Friday, April 30, 2010

Children at risk ?

A series of studies published reveals child poverty may be more serious for many families than had been previously believed.the Scottish government's latest estimate is that 20% of children live below the low-income threshold ( calculated at £17,000 a year for two adults living with two children or £13,000 for a lone parent with two children.)

But researchers on the Growing Up in Scotland programme, which has been tracking children of 8,000 families since 2005, said the figure was actually higher-they calculate it at 24%.It showed that children growing up in poverty are more likely to be obese, suffer more accidents and injuries, and are more than twice as likely to suffer behavioural, emotional and social problems.Also found was that a third of Scottish mothers suffered mental health problems in the last four years.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

CAPITALISM DESTROYS LIFE

"Sir David Attenborough has warned that Britain's wildlife is being destroyed thanks to man's impact on the environment. The naturalist made his comments in the foreword to a new book, Silent Summer, in which 40 prominent British ecologists explain how humankind is wiping out many species. It comes fifty years after the publication of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson's acclaimed book on pollution of wildlife that helped the growth of the environmental movement worldwide and led to a ban of some pesticides in Britain." (Sunday Telegraph, 25 April) RD

THE RICH GET RICHER

The UK's super-rich have seen a resurgence in their fortunes, the Sunday Times Rich List suggests. London-based steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal topped the list for the sixth consecutive year with a £22.45bn pile. Many, including Mr Mittal, were hit badly by the economic downturn, shrinking their wealth in 2009.But the collective fortunes of the top 1,000 on the list have risen by 30% in the past year - the biggest jump in the list's 22-year history - to £333.5bn." (BBC News, 24 April) RD

PROGRESSING BACKWARDS

"There are still Ku Klux Klan chapters scattered across the US and in the past ten years there has been an increase in their numbers. In 2000 there were 110 chapters at the end of last year there were 187, with the total number of Klan members at about 9,000. Texas has the highest number with dozens more spread across the Deep South. But there are many in the Midwest, in states such as Ohio, Illinois and Indiana." (Times, 23 April) RD

cynicism and scepticism

The Big Issue carries an article on Edinburgh's rich/poor divide .JK Rowling has written about the shock of first moving to a council estate in the city and finding “violence, crime and addiction were part of everyday life in that part of Edinburgh… yet barely 10 minutes away was a different world, a world of cashmere and cream teas”.

Susan Carr, who runs the Craigmillar Neighbourhood Alliance explains how an ongoing regeneration project has stalled due to the economic downturn.“Given we’re only 10 minutes from parliament, in one of the wealthiest cities in Europe, the level of deprivation does seem outrageous...”
Carr’s colleague Norrie Davis, a lifelong Craigmillar man, says they are all “living in hope” that a new secondary school and library will be completed and that half-finished homes will be sold. “Everything’s slowed down because of the recession..."

Kirsty McLaron, 33, says “things have quietened down an awful lot, apart from one of two troublemakers”, but she doesn’t give Labour any of the credit. “They haven’t done anything for this area at all. I don’t really care if the Tory boy gets in – it can’t be any worse than Labour.”
One of her neighbours, 63-year-old Peter Kane, concurs. “The area’s got a hell of a lot better. A hell of a lot. I remember the days when you couldn’t even walk about safely in the daytime.” but he won’t put any of the improvement down to Labour politicians in London or Edinburgh. “The thing that sickened me was the MPs’ expenses,” he tuts. “They’ve been screwing us at every opportunity, and I don’t see any reason to vote for Labour now.”

As Socialist Courier says "Tweedledum or Tweedledee"

Monday, April 26, 2010

buddy , can you spare a dime

A new study has revealed the top five debt laden areas in Scotland.
For the Anderston area, nearly 20% of adults had debts in excess of £15,000. The Calton area was next, with 17.4% of adults carrying debts of more than £15,000. Dunfermline South and Greater Pollok both had 16.5% and Cumbernauld North had 16.4%.

Half a million Scots have debts of more than £15,000 – half of the average salary.

Another report describes how more than a fifth of Britons lie to their partners about the extent of their debts and almost a third keep other family members in the dark over the amount of money the owe.In Scotland, 27 per cent of debtors in Aberdeen keep their debts hidden from their partners, as do a fifth of Glaswegians and 13 per cent of those in Edinburgh.

GROWING SUSPICION

"Nearly 80 percent of Americans say they do not trust the government to do what is right, expressing the highest level of distrust in Washington in half a century, according to a public opinion survey.Only 22 percent of Americans say they trust the government "just about always" or "most of the time," according to the Pew Research Center survey released on Sunday.Americans' trust in the federal government has been on a steady decline from a high of 73 percent during the Eisenhower administration in 1958, when the "trust" question was first posed in a national survey, the research center said. Economic uncertainty, a highly partisan environment and overwhelming discontent with Congress and elected officials were all factors contributing to the current wave of public distrust, the report said." (Yahoo News, 19 April) RD

LAZY WORKERS?

"British Gas has received more than 65,000 applications for 600 gas fitter apprenticeships. The scheme pays £5,000 a year, plus expenses, to train staff to repair boilers and radiators. The 100-to-1 ratio of applicants to openings, twice the usual ratio, has been caused by surging youth unemployment, boosted by graduates and mid-career professionals searching for jobs. Most applicants are aged between 20 and 26, although British Gas said some were in their fifties." (Sunday Times, 18 April) RD

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Not so short shorts

WASHINGTON - Goldman Sachs Group Inc. officials boasted in late 2007 about the money the investment bank was making from betting against risky mortgages, according to a collection of e-mails released by a Senate panel on Saturday. A

The e-mails were released ahead of a hearing on Tuesday by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations into the origins of the financial crisis and as the bank battles a fraud lawsuit by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"Of course we didn't dodge the mortgage mess. We lost money, then made more than we lost because of shorts," Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein said in an e-mail dating from November 2007.

"Sounds like we will make some serious money," said Goldman Sachs executive Donald Mullen in a separate series of e-mails from October 2007 about the performance of deteriorating second-lien positions in a collateralized debt obligation, or CDO.

Short positions are bets that the market will go down. As the housing bubble burst, Goldman and a few powerful hedge funds took short positions on the market. Many of those bets required other investors to bet the market would rise.

When the market went bust, people with short positions cleaned up.

The subcommittee is due to hear from Blankfein and other Goldman executives about the role of investment banks in the financial crisis.

Commenting on the e-mails, Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the subcommittee, said that they showed Goldman "made a lot of money by betting against the mortgage market."

"Investment banks such as Goldman Sachs were not simply market-makers, they were self-interested promoters of risky and complicated financial schemes that helped trigger the crisis," Levin said in a statement.

(msnbc.com news services, 24 April)

ANOTHER SIDE OF BILL GATES


"The image Microsoft dosen't want you to see:Too tired to stay awake, the Chinese workers earning just 34p an hour. Showing Chinese sweatshop workers slumped over their desks with exhaustion, it is an image that Microsoft won't want the world to see. Employed for gruelling 15 hour shifts. in appalling conditions and 86f degrees of heat, many fall asleep on their stations during their meagre 10 minute breaks. For as little as 34 pence an hour, the men and women work six or seven days a week, making computer mice and web cams for the American multinational computer company". (Daily Mail, 18 April) RD

rich list


The Sunday Times Rich List has just been published and makes interesting reading.

67 Scots in the top 1,000 against 64 last year. The 100 richest Scots, are worth £16.15 billion, up 15.1% on last year’s £14.03 billion.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

CAPITALISM IS GOOD I JUST NEED A PILL

"Where exactly does the difference lie between extreme human behaviour and a psychiatric illness? The question is being asked because as a US encyclopedia of psychiatry is rewritten for the first time in more than a decade, controversy is already raging about what goes into it, and what gets thrown out. Critics say that the revised edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or DSM, as it is commonly known) will lead to an explosion of healthy Americans being prescribed powerful drugs. Patients' rights groups are angry that it will lead to more people being stigmatised as mentally ill. "The conditions that we grew up thinking were in the normal spectrum of human behaviour " sadness, disappointment, anger" are now considered a psychiatric or psychological disorder. It has become part of a national epidemic," said Alex Beam, a newspaper columnist and author of Gracefully Insane, a book about the history of McLean psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts." (Independent, 13 April) RD

Friday, April 23, 2010

A VERY GOOD YEAR

"Bart Becht, the chief executive of consumer goods group Reckitt Benckiser, proved yesterday that where there's muck, there's brass, by pocketing more than £90m in pay, benefits and share options for 2009. Becht's earnings, detailed in the FTSE 100-listed company's annual report, include his basic salary of £987,000 and a performance-related bonus of £3.5m. But the real polish to Mr Becht's pay packet came in the shape of exercised share options and the vesting of restricted shares, which pushed his total remuneration for last year up by more than £87m. Reckitt Benckiser makes products ranging from Vanish stain remover, to Finish dishwasher tablets and Cillit Bang, the limescale treatment." (Independent, 8 April) RD

Thursday, April 22, 2010

HOME SWEET HOMES

"In the eyes of Abramovich, when it comes to homes, be they city pads, rural retreats or seaside getaways, you can never have too many. The tycoon owns a country estate at Fyning Hill, near Rogate, West Sussex, which he bought for £12m in 1999 from the Australian media magnate Kerry Packer. The 420-acre estate includes a seven-bedroom house, two polo pitches, stables for 100 horses, a tennis court, a rifle range, a trout lake, a go-kart track, an indoor pool and Jacuzzi and a plunge pool. He reportedly ordered in 20,000 grouse and pheasants to indulge his passion for shooting. In 2004, he was reported to have added the Chateau de la Croe on the French Riviera to his portfolio for £15m. The 12-bedroom villa, on the exclusive Cap d'Antibes between Nice and Cannes, was once the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who held lavish receptions there. Built for an English aristocrat in Victorian style in 1927, the property sits next door to the Villa Eilenroc, built in 1867 by Charles Garnier, the designer of the Paris Opera. Previous owners include the Belgian King Leopold II, Aristotle Onassis and Greta Garbo. Last month he bought Wildcat Ridge, a mansion near Aspen, Colorado, from Leon Hirsch, former head of the medical firm US Surgical, for $36m (£18m). The 14,300 sq ft house sits in 200 acres of land rising 1,000ft above Snowmass Village. It was reported last month that Abramovich planned to build the most expensive private residence in Britain, a £150m mansion in Knightsbridge." (Independent, 19 April) RD

RIGHT WING NONSENSE

"The demonstration was marked by the same rhetoric that has galvanised the Tea Party movement and which crowds hear from Sarah Palin on an almost daily basis: disgust with Mr Obama's agenda, rage at his health reform legislation, Government bailouts, accusations of a socialist White House and an unconstitutional takeover of American life by Washington. "We are in a war,"said Larry Pratt, president of Gunowners of America. "The other side knows they are at war because they started it. They're coming for our freedom, for our money, for our kids, for our property. They're coming for everything because they are socialists." (Times, 20 April) RD

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

RELIGIOUS NONSENSE

"Women who wear immodest clothing and are promiscuous are to blame for earthquakes, an Iranian cleric said. The explanation for tremors in one of the most earthquake-prone countries came after President Ahmadinejad predicted a quake and suggested that many of Tehran's 12 million residents should move. Hojatoleslam Kasem Sedighi was quoted by Iranian media as saying that adultery increased quakes and the only solution was to take refuge in religion." (Times, 20 April) RD

HOUSE HUNTING?

"One Hyde Park, a new apartment building in Knightsbridge, will be official launched this evening, with its developers seeking as much as £6,000 per sq ft for 40 unsold apartments. It is a record not merely for London but for anywhere in the world this year and almost twice the best achieved last year. ...According to Harrods Estates, the property division of the store group, prices routinely achieved in this part of Knightsbridge are a more modest £3,000 - £4,000 per sq ft (the average in the UK is £220) Two-bedroomed flats are changing hands for up to £4 million, with much of the demand coming from the Middle East, the Far East and Russia." (Times, 19 April) RD

NEVER STEAL ANYTHING - SMALL

"Lawyers in the United States were predicting a wave of legal action last night in the wake of the $1 billion fraud charge brought against Goldman Sachs by the US Securities and Exchange Commission. ... The bank and Fabrice Tourre, one of its vice-presidents, were charged with securities fraud. There is speculation that more senior executives at Goldman could be implicated in the case." (Times, 19 April) RD

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Food for thought

The Toronto Star (6/March/2010) asks "Who will be tomorrow's
Builders?" It goes on to list the famous men (no women!) who have "built"
the great concert halls, university colleges and other public and private
buildings of Toronto. Maybe I have missed something here. I thought
builders wore jeans and hard hats and poured the foundations, and framed
the buildings and plumbed, wired, and finished them. The former group only
wear suits and sit on their backsides. Do we really have to wait around
for these useless idlers to get anything done?
Many people have lost their homes in this recession, and been put out on
the street with nowhere to go. This is a bad thing. The US government,
however, has been able to build a whole village styled after those in
Afghanistan so the troops, American and Canadian, can practice the art of
killing other human beings more efficiently. This is supposed to be a good
thing(?).
The Ontario government and the developers are salivating over exploiting
Ontario's chromite rich Ring of Fire, located in a vast area of pristine
lakes and wilderness in the province's North Country. As usual in
capitalism, the squabble to get a piece of the action has already begun.
The native people on whose land the Ring of Fire lies are demanding their
share by occupying the landing strips and promising more action. The
government representatives have shown up to convince the native bands
that development is in their interests. They even filled the local school with
fresh fruits and vegetables, which, apparently, are not available in
winter, and presumably not available at all if you are not sitting on rich
assets! One hundred and fifty years later, the white man is still offering
to rob the native people blind with a few baubles and beads. Incredible
how the more things change… John Ayers


THE ADVANCE OF POVERTY

Every day we can read about the expansion of capitalism and how new industrial and commercial giants are arising to challenge the supremacy of the USA. Two of the leading candidates in this struggle are China and India. We are constantly hearing about the modernisation of these countries and the supposed benefits of the expansion of capital. We don't hear so much about the plight of the working class there though. The following news item about India illustrates that the supposed benefits of capitalist modernisation are not so wonderful after all. "India has 100 million more people living in poverty, official figures show, 37.2 per cent of the population compared with 27.5 per cent in 2004, with 410 million people below the UN poverty line of $1.25 a day." (Times, 19 March) Surviving on a pound a day while the owning class of that country now boast of the richest men in the world, that's capitalism for you! RD

Monday, April 19, 2010

SOMEWHERE TO LAY MY HEAD

"The 'Alcova' is a modern twist on a traditional design. The combination of sleek, straight lines and swanky fabric works in such a way that other beds of a similar shape just don't match up. Designed by Antonio Citterio, it is available in black brushed oak, grey oak or light brushed oak. The bed includes a storage unit with a hinged base.Price: From £6250." (Sunday Independent, 18 April) RD

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Food for thought

Under Capitalism – When the lead smelters came to Jiyhuan, China, the
workers rejoiced for the new jobs, the infrastructure upgrades, the new
cultural hall, and the new basketball stadium. The lead smelters also
brought lead poisoning. Jiyhuan's blue skies have gone, its fruits and
vegetables are stunted, its children and workers poisoned. The story
details the medical troubles of worker, Li Yingfu who had half of his
stomach removed. The follow-up story reported that he had died.
- In India, ten-year-old Muna gets up at dawn to go to the field to
collect melon-size rocks to take to the crushing machine to make gravel
for the new roads that are part of India's 'economic miracle'. He works
fourteen hours a day at this back-breaking work for about 90 cents. It is
estimated that India has 60 million working children. Amazingly, Thomas
Chandy, head of Save the Children India has a solution – the World Bank
SHOULD demand that contractors hired to build roads financed by them do
not buy gravel from quarries that use child labour! Some solution, but
when you can only think in capitalist terms, what is to be done? Totally
bleeping useless! John Ayers

Saturday, April 17, 2010

SAFETY REGULATIONS?

"The West Virginia mine where at least 25 workers died Monday in an explosion was written up more than 50 times last month for safety violations. Twelve of the citations involved problems with ventilating the mine and preventing a buildup of deadly methane. Federal regulators and members of Congress said they would examine the safety history of Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine south of Charleston, the site of the worst U.S. mining accident in a quarter-century. Meanwhile, rescue efforts were set to continue Wednesday to find four missing mineworkers." (Washington Post, 7 April) RD

NO HOUSING PROBLEM HERE

"On Avenue Road in St John's Wood, London, known as "Millionaire's Row", a crane towers over a £21m development of only two new homes. Blenheim House Construction is building the luxury residences with double-level basements that include swimming pools and underground car lifts. There is little outward sign of recession here. In recent years City bankers and the international wealthy have colonised this area, turning a historically affluent and cosmopolitan suburb into an even more economically exclusive place to live. It has become a prime location for a group once courted by a government enamoured by wealth creators but now bearing the brunt of political criticism and higher taxes. The purchasers of the Avenue Road homes are unlikely to be troubled unduly by the increase in stamp duty or an increased rate of income tax of 50 per cent." (Financial Times, 7 April) RD

Friday, April 16, 2010

MONEYMAKING GONE MAD

"Ryanair has confirmed that it is pushing ahead with its controversial scheme to charge passengers for use of toilets on its aircraft, meaning spending a penny on a flight will soon cost as much as a pound. The no-frills airline is working with Boeing to redesign the cabin and develop coin-operated toilets on 168 of its planes. Not content with charging passengers for use of the facilities, the airline is also looking at reducing the number of toilets on board, leaving just one available cubicle for up to 189 passengers. To use the remaining toilet on board, passengers would be forced to part with either £1 or 1 euro for each visit. Stephen McNamara, spokesperson for the airline, told TravelMail: 'By charging for the toilets we are hoping to change passenger behaviour so that they use the bathroom before or after the flight. That will enable us to remove two out of three of the toilets and make way for at least six extra seats on board." (Daily Mail, 6 April) RD

OWNING CLASS ARROGANCE

"That's my question for Bob Rubin and Charles Prince, both formerly of Citigroup, when they testify before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission on Thursday. Though first I'd put it this way: How'd you guys make so much money running Citigroup into the ground and leaving it a ward of the state? Prince earned at least $120 million for running Citi for four years, during which time $64 billion in market value vanished. Rubin made at least $115 million (plus stock options) between 1999 and 2008, before the feds had to inject $45 billion and then guarantee $300 billion of the firm's liabilities to keep the place afloat. Rubin told the Wall Street Journal in November 2008 that he was worth every penny -- and then some. "I bet there's not a single year where I couldn't have gone somewhere else and made more," he said. (Washington Post, 8 April) RD

Thursday, April 15, 2010

FOR A WATCH?

"..La Rosee's fair was made by the Superocean II - what he tactfully describes as a "less expensive" Breitling - a well-made, stylish, and youthful-looking diving-type watch for about 2,300 Euros....Offered in the sporty Type XXII, this is a breakthrough movement for Breguet that starts at the sensible, if hardly giveaway, price of 13,000 Euros..But Patek's showstopper was a split-second chronograph in a steel case, priced at more than 335,000 Euros." (Newsweek, 12 April) RD

NO OLD BANGERS HERE

"The fastest road-going Ferrari in history, the 599 GTO, is set to be unveiled at the Beijing Motor Show later this month, aimed at the company's most exclusive customers...Only 599 examples of the new GTO (which stands for Gran Turismo Omologato, a designation last used by Ferrari in 1984) will be built, with prices expected to be around £300,000 ...The Beijing motor show opens to the public on April 27 by which time Ferrari is expecting all GTOs to be accounted for." (Daily Telegraph, 9 April) RD

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Food for thought

Ken Gallinger writes an ethics column for the Toronto Star. He wrote
that Hell did not exist. He received a letter of reprobation saying that
we are not talking about Santa Claus. Gallinger replied, in his column, "
Speaking of Santa, have you ever noticed how much the words Santa and
Satan have in common? The jolly old elf and the prince of hell share more
than the appearance of their names. Both are fictional characters used to
shape the behaviour of compliant people. Santa moulds the behaviour of
children with the promise of toys for the good and coal for the nasty.
Satan has been used to mould the behaviour of adults (and, shamefully,
kids) with the promise of an eternity of fire and damnation for whatever
activities mother church deems unacceptable…homosexuality, condoms,
witchcraft, whatever." (Fearing Hell Does Not Make it Real – 27/Feb/2010)
Good points! John Ayers


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Food for thought

The "socialist" government in Portugal has just brought down its
austerity budget that includes pay cuts for civil servants, to restore
investor confidence in the country while deflecting trade union action
over the cuts. So this so-called socialist government is forced to do what
any political party would do for the capitalist class.

On the religious front, the Texas School Board, dominated by the
Christian-fundamentalist right, has voted to re-write the history books by
emphasizing people like Newt Gingrich, Stonewall Jackson, Joseph McCarthy, et al,
and in the process overturning a broad array of long-standing tenets and beliefs about US history…dropping references to Latino heroes
and justifying the red-baiting, anti-Communist extremism that overran
large tracts of the US body politic during the 1950s…" (Oakland Ross,
Toronto Star, 21/March/2010). Orwell's Ministry of Truth is alive and well
in the Deep South! John Ayers


Who owns the North Pole - part 21

A new report prepared for the U.S. Congress on the growing importance of the Arctic in global affairs has highlighted the "potential emerging security issue" created by diminished ice, increased ship traffic and looming resource competition on the Northern Hemisphere's polar frontier.It underscores the "major jurisdictional question" over the status of the Northwest Passage, the disputed sea route through Canada's Arctic islands that's viewed as an "international strait" by the U.S. but as "internal waters" by the Canadian government.
The report quotes the U.S. navy's top oceanographer warning that American navigation through several "strategic choke points" in Arctic waters, including the "narrow passage" south of Canada's Queen Elizabeth Islands, is "vulnerable to control or blockade by adversaries.
"...the Arctic is also increasingly being viewed by some as a potential emerging security issue," the report states. "In varying degrees, the Arctic coastal states have indicated a willingness to establish and maintain a military presence in the high north..."

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon on Thursday accused the Russians of "playing games" with a plan to deploy paratroopers to the North Pole this spring , adding that the Arctic is of "strategic importance to the future of Canada."

The Times reports that in 2008, Shell paid $2 billion for exploration licences in the remote Arctic Sea to the north of Alaska.Since then, the company has been waiting for government permission to drill and has been embroiled in a legal dispute with environmental groups. However, Shell said it had received a government permit yesterday allowing it to drill in Chukchi, the sea between northwest Alaska and northeastern Siberia. It is believed to hold 15 billion barrels of oil and 76 trillion cu ft of gas, according to US government figures. Shell signalled that activity could begin within ten weeks.

Monday, April 12, 2010

CATHOLIC COVER-UP

"The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales presided over a child protection system that allowed a pedophile priest to continue abusing schoolboys despite repeated complaints from victims, an investigation by The Times has discovered. The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, chaired the church's child safety watchdog in 2001-08 while Father David Pearce was repeatedly investigated by church officials and police. Despite a High Court ruling in 2006 awarding damages to one of his victims, Pearce remained a priest at Ealing Abbey, West London, where he groomed and assaulted one final victim before his arrest in 2008." (Times, 10 April) RD

MARKET MADNESS

Some of Adolf Hitler's sketches and watercolours come up for sale in Shropshire next week and, though art experts are agreed that the works might just scrape a C grade at GCSE, they are tipped to bring in close to £100,000. .... As one collector put it recently: "Sell gold, buy Hitler." (Times, 10 April) RD

Sunday, April 11, 2010

THE POLITICS OF WAR

"George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to new documents obtained by The Times. The accusations were made by Lawerence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantanamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration." (Times, 9 April) RD

CAPITALISM IN ACTION

"Charities are demanding an urgent rethink of government housing policy after a Guardian investigation found that almost half a million homes are lying empty in the UK enough to put a roof over the heads of a quarter of the families on council house waiting lists. The startling picture of neglect (we estimate that more than 450,000 properties have been empty for at least six months at a time when there is an acute housing shortage) was pieced together using information gathered from local councils under the Freedom of Information Act." (Guardian, 4 April) RD

Friday, April 09, 2010

TAX DODGERS INC.

"As you work on your taxes this month, here's something to raise your hackles: Some of the world's biggest, most profitable corporations enjoy a far lower tax rate than you do--that is, if they pay taxes at all. The most egregious example is General Electric. Last year the conglomerate generated $10.3 billion in pretax income, but ended up owing nothing to Uncle Sam. In fact, it recorded a tax benefit of $1.1 billion. Avoiding taxes is nothing new for General Electric. In 2008 its effective tax rate was 5.3%; in 2007 it was 15%. The marginal U.S. corporate rate is 35%. (Forbes.com, 1 April) RD

THIS SPORTING LIFE

"Thousands of homeless people are being forced off the streets of South Africa to hide the scale of poverty there from World Cup fans. More than 800 tramps, beggars and street children have already been removed from Johannesburg and sent to remote settlements hundreds of miles away. And in Cape Town, where England face Algeria on June 18, up to 300 have been moved to Blikkiesdorp camp where 1,450 families are crammed in a settlement of tin huts designed for just 650 people. Johannesburg councilor Sipho Masigo was unrepentant. "Homelessness and begging are big problems in the city," he said. "You have to clean your house before you have guests. There is nothing wrong with that. (Daily Mirror, 28 March) RD

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Edinburgh and Glasgow Branches’ Day School.


Capitalism isn’t working for you ,is there an alternative?


Discussions

  • 1pm The basic cause of present day problems, Speaker Vic Vanni Glasgow


  • Left wingers have blamed the greed of bankers. Right wingers have blamed everything from an act of God to the misjudgements of the Labour Party. In the USA some have blamed the "socialism" of Obama. We analyse the basic economic cause of the boom and bust nature of capitalism.

  • 2.15 The failure of Reformist solutions, Speaker, John Cumming Glasgow


  • Over the last hundred years we have heard the claims from Conservative, Liberal, Labour and Communist politicians that they could solve the problems thrown up by capitalism but all have failed miserably. We review this failure and show its cause.

  • 3,35pm The Socialist Alternative, Speaker Paul Bennett Manchester


  • The failure of capitalism to meet the needs of the majority has led many to look for alternatives. We look at two strains of thought on the subject of alternatives. Firstly, the various anarchist movements who see the problem being that of government and so seek an alternative without government. Secondly, the Zeitgeist Movement who see money as the problem and seek a society without money.

    Community Central Halls, 304 Maryhill Road, Glasgow Saturday 8th May from 1pm till 5pm All are welcome to this meeting which is free of charge. During the afternoon free light refreshments will be available.

    Food for Thought

    More than 300 homeless women give birth in Toronto each year, in the
    shelters or on the streets. Just wondering if they would qualify for the
    'severe cases' extra diet supplement! Ah, the futility of reform.
    - On the economic front, (if 'front' sounds like a war, it's because it
    is) good news continues to be tempered with bad. As General Motors,
    Oshawa, announced the future recall of 500 to 600 workers, Magna, a giant
    auto parts maker whose president takes home a salary counted in the tens
    of millions, announced the slashing of its Canadian workforce by 2,700
    which means its total workforce has shrunk 35% since 2005.
    - In Sudbury, Ontario, the workers of Vale Inco steelworks are into their
    eighth month of a strike against the new Brazilian owners who bought the
    company in 2006 for $19.4 billion and who insist they are losing money
    there, and workers will have to be more 'flexible', i.e. accept wage and
    benefit cuts. The workers, who have filed 4 900 grievances since 2006,
    rejected the latest offer by 88%. to 12%. John Ayers

    Wednesday, April 07, 2010

    THE PRICE OF COAL

    "Twenty-five miners are now known to have died and four are missing in an accident at a West Virginia coal mine. The worst mine disaster in the US since 1984 was caused by an underground explosion at Upper Big Branch, about 30 miles (50km) south of Charleston. It happened at about 1500 (1900 GMT) in a chamber 330m (1,000ft) below ground, mine owner Massey Energy Company said. .... Massey Energy says on its website that it has a safety record that is above the national average, with three fatalities in the last 12 years. But federal inspectors have fined the company more than $382,000 (£251,700) for serious violations at the mine over the past year." (BBC News, 6 April) RD

    IT IS THE DEVILS FAULT!

    "Noted Italian exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth, commented this week that "the recent defamatory reporting on Pope Benedict XVI, especially by the New York Times, was prompted by the devil." Speaking to News Mediaset in Italy, the 85-year-old exorcist noted that "the devil is behind the recent attacks on Pope Benedict XVI regarding some pedophilia cases. There is no doubt about it. Because he is a marvelous Pope and worthy successor to John Paul II, it is clear that the devil wants to grab hold of him." Father Amorth added that in instances of sexual abuse committed by some members of the clergy, the devil "uses" priests in order to cast blame upon the entire Church: "The devil wants the death of the Church because she is the mother of all the saints. He combats the Church through the men of the Church, but he can do nothing to the Church." The exorcist went on to note that Satan tempts holy men, "and so we should not be surprised if priests too fall into temptation. They also live in the world and can fall like men of the world." (Catholic News Agency, 31 March) RD

    Tuesday, April 06, 2010

    Sweet Pickings

    David Leslie Fruits , a Perthshire fruit farm , has been ordered to pay more than £26,000 to two fruit pickers. During their time at the farm they lived among 200 workers in cramped metal cabins with no running water or lockers for personal belongings. Workers were also expected to drag a sledge half a mile, unpaid, before spending between 10-11 hours a day in fields picking fruit.

    After working for the firm for a month, Mr Kowal and Mr Obieglo asked Mr Leslie to clarify what their rate of pay was after some workers received between £1 and £5 per hour.As a result, the men were threatened then sacked but were later reinstated when other workers, who relied on their translation abilities, said they would go on strike. When the pair presented a 145-name petition calling on Mr Leslie to pay fair wages and to give them the minimum wage, they were accused of stealing fruit, told to collect their belongings and escorted from the farm by police. Eventually the pair were taken to Perth bus station by officers and told to board buses for either Glasgow or Edinburgh.

    Judge Hosie said "They were treated appallingly, without any common decency or respect, and left frightened and humiliated."

    Socialist Courier notes the farmer was fined , but we await details of the discipline taken by so called the upholders of law and order who ordered those exploited workers out of town and protected the interests of the bosses .

    Food for thought

    On the poverty front, Ontario brought down its budget this week. In a
    preview, the Toronto Star editorial (20/March 2010) called keeping the
    special dietary allowance for those on welfare with medical conditions a
    test of the government's much publicized fight to reduce poverty (25% in 5
    years). Well, the government failed the test and cancelled the program.
    Why? Because of abuse of the program. Apparently, doctors were too keen to
    sign applicants on to the program. There was no word about the abuse of
    NOT keeping the program and withholding food from the needy! The
    supplement ranged from $10 to $250/month, a significant amount for a
    single person receiving just $585/month to pay for everything. 162 000
    were in the program and that included 54 000 disabled persons. A doctor's
    letter to the paper said,
    "The cancellation of the Special Diet Program
    Allowance is a blow to the health and dignity of people living in extreme
    poverty…As a physician working largely with people on welfare, I have yet
    to meet one person who wants to stay on social assistance, or one welfare
    person who doesn't struggle everyday to feed themselves." A replacement
    program will target 'severe cases' (i.e. reduce costs to recoup some of
    those billions handed out in bailout packages to the auto industry et
    al.). John Ayers

    Monday, April 05, 2010

    BUSINESS AS USUAL

    "German carmaker Daimler has pleaded guilty to corruption in the US and will pay $185m (£121m) to settle the case. The charges relate to US Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission investigations into the company's global sales practices. Daimler, the owner of Mercedes-Benz, admitted to paying tens of millions of dollars of bribes to foreign government officials in at least 22 countries." (BBC News, 1 April) RD

    TOUGH AT THE TOP?

    "Los Angles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his estranged wife squared off in court for the first time Monday in a bitter divorce case that featured the couple's high-flying spending habits after the team was purchased in 2004. The court hearing, only a mile from Dodger Stadium, centered on whether Jamie McCourt should be awarded nearly $ 1 million a month in temporary spousal support. Sorrell Trope, an attorney for Frank McCourt, offered her $150,000 in monthly assistance and argued his client can't tap credit lines to maintain Jamie McCourt's lavish lifestyle despite Frank McCourt's $5 million annual salary." (Associated Press, 29 March) RD

    Poets for Adolf


    The esteemed Scots poet , Hugh MacDiarmid , was both a nationalist and a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain but also it seems , a bit of a fascist , to boot .

    According to new research into his correspondence MacDiarmid believed that a Nazi invasion of Britain would benefit Scotland. The author of A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle believed Hitler's Germany would be a more benign ruler than the UK government at Westminster.

    MacDiarmid flirted with fascism in his early thirties, when he believed it was a doctrine of the left , which betrays his political savvy . In two articles written in 1923, Plea for a Scottish Fascism and Programme for a Scottish Fascism, he appeared to support Mussolini's regime.

    Sunday, April 04, 2010

    UNPREDICTABLE CAPITALISM

    "Economists and financiers spent decades building ever more sophisticated models to anticipate market behavior, yet these models did not predict the financial crisis as it approached. In fact, cutting-edge financial models contributed to it by getting behavior so wrong, helping to wipe out $50 trillion in global wealth and causing untold human suffering. ..."Where were the intellectual agenda-setters when this crisis was building?", asked Barry Eichengreen of the University of California, Berkeley. "Why did they fail to see the train wreck coming?" In The Wall Street Journal, Russ Roberts of George Mason University wondered why economics is even considered a science. Real sciences make progress. But in economics, old thinkers cycle in and out of fashion. In real sciences, evidence solves problems. Roberts asked his colleagues if they could think of any econometric study so well done that it had definitively settled a dispute. Nobody could think of one. "The bottom line is that we should expect less of economists", Roberts wrote. (New York Times, 23 March) RD

    Saturday, April 03, 2010

    YOUR PAY

    This article from the Socialist Standard, although written in December 1982, still is very topical when one considers the evident forthcoming cuts in workers wages.
     

    The assault on wages

    Most members of the working class find it difficult to imagine a society without wage earners. Born into a world where the majority of people depend on wages to survive, they imagine that there is something inevitable about this arrangement and perhaps forget that it was not always so. In primitive societies there were no wage-earners; in slave-owning and feudal societies, very few. The preponderance of wage-workers in modern societies is the result of the development of capitalism as a mode of wealth production.
         Wages are the price paid by the capitalist employer for the physical and mental energies of the worker for an agreed period of time - typically in this country for a forty-hour week – although the period of time may be much greater, especially among what are known as "salaried employees" or the "executive class" who are nonetheless wage workers like the rest. However, during whatever period of time is customary for the type of work, the employee must accept that any wealth produced, whether in the form of commodities or services, belongs to the employer to dispose of at whatever price the market will bear.
         Profit is not something added on by the employer when the product is marketed. A moment's thought will show that this cannot be so. If it were, then we would need to ask ourselves why profit margins vary so much, why occasionally some employers make a loss, and why they are so concerned about wage levels when all they would need do is add to the costs of production, including wages, a percentage profit.
         At a time when there is a shrinking and therefore highly competitive market, employers are under greater pressure to reduce wages in order to survive. This downward pressure on wages takes many forms, some of which may not be immediately evident.
         In a period of high unemployment employers may present workers with the alternative of a direct cut in wages or redundancy as has happened recently on Sealink Ferries.
         Employers may search the labour market for workers who will accept the lowest pay, compatible with efficient work, for example by employing women instead of men, younger workers with smaller financial commitments or immigrant workers accustomed to a lower standard of living. They may even transfer their activities abroad to take advantage of a cheaper labour market.

     

         The introduction of machinery, or the updating of existing machinery, may reduce a company's wage bill by making it possible to employ unskilled instead of skilled workers or simply by reducing the numbers of workers required for a given volume of production.
         By changing the organisation of the productive process, for example by division of labour, the actual numbers employed may be reduced or production may be increased without adding to the labour force. The stress put on "increased productivity" should sound a clear note of warning for the working class in spite of the fact that many so-called representatives of the workers go along with the idea. Just as the capitalist class consider their interests as a class, so should the working class view their collective interests.
         In the road transport industry the increase in the size of lorries is designed to reduce the number of drivers and therefore the total wage bill. Thus we see on the roads today lorries of a capacity many times those used a decade ago - yet still under the control of one driver. A similar development is seen in the size of aircraft, which results in a more intensive use of airfields.
         In the retail trade self-service has been introduced wherever practical. For some products, for example groceries, people may welcome the saving in time. Some may deplore the lack of personal service. These considerations do not however enter into the calculations of the capitalist, who will weigh in the balance the cost of installing the self- service system against the saving in wages which may result. This is often a two-fold saving: in numbers of staff relative to the volume of sales and the level of wages required to operate the system.
         To maximise profits wages should ideally be just adequate to maintain the worker's efficiency and to rear children as replacements. When during World War II reformers were advocating a system of family allowances - in this case payment to those with large families - Sir William Beveridge put the matter quite clearly from the employers' point of view. In a letter to The Times (12 January 1940) he wrote: We cannot in this war afford luxuries of any kind, and it is a luxury to provide people with incomes for non-existent children.
         A system of family allowances is not the only way in which wages can be made to fit more closely the minimum needs of the working class. Any form of government subsidy must be viewed with suspicion from this point of view. We may take for example the recent debate on the need to subsidise public transport. Its advocates present such measures as a benefit for those workers who travel to work each day by train or bus. In fact it is only a benefit to employers who would otherwise have to include in the wages of all their employees enough to pay the "economic fare" - whether or not they all make use of public transport. To paraphrase Sir William Beveridge's comment: "We cannot afford the luxury of providing people with incomes for non-existent journeys".
         We leave to last the most general assault on wages, an assault which has occurred in all those countries which have departed from a currency linked to gold - in other words, those countries using inconvertible paper money. Where paper money is issued, unrelated to the wealth production of a country, then the purchasing power of that money falls. The massive increase in prices which we have seen in this country over the last ten years has been almost entirely due to the excessive printing of paper money; that is, currency inflation which successive governments have employed to meet part of their public spending requirement. In a speech in the House of Commons Sir Keith Joseph reminded MPs that

     The Government had to obtain the money it spends from taxing, borrowing or printing. There is no other source (The Times 27 January 1981).

    and during a debate on exports Michael Neubert (Conservative) stated that

    She (Margaret Thatcher) should emphasise that, if we are not to have higher taxes or higher borrowing leading to higher interest rates, then calls for higher public expenditure can only mean printing money (The Times 28 October 1981).

    The Prime Minister heartily agreed. Nevertheless, the over-issue of currency has continued, though much abated, so that the resulting price inflation still runs at around 8 per cent.
         If any worker imagines that the present assault on wages is temporary, he should be warned by a statement made recently by Sir Terence Beckett, Director General of the Confederation of British Industries. The Times (29 July 1982) reported him as saying:

    In practice, employers should try in the forthcoming pay- round to keep increases in labour costs down to a remarkable 3 per cent last year' , as far below those of their overseas competitors as possible. But pay restraint should not be exercised for the next 12 months or the next decade. It is for ever.

    Any government, whether it be Conservative, Labour, Liberal, Social Democrat or "Communist", is forced to assist in the downward pressure on wages in face of the fierce competition for the sale of commodities and services at a profit. JM

    Socialist Standard December 1982

    Thursday, April 01, 2010

    NOT FARE

    This article from the Socialist Standard October 1982 is worth your interest.
     

    The famous "Fares Fair" scheme, by which some Labour members of the Greater London Council tried to ease London Transport's ( L.T.)financial worries (and win some votes), pleased some people but enraged just as many more. Some complained that reduced fares were being paid for by higher rates while businesses claimed the increase would drive them to the wall and cause even more unemployment.

     In the end the scheme was thrown out by the House of Lords and L.T. fares were doubled in March. This decision greatly pleased those other reformers, the Tories, but it did not solve L.T.'s financial problems - the consequence was a massive jump in fare-dodging.                          

    This fare-dodging has been a long standing worry for L.T. but just recently it has come to a head because of several articles in the London evening newspaper, the Standard. Its August 10th article Find the Fare Fiddlers was all too reminiscent of similar headlines during the last two decades.

    Back in January l97l the Socialist Standard carried an article on this subject. At that time L.T. claimed to be losing only £1million yearly due to fare-dodging, but as the article in the Socialist Standard stated: "The signs are that London Transport's figure of £1 million  will be shown to be hopelessly underestimated". In 1972 L.T. admitted that the losses were £5 million. By 1978 the figure was £12 million and in 1982 the loss is expected to be an astonishing £30 million - or over 5 per cent of L.T.'s total income.

    In 1966 plans were made to install automatic ticket gates to control passenger entrance and exit. This was to have cost £10 million at 1966 prices but the rapidly escalating costs of the system have resulted in its partial introduction only. As most stations have no automatic gates many passengers simply pay the collector at the other end a fraction of the real cost of the journey.

    In the past you could hand over a five penny piece and walk through the barrier with no trouble at all, but nowadays there is a marked change in the attitude of the collectors. They are much more zealous in their duties, not out of any new-found loyalty to L.T., but because many of them realise that the more they collect in excess fares the more they can keep for themselves. L.T. reckon that another £10 million is being lost to staff using this method, plus a variety of ingenious variations.

    Not that Underground employees get all of this £10 million to themselves, for L.T.'s bus conductors also have ways of keeping part of what they collect. These include the use of Black and Decker drilling machines to wind back the counters on ticket machines and, according to the Standard newspaper article, more than 2,000 of L.T.'s 13,000 bus conductors have already been cautioned for fiddling fares.

    This conflict between L.T. and its employees is actually part of the ceaseless struggle between employees and employers, whether the latter be private companies or state or municipal concerns. The main bone of contention is usually wages and conditions of work but workers will also claw back a bit of what they can't get legally. Rare indeed is the worker who never goes for a read or does a "homer" in the company's time, never uses the photocopier for his or her own purpose, never takes home the company's stationery or arrives late or leaves early. And it's the same with the army of fare-dodgers. True, they aren't employees of L.T. (no doubt many of them think L.T. belongs to them!) but hard-up workers will always try to supplement their earnings with a bit of free travel if they can.

    VV        

    Socialist Standard October 1982

    Summer School

    Summer School 2017

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