Monday, March 31, 2008

WORDS OF WISDOM

"The famed science fiction writer, who once denigrated religion as "a necessary evil in the childhood of our particular species," left written instructions that his funeral be completely secular, according to his aides. "Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral," he wrote. (Yahoo News, 19 March) RD

A BLEAK FUTURE

"A world without fresh water would be a world bereft of humans, and yet one in five people lacks regular access to this most basic of life-sustaining substances. By 2025, fully a third of the planet's growing population could find itself scavenging for safe drinking water, the United Nations has warned ahead of World Water Day on Saturday. More than two million people in developing countries -- the vast majority children -- die every year from diseases associated with unsanitary water. Desperation forces people to consume these contaminated waters. ..."Poor sanitation combines with a lack of safe drinking water and inadequate hygiene to contribute to the terrible global death toll," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said earlier this month. "Every 20 seconds, a child dies as a result of the abysmal sanitation conditions endured by some 2.6 billion people globally," he said in launching the International Year of Sanitation." (Yahoo News, 19 March) RD

Edukashun

Fewer pupils from deprived backgrounds are going to university in Scotland despite a raft of initiatives to widen participation, according to a new report.

In 2006-07, just 14% of school-leavers from secondaries in the lowest participation areas for higher education went to university compared to 19% in 2002-03. Over the same period, the proportion of pupils from the schools which enjoy the highest rates of progression to higher education has fallen only slightly, from 31% to 29%.

One of the aspirations of the government expansion of higher education in the mid-1980s, and then again in 1992, was to allow wider participation, but the main beneficiaries have been the "middle" classes.

John McClelland, chairman of the Scottish Funding Council said more should be done to address inequalities of opportunity.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "It is unacceptable that an educational gap between advantaged and disadvantaged people opens up early in a child's life and continues throughout."

Yet another failure of well-meaning palliatives .

Socialist Courier also wonders if the UK will follow the growing trend in the American student loan market where banks including HSBC, have pulled out . In the US, many undergraduates take out a federal guaranteed loan and top up their financial needs with a private loan from lenders such as Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Citi-group. In the academic year 2005-06, $17 billion in private student loans was used to finance higher education. Banks have become reluctant to offer private student loans because worsening credit conditions have meant that they cannot package up the loans and sell them on. The brightest students who win places at America’s rich Ivy League universities will be affected less because of generous bursaries - which do not have to be repaid – less able students applying to other institutions are expected to face difficulty in securing private loans to fund their study. At one end of the field is Harvard University, with $34 billion of endowments, and at the other are many community colleges and low-tier universities with limited resources.
"...those students with poor credit scores or without the rich uncle co-signers [loan guarantor] may have real problems funding themselves.” The Consumer Bankers’ Association, said

Sunday, March 30, 2008

HEARTLESS CAPITALISM

"Genzyme, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, has long charged more than $300,000 a year for typical patients on Cerezyme, a drug used to treat Gaucher disease, a rare, sometimes fatal, inherited disorder that can cause enlarged livers and spleens, anemia and bone deterioration. Cerezyme, which is administered intravenously, eases their symptoms. ...The experience with Cerezyme and other biological drugs defies conventional wisdom on drug marketing, which holds that blockbuster drugs — generating revenues of a billion dollars a year or more — are generally those that can be sold to vast numbers of people. But Genzyme has made Cerezyme a blockbuster, with sales of $1.1 billion last year, by charging very high prices for a few thousand patients. That could bode ill for efforts to curb health care costs if, as expected, the future of medicine lies in targeting treatments to limited numbers of patients most likely to benefit from them. The company is essentially exploiting a monopoly position to charge what the market will bear to treat desperate patients with no other option. (New York Times, 23 March) RD

The reward for failure

We read Northern Rock's former boss Adam Applegarth received a £750,000 pay-off when he left last December. Applegarth, who is 46, is also entitled to draw on a pension pot of £2.5m at the age of 55 . Experts say that could bring him retirement benefits of up to £200,000 a year.

As we all have read Northern Rock collapsed and bad management was a factor in this bank's demise . So is this a capitalism's reward for failure ?

Many of us facing attacks on our final salary pension schemes will also be wondering why we have to work longer for less while the rich can dip into a retirement pot of gold .

Friday, March 28, 2008

Council Leaders Fat Cats

The number of "fat cat" council bosses being paid more than £100,000 a year has risen by 25%, new figures show.

A town hall "rich list" revealed that 818 local authority bosses now earn more than £100,000. In 2005-06 it was 645.

The average pay package for those on the list was more than £120,000 - nearly five times the starting wage of a police constable. Fourteen earned more than the prime minister's £188,000 annual salary, while six received more than £200,000 from the public purse.

Despite Gordon Brown's demand for an inflation-guarding 2% cap on public sector wage settlements, top council bosses enjoyed an average rise of 4.6% - more than double that of last year.

"Too often, council executives are rewarded handsomely even when they fail," said the chief executive of the pressure group TaxPayers' Alliance .

The top 10 best-paid council officials, 2006-07
1. Northamptonshire: Peter Gould, chief executive, £215,000
2. City of Kingston-upon-Hull: Kim Ryley, chief executive, £213,162
3. Kensington and Chelsea: Derek Myers, town clerk and chief executive, £205,000
4. Northampton: Mairi Mclean, chief executive, £205,000
5. Bexley: Nick Johnson, chief executive, £203,000
6. Hertfordshire: Caroline Tapster, chief executive, £201,485
7. Ealing: Darra Singh, chief executive, £195,456
8. Surrey: Dr Richard Shaw, chief executive, £195,330
9. Cambridgeshire: Ian Stewart, chief executive, £195,000
10. Westminster: Peter Rogers, chief executive, £195,000

Thursday, March 27, 2008

HOME OF THE BRAVE

"The homeless population of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina has reached unprecedented levels for a U.S. city: one in 25 residents. An estimated 12,000 homeless accounts for 4% of New Orleans' estimated population of 302,000, according to the homeless advocacy group UNITY of Greater New Orleans. The number is nearly double the pre-Katrina homeless count, the group says." (USA Today, 16 March) RD

Credit Crunch - Not for everyone , it seems

Bob Diamond, the US banker who runs Barclays' investment banking arm, has cemented his position as one of the highest paid bosses in a FTSE 100 company after receiving almost £36m last year. The figure comprises £21m in cash, bonuses and shares in addition to £14.8m from a three-year performance plan. The £21m includes his £250,000 base salary, £6.5m cash bonus, a £11.3m share award held in a trust for three years and £3m of shares which will be received in three years provided performance criteria are achieved. His total is boosted by the £14.8m "retained incentive opportunity" - half in cash, half in shares - put in place three years ago when he joined the Barclays board.

Diamond achieved the bonus even though Barclays took a £1.6bn hit from the sub-prime crisis in the US and despite ongoing financial woes which have seen billions wiped off share values worldwide. The bank's profits in 2007 were £7bn, the same as 2006, and its share price has suffered.

The report published yesterday also exposed the pay to bankers working on takeovers. Barclays paid one former director £600,000 a month during the bank's ill-fated bid for Dutch rival ABN Amro. Naguib Kheraj received the sum, plus £14,178 a month in benefits, from May to December 2007 for a "corporate finance advisory role". The £4.9m he received was in addition to the £657,000 he was paid to the end of April while he helped his successor settle in.

Asylum Britain

A report, published by the Independent Asylum Commission which has been the most comprehensive examination of the UK's asylum system ever conducted , with testimonies from every sphere of society, including three former home secretaries, more than 100 NGOs, 90 asylum-seekers, the police, local authorities, and hundreds of citizens, has found it "marred by inhumanity" and "not yet fit for purpose". The commission found that Britain's treatment of asylum-seekers "falls seriously below the standards to be expected of a humane and civilised society". The report details how the "adversarial" system is failing applicants from the very first point of interview, with officials accused of stacking the odds against genuine claimants. "A 'culture of disbelief' persists among decision-makers," it said. "Along with lack of access to legal advice for applicants this is leading to perverse and unjust decisions." "Some of those seeking sanctuary, particularly women, children and torture survivors, have additional vulnerabilities that are not being appropriately addressed," it found.

The use of detention centres – especially to lock up children, pregnant women and torture victims – was condemned, as was the often brutal handling of removals, and the use of destitution as a tool to drive claimants out of the country.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

GOT IT? FLAUNT IT

"In a shipyard in Germany, Blohm & Voss workers are building a mammoth yacht called the Eclipse. Like many things in the secretive world of super yachts, its exact length is hard to pin down. So is the name of its owner, and the cost of building it. But according to the Web site of The Yacht Report, one of several publications that track yachting with the same intensity that gossip magazines cover Hollywood hunks, the Eclipse is 531.5 feet long. That’s six and a half feet longer than the Dubai, an 11,600-ton behemoth that now holds the record as the world’s largest yacht. Its owner is the ruler of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. The extra length on the Eclipse isn’t an accident. Supersized yachts are the latest examples of one-upmanship among billionaires, many of whom already own a private jet, a Rolls-Royce or two, and multiple mansions. Despite fear of an economic recession and unrelenting job pressures among those who remain yachtless, there’s still a lot of money floating around the world. And as the superrich get richer, the size of yachts grows bigger and bigger, too. (New York Times, 16 March) RD

On the Fiddle

Capitalism is a strange type of money society . We read throughout the 1920s stock market crash, the Second World War and the oil crises of the 1970s, there was one stock which remained steady – fine violins. As global financial uncertainty strikes again, investors shy of the FTSE and put off by property may wish to consider putting their money into a Stradivarius instead.

This is the hope of the Fine Violins Fund, a syndicate set up by the renowned violin restorer and trader Florian Leonhard, which is hoping to attract investment for about 50 pre-19th century Italian violins. The project aims to loan the instruments to up-and- coming performers – old violins are worth more when they are in use, and being linked to the career of a musical star can also increase their value. The cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, the historian and philosopher Theodore Zeldin and the principal of the Royal Academy of Music, Professor Sir Curtis Price, all sit on the advisory board of the investment vehicle, the first fund investing in fine violins, with a target of €60m (£46m) in commitments. The fund has already attracted pledged investment of €25m and hopes to be running by the early summer. The violin fund can achieve a net return of from 12 to 15 per cent.

What about wine investment ?

In recent years there have been several vintage wine harvests, making it a good time for investors. The Wine Investment Fund, set up by Peter Lunzer, holds and sells for maximum returns, based on the principle that certain fine wines in limited supply increase in quick, short bursts over time.

Or perhps stamps ?

Leading dealer Stanley Gibbons offers an investment service, based on its 150 years experience of philately. Salomon Brothers rated stamps among the top four investments of the 20th century, giving an average annual return of 10 per cent. Autographs and rare coins also offer investment opportunities.

Maybe cars ?

Cars are not usually a good investment but vintage cars can make money, particularly if they are rare and have low mileage.

But , of course , in the end , the real source of wealth is always the workers labour and the surplus value they produce .

A caring society ??

THE number of Scottish children in care is at its highest in two decades and youngsters are being pushed on to the streets at just 16, leaving them vulnerable to addiction, violence and homelessness a new report from Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People .

The report highlights the gulf between children brought up with their families – who are increasingly staying at home until well into their twenties – and those who are in care.Although Scottish Government policy dictates that children should leave at 18, six times as many are leaving at 16, often coerced by social services.The report found that children with "challenging behaviour" are those under most pressure to leave. More than one in 10 reported episodes of homelessness. Some were sent to bed-and-breakfasts - at least one youngster had to share accommodation with a convicted murderer. Senior social work sources said 16-year-olds were being squeezed out to make way for an army of needy children

Author of the report ,Ms Marshall, said: "In many cases children and young people in care are seen as a troublesome burden rather than a vulnerable person to be nurtured. At 16 - the time they need help to cope - many are all but completely abandoned with little, if any aftercare."

The report states that the level of 15- to 18-year-olds who are homeless "represents a shocking failure in corporate parenting".It claims authorities are either failing to keep under-18s within the care system, or not supporting them afterwards in accordance with the legal duty that extends to the age of 19. Although the laws and the policy in place supported the children and prioritised their interests, there was a gulf between that and practice.

Tam Baillie, the assistant director of Policy and Influencing at Barnardo's Scotland, said: "Nowadays, most young people stay at home well into their twenties, yet most looked-after young people leave care aged 16 or 17. We need to ask ourselves why our most vulnerable young people are expected to be fully independent at such a young age, often in very difficult circumstances..."

Elsewhere , we read more than a quarter of drug addicts due to receive treatment have been waiting for more than a year .

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

work causes cancer

Further to this earlier post that health inequalities between rich and poor have widened since Labour came to office in 1997 , American research shows that night-shift workers, and their number is growing by about 3% per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics , are known to be at higher risk for accidents, sleep disorders and psychological stress due to daytime demands, such as family and other obligations, that interfere with sleeping. Now scientific evidence suggests their disrupted circadian rhythms may also cause a kind of biological revolt, raising their likelihood of obesity, cancer, reproductive health problems, mental illness and gastrointestinal disorders.

The evidence for an increased cancer risk is so compelling that, in December, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a unit of the World Health Organization, declared that shift work is "probably carcinogenic to humans."

*Night-shift workers have a 40% to 50% increased risk of heart disease compared with day workers, various studies have found.
* People who get five hours of sleep, common among night-shift workers, are 50% more likely to be obese than normal sleepers, Columbia University researchers have found. Several dozen other studies have tied sleep loss to weight gain as well.
* Women night-shift workers have higher rates of miscarriage, pre-term birth and low birth-weight babies.
* Night-shift workers show increased rates of breast (by 50%) and colon (by 35%) cancer in numerous, independent studies. And animal studies have shown that exposure to dim light during the night-time can substantially increase tumor development.

ANOTHER SNOUT IN THE TROUGH

"Patricia Hewitt is to join BT later this month as a non-executive director, boosting her salary by a healthy £60,000.The appointment of the former Secretary of State for both Trade and Health into one of Britain's largest private companies muddies the water between politics and business." (The Register, 13 March) RD

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

"Five years after the United States invaded Iraq, plenty of people believe that the war was waged chiefly to secure U.S. petroleum supplies and to make Iraq safe -- and lucrative -- for the U.S. oil industry. We may not know the real motivations behind the Iraq war for years, but it remains difficult to distill oil from all the possibilities. (Washington Post, 16 March) RD

GOOD NEWS FOR SOME

"The housing crisis and credit crunch may end the American dream of property ownership for millions of people, but for landlords seeking bargain investment properties the market is looking up. ...Building contractor Chad Blankenbaker seeks foreclosed homes to "flip" -- buying at well below market value, refitting then selling them at a hefty profit. "I'm shocked at how low the prices are here," he said. "There's so much inventory that no one has to fight to buy anything. "Around the country the housing crisis represents both a business opportunity for landlords and a huge shift in the rental market." (Yahoo News, 17 March) RD

The big gamblers

Despite the turmoil in the markets, bank failures and write-offs amounting to £60.5 billion City bonuses will top £6 billion this year.

Dozens of bankers at Goldman Sachs, for example, were awarded bonuses of at least £5m each at Christmas, with one lucky trader pocketing more than £10m in cash and shares. The average bonus at Goldman Sachs last year, one of the more extravagant payers, was £300,000. Staff are thought to be dreading the possibility that the average this year will be a mere £200,000 – And , of course , that is all on top of salaries and other emoluments.
Professor Stigliz said "Even if they lose their jobs, they walk away with large sums..."

Professor Stiglitz, a former chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, under Bill Clinton explained ."...When things turned out well, they walked away with huge bonuses. When things turn out badly – as now – they do not share in the losses...The system was designed to encourage risk taking – but it encouraged excessive risk taking. In effect, it paid them to gamble...It is one thing to gamble with one's own money – but these bankers were gambling with other people's money – and with the government backstopping any losses. This is unconscionable."

Monday, March 24, 2008

NO CREDIT CRUNCH HERE

"Gulfstream Aerospace on Thursday unveiled plans to build the largest, fastest and most expensive private jet for delivery starting in 2012. Gulfstream said its new G650 will be capable of flying nearly 700 mph, faster than a Boeing 747. It will seat 18, have a full kitchen and bar, and offer individualized entertainment, satellite phone service and wireless Internet access during the flight. Passengers will be able to sip a cocktail at 51,000 feet, its maximum altitude, the company says. "The G650 is in a brand new market by itself," said Gulfstream President Joe Lombardo. At a base price of $58 million, it will cost about $10 million more than its predecessor, Gulfstream's G550. With a flying range of more than 8,000 miles, it will be capable of whisking heads of state, CEOs and other VIPs from New York to Tokyo or Buenos Aires non-stop. (USA Today, 13 March) RD

THE POOR DIE YOUNGER

"Health inequalities between rich and poor have widened since Labour came to office in 1997. A report published yesterday shows that attempts to narrow the gaps have largely failed. In infant mortality and life expectancy, two important measures, the gap is wider now than it was then. David Sinclair, head of policy at Help the Aged, said that the figures made a mockery of the Government's attempts to tackle rising inequality and represented a staggering failure. “The starkest demonstration of the gap between rich and poor can be seen in the gulf in life expectancy between different social groups. Despite the Government's commitment that no-one should be disadvantaged by where they live, the reality is that people who are poor, or who live in poor communities die earlier” he said. (Times, 14 March) RD

Sunday, March 23, 2008

MPs REDUNDANCY BENEFITS

Teresa Hunter in an article in Scotland on Sunday makes some interesting points on how the redundancy payments could be eroded for some workers,
In a previous article here in the Socialist Courier, the advantages of being an MP were, you decide what MPs need and vote it through parliament, this part of the article shows further advantages over the rest of us.
Is this money taxed?
"The first £30,000 of a redundancy payout is free from tax and National Insurance, provided it is genuinely compensation for redundancy. Above this amount, payments are added to your earnings for that year and taxed at your highest marginal rate. To qualify for £30,000 tax exemption you must be made redundant. Gardening leave, for example, is not redundancy, and neither is three months' salary in lieu of notice.PricewaterhouseCoopers' tax partner Valerie Smart said:
"The (HM Customs &] Revenue can also be very difficult about contractual payments. So, for example, if you have a contract which says you must be paid so much if the employer asks you to leave early, they view this as a contractual payment not redundancy."Even more worrying, the taxman is increasingly scrutinising redundancy payments made to people in their 50s. Smart adds: "If you are made redundant in your 50s and never work again, is that redundancy or pre-retirement? If you don't work again, they are beginning to try to argue that it is a retirement lump sum and should be taxed."The exception to this rule is MPs who enjoy a special privilege, extended in the recent Budget to members of the Greater London Council, and London mayor Ken Livingstone.If MPs lose an election or decide to leave they can apply for a resettlement grant which can pay half of their £61,000 salary if they have been in the house for less than 10 years, rising to 100% over 15 years at certain age groups. MPs enjoy the first £30,000 of their resettlement grant tax-free, even though they would not be entitled to under the rules which apply to the rest of us."

Privatise Profits - Socialise Losses

BANK OF England governor Mervyn King used his now-famous meeting with the chief executives of the "big five" UK banks last Thursday to admonish them for increasing shareholder dividends.

On February 27, HBOS hiked its dividend by 18% to 48.9p meaning the bank offers a yield of 6.9%. It also lowered the targets under which directors would receive payouts on its executive incentive schemes. Previously directors only received bonuses under the scheme should the bank's shares outperform a basket of UK banks by 3%. Under the new rules, HBOS only needs to be 1.5% above rivals to trigger pay-outs.

Colin McLean, chief executive of SVM Asset Management said: "It just seems wrong that bankers are looking for support and essentially public money at a time when both dividends and executive pay are not only high but have also just been raised."

As we previously reported annual reports from RBS and HBOS show that Sir Fred Goodwin's remuneration totalled £4.19 million in 2007. Hornby's package climbed 22.5% to £1.93 million.

Lest we forget - Hung out to Dry


The richest 10 per cent of the UK population increased their share of the nation's marketable wealth (excluding housing) from 57 per cent in 1976 to 71 per cent in 2003.


Over the same period, the speculative capital that could be deployed or invested by the bottom 50 per cent of the British population fell from 12 per cent to just 1 per cent.


The wealthiest 1 per cent of the population, on current government figures, now control more than a third of all the marketable wealth – and this ignores the vast sums held in offshore tax havens.


The New Economics Foundation has shown that global growth has not aided the poor. In the 1980s, for every $100 of world growth, the poorest 20 per cent received $2.20; by 2001, they received only 60 cents. Clearly , growth disproportionately benefits the rich and further impoverishes the poor.


Real wage increases in the top 13 countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development have been below the rate of inflation since about 1970 – a situation compounded in Britain as the measure of inflation massively underestimates the real cost of living.


Thus wage earners – rather than asset owners – have faced a 35-year downward pressure on their standard of living. Indeed, the golden age for the salaried worker, as a share of GDP, was between 1945 and 1973 – and not this vaunted age of liberalisation.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

spoiled kids or a spoiled world

The media will no doubt concentrate the headlines on over-indulgent parents , the liberal minded permissive mum and dad who won't instill a sense of discipline in their kids but for those of us who seek deeper understanding other parts of the report come to our attention . The problem lay with parents who were struggling with little or no help to bring up their children in a heavily commercialised world.

The report urged the government to tackle the commercialisation of culture head-on.

Research author Maurice Galeton said: "It is particularly acute where people are living in violent neighbourhoods. ..Very young parents in violent and deprived neighbourhoods without the network of support that others get ... have a huge level of stress in their lives."

Schools indeed reflect society in general .

Friday, March 21, 2008

NOT ACCORDING TO PLAN

When the US and UK forces invaded Iraq we were assured that the plan was to improve the lot of the Iraqi population, but like a lot of political promises the reality was to lead to a far different conclusion. "The humanitarian situation in post-war Iraq five years after the US-led invasion is one of the most critical in the world, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a report late Sunday. Millions in the country had no access to drinking water, sanitation or healthcare. ...Although the situation had improved in some areas, Iraqis were either killed or wounded in daily attacks or violence with civilians often being targeted, said the report. Healthcare was far too expensive for the average citizen, it added. A recent World Health Organisation and Iraqi health ministry report estimated that 151,000 people were killed between the start of the invasion on March 20, 2003 and June 2006. Other estimates have put the number of civilian deaths as a result of the conflict between nearly 48,000 and as high as 601,000." (Yahoo News, 16 March) RD

We're all Jock Tamson's Bairns

John McCain , the Republican hopeful for the presidency , eager to glean votes whereever they can be found insisted the senator's family was descended from the Scottish king, Robert the Bruce .

"John McCain's family is of Scottish-Irish descent and related to the Scottish king, Robert the Bruce, on his mother's side".

And also "in direct descent" from Emperor Charlemagne.

Asked by the Guardian to investigate McCain's family history, genealogists and medieval historians described the link to Robert the Bruce as "wonderful fiction" and "baloney".

"What wonderful fiction," Dr Katie Stevenson, a lecturer in medieval studies at the University of St Andrews said. "Mary Louise Earle's claims to descent from Robert the Bruce are likely to be fantasy. Earle is not a Scottish name. I think it is incredibly unlikely that name would be related to Robert the Bruce. Charlemagne and Robert the Bruce were not connected - that's ludicrous."

Robert I was believed to have had up to a dozen children - several illegitimately. Basic calculations suggested there could be as many as 200 million people distantly related to him.

"In that sense McCain probably is descended from Bruce. So am I. So are you. So is everyone." Dr Bruce Durie, academic manager, genealogical studies at the University of Strathclyde said .

But you never know .

Dr Durie added that despite his romantic reputation, Robert the Bruce was "an absolute scoundrel".
"... he was a self-serving, vainglorious opportunist ..." he said.

A bit like McCain himself .

A fine performance - a rich reward

Tim Bowdler, chief executive of Johnston Press, saw his emoluments surge 36%, to more than £1m, last year despite a fall in profits as the local newspaper group grappled with the changes affecting the industry. The annual report for Edinburgh-headquartered Johnston Press shows Bowdler was the biggest winner in an increase in boardroom pay in 2007, when his earnings jumped from £800,000 to £1,088,000.The rise was largely due to a dramatic increase in the amounts that Bowdler received under performance-related bonuses, from £236,000 to £516,000. Bowdler's base salary rose by 3% to £556,000. Bowdler was also awarded 125,200 shares under a performance share scheme .He is in line to receive 242,911 shares under the PSP if the conditions are met. At yesterday's closing price of 128.5p these would be worth £312,140.

Performance related bonus ? A fall in profits ? Johnston Press reported a 6.3% decline in pre-tax profits .

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Socialist Party
Annual Conference

Socialist Party Head Office, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 (nearest tube:Clapham North).

Friday 21 March 10:30–17:30. Saturday 22 March 11:00–16:30.

1904 - 2008 Over a century of socialist activity.

About us - Our Principles

What is Socialism ? - F.A.Q. - What is Capitalism?

website: http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/index.html

journal: socialist standard
website: http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/standardonline/

Visitors welcome at all Socialist Party meetings.


No Silver Lining

Does every cloud have a silver lining ? Will falling house prices help those to get the first time buyers on the rung of the property ladder ? Apparently not .

Homeowners and those hoping to step onto the property ladder have both been dealt a blow after a senior Bank of England policymaker warned that house prices will fall but the impact of the credit crunch means affordability won't improve.

The global economic environment has become tougher, forcing lenders to become more cautious about extending mortgages to borrowers . First-time buyers in particular are being forced to accumulate bigger desposits, making it more difficult for them to benefit from a long-anticipated drop in house prices.

"We may see prices fall this year, but because of credit conditions, affordability will probably not improve at all," Miss Barker said. She added: "Finding deposits has become more difficult because of the credit crunch..."

British banks have raised the cost of borrowing for homebuyers with the smallest deposits to a seven-year high and have declined to pass on two Bank of England interest rate cuts. Central bank figures show that the average rate offered by lenders on loans for 95 per cent of the price of a property, fixed for two years, is 6.55 per cent - the highest since September 2000. In January, mortgage approvals were close to the lowest in nine years.
The UK housing market has slumped to the worst since the eve of the nation's last recession in 1990, a survey by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors showed last month.
Too few homes are being built to meet Britain's housing needs, and that the number of new houses built would probably fall this year.

A DESPAIRING WORLD

“While many of the poor are making progress, many of the very poorest are stuck at the bottom. Nearly 10 million children die each year because their families, communities and nations are too poor to sustain them. The instability of impoverished and water-stressed countries has ignited a swath of violence across the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. What we call violent fundamentalism should be seen for what it really is: poverty, hunger, water scarcity and despair. "(Time, 19 March) RD

OUTDATED MARXISM?

"A study of the effect of religion on quality of life claims that religious people are happier the more often they go to church and pray. The research, presented to the Royal Economic Society, gathered data from thousands across Europe including the UK and found that religious people have better “life satisfaction” than their non-religious counterparts." (Times, 18 March) Religion is the opium of the people. It is the heart of a heartless world. The cry of the oppressed creature." (Karl Marx, 1844) RD

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

THIS IS PROGRESS?

"There have been virtual fences, real fences, increased patrols and night-vision cameras. Now the latest initiative by the US to seal its increasingly porous border with Mexico harks back to one of the oldest approaches: dig a moat. City officials in Yuma, in south-western Arizona, have come up with a scheme to create a "security channel" along the nearby border by reviving a derelict two-mile stretch of the Colorado river. "The moats that I've seen circled the castle and allowed you to protect yourself, and that's kind of what we're looking at here," Yuma county sheriff Ralph Ogden told the Associated Press. (Guardian, 14 March) RD

A BRIGHT FUTURE?

No so long ago the capitalist media was full of futurologists predicting the four hour day, the three day week and retirement at fifty years of age. The big problem of the future would be leisure. How wrong all that nonsense was is shown by what is happening in the most advanced capitalist nation on earth. "A third of Americans 50 and over are not confident they will have enough money to retire, and more than two-thirds expect to keep working well into old age, according to a survey published Wednesday. The report, commissioned by retirement services firm SecurePath by Transamerica, suggests the surge in companies offering defined-contribution 401(k) plans has not displaced Social Security as the ultimate safety net for retirees." (Yahoo News, 12 March) RD

REFORMISM FAILS AGAIN (2)

"Despite a pledge to cut the health gap between the richest and poorest, the difference in life expectancy is widening, a government report shows. The aim is to reduce the differences in male and female life expectancy by 10% by 2010. But the report shows the gap between those in the most deprived areas of England and the rest of the country is getting worse. ...Professor Danny Dorling, an expert in human geography at Sheffield University, said the inequalities were now at "unprecedented levels". "This is the first Labour or Liberal government to see this gap widen."...David Sinclair, head of policy at Help the Aged said poverty was a "central consideration". He added: "It remains the case that those who are wealthier can afford to stay active and healthy, those in poverty cannot."
(BBC News, 13 March) RD

Debt for the workers

The [so-called] middle classes have become the latest victims of the spiralling debt crisis because of “super-inflationary” rises in the cost of living, a leading debt group said yesterday.

The Consumer Credit Counselling Service said that while steep rises in energy and mortgage costs had hit the oldest and poorest hardest, the increases had been so dramatic that even the professional classes were struggling. Experts said that the figures marked a more serious era in the country’s battle with debt because they showed that the problem had extended from borrowers with credit cards and personal loans to all households, irrespective of how much they had borrowed or what they earned.

Rises in mortgage costs have had a disproportionate impact on higherincome earners because they spend more of their disposable incomes on property, the counselling service said. It found that this group now spends 44 per cent of their net salary on their rent or mortgage, up from 34 per cent five years ago; households below the poverty line spend 8 per cent.

The figures came after Citizens Advice Bureaux reported a 35 per cent increase in inquiries from homeowners worried about paying the mortgage.

Experian, the credit reference agency, published a debt map of Britain yesterday, giving a breakdown of how much towns and cities owe. Residents of Chester-le-Street have borrowed the most on credit cards and loans, with an average amount outstanding of £5,248. Borrowers in Northern Ireland owe the least, with an average of £2,291. Experian said that mortgage balances had grown the most in areas that had experienced the highest house price growth in the past 12 months, such as Northern Ireland, Kensington & Chelsea and Wandsworth.

The average fuel bill has reached more than £1,000 a year after recent price rises by energy companies, while the average home loan went up by almost £9,000 between 2006 and 2007, from £118,536 to £127,039, the Council of Mortgage Lenders said.

Credit Action, another debt charity, said that second-home owners and older people who had taken out equity from their homes to help to fund their retirement were at particularly high risk from rising living costs, because of their exposure to the downturn in the property market as well as more expensive mortgage rates on these deals.

The counselling service said that the profile of those asking for help was becoming “older and poorer”. For the first time it found that customers over the age of 60 had the highest level of debt, at £29,642. The inflation rate for people over 75 is now 3.4 per cent, compared with an official inflation rate of 2.5 per cent, according to Alliance Trust, the investment group.
Other research showed that an increasing number of desperate homeowners are resorting to dangerous measures to get out of debt. In the past three years 6.5 million mortgage borrowers have lumped separate credit card and personal loan debts into one, according to Moneyexpert.com

The director of Credit Action, said: “This is a new era for the UK’s debt crisis. Previously, debt problems were confined to people with credit cards and loans. Now, everyone is struggling with essentials, such as utility bills and mortgages.”

Bankers still rake it in

Fred Goodwin regained his place as the highest-paid executive at Royal Bank of Scotland last year after taking home £4.2 million. Goodwin's pay package was up 5% from 2006 with a basic salary of £1.3m and a performance bonus of £2.9m. He also earned extra pension rights worth £772,000 in the course of the year and netted a paper profit of £1.2m after exercising cut-price options on nearly 500,000 shares under a performance scheme. Goodwin's pay package made him the best-paid of Royal Bank's executives. It could have been higher but he missed out on 286,579 shares that could have been awarded under a medium-term performance plan from 2005 as the company failed to meet targets.

Mike Fisher, who has gone to manage Royal Bank's portion of the ABN Amro business took home £2.4m in pay and bonuses, up 24% on 2006. Finance director Guy Whittaker who benefited last year from major pay-outs to compensate him for his move from Citigroup in 2006. In 2007, he received £3.35m in pay. Larry Fish, who ran the bank's US subsidiary Citizens Financial, also fell back in the pay stakes. He netted £6.6m in 2006 but in 20007 had to make do with around £2m in pay and bonuses.

In these times of financial troubles and credit crunch , isn't it good to see how those bankers are suffering hardship and sharing the woes with all us who are facing increased debt and higher bills .

For a socialist analysis of the present American capitialist crisis see Bubble Trouble

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Glasgow - Edinburgh Day School




Glasgow - Edinburgh Day School


CAPITALISM IN

THE 21st CENTURY


Why Capitalism Can't Go Green.

Paul Bennet

Another Century of Wars?

Gwynn Thomas

The Tyrany of Copyright.

Tristan Miller



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Saturday 10 May from 1 to 5pm
Venue: Maryhill Community Halls,

304 Maryhill Road, Glasgow.


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Each speaker will speak for up to 30 minutes, the rest of the session will be taken up by questions and discussions.


Fresh tea, coffee and light refreshments will be available all afternoon.
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Why Capitalism can't go green.

1.00 till 2.15 pm

Capitalism is simply unable to run on green lines, as its motive force is expansion and domination, with no thought for the consequences for the people or the environment. In this talk Paul Bennett, Manchester Branch,will argue that capitalism is unable to cope with the ecological challenges that lie ahead, from global warming,to depletion of resources.

Some writing on this subject
Pepper Standard Bennet Eco-Socialism












Another Century of War

3.45 till 5.00 pm

The new century opened with the promise of a "peace dividend".Tensions between the Super-powers had relaxed and the risk of interstate war seemed to have receeded only to be replaced by an increasing number of wars within states.Wars in which 90% of the casualties are civilians and 80% of those are women and children. Of the 50 major conflicts fought during the 1990's small arms were the weapons of choice in 46 of them..
Gwynn Thomas, South London Branch
, will argue that these are wars on the cheap

Some writing on war
Orwell Thomas BBC


The Tyranny of copyright

2.15 - 3.45 pm

Everything is owned inside capitalism. All the land, the factories, the seas and the farms. An equally pernicious aspect of capitalism is that it tries to own innovations and ideas, and indeed passes laws to protect their copyright.

Copyright










Tristan Miller, Central London Branch
looks at copyright laws and recent attempts to have ideas free to all by developments in the internet. The internet was devised as free for all to access but capitalism fears this development in the 21st century and has tried to restrict free access.

Some more writing on this subject.
Chomsky Miller

Monday, March 17, 2008

MORE WORDS OF WISDOM

"The last French veteran of World War I, an Italian immigrant who lied about his age to join the Foreign Legion and fight in the trenches, died Wednesday aged 110, President Nicolas Sarkozy said. Lazare Ponticelli, the last of more than eight million men who fought under French colours in the 1914-18 war that tore Europe apart, died at the home he shared with his daughter in Kremlin-Bicetre, a Paris suburb. Reflecting on his wartime experiences, he once said: "You shoot at men who are fathers: war is completely stupid." (Yahoo News, 12 March) RD

CARING CAPITALISM

From San Diego comes news about how capitalism treats the homeless. In 2006, the Regional Task Force on Homeless estimated the homeless population at 9,600 countywide, which included 4,400 people within the city of San Diego "Esther Viti, who oversees the donation of public benches for a merchants' association in La Jolla, sent an e-mail to 45 other activists last week asking them to sit in three-hour shifts, no bathroom breaks allowed. "After all, you MUST OCCUPY THAT BENCH continually for three hours to prevent that homeless person from sitting on that bench," the e-mail said. Donors weren't happy that transients were sleeping on benches they had provided for the public, Viti said. The group previously tried installing benches with metal dividers that split the seats. Transients simply began sleeping upright, said Deborah Marengo, president of Promote La Jolla." (Yahoo News, 10 March) RD

Friday, March 14, 2008

ANOTHER RAY OF HOPE

Socialists are often told that socialism is impossible because human beings are innately war-like and aggressive, but this report seems to suggest otherwise.
"More and more Israelis are avoiding mandatory military service— something long viewed in this country as a proud rite of passage. "In the past, it is true that not serving in the military was considered the exception," said Dr. Rueven Gal , author of "A Portrait of the Israeli Soldier" and former chief psychologist for the Israeli military. "In more recent years it became more tolerable and more acceptable to people." In 1997, according to army statistics, less than one in 10 Israeli men avoided their mandatory three-year military service. These days, it's closer to three in 10. Women, too, are opting out at a faster pace: Over the last decade, the number of women avoiding military duty rose from 37 percent to 44 percent." (Yahoo News, 2 March) RD

A RAY OF HOPE

The awful carnage in the hate-filled Middle East and the religious brutality there fills socialists with gloom but this report would seem to suggest that all is not lost.
"After almost five years of war, many young people in Iraq, exhausted by constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and sceptical of the faith that they preach. In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have narrowed their lives. “I hate Islam and all the clerics because they limit our freedom every day and their instruction became heavy over us,” said Sara, a high school student in Basra. “Most of the girls in my high school hate that Islamic people control the authority because they don’t deserve to be rulers.” Atheer, a 19-year-old from a poor, heavily Shiite neighbourhood in southern Baghdad, said: “The religion men are liars. Young people don’t believe them. Guys my age are not interested in religion anymore.”
(New York Times, 4 March) RD

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Budget - No relief for child poverty

Don't believe us - this , out of their own mouths .

John McDonnell , Labour Party MP , on the budget :-

" In 1999 the Government said it would halve child poverty by 2010 - taking 1.7m children out of poverty. To date it has missed its targets and only removed 600,000 children from poverty. In the pre-budget briefings pouring out of Number 10 and the Treasury we were all led to believe that the Chancellor would make a major announcement today to get the Government back on course to meet its target.Instead, the Chancellor has admitted defeat in the war against child poverty and has confirmed that the Government will not meet its 2010 target - and will leave over 2.5m children still living in poverty in the fifth richest countries in the world. The measures announced today will only remove at most a further 250,000 children from poverty by 2010.

In calculating child poverty the Government has massaged the figures by removing housing costs from the calculation. If these costs are put back the real assessment of child poverty confirms that in fact 3.5 million children will remain in poverty in our society.

If after eleven years in office, a Labour Government cannot meet such a basic aim of lifting our children out of poverty, many will judge this period of government as the greatest missed opportunity in the history of the Labour party."

Real soicialists have been saying since the formation of the Labour Party its members and supporters have always been deluded in the mistaken belief that Labour puts the poor before profits .

Poor Health for the poor

Socialist Courier has reported numerous times on the difference of quality of health between the privileged and un privileged and another report shows the gap between those in the most deprived areas of England and the rest of the country is getting worse. Despite a pledge to cut the health gap between the richest and poorest, the difference in life expectancy is widening, a government report shows.

The gap in life expectancy for women in the most deprived areas compared with the average was 2% wider in 2004-06 than in 1995-97. And the gap for women is now 11% wider. The difference in the infant mortality rate has been falling in recent years after a 2002 high, it is still significantly higher than it was a decade ago. For babies whose fathers have a "routine or manual occupation", the mortality rate in 2004-06 was 17% higher than that for the general population, compared to 13% in 1997-99.

Professor Danny Dorling, an expert in human geography at Sheffield University, said the inequalities were now at "unprecedented levels".
"This is the first Labour or Liberal government to see this gap widen. I can see why the government thought that just giving it time and spending money on it would work. But it worries me that there will be more excuses rather than an admission of failure."

David Sinclair, head of policy at Help the Aged said :
"It remains the case that those who are wealthier can afford to stay active and healthy, those in poverty cannot. "

Teaching War


This Saturday members of Glasgow and Edinburgh branches will be in attendnce at stop the war demonstration in Glasgow leafletting and selling the Socialist Standard . It is now a cliche to say that the first casuality of war is truth but the statement remains accurate .


Ministry of Defence teaching materials that give an unbalanced view of the Iraq war are being used in schools, teachers' leaders have said. He warned that some of its assertions, presented as facts, would be disputed by most teachers. There were no estimates of the numbers of people killed, wounded or made homeless by the military action, he said. The material therefore risked breaching the part of the 1996 Education Act concerned with balanced teaching of political issues .

He told reporters: "When you are dealing with something as controversial as Iraq and the different events that led up to the invasion, teachers are under a duty to present material that is balanced. The MoD material does not live up to that high standard..."


Mr Sinnott also criticised Army recruitment methods which he said did not present a balanced view of what joining the armed forces entailed. He said "unethical practices" had been unearthed in recent research by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. He claimed that youngsters from deprived backgrounds were being targeted by Army recruiters. Mr Sinnott said the recruiters engaged in "very dubious practices", targeting youngsters from poorer backgrounds.
"Youngsters from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have more limited opportunities in life than youngsters from better off backgrounds. It's simply a fact. I am not saying that youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds cannot get something from a career in the military.The Army has created a better life for some youngsters, but there are other youngsters who join up because they have little or no choice."


The teaching union will debate a motion at its upcoming conference which argues: "Military intervention in schools customarily presents a partisan view of war, largely by ignoring its fatal realities in favour of promises of travel, skill training and further or higher education course sponsorships otherwise often unavailable to young people, especially in area of high unemployment."

CAPITALISM ROTS THE BRAIN

"Exposure to traffic fumes for even a short time can alter the way the brain works, and may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, a study suggests. Very small particles inhaled from polluted air can end up in the brain, where they induce a stress response and change the way it processes information, Dutch researchers report in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology." (Times, 11 March) RD

YET ANOTHER ILLUSION

"Sakena Yacoobi well knows the hardships of Afghan women, caught between a war and the hopelessness of poverty and illiteracy. Yet on International Women's Day Saturday, the Afghan educator will not ask the world to help Afghan women. Instead, she will ask Afghan women to help the world. In a time of growing conflict around the world, she believes the wisdom and compassion of women can offer a way out. "Women bring tolerance and patience," she says. "Women can bring solutions – we cannot accomplish that with weapons." She is one of several hundred prominent female leaders from 45 countries who have come to India this week to seek ways to raise women's voices worldwide, hoping that their ideas – so often ignored – begin to move the world away from war. (Yahoo News, 7 March)
It is not gender ideas that cause war it is capitalism. Is Yacoobi not aware that Israel had a woman leader during much of their wars, that Pakistan had a woman leader in their conflicts with India and that Mrs Thatcher was the UK prime minister during the war in the Falklands RD

All the way to the bank

The Times tells us that :-

Andy Hornby, HBOS's chief executive, took home a £1.9 million pay packet for the year, including an annual bonus of £449,000.

Peter Cummings, chief executive of HBOS's corporate business, was paid £2.6 million, after picking up a £300,000 bonus from the executive bonus scheme and a further £1.3 million from a separate bonus plan run by the corporate division.

Benny Higgins, who was ousted last year as head of HBOS's retail banking business, was paid £2.3 million, including his full annual salary and benefits of £900,000 and the same amount again as a payout.

Dennis Stevenson, the chairman, was paid £821,000, including £113,000 in benefits. Jo Dawson and Dan Watkins, the new joint heads of the retail business, were paid £1 million and £329,000 respectively.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION?

"President Bush has vetoed a law preventing the CIA using interrogation techniques condemned by many as torture, because it “would take away one of the most valuable tools in the War on Terror”. ...The veto throws the spotlight back on to America's use of so-called coercive interrogation methods like waterboarding, the simulated drowning technique invented by Spanish inquisitors and adopted by regimes such as the Khmer Rouge." (Times, 10 March) RD

Income Tax - "It's not on "

"...completely unjust...Some people are talking about taking this to the European court of human rights." - What's got some people so het up ? Torture ? Exploitation ? Censorship ?Oppression ?

No - the tax-man is planning to to make life harder for the 2,000 British millionaires who call Monaco, the tax haven , home. The Guardian reports :-

Until now, tax rules that allow "non-residents" 90 days a year in Britain have contained a crucial loophole: the taxman has not counted "travel days" entering and leaving the country, allowing businesspeople to commute in on a Monday, leave on Wednesday, and claim to have spent just one day in the UK.It has in effect allowed Britons to spend most of the year - up to 270 days - working in Britain, while claiming to be residents of tax havens such as Monaco and to avoid paying tax. That will change under a stricter enforcement of the rules to be unveiled today which has unnerved tax lawyers serving Britons in several tax havens.
The change - likely to count travel days or overnight stays in the residency total - will particularly affect the so-called "Monaco mob", millionaire City workers whose commute entails a seven-minute helicopter ride from Monaco to Nice for a connecting flight to London, often by private jet, before a swift return to the Riviera.

"It's not just tax - it's about lifestyle. The streets are immaculate, there's no crime. You can have breakfast on your terrace, go skiing in the morning, and be back to the beach for the afternoon. I don't know a single person going back. They'll change their lifestyles - it's a nuisance - but they'll get round it."
The night for many "in-crowd" expatriates begins at the Bar Américain, with its Bentleys and Rolls Royces parked outside. The same faces dine in one of the two Michelin-starred restaurants in the Hôtel de Paris, and end the night in Jimmy'z, a nightclub where two shots cost €40 (£30)Another feature of the local nightlife is the well-dressed prostitutes with forced smiles who, more than one British resident admitted, are what "some of us spend our money on".

Roger Munns, who runs two property businesses for Monaco multimillionaires said "These people are quick thinkers. They can move quicker than the government" Those unwilling to change their commuting patterns, he said, were restructuring their companies to funnel money into their spouses' Monaco bank accounts.
A group of City bankers, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed they would "play the rules" to find a way to continue spending time at their desks in London while maintaining non-residency status and paying zero income tax.

"Most of these people running businesses and living in Monaco had got the whole system worked out - and it worked just fine," said Damian, a middle-aged "retiring accountant" and long-time Monaco resident. "And now the Treasury has moved the goalposts. It's not on."

It is an injustice , it is , isn't it ?

Food Shortages - "it's capitalism" - says a capitalist

We have reported on the rise in food prices that many commentators blame on changes in supply and demand for grain but the Times reports that the managing director of Greggs, the well known high street baker-shop chain , has attacked speculators for driving up the price of wheat and fuelling famine in Africa.

Michael Darrington said commodity traders were more to blame for spiralling food price inflation than poor harvests or farmland given over to biofuels.

“There are stocks of wheat and grain in the world, and crops are growing at the moment but funds are being set up as speculators see an opportunity to make some short-term money and someone has to pay for it. It's really sad for people in the developing world where food can account for 70 per cent of the family budget. Wheat is predominantly grown in America, Australia, Europe - the wealthier areas - and people in under-developed nations are hurting the most.” He added I suppose that's just capitalism but it's jolly disappointing. If society looked down on these funds then perhaps it would make a difference.”

Can't pay - Can't have - So starve .

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Labour For Capitalism

The UK should "celebrate the fact that people can be enormously wealthy in this country", Business Secretary John Hutton is expected to say.

In a speech he will argue that "more millionaires" are needed, calling freedom to get rich "a good thing".

THIS IS BRITISH JUSTICE?

"A gay teenager who sought sanctuary in Britain when his boyfriend was executed by the Iranian authorities now faces the same fate after losing his legal battle for asylum. Mehdi Kazemi, 19, came to London to study English in 2004 but later discovered that his boyfriend had been arrested by the Iranian police, charged with sodomy and hanged. In a telephone conversation with his father in Tehran, Mr Kazemi was told that before the execution in April 2006, his boyfriend had been questioned about sexual relations he had with other men and under interrogation had named Mr Kazemi as his partner. Fearing for his own life if he returned to Iran, Mr Kazemi claimed asylum in Britain. But late in 2007 his case was refused. Terror-stricken at the prospect of deportation the young Iranian made a desperate attempt to evade deportation and fled Britain for Holland where he is now being detained amid a growing outcry from campaigners. He appeared before a Dutch court yesterday to plead with the authorities not to return him to Britain where he is almost certain to be sent back to Iran. (Independent, 6 March) RD

CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?

"US investment guru Warren Buffett has ousted his friend and occasional bridge partner Bill Gates as the world's richest man, Forbes magazine says. The Microsoft co-founder had topped the Forbes business magazine's rich-list for the past 13 years. Mr Buffett's wealth increased by $10bn (£5bn) last year to $62bn. Mr Gates's fortune climbed by $2bn during the same period, dragging him down to third on the list with a fortune of $58bn. He was narrowly pipped into second place by the Mexican communications magnate Carlos Slim Helu, whose $60bn net worth has doubled in the past two years, Forbes reports. (Guardian, 6 March) RD

Food Prices Rise

The Socialist Courier has already reported here about the rise in the world prices of food but today's Herald carried an article on the local effects .

Families are paying record prices for food after costs soared in the year to February, with a rate increase exceeded only by fuel costs.

Annual food product inflation has reached 8.4% - the highest since records began in 1986 - according to the Office for National Statistics . Meat prices were the main culprit of spiralling costs as fresh and preserved meat prices rose 5.5% from January to February.

Food manufacturers such as Hovis bread maker Premier Foods have been labouring under rising wheat costs. Imported cereal product prices are up more than 6% over the month and surging by almost 47% in the year to February.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Who owns the North Pole - Part 10 , and other climate change threats


Been a while that Socialist Courier reported on the competition to exploit the ever warming Arctic regions , the last time being here . Well , just because the problem isn't reported , it doesn't mean it has disappeared . Also raised in the article are the other potential causes of conflicts , like for instance possible "water wars" and other competition for resources


European Union leaders will receive a stark warning next week of potential conflict with Russia over energy resources at the North Pole as global warning melts the ice cap and aggravates international security threats. A report by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the executive European Commission describes climate change as "a threat multiplier" that will exacerbate many existing tensions and heighten instability.


"A further dimension of competition for energy resources lies in potential conflict over resources in Polar regions which will become exploitable as a consequence of global warming," the eight-page report obtained by Reuters said.


The report said the EU needed to address the growing debate over Arctic territorial claims and access to new trade routes that challenge its ability to secure its trade and resource interests and may put pressure on relations with "key partners." It suggested the 27-nation bloc develop a specific Arctic policy "based on the evolving geo-strategy of the Arctic region, taking into account ... access to resources and the opening of new trade routes."


The study suggested the EU should do more to focus international attention on security risks related to climate change using the U.N. Security Council, the Group of Eight major industrialized powers and specialist U.N. bodies.


It cited a host of regional examples of the increased prospect of conflict caused by the reduction of arable land, water shortages, dwindling food and fish stocks, increased flooding and prolonged droughts which were already occurring.The east coasts of China and India, as well as the Caribbean region and Central America, face particularly severe economic damage from sea-level rise and increasing natural disasters, the report said.Loss of territory as coastlines recede and large areas are submerged would magnify disputes over land and maritime borders. "Europe must expect substantially increased migratory pressure," the report said, as millions of "environmental migrants" flee poverty, poor health and unemployment, risking increased conflicts in transit and destination areas.


Solana and EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said climate change could increase instability in failed or failing states, stoking tensions between ethnic and religious groups and political radicalization.Existing tensions over access to water in the Middle East were almost certain to intensify, "leading to further political instability with detrimental implications for Europe's energy security and other interests," the report said. It also saw additional potential for conflict in central Asia from an increasing shortage of water, vital for both agriculture and power generation, with an impact on EU strategic and economic interests.

War is indeed the natural condition of capitalism .

OOPS, SORRY ABOUT THAT

"Four hundred years after it put Galileo on trial for heresy The Vatican is to complete its rehabilitation of the great scientist by erecting a statue of him inside the Vatican walls. ... His views were found to be "absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical because expressly contrary to Holy Scriptures." ... He recanted to save his life, and lived under house arrest until his death in 1642." (Times, 4 March) RD

WHEN MODERATE MEANS MINIMAL

"The government announced a 21p increase in the minimum wage yesterday. The adult rate will rise from £5.52 an hour to £5.73 from October, benefiting almost a million workers, two-thirds of them women. Gordon Brown told the Commons that the wage will have risen by 60% since it was introduced at £3.60 in 1999. Unions called for a "bolder approach", and said the wage should have been increased to £7 an hour. Business groups welcomed the "moderate" rises." (Guardian, 6 March) RD

Praying in Perth


Christian volunteers will patrol Perth town centre from 2230 GMT to 0330 GMT every Saturday night according to the BBC . They are a team of 12 pastors which will go out initially. When the scheme becomes more established they will work in smaller groups. The team will be wearing jackets and caps with Street Pastor emblazoned across them.

They will be offering flip-flops to women who cannot stand in their high heels and giving support to couples who have had disagreements. The group will also pray with those who ask and check bridges for anyone considering jumping in.

Chairman of the Perth Street Pastors said:
"We're just going to go alongside the people coming out of the nightclubs and coming out of the pubs and we're just going to make their lives a bit happier and friendlier...We've been learning anger management, we've been learning about psychology...Some people will want us to pray with them and we'll do that..."

We believe it will take a lot more than a few sanctimonious words and a few prayers from religious do-gooders to make the lives of the working class a bit happier and friendlier .

Saturday, March 08, 2008

CAPITALISM FAILS AGAIN

"The United Nation’s agency responsible for relieving hunger is drawing up plans to ration food aid in response to the spiralling cost of agricultural commodities. The World Food Programme is holding crisis talks to decide what aid to halt if new donations do not arrive in the short term. Josette Sheeran, WFP executive director, told the Financial Times that the agency would look at “cutting the food rations or even the number or people reached” if donors did not provide more money. “Our ability to reach people is going down just as the needs go up,” she said. (Financial Times, 24 February) RD

WINNERS AND LOSERS

"Even as it enriches Arab rulers, the recent oil-price boom is helping to fuel an extraordinary rise in the cost of food and other basic goods that is squeezing this region’s middle class and setting off strikes, demonstrations and occasional riots from Morocco to the Persian Gulf. Here in Jordan, the cost of maintaining fuel subsidies amid the surge in prices forced the government to remove almost all the subsidies this month, sending the price of some fuels up 76 percent overnight. In a devastating domino effect, the cost of basic foods, like eggs, potatoes and cucumbers doubled or more." (New York Times, 25 February) RD

Debt Fears

One in five Scots home owners struggle to meet their mortgage payments, a survey suggests.

Almost one million people find it difficult to cover their monthly repayments and other debts .

Researchers also found 18% reported having to rely on credit cards or loans to pay for daily essentials like food.

Head of personal insolvency for the accountancy firm KPMG in Scotland, Andrew Kennedy, said: "Those people who have been robbing Peter to pay Paul, transferring balances from card to card, remortgaging and taking equity out of their property to pay off spiralling debt are fast running out of options."

KPMG said the global credit crunch meant payment troubles could worsen over the coming months ,people who previously had access to competitive mortgage deals, despite being late with a couple of payments, are going to find it very difficult to find a deal , and that the credit crunch is already seeing credit card companies reducing credit limits and increasing their rejection rates for new customers.

“Debt is the slavery of the free" - a Roman , 1st century B.C.
" A man in debt is so far a slave" - an American , 19th century AD

Friday, March 07, 2008

CAPITALISM IN THE FUTURE?

"Professor Noel Sharkey, from Sheffield University's Department of Computer science, told the Royal United Services Institute that robots will be cheap and easy for terrorists to use in combat situations and could replace suicide bombers. "With the current prices of robot construction falling dramatically, and the [greater] availability of ready-made components for the amateur market, it would not require a lot of skill to make autonomous robot weapons," he said. "Once the new weapons are out there, they will be fairly easy to copy. How long is it going to be before terrorists get in on the act?" (vnunet.com, 27 February) RD

LAND OF THE FREE?

"For the first time in U.S. history, more than one of every 100 adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report documenting America's rank as the world's No. 1 incarcerator. It urges states to curtail corrections spending by placing fewer low-risk offenders behind bars. Using state-by-state data, the report says 2,319,258 Americans were in jail or prison at the start of 2008 — one out of every 99.1 adults. Whether per capita or in raw numbers, it's more than any other nation. The report, released Thursday by the Pew Centre on the States, said the 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said." (Yahoo News, 29 February) RD

Thursday, March 06, 2008

LOSS OF DIGNITY

Spare a tear for the plight of this luckless billionaire. "One of the world's richest men is selling his £40 million house in London's "Billionaires' Row" after Barratt Homes was granted permission to build flats next door. Lakshmi Mittal led the opposition of his well-heeled neighbours when the house builder applied for permission to put up an apartment block in The Bishops Avenue, Hampstead. However, the plans were approved and now, even though the luxury flats are being marketed at between £4 million and £11 million each, Mr Mittal has put his stately pile, Summer Palace, on the market." (Daily Telegraph, 29 February) Imagine the indignity of having to share your street with people who can only afford a £4 million house. It doesn't bear thinking about. Our sympathy goes out to the poor ill-treated man. RD

COMMERCIALISATION OF SCIENCE

"Philip Moriarty is professor of physics at the University of Nottingham. He argues that research in science has become too commercialised. "Academic research should be done in the public interest, not driven by the aims of a company. ...Science is much more than just technology. Yet, the research councils expect universities to act like the research and development wing of a corporation. I do basic research in nanoscience, which is an area that can be easily applied to the commercial world, but the reason I'm doing it is not to develop a product that Procter & Gamble or Toshiba can market in five years' time: it's to address fundamental questions about nature. If I wanted to work in industry, I'd be there – I wouldn't be at a university. I know many PhD students and postdoctoral researchers who want to pursue an academic career, addressing the bigger questions rather than working in industry, but they are increasingly realising that they'll just end up being paid less to do the same research." (Independent, 28 February) RD

London Olympic Games

The Times reports that the International Olympic Committee’s demand for more than 3,000 chauffeur-driven cars for dignitaries, officials and corporate sponsors. The requirement for a fleet of VIP cars is part of the IOC’s contract with London. The contract is being kept secret at the insistence of the IOC.

These cars will have access to a network of dedicated lanes, which will be closed to other traffic for up to two months. Up to 3,000 sets of traffic lights will also be adjusted to ensure that the IOC’s fleet has fast access to all venues.

The IOC insists it need these cars, and in addition the 110 IOC members, 400 presidents and secretary-generals from the Olympic committees of the 200 competing nations and 450 senior executives from corporate sponsors will also receive free access to public transport .
None of the 10,500 athletes will have access to the 3,145 cars and will instead travel on a dedicated fleet of coaches. Apart from a small number of disabled parking spaces there will be no car parking available for the general public at the venues .

Dee Doocey, the assembly member who chairs the committee scrutinising the Olympics, said:

“You can’t tell Londoners to travel by public transport, yet at the same time kick them off their roads so that VIPs can be whisked around in chauffeur-driven limousines. This is one rule for the haves, and another for the have-nots.”

Poor Energy Bills

The big six energy companies are charging the poorest customers up to £330 a year more for gas and electricity, it emerged last night.

Tariffs for prepayment meters, used typically by pensioners and the less well-off, are up to 45 per cent higher than for internet customers. The industry watchdog branded the practice a £400 million rip-off. The gap between the tariffs has grown after a round of inflation-beating price rises across the sector . Figures compiled by Energy-watch, the watchdog, show that on average prepayment customers are charged £255 a year more than online customers for power, compared with £190 before Christmas. E.ON’s prepayment charge is an average of £1,097 – 45 per cent higher than its internet tariff of £769. British Gas charges its prepayment customers 30 per cent more.

Graham Kerr, of Energywatch, said:

“We have hard evidence of £400 million of excess profits being taken off the poorest members of society just at a time when fuel poverty is continuing to rise. Instead of taking from the rich to give to the poor, it seems that energy companies are taking from the poor to give to the rich.”

More than 4.5 million people are in fuel poverty – spending more than 10 per cent of income on heating their home. One in five prepayment customers is classified as fuel-poor. A third of single parents with dependent children use gas prepayment meters.

Charity doesn't begin at home

Staff at Shelter Scotland went on strike yesterday for the first time in the homeless charity's history in protest over pay and conditions. Offices around the country were closed as more than 100 workers and their supporters gathered at a rally in Glasgow to voice their opposition to new employment contracts.

The union Unite said that a proposed extension of staff hours would see employees working an extra three weeks a year without pay.Workers are also opposed to plans to downgrade 40 posts across Shelter's UK services, including four at Shelter Scotland, and to make up to five staff redundant. Unite said the walkout, following the breakdown of earlier talks, would be repeated on Monday unless management was prepared to negotiate a new offer. The prospect of a resolution looked unlikely, however, as Shelter's UK head warned that if the current offer was refused, up to 200 of its 850 staff UK-wide could lose their jobs.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A SOCIETY WITHOUT BORDERS

Inside a socialist society there would be no countries, no borders and no concept of "foreigners". Contrast that with the normal day-to-day existence of modern capitalism. "A high-tech "virtual fence" on part of the U.S. border with Mexico is finally ready for service and the technology can fight illegal crossings all along the frontier, the Homeland Security chief said on Friday. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff made the announcement during a review of border-control efforts, at which officials also unveiled higher fines for employers who hire illegal immigrants. ...President George W. Bush asked Congress this month for $775 million to build more fencing along the southern border and install high-tech surveillance equipment and other infrastructure." (Yahoo News, 22 February) RD

POSHEST STREET IN LAND

"A Street in north London has been named the most expensive address in England -- knocking Kensington and Chelsea off the top spot. Average property price on Courtenay Avenue, between Highgate golf course and Hampstead Heath is £6.8 million, according to the valuations group Mouseprice." (Daily Mirror, 20 February) RD

THIS IS FREEDOM?

"As if the Government doesn't know enough about us already, it is now using lie-detector equipment (or "voice-risk analysis", as it is euphemistically known) to signal whether people claiming benefit are telling the truth. If you receive a phone call from a town hall official asking about your circumstances, it seems that your answers - or rather, the tone of voice in which you give them - could well be scrutinised by a computer for telltale signs of "stress". ... In the Government's book, apparently, stress in the voice is a pretty good indication of flagrant dishonesty. You will be investigated further. Big Brother is most certainly watching you." (Times, 27 February) RD

BP Bonus

Been a while since Socialist Courier directed atention to the rumuneration that the capitalist class receives .

BP chief executive makes do with bonus of £1.26 million .

The Herald has revealed that Hayward, who became chief executive in May 2007, was awarded a bonus of £1.26m for 2007 which does not include his base salary of £877,000 . Lord Browne of Madingley, the former chief executive of BP, earned more than £3 million before he resigned last year.

A reward for success ? The company last month reported that 2007 net profit fell 5.5% to $20.8bn, despite a 6.2% rise in revenue to $291.4bn and lay-offs of 5000 workers . In contrast, two of BP's main competitors reported a surge in earnings. Royal Dutch Shell, Europe's largest oil company, reported a 23% rise in full-year earnings to a record $31.3bn, while Exxon Mobil posted the largest annual profit yet by a US company with net earnings of $40.6bn.

BP's top five directors, including Hayward, missed out on share awards worth a potential £10.7m because of the company's poor performance. The five were granted no shares at all from a possible 2.2 million under the group's 2005-2007 share incentive scheme - even so i am sure a bonus of a million and a quarter pounds for failure would not go amiss to readers of this blog.

Jake Molloy, general secretary of the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee, the union for offshore rig workers, said: “To make these redundancies and cutbacks and to award themselves payments of this nature is hypocrisy beyond belief. It's sickening.”

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