Sunday, August 31, 2008


"The Russian oil boom, which has produced a gusher of cash, political power and an opulent elite— and has helped fuel the country's renewed assertiveness in Georgia and elsewhere— is on shakier ground than officials in Moscow would like to admit. Most of the oil produced after the country's 1998 financial collapse has come from drilling and re-drilling old Soviet oil fields with more advanced equipment— squeezing more black gold out of the same ground— and efforts to develop new fields have been slow or non-existent. That strategy is potentially disastrous, said Valery Kryukov , who researches oil companies in western Siberia for a government-funded think tank. "If the situation which exists now stays the same, oil production will start to decline seriously in two years," Kryukov said in a phone interview from his offices in the city of Novosibirsk ." (Yahoo News, 22 August) RD


"England's richest football clubs shell out fortunes to their players in pursuit of glory. Today, though, all 20 clubs are accused of penny-pinching because they pay more humble members of staff – such as cleaners, catering staff and shop assistants – the lowest legal wages. Some employees receive only match tickets as recompense, or the promise of commission. The revenues of Premier League clubs last season reached almost £2bn and they spent £600m on players. But two days before the 2008/09 Premier League starts this weekend, the Fair Pay Network (FPN), a coalition of charities and trade unions, warns that poverty pay is endemic in the league. It found that all 20 clubs are offering positions at the national minimum wage of £5.25 an hour. The five London clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea, Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United – are paying staff at least £2 below the London Living Wage of £7.45, which the Mayor Boris Johnson says is the minimum to avoid living in poverty in the city.
(Independent, 14 August) RD


"A band of pre-eminent scientists and war-fighters has concluded that the nation's military might isn't powerful enough for the 21st Century; and so the National Research Council (NRC), an independent, congressionally-chartered body charged with assessing scientific issues, is urging the Pentagon and Congress to get cracking on developing a weapon capable of hitting any target in the world within an hour of being launched. The NRC's Committee on Conventional Prompt Global Strike Capability believes that there are threats (like nuclear terrorism) that the Pentagon's fleets of attack planes and missiles cannot handle and which have to be stopped with the immediacy of the push of a button by a future U.S. President. It's not quite a "death ray" but it's the closest existing technology can get to that fantasy weapon." (Yahoo News, 24 August) RD

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The struggle for even more reforms is irrelevant and only gets in the way.

(The case against reformism.)
Back in the 1970s Italy was struck by a plague of snakes. These poisonous vipers were such a menace, particularly to holiday makers, that some resort areas decided to do something about them. At first they of­fered a bounty for every dead snake pro­duced but, inevitably, some smart operators hit on the idea of breeding the snakes and made a substantial profit until the authorities realised they had been outsmarted.
Next, they heard that the number of snakes increased because their natural enemy, the porcupine, was extinct in Italy. Porcupines were acquired from Yugoslavia and let loose in areas infested by snakes. Sadly, word quickly spread among the local hunters that roasted porcupine was deli­cious and soon the fate of that animal in Italy was sealed once again.
Finally, it was decided that the Italian tur­key, with its quickness and sharp beak, would be more than a match for the snakes. Five hundred were ordered but, as their in­tended use was not specified, the shipper assumed they were destined for the dinner table and clipped their beaks to prevent them damaging one another in transit. In the circumstances the dinner table was where they ended up. So far as we know the problem of Italy's surplus snakes re­mains unsolved because somehow or other all the plans made to deal with them always went wrong.
All of this is reminiscent of the efforts made by politicians of left, right and centre to reform away capitalism's plague of prob­lems such as war, poverty, racism, crime and unemployment. They forever plan reforms which they fondly imagine will solve all the problems but, just as with the snakes in Italy, the plans never seem to work out in the intended way.
Experience shows that reforms rarely achieve what their supporters hoped they would. For a start, no matter how closely thought out and worded, every reform con­tains loopholes which will be found by those looking for them. The Equal Pay Act, for example, was supposed to bring women workers the same earnings as men for doing the same job, but many employers found ways of getting around it. They can either slightly lessen the amount of work a woman is to perform or reduce the hours worked by women so that they are clas­sified as part-time workers, a category not covered by the Act. One way and another, the Act has not lessened the gap between what women are paid in relation to men for doing the same work. Indeed the gap has increased. In 1977 women earned on aver­age around three quarters of what men get, but by 1983, the last year for which figures are available, women's comparative earn­ings are down to around two thirds.
The laws passed to outlaw racial dis­crimination in employment don't seem to have had any more success. Despite the existence of the Committee for Racial Equal­ity and the passing of the Race Relations Act there is still widespread discrimination against black job applicants. The Policy Studies Institute reported recently that ". . . employers continue to hire people on the basis of the colour of their skin" (Guardian, 26 September). The report adds that breaches of the law by employers are usu­ally invisible to black applicants, who are told that the job has gone to someone better qualified.
Nor has the Incitement to Hatred Act re­duced racial violence and abuse. The evi­dence is that not only are these increasing but they are becoming more respectable and have spread from the inner cities to the suburbs. The reason why reforms fail to deal with this problem isn't hard to find. Ra­cial antagonism is the product of capitalism's competitiveness and insecurity and the fears these characteristics arouse. In this case it is the fears of white workers that blacks and Asians will take their jobs and get preference in the allocation of council hous­ing or, if they are suburban owner-oc­cupiers, that the presence of ethnic minorities in their area will reduce property values. These fears go hand in hand with capitalism's tensions and cannot be simply legislated out of existence.
Besides rarely having the desired effect, reforms often have unexpected and un­pleasant side-effects. The policy of rent con­trol adopted by the wartime coalition and postwar Labour and Tory governments was aimed at holding down wage demands in a period of full employment but some of its supporters justified the policy on the grounds that it would protect tenants from greedy landlords. This policy had considera­ble success on the first count and some on the second, but it also greatly reduced the amount of housing available as many land­lords found that the artificially low rents they received didn't make it worthwhile to main­tain their properties, which deteriorated so badly that they often had to be demolished.
So in the long run rent control created a situation where rents just had to rise and the Tory Rent Act of 1957 began the process of de-control. But here, too, an unwanted side ­effect resulted because the act froze tenants' rents for fifteen months unless vacant pos­session was obtained. This provoked some landlords, including the notorious Peter Rachman, to use violence and intimidation against tenants in order to get them out right away.
Recent government legislation designed to move on young unemployed people liv­ing in digs after six weeks is another case in point. Intended to show that the govern­ment was determined to stop alleged abuse of DHSS payments by landladies, the mea­sures didn't take into account that many of these youngsters have lived in institutions for much of their lives and are emotionally or mentally disturbed. For some, their digs are the only real home they have ever known and the thought of having to leave produced a spate of suicide attempts, some successful.
Even when the reformists have achieved their objective, they may well face a struggle to prevent the legislation being reversed. Generations of Labourites put a great deal of time and effort into bringing about the Na­tional Health Service and the nationalised in­dustries, which they imagined would intro­duce a golden age of medical care and full employment. Now they watch in dismay as the NHS is eroded and the nationalised in­dustries are once again privatised.
Were a future Labour government to re­store the NHS to its pre-1979 condition and, however unlikely, re-nationalise whatever industries had been sold off, there would be no certainty that this would last. Govern­ments must always be looking for ways to economise, even in boom conditions, but in the event of a future slump the government, of whatever complexion, will need to cut its expenditure and the NHS and re­nationalised industries could be obvious targets, just as they are now
This much is certain: no programme of reforms can ever unite the whole working class. The reforms so earnestly sought by left wingers - such as positive discrimina­tion in favour of ethnic minorities in housing and employment, the unification of Ireland, lower council house rents, the abolition of mortgage relief, and so on - will please some workers but enrage just as many more.
The really vital reforms of capitalism were won a long time ago. The vote gave the working class the opportunity to take its fate into its own hands, and wider educa­tional opportunities made it possible for workers to at least consider the socialist case. These gains, together with the fact that society's productive forces have been de­veloped to the point where an abundance of wealth is now possible, make socialism a practical proposition now. The struggle for even more reforms is irrelevant and only gets in the way.


(The case for reformism)

I think I'll become a reformist. Change soci­ety a bit at a time. Erode the edifice of social misery, gradually but surely, and make the world a better place to live in.
It's all very well these revolutionary socialists telling me that the only way to end working-class problems is to abolish the whole system of world capitalism and intro­duce socialism, but I can't wait for that. Something needs to be done now. If we sit around trying to persuade workers of the need to abolish the cause of their suffering it could take ages. No, I want action now. To­morrow morning I'm going to sign up in the heroic struggle to reform this evil system.
What shall I start with? I know, I'll begin by dealing with the worst problems and then work my way down the list to the little insignificant ones. My task for the time to come is to deal with the real biggies. War. Mass starvation. I might even deal with the homeless and slum-dwellers if I've got a bit of spare time. And the Third World - I'd bet­ter lend a hand in supporting them. Oh, and I almost forgot about pollution, I must make sure that something is done about that. Good. Now I know what my immediate aims are all I need to do is get on with the action.
Right, war. What is the practical way for us reformists to end war? Well, let's be prag­matic - we won't end all wars, but we shall certainly abolish all nuclear weapons. How? To begin with we shall establish a mass movement made up of people who think that nuclear weapons are "a bad thing". Then the government will be forced to lis­ten. True, such a movement has existed in Britain since the late 1950s and it is now larger than ever and the governments have not been forced to accept our demands and most of our members voted to elect the governments which have not accepted our demands, but that must not dispirit us. Hav­ing built our mass movement we shall un­leash our unstoppable tactic: we shall have a march every year from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square and we shall shout slogans (very loudly) like "Ban the Bomb" or "Jobs Not Bombs". Let them try to ignore that! Well, yes, they have ignored that in the past, but that is quite evidently because there weren't enough of us marching. In addition to that tactic, which will leave us all feeling like a big movement which cannot be ig­nored, we shall do other practical things like holding hands around Greenham Common and sitting down in the middle of the road in Hampstead. Of course, we must be prag­matic about abolishing nuclear weapons: we would be prepared to settle for a nuclear freeze, I suppose. That means that they keep all the nuclear weapons which exist in the world today (enough to blow us all up several times), but no more can be pro­duced. That would be an achievement. True, there have been more people killed in the non-nuclear war in Iran and Iraq than were killed in Hiroshima, but we must not allow ourselves to be diverted into side-is­sues. We reformists like to deal with the big issues, like the possibility of a nuclear war in the future, rather than these petty wars which are going on now. (Although I have made a note in my diary to join a campaign to deal with Iran and Iraq - and Ireland - and Israel and the Lebanon - and Afghanis­tan - and Central America -just as soon as I've solved this nuclear problem.)
After all, the danger of a nuclear war is by far the greatest problem facing humanity today. Admittedly, Oxfam does claim that thirty million people are dying now as a re­sult of starvation every year. And hundreds of millions of people are living in conditions of hunger and diseases caused by malnutri­tion. There is the equivalent of one Hiroshima every two days as a result of world hunger. Come to think of it, that prob­lem is at least as important as nuclear war. I agree with Bob Geldof: "something" must be done now. What we need is a mass movement made up of people who oppose world hunger. We can appeal to the consci­ences of the leaders who hold the purse strings. After all, we elect them. And we must organise collections for the benefit of those who are starving. Just think, if every person in Britain gave a fiver each that would amount to £300 million. That would give £10 to each of the people Oxfam says starve to death each year. But then, what about people living in poverty in Britain? They can't afford to donate £5; according to the Child Poverty Action Group one in four children in this country are living under the official poverty line. We shall need to do something about that. I'll join a campaign to make sure the government doubles family allowances. After all, who can be more im­portant than the children? Well, yes, there are the elderly as well: I shan't forget to do my bit for them. I shall join another cam­paign, such as Help The Aged, which will demand that the government taxes the rich so that pensions are increased. Then there are the disabled. And drug addicts. And vic­tims of domestic violence. I shall need to join a separate campaign to see that each of them gets a fair deal. Then, of course, I shall be joining with my sisters to fight for sexual equality. And I shall also join a separate organisation to demand racial equality. And one more to call for compassion for crimi­nals who ought not to face barbaric penal­ties just because society has turned them to crime. And I really ought to join with the Women Against Rape who want rapists to be castrated. It wasn't until I decided to be­come a reformist that I decided quite how much action I had to do.
Well, I have been working at cutting down the list of organisations to join, so that I don't commit myself to too much. There are the anti-war (sorry, anti-nuclear war) ones: CND, END and the Peace Pledge Union. Then the anti-hunger ones: War On Want, Band Aid, Oxfam. Then the CPAG, Help the Aged, Shelter, London Against Ra­cism, the local feminist collective (they won't let me join, so fortunately I'll have one Tuesday evening free every fourth week) and the campaign for "fair trials" for the min­ers. And I almost forgot Greenpeace. And, of
course, Friends of the Earth. And the Troops out movement. Paying the subscriptions will present a few problems. And I'll need a diary with whole pages for each day so that I can remember which problem I'm solving when. I mean, I'd look a bit daft sitting in an anti-nuclear war meeting talking about the need for a march against unemployment, wouldn't I?
Once joined, the action really starts. We shall pass resolutions which will be sent to progressive" MPs. And we shall organise petitions. It is surprising how willing people are to sign them. True, they are usually filed away in some civil servant's waste paper basket, but at least it's action. Then there are the marches. And it's surprising how many people you meet on one march who you know from the others. Then there's the odd battle for the leadership. Somewhat time-wasting, I admit, but it is all part of prac­tical politics. To be perfectly honest, I have my hopes to become Badge Organiser for Islington Save The Whale. But, of course, I'll have to spend a few nights canvassing sup­port otherwise the post will go to one of those terrible Trots who use reformist or­ganisations by doing all the donkey work.
So, I am in on the action. Unlike those revolutionaries from The Socialist Party, who insist that you cannot eradicate the symptoms without destroying the disease, I am applying many bottles of medicine to the contaminated anatomy of the capitalist system. True, the pills and potions have never been successful in the past. But I have faith. And you need it if you think that refor­mism is the solution to the horror epic of this problem-packed society.


"If anybody feels a pang of jealousy over China's haul of Olympic gold medals, they need only pause to consider what the athletes went through to get them. The only mother on China's team, Xian Dongmei, told reporters after she won her gold medal in judo that she had not seen her 18-month-old daughter in one year, monitoring the girl's growth only by webcam. Another gold medalist, weightlifter Cao Lei, was kept in such seclusion training for the Olympics that she wasn't told her mother was dying. She found out only after she had missed the funeral. Chen Ruolin, a 15-year-old diver, was ordered to skip dinner for one year to keep her body sharp as a razor slicing into the water. The girl weighs 66 pounds." (Los Angeles Times, 26 August) RD


"On Aug. 11, Abhinav Bindra became the first Indian in history to win an individual gold medal at the Olympics, rallying late from fourth place to take the title in the 10-m air rifle. The shooting win came just days before his country's Aug. 15 national holiday and set off a frenzy back home. Bindra's picture was splashed across front pages; his medal ceremony played in a ceaseless TV loop. Even the English-language, state-run China Daily featured Bindra, a gesture of goodwill to the country's rival rising power. Unlike China, though, India has until recently shown a monumental indifference to Olympic sports. The well-manicured Bindra, 25, is now his country's most eligible bachelor. His mother has fielded several marriage offers. She wants a traditional housewife for her son, thank you. The new bride would join a very wealthy bunch: Bindra's father Apjit owns an agriculture, manufacturing and power conglomerate. After his mother Babli caught him tossing balloons off a maid's head--right on target--she hired a shooting coach, and his father built him an air-conditioned range in the backyard. His reward for winning gold: a $350,000 bonus from steel baron Lakshmi Mittal, who has sponsored some Indian athletes, and more than $550,000 from local government bodies and sports ministries. His gift from Dad: a hotel." (Time, 14 August)


"Apple growers fear labour shortages could force them to leave fruit rotting on trees because of government restrictions on the number of foreign workers allowed into Britain as pickers. As harvesting of the earliest varieties gets underway, farmers are `extremely concerned` about attracting sufficient people to work through until the end of of the season in mid-October. ... "If we can't get the pickers, there is a grave danger that apples will be left on trees and over-mature. Frankly, by then it won't be worth the cost of picking them, so they will be left unpicked,` said Adrian Barlow, chief executive of English Apples and Pears, which represents 430 growers. `That would be an absolute tragedy and quite shocking at a time when there are reports of food shortages`." (Observer, 24 August) RD

Capitalism an all that Jazz

A Canadian airline is removing life vests from all its planes to cut weight and save fuel , in other words , to save money .

Canada regulations allowed airlines to use flotation devices instead of life vests within 80km of shore . Jazz spokeswoman said it was a transcontinental airline that never flew over the ocean. However , she didn't explain that they do fly over the Great Lakes and along the eastern seaboard from Halifax to Boston to New York.

Friday, August 29, 2008


"An `epidemic of poverty` in Britain is having a dramatic impact on the survival rates and health chances of children from poor families, an influential coalition will warn this week in a major report that casts doubt on government efforts to close the inequality gap. End Child Poverty, a 130-strong network of children's charities, church groups, unions and think tanks, claims that the gap bettween rich and poor represents a `hugh injustice` in British society and has become one of the major factors affecting child mortality rates. Its report, based on a wide-ranging analysis of government data, finds that children from poor families are at ten times the risk of sudden infant death as children from better-off homes."
(Observer, 24 August) RD


"There seems to have been some confusion at Orange around yesterday's launch in Poland of the 3GiPhone. Newswires reported that actors had been paid to stand outside its shops to create excitement after a lacklustre response. Orange claimed that it was all a misunderstanding and that "things got a bit misconstrued". Or maybe not. When I recounted the story to a British mobile phone retailer, he said that it was a common practice in the industry to pay people to bulk up queues. "We do it all the time." (Times, 23 August) RD


"Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison, a long-time fixture on the list of the world's richest people, is now ensconced atop The Associated Press' rankings of the top-paid chief executives in the United States. Never shy about flaunting his estimated $25 billion fortune, Ellison established himself as the best-paid CEO among major U.S. companies by persuading Oracle to award him a fiscal 2008 pay package valued at $84.6 million under the AP's calculations. The total compensation, disclosed late Wednesday in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, catapulted Ellison to the top of the AP's annual analysis of CEO pay. With a pay package valued at $83.1 million, Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain held that distinction in June when the AP released its 2008 analysis of executive compensation at more than 400 large companies." (Yahoo News, 21 August) RD

Thursday, August 28, 2008


"The price of rat meat has quadrupled in Cambodia this year as inflation has put other meat beyond the reach of poor people, officials said on Wednesday. With consumer price inflation at 37 percent according to the latest central bank estimate, demand has pushed a kilogram of rat meat up to around 5,000 riel (69 pence) from 1,200 riel last year." (Yahoo News, 27 August) RD


"The World Bank said on Tuesday more people are living in extreme poverty in developing countries than previously thought as it adjusted the recognized yardstick for measuring global poverty to $1.25 a day from $1. The poverty-fighting institution said there were 1.4 billion people -- a quarter of the developing world -- living in extreme poverty on less than $1.25 a day in 2005 in the world's 10 to 20 poorest countries. Last year, the World Bank said there were 1 billion people living under the previous $1 a day poverty mark." (Yahoo News, 23 August) RD


"Candy Spelling, widow of the television producer Aaron Spelling, is downsizing. After nearly 20 years in The Manor, a 56,500-square-foot French chateau-style home known for its size and extravagance — it includes a wine-tasting room, a bowling alley, a silver room, a china room and a well-known gift-wrapping room — she says she is ready for the next trophy property: a condominium. “People say, How can you move from The Manor? There’s no place like it,” Mrs. Spelling said, sitting in the library with leatherbound scripts of every episode of Mr. Spelling’s shows, from “Charlie’s Angels” to “7th Heaven.” But a condo, she said, “is no different than a house, maybe even better.” Mrs. Spelling is the most conspicuous buyer in an ultraluxury condo market that is new in the sprawl of Los Angeles, where wealth and fame have usually spelled out “estate,” not apartment living. But real estate experts say a New York-style luxury high-rise lifestyle is creeping into the wealthiest echelons, fed by trends like people looking to own more than one home, foreigners drawn by the weak dollar to invest in Los Angeles, and new residential buildings being designed by celebrity architects like Robert A. M. Stern, Richard Meir and Jean Nouvel. Mr. Stern designed The Century, the 140-unit building under construction where Mrs. Spelling recently bought the top two penthouse floors — 16,500 square feet — for $47 million. (New York Times, 21 August) RD


"For the outdoorsman who has everything, silversmith Adrian Pallarol has come up with the Leatherman Charge Dorado pocketknife. It sports a wide array of tools and knives inside its golden arms, and is engraved with 18-karat Andes gold on its handles. Only 25 will be produced, for $40,000 each." (Newsweek, 23 August) RD


"Vinyl has never sounded—or looked—so good. With music enthusiasts reverting to the authenticity of analog, these turntables spruce up the living room while doing justice to the record collection. The Montegiro Lusso looks every bit the work of art, with its silver and black stripes promising superior sound ($48,800; Da Vinci Audio Labs created the AAS Gabriel, designed using the same process employed to cut the vinyl records it will play. The luxury edition is available in a 24-karat gold-and-white design ($46,600; But the high note of turntables goes to The Reference II, by the Swiss manufacturer Goldmund. The 350-kilo turntable is delivered in five crates by three factory workers to ensure it is perfectly installed. Between 2008 and 2013 only five machines will be produced each year ($250,000; With turntables like these, the days of digital music may be numbered." (Newsweek, 9 August) RD

Calton and Lenzie wealth and health differences

"social injustice is killing people on a grand scale...The toxic combination of bad policies, economics, and politics is, in large measure responsible for the fact that a majority of people in the world do not enjoy the good health that is biologically possible."

Social factors - rather than genetics - are to blame for huge variations in ill health and life expectancy around the world, a report concludes.

For instance, a boy living in the deprived Glasgow suburb of Calton will live on average 28 years less than a boy born in nearby affluent Lenzie.

The average life expectancy in London's wealthy Hampstead was 11 years longer than in nearby St Pancras.

A girl in the African country of Lesotho is likely on average to live 42 years less than a girl in Japan.In Sweden, the risk of a woman dying during pregnancy and childbirth is one in 17,400, but in Afghanistan the odds are one in eight.

The report, drawn up by an eminent panel of experts forming the WHO's Commission on the Social Determinants of Health, found that in almost all countries poor socioeconomic circumstances equated to poor health.
"The key message of our report is that the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age are the fundamental drivers of health, and health inequity."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


In primitive society one of the greatest sources of human survival was the knowledge of the elderly. If you lived in a gathering/ hunting society the knowledge of where plants occurred, where animals existed and at what times of the year was essential for human society. Knowledge was power. So much was this the case for human survival that one of the first forms of religion was Ancestor Worship.
We no longer live in a gathering/hunting society; we live in a modern capitalist society. This is a society where the majority work for a wage or a salary and a tiny minority live off the surplus value that they produce. Inside this society attitudes towards the elderly are completely different. If they are poor they are looked upon as a burden by the capitalist class and some sort of creature that had they any decency would just disappear.
Away back in 1908 when state pensions were first paid in the UK there was the view that this piece of reform would end old-age poverty. People like David Lloyd George and Charles Booth hailed the legislation as a mayor breakthrough on the abolition of old-age poverty.
"Yet 100 years on, 2.5 million pensioners - more than a fifth of all those aged over 65 - still struggle to pay their bills and keep their home warm." (Times, 31 July) Such is the nature of capitalism and the lick-spittles that operate it that they have come up with a great new idea that will save the owning class millions.
"People will be forced to work until they are aged 70 if the basic state pension is to survive into the next century, according to the Government’s pension supremo. Lord Turner of Ecchinswell, the architect of radical reform in which the retirement age will rise to 68 by 2046, said that with no limit in sight for life expectancy, people are going to have to work even longer than he proposed." (Times, 31 July)
When I was very young an elderly man taught me about capitalism. One of the lessons he taught me was - the owning class need young men and women to provide for them, but we don't need them. As in primitive society, we must heed the elderly - knowledge is power.RD

The race for undersea oil and gas is driving sea bed claims

Britain is to formally present its case to the UN in New York for extending its territorial rights around Ascension Island in the South Atlantic.
States have rights over their resources - including oil or gas reserves - up to 200 nautical miles from the shoreline.
But the UK wants to extend those rights around Ascension on the grounds that the island's landmass actually reaches much further into the sea underwater.
Ascension Island is part of the British overseas territory of St Helena.
The UK will present its claim on Wednesday to the United Nations Commission for the Limits of the Continental Shelf.


Potential for conflict
Fewer than a half of the world's maritime boundaries have been agreed, so there is big scope for disagreements
Experts say that fewer than half of the world's maritime boundaries have been agreed, and there is significant potential for conflict where more than one country submits claims to overlapping areas.


"The U.S. military is paying scientists to study ways to read people's thoughts. The hope is that the research could someday lead to a gadget capable of translating the thoughts of soldiers who suffered brain injuries in combat or even stroke patients in hospitals. But the research also raises concerns that such mind-reading technology could be used to interrogate the enemy. Armed with a $4 million grant from the Army, scientists are studying brain signals to try to decipher what a person is thinking and to whom the person wants to direct the message."
(Yahoo News, 15 August) RD


"With a fortune estimated at 35 billion dollars, Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world's richest royal sovereign and oil-rich Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi is far back at No. 2, Forbes magazine reported Thursday. King Bhumibol, 80 and, at 62 years on the throne the world's longest-serving head of state, pushed to the top of the richest royals list by virtue a greater transparency surrounding his fortune, Forbes said. It said that the Crown Property Bureau, which manages most of his family's wealth, "granted unprecedented access this year, revealing vast landholdings, including 3,493 acres in Bangkok." Forbes called it a good year for monarchies, investment-wise. "As a group, the world's 15 richest royals have increased their total wealth to 131 billion dollars, up from 95 billion last year," Forbes said on its website." (Yahoo News, 21 August) RD

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


"A surprising 20 million people in the European Union do not have access to decent toilets and suffer from a lack of hygiene, posing serious health risks, experts meeting at World Water Week in Stockholm said. "People think that in countries so bright, so rich, they don't have this kind of problem," Sascha Gabizon, the head of the non-governmental organisation Women in Europe for a Common Future and one of 2,500 water and sanitation experts attending the forum, told AFP. "The situation is not widely known among politicians in Brussels," she said. Countries from the former Eastern bloc which recently joined the EU are those most concerned but there are also isolated locations in western Europe, she said, citing France and Ireland as examples. In Bulgaria, 42 percent of the population lives in rural zones where only two percent of households are connected to a sewage system. In Romania, 10 million people live without access to pipes, and in the countryside, only 15 percent of residents have running water."
(Yahoo News, 21 August) RD


"It has long been the case that women live longer than men, whites live longer than blacks, and the rich and well-educated live longer than those who are less well off in schooling and wealth. In recent decades, the gender and race gaps have narrowed. But the opposite has happened with wealth and education. The rich and well-educated have pulled further away from the pack in life expectancy. This good-news-for-the-rich, bad-news-for-the-poor trend is recorded in a graph on page three of his report by the Congressional Budget Office. Overall, the report shows impressive gains in life expectancy. From 1980 to 2000, life expectancy at birth rose by more than 3 years and life expectancy at age 65 rose by about 1.5 years. In both cases, however, most of those extra years went to the richest and best educated." (New York Times, 20 August) RD

Monday, August 25, 2008


There is a popular myth in the USA that any citizen, no matter how poor, can become the President. One of the stories is the popular notion of "log cabin to white house". The reality in modern capitalism is somewhat different. "Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in an interview Wednesday that he was uncertain how many houses he and his wife, Cindy, own. "I think — I'll have my staff get to you," McCain told Politico in Las Cruces, N.M. "It's condominiums where — I'll have them get to you." The correct answer is at least four, located in Arizona, California and Virginia, according to his staff. Newsweek estimated this summer that the couple owns at least seven properties. And a Politico analysis later in the day found McCain's family owns at least eight properties, according to property and tax records, as well as interviews."
(Yahoo News, 21 August) RD


"A German man has been sentenced to nine months in jail after living in left-luggage locker 501 at Düsseldorf railway station for nine years. Mike Konrad, 29, had crawled into the locker when he walked out on his girlfriend in 1999, and had slept there ever since. Station staff finally decided to prosecute after they had evicted him from his cubby hole 200 times. As accommodation it was remarkably cheap: the £1.50 it cost Konrad to open the locker was normally refunded in the morning. However, he told a court in the city that he had been locked into his sleeping quarters “more times than I can remember” and then had to rely on the station staff to release him. “I always went to sleep with the door slightly ajar,” he said. “But kids like to lock me in for a laugh.” (Sunday Times, 17 August) RD


"The French National Front says “Keep France for the French”. But not, it seems, in times of economic necessity. Last Monday L’Express magazine revealed that the far-right party averted bankruptcy earlier this month by accepting an offer of £11.7m for its Paris headquarters from a Chinese university." (Sunday Times, 17 August) RD

Sunday, August 24, 2008


"For years, the US and the EU have been looking for ways of circumventing Russia for energy, especially in the light of the controversial cuts in supply it made to Ukraine, Belarus and the Czech Republic. The opening of the South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP) from Azerbaijan to Turkey should successfully enable the flow of 16 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas into Europe without Moscow's interference. However, with Georgia being the only viable country for the pipeline to go through - as Azerbaijan is technically at war with Armenia - the current crisis showed energy majors operating in the Caucasus how tenuous their grip on resources could become should the Kremlin intervene in the affairs of its neighbours again. The SCP was closed for a time during the latest violence. This is of particular concern to BP, which owns 25.5 per cent of the SCP, and is already in dispute with Moscow over the status of subsidiary TNK-BP." (Observer, 17 August) RD


"As the world races to find solutions to the planet's climate woes, some 2,500 experts meet in Stockholm this week to put the spotlight on one of the most pressing issues, that of water resources, at World Water Week. ... Almost half of the world's population lacks proper toilet facilities, a situation that can have dire consequences on public health and which poses a challenge to resolve since water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. ..Twenty percent of the planet's population in 30 countries face water shortages, a figure that is expected to hit 30 percent by 2025, according to the United Nations which has declared 2008 the International Year of Sanitation. The meeting, which opens Monday and is entitled "Progress and Prospects on Water: For a Clean and Healthy World," will focus in particular on the dangers that the lack of adequate toilets and hygiene facilities presents to 2.6 billion people. "It's not very popular to talk about toilets and excrement and where to go when you are menstruating. This is something that makes people feel uncomfortable," Stephanie Blenckner, spokeswoman for the Stockholm International Water Institute that is organising the event, told AFP."Five thousand children die every day of diarrhoea because of a lack of hygiene and sanitation and nobody really cares," Blenckner said, stressing that educating decision-makers about these issues was a priority." (Yahoo News, 16 August) RD


"Oil exploration in the Amazon rain forest represents the latest, perhaps greatest, threat to preserving what remains of the world's largest remaining tropical wilderness, scientists said Wednesday. Scientists from Duke University said a new study revealed a Texas-size chunk of rain forest stretching across Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and western Brazil has been approved for petroleum exploration and production. "Filling up with a tank of gas could soon have devastating consequences to rain forests, their people and their species," said Dr. Stuart Pimm, a professor of conservation ecology at Duke and one of the study's authors." (Yahoo News, 13 August) RD


"Caviar House & Prunier, on Piccadilly, has taken delivery of the Almas, a rare golden caviar once reserved for the Tsars of Russia. Despite the price - £920 for limited edition 50g tins - the shop claims a four-year waiting list." (Times, 19 August)RD

Economic formulas not medical ones decide treatment

Previously reported here has been the inherent failure of the National Health Service due to the constraints of capitalism to offer full effective treatments . Another report confirms Socialist Courier's diagnosis .

Some of the UK's top cancer consultants warn that NHS drug 'rationing' is forcing patients to remortgage their homes to pay for treatment. The specialists accuse the government drugs advisory body of 'rationing' too severely and call for a "radical change" in the way decisions are made.

In their letter, the 26 cancer specialists say the decision shows how "poorly" NICE assesses new cancer treatments."Its economic formulas are simply not suitable for addressing cost-effectiveness in this area of medicine," they write. "We have seen distraught patients remortgaging their houses, giving up pensions and selling cars to buy drugs that are freely available to those using health services in countries of comparable wealth."

Defending its policy of restricting palliative medicines .

"There is a finite pot of money for the NHS, which is determined annually by parliament,"NICE's chairman said."If one group of patients is provided with cost-ineffective care, other groups - lacking powerful lobbyists - will be denied cost-effective care for miserable conditions like schizophrenia, Crohn's disease or cystic fibrosis."

Capitalism is at its terminal stage , time to apply euthanasia to such a heartless system .

The British Epidemic of Poverty

An 'epidemic of poverty' in Britain is having a dramatic impact on the survival rates and health chances of children from poor families, an influential coalition will warn this week in a major report that casts doubt on government efforts to close the inequality gap.

The report, based on a wide-ranging analysis of government data, finds that children from poor families are at 10 times the risk of sudden infant death as children from better-off homes. And it reveals how babies from disadvantaged families are more likely to be born underweight - an average of 200 grams less than children from the richest families. Poorer children are two-and-a-half times more likely to suffer chronic illness when toddlers and twice as likely to have cerebral palsy.

'Poverty is now one of the greatest dangers faced by our children,' said Nick Spencer, one of the report's authors and professor of child health at the University of Warwick. 'If poverty were an infection, we would be in the midst of a full-scale epidemic.'

The End Child Poverty report highlights how socio-economic factors affect the entire life of children born into poverty, from foetal development and early infancy through to teenage years and adulthood.It found that children living in disadvantaged families are more than three times as likely to suffer from mental health disorders as those in well-off families and that infants under three years old in families with an annual income of less than £10,400 are twice as likely to suffer from asthma as those from families earning over £52,000.The report also suggests the health consequences of being born into poverty continue well beyond infancy. For example, adults who came from deprived families were found to be 50 per cent more likely to have serious and limiting illnesses, such as type two diabetes and heart failure.

'From the day they are born, children's health and very survival are threatened by family poverty,' said Donald Hirsch, co-author of the report , 'It is one of society's greatest inequalities that poor health is so dramatically linked to poverty. Children in the poorest UK families are at least twice as likely to die unexpectedly before their first birthdays than children in slightly better-off families. This is a huge injustice for the children in one of the richest nations in the world.'

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The human price of the Games

From previous posts it can be guessed that some members of the Socialist Courier blog are no fans of the Olympic Games charade and another story highlights the hypocrisy of it .

In Hebei province, almost 80 billion gallons of emergency water is being sent to the capital through a series of canals hastily built over the past few months so to provide for the Games needs . The construction has displaced farmers, leaving some patches of land so parched that it's difficult for them to grow anything. Shortly after 2002, the central government approved a water diversion project aimed at relieving shortages in Beijing and other parts of the arid north by moving water from the Yangtze, the country's longest river. Two months ago, local authorities cut off access to the mountain reservoir, explaining the water was being saved for the Olympics. Such projects have caused a rift between Beijing and neighboring provinces, including Hebei and Shaanxi. Local officials warned of social upheaval and environmental consequences. But the central government proceeded anyway.Shanxi province, a major coal-producing region, can't even get permission to use the coal it needs. Instead, the resources are being earmarked for Beijing, exacerbating power shortages and resulting in massive blackouts in rural areas.

At the Tianjin port southeast of Beijing, usually one of the busiest in the country, empty ships wait for deliveries from suppliers whose trucks have been held up by roadblocks or whose factories have been closed out of concerns about pollution. With factories shut down, armies of migrant workers who rely on construction and other menial jobs are being sent home for the month without pay. Security concerns during the Games led authorities to prohibit the export of batteries and chemical products, he said; it's hard to get new supplies because factories are closed.

Friday, August 22, 2008


"Air pollution this year will kill more than 20,000 Canadians, the Canadian Medical Association said Wednesday in a report. The research on the human costs of pollution and pollution-related diseases estimated that around 21,000 people in Canada will die from breathing in toxic substances drifting in the air this year. By 2031, short term exposure to air pollution will claim close to 90,000 lives in Canada, while long-term exposure will kill more than 700,000, the report said." (Yahoo News, 14 August) PIC


"An airborne laser weapon dubbed the "long-range blowtorch" has the added benefit that the US could convincingly deny any involvement with the destruction it causes, say senior officials of the US Air Force (USAF). The Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) is to be mounted on a Hercules military tranport plane. Boeing announced the first test firing of the laser, from a plane on the ground, earlier this summer. Cynthia Kaiser, chief engineer of the US Air Force Research Laboratory's Directed Energy Directorate, used the phrase "plausible deniability" to describe the weapon's benefits in a briefing (powerpoint format) on laser weapons to the New Mexico Optics Industry Association in June. John Corley, director of USAF's Capabilities Integration Directorate, used the same phrase to describe the weapon's benefits at an Air Armament Symposium in Florida in October 2007. As the term suggests, "plausible deniability" is used to describe situations where those responsible for an event could plausibly claim to have had no involvement in it." (New Scientist, 12 August) RD

The Caring Society !!

An immigration removal centre has wrongfully detained disabled children and transports families in metal cages, the prisons' inspectorate has found.

It said: "An immigration removal centre can never be a suitable place for children and we were dismayed to find cases of disabled children being detained and some children spending large amounts of time incarcerated."
Children were detained for too long and left distressed and scared at the Yarl's Wood centre in Bedfordshire . Some families had been transported to and from the centre in caged vans.

It is not the first time child welfare has been criticised at the centre.In July 2005 another HM Inspectorate of Prisons report found children were being "damaged" by their detention there.At the time, Ms Owers said an autistic girl of five had been held at Yarl's Wood and not eaten properly for four days and that education at the centre was "inadequate" and "depressing".

Video game wage slavery

Nearly half a million people are employed in developing countries earning virtual goods in online games to sell to players, a study has found.

The industry, which is largely based in China, currently employs about 400,000 young people who earn £80 per month on average.

Players in the popular online game World of Warcraft acquire virtual gold by fighting monsters and completing quests.

Some simply buy it from a fast-growing workforce employed to play this and other games. 'Playbourers" , as they are called , sell gold or other virtual goods .

Cash-rich time-poor players employ those willing to work long hours for little reward and it is likely to keep on growing.

In 2007, it was reported by Edward Castronova, an academic studying the economics of online gaming at the University of Indiana, that the real money trade - people paying real cash for virtual items - was worth around $300-$400m. That estimate is surely much higher now .

Thursday, August 21, 2008


“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”


"Sarmat Kapisov ran all night through the forest with his family, fleeing the fighting in South Ossetia and headed for the Georgia-Russia border. On his back, the 17-year-old carried his brother, who has cerebral palsy. "It wasn't easy," Kapisov said, huddled alongside his mother and seven siblings, who have taken refuge here at an Orthodox convent across the Russian border. The convent director, known as Mother Nonna, said thousands have passed through since the bloodshed began one week ago in the pro-Russian separatist province claimed by Georgia. Most were South Ossetian women and children on their way to a refugee center set up inside a summer camp by Russian authorities. Many of the fathers and older brothers stayed behind to fight.Mother Nonna said she had never seen so many terrified children clinging to their mothers' skirts. "The most difficult thing was to answer their question: Where was God?" she said. "They had so much fear in their eyes." (Yahoo News, 14 August) RD

The price of gold and fame

Olympic athletes appear the peak of physical form, youthful, muscled and lean, but many push themselves to play through pain, undergo multiple operations, and often end up with the knees or hips of people twice their age. And for younger athletes, who tend to be disproportionately female, there are yet more health issues related to intense training before bodies are fully developed.

For younger competitors, the American Academy of Pediatrics' guidance on sport suggests that it is unhealthy for children under the age of 12 or 13 to specialise in any one activity.
Yet most young athletes, notably gymnasts, whose balance and flexibility is affected as their bodies develop, are training intensively by eight or 10.
Low body fat can mean late puberty for girls, which in turn can lead to lower bone density and risks like stress fractures and osteoporosis.
"You see people of 16 or 17 years old with the bones of a 60 or 70-year-old," said Jordan Metzl, a physician and co-founder of the Sports Medicine Institute for Young Athletes at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

There is little promotion of sport for ordinary people at the Olympics, no halfway ground between athletes driving their bodies to their limits and spectators chomping fast food in the stands while they watch. Some suggest that athletes are also more susceptible to eating disorders, whether in "aesthetic sports" like gymnastics or diving, or those like wrestling, where diuretics are common.

Some personalities, driven by the hope of one last triumph, are also less likely to stop when they should as the financial rewards of success ratchet up.
After the 2004 Games in Athens, veteran Russian diver Dmitry Sautin said it was likely his last Olympics.
"My body has suffered a lot of scars, lots of operations. My health isn't what it used to be," he said. But the 34-year-old was back in Beijing, where he finished fourth in the three-metre springboard final.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Hong Kong Dream

Mr Li says he is growing increasingly uneasy about the widening gap between rich and poor in Hong Kong.
According to a recent Gini co-efficient - a measure that gauges the divide between rich and poor - the gap between the haves and have nots in Hong Kong is the widest in the world. Mr Li says the divide has the potential to hit Hong Kong's competitiveness and social stability.
"If achieving the Hong Kong dream becomes a vanishing hope, then our society will suffer. What would the Hong Kong dream be? It's no different from the American dream whereby an everyday man on the street who works hard, would be able to make good savings and use those savings as equity for their future small business," he explains.

Mr Li is the younger son of Li ka-Shing, Asia's wealthiest man and started by building a media empire with a multi-million dollar investment from his father. His father indirectly bailed him out of a tangled financial transaction involving attempts to sell his stake in PCCW in 2006.

Dubbed "Superboy" by the Hong Kong press for being the son of "Superman" Li .

Yup , a little bit of hard work , and save a little and you too can become a billionaire - just as long as your father is a billionaire and gives you a helping hand of a few million , eh ? Super.


"The drug industry is overpricing vital new medicines to boost its profits, the chair of the health watchdog Nice warns today in an explosive intervention into the debate over NHS rationing. Professor Sir Michael Rawlins spoke out after critics last week accused the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) of `barbarism` for refusing to approve expensive new kidney drugs for NHS use, on the grounds that they were not cost-effective. In an outspoken interview with The Observer, he warned of `perverse incentives` to hike the prices of new drugs - including linking the pay of pharmaceutical company executives to their firm's share price, which in turn relied on keeping profits healthy. Traditionally some companies charged what they thought they could get away with,"
(Observer, 17 August) RD


"Ask David Galenson to name the single greatest work of art from the 20th century, and he unhesitatingly answers “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” a 1907 painting by Picaso. He can then tell you with certainty Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on, as well. His confidence in the ranking doesn’t come from a stack of degrees in art history (though he has read a lot on the subject). After all, Mr. Galenson is an economist at the University of Chicago who initially specialized in colonial America. But during the past 10 years he has turned his attention to artists and creativity, convinced that the type of economic analysis that explains the $4-plus gas at the pump can also explain the greatest artists of the last 100 or so years. His statistical approach has led to what he says is a radically new interpretation of 20th-century art, one he is certain art historians will hate. It is based in part on how frequently an illustration of a work appears in textbooks. “Quantification has been almost totally absent from art history,” he said. “Art historians hate markets.” To Mr. Galenson markets are what make the 20th century completely different from other eras for art. In earlier periods artists created works for rich patrons generally in the court or the church, which functioned as a monopoly? Only in the 20th century did art enter the marketplace and become a commodity, like a stick of butter or an Hermès bag."
(New York Times, 4 August) RD

Scotland's Slaves

Human rights charity Amnesty International said Scotland had 13.5% of the UK's trade in people.This was despite Scotland having less than 10% of the population.

The report, Human Trafficking - Scotland's 21st Century Slaves, said Scottish police raided more than 50 premises, resulting in 35 arrests and 59 people being dealt with as victims of trafficking during its specialist Operation Pentameter 2.Trafficking cases have been found in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dumfries and Galloway, Falkirk, Grangemouth, Stirling and Tayside.They involved victims from Lithuania, Slovakia, Nigeria, China, Estonia, Somalia, Thailand, Guinea and Russia.

Amnesty International UK director, said: "To date, most attention has been given to the plight of women trafficked into the sex trade, but we have also found evidence of trafficking into Scotland for domestic and agricultural labour... many victims of trafficking will never disclose their situation to a police officer because they fear shame, deportation or reprisals from their traffickers."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


"In the six weeks to mid-July, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) treated 11,800 Ethiopian children for severe acute malnutrition. At a tented hospital in the town of Kuyera, 50 out of 1,000 died, double the rate MSF expects for a full-fledged famine. "It's very bizarre," says Jean de Cambry, a Belgian MSF veteran of crises from Sudan to Afghanistan. "It's so green. But you have all these people dying of hunger." The verdure around Kuyera is misleading. It is the product of rains in June, too late for the first of two annual crops. From January to May, the fields were parched and brown. And one failed harvest is enough to turn Ethiopia, a nation of 66 million farmers, into a humanitarian catastrophe. Hunger has swept East Africa this year, spurred by poor rains and rising food prices. The U.N. estimates that 14 million people urgently need food aid, including 2.6 million in Somalia and more than 1 million in Kenya. In Ethiopia, 4.6 million people are at risk, and 75,000 children have severe acute malnutrition." (Time, 6 August) RD


"The rich are sharing your financial pain — and contributing to it. It may have taken longer and it may not be as acute, but there are early hints that the economic slump is crimping the lifestyles of the wealthy. They are investing more conservatively, spending less on luxury goods and are being more thrifty with their credit cards. Many are asking their personal shoppers and private-jet travel providers to seek the best deals rather than over-the-top extravagances. That news may produce a shrug from many people who have lost their jobs or homes in this economy. The problem is that when the wealthy get stingy, it trickles down to the rest of us." (Yahoo News, 3 August) RD


"With the economic downturn biting deeply into bank accounts and profit margins, you'd expect premium class cabins to be looking pretty empty these days. Not so. Lufthansa says the profits it makes from first class have soared by 20 percent in the last 18 months. It seems the super rich still have money to spend." (BBC World News, August) RD

Monday, August 18, 2008


Indian state government encourages people to eat rats
PATNA, India (Reuters) - A state government in eastern Indian is encouraging people to eat rats in an effort to battle soaring food prices and save grain stocks.
Authorities in Bihar, one of India's poorest states, are asking rich and poor alike to switch to eating rats in a bid to reduce the dependence on rice. They even plan to offer rats on restaurant menus.
"Eating of rats will serve twin purposes -- it will save grains from being eaten away by rats and will simultaneously increase our grain stock," Vijay Prakash, an official from the state's welfare department, told Reuters.
Officials say almost 50 percent of India's food grains stocks are eaten away by rodents in fields or warehouses.
Jitan Ram Manjhi, Bihar's caste and tribe welfare minister, said rat meat was a healthy alternative to expensive rice or grains, and should be eaten by one and all.
"We are very serious to implement this project since the food crisis is turning serious day by day," Manjhi, who has eaten rats, told Reuters.
In Bihar, rat meat is already eaten by Mushars, a group of lower caste Hindus, as well as poorer sections of society.
I suppose the saved grain stocks can be sold for profit as the poor can't buy them, it's a system needing replacing by one that puts people before profit, i.e. Socialism

Who Owns the North Pole - Part 12

Committed to keeping our readers updated on the competition for the Arctic and North Pole regions that has become viable for economic exploitation due to global warming , Socialist Courier reads that a growing array of military leaders, Arctic experts and lawmakers say the United States is losing its ability to patrol Arctic waters . The Pentagon’s Pacific Command, Northern Command and Transportation Command strongly recommended in a letter that the Joint Chief of Staff endorse a push by the Coast Guard to increase the country’s ability to gain access to and control its Arctic waters. The letter from the three military commands to the Joint Chiefs last spring said reliable icebreakers were essential to controlling northern waters and to maintaining American research stations in Antarctica. But the Arctic was clearly the commands’ biggest concern, with the letter citing “climate change and increasing economic activity” as reasons for upgrading the icebreaker fleet.

Adm. Thad W. Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, who toured Alaska's Arctic shores two weeks ago with the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, said that whatever mix of natural and human factors is causing the ice retreats, the Arctic is clearly opening to commerce — and potential conflict and hazards — like never before.

Meantime, a resurgent Russia has been busy expanding its fleet of large ocean-going icebreakers to around 14, launching a conventional icebreaker in May and last year, the world's largest icebreaker named 50 Years of Victory, the newest of its seven nuclear-powered, pole-hardy ships. At the same time, the Russians are developing the means to build offshore platforms that can move from field to field, can withstand the new ice conditions of the North and can condense gas on site to a liquefied state ready to be loaded on to carriers. Only the Russians are currently developing ways to ship both oil and gas from Arctic offshore platforms.
But surely the major North American companies must now be looking at the possibility of using a similar system. If they are built on the American side of the Arctic, Canada can expect the sovereignty crisis of 1969 and 1970 to be renewed. There have been no changes in either the American or Canadian position about the passage of tankers through the Northwest Passage. If the Americans develop a shipping capability and decide to send their vessels to the east, they would need to go through Canadian waters. They would probably not be any more willing to ask Canada's permission than they were in 1969.
On the other hand, if the extraction platforms are placed on the Canadian side — and the ice-capable tankers leave from Canadian locations — there will be no sovereignty problem, but Canada will still have a problem of control. Our ability to assert control in our northern waters is limited. Canada's Coast Guard's icebreaking fleet is small and aging; its navy has a very limited ability to go north. The current Canadian government has promised to build six to eight naval Arctic offshore patrol vessels and to replace the largest and oldest Coast Guard icebreakers.
"To be able to protect the Arctic archipelago properly, the waters have to be considered our internal waters. Nobody recognizes that. In order to enforce our position, we need tools to do that," said retired colonel Pierre Leblanc, former commander of the Canadian Forces' Northern Area.

There are already more than 400 oil and gas fields north of the Arctic Circle. Shell has quietly spent $2bn (£1bn) acquiring drilling leases off Alaska. ExxonMobil and BP have spent huge sums on exploration rights off Canada. The US government lifted a 17-year ban on offshore drilling to make the US less reliant on imports. The powers that border the Arctic – Canada, the United States, Russia, Norway and Denmark – have begun jostling for advantage. the United States Geological Survey – suggesting that the region contains about one-third of the world's undiscovered gas and about one-sixth of its undiscovered oil


"We are not the public service of Canada," General Rick Hillier once told journalists. "We are the Canadian Forces and our job is to be able to kill people." Such a robust view of military power was unusual when General Hillier was appointed chief of the defence staff. In the three years he spent in the post before stepping down, he almost succeeded in making it mainstream." (Economist, 24 July) RD


"Even as it receives a billion pounds of free food from international donors, Sudan is growing and selling vast quantities of its own crops to other countries, capitalizing on high global food prices at a time when millions of people in its war-riddled region of Darfur barely have enough to eat. Here in the bone-dry desert, where desiccated donkey carcasses line the road, huge green fields suddenly materialize. Beans. Wheat. Sorghum. Melons. Peanuts. Pumpkins. Eggplant. It is all grown here, part of an ambitious government plan for Sudanese self-sufficiency, creating giant mechanized farms that rise out of the sand like mirages. But how much of this bonanza is getting back to the hungry Sudanese, like the 2.5 million driven into camps in Darfur? And why is a country that exports so many of its own crops receiving more free food than anywhere else in the world, especially when the Sudanese government is blamed for creating the crisis in the first place?"
(New York Times, 9 August) RD

Sunday, August 17, 2008


"Elderly people are dying of neglect and spending their final years in pain and discomfort because basic care is not being provided, a study has found. There are at least 60,000 avoidable deaths in England every year and the study by doctors at the University of East Anglia suggests this figure could be substantially reduced with better care. ...Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern, said: "These figures show that age discrimination within the NHS is still rife." (Independent, 15 August) RD


"NHS and private hospitals do not provide adequate treatment for those suffering from conditions that doctors associate with old age, a study in the BMJ has revealed. A team from the University of East Anglia investigated the care received by more than 8,000 patients over 50 and found people with osteoarthritis got only 29% of the recommended level of care. Other geriatric conditions, such as incontinence and hearing conditions, were also under-treated. The charity Help the Aged said: "Too often older people come far down the pecking order. Yet again, ageism rears its ugly head." (Guardian, 15 August) RD

Saturday, August 16, 2008


"The last thing you might expect to encounter exploring the ocean floor is a chemical weapon. But it seems hundreds of thousands of tonnes of them have been dumped into the sea, and no one knows exactly where the weapons are. Now, scientists are calling for weapons sites to be mapped for safety's sake. Between 1946 and 1972, the US and other countries pitched 300,000 tonnes of chemical weapons over the side of ships or scuttled them along with useless vessels according to public reports by the Medea Committee, a group of scientists given access to intelligence data so they can advise the US government on environmental issues. But the military have lost track of most of the weapons because of haphazard record keeping combined with imprecise navigation. Even the exact chemicals were not always noted, though there are records of shells, rockets and barrels containing sulphur mustard and nerve gas."
(New Scientist, 23 March) RD


"When the main pipeline that carries oil through Georgia was completed in 2005, it was hailed as a major success in the United States policy to diversify its energy supply. Not only did the pipeline transport oil produced in Central Asia, helping move the West away from its dependence on the Middle East, but it also accomplished another American goal: it bypassed Russia. American policy makers hoped that diverting oil around Russia would keep the country from reasserting control over Central Asia and its enormous oil and gas wealth and would provide a safer alternative to Moscow’s control over export routes that it had inherited from Soviet days. The tug-of-war with Moscow was the latest version of the Great Game, the 19th-century contest for dominance in the region. A bumper sticker that American diplomats distributed around Central Asia in the 1990s as the United States was working hard to make friends there summed up Washington’s strategic thinking: “Happiness is multiple pipelines.” Now energy experts say that the hostilities between Russia and Georgia could threaten American plans to gain access to more of Central Asia’s energy resources at a time when booming demand in Asia and tight supplies helped push the price of oil to record highs."
(New York Times, 14 August) RD

Friday, August 15, 2008


We are all aware of workers who say "I wish it was dinnertime, I wish it was 5 o'clock or I wish it was Friday". On the face of it they seem to be wishing their life away, although as many workers detest their work, they are wishing their life to begin. Many workers even look forward to retirement from work with old age. The comments of the journalist Carol Midgely however illustrates that retirement might not prove to be such a wonderful time. "The Commission for Social Care Inspection this year produced a report that said that hundreds of care and nursing homes were so poorly run that they were a danger to residents. Investigators uncovered examples of residents being routinely tied to their beds and chairs, locked up or dragged around by their hair. Some were refused food to punish `bad behaviour`." (Times, 14 August) RD


"The number of people claiming unemployment benefit last month rose at the fastest rate since 1992, adding to fears that the UK is about to enter a recession. The claimant count level for July rose for the sixth month in a row by 20,100 to reach 864,700, the Office for National Statistics said, prompting some analysts to predict that it could reach one million next year."
(Guardian, 14 August) RD


Nationalist propaganda and sporting events have a long history . The present Olympics is no exception .

We have already seen a girl at the opening ceremony being substituted as a singer because she was deemed too ugly.

We have had fake audiences .To fill the gaps the Chinese have been using huge numbers of yellow-shirted 'fans' who occupy blocks of empty seats, clapping and cheering equally for opposing teams.

The spectacular live fireworks on the TV broadcast were pre-recorded. Computer graphics, meticulously created over a period of months and inserted into the coverage electronically at exactly the right moment.

Now the children used in a key part of the Olympics opening ceremony, not youngsters from all 56 ethnic groups as claimed but were all from the Han majority , it is reported .

It should be remembered that the torch relay that culminates in the ceremonial lighting of the flame at Olympic stadium was ordered by Adolf Hitler, who tried to turn the 1936 Berlin Games into a celebration of the Third Reich.And it was Hitler's Nazi propaganda machine that popularized the five interlocking rings as the symbol of the Games.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


The following announcement caused a storm of controversy in the media. "Patients cannot rely on the NHS to save their lives if the cost of doing so is too great, the Government's medicines watchdog has ruled for the first time. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) has said the natural impulse to go to the aid of individuals in trouble – as when vast resources are used to save a sailor lost at sea – should not apply to the NHS. The disclosure follows last week's controversial decision by Nice to reject four new drugs for kidney cancer even though they have been shown to extend life by five to six months." (Independent, 13 August)
To socialists the announcement is far from shocking. That is how capitalism operates - if you are rich you have access to the best food, clothing, shelter, education and recreation. Why should it be so shocking to learn that if you are poor you cannot afford the best of medicine either. RD


"Stockton has become known as Foreclosure Town, USA. With one in 25 houses in foreclosure, there are more properties with mortgages in default here than anywhere in the country. And it is not as if there isn't some stiff compeition for Stockton's dubious accolade in other corners of California, and indeed in the rest of America." (Observer, 10 August) RD


"A mysterious Russian billionaire has trumped his big-spending rivals and broken a world record by splashing out 500 million euros (£392 million) on one of the most sumptuous villas on the French Riveria. (Times, 11 August) RD

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Russia's Oil War

Just in case you may not be aware but the present crisis in the Caucasus may have more to do with oil and gas than protecting ethnic Russians .

Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipeline (BTE) carries some six billion cubic metres of gas a year (bcm/y) to Turkey, some of which is then forwarded to Greece. As Azerbaijani gas output grows, the line should reach its full 20 bcm/y capacity by about 2014.The European Union is also backing proposals for development of essentially parallel lines to carry as much as a further 30 bcm/y of gas from Turkmenistan, and perhaps Kazakhstan.The EU calls the route through Azerbaijan and Georgia its "Fourth Corridor" - matching existing supply systems from Russia, Norway and North Africa - with concept projects such as the planned Nabucco pipeline from the Georgian-Turkish border to Austria seen as ways of implementing it.

Because transit through such a corridor bypasses Russia, it offers advantages to both Caspian producers and European consumers.Producers gain direct access to end-consumers at market prices, whereas at present Russia buys gas from Central Asia at one price, and then sells gas to Europe at much higher prices, the difference being far more than pure transportation costs would merit.

Other major lines that currently transit Georgia.

The biggest is the 1.0 mb/d capacity Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which carries crude oil from Azerbaijan to the Turkish Mediterranean terminal at Ceyhan, from whence it gets transported by tanker to both Europe and the United States.

The next major line is Baku-Supsa, a 150,000 b/d line that has just reopened after undergoing substantial renovation.It carries oil to the Black Sea, but the port of Supsa is just 25 kilometres from Poti, the port which handles most of Georgia's imports and which was bombed and shelled by Russian forces.

nhs charges

A poll by Macmillan Cancer Support suggests nearly half of cancer patients in England are being forced to cut back on basic necessities in order to pay for their prescriptions.

Breast cancer survivor Amanda Whetstone says she regularly skips breakfast and lunch to save money to pay for her prescriptions.

"Although my cancer treatment - the surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy - has finished, I still need medication. As a result of my cancer I'm now on three different drugs. They cost me about £44 a month. That may not sound much to some, but I'm struggling financially. I'm now on statutory sick pay because I've been too unwell to work. My income is £360 per month and, quite frankly, I have barely enough money to live on.I budget for everything. I don't go out because I can't afford to socialise. I can't even invite friends over for a meal because I can't afford the food.I don't eat breakfast or lunch. The meals I do buy are ones that are on special offer.I can't afford fresh fruit or meat. I know that isn't healthy, but I simply can't afford to buy healthy food."

"Fighting cancer is hard enough without the terrible financial worry that comes with it.I feel penalised because I have a disease that the government doesn't consider should make me exempt from prescription charges."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


The SPGB have organised a forum with
Ian Bone (Class War)
and Howard Moss (Socialist Party)

Title: Which way the revolution - what are our differences?

Chair: Bill Martin (Socialist Party)
Followed by open discussion
Venue: 52 Clapham High St, London
Saturday 20th September at 6 pm
Refreshments available, also free literature
All welcome

For further information:
Phone 020 7622 3811

Food for Thought 5

- Prison is an abomination. We all know that it is capitalist property, production, and capital relations that are the root cause of most crime and that this root cause of crime will disappear in a socialist society. That life under capitalism is all about money and profit was shown recently when the federal government recommended closing the local jail at Warkworth. Angry politicians denounced the idea because the prison brings so much to the local economy - $32 million through wages, goods and services. There’s no analysis of how to eliminate the need for locking people up. - A recent series on crime and punishment in the Toronto Star did, however try to do this with an in-depth study over several issues. What they came up with is interesting. The current ‘get tough on crime’ attitude of politicians looking for an issue to stir the general public does not work. The consensus from those directly involved was to solve the problem by reducing poverty and school drop out rates, provide affordable housing, and increase access to health care all are economic solutions and therefore not possible under capitalism. Who Will pay? Their solutions were backed up by the following statistics:-Over 70% of prisoners have not completed high school.70% have unstable job histories.80% have serious drug problems12% of male prisoners and 26% of women prisoners suffer serious mental health problems.The article comments that we have, ‘a society that criminalizes its troubled citizens’ and targets the mentally ill, the unemployed, and drug and alcohol addicts. In other words, the reserve army and the throw aways of capitalism. The criminal justice system is big business. Canada spends $13 billion out of a $243 billion total federal budget and the US spends a staggering $200 billion., most of which goes for naught as the US has the highest incarceration rate of all industrial countries at 723 per 100 000 (Canada 107, Norway 65). Like the wars on terror, poverty, drugs et al, the war on crime is as phony as a three dollar bill, and the result is a terrible blight on society. Bring on common sense and common ownership! John Ayers

Monday, August 11, 2008

Food for Thought 4

- Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England turned down a 38% pay increase from $581 000 to $800 000. This is in a recession, mind you when the workers are told to tighten their belts, lower expectations, and so on. Carol Goar of The Toronto Star editorial team was overwhelmed,
“Using ethics as a guide, his conduct was honourable.” And “King provided the accountability the system has lacked.” The myriad of “news” items like this that everyday are thrust into our faces are obvious propaganda, but who can blame them, it’s working. It is noticeable that Goar fails to mention the millions of workers that have taken pay cuts or lost their source of livelihood through no fault of their own. Are they ‘honourable’ or do they not count? - - Goar knows full well that workers are suffering inthe current recession in the manufacturing sector in central Canada as sales plunge and production is moved to cheaper areas with a more ‘flexible’ work force. A small sample shows 350 layoffs at Dana Corp, auto parts manufacturer; General Motors laying off 1 000workers in Oshawa, Ontario, 1 400 in Windsor, moving an Oshawa truck plant to Mexico, cutting salaried workers by 20%, and cutting health benefits to white-collar retirees; Ford reducing its salaried work force by 15%; Magna Corp auto parts eliminating 400 jobs; progressive Moulded Plastics shedding 2 000 jobs. The list grows daily but no one looks at the vagaries of capitalist production as the culprit and even less the need to rid ourselves of this constant assault on workers’ standards of living. Let’s hope these workers will learn that they only work at the will of capital, no matter what their position may be. John Ayers

Food for Thought 3

- The recent G8 summit on climate change in Japan did the expected – practically nothing. The New York Times editorial stated, “…summits are usually about vague promises and good intentions, and this one was no different”, and, “Until the United States is willing to make anunambiguous commitment to reducing America’s emissions, with clear targets and timetables, the rest of the world will keep finding excuses not to do the same.” Same old! John Ayers

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Food for Thought 2

- An insight to the workings of the capitalist system – apparently, Canadian Hog farmers are not achieving the regular rate of profit due to high oil, feed, and fertilizer products. What to do? The answer is to have a country-wide cull of sows to decrease supply and increase prices and profits. The slaughtered meat can’t go to market and further depress the prices so it will go to pet feed and to providing 20 000 meals for the food banks, or one meal per approximately 35 food bank users in Ontario! Insanity! John Ayers

Food for Thought

- Big Oil returns to Iraq – when Saddam Hussein took over the oil industry and negotiated deals with oil companies from Russia, China, and India over US companies, he incurred the wrath of Big Euro/US oil which eventually, of course, led to his demise and execution. Now the puppet government in Iraq has allowed Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, Total, and Chevron to take preference over the Russian and Chinese and Indian outfits. Coincidentally, they are the same companies that met with Cheney in 2001 to complain about Hussein’s preference for ‘foreigners’ and the very same companies that were the original partners that controlled Iraq oil for decades before Hussein came on the scene. (Toronto Star, 05 June 2008). John Ayers

Saturday, August 09, 2008


- On Value of commodities,
“What is the common social substance of all commodities? It is labour. To produce a commodity a certain amount of labour must be bestowed upon it. And I say not only labour, but social labour. A man who produces an article for his own immediate use, to consume himself, creates a product but not a commodity. As a self-sustaining producer he has nothing to do with society. But to produce a commodity, a man must not only produce an article satisfying some social want, but his labour itself must form part and parcel of the total sum of labour expended by society…If we consider commodities as values, we consider them exclusively under the single aspect of realized, fixed, or,if you like, crystallized social labour. In this respect they can differ only by representing greater or smaller quantities of labour…But how does one measure quantities of labour? By the time the labour lasts, in measuring labour by the hour, the day etc… We arrive, therefore, at thisconclusion. A commodity has a value, because it is a crystallization of social labour…The relative values of commodities are, therefore, determined by the respective quantities or amounts of labour, worked up, realised, fixed in them.” (Value, Price and Labour, pp31/32). This obviously is part of The Labour Theory of Value from which comes so much of our interpretation of capitalist production.