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Showing posts from 2007

Poor health

Women from deprived backgrounds are treated differently and have a lower breast cancer survival rate than more affluent women , says a study

The charity Cancer Research UK studied nearly 13,000 patients from England's Northern and Yorkshire health regions. It found deprived women were less likely to be diagnosed in the early stages of disease, when treatment is most likely to be effective. They were also less likely to have surgery or radiotherapy.

The British Journal of Cancer study found that among the most affluent group, 40% had lumpectomies, which allow breast conservation, rather than full mastectomies to remove the breast. However, the figure among the most deprived group was just 31%.

They said that more women from deprived areas were likely to favour a mastectomy because it is a one-off treatment, whereas lumpectomy requires a course of radiotherapy, and therefore regular trips to a clinic, which can be difficult and costly.

The study also found that more than 22% of women f…

education , once more

Even the Tories are saying it . Children from the most deprived areas of England are falling further behind in school compared to more affluent pupils .

Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove highlighted figures showing a widening of the social gap in achievement. The figures show a 43.1% gap between the proportions of wealthy and deprived pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths in 2007. In 2006, this gap in GCSEs, in favour of the wealthiest, had been 28.4%. The figures are based on comparisons of the GCSE results of pupils from the ten percent most affluent areas and the ten percent most deprived. These figures reflect the attainment gap using another poverty indicator - free-school meals.

This social divide in exam results shows "the education system is letting down the poorest," says Mr Gove

The government figures show how the link between home background and achievement stubbornly persists throughout children's years in school. When the school popul…

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS

On a Sunday morning Christian ministers and priests love to thunder out the Sermon on the Mount. Some of the sentiments seem to be laudable enough. It is difficult to disagree with "blessed are the peacemakers", but during wars such sentiments are soon forgotten by these holy men. Here is an example from Bethlehem, where some holy men seem to be unable to "turn the other cheek". "Bearded and robed Armenian and Greek Orthodox priests fought each other with fists, brushes and iron rods during cleaning of the shared Church of the Nativity. The Armenians believed that the Greeks were encroaching on their section of the church." (Times, 28 December) RD

COMIC BOOK CAPITALISM

"He has fought against foes ranging from the Green Goblin to Doctor Octopus, but Spider-Man now faces an even more formidable challenge: improving the battered image of the United Nations. In a move reminiscent of storylines developed during the Second World War, the UN is joining forces with Marvel Comics, creators of Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk, to create a comic book showing the international body working with superheroes to solve bloody conflicts and rid the world of disease. ...The latest UN initiative is not the first time US comics have been used for political purposes. During the Second World War, superheroes were shown taking on Germany’s Nazi regime. Marvel’s Captain America, together with other characters such as Superman, were shown beating up Adolph Hitler." (Financial Times, 26 December) The initial edition is to be given out free to a million school kids in the USA. Imagine the storm it would cause in the USA if China, Russia or some other rival of US c…

BIG BROTHER IS HERE

George Orwell's 1984 has arrived in the USA and it is proving to be very expensive. "The FBI is embarking on a $1 billion project to build the world's largest computer database of biometrics to give the government more ways to identify people at home and abroad, the Washington Post reported on Friday. The FBI has already started compiling digital images of faces, fingerprints and palm patterns in its systems, the paper said. In January, the agency—which focuses on violations of federal law, espionage by foreigners and terrorist activities—expects to award a 10-year contract to expand the amount and kinds of biometric information it receives, it said. At an employer's request, the FBI will also retain the fingerprints of employees who have undergone criminal background checks, the paper said." (PC Magazine, 26 December) RD

WHAT ARE YOU WORTH?

On the 23rd December 07, Jenny Percival, Westminster Editor of Scotland on Sunday, reports, in an article titled, “Brown faces revolt as MPs demand £100,000 salary”
“MPs ARE preparing to rebel over Gordon Brown's plans to keep their pay rise well below inflation, with some saying they should be paid £100,000 a year.”

Will this lead to strike? In a previous report on this blog, it was pointed out that
They don’t have to, they just hold reviews and then vote themselves an increase, saves them striking and allows them to get on with running the country.
Last year they were set to award themselves £10,000-a-year “communications budget” just days after it emerges they make around £200,000 each from their generous existing pay and expenses package.

So what is it that makes the MPs discontent? “Politicians from all parties told Scotland on Sunday they expected to receive the above inflation figure of 2.5% as they have had no increases in real terms for six years. With another review not due u…

THIS IS LIBERATION?

The press and TV hailed the US invasion of Iraq as one of liberation, but according to children's fund of the UN. It has turned out to be a strange form of liberation.
"More than four years after the United States invaded Iraq , the country's children continue to face a litany of problems from disrupted educations to unsafe drinking water, detentions and violence, UNICEF reported Friday. Violence and displacement often kept Iraqi children out of school this year. The organization estimates that 2 million educations were interrupted, especially among primary-school students. .. Eighty percent of children outside Baghdad don't have working sewers in their communities, limiting access to safe water. ...An average of 25,000 children per month were displaced within Iraq by violence or intimidation. ...By the end of 2007, about 75,000 children were living in camps or temporary shelter. ...About 1,350 children were detained by military and police, "many for alleged secu…

bankers

So some of the banks took a beating with the sub-prime mortgage crisis but it didn't stop some bank executives from taking their slice of their cake .

Lynn Peacock, chief executive the Clydesdale bank pay almost doubled to £2.1m. , compared with £1.1m in the preceding year. She also became entitled to an undisclosed number of shares under an incentive scheme operated by the parent company, National Australia group .

WALL STREET CASINO

"House prices are crumbling on both sides of the Atlantic, growing numbers of homeowners face repossession, financial markets are yo-yoing and the UK saw its first run on a bank in living memory. But for three audacious New York traders it all added up to a $4bn (£2bn) profit opportunity and the biggest jackpot in the history of Wall Street. ... Dan Sparks and two underlings, Josh Birnbaum and Michael "Swenny" Swenson, placed what were in effect giant bets against the US mortgage market at the start of the year and watched their winnings tick higher and higher as the rising numbers of mortgage defaults spiralled into a worldwide financial crisis. ...The trio themselves are in line for bonuses of about $10m apiece from a record bonus pool at Goldman of about $19bn. ... Their profit eclipses the $1.1bn made by George Soros when his bets against the currency pushed sterling out of the exchange rate mechanism in 1992 and the estimated $1.5bn made by the hedge fund manager J…

CALIFORNIAN CATASTROPHE

California is reckoned by most statisticians to be the wealthiest state in the USA, but a recent report shows that this is not the case for many of its inhabitants.
"Between railroad tracks and beneath the roar of departing planes sits "tent city," a terminus for homeless people. It is not, as might be expected, in a blighted city centre, but in the once-booming suburbia of Southern California. The noisy, dusty camp sprang up in July with 20 residents and now numbers 200 people, including several children, growing as this region east of Los Angeles has been hit by the U.S. housing crisis. The unravelling of the region known as the Inland Empire reads like a 21st century version of "The Grapes of Wrath" John Steinbeck's novel about families driven from their lands by the Great Depression. As more families throw in the towel and head to foreclosure here and across the nation, the social costs of collapse are adding up in the form of higher rates of homelessn…

Gilbert and riches

Martin Gilbert, chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, saw the value of his overall remuneration tumble in the latest year despite bumper profits for the fund manager, but remained one of corporate Scotland's best-paid executives.The annual report of Aberdeen Asset Management, published yesterday, shows that Gilbert received total pay and benefits of £3,096,000 in the year to September, down from £3,951,000 in the preceding year . The fall in remuneration was due to the fact that Gilbert elected for employer contributions to his defined contribution pension scheme with the firm to cease. Aberdeen said following changes to UK pensions law on April 6, 2006, other employees had elected to follow suit. The A-day changes included the introduction of a £1.5m limit on individual pension funds.

Even at the reduced level, Gilbert's package makes him one of Scotland Plc's biggest earners. In 2006, Sir Fred Goodwin, chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, earned a basic sala…

A Very Merry Christmas ?

Debt advisers are set to take a record number of calls as consumers are left to deal with a Christmas on credit. Leading debt charities said today that the credit crunch combined with five interest rate rises had made the problem this year even more serious. It was reported today that an estimated £34 billion has already been spent on credit cards this month – a £3 billion increase on last year.
A Consumer Credit Counselling Service spokesman said the organisation expected even more calls this year from people concerned they have over stretched financially this Christmas.He said: "We expect just under 34,000 calls to our helpline in January 2008, five per cent higher than in 2007."
And Credit Action spokesman Christ Tapp echoed the claims, saying the hangover debt from the festive reason reached way beyond the first few days of the New Year, and that homeowners may be particularly concerned. He said: "It could certainly be our busiest January and February ever. People ar…

An Anti-Bolshevik Approach to Revolution

The final talk in the Socialist Thinkers series by Stephen Coleman and a belated contribution to the 90th anniversary of the Russian Revolution . It is a discussion of Leninism and the Julius Martov critique of the Bolsheviks .

The download can be found via the link at Darren's blog

A Vision of Socialism

Not looking forward to the Queen's Christmas message , then why not download and listen to one of the Socialist Party talks that Darren has upload.

Stephen Coleman discusses William Morris and his Vision of Socialism . Download from here .

WORLD HUNGER WORSENS

Millions of human beings starve inside a capitalist system that can produce enough for everyone. There are many well intentioned groups that believe that by a series of reforms this dreadful situation can be solved inside capitalism. Despite years of existence and hundreds of campaigns this has been proven to be futile."Record prices for major agricultural commodities and a reduction in the volume of food aid means there is a serious risk that global hunger will worsen next year, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation said on Monday. The warning came as wheat prices on Monday jumped to an all-time high, soybean prices hit a fresh 34-year high and corn rose to an 11-year high on strong demand and tight supplies reflected in extremely low global inventories. ... Food aid has been reduced because agricultural commodities prices are going up while the big aid agencies’ budgets – including that of the UN’s World Food Programme, which feeds almost 90m of the world’s poor…

THE CLASS DIVIDE

The harrowing picture of poverty in India is very familiar. Whole families are sleeping on the streets of Calcutta and in wretched, unsanitary lean-to shacks. What is not so well known is the immense wealth of a handful of Indian capitalists. "The mansion of Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in India, is something more than the average dream house. When construction is completed next year, his home will top 570 feet – the equivalent of a 60-story skyscraper – and include a helipad, six floors of parking, and 600 servants for a family of six." (Yahoo News, 18 December) RD

Branson Virgin Rail - Just the ticket

While the Virgin Rail passengers face nine per cent fare increases ( an average of 4.8 per cent from Jan 6, with first class passengers facing rises of nine per cent) and some of the worst delays in the country (In its worst performing year in 2002, just 73.6 per cent of West Coast trains ,London to Glasgow, and 62.5 per cent of Cross-Country trains , Cornwall to Aberdeen, arrived within 10 minutes of the scheduled arrival time) , Richard Branson pocketed a £24 million dividend from Virgin Rail . The West Coast and Cross Country lines, have received more than £1 billion in subsidies from the Government since he took over the route in 1997.

Richard Murphy, the director of Tax Research, an independent consultancy firm, said: "He's stripping the company of cash while saying at the same time, 'I need more public subsidy'."

Minimum Wages - Maximum Exploitation

Thousands of workers are being short-changed by firms who refuse to pay the national minimum wage, the TUC found .

Around 150,000 staff are being denied rate of £5.52 an hour for adults and £4.60 for 18 to 21-year-olds, it says. Those in restaurants, hotels, cleaning, hairdressing and childcare were said to be the most likely to be underpaid.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "There should be no hiding place for bosses who are deliberately cheating their workers out of the minimum wage."

Socialist Courier will go further and say all wages and wage labour is theft . That it is slavery . Within capitalism , the fight to improve wages is indispensible but workers should take the next step - campaign to abolish wages .

The property ladder

Research by the Bank of Scotland, found that young people faced a financial struggle to own property, with the average price paid by first-time buyers soaring 113% from £57,929 in 2002 to £123,213 this year. With the threshold set at £125,000, many first-time buyers paying more than the average price of £123,213 will have to find an extra 1% of their property price on stamp duty.
The average property is now out of reach of first-time buyers in 95% of places, according to the fifth annual First Time Buyer Review. Edinburgh and Helensburgh are the least affordable places for first-time buyers and properties there are 8.2 and 7.5 times the average income of a first-time buyer household. The deposit required by first-time buyers has soared 238% since 2002 and the average amount put down for a first property in Scotland is £25,951 - 95% of an average full-time worker's salary. Five years ago it was only 35% of an average worker's full-time earnings.

"It is beyond the reach of pe…

The Price of Learning

The principal of Glasgow University accepted a £23,000 pay rise in the past year - an increase of more than five times the rate of inflation. The 11% increase brings Sir Muir Russell's salary and pensions benefits to some £234,000 a year at a time when the rest of the university's staff have been given increases of just 4%. Last year's university accounts show the level of Sir Muir's remuneration package jumped from £184,000 in 2004-05 to £211,000 in the last financial year - a 15% rise. As part of his pension arrangements from his career in the civil service, Sir Muir, 59, will pocket a one-off payment of £215,000 when he turns 60.
He can also expect to have an annual pension of £65,000 waiting for him at age 65.

The latest increase is likely to make Sir Muir one of the highest-paid principals in the country, depending on the increases enjoyed by other university leaders which have not yet been revealed. Last year, the highest-paid principals in Scotland were Professor …

Karl Kautsky

Once more the Inveresk Street Ingrate blogger has uploaded a Stephen Coleman talk on socialist thinkers , which can be downloaded via the link here .
The subject is Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Critique of Religion

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE ...

"Major General Graham Binns, who led British troops into the city in 2003, said the province had "begun to regain its strength". He added: "I came to rid Basra of its enemies and I now formally hand Basra back to its friends." So that is a job well done.
Is it? Hardly when you look at the facts.
"The full scale of the chaos left behind by British forces in Basra was revealed yesterday as the city's police chief described a province in the grip of well-armed militias strong enough to overpower security forces and brutal enough to behead women considered not sufficiently Islamic. As British forces finally handed over security in Basra province, marking the end of 4½ years of control in southern Iraq, Major General Jalil Khalaf, the new police commander, said the occupation had left him with a situation close to mayhem. "They left me militia, they left me gangsters, and they left me all the troubles in the world," he said in an interview for Gua…

THIS IS "COMING GOOD"?

"Is it possible that after four and six years respectively, the American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are at last beginning to come good? Our reports this week from the front-lines of both wars suggest that the answer to that question should be a guarded yes. In Iraq General David Petraeus's “surge” and a Sunni backlash against al-Qaeda have sharply reduced the killing. It is true that more than 20 civilians are still killed on an average day, but it was not uncommon a year ago to find as many as 100 corpses at dawn. In Afghanistan the yes is more tentative. Violence is spreading and suicide-bombings, less frequent now in Iraq, are taking a rising toll. ... The war in Iraq has taken a much greater toll of American lives—some 4,000, compared with about 500 in Afghanistan. (Economist, 15 December)
Capitalism has a strange set of values when 20 civilian corpses a day and 4,500 US soldier dead is looked upon as "coming good". RD

HEROISM AND REALITY

"The parents of an Iraq war veteran who committed suicide and members of Congress on Wednesday questioned why there's not a comprehensive tracking system of suicide among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Mike Bowman, of Forreston, Ill., said his son, Spc. Timothy Bowman, 23, is a member of the "unknown fallen" not counted in statistics. His son, a member of the Illinois National Guard, took his own life in 2005 eight months after returning from war. Bowman said he considers his son a "KBA" — killed because of action. ,, Awareness of suicide among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans was heightened earlier this year when the Army said its suicide rate in 2006 rose to 17.3 per 100,000 troops — the highest level in 26 years of record-keeping. The Department of Veterans Affairs tracks the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who commit suicide, but only if they have been discharged from the military." (YahooNews, 13 December)
Bowman's parents may be puzzled…

AMERICAN NIGHTMARE (2)

"More people are requesting emergency food aid and more homeless families with children are seeking shelter, concludes a 23-city survey released Monday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Four of five cities say requests for food aid rose an average of 12% from the previous year, according to the survey for the period covering November 2006 through October 2007. Most cities had reported a jump in such requests the prior year as well. Ten of 14 cities with data on homeless families say more families with children sought emergency shelter and transitional housing. About half of the cities say their overall homeless problem increased. Collectively, the cities report giving shelter to 193,183 people." (USA Today, 17 December) RD

AMERICAN NIGHTMARE

The so-called American dream wherein once poor immigrants became wealthy is turning out to be a nightmare for many American workers.
"The current deflation of home prices is changing America. It's a real estate storm that made landfall like a slow-moving Gulf Coast hurricane here in south Florida and in other once-booming housing markets last year. In recent months it has gathered momentum and spread, shaping up to become perhaps the worst home-price slump since the 1920s and '30s. The bust promises to have lasting effects. Among them: It is defining the limits, for now, of what President Bush has called the "ownership society." A surging foreclosure rate means that the rate of homeownership, after a historic rise, is falling." (Yahoo News, 10 December) RD

Some Socialist Theory

Another audio file of the Socialist Thinkers series can be found at Darren's blog .

This time it is the Russian Marxist George Plekhanov and the Materialist Conception of History .

And once again the speaker is Stephen Coleman .

Capitalist Charity

Clive Cowdery, chairman of Resolution , announced yesterday that he planned to sell some or all of his holding and would transfer around £20 million to a new charity The Resolution Trust. The trust will ensure continued funding for the work of Cowdery's financial education project The Resolution Foundation .

The £5 billion sale to Pearl of the group he founded netted him a personal £150 million . Cowdery's stake grew in value by some £25 million in the few weeks between him announcing a merger with Friends Provident, with Resolution shares at 616p, and selling to rival Hugh Osmond of Pearl for 720p, thanks partly to sparking a bidding war between Pearl and Standard Life. So he can well afford to be generous with his philanthropic gestures . And what , pray we ask , is this charitable institution he is financing .

The Resolution Foundation is an independent research and policy organisation formed in September 2005 to study "how people on low to moderate incomes fair in the m…

Citizens Advice - Workers being exploited

Tens of thousands of vulnerable workers are being exploited by rogue employers, Citizens Advice has warned.

Last year Citizens Advice Bureaux across the UK dealt with more than half a million employment related queries. It estimates 60% of these involved the denial of statutory workplace rights such as the minimum wage, paid holiday and sick leave and pay. Some workers were also required to work excessively long hours or were denied proper rest breaks, the report said. Others were summarily dismissed for being pregnant. Other high risk groups include migrant workers and those who because of age, disability of lack of skills, would struggle to find another job .

"There are still far too many rogues out there, flouting the law, ignoring rules without sanction and profiting from vulnerable workers " -David Harker, Citizens Advice

As always , with people acting with good intentions , this report simply puts it all down to the some "bad apple" bosses who are using unfair p…

GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL (2)

Ever helpful in assisting workers to enjoy a holiday away from the toil we thought we would pass on this piece of information we spotted on the website of Emirate Airways. It should make a nice change from your usual holiday travel.
" Emirates now offers enhanced private suites in First Class on selected aircraft. The new private suite is fully equipped with individual storage, a coat closet, vanity desk and personal mini bar. The extra-large seat reclines to become a fully flat bed, and the 23" wide-screen LCD screen features over 600 channels of nice entertainment. Our award winning, multilingual cabin crew provide an unprecedented level of personal service, including a la carte gourmet cuisine and an extensive wine list." RD

GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL

After a hard year slogging away at the workplace you might fancy an idyllic holiday but we don't think you will be booking up at Richard Branson's island. His friend billionaire Larry Page is secretly getting married there. "When a man is worth $20bn, however, certain secrets are impossible to keep. On Wednesday, the New York Post revealed the location and the expected number of guests – 600. It appears the guests will fly into St Thomas, the biggest of the Virgin Islands, and then take smaller planes and helicopters to Virgin Gorda, a 40-minute ride. Necker Island is so small and exclusive it does not – intriguingly – even appear on the Google map service. (A consequence, perhaps, of Mr Page's friendship with Branson.) The island's website, however, reveals that each of its 14 Balinese-style houses, blessed with pools, jacuzzis, private chefs and other luxuries, costs $46,000 (£23,000) a night – when available." (Independent, 8th December) RD

All very fishy

It sounds mad: shipping UK-caught langoustine thousands of miles to be processed, then back again to be turned into breaded scampi and put on sale. That's what leading seafood producer Young's started doing last year. We read :

The journey for the scampi that ends up on dinner plates and in pub baskets across the country starts in traditional style - the catch being landed by inshore fishing boats in ports like Stornoway. From there it is taken by lorry to the Scottish border town of Annan, which is where things start to change.
In the past the scampi was shelled by machine in Scotland. Now it is taken first to Grangemouth and loaded into containers, which are in effect giant freezers.
They are shipped to Rotterdam before being loaded onto a huge container ship alongside around 7,000 other containers for the long haul to Bangkok.
The key part of the process takes place in Thailand, as the langoustine are peeled by hand .
The long journey home from Bangkok takes the frozen, peeled…

Horse Sense

Millions of pounds spent each year on the sperm of race-winning horses. The owner of one superstar stud can earn £25 million a year. British breeders can typically expect to pay more than £500 a time in stud fees, with some American horses commanding fees of up to £10,000. Stallions reputed for producing good quality offspring come at a premium, and can fetch far higher fees.

Research published today will cast doubt on the rationale that bringing champion horses together will produce potentially race-winning foals. a horse's lineage is far less important than was previously thought. Genes account for only 10% of the prize money a horse wins in its lifetime

"The offspring of expensive stallions might tend to win more money, but not necessarily because they have inherited the best genes . It is likely those breeders best able to pay high stud fees are also those who are able to spend more on care of the horse, how it is trained, and who rides it - all of which will contribute mor…

Chocolate Class War

Cadbury's announced this year that it would cut 7,800 jobs world wide and is currently fighting union resistance to factory closures in the UK .

However , billionaire corporate raider Nelson Peltz, who has been building a stake in the confectionery giant has been demanding that Cadbury Schweppes should return as much as £1.7 billion to shareholders after the spin-off of its US drinks business next year or face an attempted boardroom coup . He and his confederates dmand that by adopting more aggressive trading margin targets, Cadbury could push the value of its shares up to 970p and pay a special dividend of 80p per share – handing back £1.7bn in total – when the drinks business is spun off. The stock was up 15p to 623p yesterday. Cadbury's chief executive promised this year to raise the company's trading margins from about 10 per cent currently to a mid-teens percentage by 2011. Mr Peltz says the target should be closer to 20 per cent

The veteran financier made hundreds of m…

Xmas Presents

Ethical gifts are billed as the perfect antidote to the conspicuous consumerism of the festive season. Whether buying a goat for a family in Africa, or the materials to build a toilet, we are told that these simple items can make a big difference to people in developing countries.
Such presents have been growing in popularity and last year Oxfam sold £3.9 million worth of ethical gifts . The charity has this year launched a celebrity-led campaign to encourage more of us to send useful gifts - which may include items such as dung, condoms or even a can of worms - to help communities in the developing world.

However UK-based education charity Worldwrite says that far from being welcome, these gifts are often seen as "demeaning and patronising". Worldwrite also argues that far from encouraging development, buying someone a goat or a hoe for Christmas only conspires to keep recipients at the same subsistence levels year after year. "People in the developing world are like…

Coleman on Dietzgen

Once more Brooklyn Darren of Inveresk St Ingrate has uploaded another Stephen Coleman talk .

This time the subject is Joseph Dietzgen , the working class materialist philosopher .

The talk can be downloaded in two parts here

CRISIS, WHAT CRISIS?

According to the newspapers and the television we are going through a crisis, but Wall Street would disagree. Of course a lot of workers are being evicted from their houses and many workers find themselves in debt but come on let the good times roll.
"Thousands of bankers at Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers will celebrate record bonus payments today, despite the global credit crunch. Lehman kicked off the good cheer as it emerged that it had handed Richard Fuld, 61, its chief executive, a $35 million (£17 million) share award. Goldman began to tell staff on both sides of the Atlantic yesterday of their share of what is expected to be an $18.8 billion pool - $2.3 billion more than last year's awards." (Times, 13 December)
Being a plumber, an engineer or a clerk doesn't seem such a good idea, does it? Ever heard of a clerk with a £17 million bonus? RD

The usual Xmas story

A shortage of affordable housing has left 130,000 children homeless in England this Christmas – an increase of 128 per cent in the past decade, according to research by the shadow housing minister Grant Shapps.

The Tories claim the impact of homelessness on children goes beyond the misery of not having a permanent roof above their heads, making them far more likely to suffer from medical and social problems. The "social failure" of child homelessness is often followed by mental, physical and educational disadvantage. A homeless child is twice as likely to be admitted to an Accident & Emergency department, four times as likely to have respiratory infections and six times as likely to suffer speech impediments, as a child with a fixed address.

Director of the homeless charity the Simon Community, welcomed the report and its conclusions, saying: "What children need is a stable, healthy environment with people who love them, but also where they aren't constantly movi…

PROPERTY OWNING DEMOCRACY?

The then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was reputed to be the one to think up the phrase "property owning democracy". It was possibly dreamed up by one of her advisers, just like her "the lady is not for turning". Who ever thought up the phrase must wish they hadn't bothered as more and more evidence highlights re-possessions and mortgage payments defaults.
"In a damning report, the Citizens Advice Bureau said that irresponsible lending decisions and "aggressive arrears management" by sub-prime lenders was causing increasing numbers of house owners with credit problems to miss mortgage payments or to have their homes repossessed. Numbers of home repossessions, already at a seven year high, are expected to rise by 50 per cent this year to 45,000, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders."
(Times, 12 December) RD

HOW FAST IS FAST FOOD?

We live in a competitive crazy society, but even by capitalism's standards the following news item is bizarre. "The question of just how long it should take to eat fast food is being answered by the burger giant McDonald's, which is making customers finish within 45 minutes or face a charge of £125. Motorists who care to linger over their McMeals for any longer at some drive-throughs are receiving demands from a private company that manages car parks for the burger chain. If they do not pay, the fee rises steadily and customers are threatened with court action and approached by bailiffs." (Guardian, 11 December)
In order to maximize profits McDonalds are resorting to bailiffs and courts. Capitalism just gets crazier and crazier RD

Rich Pickings

Been a while since Socialist Courier revealed the take home pay of the the rich . So we now point to Stewart Milne who maintained his position as one of Scotland's best-paid directors by taking home more than £7.5m in salary, benefits and dividends . Between them, the company's directors shared pay and benefits of £4.4m, of which more than one-third, £1,547,498, was taken by Milne. The company also paid out dividends of £6.2m, of which £6m went to Milne himself.

Milne's total pay packet has actually fallen from last year when he was a beneficiary of a £10.8m package, but £5m of that was in the form of a pension contribution. Nothing like whatis available in Wall St though . According to the Independent "The young guns at the investment bank Goldman Sachs – none of them over 40 years old – were unmasked yesterday, prompting a wave of adulation and envy among their colleagues, and another bout of handwringing about Wall Street's ability to make multibillion-dollar prof…

Troops Out of Iraq

Just only 2% of Basra residents believe that the presence of British troops since 2003 has had a positive effect , says a BBC poll .

But , of course , they were never sent there in the first place for the benefit of the local inhabitants , no matter how much and how often Tony Blair tries to keep preaching to us .

IT IS GRIM UP NORTH

Many misguided southerners may sometimes envy the residents of the highlands of Scotland. After all they can look out their window and see the bonnie snow-clad mountains, but it is not so romantic if you happen to be as skint as many of the highland workers are.
"Rising energy prices means that more than half a million households are living in fuel poverty in Scotland. Figures published today show that households spending more than 10% of their income ,on heating has worsened since 2004 when it accounted for 18% of households. Now the total is 23%, or 543,000 homes, according to Scottish Government figures." (Herald, 11 December)
Half a million households shivering in the cold is far from being an idyllic Scottish scene. RD

TOUGH AT THE TOP?

We are often told that it is tough at the top and that great wealth brings great burdens. Spare a tear then for Richard tenth Duke of Buccleuch and his onerous future. "The Duke of Buccleuch left £320 million in his will, despite trying to downplay his wealth. The Scottish aristocrat, who died in September aged 83, was as wealthy as the Queen and up to four times richer than he would ever admit. He was one of the biggest landowners in Europe, with about 280,000 acres, but he had also amassed a personal fortune. The majority of his estate will be passed to his son, Richard, the tenth duke." (Times, 10 December)
No worries about sub-prime loans there, we would imagine! RD

A MERRY XMAS - FOR SOME

"At £50,000, it's the cost of a Jaguar car or a terrace house in Castleford. But that hasn't stopped the orders coming in for what is probably the most expensive Christmas hamper assembled. The idea came from a well-heeled customer at the Vivat Bacchus restaurant in London who asked the co-owner to put together a goody basket for the festive season.
When Neleen Strauss asked for a budget, the client told her £50,000. Strauss set about putting together the special hamper - believed to be the most expensive on sale in the UK - which is stuffed with 22 bottles of prized wines, champagnes and spirits. They include the sought-after Meinert Merlot 2000, ...Strauss describes it as "priceless". Also thrown in for good measure is a £15,000 bottle of Romanee Conti 1970 - one of the best burgundies in the world - and a Chateau d'Yquem 1959 dessert wine (£2,400). The restaurant, which straddles Clerkenwell and the City of London, is a haunt of lawyers, bankers and City f…

DEATH AND DESPERATION

In complete contrast to the indulgences of the extremely wealthy is the utter desperation of some workers risking their lives for the right to be exploited.
"A boat carrying illegal migrants sank off Turkey's Aegean coast and at least 43 people died, an official said yesterday. The 50-foot boat sank in rough weather late on Saturday off the coast of Seferihisar, a town south of the city of Izmir, local Governor Orhan Sefik Guldibi said. Six migrants were rescued and hospitalized, mostly for shock. Citing survivors, the Coast Guard said a total of 85 people were on board. Guldibi said 43 bodies had been recovered."We are trying to keep our hopes alive but the possibility of more survivors is diminishing," Guldibi said." (Independent, 11 December) RD

A lesson that goes unlearned

Socialist Courier has often reported on the inequality of opportunity in education and our stance is that it is not accidental or a result of mistaken policy but integral to the class divide of society .

Yet again the media carries the same old story , privilege over poverty in education . Clever children from poor families face being overtaken by less bright children from affluent homes . The findings are part of a study for the Sutton Trust which says UK social mobility has not improved since 1970.

"It's a terrible thing that children from poor backgrounds, who are bright, end up actually not getting a very good start in life. They end up in schools that aren't very good and end up poor as adults and that's a terrible waste of talent and it's also basically wrong, it's just unfair." trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said.

The trust's study by the London School of Economics and the University of Surrey concludes that the UK remains very low on the interna…

FEET OF CLAY?

The slavish attitude that workers have towards their leaders and "great men" always astonishes socialists.
A case in point was President George Bush saying "The trouble with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur".
If that was a schoolboy error made by a "great man", what about the following?
US homeowners searching for help with their mortgages struggled to get through on a telephone number that President Bush gave them on Thursday.
"I have a message for every homeowner worried about rising mortgage payments: the best you can do for your family is to call 1-800-995-HOPE," he said. But those who went in search of hope got a busy signal - the president had given them the wrong number. The number Bush gave was for the Freedom Christian Academy in Texas. The school phone rang non-stop when Bush gave out the number. "I've tried my best to give the correct number to these people when they called," the academy's …

SURPLUSES AND SHORTAGES

The advance of Chinese capitalism is enriching their owning class but it is not helping their working class. "China's worst fuel crunch in years has led a crematorium to dump half-burnt corpses to try saving on diesel costs, a Hong Kong newspaper said on Friday. Villagers in Hengyang county, in the southern province of Hunan, discovered the practice when an "unbearable stench" started coming from the site, and tried to block a road on Wednesday to stop funeral vehicles from delivering more bodies. The village sent people to investigate the smell and the South China Morning Post said they saw "crematorium workers putting half-burnt human remains and organs in plastic bags and throwing them into a nearby ditch." "As the price of diesel rose, we saw more and more bags thrown out from the crematorium," the paper quoted Xiao Gaoyi, a village representative and one of the witnesses, as saying. ..Fuel in many parts of the country was rationed and there…

EVEN MORE EXPENSIVE

Not to be outdone by their New York rivals the London rich and useless have went one better when it comes to wasting money on booze.
"Economists may be warning of tough times ahead and homeowners fretting about the state of the property market, but one London nightclub remains undeterred. Today, it will launch the world's most expensive Christmas cocktail, costing £35,000 a glass. The Movida nightclub, a hangout of celebrities, footballers and the super-rich, has already taken a small number of orders for the drink, named the Flawless. The cocktail consists of a large measure of Louis XII cognac, half a bottle of Cristal Rose champagne, some brown sugar, angostura bitters and a few flakes of 24-carat edible gold leaf. The drink is described as warming and refreshing, but that is not the main reason for the exorbitant cost: at the bottom of the crystal glass is an 11-carat white diamond ring." (Guardian, 8 December) RD

AN EXPENSIVE TIPPLE

The sub-prime crisis in the USA obviously doesn't concern the buyers at this New York auction. "A bottle of 81-year-old Scotch sold for $54,000 at this New York's first liquor auction since Prohibition. An anonymous collector bought the pricey potable at Christie's sale of wines and spirits on Saturday. The 100-lot auction sold a total of $304,800 worth of rare wine and liquor. The top lot was a collection of 729 bottles of whisky, which went for $102,000. The $54,000 bottle was distilled at Macallan in Scotland in 1926, bottled in 1986 and rebottled in 2002." (Yahoo News, 9 December) RD

Listen to the Party

Socialist Courier wishes to draw readers attention to the availability on the internet of a talk given by Stephen Coleman of the place of the SPGB in the history of the labour movement that can be got as a download by going to link :

http://invereskstreet.blogspot.com/2007/12/reasons-to-be-impossibilist-historical.html

EMPTY PROMISES AND HARSH REALITY

Many South Africans struggled hard to overcome the horrors of apartheid but tragically their sacrifices have proven largely in vain as capitalism has ensured that the majority still live in poverty and insecurity.
"Desmond Tutu says South Africa has lost its moral direction, and the bitter contest for the ANC leadership offers no hope for new direction or ideas. The African National Congress, the continent's oldest liberation movement, faces its moment of truth. South Africa's millions of poor blacks have gained little from the economic boom that has produced 5 per cent annual growth rates for the past two years. Apart from voting every five years, the country's celebrated turn to democracy in 1994 has not brought them much."
(New Statesman, 6 December) RD

BEHIND THE PIETY

Capitalism is a harsh exploitive society. It is especially harsh on young poor women. Every religious group erects a pious barrier against the sordid realities of a cash society, but it is a phoney piety that cannot compete with the cash nexus. Moslems in the Middle East are especially hypocritical in their defence of chastity and purity.
"With their bright neon signs and glitzy decor, dozens of nightclubs line the streets of the Maraba district in the Syrian capital Damascus. It's here that men come from far and wide - car number plates are not just from Syria but Iraq and Saudi Arabia - to watch young women dancing. Most of the dancers are teenagers and many of them are Iraqi refugees. They dance for the cash which gets tossed onto the stage. The dancers are surrounded by bodyguards, to stop them being touched by the men. But the guards also arrange for their charges to be paid for sex with members of the audience." (BBC News, 3 December)
The Koran cannot compete with th…

Tax and the rich 2

More than a third of Scottish farms sold this year have been snapped up by cash-rich businesspeople anxious to avoid paying inheritance tax .

According to the annual Scottish Estates Review by property agency Strutt & Parker, the number of farm buyers who cite IHT as a reason for their purchase reached 36% this year.

Prime Scottish arable land has now more than doubled in value since 2004, selling for at least £3,500 an acre, compared with £1,600 three years ago. Farmers have traditionally been allowed to pass on their land to their children without the value being calculated for inheritance tax purposes. Any assets above a threshold of £283,000 are normally taxed at a rate of 40%, but farms are excluded so that they do not have to be split up to pay death duties.

But the tax break is now being exploited by wealthy investors.

"These are people with maybe £20m, £30m or £40m and they are looking for ways to shield that money from IHT in the future. They are buying farms and shelter…

Tax and the rich

The Treasury has admitted its plans to clamp down on super-rich non-UK domiciled taxpayers are being hampered by a lack of reliable data

A little more than 15,000 people are thought to have a combined wealth of £140 billion, and that includes £65 billion attributed to a small number of super-rich.

The combined taxable annual income of this latter group is estimated at about £1.9billion and "non-dom" rules allow these people to avoid a £600m tax bill. The Treasury has estimated that it is losing £1billion a year to the "non doms".

Jobs for the Boys

Jonathan Powell, former chief of staff to Tony Blair, is to become a senior executive at a leading bank. He will take up a full-time position as a senior managing director of Morgan Stanley's investment banking division. The son of an air vice-marshal, Mr Powell comes from a powerful family that includes his brother Charles, who was Margaret Thatcher’s foreign policy adviser. His other brother, Chris, is influential in advertising and has done some work for the Labour party.

A former journalist and diplomat, Mr Powell is expected to play a role in transactions involving some of the bank's largest clients in UK and Europe. As a managing director in Morgan Stanley's investment banking division, Mr Powell will be responsible for introducing the bank to important governmental and corporate clients he met during his time as aide to Mr Blair.

It has become increasingly commonplace for investment banks to hire former government ministers and politicians to introduce them to clients…

SUB-PRIME, WHAT'S THAT?

"It's been that kind of year for the luxury sector in New York. While home prices slid around the country, Manhattan set a new apartment sales record with developer Harry Macklowe's $60 million purchase of an entire Plaza Hotel floor (minus one rogue apartment), and a new price-per-square-foot benchmark ($6,287 per interior square foot) with former Citigroup chairman Sanford Weill's $42.4 million splash into 15 Central Park West."
(Yahoo News, 29 November) RD

SUB-PRIME, AND HOW

"More than two years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is suffering from an acute shortage of housing that has nearly doubled the cost of rental units in the city ... Before the storm, more than half of the city’s population rented housing. Yet official attention to help revive the shattered rental home and apartment market has been scant. ...One of the more striking changes to appear lately in New Orleans is the highly visible number of homeless men and women living under bridges and in parks. Social service groups say about 12,000 homeless people are living in the city, about double the number before the storm. ...In the past several months, a homeless encampment has sprung up on the steps of City Hall — partly because it is a safe open space and partly because it is a political statement. Tents and sleeping bags are aligned in rows. The crowd of hundreds is a mix of young and old, white and black." (New YorkTimes, 3 December) RD

SUB-PRIME EXISTENCE

Capitalism likes hiding its brutality behind euphemisms. Thus we have no Ministry of Offence, but one of Defence. So when mortgage companies lend money to people that are skint they describe them as "sub-prime" loans. The recent rash of foreclosures in the USA affected not only home buyers but tenants of landlords that were in debt. Alice Mills, a 67 year old returning from hospital was shocked to learn that she was to be evicted the next day - she was not alone. "Mills is one of a growing number of renters who are being caught up in the nation's foreclosure crisis. According to RealtyTrac, a company that tracks foreclosures across the country, 1,785,596 foreclosures have been filed nationwide so far this year, a dramatic increase over a year ago. RealtyTrac say October foreclosures this year were up 94 percent over last October." (USA Today, 30 November) RD

WORKED TO DEATH

There is an old saw that claims "hard work never killed anybody", like most old saws it is absolute nonsense, as the following illustrates.
"A Toyota Motor Corp employee died of overwork after logging more than 106 hours of overtime in a month, a judge ruled Friday, reversing a ministry's earlier decision not to pay compensation to his widow. ...The employee, who was working at a Toyota factory in central Japan, died of irregular heartbeat in February 2002 after passing out in the factory around 4 a.m. "(The employee) worked for extremely long hours and the relationship between his work and death is strong," Yomiuri Online quoted Judge Toshiro Tamiya as saying. Overworking is a serious issue in Japan, where an average worker uses less than 50 percent of paid holidays, according to government data. In fiscal year 2005-2006, the labour ministry received 315 requests for compensation from the bereaved families of workers who died of strokes and other illnesse…

CHINESE COLONALISATION

Here is another example of the Chinese government that used to castigate European capitalism for exploiting less-developed parts of the world, engaging in the same adventurism that it once branded as "capitalist colonisation". "Overall, China's push into Africa has been remarkably successful. Chinese companies are sucking up oil from Sudan, cutting down timber in Guinea and mining copper and zinc from the Congo. Beijing recently bought a major stake in South Africa's Standard Bank to fund infrastructure projects throughout the continent. And the Chinese are far outpacing their Western rivals. China has opened more embassies in Africa than the United States has, and is even investing heavily in countries, like Rwanda, where the immediate returns are murky at best. Last year trade between Africa and China topped $50 billion. By 2010 it's projected to reach $100 billion." (Newsweek, 3 December) RD

Price fixing at your local supermarket

Always first with the news , Socialist Courier reported here the Capitalist Scam of supposed rivals and competitors co-operating to fix prices of goods to extract extra profits .

And lo and behold , what should appear on the BBC , but the revelation that Sainsbury's and Asda have admitted fixing the price of milk and cheese and who along with a number of dairy firms, have agreed to pay fines totalling at least £116 million following an inquiry by the Office of Fair Trading . Cases against Tesco and Morrisons will continue after no deal was struck.

The OFT said that its evidence found that while dairy product prices went up after the collusion, the price received by farmers did not increase. The price fixing saw customers being charged 3p extra for a pint of milk and 15p extra per quarter-pound of butter. Customers also being allegedly overcharged 15p per half-pound of cheese .

In September, the watchdog provisionally found evidence of collusion by 10 firms relating to price-set…

THE PRICE OF GOLD

About a quarter of a million mineworkers downed tools on Tuesday in South Africa, the world's top producer of gold and platinum.
"This year's death toll has reached 200, mostly owing to rock falls and explosions in several mines. Many mines have been unchanged for decades but recently reopened, thanks to high world prices that have made them profitable again." (Times, 5 December) The miners are concerned about the lack of safety in the mining industry which one striker described as "dripping in blood". The average wage of a miner in South Africa is about $200 a month. None of them will be wearing gold or diamonds that is for sure. RD

HEIRESS ON THE RUN

She was left $12 million but it was a mixed blessing as she received threats from blackmailers and kidnappers. "Their threats forced concerned friends to bundle her onboard a private jet under a new identity and take her into hiding. Her location is a closely guarded secret but she is reportedly living somewhere in Florida under 24 hour guard." (Times, 4 December) It is reported that her annual upkeep is $300,000 but this includes a rotating security team. Oh, did we mention she has weekly grooming visits and has to visit the vet for her liver condition? Yes, the vet! For she is a white Maltese dog called Trouble whose former owner was the hotel tycoon Leona Helmsley.
Go on tell us that capitalism isn't crazy! RD

OLD AGE FEARS

In so-called primitive societies that practiced a hunting/gathering existence, the elderly were protected and respected as knowledgeable members of the group. In modern capitalism the old are looked upon as a burden as can be seen from these findings.
"Britons are living in fear of growing old in a society that fails to respect the over-65s or provide adequate support for those in need, a Guardian poll reveals today. It found a country struggling to come to terms with demographic pressures that are set to see an increase in the number of older people by more than 60% over the next 25 years, putting a huge strain on the resources of the welfare state. The ICM poll found: 40% of Britons fear being lonely in their old age Two thirds of the adult population are "frightened" by the prospect of having to move into a care home; More than 90% said they knew they could not survive on the state pension and would need to rely on savings." (Guardian, 3 December) RD

THIS SPORTING LIFE

In the mad competitive struggle that is capitalism, the use of steroids by athletes has become commonplace, but what is not so well known is their use by school kids."Probably next week, but certainly before Christmas, the state of Texas will become the first to implement mandatory drug testing for high-school students." (Times, 1 December) This legislation is being introduced partly because of the suicide of Taylor Hooton, a 17 year old baseball pitcher at a Texas high school, but also because of a series of surveys that suggested that 2 - 6 per cent of high school take steroids. RD

PROMISES, PROMISES

Back in 1999 the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair promised to halve the number of poor children in 10 years and eradicate child poverty in 20 years. "The government's approach to tackling child poverty has lost momentum and is in "urgent need" of a major rethink, a charity has said. A Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) report said there has been no sustained progress in the past three years. One in three UK children live in poverty. A report by the Treasury select committee fears the pledge to halve child poverty by 2010 is in doubt. Ministers say progress has been made, but acknowledge more needs to be done." (BBC News, 3 December) This is typical of reformist politicians - make promises, preferably far into the future and they will probably be forgotten when the next election comes along. RD

The Poor Pay More

Following up an earlier post we see from the BBC that energy companies have been accused by an industry watchdog of exploiting some of the poorest people in society.

Customers with pre-payment meters are paying hundreds of pounds more for electricity and gas than those with access to the cheapest tariffs . Customers on the meters are charged an average of £195 more a year than those paying by direct debit . In some cases, customers using meters have been found to pay as much as £304 more a year. There are 3.5 million electricity and 2.2 million gas pre-payment meters in Britain. Some 580,000 pre-payment meters were installed in 2006. Energywatch claims that 63% were installed by companies to recover debts, which would limit the ability of those households to switch to cheaper suppliers or payment methods.

"That they should ramp up the rates and exploit those with no access to alternative payment methods is morally bankrupt," said Energywatch chief executive of Allan Asher.

Ac…

Bank Fraud

Elsewhere and if committed by others this would be classed as fraud and the perpetrators would be hounded but with such influence and clout with the State the banking industry can do no wrong under the eyes of the Law , it seems .

Britain's high street banks have raised billions of pounds in funds through complex financial deals that use supposedly charitable trusts which are not donating a penny to good causes . Trusts are set up during an elaborate process known as securitisation, which has increasingly replaced the traditional mortgage model in which banks made loans to home buyers and held on to the loans until they were paid off.
Over the last seven years, banks have been pooling many of their loans and turning them into mortgage-backed securities which can then be sold to large investors.
The banks have been doing this through trusts which they can control without owning, isolating financial risks, and keeping their liabilities off their balance sheets in a way that makes them…

Christmas Good Cheer

The Herald reports that food prices are set to rise around the globe after years of decline, with climate change making it harder for the world's poorest to get adequate food . Rising global temperatures as well as growing food consumption in rapidly developing countries such as China and India are pressuring the world food system, meaning that prices will rise for the foreseeable future, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute. In addition, switching to crops used for biofuels will also reduce the amount of available food and increase prices

Hunger and malnutrition could rise as poor agricultural communities most sensitive to the environment, such as in Africa, are affected. Dependency on food imports will also increase as cereal yields decline in poorer countries. The world's agricultural production is projected to decrease by 16% by 2020 due to global warming, the report said, with land used for certain crops shrinking.

And we have the Independent repor…

BUDDY, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME

"Food banks around the country are reporting critical shortages that have forced them to ration supplies, distribute staples usually reserved for disaster relief and in some instances close. “It’s one of the most demanding years I’ve seen in my 30 years” in the field, said Catherine D’Amato, president and chief executive of the Greater Boston Food Bank, comparing the situation to the recession of the late 1970s. ..“It’s the price of oil, gas, rents and foreclosures,” said Melanie Gosselin, executive director of the New Hampshire Food Bank. Ms. Gosselin said household budget squeezes had led to a drop in donations and greater demand. “This is not the old ‘only the homeless are hungry,’” she said. “It’s working people.” (New York Times, 30 November) All this is happening in the most developed capitalist nation in the world at a time when billionaires are coining it in as never before. RD

POVERTY RECRUITS

Socialists have always maintained that poverty is the biggest recruiting agent when it comes to young workers joining the military and here is a recent example of it in the USA.
"One in 10 public high school students in Chicago, wears a military uniform to school and takes classes -- including how to shoot a gun properly -- from retired veterans. That number is expected to rise as junior military reserve programs expand across the country now that a congressional cap of 3,500 units has been lifted from the nearly century-old scheme...But opponents say the programs divert critical resources from crumbling public schools and lead to a militarization of US society. ..While military officials say the junior reserve programs are not used as recruiting tools, about 30 to 50 percent of cadets eventually enlist, according to congressional testimony by the chiefs of staff of the various armed services in February 2000. This is particularly troubling given that the programs are concentrated…

AN INSANE SOCIETY

That capitalism is a crazy social system is summed up by the following news item that occurs in a society where millions try to survive on less than a $1 a day. "One of the biggest truffles found in decades has fetched $330,000 (£165,000) at an auction held simultaneously in Macau, London and Florence. A Macau casino owner, Stanley Ho, made the record-breaking bid for the white truffle, which weighed 1.5kg (3.3lb). Luciano Savini and his son found the highly-prized fungus after it was dug up by his truffle dog near Pisa, northern Italy, last week." (BBC News, 2 December) RD

LAND OF THE BRAVE

Behind all the bombast of "land of the brave, mother of the free" national anthem in the USA lies a sinister reality. "From the 1880s to the 1960s, at least 4,700 men and women were lynched in this country. The noose remains a terrifying symbol, and continues to be used by racists to intimidate African-Americans (who made up more than 70 percent of lynching victims).In the past decade or so, only about a dozen noose incidents a year came to the attention of civil rights groups. But since the huge Sept. 20 rally in Jena, La., where tens of thousands protested what they saw as racism in the prosecution of six black youths known as the “Jena 6,” this country has seen a rash of as many as 50 to 60 noose incidents. Last Tuesday, for example, a city employee in Slidell, La., was fired after being accused of hanging a noose at a job site a few days earlier. These incidents are worrying, but even more so is the social reality they reflect. The level of hate crimes in the United…

Cold Capitalism for Young and Old

Consumers are being warned by energy broker Catalyst Commercial Services that heating prices are set to rise by 10 per cent in early 2008 - which could push the average household energy bill above the £1,000-a year-mark.
According to the National Energy Action (NEA) charity, for every 1 per cent rise in energy prices, a further 40,000 households are forced into fuel poverty – defined as the need to spend more than 10 per cent of household income on electricity and gas. If the NEA figures are right, up to 400,000 more households could become "fuel poor" in the new year.

"In the last year, wholesale gas prices have fallen by 50 per cent, and while the industry enjoyed the respite, it was in no hurry to share the benefits with consumers," Mr Asher of the consumer group Energywatch explains. "Suppliers waited until spring this year to pass on miserly reductions to their customers..."

"While price increases are passed on rapidly, there is evidence that any …

Poverty Reported

The Government's strategy for tackling poverty will be heavily criticised in two separate reports .

The New Policy Institute, an independent think tank, said moves to tackle poverty and social exclusion which have been pursued since the late 1990s had lost momentum . The most serious setback in the anti-poverty campaign had been an increase of 200,000 children living in poverty during 2005/2006, its report claimed. It added that this brought the total number of children living in poverty to 3.8 million for that year, and meant there had been no sustained progress on the issue in three years. since the Government first made its pledge to end child poverty in 1999, it was still 500,000 short of the target it should have reached in 2004/2005.

Half of all children living in poverty were part of a working family, a similar level to a decade ago, suggesting low wages continued to be an issue.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, found that out of 50 indicators of poverty and social exclusion, …