Education, The Tavistock Institute and ‘America’s Best Kept Secret’

June 28, 2016

QEII

In updating a monograph on The Manchester Method recently, I came across an historic document written about the Tavistock Institute. Its rhetoric about this evil threat to America, and to all its most cherished values, persists in articles written today.

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Walmart Store Closures, plumbing and a burst of conspiracy theories

April 26, 2015

Operation-Jade-Helm-is-real-USThe temporary closure of five Walmart Stores in the United States broke as a business story recently. It has developed into a full-blown conspiracy theory linked to secret military operations, and foreign invasion plans across the whole of Texas

[Author’s Note by TR: At times, a news story such as this one takes such a bizarre turn that I feel the need to assure readers that I have not fabricated any of the material reported]

The Walmart Stores closures

Walmart faces employee anger [March 2015] as five stores are peremptorily closed for several months.  This led to its involvement of a series of bizarre conspiracy theories.

The move is officially explained as a necessary one to deal effectively with serious ‘plumbing problems’. In total, Walmart laid off over two thousand workers.  A Fortune article [April 4th, 2015] summarized the industrial relations dispute:

Wal-Mart workers are fighting back against the retailer’s decision last week to close five stores in four states for what the company says are plumbing repairs. Last week, the retail giant, which employs 1.3 million workers in the United States, temporarily closed five stores—two in Texas and one each in California, Florida, and Oklahoma—for six months of plumbing repairs.

The closures gave workers just a few hours of notice that they were losing their jobs. The company provided two months of paid leave for both full-time and part-time workers. Employees could try to transfer to a different Walmart location during that time. Full-time workers who fail to find another Walmart job are eligible for severance starting June 19, but part-time workers aren’t entitled to that benefit. END

Workers at the company’s Pico Rivera, Calif. store who are associated with OUR Walmart, a group that advocates for better pay, say the closings are “retaliatory” in nature. They filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday, claiming that the termination of more than 500 employees constituted an unfair labor practice.

Background

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon was appointed in 2014 and has focused his plans on improved customer service. Over 500,000 workers received a minimum wage rise in February coupled with support for the company’s drive towards improved customer service. Although efforts are being taken to minimize redundancies, efficiency measures are intended to eliminate a layer of management

 Jade Helm 15 and conspiracy theories

The conspiracy theories prior to the Walmart involvement appear to have arisen from a large-scale military training operation scheduled for this summer, and code named Jade Helm 15. This was picked up by journalist Dylan Baddour. Writing in the Houston Chronicle [March 25th, 2015] Baddour’s headline was “Covert warfare coming to Texas sparks some fears of federal takeover” Baddour was broadly critical of the conspiracy, drawing attention to the long-time interest (obsession?) of another Texas-based TV and radio commentator Alex Jones, who has been warning the citizens of Austin of a government takeover for over a decade.

Baddour noted:

Plans for a 17-city Army Special Operations exercise in Texas stirred some ultra-right-wing fears of a government takeover in the Lone Star State, but local law enforcement say they’ve long been aware of the drill. Army Special Operation Command spokesman Mark Lastoria said soldiers would practice “emerging concepts in special operations warfare” .

Operation Jade Helm will bring a coalition of forces, including the Green Berets, SEALS, and special operations commands from the Air Force and Marines to Texas for two months of “realistic military training” in a simulated “hostile” territory between July and September this summer.

Among the planned exercises, soldiers will try to operate undetected amongst civilian populations in some towns and cities where residents will be advised to report any suspicious activity they notice as a means of testing the military’s effectiveness, said county law enforcement officials who had been briefed by the Army.

Baddour went on to explain the conspiracy theory reported under the headline Austin-based TV and radio commentator Alex Jones, who has been warning of a government takeover for decades, and reported the operation under the headline “feds preparing to invade Texas” after obtaining an unclassified Army document:

“We’ve got huge news ladies and gentlemen,” said Jones on his Sunday TV show. “They’re having Delta Force, Navy SEALS with the Army trained to basically take over.”

His biggest concern was Texas’ designation as a “hostile” territory on a map included in the Army document. “Texas is listed as a hostile sector, and of course, we are,” he said. “We’re here defending the republic.”

A swarm of followers picked up Jones’ reports of the impending invasion, but the exercise had actually been reported months before by local newspapers

Walmart’s involvement in the conspiracy
The Walmart closures started to be ‘explained’ as part of the conspiracy .  The stores were appropriated and converted into underground bunkers.  The mass plumbing claimed by the firm was no more than a mask behind which were to be found sinister  military activities.
On this, the theorists split into those suspecting the operation was a simulation of an invasion by an alien power, and those believing that a real and present Invasion has begun.
 No big deal

An initial search took me to parts of the web I rarely visit.  Then I found a balanced account in The Washington Post. What seems to have set off the conspiracy theorists is the designation by the military during the Jade Helm 2015 operation of large parts of Texas as foreign-held territory.  At some point, reported facts became part of wilder assumptions.

 Interesting.

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Tony Abbott winks into a political controversy defending his budget cuts

May 22, 2014

A nod is said to be as good as a wink to a blind man, but for a leader, the public gaze is never blind

Australian politician Tony Abbott reacted to a moment of embarrassment during an ABC broadcast, [20th May, 2014] with a wink to the program’s presenter. He had appeared on the call-in show to defend budget cuts to health and education spending.

His embarrassment was produced by a call from ‘Gloria’ describing herself as a chronically ill 67 year old grandmother struggling with medical bills though his government’s budget cuts . Gloria gave a candid and emotional account of being forced to work on adult sex lines to pay for her medical needs.

His looking away and winking to the male Presenter went viral, interpreted as his disrespect for the sex worker or of her story.

What did he mean?

It is not important to prove his intentions. The social reality lies in how a public action of leader is interpreted. The interpretation will factor-in earlier actions and perceptions. Mr Abbott had previous form as rather casual in his remarks about women.

In the UK, comparisons were drawn with a recent story in which private emails of Richard Scudamore, a business leader were revealed to the public. The social reality was a perception of a leader with disrespect for a specific woman, and broadened to presumptions of casual sexism.

The stories bring out the post-modernist in commentators. Followers of the French postmodernist Foucault examine social events as ‘texts’ to be ‘deconstructed’. Foucault proposed a grand Discourse through which knowledge is produced and the hidden and suppressed voices of the powerless are heard.

While post-modern approaches remain contested, they consider that an interpretation of mine is no less worthy as a consequence of my flimsy grasp of the views of authorities. So here goes:

Tony Abbott’s wink ‘speaks’ of a moment of discomfort. He looks away from the source of embarrassment and his gaze connects with someone he believes to share his views. He is aware of the need to avoid alienating potential voters. He finds no form of words. His wink implies

I’m in it like a wombat in water. But I can still get out of it if I don’t show this slag what I really think. You see if don’t.

The power of the image

A wink is a wink is a wink. In the UK, it is often a nonverbal signal of complicity, the sign of ‘us’ in the near presence of the more-powerful them.

A friend, whose judgements on business matters I trust, falls in with the conspiracy theorists in his interpretation of an old photograph. It shows Lyndon B Johnson winking to a friend in public during the funeral of J F Kennedy . My friend believes the wink helps identify two conspirators in the murder of Kennedy. That’s one trouble with postmodernist deconstruction, sorting out the signal from the constructed reality.


10 Headaches for the Drugs Industry

September 22, 2012

GlaxoSmithKline has pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $1 billion in criminal fines and $2 billion in civil fines following a nine-year federal investigation into its activities. The Pharmaceuticals Industry is facing dilemmas which threaten its existence in its current form. Here are ten dilemmas which are keeping executives in Big Pharma organizations awake at night

Onece upon a time, the search for scientific knowledge was associated with contributions to human well-being and enlightened progress. One of the great economists who held that view was Joseph Schumpeter, who also visualised great knowledge-creating laboratories. Such medical laboratories came to pass. Many millions of lives have been saved through their products. Even the humble aspirin was made safely and widely available by such technological processes, as were increasingly sophisticated vaccines and drugs. But today, the firms operating the research laboratories have acquired an increasingly poor image for criminally corrupt business practices.

Their leaders, if they have not resorted to effective drugs, may well spend sleepness nights worrying over the emerging dilemmas

[1] The demise of the ‘funnel’ model of discovery of new drugs. This was the standard business model for finding the next generation of mega-drugs. The model has struggled to retain credibility as fewer financial winners emerged out of the funnel.

[2] Fines for criminal wrongdoings. The global pharmaceutical industry has racked up fines of more than $11bn in the past three years for criminal wrongdoing, including withholding safety data and promoting drugs for use beyond their licensed conditions. In all, 26 companies, including eight of the 10 top players in the global industry, have been found to be acting dishonestly.

[3] The scale of the wrongdoing, revealed for the first time, has undermined public and professional trust in the industry and is holding back clinical progress, according to two papers published in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine [September 2012]

[4] Prosectution of business leaders. Leading lawyers have warned that the multibillion-dollar fines are not enough to change the industry’s behaviour so that criminal prosecutions of executives may be considered more seriously in the near future.

[5] Corporate social responsibilities. The drug companies would like to concentrate on profitable areas and leave research into socially important areas such as alzheimers disease to governmental and other not-for-profit agencies.

[6] Big Pharma’s image problem, fuelled by such high-profile scandals, may have made doctors so suspicious of the industry’s claims that it is warping their clinical judgement

[7] Cynicism of pro-bono efforts. Pressures continue for low-cost drugs delivered to the poorer countries in the world with increasing opportunities for reducing the security of intellectual property such as patents. Industry’s pro-bono efforts are viewed cynically.

[8] Conspiracy theories abound in popular culture. These feed into TV and movie dramas in which leaders of drug companies are part of secret and illegal alliances.

[9] Drug compaies perceived as thoroughly corrupt. Drug companies may be the next industry sector to become increasingly regarded as institutionally corrupt, and its leaders will take their place alongside financial executives, politicians, journalists and the police, in future legal investigations.

[10] More government intervention rather than self-regulation of industry practices will become increasing easy to introduce.

Conspiracy Theory or Leaders We Deserve?

There has been an enormous level of interest in the working of Pharmaceutical Companies as part of a gigantic conspiracy theory. I took a look at the blogs which appeared most prominent via a Google search. The conspiracy theory implies that the big companies are broadly colluding with powerful elites including prominent figures in Governments, the Federal Drug Agency, and in some variants of the theory with other more shadowy groups who meet in clandestine fashion.

One way in which conspiracy theories persist is that they are very difficult to test applying the canons of empirical analysis. That, incidentally, is one interpretation of what a theory is, an abstraction helping to explain the world in which we live.

An alternative abstraction is to consider the wrongdoings in drug companies as episodes to which there is a pattern which does not require the presence of a wider global conspiracy or an ultimate (evil) architect. I like the label of Leaders We Deserve as a start to approaching the means whereby organizations develop their cultures and behaviours.


I watched David Kelly’s evidence to the Parliamentary Committee

August 14, 2010


My recollection is that Dr David Kelly was under extreme stress while giving his evidence the the Parliamentary committee. I also recall on learning of his death that I was not surprised that the circumstances at the time pointed to suicide

Time plays funny tricks on memory. My current recall may be more based on TV replays of snippets of the original broadcast I had seen. I later became interested in the accounts of the ‘sexing-up’ of the ‘dodgy dossier’ and the unprofessional standards of journalism at the time which led to severe criticism of the BBC’s reporting and of their reporter Andrew Gilligan at the time.

My recollections were further refreshed by the Economist account this week as the story re-opened. That summary fits the standard narrative:

David Kelly was ..one of the world’s foremost experts on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. He advised the British government on the matter, particularly in connection with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. He was also one of the main sources for a claim by Andrew Gilligan, then a BBC reporter, that Tony Blair’s government had rewritten publicly-released intelligence to make it “sexier”, in the hope of justifying the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003. After Gilligan made his claim, Kelly was quickly identified as the source of the leak. A few days after a stressful appearance before a Parliamentary committee investigating Mr Gilligan’s allegations, he was found dead in the woods near his Oxfordshire home. The official account (given in the Hutton Report) was of suicide. Dr Kelly had cut one of his wrists and swallowed over two dozen painkillers.

The current renewal of interest [August 2010] follows a letter published in the Times by a group including medical experts calling for a further enquiry, and picked up widely in the media including including a report in The Daily Mail.
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Conspiracies about conspiracy theories

So-called conspiracy theories make good study material for students to practice their own powers of analysis. I have become fond of the idea of ‘map-reading’ (the material) ‘map-testing’ (exploring the merits of the material) and ‘map-making’ (deciding for yourself how you chose to make sense of the story). With experience the map-tester looks for the evidence of motives behind the text. John Rentoul in The Independent, and The Economist, for example, suspect ‘The Murdoch Press’ of the temptation to ‘sex up’ what may be a ‘dodgy story’ (Heaven Forbid).

My own map-testing alerts me to the possibility that any report using the term conspiracy theory is also throwing doubt on the maps of other people… The Mail, and The Times stand accused of supporting a conspiracy theory that Dr Kelly was murdered, probably by agents of the State. Both John Rentoul, and the Economist’s blogger (‘Blighty’) find it difficult to account for the resurgence of the story on rational grounds. They point to the lack of plausibility of alternatives to the official line on Dr Kelly’s sad death. I find their arguments persuasive. However, conspiracy theories have a strength which goes beyond the rational. They can call fourth the response “You can’t be sure…” And we find ourselves engulfed in the complexities of conspiracies about conspiracies.

How reliable are the maps?

I’d rather any reader of my personal reflections to reach a personal conclusion. In a fast-breaking episode within a longer historical story it is difficult but probably advisable to draw provisional conclusions. I’m not sure that anything I write will change the views held by those who seem to have reached a state of total conviction about the affair.


Davos and the underworld

January 28, 2009

davos-second-life-protest

Davos is an annual top-level business and political networking event. For some, it is a place which symbolises the ultimate conspiracy of global domination. Whatever. A version of the drama is being played out on Second Life

The little Swiss community of Davos attracts over 2000 leaders from many walks of life for an annual conference. The event also attracts protestors, and much intense blogging about global elitery, and global conspiracies, although not attracting as many conspiracy theorists as the even more elite Bilderberg group meetings .

The BBC loves a swanky conference but tends to play down the international conspiracy side of things, and presents Davos as a bit of a junket for global high-fliers

This year, leaders of global finance institutions were rarer than usual, perhaps not wanting to be accused of reckess spending habits.

Davos and Second Life

It is not surprising that the protests at Davos are also played out in second life

During a series of interviews conducted in the online universe of Second Life — in which a digital persona of Reuters’ Adam Pasick questioned the digital personae of various Davos attendees — a man carrying an anti-Davos placard apparently sauntered right into the virtual auditorium.
On its Davos blog, Reuters reported Friday [Jan 2007] that the interloper was Iuemmel Lemmon of the protest group DaDavos. His avatar, or online personality, sported a beard and what looked like a blue beret.
Did virtual guards leap up to eject Mr. Lemmon from the scene? Hardly. Reuters said that he “sat politely with his banner in the front row.”

Second Life protests have considerable appeal. There are no broken heads the next day in a little Second Life island high in the Swiss alps.