice done, rather than this elaborate propaganda set-up, with its total lack of proper legal process or intellectual credibility.

Did Khalid really do all of this? Two facts must be considered. He has been through years of vicious torture and of solitary confinement. If the experience of others who survived extraordinary rendition is typical, he has been kept in total isolation, in darkness, beaten, cut, suffocated and drowned, suffered white noise and sensory deprivation. He will have been moved around, often not even knowing which country he is in. One good contact has told me that the CIA gave the Uzbek torturers their turn with him. I do not know that for certain, but who can contradict me?

After years of this, a person can be so psychologically damaged that they believe the narrative of their torturers to be the truth. It is perfectly possible that he now in fact believes he did all that stuff on the list, when he did not.

Alternatively, he may have decided to exaggerate his own role and achievements for the personal glory it brings. We can get the appalling situation where both the sides which benefit from and wish to promote the War on Terror - Al Qaida and the CIA - indulge in what becomes a grim mutual cooperation in exaggeration as each seeks to glorify their role. Thus do those on both sides who actually desire a "Clash of Civilisations", promote one.

What is happening now in Guanatanamo Bay is a disgrace. We cannot in present circumstances accept anything that comes out of it as other than a completely unsubstantiated claim by the Pentagon. Some of it is quite possibly true. But this is no way to make the case.

It should also be noted that Mohammed Sheikh Khalid is a man of some repute amongst CIA torturers, and not for reasons you might expect...

6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

And the British view of such interrogation methods, and the results they yield?

Nicholas Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam, Liberal Democrat)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the infliction of simulated drowning falls within the definition of torture or cruel and inhumane treatment used by the Government for the purposes of international law.

Ian Pearson (Minister of State (Trade), Foreign & Commonwealth Office)
Whether the conduct described constitutes torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment for the purposes of the UN Convention Against Torture would depend on all the circumstances of the case.

Lord 'Scooter' Levy Fingered


So a judge has finally lifted the injunction on the BBC allowing them to finally say that Ruth Turner wrote an email to Jonathan Powell saying that Scooter Levy had 'asked her to lie'.

Interestingly the story goes on to say:

They also wanted to discuss it with John McTernan, No 10's director of political operations.

The Attorney General did not want it revealed that Mr McTernan could be re-interviewed in connection with the document, even though he was not directly connected to it.

Now, why would that be? could 'Honest' John be singing like a canary?

Adam Curtis' The Trap - A Synopsis - Part 2


This is a synopsis of the second part of Adam Curtis' "The Trap – What Happened To Our Dream Of Freedom?" the synopsis of the first part is here. This episode shows how in the 1990s politicians from both the right and the left tried to extend an idea of freedom based on the freedom of the market to all other areas of society. This had never happened before and the basis of this new 'freedom' was Game Theory, a system which reduced people to calculating, self-interested robots led by incentives rather than any idea of public duty. The result was the opposite of freedom; new forms of control, greater inequalities and the return of a rigid class structure based on wealth.

John Major, when he took over from Margaret Thatcher in 1990, started looking for what his advisers called "the vision thing", new policies for his government. He announced that he was going to create a more equal and fairer society and to that end was going to reform the public services. He would do this by bashing the bureaucracies, providing "choice", setting performance targets and introducing competition and incentives. These were the ideas of James Buchanan who had been such an influence on Margaret Thatcher. Buchanan argued that politicians and bureaucrats were self-serving and that public duty was a myth - it was impossible for them to interpret and express the general will of the people. This was pure Game Theory which suggested that the collective peoples' will was mathematically impossible as everyone was serving their own interests and strategising against their fellows. This was called the "Impossibility Theorem". Only the free market, not politics could decide what people really wanted. This was seen as the future - a market democracy where the unrestricted market took over much of the role of the politician and expressed the true will of the people.

When Bill Clinton was running for President in 1992, he promised to rescue the nation by reforming healthcare, extending welfare, investing in jobs and reducing the inequalities that occurred under President Reagan. However, just before his inauguration, Clinton was visited by Alan Greenspan, head of the Federal Reserve and Robert Rubin, the new economic adviser. They told Clinton that he would not be able to keep his promises by borrowing money which would lead to an economic disaster. Instead Clinton would have to cut spending and reduce programs. Clinton was also advised to leave it to the unrestricted markets to create wealth and see to peoples' needs. Clinton agreed and in his first term he dismantled much of the welfare structure that had been in place since the 1930s as well as all his healthcare plans. He also cut regulations on businesses as he was requested to do.

The economy did indeed boom and at the start of his second term, Clinton announced the end of the vision of liberal politics - that the power of big government could change the world. The new vision was that anything that gave the public what it wanted was democratic and thus good. Big business took over from big government and greed was no longer seen as a bad thing. This was not, as big business claimed, a return to the 18th and 19th century 'Golden Age' when Laissez-faire capitalism, not politics had ordered society. The political philosophers of that time had made a distinction between the self-interest of the market and other areas of social and political life - what Adam Smith called "moral sentiments."

Freedom was now being redefined to mean nothing more than the ability of individuals to get whatever they wanted. This new simplified concept of the individual as a rational, calculating, self-interested machine that can be analyzed by numbers as assumed by Game Theorists to make their models work, was now seen as proven. Everything humans did and felt had been programmed into us by our genes and all our actions were the result of rational calculations by that genetic programme. This idea was developed by geneticists in the 1970s studying animals, shifted their perception to look at behaviour from the gene's point of view. They saw the animals as machines being used by the genes to survive and replicate themselves. This was another application of Game Theory applied to genes. The anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon set out to prove this gene theory by studying the warfare of the Yanomamo people who he filmed and questioned. He found that among these people there were closer genetic links between the people fighting together than those who were attacked. So humans were now seen as machines, politically, economically and biologically.

This machine model of humans led to a new idea on how to change society. Now psychiatrists and drug companies had a role to play in adjusting these machines. This became new form of control as people took the new drug, Prozac (SSRIs) to relieve their anxieties and conform to an idea of 'normality'. Some psychiatrists began to wonder if people were being conditioned to fit into parameters of a static model of what they 'should' be, defined by checklists - checklists that only accounted for observable symptoms, not any understanding of the patient's life. Dr Robert Spitzer wondered if many people were being misdiagnosed, with normal feelings of happiness, sadness, loneliness being treated as a mental disorder. A new system of management was emerging with drugs taking away difficult feelings making individuals happier but also simpler beings, easier to manage and more like the machines they were assumed to be under Game Theory - more efficient but less human.

When politicians started using this machine model, the result was a more rigid society rather than a more free one. When New Labour came to power in 1997 Tony Blair promised a society free of the arrogance and prejudices of the old elites who dominated the class system. New Labour was modelled on the Clinton Democrats and when they came to power they did exactly as Clinton did, giving power away to the banks and the markets - Gordon Brown's first act was to let the Bank of England dictate interest rates. New Labour also used the mathematical systems brought in by John Major and expanded them on an unprecedented scale believing that humans actually behaved in this simplified way suggested by the models. Performance targets and incentives were set for everything and everyone, including cabinet ministers. The Treasury under Gordon Brown started creating a vast mathematical system and started putting numerical values to things people had thought impossible to measure previously - hunger in sub Saharan Africa to be reduced to below 48 percent, world conflict to be reduced by six percent. All towns and villages in Britain were to be measured for a "community vibrancy index". Even the amount of birdsong there should be in the countryside was quantified.

The idea behind the mathematical system was to liberate public servants from old forms of bureaucratic control and workers were free to meet their targets anyway they wanted. However, New Labour soon discovered that people were more complicated and devious than their simple models allowed. Public servants began to find ingenious ways of meeting their targets. In the NHS, hospital managers used a variety of tricks. When ordered to cut waiting lists, they got consultants to do the easiest operations first meaning that complicated conditions like cancers were no longer prioritised. In one hospital patients were phoned up and asked when they were taking their holidays and the operations were then scheduled for the time they'd be away. In casualty departments a new role was invented - a "hello nurse" who did nothing except greet the patient so it could be recorded that the patient had been 'seen'. In order to meet the targets for a reduction of patients waiting on trolleys, managers simply removed the wheels and reclassified them as beds. Similarly corridors were reclassified as wards. In the police force, a trick to reduce the rate of recorded crime, was to reclassify numerous serious crimes as "suspicious occurrences" which wouldn't be recorded in the figures. Despite government attempts to dismiss these stories as anomalies, there were so many of them that it became apparent that this sort of behaviour was endemic in the public services.

The government responded by introducing even more mathematical levels of management. Complex auditing systems were used to monitor public servants meeting their targets in the correct way which meant even more control was exerted over them. A more rigid and stratified society was being created. In education, the government wanted to introduce league tables for schools so parents could see which schools were the best and which the worst. The idea was to provide an incentive for less successful schools to compete and improve thus raising standards across the country. The opposite happened. Rich parents moved into the areas which had the best schools. This forced up house prices and squeezed poorer families out. Schools taught pupils only the narrow facts needed to pass exams instead of giving them a fuller education in order to rise up the league tables. Because of this, children had a less of a chance of rising up in society. A series of reports in 2006 showed that there was a clear link between New Labour's education policy and the rise of social segregation. Social Mobility in Britain has now ground to a halt and the country is more rigid and stratified than at any time since the Second World War. At the same time the inequalities in society have become more extreme. Britain under New Labour is now even more unequal than it was under Margaret Thatcher with more and more wealth going to the tiny one percent at the top. Since 1997 differences in life expectancy and also in child mortality in different regions have increased too.

In America throughout the 1990s the economic model of democracy was leading not just to a rise in inequality, but also to financial and political corruption on a huge scale. The numbers behind the economic boom of the Clinton Presidency were not telling the truth - the giant accounting firms had become corrupted as they found new methods to make their figures look good, some of them were questionable and others fraudulent. This corruption was widespread. By faking profits on a huge scale, personal bonuses would be increased. Attempts to stop this corruption failed because of the huge donations of millions of dollars in campaign contributions given by the fraudulent corporations and accounting firms.

The Clinton administration portrayed the boom as a revolutionary success despite the growing evidence of corruption. This "democracy of the marketplace" was spun to make it look like all levels of society were benefiting, but this was completely false. Those at the bottom of society saw their income actually fall between the 1970s and 1990s. People in the middle saw a slight increase, while those at the top received massive increases.

Because politicians had given so much power away, they were unable to put things right once they had become weakened and corrupted. Millions of people had no representation and even less control over their lives. There was less job security in this market system so people lost out both through politics and the market.

Now questions were being asked in scientific circles as to whether too simple a picture of human beings was being portrayed by the mathematical models used in this new system. In genetics the idea that DNA is the all-controlling set of instructions for life has been replaced by a more complex model. Science has shown that the cell actually chooses and edits which parts of the DNA to use depending on the environmental forces acting on it. And the research done by Napoleon Chagnon into the Yanomamo people has also been questioned. It seems that the presence of an anthropologist and film crew may have affected the behaviour of the tribes and they were fighting for the gifts of machetes that were offered. Even John Nash has now expressed some doubts about his model of simplistic selfish individuals now that he has recovered from his schizophrenia. The idea of the free market as an efficient system is coming under attack and new research is showing that markets do not create stability or order. Politics has been shown to have a powerful role to play in control of the markets. The New discipline of behavioral economics has been studying to see if people really do behave as the simplified model suggests. Their studies show that only two groups in society actually behave in a rational self-interested way in all experimental situations. One is economists themselves, and the other is psychopaths.

Repost: Blair on Extraordinary Rendition - The Lying Liar and the Lies he tells.


Apologies for recycling articles, the following clip is reposted from December 2005.

But bearing in mind what is emerging this week on the subject of Extraordinary Rendition, I think this, taken from Blairs Press Conference of December 21st 2005 is worth mentioning again in it's own post...

Listen to Blair on Rendition [200kb mp3]

I, I have absolutely no evidence to suggest that anything illegal has been happening here at all, and I'm not going to start ordering inquires into this, that and the next thing when I've got no evidence to show whether this is right or not - and I honestly, and you know, it's like all this stuff about camps in Europe or something - I don't know, I've never heard of such a thing.
I can't tell you whether such a thing exists - because, er - I don't know.

Our recent coverage of  government duplicity over the subject of Rendition is archived here.

America And Britain Asked Poland To Host Secret CIA Gulag


Britain's collusion with the CIA rendition and black sites program has been well documented. However, what seems to be emerging now is not so much a story of collusion but full involvement.

POLAND -- The CIA operated an interrogation and short-term detention facility for suspected terrorists within a Polish intelligence training school with the explicit approval of British and US authorities, according to British and Polish intelligence officials familiar with the arrangements.

That sounds like more than just turning a blind eye and allowing CIA torture flights to use British airspace and territory. If this is true then it looks like Tony Blair will have more questions to evade. It would be interesting to hear his response to this:

According to a confidential British intelligence memo shown to RAW STORY, Prime Minister Tony Blair told Poland's then-Prime Minister Leszek Miller to keep the information secret, even from his own government.

Hmm! So much for Tony's enthusiasm for open government. Not only does he mislead the British Government but he's telling leaders of other countries to behave as badly. And this news comes just weeks after the European Parliament voted to approve the report conducted by MEPs (.pdf) into the collusion of EU states in rendition and black sites. In that report, the UK was slammed for its lack of co-operation with the investigation as well as being second in the list of the ten countries accused of allowing stopovers (Germany came first). Back in January Margaret Beckett was forced to admit that the Government knew about the secret prisons used by the CIA.

So can we now expect another admission from Margaret Beckett, in which she tells us that Britain along with the USA, actively encouraged the Polish Prime Minister to use a Soviet-era compound and intelligence centre as a gulag for the CIA and to keep it secret from the Polish government? I doubt it somehow, but the question still needs to be asked. And whoever answers will have to be a bit more convincing than in previous responses because the Americans don't seem to be denying the story apart from protesting (a little too much I think) about how it does not conduct or condone torture.

US intelligence officials confirmed that the CIA had used the compound at Stare Kiejkuty in the past. Speaking generally about the agency’s program, a former senior official said the CIA had never conducted unlawful interrogations.

“We never tortured anyone,” one former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity. “We sent them to countries that did torture, but not on this scale.”

Despite denials by the Polish authorities that the country is involved with the rendition program, the former head of Polish intelligence, Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, has gone on record as saying that the CIA had access to two internal zones at the Stare Kiejkuty training school. When the EU delegation went to Poland as part of their investigation, they reported that key government officials refused to meet with them after having previously agreed to do so. The delegation wanted to investigate both Szymany airport and the facility at Stare Kiejstuty. Mariola Przewlocka, the then airport manager at Szymany revealed that:

...whenever one of the suspected flights was scheduled to land, “orders were given directly by the regional border guards… emphasizing that the airport authorities should not approach the aircraft and that military staff and services alone” would handle landings.

“Money for the services was paid in cash, sometimes as much as four times the normal charge,” the former airport manager added. “Handling of the passengers aboard was carried out in a remote corner of the Szymany airstrip. People came in and out from four-wheel drive cars with shaded windows.”

The cars were seen traveling to and from the Stare Kiejkuty intelligence facility, where British and Polish intelligence officials say US agents conducted short-term interrogations before shuffling prisoners to other locations.

Sounds like a really legitimate operation doesn't it? And if Blair not only knew but also requested this, it begs the question: how much further was he involved in this program? Presumably he intends to obfuscate until he is out of Downing Street, but the questions are not going away and details continue to emerge. If the operation was as innocent as the Americans are insisting, why did they try to silence the EU over rendition flights? And why would the Bush administration seek to prevent suspected terrorists who have been abducted and 'interrogated' from revealing details of the "alternative interrogation methods" that were used on them?