4 July, 2005
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).
(LSE estimate of ID card cost)
(Good FAQ on ID cards)
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)
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?
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
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
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
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
"What is important is that whatever action we take
is done in accordance with international law"
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
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..."
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
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,
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
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
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",
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.
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,
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
(Source: 'Eurofighter: Weapon of Mass Construction', BBC2,
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."
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.
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
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
Baghdads 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
wasnt evidence of existence of WMD.
The BBC, believed by many to be politically impartial, has
consistently misreported Blixs reports. More than once
Ive heard BBC news claim that the inspectors report
no cooperation from Iraq.
Ive seen a parade of politicians and media-pundits
assert that Iraq has 10,000 litres of anthrax. This ignores
and contradicts Blixs reports, yet is unchallenged by
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
It looks like a Mickey Mouse theory, yet Kagan
is getting a lot of media attention (Guardian article,
BBC Newsnight interview, etc).
Of course, its not about Europeans and
Americans, its 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:
22 December 2002
Had the following letter published
in The Guardian (on 19/12/02):
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 didnt productivity
rise dramatically during the technological revolution? Didnt
national wealth soar? So where is all the money going, and
what happened to the dream of increased leisure?
18th December 2002
and The Daily Express printed the following
letter of mine on 13/12/02:
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, wed notice a significant reduction
in road traffic (and pollution).
The Sun (surprisingly) printed another letter
of mine on 28/11/02:
If Tony Blair thinks we cant afford the firefighters
16% pay rise, maybe its 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.