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Racepoint on Gaddafi: “The Leader is an intellectual and philosopher”

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Racepoint Group were retained to promote Gaddafi as “an intellectual and philosopher”

More on the PR firm Racepoint Group from the US government’s public register of “Foreign Agents”.

Today’s find is from that not-so-long-ago moment when publicly associating with Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi was less toxic than today – and it makes an interesting compare-and-contrast with yesterday’s entry.

In 2007 Racepoint were assigned by a company named Monitor Group – whose activities on behalf of the Gadaffi regime are somewhat better known – to promote Gaddafi’s “democratic” government in the run-up to the 30th anniversary of his seizing power.

According to the project proposal, which was only submitted to the Department of Justice last month, Racepoint planned to use this anniversary “to drive global awareness and recognition for Libya’s accomplishments with the People’s Authority of Libya and related democratic initiatives.”

Racepoint would “leverage” a planned public debate between Gaddafi (“hereafter The ‘Leader'”), British sociologist Anthony Giddens, and political theorist Benjamin Barber “to draw world attention to several important positioning points”. Key among these were that “Libya is an Arab Muslim country engaging in its own form of democracy”, “The Leader is an intellectual and philosopher”, “The Jamahiriya system is a radical social experiment based on an alternative direct democracy governance model…”, and “The importance of the 30th Anniversary of the Declaration of the People’s Authority as a democratic milestone”.

“Effective execution” would “work to influence perceptions of Libya and the Leader with international media, and ultimately, the international community; enhance the international image and prestige of the Leader by establishing his willingness to engage in serious intellectual debate before a world audience; and broaden universal understanding of governmental and economic reforms being undertaken in Libya.”

The company would also work to secure a “media partner” for the event, with the BBC “the preferred partner for a number of reasons: the ongoing relationship with Sir David Frost, its global prestige, audience and reach, and its online, radio and television properties”.

“Preferred” print media would be the International Herald Tribune, New York Times, Guardian, Reuters and the Economist.

In the weeks before the debate, Racepoint would engage in “strategic ‘leaking’ of certain debate topics” and arrange “Briefings by representatives of the Leader or Mr. Giddens or Barber with a small handful of global political bloggers”.

The “project fee” for this 60-day campaign would be $75,000 – plus expenses.

There’s not a huge amount of other information publicly available about Racepoint’s work for Gaddafi, but a quick Google search turned up this:

Groundbreaking Website Reveals Libya’s Commitment to Democracy

Following a first-of-its kind event in which Muammar al-Gaddafi engaged in a free-form debate on democracy, the World Center for Green Book Studies today launched a groundbreaking Website as part of Libya’s efforts to openly engage the international community on democracy and economic development in Libya. The Website address is: http://www.LibyaInTheGlobalAge.com…

The two-hour debate focused on three distinct themes:

– Democracy in Libya – the Jamahiriya System: An exploration of the vision that led to the founding of the People’s Authority in Libya thirty years ago, Gaddafi’s aspirations for the Libyan people and the way that they engage with government.

– Globalization since the founding of the People’s Authority: A broad conversation about how the world has changed in the last thirty years – how people think and feel about the globalization of government, democracy, ideas, money, culture and politics, in an age of security threats and the implications of this change for Libya.

– What the next 30 years of the People’s Authority in Libya will bring: A discussion of the role of the Libyan state and democracy in a modern context, charting the practical progress of Libya and the increasingly important role that the civil and economic sectors will play in the country and the region.

Please visit http://www.LibyaInTheGlobalAge.com for more information.

CONTACT: Racepoint Group George Snell 781-487-4608 gsnell@racepointgroup.com

Reuters, meanwhile, tells the story slightly differently:

Gaddafi debate shows limits to change in Libya

Muammar Gaddafi, ever the political showman, has chosen the talk show as a new way of sending a message to the West: Economic reform will help Libya, but political change is not needed.

Sitting around a table in front of the international media, he said in an unprecedented debate with two Western thinkers and a celebrated British journalist that the ballot box was not for his oil-exporting nation…

The tape of Friday’s debate will be distributed to international television channels and may be placed on a Libyan government Web site, said George Snell, an official of a U.S. public relations firm involved in organizing Friday’s event…

“Direct people’s democracy in coming years will be a model for other countries,” the leader told U.S. political scientist Benjamin Barber and sociologist Anthony Giddens in a discussion moderated by journalist David Frost…

If the debate is broadcast in Libya, the images of give and take of the discussion could strike a blow for free expression in a country with a state-controlled media.

Gaddafi was challenged and sometimes contradicted by the Western experts on his opposition to the ballot box.

“I have a basic source of disagreement with Mr. Gaddafi,” sociologist Giddens told the gathering, using language never publicly heard in Libya.

But Saturday’s Libyan newspapers splashed reports of a meeting with political associates Gaddafi held later on Friday in which he denounced Western domination of the world and urged Libyans to train militarily to prepare to fight off invaders.

There was no word of the debate.

Written by Richard Wilson

September 5, 2011 at 7:51 pm

The toxic legacy of Turner and Newall’s asbestos denialism

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In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I highlight the ongoing efforts by the asbestos industry to deny the harm done by its products. The Daily Mirror has just published an in-depth article on the history of one such company’s efforts, and its continuing legacy.

From The Mirror

It was one of the UK’s 100 biggest firms with 60 per cent of the asbestos market.

Annual profits rose from £2million at the start of the 50s to nearly £10million in the 60s.

But a confidential letter to T&N’s directors from solicitors James Chapman & Co, in 1964, revealed their deepest fears. It said: “We have over the years been able to talk our way out of claims or compromise for comparatively small amounts, but we have always recognised that at some stage solicitors of experience would, with the advance in medical knowledge and the development of the law, recognise there is no real defence to these claims and take us to trial.”

The first confirmed T&N mesothelioma death – Frank Brooks – happened that same year. But his widow was never told and was left to discover the truth 18 years later.

A report in 1965 revealed a spate of mesothelioma cases among residents living near the Cape factory in Barking, East London. It closed three years later.

But rather than admit defeat, T&N was determined to fight back.

The board met in 1967 to grapple with “damaging and alarmist statements about the dangers of using asbestos products”.

Hill and Knowlton, a PR firm that had spent the previous 14 years helping the US tobacco industry deny links between cigarettes and cancer, was brought in.

The board’s minutes noted: “Their job will be to combat and, if possible, to forestall adverse publicity.”

Asbestos regulations were tightened again in 1968 but on T&N’s factory floor standards remained slack. Pictures of workers in 1970 showed them wearing no head gear or masks.

Asbestos shipments continued. Imports hit a peak in the early 70s of 190,000 tonnes a year. Meanwhile T&N paid paltry sums to keep the families of dead workers on side.

But in 1982, T&N’s asbestos rollercoaster came off the tracks. The company made a £30million loss, with the costs of compensation payouts topping £6million.

The agonising fight of 47-year-old mum Alice Jefferson against mesothelioma was screened on TV in Alice: A Fight for Life.

Within a week the government announced tighter regulations on asbestos dust. Three years later the two most dangerous types of asbestos were banned outright.

T&N’s compensation payouts rose to tens of millions of pounds a year and then to hundreds of millions. In 1997 it was sold off to a US company, which four years later moved to protect itself against bankruptcy.

More than £90million has since been found to pay sick and dying T&N employees and their families for the next 40 years.

But there is no money for the workers who were exposed before 1965.

Today the site of the heavily-contaminated Rochdale site is derelict, although the new owners plan to build 600 homes there.

Researcher Jason Addy, whose grandfather died after handling T&N’s asbestos, says he wants the site to “rest in peace – like far too many people who worked there”.

Parliamentary aides offered perks by cigarette firm in advance of tobacco legislation debate

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In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I highlight the exposure of columnist Roger Scruton, who was revealed to have taken money from Japan Tobacco in exchange for placing pro-smoking articles in several major newspapers – and the attempts by another columnist, Terence Blacker, to mitigate his actions.

Now it’s been revealed that Japan Tobacco, the world’s third largest tobacco company, may again have been seeking to exert hidden influence,  by offering entertainment perks to UK Parliamentary aides in the run-up to a debate on health in which a clampdown on cigarette sales will be considered.

From The Guardian:

The world’s third largest tobacco company is offering entertainment perks to parliamentary researchers as legislation that will ban the display of cigarettes is before peers and MPs.

Japan Tobacco, the firm behind brands such as Benson & Hedges, Silk Cut, Camel and Winston, offered a “fun evening” watching the Strictly Come Dancing tour at the 02 Arena at the Millennium Dome in London.

The company invited at least two MPs’ aides, including the researcher for Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman…

Andrew Forth, Lamb’s researcher, and James Tobin, the researcher for Greg Mulholland, the Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West, turned down the offer.

“They told us there were lots of researchers going,” Forth said. “It strikes me as pretty dubious for a tobacco company to be inviting research staff out to such an event which serves no real work purpose in advance of what is pretty controversial legislation which will have a big impact on them. Good working relationships between researchers and issue groups are both vital and useful. This seems to go too far.”…

Lord Liverpool, Lord Stoddart, Lady Knight, Lady Golding and Lady Goudie have objected to the ban on the display of cigarettes. Earl Howe, the Tory health spokesman, plans to vote against a number of the measures and has tabled an alternative policy calling for adults who purchase cigarettes for children to be prosecuted.

Written by Richard Wilson

February 24, 2009 at 7:12 pm

David Gorski on the insidious myth of “balance” in science reporting

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From Science-based medicine

I believe that most reporters in the media do really want to get it right. However, they are hobbled by three things. First, many, if not most, of them have little training in science or the scientific method and are not particularly valued by their employers. For example, witness how CNN shut down their science division. Second, the only medical or science stories that seem to be valued are one of three types. The first type is the new breakthrough, the cool new discovery that might result in a new treatment or cure. Of course, this type doesn’t distinguish between science-based and non-science-based “breakthroughs.” They are both treated equally, which is why “alternative medicine” stories are so popular. The second type is the human interest story, which is inherently interesting to readers, listeners, or viewers because, well, it’s full of human interest. This sort of story involves the child fighting against long odds to get a needed transplant, for example, especially if the insurance company is refusing to pay for it. The third type, unfortunately, often coopts the second type and, to a lesser extent, the first type. I’m referring to the “medical controversy” story. Unfortunately, the “controversy” is usually more of a manufactroversy. In other words, it’s a fake controversy. No scientific controversy exists, but ideologues desperately try to make it appear as though a real scientific controversy exists. Non-medical examples include creationism versus evolution and the “9/11 Truth” movement versus history. Medical examples include the so-called “complementary and alternative medicine” movement versus science-based medicine and, of course, the anti-vaccine movement.

Human Rights Watch on the deadly consequences of UN wishful thinking in Congo

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William Swing

UN Congo chief William Swing withheld
evidence of DRC government atrocities

From Human Rights Watch

The United Nations and a number of bilateral donors invested significant financial and political capital in the [2006] Congolese elections, one of the largest electoral support programs in the UN’s history. But with the polls finished, they have failed to invest comparable resources and attention in assuring that the new government implements its international human rights obligations. For donor governments, concern about winning a favored position with the new government took priority over halting abuses and assuring accountability…

Donor governments said they would devote considerable financial and technical resources to security sector reform programs, but have yet to insist that such programs include adequate vetting to rid the military and law enforcement services of individuals in senior positions who have been implicated in serious human rights violations…

Following the killings in Bas Congo in February 2007, MONUC [the UN peacekeeping force in Congo] sent a multi-disciplinary team to investigate. Its report was not published for five months as it was deemed “too sensitive.” UN officials did not want to criticize the new government before securing its agreement on the role of MONUC in the post-electoral period. Similarly MONUC delayed publication of its report on the March 2007 events for fear of upsetting relations with Kabila.

Both reports were blocked by the head of MONUC, Ambassador William Swing, who deflected repeated requests from the UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in New York and from the then UN high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, for the reports to be made public.

If the reports had been promptly published, they could have contributed to wider awareness of the serious violations committed and might have led to additional diplomatic pressure on the Congolese government to halt the abuses and hold the perpetrators accountable. The March 2007 investigation report was eventually published in French on January 4, 2008, after a copy was leaked to the press; no English version has been made public.

Crackdown in Burundi worsens – Nkurunziza’s thugs arrest Alexis Sinduhije

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I’ve just had a message from Burundi’s Movement for Security and Democracy, the political party founded earlier this year by the celebrated journalist Alexis Sinduhije.

In an email he sent on Saturday, Alexis reported that:

…there is more and more pressure against MSD from the government so that is a sign that we are a movement that is being taken seriously and a threat to the current power structure. In Kirundo and Ngozi they have been trying to arrest our colleagues out in the collines doing good work.

According to today’s message from the MSD, 30 party members, including Alexis himself, have now been arrested following increasing threats and harrassment by the authorities:

Today the police arrived at the permance de MSD with a search warrant. They then took 30+ of the MSD members that were there to the Jabe police station. Alexis remained in office and then was later taken in as well. He has not been allowed to see his lawyer and no reason for his detention. They claim they are under investigation for holding a meeting. Alexis has asked that the MSD members be realeased and only he be detained as he is the sole responsable.

Like Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, the campaigning journalist arrested in September, Alexis Sinduhije has been a huge help in raising the profile of the Titanic Express case over the years, and the book would have been considerably diminished without the input he gave to the campaign.

This latest move by the Burundian authorities to suppress the political opposition makes a further mockery of the PR efforts of international religious groups bent on presenting Burundi’s corrupt and authoritarian Christian evangelical President as the model of the “forgiving” African leader.

More information about Alexis Sinduhije’s work can be found at the MSD’s Facebook page.

04/11 Update from MSD:

Alexis spent his first night in police detention. He had a small cell to himself. He had a mattress but did not sleep. He has not been beaten or tortured.

His friends and supports around the world are organising support. The American, Dutch, British, French, Belgian , German, South African and Norwegian embassies are all informed.

International press has been informed as well. However given the fact that today is election day in the US we do not expect much attention.

He has not been allowed to see his lawyer yet.

Don’t Get Fooled Again reviewed by Tom Cunliffe

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From A Common Reader

Scepticism about media, politics and finances comes naturally to most of us these days, particularly when people who should know better have brought the world to a state of economic crisis (did our rulers really not know that unfettered greed is no basis for an economic world-order?). It is refreshing to read a book like Don’t Get Fooled Again, which takes our vague feeling that “things aren’t quite right” and shows us that gut instincts are often quite correct, and we really shouldn’t believe the utterances of any institution or public figure without first submitting them to some pretty stringent tests.

Richard Wilson puts forward a good case for scepticism, reminding his readers that humanity has a long history of “meekly engaging in depraved acts of inhumanity on the basis of ideas that turned out to be total gibberish”.

Much of his book focuses on the public relations industry, citing a number of case studies to show how opinion can be manipulated. He devotes a whole chapter to the way tobacco companies in the 1950s manipulated news organisations to question the increasingly obvious link between smoking and lung cancer. The strategy consisted of getting an influential academic on-side (geneticist Clarence Cook Little in this case), and using him to question every scrap of evidence which research scientists gathered supporting the need for anti-smoking legislation.

Little insisted that it was not enough to show that lung cancer victims were smokers, but that until the cause of the link could be demonstrated under laboratory conditions, the link was irrelevant. Tests showing that mice contracted cancer when exposed to cigarette smoke were contested, but on the other hand, animal tests which were favourable to the tobacco industry were heavily publicised. Wilson shows that genius of the PR campaign was capitalising on the media’s love of “debate”.

A story really takes off when two sides are seen in opposition, even when it is obvious that the alleged “controversy” is falsely based. This can be observed every day on programmes like BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, when even the most blindingly obvious truth has to be contested by a protagonist with opposing views, with the result that equal weight is given to both nonsense and fact. One million people walked the streets of London to protest about the US/GB invasion of Iraq but this had no effect on those who wanted for a variety of reasons to believe the fantastic reports about Iraq’s offensive capability.

Wilson warns of the dangers of pseudo-science, and its ability to influence government and other decision-makers. Wilson traces this back to Trofim Lysenko, Stalin’s favorite scientist who’s wrong-headed ideas about agronomy led to mass starvation throughout Russia. Even worse, Lysenko’s ideas were taken up by Chairman Mao and his followers whose Lysenko-inspired agrarian reforms led to the worst man-made famine in history, with the loss of 30 million lives.

The chapter on “groupthink” describes that way in which a closed group of people can adopts a false belief and then support itself in perpetuating it despite mounting evidence suggesting its falsity. I found myself thinking again of the decision to invade Iraq taken by Tony Blair’s cabinet when I read Richard Wilson’s list of symptoms of groupthink:

  1. Invulnerability – everything is going to work out right because we are a special group
  2. Rationalisation – explaining away warnings that challenge the group’s assumptions
  3. Unquestioning belief in the morality of the group and ignoring moral consequences of the group’s decisions
  4. Sterotyping those who oppose the group’s view as weak, evil, impotent of stupid
  5. Direct pressure being placed on any member who questions the group couched in terms of “disloyalty”
  6. Self-censorship of ideas that stray from the consensus
  7. The illusion of unanimity among group members with silence being viewed as agreement.

I have worked on many large I.T. projects and have seen these processes at work when projects have begun to fail and careers and reputations are at risk. Project teams easily acquire the need to plough on despite all warning signals to the contrary until finally the project is abandoned far too late for anyone to be able to recover any benefits from it.

Wilson goes on to consider the HIV/AIDS denial movement, begun in America and then influencing the thinking of the South African government where “AIDS dissidents” have had a malign effect on public policy leading to the denial of effective treatment for many. President Tabo Mbeki immersed himself in AIDS denial literature and invited American AIDS dissidents to join a presidential advisory panel on AIDS and HIV, one of whose aims was to inivestigate “whether there’s this thing called AIDS . . . whether HIV leads to AIDS, whether there’s something called HIV”. By 2005, more than 5.5 million South Africans were infected with HIV and 1000 were dying each day from AIDS.

In his concluding chapter, Richard Wilson lists the common threads which run through false and illusory belief systems: fundamentalism, relativism, conspiracy theories, pseudo-scholarship, pseudo-news, wishful thinking, over-idealisation, demonisation of perceived enemies, groupthink. While many of the ideas in this book are nothing new in themselves, Wilson has gathered them together, with many fascinating examples from recent history, to provide a very useful handbook for people who know that things they read in the paper or hear on the television are “not quite right” and need to be challenged.

I was pleased to find that Richard Wilson has a blog Don’t Get Fooled Again in which he reports on many of the topics covered in his book.