Saturday, 27 February 2010

New Scanner “Jail Where Terrorists Make The Rules” Article

My latest SCANNER ARTICLE is up on the Scanner-zine website.  Entitled “General Election 2010 – How Ignoring Minor Differences Can Lead to Major Disappointments”, it deals with my thoughts on the impending UK election…


Thursday, 25 February 2010

Dear Councillor Dawkins #2…

So I finally got a reply from Councillor Dawkins from the letter I sent a few weeks ago about the seeming contradictions in his public position on the Kraft takeover of Cadbury and the underlying economic policies of his party…

Dear Dr. McKee,  

You are perhaps being a little harsh on me.   I have been making similar points in various speeches over the last few years in public.  Either one can accept that or one can accuse me of being disingenuous. 

I have to disagree with your assertion regarding the Conservative Party. Like most parties we are a broad church with widely held views.  
I have said often is that we are all for free trade. However the free trade of goods does not necessarily have to translate into the free trade of companies. Selling off our priceless manufacturing and exporting companies to foreign companies in no ways makes us a better country.
There are already rules devised by the takeover panel to control the details of hostile takeovers, so it is not a complete free for all. What I have suggested is that we need to reconsider these rules and to determine if they are currently serving the national interest or should they be made harder. For instance instead of 51% of shareholders needing to agree to a hostile takeover it could be 75% needed (that in itself would have scuppered the Kraft takeover as they only managed a 71% agreement).
Another suggestion perhaps is that only shareholders which have held shares for more than 6 months could vote in such circumstances rather than a company falling prey to hedgefunds whose only interest is in making money.  
It may be that we would only  apply these more stringent rules to our exporting manufacturing companies.  It is these companies which have taken generations to build and are vital to this country's wealth building capacity. When they are taken over that wealth producing capacity invariably leeches away from this country.
There is also the issue of a level playing field. We are the most open economy for such takeovers far more so than our foreign competitors.
I seriously doubt that we would have been permitted to buy a company like Cadbury from the Japanese, the Chinese and even the French.
When people mention the Conservative party I always gently remind them that the first company I ever worked for when I left University was Rolls Royce in Derby; a company nationalised in 1971  by a Conservative government in the national interest rather than letting it go bankrupt. The government still has some golden shares in Rolls Royce which prevents it being taken into foreign ownership. Those golden shares have not prevented Rolls Royce becoming perhaps our greatest engineering company and our second largest exporter.
I hope this has been helpful.

Though it was nice that he had a go at defending himself, I had problems with his reply right away.  First off – yes, free-trade under the neo-liberal style of free-market economics promoted by the Tories since Thatcher does have to mean the free-trade of companies too if it is to remain a coherent theory.  And secondly – isn’t his Kraft-beating idea of a 75% majority just a little too convenient and arbitrary to hold any water?  Why not 69% or 70%?  With no sustaining argument behind it, any number higher than the 51% we have in the current system is basically just taken at random, and that the 75% mark proposed just so happens to be enough to thwart the takeover at Cadbury seems a little bit easy to me.

Anyway, I sent off the following reply and we’ll see how this thing goes.

Dear Councillor Dawkins,

Thank you for your reply to my previous email regarding your recent comments about Cadbury. Although I appreciate your efforts at explaining to me the perceived contradictions that I see in your public position on the Cabury takeover and your continuing membership in the pro-free-market Conservative Party, I am afraid that your argument remains unconvincing.

Yes the Conservative Party is a “broad church” – but, like any church, there are still certain sacrosanct parameters at which that broadness ends (or else what would be the difference between parties?) and for the Conservative Party one of the core elements of its unifying philosophy, for at least the last thirty years, is a belief in the free-market system.

Though you may wish to pick and choose which bits and pieces of your party’s policy-guiding economic philosophy you as an individual subscribe to, the fact of the matter is that under the terms of the endorsed philosophy of free-market economics synonymous with the Tories since Thatcher (not specifically free-trade, but of the free-market ideal behind it), the Kraft takeover of Cadbury was a text-book case of legitimate free-market acquisition: an independent and profitable company was given an attractive offer to sell, its board recommended it, and its shareholders accepted it.

Now I, as someone who opposes this rapacious economic ideology that puts the profits of the few over the wellbeing of the many, agree with much of what you publically say: it is a disgrace that thousands of Bournville jobs might now be lost because lining the pockets of Cadbury shareholders was deemed of higher social value than the economic well-being of this community. But it is Conservative economic policy – and the continuation of that misguided policy under Labour – that got us here, and so long as you are affiliated with that party your words can only seem, at best, tainted, and, at worst, like shameless opportunism. As those words are so often also wrapped up in the hollow whiff of an ugly flag-waving nationalism, I sincerely have my doubts – the issue is not, as you seem to suggest, whether a company is British-owned or foreign-owned, but whether we have an economic system in place which secures well-paid British jobs regardless of the nationality of a particular company’s owners, and which ensures all businesses – British or otherwise – are properly taxed and incentivised to invest their successes back into the local community and not just into their own private pockets.

I would be much more likely to take your position seriously, Councillor Dawkins, if you were seen less on the front-pages of the local newspaper holding a Union Jack in your hand and blaming the Labour Party for not signing a letter, and more in the fine-print of that newspaper, presenting an intellectually honest and coherent opposition to the economic policies and practices that have guided your party for decades.

As far as I am aware, neither David Cameron nor George Osborne have publically renounced this historically Conservative position of economic theory, and though it strikes a populist chord to talk about saving British jobs and tightening the rules on hostile takeovers in the aftermath of what happened at Cadbury, as long as the framework for those rules remain an economic philosophy which puts the needs of businesses above the needs of people, the only real change you and your party can offer, despite your public posturing, is a slightly different shade of the same colour.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Daniel McKee

PS… Whilst I thank you for the wistful nostalgia invoked by reminding me of Edward Heath’s nationalization of Rolls Royce in ’71, may I in turn remind you that it was Mrs Thatcher’s Conservative government which ultimately privatized the company again in 1987, and that Rolls Royce was one of the many companies over the past few years to cut hundreds of British jobs during the economic downturn, despite having an order-book worth over £35bn.

In other news, evidently I am not the only person not buying this for-the-people act

Friday, 12 February 2010

Throwin’ Out The Trash #3

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…


First of all – I take it all back about how other countries can deal with snow and we can’t.  No sooner had Charlie Brooker jokingly called the UK’s cold-snap “Snowmageddon” this past January, then US President, Barack Obama, used the exact same word in relation to Washington’s recent snow-storm at a DNC meeting.

That said, the US “snowmageddon” actually looks pretty, you know, “snowmageddony”…not just like the local council didn’t properly grit the roads.


The awfulness of the current academic scene continues, with announcements made this week that universities across the country are planning to slash jobs, close campuses and shut-down courses in a bid to deal with expected cuts in public funding.

Yes, as students themselves continue to pay higher and higher fees, the quality of their education and the service they are receiving from universities continues to get ever worse.  The more money they pay, the less choice they are getting, the bigger their class-sizes are, and the more unconcerned their lecturers are, as the major emphasis in a university lecturer’s professional life these days is not on teaching, but on “research”.  By “research”, I mean excessive publication and funding acquisition – the two major concerns of university philosophy departments looking to score well in their assessments.

By a bizarre twist of logic, already limited funding is dictated on performance, performance is dictated on how well departments do in assessment, assessment is determined by the amount of “impact” a department has, arrived at via analysis of the number of publications produced by the department, and amount of money brought into the department through funding, and nowhere in this is much concern for the quality of education received by the fee-paying students.  Indeed, as I still keep my eye on academic jobs in order to possibly one day put to use my cumbersome Ph.D., I have noticed an increasing tendency in academic job ads for the teaching component of the job to be literally the very last thing mentioned!  They want to make sure new staff have vast publication records, proof of having acquired independent grants and funding, the ability to contribute to the research life of the university…and then, at the bottom of the page, they will also be required to teach both undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

Meanwhile, right-wing think-tank, Policy Exchange, have decided that university tuition fees must be raised even further – to a rate of at least £5,000 a year – if university degree-schemes are to remain viable.

So to get this straight – universities have less money than ever before, but are getting more money in tuition fees than ever before.  In a bid to get more public funding, they are putting all of their efforts into gaining high marks in RAE/REF assessment exercises, which places little to no emphasis on quality of teaching, and thus are placing a primacy within their departments on research “impact” over quality of teaching, and yet the neglected students are paying much more money to the institutions than they ever have.  Indeed, one of the ways in which universities hope to cut costs and free up full-time academic staff for more important “research”, is to leave the majority of the teaching to post-graduates – so now our students are paying more money for less qualified teachers, to subsidize the career-driven, assessment-obsessed research of pressured academics, increasingly concerned with publication for publication’s sake, rather than because they have anything worthwhile to say.

And speaking as someone who has been a postgraduate tutor, there are two things that come to mind.

1) We were constantly told not to spend too much effort on teaching our classes because our real focus must be on our dissertations/theses; nor were we paid appropriately to compensate for much more than a few hour’s preparation time a week.  So postgraduate teachers are not only less qualified, they are less motivated to provide quality education.

2)We were cheap, and essentially exploited labour.  Wages continued to be tweaked downwards during my two years of teaching, with pennies pinched here and pennies pinched there, and when we tried to talk about fair compensation in the Research Committee Meetings, the Head of School essentially told us we were lucky to be being paid at all.  “The experience is so great,” he told us, “that many would be willing to do the work for free.” 

This was true – and I loved the teaching enough that I would have worked for free, and repeatedly worked many more hours at my seminars/essay marking/student’s concerns than I was paid for – but to rely on this exploitative system of internship as the primary mode of education for all fee-paying undergrads at the same time as we are raising their fees is a disgrace.


For more proof that I am constantly out of step with the mainstream – it appears that I proposed to my girlfriend at a time when marriage was at its biggest low in Britain since 1895.  So for all you guys who thought my decision to get married was pretty conventional for a usually non-conformist anarchist like myself – well, now you know :-)


Isn’t the bigger scandal here that the US government are paying BLACKWATER at all, rather than that, as part of their payments to these hired mercenary killers, they are also occasionally paying for prostitutes?


It should be noted that, whilst Barack Obama did make a pledge to cut the US nuclear weapons arsenal and seek a nuclear-weapons free world, he also asked Congress to increase spending on US nuclear weapons by more than seven billion dollars in his last budget proposal.


Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Dear Councillor Dawkins…

The following is an email I just sent to a local Tory councillor in my area who keeps trying to campaign for the upcoming election off the back of the Kraft Cadbury takeover…

Dear Councillor Dawkins,

I found your recent newsletter about your efforts to save Cadbury highly disingenuous. 

Whilst I have absolutely no doubt that you wrote your "important letter" to Lord Mandelson and delivered our petition to Downing Street, opposing the hostile takeover of Cadbury, there is no getting away from the fact that, as a member of the Conservative Party - where the ideology of free-market capitalism is sacrosanct - your words and deeds sound inherently hollow. 

The Kraft Foods takeover of Cadbury, though it will likely be devastating for our area, was a direct result of free-market capitalism working absolutely as it should do: a money-making, independent business got an attractive offer from another company, the price was right, and so they decided to sell.  Not only is this loss of Cadbury to Kraft nothing to do with the Labour Party (other than the fact that, to their eternal shame, they have done nothing but continue to pursue Tory economic policies since the day they came to power), it is the underlying economic philosophy that specifically drives your party - the promotion and celebration of unfettered free-market capitalism - which encourages it.  Indeed, one of the central tenets of Conservative economic theory is that it is not the business of government to get involved in the natural functioning of markets, so how you can pretend to be upset that the Labour government did nothing to intervene in the Cadbury decision, when you know full well that it would be ideologically incoherent for a Conservative government to have acted any differently?  It just smacks of opportunistic electioneering and, to me, seems highly cynical.     

According to your newsletter, you said: "We know that the banks, the shareholders, the city whizz kids and Kraft will all make big money out of this takeover but it will be the ordinary residents of Birmingham who will eventually end up paying for this terrible loss."  Your sentiments are entirely right, but coming as they do out of the mouth of a party-member whose party has championed precisely this approach to doing business for over thirty years, you'll excuse me if I remain unconvinced.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Daniel McKee

I’ll report back if I get a spin-free reply…

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Tony Blair Made His Decision, Now It’s Time That We Made Ours

Whilst the weekend papers were filled with much repetition of Tony Blair’s slippery and well-crafted answers during last Friday’s “grilling” at the hands of the Chilcot inquiry, far too little analysis was made afterwards of how those soundbite-friendly responses actually stood up to scrutiny.

It was always highly unlikely that the former Prime Minister would sit there and admit to being a war-criminal, or to misleading the public and Parliament in order to start an illegal and unjustified invasion into a non-aggressing sovereign country. To do so would be suicide, and the media-savvy Blair, as we all know, is far too smart to do that. His deftness for dealing with interrogation, however, does not prevent us from studying the unrepentant explanations and rationale he did offer, and seeing if they actually hold water.

“This isn’t about a lie or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception. It is a decision”, said Blair early in the morning, as if decisions were a mutually exclusive breed of thought, separate from lies, conspiracies, deceits or deceptions. As the very issue in question here is whether or not Blair made a decision to go to war independent of the readily available evidence to legally and morally do so, we must never forget that it is entirely possible for a decision to be made for which lies, conspiracy, deceit and deception are the only available means to fulfil it. Every heinous, illegal and unjustified act in history has been someone’s decision. Decisions are what motivate the majority of human action. Our job now, in the face of this particular decision, is to determine why it was made, and whether that decision led to lies, conspiracy, deceit and deception in order to achieve its goals.

If Blair decided to go to war first, and then lied about WMDs in order to do it, we have a very serious problem. A problem which should be at the crux of the Chilcot Inquiry.

“Sometimes”, said Blair, “what is important is not to ask the March 2003 question but to ask the 2010 question.” But the decision to go to war with Iraq in March, 2003, prevents us from seriously answering the “2010 question” with anything other than speculation, and right now we are looking for answers, not more guesswork and baseless assumption, so it seems prudent to stick to the questions of March, 2003.

“I genuinely believe that if we had left Saddam in power,” said Blair, “even with what we know now, we would still have had to have dealt with him, possibly in circumstances where the threat was worse and possibly in circumstances where it was hard to mobilise any support for dealing with that threat.”

The question of legality and justification regarding the war in Iraq, however, does not ride on what the former Prime Minister might or might not “genuinely believe”. It rests on some very simple principles that were unquestionably relevant in March, 2003: if Iraq was a legitimate and immediate threat, and if all non-military options had been exhausted, then we would have a right to defend ourselves against their clear and present aggression. If there was no aggression, no threat, and no clear and indisputable evidence that all other diplomatic options had failed, then we had no right to go to war.

We cannot just attack any country that we feel like on the basis that, one day, they might become a threat. Our leaders are not psychics, and this is not Minority Report – we must err towards peace until we are truly given no other choice but to fight back. That is how international law works. It’s what distinguishes aggression from self-defence, and just as a police officer can’t arrest and jail a person they simply have a “bad feeling” about unless there is demonstrable evidence that a genuine crime is being planned or committed – even if a similar crime has been committed by this person before – a government cannot go to war in self-defence unless there is substantial evidence first that the crime of aggression is actually taking place.

Putting aside these legal and historical objections to the former Prime Minister’s defence, however, the argument Blair proffered still doesn’t make sense, even on its own terms. If he had not acted in 2003, and the alleged threat posed by Saddam had indeed become worse, why on earth would it have then become harder to mobilize support? If anything, that should have made it easier. Whilst it has certainly proven difficult to convince other sane countries into attacking a nation who has posed no real danger to anyone outside of its own borders, seldom has it been hard to find allies to fight a justifiable war against a legitimate enemy when the evidence of external aggression is clear.

“After September 11,” though, said Blair, “the calculus of risk changed”. We could not just sit back anymore, the way we once did, and give enemy nations the chance to strike first. We had to be more pro-active.

Whilst perhaps the 9/11 terrorist attacks might have opened our eyes to security risks on Western soil that, hitherto, we just hadn’t thought about, it did not suddenly give governments carte blanche to drop bombs on any country they now felt uneasy about. Though the “calculus of risk” may well have arguably changed, the basic tenets of international law had not. Yet for Blair, despite the fact that the events of 9/11 were in no way connected to Iraq and the regime of Saddam Hussein, and that the 9/11 hijackers had committed their atrocity not with nuclear bombs or chemical weapons, but with stolen airplanes and low-tech box-cutter knives, “the primary consideration for me was to send an absolutely powerful message after September 11 – if you were a regime engaged in WMD you had to stop.”

It seems a peculiar leap of logic, but maybe I can follow it: though the 9/11 hijackers did not use WMDs, perhaps future attackers might, and so it would behove us now to tackle that problem before it’s too late? In a way, it kind of makes sense. But though it is perhaps an admirable goal to want to bring about the end to deadly WMDs after seeing the destruction and devastation caused on September 11th without them, the personal desire to send the world a strong message of disarmament does not exonerate Mr. Blair from observing the limits and procedures of international law. Whilst he had every freedom in the world to put pressure on countries about WMDs through organizations such as the UN or EU, to step up weapons inspections and sanctions in particularly tricky areas, to draw up multilateral disarmament treaties and lead by example by decommissioning the UK’s own nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal (and encouraging allied countries to do the same), he simply did not have the freedom to go to war against a non-aggressing country just to “send out a powerful message”.

Similarly, although Blair asserted on Friday that the issue of WMDs in Iraq and regime change were “conjoined”, and that “a regime that is brutal and oppressive - that for example has used weapons of mass destruction against its own people, as Saddam did, and had killed tens of thousands of people by the use of chemical weapons…is a bigger threat if it has weapons of mass destruction than one that is otherwise benign,” the fact still remains that, even if this is theoretically true, in practice, because of the existing rules of international law, just war, and non-aggression that separate “brutal and oppressive” regimes like Iraq from “benign” ones like us, we cannot be permitted to say, as Blair did: “we have to deal with his WMD ambitions. If that means regime change, so be it”. The two issues are not, as the former Prime Minister asserted, just “a different way of expressing the same proposition”, because one of the two propositions (curbing the development of WMDs) is a perfectly legal matter of enforcing nations into compliance with binding global agreements and commitments through inspection, enforcement and sanction, whereas the other (regime change) means – unless acting in legitimate self-defence following a genuine act of aggression – the illegal invasion and interference with the internal political affairs of a sovereign nation at great physical cost both to its people, and to our soldiers.

Astoundingly though, Blair concluded, of his decision to go to war with Iraq: “I do genuinely believe the world is safer as a result”.

Ignoring for a moment the over a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians estimated to have been killed as a result of Blair’s invasion, the forty-plus sites across the country that are now contaminated with radiation and dioxins that will be toxic for generations to come, and the nearly two hundred British soldiers who have lost their life in the region since 2003, how the former Prime Minister can maintain this ludicrous assertion becomes even harder to fathom when one looks seriously at the post-Iraq world. Whilst the invasion of Iraq has still yet to bring its promised “liberation” to the Iraqi people, it has obliterated the country’s infrastructure and continued to serve as a rallying cry for terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda around the world. The perception of callous slaughter of Iraqi innocents by cruel Western aggressors remains a compelling reason for outraged Muslims to join the ever-growing ranks of jihad in all corners of the globe, and consecutive National Intelligence Estimates in the US have admitted that the war in Iraq has only “made the overall terrorism problem worse”. Closer to home, as the UK’s “terror threat” has once again moved up to “severe”, one only has to remember the home-grown horror of the 7/7 bomb attacks in London – committed by British terrorists in direct response to what they saw as an unprovoked assault by their government on the people of Iraq – to see that, far from making us safer, the war in Iraq has only made things much worse.

Contrary to Mr. Blair’s allegations, the world is not at all safer now here in the West, nor is it any safer in Iraq. Long after Saddam Hussein was killed and the regime in Iraq was changed, our soldier’s guns and bombs – and those of multiple warring insurgents set predictably free in regime change’s ugly wake – continue to kill civilians in their thousands. And though Saddam’s former atrocities in Halabja will forever disgust the world, they will soon pale in comparison to the shocking legacy of cancer and mutation our own chemical weapons have left behind.

Yet for Tony Blair, none of this appears to matter: that he believes a different story is true seems enough to make it so.

When asked if he had any regrets about his decision at the end of his time in the chair, Blair said he felt “responsibility but not regret for removing Saddam Hussein”. This was not surprising. The underlying message of the entire six-hour inquisition was that regime-change had always been the goal in Iraq, and that, in Tony Blair’s mind, going after WMDs was merely “a different way of expressing the same proposition”. As far as Blair was concerned, and for that matter, Bush, a decision had been made, regardless of any evidence there might be to the contrary: Saddam Hussein was a threat to world peace who needed to be taken out at any cost. Whether Saddam actually had weapons of mass destruction, and whether he actually posed a real threat became only a minor detail once the decision for war had been made, and in achieving that central objective toppling Hussein, the war was a huge success.

But decisions must have consequences. Especially when they so flagrantly break international law and are based entirely on a wilful fabrication.

That Tony Blair believes the decision he made on Iraq was right and that he tried to defend himself at the Chilcot inquiry was neither surprising nor important. Thankfully, these days, Blair’s opinion is no longer the opinion that counts: he is done making his decisions, and now it is our turn to decide.

Regardless of what Blair may have “believed” at the time, or what he “believes” right now, it is history that will ultimately judge him, and the facts of history remain unflinching: there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There was plenty of evidence from UN inspectors and other sources before March, 2003 that this was the case, and yet Blair chose to go to war anyway. Instead of giving Hans Blix and his team the time they had asked for to finish their job, Blair opted to invade instead. The war he chose to fight had no legal basis in UN resolution, nor was it a justified case of self-defence against an enemy aggressor: the majority of the British population were against it, and even members of his own Cabinet were forced to resign in protest. It was an illegal and unjustified war that was sold to the British public through a conspiracy of lies, deception and deceit, and as a result of that war, over a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians were killed, nearly two hundred soldiers have died, terrorism has increased both within the region and around the globe, and we have lost billions of pounds of public money that, perhaps, might have saved us from recession.

Regarding his decision to take us into Iraq, Tony Blair can believe and say what he wants, but back here in the real world, the evidence against him is damning.


Monday, 1 February 2010

Cadbury and the Chicago School

Naomi Klein would be proud.

This morning, here in Birmingham, as we countdown the final twenty-four hours before we find out if the Cadbury shareholders are going to sell their business to Kraft, the local news gave us some calming advice about the takeover from Chicago Booth Business School Professor, Sanjay Dhar.

Dhar told us that everything would be ok under Kraft, and that nothing would really change. Anything that did change, he told us, would probably have changed under Cadbury ownership anyway, as it would be driven by market forces. Kraft ownership, the message was clear, would be a good thing for Cadbury.

Dhar, a professor of marketing at Booth (a central component of Milton Friedman’s infamous “Chicago School”) is currently head of the Kilts Center for Marketing. The Center is named after, and overseen by, James Kilts who, between 1994 and 1997, as Executive Vice President at Philip Morris was “responsible for integrating Kraft and General Foods worldwide and for shaping the group’s domestic and international strategy and plans”. Kilts also previously served as President of Kraft USA (where he consolidated Kraft and Oscar Meyer into one company), President of Kraft Limited in Canada, and Senior Vice President of Kraft International. He was also Senior Vice President of strategy and development at Kraft.

This year, in the Fall 2009 season at Kilts, under Sanjay Dhar’s headship, Mike Hsu, President of Kraft North America Grocery, has joined the Kilts Steering Committee.

For some reason the BBC News failed to point all this out, and simply referred to him as a business “expert”.