Sunday, September 30, 2007

BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID

Capitalism is a frightening society with its poverty, crime and world hunger, but there is another cloud on the horizon for the working class. "An air warfare conference in Washington last week was told how American air chiefs have helped to co-ordinate intelligence-sharing with Gulf Arab nations and organise combined exercises designed to make it easier to fight together. Gen Michael Mosley, the US Air Force chief of staff, used the conference to seek closer links with allies whose support America might need if President George W Bush chooses to bomb Iran. Pentagon air chiefs have helped set up an air warfare centre in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where Gulf nations are training their fighter pilots and America has big bases.
(Sunday Telegraph, 30th September) RD

YOU RANG, MY LORD?

We are always told that it is tough at the top and here is another example of how the capitalist class have problems that we lucky workers never have to confront. "They have their private jets, luxury yachts and an island or two in the Caribbean. But for the plutocrat with everything, this season's ultimate accessory is much harder to acquire – a top-flight British butler with skills honed and polished by the royal household. The art of "butling" is enjoying an unprecedented renaissance. Not since the days of the landed gentry have butlers been such hot property, providing the ultimate butling in the Beckham household as well as offering media-shy dotcom millionaires and Russian oligarchs that extra bit of personal service. The 21st-century butler has, however, been given a radical makeover that has included being renamed as a "household manager". Today's butlers are not only expected to pour champagne, dust antique furnishings and open doors for guests, but they also have to be able to deal with new technology." (Independent on Sunday, 30 September)
Like the master is always saying - "You just can't get the servants nowadays". RD

WARS WITHOUT END

Kids at British schools are usually taught about the first and second world wars and led to believe that Britain has been at peace since 1945, but capitalism just doesn't work that way. It is a brutal competitive society that is forced from time to time to settle the rivalries between different groups of capitalists in the bloodletting of wars that kill millions of workers. A recent interview with Lord Tebbit the right wing Conservative peer reminds us just how constant this conflict is. Speaking about a book he is working on that deals with the history of Britain's wars - "All 61 of them!" he exclaims - since 1945." (Times Magazine, 29 September) RD

The Protests in Burma

Phan, a member of the ethnic Karen group which has been mercilessly persecuted by the ruling military junta, was just 14 when her village was attacked by Burmese soldiers. She fled to the jungle and lived in hiding .

"... While I was in hiding in the jungle, British businessmen were dining in Rangoon and making deals with the very men who had ordered the slaughter of my people." says Phan .

The Burmese army has been routinely accused of using rape (including that of children) as a weapon of war, as well as ethnic cleansing, extra-judicial executions and torture and imprisonment without trial. More than one million people have been displaced and 3000 villages destroyed by government troops.

The UK has more companies than any other nation on Earth trading with the regime. In total, the London-based Burma Campaign has found that 128 firms globally are trading with Burma - of those 44% are British. An example of one of the 56 British firms trading with Burma, and propping up the army generals currently smashing the nation's pro-democracy movement, is Britannic Garden Furniture (BGF).The company builds expensive accessories for Britons using Burmese teak.
Total Oil, which has offices in London, is in a joint venture with the military regime, developing an offshore gas field. It has been taken to court by six Burmese people who were allegedly used as forced labour in the preparation of Total's pipeline in Burma.
Perhaps the most high-profile firm is Rolls-Royce. Through its Singaporean subsidiary, the company has a contract to supply and service aircraft engines for at least one Burmese airline.

Among the firms are two Scottish-based companies: Aquatic from Aberdeen, and Schlumberger from Westhill in Aberdeenshire. Aquatic is a privately owned company, with offices in Burma, that provides specialist services to the oil and gas industry. Gas exports are the military dictatorship's biggest source of income.

Anna Roberts, acting director of the BurmaCampaignUK,said:
"The Burmese regime spends half its budget on the military, and just 19p per person on health and education. It relies on foreign trade to supply this income. So, companies which trade with Burma are helping support a military dictatorship which uses foreign money to buy weapons to suppress its own people."

See Socialism or Your Money Back for a socialist point of view of the present Burma situaton

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A TASTY TIPPLE

"An anonymous telephone bidder has paid £29,000 for a 157-year-old bottle of whisky. McTears auctioneers in Glasgow sold the Bowmore single malt, which was bottled in 1850. The price, a record for a Scottish whisky at auction, was almost double pre-sale estimates, despite the fact that the whisky's cork had dropped into the bottle. ... .In 2005, a bottle of Dalmore 62 Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky is thought to have become the world's most expensive after it was bought at a hotel in England. A businessman paid £32,000 for the rare bottle, produced in 1943." (Daily Telegraph, 29 September)
20 to 30 grand for a bottle of whisky is everyday stuff for members of the capitalist class while members of the working class cannot even afford medicine to keep them alive! RD

Thursday, September 27, 2007


And its jobs for the boys ( and girls ) . Ex-attorney general , Lord Goldsmith , starts a lucrative new career with a big American law firm called Debevoise & Plimpton LLP on a salary thought to be in the region of £1 million a year. As European chair of litigation, Lord Goldsmith will be part of a firm that prides itself on conflict resolution and anti-corruption investigations - it recently acted for a company in connection with a worldwide inquiry into possible corrupt payments to government officials. Lord Goldsmith , of course , possesses plenty of experience upon how to handle corruption cases as witnessed by his handling of the Saudi Arabian - BAE arms and bribery investigation . Never let the law and legal nicieties interfere with politics and business .


Other pigs with snouts in the trough as reported by the Guardian are :-


· Alan Milburn - The former health secretary is an adviser to Pepsi which brings him £25,000 a year. He also holds a £30,000-a-year role on Lloyds pharmacy's health advisory panel and draws another £35,000 as an adviser to the European board of Bridgepoint Capital Ltd, a finance company with an interest in healthcare.


· Stephen Byers - The former transport and trade secretary is a paid consultant to a Lebanese construction firm based in Athens. He is chairs the board of the Yalta European Strategy group.


· David Blunkett - The former home secretary, collected £385,000 from his memoirs, and up to £150,000 a year from his weekly Sun column. He is also an adviser to Entrust, a company which is bidding to run Britain's controversial identity cards programme.


· John Prescott - The former deputy prime minister signed a £300,000 deal to tell his story in Prezza: Pulling No Punches after stepping down this year.


· John Reid - The former home secretary who was famously labelled Labour's "attack dog" by Jeremy Paxman is expected to become chairman of Celtic Football Club.


· Alastair Campbell - Downing Street's former communications director is reported to have earned £1 million for his book, The Blair Years: Extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries.


The poor and education

Socialist Courier has directed readers towards findings that have indicated a link between class and educational achievement here and here and the Herald reports further connections between poverty and educational success .

Figures from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) show that Glasgow, Dundee, North Ayrshire and West Dunbartonshire are among the councils with the lowest attainment rates at Standard Grade and Higher - all are regions which have a much higher proportion of pupils on free school meals than the national average of 14.6% - a key indicator of deprivation. Glasgow , for instance , has 32% of pupils are on free meals .

The best performing councils, including East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire, Stirling and the Western Isles all have much lower proportions of pupils on free school meals. In East Renfrewshire, the figure is 8.3%.

The latest figures to highlight the gulf in exam attainment between rich and poor will spark renewed concerns that not enough is being done to address the problem. Last year, HM Inspectorate of Education found the gap between the best and worst-performing pupils in Scotland was growing wider, despite a raft of government initiatives and £19 billion spent on education since devolution.
Isabel Hutton, education spokeswoman for Cosla, which represents local authorities, called for the "inequalities arising from deprivation" to be removed.
A Scottish Government spokesman said the focus by ministers of early intervention, cutting class sizes in deprived areas and ensuring teachers were retained in nurseries would all help to raise attainment across the board.

Socialist Courier doubts if such palliative will address the situation . After all , it has been an objective of all governments , of all shades of the political spectrum , to foster an educated work-force and here we are still facing the same problem .

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The New Gold Rush


BHP Billiton will tomorrow announce that it estimates the reserves of gold at its Australian Olympic Dam mine are more than 50% bigger than previously thought, raising speculation that it is sitting on the largest gold mine in the world. Situated 330 miles north of Adelaide, South Australia, Olympic Dam contains deposits of several minerals and is already the home to the world's largest uranium mine.
BHP shares hit record levels with feverish expectations that a recent drilling programme had vastly exceeded expectations. BHP has grown in value on the back of the China-fuelled commodity boom. Its stock market value has reached $200 billion (£99 billion), compared with $30 billion five years ago. Yesterday the share price rose 81p to £17.37.

The price of gold neared a 28-year peak yesterday as investors continued to buy into the commodity as a hedge against a falling dollar and the potential for a serious economic downturn in the US. The precious metal hit $736.05 per troy ounce at one stage helped by a forecast from Goldman Sachs that prices could soon reach $775. Gold prices have been rising since 2000 when they were as low as $280 per oz.

BEHIND THE FINE WORDS

At the annual conferences of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Parties we hear fine words about full employment and prosperity but what is the reality? "Danny Wilde collected his last pay cheque from the Tulip pork factory in Norfolk on Friday before joining the dole queue. His wife, Melissa, was made redundant from her job at the same Thetford plant earlier this month. They both joined the meat processing lines from school and have put in 20 years at the company between them, taking turns on early and late shifts so that they could look after their two children. There have been jobs cuts here before: in 2003 more than 170 full-time employees were made redundant and replaced immediately with agency staff, most of them migrants on poorer terms - lower rates of pay, mostly just the minimum wage, less overtime money, less holiday, more antisocial shift patterns, uncertain hours. The full-time employees had no pay rise for three years and watched as their incomes were eroded by inflation. Now the rest of the work has gone, most of it relocated to another subsidiary of the trans-national Danish Crown group in Cornwall. The Wildes feel badly let down after years of loyal work. As Melissa puts it: "That's business today, isn't it. It doesn't care." Tulip has been Thetford's largest employer since Thermos closed its factory on the same industrial estate five years ago and shifted to China where the labour is cheaper. Up to 700 people who have worked at Tulip regularly will now have to look for jobs elsewhere." (Guardian, 25 September) RD

MILITARY PRECISION?

There is a much used phrase in the English language - "military precision". If something is carried out efficiently we use "military precision" to denote an extremely smooth operation. We may have to get rid of that phrase though in view of recent developments.
"Nuclear warheads capable of unleashing the equivalent of 10 Hiroshima bombs were mistakenly flown across the United States by a bomber crew who thought they were dummies, and the terrifying security lapse was not discovered for almost 36 hours, it has been revealed. The Pentagon is examining how so many vital checks and balances, painstakingly set out during the Cold War era, broke down causing an incident that military personnel are calling one of the biggest mistakes in US Air Force history.... The B-52 took off from the remote Minot air force base in North Dakota with 12 cruise missiles that were being taken out of commission and scheduled for burial in Louisiana. The warheads on the decommissioned missiles should have been replaced with dummies of the same weight, but personnel failed to notice that six of the 12 were fully operational nuclear warheads." (Independent, 25 September) RD

SPEED AND STUPIDITY

"The fastest driver ever caught in a routine speed check in the UK has been sentenced to 10 weeks in jail. Timothy Brady, 33, of Earls Crescent, Harrow, north-west London, pleaded guilty at Oxford Crown Court to dangerous driving. Brady was clocked at 172mph in a Porsche 911 Turbo in a 70mph zone on the A420 in Oxfordshire on 27 January. He was banned from driving for three years and will have to take an extended driving test to get another licence. He denied another charge of aggravated vehicle taking. The court heard Brady had taken the Porsche from luxury car hire firm Helphire, where he worked as a delivery driver. ... Judge David Morton Jack said to Brady in court: "Your driving was criminally self-indulgent and utterly thoughtless of the danger you might be creating for the innocent." Police have criticised Brady for travelling at such high speed." (BBC News, 24 September)
Brady was criticised by the judge, the police, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the Safe Speed Safety Committee.
The manufacturers of this potential baby killing Porsche and the advertisers of this speed death trap escaped censure of course. After all, that's business, isn't it? RD

Health service rationing

According to the BBC , Doctor magazine asked readers about rationing.

16% - said patients had died early as a result.

Over 50% said patients had suffered as a result .

They reported not being allowed to prescribe drug treatments including smoking cessation drugs and anti-obesity treatment. They also reported that local NHS trusts had been placing restrictions on fertility treatments, obesity surgery and a host of minor operations, including those for varicose veins.

Many experts fear the situation will get worse with increasing demands on the health service made by the ageing population and expected advances in medicines.

Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association's GPs committee, said:
"The NHS could spend whatever you gave it, but it obviously works with a limited budget ...Rationing is the great unspoken reality. The only people who refuse to mention the 'r-word' are the media and the politicians, who continue to want to promise everything for everyone in order to win elections."

Malnourished old folk

A major survey is to try to establish how many people are malnourished when they enter hospitals and care homes. The three-day investigation by nutrition charity Bapen - assessing more than 500 institutions across the UK .

Based on studies carried out 10 years ago, an estimated 30% of patients in hospitals and care homes are clinically malnourished - a total of 3m people.

Charities such as Age Concern complain malnutrition remains prevalent .

As many as 10% of people aged over 65 are malnourished. That figure rises to 60% when it comes to elderly people in hospital.

"Weight loss and poor nutritional state is not a normal part of aging. And if it's happening we ought to address it and treat it." - The director of nutrition at King's College hospital , Rick Wilson said

More pay for company directors

It is reported that the typical salary increase of executive directors was 7 per cent last year, well above the UK average of 3.7 per cent.

Potential bonuses were an average 130 per cent of salary, up from 115 per cent the year before - but the actual bonus payout rocketed from 75 per cent to 94 per cent.

"Increases for executive directors are still significantly ahead of those received by the general workforce" the report by accountancy firm Deloitte said.

Monday, September 24, 2007

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?

"Tory defector Quentin Davies has urged other Conservative MPs to "take the plunge" at the Labour Party conference. He accused Tory leader David Cameron of having made a "Faustian pact with his own extremists" on Europe. He said he was proud of his new party and won a standing ovation from many delegates but others appeared to find the speech amusing. Deputy leader Harriet Harman welcomed other ex-Tories, including Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward. ..Mr Davies praised Gordon Brown as a man of "sound judgement" and "great competence" who had dealt with a series of trials since becoming prime minister. By contrast he accused Mr Cameron of saying and doing "such consistently foolish and superficial and transparently contradictory things" - on schools and tax and spending." (BBC News, 24 September)
Mr Davies was the former Tory MP for Grantham and Stamford who defected to the Labour Party in June. It shows that the differences between Labour and Conservative, never very great at any time, grow less and less as the Labour Party shows itself as an out and out supporter of capitalism. RD

DEMOS? NO BOTHER

"The ray gun has been a staple of science fiction since HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds, but fantasy is now reality as the first heat-ray weapon goes on display in London this week.
Raytheon, the American defence company, is hoping to find customers for its Silent Guardian system, developed as a form of non-lethal crowd control, which will be shown at the Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition, the world’s largest arms fair, at the Excel centre in Docklands, East London. The weapon emits a wave of energy that vaporises skin moisture, causing an intense burning sensation. Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials will be invited to place their hands in front of the machine’s ray and experience what its maker describes as “intolerable” pain." (Times, 10 September)
Isn't capitalism wonderful? Think of the millions of pounds the owning class will save in policing demonstrations and protests, as for the "intolerable pain" who cares? RD

IT BEGGARS BELIEF

"Inside a tiny courtroom buzzing with flies, a police officer stands before a judge and carefully unfolds a white handkerchief. The damning evidence inside: 13 coins worth about 30 cents. He says he found them in the pockets of Shanni Ram Ganga, a hunched man standing next to him facing a sentence of one to three years. Ganga's alleged crime: begging. Beggars crowd every sidewalk in India, yet panhandling is illegal, so a separate judicial system exists just for those accused of pleading for coins in public. More than 1,400 people are serving sentences in beggars' homes — rundown facilities often little better than prisons, critics say — and that number is expected to rise as the government "cleans up" the Indian capital to host the Commonwealth Games, a major sports competition, in 2010....There are some 60,000 beggars in New Delhi, most earning 50-100 rupees a day, not much less than the working poor, according to a recent government-commissioned study on beggars. Many are handicapped." (Yahoo News, 15 September)
Yes this is New Delhi part of the new vibrant Indian capitalism that we are told about. RD

A WASTEFUL SOCIETY

Occasionally some workers might push the boat out and spend a little more than they intended on a night out, but it is doubtful if they could reach this sort of extravagance.
"Kobe beef can fetch up to $250,000 (£125,000) per animal. It comes from the black Tajimaushi breed of Wagyu cattle, which are raised according to strict tradition, including daily massages and supplies of sake, in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. In 2004,
The London restaurant Zafferano bought an 850g white truffle for £28,000. It was accidentally left to rot." (Times, 10 September)
This sort of extravagance can be reported in a society where many are living on less than $2 a day. It makes us sick, how about you? RD

AN EXPENSIVE SOCIETY

Many workers get upset when the landlord ups their rent, but really they are getting upset about nothing when you consider the plight of members of the capitalist class. "A record has been set for the world’s most expensive office rents after Permal, a hedge fund group, committed to occupy two floors in the West End – in spite of the woes in financial markets. The group, an international fund of funds which is part of Legg Mason, agreed on Friday to pay £140 and £130 per sq ft for the fifth and sixth floors of 12 St James’s Square, a redevelopment by D2, a private Irish group." (Financial Times, 21 September) RD

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Upstairs and Downstairs

This week, the socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson revealed that she had a "massive staff", mainly from Ukraine. "As I don't have a husband, I rather look forward to having people around me. I have half the Ukraine here every day. It's like the Russian army coming in to clean. I want to come back at night and feel like I'm in a five-star hotel," she said.

The British middle classes [sic] are looking for domestic help who can't easily pack up and leave, which means employing people from war-torn countries or from non-EU countries whose presence in Britain is dependent on their employment .

It is legal for a private householder to refuse to employ someone on the grounds of their colour, their nationality or their religion, and from our interviews with employers, it is clear that they do .

Sting's wife, Trudie Styler, was sued by her cook, Jane Martin, earlier this year.
Ms Martin claimed sexual discrimination after being forced to work 14-hour days while pregnant. The tribunal heard how Ms Styler, 52, abused her domestic staff to make her "feel royal".

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Who owns the Atlantic Ocean - Part 1

Britain is preparing territorial claims on tens of thousands of square miles of the Atlantic Ocean floor around the Falklands, Ascension Island and Rockall in the hope of annexing potentially lucrative gas, mineral and oil fields .

"The Russians may be claiming the Arctic but the UK is claiming a large chunk of the Atlantic. Some states might ask why a big power is entitled to huge stretches of the ocean's resources thousands of miles away from its land, but that's the way the law is." - Martin Pratt, director of research at Durham University's international boundaries research unit .

Britain is accelerating its process of submitting applications to the UN - which is fraught with diplomatic sensitivities, not least with Argentina - before an international deadline for registering interests. Relying on detailed geological and geophysical surveys by scientists and hydrographers, any state can delineate a new "continental shelf outer limit" that can extend up to 350 miles from its shoreline. According to the convention on the law of the sea, applicant states may register their rights by "establishing the foot of the continental slope, by meeting the requirements stated for the thickness of sedimentary rocks".
Once demarcated, the ocean floor may then be claimed up to 60 nautical miles from the bottom of the continental slope. When territorial rights have been obtained, states have the right to extract any minerals, natural gas or oil discovered in the annexed seabed.
There is a deadline of May 2009 for claims from the UK and other countries to be submitted, although states that ratified the treaty later have more time

Greenpeace has described the process as a "land grab".

The Falklands claim has the most potential for acrimonious political fallout. Britain and Argentina fought over the islands 25 years ago, and the value of the oil under the sea in the region is understood to be immense: seismic tests suggest there could be up to 60 million barrels under the ocean floor. Britain has been granted licences for exploratory drilling around the islands within the normal 200-mile exploration limit and any new claim to UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf would extend territorial rights further into the Atlantic.

A MOTHER SPEAKS

"There were around 600 deaths in custody in England and Wales last year, a third of them suicides, according to a report published today. The study, by the Forum for Preventing Deaths in Custody, found there were 500 to 600 deaths in custody each year, some of which were preventable. ...In 2004-05 - the most recent year with a full breakdown of the cause of deaths in custody - 127 of the 590 deaths in custody were suicides. ..The report also raised concerns about the number of mentally ill people in custody, and suggested they would be better looked after in psychiatric care... Pauline Campbell, whose daughter Sarah died in custody, told the BBC that prisons were being "overwhelmed" by high numbers of vulnerable people who needed care, not punishment "They're being used as social dustbins for people who are mentally ill, drug and alcohol dependents, the homeless and so on," she said. (BBC News, 21 September)
If you cannot produce surplus value for the owning class you are thrown into the social dustbin. Mrs Campbell has got it right. RD

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Who owns the North Pole - Part 8

Continung our series of postings about the the competition to control the Artic and the North Pole ( last reported here ) , we can now declare that the North Pole belongs to the Russians - or so they have now claimed .

A Russian expedition has proved that a ridge of mountains below the Arctic Ocean is part of Russia's continental shelf . Russia's Natural Resources Ministry said early test results on the soil samples showed Russia is geologically linked to the Lomonosov Ridge.

"Results of an analysis of the Earth's crust show that the structure of the underwater Lomonosov mountain chain is similar to the world's other continental shelves, and the ridge is therefore part of Russia's land mass," a statement from the ministry said.

So now it is official , at least , for Russian interests .
Socialist Courier rather doubts that for Denmark , Norway , Canada and the USA , who all possess conflicting claims , will be seeing it Moscow's way .

ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN

It is the nature of capitalist politics that you must pander to your audience. Thus in one week the late President Kennedy could declare to a German audience "I am a Berliner", to an Irish audience boast of his Irish descent and finish off in the USA extolling his American patriotism.
Mitt Romney who is contesting the Republican primaries is using a similar ploy. "Whereas he once took on the powerful gun lobby, he more recently joined the National Rifle Association as a life member. Elected in Massachusetts as a strong supporter of gay rights, he now proclaims himself as a fierce opponent of same sex marriage." (Times, 20 September)
Obviously, a man of principles. The main principle being “does anything to get elected". RD

The Old School Tie

The school that a pupil attended remains a bigger factor in whether they get into a top university than having good A-level grades, research suggests.

The Sutton Trust charity, which analysed admissions from 2002-06, says state school youngsters are losing out. The trust found the number of pupils at the top 30 comprehensives who went to Oxbridge was just a third of what might be expected if based on ability. But at the top 30 independent schools, more than expected got Oxbridge places.

The trust says the findings cannot be attributed to A-level results alone.

Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said :-

"We have a class structure, that is the very simple answer. We actually do have a class structure and that gets in the way of trying to do something about this."

The Blairs cash in


Cherie Blair has struck a deal to publish a "warts and all" autobiography in a deal reported to be worth £1 million . Her memoirs will be published in October next year .


Mrs Blair's £1 million advance will be paid in three stages – an upfront payment of £300,000, then £300,000 when her book is handed over and the rest when it is published.

Blair , himself , could earn £6 million from his own memoirs but for the moment he is in no hurry to write them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

IMMIGRATION IN THE USA

There is a great deal of dispute in the USA at the moment between capitalists who welcome immigrants as a source of cheap labour and those that oppose immigration on the grounds of taxation costs, but both groups will have to take in to consideration the immense costs of deportation. "It would cost at least $94 billion to find, detain and remove all 12 million people believed to be staying illegally in the United States, the federal government estimated Wednesday. Julie Myers, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, gave the figure during a hearing before a Senate committee Wednesday. She acknowledged it was based on "very rough calculations." An ICE spokesman later said the $94 billion did not include the cost of finding illegal immigrants, nor court costs -- dollar amounts that are largely unknowable." (CNN.com., 12 September)
In view of those figures we suppose it is safe to assume despite the political posturing, the immigrants will stay. RD

WALL STREET SNOOPERS

The USA declares that it is opposed to dictatorships and is in favour of democracy, but when profits can be made it soon forgets such high principles.
"Li Runsen, the powerful technology director of China’s ministry of public security, is best known for leading Project Golden Shield, China’s intensive effort to strengthen police control over the Internet. But last month Mr. Li took an additional title: director for China Security and Surveillance Technology, a fast-growing company that installs and sometimes operates surveillance systems for Chinese police agencies, jails and banks, among other customers.
The company has just been approved for a listing on the New York Stock Exchange. The company’s listing and Mr. Li’s membership on its board are just the latest signs of ever-closer ties among Wall Street, surveillance companies and the Chinese government’s security apparatus. Wall Street analysts now follow the growth of companies that install surveillance systems providing Chinese police stations with 24-hour video feeds from nearby Internet cafes. Hedge fund money from the United States has paid for the development of not just better video cameras, but face-recognition software and even newer behaviour-recognition software designed to spot the beginnings of a street protest and notify police." (New York Times, 11 September) RD

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

PROMISES, PROMISES

Politicians are notorious for making promises, and the further they are from power the more outrageous the promises. Thus the Scottish Socialist Party could promise to double the old age pension, safe in the knowledge that they were not going to get elected. We suspect the Liberal Democrats do not fancy their electoral chances either when this happens.
"Far-reaching proposals to transform Britain into a carbon-neutral economy within 40 years won overwhelming backing from the Liberal Democrat rank and file yesterday. Delegates at the party's annual conference in Brighton approved a series of measures, including plans to remove petrol-driven cars from the roads by 2040, invest billions in the railways and pour resources into renewable power to give Britain a network of non-carbon emitting electricity generators." (Independent, 18 September)
One of the few political promises ever kept was Winston Churchill's "Blood, Sweat and Tears". We certainly got those. RD

A CLUSTER OF LIES

"Humanitarian organisations accuse the Ministry of Defence today of reclassifying one of its newest weapons to escape an expected world ban on cluster bombs. The MoD last year described the Hydra CRV-7 system, which delivers a number of bomblets from a helicopter-mounted rocket pod, as a cluster weapon.
Later in the year, Margaret Beckett, then foreign secretary, said the government did not consider the weapon fell within the term "dumb", because virtually all the bomblets exploded on impact. . ...However, the MoD admitted trials in the US had revealed a 6% failure rate. .. The reclassification is attacked today by Oxfam, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Landmine Action, who also say that Britain has been the world's third largest user of lethal cluster bombs over the last 10 years. "Ten years after it championed a treaty banning landmines, the UK has a chance to do the same with cluster bombs - but instead it is spinning a cluster bomb con," said Simon Conway, Director of Landmine Action. ..Anna MacDonald of Oxfam said: "Current UK policy on cluster bombs makes no sense. They say they want an international treaty but they also want to keep using cluster bombs well known to kill and injure civilians." (Guardian, 18 September)
Ms MacDonald might think it "makes no sense", but from the standpoint of British capitalism, having the cheapest and most efficient weapons, it makes a great deal of sense. RD

Monday, September 17, 2007

SHAME IN IRAQ

"2,000-year-old Sumerian cities torn apart and plundered by robbers. The very walls of the mighty Ur of the Chaldees cracking under the strain of massive troop movements, the privatisation of looting as landlords buy up the remaining sites of ancient Mesopotamia to strip them of their artefacts and wealth. The near total destruction of Iraq's historic past – the very cradle of human civilisation – has emerged as one of the most shameful symbols of our disastrous occupation." (Independent, 17 September)
This touching article, displaying as it does a great concern for historical artefacts, is surely wide of the mark when it states "the most shameful symbols". What about the tens of thousands of deaths, injuries and misery suffered by the population? RD

Sunday, September 16, 2007

HIGH SOCIETY, LOW INTELLIGENCE

In an article that describes the going on of "our betters" we can learn how they manage to pass away the weary hours between counting their money.
The co-owner of the nightclub Crystal, just off Oxford Street gives us an idea of the goings on. "The minimum spend for a table of ten on a weekend night is £8,000. But co-owner Raymond Bechara says that, recently, a punter arrived and blew £17,000 within 15 minutes. "It was his 25th birthday, so he bought four of our special bottles of Moet, which are covered in Swarovski crystals and cost £4,400 each - two to drink and two to spray on his friends."
(Times Magazine, 15 September) RD

PHARMACEUTICAL PROFITS

"Pharmaceutical companies are overstating the effectiveness of their drugs, and may be placing patients at greater risk, because animal laboratory studies they fund are biased, it was claimed yesterday. A survey of nearly 300 animal-test studies involving six different experimental drugs suggested that such flawed methodology is rampant in the drug-testing industry. About two-thirds of the studies, which were all aimed at testing drugs with the potential to treat stroke patients, did not use a proper "randomised blind" methodology, the British Association's Science Festival in York was told." (Independent, 15 September) Why would respectable pharmaceutical firms distort scientific data?
Only to make more money? Surely not. RD

DEBT-LADEN WORKERS

Behind all the advertiser's glib spiels about the consumer satisfaction of buy, buy, buy lurks the nasty reality that many workers find themselves in a nightmare of debt.
"Record numbers are visiting the Citizens Advice Bureau because their finances have spiralled out of control. Debt is the most common reason for attending a CAB, overtaking benefit problems. The charity said it had seen a 20 per cent rise in those struggling with borrowing, handling 1.7 million cases last year. Debt accounts for one in three of inquiries at the CAB, with advisers in England and Wales dealing with more than 6,600 such problems every working day." (Daily Telegraph, 12 September) RD

LOADS OF MONEY

Millions of workers survive on less than $5 a day. What a contrasts with these parasites. "What price exclusivity? If you ask Lamborghini, one million euros ($1.4 million) should do it -- before tax, of course. In a bid to add more prestige to what it already has, the Italian maker of super luxury sports car unveiled the Reventon at Frankfurt's international autoshow, a very limited edition car that looks more like an arrow than anything on four wheels. With the six-figure price tag, it is the most expensive car that it has ever built. Needless to say, Lamborghini has already sold the 20 cars that it plans to build. "As soon as the word got out, we sold out in four days," Chief Executive Stephan Winkelmann told Reuters, adding that they could have easily sold another 20." (Yahoo News, 12 September) RD

A DOG'S LIFE

"When the New York socialite Leona Helmsley left much of her fortune to her poodle rather than her grandchildren, she was following in a long - if odd - tradition. But she did care about at least one living creature apart from herself: when her will was published this week, it was revealed that she had left more than $12m (€9m) to her white Maltese dog "Trouble". ..The most notorious heir of the dog variety is a German Shepherd called Gunther IV. ..the canine is reportedly worth $180m. He inherited the money from his father, the imaginatively-named Gunther III, who was given $60m when German countess Karlotta Libenstein died in 1992. ..Then there is the poodle Toby Rimes, a descendant of a dog that inherited £15m from New York owner Ella Wendel." (Independent. 31 August)
There has to be something screwy about a society where thousands of kids die from the lack of clean water or food and a dog lives in luxury. RD

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

We are always told that it is the richest city in the world in the richest country in the world but there are some homeless New Yorkers that would dispute that claim "A score of families gather daily in the courtyard of a city office in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. .. The scene is gentle. But it poses a growing challenge to Mayor Michael R Bloomberg’s strategy for reducing homelessness. Each of the families first came here to apply for a place in the city’s homeless shelters, a first step toward getting housing subsidies. They have all been evaluated and told they do not qualify because they have homes they can return to — most often the crowded apartments of relatives. . “The city is caught between publicly claiming everything is fine and the brutal realities of families and their children having nowhere else to go,” said Steven Banks, attorney in chief of the Legal Aid Society, who has filed a pending court complaint about the accuracy of the eligibility rulings. “It is a ticking time bomb.” (New York Times, 4 September)
A city that never sleeps according to the song but for some of its inhabitants a city where some have no where to sleep. RD

EXPERT WANTS REVOLUTION

"A revolution of society on a scale never witnessed in peacetime is needed if climate change is to be tackled successfully, the head of a major business grouping has warned.
Bjorn Stigson, the head of the Geneva-based World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), predicted governments would be unable to reach agreement on a framework for reducing carbon emissions at either a US-sponsored meeting in Washington later this month or at a United Nations climate summit in Indonesia in December." (Financial Times, 7 September)
Mr Stigson may be on to something important here. Because capitalism pollutes and destroys the planet maybe we need a revolution - a complete transformation of society. RD

WHAT'S IN A WORD?

"A French police union is taking the respected Le Petit Robert dictionary to court for including a reference to police as "bloody pigs" in its latest edition, a spokesman said Friday.
The Unsa-police union is asking for a court order to force Le Petit Robert to remove the reference from a section of its 2008 edition that deals with French slang spoken by immigrant youth. The dictionary borrowed a quote from the French detective novel writer Jean-Claude Izzo to illustrate the language used by north African immigrants in the French suburbs.
A second union, Alliance, called for a boycott of the dictionary, saying it was "outraged" by the use of the term "connard de flic" (bloody pig). Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie sided with police unions, saying she too "deplored" such language and conveyed her disapproval to the dictionary's editors. (Yahoo News, 7 September)
As yet we have not heard from the Porcine Liberation Movement, but we imagine they too will be "outraged" at being compared to French policemen. We would. RD

Friday, September 07, 2007

Class-rooms and Class Divisions

According to new research Children from disadvantaged backgrounds need to do more than just attend a good school to boost their educational achievement . School quality accounted for a fraction of variations in achievement . Children's social background had much more of an impact.

Family disadvantage is passed on from one generation to the next in a cycle of underachievement . Parents who were making a choice between low income and long hours found it hard to give children good life chances . Children were highly aware of their social position and the limitations it placed upon them.

The research did not imply that poorer parents don't care about their children's education. Many parents on low incomes lack the resources that allow them to help out, to provide conducive environments or to access relevant services.

ONE DOWN, ONE TO GO?

According to Roman Catholic tradition an applicant for sainthood needs two certified miracles. Mother Teresa has already cleared the first hurdle because Monica Besra claimed that by rubbing a medal of Mother Teresa on her cancerous tumour she was cured. The authorities were so convinced they granted Teresa the first step to sainthood that of being "beatified". "However several groups, including her doctors, have disputed that Mrs Besra was cured by a miracle, claiming instead that her tumour disappeared as a result of medical treatment at the local hospital. Mrs Besra has said that she visited hospital for treatment and taken prescribed medicines. In an interview with Time magazine in 2002, Mrs Besra's husband Seiku was among those to challenge the Vatican's claim. "It is much ado about nothing. My wife was cured by the doctors and not by any miracle," he said. Ranjan Mustafi, a doctor at the local state-run Balurghat Hospital who treated Mrs Besra, said that the tumour had been caught at an early stage and had "responded to our treatment steadily." (Daily Telegraph, 6 September)
Tricky business this miracle business, especially when doctors and witnesses display such scepticism. " Oh, ye of little faith", as the good book would have it.
RD

Enterprising for some

Further to our earlier post on generous retirement pensions for those who hold directorships , we read that Iain Carmichael, the former finance director at Scottish Enterprise had an extra £380,600 pumped into his pension fund .

The annual accounts of the economic and business development quango, which were made public yesterday, reveal that Carmichael retired in March with a golden goodbye worth £539,105 - nearly three times the £200,000 that had been previously estimated.
He received £106,765 in pay in lieu of notice, £5544 for accrued holiday pay, £46,196 for loss of office and £380,600, which was transferred into the Scottish Enterprise pension fund to bump up his retirement pay. Carmichael's pension pot has now swelled to £777,600 - taking the current cash equivalent transfer value of his pension of £397,000 which, according to Scottish Enterprise, in "very basic terms", could be added to the £380,600 paid into his fund in March when Carmichael left the agency.
Scottish Enterprise yesterday confirmed that Carmichael had taken early retirement at age 54 but, as part of his leaving agreement, he was given a full pension "as if he were retiring at 60"

And was it reward for efficiency . Not at all . Scottish Enterprise was accused by MSPs of "wholly dissatisfactory" financial controls in the wake of overspending on the budget by £33m during the 2005/06 financial year. Carmichael admitted mistakes were made in the allocation of public funds. Carmichael was removed from his finance director's position and was taken off the board of directors, and moved sideways into a new position.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

SCIENCE AND RELIGION

We are all aware that many people are nervous about flying and have witnessed anxious passengers fingering St Christopher medals or even rosary beads during flights. It is doubtful though that many of us have experienced the following. "Nepal's state-run airline has sacrificed two goats to appease Akash Bhairab, the Hindu sky god, after technical problems with one of its Boeing 757 aircraft. Nepal Airlines, which has two Boeing aircraft, has had to suspend some services in recent weeks because of the problem. The goats were sacrificed in front of the troublesome aircraft on Sunday at Nepal's only international airport, in Kathmandu, in accordance with Hindu traditions, a senior airline official said." (Times, 5 September) Before any of our readers rush out to cancel any bookings with Nepal Airlines we should assure you that the electrical fault has been rectified by scientific means. The goat sacrifice was only to placate the superstitious locals. A bit like the rosary beads really. RD

Gold-Plated Pensions for the Few

We have been hearing a lot about the pensions "blackhole" and how we are all living too long to receive an adequate pension , and how we have to work until we are even older before we retire and even then pay more into the pension schemes .

Yet , the average company executive can now retire at 60 on a final salary pension worth more than £3 million , says the TUC's latest annual PensionsWatch survey. This works out at £193,000 a year, says the study, more than 25 times the average UK pension of £7,500 a year. The biggest executive pensions are now worth £320,000 a year, more than 42 times average staff pensions . One pension was found to be worth more than £1 million a year.

Directors of the UK's top companies have amassed pensions worth £891 million.

"Top executive pay has already created a new group of the super-rich who float free from the rest of society," said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber. "This report shows that this does not stop with their retirement. Too many top directors have gone on closing or cutting schemes for their workforce, while keeping gold-plated pensions for themselves."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

BIG BROTHER IN BRITAIN

When George Orwell wrote 1984 he based it on the totalitarian states of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia, but recent revelations show that he himself was closely monitored by the British state.
"There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment," wrote George Orwell in the opening pages of 1984. "How often, or on what system the Thought Police plugged in ... was guess work." ... What Orwell, the Eton-educated author and passionate socialist, could not have known, however, was the uncanny parallel between his nightmarish vision of an all-seeing dictatorship and his own status for more than a decade as a target for the close scrutiny of the British security services. The personal MI5 file of the literary standard bearer of the British Left, published today after being kept secret for nearly 60 years, reveals how Orwell was closely monitored for signs of treacherous or revolutionary political views by Scotland Yard's Special Branch from 1929 until the height of the Second World War." (Independent, 4 September) RD

THE INSECURE SOCIETY

When the plant was opened workers celebrated the prospect of secure employment, but capitalism doesn't work that way.
"US electronics giant Freescale Semiconductor last night finally admitted publicly its plans to quit production at East Kilbride, where it employs about 900 skilled manufacturing staff. Its admission, in the form of a statement confirming it had appointed international real estate consultancy Colliers to try to find a buyer for the plant, comes nearly three months after The Herald revealed it was poised to stop production at the site under a secret project named Claymore. Given the dearth of demand for other big vacant electronics sites at a time when companies have been shifting production to low-cost economies in Asia and Eastern Europe, workers at Freescale's East Kilbride plant fear that there is little chance of a buyer being found." (Herald, 5 September) RD

PATRIOTS AT A PRICE

"Bored with life on his family's South Carolina horse farm, Willard McCormick decided that military service was the right plan for his future. And when the Army dangled its new, $20,000 recruiting bonus in front of him, the decision got a lot easier.
"I wasn't going to go right away, but I heard about the bonus and decided to jump on it," McCormick, 19, said a couple of days after signing up.
... Since the bonus was unveiled in July, more than 6,200 recruits have signed up to begin basic training before Oct. 1, a move that boosts end-of-fiscal year recruiting numbers.
Army officials said. "People are calling here saying $20,000 is more than they've made in the past two years," said Staff Sgt. Brent Feltner, 27, commander of a strip-mall recruiting station in this central South Carolina town. .. The Army's offer stands out to many in a state where the unemployment level is fourth highest in the country, at 5.9 percent in July, up from 5.5 percent in June. It was 6.2 percent in July a year ago."
(Yahoo News, 1 September) Poverty is still capitalism's most successful recruiting agent. RD

NATIONALIST NONSENSE

It is difficult to imagine a more foolish scene than that of the last night of the Proms, when underpaid clerks and tradesmen sing with great gusto "Land of Hope and Glory". This is especially so when you consider what the economists have to say about ownership in Britain today.
"The portion of the country's wealth in the hands of the super-rich is on the rise, according to the country's leading economists. Runaway property and equity prices over the past five years have made the rich richer and widened the wealth gap across the UK. The most up-to-date figures from Revenue and Customs, compiled in 2003, show that the richest 1 per cent of Brits account for 21 per cent of the nation's wealth”
. However, top economists believe that figure will show a marked increase when the statistics are updated in October. Jonathan Said, senior economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research, said:
"It would be a surprise if the net worth of wealthy individuals had not risen substantially – even more so if you add in private equity returns, which give access to a faster rate of return to wealthy investors." (Independent, 2 September) RD

Houses for Some

Housing affordability has deteriorated to near record lows, with homes five times more expensive for first-time buyers than in 1996, new figures show.

Buyers in the southeast and southwest of England have to save over 100 percent of their annual earnings for a deposit to get a foothold on the property ladder, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' (RICS) accessibility index. This compares with the low point of just 20 percent of annual earnings required in 1996 .

The cost of becoming a homeowner rose by 8.4 percent alone in the year to the second quarter of 2007.

Even if prospective first time buyers make it onto the market, they face mortgage payments which take up a higher percentage of their take-home pay than at any time since 1990.

No longer is the Thatcherite dream of a house-owning nation achievable . For many simply acquiring a roof over ones head is proving a nightmare .

The belfast poor

Up to 80% of children in west Belfast's most deprived areas are living in poverty, an academic has claimed.



Workless Protestant households are closing the gap with their Catholic counterparts - but it is a levelling downwards .



No gains for the catholic working-class community except for those government jobs for those so-called and mis-named freedom fighters now in Stormont and certainly no improvements for the protestant workers who shed their blood for the Establishment .

Now is the time to recognise class loyalty - not loyalism

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

No mourning here

One of Scotland's biggest landowners, the Duke of Buccleuch, has died .

As recently as 2005, the duke was believed to be Britain's biggest private landowner, owning 270,000 acres, mostly in the Borders.

The Sunday Times Rich List estimated his wealth at £85 million .

Born in 1923, the oldest son of the eighth duke - whom he succeeded in 1973 - Johnnie Buccleuch was educated at Eton and Oxford and became director of the Buccleuch Estates in 1949. He later became a Tory councillor in Roxburghshire and subsequently Tory MP for North Edinburgh. In 1978 he was appointed a Knight of the Order of the Thistle - the highest honour in Scotland.

He is succeeded by his eldest son, the Earl of Dalkeith.

Socialist Courier will definitely not be wearing black

THE HORROR OF CAPITALISM

Over the years we have reported on many of the horrors of capitalism, but for sheer brutality and cruelty this takes some beating. "A woman suspected of running a fake employment agency that organised the rape of young women and sale of their subsequent babies to childless couples has been arrested for kidnapping and wrongful confinement. Preeti and her husband Vinod, who both go by one name, ran a job agency in the Indian capital, New Delhi, offering maids to families, said a police spokesman. The couple allegedly lured women and girls by promising agency work, but instead confined them to a room where they were raped to make them pregnant. Their children were then sold to childless couples, the spokesman said." (Herald, 3 September) RD

BITTER MEDICINE

A recent review of the business world and ethics was somewhat critical of the pharmaceutical industry. "There have been a number of scandals including the disastrous "Elephant Men" trial for new drug TGN 1412, which caused massive immune reactions in six healthy volunteers. TeGenero, the firm that developed the drug, went bust after the catastrophe. GlaxoSmithKline has been embroiled in a scandal over anti-depressant Seroxat: it has been accused of hiding critical data showing the drug is linked to suicide in teenagers. GSK has also seen millions of sales wiped out after its Avandia diabetes treatment was linked to increased risk of heart attack and strokes." (Observer, 2 September) The truth is of course that capitalist business practice has nothing to do with ethics and everything to do with profits. RD

Monday, September 03, 2007

AINT SCIENCE WONDERFUL?

"Benefit claimants and job seekers could be forced to take lie detector tests as early as next year after an early review of a pilot scheme exposed 126 benefit cheats in just three months, saving one local authority £110,000. ..The technology is being tested on people claiming housing or council tax benefit but will be extended at Harrow Jobcentre for other benefits this year. ..Experts in America, where the most comprehensive scrutiny of the technology has taken place, warn that the technology is far from failsafe. David Ashe, chief deputy of the Virginia Board for Professional and Occupational Regulation, said, 'The experience of being tested, or of claiming a benefit and being told that your voice is being checked for lies, is inherently stressful. 'Lie detector tests have a tendency to pass people for whom deception is a way of life and fail those who are scrupulously honest.' (Observer, 2 September)
We wonder if it would be possible to ask members of the capitalist class if they think they deserve their immense wealth while others starve, but what would be the point as the expert said there is a tendency to pass those "for whom deception is a way of life". RD

INDIAN EXPLOITATION

"Two of Britain's major high street retailers launched inquiries last night into allegations that factory workers who make their clothes in India are being paid as little as 13p per hour for a 48-hour week, wages so low the workers claim they sometimes have to rely on government food parcels. Primark, the UK's second biggest clothing retailer, and the Mothercare, the mother and baby shop, were responding to a Guardian investigation into the pay and conditions of workers in Bangalore, India, who supply several high-profile UK and US fashion brands. The investigation, which follows our report in July in which Primark, Asda and Tesco were accused of breaching international labour standards in Bangladesh, has uncovered a catalogue of allegations of Dickensian pay and conditions in factories owned by exporters who supply clothes to the UK. India's largest ready-made clothing exporter, Gokaldas Export, which supplies brands including Marks & Spencer, Mothercare and H&M, confirmed that wages paid to garment workers were as low as £1.13 for a nine-hour day." (Guardian, 3 September)
That is what lies behind that Saturday morning shopping bargain - Dickensian-like exploitation. RD

THE BITERS BITTEN

The British police force was used to break the miner's strike of the 1980s. Some of them boasted about the amount of overtime money they got and held up a bunch of five pound notes to strikers. Things are a little different today. "Rank and file police officers demanded last night that their right to strike be reinstated as relations with the government fell to a 30-year low. The move highlights mounting unrest in the public sector over pay as unions threaten an 'autumn of discontent' for Gordon Brown. ...The Police Federation, with 140,000 members, the Fire Brigades Union and the prison officers' union are to meet to discuss a joint campaign to highlight grievances over what they say are below-inflation rises. ..Last night the federation said its members wanted the right to take industrial action unless the Home Office agreed to a more favourable pay deal. 'You can only bite people so much before they want to bite back,' said Alan Gordon, the federation's vice-chairman." (Observer, 2 September)
Perhaps the government could recruit miners to break the police strike. Oh, we forgot there are not enough miners left! RD

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The inequalities of the UK

From The Independent :-

Britain may appear to be a richer country than a decade ago but the gap between the rich and poor has reached levels not seen for more than 40 years. The highest earners are being dubbed "the new Victorians" as they take an ever-greater slice of the wealth pie, leaving mere employees and white-collar workers sharing the crumbs.

Government statistics show that the richest 10 % of the population control 53 % of the wealth of the country, with the 1 % jet-set elite controlling no less than 21 % .

In the City, fat-cat pay awards, with top executives earning 100 times more than their employees, are merely the most obvious examples of where the balance has become skewed. The kingpins of Britain's opaque private equity and hedge funds are earning considerably more while simultaneously paying "less tax than a cleaner", according to Nicholas Ferguson, chairman of private-equity and fund management group SVG Capital. In the UK, Peter Taylor, chief executive of Duke Street Capital, has admitted that the tax paid by private equity companies such as his is "unnecessarily low". The number of billionaires born, living or making their money in the UK has trebled in the past four years, and the number of millionaires is expected to quadruple to 1.7 million by 2020. Sir Ronald Cohen, one of the UK's richest men, founder of private equity group Apax, whose non-domiciled status has caused controversy, has said the wealth gap could lead to rioting in the streets.

In the US a report from the Institute for Policy Studies last week showed that the average chief executive of a Fortune 500 company now earns 364 times the pay of a typical US worker, while four hedge fund and private equity bosses took home more than $1bn (£500m) in the past year. The investment guru Warren Buffett, the third richest man in the world, has criticised the US tax system that allows him to pay less tax than his secretary.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the social policy research organisation, says that society is becoming polarised. Its latest report states that "wealthy households in already wealthy areas are becoming disproportionately richer compared with society as a whole."

The level of social mobility in the UK – the ease with which the next generation can expect to become more affluent than their parents – is among the lowest of any developed nation.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

THE JAPANESE MIRACLE

If The American Dream is a politician's catchphrase then The Japanese Miracle is a political economist's equivalent, but like the USA example the truth behind the Japanese illusion is startling. "Japan estimated Tuesday that it has more than 5,000 "net cafe refugees," a new class of working poor who live in all-night lounges and are seen as a sign of a growing rich-poor gap. Internet cafes and "manga" comic cafes are omnipresent in urban Japan, offering couches, computers, soft drinks and comic books to stressed businessmen or commuters who missed their train home. But a government survey found that an estimated 5,400 people have virtually moved in to the 24-hour cafes. It said some 80 percent of Japan's "net cafe refugees" are men and that 52.7 percent said they decided to live in the lounges because they lost their jobs." (Yahoo News, 28 August) RD

THE AMERICAN DREAM

"More than one in ten Americans, or 36.5 million people, live in poverty in the United States, with children and blacks the worst hit, an annual report by the US Census Bureau showed Tuesday. According to the report, around 12.8 million children under the age of 18, or around one-third of the poor, existed in 2006 on incomes below the threshold used by the Census Bureau to determine who lives in poverty. The number of children without health insurance swelled by 700,000 in 2006 compared with the previous year, according to the report, which also showed that the total number of Americans without health coverage had risen by three million to 47 million." (Yahoo News, 28 August) The USA is the richest country in the world, but even there the so-called American Dream for many of its citizens is more like a nightmare. RD

65% pay rise

Further to our previous posts on the pay rises that company executives generously award themselves , we read that directors at Dawn Group, one of Scotland's largest privately-owned construction and property companies, gave themselves a 65% pay hike in a year in which profits fell.

The remuneration of its highest-paid director, assumed to be Macdonald, climbed to £228,830, from £219,341.

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