Friday, 29 January 2010

Throwin’ Out The Trash #2

Late Friday afternoons are traditionally the time that politicians, businesses, celebrities, etc, release bad news to the public in the hope that they won’t see it.  Season 1, episode 13, of The West Wing calls this “Take Out The Trash Day”.  Each week, there are so many fucked up stories and newsy bits and pieces that cross my path in this 24/7 media blitzkrieg that we’re living in, and I simply do not have the time or inclination to write a full-on commentary piece about all of them.  Throwin’ Out The Trash is my chance each week to clear the decks of all these niggling odds and sods without ignoring them completely…


So, today Tony Blair comes before the Chilcot Enquiry.  I am writing this at 11am, before the conclusion of events, but I expect nothing more from this than Blair sticking firmly to his position that he believed in what he did and thought it was the right thing to do for both Iraq and the security of the world.

What else is he going to do?  Admit that he lied; that he’s a war-criminal and a mass-murderer?  That he wilfully started a war that has killed hundreds of soldiers and thousands of civilians in full knowledge that the justification for it was bullshit?

Of course not.

Blair’s testimony is a red herring.  As I’ve said before and I’ll say again now: the evidence that Saddam was not a threat was available to anybody with an internet connection and a library card, and speaks to a much deeper problem within UK and US foreign policy than this one unjust war alone.

We need more than the Chilcot Enquiry – we need a radical change of course.


Obama has announced a pay-freeze, just as, here in the UK, whoever wins the election later this year has promised to make cuts in public spending.  Anyone else troubled that we had billions for the banks, and billions to spend on slaughtering innocent Iraqis and Afghans, and yet no money to pay for schools, hospitals, civil servants or benefits?

Here’s a saving we could make on both sides of the Atlantic ocean immediately: withdraw, right now, without hesitation, from Afghanistan and Iraq, stop picking fights in Pakistan and Yemen, and put all that money you’re pissing away on genocide back into the public coffers.

Oh, and then tax the fucking rich already!


If you think the new Apple iPad is a good idea then you’re an idiot, and probably think HDTV, Blu-Ray and 3D movies are good ideas too.  They’re not, and you’re a gullible mark.


In the Good News Department: the BNP are still in trouble regarding their constitution.  Their ridiculous pseudo-amendments made a few months ago to try and appease the Equality and Human Rights Commission have been laughed out of court, and if they don’t sort it out properly by the end of next month, they’re legally fucked.  As spokesman, Simon Darby said, the ruling forces the party to “emasculate its constitution and drop its policies and principles…This is a deadly serious attempt to put us out of business.”  Good.  I watched This Is England the other night and can’t believe racist idiots like this still exist in 2010.


In the Oh My God It’s Worse Than I Thought Department: A recent poll in America has shown that Fox News is the most trusted news network in the country.  This is the stuff that nightmares are made of.


Revelations continue to come out about Haiti – how the US government sent soldiers instead of aid, and prioritized “securing” the area over giving people food.  Obama already got blood all over his hands by stepping up Bush’s war in Afghanistan and claiming it as his own; now it seems he has left Haitians to die in much the way Bush left the victims of Katrina.  “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”, as The Who might sing.


I wrote about the UK’s repressive Prevention of Terror Act of 2000 about ten years ago for Scanner fanzine.  This was in the heady days before 9/11, and the big concern at the time was that the UK government were using anti-terror legislation to target activists.  Well, now it’s 2010 and, according to The Guardian, the Ministry of Justice’s new “guidance on extremism” has included eco-activists on its terror list, alongside members of al-Qaeda and far-right extremists.

The Lib Dems have called it “a quite astonishing conflation of legitimate protest with terrorism”. 

Haven’t they been paying attention?  The entire war on terror has just been a concerted effort in manipulation designed to quell the anti-capitalism movement that was making such great progress between 1999 and 2001. 

The sad thing is: it has worked.


George Clooney’s new film, Up in the Air, is rubbish.  Unless you enjoy watching a film about the assholes who go into downsizing corporations to professionally “let people go” that in no way deals with the subject of just how fucked up that is.


Finally, I’m pretty sure that Obama’s momentary “tough talk” about banking regulation will die down pretty quickly.  Not only has “Mr Bank Bailout”, Ben Bernake, been given a second term at the Fed (so no change there), but Wall Street have been gearing up an army of lobbyists over the past twelve months (to the tune of $26m) and are planning of unleashing them in opposition to any plans for regulation.  When you combine that, the banking industry’s $78.2m in donations to well-greased federal candidates and party committees, and the recent Supreme Court decision to remove all limits on how much private corporations can spend on political influence, I think you’ll agree: banking regulation in 2010 just doesn’t have a chance.


Thursday, 28 January 2010

Howard Zinn: 1922 - 2010

This morning I woke up to the sad news that historian and social critic, Howard Zinn, had died. As awful as it might seem, I had been so prepared over recent years for the inevitable news of the death of Noam Chomsky (another awesome octogenarian radical of whom the world should take more note), that it hadn’t even occurred to me that Zinn, six years Chomsky’s senior, might die first.

To say I was shocked would be an understatement.

Perhaps that sounds a little bit morbid – worrying about the death of Noam Chomsky – but when your heroes reach their eighties, it’s really hard to not be concerned.

Howard Zinn was also a hero, and he and Chomsky will be forever intertwined in my mind. Between the two of them – and a healthy dose of Dead Kennedys and Subhumans lyrics – my teenaged eyes were opened up to a whole new way of seeing the world. But whereas Chomsky provided my education through his prolific canon of never-ending texts and articles, and the Dead Kennedys and Subhumans required several records each to shake me from my political stupor, Howard Zinn achieved his life-changing alteration of my perceptions with just one single book.

A People’s History of the United States was a book I only ever read from start to finish once, but it’s effect on how I understood the world has never left me. One simple idea – the telling of history not through the voices of the powerful, but through the seldom-heard voices of the poor, the weak, and the everyday – revolutionized the telling of a history which I thought I already knew. Slave rebellions, worker uprisings, corporate and government corruption – the true tales of history were wrested from the grip of its victors and put back into the hands of the people.

Ever since I read the work of Howard Zinn, I could never trust status quo historians again.

Alongside the influence of Chomsky, both my MA and Ph.D. work would not have been possible without Zinn’s perception-changing insights. When I wrote about just war theory in my Masters Degree dissertation, my arguments were backed up by a historical record of war and conquest radically different from those offered to us by our leaders, yet one no less substantiated by evidence. When I spoke of the democratic failings of our so-called contemporary “democracies” in my Ph.D. thesis, it was with Zinn in mind that I portrayed an accurate, but alternative, history of Western political evolution.

In 2000, I saw Howard Zinn speak at the annual Marxism festival in London. After several days of quite turgid and dogmatic lecturing from different party-line speakers on a variety of different issues, I remember Howard Zinn as being a breath of fresh air from the hitherto stultifying zealots. Here was a man, I realized, who was not afraid to question accepted faith, even within his own doctrines, and a man who made me realize that being politically radical didn’t have to mean leaving your humanity and charm at the door.

Charm and humanity aside, that one simple book and one simple idea could have such a life-changing effect on so many generations of people will be Zinn’s greatest legacy. That simple idea (and that wonderful book) will not die along with him, so long as those of us who learnt the lessons that A People’s History of the United States had to offer, continue to pass them on each and everyday.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, but those whose past has been stolen from them by manipulative rulers who benefit, will forever have A People’s History to unchain them. For that, we must thank Howard Zinn.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Real Questions for Chilcot

As the Chilcot Enquiry enters its ninth week and star-witnesses, Blair and Brown, approach their impending interrogations, there are still a wealth of important witnesses who have not yet been called to give testimony.

Sadly, it seems highly unlikely that they ever will be. 

I am not talking about any more key members of government, nor am I talking about MPs, civil servants, the security services or the army.  I am talking about the million-plus people who marched on London, February 15th, 2003, in clear opposition to this war.  I am talking about the unwavering majority of British citizens polled repeatedly before the March 20th invasion who were consistently opposed to the war.  I am talking about people like me, a university student at the time, who had no access to secret government documents or high-clearance intelligence briefs and yet still knew enough – from just a couple of visits to the library and a little online searching – to know that the reasons for invasion were bogus.

The fact of the matter is, an enquiry into whatever government officials claim they did, or did not, know at the time of the Iraq invasion is far too short-sighted an endeavour to yield any meaningful results, especially when it is limited solely within the self-serving bubble of Westminster spin.  Regardless of what Tony Blair thought he knew in his heart of hearts, what convinced Gordon Brown to write the cheques, or what regrets and reservations Jack Straw might have had, the real question about Iraq is not how individual politicians happened to clear their already ambidextrous consciences on the matter, it is how so many people like me – people who marched in opposition to the war; people who signed the petitions and knew all along that we were being lied to – managed so easily to find out that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, just from reading readily available books and reports on the area, and yet our government and media apparently remained so utterly in the dark?

If the Chilcot Enquiry were to interview someone like me, I would tell them how I read the reports of UN weapons inspectors, Hans Blix and Scott Ritter, who both said that there was no sign of Iraqi WMDs.  I would tell them how even Colin Powell was on record as saying there were no WMDs in Iraq, and how about seven different books on the subject all said the same thing.  I would tell them how the only evidence we had of Saddam posing a “threat” in March of 2003, was the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 (for which America arguably gave Iraq the green light, in an effort to teach them a lesson through a manufactured conflict) and the gassing of Kurds with chemical weapons in 1988 (gas which was sold to Iraq by the USA in the first place).  I would remind Sir Chilcot that, though it was nice to see how upset Blair and Bush suddenly were about attacks that had happened back in 1988, it would have been much more useful for our governments to have been upset about them in ‘88, when they actually happened, instead of doing what we really did at the time, which was continue selling chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein.

There are a lot of things I could tell him, and I’m sure that any number of the millions of UK citizens opposed to the war long before the invasion – and aware that the WMD claims were a lie – would have much to say if they took the stand at the Iraq Inquiry.  If people like us could find out the truth about Iraq just from looking at books in our spare-time, the idea that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, and the Foreign Secretary – whose sole job at the time was to know about this sort of stuff – were unable to acquire that same information with all the resources of state at their disposal, is even more hard to swallow than the absurdist fantasy that there were WMDs hidden under the Iraqi sand.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

The True Face of Liberation

Remember when we were told we had to go into Iraq because Saddam was a tyrant who used chemical weapons against his own people?  Well, according to this story from the Guardian today -Iraq littered with high levels of nuclear and dioxin contamination, study finds - – our going in there to “save” the Iraqis from such atrocities has left them with a legacy of radiation and toxicity that will contaminate the country for decades.  Who needs Saddam when we can commit his tyranny ourselves?

Friday, 22 January 2010

Throwin’ Out The Trash #1

Late Friday afternoons are traditionally the time that politicians, businesses, celebrities, etc, release bad news to the public in the hope that they won’t see it.  Season 1, episode 13, of The West Wing calls this “Take Out The Trash Day”, and with that in mind I give you the first instalment of a new semi-regular feature on the Blog: Throwin’ Out The Trash.

Each week, there are so many fucked up stories and newsy bits and pieces that cross my path in this 24/7 media blitzkrieg that we’re living in, and I simply do not have the time or inclination to write a full-on commentary piece about all of them.  Throwin’ Out The Trash is my chance each week to clear the decks of all these niggling odds and sods without ignoring them completely…


So, multi-millionaire pop mogul, Simon Cowell, has decided to release a charity pop single of REM's classic song, "Everybody Hurts", in order to raise some much needed funds to help the devastated victims of the January 12th Haitian earthquake.  A nice idea, and a lot of people are out there doing what they can to raise money to help with this terrible tragedy.  But when the guy proposing the charity single has a personal fortune of £120m – and just signed a brand new £100m deal to bring his television show, X-Factor, to the United States on the very day that Haiti suffered the earthquake – you have to wonder why he isn’t just putting a hand into his own pocket to help out the aid effort instead of making us, the not-so-wealthy British public, do it for him?

To put this into perspective, whilst Cowell could personally afford to give several million pounds to the Haitian aid effort if he wanted to without the British public spending a single penny, Peter Kay’s 2009 charity single for Children in Need, released last November, raised only £170,000.  Cowell’s own recent charity efforts have done a little better, with last year’s X-Factor single for Great Ormond Street raising at least £200,000 in its first week, and the 2008 single raising over £1m for Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion.  But the fact remains that Cowell himself could personally contribute the amount of money earned by all three of those charity singles to Haiti combined, plus an extra million, and still have a very comfortable £117m to live off without the generous British public having to give a thing. 



If anyone out there reading this still thinks that free-market capitalism is a great idea, maybe they can explain to me why I should support an economic mentality that sees stock-prices drop and Wall Street panic when the President finally says that he’s going to do something about the dangerous financial de-regulation that so recently brought the world economy to its knees?

For the majority of Americans, and people all around the world, the last year and a bit has been a hellacious time of recession and unemployment.  Life has become a struggle, work has become scarce, homes have been taken away and dreams have been shattered.  All of this misery and turmoil – every single bit of it – was down to the rapacious greed of an unregulated financial industry who sucked the economy dry and then had the temerity to ask us to bail them out or die. 

This wealthy minority of money-obsessed gamblers and con-men (or “motherfuckers”, if you want the correct term) essentially gang-raped the world’s economy for their own material gain and sent the globe into a depression-risking downspin and yet, yesterday, when the President finally announced his plans – at long last; a dollar short and a year too late – to place some much needed restrictions on the out of control banking industry, they responded by sending a petulant and unrepentant message to the Whitehouse that, if he dare tell them to curb and regulate their greed, there would once again be hell to pay.

The worse thing is, the media actually reported this bullshit tantrum as news.  A bunch of out of control wealth-addicts get told they’re going to have some restrictions placed over their previously unfettered playground of destruction and they throw their toys out of the pram in protest?  Good.  It’s time these fat-cat motherfuckers felt some of the same ramifications from what they’ve done as the rest of us, instead of thinking that cutting their bonuses down to a measly $498,000 per person counts as suffering!


David Cameron today cynically used the recent case of two school-aged brothers from Edlington violently torturing a nine year old and eleven year old boy as proof that Britain under Labour has fallen into “social recession”.  The case was horrific – the work of two very disturbed young sadists who left their victims for dead after 90 minutes of reprehensible cruelty – but the argument that this anomalous case of horror is a sign of the times under Labour must be dismissed as spurious when we remember that the equally horrific Jamie Bulger case (in which a much younger boy – a two year old – was actually murdered by his equally sadistic young attackers) happened in 1993, under a Tory government in its fourteenth year of power.

If anything, under Labour, society has gotten better by Cameron’s preposterous argument, because the Edlington victims survived whereas Jamie Bulger did not. 

The use of this meaningless and emotively charged example is hollow opportunism at its most base and ridiculous, and it is a travesty of the highest proportions that the ghastly ordeal of two unfortunate children is being exploited like this by a man who thinks himself suitable to be our next leader. 



Finally, if you didn’t think that corporations ruled the world already, well…they will do pretty soon.  The US Supreme Court, this week, made a landmark ruling to remove the limits corporations previously faced on how much they could spend to elect and defeat candidates running in US elections.  That’s right – multi-billion dollar corporations can now pay whatever they want to the campaigns of the candidate of their choice to ensure that the “right” guy gets into office.

Oh functioning democracy – we hardly knew ye…


Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Who’s Responsible? We Fucking Are…

The Cadbury plot thickens further today as it transpires one of the central banks lending Kraft Foods the money to buy out the company is none-other than the Royal Bank of Scotland – you remember, the bank we tax-payers bailed out last year and thus, technically, own?

As Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, said to Gordon Brown during today’s Prime Minister’s Question Time: “When British taxpayers bailed out the banks, they would never have believed that their money would now be used to put British people out of work. Isn't that just plain wrong?"

I’d like to take that question further – when British tax-payers bailed out the banks, shouldn’t have the government, the opposition, or the Liberal Democrats have ensured that with that money came strict conditions and regulation that the banks were forced to follow?  Shouldn’t our “ownership” have actually meant something, and shouldn’t it still mean something – for instance, shouldn’t we, as RBS owners, be able to refuse to give Kraft Foods the loan?


Why (Sadly) The Election of Scott Brown Really Means Nothing

There are two things that are making me crazy about yesterday’s election of Republican, Scott Brown, to the Massachusetts Senate seat formerly occupied by Ted Kennedy.

First, of course, is the very fact that those idiots in Massachusetts voted in a Republican.  Especially a Republican committed to blocking healthcare reform of any kind. 

What the fuck happened to the Massachusetts I know and love?  The shitty healthcare deal on the table right now is the direct result of Republicans like Brown interfering with it and getting their twisted way.  The idea of adding more bad-will to the already tainted mix is just depressing.

That said, the second thing making me crazy about the Brown election is the idea that his victory means something significant regarding Obama’s ability to get difficult bills passed through the Senate. 

Yes, without a doubt it means that the hallowed 60/40 majority is no longer in effect.  But let’s be honest, folks – what exactly has Obama done to take advantage of that unstoppable 60/40 majority thus far?  The Democrats have achieved pretty much nothing of any worth during Obama’s first year in office.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are still ongoing, as illegal and as unjustified as ever, only now there has been a brand new troop surge, intensifying the war, and extending it across the Afghan border into Pakistan.

The banks were given billions of dollars with absolutely no strings attached.  People continued to lose their homes, their jobs, and meanwhile the banks are bouncing back into excessive profit – producing multi-thousand dollar bonuses for their executives whilst continuing to offer no credit to the poor.  What happened to helping Main Street instead of Wall Street?  What happened to regulating the banks?

And what happened to that commitment to the environment we heard so much about on the campaign trail?  Copenhagen, mainly due to U.S. opposition and wrangling, was a disaster.  And where are all those “green” jobs Obama promised?  For that matter – where are all the jobs Obama promised?  You know, the ones that would be paid for by raising the level of income tax for those earning $250,000 and above?

Why has the PATRIOT ACT not been repealed?  Why is Guantanamo still open?  Why have basic human rights not been restored to America?

And healthcare.  Well, let’s talk about healthcare, shall we?  How a President, voted in on a mandate of change – specifically regarding healthcare reform – and with a majority in both houses, in a country where, according to ALL available polling data, single-payer, universal healthcare was the most popular choice and number one demand of its citizens, still managed to come away from negotiations with a gutted, ball-less, love letter to the insurance industry?  No single payer.  No public option.  Hell – not even any state-funded abortions anymore.  If this has been the best that Obama could do with his “unbeatable” 60/40 majority, I think the presence of Scott Brown in the Senate now won’t really change things all that much.

The Democrats may have lost their filibuster-proof majority with the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts last night, but they lost their ability to use it a long, long time ago.  One year ago today, to be exact: when a charismatic vessel of empty rhetoric and lies got sworn-in in front of cheering crowds and we all were fooled again.


Forget the Banker’s Bonuses – Cadbury’s Boss Makes £12m Whilst Workers Fear for Their Jobs…

Don’t worry Cadbury workers – you may all lose your jobs over the next few months, now that the company has been sold off to Kraft Foods, but at least chief executive, Todd Stitzer, will be making £12m from the deal.

“After more than 25 years at the firm, 56-year-old Stitzer is also sitting on a £15m pension pot that promises to pay out £1.5m a year when he retires.” says the Guardian.  This coming after “the group's chairman Roger Carr admitted he had put shareholders first and job losses were inevitable.”

Again - “principled capitalism” anyone?

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Dairy Milked

Today I haven’t been able to get a particular film out of my head: Michael Moore’s debut documentary, Roger and Me.

In that film, Moore attempts to get an explanation from then-General Motors CEO, Roger Smith, as to why he closed down several car manufacturing factories in his hometown of Flint, Michigan – costing over 30,000 jobs and financially ruining the city.  As he does this, he paints a very sad and depressing picture of how the closure of these auto-plants led to the painful collapse of Flint’s economy, community, and pride.  The lesson is simple: once upon a time the GM factories were the economic and cultural heart of the city of Flint; once those factories were destroyed though, so was Flint.

The reason this film keeps on haunting me today, is because this morning I woke up to the news that Cadbury, after four months of allegedly fighting for its independence, finally succumbed to a £12bn take-over bid from American food company, Kraft Food.

The Cadbury factory is within walking distance from my house; a house which was actually built, in the late 1800s, for Cadbury workers to live in.

The local train station around here, is proudly painted a shade of Cadbury’s trademarked purple; the local supermarkets stock special “local deals” on Cadbury’s products; tourists come from far and wide to visit the nearby “Cadbury World”; and a short walk away from where I live, the quaint and idyllic Bournville Village, where I so often take afternoon walks, simply would not exist had not Richard and George Cadbury, the sons of the company’s original owner, not bought up the old Bournbrook estate and created it.

In other words, as with Flint, Michigan and General Motors, the area in which I live is inextricably linked to the industrial goings on at the local factory: Cadbury provides jobs for people in the community, draws visitors to the area, and makes the air around our streets smell distinctly like Dairy Milk chocolate.  The idea of it being sold to the highest bidder therefore, purely for profit, leaves me extremely worried about what the future might bring.

Unlike a lot of other corporations in the world, the Cadbury brand, coming as it did from the strong Quaker traditions of its founders, was theoretically more than just about making money.  Guided by an underlying business philosophy that was driven by something deeper than the usual free-market capitalist dogmas, Cadbury purported to care for its workers, care for the local community, and generally adhere to what chief executive, Todd Stitzer recently called its unique form of “principled capitalism”. 

The ramifications of selling the business to a company who do not share these same ethical principles and underlying philosophies, could well be significant, and damning to the town in which I live.    

That said, one has to question exactly how “principled” Cadbury’s latter-day “principled capitalism” really was?  When Kraft first approached the company in late August/early September last year and began its hostile takeover, a lot of noise was made about the heritage, values, and unique position of the company both in terms of public goodwill and its ethical practices.  If any buy-out were to take place, we were told, it would have to be about more than just money.  Jobs would have to be protected, traditions maintained, ethics adhered to.  “We will continue to execute our strategy as an independent standalone company” said Stitzer, “unless someone comes along with a compelling offer, and I mean compelling.”

What he meant by “compelling”, it turned out, did not mean job protection, or a guarantee that Cadbury’s “principled capitalism” would remain in place.  All “compelling” really meant, it turned out, was Kraft raising its proposed share-price offer up ever-so-slightly, from 770 pence a share, to 850 pence a share.  A difference of eighty pence. 

Once the money was good, and all shareholders would be guaranteed a tidy profit from the sale, all that other stuff – you know, the “principled” capitalism – was thrown out the window.

Truth be told, that isn’t necessarily Cadbury’s fault.  It is more a fundamental problem with capitalism.

Under the current system of capitalism, public companies have a legal obligation to their shareholders to make them as much profit as is possible.  If I am an executive of a company and reject a highly profitable business opportunity that would make my shareholders a lot of money, I will have acted in breach of the law and against the best interests of my shareholders, even if I chose to reject that opportunity based on arguably higher principles of ethics.  Capitalism doesn’t care about rationales like that, and shareholders don’t want to hear that you are saying no to an opportunity to let them double their investment just because you want to ensure silly things like jobs, commitments to Fair-Trade, and the continued health of a particular local community.  So once Kraft increased their offer and the shareholders were offered a 850 pence jackpot, Cadbury legally had no choice but to recommend the sale go through – principled capitalism be damned.

One has to wonder about the value of an economic system like that: one which literally leaves no room for higher principles and reduces everything to the bottom-line.  That’s one of the reasons I’ve been fighting against capitalism ever since I was old enough to understand it – it’s not that its a good system gone bad, its that it is a system which is inherently flawed, and incapable of prioritizing the things that are truly important to a society if they ever get in the way of a tiny minority of people making some money.

So as with Flint, Michigan and General Motors, Cadbury unions now fear that up to 30,000 jobs may be at risk as a result of the proposed deal with Kraft. 

That was the exact number of job-losses it took for Flint to start to crumble.

Because of the amount of money needed to make the deal impossible for Cadbury to refuse, Kraft is going to be about £22bn in debt going into its new operations in Bournville.  In the past, the company have had a savage record for job-slashing and aggressive cost-cutting measures when it needed to reduce its debts: between 2004 and 2008, according to the union, Unite, Kraft shed 19,000 jobs and shut down 35 sites in order to save money and pay the bills.  That jobs at the Cadbury factory are in serious trouble, therefore, is basically beyond a doubt.

For the moment though, the factory remains open, albeit in a state of pre-emptive mourning.  It is unlikely that Kraft will shut down the place immediately, if it shuts it down at all – but what is clear is that the local community is now on edge, not knowing exactly how this story will end.  I went for a walk this afternoon, as I often do during the weekdays, and as I walked past the Cadbury’s buildings there was a look of shock and fear on the faces of workers outside.  Usually, at lunchtime, the grounds surrounding Cadbury’s are full of happily chatting people eating sandwiches and sharing jokes and stories.  Not today.  Today there are just grim smokers and news-teams.  Everywhere I look there are cameras being set up, men running frantically around with tripods, reporters interviewing locals, journalists preparing for their close-ups...  Outside the main offices, someone has attached two tiny Union Jacks to the entranceway in a futile attempt at denying the new American owners their claim.

The superstitious among you might find it interesting to note that, in late January 2009 – about a year ago today, and long after twelfth night had passed – Christmas trees were still up inside these same main offices, shining brightly into the night. 

Keeping Christmas decorations up after Epiphany is supposed to bring you bad luck.  I remember saying to friends and family at the time: if anything bad happens to Cadbury in this recession, it’s those Christmas tree’s fault.

I didn’t really believe that – I still don’t.  It’s just stupid superstition.  But I did find it interesting to note that, this year, the trees disappeared promptly on January 6th: certainly someone at Cadbury must have been thinking about it.

Yet the year they avoided the supposed “bad luck”, thirteen days later, they were sold.

Well, almost.

As yet, there has still been no official “sale”, of course – merely the recommendation of a sale by management to the shareholders: the fucking over of entire communities is not without its formalities.

But anyone who has ever watched capitalism at work, principled or not, will know that the rest is now just a rubber-stamping: it is only ever very rarely that shareholders refuse themselves the chance to make money.  Rarer still are the occasions when shareholders refuse to make money in order to save jobs and preserve a local community.

What do they care?

They got their 80 pence extra per share.

They got their 10 pence dividend.

And so, after a year of already watching one side of my local neighbourhood fall slowly victim to the recession – with once-thriving shops gradually becoming derelict and boarded up, and former restaurants and take-aways shutting their doors one night and never opening them again – I now get to watch the same thing happen all over again on the other side of the canal.

Ain’t capitalism grand?

Ain’t “principled” capitalism even better?

Cold-Snap Election

During the recent snowmageddon that hit the UK a few weeks ago, I wrote this sketch as a submission for last week’s episode of Newsjack on BBC Radio 7.  It didn’t get on the air, but I still think it’s funny.  So here, for your edification and entertainment is a random political comedy sketch about the snow…

Cold-Snap Election

By Daniel McKee

JUPP: The most shocking news of the last week came from Westminster, when it transpired that, in a bold political move, Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for a January 6th snap election, and nobody heard him.

The news, given at an ill-attended Cabinet meeting on the evening of January 5th, was missed by most major broadcasters, newspapers and websites, due to the much higher priority given to stories about snow. Even the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats were unaware that an election was going on.

BROWN: I think that settles the argument

JUPP: Said a victorious Brown from the doorstep of Number 10 the following morning. Though, at the time, nobody really knew what particular argument he was talking about, and so quickly went back to looking at pictures of snowmen and sledding taken on mobile phones.

Whilst some critics are calling the move “cynical”, others are praising the strategy.

ADVISOR: What Brown did was a stroke of genius!

JUPP: Said one senior advisor.

ADVISOR: He heard about the weather during a privileged MET Office briefing and went straight on the offensive. Even if voters had known it was Election Day they wouldn’t have been able to get out and vote: if they weren’t already snowed in, the majority of the schools we traditionally use as polling stations were closed. It was brilliant!”

JUPP: In total there were only thirty-six votes cast on Election Day, all in favour of Mr. Brown’s party, and all sent in by text message from Whitehall.

MANDELSON: It’s a referendum by the British people!

JUPP: Said Peter Mandelson.

ACADEMIC: It’s not even legal.

JUPP: Said one leading academic.

When the news finally came through that he had lost a General Election he hadn’t even known was taking place, a red-faced David Cameron was left almost speechless:

CAMERON: Inquiries shall have to be made.

JUPP: But there are already rumblings within the party about a new leadership race now that the Tory’s latest hopeful delivered the Conservatives their third consecutive electoral defeat since 1997.

SOURCE: It’s done him a lot of damage.

JUPP: Admitted one source close to the Cameron camp.

SOURCE: You can get away with a lot of things as a politician these days – mistresses, duck ponds, illegal and unjustified wars – but being less interesting than snow to the majority of the population? I don’t think he’ll come back from that.


The 10:23 Overdose Protest – And Why I’m Skeptical

On Saturday, January 30th, skeptics groups all across the country are planning a seemingly very worthy protest against the worldwide scam that is homeopathy.  Specifically, they are protesting against UK pharmacy chain, Boots, and their sale of homeopathic remedies.

At first, when I heard that some mass public-awareness-raising actions were being planned in opposition to homeopathy, I was eager to join in.  Homeopathy has long seemed self-evidently preposterous to me, and the fact that it is endorsed and promoted by a supposed chemist like Boots as legitimate medicine is a crime.  The idea that a sugar pill dripped with the vastly diluted “memory” of a illness could cure you (so diluted, in fact, that most of the time there is literally nothing left of the original element) is not only prima facie ridiculous, but has been demonstrably proven as ineffective time after time in scientific studies. 

The idea of knocking some sense into the people at Boots, therefore, and letting them know we will not stand for their malicious profiteering off the vulnerable and ill-informed was appealing.  I haven’t been to a good protest in a long time, and the idea of standing up for rationalism and science against the forces of ignorance and superstition seemed as good a cause as any.

But then I heard what the actual protest was going to entail, and I completely changed my mind.

On January 30th, at 10:23am, across twelve British cities, skeptics groups intend on buying up various homeopathic remedies sold at Boots branches and then publically “overdosing” on them, to prove that there is nothing in them but sugar.

On the surface, this seems to have all the elements necessary for a successful protest – it has a cause, a righteousness, a gimmick and a visible action that will help highlight and expose the issue.  The more I thought about it though, the more I began to see that this strategy is misguided, and that it is less of a meaningful protest than it is a lame publicity stunt.

Firstly – I think the idea of protesting against the homeopathy industry by buying a whole bunch of homeopathy products is ridiculous.  Three hundred people are supposed to be doing this across Britain.  Here in Birmingham, we were told to bring ten pounds each for the occasion.  Essentially, therefore, the big plan is to fight homeopathy by giving the industry an extra £3000 from people who normally wouldn’t buy their products.  Yeah - that’ll teach ‘em!

If anything, this approach shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the economic principles which guide the decisions of companies like Boots into what they choose, or choose not to, stock.  At bottom, Boots sells homeopathic stuff, because people buy homeopathic stuff.  The aim of the protests, therefore, should be to make people stop buying homeopathic stuff through education, petition and boycott.  What the proposed strategy of the 10:23 campaign will do instead, however, is show Boots shareholders that, in January, 2010, homeopathic products at Boots did very well indeed, and earned the company at least an extra £3000!

As companies have a legal obligation to make their shareholders money, so long as homeopathic products are making Boots money, then Boots will be legally obliged to keep selling them.  Their accountants won’t care that the £3000 this month came from protesters, they will simply reflect the success of the homeopathy range this quarter and want to repeat that success again.

But I suppose this is the point of the actual protest – the cost of the remedies is a necessary evil for the big mass action that follows, which will show people how useless homeopathy is. 

You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs and though, yes, a downside to the methodology might be a momentary increase in Boots’ profits in the short-term – in the long-term, now educated by the “overdose” demonstration, people will stop buying homeopathic remedies in their droves, and the losses to business as a result of this will far outweigh the small but regrettable gain the company made one day in January.

This, however, is flawed thinking, because I don’t think that the “overdose” demonstration – though surely quirky and “newsworthy” enough to draw attention – is actually going to change many minds when it comes to people who already use, and buy, homeopathic remedies.  The reason for this, is because the idea of an “overdose” of the remedies in question – though certainly showing how harmless these sugar-pills might be – is actually disanalogous to the way that people who use these products actually take them.

The argument a skeptic really has against a person who believes that homeopathy works, is not whether or not large doses of the product would be harmful or ineffective, but about whether or not the remedy actually works as prescribed.

To the idiots who take homeopathic sugar-pills whenever they have a migraine, an asthma attack, or suffer from chronic insomnia, it will not matter a jot that we have ingested an entire bottle of the things and suffered no ill-effects. 

What exactly has that proved? 

All that they know, is that when they take the pills “sensibly”, as directed, and in the “correct” dosage: for them, placebo or no, it works.

In many ways, battling against the users of homeopathy and preaching the virtues of real medicine and science is like arguing against religious people if you’re an atheist: at some point in the argument you realize that you will never get through to these people because you are using completely different systems with which to process and analyse the available facts.  I, the atheist, am using logic and reason, and they, the theist, are using faith and belief.  I can tell them a million ways in which it is clear that God doesn’t exist, but they can tell me a million times more that none of that matters, because they have faith.

Now I’m not for a minute defending that kind of idiocy – in my opinion the theists who ignore logical argument for faith and dogma are morons, pure and simple.  But I am saying that sometimes you have to be aware of who your audience is, and work out what the best way is to circumvent their particular defences so that you don’t just spend your time banging your head up against a wall.

When it comes to homeopathy, it already seems clear that battling believers with science and reason doesn’t work.  The science and reason is already irrefutable, and has been told to them often – yet still they keep on believing. 


Not because they have been convinced via logic and argument, but because they have logic-busting, rationale-ignoring, anecdotal evidence that trumps all science and will never ever sway: you may well say that in double blind lab tests all of this stuff is demonstrable bullshit, but when I had pneumonia last winter and took some homeopathic medicine, I got better.  So there.

Logic is closed for business.

I simply don’t think that hearing about how a bunch of skeptics overdosed on an intentional excess of homeopathic remedies will make these people any more likely to reassess their opinions than any other fact they have previously had thrown in their face.  They’ll simply shrug their shoulders, note that the protesters weren’t taking the stuff properly, as directed, and say well, it worked for me.

As I said before – on the face of it, this is a righteous battle, and a worthy idea.  It’s execution, however, is clumsy and ill-thought out, and on January 30th, at 10:23am, I will be not be participating in this protest because I believe, much like homeopathy itself, there is nothing in it.