Sunday, July 31, 2011

LAND AND LEGALITY

Rosemary Rayfuse is a teacher of International Law at New South Wales University in Australia and Lund University in Sweden and this contribution to the press shows she is concerned about a future legal problem. "Rising sea levels could threaten the existence of small island states such as Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and the Maldives. If the international community cannot or will not slow global warming, the least it can do is help those states prepare for life after land by recognizing a new category of state - the deterritorialized state. If we do nothing and these nations become uninhabitable, their citizens will not only become displaced persons seeking refuge in other countries; they will also lose control of their vast maritime zones, including valuable fisheries and mineral deposits, which will likely become the property of neighboring states or the global commons." (New York Times, 18 July) It says much for the moral outlook of capitalism that its scholars are more concerned about the legality of fishery and mineral rights than the plight of thousands of workers made homeless and poverty-stricken by capitalism's incessant drive for profit, that causes global warming in the first place.

Friday, July 29, 2011

MARCHING HOME

Hollywood was always fond of depicting the heroic GI coming home to his loved ones. A full military band would play him from the railway station up the High Street of his local town while adoring residents joined in a rousing chorus of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home". Unfortunately that idyllic picture is far from the truth. "Military personnel, especially those with mental illnesses, are now facing the predicament of homelessness in the US. Data published by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs shows that over 75,000 US military personnel could be homeless after they return from foreign wars. The psychological effects of war upon veterans are now being coupled with problems in the economy. Studies have recently revealed that 300,000 American veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder." (Big News Network.com, 16 July) It would seem that far from a heroic welcome Johnny quite often comes home to homelessness or even a mental hospital. RD

Thursday, July 28, 2011

THE SEEDS OF WAR

Many reasons are put forward for the conflicts in the area. Some would argue it is a conflict over religion, others that it is a struggle for democracy. The following piece of information seems a more likely cause for the hostilities. "Afghanistan and Central Asia are abundant with natural resources worth billions. So far, they are largely untapped but the battle is raging for who will be able to exploit them in the 21st century. In the 19th century, it was the Russians and the British who wrestled for influence in Afghanistan and Central Asia in a highly-explosive endeavour known as the Great Game. Today, Afghanistan's natural resources are estimated to be worth billions of dollars. The resources in the neighbouring Central Asian states are thought to be worth even more - the cake is huge and as yet largely untouched." (Deutche Welle, 15 July) The seeds of all modern wars has been the rivalries over sources of raw materials, markets and political spheres of interest. The present conflict in Afghanistan and its neighbours is likely to have the same causes. RD

Whats fair and unfair?

The recent riots in east Belfast led to renewed hand-wringing about the "Protestant working class". Protestants are not the only ones to suffer deprivation. They've not been disadvantaged more than Catholics. As the anti-poverty strategy launched under direct rule in 2005, Lifetime Opportunities, put it, "the geography of deprivation has persisted stubbornly over the past 30 years". It is simply wrong for prostestant paramilitaries and loyalist 'community workers' to claim that Catholics have benefited from public expenditure largesse at their expense. The same - disproportionately Catholic - neighbourhoods in north and west Belfast and Derry top the league of social disadvantage as when the 'Troubles' began.

The whole idea of socialism is that we should show solidarity towards others, regardless of colour or creed, who face the same daily struggles as ourselves - that we can unite in support of collective political solutions to our individual problems.

Meantime, elsewhere, the chief executives at FTSE 100 companies saw their median earnings rise 32 per cent last year, treble the rise in share prices and well above workers’ average 2 per cent pay award, according to MM&K, a reward consultancy, and Manifest, a proxy voting agency. The corporate leaders’ median salary rise was just 2 per cent but total earnings were boosted by a 70 per cent increase in pay-outs under incentive plans and share option schemes. FTSE 100 chief executives’ pay was 47 times that of average employees in 1998 but had risen to 120 times by 2010, say MM&K and Manifest. Bosses’ packages have more than doubled in value over that period.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

who owns the North Pole - part 38

Putin began the rhetorical salvo during a speech to his political party. "I want to emphasize. Russia intends without a doubt to expand its presence in the Arctic," he said. "We are open to dialogue with our foreign partners, with all our neighbors in the Arctic region, but naturally, the defense of our geopolitical interests will be hard and consistent."

The head of the Russian navy, Vladimir Vystotsky, followed up on Wednesday with news of further military build-ups, including upgrades to Russia's Northern Fleet. "Right now a broad spectrum of challenges and threats is being concentrated in the Arctic," he told a conference in the far northern city of Naryan-Mar. He pointed to NATO as the source of the tension, saying the alliance had "marked the Arctic as a zone of its own interests."

By 2014, the United Nations will receive claims for parts of the Arctic from Canada, Denmark and Russia, and will then decide whether the science behind those claims is accurate. But if the claims overlap, it will be up to the countries to figure out how to share. "So the Russians are already laying down the ground rules," says Rob Huebert, an expert in Arctic military strategy at Canada's University of Calgary. "They are signaling that if anyone wants to make a competing claim, they should expect a very rough ride."

Robert Corell, a leading U.S. expert on climate change and the Arctic, explained "...our Department of Defense clearly sees the Arctic as a potential conflict multiplier, so we are going to have to see more focus on security issues."

"These discussions about new brigades or the build-up of militaries certainly don't offer any hope,"
says Paul Berkman, professor of Arctic Ocean geopolitics at the University of Cambridge. "They are alarmist, and in some sense it may be self-fulfilling when those kinds of discussions emerge."




THIS SPORTING LIFE

Most dictionaries would probably give the definition of the word sport as something along the lines of "pleasant pastime, amusement, diversion", but inside capitalism it has become anything but pleasant. "Mohamed bin Hammam was last night banned for life from all football activity by Fifa's ethics committee. Then, in a moment of high drama as the committee's chairman, Petrus Damaseb, exited stage left, legal counsel for the Qatari immediately took to the stage to accuse an unnamed "senior Fifa official" of "lies". Bin Hammam will appeal against the decision of the five-man committee after it found him guilty of seven counts of misconduct including bribery." (Observer, 24 July) Modern capitalism with its all important cash nexus has turned sport into "a lucrative diversion for accountants and lawyers". RD

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION

Ever day we can read about millions of children dying for lack of clean water and food. Many hundreds of thousands of people are trying to survive on less than a £1 a day and yet at the same time we can read of this obscene piece of conspicuous consumption. "A 200-year-old bottle of white wine has been sold, setting the record for the most valuable bottle of white wine sold commercially in the world. The bottle of 1811 Chateau d'Yquem was purchased for £75,000 by French private collector Christian Vanneque. It was sold at the Ritz, in central London, by rare wine specialists The Antique Wine Company. The record for the most expensive bottle of wine sold at auction was set at £192,000 last November. That record is held by a bottle of 1947 French Cheval-Blanc, a red, which was sold at Christie's, in Geneva." (BBC News, 26 July) RD

Sunday, July 24, 2011

swords into ploughshares

Socialists have always argued that the immense resources of the military will be transformed with the establishment of socialism. The Royal Engineers with all their training and kit could become a mobile disaster task-force, for instance.

An Edinburgh city councillor and MSP wants army properties due to be sold off under the UK Government`s defence review turned into social housing. Craigiehall HQ in Edinburgh, plus Redford and Dreghorn barrack could be converted to offer good-quality housing in Edinburgh and help meet the housing shortage in this city. 16,000 homes will be needed over the next 10 years to bridge the housing shortfall .

Readers of the blog are welcome to provide their own suggestions on how the personnel and equipment of the armed forces be turned into something of a social value.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Who owns the North Pole - part 37

The Canadian military is exploring a way to cut costs and speed up the movement of troops and equipment by building several new northern bases. Along the way it could help to strengthen the country's Arctic sovereignty claims by placing additional boots on the tundra throughout the year. The plan, sketched out in a study that was commissioned by the force's operational support command, is a variation of the one put in place for overseas operations. Barebones transportation hubs — essentially a suitable landing strip and storage facility — at strategic spots. The plan could result in remote bases and a small-but-permanent military presence in far-off communities. Locations could include Alert, Inuvik, Whitehorse, Rankin Inlet, Iqaluit or Nanisivik, according to the technical memorandum prepared by the research wing of the military last year.

The report is premised on the priority that the Conservative government has placed on a more rigorous defence of Canada's territorial sovereignty in the North, where countries including Russia, Denmark and the United States are currently staking their claims to land and underwater territory. “To maintain its sovereignty over its northern region, Canada will need to develop enforcement and surveillance capabilities for the Arctic,” the report says. To that end, it envisions scenarios that could call for a military response in the North. “To quickly and effectively respond to these scenarios, the CF would need to improve its personnel and equipment readiness for deployment in the North.”

Navy Lt. Greg Menzies said “The Canadian Forces are ready to execute all potential military tasks in Canada's North and we're always looking at ways to improve our response to possible threats in the North. ”

The total budget for its annual northern exercise, Operation Nanook — which involves moving ships, aircraft, helicopters and about 1,000 personnel into the Arctic Circle — is about $15 million.

Friday, July 22, 2011

PEOPLE in Glasgow have the poorest levels of education anywhere in the UK, according to new figures which show that four of the UK’s worst performing areas are in the city and its surrounding region.

Glasgow North East – which takes in Sighthill, Possilpark, Milton and Springburn – came bottom of the league table of 632 constituencies, with 35.5% of its inhabitants possessing no qualifications of any kind. The area is rated among the most deprived 10% in the country in terms of access to decent housing, employment and income levels by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. Glasgow East, comprising Shettleston and Baillieston, was third in the table – ranked from worst to best – with 29% of people having no educational qualifications. The other two Scottish areas in the bottom 10 were Glasgow South West, and Motherwell and Wishaw

University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said: “There is a danger children growing up in places where it is not unheard of to have no qualifications will have their ambition blunted and never realise their full potential.”




Thursday, July 21, 2011

SO-CALLED EXPERTS

Whenever a television producer covers an economic crisis they always wheel in an "expert" to regale us with their vast knowledge of the subject, but they would probably be better advised to consult the window cleaner or the lady who cleans the office instead. "If you're confused over high unemployment, you're not alone. The people who are best supposed to understand this issue don't have much of a clue either. That became readily apparent following the government's release Friday of the June jobs, a dismal data set with virtually no redeeming factors. More than that, though, the report blindsided Wall Street and Washington economists, who expected about 100,000 jobs created last month, not the 18,000 that showed up in the Bureau of Labor Statistics compilation." (CNBC.com, 11 July) The slumps and booms of capitalism show us that the so-called experts are completely clueless. RD

Paying the Price

The number of people going bankrupt has seen its biggest quarterly rise in three years, up 25% on the previous quarter.

Official figures from insolvency supervisors Accountant in Bankruptcy (AiB) showed 5,319 personal insolvencies in Scotland in the first quarter of the current tax year. It is the biggest increase since 2008.

Citizens Advice Scotland chief executive Lucy McTernan said many Scots struggling with heavy debts were choosing bankruptcy as the "lesser of two evils".
She said, "If you are struggling with debt which has become unmanageable, and you really can't see a way out of it, then bankruptcy can be your only realistic course of action."

Experts warned the increase is only the "start of a trend" in the months ahead as the full impact of spending cuts and a stagnant economy start to bite.

Bryan Jackson, corporate recovery partner with accountancy firm PKF, said: "This dramatic rise in the number of personal bankruptcies in Scotland is a sign that the impact of the recession is still being felt. This must be due to rising utility, food and fuel prices coupled with a freeze in pay which means that hard-pressed individuals are now succumbing to years of built-up indebtedness." He warned: "Given that we have yet to see the full implementation of public sector job cuts, these figures would tend to indicate the start of a trend rather than the end and I believe that the number of Scots being made bankrupt will increase for some time to come."

Iain Fraser, Scottish spokesman for insolvency professionals trade body R3, added; "It is highly likely that financial pressures will continue to produce high levels of personal insolvency among Scots for some considerable time."

Gordon MacRae, head of communications and policy at Shelter Scotland, said: "The increase in individual bankruptcies is worrying. As Scotland begins to feel the full impact of savage cuts to jobs and housing benefits, and as more people face even greater debt, the perfect storm is brewing for a rise in homelessness."

Cash-strapped consumers are increasingly turning to discount supermarkets to slash their spending on food, as soaring prices force them to change their shopping habits, according to a new report. The prolonged squeeze on their pockets is making millions of shoppers more savvy when they visit high street stores and is forcing them to change their habits at the tills. Essential foods such as bread, meat, milk, cheese and eggs increased markedly month on month, putting yet more pressure on already struggling households. 84 per cent of people across the UK are worried about the rising cost of food - with food prices continuing to climb. A third of those surveyed told Which? they had already reduced their spending on groceries this year. People have changed which foods they are buying to cope with higher food prices, switching to cheaper brands, bigger value packs and more supermarket own-brands. Shoppers are also putting less organic food in their baskets.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

POVERTY IN THE USA

It is common for the mass media to speak of world poverty as something that only occurs in some far-off backward nations, but the reality is somewhat different. The USA is the most developed capitalist country in the world yet it too suffers from poverty that forces many of its citizens to exist on food stamps and government hand-outs. "While the mainstream media has all but convinced most Americans that the nation is slowly climbing out of the "recession," new statistics released by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest otherwise. According to just-released participation numbers for the agency's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known more commonly as "food stamps," nearly one in six Americans now participates in the program, which represents a new record high. Rising from 14.3 percent of the US population participating in the program back in February, the new numbers are a bit shocking when considering how many of these new enrollees actually are. It is not simply the very poor and chronic abusers that are taking advantage of the program -- many former middle class families now struggling just to get by are having to sign up for government assistance." (Natural News.com, 9 July) RD

Taking the pain

A report showed 43% of Scots say they struggle to make it to pay day.
The report by insolvency trade body R3 showed that, over the past three months, 539,000 Scots have taken on additional debt through credit cards, loans and increased overdraft facilities. According to the quarterly personal debt snapshot that equates to 13% of the Scottish population.

More than 200,000 Scots had taken out a high interest payday loan in the last year. But one in five Scots say that after receiving payday loans they then struggle to repay them.

R3 Scottish council member John Hall said: “It is extremely worrying that such a large percentage of people are struggling to make it to pay day and that many are using pay day loans to bridge the gap. These loans tend to have high interest rates and often those who use this type of credit find themselves in a vicious debt cycle, especially if they then experience a sudden job loss.”

John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said: “With Government policies slashing family incomes and food and fuel prices soaring it’s not surprising that Scots are racking up more debt."

The Scottish anti-poverty network, Poverty Alliance, said there were issues surrounding the 400,000 Scots who are earning less than what is considered a living wage, estimated to be around £7 per hour, at a time when living costs are rising. Eddie Follan of Poverty Alliance said: “It is clear that increasing numbers of Scots are under pressure to make ends meet as the price of essentials like food and energy continue to rise. At the same time low pay continues to be a blight on too many of our citizens. The number of people who are in work and live in poverty is increasing.” He said those on low pay were “no doubt supplementing their low incomes with unsustainable and expensive debt”.

CAS chief executive Lucy McTernan said: “Our evidence shows that across Scotland, debt levels increased by 50% over the period of the recession, with the average debt among our clients reaching more than £20,000.”

Citizens Advice Scotland says four out of five young Scots have been in debt by the age of 21, and a third have owed more than £5000.

sharing the pain?

In 2006 Andy Hornby was appointed chief executive of HBOS. One analyst wrote in a City circular: "Andy Hornby is a superstar." He was said to have been devastated by the collapse of HBOS in 2008. But within nine months he was back with Alliance Boots. He was the highest paid member of the Alliance Boots' board, with a pay package of £2.4 million which included £750,000 of bonuses, plus bene-fits and pension supplements. But he quit Boots after less than two years in charge, stating that he needed to step back from corporate life. Executive chairman Stefano Pessina said that Hornby was stressed and required a break. At the time the company said he would not receive a pay-off but the annual report revealed he received a £450,000 cheque to stop him joining a rival healthcare group.

Hornby is back in another top job - the head of the bookmaker chain Coral. He joined Gala Coral Group as chief executive with the job of reviving the bookmaking arm of the gambling company. He will take control over 1,670 shops as well as online and telephone betting services.

So from the stock market casino to the bookies, Hornby gambles on and while we lose , he wins.

http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/scotland/Andy-Hornby-lands-a-top.6804297.jp

Sunday, July 17, 2011

NET PROFIT, SOCIAL LOSS

In the mad struggle for bigger and bigger profits the owning class have no regard to what social problems may arise from their ruthless pursuit to net profits. Thus we have the decimation of fishing stocks around Iceland and the Faroe Islands. "Mackerel could vanish from Britain's fishmongers and supermarkets within three years because giant foreign trawlers and factory ships are being allowed to strip out the entire stock, scientists have warned. ..."There were about 3m tons of mackerel in the northeast Atlantic at the start of the year but by the end we will have removed about a third of the entire stock," said Paul Fernandes, a leading fisheries researcher at Aberdeen University." (Sunday Times, 17 July) RD

Who owns the North Pole - Part 36

Norway’s decision to move its military command centre 1,000km north from its former location last year highlights the rising strategic stakes in the Arctic amid predictions that global warming will unlock icebound resources and shipping routes.

“More than half of Norwegian waters are north of the Arctic Circle,” says Maj-Gen Rune Jakobsen, deputy chief of staff at the headquarters, gesturing at a map showing Norway’s maritime borders converging with those of Russia, Canada, the US and Greenland around the North Pole. “So it’s only natural that it gets a lot of our attention.”

Norway is not the only country turning its military’s attention to the frozen north. Russia’s defence ministry announced plans last week to create two army brigades to defend its polar territory, and Canada is sending more than 1,000 troops to the region in August for its biggest Arctic. After a quiet period at the end of the cold war, the Russian air force has become more active around Norway’s Arctic airspace. Norwegian officials claim Russia has even carried out mock bombing raids off the coast near Bodø.

The build-up is fuelling fears of conflict in a region estimated to hold up to a quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas. Norway is counting on polar resources to prolong its oil boom as North Sea reserves decline. Statoil, the Norwegian state-controlled energy group, already has one Arctic project on-stream – the Snohvit gas field in the Barents Sea – and in April announced a big oil discovery 100km farther north. The country also stands to benefit from the opening of new shipping routes as polar ice recedes. Last summer, a mine in the far north of Norway delivered 41,000 tonnes of iron ore through Arctic waters to China, shaving 18 days off the time it would have taken via the Suez canal.

“If you put together resources, transport routes and people you have the mix you need for potential conflict,” says Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s foreign minister. “But it is up to the Arctic states to manage this responsibly and make sure that is not how it ends up.”

"If you want peace, prepare for war" is the age-old adage - Socialist Courier thinks that the idea of ensuring peace by military build-ups rather ominous and fool-hardy.

Friday, July 15, 2011

SOME CHILLING FACTS

Politicians are fond of painting a picture of social improvement. They love to tell us how lucky we are to live in a modern progressive Britain. The latest figures about the plight of the old and poor show what a piece of fiction this will prove to be this winter."One in five households in fuel poverty as energy prices soar. 5.5m homes spend over 10% of income on fuel, and bills will rise further to fund new power networks. Figures show a huge rise in UK households in fuel poverty, even before expected rises in the price of gas and electricity, and charities predicted that this winter would see millions more people struggling to keep warm at home. The Department of Energy and Climate Change statistics show 700,000 more UK families fell into fuel poverty in 2009, bringing the total to 5.5 million - one in five of all households." (Guardian, 15 July) RD

FUELLING POVERTY

Scotland is on course for “crisis levels” of fuel poverty with one in four struggling to pay their bills, it was claimed. Nearly one third of all homes north of the Border are now classed as “fuel poor” when the cost of rising bills is set against family incomes, according to a Government report.

750,000 Scottish households live below the fuel poverty line. This is where households spend more than 10% of their income on keeping warm. And 900,000 could soon be below the line due to recent rises.

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/fuel-poverty-crisis-warning-scottish-fuel-poverty-crisis-warning-1.1112254

Thursday, July 14, 2011

POLITICAL REALITIES

We are taught by the media that politicians are clever, devoted people whom we should respect. However from time  these politicians often reveal themselves as complete idiots. The vice-president of the USA Dan Quale once portrayed his grasp of geo-politics when he declared "I would like to visit Latin America but I don't speak Latin". Michele Bachmann, the Republican presidential hopeful recently signed her agreement to the statement that a black child born into slavery "was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American born after the election of the USA's first African-American president." This ridiculous claim was made despite the fact that slaves in the USA were forbidden to marry and were often separated from their family when sold. "It is not the first time that Mrs. Bachmann has found herself at the centre of controversy over her historical interpretation. She was widely criticised for asserting that American Founding Fathers, the authors of the Constitution, had "worked tirelessly" to end slavery, when more than half were slave owners and all signed off on a document that counted slaves as only "three-fifths" of a person." (Times, 11 July) It would seem that Bachmann's political knowledge is on par with Quale's. RD

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

MODERN SLAVERY

Capitalism is an awful society, not only does a tiny minority legally exploit the vast majority it also allows criminals to brutalise and dehumanise vulnerable workers. This is not a petty matter - it is a worldwide scam that affect millions. "Anyone who thinks slavery ended with the 13th Amendment is not paying attention. According to the latest State Department statistics, as many as 100,000 people in the United States are in bondage and perhaps 27 million people worldwide. The numbers are staggering. These victims of human trafficking are vulnerable men, women or children coerced into servitude for sex or labor. They might be transported from Russia to Europe, from the Philippines to Dubai, or held in their hometown. The stories are heartbreaking. The Cambodian girl sold to a brothel who was stabbed in the eye by the brothel's owner when she fought back. The Middle Eastern woman hired as a domestic in London whose employers seized her passport and locked her away in the house. The teenager in Dallas forced into prostitution." (New York Times, 1 July) RD  

Reading Notes

From "The State and the Socialist Revolution" by J.Martov,
"In reality, the state is nothing more than a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy; and at best an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy whose worse sides the proletariat, just like the Commune, will have at the earliest possible moment to lop off, until such time as a new generation, reared under new and free social conditions, will be able to throw on the scrap heap, all the useless lumber of the state." (Engels in his introduction to 'the
Civil War in France").
"From the ground provided by such economic illusions, we see rise again the fallacy that the liberty of the working class can be accomplished by the destruction of the State and not by the conquest of the State. This belief throws back the revolutionary working class movement toward the confusion, indefiniteness and low ideological level that characterized it at the time of the Commune of 1871."
" In her polemic against Edouard Bernstein, Rosa Luxemburg declared, quite correctly, that 'there never was any doubt for Marx and Engels about the necessity of having the proletariat conquer political power."

chinese crackers

ZhengYonggang's $600m (£377m) fortune was built by taking a state-owned firm into the private sector. Zheng does not owe his success to sheer hard work.He has insisted on working no more than eight hours a day and has a 20-minute nap on weekdays. Zheng has developed his own management strategy which he calls "pagoda structure management". Instead of micro-managing, he adopts a more Western style, with a team of senior staff responsible for their own departments.

Lamborghini sales tripled in China. Rolls-Royce's rose 146% overtaking the UK and on course to soon surpass the US. Bentley's sales almost doubled, making it the firm's third-biggest market. Porsche up 60% from 2009. Despite the surge in sales of 300kmph cars, the rush-hour speed in Beijing is rarely above 25kmph.

Discussion Meetings in Glasgow

Discussion Meeting Programme

(3rd Wednesday of month).


Community Central Hall, 304 Maryhill Rd
. . 8.30 PM

See a map here on Glasgow's website

20 July Another Look At Marxism. R.Donnelly.

17 August The Socialist Party's Record - Warts And All. V.Vanni.

21 September The Role of Trade Unions. J.Cumming.

19 October Resistance, Reform or Revolution.
B.Gardner.

All Welcome

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

SAME PAGE, DIFFERENT WORLDS

That we live in an ugly class-divided society was well summed up on one page of a recent issue of the Times. There on page  41 was an advert for Medicins Sans Frontieres begging for funds to deal with the awful threat of millions dying on the frontiers of Somalia and Kenya of malnutrition and lack of clean water. On the same page we could read of the lavish preparations for the 40th birthday party of Nat Rothschild that is taking place in Porto Negro and is expected to cost £1 million pounds. "Set to inherit £500 million, Mr Rothschild has already notched up a fortune of of $1 billion (£620 million) on his own account." (Times, 9 July) RD

Scottish suicides

The true depth of the problems facing Scotland's young unemployed has been laid bare in a report which reveals that more than a quarter are so depressed they have contemplated suicide. Others turn to drink or drugs in the face of serial rejection and bleak prospects, according to The Future You.

28 per cent said they had contemplated suicide. A third of Scots often felt their "life was being wasted", while two-thirds said being classed a "Neet" - Not in Education, Employment of Training - made them "feel bad about themselves".

Citizens Advice Scotland found the unemployment rate for young people to be around 20 per cent, almost three times the overall figure.

The human impact of the recession was also laid bare by new research showing the number of suicides during the economic crisis increased by as much as 29% in parts of the U.K. and also spiked in the worst affected countries in the European Union. The increase in suicides was most apparent in countries that had been badly affected by the financial crisis: Greece and Ireland. In those countries, the number of suicides increase by 17% and 13% respectively between 2007 and 2009.

Dr David Stuckler, from the University of Cambridge in the U.K, one of the researchers, said: "There was a complete turnaround. Suicides were falling before the recession, then started rising in nearly all European countries studied. Almost certainly these rises are linked to the financial crisis..."

Monday, July 11, 2011

THE WASTEFUL SOCIETY

One of the illusions beloved of supporters of capitalism is that while it may have problems it is the most efficient way to run society. So what do those lovers of capitalism make of the following news item? The Indian government fearing a potential shortage of grain banned its export in 2007 and this combined with a bumper crop this year has left them with a bizarre problem. "Millions of tons of grain - enough to feed more than 100 million for a year - are at risk of rotting because India's stockpile is too big to be held in government warehouses. ... Prakash Michael, who works for Spandan, a non-governmental organisation in Madhya Pradesh, said: "On the one hand, they have grain rotting in stockpiles and, on the other, people are still dying of starvation in India." (Times, 30 June) That is capitalism's efficiency in action for you.RD

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Food for thought

The NDP party, recently elevated to official opposition status for the first time in its history, held a party convention on the occasion of its 50th. Anniversary. On the agenda was a proposal " to debate a change to the preamble of the constitution that would replace a commitment to democratic socialist principles – including an explicit aversion to profit making – with the soft language of social democracy." (Joanna Smith, Toronto Star (18/June/11). The decision was deferred to party caucus to
decide later and a merger with the Liberal Party was also discussed. The two items show exactly were the NDP stands – with the capitalist parties, ready to change anything and merge with anybody to get elected. The NDP has never been socialist and probably its members have no idea what socialism stands for. At least, if this proposal passes, the pretence will be over.


 Bono of the rock band U2, a leading anti-poverty campaigner, experienced a small protest at his latest concert. Apparently the band switched its operations to the Netherlands from Ireland several years ago to avoid paying Irish taxes. Now many more Irish are under the poverty line with the current poor economic situation of the former darling of the capitalist world, the former 'Celtic Tiger', and there is no money for social programs. Bono is just doing what every capitalist tries – maximize your wealth – poverty does not enter into the decision. John Ayers

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Food for thought

 In a strange article (Toronto Star, 18/June/11) entitled "Take This Job and Shove it – to Asia", Heather Mallick writes how much she admires workers such as 15 year-old Chinese worker Yufeng who works in a factory making bra underwires by placing 57 steel bands into a heating machine. She is such a human dynamo that she earns 80 cents per hour, double the minimum wage. Then there is Caitlin Kelly, 53, who wrote a book, "Malled" where she tells her story of working two days a week in a suburban mall, then as a waitress for $2.43/hour plus tips. Kelly, according to Mallick is a 'mean-eyed, Class-A malcontent who resents people with more money. Kelly finally winds up at a Walmart that she considers as a hazard and was in no way going to risk her life climbing the high shelves in a poorly lit stockroom for $11 per hour. I think the whole point of the article is to contrast the stoic tornado Yufeng with the lazy and insolent Kelly who earns fifteen times as much. Are we supposed to dumb our jobs down to Chinese standards? Capital would love it but why would another worker, Mallick, be so supportive? After all, they could hire Chinese journalist for 80 cents per hour! John Ayers

Friday, July 08, 2011

THE REALITIES OF WAR

War is often depicted in films, books and TV as a heroic endeavour that brings out the best in human beings. We are taught to believe that war produces heroic bravery and sacrifice, but the realities of war are far from noble. When President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan the cost of that conflict - $2 billion (£1.2billion) a week must have figured large in his decision. "Much less discussed are the invisible costs such as the psychological strain on soldiers who have served repeatedly in Iraq and Afghanistan. One in five returning troops is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Suicides in the US military are at unprecedented level - an average of five troops attempt suicide every day, says the PTSD Foundation of America, based in Houston. Last year a record 301 soldiers committed suicide." (Sunday Times, 3 July) War is not heroic it is just another tragedy of capitalism. RD

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Food for thought

John Cartwright, president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, bemoans the lack of good jobs (Toronto Star, 18/June/11) and blames the problem on the CEOs saying that, according to them, young people don't deserve good pay and benefits. Of course, he is way off mark as it doesn't matter what the CEOs think, capital will decide who gets what. Cartwright does tell us that the trend to contract and temp workers is all in the name of lower pay and greater profits (Surprise!)– the difference in pay and benefits between a permanent employee and a contract worker is 13%, and between the employee and the temp worker it is a staggering 34%! John Ayers

safe as houses?

House prices in Edinburgh and Glasgow have slumped in the past three months and are set to fall further.

The average price of a home in Edinburgh in the three months to the end of June was £219,530 - down 3.6 per cent from the same period last year. The average selling price of a flat in the Leith Walk and Easter Road area of the capital is now under £100,000 for the first time since 2006.

House prices in the west of Scotland have also tumbled. Prices were 2 per cent lower in the last quarter than in the same period last year, taking them back to 2006 levels. The average selling price of a home in Strathclyde is now £136,000, almost £3,000 lower than a year ago.

There were sharper falls elsewhere in east-central Scotland. The average price of a home in Midlothian in the last quarter was 10.8 per cent lower than a year ago, while the West Lothian average plummeted 9.5 per cent.

David Marshall, business analyst at ESPC explained "There are around 30 per cent more properties available for sale than you would normally see at this time of year, and the number of properties selling is around half that seen prior to the credit crisis,"

Martin Ellis, housing economist at Halifax, said the market faced "significant headwinds" that would constrain housing demand. "Low earnings growth, higher taxes and relatively high inflation are all continuing to put pressure on household finances."

the waste of capitalism

Hotels and restaurants send 130,000 tonnes of waste to landfill in Scotland every year. More than three-quarters is recyclable.

53,500 tonnes of the waste from the hospitality sector is food waste - two-thirds of which could have been eaten.

Food waste extends beyond the hotel industry, with more than £1 billion worth of food wasted by consumers in Scotland each year - an average of £430 per household. Households throw away 566,000 tonnes of food every year in Scotland.

http://news.scotsman.com/news/39Throwing-out-food-worth-millions39.6797142.jp

Who owns the North Pole Part 35

The Arctic is irresistible for three simple reasons. First, a global economy addicted to fossil fuels at almost any price will always find a dealer willing to find and sell them their fix at almost any cost. Second, the strong demand for iron, uranium, gold and other metals shows little sign of ending, and won't until new goods are refashioned from old. Third, the Arctic oceans shelter some of the richest fisheries on Earth.

US, Canada, Russia, Denmark and Norway are becoming embroiled in disputes over boundaries on land and at sea. The United States and Canada disagree on the setting of the boundaries in the Beaufort Sea – an area of intense interest to oil drillers. Canada has yet to resolve a dispute with Denmark over the ownership of Hans Island and where the control line should be drawn in the strait between Greenland (whose sovereignty remains with Denmark) and Ellesmere Island. Of even greater significance in a world of melting ice floes is control of the North West Passage. Canada insists that it has sovereignty over the sea route and therefore must be asked about usage. The US sees it as a potential area of open water which gives it automatic right of passage for its battleships. The US and Russia still have a disagreement over the exact maritime border from the Bering Sea into the Arctic Ocean. A deal was signed with the then-USSR, but Russia has refused to ratify it.

US "soft" diplomacy was backed up with a bit of hardware. Two nuclear-powered submarines were sent to patrol 150 miles north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. The US navy move comes as Russia is said to have increased missile testing in the region and Norway has moved its main military base to the far north.

Rob Huebert, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary, warned in a recent paper prepared for the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute that "an arms race may be beginning...Not withstanding the public statements of peace and co-operation in the Arctic issued by the Arctic states, The strategic value of the region is growing. As this value grows, each state will attach a greater value to their own national interests in the region. The Arctic states may be talking co-operation, but they are preparing for conflict." Huebert points out that as well as opening a new ultra-hi-tech operations centre inside a mountain at Reitan, in the far north of Norway, Oslo is also spending unprecedented money on new military hardware, not least five top-of-the-range frigates. The class of vessel is called Fridtjof Nansen, after the famous polar explorer, which perhaps indicates where the navy plans to deploy them. Norway is the world's fifth-biggest oil exporter and has the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world - $550billion

Admiral James Stavridis, Nato's supreme allied commander in Europe, in a foreword to a recent Whitehall Paper published by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London, argued: "For now, the disputes in the north have been dealt with peacefully, but climate change could alter the equilibrium over the coming years in the race of temptation for exploitation of more readily accessible natural resources." He added: "The cascading interests and broad implications stemming from the effects of climate change should cause today's global leaders to take stock, and unify their efforts to ensure the Arctic remains a zone of co-operation – rather than proceed down the icy slope towards a zone of competition, or worse a zone of conflict."

Canada's former foreign minister, Lawrence Cannon, voiced confidence his nation would win the territory. "We will exercise sovereignty in the Arctic," he told his Russian counterpart in talks in Moscow.

Aqqaluk Lynge, former chairman of the indigenous peoples' forum, the Inuit Circumpolar Council said "There is a military build-up and an increase in megaphone diplomacy … We do not want a return to the cold war,"

Paul Berkman, director of the Arctic Ocean geopolitics programme at the Scott Polar Research Institute, believes the deluge of books and features highlighting potential problems cannot be dismissed as melodrama. "You have to ask why are these alarming and alarmist headlines being written and it may be there is unfinished business from the Cold War."

The race into the Arctic is inevitable in a world that prizes mineral wealth but takes the natural world for granted.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Food for thought

Two large strikes erupted in June – the postal workers and the Air Canada workers. Just hours after Canada Post locked out the postal workers after two weeks of rotating strikes, the government announced back-to-work
legislation and planned a similar fate for the customer service and sales workers at Air Canada. The latter strike was settled before legislation could be brought forward. The NDP labour critic predicted a bleak future for unions and stated that Prime Minister Harper, "has made it clear he's only here for the big employers." The government action is widely seen as support for the employers, but would you expect anything different? The government is there to support the capitalist system that pits workers against employers, and they have always taken the latter's side. It's part of the continuing attack on worker pay and benefits to pay for the last recession. The general form of attack is to grandfather the pay and benefits of older employees and take as much as possible from the younger workers and, especially from new hires. For example, the fall out from the auto crisis includes 27 000 job cuts, the veteran workers accepted pay cuts of 50-60% and new hires get $14 to $16 per hour and a self funded benefit package, which, according to David Olive (Toronto Star 4th June, 2011)," is good pay, if you're a galley-crew supervisor at Burger King". John Ayers

Who owns the North Pole - Pt. 34 - Greenland?

As rising temperatures expose more land for exploration, prospectors are rushing to the far north in the hope of carving out a new mineral frontier. The Arctic was largely off-limits because much of the land was considered unworkable. Global warming has changed that. More and more is becoming ice-free. Increasing amount of seaborne traffic is beginning to move on the so-called Northern Sea Route which traverses the Siberian coast. There are also hopes of opening up more of the North West Passage above Canada. New mining applications are being submitted for extraction, all the way from Canada through Greenland to Finland. The South Pole is the subject of an Antarctic treaty but there is no similar arrangement for the far north. But most states around the Arctic are not keen to have their hands tied by an international agreement of this kind.

"An active growth of oil and gas exploration in the [arctic] region may become a death sentence for its environment. The natural world of these northern seas is so sensitive and so vulnerable that even a slightest breach in its structure can lead to consequences no one will be able to reverse," a 2007 report concluded.

Greenland's government pressed ahead with new offshore licence awards to major companies including Shell, ConocoPhilips and Norway's Statoil. Ove Karl Berthelsen, Greenland's minister for industry and mineral resources, makes clear his country's motivation at a time when it is trying to break away from overall political control by Denmark: "The result of the licensing round is an important step towards achieving a sustainable economy for Greenland." Greenland, whose population is 80% Inuit, has recently won a measure of self-rule from its traditional colonial masters, Denmark. The new government in Nuuk is desperately keen to win complete independence and understands this is impossible while the country is dependent on financial handouts from Copenhagen. The Greenland government in Nuuk has just underlined its commitment to new ventures by repealing a law that prevented any kind of uranium mining. The law have been amended to grant exploration licences for radioactive elements such as uranium and thorium. Henrik Stendal, head of the geology department at the Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum in Nuuk says "global warming is good for Greenland."

Promises to Linkgive lots of work or money to local communities: people tend to say 'yes' to these things without necessarily thinking them through the consequences. Ove Gudmestad, a professor of marine and Arctic technology at the University of Stavanger in Norway said local people were rightly wary that they could get sucked into a legal dispute that could last for decades and for which the oil companies are far better prepared and resourced.

Richard Shepherd, chairman of the specialist oil consultancy, Petrologica, believes there is a strong political momentum behind increased polar exploration that extends way beyond the boundaries of Greenland. He says: "Arctic oil and gas is on the strategic agenda due to fear of energy dependence and fear of absolute shortages. Energy security is now synonymous with national security in the US – as it is with China". This, combined with rising prices means the pressure to exploit the Arctic's oil wealth will only increase.

Britain's richest man is planning a giant new opencast mine 300 miles inside the Arctic Circle in a bid to extract a potential $23bn (£14bn) worth of iron ore. The "mega-mine" – which includes a 150km railway line and two new ports – is believed to be the largest mineral extraction project in the Arctic and highlights the huge commercial potential of the far north as global warming makes industrial development in the region easier. The company has just spent nearly $600m (£373m) alongside a US private equity firm buying Baffinland Iron Mines, to seize control and develop the Mary river deposits in the Nunavut region of the Canadian Arctic. The world's biggest steel-making group, ArcelorMittal, admits the operations will be undertaken in an area inhabited by unique wildlife including polar bear, narwhal and walrus. The company admits any large diesel spill "would have significant environmental effects".

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Food for thought

The Conservative's 'tough on crime' stance is holding prisoners longer and backing up the parole system. At $556 a day for women and $292 a day for men, it will be a costly policy. Apart from the fact that the prison system does not work, it simply keeps prisoners in the 'crime school' for better graduation chances. - And who goes to prison? Studies show that in Canada all prisoners are poor and most are aboriginals, addicts, and people with mental illness. Certainly the rich do not appear often. David Olive ("What Keeps Wall Street Miscreants Out Of Jail? – Toronto Star, June 11, 2011) tells us that Wall Street's top managers will cause the banking system to lose $744 billion. Eight million Americans and 400 000 Canadians lost their jobs, and an estimated 50 million American homeowners have been foreclosed on.
Olive asks, "Shouldn't someone go to jail for that?" John Ayers

Monday, July 04, 2011

Glasgow remains the most deprived city and local authority area in Scotland. Almost half of Glasgow’s residents - 285,000 people - reside in the 20% of most deprived areas in Scotland, while just 17,000 people (3% of the population) live in 10% of least deprived areas in Scotland. A third of Glaswegian children live in households where no-one works (33%), a figure which is much higher the Scottish average (19%), and there is a six-fold variation in this measure across Glasgow neighbourhoods. Around two-thirds of Glaswegian children live in low income families.

Almost 90% of Glasgow people feel little or no involvement with their local community.

Glasgow men will live four years less than men elsewhere in the country, while women will live 2.5 years less.

A boy of 15 in Bridgeton or Dennistoun has only a 53% chance of reaching his 65th birthday.

Men in Anniesland, Bearsden and Milngavie will live 15 years longer than men in Bridgeton and Dennistoun.

Alcohol-related deaths are the highest in the UK, with women from the most deprived areas at least four times more likely to die of alcohol-related causes than women from the least deprived areas.

Glasgow has the highest rate of drug-related deaths, a rate double the national average – and rising.

More than 6000 children in the city live with a parent with drug problems.

More people in Greater Glasgow are taking regular exercise, especially in some of the more deprived areas – but 38% of people in those areas do not take part in any sport.

http://www.understandingglasgow.com/

Food for thought

The government is also there for its soldiers. They have a parade for all the dead soldiers along the 'Highway of Heroes" with patriots waving Canadian flags at every overpass. But if you are disabled for life, it can be a very different matter. The Toronto Star reported on the soldier, a twenty-year veteran, who had his legs blown off in Afghanistan. He was fired from the military, even though he could still work at an office desk, because he was not 'combat ready! Presumably, the meager pension will be a lot less than his salary. The workers are cannon fodder for the capitalist wars! John Ayers

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Food for thought

How capitalism works – there's money to be made in the extraction and sale of Chrysotile (white) asbestos. Trouble is it is highly carcinogenic, is listed as toxic under Canada's environmental laws, and has been removed from public buildings (including the Prime Minister's office). The UN Rotterdam Convention of 143 countries wants the substance listed, banned, or severely restricted. The industry insists it is safe if handled properly and safely, but almost all of it is exported to third world countries with no safety laws whatsoever. The WHO has estimated that over 100 000 per year die from the product's effects. What to do? No problem. Captain Harper to the rescue. Simply block the listing of the chemical at the convention and carry on business as usual, $100 million a year! John Ayers

Saturday, July 02, 2011

WAR PROPAGANDA

their side always behave impeccably. A recently published book "Scorched Earth, Black Snow: Britain and Australia in the Korean War, 1950" by Andrew Salmon seems to explode that myth. "British and Commonwealth soldiers fighting in the Korean War looted and burnt villages, shot dead wounded enemy soldiers, and killed Korean civilians and prisoners of war in cold blood according to new accounts by veterans of the conflict." (Times, 17 June) The war which took place from June 1950 until July 1953 was a particularly bloody affair. It is estimated that 1,078 British, 40,000 American, 46,000 South Koreans, 215,00 North Koreans and 400,000 Chinese were killed. RD

A PRINCELY SUM

Newspaper headlines every day proclaim some new economic disaster. Mounting unemployment, house re-possessions and factory closures are some of the daily catastrophes. So it is good to report that this social misery is not universal. Prince Charles's accounts show that his funding from the government rose from £1,664,000 to £1,962,000, a rise of 18%. "That includes a 56 per cent rise in his travel costs to £1,080,000. Staffing increased to ensure that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry were looked after." (Times, 29 July) It is also heartening in these harsh economic times to note that his funding from the Duchy of Cornwall - the landed estate given to the heir of the throne - went up by nearly 4 per cent to £17,796,000. Crisis? What crisis? RD

who owns the north pole - part 33

Amidst predictions of a competition between nations for oil reserves in the North pole, Russia said it is planning to deploy specialist troops in the oil rich Arctic region to safeguard its interests. U.S, Canada, Finland, Norway and Sweden already have troops to protect their polar regions. Two army brigades would be sent to the region.

The plan to strengthen military forces in the Arctic was announced a day after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Russia would protect its interests in the region “firmly and consistently” and would stand by its territorial claims on the underwater Lomonosov and Mendeleev ridges in the Arctic Ocean, which is believed to hold up to a quarter of the Earth's undiscovered oil and gas.

Some three years back, Russia's national security council had made it clear that the Arctic region would be its main resource base. Moscow was looking forward to extracting this potential by 2020.

Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov also said the new submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missile, Bulova, was ready for deployment on the new-generation Borei-class nuclear submarines that would operate in the Arctic. The Russian Navy has also drawn up plans to deploy more surface battleships in Arctic ports to protect sea routes along Russia's 22,600-km long Arctic coastline.

Friday, July 01, 2011

not watered down

Five bosses at publicly owned Scottish Water have shared in a one-off bonus pay-out of more than £450,000. Chief executive Richard Ackroyd was handed £78,900 as part of the deal, meaning he took home £420,000 in total last year. Finance chief Douglas Millican and asset management director Geoff Aitkenhead both got bonuses of £103,000 to top up their total pay of £230,000. Commercial director Chris Banks was paid £95,481 as part of the scheme, on top of his £217,000 salary, while customer service delivery director Peter Farrer, who was paid £211,000, got a bonus of £72,744.

"It's simply obscene for five directors of a public company to trouser half a million pounds between them in bonuses on top of an existing pay packet that's already two and a half times that. Public services are being closed down while workers face pay freezes and compulsory redundancies, yet this gilded elite make more in a month than most people make in a year." Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie said.

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