Friday, February 29, 2008


"Three British bankers have been sentenced to 37 months in prison each for their role in a multi-million pound fraud linked to US energy firm Enron. David Bermingham, Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby - the so-called NatWest Three - have been sentenced after admitting to wire fraud. ... Last November, the three, all 45, admitted to defrauding former employer NatWest out of $19m (£10m). ... The men admitted to conspiring with ex-Enron employees Andrew Fastow and Michael Kopper, who are already in prison, to defraud NatWest of $19m and then split $7.3m between themselves. Charges brought by prosecutors argued that the three men had advised NatWest to sell part of a firm, Swap Sub, owned by Enron for less than it was worth. The men then left the bank and bought a share in the Enron-owned company, before selling it on at a higher price for a profit. ...Enron, once a hugely successful energy firm, collapsed in 2001 with debts of $31.8bn (£18.3bn)." (BBC News, 22 February) RD


"An Israeli lawmaker said Wednesday that several earthquakes felt in Israel recently were a consequence of gays and the parliament's acceptance of them. Shlomo Benizri of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas Party, said the way to stop the tremors was for parliament to reverse its trend of liberalizing laws concerning homosexuals. Two quakes originating in neighbouring Lebanon shook much of Israel last week, the first coming two days after Israel's attorney general ruled that same-sex couples could adopt children. ..."Why do earthquakes happen? One of the reasons is the things to which the Knesset (parliament) gives legitimacy, to sodomy," Benizri said during a parliamentary debate on earthquake preparedness. A cost-effective way of averting earthquake damage, he added, would be to stop "passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the state of Israel, which anyway brings about earthquakes." (Time, 21 February) RD

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Once upon a time football news would be about such things as goals and league points, nowadays it is more likely to be about investments and financial returns. "Arsenal has seen its half-year profits rise 54%, boosted by the latest Premier League television rights deal and the success of its Emirates Stadium. The north London football club said its pre-tax profit totalled £20m for the six months to 30 November 2007, compared with £12.6m a year earlier. Arsenal's broadcasting income was up £6.5m at £24.3m, while match day income had risen by more than £3m to £41.4m. ...Earlier this month an investment firm co-owned by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov revealed it had increased its stake in Arsenal to 24%. Red and White Holdings previously had about 23% of the club's shares and have been reported to have a goal of owning at least 25%." (BBC News, 22 February) RD


Capitalism has got to have euphemisms to cover up the sordid nature of the system. Thus children, maimed by napalm bombs is called "co-lateral damage" and troops blowing up their own troops is called "friendly fire". A recent addition to this sorry catalogue is "extraordinary rendition". "David Miliband has admitted two US 'extraordinary rendition' flights landed on UK territory in 2002. The foreign secretary said in both cases US planes refuelled on the UK dependent territory of Diego Garcia. He said he was "very sorry" to have to say that previous denials made in "good faith" were now having to be corrected. The renditions - the transport of terror suspects around the world for interrogation - only came to light after a US records search, he said." ..."Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said extraordinary rendition was "a polite way of talking about kidnapping and secret detention". (BBC News, 21 February) RD

Keeping a roof over ones head

House prices are now six times the salary of the average Scot, according to new government figures revealed yesterday.
The statistics show that the average house price of £137,192 is running out of reach of the £22,261 median salary.

First-time buyers with little or no savings are being faced with debilitating interest rates as the industry recoils, and many young people can't buy without parents' help. The pressure on those with low incomes was highlighted by one case where a couple with a joint income of £26,000 were paying £700 a month in mortgage repayments.

Don Fleming, of the Mortgage Advice Network said in one instance a lender was offered a 95% mortgage and as soon as the papers were signed a further 30% loan was offered as a top-up because the person was then classed as a property owner. He said: "Lenders were calling it flexibility, but what they mean is they are pulling the wool over society's eyes. Government should have stepped in to stop people receiving large unsecured loans."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics at University College of London: "The idea that life began by magic a few thousand years ago is entirely absurd - yet believers, of whatever persuasion, insist on its truth. This does no harm to science, but to my secular eyes seems to do immense damage to religion itself." (Daily Telegraph, 26 February) RD


"More American homeowners are mired in negative equity than at any time since the Great Depression of the Thirties ... Close to 9 million Americans, or 10.3 per cent of homeowners in the US, now owe more on their mortgages than their house is worth, according to the latest figures from Moody's, the ratings agency, as inventories of unsold homes continue to pile up in an already over-supplied market." (Observer, 24 February) RD


"Just a few weeks ago, we reported with patriotic fervour the British businessman who paid almost £500,000 for the licence plate "F!". Stout, upstanding, well-adjusted fellow. But now an Abu Dhabi property magnate has smashed the world record for the most expensive number plate, paying - ready for this? - £7.1 million on the plate '1'. Cash-addled fool. "I bought it because it's the best number," said Saeed Khouri at the auction in the United Arab Emirates. "I bought it because I want to be the best in the world." (Top Gear, 18 February) RD


"President Bush asked Congress on Monday for $515 billion for military spending, an increase of 7.5% compared with last year. Among the major factors driving the increase is the Pentagon's plan to bolster the ranks of the Army and Marine Corps, forces stretched thin by two wars. The budget calls for an $8.7 billion hike to $20.5 billion in 2009 to add 7,000 soldiers and 5,000 Marines. (USA Today, 4 February) RD

Tesco move to the Cayman Islands

Tesco has created an elaborate corporate structure involving offshore tax havens which enables it to avoid paying what could be up to £1bn of tax on profits from the sale of its UK properties. The complex new structures uncovered by a six-month Guardian investigation include a string of Cayman Island companies. These are being used by the supermarket giant as it proceeds with its announced programme to sell and lease back £6bn worth of its UK stores.
The stores are being sold to external investors providing Tesco with a big one-off gain which, ordinarily, would be liable to tax, while allowing it to remain in the stores and pay rent to the new owners. The first two deals, worth £445m and £650m, have already used the companies set up in the Cayman Islands - where the rate of corporation tax is zero - allowing Tesco to avoid tax on about £500m profit. Large corporations are increasingly developing strategies to cut tax bills and Tesco is not alone in its tax planning.
The Guardian's analysis of Tesco's accounts over the past five years also shows that the company has paid an effective tax rate of just over 20% on the rest of its profits, at a time when the UK corporation tax rate is 30%.

The investigation has found:
· New company structures set up by Tesco to own stores that are being sold and leased back mean that 99.9% of the company that owns the stores could end up being held offshore. Tesco would be liable to pay UK tax on only the 0.1% of its profit on the sale of the stores held in the UK. Tesco's first two property deals, worth about £1bn, have used this structure and will avoid tax on £500m of profits.
· Although its accounts for the past five years report an average rate of corporation tax of 29%, the actual rate of tax Tesco paid, according to its cash flow statement, is closer to 20%. This is on profits separate from the property deals. UK corporation tax is 30%.
· Tesco has sold its 37 stores in the first two sale and leaseback deals at twice the book value that is included in its accounts, making a profit of about £500m on the £1bn of stores sold. If it achieves the same rate of return on all its disposals as expected, its share of profits from property sales would come to about £3bn. The UK corporation tax due on this would be as high as £1bn, but the retailer could avoid paying this because of its offshore structure.
· A string of other company structures leading to the Cayman Islands have been set up and more of Tesco's properties have already been transferred to them so that they could be quickly activated for the next tranche of store sales.

Tesco Red (GP), which acted as general partner in the £445 million sale-and-leaseback partnership with the British Airways pension funds did indeed pay UK tax on its share of income from ongoing business after the deal. Tesco Red (GP)'s UK income for the period to February 28 2007 was just a measly £832 and its UK tax bill was £494.

Tesco claim since they pay corporation tax, business rates, employer's national insurance contributions and other taxes. Combined with the approximately £750m of PAYE tax, employee's NIC and net VAT that we collected in that financial year, this means they are in the top 10 taxpayers in the UK. We wonder how their rival supermarkets and competitors feel - or are they up to the same tax avoidance [ tax avoidance rather than tax evasion or tax cheating, of course ]

Nearly a third of the UK's 700 largest businesses paid no corporation tax in the year 2005-6. A further third paid less than £10m each, according to figures from the National Audit Office released last year.

Charity begins at home

An urgent appeal for food for families and individuals in need has been made by a Highland charity. Blythswood Care, known for transporting relief aid to Eastern Europe, said there has been an increased demand in the Highlands over the winter months.

It warned that it had already helped 340 people this year and that stocks were running low. The Highland Food Bank gives a three-day supply of foodstuffs to households in financial crises.

Co-ordinator Lorna Dempster said that the Highland Food Bank helped more than 1,700 people in 2007 - an increase of 70% over the previous year, when 1,000 clients were helped

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tax Fraudsters

THE tiny principality of Liechtenstein is one of three countries to be blacklisted by the OECD for failure to co-operate with a clampdown on tax avoidance.With a population of around 35,000, Liechtenstein has a banking system shrouded in secrecy.The OECD named it, along with Monaco and Andorra, as a country that could do more to clean up its tax laws. It has also been accused of condoning money laundering, and tax evasion.Non-residents can set up a foundation, allowing them to avoid taxes. Foundations also minimise requirements to file returns or accounts and guarantee anonymity for the investor.There is no need to keep accounts or submit financial statements if the foundation does no business or trade. If the foundation qualifies as an offshore company, it is not subject to income tax or capital gains tax in Liechtenstein. The only requirement is to maintain an "office" in Liechtenstein, but this can be a mailing address.

THE identities of wealthy British tax evaders will be kept secret, even though UK tax authorities now have access to their details, it emerged yesterday. HM Revenue and Customs has admitted it has details of about 100 Britons who evade an estimated £100 million in taxes through Liechtenstein. The names will only be unveiled in the improbable event of a criminal prosecution. A spokesman for HMRC admitted this was "highly unlikely", because it was so difficult to prove tax evasion in court and it would cost taxpayers too much to pursue a trial. Of an estimated 130,000 inquiries into alleged tax fraud last year, only a "handful" ended up in criminal trials.

Not quite the same zeal the State puts in when it comes to hounding those of the working class who may be claiming a little more than the rules and regulations of the so-called welfare system .

Scottish Capitalists - Little Changes

Scottish investment trust boards are still open to the charge that they recruit their members primarily on the golf course, according to research .

Coburn Blair, an Edinburgh-based specialist in recruiting non-executive directors, has analysed the boards of the 48 investment trusts managed by Scottish-based fund managers and concludes: "... in truth, not a lot has changed."

Although some boards now go through a formal selection process, others in practice continue to recruit informally in the way they have always done.
"If you want to join an investment trust board it still certainly helps if you're already known to the chairman or other board members. So, if it's fair to say that the Edinburgh mafia of old is no longer such a cosy clique as it used to be, it is still true that once you're on the board of one investment trust and can demonstrate you know how to hold your knife and fork at the after-meeting lunch, it's usually only a matter of time before you're invited to join a second board and then another and another."

James Ferguson, a former director of Stewart Ivory, holds the record for purely Scottish trusts, sitting on five boards, while Douglas McDougall, the former senior partner of Baillie Gifford, currently holds seven appointments including English trusts. [ This seems to reflect a general trend within capitalism as an American blog reports "Several studies show that those 15-20% of corporate directors who sit on two or more boards, who are called the "inner circle" of the corporate directorate, unite 80-90% of the largest corporations in the United States into a well-connected "corporate community" and that the upper class has it's own exclusive social institutions which include private schools, summer resorts and retreats, and social clubs and gatherings.]
Turnover on the boards is not as high as the industry's trade body, the Association of Investment Companies (AIC), suggests it should be.The AIC recommendation is that directors serve no more than nine years unless they show a good reason, but in practice many serve much longer. The average length of tenure of chairmen in Scotland is 10 years, and Sir William Thomson, now 67, has been on the board of British Assets Trust for 23 years. Sir Angus Grossart gave up the chairmanship of Scottish Investment Trust after 27 years, under pressure from shareholders in 2003, while Sir George Mathewson, 24 years a director of the same trust, recently stood down from two of its key committees but not from the board.

The report says: "The non-execs are paid on average between £10,000 and £20,000 a year and while the highest-paid Scottish chairman earns £63,000, most earn less than £30,000, which is not a fortune - but not bad when one considers the hours required: most boards meet formally no more than six times a year."

Capitalism - Bad for your health

There could be thousands more heart attacks if the Northern Rock crisis was repeated at other banks across the UK, a Cambridge University study suggests. Cardiac deaths surged "briefly and regularly" every time there was a systemic bank failure, the team found.

The report, which examines how banking crises have affected health in the last 40 years, is one of the first to look at the relationship between the two. When a financial crisis hit a developed country, heart attacks rose by 6.4%. This figure was even higher in the developing world, the Globalization and Health journal study suggested. In countries such as India a combination of both poorer banking regulatory systems and inferior health care could lead to an even higher death toll - with deaths rising by as much as 26%, the researchers suggested.

Extrapolated to the UK, more crises in the style of Northern Rock, where funding problems last year triggered the first run on a British bank in more than a century, could lead to as many as 5,000 more fatal heart attacks. The elderly, who would be more likely to be at risk of heart problems in the first place, would be the most likely to feel threatened by risks to their life-long accumulated savings.

Capitalism should come with a health warning .

And if that news depresses you , it is also revealed that the new generation anti-depressants have little clinical benefit for most patients and in most cases had no more effect than taking a dummy pill.


Most adults in the UK believe that children's well-being is being damaged because childhood has become too commercial, a lifestyle poll has found. The children's market is worth an estimated £30 billion a year.

The Children's Society said adults had to "take responsibility for the current level of marketing to children...To accuse children of being materialistic in such a culture is a cop-out," said the chief executive of the society. "Unless we question our own behaviour as a society we risk creating a generation who are left unfulfilled through chasing unattainable lifestyles."

Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is patron of the inquiry, said: "Children should be encouraged to value themselves for who they are as people rather than what they own. The selling of lifestyles to children creates a culture of material competitiveness and promotes acquisitive individualism at the expense of the principles of community and co-operation." [ The capitalist press certainly aren't making this remark by the Archbishop front page headline news as they did with his Sharia law comment , are they ?]

One member of the childhood inquiry panel has warned that the commercial pressures on youngsters may have damaging psychological effects. Professor Philip Graham, Emeritus Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Institute of Child Health in London, said:
"One factor that may be leading to rising mental health problems is the increasing degree to which children and young people are preoccupied with possessions; the latest in fashionable clothes and electronic equipment. Evidence both from from the United States and from the UK suggests that those most influenced by commercial pressures also show higher rates of mental health problems," .

The Good Childhood report found:
"Advertising to children was ruthless and exploitative and they should not be viewed as small consumers, particularly for younger children with impressionable minds."

Monday, February 25, 2008


"By virtually every indicator, 2007 was a dismal year for American workers. Job growth slowed, unemployment jumped and wages lost what little ground they had gained against inflation since 2003. There is one sliver of good news: the percentage of American workers who belong to a union rose for the first time in three decades. ...There is little doubt that American workers need unions. Wages today are almost 10 percent lower than they were in 1973, after accounting for inflation. The share of national income devoted to workers’ wages and benefits is at its lowest since the late-1960s, while the share going to profits has surged. The decline in unionization has been a big part of the reason that workers have lost so much ground." (New York Times, 7 February) RD


"Predictability is a trait that few would ascribe to the Middle East, yet Arab interior ministers have gathered quietly, every winter for the past 25 years, to talk about how better to secure the regimes they serve. At this year's summit, in Tunis, the security chiefs agreed to toughen rules on publishing, recording or distributing material that might promote terrorism. A worthy goal, surely, except that the region's authorities have a habit of defining as crimes the kind of things their critics would deem legitimate dissent. Despite the flourishing of alternative media, such as satellite television and internet blogs, that challenge once-impregnable state monopolies on the flow of news, governments keep finding new ways to suppress contrary views. Whereas the dictatorships of old snuffed out opponents or chucked them in jail, today's softer incarnations achieve similar silence by subtler means. Hyper-regulation via catch-all laws, plus financial carrots and sticks, tend to replace cruder direct control. In draconian Syria, the vague crime of “disseminating false information” carries a stiff jail sentence. But as many journalists in relatively liberal Morocco have discovered, to criticise public officials is to risk libel charges that carry ruinous fines." (Economist, 7 February) RD

Sunday, February 24, 2008


"Baghdad, Iraq: - The images in the Basra police file are nauseating: Page after page of women killed in brutal fashion -- some strangled to death, their faces disfigured; others beheaded. All bear signs of torture. The women are killed, police say, because they failed to wear a headscarf or because they ignored other "rules" that secretive fundamentalist groups want to enforce."
(, 8 February) RD


"The best way to a man's heart is through his wheels. And the Ecosse Heretic Titanium motorcycle is about as palpitation-inducing as they come. The first bike made with an all-titanium chassis, it marries high-tech engineering with old-style design. Built for speed, the handmade engine is composed of solid aluminium and is fuel-injected and supercharged. But thanks to a radial braking system with 12 individual brake pads in front, it's easy to stop, too. Made with a carbon-fibre body, the Heretic Titanium is also shockingly lightweight, tipping the scales at about 192kg. And it's comfortable, with an adjustable, ergonomically correct gel-padded seat. As the world's most expensive bike, perhaps it's only fitting that it comes with a matching timepiece ($275,000; www But with this baby, he'll never be late. (Newsweek, 11 February) RD

Saturday, February 23, 2008


The French President has lately been making all sorts of religious speeches for the attention of the media. "When Mr. Sarkozy was made an Honorary Canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome last December, he proposed a “positive secularism” that “does not consider religions a danger, but an asset.” He was even more provocative in declaring that “the schoolteacher will never be able to replace the priest or the pastor” in teaching the difference between good and evil. ...In France, a country where one’s religion is typically kept private, Mr. Sarkozy heralds his religious identity, referring publicly to his Jewish grandfather and wearing his Roman Catholicism on his sleeve. “I am of Catholic culture, Catholic tradition, Catholic belief, even if my religious practice is episodic,” he wrote in a book of essays in 2004. “I consider myself as a member of the Catholic Church.” Still, Mr. Sarkozy’s conduct in his personal life seems to contradict the image of Catholic spirituality. Twice divorced, three times married, he has alienated the country to the point that there is widespread disapproval of his behaviour in his personal life." (New York Times, 16 February) It could be that like many politicians before him Mr Sarkozy's religious zeal owes more to expediency than conviction. RD


One of the lies about the Second World War that socialists had to deal with was the illusion that the war would destroy fascism. At the time we pointed out that this was not the case and today we have evidence to prove it. Not only is there a growing fascist movement in East Germany and Russia but now we learn of the situation in Hungary."The far right is on the march in Hungary, literally. In recent months, hardly a week has gone by without a rally being held by the Magyar Garda or "Hungarian Guard," their members decked out in black boots and uniforms bearing nationalist symbols last employed by Hungarian fascists during World War II. Their target: Romany (gypsy) criminals and those who want to integrate Romany children into the country's schools. Their rallies usually take place in communities with a large Roma population, where they style themselves as protectors of ethnic Hungarians." (Yahoo News, 13 February) RD

Friday, February 22, 2008


"British employers are hiring aggressive US-style “union busting” consultants to persuade workers against joining trade unions, Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, warned on Tuesday. The TUC and its US equivalent, the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), are joining forces to “thwart employer efforts on both sides of the Atlantic to demonise trade unions and scare employees from joining up.”
(Financial Times, 12 February) RD


"Economic gloom is spreading. In December a Guardian/ICM poll found that economic confidence remained strong, with 55% voters either very or fairly optimistic about their prospects. Now 51% are pessimistic. The shift is most marked among poorest voters, where confidence has plunged from 51% in December to 33% now. By contrast voters at the top of the economic scale are not alarmed: 64% are confident about their prospects now, against only 60% in December. That suggests the gap between rich and poor is widening, a source of growing public resentment. A large majority, 75%, say the gap between high and low incomes is too wide in Britain, the highest ever level found by ICM." (Guardian, 20 February) RD

Thursday, February 21, 2008


"But on the evidence of the last three days, art sales are as healthy as ever. Christie's on Monday had the second highest total sales for an individual European sale at £105m, only for Sotheby's to take that title 24 hours later when it made £117m. Last night's sale made £72.9m and saw a record paid for a Bridget Riley work - Static 2 (1966) - as well as artist records for Lucio Fontana (£6.7m) and Gerhard Richter (£7.3m). Pilar Ordovas, head of post-war art at Christie's, said the sale showed the incredible strength of London: "It's a fantastic result, I'm incredibly proud. We beat Van Gogh you know - it's great." Bill Jackson, an independent art and auction consultant, who advises Deloitte on its art collection, said there was no sign of any downturn. "The market is very buoyant, it's extraordinary. I think it can last because there are a lot of very rich people who are not affected by mini-recessions or the market effect." (Guardian, 7 February) RD

British Gas Prices

Latest estimates put 4.5 million UK households in fuel poverty; spending more than 10 per cent of their income on gas and electricity. Just one month after British Gas increased energy bills by 15 per cent British Gas, the country's biggest energy supplier, is expected to announce a 500 per cent rise in profits today.

"It's quite sickening when companies make these huge profits while, at the same time, we are expecting 25,000 excess winter deaths as a result of people not being able to keep warm," said Lesley Davies, the chairman of the National Right to Fuel Campaign. "They prattle on about the winter fuel payments for pensioners but there are just as many single-parent families and others who cannot get the payment."

And like other businesses it isn't only the customer that is suffering but also the employees - The GMB union complained that as well as "fleecing its customers and making record profits" British Gas was scrapping its final-salary pension scheme.

But Capitalism and the competitive market benefits the consumer surely - or at least that is what the capitalist economics textbooks like to state .

In all, 20 active suppliers have reduced to six companies . These big six energy companies are both producers or generators and retailers. That means they make money when the wholesale price is high and they make money when the wholesale price is low. In the most contested part of the market place – the average direct debit, dual fuel customer – only £13 separates the offers from the five companies which have raised prices so far. An average consumer switching from one such deal to another stands to save 25 pence a week.

Capitalism - Delivering a service - But for a price .

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


"According to Reporters without Borders, a Paris-based lobby, more than 200 media workers have lost their lives in Iraq since 2003. In the same period, prominent journalists in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Libya and Sudan have been killed or gone missing in suspicious circumstances. In the past two months alone, the authorities in Gaza, Saudi Arabia and Sudan have summarily jailed reporters or internet bloggers. ( Economist, 7 February) RD


"When Forbes magazine began compiling a Russian rich list in 2004, it stated that there were 36 billionaires. Last year there were 53, worth a total of $282 billion; and in this year's the editor believes there will be "at least 80" - only the US has more. The 100 richest citizens are reckoned to be worth almost 25 per cent of the nation's GDP, while 20 per cent of the country lives below the poverty line, according to the most conservative estimates."
(Observer Magazine, 17 February) RD

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


"A 12-year-old boy was among eight suspected illegal immigrants rescued from a chemical tanker suffering breathing problems, police have said. The eight stowaways have all now been arrested on suspicion of immigration offences after receiving hospital treatment. A Scotland Yard spokesman confirmed that two of the stowaways, including the 12-year-old boy, were Eritrean, three were Iraqi Kurds, and the other three were Iranian. The 55-year-old driver of the German-registered tanker stopped in Abbeywood, south east London, was earlier arrested on suspicion of people trafficking. Workmen laying water pipes reported hearing banging from inside the tank itself. Witnesses said they spoke to the driver before raising the alarm. Two children - boys aged 12 and 16 - were found inside along with five adult men and one woman. Ambulance and fire crews pulled the occupants to safety through a hatch on the top before they were treated with oxygen and taken to hospital."
(Press Association, 8 February) RD


"In an effort to show that he is cutting his carbon footprint, the Prince of Wales has chartered one of Britain’s biggest and most luxurious private yachts to undertake an 11-day tour of the Caribbean next month. Accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall, the Prince will visit Jamaica, Trinidad, St Lucia and Montserrat on board the Leander, a 245ft (75m) motor yacht with 25 crew owned by Sir Donald Gosling, the multimillionaire who founded National Car Parks with a business partner on a bomb site in 1948 and collected £290 million when the company was sold in 1998. (Times, 8 February) RD

Monday, February 18, 2008


It is a basic socialist principle that no programme of reforms can solve the problems of capitalism, but here is an example where well-intentioned reformism has made the situation worse. "Hospitals were last night accused of keeping thousands o f seriously ill patients in ambulance "holding patterns" outside accident and emergency units to keep a government pledge that all patients are treated within four hours of admission. ... An Observer investigation has also found that some wait for up to five hours in ambulances because A & E units have refused to admit them until they can guarantee to treat them within the time limit." (Observer, 17 February) RD


"Step forward, metaphorically speaking, the late Leona Helmsley, aka the Queen of Mean – a woman who last year went to her final rest in a steam-cleaned mausoleum with her reputation for aggravated rich-bitchiness as rigidly intact as her double-Botoxed, triple-lifted features. She it was, the hard-faced old grasper, who left her dog $12m (£6m) but her grandsons nada unless they visited their father's grave. She it was who disinherited two other grandchildren, who sued her dead son's estate for money she said was owing, and who evicted her recently bereaved daughter-in-law from her home. And she, it famously was, who once said "only the little people pay taxes". But little people don't leave $4bn to charity when they die. Leona, amazingly, did; all four billion notes of it – as much as the cost to the US each month of being in Iraq, the price of 10 years of the worldwide polio eradication programme, and damn nearly what you would raise in the UK if you stuck a penny on everyone's income tax." (Independent on Sunday, 17 February) RD

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The tax-free rich

...According to the BBC business editor, Robert Peston, the top 50 UK-based billionaires paid just £15 million in tax last year on a combined fortune of £126 billion.
In fact, most accountants say that for the modern rich - the 4000 Britons earning over £1 million a year - taxation has become largely voluntary, as there are so many ways of avoiding it.
The man likely to take over Northern Rock this week, Richard Branson, is a champion in offshore tax farming...
...This impoverishment of the middle classes has been disguised by the boom in house prices which gave people an illusion of wealth, as they were "eating" their houses by equity withdrawal - another name for debt...
... As people find out more about the way banks have been manipulating the system to pay themselves stupendous bonuses, attitudes are hardening. British society is no longer in thrall to wealth. Only this time it's the middle classes, not just the working class, who will be taking to the barricades as their living standards decline...


"Debt collection agencies and bailiffs are raking in unprecedented sums from Britain's growing mountain of personal finance misery, an Independent on Sunday investigation has found. Last year the agencies and bailiffs pursued no fewer than 20 million cases and the methods they used to squeeze money from people are so aggressive that experts ranging from the Citizens' Advice Bureau (CAB) to members of the House of Lords are now calling for legislation to curb these excesses. A growing army of thousands of "debt chasers" is making millions from the misery of Britons who have spent years spending above their means, in what campaigners have slammed as "legalised profiteering".(Independent on Sunday, 17 February) RD

Friday, February 15, 2008


"Josette Sheeran, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Rome, said “We're seeing more people hungry, and in greater numbers than before. We're seeing many people being priced out of the food market for the first time. We're seeing less crop production in many places; shorter harvest times." ... According to the UN world food index, prices rose by 40 per cent last year. Ms Sheeran said oil prices were driving up costs because oil was used for planting, fertiliser and delivering food." (Times, 13 February) RD


The following statistics are not the sort of thing that the US recruiting sergeant is likely to mention to potential soldiers. "89 - The number of confirmed suicides among US army soldiers in 2007. If 32 suspected suicides are corroborated, the 2007 rate will be the highest since the army started keeping track in 1980. 2,000 - Number of soldiers who tried to take their own lives or injure themselves in 2007, up from 1,500 in 2006." (Time, 18 February)
This is in sharp contrast to all those John Wayne movies we see on TV, where he is a fearless hero. Come to think of it, in real life Wayne was far too clever to join the US army. RD

Thursday, February 14, 2008


The death of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi led to many newspapers rehashing the stories about the Beatles contact with his Transcental Meditation, but it has transpired that his TM could have more properly stood for Transcendal Materialism. It seemed the great man had sited his HQ in a Dutch village for tax reasons. "As ever, the business-savvy guru was ahead of the game: the big draw is a financial regime that has made the Netherlands the E.U.'s top tax shelter. Among those who have set up holding companies there are Ikea, Nike, Coca-Cola and Gucci."
(Guardian, 7 February)
Like many religious leaders before him this guru told his followers not to be concerned with the material things of life, but in practice was very shrewd about the way capitalism operated. RD

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


"Poverty affects 3.8 million children in the UK, making ours one of the worst rates in the industrialised world. Children living in poverty are likely to have lower self-esteem, poorer health, and lower aspirations and educational achievements than their peers. Poverty also shortens lives. A boy in Manchester can expect to live seven years less than a boy in Barnet, North London.
(Times, 12 February) RD

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


"Home repossessions in Scotland have increased by almost a third over the last three years while, across the UK, they have reached their highest level since the 1990s. New figures released yesterday show that the number of Britons losing their) homes because of mortgage payment arrears has almost doubled in two years. Repossessions have risen for the third year in a row to 27,100, with evidence that Scottish figures are also sharply increasing."
(Sunday Herald) 10 February RD

Monday, February 11, 2008


"States claiming the mantle of democracy, including Kenya and Pakistan, should guarantee the human rights that are central to it, including the rights to free expression, assembly and association, as well as free and fair elections," it said. "By allowing autocrats to pose as democrats... the United States, the European Union and other influential democracies risk undermining human rights worldwide." ..."Too many Western governments insist on elections and leave it at that," said Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. "It seems Washington and European governments will accept even the most dubious election so long as the 'victor' is a strategic or commercial ally." (Independent, 1 February) RD


"If you're partial to all things bling, then a platinum and jewel-encrusted desktop PC could be just what you're looking for. Jupiter from Japanese manufacturer Zeus, features a solid platinum case studded with diamonds which, the company claims, replicate astrological constellations. The PC runs on an Intel 3GHz E6850 Core 2 Duo CPU and features 2GB of DDR 2 memory and a 1TB hard drive. The only downside is its price tag - a cool $746,000. Zeus has also launched a cheaper, gold alternative. It still has diamonds in its case and the same tech spec, but will only set you back a mere $557,284. Both PCs are available now in Japan." (PC World, 31 January) RD

The Blues

An article by the Guardian columnist Jacky Ashley makes interesting reading

According to official figures, up to 12% of people now experience depression in any one year. More telling is a deeper government study that shows that half of people with common mental health problems recover within 18 months but that "poorer people, the long-term sick and unemployed people are more likely to be still affected"

People get depressed because they don't have enough money to keep up in a materialistic and competitive society; because they are ill, or feel worthless without a job and role, or are struggling with caring responsibilities.

As we have grown richer, we have become less confident and optimistic about the future. Our increased material competitiveness has not made us happier.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Away back in the 1840s the Chartists had a rather blood thirsty slogan, that socialists could not condone but at least could understand. It was "Here's to the day when the last king is strangled by the entrails of the last priest". The following news item has made us think up a less bloodcurdling, but we think a more appropriate slogan. "The Church of England rounded on the Government for cutting its funding for the upkeep of crumbling cathedrals. English Heritage will give grants totalling £2.1 million - half of it donated by a charity - to 28 cathedrals this year. Senior church figures said the money was not enough." (Daily Telegraph, 8 February) Here's to the day when the last crumbling cathedral falls on the last empty prison. RD


It used to be said that the first victim of war was the truth, but now it seems that an earlier victim may be logic. How do you tell a Vietnamese family that their daughter's awful death by napalm or an Afghanistan family that their son's death by a smart bomb was all part of a scheme to win their hearts and minds?
"The US army has drafted a new manual which for the first time puts an equal emphasis on winning hearts and minds as it does on defeating enemies by force. The manual is expected to be published later this month. The new guide is seen as a major development that draws on lessons of the wars being fought by US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. (BBC News, 8 February) RD

Saturday, February 09, 2008


"Prisons in England and Wales have hit a new crisis point after the number of inmates reached yet another record. There were 81,681 prisoners - including 375 being held in police stations - beating the previous high by more than 130. (Guardian, 9 February) RD


"The Council of Mortgage Lenders said 27,100 homes, the highest figure since 1999, were taken over by lenders after people fell behind with repayments. The figure for the UK is more than the 22,400 in 2006, but not as extreme as the CML had forecast. It is still a sharp rise on the 8,500 of 2003. And the CML warned that the number of repossessions was likely to rise again in 2008 as the credit crunch tightened. Meanwhile, the numbers of mortgages behind on payments rose by 8.6% compared to 2006, the organisation, which represents mortgage lenders, said.
(BBC News, 8 February) RD

Friday, February 08, 2008


"More than 30,000 16-year-olds leave school with no qualifications and a further 10,000 scrape through with a single GCSE at grade D or below, a new analysis of government figures shows." (Daily Telegraph 8 February) RD

Thursday, February 07, 2008


"Ian Paisley Junior has confirmed he is receiving a salary from Westminster as a researcher for his North Antrim MP father. It is one of three jobs that Mr Paisley has. Sir Alastair Graham, the former chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, described this as "very bizarre". "It means he is being paid as an assembly member, a junior minister and also by his father from his parliamentary allowances," he said." (BBC News, 7 February) RD


We are constantly being told by supporters of capitalism that the extremely rich got that way because of their superior intellect. That seems invalid thinking when we see how much the extremely rich will pay for a motor car licence plate.
"But nowhere is the craze for a unique plate more intense than in the United Arab Emirates, the oil-rich Persian Gulf nation that holds the world record for the six most expensive plates. Here, it's all about how low you can go -- with people battling it out at auctions to win the chance to show off license plates with the lowest digit. The numbers "5" and "7" have already been snapped up, sold for 25 million dirhams ($6.75 million) and 11 million dirhams ($2.97 million) respectively." (CNN.Com, 5 February) RD


"An Australian entrepreneur and self-described "thrillionaire" has signed on as the backup space tourist for the next paid flight to the International Space Station (ISS). The Virginia-based firm Space Adventures officially named financial strategist Nik Halik as the backup crewmate to American space tourist Richard Garriott, who is training for a planned October launch to the ISS aboard a Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft. Halik, 38, is paying $3 million to train alongside Garriott as a backup spaceflyer. ...Garriott, a computer game developer, is the son of former NASA astronaut Owen Garriott and will be the first second-generation U.S. spaceflyer when he launches later this year. He is paying about $30 million for the experience." (Yahoo News, 28 January) RD

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


"A study by the Bow Group, a centre-right think-tank, found that 27 per cent of FTSE 100 chief executives have contracts that continue to pay bonuses if profits rise by as little as 1 per cent above inflation. Nearly one in ten firms will still pay bonuses if profits fail to beat inflation." (Times, 4 February) RD


Last week, cupcake mogul Nigella Lawson, daughter of former chancellor Lord Lawson and heir to the Lyons Corner House fortune, said she had no intention of leaving her £15 million to her two children. "I am determined that my children should have no financial security. It ruins people not having to earn money," she said. ...Certainly, the tales of wayward heirs are legion. The 7th Marquess of Bristol blew £30 million of his family's money on drugs before dying at 44 of organ failure. Shipping heiress Christina Onassis had four unhappy marriages before dying of a suspected overdose of slimming pills aged 37. Edoardo Agnelli, son of Fiat's Gianni, converted to Islam, was arrested for drug possession in Kenya, and killed himself by jumping off a bridge at the age of 46. (Sunday Telegraph, 3 February) RD

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

one law for the rich , another law for the poor

From the Sunday Herald columnist Tom Shields and we have to agree much of what he wrote

A TORY MP is caught paying £82,000 from public funds in wages to his Hooray Henry sons; money for which they had done little or no work. The MP is suspended for 10 days on full pay. He is ordered to repay £13,000, leaving a nice little profit of £69,000 from this creative accountancy.
But he did say sorry to the House of Commons. He said: "The committee the committee on standards and privileges; that's as in many privileges and few standards was entitled to reach the conclusions that it did and I have accepted its criticisms in full. I unreservedly apologise to the House for my administrative shortcomings and the misjudgements I made."
The MP will be allowed to sit out the remaining time (potentially until May 2010) of this parliament, receiving £120,000 in wages and God knows how much extra in expenses.

Meanwhile, not so long ago, a Glasgow single mother appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court after claiming £18,000 in housing benefits to which she was not entitled. She admitted making the false applications after her husband left her. She used the money to pay her mortgage so that she would not have to leave the area and move her autistic son from his special-needs school.
She was jailed for a year. Sheriff Charles McFarlane QC opined: "This is a serious matter which resulted in collecting a significant amount of money for a considerable time. A custodial sentence is the only one for what was a blatant crime on your part."
The woman collapsed as she was led down to the cells.

Derek Conway MP did so to fund a champagne lifestyle for his sons Freddie and Henry. The woman took the money to make life a little more bearable for her son.

Another typical case: a woman was hauled before Chester crown court accused of making fraudulent claims. She had received £74,000 in benefits over 11 years. This is almost as much as the Conway family coined in, but the circumstances were somewhat different. The woman had brought up seven children, five of her own plus two of her late sister's. Her crime was that she did not declare that for one of those 11 years she had a job as a cleaner.
The judge, obviously a perspicacious kind of fellow, said in handing out a nine-month suspended jail sentence: "I take into account the fact your life wasn't easy and you were trying to care for your family. This was not a lavish lifestyle funded by fraud."
He also said: "This is a very serious offence." Obviously, society cannot tolerate a woman taking a wee cleaning job on the side to feed her seven weans.

The honourable gentleman should face criminal charges for misuse of public funds. Henry and Freddie should be in the dock for knowingly accepting money under false pretences. Mrs Colette Conway is also in the frame. As her husband's secretary (on £40,000 a year) she must have been aware of what was going on.


"They fought and nearly died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Once discharged from the army, these men face huge personal problems - homelessness, unemployment and depression - without adequate support. But after doing their bit for their country, shouldn't their country do its bit for them?" (Observer, 3 February) RD


"Senior MPs are demanding an Office of Fair Trading investigation into greedy banks after Egg's decision to ban 160,000 customers from using their credit cards dramatically backfired. Egg's move was initially interpreted as a prudent decision to curb overspending in the light of worsening economic conditions. But hundreds of customers have bombarded internet message boards complaining that they are not 'high risk' but settle their debts every month and incur no banking charges. They claim they are being axed because they do not make any money for Egg, recently taken over by US giant Citigroup." (Observer, 3 February) RD

Fuel Poverty Again

Another contribution to the exposure of the problem of fuel poverty facing workers .

Nearly one in five families with children cannot afford to heat their homes because of rising energy bills, research has shown.

Around 19% of people with children under 17 admitted they were unable to keep their homes warm because of the cost of gas and electricity, according to Save the Children UK.

The group found that a further 15% of households had been forced to cut back on food, while the same proportion spent less on essential clothing in order to be able to pay their fuel bills.

The problem was twice as acute among the UK's poorest families, with 44% of households living off less than £15,000 a year saying they could not afford to heat their homes.

It found that paying for gas and electricity in this way was on average 26% more expensive than paying by direct debit, leaving the country's poorest families paying an extra £215 a year on average.It said British Gas had the biggest price difference, charging 58% more for electricity to pre-pay customers and 47% more for gas than those who paid by direct debit.

UK poverty spokeswoman at Save the Children, said: "Fuel poverty is an outrage, particularly for children. It means that they are experiencing the effects of cold on a daily basis. Children find it more difficult to do their homework in a cold home, and are more likely to suffer ill-health."

Monday, February 04, 2008

Another Failed Target

Further to the previous posting , the target to end fuel poverty in England by 2010 will be missed, according to Government's advisers .
The Fuel Poverty Advisory Group says more than a million vulnerable households will spend more than a tenth of their income on fuel by 2010.
"The Government's policies and lack of action have now made it impossible to meet the target" said the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group

Customers using prepayment meters for gas and electricity paid £140 a year more than those paying by direct debit or online. Those paying by cash or cheque faced bills of about £70 more than those on direct debit, said the group.


"The government will be publicly castigated this week over its failure to help poor people - by the watchdog that ministers set up to monitor fuel poverty. Ofgem, the energy regulator, will also be criticised for not stopping energy companies from making excessive profits at the expense of consumers. Peter Lehmann, chairman of the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, will criticise the government over its record on fuel poverty, which he labelled 'incomprehensible, unjustifiable and shocking'. Consumers now pay more than 50 per cent more on utility bills compared with five years ago, yet energy companies' costs have risen by only a fraction of this. In the past month, four of the biggest suppliers have announced substantial rises in the price of gas and electricity." (Observer, 3 February) RD


"Tony Blair has taken a second big job with a leading financial player, attracted by the prospect of working on its climate-change initiative. The former Prime Minister has joined Zurich, the Swiss company, as an adviser. The appointment, thought to be worth at least £500,000 a year, comes less than three weeks after he took a similar role with J P Morgan Chase, one of the biggest investment banks on Wall Street. That was believed to be a package worth about £2 million a year." (Times, 29 January) RD


When she was in power Mrs Thatcher called capitalism in Britain a "property owning democracy" as she introduced legislation to sell council housing. Her supporters must now be wondering what kind of "democracy" it turned out to be. "More than a million homeowners could be at risk of serious financial difficulty and possibly losing their homes in an economic slowdown, the City regulator warned yesterday. The Financial Services Authority is preparing for a tougher climate of rising inflation and a slower economy. It fears that many homeowners with large mortgages who have borrowed three and a half times their salaries or more could be at risk. The warning comes as surveyors predict today those 123 homes a day will be repossessed this year." (Guardian, 30 January) RD

The real leisure class

An article in The Times reveals the clubbing and pubbing of the wealthy but also exposes the true class nature of to-days society

“Mahiki aims to be egalitarian,” says Conway, an Old Harrovian promoter and fashion journalist . Conway organises the guest list. “If you can get on with anyone, no matter what walk of life you come from, you’re welcome.” But Mahiki excludes on the grounds of money. The drinks bills can be ruinous. The princes’ favourite tipple, the Treasure Chest – half a bottle of vodka, a bottle of champagne, fruit, ice, and eight straws – comes in at £112.50 [ Prince William once paid an £11,000 bar bill here.] “It’s true, money is the big equalising factor. It’s not about where you went to school...Money speaks.” says Conway.

Why is it Tuesday that is the most popular night out for the Sloanes and the rich and thier hangers-on and flunkeys ?

Luke Blackhall, a journalist explains why Tuesday has come to be the most popular night. “It’s the old thing of growing your fingernails to show you don’t do manual labour,” he says. “There is a kind of showing-off involved in going out really hard on a Tuesday night.”

Sunday, February 03, 2008


If you are old and poor inside capitalism then you are a very low priority to the owning class. "Just 358,000 households received home care in 2006 compared with 479,000 a decade earlier, while nearly three quarters of local authorities now refuse help to anyone whose needs are not considered "substantial" or "critical". Most of those with "moderate" needs, who can not carry out routine daily tasks such as getting out of bed, bathing and doing the washing up, are excluded, along with 275,000 pensioners with less intensive requirements - such as needing help to go to the shop. Another 6,000 elderly people with "high support needs", means they can not bathe or eat without assistance, receive no services and no informal care. Altogether, the CSCI (Commission for Social Care Inspection) estimates 450,000 older people rely on friends and family to get by, even though they have been assessed as needing more help." (Daily Telegraph, 30 January) RD


Capitalism's priorities are to make profits and cut costs, so it is no surprise that the poorest, the sick and the mentally ill are treated in such a shabby fashion. "Mental health wards have become "tougher and scarier" places under the Labour government and many are so overcrowded that it is difficult for staff to deliver good care, the official watchdog for detained patients reports today. As an urgent priority, ministers must honour previous commitments that women patients should be safe from sexual harassment, abuse and assault and those children as young as 12 are no longer placed on adult wards, the Mental Health Act Commission's biennial report says." (Guardian, 30 January) RD

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Bankrupt Scotland

From an editorial in The Herald

Although it is traditionally people on the lowest incomes who get into debt they cannot repay, the boom in consumer credit, fuelled by rising house prices, has brought many middle-class families to the point where they are only a couple of pay packets away from not being able to meet their repayments. It only takes one setback, such as their marriage ending or losing their job, to plunge them into unmanageable debt.

The 14.5% increase in the number of Scots being declared bankrupt between 2006 and 2007, however, is likely to be a harbinger of worse to come. The scale of the situation is brought home by the fact that the 1563 Scots declared bankrupt in the last quarter of 2007 amounted to nearly twice the average number for any three-month period three or four years ago.
This is a reflection of the record levels of personal debt (one estimate of Britain's debt from credit cards, loans, overdrafts and mortgages is £1.35 trillion) but when that level of borrowing collides with the current credit crunch, these personal disasters will be multiplied. That is expected to happen later this year as fixed-rate mortgages reach the end of their term and require to be renewed, with lenders imposing higher rates to reflect the overall increase in interest rates since August 2006.

There can be no doubt that the tide of debt is rising alarmingly. Home repossessions leaped by 30% in the first six months of last year and householders in Scotland cannot necessarily rely on the relative stability of the housing market north of the border to protect them from the perils of negative equity. Both Motherwell and central Glasgow have been pinpointed as high-risk areas on the latest map produced by the credit reference agency Experian.

With Scottish companies failing at a rate of approximately 55 per month and the Financial Services Authority describing 840,000 mortgages as a cause for concern, the outlook is particularly grim.


"Increasing numbers of frail or infirm elderly people are struggling to cope after being unfairly denied social care as councils ration help, the care inspectorate revealed today. Many local authorities are using strict criteria to deny care even to those who cannot wash or dress unaided, according to the Commission for Social Care Inspection. Varying rules on who qualifies mean a postcode lottery applies, says the commission's third annual report. Fewer people qualify for social services care than three years ago, despite a 3% rise in the number of people over 75. And care rationing is expected to get worse: the number of councils funding only those needing "substantial" care increased from 53% to 62% in 2006-07 and is expected to rise to 73% of councils next year. (Guardian, 29 January) RD


After the removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan we were told that there was now a more progressive government under President Hamid Karzan, but what is the reality? "An Afghan court in northern Afghanistan sentenced a journalism student to death for blasphemy for distributing an article from the Internet that was considered an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, the judge in charge of the court said Wednesday. The student, Sayed Parwiz Kambakhsh, 23, who also works for a local newspaper, was charged with insulting Muhammad by calling the prophet “a killer and adulterer,” the judge, Shamsurahman Muhmand, said in a telephone interview." (New York Times, 24 January) RD

Friday, February 01, 2008


"The tiny village of Jucu in north-western Romania, which will host a new factory making Nokia mobile phones, currently, earns its livelihood from farming vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes and eggplants. It doesn't have a full-time doctor, a school-house or indoor toilets. Some 60 houses don't have running water. But it does -- still -- have relatively cheap labour. A decision by the Finnish mobile handset giant to move a major production line to Romania this year sparked rage in Germany over job losses, but in the nearby city of Cluj in Romania it calmed fears foreign investment was drying up." (Yahoo News, 25 January) RD


"A decade of fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo is continuing to kill about 45,000 people each month - half of them small children - in the deadliest conflict since the Second World War, according to a new survey. The International Rescue Committee said preventable diseases and starvation aggravated by conflict have claimed 5.4 million lives since the beginning of the second Congo war in 1998, equivalent to the population of Denmark. Although the war officially ended in 2002, malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia and malnutrition continue to claim thousands of lives. The study of 14,000 households across Congo between January 2006 and April 2007 found that nearly half of all the deaths were of children under the age of five, who make up only 19% of the population." (Guardian, 23 January) RD