Monday, November 30, 2009

THINK-TANK NONSENSE

From time to time politicians like to spread the lie that modern politics is a very complicated complex subject and that is why we need clever people like them to administer capitalism.

Part of this fiction is supported by what they choose to call "think-tanks." Recently the Tory party leader David Cameron has given his support to Phillip Blond's new organisation rather grandly titled "ResPublica". The political sketch writer Ann Treneman went along to the launch of this new organisation to try and find what it stood for. She was completely baffled.

"The label that the great and the good have given to Mr. Blond is "philosopher king". Not only is he a blond who is a brunette but he is also something called a red Tory, which I am told is a blend of Catholic social thought and a critique of the effects of economic neo-liberalism. Since I have almost no idea what that means, I was looking forward to the speech, which was his vision of a "radical transformative conservatives".

"I listened closely and can report that this is radical transformative conservatism at its deepest: abstract, abstruse, and quite possibly, total gobbledygook."

Political sketch writers are notoriously flippant and renowned for taking the Mickey, but to be fair to Treneman she has certainly got a point when she directly quotes Blond on human relationships.

"These associations themselves are not post-modern verities; they are arbitrary collections of whim and sophistry arrayed against the void." (Times, 27 November)

Before you go searching for a dictionary trying to decipher that utterance lets go with Treneman's description "total gobbledygook".

Saturday, November 28, 2009

$10 MILLION A DAY MAN

Don't rely on experts.

"Even as th e financial system collapsed last year, and millions of investors lost billions of dollars, one unlikely investor was racking up historic profits: John Paulson a hedge fund manager in New York. His firm made $20 billion between 2007 and early 2009 by betting against the housing market and big financial companies. Mr Paulson's personal cut would amout to $4 billion, or more than $10 million a day. That was more than the 2007 earnings of J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey and Tiger Woods combined".

(Wall Street Journal 15 November) RD

UK OWNERSHIP

"According to consultants AT Kearney, the richest 1pc in the UK hold some 70pc of the country's wealth. That there is this divide between rich and poor is not exactly new – but the scale of it, and the likelihood that it is not being narrowed by the financial crisis, is a big worry. Indeed, according to the report, in the US the amount of financial assets owned by the richest 1pc in the US is far, far lower at 48pc, and only 34pc in Australia. This must, to a large degree, be due to the fact that the UK set itself up in recent years as a haven for the super-rich, with its relatively generous rules on capital gains tax, because the income tax system itself is rather more redistributive than in the US. But the Kearney report is interesting because, unlike the traditional measure of inequality, the gini coefficient, it focuses not on income (the flow of money) but on actual substantive wealth (the stack of it that sits beneath us)." (Daily Telegraph, 25 November) RD

Friday, November 27, 2009

CLUNKERS AS CASH


While the "Cash for Appliances" programs will vary by state, some of the
proposed rebates that have been annouced so far, range from $50 to £100 per item
Capitalists can only access the surplus value extracted from the working class when they sell the products on the market. In times of recession they can reduce the price, but a method of selling and not reducing the price is preferable, trading in your old car as junk for a new car at a reduced price has met with some sucess, so the same method is to be used for refridgerators etc.
On the heels of its ballyhooed "Cash for Clunkers" program for cars, the federal government is expected to finalise details in the coming weeks of a tax- supported shopping extravaganza, known as "Cash for Appliances"
"Clunkers" is one of several stimulus programs whose purpose is to shift expenditures by households, businesses and governments from the future to the present," the coucil wrote in a September report. "Such time shifting is valuable in a recession when the economy has an abundance of unemployed resources that can be put to work at low net economic costs".

GOD AND MAMMON

"After what it must have deemed a decent interval since triggering a furore over its attack on traders and bankers as "robbers and assassins" last year, the Church of England is shamelessly seeking more yield. Just to refresh your memory, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church, last September said it was right to ban short selling, while John Sentamu, archbishop of York, called traders who cashed in on falling prices "bank robbers and asset strippers". But the Church Commissioners had a tough year in 2008, as the Church's total assets dropped from £5.7bn to £4.4bn, a 23 per cent fall over the period. Clearly, faith alone was not enough. As the FT's People column reports on Wednesday in an appropriately headlined piece "God meets Joy", the Church of England has appointed fund manager Tom Joy to run its £4.4bn investment portfolio from a "very strong field of more than 70 applicants". (Financial Times, 6 August) RD

THE PRICE OF COAL

"A gas explosion tore through a state-run coal mine in Northern China, killing 42 people and leaving 66 others trapped underground. More than 500 people were working in the Xinxing mine in Heilongjiang province at the time. In the first nine months of this year, China's coal mines have suffered 11 major accidents with 303 deaths." (Observer, 22 November) RD

Thursday, November 26, 2009

KING OF THE BRONX


Jacob Selechnik at his office in the Bronx, from which he oversees an empire of
apartment houses



"In the feudal world of real estate, where a handful of landlords claim ownership to its skyline of cramped apartments, Jacob Selechnik is most certainly royalty. He has been buying buildings in the city's poorest borough for nearly 50 years, amassing an empire that reached a peak of more than 7,000 apartments. Brokers estimate his net worth at more than half a billion dollars. What's more, Mr. Selechnik, who has $300 million in proceeds from recent sales and uncommon good will from banks, sees the haemorrhaging real estate market as an open season for bargain hunting."
(New York Times, 18 November) RD

FOR A PAIR OF GLOVES?

"Yves Saint Laurent. Advert

These jet-black gloves fuse bangles with supple leather for dramatic effect. The statement piece of the season - with a price to match.   Price: £2,345: (Independent, 9 November) RD

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

ALL RIGHT FOR SOME

"Britain may still be in recession, but the appetite for the finer things in life, it appears, lives on. Topping all expectations, Bonhams, the upmarket auction house, last week sold a decanter of whisky to a bashful buyer for a record-breaking £27,600. The unique Dalmore Oculus, blended from some of the most exceptional whiskies of the past 140 years, had been expected to reach up to £20,000. Instead it raised the largest amount of money ever paid for a Dalmore whisky. The buyer asked to remain anonymous." (Observer, 22 November) RD

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

OOPS, SORRY ABOUT THAT

"The head of Goldman Sachs apologised for the Wall Street investment bank's role in helping to create the financial crisis. After being ridiculed for saying he was doing God's work, and seeing his company labeled as a blood-sucking vampire squid, Lloyd Blanketing delivered a mea culpa to a conference in New York.

"We participated in things that were clearly wrong and have reason to regret," Blankfein said. "We apologise."

So that's all right then." (Observer, 22 November) RD

Monday, November 23, 2009

Smart meters can't wait until after election, says energy boss

In a Socialist Society technical innovation can be welcomed as a further reduction in repetitive work and a further increase of opportunity to use the time saved for developing your interests: In a Capitalist Society technical innovation becomes a further opportunity for employers to increase their profits and reduce the number of workers.

Scotland on Sunday's article about "Smart Meters" is an example of this process.

SMART meters will be the biggest revolution in the power industry since North Sea gas was discovered, and legislation enabling their use should be pushed through parliament before the general election, says the head of the Energy Retail Association (ERA).

Garry Felgate said he expects an announcement on the roll-out of smart meters for residential customers to accompany next month's pre-budget report from Chancellor Alistair Darling

He said bills might also be reduced because utility companies would be able to save money on administration and postage costs associated with sending out amended bills when customers are unhappy with estimated amounts.

"The new meter technology will streamline a lot of our internal procedures, helping to improve account handling and turnaround times for processes like a change of tenancy or a change of supplier. Fundamentally, they will make it easier for our customers to do business with us."

Darling's pre-budget report is also expected to be accompanied by an outline for the UK government's "social pricing support" under which the ERA expects Westminster to define which customers need support.

I'm sure banks will be happy enough to lend the necessary capital in this stringent period to facilitate the energy bosses impatience, however, bills might be reduced, so it shows they're thinking about us.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

THE ADVANCE OF CAPITALISM

"With the stroke of a pen, the last of Kenya's honey hunters may soon be homeless. Since time immemorial, the Ogiek have been Kenya's traditional forest dwellers. They have stalked antelope with homemade bows, made medicine from leaves and trapped bees to produce honey, the golden elixir of the woods. They have struggled to survive the press of modernity, and many times they have been persecuted, driven from their forests and belittled as "dorobo," a word meaning roughly people with no cattle. Somehow, they have always managed to survive. Now, though, the little-known Ogiek, among East Africa's last bona fide hunters and gatherers, face their gravest test yet. The Kenyan government is gearing up to evict tens of thousands of settlers, illegal or not, from the Mau Forest, the Ogiek's ancestral home and a critical water source for this entire country." (New York Times, 15 November) RD

Thursday, November 19, 2009

POLLUTION AND PROFITS

Every vote seeking politician in the world waxes elequent about the urgent need for a curb to be placed on global emmisions. They fly hither and thither across the world addressing congresses about their deep concern for the planet's future. Behind these vote catching antics however lies a more pressing problem - how to compete against international rivals in obtaining a larger share of the profits. At a recent meeting in Singapore those politician showed where their real priorities lie.
"A key element of the international plan to address climate change is in jeopardy after several of the most powerful nations failed to confirm a previous commitment to halve gas emissions by 2050. The Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) forum, which includes the US, China, Japan and Russia deleted their commitment from the final version of the official communiqué issued after a two-day meeting in Singapore. ...Most climate scientists believe that a 50 per cent reduction in global emissions by 2050 is the minimum needed to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic change." (Times, 16 November)
For national governments to reduce industrial pollution would be economic suicide. Their costs would go up and they would not be able to compete with other nations that had not reduced their pollution. Inside capitalism in the battle between less pollution or more profits there is only one winner. RD

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BABIES AND BOMBS

The charity World Vision is running an appeal for funds that it calls Child Health Now. It recently took a full page advertisement in The Times (16 November) that illustrated the plight of the world's poorest children. It reported that twins in Zambia had severe diarrhea but that the clinic they attended had only enough drugs to treat one of them. The untreated one consequently died and joined the estimated two million children that die every year of this untreated condition. The advertisement then went on to point out "A simple mixture of salt, sugar and water that costs just a few pence can save a child's life, without requiring hospital treatment." The death of a child for the lack of something costing a few pence is shocking enough but the charity then claimed "Today, World Vision launches its Child Health Now campaign, calling for an end to preventable child deaths. ...If the UK government, and the international community, channeled more aid into simple community provisions, like vitamins and rehydration salts for children cut off from health systems, the lives of six million children a year could be saved."
What the well intentioned World Vision do not understand is that we live inside a capitalist society where the priority is making profit not saving children. As we reported in the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard "Military spending worldwide rose by 4 per cent to $1.46 trillion." Immense expenditure to protect markets, sources of raw materials and profits, yet millions of kids die for the lack of a few pence. RD

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A NICE LITTLE EARNER

"All over America demand for firearms and ammunition is rising amid concerns that rising unemployment, which passed 10 per cent this month, will lead inexorably to higher rates of crime. ... Smith & Wesson is expecting sales to rise by 30% to $102 million (£61 million) in the first quarter of next financial year, after growing by more than 13 per cent this year to $335 million. At Strum and Ruger, sales for the third quarter hit $71.2 million, up 70 per cent from the same period last year. At Glock, the leader in law enforcement markets, pistol sales rose by 71 per cent in the first quarter of the financial year in 2009 in comparison with the same period last year."  (Times, 16 November) RD

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Obama eyes Afghan costs: $1 million per soldier

While President Obama's decision about sending more troops to Afghanistan is primarily a military one, it also has substantial budget implications that are adding pressure to limit the commitment, senior administration officials say.

The latest internal government estimates place the cost of adding 40,000 American troops and sharply expanding the Afghan security forces, as favoured by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American and allied commander in Afghanistan, at $40 billion to $54 billion a year, the officials said.

Even if fewer troops are sent, or their mission is modified, the rough formula used by the White House, of about $1 million per soldier per year, appears almost constant.

So even if President Obama opts for a lower troop commitment, Afghanistan's new costs could wash out the projected $26 billion expected to be saved in 2010 from withdrawing troops from Iraq. And the overall military budget could rise to as much as $734 billion, or 10 percent more than the peak of $667 billion under the Bush administration.

Such an escalation in military spending would be a politically volatile issue for Mr. Obama at a time when the government budget deficit is soaring, the economy is weak and he is trying to pass a costly health care plan.

( New York Times 14th November)

GLASGOW BRANCH ACTIVITY


Saturday, November 14, 2009

THIS IS DEMOCRACY?

American politicians are fond of lecturing other world politicians about how the USA is a wonderful model of democracy in action. A recent study on the wealth of U.S. Congress would seem to suggest that they have a wonderful model of "government of the people by the people- " by the rich people that is" Apparently, times aren't so tough all over. According to a new study compiled by the Centre for Responsive Politics, 237 members of the U.S. Congress, or 44 percent, are millionaires. "What's easy to see is that the economic reality of our elected officials is not reflective of the general population," said Dave Levinthal, who helped compile the study's findings. Nationwide, only 1 percent of U.S. citizens qualify as millionaires."
(Sphere News, 6 November) RD

HOME OF THE BRAVE?

"Gen. Eric Shinseki was famously shunned by the Bush administration for daring to state the true costs of occupying Iraq. As President Obama's secretary of veterans affairs, he is, thankfully, no less candid about the grinding problems veterans face at home. They lead the nation in depression, suicide, substance abuse and homelessness, according to data that Mr. Shineski is delivering in salvos in his current role. About one-third of all adult homeless men are veterans, and an average night finds an estimated 131,000 of them from five decades bedding down on streets and in charity sanctuaries. About 3 in 100 of them are back from Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem of homelessness for Vietnam veterans is, shamefully, well known. But the men and women in this growing cohort took just 18 months to find rock bottom, compared with the five years-plus of the previous generation's veterans." (New York Times, 11 November) RD

Friday, November 13, 2009

CAPITALISM IS GANGSTERISM

Politicians and clergymen and even well paid TV personalties will claim that the middle east conflict has something to do with morality and justice and that it has nothing to do with crass consideration such as "making a couple of bucks" as Al Capone once famously said. "The British oil giant BP will today take control of Iraq's biggest oilfield in the first important energy deal since the 2003 invasion. The move has created uproar among local politicians invoking resentful memories of their nation's colonial past. The agreement to develop the Rumaila field, near the southern city of Basra, will potentially put Iraq on the path to rivalling the riches of Saudi Arabia within a decade — if the Government can fend off corrupt officials, continuing terrorist attacks on pipelines and political uncertainty." (Times, 3 November)
Hey, Iraq workers may continue to live in poverty, so what, we can make a couple of bucks. That is how capitalism works, isn't it Al Capone? RD

THE NEW IMPERIALISTS

It used to be popular for supporters of the so-called Communist Party to decry Imperialism. They would point out how Britain had exploited Africa and India during their colonial conquests. Later on they would concentrate on the role of the USA in Central and South America. Changed days now with China investing heavily in all sorts of corrupt regimes throughout Asia and Africa. "Barely a fortnight after soldiers loyal to Guinea's military junta butchered at least 150 demonstators calling for civilian rule, a deal for oil and mineral rights worth about $7 billion has been struck between China and Guinea. ...It seems that China's commercial march across Africa will continue unabated, however vile the human-rights record of the government it seeks to befriend." (Economist, 17 October) RD

Thursday, November 12, 2009

MIRACLES, ANCIENT AND MODERN

One of the condition of attaining sainthood according to the Roman Catholic Church is two miracles. One gets you beatified and the other gets you canonised. It is understood that the Pope may beatify Cardinal Newman during his visit to the UK next year, but the claim of an American clergyman may bring on the full sainthood. According to Deacon Jack Sullivan, from the archdiocese of Boston, Massachusetts he was afflicted with a serious spinal condition causing intolerable pain with utterly no prospect of relief. He was told he was on the brink of complete paralysis. "I was completely helpless and the situation seemed hopeless. But it was this state of mind that led me to prayer. ..."Please Cardinal Newman, help me to walk, so that I can return to my classes and be ordained". (Times, 10 November)

Next thing the clergyman was up and walking, something he hadn't been able to do for months. Amazing as this may seem - and certainly a boon to a hard pressed NHS - it pales into insignificance according to the same newspaper report when compared to an earlier miracle. 

"In the Miracle of Calanda in the 17th century, the amputated leg of a young Spaniard grew back."

They just don't have miracles like that nowadays, do they? RD

CRISIS, WHAT CRISIS?

Warren Buffett is considered
one of the world's greatest investors

Billionaire Warren Buffett's investment firm has reported that profits almost tripled in the third quarter. Berkshire Hathaway said it's net profit was $3.2bn ( £1.9 bn ) in the three months to September, compared with the $1.1bn in the same period last year. ( BBC News 8 Sept 09) RD

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A personal experience in capitalism

We are all well aware that the battleground of capitalism is the price of their products
vis-a-vis their competitors. This is why shoplifting does not raise the prices (nor wage increases), as companies are not at liberty to set the price of their goods just anywhere. The price must revolve around value, and supply and demand. I decided I needed another shed; getting late in the season; bought a kit for $999; didn't include the floor or shingles (roofing); the frame was so skimpy, I was afraid it might blow down if the cows in the next field farted (although we all know it's going straight up and is the main cause of global warming); basically, the sheets of siding would be holding up the frame instead of the other way round; bought more timber to shore it up and frame it properly: end result – a fairly decent shed that cost about $1500, or just a bit more than the shed I built two years ago framed with 2x4s (not 2x3s) and sided with 1x12 pine boards. Home Depot still gets to advertise the shed for under $1000, which is the whole point of the exercise.
Hope that sheds some light on the workings of capitalism. John Ayers

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Food for thought 4

On the poverty front, capitalism may be 'lifting millions out of poverty' in India, but an article on McDonald's in that country (Toronto Star 18/Oct/09) tells us that the mashed potato sandwich is the highest grossing product and sells for 50cents. For the 456 million (that would be the third largest nation on earth) that live on $1.25 a day (World Bank) even that might be a bit of a stretch- In Toronto, food banks fell well short of their Thanks giving goals and the recession is blamed. Maybe McDonalds should be selling the mashed potato sandwich here.

- To celebrate the 20th. Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Toronto Star published an article on communism and Marx. Of course, as expected, it was the fall of communism (communism is as dead as the waxen figure in Lenin's tomb). Information was supplied mainly by 'respected communism scholar' Archie Brown. The level of misinformation and misrepresentation reached new lows. Apparently, the 70% plunge in the Moscow stock market last fall left the 'communists' speechless and afraid to criticize Putin. The ideals of 'communism' could never come to pass in an imperfect world, but Marx didn't die without a legacy – his ideals of social justice have penetrated the wealthiest countries, including the US. In the 21st. century, The West has adopted Marx's core belief that social progress is driven by material well-being, and social democracy has flourished. It was in the US, too, that Marx's philosophy of materialism soared to its outer limits, as a pioneering philosophy of 'toil and sweat' turned to rampant consumerism that broke all class barriers. Oh boy!
Needless to say, I fired off a letter which didn't get published, but it points clearly to the misinformation that is gleefully published by the capitalist press, even a 'liberal' paper such as The Star, Canada's largest. John Ayers

Monday, November 09, 2009

Food for thought 3

Capitalists always take the prize for audacity. As Ontario's telecommunications manufacturing firm, Nortel, divvies up its assets, CEO Mike Zafirovski is requesting $12.3 million, while employees on long term disability are ignored and left to expect to exist on $10 000 per annum.

Oil tycoon, T. Boone Pickens told US Congress that US energy companies are entitled to some of Iraq's crude, because of the large numbers of American troops that lost their lives fighting in the country and the large amount of taxpayers' money spent there.

At a conference in London, Goldman Sachs international advisor, Brian Griffiths, praised inequality. As his company was putting aside $16.7 billion for exec's compensation and benefits for the first nine months of the year (up 46% from a year earlier), Griffiths told us not to worry, "We have to tolerate inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all." John Ayers

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Food for thought 2

Food For Thought
"The food industry is making us sick", said CNN's Rudy Ruiz (Toronto Star 11/Oct/09). Costs of Obesity are estimated at $147 billion, diabetes $114 billion in the US. John Hopkins US researchers estimate in another 6 years, three quarters of Americans will be overweight or obese and already
26% of children entering kindergarten are overweight. Similar statistics could apply to several "developed countries, of course. How does this come about?

When US farmers were coping with chronic corn gluts in the 1960s and 70s, Earl Butz, agricultural secretary in the Nixon administration, unveiled a program of subsidies for farmers, school lunches, and alterations in food processing allowing corn to become a mainstay of the American diet. Canada followed suit. This ushered in the era of cheap, bad, fast food. Now the call to put this right is facing a tough challenge from farm-state politicians and fast food lobbyists.

Again, it's not what's right that counts, but what makes the most money for the owning class. John Ayers

TOUGH AT THE TOP

" According to the survey of richest men and women in UK property, carried out by Estates Gazette, the total value of the assets held by the country's top 100 wealthiest property investors has crashed to £ 34.32billion from £77.37billion over the past two years. The data shows that property's richest individuals fared slightly worse than the market overall. Between October 2007 and October 2009 the FTSE 350 real estate index showed a fall of 47 per cent. The seventh edition of the Estates Gazette rich list shows that between 2007 and 2009 the fortunes of the tycoons dropped by 56 per cent. One of the worst hit was Hemmings. According to the survey his personal wealth has fallen from just over £1billion last year to £300million this year - a 69 per cent drop. Britain's richest landlord, the Duke of Westminster, was also hit hard. His Grosvenor Group, which owns vast swathes of Mayfair and Belgravia, posted his worst results for 16 years in 2008. The Duke has slumped in value from £7billion in 2008 to £6.5billion after a 'challenging time' only cushioned by its 'well-diversified portfolio'." (Daily Mail, 24 October) RD

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Food for thought

- How capitalism works – the environment – Obama and his people hope to
get the year 2005 as the new baseline for the reduction of greenhouse
gases. They're touting 20% reduction by 2020, i.e. equivalent to 5% below
1990 levels or what was proposed at Kyoto but by 2010. Two steps back, one
forward. Great game!
- Let's get more people in prison. New proposed "get tough on criminals"
legislation by the Harper government is projected to increase
incarceration by 10%, now about 149 per 100 000. The worst crime for most
of those caught in the drug net is that they are racial minorities,
especially aboriginal, or that they have fallen through the cracks in our
education system, or suffer from a host psychiatric and psychological
syndromes. Conversely, spending on anti-drug programs and mental health
lag way behind prison spending.(Toronto Star, 17/oct/09).
John Ayers

BUDGET HOLIDAY IT AINT

An artist 's conception shows Galactic Suite's hotel pod in orbit.

Barcelona, Spain
A company behind plans to open the first hotel in space says it is on target to accept its first paying guests in 2012 despite critics questioning the investment and time frame for the multi-billion dollar project. The Barcelona-based architects of The Galactic Suite Space Resort say it will cost $4.4 million for a three-night stay at the hotel, with this price including an eight-week training course on a tropical island. During their stay, guests would see the sun rise 15 times a day and travel around the world every 80 minutes. They would wear Velcro suits so they can crawl around their pod rooms by sticking themselves to the walls like Spiderman.
(Reuter, 1 November) RD

Friday, November 06, 2009

ALL RIGHT FOR SOME (2)

"More MPs are set to stand down at next year's general election in order to take advantage of "golden handshakes" of up to £65,000 that will not apply at future elections. Senior figures in all political parties warned that the new expenses regime announced on Wednesday will provide a "perverse incentive" for MPs to "take the money and run", as one put it. Whips believe another 50 could decide to quit, on top of the 114 who have already announced that they will leave Parliament. The Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly, said the pay-offs of up to a year's salary should be cut to two months' wages if MPs retire rather than are made "redundant" by losing their seats at an election. That would reduce the "golden goodbye" of a long-serving MP from £64,766 to £10,794, on current salary levels." (Independent, 5 November) RD

Thursday, November 05, 2009

DRUG PUSHERS PAY OFF

"Could you imagine how much money you would have to have to be able to spend $609,000 a day? What would you expect to receive for that amount of money? Who has that kind of money to spend, especially during a "recession"? According to the latest issue of Time magazine, in the first 6 months of this year, the pharmaceutical industry spent about $609,000 a day to influence lawmakers. Can you imagine the financial payoff they must expect to get to be able to spend that kind of money? This does not include all the money they spend on advertising as well. The drug industry has 1,228 registered lobbyists. This equals 2.3 lobbyists for every member of congress. Obviously, the pharmaceutical industry does not want to be left out of the current healthcare reform debate and are willing to pay handsomely to make sure they aren't. The return on that investment has already been considerable. As drug lobbyist Jim Greenwood says, "We've done very well." (Dr Brian's Blog, 26 October) RD

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A PROPERTY OWNING DEMOCRACY?

"New figures from Credit Action show that a property is repossessed every 11 and half minutes as the recession begins to bite. The debt organisation also said that 9,300 people are visiting Citizens Advice every day as their struggle to cope with their personal debts. Total UK personal debt at the end of September 2009 stood at £1,459bn. The twelvemonth growth rate remained at 0.8pc said Credit Action." (Daily Telegraph, 3 November) RD

A DOSE OF PROFIT

"GlaxoSmithKline is getting rich from swine flu vaccine sales. GSK, which has already sold 440m doses of its vaccine Pandemrix worldwide, said sales would hit £1bn this quarter. GSK confirmed in July that it would cost developed countries about 7 Euros (£6.30) for each dose, but it has declined to reveal production costs amid speculation it costs as little as £1 a dose to make." (Observer, 1 November) RD

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

ALL RIGHT FOR SOME

"As workers up and down the UK sat at home last week worrying about whether they would still have a job in a month's time, a raucous crowd of hedge fund managers and investment bankers at the Whisky Mist nightclub in Mayfair pulled yet more vodka out of their huge ice bucket and called for the waiter to bring another bottle of Dom Perignon, served with a sparkler. ...In London nightspots last week, the City's finest were spending with a swagger. ...As City workers once again prepare for corporate excess, and investment banks such as Goldman Sachs get ready to pay record bonuses, new bars, restaurants and nightclubs are springing up around the office tower blocks in the City and Canary Wharf to feed demand." (Observer, 1 November) RD

Monday, November 02, 2009

REAL LIFE MONOPOLY

REAL LIFE MONOPOLY

When we were children around about the time that we were tiring of Ludo and Snakes and Ladders we discovered the board game Monopoly. I can't remember the details or the rules - something about cards that said such things as "Pass Go, collect £200" - "Go to jail" - "Get out of jail". In real life it is usually found that going to jail meant the only people to collect money were the lawyers, but whatever the rules were it was good fun building hotels in Park Lane while your opponent was stuck in a hovel in the East End somewhere or off to jail and not collecting £200.

When we grew up of course we quickly learned that the Grosvenor Hotel and a mansion in Park Lane were not for "the likes of us". Our fate was to be members of the working class who had to work for a wage or a salary and lead an anxious life between weekly or monthly pay cheques. However there are people who wheel and deal in such properties and a recent newspaper article gave some details of these deals.

Two separate properties in Park Lane valued at £5m-£6m, one in Grosvenor Street for £10m and one in Reeves Mews at £25m. The astonishing thing about these desirable residences is that they have been vacant for between five and ten years. According to the empty properties officer for Westminster council Paul Palmer the owners intend to keep them empty for the present.

"There are an estimated 1m empty homes in the UK, and as empty properties officer for Westminster council, Palmer is responsible for about 3,000 of them. Every day he visits some of the ritziest addresses in the capital and does his best to get them lived in again. What makes his job unique is the staggering value of the properties on his books; some of his Mayfair mansions are worth as much as £50m, even in their dilapidated state. ... The properties usually aren't abandoned for reasons which might prompt sympathy. Palmer believes many elusive owners don't have the slightest intention of bringing them back to life. "So often offshore owners have little or no interest in the property as a building it is merely an asset to be traded as they see fit," he says adding that offshore firms are tricky to track down." (Guardian, 17 October)

The article points out that in some cases where property is owned by offshore companies, no UK capital gains tax is payable, and there are cases where the wheelers dealers sell a £1m property after a year for £2m and avoid the 18% tax. These traders do not look upon these properties as places to live but as chips in their grown-up game of Monopoly. All of this financial skullduggery goes on against a background of millions of workers living in sub-standard housing, thousands homeless and hundreds even sleeping in the streets around about these empty luxurious mansions.

Compared to the complexities of capitalism socialism is a simple social system. Houses will be built for people to live in, not counters in a horror version of the kids' board game like we have today. At 21 Upper Grosvenor Street there is a house valued at £25m, it has been empty for more than ten years. Once we establish world socialism it will be occupied immediately by a family at presently homeless. A simple socialist solution to a problem that capitalism finds insoluble.

RD

Sunday, November 01, 2009

END OF A DREAM

END OF A DREAM

Ever since the publication of his "Unsafe at Any Speed" in 1965 Ralph Nader has been the darling of radical circles in the USA. Here was a man who dared to question the power of such capitalist concerns as General Motors. He went on to found scores of progressive non-profit organisations. He even ran as a Green Party and later an Independent candidate for the President of the USA. On one occasion he even polled almost 3 million votes. Capitalism however is a resilient social system and his attempt at reforming capitalism has ended up with him looking to the capitalists to solve the problems. He is on tour at present to promote his first fictional book entitled "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us". This has led some of his former supporters to doubt his reasoning. "There is a poignancy in listening to Ralph Nader these days. Here is a man who, for the last 45 years, has hurled his body at the engine of corporate power. He’s dented it more than anyone else in America. But he knows it’s still chugging, even more strongly than ever. Nader understands that he’s losing. He understands that we’re losing—we who believe in democracy, we who care about justice. But if our only hope is with a handful of billionaires, we’re in a lot worse shape than I thought." (The Progressive, 28 September)

HUMAN EVOLUTION

HUMAN EVOLUTION

"Despite evidence that human evolution still functions, biologists concede that it's anyone's guess where it will take us from here. Artificial selection in the form of genetic medicine could push natural selection into obsolescence, but a lethal pandemic or other cataclysm could suddenly make natural selection central to the future of the species. Whatever happens, Steve Jones, an evolutionary biologist at University College London says, it is worth remembering that Darwin's beautiful theory has suffered a long history of abuse. The bastard science of eugenics, he says, will haunt humanity as long as people are tempted to confuse evolution with improvement. "Uniquely in the living world, what makes humans what we are in our minds, in our society, and not in our evolution," he says." (TIME, 23 October) RD

Summer School

Summer School 2017

Summer School 2017  21st – 23rd July Fircroft College, Birmingham   These days, con...