Friday, November 30, 2007

PANAMANIAN PARADOX

No matter where in the world you look the contrast between extreme wealth and extreme poverty is obvious. In a booming Panama the story is the same as it is all over the capitalist world.
"These are heady days for tiny Panama. It is undertaking a massive expansion of the Panama Canal, luring billions of dollars in maritime and high-tech investment that could make it the Hong Kong of the Americas. But here's the other side: in the past few months, scores of toddlers have died of malnutrition in villages around the country. More than half of Panamanian children under 5 are at risk of suffering the same fate." (Time, 2 November) RD

FORESTS VERSUS FORTUNES

This dreadful report from Honduras shows what capitalism's priorities are.
"The blunt economic truth is clear: deforestation can never be stopped as long as trees are worth more dead than alive. The two environmentalists never stood a chance. As they drove into the small Honduran town of Guarizama on 20 December last year, armed men forced Heraldo Zúñiga and Roger Iván Cartagena to the side of the road, dragged them from their car, stood them against a wall next to the municipal building in full view of passers-by, and shot them. Although at least 40 shots were fired, Zúñiga survived long enough to denounce those who had hired the assassins - the timber barons who are making a fortune by razing the region's pine forests and exporting wood to the United States. ..Now, after a long campaign, the Environmental Investigation Agency is supporting a rare bipartisan legislative effort in the US Congress to choke off domestic demand for imported illegal wood products. Promoted by Republicans and Democrats alike, as well as by an unusual coalition of environmental and industry groups, the Legal Timber Protection Act would make it a crime to import or sell illegally sourced timber. The EU is also on the way to similar legislation. Despite these positive moves, however, the blunt economic truth is clear: deforestation can never be stopped as long as trees are worth more dead than alive." (New Statesman, 22 November) RD

DEATH IN A HARSH SOCIETY

The latest figures on deaths in winter make for harsh reading and illustrate the fate awaiting many British workers when they are unable to work anymore. "More than 23,000 people died of cold last winter despite it being one of the mildest recorded, according to the Office for National Statistics. Of these deaths, 19,200 were among those aged 75 and over. Charities called it a "national scandal" and gave warning of more deaths this winter because of higher fuel prices and colder temperatures." (Times, 29 November) RD

The Super-Star Super-Rich


A report by the BBC on those super rich super-stars .


England captain Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup in 1966 he earned £100 a week. Today's England captain, John Terry, holds the same position, but reportedly earns over £130,000 a week. David Beckham earned over £11 million from endorsements alone last year.


Then there are humble cooks like Gordon Ramsay , wealth of nearly £70 million , James Oliver , almost £60 million .


Superstars are boosting the luxury goods market, with worldwide sales in the sector topping £75 billion last year. Its all Aston Martins and private jets .


Naturally , the apologists of this insane distribution of riches claim that there are the benefits of the "trickle-down effect " but other commentators are more observant .


"Although these are people who will clearly have significant interests here in the UK and invest here in the UK, they're also looking to place their money around the world," said Mr Charrington , head of Citi's UK private banking arm , adding that the super-rich are looking for opportunities in China, India and Latin America "whether that be in private equity or hedge fund businesses. "


The BBC Money Programme produced a few interesting facts . 1% of the British population controls nearly 25% of the wealth. The top 10% in the UK having nearly 7 times the disposable income of the bottom 10%, up from only 3 times in the mid 1970s.( In the US, for example, 1% of the population control almost 40% of wealth and 20% of income.)


The lowering of the top rate of UK income tax from 98% to 40% in that time, with businessmen and women now able to turn income into capital gains paying a special low rate of 10%, has also widened the gap between after tax pay of high and low earners. For many foreign-born super stars, London is a tax haven, with non-domicile status meaning that they don’t have to pay UK tax at all – apart from council tax.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Workers Have No Country




Whether Polish plumbers, Portuguese hop-pickers or Chinese cockle-pickers, migrant labour in the UK is undoubtedly higher profile now than it has been for many decades. The focus groups and private polling used by the major parties are confirming immigration as the No 1 issue for voters at the moment.


In some parts of the UK the influx may well have resulted in increased unemployment for existing workers and appears to be putting a downward pressure on wages in some sectors.


It’s worth noting that there has been an enormous effort made to vilify, criminalise and erase racist language and ideas over the last few decades. World socialists have not opposed these developments but we have argued that racism – like other the so-called "hate" crimes – is usually fuelled and ignited by poverty and fear, and therefore cannot be removed until the cause is.


For workers fighting over crumbs in lower wage unskilled jobs, the temptation to blame your unemployment or wage level on foreign labour may be strong. But nevertheless such views are false. The blame lies elsewhere. In order to stay profitable, UK employers are demanding cheap labour. It makes good business sense to welcome cheap labour from overseas – you didn't have to pay for its education, and after you have exploited it for a lifetime, you still won’t have to pay its pension.


In many ways the government is only repeating at the national level what has been happening at employer level for many years with out-sourcing of staffing costs.


And while the free movement of labour is restricted, capital is of course expected to roam the globe looking out for ever better rates of exploitation, sniffing around the sweatshops for signs of harsher working conditions or longer hours. But if these chickens come home to roost – if little pockets of the third world's poor actually have the gumption or bravery to start popping up on our doorstep – then our local administrators of capitalism start to get a bit edgy.


As with so many issues, politicians are slowly realising that governments must simply accommodate to capitalism with regard to migration and accept it. They can only try to control it but if they are to have any hope of effectively securing borders and finding those who slip through they must expend vast sums as on ID cards and the like.


The World Socialist Movement didn't get its name for nothing. Unique amongst all political parties left and right we have no national axe to grind. We side with no particular state, no government, no currency. We have no time for nationalisation or privatisation, for border controls or for migration incentives. The world over, workers must do what they can individually and collectively to survive and resist capitalism. In many parts of the world that means escaping the tyranny of political terror or economic poverty. Politically however, workers should try and resist taking sides in the battles of the economic blocs who just happen to be named on the front of your passport. You must not blame another worker for your poverty. Instead we would argue that workers should recognise that – whether migrant or not, whether illegal or legal.
"... socialists must oppose nationalism in all its forms: not just refusing to espouse their creed, but defying the rituals, the anthem signing, flag saluting and other expressions of craven loyalty to the nation-state, that help enforce the idea of nation in our minds."

Long Live The Workers - NOT

Men in routine jobs, such as bus drivers and refuse collectors, are more likely to die early figures show. The Office for National Statistics data showed routine workers were nearly 3 times more likely to die by the age of 64 than high-level managers. After the routine workers, semi-routine staff, including postmen and security guards, were most likely to die early.

The average 65-year-old man in Glasgow could expect to live a further 13.8 years, the lowest life expectancy in Britain.

"Those in better paid, more prestigious jobs are less likely to suffer violence, behave differently, are treated better and value their work more."

The report said the most disadvantaged were more likely to live in poor housing, be exposed to environmental pollution and occupational hazards, have a poor diet and smoke. Conditions at work also play a part with career prospects, control over work and performance-related bonuses associated with better health and longer life.

This latest research just confirms previously that we have featured here on Socialist Courier

The report said: "Generally, the literature suggests that occupations with greater autonomy and control experience better health."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Price Fixers


Capitalism is all about competition , right ? Wrong , if these stories are to go by .

Four of the world's biggest glass manufacturers have been fined a total of £348.2million for illegally co-ordinating price rises. The firms are Guardian of the US, Pilkington, which is the UK unit of Nippon Sheet Glass, Saint-Gobain of France and Belgium's Glaverbel. The European Commission said the firms had raised or stabilised prices in 2004 and 2005 through illicit contacts.

Between them they control 80% of Europe's market for flat glass. Flat glass is used in products such as windows, glass doors and mirrors.

Then there was this in Canada too

Regulators have launched an investigation into allegations of price-fixing by some of the biggest makers of chocolate bars in Canada. Officials from the Canadian divisions of Nestle, Cadbury, Hershey and Mars confirmed the probe is underway.

"We can confirm that we are investigating alleged anticompetitive practices in the chocolate confectionery industry," said the Competition Bureau's John Pecman. "The volume of commerce affected here is definitely potentially in the billions of dollars per year."

And there was this in Australia , as well .

Australian airline Qantas has been fined US$61 million in the United States after it admitted price-rigging freight costs between Australia and the United States. Qantas plead guilty for its role in a price-fixing conspiracy and is the third airline to admit to wrongdoing after British Airways and Korean Air Lines in August pleaded guilty to similar charges.British Airways and Korea Air Lines were each ordered to pay fines of US$300 million for their roles in passenger and freight price fixing conspiracies. The charges say that Qantas participated in meetings, conversations and communications in the US and elsewhere to fix cargo rates on trans-Pacific routes.During the period the breaches occurred Qantas was the biggest cargo carrier between Australia and the US, earning more than $US600 million from trans-Pacific freight.

And another in the USA

A class-action lawsuit was filed against six monitor manufacturers on Tuesday, alleging the companies of being a "global cartel" involved in price-fixing of CRT monitors. The prices of CRT monitors should have fallen as technologically superior products were introduced such as LCD monitors . Instead, for almost a decade, we have seen periods of unnatural and sustained price stability, as well as inexplicable increases in the prices of CRTs . The complaint alleges collusive behavior by the manufacturers, causing the plaintiff and direct purchasers to overpay for CRT monitors.

Yet again , in Australia

Teac is the latest local company successfully prosecuted for price fixing by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) after investigations into Topfield set top boxes and Optima computers.The ACCC recently convicted another set top box manufacturer, Topfield, of similar price-fixing charges and fined the company $297,500. The owner of the brand's Australian distributor, Jai Kemp, was also personally fined over $17,000 for his involvement in the misdemeanor.Optima Computers was also prosecuted by the ACCC in December last year for resale price maintenance.According to the Current.com.au report, products sold through The Good Guys, Retravision and Leading Edge were investigated after a complaint was made to the ACCC about alleged resale price maintenance. Optima admitted it had told two of its dealers they should top discounting and raise their prices for Optima computers to Optima's recommended retail prices. The dealers were threatened with having the supply of Optima products withheld or their dealership cancelled.

And in South Africa

Bread is a basic commodity. The anti-competitive practices involving a basic commodity like bread disproportionately affects the poor. On November 12, Tiger Brands was ordered to pay a R98,7-million fine by the Competition Commission after admitting to participating in bread and milling cartels.

In France kids suffered when French trading standards office DGCCRF has called for 10 retailers and 6 manufacturers in the toy market to be fined over price-fixing. The companies under investigation include Carrefour, France's largest retail group, and Danish toy maker Lego.

Just a brief google search has produced the above recent scams . Need we go on ?

MONEY MADNESS

If the idea of world socialism could be summed up in one phrase it would probably be "a world without money". So the following news item seems particularly crazy. "An anonymous buyer has paid more than $30 million for a collection of rare U.S. prototype coins, some from the 1700s, that never went into circulation, according to the dealer that brokered the deal. The collection consists of about 1,000 coins that collectors refer to as pattern coins — trial designs that never went into production because the U.S. Mint chose other designs. "This collection is an incredible collection. ... These were some of the first coins ever, ever struck by the United States government," said Laura Sperber, a partner in Legend Numismatics of Lincroft, N.J., which brokered the deal. ... "Both the buyer and the seller are very competitive people. And they're very successful in their careers, and they both love the romance and collectability of coins," Sperber said." (Yahoo News, 17 November)
What Laura is really saying is that two members of the capitalist class are so rich they don't know what do with their money except collect useless things. RD

THE GLORIES OF WAR

We are all aware of the Hollywood movies about the nobility of heroism, but here is a blast of reality to question that nonsense. "The psychotherapist remembers the strapping young soldier, slouched in a chair in her office one morning last month, asking if God could be punishing him because he had once thought it would be exciting to fight in a war. By then, the soldier, Sgt. Brad Gaskins, had been absent without leave for 14 months from his post at Fort Drum in northern New York State, waging a lonely battle against an enemy inside his head — memories of death and destruction that he said had besieged him since February 2006, when he returned from a second tour of combat in Iraq. “I asked Sergeant Gaskins whether he thought about death,” the psychotherapist, Rosemary Masters, said in an interview on Thursday. “He said that death seemed like a good alternative to the way he was existing.” (New York Times, 18 November) It is hardly John Wayne material is it? RD

EVEN THE RICH GET RIPPED

"A Manhattan restaurant that unveiled a record-breaking $25,000 dessert last week has been forced to shut its doors temporarily due to an infestation of mice and cockroaches. Serendipity 3 on the Upper East Side failed its second consecutive health inspection in a month on Wednesday night after health officials found a live mouse, mouse droppings in multiple places, flies and dozens of live cockroaches, the Heath Department said. "We're rectifying it as quickly as we can," said owner Steven Bruce, adding the restaurant would then be allowed to reopen. Serendipity 3 set a Guinness world record on November 7 for the most expensive dessert when it partnered with luxury jeweller Euphoria New York to create "Frozen Haute Chocolate," a blend of 28 cocoas fused with 0.2 ounces of edible 23-karat gold."£ (Yahoo News, 16 November)
Mice and cockroaches can shit on the owning class, why don't we? RD

The Credit Crunch


Further to the previous post this news item perhaps explains the reason why many workers find it necessary to work long hours .


Around one in three mortgage customers face higher repayment rates and difficulty in borrowing more on their homes in the light of the recent credit crunch.Lenders have become increasingly cautious following the problems in the credit markets, and as a result many home- owners will be offered less favourable terms if they want to remortgage their homes. More people than ever are set to fall into the sub-prime category as a result of missed debt repayments, meaning that borrowing will now be put out of reach for many.

Mintel market analysts , estimates that around 9% of the UK's 16.5 million mortgage holders will now be considered sub-prime by lenders. It also forecasts that a further 24% could also be considered a high risk because of their personal circumstances, such as being self-employed or not having a regular income, or because they had moved frequently or fallen behind with household bills. Those coming off fixed-rate deals taken out before the recent interest rate rises will be particularly hard-hit and that many people may not be able to absorb these increases and millions of people could start to suffer financially.


Other research released yesterday, from web credit specialists uSwitch.com, claimed that one in four people are now struggling with unmanageable debts and 12% admit they have missed repayments during the past six months. Around 23% of people say their current level of borrowing either borders on being unmanageable or is no longer manageable. The group said 12% of people also admitted they have missed payments on debts or bills during the past six months and 10% have had a payment bounced by their bank because they had insufficient funds in their account. 38% of people applying for new credit were turned down with 19% of personal loan applications rejected.


One in 10 people claim they are now trapped in a vicious cycle of debt where they may need to get further into debt just to meet their existing financial obligations, and 13% may have to turn to credit just to meet their living costs. At the same time, one in five consumers say they have maxed out at least one of their sources of credit, with 11% going up to their spending limit on a credit card and 10% doing the same on an overdraft.


23% of people are now more worried about money than they were a year ago and 18% are more worried about debt.At the same time 34% say they are feeling financially worse off and more than half of people do not think it is a good time to make a life-changing decision such as buying a home, having a baby or changing jobs.


The average person now sees half of their take-home pay eaten up by debt repayments, with 35% going on their mortgage and 18% spent on unsecured debts.


Is it no wonder that many now try to earn more by working more - just to pay off debts


Working Hours Get Longer


People are working longer hours, reversing a 10-year trend of a cut in the working week, a report suggests. More than one in eight people now work more than 48 hours a week, rising to one in six in London, the TUC said.



An analysis of official figures revealed that 3.2 million people were now working more than 48 hours a week - more than 13% of the workforce. Official figures underestimate long hours because they are unlikely to include migrant workers or people who live at their place of work, such as hotel or care staff.


According to the study, the biggest rise in the number of people working a 48-hour week was in the south-east of England and London, with 16% of staff in the capital now working long hours.


Of course , the lick spittles of capitalism have their own spin on this trend to work longer - according to the government minister for Employment Relations research has shown that seven out of ten long-hours workers would not want a cut in hours if it meant a cut in pay and that in the UK, people have the choice to refuse to work long hours if they don't want to and the flexibility to work longer hours and earn overtime if they wish . This is rather similar to the fox-hunting fraternity's pronouncement that “The fox enjoys the hunt.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Malnutrition in the UK

A quarter of all adults admitted to hospital and care homes in the UK are at risk of malnutrition, a major survey has found.

The survey found that it was not just older patients who were at risk of malnutrition.
Patients under the age of 30 had a 27% risk of malnutrition, compared with a 34% for those over 80. Malnourished people stay in hospital longer, succumb to infection more often and visit their GP more frequently. They also require longer-term care and more intensive nursing care.

Professor Marinos Elia said: "This finding establishes - if there was any doubt - that malnutrition is a major public health issue in the community that must be addressed both at source and when individuals are admitted into care."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wage Slavery

Anti-racism protestors have marched through Glasgow to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.The St Andrew's Day Anti-Racism March, organised by the Scottish Trades Union Congress, will remember the anniversary of the act to abolish the trade. First Minister Alex Salmond has given his support to the rally.Yet we know there still exists to-day another type of slavery - wage slavery


JUSTIFED KILLING?

We live in a dreadful society and we obviously need a new one that would never use phrases like "justified killing". Let us all cooperate to get rid of capitalism's killing fields, and make the following news item impossible.
"Federal agents investigating the Sept. 16 episode in which Blackwater security personnel shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians have found that at least 14 of the shootings were unjustified and violated deadly-force rules in effect for security contractors in Iraq, according to civilian and military officials briefed on the case. The F.B.I investigation into the shootings in Baghdad is still under way, but the findings, which indicate that the company’s employees recklessly used lethal force, are already under review by the Justice Department. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek indictments, and some officials have expressed pessimism that adequate criminal laws exist to enable them to charge any Blackwater employee with criminal wrongdoing. Spokesmen for the Justice Department and the F.B.I. declined to discuss the matter. (New York Times, 14 November)
If you kill someone it is called murder, if your masters tell you to kill someone it is justifiable. Lets hope the Justice Department and the FBI come up with a conclusion that says all killing of human beings is unjustified. Don't hold your breath for that one. RD

Friday, November 23, 2007

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

If the United States is the embodiment of capitalism, then New York must be the jewel in its crown. A modern technologically advanced city it is forever being revered as the epitome of modernity, but there is another side to capitalism as revealed in this news item.
"Over 1.3 million people, one in six New Yorkers, cannot afford enough food, with queues at soup kitchens getting longer, anti-poverty groups say. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger says the number of people who use food pantries and soup kitchens in the city increased by 20% in 2007. Some of the food distribution points are struggling to meet demand. The coalition blames the situation mainly on increased poverty as well as government cutbacks in food aid." (BBC News, 21 November) RD

THE WASTEFUL SOCIETY

It is difficult to assess just how wasteful the society capitalism is but a recent estimate of the US government's military expenditure in the Middle East gives some idea of the astronomical waste involved.
"The economic costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are estimated to total $1.6 trillion — roughly double the amount the White House has requested thus far, according to a new report by Democrats on Congress' Joint Economic Committee. The report, released Tuesday, attempted to put a price tag on the two conflicts, including "hidden" costs such as interest payments on the money borrowed to pay for the wars, lost investment, the expense of long-term health care for injured veterans and the cost of oil market disruptions. The $1.6 trillion figure, for the period from 2002 to 2008, translates into a cost of $20,900 for a family of four, the report said. The Bush administration has requested $804 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined, the report stated. For the Iraq war only, total economic costs were estimated at $1.3 trillion for the period from 2002 to 2008. That would cost a family of four $16,500, the report said. Future economic costs would be even greater. The report estimated that both wars would cost $3.5 trillion between 2003 and 2017. Under that scenario, it would cost a family of four $46,400, the report said." (Yahoo News, 13 November) RD

Reforming Child Poverty

Child poverty in Scotland once again is in the news .

A charity has launched a campaign aimed at eradicating child poverty in Scotland. Save the Children said almost one in every 10 children in Scotland was living in "severe poverty" and that the problem was a "national disgrace "

Save the Children classes the worst deprivation as that which forces families to live on £19 a day, after paying housing costs. Previous research by Save the Children revealed that 90,000 children in Scotland live in severe poverty.

"Parents are being forced to make impossible decisions between such basic provisions as providing an adequate meal or putting on the heating..." said Save the Children's programme director for Scotland .

Yet , as always and as before , the solutions offered by the charity are aimed at only alleviating child poverty through tinkering with the system - more government money (£4 billion) , helping parents back to work, and a new scheme to give poorer families seasonal grants of £100 for each child in summer and winter - remedies that Socialist Courier place no hope in .

"The palliatives over which many worthy people are busying themselves now are useless because they are but unorganised partial revolts against a vast, wide-spreading, grasping organisation which will, with the unconscious instinct of a plant, meet every attempt at bettering the conditions of the people with an attack on a fresh side. " - William Morris .

We have seen many times how after all of the reforms obtained by "worthy" reformers who sought welfare aid for workers, the system simply creates new dimensions of poverty which undermine whatever apparent progress the reformers made. Capitalism as a social system cannot be humanised by reforms .

Church Business

Serve God ?

Only if there is a bonus in it .


The Vatican says it has decided to give financial rewards to employees who are doing a good job.
It says it will take into account issues such as "dedication, professionalism, productivity and correctitude" when awarding a pay rise.


It says that "this novelty brings an element of incentive and remuneration into the Vatican salary system".


The new, corporate-style incentives are likely to require some careful book-balancing, the BBC's says.


Salaries already constitute the largest drain on the Vatican's finances - and its coffers are feeling the pressure of the falling value of the US dollar,

The morning after hang-over


Let's feel sorry for the sad departure of Scotland and England from the qualifiers for Euro 2008 .


But also let us shed a tear for all those profits that will now disappear .


England's exit will cost the U.K. economy about 2 billion pounds , according to Simon Chadwick, a professor at Coventry Business School. England's failure will have ``far-reaching consequences,'' according to Chadwick, a professor of sport business. ``Sporting success is essential not only for the pleasure we get from it, but also for the psychological well-being and economic benefits it generates,'' he said and workers are more productive when England does well, according to the professor.


Sports Direct's shares fell 13.3 per cent to 97.5p this morning. Sports Direct has an agreement to buy 65 per cent of all England shirts that Umbro expects to sell in the UK in any given year.


"As England have not qualified for the 2008 European Football Championships, the company can no longer be confident of achieving that level of financial performance..."


Umbro, which generates nearly 50 per cent of its total revenue from the sale of England replica kit, has already issued a profit warning this year, after poor summer sales of England "home" kit. Trading has failed to improve and after last night's disastrous performance from the England team, Umbro will reduce the amount of "away" kit produced.


"The effect on 2008 revenues, though still unclear, will be more pronounced due to a substantial reduction in our expected sales volumes for the new Away jersey."


JJB Sports, which saw its shares fall more than 8 per cent to 133.75p this morning, owns a 9 per cent stake in Umbro.


The result is likely to be bad news for bookmakers, which now won't be getting a flood of money backing England in next year's competition. Shares in Ladbrokes which runs a chain of betting shops lost 0.4%.


Other sectors that could also take an earnings hit next summer include pubs chains and brewers -- as fewer fans will now pack into pubs to watch the games. Shares in brewer Scottish & Newcastle slipped 0.4%. Pub operator Punch Taverns fell 0.3%

And with the other U.K. teams -- Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales -- all also failing to qualify, broadcaster ITV can also expect to attract fewer views for live matches. Shares in ITV slipped 0.4% in afternoon London trading.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

THE BOGEY OF TAXES

Earlier this year Scottish showbiz celeb Elaine C. Smith followed Michael Moore's example of criticising big business fat-cats for making huge profits but don't gift part of them to their workers.
Now, in her column in the Sunday Mail (15th November), she echoes Moore's complaint about the rich who avoid paying tax and singles out Grand Prix driver Lewis Hamilton for leaving Britain to do likewise. Elaine wants Hamilton and his like to make deals with the Inland Revenue which would allow them to pay, for example, say £3million instead of £10million and everybody would be happy.
Elaine hasn't noticed that this already happens: for instance, there's Al Fayed, owner of Harrod's, London's poshest department store, who for years had a deal with the Inland Revenue which allowed him and his whole family to pay almost no tax at all.
Another thing Elaine seems not to have noticed is that it isn't only the rich who avoid paying tax. Countless thousands of workers also do this without leaving Britain by using numerous dodges, legal and illegal, and vast numbers of cars and other vehicles on the road are untaxed, it's what capitalism drives people to do. Incidentally, Elaine is a supporter, maybe even a member, of the Scottish National Party as is Sean Connery who will live anywhere but Scotland to avoid paying tax here. Has Elaine complained about this to the SNP?
All of this raises the question, should workers concern themselves about tax anyway? We share Karl Marx's view that taxation is an issue for the capitalist class only, and its various sections constantly quarrel over which of them should bear the heavier burden. It is they who ultimately have to pay workers' tax bills as well as all their other bills by paying them their wages and salaries.
How does this work: When the workers cost of living rises, let's say through more tax, this cuts their take-home pay which is their real wages and salaries. Their response will be to put pressure on employers, mainly through trade unions, to make good the loss. Of course, whether they succeed or not will depend on circumstances such as their determination, the state of the economy and the labour market, but history shows that when the cost of living increases then wages and salaries inevitably follow.
History also shows that whether tax is high or low the workers always have to struggle. This even applied when most workers in Britain paid no tax at all. Prior to World War Two most British workers didn't pay tax because their income was too low yet their standard of living was just as bad. They only began paying tax in 1941 when the government introduced Pay as You Earn in order to claw-back some of the extra cash many workers were earning because of scarcity of labour and war work.So tax isn't the big problem that many workers imagine it is. What ALL workers Should be aiming at is getting rid of capitalism. along with all its paraphernalia of money, Prices, pensions, doles, taxes, etc., and replace it with a wordwide society of production for use based on common ownership and democratic control. That's what we're after, what about you? V.V.

Your Lives , Their Profits

A "frightening" report by the Health and Safety Executive which said the North Sea oil industry was not doing enough to safeguard the 30,000 people who work offshore. The report follows a three-year investigation of almost 100 offshore installations which revealed that on nearly 60% the state of plant was below an acceptable level and 16% of them were failing to comply with legislation.
Lessons learned and highlighted at the inquiry into the Piper Alpha disaster in which 167 men died in 1988 have been forgotten . Speaking at the launch of the KP3 report, Health and Safety Commission Chair Judith Hackitt said "corporate memory" had been "lost" since the disaster.

Unite union said: "It is clear to me there are companies out there which are still risking the lives of our members and the offshore workforce for the sake of a barrel of oil and that is unacceptable."

Findings :-
On 58% of installations inspected the plant was considered "poor".
10 of the 20 deluge systems ,vital in fighting fires , tested failed to meet standard.
Concern over key issues identified at the time of Piper Alpha, including Temporary Refuges and air conditioning, heating and ventilation.
The performance of management systems showed wide variations across the industry and even within the same company.
Poor understanding of potential impact of degraded, non-safety-critical plant and utility systems on safety-critical elements in the event of a major accident.
Senior managers not making adequate use of integrity management data and not giving ongoing maintenance enough priority.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The unfairness of schooling

England's grammar schools are "ghettos for the advantaged", doing little to alleviate poverty.

Research showed just 2% of pupils in grammars received free school meals, compared with 13% nationally. And in some grammars more than one third of pupils had come from fee-paying schools .

Professor Jesson said: "Far from providing 'ladders of opportunity' for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, grammar schools are more like 'ghettos of the advantaged'.
Grammar schools do not offer a ladder of opportunity to any but a very small number of disadvantaged pupils. In fact, their recruitment policies tend to favour pupils from more prosperous communities where eligibility for free school meals and other measures of deprivation are at very low levels. Parents who can afford to send their children to private fee-paying schools have a distinct advantage in securing places at local grammar schools over pupils from state junior schools who are similarly able."

Other research on grammar schools from Northern Ireland concluded "that the effect of attending grammar school is similar for those from higher and lower income groups". But access to grammar schools was very unequal .

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

HUNGER IN THE USA

We are used to reading statistics about world hunger, but what is not generally known is the hunger suffered by worker's children in the most advanced capitalist nation in the world.
"One of every four children in New Mexico and Texas and one of every five in a dozen other states, live in households that struggle to provide enough food at some point during the year, a report released Thursday says. The report is the first to give a state-by-state look at child hunger based on annual Census Bureau data, says Ross Frazer, spokesman for America's Second Harvest, the nation's largest hunger-relief group, which released the study. It analyzes data from 2003 to 2005, giving a three-year average. (USA Today, 15 November) RD

Illegal Drugs - Indeed a business

There are about 300 major drug importers into Britain, 3,000 wholesalers and 70,000 street dealers producing a turnover of £7-8billion a year ( This constitutes approximately 33 and 41 per cent of the size of the UK tobacco and alcohol markets respectively ) , according to an internal Home Office estimate revealed today based on prison interviews with 222 convicted high-level drug dealers.

Home Office research study reveals that about three-quarters of drug dealers "attempt to grow their operations", enjoy mark-ups of 16,800% on heroin and 15,800% on cocaine, and now employ salaried staff as runners and storers.

A business just like any other

NHS - We are not all equal

The NHS is failing to deliver in poor areas, a study of general practices in the west of Scotland has found. Patients had a greater number of psychological problems, more long-term illnesses and a wider variety of chronic health problems. Consultations were shorter than in affluent areas and doctors reported being under greater stress.

The research compared consultations in typical practices, serving both affluent and poor populations.

"The NHS should be seen at its best in helping the neediest patients, but ... that is not the case... Despite a decade of political rhetoric about addressing inequalities in health care the NHS has still not squared up to this problem."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Preferential Treatment

How different the government can respond to some financial woes .

Mr Darling told MPs the government had a clear duty to protect the public interest . The government put up huge loans to save the Northern Rock bank , emergency funding equivalent to twice the amount of the annual primary school budget. Deposits of savers would continue to be fully guaranteed .

Contrast now the collapse of the Farepak Christmas savings club that last year drove many of its low-income victims into a cycle of debt according to a union-sponsored report . Many of those affected were low-paid women saving small sums for Christmas who went into debt to buy the gifts they had been expecting to purchase with their Farepak savings . Over 122,000 people have lodged claims , and they have been told to expect just 5p in the pound for their claims, and that there will be no payout this year.

Centre for Crime and Justice Studies Director Richard Garside. said "Many Farepak customers are asking why, if the government was prepared to underwrite Northern Rock to the tune of billions of pounds, no comprehensive help has been forthcoming"

"I think it is annoying that they just treat ordinary working class people like that..." said one victim of the company's collapse .

And there lies the answer ....ordinary working class people are treated that way by the capitalist system just because they are working class .

All at sea

"I want to create my own monument," the 60-year-old Italian entrepreneur says as he gazes across the sprawling ship building yard . Mr Vitelli has chosen a relatively modest yacht; a 103 feet long Azimut sports yacht, with a list price of 7 million euros ($10m or £5m). Modest, that is, compared with some of the other yachts sold by Azimut-Benetti Group. As one of the world's biggest players in the fast-growing market for hyper-luxurious motor-yachts, its multi-storey crafts can cost as much as $50m (£25m) and stretch from 24 metres to 85 metres in length.

Some of the world's wealthiest people will travel here to commission their own life monuments . In the year to September, the group built 800m-euros worth of yachts for the world's super-rich. And with an order book worth more than 1.5 billion euros, at a time when the global yacht market is growing steadily at some 10-15% per year.

In order to get the super-rich's attention, Azimut-Benetti's well-heeled customers are also occasionally invited to lavish events, such as this summer's yachting gala, complete with concerts and live shows.
"We don't charge," Mr Vitelli says, though the company tends to get its money's worth. "Generally, they leave a cheque for a new boat,"

All we at Socialist Courier can say is - "Come in Number 5. Your time is up "

Sunday, November 18, 2007

CHILD POVERTY

"The true hardships of the one in three children in Britain who live in poverty are exposed in a new report revealing that a quarter of the country's poorest households cannot afford to put a daily hot meal on the table for every family member. The ground-breaking report, Living With Hardship 24/7, which was published yesterday by the child poverty charity.
The Frank Buttle Trust, takes an in-depth look at the experiences of families surviving in low-income households, exposing details of their daily struggles that would not look out of place in a developing country. The study found that children as young as five were so keenly aware of their parents' financial difficulties that they gave back money to help support the household. The children surveyed were from 70 families across the country with an income of less than £11,000. Almost half of the parents interviewed said they could not afford basic toys or sports equipment for their children, and a third did not have enough money to buy the winter clothes their offspring needed. Some children said they did not ask for Christmas presents for fear of adding to their parents' burden." (Independent on Sunday, 18 November)
This is after years of a Labour government that promised to abolish child poverty in Britain. In a foreword to the report Gordon Brown admits .."there are still 2.8 million children living in poverty in the UK today – that is one in three children. A great deal more needs to be done." RD

Saturday, November 17, 2007

SAVE THE CHILDREN. AGAIN AND AGAIN

Save the Children TV night has ended and some of the TV performers were being interviewed, “Did you enjoy your night on the TV?” “Yes I did and I’m looking forward to next year”.
Sadly, it’s true, Children in need is an annual event, it always will be for some while capitalism remains the way our lives are organised for us, it can be different, we organise ourselves and produce what we need. That requires a Socialist solution, one where we own the means of production and by that I don’t mean nationalisation.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fitba' Madness

Patriotism - It is all hype .

It is Scotland against Italy for a place in Euro 2008 .

Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service said all of its appliances would be flying Saltire and Lion Rampant flags on Friday and Saturday to show support for the team .

The Big Match will be worth £8 million (£1m more than the £7m the Edinburgh economy was boosted by Barcelona's pre-season match with Hearts this summer) to the Glasgow economy, economists have predicted.


The Tartan Army is also expected to gamble a record £10 million ( The previous record of £5m was held by Scotland's Euro 2000 play-off game with England at Hampden in 1999. )

Meanwhile, rock group Runrig, who are to perform three songs during half-time at Hampden, have officially launched their Loch Lomond single in aid of Children in Need.


Yup , Scotland still goes cap in hand for charities to alleviate poverty and for the rest of us it is not going to be much different from the Roman Empire and its bread and circuses .


And Italy arrives in Glasgow from a day of mourning for a dead football fan shot dead by police , spurring a comment from Sergio Campana, president of the Italian players' association.


"I think football should stop for a year in order to reflect on the evils that exist."


But perhaps for some readers of Socialist Courier , this might all be too much .

A Fragmented Society

From the president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland.

"The expectations which have been placed on Scottish education are enormous in a society which has grave problems of obesity in young people and in the population at large, in which one in ten young people and one in four in the population will experience mental health issues.

"[A society] in which binge drinking in public and hazardous and harmful drinking in private are a growing concern. In which teenage pregnancy is among the highest in Europe, in which one in four young people can expect to experience family break-up.

"[A society] in which antisocial behaviour is a major issue in many communities and, in which, the gap between the most advantaged and most disadvantage members has never been greater, there are extraordinary demands on schools to fill the gaps in a fragmented society."

A spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland, the country's biggest teaching union, said : "Schools will always reflect society, but that does not mean they can be expected to solve all of society's problems..."

A recent study revealed children in the UK were the unhappiest of any of Europe's wealthier nations.

For our childrens' and grand-childrens' sake - Isn't it time for socialism

Yuppie Blues

They were the generation with "loadsa money" .

But now the former 1980s yuppies are struggling to live within their means in middle age.

Almost half of the Young Urban Professionals of 20 years ago are finding it tough financially,
"Despite the champagne lifestyle and optimism of the time, our research reveals that many former high flyers have ended up no better off than the average mid-life family. They are just as worried about meeting the monthly bills, the cost of bringing up their kids and how they will fund their old age." - said the communications director at Liverpool Victoria friendly society




Thursday, November 15, 2007

Market Madness

Capitalism is a system that if it doesn't make the profit , it doesn't get made .

Low prices led to sheep on hill farms being slaughtered because they could not be sold and faced a shortage of grazing with the onset of winter. Mr Picken of National Farmers Union Scotland said the difficulties facing livestock farmers could see grassland being ploughed up and left fallow.

But when it comes to making a buck , there is always an alternative .

Mr Picken said the UK was lagging behind other countries in the production of biofuels. "So there is a bit of room so to speak for growing energy crops."

Ineos Enterprises' proposal to build one of Europe's biggest bio-diesel plants in Grangemouth was given the go-ahead . And there are pending plans by DMF Biodiesel for a processing facility in Rosyth . And there will be another at Motherwell , partly financed the Scottish Parliment's Regional Selective Assistance .

So as elsewhere in the world , it is will now be a matter of growing crops for fuel not food - and farmers will be eligible for a single Common Agricultural Policy payment and also claim EU energy aid payment to a maximum of 45 Euros (£32) per hectare.

The greed for profits will starve hungry bellies .

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

When helping can be a crime

Councillors in London are embroiled in a growing row over whether to ban the distribution of free food on public land, which could signal the end of soup runs for the capital's homeless.The idea – contained in the London Local Authorities Bill to be presented to Parliament in a fortnight – has been put forward by Westminster City Council, which claims the much-needed charitable services cause "public order issues". If the ban is approved, all those distributing free food to London's hungry will be breaking the law. The move would not include corporations wishing to promote their products by giving out free refreshments.

Luke Evans, a policy officer at Housing Justice, the charity which oversees soup runs in the capital said: "These people could be left on the streets to die. But, more than anything, it is a philosophical principle that you should be able to care for your fellow human beings. They are penalising people who are trying to help.There is a danger that people will starve... "

Shelter, the housing charity, said: "Proposing to stop acts of charity and kindness by a legally enforceable ban is against the principles of tolerance, freedom and understanding which underpin British society...Shelter is calling on London's council bosses to show compassion and moral leadership by deleting this inhumane clause from the Bill."

Westminster City Council's cabinet member for housing, the Conservative councillor Angela Harvey, claimed the distribution of free food was causing a "nuisance"

More Migrant Misery

A report criticises the denial of rights to those dealt with by private firms on behalf of the Immigration Service.

The Border and Immigration Agency's Complaints Audit Committee's report, for 2006/07, says investigations into misconduct complaints have been "poor".

Only 8% of complainants were interviewed and 89% of investigations were "neither balanced nor thorough".

As a result, 83% of replies were "indefensible".

Some 71% of misconduct complaints were not completed within time targets.

In 95% of cases, those investigating the complaints had been from the companies under investigation.

Of those misconduct complaints received, 19% were over criminal behaviour - up from 12% in 2005/06.

The report says serious misconduct complaints remain a source of "grave concern to us because of the risks of injury or death, wrongful arrest and civil liability arising from the arrest, detention and removal of failed asylum seekers".

One asylum seeker, Apollo Okello, told the BBC he had been bundled onto a plane at Heathrow and refused permission to see his lawyer, with the security guards knowing he already had permission to stay in the UK. He struggled and was beaten up in the back of a van .

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

CHINESE STATISTICS

One of the effects of the rapid expansion of Chinese capitalism is the pollution of the atmosphere and drinking water. This has led to these horrendous statistics.
"40% - Percentage by which birth defects among Chinese infants have risen since 2001, according to a government report, which linked the rise to environmental pollution. 460,000 - Number of Chinese who die prematurely every year from exposure to pollution and dirty water." (Time, 12 November) This expansion may be leading to the creation of more billionaires, but it is also producing more corpses. RD

Slave Labour

There is much ado about those described as illegal immigrants working in the security industry and an alleged cover-up by the minister of the numbers . Much less is mentioned about that type of work being one of the lower paid and less rewarding occupations which migrants seem to end up in .

Nor has there been too much media coverage of the comments by Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of the T&G Union about the conditions that some migrant workers in the UK are forced to work under could be likened to "a modern form of slave labour" .
"...there are all too many employers taking advantage of the vulnerability of the newly arrived...a depressing pattern of workers who are promised the move in their countries of origin, sometimes with such serious deception in terms of what actually happens when they arrive here in Britain that it would in statutory terms of international law be classed as trafficking".

He describes :-
"The awful reality all too often is national minimum wage or less, illegal deductions, deductions for transport, housing, unspecified administrative charges. Often workers on national minimum wage having deductions of between £110 and £130 a week, no contracts of employment, compulsory overtime, having to pay for their own safety equipment, and in extreme cases, racial harassment and violence. In terms of accommodation, where all too often gangmaster employees or agency employees stay, it is five and ten to a house, sometimes actually sleeping in the premises where they actually work, often illegal evictions. I have been into houses ... 16 people in a small house where they couldn't all be there at the same time so it was a hot bedding arrangement."
He talks about :-
Of how in a crop picking firm, a pregnant woman had collapsed.
"They were embarrassed about the circumstances in which she had been working," he said.
"When she asked for an ambulance to be called, they said 'by all means, but you realise in this country you have to pay for an ambulance'.

"A sad reality in modern day Britain is that it is not sufficiently focused on, which at its most extreme, is a modern form of slave labour."






Pensions - Inadequate Beyond Question

The UK's state pension system has been named as the worst in the European Union for the second year running in a survey .

British pensioners receive a pension equivalent to just 17% of average earnings, the lowest level in Europe, and well below the average of 57%.

The "inadequacy" of the UK's state system is "beyond question".

The lowest earners in the UK achieved an income in retirement which approached the level provided by other countries. This is because they qualify for extra means-tested help from the government. However, when all the criteria were taken into account, the UK was placed fifth in a list

THIS IS COMMUNISM?

"The United States has more billionaires than any other country: 415 by the last count of Forbes magazine. No. 2 and closing fast? China. A year ago, there were 15 billionaires in China. Now, there are more than 100, according to the widely watched Hurun Report. Forbes has documented 66. ..As much as the bounty of billionaires is a source of pride, it is also a potential cause for concern in a nominally Communist country. Per capita income in China is less than $1,000 a year." (New York Times, 7 November)
China is a fast developing capitalist country and just like any other capitalist economy the gap between the rich and the poor is immense. RD

HOMELESS HEROES

"More than 400 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have turned up homeless, and the Veterans Affairs Department and aid groups say they are bracing for a new surge in homeless veterans in the years ahead. Experts who work with veterans say it often takes several years after leaving military service for veterans’ accumulating problems to push them into the streets. But some aid workers say the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans appear to be turning up sooner than the Vietnam veterans did. “We’re beginning to see, across the country, the first trickle of this generation of warriors in homeless shelters,” said Phil Landis, chairman of Veterans Village of San Diego, a residence and counselling centre. “But we anticipate that it’s going to be a tsunami.” ... Veterans have long accounted for a high share of the nation’s homeless. Although they make up 11 percent of the adult population, they make up 26 percent of the homeless on any given day, the National Alliance report calculated. According to the V.A., some 196,000 veterans of all ages were homeless on any given night in 2006." (New York Times, 8 November)
Behind the sham of military splendour this is the shabby truth of capitalism and its wars. RD

Old and Cold

2.5 million of elderly people spend their winters in one room to reduce heating bills .

2 million older Britons wear outdoor clothes indoors.

2.2 million turned off their central heating .

1 million cut back on their food shopping, to save cash.

Preventable winter illnesses claim the lives of 25,000 senior citizens each year

Anna Pearson, spokeswoman for the British Gas Help the Aged Partnership, said: "The government is literally gambling with people's lives."

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Lords on the Gravy Train

Instead of claiming what they are entitled to , those law-makers and upholders of law and order in the House of Lords are on the fiddle with their expenses .

Peers are exploiting an expenses loophole to claim a tax-free annual income of up to £48,000, it was claimed today . Parliamentary rules mean members of the House of Lords can claim back up to £308 a day for travel, meals and accommodation while performing their duties and is not eligible for tax.

However, under the system they do not have to submit receipts to prove their outlay.
It was reported that nearly two thirds of peers are automatically claiming the maximum amount nearly every time they visit the Lords , viewing it as a right .

Some 259 of the 550 Lords who applied for "day subsistence" - a £78.50 payment for meals and taxis - claimed the maximum amount at least 95 per cent of the time.
272 0f the 406 peers who claim "overnight subsistence" for hotels - worth £159.50 a day -claimed the maximum at least 95 per cent of the time.
And 338 of the 514 Lords who claim office expenses - worth £69 a day - claimed the maximum on nearly all occasions

It was reported that several lords admitted that they saw the expenses as an allowance and collecting the full amount was routine.

The Gravy Train


The highest-earning 300 bosses in the public sector saw their salaries increase by 12.8 per cent last year, raising their average to £237,564. Seventeen of the top bosses earned more than £500,000, according to the Taxpayer's Alliance second annual Public Sector Rich List.

The pay rises, more than three times the national average . The top 10 earn an average salary of £799,000 – more than 40 times the basic pay of a nurse or soldier.


Top of the league is Adam Crozier, chief executive of the Royal Mail. The only person on the list with a seven-figure salary. Strike-breaker Crozier has presided over the cancellation of the second mail delivery and an increase in the price of stamps. He saw his pay package swell by 21 per cent last year, taking his salary to £1,256,000. The report shows that it equates to earning £1,000 every 1 hour and 27 minutes and he had the gall and audacity to say that the ordinary postal worker was over-paid

Friday, November 09, 2007

PROMISES AND REALITY

Mrs Thatcher promised us a "property owning democracy", Mr Blair promised a new deal for the "socially excluded". Despite all the promises from all the different political leaders the end result is poverty and insecurity for the working class. "UK homeowners are already reeling from five interest rate rises since the summer of 2006, with many facing the threat of repossession in 2008. Borrowers coming off low fixed-rate mortgages now face an immediate increase costing hundreds of pounds a month. Repossessions are set to rise by 50 per cent next year, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders. Thousands of borrowers have already been forced to paying their mortgages on their credit cards to avoid arrears, according to a recent report by Shelter, the housing charity." (Times, 6 November) RD

NO SEX PLEASE, WE'RE AMERICAN

The antics of the far-right religious fundamentalists in the USA never fail to amaze us. These groups are really upset with the Pentagon. Not about US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but something much more important than that. "A Pentagon decision to allow the sale of Playboy and Penthouse magazines on military bases has appalled US religious groups, which insist it is illegal. ...Pat Trueman, the head of the Alliance Defence Fund, said that he along with other family values groups was overseeing an e-mail campaign to two million Americans asking them to lobby their congressmen against the Pentagon decision." (Times, 6 November) RD

Off with their CAPs

Oh , the poor rich aristocrats are being picked upon again as they begin to lose their European Union farming subsidies .

The proposal, being drawn up by the European Commission, is the first attempt in years to tackle the scandal of giant agri-businesses and millionaire barley barons – as opposed to smallholders and family farmers – being the chief beneficiaries of the Common Agricultural Policy. The plans, due to be submitted for consultation with EU member states on 20 November, will suggest that some of the largest payments to super-rich landowners and industrial farms could be reduced by as much as 45 per cent. Although the British Government officially supports reforms to CAP it is particularly wary of any proposals that target large holdings because the vast majority of farm subsidies in the UK go to big businesses and wealthy landowners. Analysts also warned that the Commission's proposals could be significantly watered down by the time member states actually come to vote on the issue some time next year and that Britain and Germany were most likely to be the main countries behind any such move.

"It's a start ..." said Claire Godfrey, Oxfam's EU policy adviser. "But what it still doesn't do is actually address the inequalities in the distribution of subsidies."

The Queen
£544,000 slashed to £299,000
One of the richest women in the world and a landowner whose farms bring in more than £0.5m a year in subsidies. The Queen's Sandringham estatein Norfolk nets her £404,000 a year in subsidies; Windsor Castle brings in a further £140,000.

Prince Charles
£225,000 slashed to £121,000
The heir to the throne received approximately £168,000 in subsidies for his organic Home Farm at Highgrove in Gloucester between 2003 and 2004, while farms in the Duchy of Cornwall – the 141,000-acre estate which provides most of the Prince's income – brought in more than £135,000.

Duke of Westminster
£325,000 slashed to £178,750
A regular in the top five richest men in Britain, the duke receives a healthy remuneration from the EU thanks to his farmlands in Cheshire, Lancashire and Scotland. A report by Oxfam in 2004 claimed his subsidies were the equivalent of £1,000 a day from the taxpayer, compared to the £7 a day in tax credits that a single mother received at the time.

Duke of Marlborough
£370,000 slashed to £203,500
The 81-year-old Duke,head of the Churchill family, received subsidies worth more than £510,000 over a two-year period between 2003 and 2004. His 1,600-acre Oxfordshire estate, which includes Blenheim Palace and largely farms cereals, brings in just under £370,000 a year

Duke of Bedford
£380,000 slashed to £209,000

The Duke's 5,400-hectare Woburn Abbey is widely known for its safari park, but at least half the land is arable, and has been known to bring in more than £700,000 in subsidies over a two-year period.

Earl of Leicester
£250,000 slashed to £137,500

Holkham Hall, the earl's 18th-century Norfolk seat, is surrounded by 25,000 acres of land, much of which is set aside to grow cereals. The estate's 405 hectares of wheat and 486 hectares of barley make him eligible for annual support of around £254,280, the equivalent of £686 a day

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Land Grabbers

A bit of local news from West Lothian Herald and Post 8th November .

Community councils are up in arms about the council policy of selling off common land to housing developers .

Land in Stoneyburn sold even though the previous Labour council denied it was up for sale . Stoneyburn Community Council secretary said "It was originally done without our knowledge "

Plans to sell land in Craigshill , Livingston and according to the Community Council secretary " It looks like they were trying to slip it through quietly "

Common land -West Lothian Council - Common Thieves

The Ills of Capitalism

Prescriptions issued in Scotland for anti-depressants have risen more than four-fold in less than 15 years, an NHS report has revealed. For every 1,000 people there were 85 daily doses of the drugs dispensed in 2006, compared with 19 doses in 1992.

Dr Kohli, a medical adviser for NHS Quality Improvement Scotland, said the rise was partly due to a new generation of drugs.
However Shona Neil, chief executive of the Scottish Association for Mental Health, said :-
"Social problems are a bigger factor in the increase than the new drugs - these figures show a huge cry for help from people from deprived backgrounds."
Depression affects about one in five people at some point in their lives.

An appropriate moment to promote a day-school in London at the SPGB Head Office
THE INSANITY OF CAPITALISM
Saturday 24 November from 1pm
Living in a sick society Speaker: Brian Johnson (Disability Counsellor)
Capitalism on the couch Speaker: Peter Rigg (Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist)
Whose messing with your head? Speaker: Ed Blewitt (Clinical Psychologist)


THE UNTOUCHABLES

The plight of Guzar Ahmed seems almost idyllic when compared to the fate of the following Indian woman.
"Soon after she was married, at the age of 10, Usha Chaumar began collecting human excrement for a living - as her mother and her grandmother did before her. Every day for the next 20 years she gathered night soil from 20 houses without lavatories in the state of Rajasthan, carrying it in a pan on her head to the nearest dump. She was paid 200 rupees (£2) a month - the money usually dropped at her feet so that her hands did not touch her employers." (Times, 2 November)
Apparently there are estimated to be 500,000 Indian Untouchables who still earn a living this way. The Indian government have promised to eradicate open-air defecation by 2012, but as this is the same government who say that talk of children in sweat shops is exaggerated we wouldn't put too much store by such a claim. RD

SWEAT SHOP INDIA

Behind the amazing development of capitalism in India lies the harsh reality of child exploitation. "Delhi children's rights activists said that they had received 70 boys who were embroidering garments in small squalid factories in the Indian capital. The boys aged 8 to 14, were mostly the children of farmers in Bihar, India's poorest eastern state. They had been brought to Delhi to make saris worn by Indian women. Gulzar Ahmed, 12, said that he was paid 3,000 rupees (£36) a month for working up to 15 hours a day. The activists, from the Save the Children Mission, said that the children would be returned to their parents. The Indian Government has accused activists of exaggerating the problem of child labour." (Times, 2 November)
We imagine the prospect of one of the government's children working in a sweat shop at 12 years of age is so remote they are unconcerned about poor farmers' kids. RD

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

HIGHER PRICES AND HIGHER DEATH RATES

The plight of many old workers is illustrated in these sad statistics. "Organisations for the elderly in Scotland last night suggested that anxiety among older people about the cost of soaring fuel prices may be a key reason behind an extraordinary increase of around 1,000 in the number of winter deaths last year. Official figures released yesterday showed that the seasonal difference in terms of the number of deaths between winter and the periods immediately before and after the winter months was 2,750 more than the previous year." (Times, 1 November) RD

THE CLASS DIVIDE

Inside capitalism the rich get access to the best education, best of food and the best of health care, so it should come as no shock to learn that the poor do not live as long as the rich. It has become so obvious that even the daily press can report on it.
"There is no escaping the stark facts. Death knocks seven years sooner at the door of dustmen than dukes, of security guards sooner than solicitors. And new figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that the gap is refusing to close. The rich get richer and the poor get sicker, sooner. "
(Times, 26 October) RD

Chinese in Antarctica


Further to this post on our companion blog Socialism Or Your Money Back , the BBC reports that China is building its third research station in Antarctica, shoring up its presence just weeks after the UK and Chile made renewed territorial claims. Argentina has also said it intends to present a claim to the UN.
Almost 200 construction workers are heading for the southern continent, the state-run Xinhua news agency says. They will build facilities including a space observatory, radar station and sewage discharge system.


Mineral mining is banned in Antarctica, but analysts say this is not stopping countries from jockeying for position. Competition for territorial and economic rights has heated up as melting polar ice caps have introduced the possibility of exploiting the previously inaccessible seabed. Countries have until May 2009 to ask the United Nations to consider their right to the seabed.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

It is expensive being rich

It seems, it is the rich who have it hard. Luxury goods are rising in price three times faster than their more mundane consumer counterparts.

Robby Hilkowitz, executive director of the Stonehage Group which helps the world's super-wealthy manage their incomes said ;-
"Global wealth is growing at an unprecedented rate and as it increases they want more luxury goods to meet their lifestyle needs. With status items, the more expensive they become the more desirable they become..."

There are some 800 US dollar billionaires in the world, a figure that rose by 15 per cent last year. They are among the class of ultra-high net worth individuals with a personal fortune in excess of £25m of net investable assets. The second tier covered by the survey, so-called high worth individuals with more than £5m to spare, grew by 20 per cent.

* School Fees (Up 6.8 per cent)
With a history dating back to the time of Pope Alexander III, Westminster offers one of the most desirable old school ties around. One term's fees for two seniors cost £17,304 in 2007.
* Outdoor activities (Up 8.3 per cent)
Blasting away on the grouse moors of northern Britain was once the preserve of the landed gentry. Today any old hedge fund manager can have a go with a two-day shoot costing £3,600 in 2007.
* Vintage wines (Up 116.9 per cent)
Surely there can be no more famous wine than that emanating from the Rothschild's family vineyard in the Medoc? But three cases of Lafite Rothschild 2000 will set you back £9,250 this year.
* Exclusive facilities (Up 20 per cent)
Sweat with the best, or at least the richest, of them at The Dorchester Gym and Spa. A year's membership cost £1,800 in 2007.
* Luxury accessories (Up 26.7 per cent)
Patek Philippe once made watches for Queen Victoria and Tchaikovsky. The Swiss manufacturer could make one for you too. A limited edition Calatrava cost £19,000 in 2007.
* Football tickets (Up 25 per cent)
Chelsea FC remains the footballing choice of the west London glitterati . One season's executive box hire at Stamford Bridge cost £117,500 in 2007.

Fuel Poverty

Claire Telfer, of Save the Children said :-

"Another winter is fast approaching and far too many children are living in cold, damp homes. The consequences of living in fuel poverty are misery, discomfort, ill health and debt."

Some 600,000 households and 100,000 children in Scotland have been hit by rocketing fuel prices between 2003 and 2006 .

A household is said to be in fuel poverty if it needs to spend more than 10% of of its income to maintain satisfactory heating, according to a UK government definition.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Public Discussion Meeting

...Defaulting US mortgages cause a British bank to crash...Global debt hits a 100 TRILLION dollars...
...Climate change will create widespread flooding , great loss of life , and mass migrations of peoples
....Land-grab for mineral wealth in the Arctic and Antarctica ....
...Oil prices soar as war fears rise on the Turkish-Iraqi border.
..Experts claim future wars will be fought over water...

The Socialist Party wants an end to the market system of buying and selling and of production solely for profit .
We'll be taking a look at the economics of capitalism and the environment – And asking , does it all add up ?

PUBLIC MEETING: FRIDAY 9TH NOVEMBER at 7-30PM

The Quaker Meeting House
Victoria Terrace ( above Victoria St )
Edinburgh

A short talk and then a general discussion will take place .
In the Chair : Alan Johnstone (Edinburgh Branch)
Speaker : Richard Donnelly (Glasgow Branch)

All Welcome Admission Free

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

THE WASTEFUL SOCIETY

It is a basic premise of the case for socialism that capitalism is a wasteful society. Just how wasteful it has become was illustrated by the following news item. "The U.S. government spent $43.5 billion on intelligence in 2007, according to the first official disclosure under a new law implementing recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission. National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell released the newly declassified figure Tuesday. In a statement, the DNI said there would be no additional disclosures of classified budget information beyond the overall spending figure because "such disclosures could harm national security." How the money is divided among the 16 intelligence agencies and exactly what it is spent on is classified. It includes salaries for about 100,000 people, multibillion dollar secret satellite programs, aircraft, weapons, electronic sensors, intelligence analysts, spies, computers and software. Much of the intelligence budget - about 70 percent - goes to contractors for the procurement of technology and services including analysis, according to a May 2007 chart from the DNI's office. Intelligence spending has increased by a third over 10 years ago, in inflation adjusted dollars, according to Steve Kosiak at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments." (Yahoo News, 30 October)
100,000 workers spending their days snooping on other workers. Madness! RD

SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN

Much is made of the tremendous development of capitalism in India over the last few years, but there is a terrible price to be paid in human suffering. "Child workers some as young as 10, have been found working in a textile factory in conditions close to slavery to produce clothes that appear destined for Gap Kids, one of the most successful arms of the high street giant. Speaking to The Observer, the children described long hours of unwaged work, as well as threats and beatings. ... According to one estimate, more than 20 per cent of India's economy is dependent on children, the equivalent of 55 million youngsters under 14." (Observer, 28 October) RD

MORE TROUBLE AHEAD

Politicians like to paint a picture of working class bliss where everybody has an increasing standard of living, but the reality is somewhat different. "The number of repossessed homes looks set to soar next year to levels not seen since the 1990s house price crash, it was claimed today. At the same time, house prices will edge ahead by just 1% in 2008 and property sales will fall by 15%, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML). The group expects the number of repossessions to rise by 50% during the year, rising from 30,000 this year to 45,000 in 2008. ...The number of people who are in arrears of at least three months is also set to increase, with 170,000 people expected to have problems keeping up with their mortgage repayments next year, compared with an estimated 145,000 this year." (Guardian, 2 November)
The bright words of politicians will appear somewhat tarnished to workers who lose their houses. RD

WALL STREET SHUFFLE

We are always being told that capitalism is a competitive system that rewards success and punishes failure, but what are we to make of the following? "Merril Lynch's directors may be weighing E.Stanley O'Neal's future, but one thing is already guaranteed: a payday of at least $159 million if he steps down. Mr. O’Neal, the company’s chairman and chief executive, is entitled to $30 million in retirement benefits as well as $129 million in stock and option holdings, according to an analysis by James F. Reda & Associates using yesterday’s share price of $66.09. That would be on top of the roughly $160 million he took home in his nearly five years on the job. Under Mr. O’Neal, Merrill moved aggressively into lucrative businesses like the packaging of subprime mortgages and other complex debt securities. ...But those big bets appeared to go bust this week. Merrill announced an $8.4 billion write-down, raising questions about whether Mr. O’Neal will keep his job. One thing that he surely will hold onto, though, are the giant paychecks he has collected. “I lay the blame at the foot of the board,” Frederick E. Rowe Jr., a money manager and president of Investors for Director Accountability. “He was paid a tremendous amount of money to create a loss that is mind-boggling, and he obviously took risks that should never have been taken.” (New York Times, 27 October)
He managed to lose $8.4 billion for the company and can claim $159 million for his efforts. Who says capitalism isn't crazy? RD

Friday, November 02, 2007

WAR IS GOOD - FOR SOME

When it comes to making money there is no such thing as nationalism, loyalty or principles. Take this example of swopping allies when it makes commercial sense
"For the past four years Tomislav Damnjanovic has played a crucial role in the United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2003, he has delivered millions of rounds of ammunition, guns, grenades and mortars to the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, United Nations officials say, facts he does not dispute. His aircraft have even been used to shuttle supplies between American bases in Iraq, saving troops from having to make hazardous trips by land. But it was not always so. For Mr. Damnjanovic, the work has been an unexpected twist in a career dominated not by serving American interests, but by dodging law enforcement agencies, and by smuggling weapons to American opponents and countries under United Nations sanctions, like Libya, and to other parts of Africa." (New York Times, 7 October)
Mr Damnjanovic made millions but his guns, grenades and mortars killed thousands. RD

THE HIGH COST OF DYING

When politicians are confronted with problems like disease and hunger they often respond that they would love to deal with those problems but they are far too expensive to deal with at present. No such concern prohibits them when it comes to wagering war. "The cost of the US’s operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with wider efforts in the “war against terror”, could reach $2,400bn (£1,175bn, €1,700) over the next decade, with interest payments representing more than a quarter of the total, the US Congressional Budget Office said on Wednesday. The figures, presented to the House of Representatives budget committee by Peter Orszag, the CBO’s director, are based on an assumption that US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will be reduced to a total of 75,000 by 2013 and stay at that level for a further four years." (Financial Times, 24 October) RD

Thursday, November 01, 2007

CALIFORNIAN NIGHTMARE

The dreadful fires in California that led to death and destruction were well reported in the British press, but what was hardly covered was the plight of the immigrant workers. "Out of the burning brush, from behind canyon rocks, several immigrants bolted toward a group of fire-fighters, chased not by the border police but by the onrush of flames from one of the biggest wildfires this week. ... Immigrants from south of the border, many illegal, provide the backbone of menial labour in San Diego, picking fruit, cleaning hotel rooms, sweeping walks and mowing lawns. The wildfires, one of the biggest disasters to strike the county, exposed their often-invisible existence in ways that were sometimes deadly. The four bodies were found in a burned area in south-eastern San Diego County, a region known for intense illegal immigration. ...Terri Trujillo, who helps the immigrants, checked on those in the canyons, urging them to leave, too, when she left her house in Rancho Peñasquitos ahead of the fires. Ms. Trujillo and others who help the immigrants said they saw several out in the fields as the fires approached and ash fell on them. She said many were afraid to lose their jobs.“There were Mercedeses and Jaguars pulling out, people evacuating, and the migrants were still working,” said Enrique Morones, who takes food and blankets to the immigrants’ camps. “It’s outrageous.” Some of the illegal workers who sought help from the authorities were arrested and deported." (New York Times, 27 October)
What a comment on capitalism, some workers live in such poverty and insecurity they give up their lives in an attempt to keep a menial weekly wage. RD

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