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Showing posts from August, 2007

MISPLACED ADMIRATION

It’s 10 since Diana Spencer’s death and my attention has been drawn to an article printed in the Socialist Standard October 1997, it’s appropriate given the hype recently displayed on TV and newspapers.

Do I care that Diana Spencer was killed in a car crash in Paris? I do, but not to order and never in the way I am expected to care. In almost all cases we humans are saddened by death. We know that without any doubt we must all come to an end and to not know how this will take place or where or when is probably at the back of most of our minds. But I find it incomprehensible that I should be expected to grieve to distraction over a woman I have never met, was never likely to meet and had no desire to meet. Not only that but I now find that an assumption is made that I will automatically become involved in some of the sickening hypocrisy that we have all witnessed in the wake of her death, and I must say I find this deeply insulting to my intelligence.
If Diana preached that we should not…

PUTIN REWRITES HISTORY

"Critics are accusing President Vladimir Putin's government of a Soviet-style rewriting of Russian history with a series of new "patriotic" textbooks to be unveiled in the new school year. New laws passed this summer have given the government sweeping powers over which textbooks will be used in schools.
Mr Putin has complained that the negative view of the Soviet past in current history textbooks is down to the fact that the authors received foreign grants to write them. Now, the Kremlin claims it wants to change that situation and a re-commissioning of Russia's history textbooks is under way. A handbook for teachers, on the basis of which a future textbook for students could be written, is called The Modern History of Russia, 1945-2006. ... The book calls Joseph Stalin a "contradictory" figure, and states that while some people consider him evil, others recognise him as a "hero" for his role in the Great Patriotic War (the Second World War) a…

IT'S A DOG'S LIFE

"Leona Helmsley's dog will continue to live an opulent life, and then be buried alongside her in a mausoleum. But two of Helmsley's grandchildren got nothing from the late luxury hotelier and real estate billionaire's estate. Helmsley left her beloved white Maltese, named Trouble, a $12 million trust fund, according to her will, which was made public Tuesday in surrogate court. She also left millions for her brother, Alvin Rosenthal, who was named to care for Trouble in her absence, as well as two of four grandchildren from her late son Jay Panzirer — so long as they visit their father's grave site once each calendar year. Otherwise, she wrote, neither will get a penny of the $5 million she left for each." (Yahoo News, 29 August)
£152,150 for a legless hero. $12 million for a pet dog. Capitalism has some strange priorities. RD

WOUNDED BY CAPITALISM

The contempt and disregard with which the capitalist class treat members of the working class was illustrated by the following news item. Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson, who served in southern Afghanistan with the British Army suffered horrendous injuries. "Diane Dernie, his mother, said yesterday that she was planning to take the MoD to the High Court because her son was awarded £152,150 in compensation for his three worst injuries but the assessment did not take account of all his other wounds. She told The Times: "They assessed his compensation on the basis of losing both legs, his head injuries and a broken elbow. But he also lost his spleen, lost his voice and had shattered ribs." His other injuries included a fractured cheekbone, nose, jaw, pelvis and vertebrae. He is believed to be one of the worst wounded serviceman ever to survive, but his mother said that he would need care and special help for the rest of his life." (Times, 29 August) RD

Tax sharks

Almost a third of the UK’s 700 biggest businesses paid no corporation tax in the 2005-06 financial year as reported here .

Another 30 per cent paid less than £10m each, an official study has found.

According to a National Audit Office analysis of the tax raised from the 700 companies handled by the large business service of Revenue & Customs 50 businesses, or 7 per cent of the 700, paid 67 per cent of the tax while about 220 paid none and another 210 each paid less than £10m.

Some tax experts were taken aback by the small amount of tax many of the companies paid. Michael Devereux of the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation, said: ”It is certainly surprising.”

NOT so to the Socialist Courier , it isn't .

We reported in the Socialist Standard way back in June 99 that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp protected their profits by a series of complex financial arrangements involving off-shore tax havens—arrangements that have seen News Corp pay no net British corporation tax in 11…

Capitalism -Good for a very few - Bad for the many

THE average pay for directors of the UK's biggest firms has soared to £2.87 million after seeing their salary packages rise by over a third in the last year, as reported in the Edinburgh Evening News .

The 37 % rise outstrips average inflation of 2.3 % and is 11 times the increase in average employee pay of 4 % .

The total pay packages of the 1389 FTSE 100 company directors last year broke through the £1 billion barrier for the first time, totalling £1.01billion - enough for 15 hospitals or 50,000 nurses.

The top-paid UK executive was Bob Diamond, head of the investment banking arm of Barclays Bank, who earned £23 million. Although his basic salary was only £250,000, Mr Diamond was awarded a performance bonus of more than £10 million and over £12 million in share awards.

Bart Becht, chief executive of household cleaning company Reckitt Benckiser, was not far behind with a total package worth £22 million , nearly 80 per cent of the firm's total executive wage bill.

Among the oth…

SKIVERS?

In an article by Gareth Rose, printed in Scotland on Sunday august 26th employees are finding more and more imaginative illnesses for staying at home. Why? Well Professor Michael Linden, a clinical Psychologist in Berlin who has led the research claims they fear the work place, the people in it and the problems that arise there.
Should workers fear the workplace? The Stockline plastics factory mentioned in SAFETY AND OVER HEADS in one of the recent postings here in the Socialist Courier certainly justifies any apprehension in that area. In the CONSTRUTION SAFETY CAMPAIGN NEWS, the summer edition 2007 it leads with an article on the devastating increases in incidents involving cranes, deaths in Battersea and Liverpool , narrow escapes, repairs not carried out, etc. I could go on quoting from it but I’m sure you know other industries have similar problems, it’s a class thing and workers welfare will always be dismissed when profits are threatened.
The professor says, “Anxiety can lead to …

The red white and blue of Larkhall

The Scotsman describes the religious bigotry of the Central Scotland town of Larkhall where the colour green and the connotations lead to vandalism and the only "safe" colours is the red and white and blue of Glasgow Rangers and the Union Jack .

"...historians believe anti-Catholicism to have been greater in mining towns such as Larkhall, where Irish Catholics were used by pit owners to break strikes. So the fuel was as much economic fear as it was cultural dilution of Protestant stock, the idea which found support in sections of the Church of Scotland in the 1920s and 1930s..."

By playing the "orange card" the bosses employed the divide and rule tactic to weaken the Scottish workers and the consequences linger on to this day .

Isn't it time to discover class loyalty rather than loyalty to the crown ?

UNCLE SAM IS WATCHING YOU

"The Pentagon said Tuesday that it would shut down a database that had been criticized for including information on antiwar protesters and others whose actions posed no threat to military facilities and personnel. A Pentagon spokesman, Col. Gary Keck of the Army, said the database was being shut down Sept. 17 because “the analytical value had declined,” but not because of public criticism. Last year, a Pentagon review found that as many as 260 reports in the database, known as Talon, were improperly collected or kept there. ....Eventually the Pentagon hopes to create a system — not necessarily a database — to “streamline such threat reporting,” a brief statement issued Tuesday said." (New York Times, 22 August) George Orwell's dystopia 1984 had Big Brother is watching you. So look out you so-called peaceniks - Uncle Sam is watching you now. RD

SAFETY AND OVERHEADS

"A factory blast which killed nine people and injured 40 in May 2004 would have been avoided if £405 had been spent on replacing a gas pipe, Glasgow high court heard yesterday. A hearing into the causes of the explosion which destroyed the Stockline plastics factory in Maryhill, Glasgow, was told the corroded pipe from a propane gas cylinder had not been inspected since being buried during renovation work. ..Over the years, bosses of the two companies involved had ordered risk assessments at the Stockline plastics factory but these had not specifically investigated the condition of the underground pipe work. It also emerged that one risk assessment had been carried out by a college student doing vacation work." (Guardian, 28 August) The constant drive of capitalism is to increase profits, one of the ways to do this is to cut overheads. In this case it led to the deaths of nine workers, that is how capitalism operates. RD

TOUGH AT THE TOP

"City bonuses have increased by 30% to a record £14bn this year. The rise is twice as big as in 2006 and likely to exacerbate the widening gap between executive and shop-floor pay. The bonuses come against a background of record debt, rising bankruptcies and home repossessions. Analysis by the Guardian of preliminary data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that bonuses across the economy rose 24% this spring to £26.4bn, comfortably is exceeding the country's entire transport budget. More than half, £14.1bn was earned by the 1 million people in the financial services sector. The figure for 2006 bonuses was £10.9bn. The bonuses have fuelled unprecedented demand for luxury goods and high-end property. Bonuses are regularly cited by estate agents as a key factor in pushing up property prices in London. ..The waiting list for a new Rolls-Royce is now five years and there is a shortage of crew members for super yachts." (Guardian, 28 August) Spare a thought fo…

CENSORSHIP AND SALESMANSHIP

"A human rights group in the US is suing Yahoo for alleged complicity in rights abuses and acts of torture in China. The World Organization for Human Rights says Yahoo's sharing of information with the Chinese government has led to the arrests of writers and dissidents. One journalist cited in the case was tracked down and jailed for 10 years for subversion after Yahoo passed on his email and IP address to officials. ... Shi Tao was jailed for posting comments critical of government corruption on the web. Yahoo is not the only internet company accused of collaborating with Chinese authorities. Rivals Google freely admit to blocking politically sensitive items on their China website. ..The internet firms argue it is better to offer Chinese users some information than none at all." (BBC News, 28 August) On the face of it these gigantic companies seem to be faced with a major ethical dilemma, but what they do not mention is that the Chinese market is huge and the potential …

Money goes to money

The Guardian is reporting that City bonuses have increased by 30% to a record £14 billion this year. The rise is twice as big as in 2006 and likely to exacerbate the widening gap between executive and shop-floor pay. The majority of the £14.1 billion will have been earned by a few at the top of the City tree pulling in hundreds of thousands or even millions in spring bonuses at the end of a year .

The bonuses have fuelled unprecedented demand for luxury goods and high-end property. City buyers were behind a 20% surge in farmland prices last year as the high-rollers moved to buy up a chunk of the countryside, often surrounding a weekend retreat. The waiting list for a new Rolls-Royce is now five years and there is a shortage of crew members for superyachts. Worldwide, 688 yachts measuring more than 80ft were launched and there will be 250 more this year.

BSkyB chief executive James Murdoch has pocketed a cash bonus worth almost £4 million on top of the near-£3 million remuneration packag…

CHINESE COLONALISM

British capitalism built up its power on the exploitation of British workers but it also exploited Indian and African workers. The new emerging capitalist class in China are following that example."The courtyard in front of the Zambia China Mulungushi Textiles factory is so quiet, even at midday, that the fluttering of the ragged Chinese and Zambian flags is the only sound hanging in the air. The factory used to roar. .. Today, only the cotton gin still runs, with the company’s Chinese managers buying raw cotton for export to China’s humming textile industry. Nobody can say when or even if the factory here will reopen. “We are back where we started,” said Wilfred Collins Wonani, who leads the Chamber of Commerce here, sighing at the loss of one of the city’s biggest employers. “Sending raw materials out, bringing cheap manufactured goods in. This isn’t progress. It is colonialism.” (New York Times, 21 August) RD

The price of a life

Certain capitalist economists accuse the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence of valueing the quality of human life too high . NICE judged "value for money" at a cost far higher than the NHS could afford.

The effectiveness of the drug, and its side-effects, are balanced with its cost to give a price per extra year of good health - called a Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY).
In approximate terms, if the new treatment can deliver one QALY for £20,000 or less, then it is deemed cost-effective and heading for NHS approval. If the QALY costs up to £30,000, it may still be approved for NHS use by NICE.

The think tank The Kings Fund and City University, suggested that this £30,000 threshold was far too high when compared with how the rest of the NHS worked out which treatments to fund.
Some primary care trusts simply just pay £12000 in key areas such as circulatory disease per QALY .

Professor Nancy Devlin, from City University said "It's all about value for mo…

CARNIVALS AND CAPITALISM

There is a common view supported by the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and other newspapers that men and women of the working class cannot enjoy themselves without the constant monitoring of the owning class police forces. Here is an example. "A massive police operation is under way for the two-day event with officers serving an estimated 11,000 shifts throughout the (Notting Hill) carnival. The event is the world's second largest street party, after the Rio Carnival held in Brazil. ..Ross Bacon, a 54-year-old Londoner said: "I have never been before. I was scared because of the bad publicity but my friend's son is a DJ and he is here, so she convinced me to come. ..Finnish tourist Jukka Myllyniemi said: "I had heard lots of bad stories about it before but I think it's a very positive carnival, with so many people from different cultures." (BBC News, 26 August) Men and women of the working class can enjoy themselves without the assistance of the …

ALIENATION AND CHILD DEATH

Wow, it must have been wonderful for this particularly foolish person as he zoomed across the road. Marvellous just like the manufacturers and advertisers promised."A motorist has admitted driving at a speed of 172mph on a road in Oxfordshire with a 70mph speed limit. Timothy Brady was driving a Porsche 911 along the A420 near Kingston Bypass when he was caught in a routine speed check, Oxford Crown Court heard. Brady, 33, of Harrow in north-west London, will be sentenced in September." (BBC News, 24 August) Lucky for Mr Porche owner he didn't kill my kid or yours, I think our sentence might be just a bit more severe. The manufacturer and advertiser are beyond our contempt. RD

Declining Wages

There is a maxim often espoused by apologists of Capitalism - that a rising tide lifts all boats , meaning that a bountiful capitalism will benefit all sectors of society , not just the capitalist class .

But where is the proof of the pudding.

Profits at British companies are growing at their fastest pace in nearly 13 years while wages of ordinary workers are rising at their slowest pace since 2002, official data showed today.

Office for National Statistics said profits increased by 16.2% in the second quarter of the year compared with a year earlier. That was the best figure since the final quarter of 1994, the profit rise was widespread across different types of company.

Meantime

Wages rose by a meagre 3.6%, the worst pace of growth since the first quarter of 2002.
And inflation - rose to 3.8%, the highest in more than a decade .
So in real terms we are 0.2% worse off

Darren Winder, chief economist at stockbrokers Cazenove said that the cash position and balance sheet of British busine…

ARE WORKERS STUPID?

Make up your own mind. Here is a recent reply to a criticism of capitalism on our website. Have a look and make up your own mind. "It's not necessary to understand Marx in order to be a socialist. In other words, you can want to see an end to capitalism without having studied Marx. However, Marx did analyse for us the economics of capitalism, in the same way that Darwin analysed evolution. There are lots of 'intellectuals' out there, who think that they understand Marx, or Darwin, but they don't really. I think it's a good thing if people look at these ideas for themselves, reach an understanding, and are then in a position to rebut the 'intellectuals'.
That was a worker speaking on our website. Let’s hear from you. RD

you bet !

Labour's gambling reforms - which come into effect next week - will make it easier for children to bet online, experts warned . The Royal College of Psychiatrists issued a last-minute plea for ministers to reconsider letting foreign gambling websites advertise on television here.
Addiction experts fear the supposedly tight restrictions on such sites will be "unenforceable". They say children will take advantage of security loopholes to pose as adults and bet on-line. Hundreds of foreign-based gaming websites are expected to start advertising on British TV and radio channels from next Saturday - even though they are not regulated in the UK . With online casinos mostly based in places such as Gibraltar, critics fear many will perform only the most cursory checks on players' ages and identities - making it far too easy for UK children to gamble illegally on-line.

He who pays the piper calls the tune !

Labour has accepted a donation of £150,000 from the online betting compa…

someone with too much to even care much

It emerged that a 39-year-old hedge-fund tycoon took three months to collect his £80,000 Maserati Cambiocorsa after it was towed away for not having a valid tax disc.

Despite repeated calls from the DVLA to reach him Mr Des Pallieres said that he was "too busy" setting up a new business to fetch his car. " ..I only ever use the car in the summer and this summer I have hardly been in London."

Mr Des Pallieres left Deutsche Bank with two colleagues in April to set up his own company, the SPQR hedge fund. Now worth £170 million, his fund manages investments in debt markets. Yesterday, he claimed that the stress and workload involved in setting up his own firm were to blame for his forgetfulness.

Uh-huh , and i wonder how many of us could let our £80,000 car slip our mind - if of course we had such a car , in the first place .

The trickle-down theory

The Crystal nightclub in London's West End made the news recently when one businessmen spent £105,000 in one night. The club's general manager says it is becoming more common for bills to reach these eye-watering figures. Many of Crystal's party-goers can be found in their suits and at their desks inside the glass skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. But is it actually good for London? "Yes,"says Howard Wheeldon, a city analyst with BGC Partners based in Canary Wharf, "there's a massive trickle-down effect."


In the shadow of Canary Wharf's towers, a charity called Toynbee Hall is holding an open day for under-privileged East End kids. The children here - often from Somali or Bengali families - are among the poorest in the country.

Toynbee Hall's director, believes there is not much evidence of the "trickle-down effect" for them. I ask him if the rich and poor in the area ever mix. He tells me to go and sit in the designer shopping mall under…

Scotland's Slaves

Some migrant workers in Scotland are being treated like "modern day slaves", according to campaigners being reported by the BBC . Promises of good accommodation and pay quickly disappear when they arrive in Scotland.

Two Polish workers told BBC Scotland that after two weeks of labour they actually owed the farmer money.

The Prague Post reports that the life many migrant workers find in Scotland is not what they had envisioned. They are frequently abused and coerced into accepting illegal working conditions, said Beth Herzfeld of Anti-Slavery International.
The most common form of abuse is debt-bondage. This is the illegal practice of paying an employer up-front for work, rent and food . Sometimes said, it takes workers six weeks to repay these debts, and then they are fired. This is a common “trick” employers use to leech money from vulnerable workers explains Paul Millar , the Czech honorary consul in Scotland .
According to Herzfeld, debt-bondage is one of the tactics used …

WAR ZONE VICTIMS

We are all aware of the horrors of modern war with its suicide bombers and roadside booby traps, but there is another horror that is less well publicised. "Active-duty soldiers committed suicide last year at the highest rate in 26 years, with nearly one-third of those taking their lives doing so while deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Thursday. ...Critics said the report underscored the military's failure to meet the mental health needs of soldiers who are serving multiple and longer deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, often with shorter breaks. ... In all, the report said that there had been 99 suicides confirmed among active-duty soldiers during 2006, up from 88 in 2005. Of those, 70 percent were under the age of 25, and 51 percent were never married. Another 948 attempted suicide in 2006, the report found. ...In May, the Pentagon released a study that found that one-third of soldiers and Marines had reported mental health problems, including anxiety and d…

CHILD ABUSE

Revelations about child abuse by priests may have shocked the faithful, but now comes evidence that it is not just in Christian places of worship that this occurs. "Ali Khan was sitting at a meeting in a Glasgow mosque, discussing a paedophile assault in a house of God, when he realised he had to take matters into his own hands. A Koranic teacher had been accused of sexually assaulting a young girl under his charge, and Khan, a 47-year-old property tycoon, was sitting alongside a handful of other senior Muslim figures in the community discussing what should or should not be done with the man."Horror of horrors," says Khan, ... "what was suggested was that the alleged abuser should be allowed to remain in the mosque." ...Proof of this "hushing up" of the alleged abuse of children from ethnic backgrounds was what prompted Khan to set up Roshni, a new charity based in Glasgow. The word Roshni means light in Urdu, and the charity has as its motto the phr…

THE WOMAN WHO HAD EVERYTHING

We are often led to believe that there is something admirable about the extremely rich, the following obituary makes that highly debateable. "Leona Helmsley, who died yesterday aged 87, was popularly known as the "Queen of Mean" and famous for her dictum that "only little people pay taxes". ...In the 1980s she was as much of a celebrity as Donald Trump. However, stories about her private life began to surface. She was cast as a spiteful woman who, after her only son died intestate in 1982 sued to claim most of his estate, leaving her four grandchildren with just $432 apiece. ...On her husband's death in 1997 she inherited $1.7 billion and a property empire that still controlled much of the Manhattan skyline." (Daily Telegraph,21 August) RD

THE PRICE OF COAL

The emergence of China as a modern capitalist nation competing against more established nations has filled the media recently, but what is not so widely publicised is the cost levied on the Chinese working class. Most of the electricity produced there is from coal and the Chinese coal mines are amongst the most dangerous in the world. Production has more than doubled since 2000, but it has cost thousands of lives. This year alone we have 29 miners killed in Inner Mongolia, 24 killed in a fire in Henan and 26 killed in an explosion in the Yujialing coal mine. Now we have an even worse disaster. "Frantic relatives of 181 Chinese miners trapped by flash floods hundreds of metres underground scuffled with security force yesterday as they criticised rescue efforts.... Earlier, the chief rescue officer, Zhu Wenyu, was reported by state media as saying; "I'd guess that the miners down the shaft have no hope of survival." (Times, 20 August) RD

For those who have too much

Royal Bank of Scotland has awarded millions of potentially lucrative share options to top executives under a controversial new bonus plan a report in The Herald says .

Chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin, head of corporate markets Johnny Cameron, and Larry Fish, head of US subsidiary Citizens, are among the major beneficiaries. The scheme could see executives including Goodwin gain three times their basic salary - which in his case would amount to £3.6 million. Goodwin was granted options over nearly 700,000 shares. Cameron was granted options over 374,332 shares and Fish over 523,640 shares. Finance director Guy Whittaker and retail markets chief Gordon Pell also received big awards.

RBS announced to the stock market yesterday that it had granted options to 15 senior executives which will vest between 2010 and 2017 at an exercise price of 561p, a level which some might view as low by recent standards. RBS shares closed up 1.5p at 577p last night, but were until recently trading well above…

AND THOSE WHO HAVE NOTHING

The contrast between those who have everything and those who have nothing is summed up by this news item. "For 15-year-old Issa, days of summer start when the sun rises over a northern Israeli hill, shining on a garbage dump, a thorny field and then the dirty mattress that is his bed. Issa is among hundreds of Palestinian child labourers who sneak into Israel from the West Bank, hawking or begging at traffic junctions. Israel's massive barrier of walls and fences separating it from the West Bank has made it harder for adult labourers to enter Israel, so families wracked by poverty are increasingly sending their children instead. Children as young as 3 stand at traffic lights for hours, in rain or baking sun. They beg for change or sell cigarette lighters and batteries. At night, they sleep in fields, cemeteries, mosques, drainage canals or on streets. Their earnings are often taken by thieves or shady middlemen, and some are sexually abused or forced to sell drugs." (Yah…

FOR THE MAN WHO HAS EVERYTHING (2)

Another example of how the rich indulge themelves. "A classic Ferrari once owned by Steve McQueen sold for $2.31 million Thursday night at auction. An anonymous car collector who placed a bid by phone bought the 1963 Ferrari Berlinetta Lusso during an auction that drew 800 people to the Monterey Jet Center and attracted spirited bidding, said Christie's spokesman Rik Pike. The sale price was greater than the estimated pre-sale price of $800,000 to $1.2 million, Pike said. (Yahoo News, 17 August) RD

FOR THE MAN WHO HAS EVERYTHING

"Want the right wristwatch to go with that new $88,000 Vertu phone on your belt? Check out this platinum watch from Swiss timepiece-maker Ulysse Nardin, a one of a kind (or rather, 99 of a kind) gem that gives you a UFO's-eye view of the Earth—all for the bargain price of $100,000. No, it's not encrusted with jewels and it doesn't do Bluetooth, but the Tellurium J. Kepler Limited Edition watch (only 99 were made) has something you won't find on your everyday Timex: a rotating representation of the globe as it might be seen from above the North Pole, complete with a flexible spring representing the terminator between day and night, plus a perpetual calendar that makes a complete rotation once a year." (Yahoo Tech, 17 August) There is surely something sick about a society that cannot even provide food and clean water for millions of people yet can indulge the rich with such nonsense. RD

THE CORRUPT SOCIETY

Capitalism tarnishes everything it touches. Recently we have had the sporting world shocked with tales of cycling drug cheats, football managers and "bungs" and now we have basketball entering the rogues’ gallery. "American sport was rocked yesterday when a leading basketball referee pleaded guilty to passing betting tips to professional gamblers, after an FBI operation linked to the Gambino Mafia family. Tim Donaghy also admitted placing bets on games over which he officiated, in what the head of the National Basketball Association (NBA) described as the the "worst situation" he had ever experienced for the sport." (Times, 17 August) RD

Keeping up with the Joneskys

A new conservatory ...some decking in the back garden ...perhaps an attic conversion to have an extra room for the kids ...well for some of us that will be a worth-while achievement , but for the capitalist class , its underground tennis courts and three story car parks .

The Times reports that with 15 bedrooms, vast entertaining suites and exquisite plasterwork, 15 Kensington Palace Gardens was one of the most expensive – and exclusive – houses ever to have changed hands in London when it was bought by Leonard Blavatnik, a Russian-born oil tycoon, for £41m in 2004. Yet all that opulence is clearly not enough for Blavatnik . According to plans submitted this summer to Kensington and Chelsea council, the tycoon, who has relocated to London, is seeking permission to excavate under the garden, to the front and rear of the sprawling pile, making space for a three-storey garage with car stacker, a swimming pool, a gym and a private home cinema.

Russian oligarchs, private-equity traders and h…

YOUR FUTURE

All those workers who claim that capitalism is not only the only possible society but also a wonderful one should pay attention to a recent government report. "Vulnerable elderly people are being subjected to neglect, abuse, discrimination and ill-treatment in the hospitals and care homes that should be looking after them, according to a report published today by a parliamentary committee. The study by the joint committee on human rights warns that many older people are facing maltreatment ranging from physical neglect so severe they are left lying in their own faeces or urine to malnutrition and dehydration through lack of help with eating. Lack of dignity, especially for personal care needs, inappropriate medication designed more to subdue patients than treat them, and over-hasty discharge from hospital are also causing suffering for many older people, the MPs and peers conclude." (Guardian, 15 August) You have a nice future inside capitalism, don't you? RD

ILLUSION AND REALITY

Many people imagine that with retirement comes a pleasant period in a hard-working life. Alas, the reality is far from idyllic for many workers. "Pensioners are burdened with debts of £57 billion from mortgages and credit cards, new figures show. One fifth of retired people are still paying off a mortgage and a third owes an average of £5,900 on credit cards and loans, says Scottish Widows, the insurer. The 11 million pensioners who are still making repayments owe an average of £38,000 on their homes, compared with £35,000 last year. One in eight owes more than £50,000." (Times, 13 August) RD

Scotland's poor , again

The Daily Record carries a report from the children's charity NCH Scotland on Scotland's poor .

More than 100,000 lone parent families in Scotland are trying to live on less than £15,000 a year, and more than 50,000 have to scrape by on less than £10,000.
162,000 lone parents in Scotland, bringing up around 280,000 children. Two thirds of all teenage mums are lone parents.

Lone parents are more likely to fall ill, and a quarter of them - more than 40,000 - admit they are struggling to cope with emotional problems.

Crime is a growing problem among poor kids from all family backgrounds. A record-breaking 53,883 youngsters were reported to the Children's Panel in 2005-6. The number of pre-school children in Scotland requiring "care and protection" has increased four-fold in the past decade - up from 2995 in 1996 to 11,975 last year. Almost half of the children included in the 2006 figures lived in lone parent families.
Scottish girls are among the most violent on Earth…

Migrants ‘go home for medical needs’

One of the myths about the arrival of foreign workers is that they are a drain on the British Welfare State .

However when it comes to using the NHS , according to this report , a study reveals that the majority of migrant workers who have experienced health care systems in Scotland perceive the medical services in their own countries to be generally of better quality. Most migrants from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia preferred to return home for treatment of non-acute medical problems, as well as dental care and visits to opticians.

Voluntourism

Young people would be better off travelling the world than taking part in "spurious" overseas gap-year aid projects said Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

" Young people want to make a difference but they would be better off travelling and experiencing different cultures, rather than wasting time on projects that have no impact and can leave a big hole in their wallet." - Judith Brodie , Director of VSO


"voluntourism" often cost students thousands of pounds and did nothing to help developing countries. The gap-year industry catered for the needs of participants rather than those they claimed to help . VSO said projects offered to students taking a year off were often badly planned and could have a negative impact on participants and the communities they worked with.

"...we are increasingly concerned about the number of badly planned and supported schemes that are spurious - ultimately benefiting no one apart from the travel companies that organise them…

Gun for Hire

Two British-run private military security firms have been paid £274 million over the past three years to provide mercenary guards for US Army engineers working on reconstruction projects in Iraq. The firms, Aegis Defence Services and Erinys Iraq, are now at the centre of a row over streamlining the spiralling cost of "hired guns" in a war zone . Between them, Aegis and Erinys employ up to 2000 men, many of them former British soldiers . The Pentagon estimates that at least 20,000 former soldiers from Britain, the US, Eastern Europe, Fiji and Nepal are working for private mercenary firms in Iraq.

"To pay a man or woman to come over to Iraq, put on body armour every day, and escort military personnel and civilians around knowing that people want to blow them up and kill them, you have to meet the asking price," said Colonel Douglas Gorgoni, the senior finance officer of the US Corps of Engineers .

Socialist Courier says that there is no price worth asking for if it mea…

Holidays

The UK will still be at the bottom of the European Union league for holidays even after workers are given new rights to paid leave, according to a report published today.

UK workers are entitled to a minimum of 20 days but if companies include the eight bank holidays in this figure, they are in effect giving staff only 12 days. A study by Incomes Data Services (IDS) showed that workers in other EU countries had more holidays, with Germany topping the league at 39 days a year, including public holidays, followed by Austria , 38, Sweden, 36, Slovakia, Luxembourg and France, 35, Portugal, 34, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, 33, Italy, Spain and Greece, 32 and Poland and Finland, 31 days .

Minimum entitlement in this country is to increase in two stages to 28 days by April 2009 under government moves to stop firms counting public holidays in workers' annual leave. IDS said that even after the changes, the UK would still be joint bottom of the EU league table for holidays. with the Neth…

Olympic Misery

According to the Olympic Charter, established by Pierre de Coubertin, the goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world yet The Independent is reporting about the human cost of the upcoming Beijing Games .

Many people have been forcibly resettled in the transformation of Beijing, which has seen ancient courtyard houses and hutong alleys demolished by unscrupulous developers, some in league with corrupt officials, eager for profit.
The Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions reckons 1.5 million people will have been relocated for Olympics- related projects. Government estimates put the figure at just over 6,000. A strange discrepency of figures .

Most are moved to new tower blocks on the city outskirts, and they complain about the lack of community feeling - as well as the lengthy commute to their jobs in the city.

A TOWN CALLED MALICE

In the 1950s Nevil Shute wrote a novel that was so successful that it was adopted as a film. In the novel the main character is astounded by the beauty of the town. No one would have that view of the place today. "But the life of Noel Ross could barely be more removed from the gentle, hopeful Alice seen by Shute in the 1950s – a place that so reminded his character Jean Paget, in A Town Like Alice, of the lovely England that she had left. Ms Ross, an Aboriginal woman in her fifties, has lived for the past four years in the shell of a wrecked Ford in one of Alice’s black enclaves, ... She has only a sullen dog as a companion and no shield from the alcohol-fuelled violence of Alice’s black enclaves. Last month the town of 60,000 was named the stabbing capital of the world. It also claims the highest murder rate and highest consumption of alcohol in Australia." (Times, 11 August) The expansion of capitalism decimated the population of the Scottish Highlands, wiped out the cultu…

POVERTY KILLS

Socialists are always pointing out that capitalism creates poverty that in turn leads to starvation, crime and death; but a recent news item from Manilla illustrates that the poverty that leads to desperation also can result in death. " A Second World War mortar shell found by fishermen on the seashore exploded in the Philippines yesterday, killing four men and wounding two. The 81mm shell blew up when they tried to saw it to pieces to sell to scrap metal dealers." (Times, 11 August) Capitalism is a desperate society, it often leads to desperate outcomes. RD

Who owns the North Pole , Part 7

Not to be left out for this scramble for control of the Arctic regions , Danish researchers plan to set sail for the North Pole on Sunday to collect geological data, on a mission similar to the recent Russian one .

The month-long Danish expedition will study the Lomonosov Ridge. Russia believes the underwater feature is linked to its territory. Denmark , however , will investigate the ridge to see if it is geologically connected to Greenland which is a Danish territory.
The team plans to collect bathymetric, gravity and seismic data to map the seabed under the ice, according to a Danish science and technology ministry statement on the expedition.

"The preliminary investigations done so far are very promising," Denmark's minister of science, technology and innovation said "There are things suggesting that Denmark could be given the North Pole."

We will be collecting data for a possible (sovereignty) demand," expedition leader Marcussen said.

In Ottawa, the Danis…

Old and out of the way

Just how society treats our elderly is becoming cruelly more and more apparent . We had this report , a 108 year old woman having to wait a year and half for a hearing aid to improve the quality of her short remaining life and now we read about this care home evicting an 103 year old woman because she is requiring too much care , or so they say , in a squabble over how much she has to pay for the nursing care . Abbeymoor's owner, Mark Sutters, told the Nottingham Evening Post that the home could not continue to "subsidise" Mrs Collins's care.

Local authority and care services minister Ivan Lewis said " I am deeply concerned at the attempt by the home owner to use Mrs Collins as a pawn in a funding dispute. Whatever the difficulties, such treatment of a 103-year-old cannot be tolerated in a modern care system which has dignity and respect for older people at its heart."

Esme Collins was told to leave after 10 years at Abbeymoor nursing home in Worksop, becaus…

CAPITALIST CON GAMES

In 2004 Coca-Cola withdrew their bottled water Dansant in Briain when the press exposed it as merely tap water, although the revelation that some of it had become contaminated may have had something to do with the decision. Now a rival brand in the USA has also been exposed. "Last week PepsiCo announced that the label on its Aquafina brand of bottled water will soon carry the words "public water source", instead of the innocent looking "p.w.s". That's right: Aquafina is to all intents and purposes tap water. Coca-Cola is under pressure to follow suit with its Dansani brand, though so far it is refusing to do so. (Economist, 4 August) Full article is available at www.economist.com/businessview RD

Jailhouse Blues

Sometimes Socialists feel for our political rivals . Yes , we really do . We know they know that their political programme and policies are worthless yet they are unable to refute them .
One such politician is Mark Oaten one-time Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman .

The Winchester MP desperately wanted to say that all prisons should be demolished and replaced with education and training centres, mental health facilities and drug rehabilitation units. But his Lib Dem colleagues would never allow him to air this radical view in public.

"It was clear to me that prison wasn't working," says Mr Oaten. "But I would have been crucified as a front line politician for saying this in public and the party would have tumbled in the opinion polls."

Since he is no longer seeking re-election he is now able to disclose his real views on political and social matters .

"Prison is not fit for purpose and it's beyond reform. We need to abolish it and replace it …

Red Crosses for Johnson and Johnson

Capitalism cares little for society other than as a milk-cow for profits and further profits . Socialists are rarely shocked by the depths of decency that capitalists will go to accrue profits .

Johnson and Johnson is suing the American Red Cross, alleging the charity has misused the famous red cross symbol for commercial purposes. The lawsuit asks for sales of disputed products - also including medical gloves, nail clippers, combs and toothbrushes - to be stopped and unsold items to be handed over to Johnson and Johnson . The firm is also seeking damages equivalent to the value of such goods sold in supermarkets such as Wal-Mart .

Johnson and Johnson claim a deal with the charity's founder in 1895 gave it the "exclusive use" of the symbol as a trademark for drug, chemical and surgical products. It said American Red Cross had violated this agreement by licensing the symbol to other firms to sell certain goods. The lawsuit argues that the firm reached an agreement with the …

Who Owns the North Pole , part 6

Further to our earlier post pointing out the Russian expansion into the Arctic Circle , we now offer an update on the Canadian competition .

Canada raised the stakes in the battle to claim ownership of the Arctic by sending Stephen Harper, prime minister, on a three-day trek to the region, just days after the Russians planted a flag on the seabed at the North Pole.

“Our government has an aggressive Arctic agenda,” Dimitri Soudas, Mr Harper’s spokesman, said on Wednesday.

“The Russians sent a submarine to drop a small flag at the bottom of the ocean. We’re sending our prime minister to reassert Canadian sovereignty,” said a senior government official, according to Canadian press.

The Northwest Passage, which is the main focus of the dispute, has become a sought-after territory thanks to global warming, which has begun to melt the ice in these waters, exposing a potentially vast haul of natural resources. Studies have estimated that the Arctic has as much as 25 per cent of the world’s undis…

BLINDED BY CAPITALISM

"Patients losing their eyesight are facing a postcode lottery over accessing groundbreaking treatment for their condition. While the drug Lucentis is already available in some of Scotland's board areas, it is yet to be introduced in key cities including Glasgow. In June, the Scottish Medicines Consortium, the body which advises NHS Scotland on new treatments, backed the therapy ahead of any moves by England and the decision was applauded. However, almost two months on, a number of health boards have still to make the injections available to patients. ...In Scotland, some 2300 people are diagnosed with wet AMD every year and experts emphasise the importance of delivering the injections as early as possible because sufferers' vision can deteriorate rapidly." (Herald, 8 August) So what is causing the delay? Is it mere bureaucratic ineptitude or could it be that the Scottish Medicines Consortium reckon it would cost £7.1 million in the first two years? RD

PROTECTION MONEY

"Sir Tom Cowie's decision to stop funding the Conservatives has been met with shrugs within the party presumably because, as revealed by publication of the party accounts, the party is very well off. So well off, in fact, that it could lose a couple of million pounds down the side of a sofa and still have the £20m traditionally thought needed to fight a general election. The Electoral Commission shows that in 2006 the Conservative party received nearly 50 individual donations each over £50,000 including 14 donors giving more than £250,000 each." (Guardian, 7 August) Anyone interested in a healthy democracy must ask themselves why these wealthy individuals are prepared to lavish such largess on a political party. Is it solely philanthropic and civil minded? We imagine the reason these millionaires are so apparently generous, is because of self interest. The reformist parties that they support are all in favour of capitalism and they look upon these donations as protection…

A STRANGE DEMOCRACY

Politicians and political commentators laud British democracy to the skies and contrast how wonderful it is compared to some countries where the rich and powerful dictate events. This is of course a complete sham, as recently illustrated by events. "A major Conservative donor has accused David Cameron of an "arrogant, Old Etonian" style of leadership and said he would give the party no more money. Sir Tom Cowie, who has donated £630,000 to the Tories over the past six years, said he had become "disillusioned". ... The paper quotes Sir Tom as saying the Tory party seems to be run by "arrogant old Etonians who don't understand how other people live". ...Sir Tom, who founded the transport firm Arriva, gave £500,000 to the Conservatives ahead of the 2005 general election." (BBC News, 7 August) What a strange democracy it is that allows rich men to dictate political policy. RD

HOMELESS HEROES

We are all familiar with cheering crowds applauding soldiers as they march off to war and the unstinting praise of politicians as they fall over each other in heaping adulation on service veterans, but the reality is far different. "One in 10 homeless people in the UK are former members of the armed forces, a charity working with veterans says. A survey in 1997 by the Ex-Service Action Group on Homelessness suggested that 22% of people who were "street homeless" had a military background. Veterans’ charity, the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation, said that efforts by the government and the voluntary sector had brought that down to about 10%. It fears the numbers may rise because of service in Iraq and Afghanistan." (BBC News, 7 August) RD

OVER THE TOP

"The green campaign against patio heaters is stepping up. Those devices like giant, fiery standard lamps that once you may have seen only outside the few British restaurants bold enough to put tables on the pavement, are spreading, into more and more catering outlets - and into the home. Yet they are anathema to environmentalists because of their profligate emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. "It's difficult to conceive of an article that inflicts more gratuitous damage on the environment than a patio heater," says Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth. "They just blaze energy out into the open air. Given what we know about climate change, they're just not justifiable." (Independent, 6 August) Mr Juniper's concern about global warming may well be justified, but we can think of a few articles that are more damaging to the environment. Has he heard of the A bomb or the H bomb? R…

MILITARY INTELLIGENCE?

There are many oxymorons, "Christian Science" is one of our favourites but the following news item would probably put "Military Intelligence" up there with the worst of them. "The US military cannot account for 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols given to the Iraqi security forces, an official US report says. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the Pentagon cannot track about 30% of the weapons distributed in Iraq over the past three years. The Pentagon did not dispute the figures, but said it was reviewing arms deliveries procedures. About $19.2bn has been spent by the US since 2003 on Iraqi security forces. GAO, the investigative arm of the US Congress, said at least $2.8bn of this money was used to buy and deliver weapons and other equipment. Correspondents say it is now feared many of the weapons are being used against US forces on the ground in Iraq." (BBC News, 6 August) RD

IT’S THE SAME THE WORLD OVER

"Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim, who is estimated by some calculations to be wealthier than Microsoft founder Bill Gates, said Thursday he did not care if he was the world's richest person. ...In July, a journalist who tracks the fortunes of wealthy Mexicans said Slim was worth an estimated $67.8 billion and had overtaken Gates as the world's richest person. Slim hit the No. 1 spot after a recent surge in the share price of his America Movil, Latin America's largest cell phone company, according to Eduardo Garcia of the online financial publication Sentido Comun.Garcia said that made him close to $8.6 billion wealthier than Gates, whose estimated worth was $59.2 billion. ...In Mexico, a small elite holds most of the country's wealth and about half the population lives on less than $5 a day." (Yahoo News, 3 August) RD

BUSINESS IS BUSINESS

The gravestone in Springfield, Utah may have said "rest in peace", but it should have added "only if you keep up the payments. "The cemetery headstone for a teenager who died in a car wreck was repossessed after a $750 bill went unpaid. "That's just business," said Linda Anderson of Memorial Art Monument. "If we give every stone to everybody, we'd be out of business. They'd repossess your car if you didn't make payments." (Yahoo News, 31 July) RD

Personal debt increases

Over 8 million British adults are in serious debt and over 2 million are struggling with repayments. 18% of adults in Britain are in £10,000 or more of unsecured debt such as credit cards, overdrafts, loans and store cards .The number of bankruptcies rose by 10 per cent in the first quarter of 2007 compared with the same period in 2006. Around 420,000 people were prosecuted for defaulting on loan repayments in the first six months of this year - up eight per cent on 2006. Scotland was revealed as the area with the highest proportion of indebted residents .

The Bank of England has raised the cost of borrowing five times in the past year to 5.75 percent -- the highest level in six years. Analysts expect another rise to 6 percent by the year end . High levels of unsecured debt are clearly linked to the rise in interest rates over the last 12 months . The record rise in house prices -- especially in London and the south-east -- has led to a growing discrepancy between mortgage payments and…

Exploiting kids

Wal-Mart ( ASDA here in the UK ) prides itself on cutting costs at home and abroad, and its Mexican operations are no exception. Wal-Mart is taking advantage of local customs to pinch pennies at a time when its Mexican operations have never been more profitable. 19,000 youngsters between the ages of 14 and 16 work after school in hundreds of Wal-Mart stores, mostly as grocery baggers, throughout Mexico—and none of them receives a red cent in wages or fringe benefits.

The use of unsalaried youths is legal in Mexico because the kids are said to be “volunteering” their services to Wal-Mart and are therefore not subject to the requirements and regulations that would otherwise apply under the country’s labor laws. Although Wal-Mart’s worldwide code of ethics expressly forbids any “associate” from working without compensation, the company’s Mexican subsidiary asserts that the grocery baggers “cannot be considered workers.”

Wal-Mart is Mexico’s largest private-sector employer in the nation …